Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 2007

Casualty Counts

Critics of the troop surge have been arguing that it isn’t making any difference on the ground—the only thing it’s doing, they claim, is driving up American casualties. The facts are starting to contradict their claims.

I’ve recently posted a couple of items noting that reliable on-the-ground observers—namely Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of The Brookings Institution and John Burns of the New York Times—have found that violence against Iraqis is falling. Now comes news that the number of American casualties is also declining, at least temporarily.

There were spikes in the number of Americans killed in action in April (104), May (126), and June (101)—up from 83 in January, 81 in February, and 81 in March. The increases were to be expected because this was the period when more American troops were arriving in Iraq, and were starting to go on the offensive against Shiite and Sunni insurgents. All along, the theory behind the surge was that while there might be a short-term spike in casualties, eventually, as the troops started to get the situation under better control, our losses would decline.

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Critics of the troop surge have been arguing that it isn’t making any difference on the ground—the only thing it’s doing, they claim, is driving up American casualties. The facts are starting to contradict their claims.

I’ve recently posted a couple of items noting that reliable on-the-ground observers—namely Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of The Brookings Institution and John Burns of the New York Times—have found that violence against Iraqis is falling. Now comes news that the number of American casualties is also declining, at least temporarily.

There were spikes in the number of Americans killed in action in April (104), May (126), and June (101)—up from 83 in January, 81 in February, and 81 in March. The increases were to be expected because this was the period when more American troops were arriving in Iraq, and were starting to go on the offensive against Shiite and Sunni insurgents. All along, the theory behind the surge was that while there might be a short-term spike in casualties, eventually, as the troops started to get the situation under better control, our losses would decline.

As this Associated Press story notes, that seems to be what’s happening: they report the death tolls for July as 73, while the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count reports it as 74. Whether 73 or 74, that’s the lowest figure in eight months—since November 2006, when 70 Americans were killed.

We should not, of course, read too much into these statistics. There have been declines in past summers as well, while in previous falls, the numbers of casualties have again increased. (Perhaps insurgents don’t enjoy fighting in 120 degree heat.) It doesn’t take many atrocities to cause a spike in the body count. And even though, now, the number is lower than it has been in the past eight months, 73 dead Americans is still 73 too many. Nevertheless, as the public and its elected representatives try to draw conclusions about whether the U.S. strategy is working, they should take the current decline in casualties as a modest indicator of progress.

But, of course, mere facts won’t change the minds of committed antiwar advocates. Check out this CNN interview with Congressman Jack Murtha. He was asked for his thoughts on yesterday’s O’Hanlon-Pollack article in the New York Times. Here is Murtha’s reply: “I don’t know where they were staying. I don’t know what they saw. But I know this, that it’s not getting better. It’s rhetorical is what is getting better.”

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If George F. Kennan Met Osama bin Laden

“Did George Kennan know the best way to fight terror?” is the question asked by a New York Times op-ed today. My question in return is: why is so much that appears on the op-ed page of our leading newspaper so fatuous?

In 1947, writes Nicholas Thompson, the author of a forthcoming book about Kennan, the late American strategist published his famous article in Foreign Affairs under the byline of X, setting forth the strategy of containment. The Soviet challenge, as Kennan understood it, Thompson explains, was political and not military, and it required a political not a military response: “The United States should refrain from provoking Moscow, whether through confrontation or histrionics,” Thompson paraphrases. “Patience would lead to success.”

Alas, Thompson continues, containment was massively misinterpreted and militarized by American cold warriors and turned into an instrument of aggression and bellicosity. This in turn led into the horrors of the cold war:

We soon built up our forces to defend Western Europe, created NATO and engaged in a huge arms race. Eventually containment would mean soldiers in Vietnam and thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at the Soviet Union.

Has Thompson has given us a fair summary of Kennan’s position? In Foreign Affairs, after all, Kennan offered a strategy of “firm containment designed to confront the Russians with unalterable counterforce at every point where they show signs of encroaching upon the interest of a peaceful and stable world.” It is impossible to read this as a call for pacifism or disengagement or even “patience”—try as Thompson might (and, in his later years, Kennan himself did). In fact, as I have argued in COMMENTARY, there were actually two George Kennans, the second of whom waged a life-long war against the writings of the first, grossly distorting his own ideas and the historical record along the way.

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“Did George Kennan know the best way to fight terror?” is the question asked by a New York Times op-ed today. My question in return is: why is so much that appears on the op-ed page of our leading newspaper so fatuous?

In 1947, writes Nicholas Thompson, the author of a forthcoming book about Kennan, the late American strategist published his famous article in Foreign Affairs under the byline of X, setting forth the strategy of containment. The Soviet challenge, as Kennan understood it, Thompson explains, was political and not military, and it required a political not a military response: “The United States should refrain from provoking Moscow, whether through confrontation or histrionics,” Thompson paraphrases. “Patience would lead to success.”

Alas, Thompson continues, containment was massively misinterpreted and militarized by American cold warriors and turned into an instrument of aggression and bellicosity. This in turn led into the horrors of the cold war:

We soon built up our forces to defend Western Europe, created NATO and engaged in a huge arms race. Eventually containment would mean soldiers in Vietnam and thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at the Soviet Union.

Has Thompson has given us a fair summary of Kennan’s position? In Foreign Affairs, after all, Kennan offered a strategy of “firm containment designed to confront the Russians with unalterable counterforce at every point where they show signs of encroaching upon the interest of a peaceful and stable world.” It is impossible to read this as a call for pacifism or disengagement or even “patience”—try as Thompson might (and, in his later years, Kennan himself did). In fact, as I have argued in COMMENTARY, there were actually two George Kennans, the second of whom waged a life-long war against the writings of the first, grossly distorting his own ideas and the historical record along the way.

But what does any of this cold-war arcana have to do with terrorism?

Thompson acknowledges that today “we face vastly different challenges from those the nation confronted right after World War II.” Al-Qaeda cells plotting attacks with weapons of mass destruction are a far cry from the dangers posed by the Red Army and Communist insurrection. Nevertheless, claims Thompson, Kennan’s pacific version of containment—“the desired but never executed policy from 60 years ago—contains “profound wisdom” for our present circumstances. In particular, we should recognize that, as in the cold war, “[t]ime is on our side—particularly if we act in a way that doesn’t inflame our enemies’ pride and anger and win them new recruits.”

Thus, with respect to Pakistan, where we are spending $10 billion on military assistance and less than $1 billion on health, education, and the promotion of democracy, Kennan “would have wanted the numbers to be closer to the reverse.”

Kennan’s vision of counterterrorism would also involve

the closing of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, an unambiguous renunciation of torture, and an abandonment of the notion that our legal and moral norms don’t apply to the current struggle. Kennan believed we gave our opponents a propaganda victory each time we acted in a manner unfitting of our ideals.

Whatever the merits and demerits of each of these proposals, invoking Kennan’s doctrine of containment in defense of them is both dishonest and illogical.

Even in the cold war itself, as Thompson himself admits, “We can’t know for sure how [Kennan’s] recommended, wholly political version of containment”—assuming he ever adumbrated such a vision—“would have fared.” In the event, and in the face of massive threats to the peace in places like Korea and Berlin, the “militarized” version of the doctrine was a necessity.

Toward the end of the cold war, moreover, it was only America’s willingness to engage in a military competition that enabled the West to prevail; even Thompson is compelled to admit that a “militant foreign policy” eventually helped “bring about the collapse of Soviet Communism.”

