Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 2007

Cry for Harry, England, and Saint George

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.

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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.

In the light of new intelligence about ever-bolder Iranian activity in Iraq, General Dannatt found himself between a rock and a hard place. If he had stuck to his guns and sent Harry into action, not only the prince but those under his command would be vulnerable. Thanks to ubiquitous media coverage, which the British authorities had initially encouraged, the terrorists knew both where the prince could be found and even what type of vehicle he would use. Iran would almost certainly have put a price on his head to encourage assassins to try their luck. To kill such a high-profile “crusader” would be portrayed as a great victory by Islamists everywhere. To capture him would create the mother of all hostage crises. Militarily, Harry would be more trouble than he was worth. (Politically, too, his deployment had become a liability for the incoming administration of Gordon Brown.)

Discretion may often be the better part of valor, but this affair has been handled with indiscretion. Only a mind no longer confident of ultimate victory would have made such a hash of it. Just as the British navy mishandled the abduction of sailors and marines by the Iranians, so the British army has mishandled what ought to have been an operational decision.

And General Dannatt has a record of indiscretion. Last year he gave an interview in which he claimed that the British presence in Iraq was “exacerbating” instability. The general beat a hasty retreat, but not fast enough to dispel he impression that he was at odds with his government. Now he has again been forced to countermand his original decision. As the French military proverb has it: order, counter-order, disorder.

The vacillation over Prince Harry is all the more regrettable because British royalty has an admirable tradition of taking their places in the firing line. No British monarch has led his troops into battle since George II at Dettingen in 1743, but lesser members of the royal family have often seen combat, most recently in the Falklands war. As anyone who has seen The Queen will know, the young Princess Elizabeth served (at her own insistence) as a driver in the armed forces at the end of the Second World War. In those days, Shakespeare’s Henry V was still the model for soldiers going into battle: “Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George!” Iraq may not be Agincourt, but even modern armies need their officers to set them an example of courage. Prince Harry should not have been denied the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his forefathers.

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Let’s Not Worry Too Much About North Korea

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).

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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).

The report begins with some definitions. The term “provocation,” is defined to include the following activities: “armed invasion; border violations; infiltration of armed saboteurs and spies; hijacking; kidnapping; terrorism (including assassination and bombing); threats/intimidation against political leaders, media personnel, and institutions; incitement aimed at the overthrow of the South Korean government; actions undertaken to impede progress in major negotiations; and tests of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.”

Over the years, the North has done all these things, many of them more than once. The bellicose activity was particularly intense in the 1960’s and the decades surrounding it, i.e., in the 50’s and the 70’s, and also in the 80’s and 90’s: “From 1954 to 1992, North Korea is reported to have infiltrated a total of 3,693 armed agents into South Korea, with 1967 and 1968 accounting for 20% of the total.” But lately the North Koreans have appeared to calm down:

Reported provocations have continued intermittently in recent years, in the form of armed incursions, kidnappings, and occasional threats to turn the South Korean capital of Seoul into “a sea of fire” and to silence or tame South Korean critics of North Korea. Then, in July 2006, North Korea launched seven missiles into the Sea of Japan, and in October 2006, it tested a nuclear bomb.

Thus, there is nothing to worry about, nothing at all.

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Immigration Priorities

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.

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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.

“Living in the shadows” is a serious problem for those here illegally. But for America as a whole, there are two much larger problems: that our borders are not secure, and that our legal immigration system is badly broken.

True control of the border should not be a controversial goal, and taking serious steps in that direction would go far toward calming public concerns about immigration and diffusing the populist time-bomb that immigration has become. Reforming legal immigration should also get more attention than it does in this debate.

In this regard, the proposed bill actually takes steps in the right direction—toward eliminating the visa lottery, for example, and shifting the focus of our immigration policy away from extended-family unification toward skills- and employment-based immigration. But the way the bill is structured and written employs all those bits and pieces in the service of the larger goal of normalizing the status of illegal immigrants, mistaking the smaller problem for the larger.

In the current issue of COMMENTARY, I discuss why reforms to the legal immigration system (together with improvements in our approach to the assimilation of immigrants) matter more than what we do about the status of illegal immigrants, and I try to show how such reforms can help us remain a society that welcomes and appreciates immigrants. But these reforms are clearly secondary in the bill.

Washington has to take this issue up in the way the American public understands the problem—as a problem of respect for the law and of our future as a nation that can successfully integrate newcomers. Instead, the President and Congress have presented it in the most divisive way possible—treating the lawbreaker, not the law, as in need of protection.

A bill that included only the border-protection and legal-immigration reforms of the new proposal could be a unifying measure. But by assigning top priority to normalization, the new bill will only exacerbate concerns about immigration—and about the ability of our leaders to understand the public’s concerns. It has done serious damage to the prospects for meaningful change.

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Why The Four Seasons ?

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.)

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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.)

The Italian maestro Guido Cantelli (1920-1956) conducted the NBC Symphony in “Winter” from The Four Seasons in 1950, recently transferred to CD by Testament. As conducted by Cantelli, Vivaldi’s work reflects the harsh postwar European winters and stark sufferings of his generation. Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) was another sensualist in sound, which made him a delectable conductor of Vivaldi. His 1966 recording of The Four Seasons, reprinted on Cala, is with the New Philharmonia Orchestra. The performance is distinguished by contributions from some of Britain’s finest orchestral musicians, like the stellar violinist Hugh Bean (1929-2003) and harpsichordist Charles Spinks (1915-1992).

The clarity and balance of the British orchestral ideal, which also allows for the expression of passion, is found on another CD of The Four Seasons played by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, led by its first violinist, Iona Brown (available on Hänssler). When Ms. Brown (1941-2004) died, conductor Neville Marriner offered this apt estimation of her talents: “As a violinist, she embraced the Romantic movement with warmth and passion, and in the early classical repertoire she displayed a fastidious elegance that observed the performing conventions of the 18th century without letting the music dry out.”

For those listeners who prefer an “original instruments” approach, a persuasively affectionate rendition is led by Rinaldo Alessandrini in a CD from Naïve that radiates Mediterranean warmth. The Sicilian violinist and conductor Fabio Biondi (b. 1961) offers a more driven, agitated, and dramatic view of The Four Seasons, without going off the rails into mere hysteria, as some of the “authentic approach” versions do. Biondi’s Europa Galante recorded its first attempt at The Four Seasons in 1991 for the brilliant small label Opus 111. It is well worth hunting down the earlier version, yet his 2003 remake for Virgin Classics also contains supplementary works, as well as dazzling musicianship.

Unlike works of visual art made ridiculous through over-familiarity, like the Mona Lisa, over-recorded music, like The Four Seasons, can be eternally renewed by performances as fine as those mentioned above.

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Pragmatism, Hamas-Style

The world woke up this morning to read that Israel had rounded up more than 30 senior members of Hamas, including Nasser Shaer, the education minister in the Palestinian Authority’s cabinet. Was this a mistake on Israel’s part? After all, Shaer is “considered a pragmatist in the movement,” according to the Associated Press.

Hamas is on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. But if one is to judge by much of the reporting about Hamas in recent years, the Islamic organization is a veritable hotbed not of terrorism but of pragmatism.

