Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 5, 2007

Due Diligence

A report in the Italian daily L’opinione states that all the gallows used by the Iranian government to conduct public hangings are “made in Italy.” This is not the first time Italy’s companies have been embarrassed publicly by their business connections to Iran. A recent piece of investigative reporting in the newsweekly L’espresso, about which I’ve blogged, exposed more embarrassing deals—among which was listed Iran’s purchase of ultrafast patrol boats originally designed for Italian police patrol boats fighting sea smugglers. Iran reportedly bought the boats, and the plans to build them, in 1998 for its revolutionary guards. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that, when Iran seized fifteen British sailors (and one iPod) in March 2007, it was using Italian-made boats. These exposures are sure to complicate Italy’s ambitions to join the EU-3—France, Germany and Great Britain—as Iran’s interlocutors on its nuclear dossier.

In truth, though, the embarrassment should not be Italy’s alone. European companies routinely supply Iran with seemingly harmless products, which Tehran diverts to less than transparent purposes. That’s the reason why, on October 11, the Financial Action Task Force—a 34-member intergovernmental body more widely known as the Egmont Group—issued a warning about Iran:

FATF members are advising their financial institutions to take the risk arising from the deficiencies in Iran’s AML/CFT regime into account for enhanced due diligence.

Italy is one of the 34 members of the Egmont Group. Given all the evidence of how its business ties with Iran strengthen the country’s repressive regime, isn’t it time that Italy follow FATF’s advice and show “enhanced due diligence” in its business with Iran—preferably by conducting none at all?

A report in the Italian daily L’opinione states that all the gallows used by the Iranian government to conduct public hangings are “made in Italy.” This is not the first time Italy’s companies have been embarrassed publicly by their business connections to Iran. A recent piece of investigative reporting in the newsweekly L’espresso, about which I’ve blogged, exposed more embarrassing deals—among which was listed Iran’s purchase of ultrafast patrol boats originally designed for Italian police patrol boats fighting sea smugglers. Iran reportedly bought the boats, and the plans to build them, in 1998 for its revolutionary guards. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that, when Iran seized fifteen British sailors (and one iPod) in March 2007, it was using Italian-made boats. These exposures are sure to complicate Italy’s ambitions to join the EU-3—France, Germany and Great Britain—as Iran’s interlocutors on its nuclear dossier.

In truth, though, the embarrassment should not be Italy’s alone. European companies routinely supply Iran with seemingly harmless products, which Tehran diverts to less than transparent purposes. That’s the reason why, on October 11, the Financial Action Task Force—a 34-member intergovernmental body more widely known as the Egmont Group—issued a warning about Iran:

FATF members are advising their financial institutions to take the risk arising from the deficiencies in Iran’s AML/CFT regime into account for enhanced due diligence.

Italy is one of the 34 members of the Egmont Group. Given all the evidence of how its business ties with Iran strengthen the country’s repressive regime, isn’t it time that Italy follow FATF’s advice and show “enhanced due diligence” in its business with Iran—preferably by conducting none at all?

Read Less

Sullivan’s Garbles

Andrew Sullivan accuses me of “astonishing ignorance” because in an earlier post on waterboarding I said that “as universally understood, torture is the infliction of physical injury through the application of physical force.” He quotes the phrase “severe mental or physical pain or suffering” from U.S. law to prove me ignorant. Once again, as ever, Sullivan asserts that what he believes is law when it is, in fact, nothing of the kind. Here is the applicable language under U.S. statute:

“Severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from—

(A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;

(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;

(C) the threat of imminent death; or

(D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality.

It is true that the law speaks of the “threatened infliction” of “severe physical pain and suffering.” But this is an extraordinarily broad phrase that could indicate that a nine-year-old bully who terrifies another kid on the playground by threatening to rip his arm off is guilty of torture.

