Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 22, 2007

Is James Fallows a Disloyal American?

Taking up the ideas of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt about the inordinate influence of the “Israel Lobby” on American foreign policy, James Fallows of the Atlantic writes that “[t]o the (ongoing) extent that AIPAC–the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which calls itself “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby”–is trying to legitimize a military showdown between the United States and Iran, it is advancing its own causes at the expense of larger American interests.” The people behind this cause, he continues, “are not from one ethnic group in the conventional sense but are mainly of one religion (Jewish).”

To observe this, writes Fallows, and to warn against it, “including the disastrous consequences of attacking Iran” that it is seeking to bring about, is not to be anti-Semitic. And noting the “power and potential” of groups like AIPAC “to distort policy” simply means “recognizing that James Madison’s warnings about the invidious effects of ‘faction’ apply beyond the 18th century.”

I agree with Fallows that there is nothing wrong with observing the operations of “factions” in our politics, just as there is nothing wrong with warning against the consequences of their operations.

But why is this game played only one way, with America’s Jews the primary target?

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Taking up the ideas of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt about the inordinate influence of the “Israel Lobby” on American foreign policy, James Fallows of the Atlantic writes that “[t]o the (ongoing) extent that AIPAC–the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which calls itself “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby”–is trying to legitimize a military showdown between the United States and Iran, it is advancing its own causes at the expense of larger American interests.” The people behind this cause, he continues, “are not from one ethnic group in the conventional sense but are mainly of one religion (Jewish).”

To observe this, writes Fallows, and to warn against it, “including the disastrous consequences of attacking Iran” that it is seeking to bring about, is not to be anti-Semitic. And noting the “power and potential” of groups like AIPAC “to distort policy” simply means “recognizing that James Madison’s warnings about the invidious effects of ‘faction’ apply beyond the 18th century.”

I agree with Fallows that there is nothing wrong with observing the operations of “factions” in our politics, just as there is nothing wrong with warning against the consequences of their operations.

But why is this game played only one way, with America’s Jews the primary target?

Isn’t Fallows himself part of a faction? To be sure, it is not one organized on ethnic lines. It is a far more cohesive body than that, consisting of liberals who in almost all instances oppose the use of American power abroad. This faction, too, might be thought of as invidiously “advancing its own causes at the expense of larger American interests.”

All loyal Americans–including those, “mainly of one religion (Jewish),” whom Fallows brazenly tries to delegitimize as part of a faction pursuing interests running counter to those of our own country–need to observe carefully his faction, and to warn against its activities, lest it bring about the disastrous consequences of not attacking Iran should that state forge ahead with its nuclear ambitions

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James Fallows’s amazed response to this post can be found here. And my less amazed response to his response can be found here.

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Mistakes Were Made

The United States military has lately been having a string of bad luck in its handling of things nuclear. But is it merely bad luck, or something else?

First came the “Bent Spear” incident of August 29, in which the Air Force lost effective control of the whereabouts of a handful of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, the most serious such episode in decades. An Air Force briefing explaining in detail what happened can be found here

Now comes word that the Navy has been derelict as well. Sailors on the submarine USS Hampton neglected required daily safety checks on the ship’s nuclear reactor for a month. They then forged records to cover up their neglect.

The Navy Times broke the story. It quotes a former submarine commander explaining what is at stake:

It’s not that it’s dangerous at the instant. Blowing off the chem sample that day isn’t what’s dangerous, but the operational philosophy adopted by people who would do that, if applied to the other aspects of operating the nuclear-propulsion plant-watch stations or other aspects of the submarine, could be dangerous. That’s what’s scary. Besides, why the hell wouldn’t you check the chem levels? First, that’s the ELT and the CRA’s job. Second, it takes about an hour and a half each day to do it. Third, you’re on a submarine, so it’s not like you’re going to get away with doing nothing on your free time.

