Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 2007

No Silver Bullets

The Washington Post has begun running a long series of articles by Rick Atkinson, author of an acclaimed new book about the Italian campaign n World War II, regarding the chief military challenge we face in Iraq: the IED, or improvised explosive device. As the article notes:

IED’s have caused nearly two-thirds of the 3,100 American combat deaths in Iraq, and an even higher proportion of battle wounds. This year alone, through mid-July, they have also resulted in an estimated 11,000 Iraqi civilian casualties and more than 600 deaths among Iraqi security forces.

The Pentagon has poured vast resources into defeating these infernal devices (Atkinson writes that $10 billion has already been spent with another $4.5 billion budgeted in fiscal year 2008), but at most it has managed to stay even with the assailants. That is, even as the number and lethality of IED’s has increased, the number of U.S. casualties has stayed constant. That’s something, but it’s a far cry from the ultimate objective—to cause a decline in U.S. losses.

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The Washington Post has begun running a long series of articles by Rick Atkinson, author of an acclaimed new book about the Italian campaign n World War II, regarding the chief military challenge we face in Iraq: the IED, or improvised explosive device. As the article notes:

IED’s have caused nearly two-thirds of the 3,100 American combat deaths in Iraq, and an even higher proportion of battle wounds. This year alone, through mid-July, they have also resulted in an estimated 11,000 Iraqi civilian casualties and more than 600 deaths among Iraqi security forces.

The Pentagon has poured vast resources into defeating these infernal devices (Atkinson writes that $10 billion has already been spent with another $4.5 billion budgeted in fiscal year 2008), but at most it has managed to stay even with the assailants. That is, even as the number and lethality of IED’s has increased, the number of U.S. casualties has stayed constant. That’s something, but it’s a far cry from the ultimate objective—to cause a decline in U.S. losses.

The failure to make more progress toward that goal illustrates one of the themes of my book, War Made New: Weapons, Warriors, and the Making of the Modern World: that technology seldom confers a lasting advantage in military affairs. What counts is not having the right tools per se, but how you make use of them, and especially whether you can adapt faster than your adversaries. The problem in Iraq is that the nimble, networked terrorists are managing to adapt faster than our lumbering, bureaucratic military. As Atkinson writes:

“Insurgents have shown a cycle of adaptation that is short relative to the ability of U.S. forces to develop and field IED countermeasures,” a National Academy of Sciences paper concluded earlier this year. An American electrical engineer who has worked in Baghdad for more than two years was blunter: “I never really feel like I’m ahead of the game.”

The answer isn’t better technology. It’s better counterinsurgency. That’s what General Petraeus and his troops are finally doing. Too bad it’s taken this long to settle on the appropriate strategy. American servicemen and women have paid a price for our fixation with technological “silver bullets.” Sometimes they simply don’t exist.

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Why Wasn’t Ahmadinejad Arrested?

Under the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stands guilty of incitement to genocide. According to Article 3 of the Convention, both “Conspiracy to commit genocide” and “Direct and public incitement to commit genocide” are “punishable” offenses. Ahmadinejad, in his calls for the destruction of the Jewish state and in his attempt to construct a nuclear weapon to accomplish that genocidal goal, clearly stands in violation of the Article.

So why wasn’t Ahmadinejad arrested this week in New York City? Surely, whatever claim he might have to diplomatic immunity is outweighed by his inarguable violations of a United Nations convention on genocide. Imagine the bloodshed that might have been averted had Hitler been arrested or killed in the 1930′s. This is not to make an out-sized claim in favor of The Great Man Theory of history, which would assert that the Holocaust and World War II could have been averted entirely had Hitler been removed from the scene, or that our problems with Iran would disappear were the same to happen to Ahmadinejad. But apprehending Ahmadinejad and holding him accountable for his crimes would be a step in the right direction.

The call for Ahmadinejad’s arrest came from Dr. Charles Small, Director of the Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Yale University. He lays out the case convincingly and forthrightly:

Given Mr Ahmadinejad’s consistent statements over the years, and in accordance with the Convention, he ought to be arrested and given due process as stipulated in the Convention. This clearly overrides any question regarding free speech. It is myopic to remain focused on some domestic philosophical debate when the facts on the ground violate international law in a flagrant manner. In terms of freedom of speech, Ahmadinejad has conducted many interviews with American and Western media outlets over the years. Unlike in Iran, it is easy for people in the U.S. to access such interviews and video footage of speeches, as well as the text of his policy positions.

Let us hope that we do not rue the day the international community failed in its obligation to arrest this international criminal.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stands guilty of incitement to genocide. According to Article 3 of the Convention, both “Conspiracy to commit genocide” and “Direct and public incitement to commit genocide” are “punishable” offenses. Ahmadinejad, in his calls for the destruction of the Jewish state and in his attempt to construct a nuclear weapon to accomplish that genocidal goal, clearly stands in violation of the Article.

So why wasn’t Ahmadinejad arrested this week in New York City? Surely, whatever claim he might have to diplomatic immunity is outweighed by his inarguable violations of a United Nations convention on genocide. Imagine the bloodshed that might have been averted had Hitler been arrested or killed in the 1930′s. This is not to make an out-sized claim in favor of The Great Man Theory of history, which would assert that the Holocaust and World War II could have been averted entirely had Hitler been removed from the scene, or that our problems with Iran would disappear were the same to happen to Ahmadinejad. But apprehending Ahmadinejad and holding him accountable for his crimes would be a step in the right direction.

The call for Ahmadinejad’s arrest came from Dr. Charles Small, Director of the Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Yale University. He lays out the case convincingly and forthrightly:

Given Mr Ahmadinejad’s consistent statements over the years, and in accordance with the Convention, he ought to be arrested and given due process as stipulated in the Convention. This clearly overrides any question regarding free speech. It is myopic to remain focused on some domestic philosophical debate when the facts on the ground violate international law in a flagrant manner. In terms of freedom of speech, Ahmadinejad has conducted many interviews with American and Western media outlets over the years. Unlike in Iran, it is easy for people in the U.S. to access such interviews and video footage of speeches, as well as the text of his policy positions.

Let us hope that we do not rue the day the international community failed in its obligation to arrest this international criminal.

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Silence as Gesture

The world-famous mime Marcel Marceau (1923-2007), who died this week at 84, was buried on September 26 in Paris’s historic Père-Lachaise cemetery. The previous Grand Rabbi of France, Algerian-born René-Samuel Sirat, read the Kaddish over Marceau’s grave, reminding the modest crowd—France’s Culture Minister Christine Albanel did not even bother to attend—that Marceau “always defined himself as a citizen of the world, with Jewish roots.”

Indeed, he was born Marcel Mangel to a Polish Jewish family in Strasbourg in 1923. His father Charles Mangel, a butcher and amateur baritone who raised pigeons as a hobby, was deported to Auschwitz in 1944, where he was murdered. Young Marcel moved to Limoges and joined the Resistance, specializing in the counterfeiting of identity papers and helping to hide Jewish children from the Nazis. He counterfeited his own identity, choosing the name Marceau from a heroic poem by Victor Hugo in praise of a French Revolutionary general, François-Séverin Marceau.

Retaining his warrior’s name for the rest of his life, Marceau was more of a fighter than the general public—sometimes exasperated by the whimsy of his Chaplinesque flower-carrying character Bip—might perceive. Rabbi Sirat eloquently pointed to Marceau’s wartime experiences as leading him to the art of mime, with its “twin lessons of silence and gestures.” After D-Day, Marceau joined the French Army commanded by Marshal de Lattre de Tassigny, and only became a full-time performer after the Armistice. Interestingly, he chose among his first teachers the exceptional actor—and notorious collaborator with the wartime Nazi occupant—Charles Dullin.

By 1948, Marceau had established his own theater company, and his character Bip was born, named, according to Marceau, after the character Pip in Dickens’ Great Expectation. Bip is recalled for quaintly chasing butterflies and walking against the wind (a routine Michael Jackson admitted to ripping off in order to stage his own meaningless moonwalk). Bip at times expressed an inner violence, as in his early pantomime, “The Murderer,” which Marceau described as inspired by Raskolnikov, the murderer in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Marceau also claimed this mimed violence conveyed his own desire to “boot the Germans out of France.” When I myself met Marceau some fifteen years ago for an interview at the Espace Pierre-Cardin in Paris, he already seemed travel-worn, although, until very recently, he adamantly maintained a grueling international schedule of tours, with over 200 annual performances.
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The world-famous mime Marcel Marceau (1923-2007), who died this week at 84, was buried on September 26 in Paris’s historic Père-Lachaise cemetery. The previous Grand Rabbi of France, Algerian-born René-Samuel Sirat, read the Kaddish over Marceau’s grave, reminding the modest crowd—France’s Culture Minister Christine Albanel did not even bother to attend—that Marceau “always defined himself as a citizen of the world, with Jewish roots.”

