Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 29, 2007

Send in the Mercenaries

Michael Abramowitz of the Washington Post has an interesting and instructive article on the U.S. failure to do something meaningful about the genocide in Darfur. The gist of the piece is that, while President Bush personally is committed to action, he has not been able or willing to mobilize the government to get tough with the murderous Janjaweed militia and their sponsors in Khartoum who have been responsible for an estimated 200,000 deaths since 2003.

The article is full of damning quotes such as this one:

“Bush probably does want something done, but the lack of hands-on follow-up from this White House allowed this to drift,” said one former State Department official involved in Darfur who did not want to be quoted by name criticizing the president. “If he says, ‘There is not going to be genocide on my watch,’ and then two and a half years later we are just getting tough action, what gives? He has made statements, but his administration has not given meaning to those statements.”

This is symptomatic of a larger problem with this administration, which too often has coupled stirring rhetoric about defeating terrorists, promoting democracy, and curbing human rights abuses with sadly inadequate or incoherent action. In the case of Darfur, Abramowitz aptly sums up the failure:

While almost everyone involved in Darfur policy agrees that an African Union peacekeeping force of just 7,000 troops is not up to the task, the United States has refused to send troops and, despite promises of reinforcements, has yet to secure many additional troops from other countries. At the same time, it has been unable to broker a diplomatic resolution that might ease the violence.

As I’ve been arguing for some time, there is a simple solution that is hiding in plain sight: send in the mercenaries. If we’re not willing to put our own troops into Darfur—and there are good reasons why we’re not—why not hire private security companies like Blackwater to aid the African Union peacekeepers in their assigned mission? Executive Outcomes, a now-defunct South African firm, worked wonders in stopping a civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990’s. Similar firms could be equally effective in Darfur today.

But this solution is too politically incorrect to contemplate. Much better, it seems, simply to let the killing continue unabated.

Michael Abramowitz of the Washington Post has an interesting and instructive article on the U.S. failure to do something meaningful about the genocide in Darfur. The gist of the piece is that, while President Bush personally is committed to action, he has not been able or willing to mobilize the government to get tough with the murderous Janjaweed militia and their sponsors in Khartoum who have been responsible for an estimated 200,000 deaths since 2003.

The article is full of damning quotes such as this one:

“Bush probably does want something done, but the lack of hands-on follow-up from this White House allowed this to drift,” said one former State Department official involved in Darfur who did not want to be quoted by name criticizing the president. “If he says, ‘There is not going to be genocide on my watch,’ and then two and a half years later we are just getting tough action, what gives? He has made statements, but his administration has not given meaning to those statements.”

This is symptomatic of a larger problem with this administration, which too often has coupled stirring rhetoric about defeating terrorists, promoting democracy, and curbing human rights abuses with sadly inadequate or incoherent action. In the case of Darfur, Abramowitz aptly sums up the failure:

While almost everyone involved in Darfur policy agrees that an African Union peacekeeping force of just 7,000 troops is not up to the task, the United States has refused to send troops and, despite promises of reinforcements, has yet to secure many additional troops from other countries. At the same time, it has been unable to broker a diplomatic resolution that might ease the violence.

As I’ve been arguing for some time, there is a simple solution that is hiding in plain sight: send in the mercenaries. If we’re not willing to put our own troops into Darfur—and there are good reasons why we’re not—why not hire private security companies like Blackwater to aid the African Union peacekeepers in their assigned mission? Executive Outcomes, a now-defunct South African firm, worked wonders in stopping a civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990’s. Similar firms could be equally effective in Darfur today.

But this solution is too politically incorrect to contemplate. Much better, it seems, simply to let the killing continue unabated.

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Bombing First

With a sense of urgency inversely proportional to his usual concern for Iran’s nuclear program, IAEA chief Mohammad ElBaradei used strong language to criticize Israel’s airstrike on a Syrian facility early in September.

