Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 2007

Wen to Merkel: Mind Your Own Business

Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel encouraged China’s Premier Wen Jiabao to do more to stop climate change. “The Chinese wish, like all people, for blue skies, green hills and clear water,” Wen said at a joint news conference in Beijing. Then, the “People’s Premier” told the Germans—and by implication, everyone else—to mind their own business. He essentially said that China must finish its industrialization before it can consider minimizing its impact on world climate. “China has taken part of the responsibility for climate change for only 30 years while industrial countries have grown fast for the last 200 years,” he said.

China does not have a severely degraded environment—the world’s worst—because it is industrializing. And it’s not because of a shortage of money—China possesses the world’s largest pile of foreign currency reserves, now in excess of $1.3 trillion. Nor is it due to a lack of technology: China already possesses much of the know-how, and foreign governments and companies are tripping over themselves to supply what it does not now have.

Read More

Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel encouraged China’s Premier Wen Jiabao to do more to stop climate change. “The Chinese wish, like all people, for blue skies, green hills and clear water,” Wen said at a joint news conference in Beijing. Then, the “People’s Premier” told the Germans—and by implication, everyone else—to mind their own business. He essentially said that China must finish its industrialization before it can consider minimizing its impact on world climate. “China has taken part of the responsibility for climate change for only 30 years while industrial countries have grown fast for the last 200 years,” he said.

China does not have a severely degraded environment—the world’s worst—because it is industrializing. And it’s not because of a shortage of money—China possesses the world’s largest pile of foreign currency reserves, now in excess of $1.3 trillion. Nor is it due to a lack of technology: China already possesses much of the know-how, and foreign governments and companies are tripping over themselves to supply what it does not now have.

The country has polluted its land, water, and air because its political system has prevented its disgusted and frustrated citizenry from stopping the damage. The Communist Party’s bottom-up patronage system rewards economic growth at any price, providing an incentive to dump raw sewage, scatter industrial waste, and release toxic smoke. Beijing’s leaders are afraid that an economic slowdown will lead to the collapse of the one-party state.

Wen Jiabao can, of course, put off the German chancellor for the moment. but the People’s Premier one day will have to listen to his own people. According to Zhou Shengxian, Beijing’s top environmental official, Chinese people took to the streets an astonishing 51,000 times in 2005 to protest environmental degradation. In other words, during that year the Communist Party failed almost a thousand times a week to mediate conflict between ordinary citizens on the one hand and polluting factories and colluding local governments on the other.

There is, however, hope in China. Either Mr. Wen will figure out a way to clean up the nation’s environment—or the Chinese people will. I’m betting it won’t be Wen.

Read Less

An Imaginary Peace Process

Agence France-Presse reports today that the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, has informed the cabinet that Hamas’s leadership in Damascus has called for a large-scale suicide bombing in the West Bank. Why now? Because Hamas wants to derail the U.S.-Israel-Fatah peace talks in spectacular fashion.

The significance of this story goes far beyond the predictable revelation that Hamas wishes to get back into the business of suicide bombings. When it comes to the peace process, whether Hamas is planning a terrorist attack today or next week is almost totally irrelevant. What is relevant are three interrelated questions: 1) Does Hamas, or any Palestinian terrorist group, intend to perpetrate terrorism against Israel? 2) Is there a significant climate of public opinion in the West Bank that approves of such attacks? 3) Is Mahmoud Abbas powerful enough to stop terrorism, despite its popularity and the eagerness of groups like Hamas to attack? Unfortunately, the answer to the first two questions is yes, and the answer to the last is no.

Read More

Agence France-Presse reports today that the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, has informed the cabinet that Hamas’s leadership in Damascus has called for a large-scale suicide bombing in the West Bank. Why now? Because Hamas wants to derail the U.S.-Israel-Fatah peace talks in spectacular fashion.

The significance of this story goes far beyond the predictable revelation that Hamas wishes to get back into the business of suicide bombings. When it comes to the peace process, whether Hamas is planning a terrorist attack today or next week is almost totally irrelevant. What is relevant are three interrelated questions: 1) Does Hamas, or any Palestinian terrorist group, intend to perpetrate terrorism against Israel? 2) Is there a significant climate of public opinion in the West Bank that approves of such attacks? 3) Is Mahmoud Abbas powerful enough to stop terrorism, despite its popularity and the eagerness of groups like Hamas to attack? Unfortunately, the answer to the first two questions is yes, and the answer to the last is no.

The opinion polling data on the second question is dispiritingly clear. To take one example, a 2006 survey by the Jerusalem Media & Communication Center—JMCC is a Palestinian, not Israeli, outfit—asked: “How do you feel towards suicide bombing operations against Israeli civilians? Do you support them, or oppose them?” 56.2 percent said they either strongly or somewhat support suicide bombings. As long as numbers like these describe the current Palestinian reality, there will be no meaningful peace process. Which also means there will be no real Palestinian state.

This remains the fundamental dynamic of the conflict, and the reason for the terminal fragility of the peace effort. The negotiations now being conducted between Olmert and Abbas are taking place in an alternate reality, in the realm of diplomatic resolutions whose purview aspires to be sweeping, but which is actually limited to the paper on which such agreements are written and the press conferences at which they are affirmed. Where the peace process does not exist is on the ground in the West Bank, Gaza, and Damascus—in the realm of facts.

When Hamas does manage to carry out a major suicide bombing, all of the hopeful diplomatic print-on-paper will be obliterated (along with Israeli lives), and Israel will be forced to respond. The IDF presence in the West Bank will be strengthened, violence will escalate, and hopes for a real peace (which requires as its first step, rather than its last, a sea change in Palestinian public opinion regarding terrorism and its use against the Jewish state) will once again be lost.

Read Less

Bookshelf

• Say what you will about Robert Novak—and some contributors to COMMENTARY have said plenty—he remains one of America’s most important newspaper columnists. In addition, Novak is also one of the the last of a dying breed of opinionmongers whose columns are reported rather than merely spun out of the parchment-thin air of their prejudices (which doesn’t mean he’s not prejudiced!). Thus, The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington, despite its monstrous length and penny-plain prose style, is significant by definition, just as a candid memoir by Walter Lippmann or Drew Pearson would have been similarly significant. Henceforth anyone who writes about journalism in postwar Washington will have to cite The Prince of Darkness as a primary source, just as anyone who reads it will learn from it—though certain of its revelations are, like those of most memoirists, unintended.

One of the things that has already struck many reviewers of The Prince of Darkness is the way in which its author has coddled his resentments throughout the course of a long, busy life. It seems to me noteworthy that a man as successful as Novak should still be capable of writing with such raw resentment of having been passed over as sports editor of his college newspaper, or that he should go out of his way repeatedly to make glowering mention of his unpopularity in Washington. Some anonymous wag once called John O’Hara “the master of the fancied slight.” I doubt that many of Novak’s slights are fancied, but they give much the same impression when consumed in bulk.

Read More

• Say what you will about Robert Novak—and some contributors to COMMENTARY have said plenty—he remains one of America’s most important newspaper columnists. In addition, Novak is also one of the the last of a dying breed of opinionmongers whose columns are reported rather than merely spun out of the parchment-thin air of their prejudices (which doesn’t mean he’s not prejudiced!). Thus, The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington, despite its monstrous length and penny-plain prose style, is significant by definition, just as a candid memoir by Walter Lippmann or Drew Pearson would have been similarly significant. Henceforth anyone who writes about journalism in postwar Washington will have to cite The Prince of Darkness as a primary source, just as anyone who reads it will learn from it—though certain of its revelations are, like those of most memoirists, unintended.

One of the things that has already struck many reviewers of The Prince of Darkness is the way in which its author has coddled his resentments throughout the course of a long, busy life. It seems to me noteworthy that a man as successful as Novak should still be capable of writing with such raw resentment of having been passed over as sports editor of his college newspaper, or that he should go out of his way repeatedly to make glowering mention of his unpopularity in Washington. Some anonymous wag once called John O’Hara “the master of the fancied slight.” I doubt that many of Novak’s slights are fancied, but they give much the same impression when consumed in bulk.

Fortunately, there are more compelling autobiographical revelations to be gleaned from The Prince of Darkness. It is hugely interesting, for instance, to read of how a youthful reading of Whittaker Chambers’s Witness turned a moderate-to-liberal Republican into the hardest of anti-Communists, or how a secular Jew should have felt moved to embrace Roman Catholicism late in life. Most interesting of all, though, is the black cynicism with which Novak writes of the politicians among whom he has moved for virtually the whole of his adult life. A few escape his contempt—he was impressed, for instance, by the depth of Ronald Reagan’s reading in the history of economics—but for the most part he views them as shallow power-seekers who use everyone around them, and are themselves used in turn.

