Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 15, 2007

Annapolis Syndrome

There is an unmistakable tinge of insanity creeping into the U.S. effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It takes form in the embarrassing desperation of Condoleeza Rice, as she countenances the increasing implausibility of the Annapolis conference with ever more florid and urgent declarations of the imperative of creating a Palestinian state. It takes form in the haphazard manner in which the U.S. has jettisoned virtually every requirement arrived upon in previous negotiations, most notably the unannounced dismissal of the 2003 Roadmap. And this creeping insanity takes form most strikingly in the refusal of U.S. strategists to deal seriously with the array of facts on the ground, facts that would undermine any print-on-paper agreements arising from Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Rice arrived in Israel yesterday—her eighth visit in the past year—to continue cajoling her interlocutors toward Annapolis. “Now we are talking about a joint document that will seriously and substantively address core issues. We have come quite a long way. We’ve got quite a long way to go,” she said. Actually, we have not come a long way. Anyone familiar with even the most basic outlines of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking knows that in all but the finest details, everything being negotiated today has been negotiated dozens of times before in summits and conferences and shuttle diplomacy and secret meetings undertaken by every U.S. administration stretching back decades: borders, refugees, Jerusalem, water, security, etc.

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There is an unmistakable tinge of insanity creeping into the U.S. effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It takes form in the embarrassing desperation of Condoleeza Rice, as she countenances the increasing implausibility of the Annapolis conference with ever more florid and urgent declarations of the imperative of creating a Palestinian state. It takes form in the haphazard manner in which the U.S. has jettisoned virtually every requirement arrived upon in previous negotiations, most notably the unannounced dismissal of the 2003 Roadmap. And this creeping insanity takes form most strikingly in the refusal of U.S. strategists to deal seriously with the array of facts on the ground, facts that would undermine any print-on-paper agreements arising from Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Rice arrived in Israel yesterday—her eighth visit in the past year—to continue cajoling her interlocutors toward Annapolis. “Now we are talking about a joint document that will seriously and substantively address core issues. We have come quite a long way. We’ve got quite a long way to go,” she said. Actually, we have not come a long way. Anyone familiar with even the most basic outlines of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking knows that in all but the finest details, everything being negotiated today has been negotiated dozens of times before in summits and conferences and shuttle diplomacy and secret meetings undertaken by every U.S. administration stretching back decades: borders, refugees, Jerusalem, water, security, etc.

I feel safe predicting that the Annapolis conference, putatively only five weeks away, will not happen, or will take place in a highly attenuated form. Every event and indicator is working against it. The Arab states whose attendance the Bush administration has said will be required for the conference to be effective are either on the fence or are actively working to undermine American diplomacy. Saudi Arabia is following the exact same bait-and-switch formula it always has: express interest, wait and see what is in the offing, and then back out at the last minute.

The Saudi behavior is to be expected. But Egypt’s behavior is new and uniquely egregious, and is apparently not being met with any American resistance. While America and Israel have been pursuing an explicit policy of strengthening Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas while isolating Hamas, Egypt continues to counsel a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation. Worse, Egypt is strengthening Hamas by allowing the free flow of terrorists and weaponry across their border with Gaza, through a network of tunnels that has dramatically expanded in recent months. The weaponry includes Katyusha rockets that have twice the range of the Kassams that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have been firing at Israel. (These missiles represent nothing less than the means by which Hamas will be able to scuttle negotiations at a time of its choosing.) The Israelis have made much of the problem of the Egypt-Gaza border tunnels, but the Egyptians have done absolutely nothing to stop the smuggling. And Rice, swept up in shuttling between Washington, Jerusalem, and Ramallah, can’t be bothered to pay attention to this strategy of sabotage by an ostensible American ally that receives billions of dollars per year in U.S. aid.

