Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 2007

(Un)Fair Trade

Speaking at the UN Security Council on Wednesday, UN Special Envoy to the Middle East Michael Williams noted that “Unless the crossings [into Gaza] are open for imports and exports, the downward economic spiral will lead to extensive hardship for an already impoverished Gaza Strip.” He also highlighted the plight of 6,000 Palestinians, currently stranded in Egypt, who cannot re-enter the Strip because Hamas will only let them in through the Rafah crossing (which Israel has relinquished), while Egypt and Israel are ready to let them in only through the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Why anyone would wish to re-enter Gaza may be a mystery. But that question is beside the point. Israel is not the only country sharing a border with Gaza, though it is the only country bordering Gaza that Gaza’s rulers wish and work to destroy. That the UN wants Israel to conduct trade negotiations with them boggles the mind.

Speaking at the UN Security Council on Wednesday, UN Special Envoy to the Middle East Michael Williams noted that “Unless the crossings [into Gaza] are open for imports and exports, the downward economic spiral will lead to extensive hardship for an already impoverished Gaza Strip.” He also highlighted the plight of 6,000 Palestinians, currently stranded in Egypt, who cannot re-enter the Strip because Hamas will only let them in through the Rafah crossing (which Israel has relinquished), while Egypt and Israel are ready to let them in only through the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Why anyone would wish to re-enter Gaza may be a mystery. But that question is beside the point. Israel is not the only country sharing a border with Gaza, though it is the only country bordering Gaza that Gaza’s rulers wish and work to destroy. That the UN wants Israel to conduct trade negotiations with them boggles the mind.

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Jihad on Campus?

Many Americans I know are dismayed by the British academic boycott of Israel. What, they wonder, lies behind the rise of such attitudes on British campuses? The truth is, however, we do not know the half of it. A case that has just ended at the Old Bailey criminal court in London—a case that has gone largely unreported—throws light on this dark corner of university life.

This morning, the BBC’s flagship radio news program, Today, reported on the case. It involves a schoolboy and four Muslim students at Bradford University who have been convicted of “possessing articles for terrorism”—in other words, downloading jihadist material from the Internet. The only reason this particular group came to light was that a 17-year-old member, who had run away from home, told his parents about the group’s activities. The parents decided to tell the police, who arrested the other group members.

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Many Americans I know are dismayed by the British academic boycott of Israel. What, they wonder, lies behind the rise of such attitudes on British campuses? The truth is, however, we do not know the half of it. A case that has just ended at the Old Bailey criminal court in London—a case that has gone largely unreported—throws light on this dark corner of university life.

This morning, the BBC’s flagship radio news program, Today, reported on the case. It involves a schoolboy and four Muslim students at Bradford University who have been convicted of “possessing articles for terrorism”—in other words, downloading jihadist material from the Internet. The only reason this particular group came to light was that a 17-year-old member, who had run away from home, told his parents about the group’s activities. The parents decided to tell the police, who arrested the other group members.

It is, to say the least, unusual in Britain to interview a convicted felon about his crime before he has even been sentenced. Nobody explained why the authorities had permitted an exception in this case, but the Today program gave its prime breakfast time slot at 8:10 a.m. to one of the students, in order that he might explain why the jury had been wrong to convict him. The student was handled very gently by the interviewer, a Muslim woman, who seemed to assume that he was just a kid who had gotten mixed up with the wrong crowd. The interviewer did not challenge the student’s claim that he had not actually seen or read the violent material, including terrorism manuals, found on his computer. Unfortunately for the BBC, the young man did not quite follow its script: he insisted that he still believed he had a duty to fight those who “invaded Muslim lands.”

Today then brought in David Livingstone, who had been an expert witness in the trial, and who works for Chatham House—yes, the place where the famous “Chatham House rules” for conferences was invented. Chatham House is also the more sinister source of the Arabist “Chatham House version” of Middle East history, which was dissected many years ago by the great scholar Elie Kedourie, but which is still as influential as ever in the western academy.

It took Professor Anthony Glees to introduce some sanity into the proceedings. Professor Glees is the only person who has taken the Islamist radicalization of the British campus with the seriousness that it deserves. In a series of reports, Glees has forced the government and the media to take some notice of the threat that such radicalization poses.

Regarding the case involving the Bradford University students, Glees thanked the jury for its courage, and welcomed the deterrent effect that the guilty verdict might have. Glees also praised the parents who went to the police, thereby setting an example for other members of the Muslim community, who rarely inform on family or neighbors whom they suspect of terrorist involvement.

Glees also, however, revealed the extent of complacency among the authorities. The Minister for Higher Education, Bill Rammell, has often dismissed Professor Glees’s warnings about Islamist activism on campus. Now, Rammell is sufficiently worried about it to have proposed what Glees described as “modest” guidelines to make academics and administrators more aware of the danger of infiltration by Islamists, some of whom come from abroad specifically to target British universities. According to Glees, the guidelines were rejected unanimously by the academic unions and by Universities U.K., which represents administrators. As things stand, the administrators have no idea how widespread the phenomenon of Islamism on campus is: students are not asked about their views or affiliations before being accepted.

Ultimately, the five Bradford students are unlikely to be unique. It is possible, in fact, that we are witnessing a prelude to a generational radicalization such that we have not witnessed since the 1960′s—and perhaps not even then. Left-wing terrorism of the Baader-Meinhof or Red Brigade variety never enjoyed the popular base that Islamism can now boast, nor did it have the Internet as a tool of propaganda and organization. American universities are still dominated by the coat-and-tie radicals of the 1960′s. How long before the headscarf radicals of the Oughts dominate British campuses?

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Piracy Bust

This morning, the New York Times reported that Chinese authorities, working with the FBI, seized more than $500 million of counterfeit Microsoft and Symantec software and arrested 25 people involved in the counterfeiting operation. “This is a real milestone,” said David Finn, Microsoft associate general counsel. Finn is right. The Chinese deserve great credit for busting a ring that looks as if it were responsible for at least $2 billion of pirated software sales. (As Gao Feng, Deputy Director General of China’s Ministry of Public Security, has said, profit margins for software piracy exceed those for drug trafficking.)

Unfortunately, with those enormous profits, counterfeiters have been able to buy off the political system maintained by the Communist Party. Officials at the lowest rungs of that organization personally profit from protecting counterfeiters and often own part of the counterfeiting factories. The officials then buy protection for themselves from their superiors in the Party’s entrenched patronage system. The upshot of all this? Piracy in China is not going away anytime soon.

So what can foreign owners of intellectual property do? For one thing, they can publicly demand that Beijing protect their rights as vigorously as it has protected the five Fuwa, the cutesy mascots for the 2008 Summer Olympics. China has stopped counterfeiters from knocking off Beibei the fish, Jingjing the panda, Huanhuan the Olympic flame, Yingying the Tibetan antelope, and Nini the swallow. Yes, the latest raid reported by the Times is good news indeed, but there’s a lot more the Chinese government can—and should—do.