ElBaradei called the raid “very distressful.” It is not clear whether his distress stems from the raid’s success or from the complete lack of IAEA knowledge about the site prior to Israel’s attack. Officially, what bothers ElBaradei is the fact that Israel bombed the site rather than reporting it’s existence to ElBaradei himself: “To bomb first and then ask questions later, I think it undermines the system and it doesn’t lead to any solution.” Given his track record on Iran’s nuclear ambitions and repeated violations of UN resolutions on the subject, one is hard-pressed to understand why reporting it is better than destroying it. Perhaps so that ElBaradei can engage in years of meaningless negotiations while the Syrians advance their program?

No doubt, diplomacy has its merits. But if the IAEA actually is interested in countering proliferation, ElBaradei should be applauding Israel’s action—at least quietly.

With a sense of urgency inversely proportional to his usual concern for Iran’s nuclear program, IAEA chief Mohammad ElBaradei used strong language to criticize Israel’s airstrike on a Syrian facility early in September.

ElBaradei called the raid “very distressful.” It is not clear whether his distress stems from the raid’s success or from the complete lack of IAEA knowledge about the site prior to Israel’s attack. Officially, what bothers ElBaradei is the fact that Israel bombed the site rather than reporting it’s existence to ElBaradei himself: “To bomb first and then ask questions later, I think it undermines the system and it doesn’t lead to any solution.” Given his track record on Iran’s nuclear ambitions and repeated violations of UN resolutions on the subject, one is hard-pressed to understand why reporting it is better than destroying it. Perhaps so that ElBaradei can engage in years of meaningless negotiations while the Syrians advance their program?

No doubt, diplomacy has its merits. But if the IAEA actually is interested in countering proliferation, ElBaradei should be applauding Israel’s action—at least quietly.

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Commentary’s “Sister Publication”?

Should we mix it up among ourselves here at COMMENTARY’s various blogs? Sometimes we have to.

Jamie Kirchick blew a little valentine over the weekend to the British publication, the Spectator. It read in full:

There are some great doings at the website of what I like to think of as a sister publication to COMMENTARY across the pond: the Spectator. The oldest magazine in the English-speaking world, the Spectator—or “Speccie” as it is lovingly called—represents the best opinion journalism regarding all things British, particularly politics and culture.

In addition to the Coffee House, the magazine’s staff blog, London Times contributors Stephen Pollard and Clive Davis contribute must-read daily musings. Plus, there’s the excellent Melanie Phillips, author of Londonistan (reviewed in the pages of COMMENTARY by Daniel Johnson), whose blog has just joined the Spectator website.

Is Kirchick’s praise for the “Speccie” justified?

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Should we mix it up among ourselves here at COMMENTARY’s various blogs? Sometimes we have to.

Jamie Kirchick blew a little valentine over the weekend to the British publication, the Spectator. It read in full:

There are some great doings at the website of what I like to think of as a sister publication to COMMENTARY across the pond: the Spectator. The oldest magazine in the English-speaking world, the Spectator—or “Speccie” as it is lovingly called—represents the best opinion journalism regarding all things British, particularly politics and culture.

In addition to the Coffee House, the magazine’s staff blog, London Times contributors Stephen Pollard and Clive Davis contribute must-read daily musings. Plus, there’s the excellent Melanie Phillips, author of Londonistan (reviewed in the pages of COMMENTARY by Daniel Johnson), whose blog has just joined the Spectator website.

Is Kirchick’s praise for the “Speccie” justified?

Yes, the Spectator has the courageous Melanie Phillips writing for it, and that is mightily to its credit. But Phillips apart, the magazine has a pronounced anti-Zionist slant, not exactly a courageous position these days in the British isles or in Europe.

Consider the magazine’s treatment of The Israel Lobby by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. The Spectator found a reviewer, Jonathan Mirsky, who wrote that “this densely footnoted and courageous book deserves praise rather than abuse.” COMMENTARY has a rather different view of this disreputable book.

Thumbing through back issues of the Spectator one can find material that is far worse than Mirsky’s apologia for anti-Semitism. Read, for example, its regular columnist Taki endorsing Ilan Pappé’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.