A handful of Washington journalists have written of the inhabitants of their milieu with comparable candor, most notably Meg Greenfield in Washington, her posthumous memoir: “These are people who don’t seem to live in the world so much as to inhabit some point on graph paper, whose coordinates are (sideways) the political spectrum and (up and down) the latest overnight poll figures.” But Novak’s honesty about the mutual manipulativeness of his relationships with the politicians he has covered exceeds anything I have hitherto seen in print. Among other things, he acknowledges that he’s more likely to trash you in print if you won’t talk to him off the record:

Am I suggesting a news source could buy off Novak with a hamburger in the White House? No government official or politician can secure immunity from a reporter by helping him out. Even my most important sources—such as Mel Laird and Wilbur Mills—were not immune from an occasional dig. Still, Bob Haldeman was treated more harshly because he refused any connection with me. He made himself more of a target than he had to be by refusing to be a source.

Even more revealing is Novak’s description of his relationship with Karl Rove:

What you did not find in my columns was criticism of Karl Rove. I don’t believe I would have found much to criticize him about even if he had not been a source, but reporters—much less columnists—do not attack their sources. . . . In four decades of talking to presidential aides, I never had enjoyed such a good source inside the White House. Rove obviously thought I was useful for his purposes, too. Such symbiotic relationships, built on self-interest, are the rule in high-level Washington journalism.

Perhaps I’m not enough of a cynic to appreciate fully Novak’s point of view—I’ve spent little time in Washington and less, thank God, in the company of politicians—but even so, I find that last sentence chillingly bleak. Imagine spending a half-century working in a town where the naked pursuit of self-interest governs all your personal relationships! Seen in that lurid light, the title of The Prince of Darkness, though it is Novak’s well-known nickname, ended up putting me in mind of The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis’s fictional portrayal of the ceaseless backstabbing engaged in by Satan’s staff of tempters. Small wonder that Novak finally got religion. No doubt a day came when he looked around him and found himself echoing the terrible words of Christopher Marlowe’s Mephistophilis: “Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it.”

Read Less

Hillary and Terror

On Thursday in New Hampshire, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton speculated on the electoral effect of a terrorist attack on the United States. The New York Post reported her as saying,

It’s a horrible prospect to ask yourself, “What if? What if?” But if certain things happen between now and the election, particularly with respect to terrorism, that will automatically give the Republicans an advantage again, no matter how badly they have mishandled it, no matter how much more dangerous they have made the world.

The statement is so obviously inappropriate that I will not criticize her for it, especially because her rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination lost no time in doing so. Nonetheless, the fact that she would raise the subject merits discussion. This is unlikely to have been an off-the-cuff blunder: Clinton, the carefully-controlled front-runner, is not known for spontaneity. It’s much more likely she thought long and hard about making such a risky comment. This means she—and her superb political team—think that another terrorist strike on the American homeland in the next several months is possible, even likely.

Read More

On Thursday in New Hampshire, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton speculated on the electoral effect of a terrorist attack on the United States. The New York Post reported her as saying,

It’s a horrible prospect to ask yourself, “What if? What if?” But if certain things happen between now and the election, particularly with respect to terrorism, that will automatically give the Republicans an advantage again, no matter how badly they have mishandled it, no matter how much more dangerous they have made the world.

The statement is so obviously inappropriate that I will not criticize her for it, especially because her rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination lost no time in doing so. Nonetheless, the fact that she would raise the subject merits discussion. This is unlikely to have been an off-the-cuff blunder: Clinton, the carefully-controlled front-runner, is not known for spontaneity. It’s much more likely she thought long and hard about making such a risky comment. This means she—and her superb political team—think that another terrorist strike on the American homeland in the next several months is possible, even likely.

An imminent attack would justify many of the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism measures that Clinton and her party normally oppose. Yet, it would also make some of the White House’s recent efforts to protect the nation seem, well, inadequate. For instance, President Bush opposed the overseas screening for nuclear materials of all 10 million cargo containers entering America by ship each year. This screening, we are told, “is neither executable nor feasible.” Although cargo-screening issues are complex, the administration’s notions of feasibility betray a troubling laxity. In reality, the administration simply does not want to hinder commerce and ruffle foreign governments, as its recent statement on the matter shows. The cost for needed scanning equipment? The Congressional Budget Office estimates a grand total of about $1.5 billion.

The President this month signed a bill requiring complete screening, but he’s unlikely to implement the law, especially in light of what his administration has said on the matter. Then again, he should think about the consequences of a nuclear detonation in, say, Manhattan. On Friday, China announced that four men trying to sell uranium illegally had lost eight kilograms of it. The missing material, unfortunately, appears already to be in the hands of potential buyers. I may never vote for Mrs. Clinton, but she now has my attention. The big question is: does she have President Bush’s?

Read Less

Bloomberg’s “Leadership”

Washington Post columnist David Broder wrote on Sunday about the strengths of an independent ticket for 2008 with Michael Bloomberg as the presidential and Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel as the vice-presidential candidate. Broder cites Hagel on Bloomberg: “A guy like Bloomberg could have deep credibility as a candidate because” he’s a “proven leader.” Leadership, Broder himself goes on to say, “is precisely what Bloomberg demonstrates every day as mayor.” Broder and Hagel have it exactly wrong. As the recent and easily-preventable deaths of two fireman in the Deutsche Bank building fire of August 18th made clear, Bloomberg is a hands-off mayor who—in everything from Ground Zero to subway breakdowns to ferry crashes to repeated Con Ed blackouts to school bus snafus—has been anything but a leader.

Standing on the edge of Ground Zero, the Deutsche Bank building survived 9/11. But it was so badly damaged that the asbestos and other chemical compounds used in its construction spread throughout the building, turning the structure into a toxic pile of rubbish, “a vertical Love Canal.” Though scheduled for demolition, under Bloomberg’s “leadership” all but the top floors of the building are still standing, six years after 9/11.

Read More

Washington Post columnist David Broder wrote on Sunday about the strengths of an independent ticket for 2008 with Michael Bloomberg as the presidential and Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel as the vice-presidential candidate. Broder cites Hagel on Bloomberg: “A guy like Bloomberg could have deep credibility as a candidate because” he’s a “proven leader.” Leadership, Broder himself goes on to say, “is precisely what Bloomberg demonstrates every day as mayor.” Broder and Hagel have it exactly wrong. As the recent and easily-preventable deaths of two fireman in the Deutsche Bank building fire of August 18th made clear, Bloomberg is a hands-off mayor who—in everything from Ground Zero to subway breakdowns to ferry crashes to repeated Con Ed blackouts to school bus snafus—has been anything but a leader.

Standing on the edge of Ground Zero, the Deutsche Bank building survived 9/11. But it was so badly damaged that the asbestos and other chemical compounds used in its construction spread throughout the building, turning the structure into a toxic pile of rubbish, “a vertical Love Canal.” Though scheduled for demolition, under Bloomberg’s “leadership” all but the top floors of the building are still standing, six years after 9/11.

The building’s owner is the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), a hapless organization jointly run by the governor and the mayor, created to help guide the rebuilding of Ground Zero. LMDC purchased the Deutsche Bank building after 9/11 to take responsibility for its safe and timely demolition. But Bloomberg has additional responsibilities: the city’s Building and Fire Departments (of which he is ultimately in charge) are responsible for making sure that safety standards are met during the stunningly slow process of demolition. Each of these agencies failed in its mission. Had the Fire or Buildings Departments done their job, they would have found that not only was there no plan for how to deal with a fire as is required by law, but that the water system needed to fight a fire had been disabled. But it gets worse. Bovis, the giant construction company given the contract for the demolition, subcontracted it to a mob-run front company (named, weirdly, John Galt, after the name of the architect engineer in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged).

But John Galt had no experience in the difficult task of asbestos removal, and violated safety standards with impunity. Somehow all this escaped the city’s notice until after it sent firefighters into a building veiled in sheathing to keep contaminants (and smoke and fire, as it turned out) from escaping.

But what’s really striking is that, with the exception of one column by Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News, no one has pointed a finger at Bloomberg. Editorials have called for the head of the Fire Commissioner and denounced the LMDC, but Bloomberg has been held blameless. Imagine, for a moment, that the administrations of mayors Koch or Dinkins (or Giuliani), men without $20 billion fortunes and lacking personal friendships with the city’s media elite, had hired an incompetent construction company whose shoddy work led to the deaths of two of New York’s bravest. The press would be in a frenzy, furiously demanding answers from the mayor. But a week after the tragedy, the press has had virtually nothing to say about Bloomberg’s role in the tragedy. Now that’s leadership.

