Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 17, 2007

Rudy’s Bank Shot

As mayor, Rudy Giuliani endeared himself to conservatives around the country, as much for his enemies as for his accomplishments. When Giuliani attacked big-spending, culturally elitist, Al Sharpton-allied Democrats, he scored big with hordes of GOP primary voters. Now, in defending General David Petraeus, he is using the same tactic against the McCarthy-like attacks of the Moveon.orgers, widely loathed by conservatives and disdained by moderates. But in attacking Senator Clinton—the likely Democratic nominee—for refusing to disavow Moveon.org, Giuliani has also pulled off a two-cushion bank shot for both himself and the leading Democrat.

His criticisms not only allow Giuliani to define himself, once again, by who his enemies are: it does the same for Hillary. The ranters on DailyKos and the Moveon.orgers have, as Matt Bai’s recent book The Argument points out, little in the way of a positive agenda. Like the Islamists they try so hard to ignore, their strongest suit is unyielding hostility. And Clinton has long been one of the objects of their hostility: they despise her for her middle-of-the-road position on Iraq and for the moderate politics of her husband’s presidency.

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As mayor, Rudy Giuliani endeared himself to conservatives around the country, as much for his enemies as for his accomplishments. When Giuliani attacked big-spending, culturally elitist, Al Sharpton-allied Democrats, he scored big with hordes of GOP primary voters. Now, in defending General David Petraeus, he is using the same tactic against the McCarthy-like attacks of the Moveon.orgers, widely loathed by conservatives and disdained by moderates. But in attacking Senator Clinton—the likely Democratic nominee—for refusing to disavow Moveon.org, Giuliani has also pulled off a two-cushion bank shot for both himself and the leading Democrat.

His criticisms not only allow Giuliani to define himself, once again, by who his enemies are: it does the same for Hillary. The ranters on DailyKos and the Moveon.orgers have, as Matt Bai’s recent book The Argument points out, little in the way of a positive agenda. Like the Islamists they try so hard to ignore, their strongest suit is unyielding hostility. And Clinton has long been one of the objects of their hostility: they despise her for her middle-of-the-road position on Iraq and for the moderate politics of her husband’s presidency.

Giuliani has, essentially, recreated the dynamic of the 1990’s, the dynamic that made Hillary a darling of the Left even as she disavowed some of its policies. Then, the Clintons fought Newt Gingrich and Ken Starr and the GOP’s foolish attempts to impeach Bill, forcing left-wing Democrats to come to their defense. Now, Giuliani, by attacking Hillary as anti-military, has given her ammunition against critics and candidates to her left. As Eli Lake points out in the New York Sun:

For a Democratic candidate who not only voted to authorize the toppling of Saddam Hussein, but scolded the earnest protesters at Code Pink when they questioned her vote, what could be better than having a pro-victory Republican say she was too tough on the military?

Lake describes the dynamic set in motion by the two as a process of “Mutually Assured Nomination.”

All of this, it should be noted, eludes New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. For her, Giuliani’s ad against Hillary places him in the same category as Michelle Obama and Elizabeth Edwards in their criticism of the former first lady. She accuses him of ignoring

her attempts to be New Hillary, a senator who loves men in uniform, who is not afraid to use military power, and who is tough enough to deal with bin Laden. He recasts her as Old Hillary, a Code Pink pinko first lady and opportunist from a White House that had a reputation for having a flower-child distaste for the military . . . .

Maybe. But what could be better at the moment for Hillary’s candidacy than having more firepower to fend off challenges coming entirely from her left?

Giuliani and Clinton are leading their respective packs because in the wake of the many failings of the Bush presidency, they are the most competent, most experienced candidates of their respective parties. Each will campaign as the only real alternative to the other—and each will be right. It’s a mutually beneficial antagonism.

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“The Worst, Sir, Is War.”

Yesterday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, while calling for more effective sanctions against Iran, said that the world should be getting ready to use force to prevent that country from developing nuclear weapons. “We must prepare for the worst,” he said. “The worst, sir, is war.”

Unfortunately, peaceful efforts to stop Iran’s theocrats have been getting nowhere. In July of last year, the U.N. Security Council demanded that Tehran stop its efforts to enrich uranium; the Council then imposed two sets of sanctions, in December and March. In response to these actions, Tehran has issued a series of increasingly defiant refusals to comply. It has, however, enlisted an invaluable ally. Last month, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, undercut the Security Council sanctions by cutting a deal with Iran. The arrangement, which seeks Iran’s cooperation, does not require the country to stop enrichment and effectively prevents the Security Council from enacting a needed third set of coercive measures.

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Yesterday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, while calling for more effective sanctions against Iran, said that the world should be getting ready to use force to prevent that country from developing nuclear weapons. “We must prepare for the worst,” he said. “The worst, sir, is war.”

