Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 3, 2007

Weekend Reading

Last night, House Republicans walked out of a vote, the results of which they claimed to be in dispute. Partisan politics, and the clashing ideas that animate it, occupy a huge amount of media attention (almost as much as is devoted to the war in Iraq). COMMENTARY is a veteran observer of interparty conflict and of the ideologies at issue in those conflicts. For this weekend’s reading, we offer some of our keenest pieces on the American political divide.

Is Conservatism Finished?
Wilfred M. McClay—January 2007

How Divided Are We?
James Q. Wilson—February 2006

Why the Democrats Keep Losing
Joshua Muravchik—January 2005

Back to Politics as Usual?
Daniel Casse—March 2002

Republican Nation, Democratic Nation?
Terry Teachout—January 2001

Last night, House Republicans walked out of a vote, the results of which they claimed to be in dispute. Partisan politics, and the clashing ideas that animate it, occupy a huge amount of media attention (almost as much as is devoted to the war in Iraq). COMMENTARY is a veteran observer of interparty conflict and of the ideologies at issue in those conflicts. For this weekend’s reading, we offer some of our keenest pieces on the American political divide.

Is Conservatism Finished?
Wilfred M. McClay—January 2007

How Divided Are We?
James Q. Wilson—February 2006

Why the Democrats Keep Losing
Joshua Muravchik—January 2005

Back to Politics as Usual?
Daniel Casse—March 2002

Republican Nation, Democratic Nation?
Terry Teachout—January 2001

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Huddled Masses (of Musicians)

By-now familiar moans about “agonizing” visa delays for foreign musicians hired to perform in the U.S. inspired the superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma to testify last year on Capitol Hill. Such plaints echoed again recently when Erik Schumann, a visa-less 25-year-old German violinist, forfeited a July engagement as soloist in the Tchaikovsky Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra in its summer season at Vail, Colorado. In May, Italian pianist Cristina Barbuti could not obtain a visa in time to perform in a scheduled duo concert at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y. Last year, the Manchester, England-based Hallé Orchestra scuppered a planned 2007 U.S. tour because of the extra cost of obtaining 100 U. S. work visas for its players.

Such delays and difficulties are widely attributed to a current backlog at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Some nonetheless consider the delays to be (as Ma alleged in his testimony before the House Committee on Government Reform) affronts to musicians’ “dignity.” But Ma raised an interesting question: should musicians (as inherently “dignified” beings) be given instant visas regardless of current security concerns?

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By-now familiar moans about “agonizing” visa delays for foreign musicians hired to perform in the U.S. inspired the superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma to testify last year on Capitol Hill. Such plaints echoed again recently when Erik Schumann, a visa-less 25-year-old German violinist, forfeited a July engagement as soloist in the Tchaikovsky Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra in its summer season at Vail, Colorado. In May, Italian pianist Cristina Barbuti could not obtain a visa in time to perform in a scheduled duo concert at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y. Last year, the Manchester, England-based Hallé Orchestra scuppered a planned 2007 U.S. tour because of the extra cost of obtaining 100 U. S. work visas for its players.

Such delays and difficulties are widely attributed to a current backlog at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Some nonetheless consider the delays to be (as Ma alleged in his testimony before the House Committee on Government Reform) affronts to musicians’ “dignity.” But Ma raised an interesting question: should musicians (as inherently “dignified” beings) be given instant visas regardless of current security concerns?

That question can be answered in two words: Papa Wemba. Papa Wemba was the stage name of Jules Kikumba, a renowned Congolese musician who was jailed in France in 2003 for helping to smuggle hundreds of illegal immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo into Europe. French prosecutors charged that would-be immigrants paid up to $4,500 for documents stating that they belonged to Papa Wemba’s band. Suspicions were raised when around 200 Congolese “musicians” arrived in France in 2000, none carrying any musical instruments. (Most turned out to be goat herders and fishermen.)