So how does it follow from the history of the cold war that we should now abandon military means in the struggle against al Qaeda and simply try to contain it? In fact, we tried something like that approach in the 1990’s, and on September 11, 2001, it led to one of the worst military disasters in American history.

That there are now voices telling us to abandon the military fight against Islamic terrorists and win by setting an example of moral rectitude shows only that there is no limit to the human desire to cut and run.

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John Burns

Say what you will about reporters in general or the New York Times in particular: John Burns breaks all the stereotypes. As the Times’ longtime Baghdad bureau chief, he has been a fearless and honest chronicler of the war. He has presented plenty of evidence of disasters, but he isn’t afraid to highlight successes when they occur, and to warn of the dangers of American disengagement.
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Say what you will about reporters in general or the New York Times in particular: John Burns breaks all the stereotypes. As the Times’ longtime Baghdad bureau chief, he has been a fearless and honest chronicler of the war. He has presented plenty of evidence of disasters, but he isn’t afraid to highlight successes when they occur, and to warn of the dangers of American disengagement.

You can read a transcript of his fascinating interview with Hugh Hewitt here. Some highlights: asked if the surge is working, Burns replies

I think there’s no doubt that those extra 30,000 American troops are making a difference. They’re definitely making a difference in Baghdad. Some of the crucial indicators of the war, metrics as the American command calls them, have moved in a positive direction from the American, and dare I say the Iraqi point of view, fewer car bombs, fewer bombs in general, lower levels of civilian casualties, quite remarkably lower levels of civilian casualties. And add in what they call the Baghdad belts, that’s to say the approaches to Baghdad, particularly in Diyala Province to the northeast, to the area south of Baghdad in Babil Province, and to the west of Baghdad in Anbar Province, there’s no doubt that al Qaeda has taken something of a beating.

He goes on to warn that this has not so far led to political reconciliation:

I think it’s probably fair to say that the Iraqi political leaders, Sunni, Shiia, Kurd in the main, are somewhat further apart now than they were six months ago. In other words, the Bush administration’s hope that the military surge would be accompanied by what they called a political surge, a movement towards some sort of national reconciliation, uniting around a kind of national compact, that has simply not occurred. Indeed, the gulf between the Shiite and Sunni leaders in the government is probably wider than it has ever been.

While this might be music to antiwar ears, Burns deflates one of the chief arguments made by Democrats who contend that their demands to pull U.S. troops out are putting pressure on the Iraqi politicians to compromise. Au contraire, Burns points out:

[T]he more that the Democrats in the Congress lead the push for an early withdrawal, the more Iraqi political leaders, particularly the Shiite political leaders, but the Sunnis as well, and the Kurds, are inclined to think that this is going to be settled, eventually, in an outright civil war, in consequence of which they are very, very unlikely or reluctant, at present, to make major concessions. They’re much more inclined to kind of hunker down. So in effect, the threats from Washington about a withdrawal, which we might have hoped would have brought about greater political cooperation in face of the threat that would ensue from that to the entire political establishment here, has had, as best we can gauge it, much more the opposite effect. It has had an effect of persuading people well, if the Americans are going, there’s absolutely no…and we’re going to have to settle this by a civil war, why should we make concessions on that matter right now?

He then goes on to warn about the consequences of an American drawdown:

[A]n accelerated early withdrawal, something which reduced American troops—even if they were placed in large bases out in the desert—to, say, something like 60-80,000 over a period of six to nine months, and in effect, leaving the fighting in the cities and the approaches to the cities to the Iraqis, I think the result of that would, in effect, be a rapid, a rapid progress towards an all-out civil war. And the people who are urging that kind of a drawdown, I think, have to take that into account.

There is much more of interest in the interview; you should read the whole thing. And while you’re at it, take a look at this Washington Post story. The lead sums it up nicely: “House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Monday that a strongly positive report on progress on Iraq by Army Gen. David Petraeus likely would split Democrats in the House and impede his party’s efforts to press for a timetable to end the war.”

Given the positive assessments coming from such dispassionate analysts as John Burns and the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, the chances of just such a positive report from Petraeus seem to be growing—and hence leftist activists’ hopes of abandoning Iraq seem to be fading. At least for the time being.

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Silence on Nahr al-Bared

For the past three months, a Palestinian refugee camp in the Middle East has been under attack, resulting in the death of hundreds of people and the displacement of nearly half of the camp’s 40,000 residents. Yet the United Nations Security Council has not held an emergency session to condemn the attack. Nor have the governments of France and Britain issued statements condemning the “atrocities” against the Palestinian refugees in the Nahr al-Bared camp in northern Lebanon. For those who may wonder why there is no public outcry, the answer is simple. The army that is attacking the camp with heavy artillery and helicopter warships is not the IDF. It’s an Arab army—the Lebanese Army.
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For the past three months, a Palestinian refugee camp in the Middle East has been under attack, resulting in the death of hundreds of people and the displacement of nearly half of the camp’s 40,000 residents. Yet the United Nations Security Council has not held an emergency session to condemn the attack. Nor have the governments of France and Britain issued statements condemning the “atrocities” against the Palestinian refugees in the Nahr al-Bared camp in northern Lebanon. For those who may wonder why there is no public outcry, the answer is simple. The army that is attacking the camp with heavy artillery and helicopter warships is not the IDF. It’s an Arab army—the Lebanese Army.

Palestinian refugee camps in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon have long served as bases for various terror groups. In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the IDF has been forced over the past few years to launch pinpoint operations against Hamas, Fatah, and Islamic Jihad terrorists who find shelter among civilians. Most of the Israeli military operations have drawn sharp criticism from the international community and the Arab world, even when the raids resulted only in the killing or capture of the terrorists.

I was one of the journalists covering the battle in the West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp in 2002. Then, the Israelis lost 23 soldiers because they were reluctant to use artillery and tanks out of fear that civilians would be hurt. I still remember how IDF officers briefed their soldiers before the operation, asking them to do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties. Although more than 80 percent of the victims of the ensuing battle were members of armed groups that had operated freely in the camp, many human rights organizations (and some governments) continue to refer to the events there as the “Jenin massacre.”

In the case of Nahr al-Bared, the story is completely different. No one seems to care about the fact that dozens of civilians have been killed in the fighting between Lebanese troops and terrorists belonging to the al Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Islam group. A Palestinian who fled the camp two weeks ago told me that over 200 houses have been completely destroyed in the fighting, and that bodies have been lying in the streets for weeks.

“We brought this tragedy upon ourselves,” he admitted. “We allowed this group of terrorists to establish their bases inside the camp and now we are paying the price. The world doesn’t care about us anymore because they say we had harbored the terrorists and provided them with food and medicine.” Have Palestinian refugees in other camps in the Middle East drawn the same conclusion? The answer is a big no. Militiamen and armed gangs continue to operate in most of these camps, especially in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon. The Lebanese army and the IDF still have a lot of difficult work ahead of them. Sadly, many civilians will continue to pay the price—unless they wake up one morning and decide to expel the terrorists from their streets.

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Who Knew?

According to the Sudanese defense minister, 24 Jewish organizations are behind the Darfur conflict.

We may be wrong, but the honorable minister might have taken this video a bit too seriously.

According to the Sudanese defense minister, 24 Jewish organizations are behind the Darfur conflict.

We may be wrong, but the honorable minister might have taken this video a bit too seriously.