Such statute language does not clarify; it muddies, as legal language often muddies. If someone says, “I am going to kill you,” and by so doing causes fear in the person to whom he says it, is that torture? Clearly not, though the fear experienced by the person might be severe.

The question is whether the panic induced by waterboarding rises to the level of lawlessness as defined by that statute and by international law. And though Sullivan refuses to acknowledge this, that is a debatable proposition, as demonstrated by the simple fact that many people of good will (like Michael Mukasey) are unable to come to a conclusion about it as definitive (and definitively self-righteous) as Sullivan’s.

What is not debatable, however, is what everyone, even those of us whom Sullivan feels free to liken to Nazis who make the “arguments of the Gestapo,” knows to be torture without question, which is doing physical injury to someone without an ability to defend himself in any way, or mental injury so severe as to cause impairment.

Andrew Sullivan accuses me of “astonishing ignorance” because in an earlier post on waterboarding I said that “as universally understood, torture is the infliction of physical injury through the application of physical force.” He quotes the phrase “severe mental or physical pain or suffering” from U.S. law to prove me ignorant. Once again, as ever, Sullivan asserts that what he believes is law when it is, in fact, nothing of the kind. Here is the applicable language under U.S. statute:

“Severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from—

(A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;

(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;

(C) the threat of imminent death; or

(D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality.

It is true that the law speaks of the “threatened infliction” of “severe physical pain and suffering.” But this is an extraordinarily broad phrase that could indicate that a nine-year-old bully who terrifies another kid on the playground by threatening to rip his arm off is guilty of torture.

Such statute language does not clarify; it muddies, as legal language often muddies. If someone says, “I am going to kill you,” and by so doing causes fear in the person to whom he says it, is that torture? Clearly not, though the fear experienced by the person might be severe.

The question is whether the panic induced by waterboarding rises to the level of lawlessness as defined by that statute and by international law. And though Sullivan refuses to acknowledge this, that is a debatable proposition, as demonstrated by the simple fact that many people of good will (like Michael Mukasey) are unable to come to a conclusion about it as definitive (and definitively self-righteous) as Sullivan’s.

What is not debatable, however, is what everyone, even those of us whom Sullivan feels free to liken to Nazis who make the “arguments of the Gestapo,” knows to be torture without question, which is doing physical injury to someone without an ability to defend himself in any way, or mental injury so severe as to cause impairment.

Read Less

Musharraf and the Tragedy of American Policy

In what is being described as “a second coup,” Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf threw his country into more turmoil on Saturday. He suspended the constitution, imposed a state of emergency, called out the army, and rounded up hundreds of opponents. As the Washington Post noted, the general has decided to shoot his way out of an eight-month crisis surrounding his increasingly unpopular rule. “I cannot allow this country to commit suicide,” the former commando said. In reality, what he could not allow is the judiciary to invalidate last month’s election in which he won another term as president. That’s why Musharraf, among his other acts, rounded up lawyers and purged the Supreme Court.

In response, Washington cranked up the word machine. There were the perfunctory calls for a return to democracy from our Secretary of State, but the most telling comment came from Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell. “Pakistan is a very important ally in the war on terror,” he said. Of course. Condoleezza Rice threatened to cut aid to Islamabad, but she also noted that “some of the assistance that has been going to Pakistan is directly related to the counterterrorism mission.” To make a long story short, Musharraf, when he hears such ambiguous statements from the American capital, evidently believes he can do what he wants. Washington, he knows, is terrified by instability in his country.

It is, however, the general who is causing instability in Pakistan, and his efforts to fight Islamic fanatics are less than impressive. Yet American policymakers seem to think there is no alternative to him. “The United States has never put all of its chips on Musharraf,” said Condoleezza Rice yesterday. This, however, is news to the world. For decades, Washington has been held hostage to the series of miscreants who have misruled Pakistan. To support them, successive administrations in the America capital always opted for short-term compromises. Those compromises were always intended to solve the problem of the day, but unfortunately they have, over the long term, made the situation in that country worse.