Indeed, he was born Marcel Mangel to a Polish Jewish family in Strasbourg in 1923. His father Charles Mangel, a butcher and amateur baritone who raised pigeons as a hobby, was deported to Auschwitz in 1944, where he was murdered. Young Marcel moved to Limoges and joined the Resistance, specializing in the counterfeiting of identity papers and helping to hide Jewish children from the Nazis. He counterfeited his own identity, choosing the name Marceau from a heroic poem by Victor Hugo in praise of a French Revolutionary general, François-Séverin Marceau.

Retaining his warrior’s name for the rest of his life, Marceau was more of a fighter than the general public—sometimes exasperated by the whimsy of his Chaplinesque flower-carrying character Bip—might perceive. Rabbi Sirat eloquently pointed to Marceau’s wartime experiences as leading him to the art of mime, with its “twin lessons of silence and gestures.” After D-Day, Marceau joined the French Army commanded by Marshal de Lattre de Tassigny, and only became a full-time performer after the Armistice. Interestingly, he chose among his first teachers the exceptional actor—and notorious collaborator with the wartime Nazi occupant—Charles Dullin.

By 1948, Marceau had established his own theater company, and his character Bip was born, named, according to Marceau, after the character Pip in Dickens’ Great Expectation. Bip is recalled for quaintly chasing butterflies and walking against the wind (a routine Michael Jackson admitted to ripping off in order to stage his own meaningless moonwalk). Bip at times expressed an inner violence, as in his early pantomime, “The Murderer,” which Marceau described as inspired by Raskolnikov, the murderer in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Marceau also claimed this mimed violence conveyed his own desire to “boot the Germans out of France.” When I myself met Marceau some fifteen years ago for an interview at the Espace Pierre-Cardin in Paris, he already seemed travel-worn, although, until very recently, he adamantly maintained a grueling international schedule of tours, with over 200 annual performances.

In the 1970’s, I saw him perform in Manhattan before unfriendly crowds who expressed their impatience with the slow pace of his act, his reliance on inferior young students who performed a good part of the mime show, and his own form, creaky even then. Years ago, a French journalist challenged him about his “conventional” pantomimes that seemed never to change. Marceau, ever revolutionary in spirit, replied, “Everything is convention, a fine word that hearkens back to the French Revolution and the notion of convening.” In his sources of inspiration, Marceau may eventually be seen as a kind of mute Elie Wiesel, a survivor who distrusted France’s wartime linguistic hypocrisy to the point of expressing his art silently.

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An Interview with Jack O’Brien

Today, contentions presents an interview with theater director Jack O’Brien. Mr. O’Brien won the Tony Award this year for Best Director for his work on Tom Stoppard’s critically acclaimed play The Coast of Utopia, which received high marks from Terry Teachout in the April 2007 issue of COMMENTARY.

Mr. O’Brien made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in April, with Puccini’s il trittico. He has won two other Tony Awards for directing (Hairspray, Henry IV) and is the Artistic Director at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, California. His current project is a musical adaptation of the Steven Spielberg film, Catch Me if You Can.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2n8e8L78uI[/youtube]

Today, contentions presents an interview with theater director Jack O’Brien. Mr. O’Brien won the Tony Award this year for Best Director for his work on Tom Stoppard’s critically acclaimed play The Coast of Utopia, which received high marks from Terry Teachout in the April 2007 issue of COMMENTARY.

Mr. O’Brien made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in April, with Puccini’s il trittico. He has won two other Tony Awards for directing (Hairspray, Henry IV) and is the Artistic Director at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, California. His current project is a musical adaptation of the Steven Spielberg film, Catch Me if You Can.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2n8e8L78uI[/youtube]

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The Clash of the Titans

Yesterday, the controversial Regina Ip announced her candidacy for a seat in LegCo, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. Opposing her is the formidable Anson Chan, dubbed by many as “Hong Kong’s conscience.” The December 2 contest, a by-election, is now called the “Clash of the Titans,” yet it is more important than that. At stake is nothing less than democracy in what is now a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.

“I am now a different Regina Ip from the one before,” the candidate said in making her announcement. That’s good, because few in Hong Kong liked the old one. As the reviled Secretary for Security, she pushed aggressively in 2003 for the adoption of wide-ranging antisubversion legislation known as Article 23. Her hardline tactics triggered a protest of 500,000 citizens and ultimately led to the government’s dropping of the draconian proposal. Ip also made few friends when, arguing against democracy, she said, “Adolf Hitler was returned by universal suffrage, and he killed 7 million Jews.” The public reaction to her was so great that she had to resign. Ip then spent three years in Stanford and came back as a self-proclaimed democrat. The candidate began her campaign yesterday by offering “sincere apologies” to the public for making mistakes four years ago in trying to railroad passage of Article 23.

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Yesterday, the controversial Regina Ip announced her candidacy for a seat in LegCo, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. Opposing her is the formidable Anson Chan, dubbed by many as “Hong Kong’s conscience.” The December 2 contest, a by-election, is now called the “Clash of the Titans,” yet it is more important than that. At stake is nothing less than democracy in what is now a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.

“I am now a different Regina Ip from the one before,” the candidate said in making her announcement. That’s good, because few in Hong Kong liked the old one. As the reviled Secretary for Security, she pushed aggressively in 2003 for the adoption of wide-ranging antisubversion legislation known as Article 23. Her hardline tactics triggered a protest of 500,000 citizens and ultimately led to the government’s dropping of the draconian proposal. Ip also made few friends when, arguing against democracy, she said, “Adolf Hitler was returned by universal suffrage, and he killed 7 million Jews.” The public reaction to her was so great that she had to resign. Ip then spent three years in Stanford and came back as a self-proclaimed democrat. The candidate began her campaign yesterday by offering “sincere apologies” to the public for making mistakes four years ago in trying to railroad passage of Article 23.

“The by-election has come during a critical stage for democracy,” said Anson Chan earlier this week. There seems to be a consensus in Hong Kong that there should be universal suffrage by 2012, the year of the next election for the chief executive, the city’s top post. Beijing, which has consistently opposed broadening the electorate, is now trying once again to defer the issue.

Both Chan and Ip say they are in favor of 2012. Yet Ip wants universal suffrage only if Chinese leaders concur. She also argues that she will be better able to work with China. She’s undoubtedly correct because it’s clear she has the backing of both the Chinese leadership and Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing political party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

Today, some argue that the election of Anson Chan will confirm Beijing’s fear that universal suffrage is dangerous because it will only lead to the election of “hostile forces.” Perhaps that is the case, but if pro-democrats are elected then at least China will have to make its position clear. Ip, if chosen, will never force the universal suffrage issue. The people of Hong Kong have a right to know where China stands on the most important issue they face.

Why elect Anson Chan even if she cannot bring about democracy? If for no other reason, then because of the work she will do to expose autocracy.

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Terrorism and the Palestinian Economy

Those who have taken it upon themselves to be the permanent caretakers of the Palestinian cause have found, in the abysmal condition of the economies of the West Bank and Gaza, their latest mission. The U.N., the World Bank, and a new British government report are all in agreement that a major obstacle to peace is the Palestinian economy, and the major obstacle to its improvement is, of course, Israeli security measures.

The saviors of Palestine never wish to deal with the behavior of the Palestinians themselves; thus, they have come forward with a set of economic development proposals that predictably avoid addressing the central problem with the Palestinian economy: Palestinian terrorism. Last week, the British government released a much-anticipated report that had been commissioned by Gordon Brown in 2005. It proposes five “building blocks,” the third of which states that “the right balance must be struck between short-term security and allowing movement and access,” and goes on to argue that Palestinian economic development will increase Israel’s security. Yet who, exactly, is going to decide for Israel the “right balance” between its own security and Palestinian freedom of movement? If the authors of the British study had their way, this “right balance” would involve many more buses and restaurants blowing up in Tel Aviv. Thankfully, however, the British do not set Israeli security policy, so their nattering on about it is almost totally irrelevant. The rest of the British study, a full version of which is available here, is a similarly unimpressive recitation of platitudes.

