Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 2007

Terry Teachout, Take Two

In our second interview with him, Terry Teachout talks about “Selling Classical Music” (his article in the September issue of COMMENTARY), the status of “middlebrow” culture, the recent musical Xanadu, bossa nova crooner Luciana Souza, and more.

In our second interview with him, Terry Teachout talks about “Selling Classical Music” (his article in the September issue of COMMENTARY), the status of “middlebrow” culture, the recent musical Xanadu, bossa nova crooner Luciana Souza, and more.

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Book Review: Two Lives

There is a long roll call of artists with ethics that range from the questionable to the monstrous. In Janet Malcolm’s fascinating new study of the writer Gertrude Stein and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, Malcolm explores the question of whether or not Stein ought to be added to that list. Combining biography with literary exegesis, Two Lives asks how two elderly Jewish American women survived the Nazi occupation of France. The answers that Malcolm uncovers, and the further questions those answers provoke, are troubling, absorbing, and ultimately ambiguous.

Stein, born in 1874 in Pennsylvania, was an exceptional woman and self-styled genius. Malcolm writes that Stein was captivated by “the issue of superiority–of who was a genius, as she put it, and who wasn’t.” Despite this passion for superiority, or perhaps partly because of it, Stein and Toklas never lacked for friends. Stein’s charm was “as conspicuous as her fatness,” says Malcolm, and accounted for “the way people were always practically lining up to be of service to her.” In “thin, plain, tense, sour” Alice B. Toklas, whom she met in Paris, Stein found her ideal helpmeet, one who cooked, made calls, took care of household chores, and so on, providing a lifelong service that was “unending and evidently ungrudging.” Toklas’s labors enabled Stein to focus on her art. As Stein wrote in Everybody’s Autobiography, not quite jokingly, “it takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.” Other key friends also took on caretaking roles. Carl Van Vechten, a writer and photographer and eventually Stein’s literary executor, was one such friend; in letters, he dubbed Stein “Baby Woojums,” himself “Papa Woojums,” and Toklas “Mama Woojums.” Strangers, too, often popped up to offer their help if and when Stein was in need.

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There is a long roll call of artists with ethics that range from the questionable to the monstrous. In Janet Malcolm’s fascinating new study of the writer Gertrude Stein and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, Malcolm explores the question of whether or not Stein ought to be added to that list. Combining biography with literary exegesis, Two Lives asks how two elderly Jewish American women survived the Nazi occupation of France. The answers that Malcolm uncovers, and the further questions those answers provoke, are troubling, absorbing, and ultimately ambiguous.

Stein, born in 1874 in Pennsylvania, was an exceptional woman and self-styled genius. Malcolm writes that Stein was captivated by “the issue of superiority–of who was a genius, as she put it, and who wasn’t.” Despite this passion for superiority, or perhaps partly because of it, Stein and Toklas never lacked for friends. Stein’s charm was “as conspicuous as her fatness,” says Malcolm, and accounted for “the way people were always practically lining up to be of service to her.” In “thin, plain, tense, sour” Alice B. Toklas, whom she met in Paris, Stein found her ideal helpmeet, one who cooked, made calls, took care of household chores, and so on, providing a lifelong service that was “unending and evidently ungrudging.” Toklas’s labors enabled Stein to focus on her art. As Stein wrote in Everybody’s Autobiography, not quite jokingly, “it takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.” Other key friends also took on caretaking roles. Carl Van Vechten, a writer and photographer and eventually Stein’s literary executor, was one such friend; in letters, he dubbed Stein “Baby Woojums,” himself “Papa Woojums,” and Toklas “Mama Woojums.” Strangers, too, often popped up to offer their help if and when Stein was in need.

That Stein’s, and by extension Toklas’s, good fortune continued through the Nazi occupation is less easily explained by charm and reputation. Friends strongly recommended that the two women smuggle themselves out of France and into Switzerland, but they stayed, and, despite everything, remained safe. Such behavior is consistent with Stein’s “long-standing way of handling all serious unpleasantness”—that is, to “pretend it isn’t there.”

What is even more baffling than their decision to remain in France is the notion that they understood almost nothing—or behaved during the war and to the ends of their lives as if they understood nothing—of the person most responsible for keeping them safe. Bernard Faÿ, a Frenchman who was the wartime head of the Bibliothèque Nationale and an adviser to Marshal Pétain, was a longtime friend and admirer of Stein, despite his anti-Semitism. His devotion to Stein was vigorous, nearly abject; before the war, he helped Stein find lecturing posts, he translated and promoted her writing, and he wrote her letters that emitted “an almost palpable odor of oily flattery.” During the occupation, he played an instrumental role in protecting and providing for Stein and Toklas. He interceded repeatedly with authorities to help the two women survive, making sure that they were kept fed and warmed. And when Stein was required to wear a yellow star, he walked at her side. (Meanwhile, he was responsible for sending hundreds to their deaths, and thousands more to jail; after the liberation, he was sentenced to a lifetime of hard labor for his zeal as a collaborator.)

It remains unclear whether or not the two women knew of his activities during this time. What is perfectly clear is that, after the war, Stein and Toklas made concerted efforts to help Faÿ during his trial, throughout his imprisonment, and, quite possibly, in his escape from a prison hospital. They wrote letters, tried to interest others in his cause, and may have sold a Picasso to help raise funds for Faÿ. In a characteristic letter, Toklas argued on Faÿ’s behalf to Carl Van Vechten: “He has been in Fresnes prison since the liberation accused of hating communists (who doesn’t) acting against the masons (who wouldn’t in France) hating the English (the large majority of Frenchman do) hating the Jews (is he alone?).”

Were Stein and Toklas really so unaware? It’s hard to imagine they were. Stein translated Pétain’s wartime speeches into English, and, startlingly, continued this work even after his edicts were issued and deportations begun. In Wars I Have Seen, Stein remembers her surprise and fear at hearing, from the liberating American armies, “what had been happening to others” (in the concentration and extermination camps). Her language here is extraordinarily vague, considering the circumstances. Malcolm leaves ambiguous exactly what Stein and Toklas did and did not know, and by the end of Two Lives, it is not clear how genuine their self-professed innocence is, or to what degree they can be held culpable for aiding and abetting Faÿ. But, to any serious observer of the situation, the idea that Stein and Toklas bear at least a modicum of guilt must seem unavoidable.

There is a famous (if possibly apocryphal) story that, before Gertrude Stein was taken into the operating room for the stomach cancer that would kill her, she asked Toklas, “What is the answer?” When Toklas didn’t answer, Stein asked, “In that case, what is the question?” Stein was one of the tutelary spirits of modernism, and almost all of her unique and probing sensibility is reflected in that question. It’s doubly shameful, then, that she proved unwilling and unable to acknowledge the moral condition of her own life. Surely, even for a “genius,” that is not a proscribed avenue of inquiry.

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Up the MNC-I!

A new press release from Multi-National Corps-Iraq—the operational command with direct responsibility for U.S. forces in Iraq—reports some pretty impressive news that hasn’t received any stateside coverage that I’ve seen. The command has not only met but exceeded its retention quota, meaning the number of soldiers who enlist for another tour: “The theater-wide goal was 16,510, but MNC-I career counselor reenlisted 18,721 Soldiers.”

Cynics will note that reenlistment bonuses in theater are tax-free; if soldiers waited until they got back home to receive them, they would have to pay taxes. But while that consideration may determine the timing of reenlistment, a few thousand dollars is hardly enough to make a soldier risk his neck if he doesn’t believe he’s doing something worthwhile. The press release quotes MNC-I’s commander, General Ray Odierno, as saying, “Meeting and exceeding re-enlistment goals is a powerful message about the commitment of today’s force and how our soldiers feel about the army and their mission.”

He’s right. In an all-volunteer army, the troops have a vote on whatever mission they’re on. If they don’t want to serve, they don’t have to (although, admittedly, their efforts to quit could be stymied temporarily by a stop-loss order). In the case of Iraq, the evidence suggests that most of our troops want to serve. In some ways, that’s a more powerful indicator of whether we can continue to maintain our present military commitment than a poll measuring civilian sentiment.