People complain about the predominance of idealism in American foreign policy. Yet the events now unfolding in Islamabad once again show the failure of realism. It’s evident that cynical bargains meant to protect America are producing a disaster—possibly of historic proportions. The tragedy of our policy is that policymakers have been afraid that true democracy in Pakistan would result in the election of Islamic militants. Yet from all we know, free elections would produce moderate leaders. Max Boot wrote about this in July, and the New York Times does so today.

In what is being described as “a second coup,” Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf threw his country into more turmoil on Saturday. He suspended the constitution, imposed a state of emergency, called out the army, and rounded up hundreds of opponents. As the Washington Post noted, the general has decided to shoot his way out of an eight-month crisis surrounding his increasingly unpopular rule. “I cannot allow this country to commit suicide,” the former commando said. In reality, what he could not allow is the judiciary to invalidate last month’s election in which he won another term as president. That’s why Musharraf, among his other acts, rounded up lawyers and purged the Supreme Court.

In response, Washington cranked up the word machine. There were the perfunctory calls for a return to democracy from our Secretary of State, but the most telling comment came from Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell. “Pakistan is a very important ally in the war on terror,” he said. Of course. Condoleezza Rice threatened to cut aid to Islamabad, but she also noted that “some of the assistance that has been going to Pakistan is directly related to the counterterrorism mission.” To make a long story short, Musharraf, when he hears such ambiguous statements from the American capital, evidently believes he can do what he wants. Washington, he knows, is terrified by instability in his country.

It is, however, the general who is causing instability in Pakistan, and his efforts to fight Islamic fanatics are less than impressive. Yet American policymakers seem to think there is no alternative to him. “The United States has never put all of its chips on Musharraf,” said Condoleezza Rice yesterday. This, however, is news to the world. For decades, Washington has been held hostage to the series of miscreants who have misruled Pakistan. To support them, successive administrations in the America capital always opted for short-term compromises. Those compromises were always intended to solve the problem of the day, but unfortunately they have, over the long term, made the situation in that country worse.

People complain about the predominance of idealism in American foreign policy. Yet the events now unfolding in Islamabad once again show the failure of realism. It’s evident that cynical bargains meant to protect America are producing a disaster—possibly of historic proportions. The tragedy of our policy is that policymakers have been afraid that true democracy in Pakistan would result in the election of Islamic militants. Yet from all we know, free elections would produce moderate leaders. Max Boot wrote about this in July, and the New York Times does so today.

Read Less

An Interview with Michael J. Lewis

Michael J. Lewis is a professor of art at Williams College and a contributor to the horizon, the arts blog of COMMENTARY. He is the author of American Art and Architecture, a recently published survey of American art history and examination of our nation’s distinct architectural heritage. He published Frank Furness: Architecture and the Violent Mind, a study of the Victorian style in American architecture, in 2001, and received the Alice Davis Hitchcock Award in 1994 for The Politics of the German Gothic Revival: August Rechensperger—a critical study of the German architect.

In our interview, Lewis touches on his fascination with the “American empirical” tradition in the arts, the uninspiring and confused proposed designs for a World Trade Center memorial, the bad effects of U.S. News rankings on college students, and the spectacular contribution of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to American architecture: New York City’s Seagram building.

Michael J. Lewis is a professor of art at Williams College and a contributor to the horizon, the arts blog of COMMENTARY. He is the author of American Art and Architecture, a recently published survey of American art history and examination of our nation’s distinct architectural heritage. He published Frank Furness: Architecture and the Violent Mind, a study of the Victorian style in American architecture, in 2001, and received the Alice Davis Hitchcock Award in 1994 for The Politics of the German Gothic Revival: August Rechensperger—a critical study of the German architect.