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Those who have taken it upon themselves to be the permanent caretakers of the Palestinian cause have found, in the abysmal condition of the economies of the West Bank and Gaza, their latest mission. The U.N., the World Bank, and a new British government report are all in agreement that a major obstacle to peace is the Palestinian economy, and the major obstacle to its improvement is, of course, Israeli security measures.

The saviors of Palestine never wish to deal with the behavior of the Palestinians themselves; thus, they have come forward with a set of economic development proposals that predictably avoid addressing the central problem with the Palestinian economy: Palestinian terrorism. Last week, the British government released a much-anticipated report that had been commissioned by Gordon Brown in 2005. It proposes five “building blocks,” the third of which states that “the right balance must be struck between short-term security and allowing movement and access,” and goes on to argue that Palestinian economic development will increase Israel’s security. Yet who, exactly, is going to decide for Israel the “right balance” between its own security and Palestinian freedom of movement? If the authors of the British study had their way, this “right balance” would involve many more buses and restaurants blowing up in Tel Aviv. Thankfully, however, the British do not set Israeli security policy, so their nattering on about it is almost totally irrelevant. The rest of the British study, a full version of which is available here, is a similarly unimpressive recitation of platitudes.

The just-released World Bank report stipulates three “preconditions for growth” for the Palestinian economy: “(1) a drastic improvement in the security environment; (2) dismantling restrictions on the movement of Palestinian people and goods; and (3) clear progress on Palestinian reform and institution-building.” The authors seem unaware that preconditions (1) and (2) are at war with each other: any serious fulfillment of point two will have the immediate consequence of undermining any progress on point one.

The World Bank report details how terribly the Palestinians have damaged themselves. Since the start of the terror war in 1999, per capita GDP has shrunk by one-third; “GDP is being increasingly driven by government and private consumption from remittances and donor aid, while investment has fallen to exceedingly low levels”; public sector employment has increased by 60 percent, as “workers have been hired as part of a trend to bolster political support”; already-low private investment decreased by over 15 percent between 2005 and 2006; and on, through a litany of indicators of economic decrepitude.

Amazingly, the World Bank also says: “The main challenge for Palestinian economic recovery remains the comprehensive restrictions on movement and access imposed by GoI [the Government of Israel]…that combine to stunt Palestinian economic growth.” A more accurate way to formulate that statement would be: “The main challenge for Palestinian economic recovery remains the ongoing support for terrorism against Israel, which cause comprehensive restrictions on movement and access to be imposed by GoI.” But never mind.

This is how these kinds of things always seem to go. The same people who lobby on behalf of the Palestinians are unfortunately those who tend not to take the Israeli commitment to its own security very seriously. These are people who, in theory, would be well-suited to deliver the message to the Palestinians that any hopes they have for economic or political development are forever doomed so long as their terror war against Israel continues.

My own humble recommendation to the many advocates for Palestine is to insist that a Palestinian rejection of terrorism be a precondition for aid. I realize this is an unrealistic proposal, but so be it—nothing the British government or World Bank is proposing is any more realistic. It’s worth mentioning that, after the Six Day War, when the dark night of Israeli occupation descended on the Palestinians, but before the start of the first Intifada, the GNP of the West Bank grew, from 1968 to 1980, at an average rate of 12 percent per year, and the per capita GNP increased by 10 percent. I wonder if the people who write about the Palestinian economy today know that?

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Cartoons After Columbia

Unctuous bows, veiled threats, and smug mockery do not an edifying speech make, but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s performance at Columbia University offers at least one consolation: the cartoons. The utter absurdity of the event has drawn forth a pageant of arresting editorial cartoons, some quite amusing. But only one managed to capture its essential grotesqueness—the ostentatious display of tolerance to a man whose most notable characteristic is his murderous intolerance, killing with roadside bombs today and atomic weapons tomorrow.

Presumably because of the pressure of deadlines, most cartoonists did not deal with the substance of the Iranian president’s talk, and depicted the event only in generic terms. Ed Stein of the Rocky Mountain News, for example, simply showed the worm in the Big Apple. Others focused on the theme of free speech. Pat Oliphant showed a disdainful Statue of Liberty, holding a diminutive Ahmadinejad at arm’s length as he jabbers away harmlessly; for Tom Toles, Columbia gave its speaker a rope long enough with which to hang himself, the noose labeled “free speech.”

Those who waited until after the speech to draw produced more penetrating images. Jerry Holbert of the Boston Herald had Ahmadinejad telling a politically incorrect joke (“a bunch of American infidels, a rabbi, and a suicide bomber walk into a bar”), which, while amusing, was not enough removed from reality to be truly funny. Far less amusing was the smattering of cartoonists who evidently have no objection to Ahmadinejad at all. Some like Tony Auth, the graphically inept cartoonist of the Philadelphia Inquirer, did not even think the event worthy of note. But then this discreet silence is preferable to the work of Lalo Alcaraz, who writes the daily comic strip La Cucaracha. His cartoon showed the Iranian under a sign labeled Republican Party Dept. of Homosexual Control, sitting between a photograph of President Bush and a sign “22 days gay free.” In other words, the only real problem Alcaraz finds with Ahmadinejad, whose regime enforces the public execution of homosexuals, is that the Iranian leader reminds the cartoonist of Republicans—whose actions might just conceivably remove the death threat from those same homosexuals.

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Unctuous bows, veiled threats, and smug mockery do not an edifying speech make, but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s performance at Columbia University offers at least one consolation: the cartoons. The utter absurdity of the event has drawn forth a pageant of arresting editorial cartoons, some quite amusing. But only one managed to capture its essential grotesqueness—the ostentatious display of tolerance to a man whose most notable characteristic is his murderous intolerance, killing with roadside bombs today and atomic weapons tomorrow.

Presumably because of the pressure of deadlines, most cartoonists did not deal with the substance of the Iranian president’s talk, and depicted the event only in generic terms. Ed Stein of the Rocky Mountain News, for example, simply showed the worm in the Big Apple. Others focused on the theme of free speech. Pat Oliphant showed a disdainful Statue of Liberty, holding a diminutive Ahmadinejad at arm’s length as he jabbers away harmlessly; for Tom Toles, Columbia gave its speaker a rope long enough with which to hang himself, the noose labeled “free speech.”

Those who waited until after the speech to draw produced more penetrating images. Jerry Holbert of the Boston Herald had Ahmadinejad telling a politically incorrect joke (“a bunch of American infidels, a rabbi, and a suicide bomber walk into a bar”), which, while amusing, was not enough removed from reality to be truly funny. Far less amusing was the smattering of cartoonists who evidently have no objection to Ahmadinejad at all. Some like Tony Auth, the graphically inept cartoonist of the Philadelphia Inquirer, did not even think the event worthy of note. But then this discreet silence is preferable to the work of Lalo Alcaraz, who writes the daily comic strip La Cucaracha. His cartoon showed the Iranian under a sign labeled Republican Party Dept. of Homosexual Control, sitting between a photograph of President Bush and a sign “22 days gay free.” In other words, the only real problem Alcaraz finds with Ahmadinejad, whose regime enforces the public execution of homosexuals, is that the Iranian leader reminds the cartoonist of Republicans—whose actions might just conceivably remove the death threat from those same homosexuals.

In compensation for this, the event has produced at least one instant classic. In the cartoon by Sean Delonas of the New York Post, Ahmadinejad is shown at the podium as he calls on a questioner, saying “One last question, yes, the gentleman in the back.” Our point of view is from behind Ahmadinejad, and we must peer deep into the crowd to see the questioner, a skeletal concentration camp victim, in his stripes and yellow star. He wears a mournful and weary expression, and we are not even certain if he is dead or alive.

In every sense it is a masterpiece. Most editorial cartoonists think schematically, like Toles or Stein, placing cut-out figures on flat backgrounds. But Delonas typically employs dramatic perspective, as here with the haunting juxtaposition of foreground and background. Rather than a self-contained visual pun entailing a single joke, Delonas’s image implies much more than it shows, and we can’t help but imagine what is about to be said. Whatever the reason, it does what all successful graphic art must do: present an unforgettable image that resonates in the mind. It is a work of great dignity that almost washes away the vicious agitprop of Alcaraz.

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The Evasive Democrats

At Wednesday night’s Democratic presidential debate, Tim Russert asked a very simple question of the major candidates, beginning first with Hillary Clinton:

Senator Clinton, in 1981, the Israelis took out a nuclear reactor in Iraq. On September 6, to the best of our information, Israel attacked Syria because there was suspicion that perhaps North Korea had put some nuclear materials in Syria. If Israel concluded that Iran’s nuclear capability threatened Israel’s security, would Israel be justified in launching an attack on Iran?