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Bookshelf

• What did Leonard Bernstein, Victor Borge, Dave Brubeck, the Budapest String Quartet, Johnny Cash, Noël Coward, Miles Davis, Doris Day, Bob Dylan, Vladimir Horowitz, John Gielgud, Glenn Gould, Michael Jackson, Marshall McLuhan, Albert Schweitzer, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Igor Stravinsky, and the original casts of Waiting for Godot and West Side Story have in common? They all recorded for Columbia. Gary Marmorstein’s The Label: The Story of Columbia Records is a breezily written primary-source history of the company whose artistically serious, technically innovative approach to the making of records—it was Columbia’s engineers who invented the long-playing record album in 1948—left a permanent mark on the history of American music.

Although Columbia was founded in 1889, it wasn’t until a half-century later, when it was bought by CBS, that it began its rise to cultural power. To an insufficiently appreciated extent, the label was soon reinvented in the image of one man, an aspiring classical composer turned record-company executive named Goddard Lieberson, whose wit, elegance, and unshakable self-assurance set the tone for Columbia’s postwar activities. Lieberson is more than deserving of a full-length biography of his own, but The Label offers the most detailed portrait to date of this spectacularly improbable character. A polymath who wrote a string quartet and a comic novel, Lieberson stole one of George Balanchine’s wives and used the profits raked in by such Mitch Miller-produced exercises in sugar-frosted pop banality as Rosemary Clooney’s “Come On-A My House” (as well as the Lieberson-produced original-cast albums of such Broadway musicals as South Pacific and My Fair Lady) to underwrite the recordings of the complete works of Stravinsky, Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Anton Webern.

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• What did Leonard Bernstein, Victor Borge, Dave Brubeck, the Budapest String Quartet, Johnny Cash, Noël Coward, Miles Davis, Doris Day, Bob Dylan, Vladimir Horowitz, John Gielgud, Glenn Gould, Michael Jackson, Marshall McLuhan, Albert Schweitzer, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Igor Stravinsky, and the original casts of Waiting for Godot and West Side Story have in common? They all recorded for Columbia. Gary Marmorstein’s The Label: The Story of Columbia Records is a breezily written primary-source history of the company whose artistically serious, technically innovative approach to the making of records—it was Columbia’s engineers who invented the long-playing record album in 1948—left a permanent mark on the history of American music.

Although Columbia was founded in 1889, it wasn’t until a half-century later, when it was bought by CBS, that it began its rise to cultural power. To an insufficiently appreciated extent, the label was soon reinvented in the image of one man, an aspiring classical composer turned record-company executive named Goddard Lieberson, whose wit, elegance, and unshakable self-assurance set the tone for Columbia’s postwar activities. Lieberson is more than deserving of a full-length biography of his own, but The Label offers the most detailed portrait to date of this spectacularly improbable character. A polymath who wrote a string quartet and a comic novel, Lieberson stole one of George Balanchine’s wives and used the profits raked in by such Mitch Miller-produced exercises in sugar-frosted pop banality as Rosemary Clooney’s “Come On-A My House” (as well as the Lieberson-produced original-cast albums of such Broadway musicals as South Pacific and My Fair Lady) to underwrite the recordings of the complete works of Stravinsky, Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Anton Webern.

In addition to writing about Lieberson, Miller, and John Hammond—the producer-talent scout who spent much of his celebrated career recording jazz and pop for Columbia—Marmorstein depicts a cast of lesser-known backstage characters equally worthy of recognition. George Avakian, who brought Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, and Miles Davis to Columbia and recorded some of their best-remembered albums, is given his due, as is Deborah Ishlon, the master publicist who first spread the word about Glenn Gould, and talked Stravinsky into writing his “conversation books.”

To write consistently well about a company that recorded everyone and everything from Liberace to Don Juan in Hell demands a degree of cultural competence not possessed by the average human being. While Marmorstein has done his homework—to the point of having read Lieberson’s forgotten novel 3 for Bedroom C and Ishlon’s equally obscure roman à clef Girl Singer: A Two Part Invention—he does not exhibit a complete knowledge of classical music. (Somebody at Thunder’s Mouth Press should have told him that the Brahms First Symphony isn’t a piano concerto.) But the small errors that disfigure The Label do not diminish its effectiveness as journalism, and Marmorstein’s breathless summary of Columbia’s significance is in no way overstated:

In the overlapping epochs of the 78-rpm platter, the 33-rpm vinyl disk, the cassette tape, and the compact disk, Columbia Records seemed to be everywhere. That ubiquitousness was true for no other record label. . . . Decade by decade, Columbia launched the careers of our most seminal recording artists and deposited their sound prints onto the permanent record.

All that came to an untimely end when Columbia was bought by Sony in 1987, a transaction that led in short order to the dumbing-down of the classical and jazz divisions that had been Columbia’s pride. Now that the entire recording industry has been devastated by the rise of Web-based new media, younger music lovers are largely unaware of the role that Columbia Records played in the shaping of postwar American culture. Kudos to Gary Marmorstein for telling them what they missed.

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Questions for the EU

The European Union has guidelines on ensuring protection for human rights defenders, whom it defines as people “combating cultures of impunity which serve to cloak systematic and repeated breaches of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Questions for students of a 101 course on the EU: how does the above definition square with recent developments in the Franco-Libyan relationship? With the EU’s robust relations with Egypt, despite its handling of dissidents? With Spanish Prime Minister Luis Zapatero’s words at the Arab League summit of 2005? In particular, how do the EU’s protective guidelines affect trade relations with Iran? This last is a particularly difficult question to answer, in light of the EU parliament’s condemnation of Iran’s human rights record, and the subsequent suspension on Iran’s part of the EU-Iran “dialogue on human rights.” Any thoughts?

The European Union has guidelines on ensuring protection for human rights defenders, whom it defines as people “combating cultures of impunity which serve to cloak systematic and repeated breaches of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Questions for students of a 101 course on the EU: how does the above definition square with recent developments in the Franco-Libyan relationship? With the EU’s robust relations with Egypt, despite its handling of dissidents? With Spanish Prime Minister Luis Zapatero’s words at the Arab League summit of 2005? In particular, how do the EU’s protective guidelines affect trade relations with Iran? This last is a particularly difficult question to answer, in light of the EU parliament’s condemnation of Iran’s human rights record, and the subsequent suspension on Iran’s part of the EU-Iran “dialogue on human rights.” Any thoughts?

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One Step Back, Two Steps Forward

An interesting article appeared in the Sunday New York Times updating developments in Basra. Things are not going so well in this large city in southern Iraq, where various Shiite militias are battling one another for control of political power, oil, and various criminal enterprises.

The British had prided themselves for years on having a better approach than their more heavy-handed American counterparts to counterinsurgency, but, lo and behold, four years into the war, the trends seem more positive in Anbar than in Basra.

What went wrong?

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An interesting article appeared in the Sunday New York Times updating developments in Basra. Things are not going so well in this large city in southern Iraq, where various Shiite militias are battling one another for control of political power, oil, and various criminal enterprises.

The British had prided themselves for years on having a better approach than their more heavy-handed American counterparts to counterinsurgency, but, lo and behold, four years into the war, the trends seem more positive in Anbar than in Basra.

What went wrong?

A recent military visitor from Iraq posited that the British tried a mild peacekeeping approach in an environment that instead called for a tough counterinsurgency strategy. As the Times’s Stephen Ferrell notes, “the British-led coalition forces have adopted a far less aggressive and interventionist stance than American troops have farther north.” That approach seemed to work initially because there wasn’t much violence, but it came at a cost. As Farrell writes, “critics accuse the British of simply allowing the Shiite militias free rein to carry out their intolerant Islamist agenda, which involved killing merchants who sell alcohol, driving out Christians and infiltrating state institutions and the security forces.”

