Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 2007

Against the Boycott

The presidents of Harvard, Yale, and Brown, conspicuously absent from the original list of signatories, have since posted assurances that they join the almost 300 American college and university presidents who signed a statement earlier this month protesting the vote of Britain’s University and College Union to impose a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. “Boycott Israeli Universities? Boycott Ours, Too!” read the American counter-declaration, composed by Columbia University’s President Lee Bollinger. “[We] do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish.”

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The presidents of Harvard, Yale, and Brown, conspicuously absent from the original list of signatories, have since posted assurances that they join the almost 300 American college and university presidents who signed a statement earlier this month protesting the vote of Britain’s University and College Union to impose a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. “Boycott Israeli Universities? Boycott Ours, Too!” read the American counter-declaration, composed by Columbia University’s President Lee Bollinger. “[We] do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish.”

It is heartening to see such unanimity among academic leaders who normally shun group protests or statements; still, it is less heartening when one considers that these leaders may have found it easier to denounce an outrage overseas than to tackle prejudice in their own institutions. President Bollinger and his colleagues know that anti-Israel venom is widespread on American campuses. The real test of their resolve to preserve academic integrity will occur here, at home.

Anti-Israel sentiment penetrates American campuses at both the student and professorial levels. Every year the average campus welcomes Arab and Muslim students for whom Israel’s illegitimacy is a matter of faith, conjoined in most instances with plain anti-Semitism. The Pew Research Center finds that Muslims hold unfavorable views of Jews at astonishing levels: Jordan, 100 percent; Lebanon, 99 percent; Morocco, 88 percent. Arab and Muslim students inculcated with these prejudices from birth see no harm in promoting them. To the contrary, since they regard Israel as the root of evil, agitation against it is for them often a matter of cultural self-expression. Dissenters from this norm are often afraid of being ostracized—or, worse, of not being able to return to their native communities should they stray from an ideology that unites the Arab world.

The campus ethos of all-embracing multiculturalism aggravates the problem by refraining from distinguishing between a culture of aggression and a culture of accommodation—two opposites trapped in a philosophy of equivalence. Ignored are the radically divergent histories of Arabs and Jews that produced today’s preposterous global imbalance between 1 billion-plus Muslims on the one hand, and 13 million Jews (4 million fewer than in 1939) on the other. Historically, Jews have been the no-fail target of innumerable aggressors; since the 1870′s they have been the ideological butt of anti-liberal movements everywhere.

Indeed, Middle East-style anti-Semitism plays a larger role in the international arena today than its European-style equivalent did a century ago. But our universities provide almost no academic or extra-curricular opportunities to discuss the issue. If anything, as the scholar Martin Kramer has shown, the hate-ridden attitudes within the Arab world find a natural reflection in the highly prejudicial bias of the academic discipline known as Middle East Studies. The current director of the Center for Middle East Studies at Harvard, as well as a number of others who teach in the field, were among the signatories of a Harvard-MIT petition urging divestment from Israel—a petition meant to echo and give a highbrow patina to the currently fashionable calumny of the Jewish state as an “apartheid” regime. Sami al-Arian may be the only U.S. professor convicted of conspiracy to help Islamic Jihad, but others support Arab antagonism in their own ways.

The protest against the British academic boycott published in the New York Times was framed strictly as a defense of academic freedom and solidarity with Israeli colleagues. It avoided any mention of the ideology of hate that fuels this boycott. One might as well condemn cancer without investigating its cause or doing what one can to prevent its spread. Having once joined in symbolic action, these presidents of American colleges and universities would do well to appoint a committee from within their midst to investigate the spread of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel prejudices on their own campuses and within their own curricula, where it does the most damage. As in medicine, prevention is the best cure.

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Knowing What You Sing

In opera, as in life, discretion can be the better part of valor. Last month the Italian soprano Barbara Frittoli announced that she was canceling her debut as Tatiana in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, scheduled for next year. The reason? Her command of Russian isn’t good enough, as she candidly admitted: “After studying for more than a year, the language, alphabet, and pronunciation continue to elude my grasp. To hope for a ‘miracle’ can only put the production at risk.” Chicago’s Lyric Opera duly hired a native Russian singer to replace her, but will be hard-pressed to match Frittoli’s combination of warm tone, musicality, and striking good looks. These attributes can be seen on DVD’s of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater from EMI; of Puccini’s Turandot on TDK; and of Verdi’s Falstaff on Euroarts. Frittoli is not allergic to foreign languages per se. At a La Scala song recital this February, she sang some French music, but showed a clear preference for her native tongue by choosing vocal works in Italian, even rare ones written by Beethoven and Schubert.

Music fans have long grown resigned to hearing linguistic massacres like the Spanish tenor José Carreras’s singing of the all-American role of Tony in Bernstein’s West Side Story or the mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne’s mangling of the French spoken dialogue in Bizet’s Carmen. The Australian soprano Joan Sutherland, in a recently reissued set of Romantic French Arias from Deutsche Grammophon, displays stunning platinum pipes, but scant attention to linguistic niceties.

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In opera, as in life, discretion can be the better part of valor. Last month the Italian soprano Barbara Frittoli announced that she was canceling her debut as Tatiana in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, scheduled for next year. The reason? Her command of Russian isn’t good enough, as she candidly admitted: “After studying for more than a year, the language, alphabet, and pronunciation continue to elude my grasp. To hope for a ‘miracle’ can only put the production at risk.” Chicago’s Lyric Opera duly hired a native Russian singer to replace her, but will be hard-pressed to match Frittoli’s combination of warm tone, musicality, and striking good looks. These attributes can be seen on DVD’s of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater from EMI; of Puccini’s Turandot on TDK; and of Verdi’s Falstaff on Euroarts. Frittoli is not allergic to foreign languages per se. At a La Scala song recital this February, she sang some French music, but showed a clear preference for her native tongue by choosing vocal works in Italian, even rare ones written by Beethoven and Schubert.

Music fans have long grown resigned to hearing linguistic massacres like the Spanish tenor José Carreras’s singing of the all-American role of Tony in Bernstein’s West Side Story or the mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne’s mangling of the French spoken dialogue in Bizet’s Carmen. The Australian soprano Joan Sutherland, in a recently reissued set of Romantic French Arias from Deutsche Grammophon, displays stunning platinum pipes, but scant attention to linguistic niceties.

Should listeners care about poor pronunciation? Mastering a language, being able to express emotion in a foreign idiom, is a challenge equal to singing the mere notes of any musical work. Some non-native speakers of French have become superb singers of the language, like the Texas-born mezzo-soprano Susan Graham in an unexpectedly idiomatic CD of music by Reynaldo Hahn on Sony. Or the British soprano Felicity Lott on an EMI Classics DVD of the Offenbach operetta La Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein. The Japanese-born mezzo-soprano Mitsuko Shirai has mastered the German language completely, and her CD’s of lieder by Brahms, Schumann, etc., are widely considered among the most authoritative and exemplary recorded anywhere.

Singing with a distinct accent does not obviate real understanding of a language, as the British tenor Peter Pears’s performances as the Evangelist in Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion and in Schubert’s Winterreise song cycle, for instance, prove. Classical singers who downplay respect for a foreign idiom are sending out the wrong message to “crossover” pop superstars. Grating recent examples in the pop realm include the British soprano Sarah Brightman and tenor Michael Bolton, both of whom perform the Puccini aria “Nessun Dorma” with scant attention to the words they sing. All the more reason to cheer Barbara Frittoli’s resolve not to display her lack of expertise in Russian; would that more classical singers shared her high standards and capacity for self-criticism.

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Attention Must be Paid

Arthur Miller is widely reputed to be the greatest American playwright of the 20th century. And it’s true that his most famous work, Death of a Salesman, is a literary, as well as dramatic, masterpiece. But the same cannot be said of much else he wrote, certainly not The Crucible, considered Miller’s second greatest theatrical achievement (it is still widely produced by schools and professional companies across the nation). The play—which proposes an analogy between the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy hearings of the 1950′s—is fatally flawed. As Peter Mullen once wrote in the London Times, “There were no witches in Salem, Mr. Miller.”

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Arthur Miller is widely reputed to be the greatest American playwright of the 20th century. And it’s true that his most famous work, Death of a Salesman, is a literary, as well as dramatic, masterpiece. But the same cannot be said of much else he wrote, certainly not The Crucible, considered Miller’s second greatest theatrical achievement (it is still widely produced by schools and professional companies across the nation). The play—which proposes an analogy between the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy hearings of the 1950′s—is fatally flawed. As Peter Mullen once wrote in the London Times, “There were no witches in Salem, Mr. Miller.”

Miller was very much a man of the Left, and his reputation was burnished with the attributes attached to that exalted position: partiality to the great humanitarian causes of the day; a strong conscience; sympathy for the dispossessed and downtrodden. So it must have come as a great surprise to his many admirers to read Suzanna Andrews’s story about Miller in the current Vanity Fair, in which we learn of Miller’s abandonment of his son Daniel, born with Down’s syndrome. As Stephen Schwartz wrote for the Weekly Standard upon Miller’s death, “Arthur Miller’s life is the great American morality play of the 20th century.” Schwartz was more prescient than he knew; he was writing about Miller’s vindictive attitude towards his ex-wife Marilyn Monroe. But it is this new revelation that ought to damage permanently Miller’s reputation, if not as a writer, than as a humanitarian.