Money quote:

Pappé’s figures don’t lie. Over 90 per cent of the land was Palestinian in the early 20th century, and by 1948 the Jewish minority owned only 5.8 per cent of the land. The ethnic cleansing came under the name of Plan Dalet, and it included files on every Arab village and its inhabitants that would allow Jewish militias to attack them and drive them off their lands. . . .

The result was that 800,000 Palestinians became refugees. We in the West pride ourselves on fairness and compassion. As do the Jewish people everywhere. Where’s the fairness there after all these years?

In publishing Taki, a columnist who has long dabbled in anti-Semitic provocations, does the Spectator represent the “best opinion journalism” in Britain, especially about politics and culture? Perhaps Kirchick is right, but only if one considers what else is on offer in British publications these days.

And is the Spectator is some sense a “sister publication to COMMENTARY”?  Perhaps Kirchick is right once again. To find out why, see this movie.

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An Act of Kindness from Iraq

Iraqi Army officers in Besmaya raised a thousand dollars in donations for fire victims in San Diego, California, and the only place that seems to have reported the story is the military blog OPFOR. Author Richard S. Lowry learned about it in a press release from the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq Public Affairs, so it’s unlikely he’s the only one in the media who knows something about it.

Sending a thousand dollars to California will be about as helpful as throwing a glass of water into the firestorm. It’s the thought that counts here. And what surprising thought it is. How many Americans expect charity from Iraq?

As Lowry points out, “most Americans do not consider Iraqis as people.” He’s right. Most of us only know them from sensational media reports about masked insurgents, wailing widows, and death squads. Most of us may instinctively understand that the majority of Iraqis are just regular people, but it’s hard to keep that in mind when the only thing we get Stateside is war coverage. I’ve met hundreds of Iraqis myself during trips to their country as a reporter, so it’s a bit easier for me to see them as just people. I’m still surprised that anyone in that broken impoverished land would even consider donating hard-earned money to Californians.

A thousand dollars is a lot in Iraq. The average salary is only a few hundred dollars a month. I can’t for the life of me figure out how entire families can survive on so little, considering most have so many children. Basic necessities are cheaper in Iraq than in the West, but not that much cheaper.

Some Iraqis have been learning a similar lesson about American generosity lately.

Two months ago I went on a humanitarian aid drop mission outside Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province, with American soldiers and Iraqi Police officers at four o’clock in the morning. The goods we delivered were paid for by the United States government. Sometimes, though, soldiers and Marines deliver items donated through American charities. “When we tell them that some of these packages aren’t from the military or the government,” a Marine told me, “that they were donated by average American citizens in places like Kansas, people choke up and sometimes even cry. They just can’t comprehend it. It is so different from the lies they were told about us and how we’re supposed to be evil.”

Sustained contact with the “other” isn’t a magic bullet against bigoted attitudes (see, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), but it usually helps. Iraqis learn about Americans through daily interactions, but most Americans have no contact, sustained or otherwise, with Iraqis.

Shopkeeper Was Nice to Embedded Reporter isn’t a headline, but donations from Besmaya to San Diego is a real story. Now would be a good time for major newspapers, as well as blogs and magazines like this one, to show Iraqis, for once, as generous and regular people.

UPDATE: CNN now has the story on their Web site. Good for them.

Iraqi Army officers in Besmaya raised a thousand dollars in donations for fire victims in San Diego, California, and the only place that seems to have reported the story is the military blog OPFOR. Author Richard S. Lowry learned about it in a press release from the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq Public Affairs, so it’s unlikely he’s the only one in the media who knows something about it.

Sending a thousand dollars to California will be about as helpful as throwing a glass of water into the firestorm. It’s the thought that counts here. And what surprising thought it is. How many Americans expect charity from Iraq?

As Lowry points out, “most Americans do not consider Iraqis as people.” He’s right. Most of us only know them from sensational media reports about masked insurgents, wailing widows, and death squads. Most of us may instinctively understand that the majority of Iraqis are just regular people, but it’s hard to keep that in mind when the only thing we get Stateside is war coverage. I’ve met hundreds of Iraqis myself during trips to their country as a reporter, so it’s a bit easier for me to see them as just people. I’m still surprised that anyone in that broken impoverished land would even consider donating hard-earned money to Californians.