Any presidential candidate serious about the American-Israel relationship, who also understands the boon to humanity that was Israel’s 1981 Osirak attack, would answer in the affirmative, preferably just “yes.” A bit verbose, Mayor Giuliani’s answer is nonetheless a good example:

Iran is not going to be allowed to build a nuclear power. If they get to a point where they’re going to become a nuclear power, we will prevent them, we will set them back eight to ten years. That is not said as a threat. That should be said as a promise.

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At Wednesday night’s Democratic presidential debate, Tim Russert asked a very simple question of the major candidates, beginning first with Hillary Clinton:

Senator Clinton, in 1981, the Israelis took out a nuclear reactor in Iraq. On September 6, to the best of our information, Israel attacked Syria because there was suspicion that perhaps North Korea had put some nuclear materials in Syria. If Israel concluded that Iran’s nuclear capability threatened Israel’s security, would Israel be justified in launching an attack on Iran?

Any presidential candidate serious about the American-Israel relationship, who also understands the boon to humanity that was Israel’s 1981 Osirak attack, would answer in the affirmative, preferably just “yes.” A bit verbose, Mayor Giuliani’s answer is nonetheless a good example:

Iran is not going to be allowed to build a nuclear power. If they get to a point where they’re going to become a nuclear power, we will prevent them, we will set them back eight to ten years. That is not said as a threat. That should be said as a promise.

Meanwhile, here were Hillary’s responses:

CLINTON: Tim, I think that’s one of those hypotheticals, that is…

RUSSERT: It’s not a hypothetical, Senator.

CLINTON: …better not addressed at this time.

This back-and-forth went on for several minutes.

Russert then asked the same question of Barack Obama, who, after asking to “back up for a second,” replied:

I think what Mayor Giuliani said was irresponsible, because we have not yet come to that point. We have not tried the other approach.

Next, Russert asked Edwards, who, like Clinton and Obama, simply refused to answer a yes-or-no question with a “yes” or “no.” The essence of his response?

Carrots being, we will help you with your economy if, in fact, you give up your nuclear ambitions. The flip side being, there will be severe economic sanctions if you don’t.

Imposing “severe economic sanctions,” is what the Bush administration has been trying to do for years. This effort has been unsuccessful, of course, thanks to our friends the Chinese and the Russians. Senator Edwards has an excellent record of convincing juries in the South to award his clients millions of dollars; perhaps he’s counting on his effortless charm to work in Beijing and Moscow. Either way, it’s unsettling to witness the Democrats’ abject refusal to answer properly a question of critical importance to American security.

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Fascism Old and New

As the jury and contestants entered the second round of Stuttgart’s triennial classical song competition last week, organized by the Internationale Hugo Wolf Akademie, idealistic young singers and pianists performed lieder by Robert Schumann and Wolf, often alluding optimistically to a better world. A brief break offered time for a stroll through one of Stuttgart’s parks, where high school girls jogged dispiritedly, sidestepping piles of horse dung. I walked to the Hegel-Haus, the birthplace of the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel. On display in the charmingly spare little house were letters from Hegel’s friends, stressing the importance of freedom: “Vive la liberté” writes one, while another quotes Klopstock, an 18th century German poet who cheered the American Revolution.

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As the jury and contestants entered the second round of Stuttgart’s triennial classical song competition last week, organized by the Internationale Hugo Wolf Akademie, idealistic young singers and pianists performed lieder by Robert Schumann and Wolf, often alluding optimistically to a better world. A brief break offered time for a stroll through one of Stuttgart’s parks, where high school girls jogged dispiritedly, sidestepping piles of horse dung. I walked to the Hegel-Haus, the birthplace of the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel. On display in the charmingly spare little house were letters from Hegel’s friends, stressing the importance of freedom: “Vive la liberté” writes one, while another quotes Klopstock, an 18th century German poet who cheered the American Revolution.

Such echoes of the so-called German Idealism movement are all the more timely as the current talk of the town is about Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne, who on September 14th made a speech at the opening of a new art museum in which he stated: “Wherever culture is separated from the worship of God, cult atrophies into ritualism and art becomes degenerate.” The word “degenerate” inevitably hearkens back to Nazi-era jargon, as local newspapers were quick to point out; the Nazi’s notorious 1937 Munich “Degenerate Art” exhibit was intended to ridicule modernist paintings. Meisner’s statement was followed by a backlash of articles defending the Cardinal from “Meisner-Bashing” by the so-called “word-police” This vehement support was to be expected, since Meisner controls a vast empire of real estate and church-owned media, stoked by the highest annual donation rate in Germany, estimated at around 680 million euros per annum. In 2005, Meisner asserted that women who have an abortion are comparable to mass killers like Hitler and Stalin. Stephan Kramer, General Secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, noted that Meisner repeatedly “misuses language as a taboo-breaker. If that sets an example, we should not be surprised if Nazi beliefs become respectable again.”

Meanwhile, in between sessions of idealistic song, equal concern is devoted to the Swiss national elections scheduled for October 21, where the front-runner is a billionaire named Christoph Blocher, Switzerland’s current Justice Minister. Blocher’s campaign, featuring a poster of a black sheep kicked off the Swiss flag by three white sheep under the caption: “For More Security,” has been called fascist, racist, and perhaps worst of all, “un-Swiss.” Blocher’s wealth has also bought him a TV program during which servile interviewers, likened to East German broadcasters in the old Communist days, ask him adoring questions. While Europe ponders these reminders of oppression old and new, it is particularly useful to focus on the optimistic message of an international gathering like the Wolf Akademie’s lieder contest, where the sheep are dismissed only if they hit wrong notes, not if the color of their wool offends.

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The Poet and the Nazi

Today, the New York Times reports that five members of the board of the Poetry Society of America, including its president, have resigned. Their resignations stem from “accusations of McCarthyism, conservatism, and simple bad management.”

The blood went bad when, earlier this year, John Hollander, the poet, critic, and retired Yale professor, was awarded the Society’s Frost Medal, a kind of lifetime achievement award.

A rough time-line: Professor Hollander, in the past, made some remarks that were insensitive. For instance, according to the New York Times, Hollander noted on NPR that “there isn’t much quality work coming from nonwhite poets today.” Poetry Society board members balked when, a few years ago, Hollander was put up as a contender for the Frost Medal. When, earlier this year, Hollander was announced as the recipient of the medal, novelist Walter Mosley, a board member, resigned in protest. In response, PSA board president William Louis-Dreyfus, a commodities trader, accused Mosley of McCarthyism in using Hollander’s politics against him. Angered at Louis-Dreyfus’s reaction, three other board members, including well-regarded poets Elizabeth Alexander and Mary Jo Salter, tendered their own resignations.

Mr. Mosley deemed Mr. Louis-Dreyfus’s invocation of Senator Joe McCarthy “ridiculous hyperbole.” Unfortunately, in describing the events at the PSA, Motoko Rich, the reporter for the New York Times, has committed her own act of egregious exaggeration. In discussing whether one can praise an artist’s work while criticizing the artist as a human, Ms. Rich compares John Hollander to Günter Grass. The former is a Jewish professor who has displayed ignorance and tactlessness. Günter Grass is a German who was a soldier in Hitler’s Waffen SS.

If emotions on the PSA’s board run high, it seems that even reporting on the matter severely impairs one’s sense of proportion.

Today, the New York Times reports that five members of the board of the Poetry Society of America, including its president, have resigned. Their resignations stem from “accusations of McCarthyism, conservatism, and simple bad management.”

The blood went bad when, earlier this year, John Hollander, the poet, critic, and retired Yale professor, was awarded the Society’s Frost Medal, a kind of lifetime achievement award.

A rough time-line: Professor Hollander, in the past, made some remarks that were insensitive. For instance, according to the New York Times, Hollander noted on NPR that “there isn’t much quality work coming from nonwhite poets today.” Poetry Society board members balked when, a few years ago, Hollander was put up as a contender for the Frost Medal. When, earlier this year, Hollander was announced as the recipient of the medal, novelist Walter Mosley, a board member, resigned in protest. In response, PSA board president William Louis-Dreyfus, a commodities trader, accused Mosley of McCarthyism in using Hollander’s politics against him. Angered at Louis-Dreyfus’s reaction, three other board members, including well-regarded poets Elizabeth Alexander and Mary Jo Salter, tendered their own resignations.