Miller put Daniel in an institution days after his birth, a not-uncommon practice at the time. Miller rarely, if ever, visited his son (Miller’s wife Inge Morath visited every Sunday). Nor did the playwright deign to mention Daniel in his 1987 memoir, or in any of the “scores of speeches and press interviews he gave over the years.” Daniel was shuttered away and anonymous: when Miller died in 2005, the Los Angeles Times’s obituary said that “Miller had another son, Daniel, who was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome shortly after his birth in 1962. It is not known whether he survives his father.” Daniel not only survived, he succeeded. He triumphed over the adversities of his condition and his early institutionalization, and now lives, for the most part, independently. He has competed in the Special Olympics, and is widely loved and admired by the many people who have come to know him.

“How could a man who, in the words of one close friend of Miller’s, ‘had such a great world reputation for morality and pursuing justice, do something like this?’” Andrews asks. A good question. Miller left a quarter of his estate for Daniel, but a very rich man’s leaving a quarter of his estate to one of his four children is hardly an act of moral courage.

“Attention must be paid.” This line, spoken by Linda Loman, wife of Willy Loman, the protagonist of Death of a Salesman, is one of the most famous lines in American drama. Through Linda, Miller pointed out the intrinsic value of a human life, no matter how problematic its condition. How tragic that he ignored his own admonition.

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Should We Give Aid to North Korea?

Devastating floods, caused by more than a week of downpours, recently have killed about 300 North Koreans, displaced more than 300,000 of them, and ruined at least 11 percent of their cropland. The waters have also damaged 540 bridges and 800 buildings. The U.N. said 58,000 homes have been destroyed. The capital of Pyongyang is covered by waist-deep water. South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung said that “the flood damage in the North is heartbreaking.”

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has appealed to the international community for assistance. South Korea immediately responded by pledging $7.5 million in emergency assistance. The United States will also help, providing $100,000 to two non-governmental organizations that will supply blankets, water containers, and shelter materials.

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Devastating floods, caused by more than a week of downpours, recently have killed about 300 North Koreans, displaced more than 300,000 of them, and ruined at least 11 percent of their cropland. The waters have also damaged 540 bridges and 800 buildings. The U.N. said 58,000 homes have been destroyed. The capital of Pyongyang is covered by waist-deep water. South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung said that “the flood damage in the North is heartbreaking.”

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has appealed to the international community for assistance. South Korea immediately responded by pledging $7.5 million in emergency assistance. The United States will also help, providing $100,000 to two non-governmental organizations that will supply blankets, water containers, and shelter materials.

Humanitarian assistance is always in season. In fact, the United States has been one of the largest food donors to North Korea in recent years. Yet aid is fungible. Whether we provide in cash or kind, each dollar we give means that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il can spend one fewer dollar on his suffering populace, and one more building weapons of mass destruction. We have, in a real sense, funded the devices that threaten us. Moreover, North Korea’s regime has diverted assistance from the United Nations World Food Program, the world’s largest humanitarian organization, to feed the military and favored officials instead of the country’s most needy citizens. If it were not for aid provided by Bill Clinton and South Korea’s Kim Dae Jung, Kim Jong Il’s destitute regime would have collapsed long ago.

Substantial aid, however, can also undermine a government by dividing the ruling cadre and winning the loyalty of common folk—if the assistance is monitored rigorously by inspectors. For instance, many ordinary North Koreans have gotten their first glimpses of the outside by talking to foreign aid inspectors, and thereby have realized that all Pyongyang told them about other nations is wrong. Moreover, government minders, accompanying foreign inspectors, have traveled around their country for the first time and learned about the failures of their own government. When he has felt threatened by it, Kim Jong Il has turned down international aid, most notably in 2004, when he told the U.N to stop assistance.

By all means, then, let’s help the North Koreans devastated by this week’s rains, but only if we can use aid to subvert their despicable leaders.

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Friedman’s Folly

Has anything sillier than this, from the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman, been written recently by a serious columnist?

Is the surge in Iraq working? That is the question that General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker will answer for us next month. I, alas, am not interested in their opinions. It is not because I don’t hold both men in very high regard. I do. But I’m still not interested in their opinions. I’m only interested in yours. Yes, you—the person reading this column.

This is a case study of a columnist trying to be provocative and merely coming across as pandering and foolish. The main point of Friedman’s column is that the “surge,” while it may be making progress, is insufficient. What matters, he argues, is politics. He sees, as the indispensable condition for American success, “a coalition of Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds who share our vision of a unified, multiparty, power-sharing, democratizing Iraq . . . [and who] are willing to forge a social contract that will allow them to maintain such an Iraq—without U.S. troops.”

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Has anything sillier than this, from the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman, been written recently by a serious columnist?

Is the surge in Iraq working? That is the question that General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker will answer for us next month. I, alas, am not interested in their opinions. It is not because I don’t hold both men in very high regard. I do. But I’m still not interested in their opinions. I’m only interested in yours. Yes, you—the person reading this column.

This is a case study of a columnist trying to be provocative and merely coming across as pandering and foolish. The main point of Friedman’s column is that the “surge,” while it may be making progress, is insufficient. What matters, he argues, is politics. He sees, as the indispensable condition for American success, “a coalition of Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds who share our vision of a unified, multiparty, power-sharing, democratizing Iraq . . . [and who] are willing to forge a social contract that will allow them to maintain such an Iraq—without U.S. troops.”

This is another way of saying what Petraeus and Crocker (and countless others) have said repeatedly: ultimately a decent outcome in Iraq depends on a political solution, not a military one. But the American military must play a key role if political reconciliation is to have any chance of success. To argue that military success has nothing to do with political progress is absurd.

Friedman states that, since “[sectarian] fires have been set, trying to unify Iraq feels like doing carpentry on a burning house.” But to extend the analogy, what Petraeus and company are trying to do is to put out the fire and create the conditions that will allow the carpenters to complete their work. We don’t know if they’ll succeed—but we know they can’t possibly succeed so long as the fire rages.

Petraeus and Crocker have had more success than virtually anyone would have hoped for at the beginning of the year. The evidence of progress on the security side is indisputable. Clearly, we have a long way to go, and the central government in Iraq has been a major disappointment thus far. But to state that what Petraeus and Crocker have to say in September is of no interest is intellectually unserious and even dishonest. Tom Friedman may not believe that Petraeus and Crocker can alter events in Iraq—we shall see—but he will surely care what they say. And pretending that the opinion of a hairstylist in Manhattan or a high school senior in Seattle should carry more weight than the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq is risible.

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Sub-Prime Thinking

The Forgotten Man, Amity Shlaes’s compelling and highly readable reinterpretation of the Depression and the New Deal, is a timely reminder of the way in which government policy can have counterintuitive effects, sometimes of a disastrous nature. Shlaes suggests that, in the Depression era, misguided policies incited and then prolonged the financial crisis, saddling us with the hugely expanded federal government that struggles to manage our economy today.

How is the government doing at that task? Over the past few weeks, and especially over the past few days, financial markets worldwide have been roiled by a credit crisis. That crisis was sparked by a real-estate bubble and a lending boom that are in no small part an unintended consequence of U.S. government policy.

The government encourages home-ownership by offering a significant tax break for mortgage interest. This is one of the few deductions that is not subject to the dreaded alternative minimum tax, which has begun to squeeze the middle class. As with any other subsidy, the effect of the mortgage-interest tax break can be to encourage consumers to buy more housing, and more expensive housing, than they may need.

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The Forgotten Man, Amity Shlaes’s compelling and highly readable reinterpretation of the Depression and the New Deal, is a timely reminder of the way in which government policy can have counterintuitive effects, sometimes of a disastrous nature. Shlaes suggests that, in the Depression era, misguided policies incited and then prolonged the financial crisis, saddling us with the hugely expanded federal government that struggles to manage our economy today.

How is the government doing at that task? Over the past few weeks, and especially over the past few days, financial markets worldwide have been roiled by a credit crisis. That crisis was sparked by a real-estate bubble and a lending boom that are in no small part an unintended consequence of U.S. government policy.

The government encourages home-ownership by offering a significant tax break for mortgage interest. This is one of the few deductions that is not subject to the dreaded alternative minimum tax, which has begun to squeeze the middle class. As with any other subsidy, the effect of the mortgage-interest tax break can be to encourage consumers to buy more housing, and more expensive housing, than they may need.

At the same time, the highly-regulated lending industry was permitted to let the sub-prime mortgage sector grow wildly in the middle of a real-estate boom, with exotic adjustable-rate and interest-only loans enabling all sorts of unqualified buyers to purchase homes on the premise that rising prices would eliminate the risk of default.

