Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 9, 2007

Past and Present in Gaza

What happened in June in the Gaza Strip was not only a Hamas “coup” against Fatah. Hamas managed to overrun the coastal area thanks to the backing of a majority of the Gaza Strip’s 1.3 million residents. Otherwise, how can one explain the fact that fewer than 15,000 Hamas militiamen succeeded in defeating the more than 50,000 gunmen and policemen belonging to Fatah?

That Hamas managed this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Fatah has a long history of alienating its natural bases of support through incompetence, greed, and brutality, beginning in Jordan more than 40 years ago. The late King Hussein made the mistake of allowing Fatah chieftain Yasir Arafat to establish what was more or less a Palestinian state inside the Hashemite Kingdom more. Then, Arafat established several armed militias in Jordan and consistently sought to undermine King Hussein’s regime. Fed up with the increasing state of anarchy and lawlessness, the king finally ordered his troops to eliminate Arafat’s multiple militias. The result was a bloodbath that claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinians in what has become known in Palestinian history as Black September. Arafat eventually managed to escape Jordan disguised as a woman.
Read More

What happened in June in the Gaza Strip was not only a Hamas “coup” against Fatah. Hamas managed to overrun the coastal area thanks to the backing of a majority of the Gaza Strip’s 1.3 million residents. Otherwise, how can one explain the fact that fewer than 15,000 Hamas militiamen succeeded in defeating the more than 50,000 gunmen and policemen belonging to Fatah?

That Hamas managed this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Fatah has a long history of alienating its natural bases of support through incompetence, greed, and brutality, beginning in Jordan more than 40 years ago. The late King Hussein made the mistake of allowing Fatah chieftain Yasir Arafat to establish what was more or less a Palestinian state inside the Hashemite Kingdom more. Then, Arafat established several armed militias in Jordan and consistently sought to undermine King Hussein’s regime. Fed up with the increasing state of anarchy and lawlessness, the king finally ordered his troops to eliminate Arafat’s multiple militias. The result was a bloodbath that claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinians in what has become known in Palestinian history as Black September. Arafat eventually managed to escape Jordan disguised as a woman.
Arafat and the remaining PLO forces then moved to Lebanon, a quiet and peaceful country, famous for its beautiful beaches and nightlife. The Lebanese hosts soon discovered that they too had committed a fatal mistake—one that would claim the lives of more than 100,000 people in a civil war that lasted for fiteen years. The PLO, which had established a state-within-a-state in Lebanon, was largely responsible for the outbreak of violence. (Many Lebanese I have met say that if they had the opportunity, they would set up a statue of Ariel Sharon in downtown Beirut to honor the man who expelled the PLO from their country in 1982.)

When Israel, with the backing of the U.S. and EU, allowed the PLO into the West Bank and Gaza Strip after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, many Arabs knew that the Israelis would pay a heavy price. But now the Palestinians are also paying a heavy price for pinning their hopes on Arafat and Fatah, something perhaps not foreseen so clearly.

Instead of investing the billions of dollars that the international community poured on him for the welfare of his people, Arafat built a casino, paid for his wife’s shopping sprees in Paris, and bribed his aides with Mercedes cars and villas. Arafat’s corruption drove many Palestinians into the opens arms of Hamas, which finally won a majority in the January 2006 parliamentary election.

Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, hasn’t been any better. He, too, failed to deliver—first to his own people, and second to the Americans and Europeans, who were betting on him to remove Hamas from power. For the past eighteen months Abbas received tens of millions of dollars to “boost” his security forces ahead of a possible confrontation with Hamas. He also received thousands of rifles, large amounts of ammunition, and armored vehicles.

Abbas’s warlords and security commanders were the first to flee the Gaza Strip (with the help of Israel) when Hamas launched its offensive in June. They left behind weapons and thousands of disgruntled soldiers. The Palestinian public did not come out to defend Abbas and his security forces. On the contrary, hundreds of Palestinians joined Hamas in attacking and looting the large villas of Abbas, Arafat, Fatah warlord Muhammad Dahlan, and other top officials.

Now that Abbas’s authority has been restricted to the West Bank (some argue he’s in control of only some parts there), the Americans and Europeans are saying, essentially: “Let’s give Abbas and his PLO even more money and weapons.”