A thousand dollars is a lot in Iraq. The average salary is only a few hundred dollars a month. I can’t for the life of me figure out how entire families can survive on so little, considering most have so many children. Basic necessities are cheaper in Iraq than in the West, but not that much cheaper.

Some Iraqis have been learning a similar lesson about American generosity lately.

Two months ago I went on a humanitarian aid drop mission outside Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province, with American soldiers and Iraqi Police officers at four o’clock in the morning. The goods we delivered were paid for by the United States government. Sometimes, though, soldiers and Marines deliver items donated through American charities. “When we tell them that some of these packages aren’t from the military or the government,” a Marine told me, “that they were donated by average American citizens in places like Kansas, people choke up and sometimes even cry. They just can’t comprehend it. It is so different from the lies they were told about us and how we’re supposed to be evil.”

Sustained contact with the “other” isn’t a magic bullet against bigoted attitudes (see, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), but it usually helps. Iraqis learn about Americans through daily interactions, but most Americans have no contact, sustained or otherwise, with Iraqis.

Shopkeeper Was Nice to Embedded Reporter isn’t a headline, but donations from Besmaya to San Diego is a real story. Now would be a good time for major newspapers, as well as blogs and magazines like this one, to show Iraqis, for once, as generous and regular people.

UPDATE: CNN now has the story on their Web site. Good for them.

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Michael Scheuer Watch #4: The Danish Affair

An entry here entitled Michael Scheuer: Innocent Until Proven Guilty seems to have rattled the former CIA official’s cage. He has posted three separate comments in reply.

Herewith some comments about his comments.

In his 2004 book, Imperial Hubris, Scheuer made a point of stressing how vital it was for CIA analysts like himself always to “check the checkables”—a phrase he used incessantly in that volume. In writing about Imperial Hubris in COMMENTARY, I noted then that he himself had a very hard time with the checkables, not least in the realm of spelling. L. Paul Bremer III was rendered in the book as Paul Bremmer, General Curtis LeMay as General Lemay, the foreign-policy analysts Edward Luttwak and Adam Garfinkle as Lutwack and Garfinckle, etc.

In his comments posted here on Connecting the Dots, Scheuer still has trouble with the same class of checkables. And, along with misspellings, he does some far more noteworthy things.

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An entry here entitled Michael Scheuer: Innocent Until Proven Guilty seems to have rattled the former CIA official’s cage. He has posted three separate comments in reply.

Herewith some comments about his comments.

In his 2004 book, Imperial Hubris, Scheuer made a point of stressing how vital it was for CIA analysts like himself always to “check the checkables”—a phrase he used incessantly in that volume. In writing about Imperial Hubris in COMMENTARY, I noted then that he himself had a very hard time with the checkables, not least in the realm of spelling. L. Paul Bremer III was rendered in the book as Paul Bremmer, General Curtis LeMay as General Lemay, the foreign-policy analysts Edward Luttwak and Adam Garfinkle as Lutwack and Garfinckle, etc.

In his comments posted here on Connecting the Dots, Scheuer still has trouble with the same class of checkables. And, along with misspellings, he does some far more noteworthy things.

Thus, in one of his three replies, Scheuer suggests that I am disloyal to the United States: “only a small part of Mr. Scheonfeld [sic]…may be American.” He suggests that, along with me, Norman Podhoretz, Max Boot, James Woolsley [sic], someone simply identified as “Pipes” (Richard or Daniel?), and someone simply identified as “Horowitz,” have pushed the United States into wasting American “treasure” and getting our “soldier-children killed in fighting other peoples’ wars, especially other peoples’ religious wars.”