This morning, the New York Times reported that Chinese authorities, working with the FBI, seized more than $500 million of counterfeit Microsoft and Symantec software and arrested 25 people involved in the counterfeiting operation. “This is a real milestone,” said David Finn, Microsoft associate general counsel. Finn is right. The Chinese deserve great credit for busting a ring that looks as if it were responsible for at least $2 billion of pirated software sales. (As Gao Feng, Deputy Director General of China’s Ministry of Public Security, has said, profit margins for software piracy exceed those for drug trafficking.)

Unfortunately, with those enormous profits, counterfeiters have been able to buy off the political system maintained by the Communist Party. Officials at the lowest rungs of that organization personally profit from protecting counterfeiters and often own part of the counterfeiting factories. The officials then buy protection for themselves from their superiors in the Party’s entrenched patronage system. The upshot of all this? Piracy in China is not going away anytime soon.

So what can foreign owners of intellectual property do? For one thing, they can publicly demand that Beijing protect their rights as vigorously as it has protected the five Fuwa, the cutesy mascots for the 2008 Summer Olympics. China has stopped counterfeiters from knocking off Beibei the fish, Jingjing the panda, Huanhuan the Olympic flame, Yingying the Tibetan antelope, and Nini the swallow. Yes, the latest raid reported by the Times is good news indeed, but there’s a lot more the Chinese government can—and should—do.

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Life in a Glass House

The opening to the public last month of architect Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, was a triumph. Tickets to the house that Johnson (1906–2005) built in 1949 sold out, and visits are booked until 2008. In the midst of the celebration, only cursory attention was paid to information highlighted a decade ago in Philip Johnson: Life and Work by Franz Schulze and “We Cannot Not Know History: Philip Johnson’s Politics and Cynical Survival,” an essay by Kazys Varnelis in the November 1994 issue of the Journal of Architectural Education. (And by Hilton Kramer in COMMENTARY.) For eight years of Johnson’s adult life, from 1932 to 1940, he ardently promoted Nazism and fascism. Johnson’s friends, like the architect Robert Stern, assert that Johnson had repented before his death at age 98 in 2005—although these second-hand apologia remain debatable.

In 1932, when Johnson organized an exhibit on the International Style in architecture at MOMA, he attended a Hitler rally in Potsdam, Germany (which, he later admitted to Schulze, “enthralled” him). Back in America, Johnson became a staunch supporter of Lawrence Dennis (1893-1977), the Atlanta-born author of The Coming American Fascism, who predicted that only fascism could save America. In 1934, Johnson formed a Nationalist Party and went to Louisiana to work with Huey Long (whom Dennis praised for being “smarter than Hitler”).
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The opening to the public last month of architect Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, was a triumph. Tickets to the house that Johnson (1906–2005) built in 1949 sold out, and visits are booked until 2008. In the midst of the celebration, only cursory attention was paid to information highlighted a decade ago in Philip Johnson: Life and Work by Franz Schulze and “We Cannot Not Know History: Philip Johnson’s Politics and Cynical Survival,” an essay by Kazys Varnelis in the November 1994 issue of the Journal of Architectural Education. (And by Hilton Kramer in COMMENTARY.) For eight years of Johnson’s adult life, from 1932 to 1940, he ardently promoted Nazism and fascism. Johnson’s friends, like the architect Robert Stern, assert that Johnson had repented before his death at age 98 in 2005—although these second-hand apologia remain debatable.

In 1932, when Johnson organized an exhibit on the International Style in architecture at MOMA, he attended a Hitler rally in Potsdam, Germany (which, he later admitted to Schulze, “enthralled” him). Back in America, Johnson became a staunch supporter of Lawrence Dennis (1893-1977), the Atlanta-born author of The Coming American Fascism, who predicted that only fascism could save America. In 1934, Johnson formed a Nationalist Party and went to Louisiana to work with Huey Long (whom Dennis praised for being “smarter than Hitler”).

After Long was murdered in 1935, Johnson became a staunch ally of Father Charles Coughlin (1891–1979), a Michigan priest who starred in weekly radio broadcasts featuring anti-Semitic praise of Hitler and Mussolini. Johnson helped with the printing of Social Justice, Coughlin’s publication, and organized a vast Chicago rally for the demagogue, even designing a now-iconic podium for Coughlin, modeled on the one that Hitler used at Potsdam.

In 1938, Johnson was invited by the German government to attend a special indoctrination course in Berlin, to learn about Nazi politics and hear Hitler speak at a giant Nuremberg rally. Johnson wrote a series of fascist articles for various American publications; he reviewed Hitler’s Mein Kampf favorably, pooh-poohing the notion that Hitler or his book were anti-Semitic. He went so far as to compare Hitler to Plato: “Reduced to plain terms, Hitler’s ‘racism’ is a perfectly simple though far-reaching idea. It is the myth of ‘we, the best,’ which we find, more or less fully developed, in all vigorous cultures. Thus Plato constructing the ideal State in his Republic assumed that it would be Greek.”

In a series of further articles, Johnson “explicitly attacked the Jews, depicting them as malicious invaders, comparing them to a plague, and finally lying about their condition in 1939 Germany and Poland,” as Varnelis details. Only when the FBI and Office of Naval Intelligence began to take an interest in Johnson as a possible Nazi spy, did he finally drop politics to devote himself fully to architecture. The Glass House represents the culmination of Johnson’s politically-rehabilitated persona. And yet the public continues to ignore the full details of Johnson’s Nazi years.

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The Good News About Lebanon

First the good news. The United States, Britain, and France are asking the UN Security Council to instruct UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to find ways to stop weapons flowing into Lebanon. The text they are proposing also calls on Syria to do more to control its border with Lebanon and for Iran to abide by an arms embargo on shipments to Lebanon.

Here is the critical paragraph:

The Security Council, in this context, expresses grave concern at persistent reports of breaches of the arms embargo along the Lebanon-Syria border. It expresses deep concern about reports, which have not been refuted, that suspected armed Hizballah elements are alleged to be constructing new facilities in the Bekaa Valley. The Council takes note of the detailed information conveyed by the Government of Lebanon about the dangerous activities of armed elements and groups, in particular PFLP-GC and Fatah Intifada, and reiterates its call for the disbanding and disarmament of all militias and armed groups in particular in Lebanon. It underscores the obligation of all member states, particularly the Syrian Arab Republic and Iran, to take all necessary measures to implement paragraph 15 resolution 1701 to enforce the arms embargo.

Now for the bad news.

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First the good news. The United States, Britain, and France are asking the UN Security Council to instruct UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to find ways to stop weapons flowing into Lebanon. The text they are proposing also calls on Syria to do more to control its border with Lebanon and for Iran to abide by an arms embargo on shipments to Lebanon.