Logic says that when you deal with someone and you discover that he’s not honest and can’t deliver, you either demand that he change or you stop doing business with him. Abbas and the PLO haven’t changed.
It’s enough to take a quick tour of some West Bank cities to see that armed Fatah thugs are continuing to roam the streets, despite Abbas’s announcement that he has banned them from operating in public. Many Palestinians in the West Bank who are now on the payroll of the Americans and Europeans would tell you that they will vote for Hamas in protest against the ongoing corruption in Fatah and the state of anarchy and lawlessness. Unless the international community insists on reforms and good governance (something that is highly unlikely to happen under the current PLO leadership), it’s only a matter of time before the PLO is ousted from the West Bank, as well.

Read Less

Hot Air in Aspen

Imagine going to the Heritage Foundation to see Ronald Reagan in the late 1980’s. Or listening to Margaret Thatcher at a National Review dinner at around the same time. Or applauding Charlton Heston at the NRA’s annual meeting. This must be the feeling that liberals get during a week of activities at the Aspen Festival of Ideas. A mix of political camaraderie, self-righteousness, and triumphalism oozed from every panel discussion and roundtable.

Only in its third year, this week-long conference, co-sponsored by the Atlantic Monthly and the Aspen Institute, has quickly established itself as the intellectual Woodstock for the wealthy and well-meaning. Bill Clinton made his annual pilgrimage—Aspen is his new Renaissance festival, apparently—and was reliably greeted as healer and seer for those who have had to endure two terms of Republican rule. This year Hillary joined him for some nighttime high-dollar fund-raising. The old Clinton crowd showed up, too: there rarely seemed to be a panel without Rahm Emmanuel, Gene Sperling, Madeline Albright, David Gergen, or Justice Stephen Breyer. True, there were a few Republicans thrown in for appearances, but mostly of the safe variety: Colin Powell or Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. Karl Rove showed up on the final day for a ritual yet respectful skewering, just so everyone could feel bi-partisan and open-minded.

Read More

Imagine going to the Heritage Foundation to see Ronald Reagan in the late 1980’s. Or listening to Margaret Thatcher at a National Review dinner at around the same time. Or applauding Charlton Heston at the NRA’s annual meeting. This must be the feeling that liberals get during a week of activities at the Aspen Festival of Ideas. A mix of political camaraderie, self-righteousness, and triumphalism oozed from every panel discussion and roundtable.

Only in its third year, this week-long conference, co-sponsored by the Atlantic Monthly and the Aspen Institute, has quickly established itself as the intellectual Woodstock for the wealthy and well-meaning. Bill Clinton made his annual pilgrimage—Aspen is his new Renaissance festival, apparently—and was reliably greeted as healer and seer for those who have had to endure two terms of Republican rule. This year Hillary joined him for some nighttime high-dollar fund-raising. The old Clinton crowd showed up, too: there rarely seemed to be a panel without Rahm Emmanuel, Gene Sperling, Madeline Albright, David Gergen, or Justice Stephen Breyer. True, there were a few Republicans thrown in for appearances, but mostly of the safe variety: Colin Powell or Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. Karl Rove showed up on the final day for a ritual yet respectful skewering, just so everyone could feel bi-partisan and open-minded.

But what struck me in the four days of sessions I attended was not Bush-hatred (or any particular display of partisanship), but rather the insipid and anodyne quality of the ideas under such grave discussion. After just two days, it was clear that the assembled crowd of the good and the great strongly believed that teachers should be paid more, that more investments need to be made in early childhood education, that energy and environment issues ought to be at the top of the national agenda, and that far too many college graduates want to become hedge fund managers. In dozens of panels, there were certainly exceptions, but I would refer anyone interested to the Aspen Festival blog posts by Ross Douthat, whose dry yet incisive commentaries captured the hollowness of this gathering of worthies.

Read Less

Bookshelf

• I observed in the current issue of COMMENTARY that “one learns surprisingly little about American religiosity from modern American art. Though some of our major novelists, most notably Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy, have been preoccupied with religious matters, it is far more common for American writers either to ignore religion altogether or to portray it as a destructive feature of American life.” I might also have mentioned Jon Hassler, were it not for the fact that he is comparatively little known outside of his home state of Minnesota. He is, nevertheless, a novelist of real quality—and one who differs from most of his contemporaries in understanding that it is impossible to portray modern American life as it is lived without making room for religion.

Read More

• I observed in the current issue of COMMENTARY that “one learns surprisingly little about American religiosity from modern American art. Though some of our major novelists, most notably Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy, have been preoccupied with religious matters, it is far more common for American writers either to ignore religion altogether or to portray it as a destructive feature of American life.” I might also have mentioned Jon Hassler, were it not for the fact that he is comparatively little known outside of his home state of Minnesota. He is, nevertheless, a novelist of real quality—and one who differs from most of his contemporaries in understanding that it is impossible to portray modern American life as it is lived without making room for religion.