A new press release from Multi-National Corps-Iraq—the operational command with direct responsibility for U.S. forces in Iraq—reports some pretty impressive news that hasn’t received any stateside coverage that I’ve seen. The command has not only met but exceeded its retention quota, meaning the number of soldiers who enlist for another tour: “The theater-wide goal was 16,510, but MNC-I career counselor reenlisted 18,721 Soldiers.”

Cynics will note that reenlistment bonuses in theater are tax-free; if soldiers waited until they got back home to receive them, they would have to pay taxes. But while that consideration may determine the timing of reenlistment, a few thousand dollars is hardly enough to make a soldier risk his neck if he doesn’t believe he’s doing something worthwhile. The press release quotes MNC-I’s commander, General Ray Odierno, as saying, “Meeting and exceeding re-enlistment goals is a powerful message about the commitment of today’s force and how our soldiers feel about the army and their mission.”

He’s right. In an all-volunteer army, the troops have a vote on whatever mission they’re on. If they don’t want to serve, they don’t have to (although, admittedly, their efforts to quit could be stymied temporarily by a stop-loss order). In the case of Iraq, the evidence suggests that most of our troops want to serve. In some ways, that’s a more powerful indicator of whether we can continue to maintain our present military commitment than a poll measuring civilian sentiment.

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Osama bin Laden’s Schwab Account?

Not long before September 11, 2001, someone placed large bets on Wall Street—buying “put” contracts—on the possibility that the shares of airline stocks would decline. After the attacks, the shares did fall sharply and a great deal of speculation ensued that the trades were placed by parties who had advance knowledge of the attack.

This theorizing was knocked down by the 9/11 Commission, which noted in a footnote in its report that there was an entirely innocuous explanation for the trading. Alexander Rose of National Review did an even more thorough job of explaining the irregular-appearing transactions and knocking down the rumors.

The same story has now resurfaced interestingly again with rumors circulating that a number of recent and odd Wall Street bets suggest that a September 11 reprise is on its way. Details, and another persuasive knock-down of the rumors, can be found on TheStreet.com. Read More

Not long before September 11, 2001, someone placed large bets on Wall Street—buying “put” contracts—on the possibility that the shares of airline stocks would decline. After the attacks, the shares did fall sharply and a great deal of speculation ensued that the trades were placed by parties who had advance knowledge of the attack.

This theorizing was knocked down by the 9/11 Commission, which noted in a footnote in its report that there was an entirely innocuous explanation for the trading. Alexander Rose of National Review did an even more thorough job of explaining the irregular-appearing transactions and knocking down the rumors.

The same story has now resurfaced interestingly again with rumors circulating that a number of recent and odd Wall Street bets suggest that a September 11 reprise is on its way. Details, and another persuasive knock-down of the rumors, can be found on TheStreet.com.

But let’s assume for a moment that Osama bin Laden, logging on to a laptop in his cave, decided to make his portfolio grow via terrorism. Would he risk operational security by placing the trades or having a proxy place the trades?

That always seemed unlikely, and is especially unlikely now because the CIA and the Treasury Department are able to monitor all sorts of transactions through SWIFT, the European financial clearinghouse. The New York Times compromised the program when it tipped off bin Laden, and the whole world, to the existence of the highly classified monitoring program in June 2006.

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Giuliani Realism

At a campaign event in Los Angeles last week, Rudy Giuliani restated some principles regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that he originally articulated in his Foreign Affairs piece.

I think there has been a kind of movement within our State Department that was best reflected during the Clinton Administration—but you can see a little of this in Bush I, and it is still there in Bush II—and it is to create a Palestinian state for the purpose of creating a Palestinian state, to say that we have achieved peace.

Well, that could be extremely dangerous. We want to create, not necessarily a Palestinian state for the purpose of creating a Palestinian state—we want to create a state that is now particularly going to help us in the Islamic terrorist war against us, not become another breeding ground for terrorism. . . .

So if we are going to create a Palestinian state that assists us, and doesn’t become a terrorist state, here’s what they have to do: they have to first renounce terrorism. . . . Secondly, they have to recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. If they do that, we can then begin a process of trying to create a Palestinian state. But we shouldn’t do it until we are sure that those two things are real, and we’re not getting fooled, because we’ve gotten fooled in the past.

. . . And I say a third thing is, they have to show that they can sustain that for at least some safe period of time, that it isn’t just a statement for the purpose of lulling people into a negotiation. Then we won’t give people false expectations of being able to achieve something. We won’t give the Israeli people false expectations; we won’t give the Palestinian people false expectations; we won’t give the rest of the world false expectations, when the United States will get blamed for why it’s not working.

The reason we have not been able to create a Palestinian state to date is not because the United States and Israel have not tried. It is because of the Palestinians.

Rick Richman, on the blog Jewish Current Issues, calls this “Giuliani Realism,” and he has the rest of the candidate’s talk, plus video.

At a campaign event in Los Angeles last week, Rudy Giuliani restated some principles regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that he originally articulated in his Foreign Affairs piece.

I think there has been a kind of movement within our State Department that was best reflected during the Clinton Administration—but you can see a little of this in Bush I, and it is still there in Bush II—and it is to create a Palestinian state for the purpose of creating a Palestinian state, to say that we have achieved peace.

Well, that could be extremely dangerous. We want to create, not necessarily a Palestinian state for the purpose of creating a Palestinian state—we want to create a state that is now particularly going to help us in the Islamic terrorist war against us, not become another breeding ground for terrorism. . . .

So if we are going to create a Palestinian state that assists us, and doesn’t become a terrorist state, here’s what they have to do: they have to first renounce terrorism. . . . Secondly, they have to recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. If they do that, we can then begin a process of trying to create a Palestinian state. But we shouldn’t do it until we are sure that those two things are real, and we’re not getting fooled, because we’ve gotten fooled in the past.

. . . And I say a third thing is, they have to show that they can sustain that for at least some safe period of time, that it isn’t just a statement for the purpose of lulling people into a negotiation. Then we won’t give people false expectations of being able to achieve something. We won’t give the Israeli people false expectations; we won’t give the Palestinian people false expectations; we won’t give the rest of the world false expectations, when the United States will get blamed for why it’s not working.

The reason we have not been able to create a Palestinian state to date is not because the United States and Israel have not tried. It is because of the Palestinians.

Rick Richman, on the blog Jewish Current Issues, calls this “Giuliani Realism,” and he has the rest of the candidate’s talk, plus video.

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The Darker Side of Dior

Dana Thomas, author of Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, notes today, in a New York Times op-ed piece, that terrorists and other bad actors finance their malicious activities by merchandising counterfeit shirts and handbags. Ms. Thomas talks about going after “the source” of the problem: the manufacturers of counterfeit goods. She’s right in one sense, but the real source is, of course, the consumer. At another point in her piece she notes that people are buying fake goods from New York to Los Angeles, and thereby encouraging Chinese parents to sell their eight-year-olds to clandestine sweatshops. So in the United States, the desire for counterfeited luxury items is fueling crime and misery across the globe.

In Asia, there exists the mirror image of this problem: consumers committing crimes to buy genuine luxury items. The Japanese account for about half of the world’s sales of them: they buy about 20 percent at home and the remaining 30 percent while traveling abroad. Nine out of every ten Japanese women own at least one Louis Vuitton item. Where do they get the yen—I’m referring to the currency here—for these purchases? Yuichi Yamamoto of TokyoFreePress implies that Japan’s women are turning to prostitution to finance their insatiable appetites for Vuitton and other luxury products.

The luxury business turns full circle in China, which manufactures both genuine and fake goods. The Chinese are now the third-largest consumers of real items, accounting for 12 percent of all global sales. That’s up from one percent in just five years. By 2015, China will overtake Japan in the consumption of luxury goods. But the counterfeiters may run out of luck in the world’s largest market. The ernais—mistresses or second wives and perhaps the biggest consumers in this area—will buy only the real thing. That, of course, is a good sign. The Chinese will be able to do what Western societies cannot: put a real dent into terrorist financing.