At a time when the military is said to be spread thin by commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, these stories are not going to go away. Nor should they. This is an area where the Defense Department simply has to get things right.

The United States military has lately been having a string of bad luck in its handling of things nuclear. But is it merely bad luck, or something else?

First came the “Bent Spear” incident of August 29, in which the Air Force lost effective control of the whereabouts of a handful of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, the most serious such episode in decades. An Air Force briefing explaining in detail what happened can be found here

Now comes word that the Navy has been derelict as well. Sailors on the submarine USS Hampton neglected required daily safety checks on the ship’s nuclear reactor for a month. They then forged records to cover up their neglect.

The Navy Times broke the story. It quotes a former submarine commander explaining what is at stake:

It’s not that it’s dangerous at the instant. Blowing off the chem sample that day isn’t what’s dangerous, but the operational philosophy adopted by people who would do that, if applied to the other aspects of operating the nuclear-propulsion plant-watch stations or other aspects of the submarine, could be dangerous. That’s what’s scary. Besides, why the hell wouldn’t you check the chem levels? First, that’s the ELT and the CRA’s job. Second, it takes about an hour and a half each day to do it. Third, you’re on a submarine, so it’s not like you’re going to get away with doing nothing on your free time.

At a time when the military is said to be spread thin by commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, these stories are not going to go away. Nor should they. This is an area where the Defense Department simply has to get things right.

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All You Really Need to Know About China

This morning, China’s Communist Party revealed its new Politburo Standing Committee in Beijing. Gone were three senior cadres. In were four new faces. Almost all of the attention in the run up to this grand announcement has focused on two of the newcomers, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. Xi, close to former leader Jiang Zemin, is acceptable to all the factions in the Party. Li is the favorite of current supremo, Hu Jintao. One of them is expected to replace Hu five years from now. Xi, by virtue of his ranking in the new hierarchy, is now the front-runner.

But more important than the elevation of Xi and Li is the retention of Jia Qinglin, 67, the fourth-ranking official. Jia served as the Party boss of coastal Fujian province during the most serious corruption scandal in the history of the People’s Republic. His wife, Lin Youfang, was the head of the province’s main import-export company at the time, and was viewed to be connected intimately to customs fraud. She was investigated, and so were officials close to Jia. The pudgy cadre survived the incident only because of his close relationship with Jiang Zemin, the Chinese leader at the time. Jiang was even able to engineer Jia’s elevation to the Standing Committee in 2002—not surprising at that especially corrupt period in China’s history.

Hu Jintao, as a means of putting distance between himself and Jiang, has said consistently that his administration is determined to root out official venality. At a time when corruption undermines the stability of the Communist Party, Jia’s ability to maintain his position at the apex of power says that the political system has lost the ability to deal with critical problems. In a sense, that’s all we need to know about governance in China. It certainly is more important than knowing which cautious bureaucrat is scheduled to become the next head of the Communist Party in 2012. After all, there is not much future for a political organization that cannot deal with the most serious threat to its existence.

This morning, China’s Communist Party revealed its new Politburo Standing Committee in Beijing. Gone were three senior cadres. In were four new faces. Almost all of the attention in the run up to this grand announcement has focused on two of the newcomers, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. Xi, close to former leader Jiang Zemin, is acceptable to all the factions in the Party. Li is the favorite of current supremo, Hu Jintao. One of them is expected to replace Hu five years from now. Xi, by virtue of his ranking in the new hierarchy, is now the front-runner.

But more important than the elevation of Xi and Li is the retention of Jia Qinglin, 67, the fourth-ranking official. Jia served as the Party boss of coastal Fujian province during the most serious corruption scandal in the history of the People’s Republic. His wife, Lin Youfang, was the head of the province’s main import-export company at the time, and was viewed to be connected intimately to customs fraud. She was investigated, and so were officials close to Jia. The pudgy cadre survived the incident only because of his close relationship with Jiang Zemin, the Chinese leader at the time. Jiang was even able to engineer Jia’s elevation to the Standing Committee in 2002—not surprising at that especially corrupt period in China’s history.