Presumably, in referring to “religious wars,” Scheuer has in mind, as so often in the past, Israel’s conflicts with its neighbors. But my post had nothing to do with Israel. Nor were the names Podhoretz, Boot, Woolsey, Pipes, or Horowitz mentioned in it. The imputation that these individuals, including a former director of the CIA, are disloyal to the United States is naked bigotry (although I cannot of course defend “Horowitz” from Scheuer’s accusation, since I do not know who he is). 

I was writing not about religious wars but about Scheuer’s disclosure of information to the Danish newspaper Politiken concerning the extraordinary rendition to Egypt in 1995 of a terrorist plotter by the name of Abu Talal. Scheuer does comment on that episode, but in a way completely irrelevant to my charges. He says:

The CIA’s rendition program—which I helped author, and then managed for almost four years—continues to be the U.S. government’s single most successful, perhaps only sucessful [sic] counterterrorism program, and Americans are very much safer with the likes of Abu Talal off the street.

But the issue is not whether extraordinary renditions were successful, or whether Americans are safer because of them. I will stipulate for the sake of argument that he is right about both those things.

I was raising a different issue, concerning the U.S. laws governing leaks, and I raised five questions about whether the Politiken story indicates that these laws may have been broken:

1. Is the story accurate?

2. Assuming it is accurate, was the information about the rendition of Abu Talal classified?

3. Assuming it was classified, and that Scheuer was the primary source, did he have the CIA’s permission to talk about it?

4. Assuming he was the primary source and he did not have CIA permission, and that the two preceding questions are answered in the affirmative, was a crime committed here?

5. If the elements of a crime are in place, will be there an investigation? And is anyone at the CIA or the Department of Justice or in Congress paying attention?

It is notable that in his three responses, Scheuer does not address or answer even one of these five questions.

The CIA does things in secret for a number of very good reasons. One of them is to accomplish U.S. security objectives without creating political firestorms in friendly countries. But a firestorm has now been ignited in Denmark as a result of Scheuer’s leak.

All the opposition parties in the Danish parliament are demanding an investigation into whether the authorities cooperated with the CIA in the extradition. Amnesty International has joined the choir: “It should be clarified whether Denmark indirectly participated in the CIA’s prisoner program and therefore in the violation of human rights,” says Lars Norman Jorgensen, who heads the organization’s Danish branch.

Meanwhile, even as the Danish foreign minister, Per Stig Moller, is denying that he was ever informed that “any unlawful acts” had taken place on Danish territory, Michael Scheuer has been pouring more fuel on the fire. He has told Politiken that the Danish intelligence agency, the DSIS, must have known about the rendition program; he says, “I can’t imagine any situation where we would not have told Denmark this.”

In short, not only does Scheuer appear to be the source of a damaging leak, he appears to be intent on maximizing the damage.

Here are some more dots that I’m still trying to connect:

CIA officers have been indicted in Italy for taking part in extraordinary renditions there. Will Denmark now initiate a similar legal process?

How does Scheuer’s activity differ from the deliberate leaking of classified information by the renegade CIA agent Philip Agee, whose passport was revoked in 1979 and is now a fugitive living in Cuba?

What is the Justice Department doing about the disclosure? I predict that the incoming Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, will prove far more energetic in investigating and prosecuting leaks than was the feckless Alberto Gonzalez. I hope I’m right.

What does Scheuer have to say about any of this? I predict that, at this point, he will answer with either a telling silence or with even more telling and more irrelevant evasions.

A complete guide to other items in this Michael Scheuer Watch series can be found here.

 

 

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William Jennings Huckabee

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s silver-tongued performance at the October 18 Values Voters forum in Washington, DC, together with his rising poll numbers in Iowa where he is in second place, has shaken up the GOP. Huckabee, a Baptist preacher who’s never needed to employ a speechwriter, was greeted with a standing ovation. In what has to be the first ever presidential candidate shout-out to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Huckabee made his case for the little guy. “It’s a lot better to be with David than Goliath,” he declared. “Or with Elijah than 850 prophets of Baal. Or with Daniel and the lions than the Babylonians.”