Here is the critical paragraph:

The Security Council, in this context, expresses grave concern at persistent reports of breaches of the arms embargo along the Lebanon-Syria border. It expresses deep concern about reports, which have not been refuted, that suspected armed Hizballah elements are alleged to be constructing new facilities in the Bekaa Valley. The Council takes note of the detailed information conveyed by the Government of Lebanon about the dangerous activities of armed elements and groups, in particular PFLP-GC and Fatah Intifada, and reiterates its call for the disbanding and disarmament of all militias and armed groups in particular in Lebanon. It underscores the obligation of all member states, particularly the Syrian Arab Republic and Iran, to take all necessary measures to implement paragraph 15 resolution 1701 to enforce the arms embargo.

Now for the bad news.

First, the proposed action is a mere Security Council “policy statement”; it does not even have the force of Security Council Resolutions, which also typically languish unenforced.

Second, the statement itself must be agreed to by all fifteen members of the Council, which means that already weak tea is likely to be further watered down.

Third, the statement itself is already nonsensical in a characteristically nonsensical UN way. Calling on Syria to do more to control its border with Lebanon, and Iran to abide by an arms embargo, is like asking wolves to become vegetarians.

Fourth, the evil the statement aims to prevent appears to have already occurred. Over the past year, despite UN-imposed restrictions, Syrian and Iranian smuggling of rockets and missiles never ceased. This past Monday, the leader of Hizballah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, boasted that his group possesses an arsenal of projectile weapons that can reach all of Israel. Senior Israeli officials deny this, saying only that Hizballah’s missiles can reach northern Tel Aviv. Hizballah also boasts of possessing 33,000 shorter-range rockets of the kind that rained down on northern Israel last summer. Whether this number is an exaggeration or not is both unclear and irrelevant. Even if the tally is not 33,000, it is evident that Hizballah does have a huge number of rockets in its possession, many of them smuggled into Lebanon over the past year.

Fifth, the UN statement, for the sake of being balanced and evenhanded, will express concern over “the increase in Israeli violations of Lebanese air space.” But these alleged “violations” are one of the principal means by which Israel and the rest of the world have any measure of the scope of the smuggling that the UN will now ineffectually strive to halt.

In other words, the missile threat Israel is facing is likely to get worse, despite the best efforts of the UN, such as they are. MTHEL remains all the more urgent. Click here to find out about MTHEL.

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Bookshelf

• Contrary to popular belief, not many critics are failed artists. (They might be better critics if they were.) Some, however, are what I call “recovering artists,” a category into which I fit, since I spent several years working as a professional musician prior to becoming a full-time writer at the age of 29. While my experience is anything but unique, it is one that, so far as I know, has never been written about in any detail. This is one reason why I found Glenn Kurtz’s Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music so compelling. Kurtz studied classical guitar at the New England Conservatory of Music and, like me, pursued a performing career before deciding to take up writing. A few years ago he started playing again, this time for his own pleasure, and now he has written a book, half memoir and half meditation, about the broken arc of his musical life.

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• Contrary to popular belief, not many critics are failed artists. (They might be better critics if they were.) Some, however, are what I call “recovering artists,” a category into which I fit, since I spent several years working as a professional musician prior to becoming a full-time writer at the age of 29. While my experience is anything but unique, it is one that, so far as I know, has never been written about in any detail. This is one reason why I found Glenn Kurtz’s Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music so compelling. Kurtz studied classical guitar at the New England Conservatory of Music and, like me, pursued a performing career before deciding to take up writing. A few years ago he started playing again, this time for his own pleasure, and now he has written a book, half memoir and half meditation, about the broken arc of his musical life.

The fact that Kurtz gave up the guitar altogether for an extended period doubtless explains why he is so good at describing the inner life of musicians. Because he lost touch with that life, he now takes no part of it for granted. He writes with great acuteness, for instance, about the unending drudgery without which no one, however naturally gifted, can hope to make music for a living:

You sit down, you look at your hands, you hold the instrument. You listen to the musicians you admire, who have this same equipment, hands and instruments. Then you look at your own hands again, and it doesn’t seem possible. . . . I think this is when your story as a musician begins. Playing, you’ve begun to practice. And practice has made “perfect.” Now you’ll never play the way you wish you could. Now one lifetime is not enough. You’ll never be finished practicing.

He is also very good at describing the alienation from everyday life that is, for better and worse, the artist’s lot:

My parents . . . silenced their emotions, delegated them to others. They sacrificed what was most important in order to preserve their comfortable lives. But I was part of a select society, with music and poetry as our secret language. It was startlingly clear: artists expressed exquisite emotional truths in tones that everyone heard but few had the courage to feel and understand. To speak these truths, to be an artist, was the ultimate calling, the antithesis of school and partying and repetitive family rituals.

In addition, Kurtz articulates what I can only call the spirituality of the artist’s futile quest for perfection: “Each day, with every note, practicing is the same task, this essential human gesture—reaching out for an ideal, for the grandeur of what you desire, and feeling it slip through your fingers.” What is most poignant about this quest is that the youngsters who embark on the artist’s way do so without any guarantee of success:

Because Salieri knows Mozart is a genius, his own failure then seems inevitable. But the real weight that he and every artist—every person who strives for greatness—suffers is the weight of not knowing. You must find in yourself the courage to leap off the cliff. Yet it is not up to you whether you fly or fall.

Glenn Kurtz fell, and it was a long time before he found within himself the courage to start again, this time as a committed amateur. Yet that painful experience made it possible for him to write this exceedingly beautiful book. No doubt he would rather have grown up to be a world-class guitarist—but I’m not so sure he got the short end of the stick.

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Raptors to Japan

On Saturday, the New York Times criticized the Pentagon’s spending plans for buying, among other things, the F-22 stealth fighter, also known as the Raptor. According to the paper, that’s just concentrating on “the kind of weapons that might have made sense during the cold war but have little use in the kind of conflicts America is involved in and is likely to face in the foreseeable future.”

The Air Force acquired the F-22 to penetrate the Soviet Union and face its fleet of Su-27 fighters. The Times reasons that, because the USSR disappeared, so did our need for the Raptor. Even if the paper is correct—it’s not—there is one nation that indisputably requires the plane today. Japan at this moment is threatened by China’s growing fleet of Su-27s and has to replace aging F-4’s.

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On Saturday, the New York Times criticized the Pentagon’s spending plans for buying, among other things, the F-22 stealth fighter, also known as the Raptor. According to the paper, that’s just concentrating on “the kind of weapons that might have made sense during the cold war but have little use in the kind of conflicts America is involved in and is likely to face in the foreseeable future.”

The Air Force acquired the F-22 to penetrate the Soviet Union and face its fleet of Su-27 fighters. The Times reasons that, because the USSR disappeared, so did our need for the Raptor. Even if the paper is correct—it’s not—there is one nation that indisputably requires the plane today. Japan at this moment is threatened by China’s growing fleet of Su-27s and has to replace aging F-4’s.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe raised the F-22 issue with President Bush during their summit this April. Japan would like to buy or build them under license from Lockheed Martin, the plane’s prime contractor. U.S. law prohibits the sale or license of America’s most capable fighter, and a recent attempt to end the ban failed earlier this year. Nonetheless, talk of Raptor sales just won’t go away.