Thus, according to an April dispatch from the AP, Hamas filled its seats in the Palestinian Authority cabinet “with professionals and pragmatists, keeping its ideologues at home.”

Azik Dweik, the Hamas speaker of the parliament, is “viewed as a pragmatist,” according to the New York Times.

And then, of course, there is the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, whose “folksy nature,” reports the AP, “has won him the label of pragmatist.”

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The world woke up this morning to read that Israel had rounded up more than 30 senior members of Hamas, including Nasser Shaer, the education minister in the Palestinian Authority’s cabinet. Was this a mistake on Israel’s part? After all, Shaer is “considered a pragmatist in the movement,” according to the Associated Press.

Hamas is on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. But if one is to judge by much of the reporting about Hamas in recent years, the Islamic organization is a veritable hotbed not of terrorism but of pragmatism.

Thus, according to an April dispatch from the AP, Hamas filled its seats in the Palestinian Authority cabinet “with professionals and pragmatists, keeping its ideologues at home.”

Azik Dweik, the Hamas speaker of the parliament, is “viewed as a pragmatist,” according to the New York Times.

And then, of course, there is the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, whose “folksy nature,” reports the AP, “has won him the label of pragmatist.”

For its part, the Economist sees a path to end the “cycle of violence”: interested parties should seek to “cajole the relative pragmatists in Hamas (yes, they do exist) into accepting the reality of Israel and, of course, into disavowing violence.”

What exactly is pragmatism in the context of Hamas? It is rarely defined. One exception can be found in a 2003 column in the Washington Post by a Jerusalem-based producer for ABC news under the headline “A True Palestinian Pragmatist.” It was a portrait of a senior member of Hamas, who had only just been killed by missiles fired from an Israeli helicopter. “The last time I visited Ismail Abu Shanab three weeks ago he was smiling” and “[s]troking his daughter’s head.” His death “affords a glimpse into the paradoxical life of a Palestinian pragmatist—a person who backs peace while railing against it.”

Of course, this “true Palestinian pragmatist,” the Post column was careful to caution, “was no saint.” He was an active participant in “an Islamic terrorist organization that has killed hundreds of Israeli civilians in suicide bombings. He served time in prison for the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier. He denounced American imperialism and Washington’s conspiracies against the Arabs. He often spoke of how the Zionist lobby controlled the United States.”

Yet on the other side of the coin, Shanab “was not your average terrorist either” and he “tried to avoid praising suicide bombings.” In the end, he only “grudgingly offered himself as a martyr for the national cause.” But grudging martyr for the national cause or not, at least he was a pragmatist—“a person who backs peace while railing against it.”

Even though Shanab was killed by Israel, Hamas seems to contain many more pragmatists just like him. They fervently back peace even as they grudgingly, or not so grudgingly, fire Qassam rockets into Israel and call for its inhabitants to be driven into the sea. As journalists around the world all seem to know—perhaps it is something taught in journalism school—pragmatism is a wonderfully flexible term. 

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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

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.

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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.

U.S. forces have also rolled up a gang of insurgents responsible for downing a string of our helicopters. As summarized by USA Today:

Enemy fighters shot down six military helicopters in January and February, killing 23 servicemembers. Heavy machine guns were used in four attacks and small arms in one assault. A missile was used to down one of the six helicopters. Two private contractor helicopters were also shot down during that time.

But, as the newspaper continues, “There haven’t been any fatal helicopter attacks since February.” This may be attributed to a combination of factors. One shouldn’t discount the role of pure, dumb luck, but American aviators have also successfully changed their operating procedures and have even managed to ambush the ambushers. As USA Today notes:

During the raids, U.S. forces combined air attacks with ground assaults that captured insurgents, [Maj. Gen. James] Simmons said. Information gathered in those raids revealed anti-helicopter tactics used by insurgents. The military used that knowledge to launch counter-ambushes, using U.S. aircraft to target the [insurgent] teams.

There is also some good news on the political front. This Washington Post story reports that Moqtada Al-Sadr, head of the Jaish al-Mahdi (the Mahdist Army, JMA), one of the largest and most violent Shiite factions, professes to be moderating:

The 33-year-old populist is reaching out to a broad array of Sunni leaders, from politicians to insurgents, and purging extremist members of his Mahdi Army militia who target Sunnis. . . . And moderates are taking up key roles in Sadr’s movement, professing to be less anti-American and more nationalist as they seek to improve Sadr’s image and position him in the middle of Iraq’s ideological spectrum.

Meanwhile, the other leading Shiite party is changing its name from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) to the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, dropping the “revolution” in its name to make clear that it is not seeking a radical overhaul of Iraqi society. This faction, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, is trying to lessen its ties to Iran and to remake itself as an Iraqi nationalist movement.

A measure of skepticism is in order about both changes—elements of JAM remain extremely violent, and both it and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council maintain strong subterranean links with the Iranian leadership. The latest steps may simply be tactical adjustments in their ultimate pursuit of power. Nevertheless they are positive steps, and they are being met with some Sunni reciprocation. There are reports of Sunni tribes in Diyala and other provinces forming their own groups to resist al Qaeda, following in the footsteps of the Anbar Salvation Council. And the original Anbar group is expanding its activities to other parts of the country. As this New York Times story reports:

In a hopeful sign on Tuesday, a Sunni tribal leader made a conciliatory public visit to Sadr City, the Shiite enclave in western Baghdad. Sheikh Hamid al-Hayis, leader of an alliance of Sunni tribes that recently began providing men to fight al Qaeda beside the marines in Anbar Province, met with backers of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

Salih al-Ugaily, a Sadr supporter in Parliament, said in an interview that the two sides had agreed on the need for reconciliation and to expedite holding provincial elections, a major demand of Sunni Iraqis, many of whom have said they feel disenfranchised after boycotting previous elections.

Neither security operations nor the political process is moving as quickly as anyone would like, but it would be a mistake to despair too soon. In particular it would be a mistake to give up on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and try to replace him with someone more to America’s liking—an option suggested in this Los Angeles Times article.

Maliki, for all his faults, has only been in office a year, and he is by many accounts improving. He is the third Iraqi leader hand-picked by American officials since Jerry Bremer gave up power in 2004. The previous two—Ayad Allawi and Ibrahim al Jaafari—weren’t so hot. There is no reason to think that anyone who replaces Maliki would be any better, especially when one of the top potential replacements (at least in his own mind) is Allawi.

Replacing prime ministers means going back to square one. Better to work with the leader already in place, however imperfect, and to strengthen his hand by weakening through military action the Shiite and Sunni extremists who threaten the fragile political process. And this is, more or less, the strategy that General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker plan to follow, according to this Washington Post dispatch. We can only wait and hope for results.

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The Norman Podhoretz Lecture: John Bolton

Last week, on May 16, COMMENTARY held its annual dinner at the Union League Club. Giving this year’s Norman Podhoretz Lecture—the dinner’s main event—was our former ambassador to the UN John Bolton. Bolton was given stellar introductions by COMMENTARY’s editor-in-chief Neal Kozodoy and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Here are a few highlights of Bolton’s speech, on regime change, preventative action, Iran, North Korea, and the general outlook for U.S. foreign policy going into the 2008 elections.