To be sure, Hassler is more a middlebrow than a modernist, and his (mostly) sympathetic chronicles of Minnesota life are written in a straightforward, accessible style. Judge him by the exalted standards of Proust and Joyce—or, for that matter, O’Connor—and he’ll come up short. Try thinking of him as a Midwestern John P. Marquand and you’ll get a better idea of what he’s about. “Of all the people I know,” Marquand observed, “only Americans, because of some sort of inferiority complex, keep attempting the impossible and trying to get away from their environment.” Jon Hassler has never made that mistake. His novels are set in the small-town world where he was born and in which he has spent the whole of his 74 years, and his characters are ordinary people who spend their days grappling, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, with the ordinary problems of life, love, aging, and death.

One of the things that makes these characters so distinctive is that many (though not all) of them are churchgoers. Not coincidentally, Hassler is a Catholic novelist, and certain of his books are very decidedly the work of a Catholic novelist. Yet their temperate emotional climate has little in common with the claustrophobic creations of, say, Graham Greene or François Mauriac. In Hassler’s novels, no one, not even the priests, is obsessed with the problem of faith in the modern world, nor do his teachers, grocery-store owners, and family doctors take much of an interest in what Browning called “the dangerous edge of things.” They are simply trying to get along in a complicated world, and though they view that world through the prism of belief, most have learned that few answers are quite so easy as they look:

Rain’s only value, for Miss McGee, was that it reminded her how precious was good weather. She despised rain. But she knew that to the earth, rain was as necessary as sunshine. Could it be, she wondered, that the vice and barbarism abroad in the world served, like the rain, some purpose? Did the abominations in the Sunday paper mingle somehow with the goodness in the world and together, like the rain and sun feeding the ferns, did they nourish some kind of life she was unaware of?

The “Miss McGee” of this passage from Staggerford, Hassler’s first novel, is Agatha McGee, a schoolmarm of strongly conservative bent who turns up in several of his later books, most prominently in A Green Journey and Dear James. Like Barbara Pym and Elmore Leonard, Hassler likes to reuse his characters, and so there is something to be gained from reading his books in sequence, though North of Hope stands slightly apart from his ongoing chronicle of life in Staggerford and its environs, and can be read without reference to any of his other books. Reissued last year as part of the Loyola Classics series, North of Hope takes a hackneyed situation—an unhappily married woman falling in love with a priest—and contrives to turn it into something fresh and satisfying.

No matter which one you read first, Hassler’s books repay close reading, not least for their unpretentiously thoughtful observations about life. Here are two of my favorites, from North of Hope and The Love Hunter:

There ought to be a limit (she thought as she steered the bronze Chrysler through the cemetery gate) on the number of open graves you had to look down into in any given lifetime.

He had supposed that when you dissolved a joyless marriage, you opened yourself to the return of joy, but he discovered himself open instead to loneliness.

North of Hope is my favorite Hassler novel. If you’re allergic to priestly protagonists, start with the first two, Staggerford and Simon’s Night. Both are out of print, but used copies are easy to find online.

Read Less

Is a Terror “Spectacular” On the Way?

Is our domestic counterterrorism effort failing, and if so why?

We have not suffered an attack since September 11, which is obviously a critical indicator of success. Michael Chertoff, who heads the Department of Homeland Security, told George Stephanopoulos that he has no evidence of an impending attack on the territory of the United States. But news reports last week spoke of a secret warning by his department that al Qaeda is preparing a terror “spectacular” for this summer.

As always, the trouble is that Michael Chertoff, like the rest of us, doesn’t now what he doesn’t know. When it comes to terrorism, we cannot see around the corner. In this regard, there is a significant and little-discussed parallel between the latest plots uncovered in the United Kingdom and the planned attack on Fort Dix in New Jersey, uncovered back in May.

Read More

Is our domestic counterterrorism effort failing, and if so why?

We have not suffered an attack since September 11, which is obviously a critical indicator of success. Michael Chertoff, who heads the Department of Homeland Security, told George Stephanopoulos that he has no evidence of an impending attack on the territory of the United States. But news reports last week spoke of a secret warning by his department that al Qaeda is preparing a terror “spectacular” for this summer.

