Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 24, 2007

“A mean and nasty and bitter attack”

At a ceremony marking the sixth anniversary of September 11, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick remarked that the murder of some 3,000 people by al Qaeda terrorists was a “mean and nasty and bitter attack” resulting from a “failure of human beings to understand each other and to learn to love each other.” He has since defended his remarks, telling a radio interviewer that, “I was taught in my church that all violent attack is a failure of human understanding.” The city of Boston, it ought to be remembered, played a tragic role in the attacks of September 11, as both planes that destroyed the World Trade Center had originated from Logan airport.

Governor Patrick’s rhetoric—”mean and nasty”—is more befitting a schoolmarm scolding a misbehaving second grader than a political leader condemning the worst attack ever on American soil. And it is more the language of a Cambridge city councilor than a governor. Thankfully, neither plays a role in the shaping of American foreign policy.

At a ceremony marking the sixth anniversary of September 11, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick remarked that the murder of some 3,000 people by al Qaeda terrorists was a “mean and nasty and bitter attack” resulting from a “failure of human beings to understand each other and to learn to love each other.” He has since defended his remarks, telling a radio interviewer that, “I was taught in my church that all violent attack is a failure of human understanding.” The city of Boston, it ought to be remembered, played a tragic role in the attacks of September 11, as both planes that destroyed the World Trade Center had originated from Logan airport.

Governor Patrick’s rhetoric—”mean and nasty”—is more befitting a schoolmarm scolding a misbehaving second grader than a political leader condemning the worst attack ever on American soil. And it is more the language of a Cambridge city councilor than a governor. Thankfully, neither plays a role in the shaping of American foreign policy.

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Taiwan’s Rejection

Taiwan’s rejection—for the fifteenth time in a row—by the agenda-setting committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations last Wednesday may well be seen, before too long, to have been a turning point. After all, who can believe that Taiwan will be turned down another fifteen times?

Chinese diplomats are nervous. They don’t want Taiwan even on the agenda, because they fear, correctly, that an open discussion might not go their way. They know that no one believes on principle that Taiwan should be excluded. Other countries are simply afraid of China.

How long can China continue to intimidate otherwise free-thinking nations? The answer is, not indefinitely.

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Taiwan’s rejection—for the fifteenth time in a row—by the agenda-setting committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations last Wednesday may well be seen, before too long, to have been a turning point. After all, who can believe that Taiwan will be turned down another fifteen times?

Chinese diplomats are nervous. They don’t want Taiwan even on the agenda, because they fear, correctly, that an open discussion might not go their way. They know that no one believes on principle that Taiwan should be excluded. Other countries are simply afraid of China.

How long can China continue to intimidate otherwise free-thinking nations? The answer is, not indefinitely.

Consider India. In an article on the op-ed page of the Times of India, Ramesh Thakur, formerly a senior vice rector of the U.N. University in Tokyo, wrote:

The biggest and longest running scandal is the way in which Taiwan has been banned from the U.N.. Taiwan is refused membership, is not granted observer status, and does not figure in the U.N.’s statistical databases.

Concluding that the exclusion of Taiwan “has little to do with the merits of the application and everything to do with the geopolitics of China as a permanent member of the Security Council,” Thakur asked:

Where does this leave all the fine talk of democracy, human rights, and self-determination in Kosovo, East Timor, and elsewhere? Taiwan is better credentialed than most of them. Its population of 23 million is almost the combined total of Australia and New Zealand, and bigger than scores of U.N. member states, including East Timor (under one million) and Kosovo (over two million).

To our shame, official jaws in Washington have been clenched tightly shut with respect to this issue, except when reiterating hoary formulas whose authors, with a handful of exceptions, are long dead.

The Bush administration portrays Taiwan’s increasingly audible demands as no more than local political posturing and manipulation, for which their elected president is to blame, and resolutely declines comment on the merits of Taiwan’s case.

Some former officials, however, are talking sense: Michael Green, for instance, Bush’s former top Asian aide, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He was recently quoted as saying:

For the U.S. side, we need to recognize the issue of identity in Taiwan is not a political game, it’s not a tactical move in Taipei, it’s a very fundamental issue, not at all unique to its 23 million people…. Look at Korea, Japan, the national identity is at the top of the agenda in every country in Asia and there is no reason why Taiwan should be any different.

Thakur and Green are absolutely right. The issues and processes they describe will not disappear or cease simply because we and China wish they would. We are dealing with nationalism. Difficult as it may be, we need to think ahead.

