Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 11, 2007

Charlie’s Angle

Yesterday Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign announced the selection of Charles Hill, a career Foreign Service officer who retired from government life to teach diplomacy at Yale, as the candidate’s chief foreign policy adviser. Hill is so admired by students that, as Scott Johnson notes at Power Line, one of them wrote a book about him: The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost.

The Plank’s Bradford Plumer nevertheless attacks Hill, writing that he was “George Shultz’s assistant back when the Reagan administration was orchestrating arms shipments to Iran in the 1980’s.” This bit of information—or rather spin—is completely irrelevant. Iran-Contra had its roots in Reagan’s National Security Council, on which Hill never served. Hill was never charged with any crimes: the only charges the overzealous prosecutor could bring against him lay in a few dubious sentences in his equally dubious book.

I’d argue that Hill’s connection to Shultz, the Republican Party’s senior statesman, actually makes this appointment a shrewd move by Giuliani. Shultz was prescient on the subject of terrorism; he was and is a formidable policy intellect; he believed not in surrendering to our enemies, but in defeating them. Plus, the campaign’s move links the candidate with Reagan, whose reputation, on the left and the right, is at a high.

And doesn’t Hill’s resume—posts in Zurich, Saigon, and on the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, a prominent position at an Ivy League university—suggest that he’s exactly the kind of experienced, nuance-appreciating diplomat that the left wants running American foreign policy?

Yesterday Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign announced the selection of Charles Hill, a career Foreign Service officer who retired from government life to teach diplomacy at Yale, as the candidate’s chief foreign policy adviser. Hill is so admired by students that, as Scott Johnson notes at Power Line, one of them wrote a book about him: The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost.

The Plank’s Bradford Plumer nevertheless attacks Hill, writing that he was “George Shultz’s assistant back when the Reagan administration was orchestrating arms shipments to Iran in the 1980’s.” This bit of information—or rather spin—is completely irrelevant. Iran-Contra had its roots in Reagan’s National Security Council, on which Hill never served. Hill was never charged with any crimes: the only charges the overzealous prosecutor could bring against him lay in a few dubious sentences in his equally dubious book.

I’d argue that Hill’s connection to Shultz, the Republican Party’s senior statesman, actually makes this appointment a shrewd move by Giuliani. Shultz was prescient on the subject of terrorism; he was and is a formidable policy intellect; he believed not in surrendering to our enemies, but in defeating them. Plus, the campaign’s move links the candidate with Reagan, whose reputation, on the left and the right, is at a high.

And doesn’t Hill’s resume—posts in Zurich, Saigon, and on the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, a prominent position at an Ivy League university—suggest that he’s exactly the kind of experienced, nuance-appreciating diplomat that the left wants running American foreign policy?

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Is It Any Wonder?

The new Seven Wonders of the World, which were announced last week with great fanfare in Lisbon, are a droll affair. Two are from pre-Columbian America (the citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru and the temples of Chichén Itzá, Mexico), two from Asia (the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China), and one from the Middle East (the rock tombs of Petra, Jordan). The modern world comes up rather short (the mountaintop statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro), as does European civilization in general (represented only by the Coliseum in Rome). Is this list something to take seriously? Does its comprehensive global sweep give it an authority that the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—mostly huddled around the Mediterranean—lacked?

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The new Seven Wonders of the World, which were announced last week with great fanfare in Lisbon, are a droll affair. Two are from pre-Columbian America (the citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru and the temples of Chichén Itzá, Mexico), two from Asia (the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China), and one from the Middle East (the rock tombs of Petra, Jordan). The modern world comes up rather short (the mountaintop statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro), as does European civilization in general (represented only by the Coliseum in Rome). Is this list something to take seriously? Does its comprehensive global sweep give it an authority that the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—mostly huddled around the Mediterranean—lacked?

The new list was created by the New7Wonders Foundation, whose own website proclaims—and without apparent irony—that it “was created in 2001 by Swiss adventurer Bernard Weber.” Weber has certainly been enterprising. Rather than forming a panel of experts, he allowed the public to vote for its favorite monuments. It is no surprise, then, that countries with large populations (China, Brazil, and India) dominate the list, and that monuments without constituencies (one thinks of the Stone Heads of Easter Island) do not figure. How Weber tabulated the votes, or what measures he took to prevent multiple voting, is unclear. The Vatican has speculated, according to the (London) Times, about the systematic exclusion of Christian monuments. As the Times reported,

Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, who heads the Vatican’s pontifical commission for culture and archeology, said that the exclusion of Christian works of art such as Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel was “surprising, inexplicable, even suspicious.”

