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.
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.
• 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.