These sub-prime loans were cut up and repackaged by investment banks as collateralized debt obligations, which became a favored instrument of unregulated hedge funds. But prices could not rise forever. Financial gravity has now set in. The two government policies that formerly were operating in parallel are now colliding.

As falling real-estate prices make the underlying collateral insufficient to pay off the debt, a number of lending institutions and hedge funds trading in collateral debt obligations have gone belly up, triggering a world-wide panic. The Federal Reserve, which several months ago was pooh-poohing the risks posed by real-estate weakness, has now been forced to step in and reduce the lending rates for banks.

This is a crisis, in other words, that few, including few in government, foresaw. It leads one to wonder what other major risks are lurking hidden in our financial system. Have we really faced the implications, for example, of the fact that China is such a major investor in U.S. Treasury Bonds?

I seldom agree with the New York Times‘s Paul Krugman, and I am not sure I agree with him today when he writes that “it’s hard to avoid the sense that the growing complexity of our financial system is making it increasingly prone to crises—crises that are beyond the ability of traditional policies to handle.”

But it is past time to think imaginatively about hidden dangers to our financial system.

Who should do such thinking? Shlaes’s The Forgotten Man makes it clear that when it comes to a financial crisis, government is the most important actor, and also the least reliable source of insight.

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Rove’s Unused Gift

Mike Gerson, David Frum, Carl Cannon, and many others have offered their view of how history will judge Karl Rove’s contribution as political strategist and White House aide. All of them overlook what was perhaps Rove’s greatest—and least utilized—skill: explaining and advocating the Administration’s policies. Since the outset, the Bush White House has done a terrible job of defending itself in public. On political talk shows, Republican spokesmen were as likely to criticize the White House as they were their Democratic counterparts. Too often Scott McClellan, the ineffective White House spokesman, was the only voice making the case for the Administration. (By the time the far savvier Tony Snow arrived, most people had stopped listening.)

It was a stunning failure of imagination not to have given Rove a more prominent role as White House spokesman, and instead to have dispatched him to endless party-building activities. Rove was not merely a master of policy detail, but a compelling and persuasive debater. Democrats who saw him merely as a Republican James Carville never saw him speak before an audience. While Carville could deliver only partisan hyperbole, Rove was especially effective in front of skeptical audiences, whom he mesmerized with cool but passionate presentations of facts, history, and data. A year ago I saw him receive a standing ovation at the hyper-liberal Aspen Festival of Ideas. When he spoke there this year, making what sounded like an irrefutable case for the surge in Iraq, one of the prominent locals stood up and asked: “Why haven’t we heard these arguments before?” Why indeed.

Mike Gerson, David Frum, Carl Cannon, and many others have offered their view of how history will judge Karl Rove’s contribution as political strategist and White House aide. All of them overlook what was perhaps Rove’s greatest—and least utilized—skill: explaining and advocating the Administration’s policies. Since the outset, the Bush White House has done a terrible job of defending itself in public. On political talk shows, Republican spokesmen were as likely to criticize the White House as they were their Democratic counterparts. Too often Scott McClellan, the ineffective White House spokesman, was the only voice making the case for the Administration. (By the time the far savvier Tony Snow arrived, most people had stopped listening.)

It was a stunning failure of imagination not to have given Rove a more prominent role as White House spokesman, and instead to have dispatched him to endless party-building activities. Rove was not merely a master of policy detail, but a compelling and persuasive debater. Democrats who saw him merely as a Republican James Carville never saw him speak before an audience. While Carville could deliver only partisan hyperbole, Rove was especially effective in front of skeptical audiences, whom he mesmerized with cool but passionate presentations of facts, history, and data. A year ago I saw him receive a standing ovation at the hyper-liberal Aspen Festival of Ideas. When he spoke there this year, making what sounded like an irrefutable case for the surge in Iraq, one of the prominent locals stood up and asked: “Why haven’t we heard these arguments before?” Why indeed.

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Triumph of Experience Over Partisanship

It’s amazing what happens when skeptics of the Iraq War go to Iraq to have a look for themselves. Reality is likely to intrude on ideology. For the latest example, see this report on Representative Brian Baird’s recent trip to Iraq. A liberal Democrat from Washington state who voted against the war, he told his hometown newspaper “that his recent trip to Iraq convinced him the military needs more time in the region, and that a hasty pullout would cause chaos that helps Iran and harms U.S. security.”

Some sniff at such reports as being the result of “choreographed tours” designed by the military to deceive lawmakers about the true state of the war. See, for instance, this article by Washington Post reporter Jonathan Finer. Finer is right that there are limits on what senators and congressmen see in Iraq, where they typically spend only a day or two, and their time is generally limited to briefings on safe U.S. bases. But even those brief glimpses give lawmakers a better sense of what is going on than that possessed by many ideologues back home (both pro and antiwar) who have never visited the front lines at all. It’s especially helpful when, like Baird, lawmakers keep making trips so that they do get some sense of perspective over time to allow them to make better sense of what they’re seeing.

For instance, Baird has learned to be wary of one of the panaceas commonly proposed for solving Iraq’s woes—a division of the country: “He no longer thinks partitioning Iraq into Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd sections is possible, for instance; no one he spoke to in Israel, Jordan, Palestinian cities or Iraq liked the idea, he added.” He has also come to see through the common trope of leftist activists, that setting a timetable for withdrawal will force Iraqis somehow to get their act together. It will likely have the opposite effect: “Baird said he believes that to the extent Iraqis think the United States would withdraw before bringing security to a functioning Iraqi government, ‘that might contribute to the infighting and instability of the government.’”

It’s amazing what happens when skeptics of the Iraq War go to Iraq to have a look for themselves. Reality is likely to intrude on ideology. For the latest example, see this report on Representative Brian Baird’s recent trip to Iraq. A liberal Democrat from Washington state who voted against the war, he told his hometown newspaper “that his recent trip to Iraq convinced him the military needs more time in the region, and that a hasty pullout would cause chaos that helps Iran and harms U.S. security.”

Some sniff at such reports as being the result of “choreographed tours” designed by the military to deceive lawmakers about the true state of the war. See, for instance, this article by Washington Post reporter Jonathan Finer. Finer is right that there are limits on what senators and congressmen see in Iraq, where they typically spend only a day or two, and their time is generally limited to briefings on safe U.S. bases. But even those brief glimpses give lawmakers a better sense of what is going on than that possessed by many ideologues back home (both pro and antiwar) who have never visited the front lines at all. It’s especially helpful when, like Baird, lawmakers keep making trips so that they do get some sense of perspective over time to allow them to make better sense of what they’re seeing.

For instance, Baird has learned to be wary of one of the panaceas commonly proposed for solving Iraq’s woes—a division of the country: “He no longer thinks partitioning Iraq into Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd sections is possible, for instance; no one he spoke to in Israel, Jordan, Palestinian cities or Iraq liked the idea, he added.” He has also come to see through the common trope of leftist activists, that setting a timetable for withdrawal will force Iraqis somehow to get their act together. It will likely have the opposite effect: “Baird said he believes that to the extent Iraqis think the United States would withdraw before bringing security to a functioning Iraqi government, ‘that might contribute to the infighting and instability of the government.’”

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Planet Academia

Have you been waiting for an American version of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich—a searing account of life in the American Gulag? Well, according to the New York Times Book Review, your wait is over. Rush right out and pick your own copy of Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak.

To be sure, the Times’s reviewer, Wellesley professor Dan Chiasson, admits that the poems may be somewhat lacking in artistic merit. But, hey, he suggests, you gotta make allowances:

It is hard to imagine a reader so hardhearted as to bring aesthetic judgment to bear on a book written by men in prison without legal recourse, several of them held in solitary confinement, some of them likely subjected to practices that many disinterested parties have called torture. You don’t read this book for pleasure; you read it for evidence. And if you are an American citizen you read it for evidence of the violence your government is doing to total strangers in a distant place, some of whom (perhaps all of whom, since without due process how are we to tell?) are as innocent of crimes against our nation as you are.

Perhaps all???

Chiasson may be carrying his anti-Bush paranoia a wee bit far, given that the Gitmo detainees now include such charming characters as Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the mastermind of the 9/11 plot. I have yet to hear even the most ardent critic of the administration suggest that KSM is actually innocent.

But Chiasson seems to be writing from an alternative reality—call it Planet Academia—where the Gitmo detainees are not the world’s most vicious terrorists but, rather, political prisoners of a repressive American regime akin to Stalinist Russia. The only thing he can’t seem to figure is why Amerika, that bastion of fascism, would allow these poor souls to publish their writings: “imagine a volume of Osip Mandelstam’s poetry released by the Soviet government in 1938, or an anthology of poems by Japanese internment prisoners released by our government during the Second World War.” He speculates, rather cunningly, that this might actually be a plot by the U.S. government “to make Guantánamo and our abuses there unfold on an abstract ‘literary’ plane rather than in real life and real time,” and thereby to lessen our horror at what is transpiring behind the prison walls.

For my part, I have trouble figuring out why the Times editors would publish what amounts to a parody of liberal antiwar hysteria. Could it be that the dictator in the White House ordered the Times to run this essay in order to confine the antiwar activists to “an abstract literary plane” and thereby to hold them up to general public ridicule?