Huckabee drew sustained applause when he told the crowd that “We do not have the right to move God’s standard to meet the cultural norm but we need to move the cultural norm to meet God’s standards.” But he struck a note with broader appeal when he drew laughter and applause by telling the crowd, “It is high time for us to tell Saudi Arabia that in ten years we will have as much interest in their oil as their sand; they can keep both of them.” “For too long,” he continued, “we have financed both sides of the war on terrorism; our tax dollars pay for our military to fight it and our oil dollars—every time you fill the tank—is turned into the madrasahs that teach terrorists and the money that funds them.”

Taking a shot at Mitt Romney, he drew cheers when, speaking in the cadences of a man at the pulpit, he insisted “it’s important that the language of Zion is a mother tongue and not a recently acquired second language.” The argument took. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council concluded that Huckabee “comes out of here clearly as a favorite.” The rank and file attendees concurred. In an event where all the major candidates spoke, Huckabee was the runaway winner with 50 percent support (with Romney a distant second at 10 percent).

Huckabee’s rise has brought a sharp response from some (like conservative doyenne Phyllis Schlafly) who consider him too soft on illegal immigration. But the big guns have been fired by low-tax, free-trade, business Republicans (such as John Fund of the Wall Street Journal and Pat Toomey of the Club for Growth) who are mindful of Huckabee’s verbal volleys aimed at the financial sector’s sizable profits. These Republicans don’t see how Huckabee, who has expressed some doubts about free trade, can win the top spot. Still, they fear that he has established himself as a strong candidate for the vice-presidential slot on the Republican ticket, where he could alienate the fiscally conservative swing voters who deserted the GOP in 2006.

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Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s silver-tongued performance at the October 18 Values Voters forum in Washington, DC, together with his rising poll numbers in Iowa where he is in second place, has shaken up the GOP. Huckabee, a Baptist preacher who’s never needed to employ a speechwriter, was greeted with a standing ovation. In what has to be the first ever presidential candidate shout-out to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Huckabee made his case for the little guy. “It’s a lot better to be with David than Goliath,” he declared. “Or with Elijah than 850 prophets of Baal. Or with Daniel and the lions than the Babylonians.”

Huckabee drew sustained applause when he told the crowd that “We do not have the right to move God’s standard to meet the cultural norm but we need to move the cultural norm to meet God’s standards.” But he struck a note with broader appeal when he drew laughter and applause by telling the crowd, “It is high time for us to tell Saudi Arabia that in ten years we will have as much interest in their oil as their sand; they can keep both of them.” “For too long,” he continued, “we have financed both sides of the war on terrorism; our tax dollars pay for our military to fight it and our oil dollars—every time you fill the tank—is turned into the madrasahs that teach terrorists and the money that funds them.”

Taking a shot at Mitt Romney, he drew cheers when, speaking in the cadences of a man at the pulpit, he insisted “it’s important that the language of Zion is a mother tongue and not a recently acquired second language.” The argument took. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council concluded that Huckabee “comes out of here clearly as a favorite.” The rank and file attendees concurred. In an event where all the major candidates spoke, Huckabee was the runaway winner with 50 percent support (with Romney a distant second at 10 percent).

Huckabee’s rise has brought a sharp response from some (like conservative doyenne Phyllis Schlafly) who consider him too soft on illegal immigration. But the big guns have been fired by low-tax, free-trade, business Republicans (such as John Fund of the Wall Street Journal and Pat Toomey of the Club for Growth) who are mindful of Huckabee’s verbal volleys aimed at the financial sector’s sizable profits. These Republicans don’t see how Huckabee, who has expressed some doubts about free trade, can win the top spot. Still, they fear that he has established himself as a strong candidate for the vice-presidential slot on the Republican ticket, where he could alienate the fiscally conservative swing voters who deserted the GOP in 2006.

Pat Toomey argues that Huckabee’s record as governor (he oversaw an increase in taxes, including those on sales, gas, grocery, and nursing home beds, producing a 47 percent overall tax hike) should disqualify him from national consideration. John Fund, who knows Huckabee well, strikes a similar note, and adds that Huckabee, “who was the only GOP candidate to refuse to endorse President Bush’s veto of the Democrats’ bill to vastly expand the SCHIP health-care program” has scant support from Republicans who served in the legislature when he was governor.