Read Less

It’s Time to Work on Your Interviews

Remember that wonderful 1988 sports movie Bull Durham? There’s a hilarious scene where veteran minor league catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) is instructing the hot young up-and-comer Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) in how to deal with the press. The dialogue goes like this:

Crash Davis: It’s time to work on your interviews.

Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: My interviews? What do I gotta do?

Crash Davis: You’re gonna have to learn your clichés. You’re gonna have to study them, you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends. Write this down: “We gotta play it one day at a time.”

Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Got to play… it’s pretty boring.

Crash Davis: ‘Course it’s boring, that’s the point. Write it down.

I thought of that memorable scene while reading this New York Times article on the struggles of the New York Giants in their first preseason contest against the Carolina Panthers. The defense, minus All-Pro defensive end Michael Strahan (who is contemplating retirement), had a weak game against the run, giving up 154 yards to the Panthers’ rushers.

Read More

Remember that wonderful 1988 sports movie Bull Durham? There’s a hilarious scene where veteran minor league catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) is instructing the hot young up-and-comer Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) in how to deal with the press. The dialogue goes like this:

Crash Davis: It’s time to work on your interviews.

Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: My interviews? What do I gotta do?

Crash Davis: You’re gonna have to learn your clichés. You’re gonna have to study them, you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends. Write this down: “We gotta play it one day at a time.”

Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Got to play… it’s pretty boring.

Crash Davis: ‘Course it’s boring, that’s the point. Write it down.

I thought of that memorable scene while reading this New York Times article on the struggles of the New York Giants in their first preseason contest against the Carolina Panthers. The defense, minus All-Pro defensive end Michael Strahan (who is contemplating retirement), had a weak game against the run, giving up 154 yards to the Panthers’ rushers.

In their postgame comments, the Giants players and coaches demonstrate that they’ve studied the Crash Davis playbook pretty thoroughly, even if their own playbook remains a bit hazy. Their comments are almost a satire on what athletes should say when they’re afraid to say anything at all.

Linebacker Antonio Pierce: “We had a lot of things we did well, a lot of things we didn’t do well….I’m not going to judge our whole preseason and camp on 13 plays. If we had gone out and dominated, we’d be talking about how great the defense looked. It was going to go one way or the other. It just happened to go the wrong way for us.”

Coach Tom Coughlin, asked if the Giants had set a deadline for playing the season without Strahan: “Those discussions are obviously forthcoming. I’m not saying there is one, and I’m not saying when there is one. But certainly the topic is going to come up.”

Mathias Kiwanuka, a gifted defensive lineman who this season has been moved to linebacker: “I’m not discouraged at all. I feel very positive. . . . I’ve made a lot of great strides. I went into this game knowing there were going to be some ups and downs.” And then there is this: “Asked if Strahan’s presence would have made a difference, Kiwanuka said, ‘I can’t say, because he wasn’t out there.’” That reaches a level of almost existential absurdity.

The Giants may be in preseason form on the playing field, but they’re in postseason-shape when it comes to media blather. Imagine being the poor guy who has to take down these nuggets of wisdom! Maybe, contrary to my earlier claims, I don’t want to be a sportswriter after all.

Read Less

Maestros Debunked

If you talk to orchestral musicians, inevitably the conversation turns to complaints, sometimes of intense vehemence, about conductors. Indiana University Press has just given us, in The Right Place, The Right Time!: Tales of Chicago Symphony Days by distinguished flutist Donald Peck, one of the most candid examples in print of this phenomenon.

For over 40 years, Peck was principal flutist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where he played under four music directors and made 300 records with the group. Highlights included recordings of Richard Strauss with the fiery conductor Fritz Reiner (1888–1963), the orchestra’s music director from 1953 to 1962. Peck reports that after recording Strauss’s tone poem Don Juan in a single take, “Reiner sat on the podium looking completely fulfilled.” Peck also lauds the “symbiotic relationship” between the CSO and its director from 1969 to 1991, the Hungarian-born Georg Solti, despite Solti’s rehearsal habit of addressing the orchestra in garbled English: “I need a few help,” “I will faster as I was,” and “Softer your noise passion.”

Read More

If you talk to orchestral musicians, inevitably the conversation turns to complaints, sometimes of intense vehemence, about conductors. Indiana University Press has just given us, in The Right Place, The Right Time!: Tales of Chicago Symphony Days by distinguished flutist Donald Peck, one of the most candid examples in print of this phenomenon.

For over 40 years, Peck was principal flutist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where he played under four music directors and made 300 records with the group. Highlights included recordings of Richard Strauss with the fiery conductor Fritz Reiner (1888–1963), the orchestra’s music director from 1953 to 1962. Peck reports that after recording Strauss’s tone poem Don Juan in a single take, “Reiner sat on the podium looking completely fulfilled.” Peck also lauds the “symbiotic relationship” between the CSO and its director from 1969 to 1991, the Hungarian-born Georg Solti, despite Solti’s rehearsal habit of addressing the orchestra in garbled English: “I need a few help,” “I will faster as I was,” and “Softer your noise passion.”

Less amusing was the CSO’s relationship with star conductors like Christoph Eschenbach, whose “stick technique was not good” and his interpretations “very mannered and fussy, with tempos getting slower with each performance,” according to Peck. George Szell, a legend in Cleveland, was dismissed by the CSO players as “too much of a pedant” who “made mistakes on the podium,” resulting in performances which were “rife with conductorial errors.” The noted Swiss maestro Günter Wand (1912-2002) was found guilty of “rude behavior” as well as being “studied, technical, and uninspired.” The Austrian Michael Gielen (b. 1927) was seen by the CSO as “too technical, with no music.” Others, like the Russian-born Yakov Kreizberg and Italian Fernando Previtali “seemed egocentric, with no real musical ideas.”

Given the potential hostility between conductor and musicians, examples of ideal cooperation are to be treasured all the more. Peck rightly praises Claudio Abbado’s CSO recording of Bartók Piano Concertos with soloist Maurizio Pollini on Deutsche Grammophon for being “bright and exciting but in a civil way.” Likewise, Abbado’s performance with the CSO of Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé Suite, also on DG, is indeed delectable. Peck also devotes fond word to conductors Pierre Monteux and Leopold Stokowski, whose televised 1960’s CSO performances are must-see viewing on DVD from Video Artists International. Peck also correctly praises the CSO’s Brahms Fourth Symphony on EMI, led by Carlo Maria Giulini, capturing that conductor’s “deep maroon orchestra tone and tragic inner feeling.”

With performances of this magnificence, musicians can afford to be harshly discriminating about conductors, especially when their own artistry is as exemplary as Peck’s, as heard, for example, on a Bach CD from RCA alongside his longtime colleague Samuel Magad, the CSO’s legendary former concertmaster. The Right Place, The Right Time!: Tales of Chicago Symphony Days implies that the next time a concert by a top-flight orchestra disappoints us, we should blame the conductor, not the musicians.

Read Less

Shopping for Iraq

President Bush has garnered much derision for telling Americans who wanted to know how to respond to the 9/11 attacks to go shopping to bolster the economy. That was hardly the kind of ringing call to service and self-sacrifice that might have been expected under the circumstances. But now it seems there is a way in which Americans can help us achieve a vital national objective by opening their wallets and their shopping bags.

Josh White reports in the Washington Post that efforts by the Pentagon to revive the Iraqi economy are faltering because few American firms are stepping forward to buy goods being produced by Iraqi factories. J.C. Penney and Wal-Mart have backed away from possible deals to buy clothes made in Iraq. But so far there is one exception.

Mike Longo, president of Memphis-based Shelmar Inc., said he has signed a contract to buy about $10,000 worth of boys’ shirts and jogging suits for his 51 stores in seven Southeastern states—the only U.S. contract of its kind so far. Longo, a West Point graduate and an infantry officer for nine years, said he will put most of the clothes on the shelves of his unbranded stores this fall, but will not emphasize their Iraqi origins.

It is hardly surprising that Long has an Army background, which suggests that he is doing business in Iraq for motives that are at least as much about patriotism as profits. It is a shame that other American firms aren’t joining in to do their small bit to help create employment in Iraq, which might give young men an alternative to joining militias or setting off IED’s. Given how many Americans say they “support the troops,” there should be money to be made marketing Iraqi clothing, perhaps with an “Operation Iraqi Freedom” label. This might be our 21st century version of the “liberty bonds,” which involved Americans on the home front in the larger struggle during World War II.