In our interview, Lewis touches on his fascination with the “American empirical” tradition in the arts, the uninspiring and confused proposed designs for a World Trade Center memorial, the bad effects of U.S. News rankings on college students, and the spectacular contribution of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to American architecture: New York City’s Seagram building.

Read Less

Obama’s Diplomacy Gap

Barack Obama claims to understand uniquely how the world’s perceptions of the United States have changed in recent years. For starters, Obama lived in Indonesia from the ages of six to ten, making him the only presidential candidate to have spent any substantial period of time in the Muslim world. Moreover, as he’s eager to tell us, Obama is deeply connected with other cultures, with a grandmother living in Kenya, a half-Indonesian sister, and a Chinese-Canadian brother-in-law. In this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, James Traub explores how Obama’s biography has influenced his vision for American foreign policy:

[Obama] returns again and again to the question of what America means to the rest of the world…. Obama would like to restore the era when people in capitals all over the world could go to the local American cultural center to read books and magazines, the way he could in Jakarta—though now he would add English lessons and vocational training, and “stories of America’s Muslims and the strength they add to our country.”

Obama is correct that the United States should more aggressively reach out to Muslim publics. However, restoring America’s reputation will require more than emphasizing those values that Americans share with the Muslim world—which the presence of a strong, domestic Muslim-American community certainly symbolizes. Indeed, the true challenge of public diplomacy lies in frankly addressing those issues on which the United States and the Muslim world differ, including the war in Iraq, the fight against Islamist terrorist groups, support for Israel, and the drive to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear capabilities.

Read More

Barack Obama claims to understand uniquely how the world’s perceptions of the United States have changed in recent years. For starters, Obama lived in Indonesia from the ages of six to ten, making him the only presidential candidate to have spent any substantial period of time in the Muslim world. Moreover, as he’s eager to tell us, Obama is deeply connected with other cultures, with a grandmother living in Kenya, a half-Indonesian sister, and a Chinese-Canadian brother-in-law. In this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, James Traub explores how Obama’s biography has influenced his vision for American foreign policy:

[Obama] returns again and again to the question of what America means to the rest of the world…. Obama would like to restore the era when people in capitals all over the world could go to the local American cultural center to read books and magazines, the way he could in Jakarta—though now he would add English lessons and vocational training, and “stories of America’s Muslims and the strength they add to our country.”

Obama is correct that the United States should more aggressively reach out to Muslim publics. However, restoring America’s reputation will require more than emphasizing those values that Americans share with the Muslim world—which the presence of a strong, domestic Muslim-American community certainly symbolizes. Indeed, the true challenge of public diplomacy lies in frankly addressing those issues on which the United States and the Muslim world differ, including the war in Iraq, the fight against Islamist terrorist groups, support for Israel, and the drive to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear capabilities.

In explaining the U.S.’s interest on these critical issues, Obama is ill-prepared. He prides himself on having opposed the Iraq war since 2002, and would likely reinforce the perception of many in the Muslim world that the war was the product of “exaggerated fears.”

Obama further appears unsuited to explaining the U.S.-Israel relationship, which he has supported publicly. He is advised by former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has defended the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis that this relationship is the product of Jewish pressure, not strategic interest—a theory that has contributed to the proliferation of popular anti-Semitism on the “Arab street.” Indeed, Brzezinski is a huge liability if Obama hopes to convince Americans of his ability to sell American foreign policy. Brzezinski recently signed a letter demanding dialogue with Hamas, a move that would turn our backs on the one Arab constituency still nominally receptive to American aims—liberal Arabs. Of course, this letter was consistent with Obama’s own belief that the U.S. should talk with Iran’s leaders—a move that similarly would alienate Iran’s younger generation, widely thought to be liberal and pro-American.

If Obama hopes to prove that his version of “soft power” is truly powerful, he must explain how he will broaden America’s appeal among opponents in the Middle East without alienating allies. Distributing State Department-approved copies of Muhammad Ali’s biography and providing free English lessons simply won’t cut it.