Rich Lowry, of National Review, has described Huckabee as a cross between the famous early 20th century preacher Billy Sunday and Ronald Reagan. But with Huckabee’s talk of applied Christianity, the early 20th century figure he most closely resembles is the great populist orator in the cause of Free Silver, William Jennings Bryan. Three times the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, Bryan, “The Great Commoner,” with his blend of fervent but tolerant Christianity, his distrust of the banks, and his economic egalitarianism, was the hero of Great Plains and Southern Democrats.

The migration of liberal, Eastern Establishment Republicans like Ned Lamont and Jay Rockefeller into the Democratic camp has made the modern Dems into the party of a noblesse oblige-accented gentry liberalism that repels upwardly mobile middle- and lower-middle-class whites. But while blue collar religious whites are an uncomfortable fit with the modern Democratic Party, the deeply religious former Southern Democrats who have migrated into the GOP camp make for an uneasy fit with traditional Republican business interests. It’s not surprising then that a new Bryan—of sorts—has arisen to represent an important if relatively recent GOP constituency.

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“Intraparty Democracy”?

Newsweek’s Melinda Liu, in an article dated Saturday, gushes over Xi Jinping, the cadre just designated as the first in line to succeed Communist Party boss Hu Jintao five years from now. The desire to praise young communists—Xi is a relatively spry 54—is an unfortunate tendency common to China watchers whenever the Party unveils a “new generation” of leaders. I will spare you all the good things she has to say about Xi because they’re predictable—and wrong. (I also have a strong aversion to helping Beijing spread its hagiography.)

But Liu, in her article, also praises the minor “reforms” that the Party is implementing to improve its internal workings. Xi “got the highest vote” in a secret internal Party poll, she notes. Because that political organization is now attempting to gauge sentiment within a small circle of its most senior members, Liu sees important progress. “China’s new heir apparent is a surprise pick, suggesting that ‘intraparty democracy’ is no joke,” Newsweek writes. Liu’s thesis is that, absent these changes, some other aspiring tyrant would have been selected front-runner for the Communist Party’s top post.

Of course, we do not know enough about the Party’s internal maneuverings to make such a judgment. And it’s important to note that intraparty democracy is by no means democracy. Xi was still picked by an extremely small group of senior cadres in backroom negotiations inside a closed political organization. And Newsweek considers this progress?

So here’s some advice for Ms. Liu: hold off cheering China’s Communists until they allow the Chinese people to decide who should lead the country—in free and fair national elections.

Newsweek’s Melinda Liu, in an article dated Saturday, gushes over Xi Jinping, the cadre just designated as the first in line to succeed Communist Party boss Hu Jintao five years from now. The desire to praise young communists—Xi is a relatively spry 54—is an unfortunate tendency common to China watchers whenever the Party unveils a “new generation” of leaders. I will spare you all the good things she has to say about Xi because they’re predictable—and wrong. (I also have a strong aversion to helping Beijing spread its hagiography.)

But Liu, in her article, also praises the minor “reforms” that the Party is implementing to improve its internal workings. Xi “got the highest vote” in a secret internal Party poll, she notes. Because that political organization is now attempting to gauge sentiment within a small circle of its most senior members, Liu sees important progress. “China’s new heir apparent is a surprise pick, suggesting that ‘intraparty democracy’ is no joke,” Newsweek writes. Liu’s thesis is that, absent these changes, some other aspiring tyrant would have been selected front-runner for the Communist Party’s top post.

Of course, we do not know enough about the Party’s internal maneuverings to make such a judgment. And it’s important to note that intraparty democracy is by no means democracy. Xi was still picked by an extremely small group of senior cadres in backroom negotiations inside a closed political organization. And Newsweek considers this progress?

So here’s some advice for Ms. Liu: hold off cheering China’s Communists until they allow the Chinese people to decide who should lead the country—in free and fair national elections.

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