Hu Jintao, as a means of putting distance between himself and Jiang, has said consistently that his administration is determined to root out official venality. At a time when corruption undermines the stability of the Communist Party, Jia’s ability to maintain his position at the apex of power says that the political system has lost the ability to deal with critical problems. In a sense, that’s all we need to know about governance in China. It certainly is more important than knowing which cautious bureaucrat is scheduled to become the next head of the Communist Party in 2012. After all, there is not much future for a political organization that cannot deal with the most serious threat to its existence.

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Juan Cole’s Curious Lexicon

Juan Cole is a Middle East history professor at the University of Michigan. By virtue of his blog he has become, in recent years, a foreign policy go-to guy for the Left. For all the preening that Cole does about the nuance and sophistication of his Middle East expertise, he remains a leaden and predictable commentator whose opinions flow from the inviolable premise that the only thing one must understand in order to make sense of the world is that American and Israeli transgressions are root causes. Understanding this, all the rest—terrorism, Islamism, Arab rage, etc.—falls tidily into place.

And so yesterday, Cole posted the following bit of invective, nasty but typical:

When we cannot understand why Arab audiences, who are perfectly aware of what the Israeli army has been doing to Palestinians for decades, are outraged, it leads us into policy mistakes in dealing with the Middle East. No one in the U.S. media ever talks about Zionofascism, and the campus groups who yoke the word “fascism” to other religions and peoples are most often trying to divert attention from their own authoritarianism and approval of brutality.

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Juan Cole is a Middle East history professor at the University of Michigan. By virtue of his blog he has become, in recent years, a foreign policy go-to guy for the Left. For all the preening that Cole does about the nuance and sophistication of his Middle East expertise, he remains a leaden and predictable commentator whose opinions flow from the inviolable premise that the only thing one must understand in order to make sense of the world is that American and Israeli transgressions are root causes. Understanding this, all the rest—terrorism, Islamism, Arab rage, etc.—falls tidily into place.

And so yesterday, Cole posted the following bit of invective, nasty but typical:

When we cannot understand why Arab audiences, who are perfectly aware of what the Israeli army has been doing to Palestinians for decades, are outraged, it leads us into policy mistakes in dealing with the Middle East. No one in the U.S. media ever talks about Zionofascism, and the campus groups who yoke the word “fascism” to other religions and peoples are most often trying to divert attention from their own authoritarianism and approval of brutality.

Standard Chomskyite fare, for the most part—except for the word “Zionofascism,” which caught my eye. I’ve read a lot of this kind of invective, but I hadn’t seen that one before. The word doesn’t appear in a Google News search, except for one hit from a French news site that published Cole’s post. Doing an Internet-wide Google search turns up about 600 hits, and almost every one of them links to a particularly nasty anti-Semitic blog that traffics in such conspiracy theories as Israeli involvement in September 11 and a “Kirkuk to Haifa pipeline” (i.e. that the Iraq war is being fought to provide oil to Israel). The blog also conveys a predictable litany of comic-book theories about Jewish plots to dominate the world. That word—”Zionofascism”—is scarcely to be found anywhere on the Internet other than on the Zionofascism blog, or on a small group of hate sites that link to the Zionofascism blog.

Cole wonders why the U.S. media never talk about Zionofascism. The answer is that Zionofascism is a term invented by anti-Semites, for anti-Semites, that so far has seen regular use only by anti-Semites. Cole, who uses words and makes distinctions for a living, presumably knows this. Aside from the question of what Cole is reading—I doubt “Zionofascism” is a Cole neologism—there is the question of the readers to whom he is pandering. Why does he give a nod to anti-Semites?

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Bravo Adam Schiff!