One can no more quarrel with such a list than with television ratings. Still, as a thought exercise, one might speculate as to how a contemporary list of wonders might be drawn up—one not dependent on the erratic wisdom of the internet electorate. For one thing, one might turn for guidance to the original Seven Wonders. Several were noteworthy for their bold engineering, such as the Lighthouse of Alexandria and the Colossus of Rhodes, which showed their cultures building to the limits of their structural acumen. A contemporary list might recognize structures of similar engineering audacity. Three obvious candidates would be the Panama Canal, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Channel Tunnel between Britain and France. One might also note that landscape art was represented by the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Would it be too chauvinistic to suggest Yosemite National Park as a wonder, one shaped and organized by human intervention?

Whether or not the Vatican is correct about bias, the list certainly ignores one of the wonders of western civilization, the poetic shaping of interior space. Weber’s list of wonders consists of photogenic exteriors—which look good on computer screens, unlike architectural interiors, which need to be experienced. The organized spatial poetry achieved in such buildings as Hagia Sophia, Istanbul; St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome; and Cologne Cathedral is indeed a wonder, and one or more of these monuments certainly belong on such a list. After all, one of the principal reasons for having such a list is educational.

In the end, the new Seven Wonders of the World have less to do with Herodotus than with David Wallechinsky, whose bestselling Book of Lists (1977) ranked the “worst places to hitchhike” or “people suspected of being Jack the Ripper.” Weber’s new list is at best a bit of harmless conversation fodder—although nowhere near as diverting as Wallechinsky’s “famous people who died during sex.”

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Keith Ellison’s Night Table

In my “Jews, Muslims, and the Democrats,” I discussed the significance of the election of Keith Ellison of Minneapolis, the first-ever Muslim member of the House of Representatives. I noted that in his campaign, Ellison had positioned himself as a moderate, and was at pains to distance himself from his extremist past, including his ties to Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam. I also noted the possibility that he would continue to tack toward the political center. That possibility has not materialized. After a mere six months in office, he has been reverting to form.

Scott Johnson, who has been on this story from the beginning, both on powerline and in the Weekly Standard, has just put up two fascinating posts, The Ellison Hustle and The Truth About Keith Ellison, noting the trajectory of his views. Among other things, he calls attention to the Congressman’s recent remarks to a group called Atheists for Human Rights.

Ellison said a number of striking things at this gathering. But what stands out most is his likening of the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11 to a pivotal event in the history of the Third Reich:

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In my “Jews, Muslims, and the Democrats,” I discussed the significance of the election of Keith Ellison of Minneapolis, the first-ever Muslim member of the House of Representatives. I noted that in his campaign, Ellison had positioned himself as a moderate, and was at pains to distance himself from his extremist past, including his ties to Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam. I also noted the possibility that he would continue to tack toward the political center. That possibility has not materialized. After a mere six months in office, he has been reverting to form.

Scott Johnson, who has been on this story from the beginning, both on powerline and in the Weekly Standard, has just put up two fascinating posts, The Ellison Hustle and The Truth About Keith Ellison, noting the trajectory of his views. Among other things, he calls attention to the Congressman’s recent remarks to a group called Atheists for Human Rights.

Ellison said a number of striking things at this gathering. But what stands out most is his likening of the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11 to a pivotal event in the history of the Third Reich:

It’s almost like the Reichstag fire, kind of reminds me of that. After the Reichstag was burned, they [the Nazis] blamed the Communists for it and it put the leader of that country [Hitler] in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted. The fact is that I’m not saying [Sept. 11] was a [U.S.] plan, or anything like that because, you know, that’s how they put you in the nut-ball box–dismiss you.

Quoting this outrageous passage, Scott Johnson points out that Ellison has here descended into “promoting the disgusting conspiracy myths of radical ‘truthers’ and extremist Muslims.”

That is exactly right. Put aside Ellison’s disingenuous denial of what he is saying even as he is saying it. The comparison of 9/11 to the Reichstag fire, with the implication that the Bush administration was behind the attack, is not something Ellison has pulled out of thin air.