Meanwhile, the larger question of what to do about Hamas and Gaza looms unmentioned over the proceedings. Rice has offered a platitudinous and contradictory position that a Palestinian state must include Gaza, but that Hamas, which controls Gaza largely by consent of the governed, has no place in a Palestinian state. Various senescent diplomatic elites have attempted to convince the Bush administration to bring Hamas into the negotiations, but it seems that even if invited, Hamas would refuse—the terror group recently announced its total rejection of the current negotiations, and its charter explicitly rejects diplomacy and conferencing in favor of jihad. The challenge posed by Hamas is so new and so significant that neither Rice nor Abbas has the wherewithal to address it.

What Rice has in fact gone a long way toward accomplishing is a demonstration of the fact that none of the U.S.’s previous diplomatic commitments will be considered of the slightest relevance when it comes to the latest round of peacemaking. Most farcical of all is that the current round of “engagement,” intended in part to restore American credibility in the Middle East by showing the world that the U.S. is willing to heavily invest itself in the conflict, is swiftly establishing the opposite—the same thing that was established in all the previous peacemaking efforts. But at least the Bush administration can come away from all of this knowing that this particular failure was not a unique one.

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Some Advice for Would-Be Martyrs

If you are an aspiring Muslim suicide bomber living in Europe, what is the best way to die?

One path is to travel to Iraq and set off a bomb in, say, a marketplace. But you might end up killing only a handful of people, all of them fellow Muslims–and having little impact on the course of world events.

Another path is to travel to Pakistan and prepare there for a “martyrdom operation” in Europe or the U.S. that might end up killing many more people, all of them likely to be infidels. This choice has the added bonus–if it is a bonus–of keeping you alive a bit longer.

It seems that the second option is becoming more attractive. The Los Angeles Times reports that “a dangerous new pattern” is emerging: “an increasing number of militants from mainland Europe are traveling to Pakistan to train and to plot attacks on the West.”

The shift is indeed dangerous, but is it bad news or good news, or mixed? Among other things, it may be yet another piece of evidence that the “surge” in Iraq is working and it is becoming a less hospitable place for foreign terrorists who want to blow themselves up.

If you are an aspiring Muslim suicide bomber living in Europe, what is the best way to die?

One path is to travel to Iraq and set off a bomb in, say, a marketplace. But you might end up killing only a handful of people, all of them fellow Muslims–and having little impact on the course of world events.

Another path is to travel to Pakistan and prepare there for a “martyrdom operation” in Europe or the U.S. that might end up killing many more people, all of them likely to be infidels. This choice has the added bonus–if it is a bonus–of keeping you alive a bit longer.

It seems that the second option is becoming more attractive. The Los Angeles Times reports that “a dangerous new pattern” is emerging: “an increasing number of militants from mainland Europe are traveling to Pakistan to train and to plot attacks on the West.”

The shift is indeed dangerous, but is it bad news or good news, or mixed? Among other things, it may be yet another piece of evidence that the “surge” in Iraq is working and it is becoming a less hospitable place for foreign terrorists who want to blow themselves up.

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Paris Art Woes

An old saying in Europe goes that British people “take their pleasures sadly”; an update might add that the French take theirs violently. On the night of October 6, known locally as the “Nuit Blanche” (Sleepless Night) Festival, during which musical and artistic events are presented all night long, five vandals broke into the Musée d’Orsay (Paris’s treasure trove of 19th century art) and punched a four-inch hole in an 1874 canvas by the Impressionist Claude Monet, Le Pont d’Argenteuil. Security cameras captured images of five visibly drunk Parisian teenagers forcing open a door to the museum just before midnight. After smoking cigarettes and urinating on the museum’s floor, they were scared away by the rather belated sound of an alarm. Patrick Bloche, a deputy in France’s National Assembly, reasonably inquired whether the embattled Minister of Culture Christine Albanel intends to wait until a four-inch tear is also made in the Mona Lisa, before having the locks on national museums double-checked.

The damage to the Monet painting (showing idyllic boats on the Seine River in a happier time) is less dramatic than a near-tragic episode during Paris’s “Nuit Blanche” in 2002, when the city’s openly gay mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, was stabbed in the abdomen in the City Hall in the early hours of the morning. The assailant, who almost killed the mayor, claimed to be a “devout Muslim” who “does not like politicians and in particular does not like homosexuals.”

