The British Army’s decision last week not to send Prince Harry to Iraq is unfortunate on at least three counts. It is a personal blow for the prince himself, who despite his off-duty antics is by all accounts a highly professional young officer eager to share the perils faced by his comrades. It will do nothing for British morale, already damaged by the humiliation of their naval hostages by Iran. Most importantly, the decision is a propaganda coup for the Islamist terrorists. Britain’s reluctance to commit the third-in-line to its throne to battle makes the West in general look weak. In doing so it places all coalition troops at greater risk.
Why, then, did General Sir Richard Dannatt, the chief of the British general staff, reverse his announcement only three weeks ago that the prince would be deployed? The answer is: Iran. British forces in Basra and the provinces bordering Iran lost twelve soldier in April—a higher casualty rate in proportion to their numbers (about 7,000) than those suffered by the much larger American forces. These heavier losses are attributed by the British to Iranian agents, who are supplying sophisticated weaponry and intelligence to the local insurgency. According to American Special Forces, they are doing the same for the Taliban in Afghanistan. Islamist websites have been threatening to target Prince Harry ever since his deployment was—most unwisely—made public in February. The kidnapping of three U.S. soldiers two weeks ago will have added to the credibility of these threats.
Yes, they are developing nuclear weapons and tested one last October, but it may have been a partial dud. And apart from that, and apart from the fact that some 57 years ago they launched the Korean war, they’ve been a law-abiding member of the community of nations ever since, haven’t they? What have they done recently to violate the rules of comity? What in the world led President Bush to include them in his “axis of evil”?
Former President Jimmy Carter believes that Bush’s statement was a reckless disaster that had the effect of tossing the fruits of his diplomacy “in the wastebasket.” Carter may be right. Or, on the other hand, he may be wrong. The non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) has just issued an update of its report on Pyongyong’s international behavior, titled North Korean Provocative Actions, 1950-2007, which is helpful in sorting things out (hat tip: Secrecy News).
Considered piece by piece, the proposed immigration-reform bill hammered out last week has more to recommend it than many conservatives acknowledge. But considered as a whole, the bill (or at least the version of it that made the rounds online this weekend) suffers from a disturbing confusion of priorities. It aims, above all, at normalizing the status of illegal immigrants already in the United States. It certainly does other things, like re-arranging the categories of legal immigrants and requiring 370 miles of new fencing along the 2,000-mile-long U.S.-Mexico border, but only as an afterthought.
Unlike most opponents of the bill, I support finding some way to normalize the status of illegal immigrants now in America. But to give that goal top priority—as the authors of this bill clearly have, apart from all the talk of “triggers”—strikes me as a serious mistake, both tactically and substantively.
The Four Seasons, a set of four violin concertos by the Venetian composer Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), remains one of the all-time bestsellers in classical recording, with over 200 CD versions currently in print (the large majority of them bad, it must be added as a caveat). Written in 1723 as part of a twelve-concerto series entitled “The Contest Between Harmony and Invention,” The Four Seasons has appeared in endless guises in pop culture, particularly on the soundtracks of films: The Banger Sisters, A View to a Kill, Flubber, Up Close and Personal, Tin Cup, and Salem’s Lot, among countless others.
What makes Vivaldi’s work such an all-encompassing hit? The Four Seasons is a pioneering example of program music, evoking the sounds of nature (birdsong, the buzz of insects, dogs barking, and other effects) with the orchestral ensemble and solo violin. By basing his music on nature, Vivaldi attained lasting universality; had he chosen a subject from Greek mythology as a theme, audiences today might find the subjects arcane. Instead, the “Spring” concerto expresses sprightly high spirits, while the “Winter” concerto still sounds starkly moving. Some listeners disagree, like the composer Igor Stravinsky, who made the oft-reprinted crack that Vivaldi wrote the “same concerto four hundred times.” In fact, Vivaldi wrote even more concertos than that; 500 or so survive. (Some sifting is clearly necessary among the many recordings available.)
There is no shortage of bad news from Iraq, such as the bombing of another market in Baghdad that reportedly killed 25 people on Tuesday, another suicide bombing near the Iranian border that killed fifteen people on Wednesday, and various other attacks around the country that killed seven U.S. soldiers and two marines. Yet amid the inevitable setbacks there are also some modest signs of progress.
On Saturday, U.S. Special Operations forces killed Sheikh Azhar al-Dulaymi, a major-league bad guy responsible for the daring operation in Karbala on January 20th, in which attackers disguised as U.S. troops invaded a government compound and killed five American soldiers. The U.S. military command said that intelligence indicated that Dulaymi had received training from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and their Lebanese Hizballah puppets.