In addition to the very interesting speeches delivered by President Bush and Senator Lieberman at last week’s Prague Conference on Democracy and Security, there were some noteworthy moments during the panel discussions.
The most touching came during the remarks of Mithal Al-Alusi, a liberal secularist member of the Iraqi legislature. “We are fighting for you in Iraq,” he said, “because what we are fighting against is part of the Iran-Syria-Hamas-Hizballah axis.” Then he added that Iraqis were aware of and grateful for the losses of American sons and daughters in Iraq: “we have lost children, too.” What he was too dignified to mention was that he, himself, lost two grown sons to terrorists who were attempting to assassinate him after he had attended an anti-terrorism conference in Israel. He has somehow found the strength to continue the struggle to make his country peaceful and free.
The most welcome moment came during the remarks of Egyptian intellectual and leading dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim. Ibrahim has been an advocate of dialogue with Islamists ever since his prolonged jailhouse exchanges with Muslim Brotherhood prisoners during his own long incarceration. Last summer, however, during the war in Lebanon, Ibrahim appeared to veer toward a closer embrace of Islamists, freely granting their democratic bona fides, a position I criticized in COMMENTARY.
Kurt Waldheim, the former Secretary General of the United Nations and president of Austria, has died at the age of eighty-eight. What will be history’s verdict?
The Washington Post’s obituary offers a good summary of the facts leading to his being placed on a watch list of “prohibited persons” that barred him from entry into the United States. Although his participation in Nazi war crimes was never proved in a court of law, it was enough that he had repeatedly lied about his military service during World War II, striving especially to conceal his role as a lieutenant in the Wehrmacht from 1942 through 1945 in a unit that had butchered Yugoslav partisans. Later disclosures in the mid-1980’s, reports the Post, “included a secret 1948 finding by the UN War Crimes Commission that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute Waldheim for ‘murder’ and ‘putting hostages to death.’”
Despite his sinister past, Waldheim did have his admirers. One of them, remarkably enough, was the writer Gitta Sereny, whose anti-Nazi credentials, as a member of the French resistance and as a historian, are not in doubt. When she interviewed Waldheim in the late 1980’s about his activities in the Balkans, he explained to her that it was “a ‘savage war,’ like ‘Vietnam, and now the West Bank,’ where the Israelis ‘are breaking people’s bones.’”
Yesterday, Senators Baucus, Grassley, Schumer, and Graham unveiled legislation aimed at China’s currency-fixing practices. The bill, which does not mention any country by name, targets “fundamentally misaligned currencies.” If enacted, it would require the Treasury and Commerce Departments first to determine if the “misalignment” is intentional and then to take a series of actions—ranging from suspension of that country’s procurement rights to intervention by the WTO and the Federal Reserve—if the problem is not remedied.
There seems little question that the misalignment of China’s renminbi is intentional. The currency was pegged to the dollar until July 2005. After intense pressure from the international community, Beijing made a slight upward adjustment—about 2 percent—and then freed its currency to trade within an extremely tight band. Since then, the renminbi has appreciated about 6 percent against the greenback. Today, some think the yuan, as the renminbi is informally known, is still undervalued by as much as 15 to 40 percent. Beijing keeps the renminbi undervalued by intervening in domestic money markets almost every day.
Lunch-hour pedestrians in midtown Manhattan from June 4th to 8th may have stumbled across one of five consecutive mid-day recitals (part of Bryant Park’s Piano in the Park series) by Roy Eaton, an African-American musician born in Harlem in 1930, gifted with unusual poise and calm grace. Mr. Eaton, who has released CD’s of Chopin on Summit Records and Scott Joplin’s ragtime music on Sony, has a new Summit CD out, Keyboard Classics for Children, which reveals unusual insight into the world of childhood. The disc includes works by J.S. Bach and Claude Debussy, as well as Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenen, played in deliberate (yet never heavy) tempos and with unshowy intimacy, in the spirit of the acclaimed British pianist Clifford Curzon (1907-1982).
Eaton was born, sadly, before it was possible for an African-American classical pianist seriously to envisage a concert career. Instead, he became an advertising executive for Young & Rubicam and Benton & Bowles. (Eaton is responsible for several popular TV jingles, including You can trust your car/ to the man that wears the star/ the big, bright, Texaco star and Beefaroni’s full of meat/ Beefaroni’s really neat./ Hooray for Beefaroni!). After being downsized in 1980, Eaton (who now teaches at the Manhattan School of Music) found time to rediscover his inner child and his musical ambitions.