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Columbia’s Defeat

Speaking in New York on the eve of the U.N. General Assembly annual session, French President Nicholas Sarkozy declared that a third round of sanctions against Iran was both desirable and likely. If the U.N. will not adopt a third resolution, Sarkozy suggested, the EU will: “Between surrender and war, there is a range of solutions that exist like the reinforcement of sanctions, which will eventually have an effect,” Sarkozy was quoted as saying. No war, clearly, though not surrender, either—a word that could describe Columbia University’s decision to host Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Speaking in New York on the eve of the U.N. General Assembly annual session, French President Nicholas Sarkozy declared that a third round of sanctions against Iran was both desirable and likely. If the U.N. will not adopt a third resolution, Sarkozy suggested, the EU will: “Between surrender and war, there is a range of solutions that exist like the reinforcement of sanctions, which will eventually have an effect,” Sarkozy was quoted as saying. No war, clearly, though not surrender, either—a word that could describe Columbia University’s decision to host Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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Bad Ad

In yesterday’s “The Public Editor” column for the New York Times, Clark Hoyt informs us that the Times, after almost two weeks of insisting otherwise, now admits that it gave favorable treatment to the MoveOn.org ad defaming General David Petraeus—charging MoveOn.org $64,575 for the ad instead of the $142,083 MoveOn.org should have paid.

What a shocking revelation.

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In yesterday’s “The Public Editor” column for the New York Times, Clark Hoyt informs us that the Times, after almost two weeks of insisting otherwise, now admits that it gave favorable treatment to the MoveOn.org ad defaming General David Petraeus—charging MoveOn.org $64,575 for the ad instead of the $142,083 MoveOn.org should have paid.

What a shocking revelation.

The Hoyt article is full of insights into the mindset of those who work at the Times. For one thing, we learn that Steph Jespersen, the executive who approved the MoveOn.org ad, said that while it was “rough,” he regarded it as a “comment on a public official’s management of his office and therefore acceptable speech for the Times to print.” We also are told that Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of the Times and chairman of its parent company, said this:

If we’re going to err, it’s better to err on the side of more political dialogue…. Perhaps we did err in this case. If we did, we erred with the intent of giving greater voice to people.

The trouble with this explanation, of course, is that what we are dealing with is not free speech so much as slander. The MoveOn.org ad accuses General Petraeus, a four-star general and war hero, of betraying his nation and “cooking the books.” These charges are false and malicious, yet in response, the best Sulzberger can say is that he believes that “perhaps”—perhaps!—the Times erred in this case. Sulzberger is almost Ratheresque in his ability to defend the journalistically indefensible.

One wonders if an organization ran a full-page ad accusing the publisher of the Times, without evidence, of being a traitor or a racist with strong ties to hate groups, he would view such charges as “giving greater voice to people.” Perhaps. And would those who work for him characterize such an ad as “rough” but “acceptable” speech for the Times to print? Perhaps.

We are also told that Jespersen, director of advertising acceptability, “bends over backward to accommodate advocacy ads, including ads from groups with which the newspaper disagrees editorially.” Of course he does. And Jespersen, we learn, has rejected an ad from the National Right to Life Committee—not, he said, because of its message, but because it pictured aborted fetuses.

Now isn’t that rich? The New York Times rejected an ad that is certainly “rough” but also has the virtue of being accurate—after all, it shows what aborted fetuses look like—but gave a huge discount rate to an ad that was “rough” but was also utterly false and slanderous. It’s worth bearing in mind that the Times—which took almost two weeks to correct its false claims and admit wrongdoing—is the same newspaper that regularly lacerates public officials (like former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales) for not being able to get their stories straight. Is it any wonder, then, that the New York Times is losing money, readers, respect, and credibility by the day?

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“Free Speech for Terrorists?”

This afternoon, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke by invitation at Columbia University. (See Gabriel Schoenfeld’s post here.) Ahmadinejad has made clear that he considers the U.S. and Iran to be mortal enemies, and that the victory of Iran in the struggle between them is divinely ordained. This is to say nothing of his intention to develop a nuclear bomb, his genocidal attitude toward Israel, his denial of the Holocaust, and his blatant anti-Semitism and hatred of Christianity. In March 2005, the noted legal scholar Andrew McCarthy addressed in COMMENTARY the question of how far American legal protections of speech should extend toward our nation’s declared Islamist enemies. In “Free Speech for Terrorists?” he concludes that the First Amendment is not now and never has been a suicide pact.