Now the militias are feeling their oats and the British are feeling under siege. The palace in Basra that serves as their headquarters has become one of the most-mortared positions in all of Iraq—according to the Times, the troopers call it the “worst palace in the world.”

The British difficulties have been exacerbated by their well-publicized decision to reduce their troop levels in Iraq, and to pull back from the center of Basra to a compound located outside of town. Far from placating the armed gangs, the British decision has only emboldened them. Everyone, it seems, is determined to get a last lick in—no doubt trying to establish “anti-colonial” bona fides in the coming struggle for power.

There is a lesson to be learned here by advocates of an American troop drawdown. Even if the drawdown were to be only partial, it could easily get out of hand by creating the perception that we’re on the way out and can be attacked with impunity. As Napoleon said, “In war, moral considerations account for three-quarters, the actual balance of forces only for the other quarter.” If we set a withdrawal timetable, the moral balance will tip against us even faster than the actual balance of forces—with deadly consequences.

We can avoid that problem by sticking with the “surge,” which, as another Times article notes, is working. This one is an op-ed written by Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution, who have just returned from Iraq with a glowing report on all the progress that General David Petraeus and his soldiers are making. Pollack and O’Hanlon echo the sense of cautious optimism that I have been feeling for the past several months. That’s pretty significant coming from two Democratic analysts who, as they note, “have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq.”

A White House official has labeled their article “significant, and possibly climate-changing.” Let’s hope that’s the case.

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Anti-Anti-Anti-Missile Defense

As always in the realm of national security, we do not know what we do not know. But one thing we do know–perhaps not to a certainty, but to a high degree of probability–is that next year, or in the next few years at most, unless it is stopped by diplomacy or force, Iran will develop a nuclear weapon. We also know, or should know, that if we permit this catastrophe to happen, we will urgently need defensive weapons to protect ourselves and our allies.

But are programs to develop such weapons on track, or are they being held back by those who would prefer to keep us defenseless?

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As always in the realm of national security, we do not know what we do not know. But one thing we do know–perhaps not to a certainty, but to a high degree of probability–is that next year, or in the next few years at most, unless it is stopped by diplomacy or force, Iran will develop a nuclear weapon. We also know, or should know, that if we permit this catastrophe to happen, we will urgently need defensive weapons to protect ourselves and our allies.

But are programs to develop such weapons on track, or are they being held back by those who would prefer to keep us defenseless?

Much in the news recently, on account of Vladimir Putin’s harsh reaction to it, has been one European component of such a defense, involving a radar station in the Czech republic and interceptor missiles based in Poland.

But the Pentagon has also been developing an Airborne Laser. Carried aboard a Boeing 747, it would be primarily aimed at stopping shorter-range ballistic missiles that could strike allies in Europe or the Middle East, including Israel.

The actual development and testing of an Airborne Laser was first funded in 1996, and the system has made considerable progress in the decade since. Earlier this month, an aircraft equipped with a low-powered laser was able to simulate the operation of a chemical high-powered laser of the kind that is already quite workable on the ground. Here, according to airforce-technology.com, is how that high-power system would work:

The primary laser beam is generated by a megawatt Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL) located at the rear of the fuselage, which lases at 1.315 micron wavelength. The high-power laser beam travels toward the front of the aircraft through a pipe. The pipe passes through a Station 1000 bulkhead / airlock, which separates the rear fuselage from the forward cabins. The high-power beam passes through the fine-beam control system mounted on a vibration isolated optical bench. Beam pointing is achieved with very fast, lightweight steering mirrors, which are tilted to follow the target missile.

When the laser beam hits the target missile, it will heat a spot on its fuel tank, causing catastrophic failure in the missile during its boost phase, leading it to fall back with a bang onto the country that launched it.

Of course, as with any major new weapons system, there are technical problems, uncertainties, and issues involving trade-offs and costs. But the fact remains that more than thirty countries have some 10,000 or more ballistic missiles in their arsenals. Some of them are hostile. Some of them are very hostile. Though Iran is the most significant menace, it is not the entire problem.

Existing plans call for a “lethality test” of the Airborne Laser in 2009–right around the corner–entailing the actual shoot-down of a live missile. This if successful, would then allow us to use the system almost immediately in a national emergency.

Which makes one wonder all the more why the now-Democratic-controlled Congress, according to the indispensable Aviation Week & Space Technology, wants to cut funding and delay this lethality test by two years. This delay, unsurprisingly, has not been discussed in the mainstream media at all. What is it all about?

Ever since Ronald Reagan launched the Strategic Defense Initiative, widely mocked at the time by leading Democrats as a “Star Wars” fantasy, liberals have been reflexively opposed to missile defense. As the dangers have grown, many have moderated their rhetorical stance, and some have voted for experimental forays in this area. But a distinct lack of enthusiasm remains.

If the U.S. or one of its allies falls victim to a nuclear-missile attack that we are unable to avert, it will be much too late for finger-pointing at the people responsible for delaying–or killing–our defensive capabilities. It is better to do the finger-pointing now.

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Goodbye, Abe

Yesterday, the coalition led by the Liberal Democratic Party of Prime Minster Shinzo Abe lost its majority in the Upper House of the Diet, the national legislature. The LDP, with junior partner New Komeito, won 46 seats; its chief rival, the Democratic Party, won 60.

The Japanese sometimes complain that their country is not “normal.” Yet there was nothing out of the ordinary about Sunday’s landslide against the LDP, which has dominated Japan’s politics since 1955. Unlike Junichiro Koizumi, his charismatic predecessor, Abe presented a cold and diffident face to the average citizen. His central policy goals—improving relations with China and South Korea and bolstering the military capabilities of Japan—are critical tasks for any Japanese leader. But they were not high priorities for voters far more concerned about worrying economic trends.

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Yesterday, the coalition led by the Liberal Democratic Party of Prime Minster Shinzo Abe lost its majority in the Upper House of the Diet, the national legislature. The LDP, with junior partner New Komeito, won 46 seats; its chief rival, the Democratic Party, won 60.

The Japanese sometimes complain that their country is not “normal.” Yet there was nothing out of the ordinary about Sunday’s landslide against the LDP, which has dominated Japan’s politics since 1955. Unlike Junichiro Koizumi, his charismatic predecessor, Abe presented a cold and diffident face to the average citizen. His central policy goals—improving relations with China and South Korea and bolstering the military capabilities of Japan—are critical tasks for any Japanese leader. But they were not high priorities for voters far more concerned about worrying economic trends.

The Japanese economy has done relatively well under Abe’s short tenure, with growth up and unemployment down. Yet Japan is facing the same problems seen in the West, especially widening income disparity. Most Japanese think that unchecked globalization is not beneficial for them. Abe, the youngest prime minister in post-war Japan, seemed indifferent to their plight. Instead of paying attention to bread-and-butter issues and dealing forcefully with scandals in his cabinet, he spoke abstractly of building a “beautiful Japan.” That’s largely why Japanese voters hammered Mr. Abe’s party yesterday.

Hidenao Nakagawa resigned as the secretary general of the LDP, taking public responsibility for what Abe called an “utter defeat.” It seems as though the prime minister will be the next high-level casualty of yesterday’s debacle. Abe thinks a mere reshuffling of his cabinet will satisfy the electorate, but others are demanding he step down, or call immediate lower-house elections.

The Bush administration will not want to see a staunch friend like Abe leave office. Ichiro Ozawa, the head of the victorious Democratic Party, would be far less accommodating to America. But there’s nothing that Washington can do to save the now-embattled Abe. All politics in Japan these days is domestic.