President Bush has garnered much derision for telling Americans who wanted to know how to respond to the 9/11 attacks to go shopping to bolster the economy. That was hardly the kind of ringing call to service and self-sacrifice that might have been expected under the circumstances. But now it seems there is a way in which Americans can help us achieve a vital national objective by opening their wallets and their shopping bags.

Josh White reports in the Washington Post that efforts by the Pentagon to revive the Iraqi economy are faltering because few American firms are stepping forward to buy goods being produced by Iraqi factories. J.C. Penney and Wal-Mart have backed away from possible deals to buy clothes made in Iraq. But so far there is one exception.

Mike Longo, president of Memphis-based Shelmar Inc., said he has signed a contract to buy about $10,000 worth of boys’ shirts and jogging suits for his 51 stores in seven Southeastern states—the only U.S. contract of its kind so far. Longo, a West Point graduate and an infantry officer for nine years, said he will put most of the clothes on the shelves of his unbranded stores this fall, but will not emphasize their Iraqi origins.

It is hardly surprising that Long has an Army background, which suggests that he is doing business in Iraq for motives that are at least as much about patriotism as profits. It is a shame that other American firms aren’t joining in to do their small bit to help create employment in Iraq, which might give young men an alternative to joining militias or setting off IED’s. Given how many Americans say they “support the troops,” there should be money to be made marketing Iraqi clothing, perhaps with an “Operation Iraqi Freedom” label. This might be our 21st century version of the “liberty bonds,” which involved Americans on the home front in the larger struggle during World War II.

Read Less

Ripley’s Game

A front runner in a presidential campaign, such as Rudy Giuliani, has to expect robust attacks. Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney have criticized strongly his record on immigration and gun control. These are issues that create problems for Giuliani, but as long as his 9/11 reputation is secure, their effect will be limited. That’s why the recent assaults on his 9/11 record are potentially more significant. So far, however, it’s Giuliani’s good luck to have been subjected largely to inept criticism of his role at Ground Zero. Last month a video, made by the International Firefighters Association, which is tied to the Democratic Party, denounced him for failing to respond effectively to the 1993 World Trade Center Attack. Giuliani didn’t take office till January 1994.

Now comes a piece from Time magazine, written in the spirit of the Nexis word-game school of journalism. In her piece, reporter Amanda Ripley says that “an analysis of 80 of Giuliani’s major speeches from 1993 to 2001 shows that he mentioned the danger of terrorism only once, in a brief reference to emergency preparedness.” Her argument is that Giuliani has overstated his experience with and interest in terrorism.

Read More

A front runner in a presidential campaign, such as Rudy Giuliani, has to expect robust attacks. Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney have criticized strongly his record on immigration and gun control. These are issues that create problems for Giuliani, but as long as his 9/11 reputation is secure, their effect will be limited. That’s why the recent assaults on his 9/11 record are potentially more significant. So far, however, it’s Giuliani’s good luck to have been subjected largely to inept criticism of his role at Ground Zero. Last month a video, made by the International Firefighters Association, which is tied to the Democratic Party, denounced him for failing to respond effectively to the 1993 World Trade Center Attack. Giuliani didn’t take office till January 1994.

Now comes a piece from Time magazine, written in the spirit of the Nexis word-game school of journalism. In her piece, reporter Amanda Ripley says that “an analysis of 80 of Giuliani’s major speeches from 1993 to 2001 shows that he mentioned the danger of terrorism only once, in a brief reference to emergency preparedness.” Her argument is that Giuliani has overstated his experience with and interest in terrorism.

But if Ripley had dug a little deeper, she would have discovered that pride of place in Giuliani’s 1993 inaugural speech went to the first World Trade Center attack. Her article goes on to quote former New York Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Jerry Hauer saying “We never talked about Islamic terrorism.” Hauer continued, “We talked about chemical terrorism, biological terrorism. We did talk about car bombs every now and then.” (Does Ripley think that Giuliani was preparing for attacks from Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers? Or ETA, the Basque separatist group?)

Her article also makes no mention of the controversy surrounding the command center Giuliani created in 1998 to deal with potential terror attacks. (Unfortunately, he made the mistake of placing it in 7 World Trade alongside the FBI, CIA, and FEMA offices, and it was destroyed on 9/11.) At the time, the criticism in the New York press was fierce: the conventional wisdom was that no terror danger existed outside Giuliani’s paranoia. The command center was called “Rudy’s Nuclear Palace” and “the nut shell.” Michael Daly of the Daily News compared it to Saddam Hussein’s underground shelters.

This is, no doubt, not the last of these sorts of attacks; Giuliani did make mistakes in his security policy, and he’ll pay a political price for them. But he can only hope that future hit-pieces similarly will be inept.

Read Less

No “Islamophobia”

For years now, pundits, journalists, and community leaders have warned against the rise of so-called “Islamophobia” in Great Britain. Given the presence and increasing visibility of homegrown radical Islam, it would not be surprising to discover that the British public is growing fearful of the Muslim minority in its midst. After all, race attacks against Asians—British Muslims are overwhelmingly from the subcontinent—were reported to have increased exponentially after the 2005 July bombings in Central London.

There have been plenty of triggers for an anti-Muslim backlash in Britain. Britain is home to some of the world’s most radical Islamist organizations,such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir. The country gave shelter to radical self-styled Imams, such as Omar Bakri Muhammad, the leader of now-disbanded al Muhajiroun. And Britain was the scene of the first European instance of homegrown Islamist mass-murderous terrorism. It has since witnessed more outrages, like the failed plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners, and the recent failed Glasgow and London attacks. When the Muhammad cartoon censorship campaign began, Londoners witnessed angry mobs agitate in the streets of their capital, calling for the beheading of anyone who insulted Islam. As for foreign policy, Britain went to war against two Muslim regimes in the last five years—the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq—and was accused of refraining from saving Muslims from ethnic cleansing in the early 1990’s.

Read More

For years now, pundits, journalists, and community leaders have warned against the rise of so-called “Islamophobia” in Great Britain. Given the presence and increasing visibility of homegrown radical Islam, it would not be surprising to discover that the British public is growing fearful of the Muslim minority in its midst. After all, race attacks against Asians—British Muslims are overwhelmingly from the subcontinent—were reported to have increased exponentially after the 2005 July bombings in Central London.

There have been plenty of triggers for an anti-Muslim backlash in Britain. Britain is home to some of the world’s most radical Islamist organizations,such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir. The country gave shelter to radical self-styled Imams, such as Omar Bakri Muhammad, the leader of now-disbanded al Muhajiroun. And Britain was the scene of the first European instance of homegrown Islamist mass-murderous terrorism. It has since witnessed more outrages, like the failed plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners, and the recent failed Glasgow and London attacks. When the Muhammad cartoon censorship campaign began, Londoners witnessed angry mobs agitate in the streets of their capital, calling for the beheading of anyone who insulted Islam. As for foreign policy, Britain went to war against two Muslim regimes in the last five years—the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq—and was accused of refraining from saving Muslims from ethnic cleansing in the early 1990’s.

It is plausible to assume that, against this background, a significant portion of Britons may feel—unexcusably, to be sure—that Muslims can be suspected of dual loyalties, and that their identity is irreconcilable with being British. And it may be equally plausible that some Muslims genuinely will feel conflicted about their loyalties—especially when part of the British-Muslim elites encourage this linkage in their rhetoric, accusing foreign policy of being the root cause of extremism.

A recent poll now offers us a new perspective on this issue. The good news is that, according to the Harris Interactive/Financial Times survey, the majority of Britons—59 percent—thinks that “it is possible to be both a Muslim and a Briton.” The bad news is that 29 percent disagrees. Still, given the circumstances, one can interpret these data to mean that Britain remains, overall, tolerant. Of Muslims, that is. But when asked to respond to a similar proposition about Jews in a recent Anti-Defamation League sponsored poll (“Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Britain”), 50 percent of Britons answered yes.

This is strange, to say the least. Jews have had no problem integrating in the UK. As for Israel, its sound and solid relation with Great Britain derives from a commonality of interests and values. Jewish extremists have not blown themselves up in the London tube. They do not advocate the establishment of a global Jewish theocracy to dominate the world—as Hizb-ut-Tahrir does—and when they get angry or offended at depictions of their beliefs and habits, Jews will at most write angry emails and letters to the editors, not call for the beheading of those who insult Judaism. Nevertheless, half of England doubts their loyalty.