Not far from Minneapolis one finds Kevin Barrett, a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the organizer of a body called the Muslim, Jewish, Christian Alliance for 9/11 Truth. Barrett is also the author of an essay entitled “Interpreting the Unspeakable: The Myth of 9/11,” which appeared in a book last November.

The fate of the Reichstag building is one of the essay’s major themes. “Like Bush and the neocons,” Barrett writes explicitly, “Hitler and the Nazis inaugurated their new era by destroying an architectural monument and blaming its destruction on their designated enemies.”

Nor is this the limit of Barrett’s conspiracy mongering. Click here, for instance, to find out who he thinks was really behind the “brutal slaughter of 34 Americans and the wounding of 171 others in the unprovoked Israeli attack on the unarmed USS Liberty” in June 1967.

Professor Barrett is evidently on Ellison’s reading list. What other volumes can be found on his night table?

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Letter from the Front

Has the surge already failed? That’s the impression you get from the MSM. The reality on the ground is a little different. Although the last surge troops only arrived in June, they have already had a significant impact. How significant? In preparing to testify before a congressional committee tomorrow, I put that question to a friend of mine, an American officer serving in Baghdad. Here is his response, which he agreed to let me share with contentions, provided that I did not use his name (I’ve added explanations of a few acronyms):

Max,

Here are some positive results of the surge strategy to date—I’m sure you’ve got the negatives down pat from all the media reports.

- Deaths caused by sectarian violence in Iraq are down 75 percent from January to June

- VBIED’s [vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices]/Suicide attacks cut in half from March to June; VBIED’s at lowest level since August 2006

- Casualties from VBIED’s cut in half from February to June

- Attacks in Al Anbar cut by 80 percent since February

- ISF KIA [Iraqi Security Forces killed-in-action] at 2-3 times the level of Coalition KIA—Iraqis are fighting and dying for their country

- Tribes are rejecting Al Qaeda in Al Anbar, Salah Ad Din, Ninewa, Diyala

- AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] is on the defensive and slowly dying—BUT WE NEED TIME TO FINISH THE JOB or they will recover

- Government of Iraq is rejecting militias and authorizing strikes anywhere in Iraq

- Government of Iraq responded well to second Samarra Mosque bombing

- Government of Iraq has formed a Reconciliation Committee to engage local groups and bring them into the process against Al Qaeda and in support of the GoI

- Government of Iraq improving budget execution

The big negative, of course, is lack of political reconciliation at the national level, but this is a lagging indicator. Progress is being made at the local level, and I believe the national leaders will follow in due course once the trend is clear.

Best from Baghdad,

[Name Deleted]

Has the surge already failed? That’s the impression you get from the MSM. The reality on the ground is a little different. Although the last surge troops only arrived in June, they have already had a significant impact. How significant? In preparing to testify before a congressional committee tomorrow, I put that question to a friend of mine, an American officer serving in Baghdad. Here is his response, which he agreed to let me share with contentions, provided that I did not use his name (I’ve added explanations of a few acronyms):

Max,

Here are some positive results of the surge strategy to date—I’m sure you’ve got the negatives down pat from all the media reports.

- Deaths caused by sectarian violence in Iraq are down 75 percent from January to June

- VBIED’s [vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices]/Suicide attacks cut in half from March to June; VBIED’s at lowest level since August 2006

- Casualties from VBIED’s cut in half from February to June

- Attacks in Al Anbar cut by 80 percent since February

- ISF KIA [Iraqi Security Forces killed-in-action] at 2-3 times the level of Coalition KIA—Iraqis are fighting and dying for their country

- Tribes are rejecting Al Qaeda in Al Anbar, Salah Ad Din, Ninewa, Diyala

- AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] is on the defensive and slowly dying—BUT WE NEED TIME TO FINISH THE JOB or they will recover

- Government of Iraq is rejecting militias and authorizing strikes anywhere in Iraq

- Government of Iraq responded well to second Samarra Mosque bombing

- Government of Iraq has formed a Reconciliation Committee to engage local groups and bring them into the process against Al Qaeda and in support of the GoI

- Government of Iraq improving budget execution

The big negative, of course, is lack of political reconciliation at the national level, but this is a lagging indicator. Progress is being made at the local level, and I believe the national leaders will follow in due course once the trend is clear.

Best from Baghdad,

[Name Deleted]

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