Unfortunately, peaceful efforts to stop Iran’s theocrats have been getting nowhere. In July of last year, the U.N. Security Council demanded that Tehran stop its efforts to enrich uranium; the Council then imposed two sets of sanctions, in December and March. In response to these actions, Tehran has issued a series of increasingly defiant refusals to comply. It has, however, enlisted an invaluable ally. Last month, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, undercut the Security Council sanctions by cutting a deal with Iran. The arrangement, which seeks Iran’s cooperation, does not require the country to stop enrichment and effectively prevents the Security Council from enacting a needed third set of coercive measures.

In the last few days, Tehran has made even more progress. On September 10, Itar-Tass carried a report suggesting that Russia had settled its differences with Iran and had agreed to supply uranium to the Bushehr nuclear plant. On Friday, Beijing issued its latest pronouncement, which essentially endorsed Iran’s delaying tactics.

Time, unfortunately, is growing short. It appears that at some point in the next two years Iranian specialists, unless they are stopped, will gain all the technology and know-how necessary for the building of a nuclear weapon. It would be wonderful if peaceful methods would deter Iran, but that appears extremely unlikely. Russia and China have demonstrated that they will use their Security Council vetoes to prevent the U.N. from imposing meaningful sanctions, and American and EU measures, on their own, will not be sufficient.

Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking on Fox News Sunday, said the Bush administration is committed to “diplomatic and economic means” to stop Iran. We all want peaceful solutions, but as each day passes it becomes increasingly clear that Gates’s words have no substantive content; he has been unable to persuade Russia and China to take a clear stand against Iran.

So Kouchner was right to get the West to focus on an unpleasant reality. We are rapidly approaching the point where we have to make a consequential decision—either accept Iran as a nuclear weapons state or take away its arms by force.

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A Soprano Rediscovered

All too often a singer’s fame does not correspond with his or her actual musical mastery. The Clarksburg, West Virginia-born soprano Phyllis Curtin (born 1921) is a case in point. Although she enjoys legendary status at Yale and Boston Universities, where she taught for many years, Curtin’s lengthy singing career was hampered, (as Peter G. Davis recounts in his well-documented American Opera Singer) by being forced out of a promised starring role in a New York City Opera production of Handel’s “Julius Caesar,” after the more influential Beverly Sills twisted arms to obtain it. However, posterity is offering some belated rewards to Curtin in the form of a series of fascinating reissues on CD and DVD, which show her artistry at its peak.

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All too often a singer’s fame does not correspond with his or her actual musical mastery. The Clarksburg, West Virginia-born soprano Phyllis Curtin (born 1921) is a case in point. Although she enjoys legendary status at Yale and Boston Universities, where she taught for many years, Curtin’s lengthy singing career was hampered, (as Peter G. Davis recounts in his well-documented American Opera Singer) by being forced out of a promised starring role in a New York City Opera production of Handel’s “Julius Caesar,” after the more influential Beverly Sills twisted arms to obtain it. However, posterity is offering some belated rewards to Curtin in the form of a series of fascinating reissues on CD and DVD, which show her artistry at its peak.

The most recent of these is VAI’s release of a 1963 televised performance of Britten’s “War Requiem” from Tanglewood, in which the statuesque Curtin sings the Latin portions of the Requiem with womanly warmth and dignity. As the soprano soloist in Britten’s “Requiem,” Curtin is vastly better than the unbridled Slavic-accented yowlings of Galina Vishnevskaya as conducted by the composer himself on Decca. On Phyllis Curtin in Recital, another recently issued live recording from VAI, also from 1963, the soprano performs a variety of songs and arias by European and Latin American composers, from Gluck and Tchaikovsky to Alberto Ginastera. Her utter directness and conviction is wholly admirable, while her ability to communicate emotion in foreign languages is exemplary. Her English diction is no less fine in VAI’s CD Phyllis Curtin Sings Copland & Rorem, although the characterful Aaron Copland songs on this CD necessarily overshadow the weak-as-water banalities of the ever-puerile Ned Rorem. VAI has also cobbled together a CD of previously unreleased material, Phyllis Curtin—Opera Arias (1960-1968) including music by Mozart, Verdi, and Puccini.

Taken together, these interpretations construct the image of a singer of great poise and even majesty, of gleaming intelligence and devotion. Two years ago, as part of a convocation address which she delivered at the Northwestern University School of Music, Curtin observed: “Working with composers on new music I learned how to look at Bach freshly and at all music as newly alive, and, as well, much about my own time I never dreamed of!” She advised the listening students: “Serve your composers. Don’t present only the dead ones to your audiences.” She added as an example of her longtime generosity of spirit: “At Tanglewood, I have insisted that my classes be open to anyone walking by. Visitors have to sit in the back of the hall, and I direct nothing at all to them. Some stay a little while. Some come back, and often, year after year…. Some, I learn, have even made financial contributions to the vocal program.” New York’s movers and shakers in the classical world (especially at pricey locales like Carnegie Hall) would do well to imitate this kind of openness.