Some classical music snobs might assert that highbrow performers are more trustworthy than stars of world music or pop. Blair Tindall’s Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music—which provides a fascinating account of drug use and debauchery among classical musicians—should disabuse anyone of the notion that classical musicians are better behaved than their pop counterparts. If our Citizenship and Immigration Services are dancing as fast as they can, traveling performers (and the artistic managers who hire them) should grin and bear it. After all, Johann Sebastian Bach never left Germany once, and his musical development did not suffer as a result.

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Hillary and Obama Go Nuclear

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, two doves posing as hawks, are fighting a phony war. Who is winning?

Obama, on the defensive on account of his muddled idea last week of meeting foreign dictators without preconditions, precipitated the latest skirmish by calling for the possible use of U.S. troops to clean out terrorist enclaves in Waziristan. But then, in response to a question, he ruled out use of the most powerful weapon in the American arsenal.

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Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, two doves posing as hawks, are fighting a phony war. Who is winning?

Obama, on the defensive on account of his muddled idea last week of meeting foreign dictators without preconditions, precipitated the latest skirmish by calling for the possible use of U.S. troops to clean out terrorist enclaves in Waziristan. But then, in response to a question, he ruled out use of the most powerful weapon in the American arsenal.

Here are his exact words, courtesy of the New York Times:

“I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance,” he said, pausing before he added, “involving civilians.”

But then he quickly said: “Let me scratch that. There’s been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That’s not on the table.”

Later in an interview on Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama, of Illinois, sought to clarify the remark about nuclear weapons, saying he was asked whether he would “use nuclear weapons to pursue al Qaeda.”

“I said no one is talking about nuclear weapons,” Mr. Obama said. “I found it was a little bit of an off-the-wall question.”

Hillary Clinton, hawk talons extended, immediately pounced, saying “I think that Presidents should be very careful at all times in discussing the use or non-use of nuclear weapons. Presidents, since the cold war, have used nuclear deterrence to keep the peace. And I don’t believe that any President should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or non-use of nuclear weapons.”

Hillary has won this round so far, on both style and substance. Even if there are no plausible scenarios in which nuclear weapons might be used in Pakistan, American policy should remain ambiguous, as it has been since the dawn of the nuclear era.

Not that there haven’t been injurious exceptions. Ironically, some of the most serious ones come from the Clinton camp, and from Bill Clinton himself.

Appearing on Meet the Press in 1994, Clinton’s second Secretary of Defense, William Perry, said that he could not “envision any circumstances in which the use of nuclear weapons would be a reasonable or prudent military action” in a Korean conflict.

This was a damaging departure from longstanding U.S. policy. The United States signed a Mutual Defense Treaty with South Korea in 1953, and it has long been interpreted to include “continuation of the extended deterrence offered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella.”

If Perry’s statement did not embolden North Korea, by in effect folding up the nuclear umbrella, it almost certainly caused considerable anxiety in South Korea. And the harm here is clear, for what is vitally important but little understood is that the stated American willingness to use nuclear weapons in defense of our allies is the lynchpin of our nuclear non-proliferation policy.

Countries that rely on America for protection—like South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, to take the critical Asian ones—have less reason to develop nuclear weapons of their own in direct proportion to their confidence that the U.S. will honor its promises to go to the max in their defense.

Also of relevance in understanding the Hillary-Obama phony war, because Hillary Clinton’s chief foreign-policy adviser is her husband, and because most of what she knows about foreign policy she learned during his two terms in office, is Bill Clinton’s own misformulated forays into nuclear doctrine.

Appearing on the Charlie Rose Show in June 2004, Clinton scored the Bush administration for alleged revisions in the American nuclear posture: “We have never said we would use nuclear weapons first; now we’re out there trying to develop small-scale nuclear weapons for battlefield use. . . . It’s a very troubling development to me.”

The only truly troubling development here is the ignorance displayed by a former President of the United States. Ever since the formation of the NATO Alliance, the United States has indeed stated its willingness to use nuclear weapons first in defense of our allies.