Read Less

The Global War on Testosterone

Experts disagree about the relationship between testosterone and aggression. The endocrine system is complex, and it is difficult to attribute aggressive behavior to any one hormone, or to attribute a particular behavior, as opposed to a predisposition to a behavior, to hormones at all.

But let’s assume that the presence of testosterone does play some role in fostering aggression. One question then becomes: should the U.S. army encourage its production in the blood of its soldiers? Feminists and social conservatives are saying no. I say yes.

Read More

Experts disagree about the relationship between testosterone and aggression. The endocrine system is complex, and it is difficult to attribute aggressive behavior to any one hormone, or to attribute a particular behavior, as opposed to a predisposition to a behavior, to hormones at all.

But let’s assume that the presence of testosterone does play some role in fostering aggression. One question then becomes: should the U.S. army encourage its production in the blood of its soldiers? Feminists and social conservatives are saying no. I say yes.

The issue has to come to the fore because a Christian group called the American Family Association (AFA) has launched a campaign to force the Pentagon to enforce more stringently a ban on the sale of sexually explicit material on military bases. Apparently Penthouse and Playboy are available for sale in some commissaries.

According to USA Today, the American Family Association is shocked and dismayed to find these magazines there, and even more so by the military’s contention that these publications, based upon its careful analysis of their contents, are not pornography, and thus not subject to the ban. The military has a special unit that makes such determinations. It employs a complex formula that takes into account how many pages of a publication contain lewd and lascivious material and how many pages do not. “They’re saying, ‘We’re not selling stuff that’s sexually explicit’” complained Donald Wildmon to USA Today. “We say it’s pornography.”

On this issue, I’m a bedfellow–not literally–with Nadine Strossen, who heads the ACLU. Her reasoning is that: “we’re asking these people to risk their lives to defend our Constitution’s principles … and they’re being denied their own First Amendment rights to choose what they read.” Although my reasoning is somewhat different, I concur and augment: our country is in a fight. Whether Playboy is pornography or not, we don’t need sexually obsessed prudes running the show. We do need maximum aggressiveness to win.

Read Less

First They Came for Hillary Clinton…

It is widely assumed, on both Left and Right, that Hillary Clinton and her campaign made a grave error by responding to the criticism of her performance in last Tuesday’s Democratic debate by complaining of a “pile-on.” Bill Kristol, for one, called it a “foolish overreaction.” I’m not so sure. Whether intentionally or not, Hillary managed to change the terms under which the debate has been discussed in the days since. In its immediate aftermath, the debate was seen as a referendum on her policy slipperiness, and one in which she did not come off well. Now, however, the discussion of the debate has become something quite different.

What we’re talking about now is the extent to which it is fair to criticize her. The New York Times has a front-page piece today entirely devoted to that question, which features a gobsmacking quote from 1984 vice-presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro:

“John Edwards, specifically, as well as the press, would never attack Barack Obama for two hours they way they attacked her,” said Geraldine A. Ferraro, the 1984 vice presidential candidate who supports Mrs. Clinton. “It’s O.K. in this country to be sexist,” Ms. Ferraro said. “It’s certainly not O.K. to be racist. I think if Barack Obama had been attacked for two hours — well, I don’t think Barack Obama would have been attacked for two hours.”

Lest one think Ferraro’s view is an outlier, note an even more ludicrously ominous version of it on The New Republic’s Open University blog by Linda Hirshman, a retired Brandeis professor of no reputation until she published a manifesto two years ago explaining that educated women should be attacked for staying home with their children because by leaving the workforce they are damaging the feminist cause. Angry with Barack Obama and John Edwards for ganging up on Hillary, she invokes, astoundingly, Pastor Niemoller: “Oh, and for you Obama and Edwards supporters, remember the story about the man who didn’t stand up to the Nazis when they came for his neighbors.”