Not only do the Japanese need to buy them, we have a compelling need to sell them. The Air Force has scaled back substantially its plans to acquire F-22′s, in part because of their cost—about $130 million per plane. The cutback not only threatens the Raptor program and jobs in Georgia, Texas, and California, but also undermines our industrial base. Selling F-22’s to Japan today preserves our capacity to build even more sophisticated fighters tomorrow.

Japan is just about the only suitable purchaser. Its wallet is large enough; it’s an ally that can be counted on to keep the plane’s secrets safe. We should arm allies that will fight on our side in the event of a large-scale conflict in Asia, which is increasingly likely, despite what the Times may think. America needs Raptors, and we need Japan to have them, too.

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Blame the Victims

If you find Karen Armstrong’s argument that the creators and publishers of the Muhammad cartoons were guilty of “failing to live up to their own liberal values” to be outrageous, you should see the non sequitur that follows: “When 255,000 members of the so-called ‘Christian community’ signed a petition to prevent the building of a large mosque in Abbey Mills, east London, they sent a grim message to the Muslim world: western freedom of worship did not, apparently, apply to Islam. There were similar protests by some in the Jewish community, who . . . should be the first to protest against discrimination.”

What Ms. Armstrong does not say, though she must surely be aware of it, is that the controversy about the building of Europe’s largest mosque in London’s East End has nothing whatever to do with freedom of worship. London already has more mosques than any other city in Europe, and there are no restrictions on the practice of Islam in Britain, any more than there are restrictions in the United States or other western countries. The London Markaz, as the proposed “megamosque” would be known, is not a response to local Muslim communities, but the project of a global Islamist missionary organization, Tablighi Jamaat. The complex would include a mosque and other facilities for 70,000 worshipers—that is 67,000 more than the largest British cathedral—to be built next to the site of the 2012 Olympics. The religious compound is designed to attract Muslim pilgrims from all over the world, and to serve as the “Islamic quarter” for the games. The cost, an estimated £100 million ($200 million) would be paid by Saudi Arabia.
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If you find Karen Armstrong’s argument that the creators and publishers of the Muhammad cartoons were guilty of “failing to live up to their own liberal values” to be outrageous, you should see the non sequitur that follows: “When 255,000 members of the so-called ‘Christian community’ signed a petition to prevent the building of a large mosque in Abbey Mills, east London, they sent a grim message to the Muslim world: western freedom of worship did not, apparently, apply to Islam. There were similar protests by some in the Jewish community, who . . . should be the first to protest against discrimination.”

What Ms. Armstrong does not say, though she must surely be aware of it, is that the controversy about the building of Europe’s largest mosque in London’s East End has nothing whatever to do with freedom of worship. London already has more mosques than any other city in Europe, and there are no restrictions on the practice of Islam in Britain, any more than there are restrictions in the United States or other western countries. The London Markaz, as the proposed “megamosque” would be known, is not a response to local Muslim communities, but the project of a global Islamist missionary organization, Tablighi Jamaat. The complex would include a mosque and other facilities for 70,000 worshipers—that is 67,000 more than the largest British cathedral—to be built next to the site of the 2012 Olympics. The religious compound is designed to attract Muslim pilgrims from all over the world, and to serve as the “Islamic quarter” for the games. The cost, an estimated £100 million ($200 million) would be paid by Saudi Arabia.

The London Markaz project is a statement of Islamist triumphalism, intended to send out a signal to the billions watching the Olympic Games. While Mayor Livingstone has expressed support, there has been local opposition to the Markaz from the start. After it emerged that some of the terrorists involved in recent incidents in Britain and elsewhere were linked to Tablighi Jamaat (which is often described as the “antechamber” to terrorism), many Abbey Mills residents of all faiths became seriously concerned about the prospect of a vast Islamist fortress in their neighborhood. The concern about the Markaz is shared by many British Muslims, as well, most of whom are from South Asia, and have no sympathy for the Wahhabi fundamentalism that the new mosque undoubtedly will propagate. Ms. Armstrong seems to turn a blind eye to the neighborhood’s concerns about the mosque. She concludes her Guardian article: “Our inability to tolerate Islam not only contradicts our western values; it could also become a security risk.”

Armstrong’s visit to Malaysia should have shown her what intolerance really means. The country’s former prime minister, Mahathir bin Mohamad, notoriously told a Muslim conference in 2003: “The Nazis killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.” In any western country, a politician who talked like this would be finished. But Dr. Mahathir is still treated with reverence in Malaysia.

It is shocking that an influential writer such as Karen Armstrong, who is regarded by millions as an expert on Islam, and whose best-sellers include Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time and The Battle for God, cannot bring herself to tell the truth about Islamic intolerance. Even when her own books become victims of an intolerant government, Karen Armstrong finds it easier to blame the victims.

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A Crafty Health Care Move

Earlier this summer, when Senate Democrats (with significant support from some Republicans) offered a bill that would expand federal subsidies for children’s health insurance , conservatives accused them of trying to bring government-funded health care in through the back door. Now, as if to prove the point, House Democrats this week are preparing to introduce a much more ambitious plan to fortify and expand the government’s role in health care.

The New York Times reported that the plan, slated to be made public in the coming days, would not only vastly expand the scope of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), it would also reduce the incentive for private health plans to participate in the Medicare program, and eliminate the requirement in current law to limit Medicare’s reliance on general revenue for its funding.

Two points about why this bill is a smart play by the Democrats. First of all, it’s intended to make the Senate plan (which would increase SCHIP funding by more than $35 billion) appear to be the most moderate of three alternatives, mediating between the White House’s proposal of a $5 billion increase and the House’s $50 billion.

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Earlier this summer, when Senate Democrats (with significant support from some Republicans) offered a bill that would expand federal subsidies for children’s health insurance , conservatives accused them of trying to bring government-funded health care in through the back door. Now, as if to prove the point, House Democrats this week are preparing to introduce a much more ambitious plan to fortify and expand the government’s role in health care.

The New York Times reported that the plan, slated to be made public in the coming days, would not only vastly expand the scope of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), it would also reduce the incentive for private health plans to participate in the Medicare program, and eliminate the requirement in current law to limit Medicare’s reliance on general revenue for its funding.

Two points about why this bill is a smart play by the Democrats. First of all, it’s intended to make the Senate plan (which would increase SCHIP funding by more than $35 billion) appear to be the most moderate of three alternatives, mediating between the White House’s proposal of a $5 billion increase and the House’s $50 billion.

Secondly, and more importantly in the long term, by tying together politically appealing cases for coverage—for the very old and very young—the Democrats are making a concerted effort to move toward government-funded health insurance. Historically, Medicare has been seen as a crucial foot in the door for advocates of government health insurance, and the SCHIP program, created in 1997, was very consciously conceived of as a step in this direction as well. By explicitly tying the two together in one bill, House Democrats can both gather a powerful coalition behind them (the AARP will mount a national campaign for the bill, for instance), and begin to press in on America’s private health care market from both sides.