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Spitzer, Stained

It’s been a swift fall from grace for New York’s new governor, Eliot Spitzer, who took office in January with 69 percent of the vote and (many think) visions of a future presidential run. Spitzer vowed, as a candidate, that “on Day One” of his administration, “everything changes.” But little has changed in scandal-rich Albany. Spitzer is now involved in an affaire some are calling Troopergate, and the governor is being compared to Richard Nixon. [Full disclosure: I worked as Policy Director for Tom Suozzi, the Nassau County Executive who ran against Spitzer for the Democratic nomination.]

Spitzer stormed into office with a series of high profile and frequently profane battles with the powers-that-be, calling himself a “f***ing steamroller” and State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno “a senile piece of sh*t.” Name-calling helped shore up Spitzer’s reform credentials even as he signed a budget that dramatically increased spending, and dressed up anodyne compromises as bold reforms. Now it appears that high-ranking members of Spitzer’s administration concocted a scheme to take out Bruno, his chief legislative antagonist. Spitzer’s team leaked state police records of Bruno’s frequent use of state planes and helicopters to the Albany Times Union.

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It’s been a swift fall from grace for New York’s new governor, Eliot Spitzer, who took office in January with 69 percent of the vote and (many think) visions of a future presidential run. Spitzer vowed, as a candidate, that “on Day One” of his administration, “everything changes.” But little has changed in scandal-rich Albany. Spitzer is now involved in an affaire some are calling Troopergate, and the governor is being compared to Richard Nixon. [Full disclosure: I worked as Policy Director for Tom Suozzi, the Nassau County Executive who ran against Spitzer for the Democratic nomination.]

Spitzer stormed into office with a series of high profile and frequently profane battles with the powers-that-be, calling himself a “f***ing steamroller” and State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno “a senile piece of sh*t.” Name-calling helped shore up Spitzer’s reform credentials even as he signed a budget that dramatically increased spending, and dressed up anodyne compromises as bold reforms. Now it appears that high-ranking members of Spitzer’s administration concocted a scheme to take out Bruno, his chief legislative antagonist. Spitzer’s team leaked state police records of Bruno’s frequent use of state planes and helicopters to the Albany Times Union.

After the New York Post exposed the role of the governor’s office in the leak (complete with a before-the-fact cover-up plan involving fake Freedom of Information Law requests and fast-changing stories from the governor’s office), new Attorney General Andrew Cuomo issued a report earlier this week that found Spitzer’s administration had abused state police records. Now Bruno is threatening Senate hearings on the matter, and to subpoena the governor. (In a potential countermove, the State Ethics Commission, which Spitzer functionally controls, yesterday announced plans for a probe of its own.)

Spitzer, a famous micromanager, is claiming that his closest aides launched a coordinated attack on his chief enemy without consulting him. (It’s just the sort of dubious claim he sneered at when a Wall Street CEO presented it to him.) Even Spitzer’s backers at the New York Times have been forced to play the story up, and the Times Union, which worked with him to publish the police records, editorialized that “It’s time for Governor Spitzer to come forward and start answering questions.”

Predictions that the scandal will force Spitzer from office are probably off the mark (unless Spitzer is caught lying about what he knew and when), but there’s no doubt the governor is badly damaged, and that his presidential aspirations are for the moment in tatters. The best thing he can do now for himself, and for the people of New York, is to return to the reform agenda he was elected to implement. More likely, though, we can anticipate another three years of a badly-damaged governor’s limping along, while Albany continues to legislate the Empire State’s decline.

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The Sochi Effect

Earlier this month, the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2014 Winter Games to Sochi, a Russian resort near the Black Sea. “It was a historic decision for all countries,” said Dmitry Chernychenko, the city’s bid chief, after the announcement. “Russia will become even more open, more democratic.” He may be right. The IOC claims it’s only concerned about a city’s ability to stage the Games, but many awards appear to have been made to encourage a host country’s political liberalization. That’s largely why Moscow got the 1980 Summer Olympics and Seoul the 1988 ones. Many analysts, pointing to these two events, have maintained that hard-line governments do not last long after the athletes go home.

But don’t bet on such liberalization happening in Russia. The country’s leaders are already using the 2014 extravaganza as a means of advancing their legitimacy, both at home and abroad. Vladimir Putin, who flew to Guatemala City to address the IOC before the vote, crowed that Sochi’s victory had international significance. “This is, without doubt, not just a recognition of Russia’s sporting achievements,” Putin said, “but it is, beyond any doubt, a judgment on our country.” Boris Gryzlov, Speaker of the Duma, called the award “a confirmation that the world is not unipolar, that there are forces which support Russia, which is once again becoming a global leader.” Russian leaders, it seems, cannot help themselves from making the Sochi award into a pat on the head for their policies.

We all hope that Chernychenko is right when he says the Sochi Olympics “will help Russia’s transition as a young democracy.” If only all Russian officials felt that way!

Earlier this month, the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2014 Winter Games to Sochi, a Russian resort near the Black Sea. “It was a historic decision for all countries,” said Dmitry Chernychenko, the city’s bid chief, after the announcement. “Russia will become even more open, more democratic.” He may be right. The IOC claims it’s only concerned about a city’s ability to stage the Games, but many awards appear to have been made to encourage a host country’s political liberalization. That’s largely why Moscow got the 1980 Summer Olympics and Seoul the 1988 ones. Many analysts, pointing to these two events, have maintained that hard-line governments do not last long after the athletes go home.

But don’t bet on such liberalization happening in Russia. The country’s leaders are already using the 2014 extravaganza as a means of advancing their legitimacy, both at home and abroad. Vladimir Putin, who flew to Guatemala City to address the IOC before the vote, crowed that Sochi’s victory had international significance. “This is, without doubt, not just a recognition of Russia’s sporting achievements,” Putin said, “but it is, beyond any doubt, a judgment on our country.” Boris Gryzlov, Speaker of the Duma, called the award “a confirmation that the world is not unipolar, that there are forces which support Russia, which is once again becoming a global leader.” Russian leaders, it seems, cannot help themselves from making the Sochi award into a pat on the head for their policies.

We all hope that Chernychenko is right when he says the Sochi Olympics “will help Russia’s transition as a young democracy.” If only all Russian officials felt that way!

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Weekend Reading

New York City recently celebrated Restaurant Week, a biannual affair in which the city’s “best” restaurants offer discounted—and shrunken—prix fixe meals. The summer slump that high-end restaurants experience (due to summer vacations, shuttered concert halls, etc.) is an opportunity for them to attract new customers. It’s also the perfect occasion for neophytes to experience haute cuisine at reasonable prices. Blogs, sadly, experience a summer slump, too, and in that spirit we offer a free sampling of food-related articles from the COMMENTARY archive for this weekend’s reading.

The Zagat Effect
Steven Shaw — November 2000

Culinary Correctness
Steven Shaw — October 2000

Sushi and Other Jewish Foods
Alan Mintz — October 1998

The High Cost of Eating
Ben B. Seligman — July 1967

Forbidden Foods
Erich Isaac — January 1966

Bon Appétit!

New York City recently celebrated Restaurant Week, a biannual affair in which the city’s “best” restaurants offer discounted—and shrunken—prix fixe meals. The summer slump that high-end restaurants experience (due to summer vacations, shuttered concert halls, etc.) is an opportunity for them to attract new customers. It’s also the perfect occasion for neophytes to experience haute cuisine at reasonable prices. Blogs, sadly, experience a summer slump, too, and in that spirit we offer a free sampling of food-related articles from the COMMENTARY archive for this weekend’s reading.