British attitudes to Muslims could, and should, be better. But it is British attitudes towards Jews that truly expose intolerance.

Read Less

(New) Leader of the Free World

On Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, addressing the Indian parliament, proposed the formation of a partnership of democracies in Asia. The grouping, an “arc of freedom and prosperity,” would include, in addition to India and Japan, Australia and the United States. “This partnership is an association in which we share fundamental values such as freedom, democracy, and respect for basic human rights as well as strategic interests,” Abe said.

Is Tokyo becoming the leading proponent of a free world? Since July of last year, Japan, among the democracies ringing the Pacific Ocean, has adopted the most resolute foreign policy positions on Asia. For instance, the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions on North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs were unsatisfactory, but they would have been weaker still if Tokyo had not persuaded Washington to adopt a stiffer attitude. Now, Abe is pushing a grand coalition that Washington should have proposed.

President Bush likes to talk about “ending tyranny in our world,” but he’s not been very good at it. And no wonder—he’s been too busy trying to cooperate with Russia and China, nations with dangerous ambitions and the ruthlessness to pursue them. Abe does not have the diplomatic clout to put together his proposed “broader Asia” partnership of democracies, but the United States does. Obviously, Abe won’t be running in next year’s American presidential election, but those who will should be talking to him, the most interesting leader in the free world.

On Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, addressing the Indian parliament, proposed the formation of a partnership of democracies in Asia. The grouping, an “arc of freedom and prosperity,” would include, in addition to India and Japan, Australia and the United States. “This partnership is an association in which we share fundamental values such as freedom, democracy, and respect for basic human rights as well as strategic interests,” Abe said.

Is Tokyo becoming the leading proponent of a free world? Since July of last year, Japan, among the democracies ringing the Pacific Ocean, has adopted the most resolute foreign policy positions on Asia. For instance, the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions on North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs were unsatisfactory, but they would have been weaker still if Tokyo had not persuaded Washington to adopt a stiffer attitude. Now, Abe is pushing a grand coalition that Washington should have proposed.

President Bush likes to talk about “ending tyranny in our world,” but he’s not been very good at it. And no wonder—he’s been too busy trying to cooperate with Russia and China, nations with dangerous ambitions and the ruthlessness to pursue them. Abe does not have the diplomatic clout to put together his proposed “broader Asia” partnership of democracies, but the United States does. Obviously, Abe won’t be running in next year’s American presidential election, but those who will should be talking to him, the most interesting leader in the free world.

Read Less

Dollars for Dictators

Charles Taylor was a particularly loathsome African dictator, which is saying a lot. The former president of Liberia sowed misery and destruction throughout West Africa in the 1990’s, abetting civil wars in his own country and Sierra Leone, where he was notorious for his practice of lopping off the limbs of innocent people, and where a special court is trying him for crimes against humanity under the auspices of The Hague. Taylor’s crimes extend beyond the typical; he also stands accused of harboring al Qaeda suspects wanted for the bombings of two American embassies in 1998.

Taylor’s trial is being postponed until January, and according to this Guardian report, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (a joint operation of the United Nations and the government of Sierra Leone) is paying $100,000 per month so that Taylor “can hire a top legal team for his defense.” This means that the United States government and its citizens are paying no small part of Taylor’s legal expenses. Taylor, I might add, according to a UN panel, accrues about $100 million annually through unfrozen financial assets that he accumulated through his outright theft while in office.

For too long, the UN court has tolerated Taylor’s shenanigans. In June, he refused to appear for the start of his trial at The Hague, claiming that his court-appointed attorney was insufficient. Here is a proposal that the court ought to make to Mr. Taylor: pay for your own legal counsel with some of the hundreds of millions of dollars you have stashed away, or forgo your right to trial and spend the rest of your life in prison.

Of course, there is no good reason why Taylor should not be hanged or shot, a la Saddam Hussein or the Ceauşescus. Since his trial is being held under the auspices of a United Nations panel, the likelihood of this happening seems downright impossible.

Charles Taylor was a particularly loathsome African dictator, which is saying a lot. The former president of Liberia sowed misery and destruction throughout West Africa in the 1990’s, abetting civil wars in his own country and Sierra Leone, where he was notorious for his practice of lopping off the limbs of innocent people, and where a special court is trying him for crimes against humanity under the auspices of The Hague. Taylor’s crimes extend beyond the typical; he also stands accused of harboring al Qaeda suspects wanted for the bombings of two American embassies in 1998.

Taylor’s trial is being postponed until January, and according to this Guardian report, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (a joint operation of the United Nations and the government of Sierra Leone) is paying $100,000 per month so that Taylor “can hire a top legal team for his defense.” This means that the United States government and its citizens are paying no small part of Taylor’s legal expenses. Taylor, I might add, according to a UN panel, accrues about $100 million annually through unfrozen financial assets that he accumulated through his outright theft while in office.

For too long, the UN court has tolerated Taylor’s shenanigans. In June, he refused to appear for the start of his trial at The Hague, claiming that his court-appointed attorney was insufficient. Here is a proposal that the court ought to make to Mr. Taylor: pay for your own legal counsel with some of the hundreds of millions of dollars you have stashed away, or forgo your right to trial and spend the rest of your life in prison.

Of course, there is no good reason why Taylor should not be hanged or shot, a la Saddam Hussein or the Ceauşescus. Since his trial is being held under the auspices of a United Nations panel, the likelihood of this happening seems downright impossible.

Read Less

Russian Bare

My outrage over Beijing’s cruel treatment of dissidents will just have to wait for another day. I had promised contentions I would write about the release of Yang Jianli and his thoughts about the inevitability of democracy in China.

That’s a worthy topic to be sure. But this is August, the silly season, and it’s more fun to discuss the photos—which some interpret as making use of gay iconography—that President Vladimir Putin just posted on his website. Now we know that when he’s not sending Russian bombers on Soviet-era patrols or claiming the North Pole for Moscow, Vladimir Putin poses bare-chested in a cowboy hat and cargo pants with his fishing rod at a remarkably suggestive angle. (Did I mention his clearly defined abs, flexed biceps, and well-defined pecs? The hearts of women and men alike were fluttering all across the ten time zones of Mother Russia.)

Read More

My outrage over Beijing’s cruel treatment of dissidents will just have to wait for another day. I had promised contentions I would write about the release of Yang Jianli and his thoughts about the inevitability of democracy in China.

That’s a worthy topic to be sure. But this is August, the silly season, and it’s more fun to discuss the photos—which some interpret as making use of gay iconography—that President Vladimir Putin just posted on his website. Now we know that when he’s not sending Russian bombers on Soviet-era patrols or claiming the North Pole for Moscow, Vladimir Putin poses bare-chested in a cowboy hat and cargo pants with his fishing rod at a remarkably suggestive angle. (Did I mention his clearly defined abs, flexed biceps, and well-defined pecs? The hearts of women and men alike were fluttering all across the ten time zones of Mother Russia.)

Of course, the exhibitionism of Putin contrasts with the indignation of Nicolas Sarkozy, on display earlier this month. Photographers snapped the French leader, wearing only swimming trunks, as he vacationed in New Hampshire. He actually climbed aboard the photographers’ boat and shouted at them. That’s understandable, because Sarkozy, although trim, is evidently not as chiseled as his Russian counterpart.

Is American political leadership being left behind in the male physique department? Perhaps not. George W. Bush is an exercise fanatic, for one thing. And Putin, for all his Spetsnaz training, is still not as buff as Barack Obama, who was photographed coming out of the Hawaiian surf on New Year’s Day. Some suspect that the Kremlin’s leader was attempting, in publishing these photos, to make a statement about the health of his nation. But, it looks like Russia still takes a backseat to the Land of Lincoln as far as the buffness of its leaders is concerned.

Read Less

Stalin’s Music Master

Press reports recently announced the death, at age 94, of Russian composer Tikhon Khrennikov (1913-2007). For four decades, Khrennikov headed the Union of Soviet Composers and advanced his own career, while terrorizing musicians like Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev. In 1949, Khrennikov scorned Prokofiev for creating works that “smell of the marazm (decay) of bourgeois culture” and failing to draw the “necessary conclusions from the decree of the Central Committee.” Khrennikov expected musicians to “reorganize” themselves and “rebuild their work” to suit Stalinist requirements; he also dismissed Shostakovich as “frantically gloomy and neurotic,” and persecuted recent modern masters, like Edison Denisov and Sofia Gubaidulina, by denying them teaching jobs, performances, and travel permits.