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Rejecting Nagl

I’ve blogged before about Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl’s idea to create an Advisor Corps within the army that would focus on producing training teams to work with foreign militaries.

I thought Nagl made a convincing case for such an unorthodox approach, and he certainly knows what he is talking about: He is in charge of a battalion at Fort Riley, Kansas, that trains advisors for Iraq and Afghanistan, and he has concluded, based on that experience, that the current training and manning system for advisory teams is too haphazard and too small to meet all of our national security needs.

Not surprisingly, the army doesn’t see it that way. The newsletter Inside the Pentagon reported on September 13th that the army has officially decided, in the words of a public affairs officer, “that is not the way to go.” The army would prefer building cookie-cutter Brigade Combat Teams and relying on a small number of Special Forces to specialize in the training mission. This decision comes, by the way, in the face of copious evidence that there are not nearly enough Green Berets to meet all the demands thrown their way.

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I’ve blogged before about Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl’s idea to create an Advisor Corps within the army that would focus on producing training teams to work with foreign militaries.

I thought Nagl made a convincing case for such an unorthodox approach, and he certainly knows what he is talking about: He is in charge of a battalion at Fort Riley, Kansas, that trains advisors for Iraq and Afghanistan, and he has concluded, based on that experience, that the current training and manning system for advisory teams is too haphazard and too small to meet all of our national security needs.

Not surprisingly, the army doesn’t see it that way. The newsletter Inside the Pentagon reported on September 13th that the army has officially decided, in the words of a public affairs officer, “that is not the way to go.” The army would prefer building cookie-cutter Brigade Combat Teams and relying on a small number of Special Forces to specialize in the training mission. This decision comes, by the way, in the face of copious evidence that there are not nearly enough Green Berets to meet all the demands thrown their way.

There are certainly good arguments that can be made against Nagl’s proposal. But my suspicion is that the army’s view is simply the default position of a lumbering bureaucracy averse to new thinking—even when it comes from within its own ranks. (Perhaps especially when it comes from within its own ranks.)

The larger problem here is the difficulty that the armed services have in assimilating and rewarding brainy officers like Nagl (author of a much-cited book on counterinsurgency lessons from Malaya and Vietnam) who don’t fit the standard mold. Others in that category include a pair of Ph.D. colonels—H.R. McMaster and Peter Mansoor—who have both earned stellar reputations not only in the academy, but also on the battlefield. But they are both in danger of not being promoted to general. Mavericks like them deserve support from the outside—especially on Capitol Hill—to help transform the military in spite of itself.

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Leadership on Taiwan

The time has come for Washington to show some leadership regarding Taiwan’s U.N. membership as the issue gains traction in China and on the island. The Bush administration should propose a way to go forward. Here are some suggestions.

First, we should state clearly that, like the Olympic games, which China is hosting next year, the U.N. is intended to be entirely inclusive. Just as Taiwan will be sending teams to the Olympics, we in Washington think she should also be able to send a delegation to the United Nations. Second, we should indicate that the United States fundamentally supports democracy and human rights for all peoples, including the people of Taiwan. We never intended that nearly thirty years should pass (since our break with Taipei in 1979) during which those people, having made themselves democratic, should be excluded from the international community. Third, we should call on China to join the rest of the world in finding a way forward, so that Taiwan can send a delegation to New York as she will send teams to Beijing. Finally, we should stress that violence and coercion are ruled out. They are simply not options and will be resisted by the United States.

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The time has come for Washington to show some leadership regarding Taiwan’s U.N. membership as the issue gains traction in China and on the island. The Bush administration should propose a way to go forward. Here are some suggestions.

First, we should state clearly that, like the Olympic games, which China is hosting next year, the U.N. is intended to be entirely inclusive. Just as Taiwan will be sending teams to the Olympics, we in Washington think she should also be able to send a delegation to the United Nations. Second, we should indicate that the United States fundamentally supports democracy and human rights for all peoples, including the people of Taiwan. We never intended that nearly thirty years should pass (since our break with Taipei in 1979) during which those people, having made themselves democratic, should be excluded from the international community. Third, we should call on China to join the rest of the world in finding a way forward, so that Taiwan can send a delegation to New York as she will send teams to Beijing. Finally, we should stress that violence and coercion are ruled out. They are simply not options and will be resisted by the United States.