This afternoon, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke by invitation at Columbia University. (See Gabriel Schoenfeld’s post here.) Ahmadinejad has made clear that he considers the U.S. and Iran to be mortal enemies, and that the victory of Iran in the struggle between them is divinely ordained. This is to say nothing of his intention to develop a nuclear bomb, his genocidal attitude toward Israel, his denial of the Holocaust, and his blatant anti-Semitism and hatred of Christianity. In March 2005, the noted legal scholar Andrew McCarthy addressed in COMMENTARY the question of how far American legal protections of speech should extend toward our nation’s declared Islamist enemies. In “Free Speech for Terrorists?” he concludes that the First Amendment is not now and never has been a suicide pact.

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Shedding Light on Iran

As everybody’s favorite Holocaust denier, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, arrives in New York, two recent articles about Iranian activities deserve more attention than they’ve been getting.

This article reports on a convoy captured by NATO forces on September 6 in the western Afghan province of Farah, which borders Iran. The convoy was full of bombs of the kind that Iran has also been supplying to insurgents in Iraq. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. As the Washington Post account notes: “International forces captured two smaller shipments of sophisticated roadside bombs believed to be from Iran in April and May in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, a stronghold of the Taliban insurgency and one of the most violent areas in the country.”

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As everybody’s favorite Holocaust denier, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, arrives in New York, two recent articles about Iranian activities deserve more attention than they’ve been getting.

This article reports on a convoy captured by NATO forces on September 6 in the western Afghan province of Farah, which borders Iran. The convoy was full of bombs of the kind that Iran has also been supplying to insurgents in Iraq. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. As the Washington Post account notes: “International forces captured two smaller shipments of sophisticated roadside bombs believed to be from Iran in April and May in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, a stronghold of the Taliban insurgency and one of the most violent areas in the country.”

Then there’s this more recent article, which quotes an American military spokesman in Baghdad, Admiral Mark Fox, saying that U.S. troops are finding that Iran is smuggling into Iraq not only explosively formed projectiles (the potent land mines that can punch a hole in any armor in the U.S. arsenal), but also the advanced RPG-29 (much more potent than the RPG-7, or rocket propelled grenade, which is already available to the insurgents), 240 mm. rockets (which have been landing on the Green Zone), and, most ominously of all, man-portable surface-to-air missiles such as the infrared-guided Misagh 1.

The Misagh 1 is said by the CIA to be modeled on the Chinese-made QW-1, which was unveiled in 1994, and which was “claimed to surpass the US Stinger in maximum effective range, target seeker tracking capability, warhead power and other indicators.”

Thus the Iranian action in supplying these weapons to Iraqi insurgents is reminiscent of what the U.S. did in the 1980′s when the Reagan administration decided to escalate our proxy war with the Soviet Union by supplying Stinger missiles to the mujahideen guerrillas in Afghanistan. This was widely seen as a turning point in the conflict, since, to some extent, it negated the Russian advantage in airpower.

Put together, these reports suggest that Iran is now escalating its war against the U.S. and our democratic allies. And the Bush administration approach—of combining loud threats with economic sanctions—isn’t doing much to dissuade the Iranians from their warlike course. But perhaps Columbia University’s students and faculty can convince Ahmadinejad of the error of his ways when he shows up to speak at their campus.

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Hitler at Columbia

How many American soldiers perished because the bomb built by Georg Elser to kill Adolf Hitler in a beer hall in Munich in November 1939 failed to go off on time and the dictator lived to prosecute the war he had launched two months earlier? 

The number is known to precision: 292,131, including 31,215 from the state of New York, where Columbia University is located. The total number of casualties in that war–U.S. and foreign, Axis and Allied, military and civilian alike–is considerably higher: perhaps as many as 72 million.

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How many American soldiers perished because the bomb built by Georg Elser to kill Adolf Hitler in a beer hall in Munich in November 1939 failed to go off on time and the dictator lived to prosecute the war he had launched two months earlier? 

The number is known to precision: 292,131, including 31,215 from the state of New York, where Columbia University is located. The total number of casualties in that war–U.S. and foreign, Axis and Allied, military and civilian alike–is considerably higher: perhaps as many as 72 million.

As I noted recently in the Weekly Standard, Elser, who was apprehended by the German border police, handed over to the Gestapo, and subsequently executed, explained his action this way: “I wanted through my deed to prevent even greater bloodshed.”