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An old saying in Europe goes that British people “take their pleasures sadly”; an update might add that the French take theirs violently. On the night of October 6, known locally as the “Nuit Blanche” (Sleepless Night) Festival, during which musical and artistic events are presented all night long, five vandals broke into the Musée d’Orsay (Paris’s treasure trove of 19th century art) and punched a four-inch hole in an 1874 canvas by the Impressionist Claude Monet, Le Pont d’Argenteuil. Security cameras captured images of five visibly drunk Parisian teenagers forcing open a door to the museum just before midnight. After smoking cigarettes and urinating on the museum’s floor, they were scared away by the rather belated sound of an alarm. Patrick Bloche, a deputy in France’s National Assembly, reasonably inquired whether the embattled Minister of Culture Christine Albanel intends to wait until a four-inch tear is also made in the Mona Lisa, before having the locks on national museums double-checked.

The damage to the Monet painting (showing idyllic boats on the Seine River in a happier time) is less dramatic than a near-tragic episode during Paris’s “Nuit Blanche” in 2002, when the city’s openly gay mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, was stabbed in the abdomen in the City Hall in the early hours of the morning. The assailant, who almost killed the mayor, claimed to be a “devout Muslim” who “does not like politicians and in particular does not like homosexuals.”

Even when such Parisian denizens of the night are not doing their worst, one wonders whether the level of urban violence in today’s Paris is really conducive to institutionalized all-night hilarity. Even in plain daylight, the French cannot be trusted with their cultural treasures. On November 16, a verdict will be handed down in the much-publicized trial of Rindy Sam, a Frenchwoman who identifies herself as an artist. Last July, Ms. Sam kissed a painting by American modernist Cy Twombly, which resides in a special collection at Avignon’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Ms. Sam smeared the white canvas with lipstick. Since her oral tribute, museum technicians have been unable to remove the lipstick stain from the canvas, previously valued at $2.8 million. Ms. Sam has explained that all she did was offer a kiss as a “gesture of love.” The museum and the collector who retains ownership of the painting are not endeared, demanding compensation to the tune of over 30,000 and 2 million euros respectively. Additionally, a prosecutor wants to fine Ms. Sam 4,500 euros for her action. Only Twombly himself, who lives in Lexington, Virginia and Italy, has kept his compensation demand to the scale of a state fair kissing booth, asking for just a single euro as “symbolic” reparation.

Since its arts collections are the mainspring of France’s tourism-based economy, and one of the main reasons why foreign visitors bother to put up with Parisian nastiness, it behooves the country to act vigorously to prevent these kinds of absurdities.

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The Persian Version

Yesterday, Interfax reported that “several groups of suicide terrorists” are planning an attack on the life of Vladimir Putin during his oft-postponed visit to Tehran, which begins tonight. The Russian news agency, the country’s largest, attributed the report to “various sources outside Russia.” Iran’s foreign ministry called the report “completely baseless.”

For once, the Iranians appear to be correct. Interfax often works closely with the Russian government to disseminate its views, and, if the assassination threat were real, it is unlikely we would ever have heard about it. Moreover, Putin is shrugging off the threat and continuing with his travel plans, a sure sign that the Interfax report is bogus. So we have to ask what the Kremlin seeks to gain by releasing the news about a Persian plot. Putin’s Iranian visit, the first by a Russian leader since Stalin’s 1943 trip, is important to the mullahs. “It’s a break in international isolation, a chance to show that Iran is an important country,” said Alexander Pikayev, a Russian analyst.

Putin is scheduled to meet with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in what is bound to be a difficult session. Undoubtedly, the most contentious issue is Russia’s ongoing failure to supply uranium fuel for Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, the nation’s first. The Russians were instrumental in building the facility, but they’ve shown reluctance to let it begin operations. “Tehran views Russia as an unreliable partner that uses Iran in its game with the West,” says Fyodor Lukyanov, the Russian editor of Global Affairs. Although some of the disagreements between Russia and Iran undoubtedly are manufactured for the West’s consumption, there is more than a hint of real tension in Tehran’s recent relations with Moscow. Perhaps the Interfax report is intended to put Ahmadinejad on the defensive by embarrassing Putin’s Persian hosts.