Fans of television’s Law & Order have waited in vain for any commemoration of the 85th birthday of Steven Hill, the actor who played New York District Attorney Adam Schiff from 1990 to 2000. Hill retired at age 78 from the role, which is based on New York’s own Robert Morgenthau, now 88, who shows no signs of retiring, although he is three years older than Hill. Born Solomon Krakovsky in Seattle, Washington in 1922, Hill is one of the rare Orthodox Jews to pursue a mainstream acting career in television and film. From early on, his religious beliefs inspired (and sometimes interfered with) his career; his 1946 Broadway debut, alongside Paul Muni and Marlon Brando, was in Ben Hecht’s A Flag Is Born, which advocated a new Jewish State.

After an early stage career, mentored by Lee Strasberg at The Actors’ Studio, Hill began to work widely in television and film. Much of his best work (as a weary veteran in Paddy Chayevsky’s 1958 The Goddess and as the tormented father of a learning disabled child in John Cassavetes’s A Child Is Waiting must be hunted down on VHS tapes, still unavailable on DVD. It’s worth the effort, since Hill is the epitome of a “thinking actor,” who ruminates over roles until he drives some colleagues wild. Martin Landau, who appeared with Hill in the first year of television’s Mission Impossible (1966), called him “nuts, volatile, mad, and his work was exciting.” Hill was soon fired from Mission Impossible, for intransigence about a number of things, including an extremely strict observance of the Sabbath. Hill retired to an Orthodox community in Rockland County, where he worked in real estate from 1967 to 1977; by not acting during this decade, he avoiding being made into a plastic television star (his role in Mission Impossible was filled by the suave but mechanical Peter Graves).

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Fans of television’s Law & Order have waited in vain for any commemoration of the 85th birthday of Steven Hill, the actor who played New York District Attorney Adam Schiff from 1990 to 2000. Hill retired at age 78 from the role, which is based on New York’s own Robert Morgenthau, now 88, who shows no signs of retiring, although he is three years older than Hill. Born Solomon Krakovsky in Seattle, Washington in 1922, Hill is one of the rare Orthodox Jews to pursue a mainstream acting career in television and film. From early on, his religious beliefs inspired (and sometimes interfered with) his career; his 1946 Broadway debut, alongside Paul Muni and Marlon Brando, was in Ben Hecht’s A Flag Is Born, which advocated a new Jewish State.

After an early stage career, mentored by Lee Strasberg at The Actors’ Studio, Hill began to work widely in television and film. Much of his best work (as a weary veteran in Paddy Chayevsky’s 1958 The Goddess and as the tormented father of a learning disabled child in John Cassavetes’s A Child Is Waiting must be hunted down on VHS tapes, still unavailable on DVD. It’s worth the effort, since Hill is the epitome of a “thinking actor,” who ruminates over roles until he drives some colleagues wild. Martin Landau, who appeared with Hill in the first year of television’s Mission Impossible (1966), called him “nuts, volatile, mad, and his work was exciting.” Hill was soon fired from Mission Impossible, for intransigence about a number of things, including an extremely strict observance of the Sabbath. Hill retired to an Orthodox community in Rockland County, where he worked in real estate from 1967 to 1977; by not acting during this decade, he avoiding being made into a plastic television star (his role in Mission Impossible was filled by the suave but mechanical Peter Graves).

Returning to acting, Hill landed minor roles in mostly forgettable films, with the exception of two charming if stagy filmed plays by Horton Foote, On Valentine’s Day (1986 ) and Courtship (1987). In 1990, when Law & Order debuted, Hill was seen at full force. He self-deprecatingly speaks of his role in Law & Order: The Unofficial Companion, saying: “I get a kick out of that curmudgeon business. I used to love to see actors like that, like Monty Woolley. You love those older people who do that deliberately.”