Dana Thomas, author of Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, notes today, in a New York Times op-ed piece, that terrorists and other bad actors finance their malicious activities by merchandising counterfeit shirts and handbags. Ms. Thomas talks about going after “the source” of the problem: the manufacturers of counterfeit goods. She’s right in one sense, but the real source is, of course, the consumer. At another point in her piece she notes that people are buying fake goods from New York to Los Angeles, and thereby encouraging Chinese parents to sell their eight-year-olds to clandestine sweatshops. So in the United States, the desire for counterfeited luxury items is fueling crime and misery across the globe.

In Asia, there exists the mirror image of this problem: consumers committing crimes to buy genuine luxury items. The Japanese account for about half of the world’s sales of them: they buy about 20 percent at home and the remaining 30 percent while traveling abroad. Nine out of every ten Japanese women own at least one Louis Vuitton item. Where do they get the yen—I’m referring to the currency here—for these purchases? Yuichi Yamamoto of TokyoFreePress implies that Japan’s women are turning to prostitution to finance their insatiable appetites for Vuitton and other luxury products.

The luxury business turns full circle in China, which manufactures both genuine and fake goods. The Chinese are now the third-largest consumers of real items, accounting for 12 percent of all global sales. That’s up from one percent in just five years. By 2015, China will overtake Japan in the consumption of luxury goods. But the counterfeiters may run out of luck in the world’s largest market. The ernais—mistresses or second wives and perhaps the biggest consumers in this area—will buy only the real thing. That, of course, is a good sign. The Chinese will be able to do what Western societies cannot: put a real dent into terrorist financing.

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Tax Evasion and the New York Times

According to a report in today’s New York Times, “a website that sells materials stating that individuals can legally stop paying taxes has been shut on the order of a federal judge.”

The website, run by two organizations called We The People Foundation for Constitutional Education and the We The People Congress, argued that the U.S. tax code deceives people into paying taxes. It promoted a national campaign—“operation stop withholding”—to persuade employees not to have payroll taxes deducted from their paychecks.

Let us stipulate what is plain to see: that the defendants in this case are avaricious crackpots. Nonetheless, they claim in their defense that the “speech” contained on their now-shuttered website is protected by the First Amendment.

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According to a report in today’s New York Times, “a website that sells materials stating that individuals can legally stop paying taxes has been shut on the order of a federal judge.”

The website, run by two organizations called We The People Foundation for Constitutional Education and the We The People Congress, argued that the U.S. tax code deceives people into paying taxes. It promoted a national campaign—“operation stop withholding”—to persuade employees not to have payroll taxes deducted from their paychecks.

Let us stipulate what is plain to see: that the defendants in this case are avaricious crackpots. Nonetheless, they claim in their defense that the “speech” contained on their now-shuttered website is protected by the First Amendment.

It is well-established in law that “commercial speech” does not enjoy the same kind of protection as political speech. Thus Judge Thomas J. McAvoy, in his 25-page decision, notes that “to the extent defendants’ speech can be considered commercial speech, it may be enjoined because the government may prohibit false, misleading, or deceptive commercial speech, or speech that promotes unlawful conduct.”

So far, all this is uncontroversial. But Judge McAvoy goes on to conclude that even if we assume that the defendants’ speech “to be political in nature, it still may be enjoined.” The First Amendment, he notes, “does not protect speech that incites imminent lawless action.”

This, too, is not really controversial, or it shouldn’t be. But it sits awkwardly with the New York Times’s regular assertions that it is itself free to violate the laws governing the publication of classified information. Such speech also “incites imminent lawless action.” Not only that, such incitement is typically accompanied by the lawless action itself—namely, the publication of classified secrets in the New York Times’s own pages.

Granted, there is a world of difference between a great newspaper and a crackpot website. And there is a world of difference between promoting illegal tax-evasion activity and promoting the illegal publication of U.S. national-security secrets (although in some cases I am not sure which is worse). But the law is the law, and in both instances its violation is plainly being advocated.

Judge McAvoy put the conduct of the tax-evasion schemers to several legal tests, all of which they flunked. If we apply some of those same tests—not all of them are relevant—to the New York Times, how does it come out?

The first is “the gravity of harm.”

With regard to the New York Times’s publication of classified details of the NSA’s terrorist-surveillance program in December 2005, “the gravity of harm” is easy to demonstrate. A long list of high-ranking officials—Democrats and Republicans alike—have attested to the damage done by the Times to our efforts to thwart a second September 11.

The second is “the extent of defendant’s participation.”

The answer here is obvious on its face. The editors and publisher of the Times are, as the judge ruled in the tax-evasion case, “the primary figures in establishing the plan and encouraging others to participate in it”—the plan, in the case of the Times, being to publish classified information.

The third is the “degree of scienter,” or intent.

The tax evaders, the judge found, were “well aware (or should have been aware) that their assertions have been consistently rejected by the courts.” In the case of the Times, the issues involving publication of national-secrets have rarely come before the courts, but the few precedents that exist do not support the Times. Moreover, the law, especially Section 798 of Title 18—which proscribes the publication of classified information about “communications intelligence”—is unambiguous. Even more pertinently here, it lacks a scienter requirement. Committing the act itself, even without intent, is sufficient to constitute a violation.

The fourth is the “isolated or recurrent nature of the infraction.”

The tax evaders, the judge concluded, were serial offenders. So, too, when it comes to both advocating and publishing classified information, is the New York Times.

The fifth is the “defendants’ recognition (or non-recognition) of their own culpability.”

The tax evaders, notes the judge, “express no recognition of their culpability.” Neither do the editors of the New York Times. They continue to claim that they are exempt from the law. The words of the judge would seem to apply to them quite aptly: “Given defendants’ long-time pursuit of these goals, it is easy to conclude that they are likely to continue to engage in their conduct if not enjoined from doing so.”

The sixth is “the likelihood that defendants’ occupation would place them in a position where future violations could be anticipated.”

Once again—as with the tax evaders, so with the New York Times and violations of the laws of secrecy: “It is a virtual certainty,” ruled the judge, “that, absent injunctive relief, future violations can be anticipated.”

Of course, this entire issue is in all likelihood purely theoretical. The basic rule of politics was adumbrated long ago by Mark Twain: never pick a fight with those who buy ink by the barrel. The Bush administration, even as it is being accused of waging “a war against the press,” has been following this rule scrupulously.

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“Fatal Strikes”?

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is capable of great feats of productivity when it wishes to draw a crowd to an international crisis. Especially, it goes without saying, when the crisis affords an opportunity to slander Israel. Last summer, only three weeks into the Israel-Hizballah war, HRW released a sensational 49-page report that declared, “Our research shows that Israel’s claim that Hizballah fighters are hiding among civilians does not explain, let alone justify, Israel’s indiscriminate warfare.” It added that “these attacks constitute war crimes,” and concluded that “in some instances, Israeli forces appear to have deliberately targeted civilians.”

Those are serious charges to inject into the middle of a war, especially one as saturated with media coverage as any conflict involving the Jewish state (in a recent Harvard study, Marvin Kalb noted that the Israel-Hizballah war summoned the heaviest international media coverage since the failed coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991). None of HRW’s calumnies, it should be added, has been substantiated in a credible way.

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) is capable of great feats of productivity when it wishes to draw a crowd to an international crisis. Especially, it goes without saying, when the crisis affords an opportunity to slander Israel. Last summer, only three weeks into the Israel-Hizballah war, HRW released a sensational 49-page report that declared, “Our research shows that Israel’s claim that Hizballah fighters are hiding among civilians does not explain, let alone justify, Israel’s indiscriminate warfare.” It added that “these attacks constitute war crimes,” and concluded that “in some instances, Israeli forces appear to have deliberately targeted civilians.”

Those are serious charges to inject into the middle of a war, especially one as saturated with media coverage as any conflict involving the Jewish state (in a recent Harvard study, Marvin Kalb noted that the Israel-Hizballah war summoned the heaviest international media coverage since the failed coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991). None of HRW’s calumnies, it should be added, has been substantiated in a credible way.