The Zagat Effect
Steven Shaw — November 2000

Culinary Correctness
Steven Shaw — October 2000

Sushi and Other Jewish Foods
Alan Mintz — October 1998

The High Cost of Eating
Ben B. Seligman — July 1967

Forbidden Foods
Erich Isaac — January 1966

Bon Appétit!

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If You Can’t Beat ‘Em…

Today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Indian counterpart Shri Pranab Mukherjee issued a joint statement that their two countries completed negotiations on the long-stalled nuclear pact, known as the “123 agreement.” Under this agreement, the United States will provide nuclear fuel and equipment to India for the first time in three decades. Before it can be implemented, however, the U.S. Congress, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group must approve the arrangement, which was first announced by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh two years ago this month.

The agreement has aroused the opposition of proliferation experts because it sets a number of troubling precedents. India, for instance, is not a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Indians will be reprocessing nuclear fuel from the United States, even though Washington is trying to prevent Iran, an NPT signatory, from enriching and reprocessing uranium. And New Delhi has made no promises about not testing nuclear weapons (India detonated a “peaceful nuclear explosive” in 1974 and five devices in 1998).

So the “123 agreement” marks a turning point: America has apparently given up trying to stop the spread of nukes, and is now trying to counter proliferators by enhancing New Delhi’s nuclear capabilities. Both Beijing and Moscow have stymied Washington’s nonproliferation efforts for decades, and the Bush administration has started playing their own game. The Chinese, of course, will be the big losers: the Indians have been their historic competitors in this arena.

Yet the nuclear deal with India represents much more than a momentous change in American proliferation policy. The pact symbolizes the growing relationship between the world’s largest democracy and its most powerful one. The United States and India could end up as the core of a loose alliance of democratic nations matched against the planet’s authoritarian ones. Which means that his administration’s handling of the “123 agreement” may become President Bush’s most enduring legacy.

Today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Indian counterpart Shri Pranab Mukherjee issued a joint statement that their two countries completed negotiations on the long-stalled nuclear pact, known as the “123 agreement.” Under this agreement, the United States will provide nuclear fuel and equipment to India for the first time in three decades. Before it can be implemented, however, the U.S. Congress, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group must approve the arrangement, which was first announced by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh two years ago this month.

The agreement has aroused the opposition of proliferation experts because it sets a number of troubling precedents. India, for instance, is not a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Indians will be reprocessing nuclear fuel from the United States, even though Washington is trying to prevent Iran, an NPT signatory, from enriching and reprocessing uranium. And New Delhi has made no promises about not testing nuclear weapons (India detonated a “peaceful nuclear explosive” in 1974 and five devices in 1998).

So the “123 agreement” marks a turning point: America has apparently given up trying to stop the spread of nukes, and is now trying to counter proliferators by enhancing New Delhi’s nuclear capabilities. Both Beijing and Moscow have stymied Washington’s nonproliferation efforts for decades, and the Bush administration has started playing their own game. The Chinese, of course, will be the big losers: the Indians have been their historic competitors in this arena.

Yet the nuclear deal with India represents much more than a momentous change in American proliferation policy. The pact symbolizes the growing relationship between the world’s largest democracy and its most powerful one. The United States and India could end up as the core of a loose alliance of democratic nations matched against the planet’s authoritarian ones. Which means that his administration’s handling of the “123 agreement” may become President Bush’s most enduring legacy.

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More on Johnson’s Glass House

Benjamin Ivry’s fascinating post does a welcome job of setting the record straight on Philip Johnson and his appalling record of cheerleading for the Nazis. If anything, it is even more shocking than Ivry relates. He might have mentioned how Johnson accompanied Hitler’s panzer divisions on their Blitzkrieg through Poland in September 1939 and watched the bombardment of Warsaw. (His chipper report? “It was a stirring spectacle.”) An obituary of Johnson by Anne Applebaum, published in the Washington Post on February 2, 2005, provides much additional useful material.

In his response to Ivry’s post, Lawrence Gulotta asks if we can “enjoy the art and ignore the politics.” The answer is maybe—but not until we have fully and honestly explored the connections between the art and politics. In the case of Leni Riefenstahl, for example, the political content of their work is explicit, and we know precisely how much we may permit ourselves to admire the editing of Triumph of the Will. In the case of Johnson, is there a connection between the sinister politics and the frosty, impersonal austerity of his International Style architecture? So far, there has been no thoughtful exploration of the question. It is easy to see why: for over sixty years, Johnson was the most influential figure in the Museum of Modern Art, exerting ferocious power in the architectural profession, architectural publishing, and schools of architecture. No such investigation was possible. Now it is, and until it has been completed, perhaps Johnson’s architectural legacy must be accompanied by an asterisk, much like those that mark the records of steroid-using baseball stars.

Benjamin Ivry’s fascinating post does a welcome job of setting the record straight on Philip Johnson and his appalling record of cheerleading for the Nazis. If anything, it is even more shocking than Ivry relates. He might have mentioned how Johnson accompanied Hitler’s panzer divisions on their Blitzkrieg through Poland in September 1939 and watched the bombardment of Warsaw. (His chipper report? “It was a stirring spectacle.”) An obituary of Johnson by Anne Applebaum, published in the Washington Post on February 2, 2005, provides much additional useful material.

In his response to Ivry’s post, Lawrence Gulotta asks if we can “enjoy the art and ignore the politics.” The answer is maybe—but not until we have fully and honestly explored the connections between the art and politics. In the case of Leni Riefenstahl, for example, the political content of their work is explicit, and we know precisely how much we may permit ourselves to admire the editing of Triumph of the Will. In the case of Johnson, is there a connection between the sinister politics and the frosty, impersonal austerity of his International Style architecture? So far, there has been no thoughtful exploration of the question. It is easy to see why: for over sixty years, Johnson was the most influential figure in the Museum of Modern Art, exerting ferocious power in the architectural profession, architectural publishing, and schools of architecture. No such investigation was possible. Now it is, and until it has been completed, perhaps Johnson’s architectural legacy must be accompanied by an asterisk, much like those that mark the records of steroid-using baseball stars.

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Mahmoud, Hugo, Kim, Fidel, Barack, and Hillary

The Miami Herald calls it one of the “biggest dust-ups of the presidential race so far,” and the sprinkling continues.

At the YouTube Democratic presidential debate on Monday, Barack Obama was asked whether he would meet with the leaders of Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, and Iran without preconditions. “I would,” he replied, saying it was a “disgrace” that we were not. Hillary Clinton, for her part, demurred, saying that “Certainly, we’re not going to just have our President meet with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and you know, the president of North Korea, Iran, and Syria until we know better what the way forward would be.”

Obama has subsequently called Hillary’s stance “Bush-Cheney lite.” Clinton has called the Illinois Senator’s comments “irresponsible and frankly naive.”

Thus far, conservatives and conservative outlets have tended at least implicitly to side with Clinton. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney of Massachusetts called Obama’s statement “outrageous,” saying it “suggests an agenda that is not in keeping with an agenda focused on building friendships with our allies.” Investor’s Business Daily said it bespeaks an inability to handle “curveballs,” reinforcing “the idea that [Obama is] an inexperienced lightweight.”

As for Clinton’s entourage, it has weighed in with arguments of its own. At the behest of Hillary’s campaign organization, Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, held a conference call with reporters in which she characterized Hillary’s approach as meaning that we should not engage in talks without preparation. “Without having done the diplomatic spade work, it would not really prove anything,” Albright said.

What are the real issues here, and who is right?

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The Miami Herald calls it one of the “biggest dust-ups of the presidential race so far,” and the sprinkling continues.