Yet, in many episodes, Hill far transcended the Monty Woolley shtick of comic disgruntlement. One that comes immediately to mind is “Terminal,” from Law & Order’s seventh season, so far unavailable on DVD. In it, Schiff has authorized his hospitalized, terminally ill wife to be unplugged from life support. As she flatlines, he watches, giving out an agonized whimper of animal-like intensity at the moment of her death. This is great acting by any definition; without dialogue and very succinctly, Hill manages to portray the physical and emotional effect of losing a life partner. Happy 85th, Mr. Hill!

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The Tortured Torture Debate

David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey have written a series of thoughtful articles on the intersection of law and counterterrorism. In today’s Wall Street Journal, they take up the question of torture, attacking those critics of the Bush administration who, while condemning the coercive interrogation methods it has used in the war on terror, conspicuously omit to say which techniques they themselves regard as legitimate.

This is a fair point. But the authors’ own reasoning has some shortcomings of its own.

Drawing on published reports, Rivkin and Casey note that the Bush administration at various junctures has used “slapping, exposure to cold, stress positions, interrupted sleep and waterboarding, alone or in some combination” in the interrogation of al-Qaeda prisoners. The Justice Department, they say, “has reportedly approved all of these as legal.” And while “[r]easonable minds can disagree with this finding,” they assert that it is “unlikely that Justice signed off on these methods without regard to the level of intensity or potential cumulative impact” on the prisoner. In other words, the Department of Justice had grounds to conclude that the methods did not amount to torture.

But that is precisely the point in contention. After all, the Department also signed off on a memo saying that only methods that caused “organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death” constitute torture and are punishable by law. All other methods were presumably permissible. That memo was subsequently repudiated and withdrawn. Michael Mukasey, testifying in his confirmation hearings, called the memo “worse than a sin. It was a mistake.”

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David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey have written a series of thoughtful articles on the intersection of law and counterterrorism. In today’s Wall Street Journal, they take up the question of torture, attacking those critics of the Bush administration who, while condemning the coercive interrogation methods it has used in the war on terror, conspicuously omit to say which techniques they themselves regard as legitimate.

This is a fair point. But the authors’ own reasoning has some shortcomings of its own.

Drawing on published reports, Rivkin and Casey note that the Bush administration at various junctures has used “slapping, exposure to cold, stress positions, interrupted sleep and waterboarding, alone or in some combination” in the interrogation of al-Qaeda prisoners. The Justice Department, they say, “has reportedly approved all of these as legal.” And while “[r]easonable minds can disagree with this finding,” they assert that it is “unlikely that Justice signed off on these methods without regard to the level of intensity or potential cumulative impact” on the prisoner. In other words, the Department of Justice had grounds to conclude that the methods did not amount to torture.

But that is precisely the point in contention. After all, the Department also signed off on a memo saying that only methods that caused “organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death” constitute torture and are punishable by law. All other methods were presumably permissible. That memo was subsequently repudiated and withdrawn. Michael Mukasey, testifying in his confirmation hearings, called the memo “worse than a sin. It was a mistake.”

In his testimony, Mukasey was also asked directly about waterboarding, a procedure which simulates the feeling of drowning. First, he said it “is not constitutional for the United States to engage in torture in any form, be it waterboarding or anything else.” But he then backed away from such precision, saying about waterboarding: “I don’t know what’s involved in the technique. If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional.”

Is waterboarding torture? Rivkin and Casey explain that it “has been part of U.S. military training programs on interrogation resistance.” From this they conclude that the practice is not torture, because if it were, “then it is impermissible for all purposeswhether or not an individual has consented.”

But this does not follow. Consent makes the context entirely different. No one is compelled to endure military training of that sort, which is only for elite, volunteer units, in our all-volunteer military. Being subjected to extreme cold while naked in a cell against one’s will is very different from being subjected to extreme cold as a consensual member of the Polar Bear club that swims every New Year’s day in the Atlantic Ocean.