Last week, on May 16, COMMENTARY held its annual dinner at the Union League Club. Giving this year’s Norman Podhoretz Lecture—the dinner’s main event—was our former ambassador to the UN John Bolton. Bolton was given stellar introductions by COMMENTARY’s editor-in-chief Neal Kozodoy and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Here are a few highlights of Bolton’s speech, on regime change, preventative action, Iran, North Korea, and the general outlook for U.S. foreign policy going into the 2008 elections.

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Hillary’s Changing Plumage

Much has already been said about Hillary Clinton’s shifting positions on Iraq. Having once criticized President Bush for not sending enough troops, she now has announced her intent to vote to block war funding. But Hillary’s zigzagging is nothing new. It has been the stamp of her last fifteen years.

She began her political life in the radical student movement of the 1960’s, summarized by her commencement speech at Wellesley College in 1969, in which she declared that the “prevailing, acquisitive, and competitive corporate life . . . is not the way of life for us. We’re searching for a more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating mode of living.” (Husband Bill seems to have taken this quest to heart.)

Her New Leftism was not soon outgrown. In 1987, her profile raised by Bill’s status as governor of Arkansas, she assumed the chairmanship of the New World Foundation, a funder of radical Left, pro-Communist, and PLO-linked causes. The foundation had a history of such activities before Hillary took it over, but as I showed in a 1993 article for COMMENTARY, the number of extremist and Communist front groups funded by the foundation multiplied under her leadership.

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Much has already been said about Hillary Clinton’s shifting positions on Iraq. Having once criticized President Bush for not sending enough troops, she now has announced her intent to vote to block war funding. But Hillary’s zigzagging is nothing new. It has been the stamp of her last fifteen years.

She began her political life in the radical student movement of the 1960’s, summarized by her commencement speech at Wellesley College in 1969, in which she declared that the “prevailing, acquisitive, and competitive corporate life . . . is not the way of life for us. We’re searching for a more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating mode of living.” (Husband Bill seems to have taken this quest to heart.)

Her New Leftism was not soon outgrown. In 1987, her profile raised by Bill’s status as governor of Arkansas, she assumed the chairmanship of the New World Foundation, a funder of radical Left, pro-Communist, and PLO-linked causes. The foundation had a history of such activities before Hillary took it over, but as I showed in a 1993 article for COMMENTARY, the number of extremist and Communist front groups funded by the foundation multiplied under her leadership.

In 1992, Bill ran for President as a “new Democrat,” code for not-a-liberal, and his emissaries successfully wooed my support. In discussions with leaders of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, I was assured that Hillary, far from tugging Bill leftward, was using her weight to keep the campaign in the middle of the road.

Not long after she and Bill moved into the White House, Hillary turned back to the Left, leading the effort to install some form of national health insurance and inviting Michael Lerner, the unreconstructed 1960’s radical then parading as a “rabbi,” to the White House to give her guidance. Hillary embraced Lerner’s Oz-like “politics of meaning,” even using the phrase in her speeches.

When she set up shop in New York and ran for the Senate, Hillary swung back toward the center, becoming an especially vocal supporter of Israel and, later, a hawk on Iraq. Now she has shed her hawk’s plumage for the white of a dove. All of which leaves us to ponder this question as she runs for President: would it be worse to be governed by Hillary the opportunist or Hillary the true believer?

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Appeasing the Imam?

It is not easy for a non-Muslim to gain the approval of Sheikh Abdal-Hakim Murad. A prominent British convert to Islam, he is the secretary of the Muslim Academic Trust in London and director of the Sunna Project at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge University. He is also the imam of the Cambridge mosque and an influential commentator on the BBC and in the British press.

Abdal-Hakim regards himself as a moderate, and is taken at his own valuation by the British media. A careful study of his website (which, as it happens, shares its name with this one) causes me to doubt the sheikh’s moderation. This, after all, is a man who sees the Bush administration as “theocratic” but who warns the West that “the Caliph’s first task will be to flog those who call Islam an ideology.” It is clear that the years he spent at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and later in Saudi Arabia, have left their mark: Abdal-Hakim is a Sunni fundamentalist.

He is, however, broad-minded enough to write for a Christian newspaper, the Catholic Herald. Last week he reviewed Islam: Past, Present, and Future, the new book on Islam by Hans Küng. Küng is a controversial Swiss theologian who has been in conflict with the Catholic Church for some 30 years, but remains a Catholic priest “in good standing,” as he likes to remind his critics.

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It is not easy for a non-Muslim to gain the approval of Sheikh Abdal-Hakim Murad. A prominent British convert to Islam, he is the secretary of the Muslim Academic Trust in London and director of the Sunna Project at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge University. He is also the imam of the Cambridge mosque and an influential commentator on the BBC and in the British press.

Abdal-Hakim regards himself as a moderate, and is taken at his own valuation by the British media. A careful study of his website (which, as it happens, shares its name with this one) causes me to doubt the sheikh’s moderation. This, after all, is a man who sees the Bush administration as “theocratic” but who warns the West that “the Caliph’s first task will be to flog those who call Islam an ideology.” It is clear that the years he spent at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and later in Saudi Arabia, have left their mark: Abdal-Hakim is a Sunni fundamentalist.

He is, however, broad-minded enough to write for a Christian newspaper, the Catholic Herald. Last week he reviewed Islam: Past, Present, and Future, the new book on Islam by Hans Küng. Küng is a controversial Swiss theologian who has been in conflict with the Catholic Church for some 30 years, but remains a Catholic priest “in good standing,” as he likes to remind his critics.

Here is Abdal-Hakim’s approving summary of Küng’s treatment of Islam:

Its bearer, the Prophet Mohammed, must be regarded by Christians as a true messenger from God. The Qu’ran is, “in principle,” God’s word. Islam was not imposed at the point of a scimitar; on the contrary, the early Muslim conquests were generally welcomed by Christians and Jews who had been oppressed by Byzantine officialdom. Jihad is not “holy war,” but is comparable to Christian just-war traditions. Islamist terrorism is not organically related to the religion, but is denounced by the religion’s leaders, being the consequence of external factors, chief among them being the creation of the state of Israel.

What a meeting of minds between the “moderate” Muslim and the “liberal” Catholic who asserts the truth of Islam! (Though I think it unlikely that the sheikh will be writing a book any time soon that returns any of these favors.)

And yet, not even this obeisance before Islam is enough. Küng is a theologian notorious for scathing attacks on his own church leadership, particularly the last pope and the present one, and has nothing but praise for “the Other.” But Murad denounces his book’s “huge crop of factual errors,” its “disengagement from Muslims,” and its repetition of “old myths” that “will make this book useless to historians of ideas despite some moments of profound and, some would say, long-overdue insight.”

It is reasonable to conclude from this rebuff that Küng’s attempt at appeasement is not only intellectually disreputable but almost entirely ineffectual. It seems that nothing other than an abjuration of Küng’s minimalist Catholicism in favor of a full-scale embrace of Islam—in short, conversion—would satisfy Abdal-Hakim Murad. The literal meaning of “Islam” is “submission,” and that is what it demands from the infidel—nothing more but certainly nothing less.