Advocates of nationalized health care may, oddly enough, have learned a lesson from the pro-life movement: the way to achieve revolutionary goals in American politics is by taking one small step after another, each carefully designed to be emotionally appealing and hard to oppose.

Although President Bush has promised to veto both the House and Senate versions of the bill, the Democrats’ new strategy makes it more likely that the Senate bill might, in time, gain the votes to override such a veto. Fiscally, socially, politically, and practically, this would be a bad idea. But you have to admire the Democrats’ craftiness.

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New Polls on the War

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll brings moderately positive news about public attitudes toward the war in Iraq. For the raw results, click here. For the Times write-up, click here.

The percentage of the public saying that invading Iraq was the correct decision has risen slightly. Forty-two percent now say it was the right thing to do, while 51 percent say we should have stayed out. That’s a shift from the May poll that had found only 35 percent in support of the invasion and 61 percent claiming it was a mistake. In addition, the public assessment of how well things are going in Iraq has turned slightly more upbeat. While only 3 percent think that things are going “very well” (up from 2 percent), 29 percent now think things are going “somewhat well,” a six-point increase from the previous poll. At the same time, the percentage of those saying things are going “very badly” has fallen from 45 percent to 35 percent—a whopping 10-point decline.

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The latest New York Times/CBS News poll brings moderately positive news about public attitudes toward the war in Iraq. For the raw results, click here. For the Times write-up, click here.

The percentage of the public saying that invading Iraq was the correct decision has risen slightly. Forty-two percent now say it was the right thing to do, while 51 percent say we should have stayed out. That’s a shift from the May poll that had found only 35 percent in support of the invasion and 61 percent claiming it was a mistake. In addition, the public assessment of how well things are going in Iraq has turned slightly more upbeat. While only 3 percent think that things are going “very well” (up from 2 percent), 29 percent now think things are going “somewhat well,” a six-point increase from the previous poll. At the same time, the percentage of those saying things are going “very badly” has fallen from 45 percent to 35 percent—a whopping 10-point decline.

It would be a mistake to read too much into these results. It is not, by any stretch, evidence that the public has turned in favor of the war effort. But it is an indication that public sentiment remains a bit unsettled, and that positive news from the front—of the kind we have been hearing increasingly in the past couple of months—can have some impact on the public’s views.

Moreover, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll suggests that most Americans, while in favor of withdrawal, are not demanding a complete pullout. I found these findings, buried deep in the Post article, interesting:

About six in 10 said forces should be withdrawn to avoid further casualties, even if civil order is not restored, and 56 percent want to decrease the forces in Iraq. Both figures are at new highs, but few Republicans agree with either position.

Even among Democrats, there is no consensus about the timing of any troop withdrawal. While three-quarters want to decrease the number of troops in Iraq, only a third advocate a complete, immediate withdrawal. There is even less support for that option among independents (15 percent) and Republicans (6 percent).

If I had to sum up these findings, I would say that, while antiwar forces are still winning the battle for public opinion, an information surge is allowing supporters of the war effort to gain some ground. Whether they can consolidate and even expand these gains remains to be seen. That will turn on how much success American forces have over the next few months. But the war on the home front is not irretrievably lost.

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The Clintonites’ Silver Bullet

Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, both Clinton-era staffers on the National Security Council, have a short, sharp, sensible op-ed in the New York Times today. They make a good point—that the CIA should be more involved in the special-operations business—but they also self-servingly distort history along the way.

Benjamin and Simon point to the chronic difficulties the U.S. military has created for itself in mounting commando raids against terrorist targets. The occasion for their piece is the revelations now coming out about an aborted 2005 operation against a terrorist haven in Pakistan’s lawless tribal region to capture or kill Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader.

The Pentagon, they note, through its bureaucratic processes, “added large numbers of troops to conduct additional intelligence, force protection, communications and extraction work. At that point, as one senior intelligence official told [the Times], ‘The whole thing turned into the invasion of Pakistan,’ and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pulled the plug.”

This episode, Benjamin and Simon tell us, is reminiscent of trouble faced by the Clinton administration. “The Clinton White House repeatedly requested options involving ground forces that could hunt and destroy terrorists in Afghanistan.” But repeatedly, they write, “senior military officials declared such a mission ‘would be Desert One,’ referring to the disastrous 1980 effort to free American hostages in Iran. When the Pentagon finally delivered a plan, the deployment envisioned would have been sufficient to take and hold Kabul but not to surprise and pin down a handful of terrorists.”

This is true. But it is also false. It provides only half the picture. For, even as the Clinton administration was contemplating military action against al-Qaeda safe havens, it was also planning much narrower commando operations, conceived and planned by the CIA, to seize Osama bin Laden—precisely the kind of raid Benjamin and Simon are recommending now.

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Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, both Clinton-era staffers on the National Security Council, have a short, sharp, sensible op-ed in the New York Times today. They make a good point—that the CIA should be more involved in the special-operations business—but they also self-servingly distort history along the way.

Benjamin and Simon point to the chronic difficulties the U.S. military has created for itself in mounting commando raids against terrorist targets. The occasion for their piece is the revelations now coming out about an aborted 2005 operation against a terrorist haven in Pakistan’s lawless tribal region to capture or kill Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader.

The Pentagon, they note, through its bureaucratic processes, “added large numbers of troops to conduct additional intelligence, force protection, communications and extraction work. At that point, as one senior intelligence official told [the Times], ‘The whole thing turned into the invasion of Pakistan,’ and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pulled the plug.”

This episode, Benjamin and Simon tell us, is reminiscent of trouble faced by the Clinton administration. “The Clinton White House repeatedly requested options involving ground forces that could hunt and destroy terrorists in Afghanistan.” But repeatedly, they write, “senior military officials declared such a mission ‘would be Desert One,’ referring to the disastrous 1980 effort to free American hostages in Iran. When the Pentagon finally delivered a plan, the deployment envisioned would have been sufficient to take and hold Kabul but not to surprise and pin down a handful of terrorists.”

This is true. But it is also false. It provides only half the picture. For, even as the Clinton administration was contemplating military action against al-Qaeda safe havens, it was also planning much narrower commando operations, conceived and planned by the CIA, to seize Osama bin Laden—precisely the kind of raid Benjamin and Simon are recommending now.

But what happened? It was not the military which screwed up the operation by beefing up the forces until it turned into a full-scale invasion of Afghanistan. It was the Clinton administration itself which called off the CIA action, out of fear that bin Laden would be killed—in violation of an executive order banning assassinations.