The Ferraro-Hirshman school of thought — if thought is what you want to call it, is nothing but self-parodying feminism, so much so that it has earned scorn from other bloggers at the New Republic itself. Still, it has served a raw political purpose — pivoting the conversation to a topic more to Mrs. Clinton’s liking than her own failings in the eyes of Democratic primary voters.

It is widely assumed, on both Left and Right, that Hillary Clinton and her campaign made a grave error by responding to the criticism of her performance in last Tuesday’s Democratic debate by complaining of a “pile-on.” Bill Kristol, for one, called it a “foolish overreaction.” I’m not so sure. Whether intentionally or not, Hillary managed to change the terms under which the debate has been discussed in the days since. In its immediate aftermath, the debate was seen as a referendum on her policy slipperiness, and one in which she did not come off well. Now, however, the discussion of the debate has become something quite different.

What we’re talking about now is the extent to which it is fair to criticize her. The New York Times has a front-page piece today entirely devoted to that question, which features a gobsmacking quote from 1984 vice-presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro:

“John Edwards, specifically, as well as the press, would never attack Barack Obama for two hours they way they attacked her,” said Geraldine A. Ferraro, the 1984 vice presidential candidate who supports Mrs. Clinton. “It’s O.K. in this country to be sexist,” Ms. Ferraro said. “It’s certainly not O.K. to be racist. I think if Barack Obama had been attacked for two hours — well, I don’t think Barack Obama would have been attacked for two hours.”

Lest one think Ferraro’s view is an outlier, note an even more ludicrously ominous version of it on The New Republic’s Open University blog by Linda Hirshman, a retired Brandeis professor of no reputation until she published a manifesto two years ago explaining that educated women should be attacked for staying home with their children because by leaving the workforce they are damaging the feminist cause. Angry with Barack Obama and John Edwards for ganging up on Hillary, she invokes, astoundingly, Pastor Niemoller: “Oh, and for you Obama and Edwards supporters, remember the story about the man who didn’t stand up to the Nazis when they came for his neighbors.”

The Ferraro-Hirshman school of thought — if thought is what you want to call it, is nothing but self-parodying feminism, so much so that it has earned scorn from other bloggers at the New Republic itself. Still, it has served a raw political purpose — pivoting the conversation to a topic more to Mrs. Clinton’s liking than her own failings in the eyes of Democratic primary voters.

Read Less

Re: Waterboarding, Elsewhere

Max, the discussion of waterboarding and torture has taken a fascinating turn in the past few years, because it involves a redefinition of “torture.” As universally understood, torture is the infliction of physical injury through the application of physical force. It is the negation, the reverse image, of medical care. The monstrous intent of torture is, literally, to cause physical injury. That injury need not be permanently scarring or even temporarily bruising to be torture, as in the disgusting use of electric current, but it must be an actual injury in any case.

Punishment techniques like waterboarding were invented precisely not to be acts of torture as commonly understood, but rather to simulate acts of torture. In the case of waterboarding, the intent is not to drown or nearly to drown (a classic torture method) but to invoke the primal fear of drowning. In both cases, of course, the purpose is to cause the sufferer to become so fearful that he will do whatever it takes not to endure the experience again. But when someone’s head is held under water, he may actually be drowned. When someone is waterboarded, he will not.

Waterboarding is clearly psychologically brutal, in that it induces raw panic. But it is not physically brutal. It is actually an avoidance of physical brutality. Now, we enlightened folk are, of course, keenly aware of the fragility of the psyche and the seriousness of mental trauma, so much so that the word “traumatized” is now used exclusively as a description of a spiritual state and not a physical one.

It is perhaps to be expected that the enlightened would choose to equate actual injuries that leave actual scars with psychic game-playing that leaves people shaken and terrified. But by claiming there is no difference between savage physical acts that cause savage physical harm and an unquestionably gruesome fake-out like waterboarding, the enlightened are guilty of profound rhetorical injury themselves.