Have you been waiting for an American version of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich—a searing account of life in the American Gulag? Well, according to the New York Times Book Review, your wait is over. Rush right out and pick your own copy of Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak.

To be sure, the Times’s reviewer, Wellesley professor Dan Chiasson, admits that the poems may be somewhat lacking in artistic merit. But, hey, he suggests, you gotta make allowances:

It is hard to imagine a reader so hardhearted as to bring aesthetic judgment to bear on a book written by men in prison without legal recourse, several of them held in solitary confinement, some of them likely subjected to practices that many disinterested parties have called torture. You don’t read this book for pleasure; you read it for evidence. And if you are an American citizen you read it for evidence of the violence your government is doing to total strangers in a distant place, some of whom (perhaps all of whom, since without due process how are we to tell?) are as innocent of crimes against our nation as you are.

Perhaps all???

Chiasson may be carrying his anti-Bush paranoia a wee bit far, given that the Gitmo detainees now include such charming characters as Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the mastermind of the 9/11 plot. I have yet to hear even the most ardent critic of the administration suggest that KSM is actually innocent.

But Chiasson seems to be writing from an alternative reality—call it Planet Academia—where the Gitmo detainees are not the world’s most vicious terrorists but, rather, political prisoners of a repressive American regime akin to Stalinist Russia. The only thing he can’t seem to figure is why Amerika, that bastion of fascism, would allow these poor souls to publish their writings: “imagine a volume of Osip Mandelstam’s poetry released by the Soviet government in 1938, or an anthology of poems by Japanese internment prisoners released by our government during the Second World War.” He speculates, rather cunningly, that this might actually be a plot by the U.S. government “to make Guantánamo and our abuses there unfold on an abstract ‘literary’ plane rather than in real life and real time,” and thereby to lessen our horror at what is transpiring behind the prison walls.

For my part, I have trouble figuring out why the Times editors would publish what amounts to a parody of liberal antiwar hysteria. Could it be that the dictator in the White House ordered the Times to run this essay in order to confine the antiwar activists to “an abstract literary plane” and thereby to hold them up to general public ridicule?

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The Long Campaign?

The conventional wisdom during the opening months of the 2008 presidential campaign has been that the campaign has started far too early, leaving us endless months of jockeying that could prove meaningless when the real struggle for the nominations starts.

The problem with this is that it’s no longer true, despite our repetitions of it. Yes, this campaign began earlier than most. Yes, by the time it’s over it will have lasted nearly two years. But we are well into it now, and in some respects this year’s race is actually beginning to fall behind the kind of campaign schedule that has become the norm in the past few decades.

This is especially true when it comes to defining campaign themes and messages, and particularly on the Republican side. Every serious presidential campaign needs at some point to define a candidate’s ambitions in a clear thematic way: to offer a general vision for governing, followed by particular policy proposals. In the 2000 campaign, for instance, George W. Bush ran on a new way to think about how government can work with civic organizations to revitalize civil society and help the poor. Bush laid this out as the vision of his presidential campaign in a major speech in Indianapolis, which really marked the beginning of the substantive stage of the 2000 GOP race; McCain was by then already working out the substance of his “straight talk” theme as well.

Bush’s speech is well worth a read, especially for those conservatives who think they remember what “compassionate conservatism” meant as Bush originally used it, or who want to apply the term to everything they haven’t liked about the Bush years. But the most striking thing about the speech may be the date of its delivery: July 22, 1999. More than eight years ago; earlier in that election cycle than we are now in ours. The Democratic candidates this year have begun to do some of this kind of the thematic and substantive work—Edwards and Obama, in particular. But neither the serious Republican contenders nor Hillary Clinton (so in other words none of the people likely to be elected President) have really done anything like this yet. All have given some policy speeches, yes, and some have released what passes for specific policy proposals here and there, but none have really offered an overarching definition of themselves in terms of a vision of governing, or of purpose.

Perhaps Fred Thompson, who brings less of a personal story and less political experience to bear than most others, plans to introduce himself this way, and run on an idea rather than on…whatever it is that the current crop of Republicans is running on. It is no longer too early to be seriously running for President in 2008. It is beginning to be too late.

The conventional wisdom during the opening months of the 2008 presidential campaign has been that the campaign has started far too early, leaving us endless months of jockeying that could prove meaningless when the real struggle for the nominations starts.

The problem with this is that it’s no longer true, despite our repetitions of it. Yes, this campaign began earlier than most. Yes, by the time it’s over it will have lasted nearly two years. But we are well into it now, and in some respects this year’s race is actually beginning to fall behind the kind of campaign schedule that has become the norm in the past few decades.

This is especially true when it comes to defining campaign themes and messages, and particularly on the Republican side. Every serious presidential campaign needs at some point to define a candidate’s ambitions in a clear thematic way: to offer a general vision for governing, followed by particular policy proposals. In the 2000 campaign, for instance, George W. Bush ran on a new way to think about how government can work with civic organizations to revitalize civil society and help the poor. Bush laid this out as the vision of his presidential campaign in a major speech in Indianapolis, which really marked the beginning of the substantive stage of the 2000 GOP race; McCain was by then already working out the substance of his “straight talk” theme as well.

Bush’s speech is well worth a read, especially for those conservatives who think they remember what “compassionate conservatism” meant as Bush originally used it, or who want to apply the term to everything they haven’t liked about the Bush years. But the most striking thing about the speech may be the date of its delivery: July 22, 1999. More than eight years ago; earlier in that election cycle than we are now in ours. The Democratic candidates this year have begun to do some of this kind of the thematic and substantive work—Edwards and Obama, in particular. But neither the serious Republican contenders nor Hillary Clinton (so in other words none of the people likely to be elected President) have really done anything like this yet. All have given some policy speeches, yes, and some have released what passes for specific policy proposals here and there, but none have really offered an overarching definition of themselves in terms of a vision of governing, or of purpose.

Perhaps Fred Thompson, who brings less of a personal story and less political experience to bear than most others, plans to introduce himself this way, and run on an idea rather than on…whatever it is that the current crop of Republicans is running on. It is no longer too early to be seriously running for President in 2008. It is beginning to be too late.

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Book Review: In the Ruins of Empire

More than six decades after the end of World War II, Asia continues to grapple with the legacy of war. Unlike in Europe, where countries have attempted to create a new set of norms and institutions designed to link them ever more closely together, Asia in many ways seems stuck in history, revisiting old wounds and squabbling over the same territory. In his compelling new history of the aftermath of war in the Pacific, In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia (Random House, $27.95), Ronald Spector argues that the region’s future was largely determined in the year after the Japanese surrender, and was doomed primarily by the misguided and unrealistic attempts of the victorious Western allies to impose order on the chaos unleashed by Japan’s surrender and abandonment of its occupied territories. Washington spent much of the cold war dealing with the resulting instability.

Certainly in comparison to Europe, postwar Asia seemed almost incomprehensibly complex. Moreover, as Washington grappled with creating a pax Americana, Asia appeared less strategically important than Europe, in part because nothing like the specter of all-out conflagration hung over the region, and in part due to the absence of ethnic connection to the Atlantic world. And yet at the same time, while the cold war certainly affected Asia, causing extensive destruction in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, the region’s nations were spared Europe’s draining twilight struggle.

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More than six decades after the end of World War II, Asia continues to grapple with the legacy of war. Unlike in Europe, where countries have attempted to create a new set of norms and institutions designed to link them ever more closely together, Asia in many ways seems stuck in history, revisiting old wounds and squabbling over the same territory. In his compelling new history of the aftermath of war in the Pacific, In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia (Random House, $27.95), Ronald Spector argues that the region’s future was largely determined in the year after the Japanese surrender, and was doomed primarily by the misguided and unrealistic attempts of the victorious Western allies to impose order on the chaos unleashed by Japan’s surrender and abandonment of its occupied territories. Washington spent much of the cold war dealing with the resulting instability.

Certainly in comparison to Europe, postwar Asia seemed almost incomprehensibly complex. Moreover, as Washington grappled with creating a pax Americana, Asia appeared less strategically important than Europe, in part because nothing like the specter of all-out conflagration hung over the region, and in part due to the absence of ethnic connection to the Atlantic world. And yet at the same time, while the cold war certainly affected Asia, causing extensive destruction in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, the region’s nations were spared Europe’s draining twilight struggle.

American and European policymakers found themselves at odds over what to do with Asia almost as soon as the Japanese surrendered. For Americans, the basic template they applied to Europe—liberalism versus Communism—quickly dominated their thinking. The potential loss of China was contrasted with the success of a democratizing Japan, while naked aggression by North Korea against the South in 1950 would be repulsed as the front line in the struggle against Communism in Asia. The British, French, and Dutch tenuously sought to recreate their prewar spheres of influence and control. Both the Americans and Europeans, however, found themselves enmeshed in the quicksand of the numerous liberation movements, revived ethnic conflicts, and simple power struggles that erupted throughout the region, from Indonesia to the Korean peninsula.