Rivkin and Casey make some tentative judgments that also strike me as peculiar: “Slapping a man’s face probably does not cause him severe pain. Breaking his nose probably does.” “Probably”? I would think it is more than that, but perhaps I am wrong. Are we now forced to hold a debate about the meaning of the phrase “severe pain”?

However much it hurts to have one’s nose broken, the fine distinctions the authors are attempting to draw here should cause us to take note of all of the interrogation techniques that the U.S. military is not using, and has never contemplated using, from the rack of the days of yore to the electric drill applied to the head or limbs, a favored al-Qaeda technique.

The entire discussion of torture in which Rivkin and Casey and others are engaged demonstrates that we are a humane society attempting to remain humane while protecting ourselves from those who are not. But if we as a country are going to find a defensible position, it will have to rest on arguments that themselves can survive interrogation.

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Bookshelf

• Otto Preminger? Who he? If you’re a paid-up member of the most extreme wing of the auteur theory of film criticism, which holds that directors are the golden gods of Hollywood and everyone else is chopped liver, you’re probably already bristling. Preminger is a certified darling of the auteurists, though cooler heads long ago dismissed him as a cost-conscious middlebrow with a Viennese accent whose continental demeanor and I-am-a-genius tantrums were sucker bait for impressionable rubes. Even his brother agreed. When Foster Hirsch approached Ingo Preminger about writing a biography of his more famous sibling, he got a thoroughly sensible answer: “I can see eight, nine, ten books about Bergman or Fellini, but a book about Otto? He was a very good producer and he fought important battles against censorship, but there was no great film!”

Nevertheless, Hirsch soldiered on, and the result is Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King (Knopf, 373 pp., $35), a readable book about an interesting man who made two good movies, Laura and Anatomy of a Murder, and two or three others that are still worth watching. If you think that’s sufficient cinematic achievement to justify a full-length biography, rest assured that this one will hold your attention, for Preminger’s story is fascinating from start to finish. A Polish Jew who reinvented himself as an echt-Viennese stage director, he relocated to Hollywood by way of Broadway and embarked on a career that brought him fame, fortune and a fair number of admiring reviews. A bald-headed tyrant whose larger-than-life personality made him the stuff of countless anecdotes, Preminger worked with everybody from Laurette Taylor to John Wayne, had affairs with Gypsy Rose Lee and Dorothy Dandridge, and played a half-dozen big-screen Nazis on the side, the best-remembered of whom is the sardonic commandant of Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17: “With Christmas coming on, I have a special treat for you. I’ll have you all deloused for the holidays.”

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• Otto Preminger? Who he? If you’re a paid-up member of the most extreme wing of the auteur theory of film criticism, which holds that directors are the golden gods of Hollywood and everyone else is chopped liver, you’re probably already bristling. Preminger is a certified darling of the auteurists, though cooler heads long ago dismissed him as a cost-conscious middlebrow with a Viennese accent whose continental demeanor and I-am-a-genius tantrums were sucker bait for impressionable rubes. Even his brother agreed. When Foster Hirsch approached Ingo Preminger about writing a biography of his more famous sibling, he got a thoroughly sensible answer: “I can see eight, nine, ten books about Bergman or Fellini, but a book about Otto? He was a very good producer and he fought important battles against censorship, but there was no great film!”

Nevertheless, Hirsch soldiered on, and the result is Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King (Knopf, 373 pp., $35), a readable book about an interesting man who made two good movies, Laura and Anatomy of a Murder, and two or three others that are still worth watching. If you think that’s sufficient cinematic achievement to justify a full-length biography, rest assured that this one will hold your attention, for Preminger’s story is fascinating from start to finish. A Polish Jew who reinvented himself as an echt-Viennese stage director, he relocated to Hollywood by way of Broadway and embarked on a career that brought him fame, fortune and a fair number of admiring reviews. A bald-headed tyrant whose larger-than-life personality made him the stuff of countless anecdotes, Preminger worked with everybody from Laurette Taylor to John Wayne, had affairs with Gypsy Rose Lee and Dorothy Dandridge, and played a half-dozen big-screen Nazis on the side, the best-remembered of whom is the sardonic commandant of Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17: “With Christmas coming on, I have a special treat for you. I’ll have you all deloused for the holidays.”