But sensationalism and good timing, after all, were precisely the point, and attacking the legitimacy of the Israeli war effort proved highly effective in getting Human Rights Watch into the headlines. To that end, the report was titled “Fatal Strikes: Israel’s Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon.” Is this a straight-to-video action movie, or an objective report on a serious subject? But never mind.

What is relevant about all this is that HRW has just announced the release, thirteen months (!) after its libelous claims against Israel, of the companion study to “Fatal Strikes,” this one about Hizbollah’s violations. The media frenzy that surrounded the war last summer has long since subsided, but Hizballah has seen to it that HRW does get a little bit of publicity for its efforts: The press conference in Beirut announcing the study had to be cancelled because of security threats. But HRW is a courageous and principled organization, and will not be deterred from finally, and no doubt cathartically, releasing its report over a year late and into an indifferent media environment. The Hizballah study has just been posted on HRW’s website and it is much more boringly titled than the hit piece on Israel: “Civilians Under Assault.” You may wish to be sitting down to hear this news, but Human Rights Watch has concluded, after thirteen months of investigation and dozens of pages of analysis, that Hizballah fired rockets at Israeli civilians.

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Tribal Revolt

At the blog of the Small Wars Journal, Dave Kilcullen offers some fascinating perspective on the significance of the tribal revolt that began in Iraq’s Anbar Province and is now spreading elsewhere. Dave is a former Australian army officer (and Ph.D. anthropologist) who recently ended a stint in Iraq as General David Petraeus’s chief counterinsurgency adviser.

The entire piece is long but worth reading for his subtle and sophisticated delineation of what is driving so many Iraqi Sunnis to flip against al Qaeda in Iraq. Here are three key points from Dave’s post:

1) “[T]he tribal revolt is not some remote riot on a reservation: it’s a major social movement that could significantly influence most Iraqis where they live. The uprising began last year, far out in western Anbar province, but is now affecting about 40 percent of the country. It has spread to Ninewa, Diyala, Babil, Salah-ad-Din, Baghdad and— intriguingly—is filtering into Shi’a communities in the South.”

2) “[T]he current social ‘wave’ of Sunni communities turning against AQI could provide one element in the self-sustaining security architecture we have been seeking. And if the recent spread of the uprising into the Shi’a community continues, we might end up with a revolt of the center against both extremes, which would be a truly major development.”

3) “It also does much to redress the lack of coalition forces that has hampered previous counterinsurgency approaches, by throwing tens of thousands of local allies into the balance, on our side.”

In other words, the attempts by some skeptics to write off security progress in Anbar as an isolated phenomenon with no implications for the larger political picture in Iraq won’t wash. If current trends continue (and of course they may not), Kilcullen suggests, what started in Anbar could transform Iraq politically as well as militarily.

At the blog of the Small Wars Journal, Dave Kilcullen offers some fascinating perspective on the significance of the tribal revolt that began in Iraq’s Anbar Province and is now spreading elsewhere. Dave is a former Australian army officer (and Ph.D. anthropologist) who recently ended a stint in Iraq as General David Petraeus’s chief counterinsurgency adviser.

The entire piece is long but worth reading for his subtle and sophisticated delineation of what is driving so many Iraqi Sunnis to flip against al Qaeda in Iraq. Here are three key points from Dave’s post:

1) “[T]he tribal revolt is not some remote riot on a reservation: it’s a major social movement that could significantly influence most Iraqis where they live. The uprising began last year, far out in western Anbar province, but is now affecting about 40 percent of the country. It has spread to Ninewa, Diyala, Babil, Salah-ad-Din, Baghdad and— intriguingly—is filtering into Shi’a communities in the South.”

2) “[T]he current social ‘wave’ of Sunni communities turning against AQI could provide one element in the self-sustaining security architecture we have been seeking. And if the recent spread of the uprising into the Shi’a community continues, we might end up with a revolt of the center against both extremes, which would be a truly major development.”

3) “It also does much to redress the lack of coalition forces that has hampered previous counterinsurgency approaches, by throwing tens of thousands of local allies into the balance, on our side.”

In other words, the attempts by some skeptics to write off security progress in Anbar as an isolated phenomenon with no implications for the larger political picture in Iraq won’t wash. If current trends continue (and of course they may not), Kilcullen suggests, what started in Anbar could transform Iraq politically as well as militarily.

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Iran’s Long Arm

In the midst of the ongoing controversy over what role Iran plays in Iraq, military historian Kim Kagan, founder of the Institute for the Study of War, has performed a valuable public service by compiling methodically what is known publicly about Iranian activities.

Kagan notes that, among other things, the Iranian government began plotting to undermine coalition forces in 2002—before the U.S. and its allies even entered Iraq. That effort has expanded so much over the years since then—now encompassing aid not only to Shiite but also to Sunni militants—that, according to Kagan:

Coalition sources report that by August 2007, Iranian-backed insurgents accounted for roughly half the attacks on Coalition forces, a dramatic change from previous periods that had seen the overwhelming majority of attacks coming from the Sunni Arab insurgency and al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, the New York Post ran an enlightening interview, conducted by Ralph Peters, with Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq. Odierno has a lot of interesting things to say, but this point jumped out at me: “There are some signs that Syria’s doing a bit more to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, but their efforts are off and on. The airport in Damascus remains a major conduit for terrorists. The Syrians clearly still believe that instability in Iraq is to their benefit.”

So much for the contention of some critics that those of us who express alarm about the role of Iran and Syria are, well, alarmists. In this case, our concern appears well-justified.

In the midst of the ongoing controversy over what role Iran plays in Iraq, military historian Kim Kagan, founder of the Institute for the Study of War, has performed a valuable public service by compiling methodically what is known publicly about Iranian activities.

Kagan notes that, among other things, the Iranian government began plotting to undermine coalition forces in 2002—before the U.S. and its allies even entered Iraq. That effort has expanded so much over the years since then—now encompassing aid not only to Shiite but also to Sunni militants—that, according to Kagan:

Coalition sources report that by August 2007, Iranian-backed insurgents accounted for roughly half the attacks on Coalition forces, a dramatic change from previous periods that had seen the overwhelming majority of attacks coming from the Sunni Arab insurgency and al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, the New York Post ran an enlightening interview, conducted by Ralph Peters, with Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq. Odierno has a lot of interesting things to say, but this point jumped out at me: “There are some signs that Syria’s doing a bit more to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, but their efforts are off and on. The airport in Damascus remains a major conduit for terrorists. The Syrians clearly still believe that instability in Iraq is to their benefit.”

So much for the contention of some critics that those of us who express alarm about the role of Iran and Syria are, well, alarmists. In this case, our concern appears well-justified.

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Fidel’s Favorite

Fidel Castro, who has long been too ill to appear in public, apparently is healthy enough to share his thoughts with us. His most recent contribution to the global political dialogue came yesterday in an editorial in Granma, the Cuban Communist Party’s mouthpiece. He grabbed headlines in America by handicapping its 2008 presidential election—he thinks Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are “seemingly invincible.” But Fidel’s most interesting thoughts are his evaluations of past American presidents.

Castro’s favorite? That would be “James Carter,” as Cuba’s ailing revolutionary calls him. El Maximo Lider gives a number of reasons why he chose the Georgia Democrat. He notes that Carter “was not an accomplice to the brutal terrorism against Cuba” and that he promoted a maritime agreement with Cuba. Yet he did not mention the most important reason. Castro is most likely so fond of the 39th President because he delegitimized the American embargo of Cuba—but he did not end it.

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Fidel Castro, who has long been too ill to appear in public, apparently is healthy enough to share his thoughts with us. His most recent contribution to the global political dialogue came yesterday in an editorial in Granma, the Cuban Communist Party’s mouthpiece. He grabbed headlines in America by handicapping its 2008 presidential election—he thinks Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are “seemingly invincible.” But Fidel’s most interesting thoughts are his evaluations of past American presidents.

Castro’s favorite? That would be “James Carter,” as Cuba’s ailing revolutionary calls him. El Maximo Lider gives a number of reasons why he chose the Georgia Democrat. He notes that Carter “was not an accomplice to the brutal terrorism against Cuba” and that he promoted a maritime agreement with Cuba. Yet he did not mention the most important reason. Castro is most likely so fond of the 39th President because he delegitimized the American embargo of Cuba—but he did not end it.