Best known for his classic one-volume history of the Pacific War, Eagle Against the Sun, Spector here turns his gaze on the confused conditions prevailing immediately after Tokyo’s surrender in August 1945. Noting that the traditional historical narrative assumes that the end of war meant the end of fighting and the spontaneous regeneration of order, Spector argues that the post-World War II “peace” in Asia was the continuation of war under another name (with, in some cases, fiercer fighting than during the war). His book, inasmuch as it tells this story, neatly complements John Dower’s Embracing Defeat, which tells a similarly revisionist tale of the U.S. occupation of Japan. Both works give primary importance to the mistakes, failures, and naiveté of the so-called victorious powers; both assert that domestic players and local conditions truly created postwar Asia.

The central dynamic in Spector’s story is the disintegration of empire—that of wartime Japan, and the feeble attempts at reconstituting the empires of prewar Europe. The Japanese had erected an ideological scaffolding of colonial liberation over their wartime occupation of most of Asia. They justified their brutal control over China and Korea with the goal of creating a new Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The conditions the Japanese had faced quickly transferred to the victors. In some areas of Japanese control, such as in China, occupation overlay an existing condition of civil war. In Indochina, Japanese troops fought rebels, like Ho Chi Minh, who were experienced in combating European powers. The pre-1937 dynamics continued into the postwar period, and were realized fully in China: stabilizing Chiang Kai-shek became Washington’s primary Asian policy. Spector’s first three chapters cover well-trodden ground, emphasizing the incompatibility of America’s attempt to act as an honest broker between the Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s Communists with its effort to secure Chiang’s victory. (Not even the great George Marshall could square that circle.)

That, indeed, is the leitmotif of Spector’s book: the basic inability of the Allied powers to adjust to the realities on the ground. Wishful thinking and good intentions proved no match for unleashed nationalist passions, as Spector’s subsequent chapters show. In Malaya, for example, the British attempt to reassert control lasted less than a year, until April 1946. The ineffective British Military Administration proved helpless in the face of intense ethnic strife between Chinese and Malays, in which Communists and mystical Islamic movements all contributed to chaos and bloodletting. Nor were the Allies above using their erstwhile enemies, the Japanese, thousands of whom were enrolled to fight rebels and Communists; for these soldiers, too, the end of war did not bring about the end of fighting. Spector condemns in particular the French and Dutch (as well as the rapacious Soviets), whose violent and stubborn attempts to reconstitute prewar empires in Indochina and Indonesia, respectively, led to widespread atrocities and scuttled any possibility of reaching some type of negotiated settlements among the parties. The particular tragedy of Vietnam, where the anti-colonial animus of the Americans was subordinated to supporting a European ally, underscores Spector’s analysis of the irreconcilable tensions in U.S. Asian policy.

What also emerges with crystal clarity from Spector’s account is the importance of personalities. Bucking the trend among professional academics, Spector shows that individuals count, and in some cases were the deciding elements in the paths their countries took. Not only well-known figures such as Mao and Ho, but equally important leaders in Indonesia and Korea, who frustrated European and American plans, and labored to realize their own visions.

Given the rich history of post-1947 Asia, one might be dissatisfied with the limited chronological scope of Spector’s book. The pivotal events in the region all happened after 1947, and none of them was foreordained. In that respect, it is impossible to judge whether Spector’s assertion—that the vacuum of the immediate postwar months set the path for the following decades—is accurate or overstated. Moreover, strained comparisons between postwar Asia and postwar Iraq, which read like afterthoughts, fail as attempts to make the book somehow more timely or relevant. As his fluid prose and thorough archival research show, telling the story of the battle for postwar Asia needs no justification.

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Israel and the U.N.

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, plans to turn itself into the U.N. General Assembly for a few moments next November, when it will reenact the fateful November 29, 1947 U.N. General Assembly vote. Israeli officials hope to have the U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, preside over the ceremonial reenactment, alongside the representatives of the original 33 nations who supported the vote.

In two weeks, the European Parliament is also going to play host to U.N.-sponsored, Israel-related activities—this time of a different sort. Then, the EP’s gates will open to welcome, for two days, a “conference” organized by the so-called “Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People,” or CEI. Lest there be any confusion, the CEI is a relic of the cold war; it was established by U.N. General Assembly Resolution 3376 in 1975, alongside the infamous Resolution 3379, which stipulated “Zionism is a form of racism.” 3379 was repealed, but CEI lives on, in its own parallel universe of hatred.

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Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, plans to turn itself into the U.N. General Assembly for a few moments next November, when it will reenact the fateful November 29, 1947 U.N. General Assembly vote. Israeli officials hope to have the U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, preside over the ceremonial reenactment, alongside the representatives of the original 33 nations who supported the vote.

In two weeks, the European Parliament is also going to play host to U.N.-sponsored, Israel-related activities—this time of a different sort. Then, the EP’s gates will open to welcome, for two days, a “conference” organized by the so-called “Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People,” or CEI. Lest there be any confusion, the CEI is a relic of the cold war; it was established by U.N. General Assembly Resolution 3376 in 1975, alongside the infamous Resolution 3379, which stipulated “Zionism is a form of racism.” 3379 was repealed, but CEI lives on, in its own parallel universe of hatred.

The upcoming conference in Brussels reflects this highly partisan, biased, anti-Israel spirit, as well as the organizational hypocrisy of such international forums, where onesidedness is coated in neutral language. Thus, the conference title is “United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace” and the theme is “Civil society and parliamentarians working together for Middle East peace.” Rest assured, though—its participants will whistle a very different tune.

The speakers are vetted to prevent anyone from airing anything but the party line. Among the Israelis apparently invited to attend (the highly secretive program does not list names yet) are, for example, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, Michel Warschawski, and Amira Hass.

Nurit Peled-Elhanan is a peace activist and one of the founders of the Bereaved Families for Peace. After Elhanan’s thirteen-year-old daughter died in 1997, Elhanan became an outspoken critic of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza; she has said that in Israel, “People are either Jews or non-Jews, and it doesn’t matter what they are if they are non-us.” Michel Warschawski is a journalist who writes frequently for extreme left-wing European magazines. Amira Hass writes for the daily newspaper Ha’aretz, and is known for reporting from the Palestinian perspective.

These are interesting speakers, no doubt, but they do not accurately represent Israeli civil society or Israel’s parliament. They speak for themselves and the Palestinian viewpoint, which they have all preached heartily.

All of this and more will take place in less than two weeks, courtesy of the European Parliament and Europe’s taxpayers, who bear the burden of its running costs. So far, only Polish parliamentary members have spoken against the event, announcing they will boycott it for its slanted nature and the harm it will do to the cause of peace. Kudos to the Polish delegation, then, for standing up against the CEI’s abuse of the prestigious platform. It is unfortunate, though, that so far only one of 27 members has spoken against the event, and that an official representative of the Parliament is listed among the speakers for the opening session (alongside a representative from “Palestine,” but not one from Israel).

It is perhaps too much to expect the European Parliament to withdraw its sponsorship of this partisan event, whose aim is everything but the goal its title describes. As for the U.N., let’s just hope there is no scheduling conflict, and that on November 29, U.N. Secretary General Ban, who was already at the opening annual session of CEI last February, will be in Jerusalem, and not at one of the many Israel-bashing events CEI no doubt plans to hold on that day in New York, Geneva, or Vienna.

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Giuliani’s Weak Spot?

It’s not easy for a thrice-divorced Catholic mayor with a penchant for drag and a pro-choice, pro-immigration, and pro-gun control record to become the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Then again, it’s not easy to attack that candidate as your typical, sinister, white guy in a suit, either.

For months, the liberal press has stood back, expecting either that Rudy Giuliani would self-destruct—as he did in his aborted 2000 senate campaign, when he entered into a nasty, high-profile divorce, crashed on the couch of gay friends, and publicly discussed the effects of his cancer treatments on his sex life—or that Republicans would disavow him once they learned more about his personal life and political views. When it comes to his 9/11 performance, though, Giuliani’s foes have barely touched on what just may be the most vulnerable part of his record.

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It’s not easy for a thrice-divorced Catholic mayor with a penchant for drag and a pro-choice, pro-immigration, and pro-gun control record to become the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Then again, it’s not easy to attack that candidate as your typical, sinister, white guy in a suit, either.

For months, the liberal press has stood back, expecting either that Rudy Giuliani would self-destruct—as he did in his aborted 2000 senate campaign, when he entered into a nasty, high-profile divorce, crashed on the couch of gay friends, and publicly discussed the effects of his cancer treatments on his sex life—or that Republicans would disavow him once they learned more about his personal life and political views. When it comes to his 9/11 performance, though, Giuliani’s foes have barely touched on what just may be the most vulnerable part of his record.

When Giuliani announced his candidacy last November, the DNC responded with a press release attacking Giuliani for being…too left-wing—he was once a registered Democrat, he opposed the partial-birth abortion ban and some of Bush’s tax cuts, and he supported gay rights. In an editorial, the New York Sun remarked, “Mr. Giuliani may want to keep this press release on file for use in a general election campaign…. ‘Even the Democratic National Committee says I am pro-choice,’ Mr. Giuliani is going to be able to tell Democrats and independent voters.”