In between these well-told tales, Hirsch does all he can to persuade us that the director of Forever Amber, The Moon Is Blue, and River of No Return was something more than a highly paid hack. Not only does he call the embarrassingly elephantine Advise and Consent “the most intelligent American film about American politics…made by a maestro at the height of his command of the language of film,” but he even finds it in his forgiving heart to describe Skidoo, one of the half-dozen worst big-budget movies ever made, as “this infamous, endearing flop.” Far more telling, though, is Hirsch’s unintentionally devastating account of Preminger’s parallel career as a stage director in Austria and America, which leaves no possible doubt of his fundamental artistic unseriousness (the only plays of any importance that he directed in his 42 years in the theater were The Front Page and Johann Nestroy’s Einen Jux will er sich machen).

The truth was that Preminger cared only for commercial success, and was willing to make any compromise necessary in order to get it. Whenever he took on “serious” subject matter, he invariably watered it down so as to make it palatable to the masses, adding just enough shock value to épater le bourgeois. (It was Preminger who introduced the word “virgin” to the silver screen in The Moon Is Blue, showed Frank Sinatra shooting up in The Man with the Golden Arm, and filmed the inside of a gay bar in Advise and Consent.) Only twice did he adapt significant stage plays, Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan and Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan, and both films, predictably enough, were artistic and commercial failures.

The rest was melodrama—except for Laura, the slickest and most elegant film noir ever made, and Anatomy of a Murder, a startlingly tough-minded courtroom drama in which Preminger drew on his youthful experience as a Viennese law student to show how lawyers approach the vexing problem of defending clients whose innocence they doubt. These two films are more than worth remembering, and Hirsch does well by them (though he seems curiously unaware that Alexander Woollcott was the real-life model for Waldo Lydecker, the epicene journalist-radio personality who narrates Laura).

Yet two films do not an oeuvre make, and I have a feeling that Foster Hirsch, for all his enthusiasm, suspects as much. At book’s end, he describes Otto Preminger as “a supremely fluent metteur-en-scène who made thoughtful, challenging films on a broad range of subjects that continue to matter.” Judicious appraisal—or damning with faint praise? You be the judge.

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Mugabe’s Friends

It is truly a boon for observers of South African politics that the country’s president writes a several-thousand word message every week to his supporters. Thabo Mbeki’s weekly letters are not the stuff of speech writers and consultants; he is a true intellectual, however fetid his ideas. Reading his letters reveals something quite ominous about the political future of South Africa.

This week, Mbeki lets the ANC’s Secretary General Kgalema Motlanthe borrow his pen to write about Zimbabwe. Prompting this angry piece was British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s threat to boycott an upcoming European Union/African Union summit if Mugabe were to attend. Both the EU and AU chose Mugabe over Brown, and this is a choice that obviously delights Mbeki and Motlanthe. In this letter Motlanthe carries Mbeki’s water, perhaps because what Motlanthe says is too egregious for the South African president to utter himself. Motlanthe uses the diplomatic row between Great Britain and Zimbabwe to launch into a tirade about British colonial history.

Motlanthe believes that Great Britain is trying to effect “regime change” in Harare, and indignantly asks why the British government did not advocate regime change for the white, rebel colony of Rhodesia, which preceded the creation of a democratic Zimbabwe. In so doing, Motlanthe ignores that the British government declared the colony’s 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence an act of treason. Britain used its international heft to impose strict United Nations sanctions on the white regime in Rhodesia for well over a decade, contributing to its downfall in 1980. Britain played no small part in bringing the Rhodesian government to its knees, discrediting the moderate black Bishop Abel Muzorewa (who had formed a coalition government with whites and won a democratic, multi-racial election in 1979). Were it not for Margaret Thatcher’s willingness to side with Jimmy Carter’s and Andrew Young’s diplomacy, Robert Mugabe might not have become president 27 years ago.