The 9/11 Commission Report contains a wealth of detail on this episode, including a remarkable kabuki dance of finger-pointing, with CIA Director George Tenet accepting most of the blame while implicitly suggesting that Sandy Berger, the National Security Council (NSC) chairman, should have been more vigorous in pressing ahead:

Impressions vary as to who actually decided not to proceed with the operation. [Richard] Clarke [NSC Counterterrorism] told us that the CSG [an interagency Counterterrorism Security Group] saw the plan as flawed. He was said to have described it to a colleague on the NSC staff as “half-assed” and predicted that the principals would not approve it. “Jeff ” [the CIA Counterterrorist Center Chief] thought the decision had been made at the cabinet level. [James] Pavitt [assistant head of the CIA Directorate of Operations] thought that it was [Sandy] Berger’s doing, though perhaps on Tenet’s advice. Tenet told us that given the recommendation of his chief operations officers, he alone had decided to “turn off” the operation. He had simply informed Berger, who had not pushed back. Berger’s recollection was similar. He said the plan was never presented to the White House for a decision.

Yes, it would be a good idea to make greater use of the CIA in the realm of special operations. But those advancing this recommendation would have done well to note that when they and the administration they served tried to fire this silver bullet themselves, they had a lot of trouble loading it and in the end could not bring themselves to squeeze the trigger.

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The Parliamentary Imagination

The House of Lords’ EU Committee just released its extensive report, “The EU and the Middle East Peace Process.” Among the pearls of wisdom the report contains: according to the Lords, the EU fathered the ‘imaginative idea’ of the two-state solution. Not the 1947 UN partition plan. Not the 1937 Peel Commission. It was the EU:

Though the U.S. has led the politics [of the peace process], the EU has made a significant policy contribution, not least by taking a lead in producing imaginative ideas, including the two state solution, which were subsequently adopted by the Quartet and the Arab League.

In case you were wondering, you now know why calls to reform this bedrock British institution (and bulwark of unelected privilege) are not entirely out of place.

The House of Lords’ EU Committee just released its extensive report, “The EU and the Middle East Peace Process.” Among the pearls of wisdom the report contains: according to the Lords, the EU fathered the ‘imaginative idea’ of the two-state solution. Not the 1947 UN partition plan. Not the 1937 Peel Commission. It was the EU:

Though the U.S. has led the politics [of the peace process], the EU has made a significant policy contribution, not least by taking a lead in producing imaginative ideas, including the two state solution, which were subsequently adopted by the Quartet and the Arab League.

In case you were wondering, you now know why calls to reform this bedrock British institution (and bulwark of unelected privilege) are not entirely out of place.

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Sound and Fury on the Economy

For all the hubbub about the innovative format of last night’s debate among Democratic presidential candidates, what was striking was how little effect the new format actually had. The debate was still, essentially, a group press conference in which—a few brief exchanges aside—the candidates displayed their placards. Take their rhetoric on the economy. As in earlier gatherings, the candidates handed out the same semi-populist doom and gloom about a country losing economic hope while only the very wealthy improve their lives. To listen to the candidates, you’d think the poor were sinking deeper into poverty due to predatory lending practices, while a cabal of insurance, pharmaceutical, and oil companies were conspiring to turn the U.S. into a giant New Orleans.

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For all the hubbub about the innovative format of last night’s debate among Democratic presidential candidates, what was striking was how little effect the new format actually had. The debate was still, essentially, a group press conference in which—a few brief exchanges aside—the candidates displayed their placards. Take their rhetoric on the economy. As in earlier gatherings, the candidates handed out the same semi-populist doom and gloom about a country losing economic hope while only the very wealthy improve their lives. To listen to the candidates, you’d think the poor were sinking deeper into poverty due to predatory lending practices, while a cabal of insurance, pharmaceutical, and oil companies were conspiring to turn the U.S. into a giant New Orleans.

But, as David Brooks notes in his column today, “after a lag, average wages are rising sharply. Real average wages rose by 2 percent in 2006, the second fastest rise in 30 years.” Similarly, he observes, “according to the Congressional Budget Office, earnings for the poorest fifth of Americans are also on the increase.” Nor, says Arthur Brooks, writing in the Wall Street Journal, are Americans sinking into a slough of economic despond. They continue to be optimistic about their chances for a better life. The National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey shows that in 1972, 30 percent of the population said that they were “very happy” with their lives; in 1982, 31 percent; in 1993, 32 percent; and in 2004, 31 percent. “In other words, no significant change in reported happiness occurred—even as income inequality has increased significantly.” “The data,” Arthur Brooks concludes, “do tell us that economic mobility—not equality—is associated with happiness.”

The Democrats definitely have some things right. They are leading the effort to expand the Trade Adjustment Assistance program—which aids workers who have lost their manufacturing jobs to foreign competition—to include service workers as well. But the Deomcrats are also looking to sink well-wrought trade agreements with South Korea and Colombia.

The Republicans definitely miss the mark at times, too, particularly on the genuine (and justified) anxieties of the public about the effects of globalization. Talk of the beauty, efficiency, and long-term benefits of markets is not enough; the public expects government to help balance large-scale risk and rewards in the here-and-now. The GOP would make a profound mistake, for both the future of free trade and for their own political future, if, as the White House seems inclined, they were to block the expansion of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program to include service workers.

“Feeding off pessimism about the war and anger at Washington, the candidates,” says David Brooks, “now compete to tell dark, angry, and conspiratorial stories about the economy.” This is not just a matter of rhetoric; these overheated arguments present a real danger. They might conflate the legitimate need to help cushion Americans from the increased risks of the global economy with an attempt to roll back the growth of free trade that has underwritten precisely the economic mobility so important to economic happiness. And that really would be bad news.

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Two Narratives

I was struck by the juxtaposition of these two recent articles, one in the New York Times and one in the Washington Post.

The Post article describes how Vladimir Putin’s acolytes are rewriting history textbooks used in Russian schools to give them a more nationalist flavor. One of the manuals issued to Russian teachers declares in its last chapter: “We see that practically every significant deed is connected with the name and activity of President V.V. Putin.” Another manual paints the United States as an empire that may be near “final collapse,” because “America can no longer integrate into a single unit or unite into a nation of ‘whites,’ ‘blacks,’ (they are called African-Americans in the language of political correctness) ‘Latinos’ (Latin Americans), and others.” Russia’s own history is whitewashed, with Stalin described as brutal but also “the most successful leader of the USSR.

The ethos of these textbooks was summed up by Putin, who told a meeting of educators that “we must not allow others to impose a feeling of guilt on us.”

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I was struck by the juxtaposition of these two recent articles, one in the New York Times and one in the Washington Post.

The Post article describes how Vladimir Putin’s acolytes are rewriting history textbooks used in Russian schools to give them a more nationalist flavor. One of the manuals issued to Russian teachers declares in its last chapter: “We see that practically every significant deed is connected with the name and activity of President V.V. Putin.” Another manual paints the United States as an empire that may be near “final collapse,” because “America can no longer integrate into a single unit or unite into a nation of ‘whites,’ ‘blacks,’ (they are called African-Americans in the language of political correctness) ‘Latinos’ (Latin Americans), and others.” Russia’s own history is whitewashed, with Stalin described as brutal but also “the most successful leader of the USSR.