By adopting such a forward-looking position, Washington would escape the trap into which she is now falling, which is serving as China’s enforcer. Since August 27th we have been manifesting a clear double standard with respect to Taiwan, the only explanation for which is fear of China. On that day Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte warned Taiwan about carrying out a referendum—a democratic exercise. Other officials have since joined in (as my previous posts have chronicled). But when Pakistan’s Prime Minister Musharraf expelled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Saudi Arabia, an undemocratic action if ever there was one, the same Deputy Secretary had no comment and praised Pakistan as our friend.

Meanwhile, in Taiwan, various demonstrations brought hundreds of thousands out in favor of votes on the U.N.—and 12,000 pro-China demonstrators out against such a vote. Steam is building up. If Washington does not start leading instead of reacting, case by case, to Chinese demands, trouble lies ahead. China will give us nothing in return for disciplining Taiwan. She will treat it as no more than our duty while taking it as a basis for more extensive future demands. At some point those demands will be more than we can accept. Our passivity will have brought us to a possibly dangerous impasse. Far better to seize the initiative now. Let Washington take the lead in challenging China and the world to find a way that will permit Taiwan once again to be represented in the United Nations.

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The Delusions of Jim Moran

Democrat Jim Moran of Northern Virginia is one of the denser members of Congress, which is saying a lot (a short course on his wit and wisdom may be found here). An otherwise unremarkable public figure, Moran is notorious for uttering, days before the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003, that “If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this. . . . The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going, and I think they should.” Moran apologized yet was scolded by senior members of his own party, including then-Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, who said that “He has properly apologized. His comments have no place in the Democratic Party.”

Leaving aside this assertion (the belief that Jews, as a monolithic group, are responsible for the Iraq war is an idea that, if anything, is gaining traction in the Democratic Party), one would have hoped that Moran had learned from his four-year-old flub. Not so, according to the Washington Post’s Colbert King. In a column entitled “Jim Moran’s Mouth, Again,” King discusses a May interview with Moran conducted by the leftist Jewish magazine, Tikkun, and published this month. In the interview, Moran essentially repeats the slander he made four years ago, this time gussying it up for a liberal Jewish audience.

King takes specific issue with Moran’s assertion that AIPAC members

are willing to be very generous with their personal wealth. But it’s a two-edged sword. If you cross AIPAC, AIPAC is unforgiving and will destroy you politically. Their means of communications, their ties to certain newspapers and magazines, and to individuals in the media are substantial and intimidating.

If the all-powerful AIPAC can “destroy [a politician] politically,” why has Jim Moran returned to office again and again? This casting of aspersions based on little to no evidence, King says, “suggests an alignment between AIPAC and journalists that conspires to influence news and opinions about Israel . . . Having made those charges, Moran is obligated to provide evidence supporting them. He should start by naming names.” This is good advice, and the Congressman should indeed name the individuals he believes are part of this supposed AIPAC-led conspiracy. After all, doesn’t it represent a threat to our very way of life?

Democrat Jim Moran of Northern Virginia is one of the denser members of Congress, which is saying a lot (a short course on his wit and wisdom may be found here). An otherwise unremarkable public figure, Moran is notorious for uttering, days before the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003, that “If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this. . . . The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going, and I think they should.” Moran apologized yet was scolded by senior members of his own party, including then-Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, who said that “He has properly apologized. His comments have no place in the Democratic Party.”

Leaving aside this assertion (the belief that Jews, as a monolithic group, are responsible for the Iraq war is an idea that, if anything, is gaining traction in the Democratic Party), one would have hoped that Moran had learned from his four-year-old flub. Not so, according to the Washington Post’s Colbert King. In a column entitled “Jim Moran’s Mouth, Again,” King discusses a May interview with Moran conducted by the leftist Jewish magazine, Tikkun, and published this month. In the interview, Moran essentially repeats the slander he made four years ago, this time gussying it up for a liberal Jewish audience.

King takes specific issue with Moran’s assertion that AIPAC members

are willing to be very generous with their personal wealth. But it’s a two-edged sword. If you cross AIPAC, AIPAC is unforgiving and will destroy you politically. Their means of communications, their ties to certain newspapers and magazines, and to individuals in the media are substantial and intimidating.

If the all-powerful AIPAC can “destroy [a politician] politically,” why has Jim Moran returned to office again and again? This casting of aspersions based on little to no evidence, King says, “suggests an alignment between AIPAC and journalists that conspires to influence news and opinions about Israel . . . Having made those charges, Moran is obligated to provide evidence supporting them. He should start by naming names.” This is good advice, and the Congressman should indeed name the individuals he believes are part of this supposed AIPAC-led conspiracy. After all, doesn’t it represent a threat to our very way of life?

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