Mr. Mosley deemed Mr. Louis-Dreyfus’s invocation of Senator Joe McCarthy “ridiculous hyperbole.” Unfortunately, in describing the events at the PSA, Motoko Rich, the reporter for the New York Times, has committed her own act of egregious exaggeration. In discussing whether one can praise an artist’s work while criticizing the artist as a human, Ms. Rich compares John Hollander to Günter Grass. The former is a Jewish professor who has displayed ignorance and tactlessness. Günter Grass is a German who was a soldier in Hitler’s Waffen SS.

If emotions on the PSA’s board run high, it seems that even reporting on the matter severely impairs one’s sense of proportion.

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What the Airstrikes Mean

There has been a good deal of informed speculation in the press regarding the Israeli Air Force’s Sept. 6 raid on a suspected nuclear development site in Syria. (See, for instance, Bret Stephens’s excellent column in the Wall Street Journal.) Two aspects of the raid haven’t received enough attention, however.

First, the fact that the Israeli Air Force was able to catch the Syrians by surprise. There is no indication that any Israeli aircraft were shot down or even damaged. This is pretty significant: Syria has been making an effort to upgrade its air defenses in recent years by buying Russian-made surface-to-air missiles. Yet Israeli F-15 and F-16 fighter-bombers were still able to strike deep into Syria unscathed.

Second, Syria has not (so far at least) mounted any kind of retaliation that we know of. Perhaps some counter-blow—possibly in the form of a terrorist attack against Israelis or even non-Israeli Jews—is coming. But so far the Syrian response can only be described as very muted. Perhaps the Syrians realize that, if they escalate the conflict, Israel can do far worse to Syria than Syria can do to Israel.

What do these two facts combined mean? They suggest that both Syria and its Iranian patrons (who have also been upgrading their air defenses with Russian help) remain very vulnerable to air attack by a sophisticated state like Israel or the United States. That increases the pressure on these “axis of evil” members to rethink their continuing efforts to facilitate attacks on Western forces in Iraq and to develop nuclear-weapons. They must know that whatever the Israeli Air Force can do, the U.S. Air Force can do on much bigger scale. If anything will lead them to negotiate seriously, that is it.

Even so, I can’t say I have much hope they will mend their ways until they see that the U.S. has not only the capability to hurt them but also the willingness to do so. As the Journal’s editorial board argues today, Tehran has been told it will pay a price for killing Americans, but it never has.”

There has been a good deal of informed speculation in the press regarding the Israeli Air Force’s Sept. 6 raid on a suspected nuclear development site in Syria. (See, for instance, Bret Stephens’s excellent column in the Wall Street Journal.) Two aspects of the raid haven’t received enough attention, however.

First, the fact that the Israeli Air Force was able to catch the Syrians by surprise. There is no indication that any Israeli aircraft were shot down or even damaged. This is pretty significant: Syria has been making an effort to upgrade its air defenses in recent years by buying Russian-made surface-to-air missiles. Yet Israeli F-15 and F-16 fighter-bombers were still able to strike deep into Syria unscathed.

Second, Syria has not (so far at least) mounted any kind of retaliation that we know of. Perhaps some counter-blow—possibly in the form of a terrorist attack against Israelis or even non-Israeli Jews—is coming. But so far the Syrian response can only be described as very muted. Perhaps the Syrians realize that, if they escalate the conflict, Israel can do far worse to Syria than Syria can do to Israel.

What do these two facts combined mean? They suggest that both Syria and its Iranian patrons (who have also been upgrading their air defenses with Russian help) remain very vulnerable to air attack by a sophisticated state like Israel or the United States. That increases the pressure on these “axis of evil” members to rethink their continuing efforts to facilitate attacks on Western forces in Iraq and to develop nuclear-weapons. They must know that whatever the Israeli Air Force can do, the U.S. Air Force can do on much bigger scale. If anything will lead them to negotiate seriously, that is it.

Even so, I can’t say I have much hope they will mend their ways until they see that the U.S. has not only the capability to hurt them but also the willingness to do so. As the Journal’s editorial board argues today, Tehran has been told it will pay a price for killing Americans, but it never has.”

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The Matthews Thesis

On last night’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, Matthews said:

[D]o you think it was odd of the president of the United States, who’s basically against multilateralism, period . . . to be quoting the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights. I mean, where did he-who is he, Eleanor Roosevelt all of a sudden? I mean, where’d he come from with this? And talking about the American outrage against Burma – the American people are outraged about New Orleans. They’re not focused on Burma. Nobody that I know of has even thought about it. . . . Why did he say the American people are outraged at Burma, when you [David Gergen] and I, who do read the papers—I don’t even think you and I are outraged, and we read the paper every day. Ninety percent of the American people are not outraged at hardly anything right now, but the idea that they’re outraged about Burma is ludicrous.

These are the type of insights we’ve come to expect from Mr. Matthews over the years—and they are worth unpacking.

First, Matthews’s charge that the President is “basically against multilateralism, period” is comically uninformed. Matthews seems not to understand the difference between multilateral efforts and having the backing of the United Nations. One often has the former without the latter. For example, the United States has gained unprecedented cooperation in the war against jihadists from countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. Traditional allies in Europe have helped in tracking and arresting terrorists and blocking their financing. We’re witnessing unprecedented cooperation in law enforcement, intelligence, military actions, and diplomacy. And more than 70 countries have joined the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a comprehensive enforcement mechanism aimed at restricting trafficking of WMD.

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On last night’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, Matthews said:

[D]o you think it was odd of the president of the United States, who’s basically against multilateralism, period . . . to be quoting the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights. I mean, where did he-who is he, Eleanor Roosevelt all of a sudden? I mean, where’d he come from with this? And talking about the American outrage against Burma – the American people are outraged about New Orleans. They’re not focused on Burma. Nobody that I know of has even thought about it. . . . Why did he say the American people are outraged at Burma, when you [David Gergen] and I, who do read the papers—I don’t even think you and I are outraged, and we read the paper every day. Ninety percent of the American people are not outraged at hardly anything right now, but the idea that they’re outraged about Burma is ludicrous.

These are the type of insights we’ve come to expect from Mr. Matthews over the years—and they are worth unpacking.

First, Matthews’s charge that the President is “basically against multilateralism, period” is comically uninformed. Matthews seems not to understand the difference between multilateral efforts and having the backing of the United Nations. One often has the former without the latter. For example, the United States has gained unprecedented cooperation in the war against jihadists from countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. Traditional allies in Europe have helped in tracking and arresting terrorists and blocking their financing. We’re witnessing unprecedented cooperation in law enforcement, intelligence, military actions, and diplomacy. And more than 70 countries have joined the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a comprehensive enforcement mechanism aimed at restricting trafficking of WMD.

For the Matthews Thesis to have merit, he would have to erase virtually all of the day-to-day activity of the war against radical Islam, which consists of unprecedented levels of cooperation and integrated planning across scores of countries. He would have to ignore our trade and development policy. And he would have to ignore the fact that the United States went to war with Iraq with a coalition of more than two dozen countries.

Second, President Bush is not against the United Nations as a matter of principle. After all, the United States helped shepherd through a unanimous U.N. Security Council vote (1441) finding Iraq in material breach of its previous ceasefire agreements and offering Iraq a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations. But a willingness to work through the U.N. is different than ceding authority to conduct American foreign policy to it. Mr. Matthews may be in favor of that; the President is not.

A third point: it makes great sense for the President to quote the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, which is fully consistent with the President’s freedom agenda (and, in fact, the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights echoes the principles found in our own Declaration of Independence). It is perfectly reasonable to insist that the United Nations live up to its founding charter.

As for Burma: what we are seeing unfold there is a stirring and courageous stand by Buddhist monks and democratic activists against a brutal military junta, which is now using violence to put an end to the uprising. This moment—like the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and the Martyr’s Square protest in Lebanon in 2005—is important and it ought to command our attention and support. It is exactly the type of issue that should be raised at the U.N.

Chris Matthews, ever voluble and confused on the facts, is critical of the President for not being sufficiently multilateral and (presumably) not solicitous enough of regimes like Syria and China—yet he appears to be morally indifferent to a great struggle for liberty that is unfolding before our eyes. All of which is a reminder why Chris Matthews is a perfect choice to host a program on MSNBC.

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“The Smartest People on Earth”

Are Mainland Chinese becoming anti-Semitic?