As always, the trouble is that Michael Chertoff, like the rest of us, doesn’t now what he doesn’t know. When it comes to terrorism, we cannot see around the corner. In this regard, there is a significant and little-discussed parallel between the latest plots uncovered in the United Kingdom and the planned attack on Fort Dix in New Jersey, uncovered back in May.

In both cases, the authorities were not on top of the problem. In New Jersey, the most striking thing about the planned attack was that it was averted not by successful police work but by an alert video-rental clerk. In the United Kingdom, the bombers actually got through.

In London, it was only technical incompetence in bomb-building that kept the plotters from successfully causing mass carnage. In Glasgow, bollards kept a Jeep Cherokee from penetrating the airport building. Hardening the target there proved to be a critical step in saving lives. Still, there was a complete absence of intelligence on the plot. Until they were caught in the act, the main suspects in the case were only dimly on the radar scopes of Scotland Yard.

Why? At this juncture, we are only confined to supposition; hard facts are not yet established. Could one possibility be that these presumably well-informed perpetrators maintained effective operational security, and avoided behavior, like engaging in telephone conversations and sending emails, that was likely to get them caught? And could this have anything to with the steady stream of news reports detailing many, if not all, of the counterterrorism techniques used by the authorities?

Last week, here in the U.S., a federal appeals court reversed a lower-court’s injunction (that had been stayed on appeal) shutting down the National Security Agency’s terrorist surveillance program. That program permits the interception, without warrants, of telephone and email communications where one party to the communication is located outside the United States and the NSA has a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al Qaeda or affiliated with al Qaeda.

The positive effects of last week’s reversal are limited, because the NSA program has already been modified and placed under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. But the entire episode reminds us once again of the damage that was done by the program’s initial disclosure by the New York Times.

Aspiring terrorists, here and overseas, have been made well aware that they are facing highly sophisticated monitoring technology. They act accordingly. Is that one reason we are not learning about their identities and activities until their bombs are already in place?

Read Less

Peace in Our Time

This morning the Wall Street Journal reported that the United States is thinking of ways of formally ending the Korean War, which was started in June 1950 by Kim Il Sung, the father of Kim Jong Il. An armistice in 1953 ended the fighting, but no peace treaty was ever signed.

The article also notes that Washington is seeking to create a permanent organization to handle security concerns in North Asia, something similar to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The concept is that, if North Korea can be disarmed, there is a possibility of maintaining peace through continual dialogue in an official body.

Read More

This morning the Wall Street Journal reported that the United States is thinking of ways of formally ending the Korean War, which was started in June 1950 by Kim Il Sung, the father of Kim Jong Il. An armistice in 1953 ended the fighting, but no peace treaty was ever signed.

The article also notes that Washington is seeking to create a permanent organization to handle security concerns in North Asia, something similar to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The concept is that, if North Korea can be disarmed, there is a possibility of maintaining peace through continual dialogue in an official body.

Since the end of hostilities in Korea, military alliances have remained in place. On one side, China and North Korea are each other’s only formal military ally. On the other, there are American mutual defense treaties with South Korea and Japan. The Journal reports that Washington planners are concerned that if the North Korean threat disappears, the main justification for the two American alliances ends.

Memo to the Bush administration: If North Korea were to give up all its nuclear weapons, all of its missiles, and every last ounce of plutonium tomorrow—a pleasing thought, but don’t hold your breath—Seoul and Tokyo would still want the protection of the American military. The Koreans and Japanese each perceive the Chinese, the local hegemons, as a threat. The border between Korea and China has moved hundreds of miles in each direction over the last half millennium, and even today it is not stable. China and Japan, which also have a tradition of warfare against each other, currently have territorial disputes involving islands and huge portions of waters. Moreover, the Koreans and Japanese are not on good terms with each other, due to recent grievances piled on top of ancient historical reasons.

It’s the United States, in the end, that maintains the peace in North Asia. Creating a permanent organization to give a greater voice to an increasingly assertive China will only make matters worse.

Read Less

Syrian Incursion

Michael Totten reports today a piece of incredibly disturbing news: Syria, on Thursday of last week, made a quiet incursion three kilometers into Lebanon. The Syrian troops are digging in, according to Totten’s citation of the Lebanese daily Al Mustaqbal:

The sources said Syrian troops, backed by bulldozers, were fortifying positions “in more than one area” along the Lebanese border, erecting earth mounds and digging “hundreds” of trenches and individual bunkers.

