American movies show, with a contrast and vividness perhaps unmatched in any other medium, the depths and the heights of our collective culture. This goes some distance toward explaining why movies exert such an enduring fascination on the American mind. COMMENTARY has, for more than fifty years, published some of the most incisive and provocative writing on American films. We offer some of the best of that writing for this weekend’s reading.
The Movie Camera and the American
Robert Warshow – March 1952
The Strangely Polite “Dr. Strangelove”
Midge Decter – May 1964
The Man Who Refused to Watch the Academy Awards
David Evanier – April 1977
Woody Allen on the American Character
Richard Grenier — November 1983
A Dissent on “Schindler’s List”
Philip Gourevitch – February 1994
Terry Teachout – December 2005
Gabriel Schoenfeld – February 2006
President Bush has reportedly cancelled his September 5 meeting with leaders of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The conclave was to mark the 30th anniversary of the opening official ties between the United States and this grouping of ten Asian nations. The cancellation comes a personal blow to Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore’s prime minister, who arranged Bush’s attendance. (The island republic is a staunch American ally, one of the few remaining ones in the region.)
The President’s slight, which is keenly felt in Asia, was made worse by news that Condoleezza Rice will probably skip an ASEAN ministerial meeting next month. It is reported that the President and the secretary of state are staying close to home because of Iraq.
Arguments about whether we should stay in Iraq almost always focus on democratization, terrorism, and American resolve. Unless the subject is Afghanistan, we rarely talk about how this conflict is diverting the Bush administration’s attention from other parts of the planet. Even if the United States can prevail in Iraq, the President’s legacy will be clouded if he loses Asia to China. Whatever happens in the future, East Asia and the subcontinent now contain more than half the world’s population. In this area we find six of the world’s ten most populous states—including the largest democracy, the largest autocracy, and the largest Muslim society—and most of its vital economies, which account for almost a quarter of global gross domestic product.
If Washington cannot conduct an Asian and an Iraq policy at the same time—and so far the signs of its being able to do so are not good—we may need to broaden the definition of “American resolve” to include maintaining our presence in the far east.
On its front page yesterday, the Washington Post breathlessly touted a Bob Woodward scoop—namely that CIA Director Michael Hayden told the Iraq Study Group on November 13, 2006, that “the inability of the [Iraqi] government to govern seems irreversible.”
If you read deep into the article you find that there is some doubt about what Hayden actually said. Not surprising, since Woodward seems to be working from interviews with participants relying on their memories rather than from a transcript. He quotes a “senior intelligence official familiar with Hayden’s session with the Iraq Study Group” who qoates Hayden as saying “The current situation, with regard to governance in Iraq, was probably irreversible in the short term. . .” [emphasis added]
Whatever Hayden said, it’s hard to see why this is treated as front-page news. Is there anyone left in Washington who thinks that the CIA is an infallible oracle when it comes to the future of Iraq? (Or anyplace else, for that matter?) Its track record is spotty, to say the least. But then no intelligence analyst, no matter how astute, can predict all the twists in turns in a conflict that changes all the time.
Reading Pat Buchanan’s superb appreciation of Robert Novak and his new memoir, Prince of Darkness, one is reminded of what a great writer and historian of Republican politics Buchanan can be. What a pity that, fifteen years ago, he headed off to the fever swamps of the conservative movement as he pursued a series of failed presidential runs. Although today he remains a staple of talking-head TV, his presidential campaigns, loaded with xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and protectionist messages, make him impossible to take seriously.
But I’m also reminded of something I witnessed, involving Novak, in 1996. I was in Des Moines, on the eve of the 1996 Iowa caucuses. Although there were many semi-viable Republican candidates that year, in the final few days before caucus day, the contest had suddenly become a hot three-way race among Bob Dole, Pat Buchanan, and Lamar Alexander (I was Lamar’s policy director that year). I was at a high-spirited Alexander rally that night and found myself talking with Novak and Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes. As the three of us left the rally to go to dinner, Novak, apropos of nothing, suddenly declared: “Wouldn’t it be great if Pat won this whole thing.” Fred and I chuckled at this—until suddenly there was an awkward silence. The two of us had realized that Novak was dead serious.
Who won last summer’s Lebanon war, Israel or Hizballah? A year after combat ceased that question remains hotly controverted. If nothing else, the continuing debate is testimony to the ambiguous nature of the outcome between one of the world’s most powerful armies and the rag-tag Islamic militia that it faced.
Since neither side suffered a knock-out blow, what indicators, short of total defeat and surrender, can be employed to evaluate the conflict? Because Hizballah was fighting a rocket war, firing a variety of projectiles into Israel’s north, one key question that must be posed is: how effective was Hizballah’s rocket campaign, and how effective was Israel’s response?
French popular music is notable for its tradition of countercultural balladeers, like Aristide Bruant in Toulouse-Lautrec’s day, or Léo Ferré in the 1960′s. Today, this mantle has been inherited by French rap performers, who are vastly superior to the (mostly execrable) American variety.
Instead of being obsessed with bling or women, French rap stars, mostly of African origin, are highly literate and even intellectual, with a sense of social responsibility. In 2002, Mohamed Bourokba, known as Hamé, of the French rap group La Rumeur (Rumor) published an article to accompany a CD release, asserting that the French “Ministry of Interior’s reports will never take into account the hundreds of our brothers who are slaughtered by the police force.” Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s then-Minister of the Interior, prosecuted Hamé for “public defamation of the nation’s police.” (By contrast, our American rapper Ice-T, who co-wrote the infamous 1992 song “Cop Killer,” has been given a high-paying role on TV’s stultifying Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.)