Yet Khrennikov’s own music is still feted with annual festival concerts in Moscow. In 1995, the conductor Evgeny Svetlanov (1928-2002), who recorded many of Khrennikov’s pieces (including his drab, plodding Violin Concerto), was asked by Le Monde de la Musique if he performed Khrennikov’s music “for artistic or political reasons.” Svetlanov candidly replied: “Both.” The star baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky (b. 1962) included on his recent CD of Russian songs for Delos Khrennikov’s syrupy Moscow Windows.

Why should Russian performers and CD companies continue to perform and record Khrennikov so adamantly? One answer may lie in the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a big Khrennikov fan; Putin arranged for Khrennikov to receive UNESCO’s Mozart Medal “for contribution to world peace through music and the arts” (ha!) on his 90th birthday in 2003. This award was bestowed years after UNESCO supposedly had reformed, after long and harsh criticism for its service as a blatant platform for Communist propaganda.

Khrennikov outlived the composers he tormented, and even appeared in several documentary films—such as 1997’s Shostakovich Against Stalin and Khachaturian: A Musician and His Fatherland—trying to justify his own actions. In Shostakovich Against Stalin, Khrennikov claims that the fear under which Shostakovich lived in the USSR “has been terribly exaggerated. There was nothing for him to be afraid of.” To which another persecuted interviewee replies: “The wolf cannot speak about the fear of the sheep.” In the gospel of Matthew, the Lord divides the “sheep from the goats.” Posterity already knows to which category Khrennikov belongs.

Press reports recently announced the death, at age 94, of Russian composer Tikhon Khrennikov (1913-2007). For four decades, Khrennikov headed the Union of Soviet Composers and advanced his own career, while terrorizing musicians like Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev. In 1949, Khrennikov scorned Prokofiev for creating works that “smell of the marazm (decay) of bourgeois culture” and failing to draw the “necessary conclusions from the decree of the Central Committee.” Khrennikov expected musicians to “reorganize” themselves and “rebuild their work” to suit Stalinist requirements; he also dismissed Shostakovich as “frantically gloomy and neurotic,” and persecuted recent modern masters, like Edison Denisov and Sofia Gubaidulina, by denying them teaching jobs, performances, and travel permits.

Yet Khrennikov’s own music is still feted with annual festival concerts in Moscow. In 1995, the conductor Evgeny Svetlanov (1928-2002), who recorded many of Khrennikov’s pieces (including his drab, plodding Violin Concerto), was asked by Le Monde de la Musique if he performed Khrennikov’s music “for artistic or political reasons.” Svetlanov candidly replied: “Both.” The star baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky (b. 1962) included on his recent CD of Russian songs for Delos Khrennikov’s syrupy Moscow Windows.

Why should Russian performers and CD companies continue to perform and record Khrennikov so adamantly? One answer may lie in the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a big Khrennikov fan; Putin arranged for Khrennikov to receive UNESCO’s Mozart Medal “for contribution to world peace through music and the arts” (ha!) on his 90th birthday in 2003. This award was bestowed years after UNESCO supposedly had reformed, after long and harsh criticism for its service as a blatant platform for Communist propaganda.

Khrennikov outlived the composers he tormented, and even appeared in several documentary films—such as 1997’s Shostakovich Against Stalin and Khachaturian: A Musician and His Fatherland—trying to justify his own actions. In Shostakovich Against Stalin, Khrennikov claims that the fear under which Shostakovich lived in the USSR “has been terribly exaggerated. There was nothing for him to be afraid of.” To which another persecuted interviewee replies: “The wolf cannot speak about the fear of the sheep.” In the gospel of Matthew, the Lord divides the “sheep from the goats.” Posterity already knows to which category Khrennikov belongs.

Read Less

No More Vietnams (or Cambodias)

In his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday, President Bush reminded us of the agony and genocide that followed the American retreat in Vietnam:

In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation and torture and execution. In Vietnam, former allies of the United States and government workers and intellectuals and businessmen were sent off to prison camps, where tens of thousands perished. Hundreds of thousands more fled the country on rickety boats, many of them going to their graves in the South China Sea. Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left. . . . Whatever your position is on that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like “boat people,” “re-education camps,” and “killing fields.”

These words summon to mind a powerful passage from the third volume of Henry Kissinger’s memoirs, Years of Renewal, about the horror that befell Cambodia in the wake of Congress’s decision to cut off funding to the governments of Cambodia and South Vietnam.

Read More

In his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday, President Bush reminded us of the agony and genocide that followed the American retreat in Vietnam:

In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation and torture and execution. In Vietnam, former allies of the United States and government workers and intellectuals and businessmen were sent off to prison camps, where tens of thousands perished. Hundreds of thousands more fled the country on rickety boats, many of them going to their graves in the South China Sea. Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left. . . . Whatever your position is on that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like “boat people,” “re-education camps,” and “killing fields.”

These words summon to mind a powerful passage from the third volume of Henry Kissinger’s memoirs, Years of Renewal, about the horror that befell Cambodia in the wake of Congress’s decision to cut off funding to the governments of Cambodia and South Vietnam.

Kissinger writes that messages were sent to top-level Cambodians offering to evacuate them, but to the astonishment and shame of Americans, the vast majority refused. Responding to one such offer, the former Prime Minister Sirik Matak sent a handwritten note to John Gunther Dean, the U.S. Ambassador, while the evacuation was in progress:

Dear Excellency and Friend:

I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you, and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection, and we can do nothing about it.

You leave, and my wish is that you and your country will find happiness under this sky. But, mark it well, that if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is no matter, because we all are born and must die. I have only committed this mistake of believing in you [the Americans].

Please accept, Excellency and dear friend, my faithful and friendly sentiments.

S/Sirik Matak

Kissinger continues:

On April 13th, the New York Times correspondent [Sydney Schanberg] reported the American departure under the headline, “Indochina Without Americans: For Most, a Better Life.” The Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh on April 17th . . . . The 2 million citizens of Phnom Penh were ordered to evacuate the city for the countryside ravaged by war and incapable of supporting urban dwellers unused to fending for themselves. Between 1 and 2 million Khmer were murdered by the Khmer Rouge until Hanoi occupied the country at the end of 1978, after which a civil war raged for another decade. Sirik Matak was shot in the stomach and left without medical help. It took him three days to die.

This is a sober reminder that there are enormous human, as well as geopolitical, consequences when nations that fight for human rights and liberty grow weary and give way to barbaric and bloodthirsty enemies.

Read Less

The Worst since 9/11

Hundreds of Iraqi Yezidis, members of an ancient religious sect heavily influenced by Persian Zoroastrianism, were murdered last week in the most deadly terrorist attack in the world since September 11, 2001. Fuel tankers packed with explosives were ignited in a refugee camp near the town of Kahtaniya, just outside the Kurdish autonomous region. Officials say the death toll has surpassed 500. The American military says this is the handiwork of al Qaeda. They’re probably right: this has their fingerprints all over it.

American commander General David Petraeus recently warned that terrorists and insurgents may use the media as a weapon and stage massive, headline-grabbing attacks as a way of showing the surge is a failure. If this massacre was indeed a part of that strategy, it has failed. Journalists aren’t playing along. They dutifully reported the attack and moved on, treating even this massive terror attack as just the latest in the steady drip, drip, drip of atrocities that erupt in Iraq as a matter of course.

Read More

Hundreds of Iraqi Yezidis, members of an ancient religious sect heavily influenced by Persian Zoroastrianism, were murdered last week in the most deadly terrorist attack in the world since September 11, 2001. Fuel tankers packed with explosives were ignited in a refugee camp near the town of Kahtaniya, just outside the Kurdish autonomous region. Officials say the death toll has surpassed 500. The American military says this is the handiwork of al Qaeda. They’re probably right: this has their fingerprints all over it.

American commander General David Petraeus recently warned that terrorists and insurgents may use the media as a weapon and stage massive, headline-grabbing attacks as a way of showing the surge is a failure. If this massacre was indeed a part of that strategy, it has failed. Journalists aren’t playing along. They dutifully reported the attack and moved on, treating even this massive terror attack as just the latest in the steady drip, drip, drip of atrocities that erupt in Iraq as a matter of course.

Yet the terrorist attack that killed far fewer people at a tourist resort in Bali dominated headlines all over the world for weeks in October 2002. More recently, the bombings in London on July 7, 2005, which killed only one tenth as many, also created far more powerful shock waves. The world, it seems, is all but immune to al Qaeda’s shock and awe in Iraq. It has been a long time since mass murder in Mesopotamia has been news. Few still cry for Iraq. Hardly anyone has heard of Yezidis, the victims.

