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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
“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.”
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Liberty and the Intellectuals
The Idea of a Common Culture
Between Nixon and the New Politics
Vietnam and Collective Guilt