For Castro, that would be the Daily Double. He has made a career of blaming the embargo for Cuba’s ills, but has always acted up whenever it looked as if Congress actually might get rid of it. Carter is not only our worst ex-president, as Joshua Muravchik has labeled him, he is possibly (in competition with James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson) our worst serving leader as well. But as wrong-headed as he has been on most everything, Carter understands something that has somehow eluded recent commanders-in-chief: the embargo in its present form serves Castro’s interests more than it does ours.

Today, Castro is viewed more as a pest than a threat. Yet despite his illness he is providing inspiration to a whole new generation of leftists in Latin America, from Hugo Chavez to Evo Morales to Daniel Ortega. So, now is an excellent time for Washington to summon the political will and do something effective: either tighten the embargo or get rid of it entirely. We are reaching the point at which, if we fail to take decisive action, we may soon look south and find a new Red Sea.

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“The Republic of China”

Reports are circulating this morning that Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte has taken the unusual step of publicly warning Taipei not to hold a referendum on whether to apply to the United Nations using the name “Taiwan.” This is very unusual: the State Department usually declines comment on such matters. The story is widely reported in official Chinese media, but the most thorough report comes from Charles Snyder and Ko Shu-ling in the Taipei Times:

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said that the bid to enter the world body under the name “Taiwan” would be a move to change the “status quo”. . . . The U.S. has signaled a major intensification of its campaign against President Chen Shui-bian’s plan for a referendum seeking membership in the UN under the name “Taiwan,” warning publicly for the first time that it sees the referendum as a move toward independence.

Snyder and Ko go on to quote Negroponte:

“I would recall that in the past President Chen has made commitments to the American president, to the international community, and to the people of Taiwan not to take any kind of steps that would represent a unilateral alteration of the status quo, such as a change in the official name of Taiwan,” Negroponte said.

But what is Taiwan’s “official name”? I consulted the CIA’s World Factbook: only “Taiwan” is listed. The Factbook entry follows the usage we have insisted on for decades, referring to the island only as Taiwan. But given that we use the name Taiwan, why would we object to the Taiwanese following our example?

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Reports are circulating this morning that Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte has taken the unusual step of publicly warning Taipei not to hold a referendum on whether to apply to the United Nations using the name “Taiwan.” This is very unusual: the State Department usually declines comment on such matters. The story is widely reported in official Chinese media, but the most thorough report comes from Charles Snyder and Ko Shu-ling in the Taipei Times:

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said that the bid to enter the world body under the name “Taiwan” would be a move to change the “status quo”. . . . The U.S. has signaled a major intensification of its campaign against President Chen Shui-bian’s plan for a referendum seeking membership in the UN under the name “Taiwan,” warning publicly for the first time that it sees the referendum as a move toward independence.

Snyder and Ko go on to quote Negroponte:

“I would recall that in the past President Chen has made commitments to the American president, to the international community, and to the people of Taiwan not to take any kind of steps that would represent a unilateral alteration of the status quo, such as a change in the official name of Taiwan,” Negroponte said.

But what is Taiwan’s “official name”? I consulted the CIA’s World Factbook: only “Taiwan” is listed. The Factbook entry follows the usage we have insisted on for decades, referring to the island only as Taiwan. But given that we use the name Taiwan, why would we object to the Taiwanese following our example?

The answer is that Taiwan has, in fact, another name, “The Republic of China,” which was imposed on it when the troops of Chiang Kai-shek arrived in 1945. But after we broke off independent relations with Taiwan in 1979, we expunged “Republic of China” from all official usage—even from the World Factbook (which, curiously, does list “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” for North Korea, a country we do not recognize diplomatically).

Yet the name “Republic of China” has not really vanished: Negroponte was referring to it when he spoke of an “official name.” “The Republic of China” is the last, slender thread by which one can argue that Taiwan is somehow linked to China. Washington and Beijing do not want it to perish entirely—though they themselves publicly repudiate it. (Although Negroponte insists, indirectly, that the Taiwanese continue to use it, whether they like it or not. He even opposes a democratic referendum on the question.)

Our government takes this position, very much at odds with fundamental American beliefs about people and their rights, for one reason: pressure from China. If Beijing ended its diplomatic blockade of Taiwan, the United States would not continue it alone. Now, as Taiwan considers its application to the UN, it may be time for us to end that blockade without waiting for Beijing.

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What is Behind the Chinese Cyber-Offensive?

Is a Chinese cyber-war against the West underway? Let us connect the dots.

In the most recent episode, earlier this month, Chinese hackers, operating out of Guangzhou and Lanzhou, two regions that are strongholds of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), invaded the computer systems of key German-government ministries in Berlin.

Last November, the United States was hit, and not for the first time. Chinese hackers entered the network of the Naval War College, the Navy’s school for senior officers, forcing the closure of its internal network and the temporary suspension of all email accounts.

That followed an attack in June on the computer systems at Taiwan’s defense ministry and also the American Institute in Taiwan, the de-facto U.S. embassy there.

Then there is Titan Rain, the U.S. codename for an entire series of attacks on U.S. facilities from 2003 to 2005, that included raids on the U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, the Defense Information Systems Agency in Arlington, Virginia, and the Naval Ocean Systems Center in San Diego. All are thought to have originated in China.

The British parliament was also attacked in 2005 by hackers believed to be located in China.

What is behind all these episodes?

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Is a Chinese cyber-war against the West underway? Let us connect the dots.

In the most recent episode, earlier this month, Chinese hackers, operating out of Guangzhou and Lanzhou, two regions that are strongholds of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), invaded the computer systems of key German-government ministries in Berlin.

Last November, the United States was hit, and not for the first time. Chinese hackers entered the network of the Naval War College, the Navy’s school for senior officers, forcing the closure of its internal network and the temporary suspension of all email accounts.

That followed an attack in June on the computer systems at Taiwan’s defense ministry and also the American Institute in Taiwan, the de-facto U.S. embassy there.

Then there is Titan Rain, the U.S. codename for an entire series of attacks on U.S. facilities from 2003 to 2005, that included raids on the U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, the Defense Information Systems Agency in Arlington, Virginia, and the Naval Ocean Systems Center in San Diego. All are thought to have originated in China.

The British parliament was also attacked in 2005 by hackers believed to be located in China.

What is behind all these episodes?

According to “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2006,” a U.S. Department of Defense publication, China has been “experimenting with strategy, doctrine, and tactics for information warfare.” The report notes that during a conflict, “information-warfare units could support active PLA forces by conducting ‘hacker attacks’ and network intrusions, or other forms of ‘cyber’ warfare, on an adversary’s military and commercial computer systems, while helping to defend Chinese networks.”

That the Chinese would be developing such a capability is unsurprising. We are developing similar capabilities, as are all advanced military powers. Computer networks are essential to warfare. and the ability to disrupt the enemy’s network while protecting one’s own has become an equally essential task.

Intelligence gathering via illicit entry into computer networks has become an important tool in the espionage toolkit. There are lots of secrets residing in both government and private-sector computers, and it should hardly come as a surprise that the Chinese have been developing techniques for extracting such secrets by clandestine means.

What does come as a surprise are all the recent hacking incidents. We are not at war with China. Neither is Germany or Britain or, arguably, Taiwan. If the hacking is part of a coherent strategy, it would seem to be self-defeating, prompting victim countries to develop countermeasures that make their own systems far more difficult to penetrate in the kind of crisis when the Chinese would really want to turn on their computer-sleuthing and disruption capabilities.

One possibility is that the attacks are being carried out not at governmental direction but by private hackers in China or elsewhere, who are routing their activities through Chinese networks. That is what the Chinese government maintains with some supporting evidence.

Another possibility is that the PLA is operating on its own, without the blessings of Beijing, to hone its capabilities and to test Western responses. Again, there is some evidence to support this theory.

Yet another possibility is that there is less to these incidents than meets the eye. They may in fact reflect the ineptitude of certain ill-prepared sectors of Western governments.