The ethos of these textbooks was summed up by Putin, who told a meeting of educators that “we must not allow others to impose a feeling of guilt on us.”

The Times piece describes the new history textbooks in a very different kind of country—Israel. There, the Education Ministry is issuing texts to Arabic-speaking students that describe the foundation of Israel as a “catastrophe” for the Palestinians. (Emanuele Ottolenghi noted this development on contentions.)

In other words, a liberal democracy is incorporating in its curriculum the views of its enemies, while an authoritarian country is pushing a hard nationalist line in its own textbooks. Nothing surprising there, but what lesson does one draw from this disparity?

You could argue that this reveals a suicidal level of self-doubt in the West that puts us at a severe disadvantage in confronting our illiberal and often fanatical enemies. Or, you could argue that this capacity to question ourselves is actually an advantage in the competition with illiberal societies, and that dictators’ attempts to brainwash their populaces produce stunted societies incapable of competing with more dynamic ones.

Which of these “narratives” is right? At the risk of sounding like a typical, conflicted, namby-pamby, post-modern Westerner, I have to confess I’m not sure.

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COMMENTARY Onscreen: Terry Teachout

In the first of a series of monthly video interviews, Terry Teachout talks about “Our Creed and Our Character” (his article in the July/August issue of COMMENTARY), music, movies, John Marin, and much more.

Return to COMMENTARY.

In the first of a series of monthly video interviews, Terry Teachout talks about “Our Creed and Our Character” (his article in the July/August issue of COMMENTARY), music, movies, John Marin, and much more.

Return to COMMENTARY.

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COMMENTARY Onscreen: Fred Siegel

Fred Siegel discusses his book Prince of the City, New York after 9/11, campaign politics, the war on terror, and much more.

Return to COMMENTARY.

Fred Siegel discusses his book Prince of the City, New York after 9/11, campaign politics, the war on terror, and much more.

Return to COMMENTARY.

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Right for the Wrong Reasons

I hesitate to disagree about Afghanistan with Rory Stewart, who has spent a lot more time there than I have. A former British officer and diplomat, he walked across the entire country shortly after the fall of the Taliban, a madcap escapade gracefully chronicled in his book, The Places in Between. He now runs an NGO, the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, which is rebuilding the ancient heart of Kabul, where he lives.

On today’s New York Times op-ed page, Stewart has a provocative article entitled “Where Less is More.” His argument is that it would be counterproductive to act as the Democrats suggest by pulling out of Iraq and beefing up the foreign troop contingent in Afghanistan. I agree with this conclusion, but am dubious about his reasoning: namely, that sending more troops to Afghanistan would simply produce a backlash among nationalist Afghans.

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I hesitate to disagree about Afghanistan with Rory Stewart, who has spent a lot more time there than I have. A former British officer and diplomat, he walked across the entire country shortly after the fall of the Taliban, a madcap escapade gracefully chronicled in his book, The Places in Between. He now runs an NGO, the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, which is rebuilding the ancient heart of Kabul, where he lives.

On today’s New York Times op-ed page, Stewart has a provocative article entitled “Where Less is More.” His argument is that it would be counterproductive to act as the Democrats suggest by pulling out of Iraq and beefing up the foreign troop contingent in Afghanistan. I agree with this conclusion, but am dubious about his reasoning: namely, that sending more troops to Afghanistan would simply produce a backlash among nationalist Afghans.

There is no doubt that nationalist resentment exists, but polling suggests that the biggest cause of that resentment in Afghanistan (as in Iraq) is not the presence of foreign troops per se, but the failure of the troops to provide basic security. In both places the U.S. strategy focused on training indigenous forces and trying to hand off responsibility to them as soon as possible. We know what a disaster that turned out to be in Iraq. It’s worked out a bit better in Afghanistan for a variety of factors but, given how long it takes to develop capable police and military forces, the only way to boost security in the short-term is to send in more foreign troops. That’s what NATO has done in southern Afghanistan, and I think it’s too early to say, as Stewart does, that this deployment has been a failure.

He writes that “the foreign presence has provoked a wide Taliban insurgency.” But isn’t it equally, if not more likely that the Taliban insurgency was growing in any case, and that the presence of more NATO troops has blunted the effects of that insurgency? We know that the much-ballyhooed “spring offensive” of the Taliban fizzled out. We’re not sure why, but a good part of the explanation is probably preemptive action on the part of a larger NATO force.

That said, I think Stewart is right to argue that it’s generally better to minimize the presence of foreign troops and to rely on local allies as much as possible. But while correct as a general prescription for the Global War on Terror, it’s hard to know whether that is the best solution to Afghanistan’s particular problems. Absent a substantial degree of foreign support, the government in Kabul risks being overwhelmed by jihadists with secure bases across the border in Pakistan. Relying simply on “intelligence, pragmatic politics, savvy use of our development assistance, and on special forces operations,” as Stewart suggests, may not be enough to hold the Islamist onslaught at bay.

Whatever the case, it doesn’t change the fact that a pullout from Iraq would not strengthen our efforts in Afghanistan. A “redeployment” from Iraq would be seen by the world as a defeat for America and a victory for al Qaeda and Iran. They would be emboldened to step up their attacks in Afghanistan, while our allies and our own troops there would be disheartened. In such circumstances, with America reeling from its worst military defeat since 1975, I doubt that there would be much political support back home for a heightened commitment to Afghanistan, regardless of whether or not it makes military sense. At worst, then, Stewart is right but for the wrong reasons.

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Brownian Motion on Iran

Gordon Brown yesterday surprised commentators by refusing to rule out military action against Iran. “I firmly believe that the sanctions policy that we are pursuing will work, but I’m not one who’s going forward to say that we rule out any particular form of action,” the new British Prime Minister told a news conference. While Brown had previously seemed to follow his European partners France and Germany by playing down the idea of using force against Tehran, his line on Iran yesterday was compatible with the more hawkish position of President Bush.

What are we to make of these maneuvers? Brown’s remarks come just a few days before he is due to make his first visit to Washington since taking over from Tony Blair earlier this month. He can expect a polite but cool reception from Bush. The appointment of former United Nations deputy secretary general Mark Malloch Brown as Foreign Office minister for Africa, Asia and the UN has predictably exasperated the Bush administration.

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Gordon Brown yesterday surprised commentators by refusing to rule out military action against Iran. “I firmly believe that the sanctions policy that we are pursuing will work, but I’m not one who’s going forward to say that we rule out any particular form of action,” the new British Prime Minister told a news conference. While Brown had previously seemed to follow his European partners France and Germany by playing down the idea of using force against Tehran, his line on Iran yesterday was compatible with the more hawkish position of President Bush.

What are we to make of these maneuvers? Brown’s remarks come just a few days before he is due to make his first visit to Washington since taking over from Tony Blair earlier this month. He can expect a polite but cool reception from Bush. The appointment of former United Nations deputy secretary general Mark Malloch Brown as Foreign Office minister for Africa, Asia and the UN has predictably exasperated the Bush administration.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton told the Sunday Times of London: “If Gordon Brown knew what he was doing when he appointed Mark Malloch Brown, it was a major signal that he wants a different relationship with the United States. If he didn’t know what he was doing, that is not a good sign either.”