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The Ten Commandments of the New York Times

The New York Times has “a comprehensive set of ethical guidelines, but if they were reduced to Ten Commandments, the first two would certainly be Don’t Lie and Don’t Do Anything Illegal”—or so says Matthew Purdy, the “investigations editor” at the newspaper. Purdy is responsible for leading the reporters and other editors who, among other things, try to unearth highly classified U.S. government secrets, often with great success.

“[W]e go to great lengths to follow the law while reporting aggressively,” says Purdy, and he cites an example:

Evidence that emerged during a terrorism trial in London that ended recently showed the authorities there had surveillance on two of the July 7, 2005, transit bombers at least a year before those deadly attacks, but had not followed up on those suspects. This was urgent information, but a British court order prohibited publication until the trial was over. We, like our brethren in the British press, held the story for months until the verdicts were in.

But, of course, Purdy is here talking about British law, which his newspaper does seem to scrupulously observe—even going so far as to block British readers from reading certain stories on its website. (The Times‘s own story about this extraordinary practice, “Times Withholds Web Article in Britain,” can be viewed here, though the link may require registration.)

But what about U.S. law?

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The New York Times has “a comprehensive set of ethical guidelines, but if they were reduced to Ten Commandments, the first two would certainly be Don’t Lie and Don’t Do Anything Illegal”—or so says Matthew Purdy, the “investigations editor” at the newspaper. Purdy is responsible for leading the reporters and other editors who, among other things, try to unearth highly classified U.S. government secrets, often with great success.

“[W]e go to great lengths to follow the law while reporting aggressively,” says Purdy, and he cites an example:

Evidence that emerged during a terrorism trial in London that ended recently showed the authorities there had surveillance on two of the July 7, 2005, transit bombers at least a year before those deadly attacks, but had not followed up on those suspects. This was urgent information, but a British court order prohibited publication until the trial was over. We, like our brethren in the British press, held the story for months until the verdicts were in.

But, of course, Purdy is here talking about British law, which his newspaper does seem to scrupulously observe—even going so far as to block British readers from reading certain stories on its website. (The Times‘s own story about this extraordinary practice, “Times Withholds Web Article in Britain,” can be viewed here, though the link may require registration.)

But what about U.S. law?

As Purdy surely knows, among other things, the United States has a statute on the books—Section 798 of Title 18—that makes it a crime to publish classified information pertaining to communications intelligence. The Times has flagrantly violated this provision, as when it published James Risen and Eric Lichtblau’s December 16, 2005 article disclosing a top-secret National Security Agency program to intercept al-Qaeda communications, a story that numerous government officials, including Jane Harman, then the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, say caused serious harm to American counterterrorism efforts.

The Times‘s position seems to be that Section 798 is unconstitutional, although none of its reporters, editors, or lawyers has ever come out and actually said so. A debate can certainly be had about the constitutional status of Section 798. But as I point out in a sharp exchange with another Times editor in the current issue of the New Republic (which continued here for another half-round), it is up to Congress to pass laws and the courts then determine whether they are unconstitutional. Journalists, even powerful ones like the editors of the Times, are not free to pick and choose the statutes they wish to observe and then claim immunity from prosecution for violating the others.

Yes, the Times does go to “great lengths,” as Matthew Purdy says, to observe the law—British law, that is. Its adherence to American law is a different story. If nothing else, our newspaper of record has thus found a very imaginative way to observe its own Ten Commandments.

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The GOP’s Immigration Meltdown

The debate over immigration reform has once more shown its capacity to fracture the Republican coalition. John McCain, a co-author of last week’s reform bill, recently engaged in a nasty exchange on the Senate floor with fellow Republican John Cornyn of Texas, who opposed the bill. And bill supporters Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina were roundly booed at their respective state conventions.

So far, the response by the Republican faithful to the Bush-Kennedy-McCain immigration reform proposal is redolent of both the 1976 uproar surrounding the Panama Canal treaty (which would help make Reagan president in 1980) and the current administration’s Dubai ports fiasco. As with the Panama Canal treaty, which roused patriotic sentiment, immigration in general touches on American’s sense of national identity. But the phenomenon of illegal immigration, which this bill was designed to address, strikes closer to the heart of citizens: working and middle-class voters feel that they have been made foreigners in their own localities by the influx of cheap labor. As with the Dubai ports deal, the Bush administration seems to be undermining its own core principles by failing to put security first.

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The debate over immigration reform has once more shown its capacity to fracture the Republican coalition. John McCain, a co-author of last week’s reform bill, recently engaged in a nasty exchange on the Senate floor with fellow Republican John Cornyn of Texas, who opposed the bill. And bill supporters Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina were roundly booed at their respective state conventions.

So far, the response by the Republican faithful to the Bush-Kennedy-McCain immigration reform proposal is redolent of both the 1976 uproar surrounding the Panama Canal treaty (which would help make Reagan president in 1980) and the current administration’s Dubai ports fiasco. As with the Panama Canal treaty, which roused patriotic sentiment, immigration in general touches on American’s sense of national identity. But the phenomenon of illegal immigration, which this bill was designed to address, strikes closer to the heart of citizens: working and middle-class voters feel that they have been made foreigners in their own localities by the influx of cheap labor. As with the Dubai ports deal, the Bush administration seems to be undermining its own core principles by failing to put security first.

The Washington Post noted in a front-page story that there is little reason to believe that the (deservedly maligned) Department of Homeland Security will be up to the enormous administrative task of implementing the legislation. Similarly, many voters will remember the 1986 immigration reform bill, which provided amnesty for illegal immigrants in exchange for enforcement provisions that never took hold.

McCain will no doubt be hurt by the fallout from the deal and his show of temper in defending it; Mitt Romney, in yet another flip-flop, now claims to oppose the bill. Rudy Giuliani has done little other than question the bill’s security implications. Though immigration is unlikely to boost a second-tier candidate into the top rank, it might provide the opportunity for an outsider like Tom Tancredo (who has already murmured about running) to put together a breakaway campaign based on his opposition to both abortion and illegal immigration. Whatever happens, it is obvious that for the Republican party, the political costs of this deal are going to be high.

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Will China Collapse?

My May 16 post, “Trade Showdown with China,” attracted a comment from one “Tongluren,” who asked, “Is this the same Gordon Chang that insisted that China will collapse in 2007?” It’s a fair question.

My first book, The Coming Collapse of China (2001), predicted that the Chinese Communist party would fall from power by the end of this decade, that is, by 2011 (not 2007). One of my principal arguments was that international commerce would remake Chinese society in ways that the country’s collective leadership—now composed of nine aging engineers who all favor blue suits and red ties—would not be able to handle.

Most people, like my new friend Tongluren, believe the Chinese one-party state is durable. If there is any consensus about China’s trajectory at this moment, it is that the Communist party will lead that nation to geopolitical and economic dominance in a few decades, perhaps sooner. “Resilient authoritarianism,” championed by Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan, is the latest intellectual flavor.

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My May 16 post, “Trade Showdown with China,” attracted a comment from one “Tongluren,” who asked, “Is this the same Gordon Chang that insisted that China will collapse in 2007?” It’s a fair question.