It is useful to keep in mind that major brokerage houses, banks, investment banks, and government central banks use computer networks to move billions of dollars around the world every day. These would be a ripe target for hackers, both inside adversary governments and in the criminal sector. But we seldom hear of any successful attacks against these institutions. Why not? Probably because, given what is at stake, they all put huge resources in computer security. Surely, if they were paying sufficient attention, governments could erect the same kinds of barriers to unauthorized entry.

Finally, there is the possibility that the Chinese government, acting on the basis of motives that are not apparent to us, has opted for short-term at the expense of long-term gain. Governments can do irrational things, and Communist governments, accountable to no one but themselves, doubly so.

In the end, the ongoing Chinese cyber-warfare remains a puzzle. Before we massively retaliate with a cyber-war of our own, it would be useful to get a firm fix on what we are up against.

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Counting the Uninsured

The annual Census Bureau report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage was released yesterday, and set off the usual flurry of confusion and bad ideas on the last of those three subjects. The number of Americans without health insurance increased last year to roughly 47 million Americans, or 15.8 percent of the population. The raw number is less important than the percentage: in a growing population the raw number of both those without insurance and those with insurance is likely to grow (and indeed, the number of insured Americans increased by about 800,000 last year, while the number of uninsured increased by about 2 million.) But at 15.8 percent, the proportion of the uninsured matches its highest level ever (last reached in 1998).

In looking at this figure, though, a great deal of caution is warranted. As Eric Cohen and I pointed out in the February issue of COMMENTARY (and as the Census report itself notes) the number masks much nuance.

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The annual Census Bureau report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage was released yesterday, and set off the usual flurry of confusion and bad ideas on the last of those three subjects. The number of Americans without health insurance increased last year to roughly 47 million Americans, or 15.8 percent of the population. The raw number is less important than the percentage: in a growing population the raw number of both those without insurance and those with insurance is likely to grow (and indeed, the number of insured Americans increased by about 800,000 last year, while the number of uninsured increased by about 2 million.) But at 15.8 percent, the proportion of the uninsured matches its highest level ever (last reached in 1998).

In looking at this figure, though, a great deal of caution is warranted. As Eric Cohen and I pointed out in the February issue of COMMENTARY (and as the Census report itself notes) the number masks much nuance.

For instance, a family that loses its health coverage will, on average, become insured again in about five months. Only one-sixth of the uninsured lack coverage for two years or more. In addition, about a fifth of the uninsured are not American citizens, and so could not benefit from most proposed reforms. Roughly a third of the uninsured are eligible for public-assistance programs (especially Medicaid) but have not signed up, while another fifth (many of them young adults, under thirty-five) earn more than $50,000 a year, but choose not to buy coverage.

This is not to say that there aren’t a great many Americans going without health insurance, or that their plight doesn’t merit attention and action. It does, however, mean that unqualified use of the 47-million figure as a political rallying cry is not responsible.

Health insurance is, indeed, too expensive, for too many families. But the private health insurance system does work well for the great bulk of those who can afford it (a 2006 Kaiser Foundation poll found that 88 percent of those with health insurance rated their coverage good or excellent, and almost 60 percent were even satisfied with its cost). A sensible solution to the problems of the uninsured would help them afford access to private coverage, rather than replace the entire American health insurance system with a government funded single-payer approach. This approach—if we are to judge it by the experience of many nations that have tried it—is likely to reduce doctor and patient freedom, increase wait times, hurt quality, and (as we can already see from Medicaid and Medicare) threaten to bankrupt government budgets.

The Census figures show only that the uninsured are in need of help getting access to our (mostly) free-market health care system, not that America needs a huge new health insurance bureaucracy.

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Pasqualini, Out of Print

Almost a decade ago, in October 1997, the human rights activist Jean Pasqualini died in Paris at 71. Born in Beijing to a French Corsican father and Chinese mother, Jean worked as a translator for the U.S. military and the British Embassy in Beijing until he was arrested in 1957, charged with counterrevolutionary activity, and sentenced to the nefarious Laogai system of penal colonies, also known as China’s “Gulag.” In 1964, thanks to his French background, Jean was released by Mao after France recognized China, whereupon he was exiled to France; there, some years later, I had the pleasure of getting to know him.

Jean’s 1973 book Prisoner of Mao, about his seven years in the Laogai, is a pioneering classic, although, sadly, Penguin has allowed it to go out of print. The ever-timely Prisoner of Mao should be reprinted immediately, especially as even out-of-print copies available from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com are challenging to find, detectable only by Jean’s Chinese name, Bao Ruo-Wang. An author search for “Jean Pasqualini” on both sites confusingly brings up the French edition of his book (which remains available from Gallimard).

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Almost a decade ago, in October 1997, the human rights activist Jean Pasqualini died in Paris at 71. Born in Beijing to a French Corsican father and Chinese mother, Jean worked as a translator for the U.S. military and the British Embassy in Beijing until he was arrested in 1957, charged with counterrevolutionary activity, and sentenced to the nefarious Laogai system of penal colonies, also known as China’s “Gulag.” In 1964, thanks to his French background, Jean was released by Mao after France recognized China, whereupon he was exiled to France; there, some years later, I had the pleasure of getting to know him.

Jean’s 1973 book Prisoner of Mao, about his seven years in the Laogai, is a pioneering classic, although, sadly, Penguin has allowed it to go out of print. The ever-timely Prisoner of Mao should be reprinted immediately, especially as even out-of-print copies available from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com are challenging to find, detectable only by Jean’s Chinese name, Bao Ruo-Wang. An author search for “Jean Pasqualini” on both sites confusingly brings up the French edition of his book (which remains available from Gallimard).

In a 1978 essay, the Belgian sinologist Pierre Ryckmans (born in 1935, who publishes under the name Simon Leys) called Prisoner of Mao the “most fundamental document on the Maoist ‘Gulag’ and, as such, the most studiously ignored by the lobby that maintains that there is no human-rights problem in the People’s Republic.” There, as Jean later revealed, brainwashed prisoners were forced to “reconstruct socialism with their two hands,” in order to “reform themselves.” Once safely in France, Jean remained an ardent supporter of human rights in China, despite a catastrophic series of ailments, including cancer and diabetes, caused by his imprisonment. In 1992 he co-founded the Laogai Research Foundation with the activist Harry Wu (Wu Hongda), author of the definitive Bitter Winds: A Memoir of My Years in China’s Gulag and the equally essential Troublemaker: One Man’s Crusade Against China’s Cruelty.

Jean radiated charm and humor, key tools for survival. His appetite for joy was reflected in his humorous anecdotes about how he worked for Columbia Pictures’ distribution branch in postwar China. Jean delighted in the most overblown Hollywood screen musicals, from The Jolson Story to Hello Dolly, as well as jokes about Columbia’s comic-villain studio boss Harry Cohn. At serious moments, Jean would confide that even after years away from the Laogai, Mao remained the most important person in ex-prisoners’ lives. As part of the “re-education” process, prisoners were driven to such mental anguish and self-recrimination for their “crimes against society” that one fellow prisoner—imprisoned for alleged sex crimes—was driven to self-mutilation as penance for his supposed offense. A brave, noble survivor whose humanity and sense of humor miraculously survived his ordeals, Jean Pasqualini deserves a better fate than to languish out of print.

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Talking with the Taliban

Today, after face-to-face negotiations in Afghanistan with the Taliban, South Korean officials announced a tentative arrangement to free nineteen South Koreans, who were seized on July 19. Seoul said that more discussion would be needed before the hostages, Christian aid workers, actually would be released. The Taliban has already killed two of the hostages and freed two others. The State Department’s Christopher Hill, acting on behalf of President Bush, had recently pledged support for South Korea’s efforts to negotiate with the kidnappers.

As a condition of the release of the remaining nineteen, South Korea confirmed (as it had previously announced) that it would withdraw its 200 non-combat troops from Afghanistan. Seoul also said it would stop all missionary activity in the country. The Taliban said that South Korea would withdraw all South Koreans from Afghanistan. The South Koreans did not meet the two most important Taliban demands: the payment of a ransom and the release of Taliban prisoners held by Kabul.