I know the Yezidis, however, and I can’t say I’m immune. I visited their capital, their “Mecca,” in Lalish, near Mosul, in 2005 and again in 2006. They are among the kindest, gentlest people I have ever met. I went to see them because the president of Dohuk University told me to go. “I am a Muslim,” he said, “but I love the Yezidis. Theirs is the original religion of the Kurds. Only through the Yezidis can I speak to God in my own language.” Some conservative Muslims libel the Yezidis as disciples of Satan, but they have a respected place in Kurdish culture. Kurdistan’s flag is unique among those of Muslims in that it includes a religious symbol, the Yezidi symbol—the sun, instead of a crescent.

The Yezidis have never declared war on anyone. They are the closest thing Iraq has to Quakers. Perhaps al Qaeda massacred the Yezidi refugees because they were a soft target, and because terrorists need body counts to be credible. Perhaps the Yezidis were killed because they are “infidels.” But does it even matter? Al Qaeda has no alleged grievances against the Yezidis, who have no political power and no militia, and who do not participate in sectarian Muslim rivalry. Even Saddam Hussein left them alone.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who himself is an ethnic Kurd, said the attack on the Yezidis’ refugee camp was genocidal. This is an overstatement. I can’t blame him, though, for reaching a bit. We need a new word for the instantaneous massacre of 500 innocents. The conventional and overused label of “terrorism” somehow doesn’t quite say it.

Read Less

Bookshelf

• I spent the past month staying in a string of New England country inns, most of which were of the sort that have libraries—of a sort. These moldering collections typically consist of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books (remember them?) and the best sellers of yesteryear, lightly sprinkled with the odd novelty. On occasion the novelties can be quite odd indeed. I passed a pleasant evening reading the memoirs of Lowell Thomas (remember him?) as I sat by the Atlantic Ocean a couple of weeks ago, and the very next night I stumbled across a copy of Karl Marx’s ‘Capital’ in Lithographs, a 1934 volume abridged and illustrated by Hugo Gellert, a long-forgotten artist whose earnest prose breathes the air of other spheres:

But out of the East rises a new Prometheus. And all the Gods in the World cannot chain him! The great disciple of Karl Marx, Lenin, led the Russian workers and peasants who created the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. And these workers and peasants became the Masters of their own destiny. The Young Giant with his mighty hands builds the future of mankind and bright lights flare up in his wake . . . .

More often, though, I contented myself with mysteries and thrillers of varying vintages, the oldest of which was John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, published in 1963, mere months before the assassination of John F. Kennedy robbed a generation of Americans of their dewy-eyed innocence, blah blah blah. Not that the pseudonymous author of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold had much innocence of which to be robbed, judging by the book’s denouement, which hinges on the complete and final disillusion of its grubby, self-pitying anti-hero:

What do you think spies are: priests, saints and martyrs? They’re a squalid procession of vain fools, traitors too, yes; pansies, sadists and drunkards, people who play cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives.

As it happens, I’d never read a word of le Carré, and I was fascinated to find that he appears to be the man who introduced moral equivalence to modern espionage fiction. (Actually, Somerset Maugham beat him to the punch four decades earlier with Ashenden, but that book’s eponymous secret agent is not so much disillusioned as indifferent.) In The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, the Brits and Russians are interchangeably unscrupulous and cynical, and it is taken for granted that neither side deserves to prevail in the “long twilight struggle” proclaimed a scant two years earlier by the idealistic speechwriters of the soon-to-be-martyred architect of the New Frontier. It says something noteworthy about the emerging ethos of the Sixties that such a book was soon to become one of its emblematic literary successes.

Read More

• I spent the past month staying in a string of New England country inns, most of which were of the sort that have libraries—of a sort. These moldering collections typically consist of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books (remember them?) and the best sellers of yesteryear, lightly sprinkled with the odd novelty. On occasion the novelties can be quite odd indeed. I passed a pleasant evening reading the memoirs of Lowell Thomas (remember him?) as I sat by the Atlantic Ocean a couple of weeks ago, and the very next night I stumbled across a copy of Karl Marx’s ‘Capital’ in Lithographs, a 1934 volume abridged and illustrated by Hugo Gellert, a long-forgotten artist whose earnest prose breathes the air of other spheres:

But out of the East rises a new Prometheus. And all the Gods in the World cannot chain him! The great disciple of Karl Marx, Lenin, led the Russian workers and peasants who created the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. And these workers and peasants became the Masters of their own destiny. The Young Giant with his mighty hands builds the future of mankind and bright lights flare up in his wake . . . .

More often, though, I contented myself with mysteries and thrillers of varying vintages, the oldest of which was John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, published in 1963, mere months before the assassination of John F. Kennedy robbed a generation of Americans of their dewy-eyed innocence, blah blah blah. Not that the pseudonymous author of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold had much innocence of which to be robbed, judging by the book’s denouement, which hinges on the complete and final disillusion of its grubby, self-pitying anti-hero:

What do you think spies are: priests, saints and martyrs? They’re a squalid procession of vain fools, traitors too, yes; pansies, sadists and drunkards, people who play cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives.

As it happens, I’d never read a word of le Carré, and I was fascinated to find that he appears to be the man who introduced moral equivalence to modern espionage fiction. (Actually, Somerset Maugham beat him to the punch four decades earlier with Ashenden, but that book’s eponymous secret agent is not so much disillusioned as indifferent.) In The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, the Brits and Russians are interchangeably unscrupulous and cynical, and it is taken for granted that neither side deserves to prevail in the “long twilight struggle” proclaimed a scant two years earlier by the idealistic speechwriters of the soon-to-be-martyred architect of the New Frontier. It says something noteworthy about the emerging ethos of the Sixties that such a book was soon to become one of its emblematic literary successes.

• Repellent though the message of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold may be, it at least has the advantage of being exceedingly well written, albeit in a style indistinguishable from that of Graham Greene. In 1963 many best sellers still aspired to the condition of literature, and as late as 1987, Scott Turow, the author of Presumed Innocent, was clearly doing his best to produce a serious novel. Would that his editor had thus insisted on a complete rewrite, since Turow is a chronic overwriter who should be forced to spend a full year reading nothing but the complete works of Elmore Leonard. To be sure, he is also capable of writing with admirably clear-eyed straightforwardness about the mixed motives of lawyers and lawmen, and Presumed Innocent, which I found on the shelves of a Connecticut inn last week, has a richness of observation that helps to bring it within spitting distance of seriousness. Alas, it is disfigured at clockwork intervals by patches of the deepest purple:

Whatever wild, surging, libidinal rivers Carolyn undammed in me by her manner and appearance, there was something about the tender attention she showed this needy child that drew me over the brink, that gave my emotions a melting, yearning quality that I took to be far more significant than all my priapic heat.

No doubt this sentence was written with a straight face, but that doesn’t make it any easier to read with one.

• Unlike Scott Turow, John Grisham makes no pretense of being a serious writer. Indeed, it would be an act of charity to describe his lumpy prose as functional, for it bears much the same relationship to his elaborate plots that the flavor-free iceberg lettuce in a Midwestern salad bears to the Thousand Island dressing in which it is drenched. Since I find it all but impossible to read an ill-written book, I’ve hitherto made a point of steering clear of Grisham, but I reluctantly confess to having rather enjoyed The Firm, the 1991 novel in which he recounts the protracted travails and ultimate triumph of an Ivy League law-school grad who takes a way-the-hell-too-good-to-be-true job with a Memphis law firm that turns out to be a wholly owned subsidiary of Mafia, Inc.

Needless to say, The Firm is all plot and a yard wide, but at least it’s full of interesting facts. (Should the need ever arise, I now know how to launder large sums of money.) Even better, it’s a lawyer joke blown up to book length. Did you hear the one about the hot young gun fresh out of Harvard Law who landed a job with a firm that gave him a BMW and paid off his student loans . . . then tried to murder him? That’s my kind of moral equivalence.

Read Less

A Different Kind of Danger

Yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended down 30.49 points. Yet both the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite posted gains, and market signals indicate the Dow will turn back up today to continue the advance started on Friday. But even with the recent uptrend, no one thinks the global sub-prime lending crisis is over.

The recent turmoil in the world’s equity markets is a symptom of greater dislocations. There are many causes for the recent problems—such as the mispricing of risk caused by too much liquidity—and none of them have been solved by the recent gyrations in global markets. At some point, the great economic bull run following the fall of the Soviet Union must end. There is a rhythm to economies that governments can moderate, but not eliminate.