Putin, for instance, is just about out of maneuvering room in his delicate—and duplicitous—balancing game between Iran and the West. If, for example, in the next few weeks, the atomic ayatollahs do not come clean with the International Atomic Energy Agency about their nuclear program, Russia may be backed into supporting a third set of Security Council sanctions against Tehran next month. Any new measures are bound to be more coercive than the slap-on-the-wrist provisions imposed in the past, and new UN actions are bound to turn Tehran against Moscow. So whatever the unusual assassination rumor indicates, it shows that not all is well between Russia and Iran. And the disagreements between the two nations are just additional symptoms that the Iranian crisis is reaching a decisive moment.

Yesterday, Interfax reported that “several groups of suicide terrorists” are planning an attack on the life of Vladimir Putin during his oft-postponed visit to Tehran, which begins tonight. The Russian news agency, the country’s largest, attributed the report to “various sources outside Russia.” Iran’s foreign ministry called the report “completely baseless.”

For once, the Iranians appear to be correct. Interfax often works closely with the Russian government to disseminate its views, and, if the assassination threat were real, it is unlikely we would ever have heard about it. Moreover, Putin is shrugging off the threat and continuing with his travel plans, a sure sign that the Interfax report is bogus. So we have to ask what the Kremlin seeks to gain by releasing the news about a Persian plot. Putin’s Iranian visit, the first by a Russian leader since Stalin’s 1943 trip, is important to the mullahs. “It’s a break in international isolation, a chance to show that Iran is an important country,” said Alexander Pikayev, a Russian analyst.

Putin is scheduled to meet with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in what is bound to be a difficult session. Undoubtedly, the most contentious issue is Russia’s ongoing failure to supply uranium fuel for Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, the nation’s first. The Russians were instrumental in building the facility, but they’ve shown reluctance to let it begin operations. “Tehran views Russia as an unreliable partner that uses Iran in its game with the West,” says Fyodor Lukyanov, the Russian editor of Global Affairs. Although some of the disagreements between Russia and Iran undoubtedly are manufactured for the West’s consumption, there is more than a hint of real tension in Tehran’s recent relations with Moscow. Perhaps the Interfax report is intended to put Ahmadinejad on the defensive by embarrassing Putin’s Persian hosts.

Putin, for instance, is just about out of maneuvering room in his delicate—and duplicitous—balancing game between Iran and the West. If, for example, in the next few weeks, the atomic ayatollahs do not come clean with the International Atomic Energy Agency about their nuclear program, Russia may be backed into supporting a third set of Security Council sanctions against Tehran next month. Any new measures are bound to be more coercive than the slap-on-the-wrist provisions imposed in the past, and new UN actions are bound to turn Tehran against Moscow. So whatever the unusual assassination rumor indicates, it shows that not all is well between Russia and Iran. And the disagreements between the two nations are just additional symptoms that the Iranian crisis is reaching a decisive moment.

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Mind the Gap

According to the London Times, “Shibboleth,” the Tate Modern’s new installation, has already claimed its first victims. Last week, three visitors fell into the work, a 548-foot-long crack that runs through the floor of the former power plant like an earthquake fissure. Since the visitors were not injured (unlike a young lawyer who fell to his death at the Tate earlier this year), the British press treated the incident light-heartedly. “Mind the gap,” joked the Guardian, invoking the loudspeaker warning at London underground stops. But if the press has been light-hearted, “Shibboleth” is anything but.