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Today, after face-to-face negotiations in Afghanistan with the Taliban, South Korean officials announced a tentative arrangement to free nineteen South Koreans, who were seized on July 19. Seoul said that more discussion would be needed before the hostages, Christian aid workers, actually would be released. The Taliban has already killed two of the hostages and freed two others. The State Department’s Christopher Hill, acting on behalf of President Bush, had recently pledged support for South Korea’s efforts to negotiate with the kidnappers.

As a condition of the release of the remaining nineteen, South Korea confirmed (as it had previously announced) that it would withdraw its 200 non-combat troops from Afghanistan. Seoul also said it would stop all missionary activity in the country. The Taliban said that South Korea would withdraw all South Koreans from Afghanistan. The South Koreans did not meet the two most important Taliban demands: the payment of a ransom and the release of Taliban prisoners held by Kabul.

The South Korean government has, in reality, not given up anything. It had already banned its citizens from traveling to Afghanistan. The Taliban also conceded little. It would have risked even more international condemnation if it had executed the remaining nineteen hostages, who over time would have become a liability in the hands of their captors. Their release, therefore, avoided a dilemma for the Taliban.

The whole incident, of course, further weakened the Karzai government. Yet it also demonstrated once again the inability of today’s democracies to defeat Islamic militants. Despite what they say, elected leaders these days will negotiate with thugs, fanatics, and terrorists.

In a peaceful world, presidents’ making deals with criminals, although deplorable, may not result in lasting injury to the international system. Yet President Bush tells us we are involved in a global death match with terrorists. If we are, in fact, fighting for civilization—which I believe we are—then Bush’s facilitation of the negotiations with the Taliban makes all of us appear feckless.

Either we are involved in an existential struggle or we are not. President Bush should let us know, and act accordingly.

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Debating Cancer

Several of the Democratic presidential candidates gathered yesterday in Iowa for a debate and forum on cancer sponsored by the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Armstrong, a cancer survivor and advocate for research, began the event by telling the crowd that “the next occupant of the Oval Office must discuss this critical issue with voters.”

But as the forum went on, it became increasingly difficult to see what exactly there is to discuss. Of course everyone agrees that cancer treatment and research are critically important. Cancer in its various forms kills more Americans than any other disease (having surpassed heart disease for that top spot in 2005). And cancer research receives about $5.5 billion a year in funding from the National Institutes of Health, far more than is allocated to any other disease and about 25 percent more than was spent on cancer research in 2001.

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Several of the Democratic presidential candidates gathered yesterday in Iowa for a debate and forum on cancer sponsored by the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Armstrong, a cancer survivor and advocate for research, began the event by telling the crowd that “the next occupant of the Oval Office must discuss this critical issue with voters.”

But as the forum went on, it became increasingly difficult to see what exactly there is to discuss. Of course everyone agrees that cancer treatment and research are critically important. Cancer in its various forms kills more Americans than any other disease (having surpassed heart disease for that top spot in 2005). And cancer research receives about $5.5 billion a year in funding from the National Institutes of Health, far more than is allocated to any other disease and about 25 percent more than was spent on cancer research in 2001.

So what is there for candidates to say? “Even more money” is the easy refrain: both John Edwards and Hillary Clinton promised to double the budget of the NIH (which currently stands at $28 billion). But throwing money at medical research can have unintended consequences. When the NIH budget doubled between 1998 and 2003, the many cautionary lessons that emerged pointed to the hidden dangers of rapid growth in research funding. Beyond funding, candidates described more and more extreme ways to limit smoking (while acknowledging he wasn’t sure if it would be constitutional, Edwards endorsed a national ban on smoking in public places).

The bulk of the debate, however, was taken up with arguments about a federally financed single-payer health care system. Not arguments pro and contra, mind you, but arguments about just how far to go and how to get there—with John Edwards again taking the cake by promising he wouldn’t even let the insurance and drug companies be involved in the development of his system. A serious moderator (i.e., not Chris Matthews) might have brought up the comparatively dismal figures for cancer treatment in several developed nations that have universal health care systems. But Matthews just let the aimless arguments continue.

Meanwhile, in the real world of cancer research, serious progress is being made, in no small part because of the work of those evil pharmaceutical companies. Cancer death rates have declined by about 1.5 percent per year for the last fifteen years, and cancer is slowly becoming more like a chronic disease than a swift killer. Much work remains, but, as yesterday’s forum made clear, it’s not the work of politicians.

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So Long, Lu Xun

From China comes news, reported in the Chinese-language newspaper World Journal, that the works of Lu Xun—the country’s greatest modern author, a founder of the Chinese League of Left-Wing Writers, and a longtime favorite of the Communists—are being removed from high school curricula. These classics will be replaced by contemporary fantasies about ancient knights and swordplay by the popular Hong Kong author Jin Yong. The reason for this censorship? The Tiananmen Massacre, of which Lu Xun’s works uncomfortably remind the Chinese government.

The most troublesome of Lu Xun’s writings, from this perspective, is In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen, a story about the death of a student shot as she and her colleagues attempted peacefully to present a petition to the military government of Duan Qirui on March 18, 1926. Lu addresses the events with his characteristic mixture of detachment and suppressed passion:

I did not see this, but I heard that she—Liu Hezhen—went forward gaily. Of course it was only a petition, and no one with any conscience could imagine such a trap. But then she was shot before Government House, shot from behind, and the bullet pierced her lung and heart.

Many a Tiananmen parent could speak similarly of the final moments of their dead son or daughter. Those parents and others may share as well Lu’s anger and despair:

[W]e are not living in the world of men. In a welter of . . . young people’s blood I can barely see, hear or breathe, so what can I say? We can make no long lament till after our pain is dulled. And the insidious talk of some so-called scholars since this incident has added to my sense of desolation. I am beyond indignation.

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From China comes news, reported in the Chinese-language newspaper World Journal, that the works of Lu Xun—the country’s greatest modern author, a founder of the Chinese League of Left-Wing Writers, and a longtime favorite of the Communists—are being removed from high school curricula. These classics will be replaced by contemporary fantasies about ancient knights and swordplay by the popular Hong Kong author Jin Yong. The reason for this censorship? The Tiananmen Massacre, of which Lu Xun’s works uncomfortably remind the Chinese government.

The most troublesome of Lu Xun’s writings, from this perspective, is In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen, a story about the death of a student shot as she and her colleagues attempted peacefully to present a petition to the military government of Duan Qirui on March 18, 1926. Lu addresses the events with his characteristic mixture of detachment and suppressed passion:

I did not see this, but I heard that she—Liu Hezhen—went forward gaily. Of course it was only a petition, and no one with any conscience could imagine such a trap. But then she was shot before Government House, shot from behind, and the bullet pierced her lung and heart.

Many a Tiananmen parent could speak similarly of the final moments of their dead son or daughter. Those parents and others may share as well Lu’s anger and despair:

[W]e are not living in the world of men. In a welter of . . . young people’s blood I can barely see, hear or breathe, so what can I say? We can make no long lament till after our pain is dulled. And the insidious talk of some so-called scholars since this incident has added to my sense of desolation. I am beyond indignation.

General Duan’s government showed public remorse for the murder of Liu Hezhen. (The junta, in fact, fell from power just one month later.) By contrast, since 1989 Chinese governments consistently have refused to say anything at all about the Tiananmen Massacre, every trace of which they have sought obsessively to remove. Google has agreed not to provide images or information about the massacre for its Chinese service; the asphalt in Tiananmen Square, formerly marked by the prints of tank treads, has been replaced by granite slabs. New flowerbeds have been planted. Bullet marks in walls have been plastered over. Public denial has been complete for seventeen years.

All this denial has had some success. Chinese born after 1989 have only vague notions of what happened at Tiananmen. Foreigners are far too courteous to mention the massacre. The media are silent. But have the bloodstains truly been washed away? Evidently not.

In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen is being censored, after all, despite it’s once having received praise from Mao himself. (As one of the censors responsible explains, “[W]e are touching things that previously one dared not touch.”) Even the Soviets, no great appreciators of literature, taught Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. To exile Lu Xun from Chinese school curricula reveals the wide-ranging and desperate nature of the government’s effort to efface completely the memory of Tiananmen.