And the Syrian government is, apparently, evacuating Syrian citizens from Lebanon. Totten goes on:

Syria can, apparently, get away with just about anything. I could hardly blame Assad at this point if he believes, after such an astonishing non-response, that he can reconquer Beirut. So far he can kill and terrorize and invade and destroy with impunity, at least up to a point. What is that point? Has anyone in the U.S., Israel, the Arab League, the European Union, or the United Nations even considered the question?

Read the rest here.

Michael Totten reports today a piece of incredibly disturbing news: Syria, on Thursday of last week, made a quiet incursion three kilometers into Lebanon. The Syrian troops are digging in, according to Totten’s citation of the Lebanese daily Al Mustaqbal:

The sources said Syrian troops, backed by bulldozers, were fortifying positions “in more than one area” along the Lebanese border, erecting earth mounds and digging “hundreds” of trenches and individual bunkers.

And the Syrian government is, apparently, evacuating Syrian citizens from Lebanon. Totten goes on:

Syria can, apparently, get away with just about anything. I could hardly blame Assad at this point if he believes, after such an astonishing non-response, that he can reconquer Beirut. So far he can kill and terrorize and invade and destroy with impunity, at least up to a point. What is that point? Has anyone in the U.S., Israel, the Arab League, the European Union, or the United Nations even considered the question?

Read the rest here.

Read Less

Getting to Know Beverly Sills

Commemorating a cultural figure like Beverly Sills (1929–2007), who died last week of lung cancer at 78, is not easy. After a much-publicized career as a coloratura soprano, Sills served as general director of the New York City Opera and chairwoman of Lincoln Center, and later of the Metropolitan Opera. On July 3, in a bizarre tribute, the New York Philharmonic gave a conductorless performance, purportedly in her honor, of a work that most certainly requires a conductor—Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide. (The Philharmonic’s press office announced that this silly “tradition began with the death of Bernstein.”)

Read More

Commemorating a cultural figure like Beverly Sills (1929–2007), who died last week of lung cancer at 78, is not easy. After a much-publicized career as a coloratura soprano, Sills served as general director of the New York City Opera and chairwoman of Lincoln Center, and later of the Metropolitan Opera. On July 3, in a bizarre tribute, the New York Philharmonic gave a conductorless performance, purportedly in her honor, of a work that most certainly requires a conductor—Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide. (The Philharmonic’s press office announced that this silly “tradition began with the death of Bernstein.”)

A far better way to honor Sills would be to address a problem mentioned in an astute obituary by critic Tim Page: the fact that Sills made most of her studio recordings after her voice had already begun to deteriorate. Exceptions may be heard on VAI, including a 1969 concert DVD of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, a 1964 Offenbach Tales of Hoffmann from New Orleans, and a 1968 Handel Julius Caesar from Buenos Aires, conducted by Karl Richter. Deutsche Grammophon alos offers a few choice recordings, including a 1958 Ballad of Baby Doe by Douglas Moore, a 1969 Donizetti Roberto Devereux led by Charles Mackerras, and a 1970 Donizetti Lucia Di Lammermoor conducted by Thomas Schippers. These and a few other high points are slim pickings for a singer who banked on the sensuous sheen of her voice as a major part of her artistry, in addition to acting smarts and a surprisingly agile stage presence. Sills’s actual performing is probably less known today than her post-retirement persona of jolly, steel-willed fundraiser and promoter of culture.

Getting closer to Beverly Sills—and away from Sylvia Bills—would require transferring to CD a number of surviving performance tapes. They would include a 1967 Handel Semele from Cleveland led by Robert Shaw, and a 1966 production of Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie co-starring Placido Domingo. Sills’s work in contemporary music, like a Boston performance of Luigi Nono’s Intolleranza from 1965 conducted by Bruno Maderna, or a 1959 New York City Opera staging of Hugo Weisgall’s Pirandello-based opera, Six Characters in Search of an Author, should be of high interest. Roles that Sills eventually repudiated for extra-musical reasons (like the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, which can be heard in a 1966 Tanglewood version led by Erich Leinsdorf, or Suor Angelica in a 1967 City Opera performance of Puccini’s Il Trittico) would also make essential listening on CD.

Add to these a number of concert works never recorded in the studio, like a 1967 rendition of Poulenc’s Gloria from the Caramoor Festival, and a number of Boston Symphony events conducted by Erich Leinsdorf, like a 1966 Schumann Scenes from Goethe’s Faust; 1967 and 1968 versions of Haydn’s Creation Mass; and a 1969 Beethoven Ninth Symphony from Tanglewood. These and other documents from her vocal prime, if made available on CD, would be revelatory posthumous tributes to Beverly Sills.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.