My first book, The Coming Collapse of China (2001), predicted that the Chinese Communist party would fall from power by the end of this decade, that is, by 2011 (not 2007). One of my principal arguments was that international commerce would remake Chinese society in ways that the country’s collective leadership—now composed of nine aging engineers who all favor blue suits and red ties—would not be able to handle.

Most people, like my new friend Tongluren, believe the Chinese one-party state is durable. If there is any consensus about China’s trajectory at this moment, it is that the Communist party will lead that nation to geopolitical and economic dominance in a few decades, perhaps sooner. “Resilient authoritarianism,” championed by Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan, is the latest intellectual flavor.

So it is no great surprise that people often ask me, in light of the spectacular performance of the Chinese economy in the last half decade, whether I have changed my opinions on the stability of the modern Chinese state. I have, in one important respect: I am surprised that China’s trading partners have been so tolerant of its failure to meet its World Trade Organization obligations. China’s economic success is based not only on structural factors like cheap labor and extreme environmental degradation, but also on widespread violations of trade promises. WTO membership limits the Communist party’s ability to continue those violations—and therefore to rack up enormous trade surpluses—but only if other nations enforce their rights.

At first, other nations were tolerant. America waited until March 2004 to file the first WTO complaint against China. Then Washington gave Beijing a private warning in February 2006 that its informal grace period was over. After more Chinese intransigence, Washington and Brussels took the unprecedented step of joining in a complaint the following month. Finally, Americans lost patience and filed three cases this year. In one of them—concerning intellectual property violations—we have been joined by Canada, Japan, Mexico, and the European Union.

China’s trading partners have just begun to scratch the surface with cases like these. Undoubtedly, additional complaints are on the way, as even more nations lose their patience with Beijing’s predatory trade practices. So WTO membership can eventually lead to major dislocations in the Chinese economy. Before joining the global trading organization, Beijing set the rules and administered the game. Now, however, it has submitted itself to external requirements and foreign tribunals.

Sensing American frustration, Beijing is approaching next week’s trade talks with the Bush administration with a hint of desperation. It is making pugnacious pronouncements, purchasing large quantities of American technology and soybeans, and pleading for more patience. It is, in fact, doing everything but complying with its trade obligations. Chinese leaders know that their economy cannot compete according to the rules. And that is one reason why the Chinese one-party state, which is overly dependent on exports to deliver prosperity, might just yet collapse.

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Farewell Fatah al-Islam

“A crime of especial notoriety,” is what the Guardian called it in 2002 when Israel entered a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin to root out terrorists who had organized a suicide bombing that killed 29 at their seder tables in a hotel in Netanya on the first night of Passover. In all, 52 Palestinians, almost all of them terrorists, died in this supposed genocide, while Israel, in a costly effort to to conduct itself in the most humane fashion possible, lost 23 soldiers of its own.

In Tripoli right now, the Lebanese army is pounding a Palestinian refugee camp with tank shells and other heavy weapons far less discriminating in their lethal effects than anything fired by Israeli ground troops in Jenin—and many Lebanese are cheering them on. The choir of Europeans and American leftists who routinely champion the Palestinian cause is strangely silent—or maybe not so strangely silent. Perhaps their real interest lies not in defending Palestinian rights but in bashing Israel—and Israel, of course, is not engaged in this particular fray.

Whatever explains the silence, we should welcome it as an opportunity and join the Lebanese civilians who are cheering the Lebanese army on. On September 20, 2001, George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress and laid out a strategy for protecting our country from another disaster like September 11: “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda,” he said, “but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.”

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“A crime of especial notoriety,” is what the Guardian called it in 2002 when Israel entered a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin to root out terrorists who had organized a suicide bombing that killed 29 at their seder tables in a hotel in Netanya on the first night of Passover. In all, 52 Palestinians, almost all of them terrorists, died in this supposed genocide, while Israel, in a costly effort to to conduct itself in the most humane fashion possible, lost 23 soldiers of its own.

In Tripoli right now, the Lebanese army is pounding a Palestinian refugee camp with tank shells and other heavy weapons far less discriminating in their lethal effects than anything fired by Israeli ground troops in Jenin—and many Lebanese are cheering them on. The choir of Europeans and American leftists who routinely champion the Palestinian cause is strangely silent—or maybe not so strangely silent. Perhaps their real interest lies not in defending Palestinian rights but in bashing Israel—and Israel, of course, is not engaged in this particular fray.

Whatever explains the silence, we should welcome it as an opportunity and join the Lebanese civilians who are cheering the Lebanese army on. On September 20, 2001, George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress and laid out a strategy for protecting our country from another disaster like September 11: “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda,” he said, “but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.”

Although the U.S. is not involved, the fighting in northern Lebanon between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam, a Palestinian group affiliate of al Qaeda, is nonetheless a potentially important testing ground for the Bush doctrine of denying “safe haven to terrorism.”

Parts of Lebanon, like Afghanistan under the Taliban, have become lawless sanctuaries for terrorist groups of global reach. The Iranian-backed Hizballah is the most significant of these. Not only does this Shiite movement retain powerful influence throughout Lebanon, but it is organized to strike abroad and is widely believed to have sleeper cells in Europe, Latin America, and the United States.

Unlike the Taliban in Afghanistan, however, the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has never welcomed the terrorists in Lebanon’s midst. Rather, the terrorist presence is a consequence of his country’s chronic weakness, which flows from deep ethnic and religious divisions and continuing Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs.

Unwilling and unable to confront Hizballah directly, Siniora has deployed some 15,000 troops in Lebanon’s south, where the Shiite militia had enjoyed unlimited freedom of action until it provoked last summer’s war with Israel.

If Siniora successfully manages to extinguish Fatah al-Islam and the threat it represents to Lebanon, perhaps he will be emboldened to check more resolutely and ultimately disarm the Iranian-backed Hizballah. Movement in that direction could certainly be counted as a critical interest of the United States. We should be bending every diplomatic and military effort to help him accomplish it.

“We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest,” said President Bush on September 20, 2001. Time is running out on his administration. Let’s hope he keeps his word.

 

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Bookshelf

• Mid-century modernism has become so retro-chic that it’s easy to forget how many Americans still find it offputting. I never cease to be amazed, for instance, by the number of people I know who loathe modern domestic architecture. Me, I love it, though I freely admit that any number of well-known modern houses are far better looked at than lived in. I recently returned from Chicago, where I visited Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House (1951) and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Muirhead Farmhouse (1953). Mies’ “glass house,” one of the most famous and frequently written-about homes of the 20th century, is the subject of an exceedingly intelligent illustrated monograph by Franz Schulze, author of the standard biography of Mies. The Farnsworth House is out of print, alas, but Schulze’s Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography is still to be had and very much worth reading, not least for its detailed account of the making of this icon of architectural modernism, which is a good deal more candid about the house’s self-evident defects as a “machine for living” (in Le Corbusier’s oft-quoted phrase) than one might expect from an admiring biographer: “Certainly the house is more nearly a temple than a dwelling, and it rewards aesthetic contemplation before it fulfills domestic necessity.”