The question arises because one of the hottest books in China is Song Hongbing’s Currency Wars. According to Song, the owners of international capital create financial crises, start wars, degrade the environment, and control the world. These financiers are responsible for the defeat of Napoleon, the deaths of half a dozen American presidents, the rise of Hitler, and the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997. All of this, Song contends, is ultimately tied back to the Rothschilds. Worrying theory, no?

“The Chinese people think that the Jews are smart and rich, so we should learn from them,” says the American-educated Song. “Even me, I think they are really smart, maybe the smartest people on earth.” That perception helps explain why there are an estimated 200,000 copies of the book, published by a commercial arm of the Chinese government, and another 400,000 pirated versions floating around the Mainland today. Worse, senior leaders in Beijing are lapping up Song’s theories.

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Are Mainland Chinese becoming anti-Semitic?

The question arises because one of the hottest books in China is Song Hongbing’s Currency Wars. According to Song, the owners of international capital create financial crises, start wars, degrade the environment, and control the world. These financiers are responsible for the defeat of Napoleon, the deaths of half a dozen American presidents, the rise of Hitler, and the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997. All of this, Song contends, is ultimately tied back to the Rothschilds. Worrying theory, no?

“The Chinese people think that the Jews are smart and rich, so we should learn from them,” says the American-educated Song. “Even me, I think they are really smart, maybe the smartest people on earth.” That perception helps explain why there are an estimated 200,000 copies of the book, published by a commercial arm of the Chinese government, and another 400,000 pirated versions floating around the Mainland today. Worse, senior leaders in Beijing are lapping up Song’s theories.

China’s Communist Party has long persecuted the few Jews in the Mainland, but that was part of a broader effort to eradicate religion. Today, Christians and the Buddhist-inspired Falun Gong bear the brunt of Beijing’s wrath. Most analysts note the lack of an anti-Semitic tradition in Chinese history and a strong admiration for Jewish culture and accomplishment, as Song’s own words reveal. Shalom Salomon Wald, author of China and the Jewish People, believes that the Chinese find common cause with the Jews, as both of them were the subject of persecution. Moreover, most sons and daughters of the Yellow Emperor admire other peoples with old cultures, and many Chinese perceive that the two oldest belong to them and the descendants of Abraham.

Even with these mitigating factors taken into account, Song’s book (which manages to be zany and offensive at the same time) is a manifestation of a worrying trend. Many Chinese at this moment perceive that others are conspiring to contain their nation’s rise. Song, after all, has written a self-help manual to deal with American efforts to force a revaluation of the renminbi, the Chinese currency. Chinese nationalism has turned especially ugly in recent years, and any conspiracy theory—even ones not grounded in malice—could be used to justify the most reprehensible conduct.

“The Chinese believe the Jews are a big people. It makes no sense to tell them we’re not,” says Wald. “It also doesn’t help to tell them this is anti-Semitic.” He may be correct, but it is perfectly logical to tell the Chinese that they shouldn’t adopt crank theories of history—and they should stop blaming other peoples, including ones they may otherwise admire.

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The Freedom Fetishists Strike Back

My article “Freedom Fetishists” in last month’s COMMENTARY (reprinted in OpinionJournal.com with the subtitle “The Cultural Contradictions of Libertarianism”) has provoked quite a bit of discussion in the libertarian blogosphere, and while some of it is cranky (in many senses of the word), much of it is thoughtful. But even those thoughtful responses expose a few misunderstandings that tend to prove my point about the limitations of libertarianism in dealing with the breakdown of the family.

Misunderstanding one: I equate libertarianism and libertinism.

Not at all. I do observe that the libertarian movement has attracted more than its share of crazies—an observation supported by Reason editor Brian Doherty in his Radicals for Capitalism. I also point out that some libertarians were silent in the face of post-60’s attacks on marriage. This is not the same as saying that libertarianism programmatically supports what Brink Lindsey calls the Aquarian lifestyle. (And for what it’s worth, my libertarian friends and acquaintances are a rather buttoned-up group.)

Interesting, isn’t it? Of those who view family breakdown as a major social problem, I don’t know any who argue that we should ban divorce and lock up single mothers. I actually agree with libertarians that many government policies have greatly harmed the family, and while I would probably go further than they would in supporting some government attempts to stem the tide—say, state laws that provide longer waiting periods before divorce—I believe that the state is pretty hamstrung in this regard.

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My article “Freedom Fetishists” in last month’s COMMENTARY (reprinted in OpinionJournal.com with the subtitle “The Cultural Contradictions of Libertarianism”) has provoked quite a bit of discussion in the libertarian blogosphere, and while some of it is cranky (in many senses of the word), much of it is thoughtful. But even those thoughtful responses expose a few misunderstandings that tend to prove my point about the limitations of libertarianism in dealing with the breakdown of the family.

Misunderstanding one: I equate libertarianism and libertinism.

Not at all. I do observe that the libertarian movement has attracted more than its share of crazies—an observation supported by Reason editor Brian Doherty in his Radicals for Capitalism. I also point out that some libertarians were silent in the face of post-60’s attacks on marriage. This is not the same as saying that libertarianism programmatically supports what Brink Lindsey calls the Aquarian lifestyle. (And for what it’s worth, my libertarian friends and acquaintances are a rather buttoned-up group.)

Interesting, isn’t it? Of those who view family breakdown as a major social problem, I don’t know any who argue that we should ban divorce and lock up single mothers. I actually agree with libertarians that many government policies have greatly harmed the family, and while I would probably go further than they would in supporting some government attempts to stem the tide—say, state laws that provide longer waiting periods before divorce—I believe that the state is pretty hamstrung in this regard.

But unlike many libertarians, I don’t think that’s all there is to say. Family breakdown is largely a consequence of changing cultural norms. And when it comes to culture, libertarians are of two impossibly contradictory minds. In their Hayek mode, they argue, like the Volokh Conspiracy’s Ilya Somin, that the “harmful effects of private choices . . . are best dealt with through the private sector,” a sentiment with which I strongly agree.

Unfortunately, in practice libertarians tend to see all criticism of personal behavior as a threat to liberty. Brian Doherty snarks about my “tut-tutting” over America’s (his wording) “parlous moral state.” Glenn Reynolds taunts that libertarians “can even think that traditional childrearing and marriage are generally a good thing without insisting on social mores that punish those who live differently.” Libertarians believe government shouldn’t say anything about the family problem. And neither should anyone else.

Forty years ago, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan raised the alarm about the rising number of nonmarital black births, critics charging racism and sexism hounded him into silence. (For a fuller description, see my Marriage and Caste in America.) Today, you’re extremely unlikely to find a married couple in the inner city. It’s entirely possible that this would have happened if the subject of the black family had not been off limits for over two decades after Moynihan’s warning. But if I am correct in thinking that the way we go about marriage and childbearing is determined by cultural norms, then it’s possible that a vigorous assertion of the value of the two-parent family from elite opinion-makers might have done some good.

No, libertarians are not libertines. Nor, pace Doherty in his rebuttal to my article, are they the cause of family breakdown. But their tendency to view individual personal liberty as The Good that should swallow up all others (a view admittedly shared by more Americans than I would wish) sure makes it hard to deal with this major social problem—one that harms their own cause above all.

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Katie’s World

At her National Press Club event yesterday, we heard this from CBS News anchor Katie Couric:

The whole culture of wearing flags on our lapel and saying “we” when referring to the United States and, even the “shock and awe” of the initial stages, it was just too jubilant and just a little uncomfortable. And I remember feeling, when I was anchoring the “Today” show, this inevitable march towards war and kind of feeling like, “Will anybody put the brakes on this?” And is this really being properly challenged by the right people? And I think, at the time, anyone who questioned the administration was considered unpatriotic and it was a very difficult position to be in.

There is a lot to unpack in these few sentences. For one thing, Couric’s aversion to using the word “we” when referring to her own country is both weird and revealing. After all, she is part of the United States, a citizen of America, and so she is part of “we.” Hers is an example of a certain journalistic sensibility that feels as if members of the media are compromising their objectivity by referring to their country as if they were a part of it. And I suppose in The World According To Katie, it would be a gross violation of journalistic ethics to hope for America to prevail in a war to depose Saddam Hussein and bring liberty to his broken land. Hence, I suppose, her discomfort with how well the initial stages of the Iraq war went.