Since the end of World War II, the United States has taken the lead in developing mutually supporting systems—embodied by multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank—to ensure prosperity. Yet, if the shocks to this global system are too great, the network’s interconnectedness, normally a strength, becomes its weakness, as one part brings down another. As in an overstressed electrical grid, problems can first ripple and then cascade. So, for the first time in history, virtually all societies can move in sync due to the very nature of the international system we have created.

Read More

Yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended down 30.49 points. Yet both the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite posted gains, and market signals indicate the Dow will turn back up today to continue the advance started on Friday. But even with the recent uptrend, no one thinks the global sub-prime lending crisis is over.

The recent turmoil in the world’s equity markets is a symptom of greater dislocations. There are many causes for the recent problems—such as the mispricing of risk caused by too much liquidity—and none of them have been solved by the recent gyrations in global markets. At some point, the great economic bull run following the fall of the Soviet Union must end. There is a rhythm to economies that governments can moderate, but not eliminate.

Since the end of World War II, the United States has taken the lead in developing mutually supporting systems—embodied by multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank—to ensure prosperity. Yet, if the shocks to this global system are too great, the network’s interconnectedness, normally a strength, becomes its weakness, as one part brings down another. As in an overstressed electrical grid, problems can first ripple and then cascade. So, for the first time in history, virtually all societies can move in sync due to the very nature of the international system we have created.

If a serious global recession hits the world now, how will it affect geopolitics? For one thing, governments will have fewer resources to pursue their ambitions. A general downturn, for instance, might accomplish what Democrats in Congress and insurgents in Baghdad have failed to achieve so far: an end to the American involvement in Iraq. The war, costing about $2 billion a week, has been affordable in a booming economy. In a recessionary one, it could become a burden the public might not be willing to bear, at least at present levels. Other members of the international coalition, whose commitments already are not firm, undoubtedly would pull out. Funding for the conflict in Afghanistan could be scaled back to unacceptably low levels.

Not all the foreseeable consequences of a severe recession would be bad, however. A fall in oil and gas prices most likely would dent the plans of Russia’s Putin, Venezuela’s Chavez, and Iran’s Ahmadinejad. A decline in global consumption could mean that China’s export markets might dry up, the Chinese economy might spiral downward, and the Communist Party might lose power. The Doha Trade Round would probably fail, and globalization would stop for a long pause—as it has done so many times in the past. Countries would insource and international commerce would decline.

The biggest imponderable is how people around the world will react in a deteriorating economic environment. In today’s hyper-connected society, private citizens have more say in what goes on, even under rigidly authoritarian governments. At this point, no one knows what the mood of global citizenry would be. All we know is that if a severe recession comes, the world will still be dangerous, but the dangers will differ from the ones we face today.

Read Less

Weak Congress

According to a new Gallup Poll, Congress’s approval rating has matched its lowest rating ever. Just 18 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, while 76 percent disapprove. This is a staggering decline for the Democratic-controlled Congress, and it has occurred in only a matter of months. President Bush’s approval rating, at 32 percent, is considerably higher. It turns out that come this fall, he may well have the stronger hand to play.

The collapse in support for Congress tells us several things. First, the American people are in a deeply anti-political mood, and public officials who plausibly can tap into that sentiment and channel it in a constructive way will benefit enormously. The public is looking for a change-agent.

Second, the Democratic Congress has passed almost nothing of consequence; in the current environment, this is ruinous.

Third, Democrats are paying a high price for their hyper-partisanship. They appear angry, zealous, and vengeful, far more interested in investigations than legislation.

Fourth, Democrats are reinforcing the worst stereotypes of the party: weak on national security, in favor of higher taxes and larger government, and beholden to fringe groups.

Fifth, Democratic Party leaders, especially Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are quite weak, both in their abilities to run the institution and as the public faces of the modern Democratic Party.

Read More

According to a new Gallup Poll, Congress’s approval rating has matched its lowest rating ever. Just 18 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, while 76 percent disapprove. This is a staggering decline for the Democratic-controlled Congress, and it has occurred in only a matter of months. President Bush’s approval rating, at 32 percent, is considerably higher. It turns out that come this fall, he may well have the stronger hand to play.

The collapse in support for Congress tells us several things. First, the American people are in a deeply anti-political mood, and public officials who plausibly can tap into that sentiment and channel it in a constructive way will benefit enormously. The public is looking for a change-agent.

Second, the Democratic Congress has passed almost nothing of consequence; in the current environment, this is ruinous.

Third, Democrats are paying a high price for their hyper-partisanship. They appear angry, zealous, and vengeful, far more interested in investigations than legislation.

Fourth, Democrats are reinforcing the worst stereotypes of the party: weak on national security, in favor of higher taxes and larger government, and beholden to fringe groups.

Fifth, Democratic Party leaders, especially Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are quite weak, both in their abilities to run the institution and as the public faces of the modern Democratic Party.

The 2006 mid-term election was viewed by many commentators as an enormous set-back for the GOP. While the results were about typical for a second mid-term election for the presidential party in power, they did not usher in days of wine and roses for Republicans, who trail Democrats on the generic ballot and in fund-raising. But Republicans have an opportunity. The anger that was directed toward the GOP is now being re-directed toward Democrats, who are finding that governing is more difficult than merely opposing. This may allow President Bush and Republicans to define themselves against the failures of the 110th Congress, just as Bill Clinton was able to define himself against the mistakes of Newt Gingrich (recall the government shut-down).

The congressional GOP is in desperate need of re-branding after years in power, when the fires of reform dimmed and died. The party now has an opening, one growing larger by the month. Once-cocky Democrats must wonder how things have come undone quite so fast.

Read Less

Another Battle in Gaza

Hamas and Fatah recently accused Israel of preventing fuel supplies from reaching the Gaza Strip—a move that has deprived nearly 600,000 Palestinians of electricity for the past five days. Israel, the two parties claimed, is responsible for the power stoppage because of its “ongoing siege” of the Gaza Strip.

Sadly, many in the international media were quick to endorse the Hamas-Fatah version. Headlines in major newspapers and reports on television networks quoted Hamas and Fatah spokesmen as saying that the IDF had banned fuel supplies to the power plant in the Gaza Strip as part of its policy to “punish” the innocent Palestinian population.

But now the real story behind the electricity fiasco has surfaced. The same Hamas and Fatah spokesmen who had blamed Israel now were accusing each other. The EU, it emerged, had stopped funding the fuel supplies, after being told by Fatah leaders in Ramallah that Hamas had taken control of the electricity company in the Gaza Strip, and was planning to extort money from customers through electricity bills.

Read More

Hamas and Fatah recently accused Israel of preventing fuel supplies from reaching the Gaza Strip—a move that has deprived nearly 600,000 Palestinians of electricity for the past five days. Israel, the two parties claimed, is responsible for the power stoppage because of its “ongoing siege” of the Gaza Strip.

Sadly, many in the international media were quick to endorse the Hamas-Fatah version. Headlines in major newspapers and reports on television networks quoted Hamas and Fatah spokesmen as saying that the IDF had banned fuel supplies to the power plant in the Gaza Strip as part of its policy to “punish” the innocent Palestinian population.

But now the real story behind the electricity fiasco has surfaced. The same Hamas and Fatah spokesmen who had blamed Israel now were accusing each other. The EU, it emerged, had stopped funding the fuel supplies, after being told by Fatah leaders in Ramallah that Hamas had taken control of the electricity company in the Gaza Strip, and was planning to extort money from customers through electricity bills.

For the first time, I found myself this week agreeing with both Hamas and Fatah when I heard them trade allegations. How can one disagree when Hamas calls Fatah’s leaders a bunch of corrupt opportunists bilking the international community of millions of dollars under the pretext that the alternative would be the rise of Muslim fundamentalism ? And how can one disagree with Fatah’s accusations that Hamas is a bloodthirsty terrorist organization that is driving the Palestinians towards the abyss?

As the electricity crisis shows, Hamas and Fatah are prepared to use all methods in their power struggle, even if hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have to spend days and nights without electricity.

Fortunately, the Palestinians have not made the mistake that many foreign journalists did when they rushed to blame Israel for the latest crisis.

The majority of the Palestinians have already paid a heavy price for the continued power struggle between Hamas and Fatah. That’s why the Palestinians react to statements made by the two sides’ leaders with skepticism and extreme caution. Perhaps it’s time that foreign journalists sitting in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, who these days rarely visit the West Bank and Gaza Strip, follow suit, and display a degree of caution when it comes to reporting on the Hamas-Fatah fight.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.