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It is truly a boon for observers of South African politics that the country’s president writes a several-thousand word message every week to his supporters. Thabo Mbeki’s weekly letters are not the stuff of speech writers and consultants; he is a true intellectual, however fetid his ideas. Reading his letters reveals something quite ominous about the political future of South Africa.

This week, Mbeki lets the ANC’s Secretary General Kgalema Motlanthe borrow his pen to write about Zimbabwe. Prompting this angry piece was British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s threat to boycott an upcoming European Union/African Union summit if Mugabe were to attend. Both the EU and AU chose Mugabe over Brown, and this is a choice that obviously delights Mbeki and Motlanthe. In this letter Motlanthe carries Mbeki’s water, perhaps because what Motlanthe says is too egregious for the South African president to utter himself. Motlanthe uses the diplomatic row between Great Britain and Zimbabwe to launch into a tirade about British colonial history.

Motlanthe believes that Great Britain is trying to effect “regime change” in Harare, and indignantly asks why the British government did not advocate regime change for the white, rebel colony of Rhodesia, which preceded the creation of a democratic Zimbabwe. In so doing, Motlanthe ignores that the British government declared the colony’s 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence an act of treason. Britain used its international heft to impose strict United Nations sanctions on the white regime in Rhodesia for well over a decade, contributing to its downfall in 1980. Britain played no small part in bringing the Rhodesian government to its knees, discrediting the moderate black Bishop Abel Muzorewa (who had formed a coalition government with whites and won a democratic, multi-racial election in 1979). Were it not for Margaret Thatcher’s willingness to side with Jimmy Carter’s and Andrew Young’s diplomacy, Robert Mugabe might not have become president 27 years ago.

But what’s telling is that Motlanthe (and by extension, Mbeki) is so outraged at what he believes is the West’s desire to perpetrate “regime change” in Zimbabwe. Thabo Mbeki and the ANC called for violent revolution against the white minority government of South Africa—and while it was a boon to every South African that the transition to democracy occurred peacefully—it was nonetheless true that regime change in apartheid South Africa was a moral necessity. Can anyone honestly deny that the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe today is far worse than that of South African apartheid? Why, therefore, is regime change inappropriate in Zimbabwe? Because the ruling party is black-led.

Regime change does not necessarily have to come through military intervention, but the country will be unable to recover from its devastated state unless Mugabe is ousted from power and the country’s political apparatus is wiped clean of ZANU-PF, the socialist party Mugabe leads.

Motlanthe also launches into an abbreviated history of Zimbabwean land reform, which not-so-subtly exculpates Mugabe’s seizures of private land as a justified response to Great Britain’s failure to rectify an historic grievance. There is no mention of the fact that much of the land Mugabe stole was in fact purchased legally by whites after 1980, nor that he lost (in spite of his best attempts to rig it) a 2000 constitutional referendum that would have given him more executive power and the ability to seize land at will without compensation. Mugabe’s flagrant destruction of the rule of law thereafter, which triggered a series of events leading to today’s mess, is nowhere to be found in the ANC’s analysis of the situation.

People often wonder why South Africa stands so steadfastly by Mugabe as he ruins his country and thousands of Zimbabweans cross the border into South Africa every week. The answer can be found in this statement, full of anachronistic resentment towards Great Britain and lacking any criticism of Robert Mugabe or concern for the plight of the millions of starving, politically oppressed Zimbabweans. Once again, the African National Congress unmistakably reveals itself to those who continue to be blinded by its progressive rhetoric: it is not the liberal architect of the “Rainbow Nation,” but a racial nationalist outfit sympathetic with and openly supportive of tyrants around the world.

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