John Coatsworth, the dean who invited the nuclear-bomb-seeking Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia today, would have had a different approach. As he told Fox News on Saturday, he would have extended an invitation to Hitler: “If he were willing to engage in a debate and a discussion, to be challenged by Columbia students and faculty, we would certainly invite him.”

Coatsworth’s name will not make it into the standard histories as Elser’s has. But it deserves to be recorded for posterity. The university’s invitation to the genocidal aspirant Ahmadinejad is repugnant on many grounds. The outrage committed by Dean Coatsworth upon the dead of World War II–and, along the way, upon the memory of Georg Elser, who readily sacrificed his own life for the peace of the world–staggers the imagination. 

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Mattel in Hell

On Friday, the world’s largest toymaker humbled itself before the world’s most populous communist state, a move that Kitty Pilgrim called “an unbelievable act of appeasement.” While Thomas Debrowski’s apology to Beijing may not have the same significance as Neville Chamberlain’s deal in Munich, the CNN anchor certainly had a point.

“Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people and all of our customers who received the toys,” said Debrowski, Mattel’s executive vice president for worldwide operations, to Li Changjiang, the head of China’s product-safety agency. The California-based toymaker can’t be sorry enough when it comes to consumers, but the kowtow to Li and the Chinese people was a bit much. “It’s like a bank robber apologizing to his accomplice,” noted Senator Charles Schumer.

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On Friday, the world’s largest toymaker humbled itself before the world’s most populous communist state, a move that Kitty Pilgrim called “an unbelievable act of appeasement.” While Thomas Debrowski’s apology to Beijing may not have the same significance as Neville Chamberlain’s deal in Munich, the CNN anchor certainly had a point.

“Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people and all of our customers who received the toys,” said Debrowski, Mattel’s executive vice president for worldwide operations, to Li Changjiang, the head of China’s product-safety agency. The California-based toymaker can’t be sorry enough when it comes to consumers, but the kowtow to Li and the Chinese people was a bit much. “It’s like a bank robber apologizing to his accomplice,” noted Senator Charles Schumer.

It’s hard to create sympathy for a company that has just had to recall 19.6 million defective products intended for children, but the Chinese have done just that. For one thing, it was clear that Beijing was determined to humiliate Mattel. Debrowski was scheduled to meet with Li, but the Beijing official at the last moment said he would not get together unless reporters were present. Li, from his overstuffed chair, then administered a finger-wagging lecture to the obviously uncomfortable Debrowski as cameras rolled.

So the real story is not Mattel. It is China. China’s officials know they cannot solve the structural problems of Chinese manufacturing within the context of their one-party system, in which corruption runs rampant and central authorities have little control over local officials. Therefore, they are choosing to deal with a public relations nightmare by going on the attack against foreigners. Li Changjiang was angry because Mattel’s public comments in the United States did not always note that recalls involved products with defective designs—improperly secured magnets—when it talked about products with excessive levels of lead paint.

Yet Li’s tirade went well beyond this omission. He told Mattel in public that its stringent recall policy was “unacceptable.” Beijing may have the right to adopt whatever standards it wants for its own citizens, but it has no place telling American companies—and by implication the American government—what rules to apply to protect American consumers. Now that Chinese officials have used a public forum to try to dictate Washington’s products-safety policy, it is the responsibility of the Bush administration to demand publicly that China stop its interference in our efforts to look after the well-being of our own children.

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Bookshelf

• It would be an understatement to say that Mary McCarthy’s novels haven’t aged well—I don’t know anyone without tenure who now reads them—and I can’t say that I get much out of her essays, either. But Memories of a Catholic Girlhood still has its admirers, myself (with reservations) among them, while the drama criticism that was collected in 1963 in a volume called Mary McCarthy’s Theatre Chronicles 1937-1962 hasn’t dated in the least. This trim little volume is still available in paperback, if only after a fashion—it was reissued a few years ago by the Authors Guild Back-in-Print Bookstore, a service of iUniverse, a print-on-demand publisher—but it deserves much wider circulation.

Theatre Chronicles is prefaced by a very funny essay in which McCarthy tells how a young Vassar graduate with no apparent qualifications other than the fact that she was sleeping with Philip Rahv came to be the drama critic of Partisan Review:

I was a source of uneasiness and potential embarrassment to the magazine, which had accpted me, unwillingly, as an editor because I had a minute “name” and was the girl friend of one of the “boys,” who had issued a ukase on my behalf. I was not a Marxist; I should have liked, rather, to be one, but I did not know the language, which seemed really like a foreign tongue….