“Shibboleth” is the creation of Doris Salcedo, who was born in Colombia and studied at New York University, and whose work invariably is political. She first won international attention five years ago, when she encrusted Bogota’s Palace of Justice with a mantle of wooden chairs, her memorial to the violent coup attempt of 1985. Her new work aspires to more universal symbolism. As the Tate proclaims, it depicts the

long legacy of racism and colonialism that underlies the modern world. A ‘shibboleth’ is a custom, phrase, or use of language that acts as a test of belonging to a particular social group or class. By definition, it is used to exclude those deemed unsuitable to join this group.

It is hardly novel for an artist to mutilate, disfigure, or otherwise violate an object in order to represent violence; on the contrary, one might call it art school vernacular. It is the atrophied symbolism of the political poster, the absolute literalism of graphic art, rather than the imaginative language of allegory. But what is novel about Salcedo’s project is that the artist was able to persuade one of Britain’s most prestigious art institutions to mutilate itself, as it were, and at considerable expense.

Of course it is possible, as the Independent points out, to enjoy the spectacle without subscribing to its ponderous theoretical program. Perhaps this is why the British press has been generally respectful about the exhibition (apart from waggish comments about “Doris’s crack”). Only the Times brought a refreshing skepticism to the spacious claims made on behalf of Shibboleth. Its review concludes with this gem of British dryness:

According to Salcedo, the fissure is “bottomless . . . as deep as humanity.” However, it appears to be around three feet at its deepest point.

When artists practice such blatant literalism as Salcedo does, they can hardly blame their critics for doing the same.

According to the London Times, “Shibboleth,” the Tate Modern’s new installation, has already claimed its first victims. Last week, three visitors fell into the work, a 548-foot-long crack that runs through the floor of the former power plant like an earthquake fissure. Since the visitors were not injured (unlike a young lawyer who fell to his death at the Tate earlier this year), the British press treated the incident light-heartedly. “Mind the gap,” joked the Guardian, invoking the loudspeaker warning at London underground stops. But if the press has been light-hearted, “Shibboleth” is anything but.

“Shibboleth” is the creation of Doris Salcedo, who was born in Colombia and studied at New York University, and whose work invariably is political. She first won international attention five years ago, when she encrusted Bogota’s Palace of Justice with a mantle of wooden chairs, her memorial to the violent coup attempt of 1985. Her new work aspires to more universal symbolism. As the Tate proclaims, it depicts the

long legacy of racism and colonialism that underlies the modern world. A ‘shibboleth’ is a custom, phrase, or use of language that acts as a test of belonging to a particular social group or class. By definition, it is used to exclude those deemed unsuitable to join this group.

It is hardly novel for an artist to mutilate, disfigure, or otherwise violate an object in order to represent violence; on the contrary, one might call it art school vernacular. It is the atrophied symbolism of the political poster, the absolute literalism of graphic art, rather than the imaginative language of allegory. But what is novel about Salcedo’s project is that the artist was able to persuade one of Britain’s most prestigious art institutions to mutilate itself, as it were, and at considerable expense.

Of course it is possible, as the Independent points out, to enjoy the spectacle without subscribing to its ponderous theoretical program. Perhaps this is why the British press has been generally respectful about the exhibition (apart from waggish comments about “Doris’s crack”). Only the Times brought a refreshing skepticism to the spacious claims made on behalf of Shibboleth. Its review concludes with this gem of British dryness:

According to Salcedo, the fissure is “bottomless . . . as deep as humanity.” However, it appears to be around three feet at its deepest point.

When artists practice such blatant literalism as Salcedo does, they can hardly blame their critics for doing the same.

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Comments Problems

A number of our readers left comments over the weekend, during the launch of our redesigned site. These comments, unfortunately, were lost during our database migration. Apologies! We value all comments highly, and hope this won’t discourage any future response, praise, and criticism.

A number of our readers left comments over the weekend, during the launch of our redesigned site. These comments, unfortunately, were lost during our database migration. Apologies! We value all comments highly, and hope this won’t discourage any future response, praise, and criticism.

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Behind the Barn at the CIA

Whom should the CIA hire? With the United States engaged in a war in which intelligence is the critical front, finding the best and brightest and putting them in charge of counterterrorism and related black arts is an essential task.