At the YouTube Democratic presidential debate on Monday, Barack Obama was asked whether he would meet with the leaders of Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, and Iran without preconditions. “I would,” he replied, saying it was a “disgrace” that we were not. Hillary Clinton, for her part, demurred, saying that “Certainly, we’re not going to just have our President meet with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and you know, the president of North Korea, Iran, and Syria until we know better what the way forward would be.”

Obama has subsequently called Hillary’s stance “Bush-Cheney lite.” Clinton has called the Illinois Senator’s comments “irresponsible and frankly naive.”

Thus far, conservatives and conservative outlets have tended at least implicitly to side with Clinton. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney of Massachusetts called Obama’s statement “outrageous,” saying it “suggests an agenda that is not in keeping with an agenda focused on building friendships with our allies.” Investor’s Business Daily said it bespeaks an inability to handle “curveballs,” reinforcing “the idea that [Obama is] an inexperienced lightweight.”

As for Clinton’s entourage, it has weighed in with arguments of its own. At the behest of Hillary’s campaign organization, Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, held a conference call with reporters in which she characterized Hillary’s approach as meaning that we should not engage in talks without preparation. “Without having done the diplomatic spade work, it would not really prove anything,” Albright said.

What are the real issues here, and who is right?

Albright’s comments make plain that Hillary, like Obama, would engage these four odious regimes in talks, only she would do so with diplomatic preparation. In other words, before the U.S. President would sit down with a Kim Jong Il or a Hugo Chavez, an agenda would first be hammered out, and the two sides would have some agreements in place before the leaders gathered at the table. In this way, in Clinton’s words, she would not put “the power and prestige of the United States President” at risk “by rushing into meetings.” Obama, by contrast, would meet with an Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or a Fidel Castro without any sort of diplomatic spadework.

Paradoxically, that might seem a preferable approach. Under it, a President could tell things as they are, declare directly, say, to Ahmadinejad in front of the world that his denial of the Holocaust is disgusting, reprehensible, and unacceptable and his pursuit of nuclear weapons something the U.S. will never abide. Meeting with Chavez, Castro, Kim Jong Il and the rest, Obama could engage in Reaganesque theater on the world stage—the equivalent of traveling to Berlin and demanding Mikhail Gorbachev “tear down this wall.”

Now let’s see what Hillary and her people have in mind when they talk about diplomatic “spadework.” They don’t say. But diplomacy and negotiation imply give and take, concessions from both sides. Will the U.S. come out the winner, or will the mere fact of interchange confer legitimacy, and a propaganda victory, on pariah regimes?

Of course, in attacking Hillary’s unwillingness to talk to dictators as “Bushy-Cheney lite,” Obama is signaling that he himself has no diplomatic agenda beyond talk itself. That would indeed be the worst of all worlds, but is it worse than, or materially different from, what Hillary has in mind?

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Hizballah’s Racket

While Lebanon’s army is busy completing the “urban restructuring” of the refugee camp at Nahr el Bared (no doubt in full compliance with international and human rights law), UNIFIL forces in the South have sought to avoid future surprises by “turning to Hizballah for protection.”

According to reports quoting UNIFIL sources, intelligence agents from Italy, France, and Spain met with Hezbollah representatives in the southern city of Sidon in April. As a result, some Spanish peacekeepers subsequently were “escorted” on some of their patrols by Hizballah members in civilian vehicles. Too bad there were no such escorts on the day six members of the Spanish contingent were blown to bits by a roadside bomb. But not to worry—UNIFIL/Hizballah collaboration continues. After the attack, Spanish foreign minister Miguel Moratinos promptly spoke with his Iranian counterpart Manucher Mottaki, and (according to the same reports) Spanish UNIFIL officers and Hizballah officials have met once at least since the bombing took place.

Why should this surprise anyone? After all, this practice goes beyond the confines of Lebanon. Mme. Sarkozy’s trip to Lybia involved the same kind of logic, which is in line with a time-honored Mediterranean tradition. Protection has its price, after all, and extortion sooner or later yields dividends for all involved. The extortionists get what they want (money for a hospital, trade with Europe, docile peacekeepers). And those who pay them, in whatever currency, stay alive.

While Lebanon’s army is busy completing the “urban restructuring” of the refugee camp at Nahr el Bared (no doubt in full compliance with international and human rights law), UNIFIL forces in the South have sought to avoid future surprises by “turning to Hizballah for protection.”

According to reports quoting UNIFIL sources, intelligence agents from Italy, France, and Spain met with Hezbollah representatives in the southern city of Sidon in April. As a result, some Spanish peacekeepers subsequently were “escorted” on some of their patrols by Hizballah members in civilian vehicles. Too bad there were no such escorts on the day six members of the Spanish contingent were blown to bits by a roadside bomb. But not to worry—UNIFIL/Hizballah collaboration continues. After the attack, Spanish foreign minister Miguel Moratinos promptly spoke with his Iranian counterpart Manucher Mottaki, and (according to the same reports) Spanish UNIFIL officers and Hizballah officials have met once at least since the bombing took place.

Why should this surprise anyone? After all, this practice goes beyond the confines of Lebanon. Mme. Sarkozy’s trip to Lybia involved the same kind of logic, which is in line with a time-honored Mediterranean tradition. Protection has its price, after all, and extortion sooner or later yields dividends for all involved. The extortionists get what they want (money for a hospital, trade with Europe, docile peacekeepers). And those who pay them, in whatever currency, stay alive.

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Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Hypocrisy is an abiding weakness of most politicians. Republicans tend to specialize in hypocrisy regarding sex and family—think of Newt Gingrich, Henry Hyde, or Robert Livingstone—while Democrats go in for financial or class hypocrisy—think of John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, or John Edwards.

Recently, I went with friends to a talk by former Senator Edwards at New York’s Cooper Union, to hear, in the candidate’s words, how he plans to “dramatically reduce poverty.” Laudably, he wants to cut the current poverty rate of 12.6 percent by a third within a decade. But he offered few specifics. Those that were trotted out, such as more job-training programs, sounded like leftovers from the Great Society days. But if Edwards is retrogressive about poverty, he’s been very progressive in building up a fortune of as much as $62 million.

Tim Middleton of MSN, evaluating the former Senator’s new financial disclosure statement, describes Edwards as a man “of the people and profits” with “substantial investments in limited partnerships, sub-prime mortgage lenders, and an offshore hedge fund.” Edwards has (to some degree rightly) criticized offshore hedge funds as unpatriotic, and sub-prime lenders as piratical. He’s described the sub-prime lending business as the “wild west of the credit industry, where . . . abusive and predatory lenders are robbing families blind.”

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Hypocrisy is an abiding weakness of most politicians. Republicans tend to specialize in hypocrisy regarding sex and family—think of Newt Gingrich, Henry Hyde, or Robert Livingstone—while Democrats go in for financial or class hypocrisy—think of John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, or John Edwards.

Recently, I went with friends to a talk by former Senator Edwards at New York’s Cooper Union, to hear, in the candidate’s words, how he plans to “dramatically reduce poverty.” Laudably, he wants to cut the current poverty rate of 12.6 percent by a third within a decade. But he offered few specifics. Those that were trotted out, such as more job-training programs, sounded like leftovers from the Great Society days. But if Edwards is retrogressive about poverty, he’s been very progressive in building up a fortune of as much as $62 million.

Tim Middleton of MSN, evaluating the former Senator’s new financial disclosure statement, describes Edwards as a man “of the people and profits” with “substantial investments in limited partnerships, sub-prime mortgage lenders, and an offshore hedge fund.” Edwards has (to some degree rightly) criticized offshore hedge funds as unpatriotic, and sub-prime lenders as piratical. He’s described the sub-prime lending business as the “wild west of the credit industry, where . . . abusive and predatory lenders are robbing families blind.”