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At her National Press Club event yesterday, we heard this from CBS News anchor Katie Couric:

The whole culture of wearing flags on our lapel and saying “we” when referring to the United States and, even the “shock and awe” of the initial stages, it was just too jubilant and just a little uncomfortable. And I remember feeling, when I was anchoring the “Today” show, this inevitable march towards war and kind of feeling like, “Will anybody put the brakes on this?” And is this really being properly challenged by the right people? And I think, at the time, anyone who questioned the administration was considered unpatriotic and it was a very difficult position to be in.

There is a lot to unpack in these few sentences. For one thing, Couric’s aversion to using the word “we” when referring to her own country is both weird and revealing. After all, she is part of the United States, a citizen of America, and so she is part of “we.” Hers is an example of a certain journalistic sensibility that feels as if members of the media are compromising their objectivity by referring to their country as if they were a part of it. And I suppose in The World According To Katie, it would be a gross violation of journalistic ethics to hope for America to prevail in a war to depose Saddam Hussein and bring liberty to his broken land. Hence, I suppose, her discomfort with how well the initial stages of the Iraq war went.

This point is worth pausing over. After all, during his reign, Saddam Hussein routinely executed political opponents and political prisoners. Children and young people were tortured to force their parents and relatives to confess to alleged political offenses. Schoolchildren were summarily shot in public—and families of executed children were made to pay for the bullets and coffins used. Human Rights Watch concluded that the Iraqi regime committed the crime of genocide against Iraqi Kurds—and estimates are that more than 300,000 Iraqis were executed during Saddam Hussein’s reign. He was also responsible for invading two nations at a cost of more than a million lives. Imagine hoping that the United States would defeat such a regime quickly, easily, and with a minimum loss of life and damage. The audacity!

As for the “inevitable” march toward war and her “kind of feeling like, ‘Will anybody put the brakes on this?’”: First, the “march” to war was not inevitable—one person on this planet could easily have put the brakes on it. His name was Saddam Hussein. He could have stopped the war at any time, if only he had met the commitments to which he had agreed. It was Saddam Hussein who was in material breach of Security Council Resolution 1441. It was he who had amassed a record of defiance for more than a decade. But for Katie Couric, the responsibility for war rests not with the former dictator of Iraq, but with the President of the United States.

And then there is tossing out the standard talking points that those who questioned the administration were “considered unpatriotic” and “it was a very difficult position to be in.” By whom, in Couric’s imaginary history, were critics of the administration considered “unpatriotic”? This notion is a flimsy urban legend—and yet Katie claims to have been put in a “very difficult position” based on a scenario that never even occurred. What a tower of strength she is.

The virtue of such statements, I suppose, is that it rips away the pretense of objectivity—as if that was even necessary at this stage. It appears as if Katie Couric is a worthy successor to Dan Rather—and her comments, in some ways so utterly typical, also remind us why CBS’s ratings are in the toilet, and deserve to be.

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A Verbal Beating

Nothing that happened during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearance at Columbia in any way changes the moral calculus involved in the question of whether the Iranian president should have been invited to speak at an American university: he should not have been, and the university’s decision to do so, and the reasons it gave for that decision, were dubious and hypocritical.

But the event itself defied expectations. We—those of us who are appalled at the thought of someone such as Ahmadinejad being given any respectful treatment in America—thought that Bollinger would put in a timid and even obsequious performance, while Ahmadinejad, who has rightfully earned a reputation as a master manipulator of his useful-idiot western interlocutors, was expected to deliver a rousing condemnation of the Bush administration, American foreign policy, and Israel.

But instead, Bollinger administered a verbal beating to Ahmadinejad the likes of which I cannot recall a head of state ever receiving—and Ahmadinejad, instead of hewing to his usual repertoire of propaganda, meandered through an almost totally incoherent pop-theology sermon that culminated in an awkward and ineffective attempt at dodging the audience’s questions. It was a dud, a performance of total sophomoric windbaggery. The exact opposite of what everyone expected to happen ended up taking place.

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Nothing that happened during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearance at Columbia in any way changes the moral calculus involved in the question of whether the Iranian president should have been invited to speak at an American university: he should not have been, and the university’s decision to do so, and the reasons it gave for that decision, were dubious and hypocritical.

But the event itself defied expectations. We—those of us who are appalled at the thought of someone such as Ahmadinejad being given any respectful treatment in America—thought that Bollinger would put in a timid and even obsequious performance, while Ahmadinejad, who has rightfully earned a reputation as a master manipulator of his useful-idiot western interlocutors, was expected to deliver a rousing condemnation of the Bush administration, American foreign policy, and Israel.

But instead, Bollinger administered a verbal beating to Ahmadinejad the likes of which I cannot recall a head of state ever receiving—and Ahmadinejad, instead of hewing to his usual repertoire of propaganda, meandered through an almost totally incoherent pop-theology sermon that culminated in an awkward and ineffective attempt at dodging the audience’s questions. It was a dud, a performance of total sophomoric windbaggery. The exact opposite of what everyone expected to happen ended up taking place.

Bollinger’s performance was particularly satisfying precisely because the person on the receiving end of his condemnation was the Iranian president, a political leader who represents a revolutionary Islamic government that has enshrined as a fundamental premise the conviction that America, along with being the great source of evil in the world, is a brittle facade of a superpower, and is thus worthy only of derision. The ideology of the Iranian Revolution holds America in contempt—an intense contempt that systematically has been vindicated, in the eyes of the Iranian leadership, by America’s three-decades-long refusal to punish Iran for its many killings and provocations (in the words of Martin Kramer, “The contempt arises from the fact that the United States has radiated irresolution and weakness in the face of challenges put up by Middle Eastern assailants”).

Ahmadinejad, more than any other jihadist leader (including Osama bin Laden himself), has come to exemplify this swaggering contemptuousness. This is why, I think, it was so spectacular and unexpected to see an American academic—a person who by all estimates is a standard-bearer of the modern academy’s worst tendencies toward relativism, appeasement, and dialogue-worship—stun Ahmadinejad with such vigorously disrespectful words. Bollinger did something inadvertently brilliant by doing this: he turned the tables on Ahmadinejad; suddenly it was an American spokesman expressing blunt contempt for Iran, and directly to the president’s face no less. Ahmadinejad surely was taken aback by this treatment, and he perhaps even emerged from the auditorium at Columbia with a tinge of doubt as to the barrenness of America’s wellsprings of self-confidence.

Will Bollinger’s words have any lasting effect on the confrontation between America and Iran? I doubt it. But perhaps he deserves applause for salvaging the Ahmadinejad invitation from the shameful farce that it seemed destined to be. And if video of Bollinger’s words ends up circulating widely inside Iran, providing much-needed succor to the Iranian people and undermining the regime’s credibility, then so much the better.

 


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Bush’s “Nothingburger”

Yesterday, just moments after President Bush finished his address to the U.N. General Assembly, Bill Kristol called the speech a “nothingburger.” The Weekly Standard editor, appearing on the Fox News Channel, was complaining that the Commander-in-Chief had said virtually nothing about Iran at a time when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was lounging in the audience and Iranians were helping to kill Americans in Iraq.

The President’s silence on Iran was indeed troubling. But he nonetheless delivered an important message. “Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma,” the President declared. He announced that the United States would tighten economic sanctions, expand a visa ban, and continue to support humanitarian groups. He called on the U.N. and its member nations to help the Burmese people “reclaim their freedom” and put an end to a “nineteen-year reign of fear.”

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Yesterday, just moments after President Bush finished his address to the U.N. General Assembly, Bill Kristol called the speech a “nothingburger.” The Weekly Standard editor, appearing on the Fox News Channel, was complaining that the Commander-in-Chief had said virtually nothing about Iran at a time when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was lounging in the audience and Iranians were helping to kill Americans in Iraq.

The President’s silence on Iran was indeed troubling. But he nonetheless delivered an important message. “Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma,” the President declared. He announced that the United States would tighten economic sanctions, expand a visa ban, and continue to support humanitarian groups. He called on the U.N. and its member nations to help the Burmese people “reclaim their freedom” and put an end to a “nineteen-year reign of fear.”

Bush’s words came at a critical moment. Hours after he left the podium in New York, government security forces in the capital of Rangoon, now known as Yangon, fired on protesters. At least five of them died. The generals ordered the crackdown after Beijing, apparently, gave them the green light to use force. They had been unable to quell more than a month of street demonstrations across the country. This week there have been protests numbering 100,000 in the capital. (In 1988, the junta killed an estimated 3,000 citizens participating in similar protests.)