The incoherence of the DNC press release (which also attacked Giuliani for being too right-wing!) helped the candidate survive a choppy, ill-prepared launch, in which he stumbled badly while answering easy questions about abortion, the Terri Schiavo affair, and the various ethics and corruption scandals involving his former police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, which came out after President Bush nominated Kerik for Secretary of Homeland Security. Before these mistakes could crystallize into a defining moment, though, Giuliani righted the ship. That said, his critics on the Left continue to miss the mark in their hunt to bring down the Republican with the most appeal to Democratic and independent voters.

Consider three recent critiques of the candidate. In the New Yorker, a remarkably long—sixteen pages and nearly 15,000 words—and meandering profile by Peter J. Boyer offers a too-cute-by-half inversion of the newly outdated conventional wisdom that the South will bring down Giuliani as it did McCain in 2000. After a thinly-sourced accounting of how Giuliani’s contentious style rubbed many New Yorkers the wrong way, the article reaches the conclusion that, as one second-tier critic of the mayor puts it, “All the things that a lot of New Yorkers, myself included, hate about this guy are the things that are actually fuelling his campaign.” Thousands of words into what’s effectively a sanctioned hit focused on how Giuliani alienated New Yorkers, Boyer correctly concludes that this alienation may be a political asset, and certainly does no harm.

Still less effective is the cover story of the August issue of Harper’s, “A Fate Worse Than Bush,” by the superb historical novelist Kevin Smith. It’s a nine-page complaint about how in the “new politics, the candidate is everything” (how this differs from the old politics escapes me). Smith claims that Giuliani governed through “regular authoritarian gestures” and “achieved almost nothing of significance.” As in the New Yorker piece, there’s plenty at which the self-satisfied can nod knowingly, but nothing of worth for those still considering their decision, let alone the writers and operatives looking to craft a compelling critique of Giuliani.

The one attack with some teeth comes from Village Voice political reporter Wayne Barrett, the legendary digger who’s long played Ahab to the mayor’s white whale. In “Rudy Giuliani’s Five Big Lies About 9/11,” the cover story of last week’s Voice, Barrett launches a lengthy, and at points compelling, attack on the mayor’s 9/11 record. Most resonant is Barrett’s well-documented claim that Giuliani did little to protect the health and safety of first responders, who, at an alarming rate, are being diagnosed with cancer and various rare illness.

As previously noted in these pages, Giuliani’s decision to focus on 9/11 and neglect the rest of his accomplishments as mayor leaves him highly vulnerable to an effective assault on his record in the days and months following the terrorist attack. It’s a danger from which he attempted to insulate himself with his claim earlier this week that “I was at Ground Zero as often, if not more, than most of the workers…. I was there working with them. I was exposed to exactly the same things they were exposed to.” First responders and political foes pounced on the statement, for which Giuliani quickly apologized.

It was a rare misstep from his increasingly disciplined campaign, but it was a dangerous one—there’s little doubt that the health issues swirling around first responders will become a national story before the campaign is over. While this story will also hurt Clinton and Bloomberg to some extent, it’s Giuliani who has the most to lose should his image as a heroic responder be tarnished.

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Giuliani vs. Edwards

Rudolph Giuliani has acquired a reputation as a tough terrorist-fighter, but he hasn’t sketched out a comprehensive vision of his foreign policy—until now. The new issue of Foreign Affairs features an essay, “Toward a Realistic Peace,” which lays out his agenda.

(Before proceeding further, a couple of disclosures are in order: First, Foreign Affairs is published by the Council on Foreign Relations, where I work, though I have no say in its content. Second, I’ve offered foreign policy advice to Giuliani. But assuming you’re not bothered by those incestuous relationships, read on.)

The title, with its invocation of “realism,” which is used by so many to bludgeon President Bush’s policies, might raise hackles among some contentions readers. But never fear. Giuliani is most definitely not making a plea for realpolitik of the kind that Brent Scowcroft might endorse. In fact, he says: “A realistic peace is not a peace to be achieved by embracing the ‘realist’ school of foreign-policy thought. That doctrine defines America’s interests too narrowly and avoids attempts to reform the international system according to our values.” Instead of eschewing idealism, Giuliani pledges to pursue it, well, realistically: “Idealism should define our ultimate goals; realism must help us recognize the road we must travel to achieve them.”

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Rudolph Giuliani has acquired a reputation as a tough terrorist-fighter, but he hasn’t sketched out a comprehensive vision of his foreign policy—until now. The new issue of Foreign Affairs features an essay, “Toward a Realistic Peace,” which lays out his agenda.

(Before proceeding further, a couple of disclosures are in order: First, Foreign Affairs is published by the Council on Foreign Relations, where I work, though I have no say in its content. Second, I’ve offered foreign policy advice to Giuliani. But assuming you’re not bothered by those incestuous relationships, read on.)

The title, with its invocation of “realism,” which is used by so many to bludgeon President Bush’s policies, might raise hackles among some contentions readers. But never fear. Giuliani is most definitely not making a plea for realpolitik of the kind that Brent Scowcroft might endorse. In fact, he says: “A realistic peace is not a peace to be achieved by embracing the ‘realist’ school of foreign-policy thought. That doctrine defines America’s interests too narrowly and avoids attempts to reform the international system according to our values.” Instead of eschewing idealism, Giuliani pledges to pursue it, well, realistically: “Idealism should define our ultimate goals; realism must help us recognize the road we must travel to achieve them.”

What does that mean in practice? Giuliani calls for an unapologetic war on “radical Islamic fascism,” which means, first of all, victory in Afghanistan and Iraq (“the emergence of stable governments and societies”), but also much more. Among other proposals, Giuliani suggests: increasing the size of the army (by “a minimum of ten new combat brigades,” or about 40,000 troops, beyond the increase of 40,000 or so troops already in the pipeline); deploying a national missile defense; expanding counterproliferation programs; and increasing support for public diplomacy and foreign broadcasting. Giuliani also offers a proposal near and dear to my heart—creating a new nation-building agency, a Stabilization and Reconstruction Corps, which would be “staffed by specially trained military and civilian reservists.”

Giuliani professes himself ready to negotiate with Iran, but also to walk away from talks if they don’t produce results. He also warns: “The theocrats ruling Iran need to understand that we can wield the stick as well as the carrot, by undermining popular support for their regime, damaging the Iranian economy, weakening Iran’s military, and, should all else fail, destroying its nuclear infrastructure.”

Perhaps the most newsworthy aspect of the article is Giuliani’s call for expanding NATO membership far beyond Europe: “We should open the organization’s membership to any state that meets basic standards of good governance, military readiness, and global responsibility, regardless of its location. The new NATO should dedicate itself to confronting significant threats to the international system, from territorial aggression to terrorism.” This proposal heads in the same direction as John McCain’s call for a League of Democracies. I’m agnostic about which is the better path, but the imperative to create alternative multilateral structures outside the U.N. is clear, and Giuliani’s endorsement of a global NATO is an interesting development.

By contrast, John Edwards’s article in the same issue of Foreign Affairs is filled with pure pablum that will be familiar to anyone who recalls the Kerry campaign. He calls for a “strategy of reengagement” with the world, and even advocates greater military intervention in Darfur, at the same time that he advocates disengagement from Iraq, the central front in the war on terrorism. He even calls the “war on terror” “a bumper sticker, not a plan.” Actually, Edwards favors bumper stickers himself, writing, at one point, “we need substance, not slogans.”The only part of Edwards’s essay that struck a chord with me was his endorsement of an expanded nation-building capacity similar to that outlined by Giuliani. Edwards calls his version the “Marshall Corps” (a good name), and says it “will consist of at least 10,000 civilian experts who could be deployed abroad to serve in reconstruction, stabilization, and humanitarian missions.” At least that’s one area where there seems to be some bipartisan consensus.

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Brooke Astor, R.I.P.

Brooke Astor, “Aristocrat of the People,” as her Times obituary labeled her, died Monday afternoon at the ripe age of 105. She will be missed sorely by a city that loved her, and that she loved back.

Taking a stroll in any of the city’s five boroughs, it is unlikely that one could avoid noticing some park, tenement, library or other institution that Mrs. Astor’s generosity had not touched.

Hopefully a very public, and very ugly, fight will not erupt over Mrs. Astor’s will. Her son, Anthony Marshall, made headlines for allegedly stealing priceless art work from Astor’s apartment and leaving his own mother in a state of egregiously poor care. He was sued by his own son, Philip, who secured affidavits from a host of New York dignitaries (Henry Kissinger, Annette de la Renta, David Rockefeller) to protect his grandmother’s safety. Marshall and his wife, as part of a settlement in which they would not have to admit guilt, agreed to give up their roles as co-executors of Mrs. Astor’s estate.