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• Mid-century modernism has become so retro-chic that it’s easy to forget how many Americans still find it offputting. I never cease to be amazed, for instance, by the number of people I know who loathe modern domestic architecture. Me, I love it, though I freely admit that any number of well-known modern houses are far better looked at than lived in. I recently returned from Chicago, where I visited Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House (1951) and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Muirhead Farmhouse (1953). Mies’ “glass house,” one of the most famous and frequently written-about homes of the 20th century, is the subject of an exceedingly intelligent illustrated monograph by Franz Schulze, author of the standard biography of Mies. The Farnsworth House is out of print, alas, but Schulze’s Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography is still to be had and very much worth reading, not least for its detailed account of the making of this icon of architectural modernism, which is a good deal more candid about the house’s self-evident defects as a “machine for living” (in Le Corbusier’s oft-quoted phrase) than one might expect from an admiring biographer: “Certainly the house is more nearly a temple than a dwelling, and it rewards aesthetic contemplation before it fulfills domestic necessity.”

The Muirhead Farmhouse, by contrast, is one of Wright’s lesser-known projects and has yet to be written about in detail. Fortunately, several good books have been published about the ranch-style “Usonian houses” of Wright’s later years, the most accessible of which is Carla Lind’s Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Houses, one of twelve titles in a series of miniature monographs called “Wright at a Glance.” In addition, Ada Louise Huxtable, the architecture critic of The Wall Street Journal, has written a superb brief life of Wright that is among the strongest entries in the Penguin Lives series. Frank Lloyd Wright is a masterpiece of thoughtful compression, never more so than in this passage about the Usonian houses:

Usonian houses were, and are, inviting and livable . . . . Wright’s houses never insisted that their occupants reshape themselves to conform to an abstract architectural ideal. Although he was relentlessly dictatorial about building in furniture of his own design and including his own accessories—he was known to go into his houses during the owners’ absence and rearrange everything to his taste—and some of that furniture was notoriously uncomfortable, he never adopted the functional minimalism promoted for low-cost dwellings by the International style. His houses are positively gemütlich compared with the enforced antisepsis that has reached a challenging astringency as the architectural avant-garde strives for a reductive perfection.

Well said.

• I only just got around to reading the extensively revised second edition of Elizabeth Wilson’s Shostakovich: A Life Remembered. I wrote about the first edition in “The Problem of Shostakovich,” my 1995 COMMENTARY essay about the greatest Russian composer of the 20th century:

Wilson’s book, initially planned as a short volume in Faber & Faber’s “Composers Remembered” series, soon grew beyond its intended scope to become a full-scale documentary biography based not only on pre- and post-glasnost reminiscences of Shostakovich, some already published and some newly commissioned, but on interviews with about two dozen of the composer’s friends, colleagues, and family members. The result is without question the most important English-language book about Dmitri Shostakovich to date.

This new edition is 80 pages longer than its predecessor, and the additional material, all drawn from primary sources not available to Wilson in the 90’s, will be of great interest to anyone more than casually interested in Shostakovich. If you have the original edition, you should replace it with this one. If not, what I said in 1995 still goes. Shostakovich: A Life Remembered is every bit as readable as a well-written biography, and since no such book exists, it remains the indispensable starting point for anyone who wants to learn more about Dmitri Shostakovich’s life, times, and troubles.

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Wagner Without Tears

A commenter asks if I can recommend any performances conducted by the German conductor Hermann Abendroth (1883-1956). Abendroth was the “only conductor who ever made me genuinely love anything by Wagner,” says the commenter, citing a 1943 Parsifal from Bayreuth. Abendroth, who mainly conducted in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and East Germany, also produced dynamic recordings of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony circa 1950, of which two, with the Berlin and Leipzig Radio Symphonies, have been reprinted on CD by Tahra.

Must music-lovers look to conductors like Herbert von Karajan or Karl Böhm, to name just two, as the final Wagnerian authorities? Yes, Wagner was a notorious anti-Semite who probably would have approved of Hitler’s Final Solution. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a fascist to produce great Wagnerian performances.

Try listening to the conductor who was—with good reason—considered the truest Wagnerian at Bayreuth and Salzburg, until his anti-Fascist convictions made him refuse to perform there in the 1930’s: Arturo Toscanini (1867–1957). Volume Seven of RCA’s Immortal Toscanini series is devoted to Toscanini’s fearlessly virtuosic performances of Wagner with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. “Siegfried’s Death and Funeral Music” from Götterdämmerung has its typically intense dramatic emotional imagery—it sounds like a noble person has died and we are mourning him with grandeur—along with high intellectual clarity. (We can actually see Toscanini conduct Wagner on Volumes One and Four of “Toscanini—The Television Concerts 1948-52” on DVD from Testament.)

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A commenter asks if I can recommend any performances conducted by the German conductor Hermann Abendroth (1883-1956). Abendroth was the “only conductor who ever made me genuinely love anything by Wagner,” says the commenter, citing a 1943 Parsifal from Bayreuth. Abendroth, who mainly conducted in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and East Germany, also produced dynamic recordings of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony circa 1950, of which two, with the Berlin and Leipzig Radio Symphonies, have been reprinted on CD by Tahra.

Must music-lovers look to conductors like Herbert von Karajan or Karl Böhm, to name just two, as the final Wagnerian authorities? Yes, Wagner was a notorious anti-Semite who probably would have approved of Hitler’s Final Solution. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a fascist to produce great Wagnerian performances.

Try listening to the conductor who was—with good reason—considered the truest Wagnerian at Bayreuth and Salzburg, until his anti-Fascist convictions made him refuse to perform there in the 1930’s: Arturo Toscanini (1867–1957). Volume Seven of RCA’s Immortal Toscanini series is devoted to Toscanini’s fearlessly virtuosic performances of Wagner with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. “Siegfried’s Death and Funeral Music” from Götterdämmerung has its typically intense dramatic emotional imagery—it sounds like a noble person has died and we are mourning him with grandeur—along with high intellectual clarity. (We can actually see Toscanini conduct Wagner on Volumes One and Four of “Toscanini—The Television Concerts 1948-52” on DVD from Testament.)

Another of the greatest Wagnerians is Pierre Monteux (1875–1964), a French Jew whose exultant embrace of life expresses the inherent sensuality in Wagner’s music. His performances are available on CD’s from the EMI Great Conductors and BBC Legends series, as well as a fascinating 10-CD box set from Music & Arts, Sunday Evenings With Pierre Monteux. And how about Fritz Busch (1890-1951)? Busch’s musical career might well have flourished under the Third Reich—he was of Aryan birth—but his principles pushed him into exile from Germany. Busch’s exalted 1936 performance of Parsifal at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires has been released on CD by Marston. This performance features a number of great talents, including the bass Alexander Kipnis, a Ukrainian Jew who would later be forced into exile by Hitler’s regime.

Other must-hear conductors of Wagner include Italy’s Guido Cantelli (1920-1956), who spent most of World War II in concentration camps because of his brave anti-Fascist activities. Cantelli’s fervently poetic performances of Wagner with the Philharmonia have been reprinted by Testament. The Czech maestro Karel Ančerl (1908-1973) was interned in Terezín and Auschwitz (where his family was killed), yet after the war he recorded a pellucid and humane version of the “Prelude to Act I” of Lohengrin with the Czech Philharmonic, reprinted on Supraphon.