The Rangoon generals, who have caused a long-term economic downturn, could not maintain themselves without material and diplomatic support from their neighbors. China has been their primary backer. This January, for instance, Beijing vetoed a U.S.-sponsored United Nations Security Council resolution on Burma, and in May the Chinese regime refused to join ASEAN in urging the generals to release Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy advocate who was imprisoned immediately after her party won national elections in 1990.

The U.N. and Asian regional organizations have been hamstrung by Beijing—and to a lesser extent by Moscow and New Delhi. As a result, the generals in Rangoon have been able to maintain their repressive regime in the face of dissent at home and withering criticism abroad. Now it is up to the United States, the power of last resort in the international system, to provide the support for democratic change in Burma. So did President Bush serve up a nothingburger yesterday? Nothing could be further from the truth.

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Ruth R. Wisse on Jews and Power

Ruth R. Wisse is a longtime COMMENTARY contributor (and a contentions blogger) and the Martin Peretz professor of Yiddish Literature at Harvard. Her newest book, Jews and Power, was reviewed in the September issue of COMMENTARY by the Wall Street Journal‘s Bret Stephens. He wrote:

Jews and Power can . . . serve as a basis for pondering the broader self-doubt, often cloaked in pretensions of superior morality, that today infects much of the liberal democratic West. For providing that lesson, and for doing so with passion, eloquence, and peerless intellectual verve, Ruth Wisse deserves all honor and gratitude.

Last week, Wisse sat with contentions to discuss her new book. She then appeared before a standing-room only audience at Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side for a reading and book signing. You can watch the interview below.

Ruth R. Wisse is a longtime COMMENTARY contributor (and a contentions blogger) and the Martin Peretz professor of Yiddish Literature at Harvard. Her newest book, Jews and Power, was reviewed in the September issue of COMMENTARY by the Wall Street Journal‘s Bret Stephens. He wrote:

Jews and Power can . . . serve as a basis for pondering the broader self-doubt, often cloaked in pretensions of superior morality, that today infects much of the liberal democratic West. For providing that lesson, and for doing so with passion, eloquence, and peerless intellectual verve, Ruth Wisse deserves all honor and gratitude.

Last week, Wisse sat with contentions to discuss her new book. She then appeared before a standing-room only audience at Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side for a reading and book signing. You can watch the interview below.

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Academic “Freedom”

Higher education deeply cherishes the notion of skeptical and unsparing critical inquiry—just not about itself. Last year, the Students for Academic Freedom (SAF) drew up a Student Bill of Rights, a carefully worded manifesto about the importance of intellectual freedom for teachers and students. Insisting that students not be subjected to political indoctrination in the guise of instruction, the document invoked the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, drawn up by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

According to it, “Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.” The AAUP is evidently unhappy at having its own words quoted back to it. It has just issued a lengthy committee report, suggesting that those words don’t exactly mean what they say:

Modern critics of the university seek to impose on university classrooms mandatory and ill-conceived standards of “balance,” “diversity, and “respect.” We ought to learn from history that the vitality of institutions of higher learning has been damaged far more by efforts to correct abuses of freedom than by those alleged abuses. We ought to learn from history that education cannot possibly thrive in an atmosphere of state-encouraged suspicion and surveillance.

The AAUP considers four specific charges leveled against the modern university: that many professors routinely practice political indoctrination, fail to present alternative points of view, are hostile to students’ political or religious views, and introduce irrelevant political digressions into class. In each instance, the charge is not so much as considered but explained away.

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Higher education deeply cherishes the notion of skeptical and unsparing critical inquiry—just not about itself. Last year, the Students for Academic Freedom (SAF) drew up a Student Bill of Rights, a carefully worded manifesto about the importance of intellectual freedom for teachers and students. Insisting that students not be subjected to political indoctrination in the guise of instruction, the document invoked the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, drawn up by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

According to it, “Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.” The AAUP is evidently unhappy at having its own words quoted back to it. It has just issued a lengthy committee report, suggesting that those words don’t exactly mean what they say:

Modern critics of the university seek to impose on university classrooms mandatory and ill-conceived standards of “balance,” “diversity, and “respect.” We ought to learn from history that the vitality of institutions of higher learning has been damaged far more by efforts to correct abuses of freedom than by those alleged abuses. We ought to learn from history that education cannot possibly thrive in an atmosphere of state-encouraged suspicion and surveillance.

The AAUP considers four specific charges leveled against the modern university: that many professors routinely practice political indoctrination, fail to present alternative points of view, are hostile to students’ political or religious views, and introduce irrelevant political digressions into class. In each instance, the charge is not so much as considered but explained away.

How can there be personal bias, it asks, when course descriptions are vetted by departments and administrations? The possibility that those departmental colleagues might themselves have an overwhelming ideological uniformity is not considered. Complaints about hostility? Students have no “right not to have their most cherished beliefs challenged.” Ideological one-sidedness? One must not restrict the legitimate prerogative of a teacher to present his material in his own way. And so on, in alternately blithe and testy tones, to the conclusion that the only chronic problem truly afflicting higher education is the fascistic disposition of its critics: “calls for the regulation of higher education are almost invariably appeals to the coercive power of the state.”

Anyone who follows education will recognize some of the serious controversies and scandals that go utterly unmentioned in the AAUP report. Just to name one, there is the matter of “disposition assessment.” The guidelines of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, formulated in 2002, explain that universities should not only evaluate such understandable criteria as punctuality and dress but the political views of its students: “if . . . a commitment to social justice is one disposition it expects of teachers who can become agents of change, then it is expect that unit assessments include some measure of a candidate’s commitment to social justice.”

This came to light in 2005, when Ed Swan, a student at Washington State University, was kicked out of its teachers program for his conservative views. The revelation that professors of education were entitled to act as grand inquisitors, drawing out the political orientation of their students by carefully formulated “unit assignments,” inspired a strongly worded protest by the National Association of Scholars to the U. S. Department of Education.

About all of this there is not one word in the report of the AAUP. Although it warns sternly of “the coercive power of the state,” it ignores how state power is already at play, massively and implacably, wherever its state-supported universities and public schools are enforcing the “disposition” control of the NCATE. The AAUP has issued a document that is deeply discreditable to all concerned, a sad performance of shooting the messenger from behind circled wagons. This time, however, there are far too many messengers to shoot.

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Is Michael Mukasey Really Spider-Man?

What is the difference between the Daily Bugle and the New York Times? In the Daily Bugle, the fictional newspaper in the Spider-Man franchise, the superhero is smeared as a danger to the public weal with headlines like “Spider-Man: Threat or Menace?”

The headline in Monday’s New York Times, “Post-9/11 Cases Fuel Criticism for Nominee,” was more subtle than that. But the contents that followed were not. As former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy demonstrates today in an exceptionally well-informed analysis, the Times was performing nothing less than a hatchet job on Michael B. Mukasey, President Bush’s choice for the position of Attorney General.

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What is the difference between the Daily Bugle and the New York Times? In the Daily Bugle, the fictional newspaper in the Spider-Man franchise, the superhero is smeared as a danger to the public weal with headlines like “Spider-Man: Threat or Menace?”

The headline in Monday’s New York Times, “Post-9/11 Cases Fuel Criticism for Nominee,” was more subtle than that. But the contents that followed were not. As former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy demonstrates today in an exceptionally well-informed analysis, the Times was performing nothing less than a hatchet job on Michael B. Mukasey, President Bush’s choice for the position of Attorney General.

Next to the MoveOn.org advertising flap, which has revealed how the paper’s managerial incompetence can mix with its biases, the Mukasey story exposes the partisanship of the paper’s supposedly non-partisan news section in a way that few stories ever quite so nakedly do. It will be interesting to see if Clark Hoyt, the Times’s Public Editor, takes up this scandal, as he has here with the MoveOn.org ad, in a forthcoming column.

Whether we hear from Hoyt or not, the lengthening of the line of soiled laundry on display at our country’s premier newspaper is spectacularly ill-timedat least from the point of view of the self-preening journalism lobby itself. On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to take up a “shield law” that would carve out special privileges for journalists, exempting them from having to testify in legal proceedings about their confidential sources.

Although the Times’s Mukasey story does not bear in any direct way on the issues addressed in the bill, it demonstrates, as clearly as DanRathergate did, something else. Rank partisanship has infected American journalism to the point that a shield lawa bad idea under any circumstances, as I have argued herewould at this juncture be a formula for the kind of disaster that only a Spider-Man could save us from.

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