By diverging from the European position on Iran and tacking closer to the American one, Gordon Brown is attempting to limit the damage done by the (soon-to-be-ennobled) Malloch Brown. In a recent interview, the latter’s elevation from bureaucrat to baron seemed to have gone to his head. He claimed that a “radical” change in British policy towards the U.S. was in the offing, with the two leaders no longer “joined at the hip”. He also boasted of his status as a “wise eminence” and his contacts in America. It was so embarrassing that his boss, Foreign Secretary David Miliband, was forced to go on TV himself to contradict his subordinate.

Gordon Brown has proved to be more nimble on his feet than his critics expected, and he is quite capable of creating some good publicity for himself in advance of his trip to confound the expectation that Mr. Blair, the darling of Washington, is an impossible act to follow. Iran, though, is too important to be treated as a pawn in a transatlantic diplomatic game. The decision that the President makes on this—whether to pre-empt Ahmadinejad’s armageddon—could be the most momentous of his presidency. Whatever he does, Bush needs to know that he can rely on Mr. Brown when the going gets tough.

By trying to impress both the President and his own largely anti-American party, Brown is trying to be too clever. Sooner or later, he will have to choose. Iran is actually destabilizing the entire region and potentially mobilizing the entire Muslim world against the West. Other European states may choose to turn a blind eye to the danger posed by Tehran’s nuclear program, but the British have had recent and painful experience of the regime’s hostility. Brown needs to erase the memory of the naval hostage crisis as soon as possible. He may not want to be the heir to Tony Blair’s role in the Iraq war, but the logic of the situation with Iran points to the same decision: to do nothing is the worst policy.

If Brown is wise, he will fire his grey eminence before he sets foot in the White House and instead echo one of the greatest of his predecessors, William Pitt the Elder: “Our watchword is security.” The most damaging impression about the liberation of Iraq is that it has made the West in general, and Britain in particular, less secure. If Bush can make a good case that destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities would make not only Israel but Europe and America more secure, Brown will surely have to support him.

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Blair in the West Bank

“If Tony Blair thinks we’re going to roll out a red carpet for him, he’s in for a surprise.”

This is what a senior Palestinian official in the office of Mahmoud Abbas told me when I asked him over the weekend about the visit to the region by the former British prime minister, now a special envoy of the Middle East Quartet.

“The president is not going to welcome him at the entrance to his office and we will send only one police car to accompany his motorcade when it enters Ramallah.”

The Palestinians have never liked Blair, largely because of his close alliance with George W. Bush, and his role in the Iraq war. That’s why it was hard this week to find one Palestinian who was pinning high hopes on Blair’s new mission as the top representative of the Quartet.

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“If Tony Blair thinks we’re going to roll out a red carpet for him, he’s in for a surprise.”

This is what a senior Palestinian official in the office of Mahmoud Abbas told me when I asked him over the weekend about the visit to the region by the former British prime minister, now a special envoy of the Middle East Quartet.

“The president is not going to welcome him at the entrance to his office and we will send only one police car to accompany his motorcade when it enters Ramallah.”

The Palestinians have never liked Blair, largely because of his close alliance with George W. Bush, and his role in the Iraq war. That’s why it was hard this week to find one Palestinian who was pinning high hopes on Blair’s new mission as the top representative of the Quartet.

As far as most Palestinians and Arabs are concerned, Blair is nothing but a puppet in the hands of Bush. “He’s coming here to help Bush and the Jews,” another Palestinian official in Ramallah told me. “For us, Blair is not an honest broker because he’s biased in favor of Israel.

So if the Palestinians don’t trust Blair and don’t believe that he can make a contribution to the peace process, why are they still willing to deal with him?

The answer is simple: Mahmoud Abbas and his corruption-riddled Fatah faction, beaten harshly by Hamas, need money and cash, even from “infidels and Crusaders” like Bush and Blair. Abbas and his Fatah lieutenants have only one thing in mind: avenging their humiliating defeat in the Gaza Strip at the hands of Hamas.

To this end, they are prepared to ally themselves with anyone who is willing to provide them with millions of dollars and thousands of rifles so that they can fight Hamas. But Abbas is not going to fight Hamas—he never has, which is why Hamas managed to overrun the Gaza Strip so easily.

The name of the game in Middle East diplomacy these days is: “Let’s support the moderate Palestinians against the radicals.” Over the past two years, millions of dollars have been poured on Abbas and Fatah to help them undermine the growing power of Hamas. This tactic has not worked.

On Tuesday, Blair will hear from Abbas and his aides that only if the international community gives them more money and weapons will they be able to wipe out Hamas. Blair, of course, is most likely to buy this plea. He will go back to his partners in the Quartet and urge them to channel more funds to Abbas. And for his part, Abbas will fail to combat Hamas.

Blair is welcome in the Fatah-controlled West Bank only as long as he can promise financial aid and weapons. But it’s only a matter of time before Blair and Bush wake up to find that Hamas has devoured the West Bank. If Bush and Blair want to help Abbas, they must pressure him to establish good governance and to end rampant corruption. That’s the best way to undermine Hamas.

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Another Catastrophe

School textbooks used by Israeli Arabs will henceforth embrace the new historians’ version of history: the 1948 Israeli War of Independence is now officially “al-Naqba” (the Catastrophe), in books vetted by Israel’s Education Ministry. Education Minister Yuli Tamir defended her decision by saying that “the Arab public deserves to be allowed to express their feelings.” The Minister is entitled to believe, of course, that textbooks are the natural conduit for the expression of collective feelings—rather than the preferred instrument of instruction in history. But the real question is not whether Israeli Arabs—or a guilt-ridden minister—should be allowed to “express their feelings.” They are, and they do (as anyone who has spent any time in Israel can tell you). The real question is: should the discipline of history be the victim of those feelings? (Hillel Halkin’s 1999 COMMENTARY article “Was Zionism Unjust?” suggests an answer.)

School textbooks used by Israeli Arabs will henceforth embrace the new historians’ version of history: the 1948 Israeli War of Independence is now officially “al-Naqba” (the Catastrophe), in books vetted by Israel’s Education Ministry. Education Minister Yuli Tamir defended her decision by saying that “the Arab public deserves to be allowed to express their feelings.” The Minister is entitled to believe, of course, that textbooks are the natural conduit for the expression of collective feelings—rather than the preferred instrument of instruction in history. But the real question is not whether Israeli Arabs—or a guilt-ridden minister—should be allowed to “express their feelings.” They are, and they do (as anyone who has spent any time in Israel can tell you). The real question is: should the discipline of history be the victim of those feelings? (Hillel Halkin’s 1999 COMMENTARY article “Was Zionism Unjust?” suggests an answer.)

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