Conductors of moral rigor and human depth like Toscanini, Cantelli, and Ančerl overcame the historical stain on Wagner’s music to find its inner value. And thankfully, listeners today need not be limited to historical performances from the Third Reich to find the “real” Wagner.

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Our Unshakeable September 10th Mentality

Suppose a CIA officer stationed in Madrid identifies an al-Qaeda operative by the name, let’s say, of Jihad Jihadi, and observes him talking on a cellphone. Using tradecraft taught on the Farm—the agency training camp back in Virginia—the CIA officer skillfully manages to find out the cellphone’s number and then puts in a request to the National Security Agency, the U.S. government’s signals-intelligence arm, to scoop up all conversations from the phone and have them translated. Can it be lawfully done?

Even if it turns out that the number Mr. Jihadi is telephoning belongs to a man named, say, Osama Fatwa, who is a pupil in a flight school in Florida where he is studying how to fly 747’s but not to land them, and even though Mr. Jihadi is located on foreign soil, the NSA might nonetheless be compelled to decline the CIA request.

Michael McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, explains in an op-ed in today’s Washington Post:

Many Americans would be surprised at just what the current law requires. To state the facts plainly: In a significant number of cases, our intelligence agencies must obtain a court order to monitor the communications of foreigners suspected of terrorist activity who are physically located in foreign countries.

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Suppose a CIA officer stationed in Madrid identifies an al-Qaeda operative by the name, let’s say, of Jihad Jihadi, and observes him talking on a cellphone. Using tradecraft taught on the Farm—the agency training camp back in Virginia—the CIA officer skillfully manages to find out the cellphone’s number and then puts in a request to the National Security Agency, the U.S. government’s signals-intelligence arm, to scoop up all conversations from the phone and have them translated. Can it be lawfully done?

Even if it turns out that the number Mr. Jihadi is telephoning belongs to a man named, say, Osama Fatwa, who is a pupil in a flight school in Florida where he is studying how to fly 747’s but not to land them, and even though Mr. Jihadi is located on foreign soil, the NSA might nonetheless be compelled to decline the CIA request.

Michael McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, explains in an op-ed in today’s Washington Post:

Many Americans would be surprised at just what the current law requires. To state the facts plainly: In a significant number of cases, our intelligence agencies must obtain a court order to monitor the communications of foreigners suspected of terrorist activity who are physically located in foreign countries.

In the aftermath of September 11, such restrictions—a consequence of the 1978 FISA Act—were rightly viewed as dangerously anachronistic, and President Bush set in motion his top-secret Terrorist Surveillance Program, under which the NSA was authorized to tap the conversations and intercept the emails of suspected terrorists without a warrant, if one party in the conversation was located abroad.
 
The New York Times revealed the existence of this program in December 2005, arguably compromising it, and the disclosure has been roiling our politics ever since. Whatever damage to our national security was inflicted by our newspaper of record, McConnell is urgently pushing for reform of FISA. “Technology and threats have changed,” he notes, “but the law remains essentially the same,” and our failure to keep pace “comes at an increasingly steep price.”
 
What exactly is that steep price? We made a downpayment with attacks on our embassies in Africa in 1998 and a major installment with the horrors of September 11, 2001. The fact is that tracking terrorist communications would be a problematic enterprise even if we were not tying our hands behind our backs. Insight into the tremendous difficulties involved comes from a recently declassified—and heavily redacted—top-secret NSA report looking back at the agency’s counterterrorism efforts in the 1970’s.
 
The report acknowledges that as terrorism emerged as a significant security concern in that era, with the rise of the Japanese Red Army, the Italian Red Brigades, and numerous Palestinian groups taking the lead, the NSA was “slow to take up the problem” and its “overall approach was rather haphazard.”

The explanation offered for the NSA’s lackluster response is that the signals-intelligence profile of a terrorist group was markedly different from the conventional military and diplomatic communications profile that the agency was accustomed to monitoring. “For the most part, terrorist groups lacked dedicated communications systems,” and as a result, the NSA was “confronted with the prospect of picking out the needles of terrorist transmissions in the haystack of [XXXXXX].” The nature of the “haystack” remains classified and the words defining it were excised from the report. But we do not have to guess in the dark. The report explains the essential difficulty: “the volume of traffic was so high, and the nature of terrorist communications so subtle, that finding anything transmitted by terrorists was problematic.”
 
Technology may have changed a great deal since the 1970’s, but the nature of terrorist communication has not. As in the 9/11 plot, terrorists cells are tiny and they do not use dedicated communications systems. Our intelligence agencies are still looking for a needle in haystack. Are we going to strew obstacles in their way beyond the formidable technological ones that are intrinsic to the problem? Or to put the question another way, are we in the grip of an unshakeable September 10th mentality and determined to set ourselves up for catastrophic failure once again?
 

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China’s Buying Spree

Yesterday, China announced that it is investing $3 billion of its foreign exchange reserves in the Blackstone Group, a New York private equity firm. The investment gives Beijing a potentially higher return on its $1.2 trillion of reserves, which are currently invested mostly in low-yielding debt instruments.

There are few coincidences involving China, and the timing of the announcement comes at a crucial time in Sino-American relations. A large Chinese delegation arrives in Washington this week for the second round of the Strategic Economic Dialogue. It will have limited flexibility and, as I explained in an earlier post, will not be able to make many concessions to the United States. This is also a politically sensitive moment within China, on account of the 17th Communist Party Congress, which will be held later this year.

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Yesterday, China announced that it is investing $3 billion of its foreign exchange reserves in the Blackstone Group, a New York private equity firm. The investment gives Beijing a potentially higher return on its $1.2 trillion of reserves, which are currently invested mostly in low-yielding debt instruments.

There are few coincidences involving China, and the timing of the announcement comes at a crucial time in Sino-American relations. A large Chinese delegation arrives in Washington this week for the second round of the Strategic Economic Dialogue. It will have limited flexibility and, as I explained in an earlier post, will not be able to make many concessions to the United States. This is also a politically sensitive moment within China, on account of the 17th Communist Party Congress, which will be held later this year.

The Chinese have tried to lower the temperature before the Washington talks. They went on a buying spree of U.S. products recently—a tactic employed in the past—and on Friday they marginally loosened controls on the renminbi to defuse anger in Congress over their rigging of their currency. These maneuvers are transparent and will not help Beijing alter its well-deserved image as a trade outlaw. But the Chinese apparently think that the Blackstone investment could change the political calculus in this country—they rushed to close the deal before the talks, putting it together in just three weeks. It’s not far-fetched to see in this an attempt by Beijing to use its mountain of foreign cash to buy influence.

The investment in the Blackstone Group will not be as sensitive as China’s attempt, in 2005, to buy Unocal. Nonetheless, it may be more significant, foreshadowing a trend. As Xinhua, Beijing’s official news agency, stated earlier this year, China’s foreign-exchange reserves are sufficient to “buy Microsoft, Citibank, and Exxon Mobil Corp., as well as General Motors and Ford.” This is a good time to begin thinking about how much of corporate America should be owned by this authoritarian state.