The good news is that the CIA is being flooded with applicants at the staggering rate of 10,000 a month. The bad news is that the process of sifting and screening these aspiring spies remains distorted.

One problem is an affirmative-action program that seeks to replicate the ethnic balance in the United States rather than focus singlemindedly on hiring men and women steeped in knowledge of our adversaries. Another is a security-screening program that remains ferociously suspicious of applicants with foreign roots. A third is an organizational culture that in some measure remains, despite radical changes introduced after September 11, risk averse.

How can we do better? One place to begin is by looking at what has worked, and/or failed to work, in the past.

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Whom should the CIA hire? With the United States engaged in a war in which intelligence is the critical front, finding the best and brightest and putting them in charge of counterterrorism and related black arts is an essential task.

The good news is that the CIA is being flooded with applicants at the staggering rate of 10,000 a month. The bad news is that the process of sifting and screening these aspiring spies remains distorted.

One problem is an affirmative-action program that seeks to replicate the ethnic balance in the United States rather than focus singlemindedly on hiring men and women steeped in knowledge of our adversaries. Another is a security-screening program that remains ferociously suspicious of applicants with foreign roots. A third is an organizational culture that in some measure remains, despite radical changes introduced after September 11, risk averse.

How can we do better? One place to begin is by looking at what has worked, and/or failed to work, in the past.

Five months before Pearl Harbor, Franklin D. Roosevelt established an office called the Coordinator of Information, a precursor to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). When Japanese bombs fell on American territory on December 7, 1941, the U.S. had a fledgling intelligence service to ramp up.

One of the more fascinating documents in the history of American intelligence has been published under the bland title of How Assessment Centers Were Started in the United States: The OSS Assessment Program. Written by Donald W. MacKinnon, the man in charge of screening personnel at the time, it tells the story of our first efforts to screen candidates for an espionage agency in the midst of wartime.

At the very beginning, some disastrous mistakes were made. It seemed logical to some that “it takes dirty men to do dirty works.” A number of initial recruits were thus drawn from the ranks of organized crime, including Murder Inc., and the Philadelphia Purple Gang. But several clandestine operations in operations employing such underworld types ended in catastrophe. By 1943, a professional screening program at a secret installation known as Station S was put in place.

Applicants to the OSS were soon being subjected to an extended set of tests. These were not designed to measure specific skills but to assess “the man as a whole” across eight dimensions: motivation, practical intelligence, emotional stability, social relations, leadership, physical ability, observation and reporting, propaganda skills, and maintaining cover.

Many of the tests were exceptionally grueling, including especially the one designed to measure one component of emotional stability, “resistance to stress and frustration tolerance,” and which came to be known as Behind the Barn.

Candidates were required to direct two helpers in the task of building a five-foot cube structure with seven-foot diagonals on its four sides, using an immense “tinker-toy” set of materials:

The candidate had 10 minutes in which to accomplish the task. All the physical work was to be done by the helpers, junior staff members who played the role of Kippy (passive, sluggish, and something of a stumblebum) and Buster (aggressive, critical, constantly making impractical suggestions). Both were insulting, faultfinding characters.

In the history of the assessment center, the construction task was never completed in the allotted time, but that was not the point. Rather, the point was to evaluate how the applicants behaved:

Some candidates gained insight into the problem, but more often they became so involved and so frustrated that they had difficulty in handling their frustration and controlling their anger. A few physically attacked their helpers, and some asked to be relieved from the program after this exercise.

Did the men who made it through this and the many other rigorous challenges at Station S make for good spies? The answer to that questions is by no means uncomplicated, as Mackinnon shows. All told, it remains doubtful that the initial OSS approach is the right one for the challenges before us today.

But there is no question that in the years running up to September 11, too many mediocrities and dangerous misfits came to occupy pivotal positions in the CIA. Preventing a recurrence of such organizational decay is a critical task.