Everyone who has enjoyed the cultural blessings that New York City has to offer owes a debt of gratitude to Brooke Astor. Perhaps her greatest contribution was not Astor Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Astor Hall at the New York Public Library, or the windows she paid to install at a nursing home on Riverside Drive, but the example she set of private philanthropy for the betterment of her fellow citizens.

Brooke Astor, “Aristocrat of the People,” as her Times obituary labeled her, died Monday afternoon at the ripe age of 105. She will be missed sorely by a city that loved her, and that she loved back.

Taking a stroll in any of the city’s five boroughs, it is unlikely that one could avoid noticing some park, tenement, library or other institution that Mrs. Astor’s generosity had not touched.

Hopefully a very public, and very ugly, fight will not erupt over Mrs. Astor’s will. Her son, Anthony Marshall, made headlines for allegedly stealing priceless art work from Astor’s apartment and leaving his own mother in a state of egregiously poor care. He was sued by his own son, Philip, who secured affidavits from a host of New York dignitaries (Henry Kissinger, Annette de la Renta, David Rockefeller) to protect his grandmother’s safety. Marshall and his wife, as part of a settlement in which they would not have to admit guilt, agreed to give up their roles as co-executors of Mrs. Astor’s estate.

Everyone who has enjoyed the cultural blessings that New York City has to offer owes a debt of gratitude to Brooke Astor. Perhaps her greatest contribution was not Astor Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Astor Hall at the New York Public Library, or the windows she paid to install at a nursing home on Riverside Drive, but the example she set of private philanthropy for the betterment of her fellow citizens.

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A New Bomber?

The National Journal has an interesting article in the current issue on “The Air Force’s Next Bomber,” by Sydney Freedberg. Unfortunately, it’s not available for free online. (For the paid version, see here). But the gist is that the Air Force, after years of pressure from Congress and political appointees in the Department of Defense, reluctantly has agreed to begin developing a new bomber by 2018. Yet many analysts doubt whether the Air Force is serious.

To an outsider this might seem like a head-scratcher. Why wouldn’t the Air Force want a new airplane? The need for a new bomber seems clear given that, of the current bomber fleet of 180 aircraft, more than half are B-52’s that were last built in 1962. They still perform admirably, but it’s not clear how much longer we can continue to rely for our defense on aircraft that are older than the pilots. Yet the Air Force hasn’t been planning to get any more bombers for decades—not until 2037, when the B-52 turns 75. (Would you drive a 75-year-old car?) The last addition to its bomber fleet was the B-2 stealth bomber, of which it now has 21, the last having arrived in 1997.

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The National Journal has an interesting article in the current issue on “The Air Force’s Next Bomber,” by Sydney Freedberg. Unfortunately, it’s not available for free online. (For the paid version, see here). But the gist is that the Air Force, after years of pressure from Congress and political appointees in the Department of Defense, reluctantly has agreed to begin developing a new bomber by 2018. Yet many analysts doubt whether the Air Force is serious.

To an outsider this might seem like a head-scratcher. Why wouldn’t the Air Force want a new airplane? The need for a new bomber seems clear given that, of the current bomber fleet of 180 aircraft, more than half are B-52’s that were last built in 1962. They still perform admirably, but it’s not clear how much longer we can continue to rely for our defense on aircraft that are older than the pilots. Yet the Air Force hasn’t been planning to get any more bombers for decades—not until 2037, when the B-52 turns 75. (Would you drive a 75-year-old car?) The last addition to its bomber fleet was the B-2 stealth bomber, of which it now has 21, the last having arrived in 1997.

All of the Air Force’s creative energy has been poured into acquiring super-expensive, short-range fighter-bombers—the F-22 and F-35. Both are sexy and fun to fly, but have small bomb capacities and flight ranges. The National Journal notes their limitations in a prospective war with China:

Even from the nearest U.S. bases, in South Korea, the F-22 and the F-35 may well penetrate the outer layers of enemy defenses only to run out of fuel long before they reach any target. Slow, bulky tankers can refuel the short-range fighters in midair, but would never perform this delicate operation in full view of hostile radars. Thus, strike planes must rely on their internal fuel tanks once they enter enemy airspace. The F-22 has an estimated combat radius—the maximum distance it can fly before it must return to base—of 540 nautical miles; the still-in-development F-35 will be slightly better, at about 633 miles. Either fighter could hit, say, Tehran from bases in Kuwait, or Beijing from South Korea. But if U.S. allies balked, or if the bases came under fire, or if, in China’s case, key targets were hidden deep in Central Asia—like the Xichang space facility from which China test-launched an anti-satellite missile in January—the fighters would simply run out of gas.

By contrast, the article notes, the B-2 has a combat radius of 3,000 miles. During the Kosovo conflict, B-2’s flew all the way to Belgrade from Missouri and back without ever landing (but with multiple in-flight refuelings). So why doesn’t the Air Force want more bombers like the B-2?

The service advances plenty of arguments for its preference, but none is particularly convincing. More germane may be a fact noted by the National Journal: “Nearly half of all Air Force generals are fighter pilots, but less than 5 percent have bomber backgrounds.”

This is one case where it’s imperative that civilian leaders not defer to the preferences of the uniformed services. The Air Force needs more bombers—and more UAV’s (unmanned aerial vehicles)—even if it’s not what the fighter jocks prefer.

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Japan’s Bad Memories

“Japan caused great damage and pain to people in many countries, especially in Asia,” Shinzo Abe said yesterday. “With a strong sense of regret, I express my sympathy to these victims on behalf of the people of Japan.” On the 62nd anniversary of Tokyo’s surrender in World War II, Japan’s Prime Minister paid his respects at a secular memorial. Yet he did not visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war dead.

Some criticized him for not doing so. About ten sound trucks showed up in front of the prime minister’s residence blasting nationalist slogans and labeling Abe “a traitor to the Japanese people.” Abe stayed away from Yasukuni in an effort to avoid triggering protests in Asia, and to keep relations with the region on track. Beijing and Seoul, in particular, have been upset by the regular visits to Yasukuni by Junichiro Koizumi, Abe’s immediate predecessor. (Koizumi, incidentally, visited the controversial Shinto shrine yesterday, greeted with shouts of “Banzai!” from his supporters.)

Analysts will undoubtedly pore over yesterday’s events in Tokyo. Many worry about rising nationalism in Japan. Even Abe, who has devoted much of his short tenure to soothing relations with neighbors, has worked to institute patriotic education and strengthen Japan’s military. He has also triggered controversy this year by making comments absolving the Japanese government and military for sexual slavery during the war. China, for its part, has authorized a new round of commemorations of the Nanjing Massacre, in which, beginning in December 1937, tens of thousands of Chinese civilians (if not more) were slaughtered by Japanese troops. If Koizumi replaces the unpopular Abe, as some Liberal Democratic Party stalwarts want, we will undoubtedly see a new round of Yasukuni visits—and protests around Asia.

Tokyo and Moscow have never formally signed a peace treaty with each other to end World War II. Even if they do so—not likely, due to ongoing disputes over islands that Soviet troops grabbed at the end of the conflict—it does not appear that the war in Asia will be over anytime soon.

“Japan caused great damage and pain to people in many countries, especially in Asia,” Shinzo Abe said yesterday. “With a strong sense of regret, I express my sympathy to these victims on behalf of the people of Japan.” On the 62nd anniversary of Tokyo’s surrender in World War II, Japan’s Prime Minister paid his respects at a secular memorial. Yet he did not visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war dead.

Some criticized him for not doing so. About ten sound trucks showed up in front of the prime minister’s residence blasting nationalist slogans and labeling Abe “a traitor to the Japanese people.” Abe stayed away from Yasukuni in an effort to avoid triggering protests in Asia, and to keep relations with the region on track. Beijing and Seoul, in particular, have been upset by the regular visits to Yasukuni by Junichiro Koizumi, Abe’s immediate predecessor. (Koizumi, incidentally, visited the controversial Shinto shrine yesterday, greeted with shouts of “Banzai!” from his supporters.)

Analysts will undoubtedly pore over yesterday’s events in Tokyo. Many worry about rising nationalism in Japan. Even Abe, who has devoted much of his short tenure to soothing relations with neighbors, has worked to institute patriotic education and strengthen Japan’s military. He has also triggered controversy this year by making comments absolving the Japanese government and military for sexual slavery during the war. China, for its part, has authorized a new round of commemorations of the Nanjing Massacre, in which, beginning in December 1937, tens of thousands of Chinese civilians (if not more) were slaughtered by Japanese troops. If Koizumi replaces the unpopular Abe, as some Liberal Democratic Party stalwarts want, we will undoubtedly see a new round of Yasukuni visits—and protests around Asia.

Tokyo and Moscow have never formally signed a peace treaty with each other to end World War II. Even if they do so—not likely, due to ongoing disputes over islands that Soviet troops grabbed at the end of the conflict—it does not appear that the war in Asia will be over anytime soon.

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A Visit to the Dentist on 9/11

At 9 AM on Sept 11 2001, I was at my dentist’s office on New York’s east side getting my teeth cleaned. I already knew that a plane had plowed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center, although I had no idea it was anything but a horrible accident. But rumors and reports were coming in as I sat in the dentist’s chair. When I heard that the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol had also both been hit by aircraft, I pulled the paraphernalia out of my mouth, got up, ran out, and returned to COMMENTARY’s office nearby to watch the action unfold on television.