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No Hysteria on Syria

On Andrew Sullivan’s website, guest blogger Gregory Djerejian (whose normal home is The Belgravia Dispatch) bemoans what he calls “Syria Hysteria.” The supposed hysterics in question include Senator Joe Lieberman, former Bush speechwriter (and my current colleague at the Council on Foreign Relations) Mike Gerson, and yours truly, who is dubbed “our favorite Rudyard Kipling-lite.” That’s pretty distinguished company, even without the flattering comparison to one of the greatest writers in the history of the English language.

Djerejian, a lawyer who works at a financial services company in New York, is aghast that all of us have been sounding the alarm about Syria’s role in facilitating the infiltration of dozens of jihadists into Iraq, where they are responsible for carrying out some of the worst terrorist outrages. The fact that dozens of jihadists are entering Iraq from Syria every month is incontestable; this has been stated publicly by General David Petraeus and numerous other officials, who have based their claims on interrogations of captured terrorists and other hard intelligence.

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On Andrew Sullivan’s website, guest blogger Gregory Djerejian (whose normal home is The Belgravia Dispatch) bemoans what he calls “Syria Hysteria.” The supposed hysterics in question include Senator Joe Lieberman, former Bush speechwriter (and my current colleague at the Council on Foreign Relations) Mike Gerson, and yours truly, who is dubbed “our favorite Rudyard Kipling-lite.” That’s pretty distinguished company, even without the flattering comparison to one of the greatest writers in the history of the English language.

Djerejian, a lawyer who works at a financial services company in New York, is aghast that all of us have been sounding the alarm about Syria’s role in facilitating the infiltration of dozens of jihadists into Iraq, where they are responsible for carrying out some of the worst terrorist outrages. The fact that dozens of jihadists are entering Iraq from Syria every month is incontestable; this has been stated publicly by General David Petraeus and numerous other officials, who have based their claims on interrogations of captured terrorists and other hard intelligence.

Djerejian tries to wave away Syrian guilt by pointing to the recently released National Intelligence Estimate, which states, “Syria has cracked down on some Sunni extremist groups attempting to infiltrate fighters into Iraq through Syria because of threats they pose to Syrian stability, but the IC now assesses that Damascus is providing support to non-al-Qaeda-in-Iraq groups inside Iraq in a bid to increase Syrian influence.” That’s not much of an exoneration. Note the word “some”; Syria obviously has not cracked down on most Sunni extremist groups. And although the NIE says that Bashar Assad is not “providing support” to al Qaeda in Iraq (what’s the definition of “support”?), it is silent on whether the Syrian strongman is looking the other way as would-be suicide bombers transit his soil.

Djerejian naively imagines that the Damascus regime would have nothing to do with such Islamic radicals, since in 1982 Bashar’s father crushed an Islamist uprising in the Syrian city of Hama. This is, of course, the same mistake made by those who imagine that, evidence to the contrary, Saddam Hussein would never have made common cause with Islamic radicals. In fact, both the Baathist regime in Baghdad in its later years, and now the Baathist regime in Damascus increasingly rely on Islamic imagery to cement their authority.

For all Assad’s claims that he doesn’t want to allow an Islamic takeover of Syria, the evidence is overwhelming that he is deeply complicit with Islamic radicals operating against neighboring states. Damascus, after all, is the headquarters of Hamas, led by Sunni radical Khalid Meshal. Damascus has also established a very close alliance with the Shiite radical regime in Tehran. Syria, in fact, acts as principal middleman between Iran and the Shiite radicals of Hizballah in Lebanon. Imagine that—a supposedly secular Baathist regime led by Alawites (a Shiite sect) making common cause with both Sunni and Shiite radicals. Since all of this is common knowledge, the only surprise here is that Djerejian is surprised.

Given Djerejian’s stubborn unwillingness to grasp the fact that Syria has been waging war on the U.S. and our allies (viz., Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and, in the past, Turkey), correspondingly he is agape at the arguments made by Lieberman, Gerson, and me to get tough with the Damascus regime. I suggested in contentions, for instance, that we might use our airpower to close Damascus airport until Assad cuts off the flow of foreign fighters, who mostly travel to Iraq through that same airport. Writes Djerejian, with heavy-handed irony: “A peachy idea! Save that using airpower against a sovereign nation’s airport is an act of war, you know.”

So is providing support to terrorist groups that are operating in another nation’s sovereign territory. Our inexplicable failure to respond accordingly does not change the fact that Syria (and Iran) is waging war on us. To speak bluntly about these matters does not constitute, as Djerejian huffily has it, “ignorance and adventurism.” It is no more than an acknowledgment of reality.

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Fare Thee Well, Alberto Gonzales, and Good Riddance

Alberto Gonzales is leaving the Justice Department with a lot of sensitive business pending. One open case of exceptional importance concerns the leak of highly classified information about the National Security Agency’s terrorist-surveillance program. Details of the program were published in the New York Times in a series of articles beginning on December 16, 2005, and supplemented in State of War, a book by Times reporter James Risen, which came out the following month.

A grand jury has been investigating the leak since January 2006. Earlier this month, a former Justice Department lawyer by the name of Thomas M. Tamm had his home searched and his computers, including two of his children’s laptops, seized, along with his personal papers, in a raid by the FBI. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff reported that the raid was connected to a criminal probe into the NSA wiretapping leak.

Gonzales’s own participation in this case is of a piece with his overall performance: fecklessness combined with an inability to articulate a clear position. The fact is that the NSA leak in the Times occurred in the middle of a war. It concerned not secrets from the past, as in the 1971 Pentagon Papers case (also involving a leak to the Times), but an ongoing operational-intelligence program designed to prevent a second September 11. On its face, as I argued in COMMENTARY, the Times had violated Section 798 of Title 18, which makes it a crime to disclose classified information pertaining to communications intelligence.

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Alberto Gonzales is leaving the Justice Department with a lot of sensitive business pending. One open case of exceptional importance concerns the leak of highly classified information about the National Security Agency’s terrorist-surveillance program. Details of the program were published in the New York Times in a series of articles beginning on December 16, 2005, and supplemented in State of War, a book by Times reporter James Risen, which came out the following month.

A grand jury has been investigating the leak since January 2006. Earlier this month, a former Justice Department lawyer by the name of Thomas M. Tamm had his home searched and his computers, including two of his children’s laptops, seized, along with his personal papers, in a raid by the FBI. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff reported that the raid was connected to a criminal probe into the NSA wiretapping leak.

Gonzales’s own participation in this case is of a piece with his overall performance: fecklessness combined with an inability to articulate a clear position. The fact is that the NSA leak in the Times occurred in the middle of a war. It concerned not secrets from the past, as in the 1971 Pentagon Papers case (also involving a leak to the Times), but an ongoing operational-intelligence program designed to prevent a second September 11. On its face, as I argued in COMMENTARY, the Times had violated Section 798 of Title 18, which makes it a crime to disclose classified information pertaining to communications intelligence.

In making the argument in COMMENTARY for prosecution, I understood full well that the probability that the Justice Department would bring an indictment of the editors and reporters of our leading newspaper was close to nil, and I said so at the time. But at the very least, a competent and articulate Attorney General, even if he saw compelling reasons not to proceed with a prosecution, could have stood up to explain both the law and its significance in wartime. A proper and much-needed public discussion would have ensued.

Gonzales did neither. Instead, he issued a very general statement: “Our prosecutors are going to look to see all the laws that have been violated. And if the evidence is there, they’re going to prosecute those violations,” and he did not follow up with any sort of action or further explanation.

The nation was rewarded for Justice’s forbearance by the subsequent publication in the Times of details of still another highly classified counterterrorism program involving terrorist financing.

Gonzales is now gone, but it is obvious that, with respect to the NSA terrorist-surveillance program, he has left us in the worst of all possible worlds. Liberals continue to express outrage at what they regard as a mortal threat to the First Amendment. The Justice Department has let stand unrebutted the false proposition that our Constitution is incompatible with laws forbidding the media to publish vital secrets. And the press continues to feel free to publish counterterrorism secrets with abandon.

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