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The Right Man, The Right Post

In recent days we’ve seen two significant Iraq-related pieces in the Washington Post. The first is a front-page story today by Thomas Ricks and Karen DeYoung, “Al-Qaeda in Iraq Reported Crippled.” The second is a Post editorial from Sunday, “Better Numbers: The evidence of a drop in violence in Iraq is becoming hard to dispute.”

The Ricks-DeYoung article begins this way:

The U.S. military believes it has dealt devastating and perhaps irreversible blows to al Qaeda in Iraq in recent months . . .

The Post editorial concludes this way:

[I]t’s looking more and more as though those in and outside of Congress who last month were assailing Gen. Petraeus’s credibility and insisting that there was no letup in Iraq’s bloodshed were—to put it simply—wrong.

These two pieces underscore the military progress we’ve seen this year in Iraq since General David Petraeus took command and began implementing what is clearly, and at this point almost inarguably, the right strategy in Iraq. And it makes one wonder what complicated set of factors was driving the recent remarks of retired Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, who was the commanding general Iraq in 2003-2004, when he said about Iraq that the United States is “living a nightmare with no end in sight.”

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In recent days we’ve seen two significant Iraq-related pieces in the Washington Post. The first is a front-page story today by Thomas Ricks and Karen DeYoung, “Al-Qaeda in Iraq Reported Crippled.” The second is a Post editorial from Sunday, “Better Numbers: The evidence of a drop in violence in Iraq is becoming hard to dispute.”

The Ricks-DeYoung article begins this way:

The U.S. military believes it has dealt devastating and perhaps irreversible blows to al Qaeda in Iraq in recent months . . .

The Post editorial concludes this way:

[I]t’s looking more and more as though those in and outside of Congress who last month were assailing Gen. Petraeus’s credibility and insisting that there was no letup in Iraq’s bloodshed were—to put it simply—wrong.

These two pieces underscore the military progress we’ve seen this year in Iraq since General David Petraeus took command and began implementing what is clearly, and at this point almost inarguably, the right strategy in Iraq. And it makes one wonder what complicated set of factors was driving the recent remarks of retired Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, who was the commanding general Iraq in 2003-2004, when he said about Iraq that the United States is “living a nightmare with no end in sight.”

That may have been true a year ago, but it is no longer the case. Iraq remains a traumatized society, and progress that has been made can be lost. Victory is hardly assured, and much more needs to be done on the political side of things. Yet all we can do is judge where we are right now—and if, in January, we had been told this is where we’d be in October, any of us would have taken it. In a heartbeat.

We now have a decent shot at a decent outcome in Iraq, something few thought was possible ten months ago. It is a reminder that having the right man in the right post—in this instance, having David Howell Petraeus as the commanding general in Iraq—can make a world of difference. See Lincoln and the Civil War for more.

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Sometimes Ignorance Really is Bliss

We Americans pride ourselves on our “right to know,” guaranteed by our free press and the sweeping words of our Constitution’s First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

But do we also have an equally important right not to know? The idea sounds absurd, but I am an avid defender of this peculiar right and I explain why here in the latest Weekly Standard.

We Americans pride ourselves on our “right to know,” guaranteed by our free press and the sweeping words of our Constitution’s First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

But do we also have an equally important right not to know? The idea sounds absurd, but I am an avid defender of this peculiar right and I explain why here in the latest Weekly Standard.

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Candidate Gore?

It is hard to begrudge Al Gore his consolation prizes, first the Academy Award and now the Nobel for peace. None of it quite makes up for the bitter loss of the 2000 election, but his concern about the climate “emergency,” as he invariably calls it, is long-standing and plainly sincere. The issue has preoccupied him for decades and now, thanks in no small measure to his efforts, it preoccupies a great many people all around the world. Such influence is rare, even for Presidents.

But there is no prize like the Oval Office, and Gore knows it. His latest best-seller, The Assault on Reason, is a peculiar distillation of the hurts and grievances that still weigh on him from 2000 (see my review of the book in the September issue of COMMENTARY). Will he run again? Can the prophet return from the wilderness? Some Democrats hope so, as the “Draft Gore” campaign suggests, and Gore himself has not absolutely ruled out the possibility. But it won’t happen.