Many things happened over the ensuing days. One of the more mundane ones was my return, a week later, to my dentist’s office. Two things stand out from that visit.

My dentist, like a great many other Americans, was in a state of outrage. “Nuke’em all” was what he said, and his favored target was Saddam Hussein. In the six years since I’ve seen him twice annually, and, because he tends to lecture me about politics—he is an avid Left-liberal—as he is working on me and I can’t immediately reply, I have had occasion afterward to remind him of what he said after 9/11. He affects to have forgotten. The only person he wants to nuke today is George W. Bush.

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At 9 AM on Sept 11 2001, I was at my dentist’s office on New York’s east side getting my teeth cleaned. I already knew that a plane had plowed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center, although I had no idea it was anything but a horrible accident. But rumors and reports were coming in as I sat in the dentist’s chair. When I heard that the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol had also both been hit by aircraft, I pulled the paraphernalia out of my mouth, got up, ran out, and returned to COMMENTARY’s office nearby to watch the action unfold on television.

Many things happened over the ensuing days. One of the more mundane ones was my return, a week later, to my dentist’s office. Two things stand out from that visit.

My dentist, like a great many other Americans, was in a state of outrage. “Nuke’em all” was what he said, and his favored target was Saddam Hussein. In the six years since I’ve seen him twice annually, and, because he tends to lecture me about politics—he is an avid Left-liberal—as he is working on me and I can’t immediately reply, I have had occasion afterward to remind him of what he said after 9/11. He affects to have forgotten. The only person he wants to nuke today is George W. Bush.

The other equally pertinent memory of my post-9/11 visit is the story my dentist told me on that day. On 9/12, it seems, a team of federal agents had descended on his office and asked permission to set up shop there. Directly across the street, on the same floor, was (and is) the Islamic Society of Manhattan. The feds, he told me, installed a ton of equipment in his office, some of which seemed to be able to peer through walls.

Whether that was really what the agents were doing and whether they had a warrant for it, I do not know. But the issue of U.S. counterterrorism agents peering through walls is now very much a live one. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal reported that the full panoply of foreign-intelligence collection systems is going to be made available to domestic law-enforcement and counterterrorism agencies. Some of the equipment that will now come on line can indeed peer through walls and do other fancy things. This is welcome, even overdue, but there are legitimate privacy issues that need to be addressed.

The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” Is the use of electronic equipment to peer through walls without a warrant an “unreasonable” search? It would appear so—or at least this is how the United States Supreme Court ruled in case involving the use of electronic equipment to monitor excess heat coming from the home of a suspected marijuana dealer.

In Kyllo, Justices Stevens, Rehnquist, O’Connor, and Kennedy dissented. But Justice Scalia wrote the majority opinion holding that when the government “uses a device that is not in general public use, to explore details of the home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a ‘search’ and is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant.” Of course, the Islamic Society of Manhattan is not a “home” but an institution and different rules apply.

We will be hearing a great deal about Kyllo in the days to come. It was decided on June 11, 2001. How would the Justices have ruled, one wonders, exactly four months later?

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Be A Divider, Not A Uniter

Yesterday’s Washington Post reported that Senator Barack Obama claims he can move the country out of “ideological gridlock” and bring the country together more effectively than can Senator Hillary Clinton. This declaration is consistent with Obama’s broader claim, which is that he will put an end to “polarizing politics.”

Obama is attempting to tap into something real, which is the reluctance on the part of many Americans to be drawn back into the psychodramas of the Clinton years: Ken Starr and Kathleen Willey; private investigators hired to look into the private lives of women alleged to have had affairs with Bill Clinton; the (still-resonating) charge of a “vast right-wing conspiracy”; and the brass-knuckle tactics of James Carville, Paul Begala, Sidney Blumenthal, and others. Most of us would like that chapter of American politics to stay closed.

At the same time, the claim that a divided America is somehow “bad” is itself intellectually sloppy. Most of us prefer social harmony to discord—but unity is not the only, or even the highest good in politics. Was there a more divisive and reviled president than Lincoln, who uprooted the centuries-old institution of slavery? The biographer Robert Jackson wrote that after Franklin Roosevelt had been in office for a brief period, “the lines began to separate between those in whom he inspired an all-out devotion and those in whom he aroused an implacable hatred.” Martin Luther King, Jr. was “the object of bitter hatred.” And in 1984 the pollster Lou Harris claimed that Ronald Reagan was polarizing the country more than any president since FDR.

“Conviction politicians” are often polarizing because they take ideas seriously and are willing to do battle on their behalf. And often the greatest advances in history come about only after contentious political debates led by brave and, yes, polarizing political leaders.

Yesterday’s Washington Post reported that Senator Barack Obama claims he can move the country out of “ideological gridlock” and bring the country together more effectively than can Senator Hillary Clinton. This declaration is consistent with Obama’s broader claim, which is that he will put an end to “polarizing politics.”

Obama is attempting to tap into something real, which is the reluctance on the part of many Americans to be drawn back into the psychodramas of the Clinton years: Ken Starr and Kathleen Willey; private investigators hired to look into the private lives of women alleged to have had affairs with Bill Clinton; the (still-resonating) charge of a “vast right-wing conspiracy”; and the brass-knuckle tactics of James Carville, Paul Begala, Sidney Blumenthal, and others. Most of us would like that chapter of American politics to stay closed.

At the same time, the claim that a divided America is somehow “bad” is itself intellectually sloppy. Most of us prefer social harmony to discord—but unity is not the only, or even the highest good in politics. Was there a more divisive and reviled president than Lincoln, who uprooted the centuries-old institution of slavery? The biographer Robert Jackson wrote that after Franklin Roosevelt had been in office for a brief period, “the lines began to separate between those in whom he inspired an all-out devotion and those in whom he aroused an implacable hatred.” Martin Luther King, Jr. was “the object of bitter hatred.” And in 1984 the pollster Lou Harris claimed that Ronald Reagan was polarizing the country more than any president since FDR.

“Conviction politicians” are often polarizing because they take ideas seriously and are willing to do battle on their behalf. And often the greatest advances in history come about only after contentious political debates led by brave and, yes, polarizing political leaders.

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Sheehan Agonistes

For a healthy bit of schadenfreude, take a look at this blog post from Katha Pollitt, a columnist for the Nation. It is a plaintive letter begging Cindy Sheehan (the well-known anti-war activist) not to challenge Nancy Pelosi for her seat in Congress.

The appearance, in a major political weekly, of an earnest plea for a flaky anti-war activist not to run against the Speaker of the House may seem journalistically unserious. But this race would not, to put it kindly, help the image of the Democrats nationwide; Pollitt is doubtlessly aware of this. “Instead of showing the Democrats how strong is the threat from the Left, it will show them how weak it is,” she writes. But if someone as nutty as Sheehan did relatively well—say, winning over 30 percent of the vote (hardly an impossibility in San Francisco)—it would look rather bad for the Democrats, and not just for the hard Left.

Pollitt’s lamentations are most amusing because the Nation, after all, has been Sheehan’s most full-throated supporter. Here’s one typical paean to her, published last year. And here’s a piece Sheehan herself wrote for the magazine, in which she tells of her “meeting with the families of children murdered in George Bush’s War of Terror against the world,” and celebrates “being toasted by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingston.”

So it would be ironic to see a Sheehan candidacy that the Nation itself unwittingly launched. No matter how well Sheehan did, such a candidacy would be a lose/lose situation for the different wings of the anti-war Left. But, as the old song goes, “You dance with the one that brung ya.”

For a healthy bit of schadenfreude, take a look at this blog post from Katha Pollitt, a columnist for the Nation. It is a plaintive letter begging Cindy Sheehan (the well-known anti-war activist) not to challenge Nancy Pelosi for her seat in Congress.

The appearance, in a major political weekly, of an earnest plea for a flaky anti-war activist not to run against the Speaker of the House may seem journalistically unserious. But this race would not, to put it kindly, help the image of the Democrats nationwide; Pollitt is doubtlessly aware of this. “Instead of showing the Democrats how strong is the threat from the Left, it will show them how weak it is,” she writes. But if someone as nutty as Sheehan did relatively well—say, winning over 30 percent of the vote (hardly an impossibility in San Francisco)—it would look rather bad for the Democrats, and not just for the hard Left.

Pollitt’s lamentations are most amusing because the Nation, after all, has been Sheehan’s most full-throated supporter. Here’s one typical paean to her, published last year. And here’s a piece Sheehan herself wrote for the magazine, in which she tells of her “meeting with the families of children murdered in George Bush’s War of Terror against the world,” and celebrates “being toasted by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingston.”

So it would be ironic to see a Sheehan candidacy that the Nation itself unwittingly launched. No matter how well Sheehan did, such a candidacy would be a lose/lose situation for the different wings of the anti-war Left. But, as the old song goes, “You dance with the one that brung ya.”

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