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Our Worst Ex-President

There he goes again. In an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Jimmy Carter has called George W. Bush’s presidency “the worst in history” in the area of foreign affairs. In a separate interview on the BBC, the former President also blasted the conduct of Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain, the leader of America’s closest ally, as “abominable,” and also “loyal, blind, apparently subservient.” Said Carter, “the almost undeviating support by Great Britain for the ill-advised policies of President Bush in Iraq have been a major tragedy for the world.”  

Has any American President ever lambasted one of his successors with language such as this, and on foreign soil—or at least on foreign airwaves—to boot?

Speaking of the “worst in history,” there can be little doubt that Jimmy Carter is himself Our Worst Ex-President—which is the title of a comprehensive, timely, and utterly devastating essay by Josh Muravchik that COMMENTARY published in February.

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There he goes again. In an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Jimmy Carter has called George W. Bush’s presidency “the worst in history” in the area of foreign affairs. In a separate interview on the BBC, the former President also blasted the conduct of Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain, the leader of America’s closest ally, as “abominable,” and also “loyal, blind, apparently subservient.” Said Carter, “the almost undeviating support by Great Britain for the ill-advised policies of President Bush in Iraq have been a major tragedy for the world.”  

Has any American President ever lambasted one of his successors with language such as this, and on foreign soil—or at least on foreign airwaves—to boot?

Speaking of the “worst in history,” there can be little doubt that Jimmy Carter is himself Our Worst Ex-President—which is the title of a comprehensive, timely, and utterly devastating essay by Josh Muravchik that COMMENTARY published in February.

What explains Carter’s own abominable conduct? “Ever since his presidency,” writes Muravchik, “there has been a wide gap between Carter’s estimation of himself and the esteem in which other Americans hold him.” And it is this gap that

has manifestly embittered him. For all his talk of “love,” the driving motives behind his post-presidential ventures seem, in fact, to be bitterness together with narcissism (as it happens, two prime ingredients of a martyr complex). But he has worked hard to earn the reputation he enjoys. In contravention of the elementary responsibilities of loyalty for one in his position, he has denigrated American policies and leaders in his public and private discussions in foreign lands. He has undertaken personal diplomacy to thwart the policies of the men elected to succeed him. And in doing so he has, at least in the case of North Korea, actively damaged our security.

Muravchik notes that there can be little doubt that the American electorate was right in 1980 when it tossed out Carter in a landslide, thereby judging him to have been “among our worst Presidents.” Muravchik is himself undoubtedly right in his certainty that “history will judge him to have been our very worst ex-President.” Read Muravchik’s indispensable essay here.

To learn about how Carter helped to destabilize America’s most critical ally in the Persian Gulf, click here.

To learn about how Jimmy Carter bungled the Iranian hostage crisis, click here.

To learn more about what I think about Jimmy Carter, and what he thinks about me, click here.

 

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Art’s New Box Scores

We rank baseball players by their batting averages and Hollywood films by their box office receipts, but what about artists? Can we judge their performance by equally objective standards? According to Artfacts.net, a website that provides news about the international art scene, the answer is an emphatic yes. It has ranked over 80,000 artists according to “a special algorithm” that examines their international reputation. The list makes for fascinating reading, all the way from Andy Warhol at the top to a certain Mr. Håvard Øyen, who has earned the boasting rights that come with being the 81,750th most celebrated artist in the world.

Mr. Øyen has nothing to be ashamed of. Weak as his showing may be, it is still far better than Leonardo da Vinci, Vermeer, and Rembrandt, none of whom make the list. In fact, the oldest artist in the top one hundred is Edgar Degas (52), who was born in 1834. Otherwise it is dominated by contemporary celebrities such as Bruce Nauman (3), Robert Rauschenberg (7), and Cindy Sherman (11). But this dominance is inevitable, given that the ranking is based on the overall exhibition activity of artists rather than, for example, the sales figures they command—a criterion that would favor the Old Masters.

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We rank baseball players by their batting averages and Hollywood films by their box office receipts, but what about artists? Can we judge their performance by equally objective standards? According to Artfacts.net, a website that provides news about the international art scene, the answer is an emphatic yes. It has ranked over 80,000 artists according to “a special algorithm” that examines their international reputation. The list makes for fascinating reading, all the way from Andy Warhol at the top to a certain Mr. Håvard Øyen, who has earned the boasting rights that come with being the 81,750th most celebrated artist in the world.

Mr. Øyen has nothing to be ashamed of. Weak as his showing may be, it is still far better than Leonardo da Vinci, Vermeer, and Rembrandt, none of whom make the list. In fact, the oldest artist in the top one hundred is Edgar Degas (52), who was born in 1834. Otherwise it is dominated by contemporary celebrities such as Bruce Nauman (3), Robert Rauschenberg (7), and Cindy Sherman (11). But this dominance is inevitable, given that the ranking is based on the overall exhibition activity of artists rather than, for example, the sales figures they command—a criterion that would favor the Old Masters.

The thinking that generated the list of artists is perhaps more remarkable than the list itself. It is based on the ideas of the German economist Georg Franck, who argues that the behavior of consumers in an information age can be analyzed by traditional economic tools. Instead of allocating our finite supply of money to purchase goods, we allocate chunks of our finite amount of attention to various types of media—a process that Franck calls the economy of attention.

One might admire the concept without necessarily admiring the results. The batting average of a baseball player is not an inexact proxy for his quality; it is his quality. But Artfacts, by measuring the amount of exhibition activity an artist creates, calculates his celebrity rather than his quality, and if there is any relationship between the two, the algorithm that would measure it has not been invented yet. If there is any doubt on this point, one might take a look again at Artfacts’ top 100 and ask: if Carl André (56) had not been tried for murdering his wife, would he still have a higher rank than, say, Claude Monet (58)?

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Weekend Reading

From 1970 to 1973, Norman Podhoretz, then COMMENTARY’s editor-in-chief (and now its editor-at-large), wrote a monthly column to introduce and expand on the themes and points raised in the issue’s most important articles. The column, titled “Issues,” lasted only three years, but it ranged over a huge variety of subjects and illuminated some of the most pressing cultural, political, and intellectual questions of the day. This weekend, we offer several of the best of “Issues.”

Laws, Kings, and Cures
October 1970

Liberty and the Intellectuals
November 1971

The Idea of a Common Culture
June 1972

Between Nixon and the New Politics
September 1972

Vietnam and Collective Guilt
March 1973

From 1970 to 1973, Norman Podhoretz, then COMMENTARY’s editor-in-chief (and now its editor-at-large), wrote a monthly column to introduce and expand on the themes and points raised in the issue’s most important articles. The column, titled “Issues,” lasted only three years, but it ranged over a huge variety of subjects and illuminated some of the most pressing cultural, political, and intellectual questions of the day. This weekend, we offer several of the best of “Issues.”

Laws, Kings, and Cures
October 1970

Liberty and the Intellectuals
November 1971

The Idea of a Common Culture
June 1972

Between Nixon and the New Politics
September 1972

Vietnam and Collective Guilt
March 1973

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