But Edwards’s principal employer in recent years, Fortress Investment Fund III, is based in the Cayman Islands. Fortress owns Nationstar mortgage, which describes itself as “one of the nation’s leading mortgage lenders offering non-prime mortgages,” and should presumably be one of the objects of Edwards’s scorn. Fortress (where Edwards has $16 million invested) has also agreed to purchase Penn National Gambling, the third largest gambling company in the U.S. Anyone who has visited casinos in urban wastelands like Atlantic City, New Orleans, or Gary, Indiana knows that such places prey on the delusional hopes of the less-well-off. Edwards is, in effect, investing in a tax on the poor. (He also owns stocks in Schlumberger, Haliburton’s chief rival. Could this affect his political judgment?) These sorts of contradictions are not exclusive to Edwards. Fred Thompson, whose dealings as an attorney were subjected to scrutiny today in the Washington Post, has been described as both a million-dollar lawyer-lobbbyist in a pickup truck and a Washington outsider from the D.C. suburbs.

But then what? Shouldn’t it possible to have an adult debate about politics that recognizes that politicians, even more than the rest of us, are sometimes caught up in contradictions? What’s not adult is when Edwards, speaking to citizens as if they were children, hypocritically argues that he joined Fortress to learn more about the connections between financial markets and poverty.

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Free Trade on Planet Kristof

This morning, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof launched a full-throated—and empty-headed—defense of free trade. Along the way he praised President Bush and attacked Senators Clinton and Obama.

Their offense? The pair of presidential hopefuls engaged in “cowboy diplomacy” by co-sponsoring legislation that targets China for manipulating the value of its currency (he was referring to the bipartisan Baucus-Grassley-Schumer-Graham bill). The proposed legislation, in Kristof’s view, will antagonize the Chinese, politicize trade disputes, and betray President Clinton’s “outstanding legacy on economic issues.”

Outstanding legacy? There may be many magnificent aspects of Bill Clinton’s economic policies, but his strategy for dealing with the mercantilists in Beijing is not one of them. It was he, after all, who decided that China should be permitted to join the World Trade Organization without first reforming its currency regime. The Chinese, once admitted to the global trading body, pegged the renminbi and from July 2005 on have maintained a managed float. As a result, Middle Kingdom manufacturers have obtained an enormous price advantage, which has translated into outsized Chinese trade surpluses against the United States.

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This morning, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof launched a full-throated—and empty-headed—defense of free trade. Along the way he praised President Bush and attacked Senators Clinton and Obama.

Their offense? The pair of presidential hopefuls engaged in “cowboy diplomacy” by co-sponsoring legislation that targets China for manipulating the value of its currency (he was referring to the bipartisan Baucus-Grassley-Schumer-Graham bill). The proposed legislation, in Kristof’s view, will antagonize the Chinese, politicize trade disputes, and betray President Clinton’s “outstanding legacy on economic issues.”

Outstanding legacy? There may be many magnificent aspects of Bill Clinton’s economic policies, but his strategy for dealing with the mercantilists in Beijing is not one of them. It was he, after all, who decided that China should be permitted to join the World Trade Organization without first reforming its currency regime. The Chinese, once admitted to the global trading body, pegged the renminbi and from July 2005 on have maintained a managed float. As a result, Middle Kingdom manufacturers have obtained an enormous price advantage, which has translated into outsized Chinese trade surpluses against the United States.

These surpluses have, in turn, cost Americans jobs, undermined our manufacturing base, and de-legitimized free trade. President Clinton engaged China before it was willing to embrace the notion of the mutuality of international commerce, and President Bush, for his part, has failed to hold China accountable for predatory trade and currency policies.

These policies, apparently, do not bother Kristof. In his view, it’s fine for the Chinese to pursue one-sided trade strategies and violate the obligations they undertook in joining the WTO. Only Americans, apparently, deserve condemnation on Planet Kristof.

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Will the Real Sarkozy Please Stand Up

In his victory speech on election night this past May, Nicolas Sarkozy declared that under his reign, “the pride and the duty of France” will be on the side of “all those who are persecuted by tyranny and dictatorship.” Sarkozy appealed to “all those in the world who believe in the values of tolerance and democracy” to join him. Specifically, Sarkozy pledged, “France will be on the side of the locked-up nurses in Libya.” Whereas his predecessor Jacques Chirac acted out of delusions of grandeur, Sarkozy’s goal is to restore identity to a nation imbued with failure and doubt.

This week Sarkozy produced a “success,” bringing home the nurses. But aiding the persecuted should not entail paying off their persecutors. Sarkozy’s pledge became farce when Madame Sarkozy, followed by le président de la République himself, sat in Colonel Qaddafi’s tent, after which the Madame said that she and the Libyan dictator had built “a real relationship of trust.”

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In his victory speech on election night this past May, Nicolas Sarkozy declared that under his reign, “the pride and the duty of France” will be on the side of “all those who are persecuted by tyranny and dictatorship.” Sarkozy appealed to “all those in the world who believe in the values of tolerance and democracy” to join him. Specifically, Sarkozy pledged, “France will be on the side of the locked-up nurses in Libya.” Whereas his predecessor Jacques Chirac acted out of delusions of grandeur, Sarkozy’s goal is to restore identity to a nation imbued with failure and doubt.

This week Sarkozy produced a “success,” bringing home the nurses. But aiding the persecuted should not entail paying off their persecutors. Sarkozy’s pledge became farce when Madame Sarkozy, followed by le président de la République himself, sat in Colonel Qaddafi’s tent, after which the Madame said that she and the Libyan dictator had built “a real relationship of trust.”

But it was more than “trust” that convinced the Libyan to free his hostages. Qaddafi’s blackmail went something like this: in exchange for freeing the nurses, European countries would forgive $400 million of Libya’s foreign debt and allow Libya (Libya!) to host the next UN conference on racism. The parties also agreed to deepen Franco-Libyan relations to include a possible military-industrial partnership and, not least, contracts for French oil companies. (Compare this haggle to Natan Sharansky’s defiant crossing of the Glienicke Bridge into West Berlin.)

The cost, when viewed in the proper context, is very high: others (North Korea, but especially Iran) are surely watching. Even the impression of relenting to blackmail and terrorism is self-defeating. To be sure, this is a very bizarre affair with a long and twisted history, and Qaddafi, though truly a crackpot, did surrender his weapons of mass destruction to the United States. But even a little goodwill in the face of brutality can be perilous.

Sarkozy remains a mystery. He showed independence when he called Hizballah a “terrorist” organization, which of course it is, even though it is not classified as such by the European Union. And whereas Chirac blocked action on Darfur, Sarkozy is eager to stop genocide—in cooperation with the United States. Still, this week’s events suggest that Sarkozy is shirking his generation’s tasks: curbing nuclear proliferation abroad and, at home, overcoming the entrenched enarchs and ending their long collaboration with Islamism and terrorism.

Far from shaking up French foreign policy, Sarkozy’s actions this week were eerily reminiscent of Monsieur Chirac’s: Sarkozy cheered on Arab nuclear power while seeking conciliation and contracts from Arab regimes. (When asked to describe Chirac, the great British historian Paul Johnson responded: “Why are the French so notorious for shiftiness? Because there are plenty of Chiracs there.”) Yes, the world looks different from the Elysée than it did from the victory stage, but, by collaborating with tyrants and dictators, Sarkozy further degrades “the pride and the duty of France.”

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