The policy of the Clinton administration itself was to threaten to use nuclear weapons first in retaliation for a biological or chemical attack (as well as a nuclear one) on our allies. Here is the congressional testimony of Walter Slocombe, Clinton’s Under Secretary of Defense, in 2000: “we have made clear that any use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States or our forces or our allies would meet with a prompt and overwhelming response from which no weapon in the American military arsenal would be excluded.” John Deutch, in 1994 serving as a Deputy Secretary of Defense, put it more simply in the Clinton administration’s much discussed Nuclear Posture Review: “We have not adopted a no-first-use pledge.”

Also contrary to Bill Clinton, the United States has had “small-scale nuclear weapons for battlefield use” beginning in the 1950’s and they became a major part of our arsenal by the 1960’s. Like previous annual Pentagon reports on the American defense posture, the one that appeared in Clinton’s final year in office stated unequivocally that “the United States must maintain survivable strategic forces of sufficient size and diversity–as well as . . . theater nuclear weapons . . . to deter potentially hostile foreign leaders with access to weapons of mass destruction.

Although one cannot hang Hillary for the sins of Bill, this little history is worth recalling as we watch the continuing phony war between the two neo-tough Democratic contenders.

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Cold(er) War

Yesterday, a submersible lowered a titanium Russian flag onto the Arctic seabed, near the North Pole, at a depth of almost 14,000 feet. Canada immediately mocked Moscow’s stunt. “This isn’t the 15th century,” said Ottawa’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Peter MacKay. “You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say ‘We’re claiming this territory.’ ”

International law permits Russia, Canada, the United States, Denmark, and Norway, the nations with coastlines inside the Arctic Circle, to enforce 200-mile exclusive economic zones north of their shores. The Kremlin, however, claims a bigger zone that includes the seabed under the North Pole. It maintains that the Lomonosov Ridge, which runs under the Pole, forms part of Siberia’s continental shelf. Canada and Denmark maintain competing claims to the same ridge. (Why do so many nations want the Ridge? Because a receding polar cap may someday make drilling for hydrocarbons there feasible.)

Russia is not the only nation to make outsized claims on continental shelves. China, for instance, believes it has rights to a good portion of Japan’s coastline. China also maintains claims on the continental shelves of the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam (as well as the entire South China Sea).

The United States is party to few economic-zone disputes. Nonetheless, it is the final guarantor of the international system. As such, it should be taking a greater interest in making sure that claims are settled peacefully—and that the rights of free passage are protected—whether or not the Senate sees fit to ratify the controversial Law of the Sea Convention, as the Bush administration wants it to do. And the first item on our agenda should be to talk openly and pointedly to Beijing and Moscow about their grand claims and methods of bolstering them.

Yesterday, a submersible lowered a titanium Russian flag onto the Arctic seabed, near the North Pole, at a depth of almost 14,000 feet. Canada immediately mocked Moscow’s stunt. “This isn’t the 15th century,” said Ottawa’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Peter MacKay. “You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say ‘We’re claiming this territory.’ ”

International law permits Russia, Canada, the United States, Denmark, and Norway, the nations with coastlines inside the Arctic Circle, to enforce 200-mile exclusive economic zones north of their shores. The Kremlin, however, claims a bigger zone that includes the seabed under the North Pole. It maintains that the Lomonosov Ridge, which runs under the Pole, forms part of Siberia’s continental shelf. Canada and Denmark maintain competing claims to the same ridge. (Why do so many nations want the Ridge? Because a receding polar cap may someday make drilling for hydrocarbons there feasible.)

Russia is not the only nation to make outsized claims on continental shelves. China, for instance, believes it has rights to a good portion of Japan’s coastline. China also maintains claims on the continental shelves of the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam (as well as the entire South China Sea).

The United States is party to few economic-zone disputes. Nonetheless, it is the final guarantor of the international system. As such, it should be taking a greater interest in making sure that claims are settled peacefully—and that the rights of free passage are protected—whether or not the Senate sees fit to ratify the controversial Law of the Sea Convention, as the Bush administration wants it to do. And the first item on our agenda should be to talk openly and pointedly to Beijing and Moscow about their grand claims and methods of bolstering them.

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