It is not just that Gore is fat and happy these days, basking in a kind of popular adulation that he never knew even at the height of his political success. Nor is it that he has now reached a plane above mere politics, which has become the conventional wisdom among Democrats eager to keep him from joining the race. “Why would he run for President when he can be a demigod?” Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois congressman and Democratic strategist, told the Times with an apparently straight face. “He now towers over all of us because he’s pure.” This will be news to anyone who has dipped into Gore’s virulently partisan book or heard him speak lately in something other than his unctuous “save the planet” mode.

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It is hard to begrudge Al Gore his consolation prizes, first the Academy Award and now the Nobel for peace. None of it quite makes up for the bitter loss of the 2000 election, but his concern about the climate “emergency,” as he invariably calls it, is long-standing and plainly sincere. The issue has preoccupied him for decades and now, thanks in no small measure to his efforts, it preoccupies a great many people all around the world. Such influence is rare, even for Presidents.

But there is no prize like the Oval Office, and Gore knows it. His latest best-seller, The Assault on Reason, is a peculiar distillation of the hurts and grievances that still weigh on him from 2000 (see my review of the book in the September issue of COMMENTARY). Will he run again? Can the prophet return from the wilderness? Some Democrats hope so, as the “Draft Gore” campaign suggests, and Gore himself has not absolutely ruled out the possibility. But it won’t happen.

It is not just that Gore is fat and happy these days, basking in a kind of popular adulation that he never knew even at the height of his political success. Nor is it that he has now reached a plane above mere politics, which has become the conventional wisdom among Democrats eager to keep him from joining the race. “Why would he run for President when he can be a demigod?” Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois congressman and Democratic strategist, told the Times with an apparently straight face. “He now towers over all of us because he’s pure.” This will be news to anyone who has dipped into Gore’s virulently partisan book or heard him speak lately in something other than his unctuous “save the planet” mode.

No, the problem with another Gore candidacy is that it would be a huge embarrassment, not for all the old, familiar reasons but precisely because of the issue that has redeemed him. Gore’s alarmism about climate change, now widely recognized, has left Democrats in an awkward position. If they were to follow the lead of the Nobel committee, which commended Gore for recognizing “the measures that need to be adopted” to remedy the problem, they would commit instant political suicide.

Gore advocates drastic, immediate measures to end global warming. As he wrote in an op-ed on the eve of this past summer’s Live Earth concerts, if we do not act “within 10 years,” we are likely to reach a “tipping point” making it impossible “to avoid irretrievable damage to the planet’s habitability for human civilization.” In response to this dire situation, he would have the United States “join an international treaty within the next two years that cuts global-warming pollution by 90 percent in developed countries and by more than half worldwide.”

The pitter-patter you hear, behind the earnest applause for Gore’s Nobel Prize, is the sound of Democrats in flight, running from such ideas as fast as their feet can carry them. A radical shift to clean energy is on the agenda of no mainstream politician, least of all those now on the stump in Iowa and New Hampshire. For all the talk of a growing consensus about climate change, the only point that commands general assent is that the planet is growing warmer and that human activity is responsible in some measure. All agreement disappears when it comes to how seriously to take the problem and, especially, how to deal with it.

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, the wiser heads thinking about climate change favor cost-benefit analysis over the “precautionary principle” that environmentalists have long embraced. That seems to be how the American people think about it too—which is why Democrats have temporized on the issue, endorsing half-measures like “cap and trade” emission programs, whose costs would be relatively small and largely invisible (and whose effect, under most schemes, would be marginal). Only the irascible, independent-minded Congressman John Dingell, for reasons of his own, has pressed for something like the full Gore.

Why is Al Gore not going to run for President? Because it would force him into a no-win situation: he could remain the “demigod” of planetary salvation and fail once again as a politician, or he could repudiate his own extreme views, descend into the trenches of practical politics, and lose the public adoration that he now has and has always sought.

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