The field assigned me was the theatre, because, just before this, I had been married to an actor. It was often debated whether we should have a theatre column at all. Some of the editors felt that the theatre was not worth bothering with, because it was neither a high art, like Art, nor a mass art, like the movies. But this was also an argument for letting me do it. If I made mistakes, who cared?

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• It would be an understatement to say that Mary McCarthy’s novels haven’t aged well—I don’t know anyone without tenure who now reads them—and I can’t say that I get much out of her essays, either. But Memories of a Catholic Girlhood still has its admirers, myself (with reservations) among them, while the drama criticism that was collected in 1963 in a volume called Mary McCarthy’s Theatre Chronicles 1937-1962 hasn’t dated in the least. This trim little volume is still available in paperback, if only after a fashion—it was reissued a few years ago by the Authors Guild Back-in-Print Bookstore, a service of iUniverse, a print-on-demand publisher—but it deserves much wider circulation.

Theatre Chronicles is prefaced by a very funny essay in which McCarthy tells how a young Vassar graduate with no apparent qualifications other than the fact that she was sleeping with Philip Rahv came to be the drama critic of Partisan Review:

I was a source of uneasiness and potential embarrassment to the magazine, which had accpted me, unwillingly, as an editor because I had a minute “name” and was the girl friend of one of the “boys,” who had issued a ukase on my behalf. I was not a Marxist; I should have liked, rather, to be one, but I did not know the language, which seemed really like a foreign tongue….

The field assigned me was the theatre, because, just before this, I had been married to an actor. It was often debated whether we should have a theatre column at all. Some of the editors felt that the theatre was not worth bothering with, because it was neither a high art, like Art, nor a mass art, like the movies. But this was also an argument for letting me do it. If I made mistakes, who cared?

McCarthy was not always the most reliable of autobiographers—that, too, is an understatement—but her rueful confession has the smack of plain truth. So do her theater reviews, which are remarkable for the cold-eyed, clear-headed way in which she saw through the pretenses of a great many people who continue to be handled with kid gloves by far too many critics. It was McCarthy, for instance, who said that Eugene O’Neill was “a playwright who—to be frank—cannot write,” that Orson Welles “has always seemed to secrete a kind of viscous holy oil with which he sprays the rough surfaces of his roles,” and that Stanley Kowalski, the Napoleonic Code-spouting anti-hero of A Streetcar Named Desire, was something less than a believable portrayal of a recognizable human being: “Dr. Kinsey would be interested in a semi-skilled male who spoke of the four-letter act as ‘getting those colored lights going.’”

Like most critics, McCarthy had her limits, the chief of which was an inadequate appreciation of theater as spectacle. Her orientation was almost entirely verbal, to the point that one occasionally suspected her of having reviewed scripts rather than live performances. Thus she was incapable of grasping the fundamentally spectacular virtues of the young Welles’s Elizabethan revivals or the young Marlon Brando’s acting. At the same time, though, it was salutary to hear on a regular basis from a drama critic who insisted that a play must ultimately be held to the same literary standards as a novel:

“Yes,” some people will agree of a play by Tennessee Williams, “it is badly written, but it’s good theatre.” I have never been able to make out what this expression means, exactly. “Strong” situations? Masochistic grovelling? Sexual torture? Is Sophocles “good theatre”? Is Shakespeare? Apparently not, for the term is always used defensively, to justify a kind of shoddiness, which is held to be excusable for the stage.

And while one comes away from Theatre Chronicles suspecting that McCarthy had no great love of theater for its own sake, it is untrue that she was only capable of writing well about that which she disliked. The mark of a good drama critic is the ability to know a good thing when he sees it—and the courage to say so regardless of fashion or political pressure. Not only was McCarthy fearless, but she was even capable of appreciating art to whose style she was temperamentally unsympathetic. Who would have guessed, for instance, that she would have written one of the most intelligent contemporary appreciations of Our Town? Or that she would have responded so favorably to Laurence Olivier’s intensely theatrical, textually high-handed film of Hamlet?

I was still in college when I first ran across McCarthy’s theater criticism, and had seen next to none of the plays she reviewed. As a result, I responded more to her wickedly precise phrase-making than to her capacity for thoughtful judgment. After having spent the past four years writing about two plays a week for the Wall Street Journal, I now know exactly how good Mary McCarthy’s Theatre Chronicles is: I rank it with Stark Young’s Immortal Shadows and John Simon’s Uneasy Stages as one of the handful of first-rate collections of theater criticism to have been written by an American.

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