Max, the discussion of waterboarding and torture has taken a fascinating turn in the past few years, because it involves a redefinition of “torture.” As universally understood, torture is the infliction of physical injury through the application of physical force. It is the negation, the reverse image, of medical care. The monstrous intent of torture is, literally, to cause physical injury. That injury need not be permanently scarring or even temporarily bruising to be torture, as in the disgusting use of electric current, but it must be an actual injury in any case.

Punishment techniques like waterboarding were invented precisely not to be acts of torture as commonly understood, but rather to simulate acts of torture. In the case of waterboarding, the intent is not to drown or nearly to drown (a classic torture method) but to invoke the primal fear of drowning. In both cases, of course, the purpose is to cause the sufferer to become so fearful that he will do whatever it takes not to endure the experience again. But when someone’s head is held under water, he may actually be drowned. When someone is waterboarded, he will not.

Waterboarding is clearly psychologically brutal, in that it induces raw panic. But it is not physically brutal. It is actually an avoidance of physical brutality. Now, we enlightened folk are, of course, keenly aware of the fragility of the psyche and the seriousness of mental trauma, so much so that the word “traumatized” is now used exclusively as a description of a spiritual state and not a physical one.

It is perhaps to be expected that the enlightened would choose to equate actual injuries that leave actual scars with psychic game-playing that leaves people shaken and terrified. But by claiming there is no difference between savage physical acts that cause savage physical harm and an unquestionably gruesome fake-out like waterboarding, the enlightened are guilty of profound rhetorical injury themselves.

Read Less

South Africa’s Gall

Yesterday on contentions, Gordon Chang called for the United Nations Security Council to vote on a sanctions resolution against the Burmese military junta led by General Than Shwe. “It’s time to see who has the gall to vote against condemning the junta with words and sanctions,” he declared.

There are several countries that have such “gall,” though one of them might come as a surprise: South Africa. Back in January, the United States introduced a fairly innocuous resolution urging the Burmese junta to release political prisoners, enact democratic reforms, and halt violent attacks on ethnic minorities. South Africa, which had just assumed a temporary seat on the Council in January, joined human rights luminaries of China and Russia in siding against the Western democracies. How could the African National Congress-led government of South Africa oppose such a measure? This is a government that, during the apartheid years, called for similar international sanctions against the white-led regime, which was less repressive than the Burmese junta.

In response to a parliamentary question on the South African Security Council vote filed by a member of the opposition Democratic Alliance, the South African Minister of Foreign Affairs replied:

The adoption of this resolution would have set a precedent for the work of the Council, because any member of the Council could bring any country for consideration, even though it might not pose a threat to regional and international peace and security.

Read More

Yesterday on contentions, Gordon Chang called for the United Nations Security Council to vote on a sanctions resolution against the Burmese military junta led by General Than Shwe. “It’s time to see who has the gall to vote against condemning the junta with words and sanctions,” he declared.

There are several countries that have such “gall,” though one of them might come as a surprise: South Africa. Back in January, the United States introduced a fairly innocuous resolution urging the Burmese junta to release political prisoners, enact democratic reforms, and halt violent attacks on ethnic minorities. South Africa, which had just assumed a temporary seat on the Council in January, joined human rights luminaries of China and Russia in siding against the Western democracies. How could the African National Congress-led government of South Africa oppose such a measure? This is a government that, during the apartheid years, called for similar international sanctions against the white-led regime, which was less repressive than the Burmese junta.

In response to a parliamentary question on the South African Security Council vote filed by a member of the opposition Democratic Alliance, the South African Minister of Foreign Affairs replied:

The adoption of this resolution would have set a precedent for the work of the Council, because any member of the Council could bring any country for consideration, even though it might not pose a threat to regional and international peace and security.

How is it that South African apartheid threatened “regional and international peace and security,” but the daily atrocities of the Burmese junta do not? The bizarre position of the South Africans is the product of much forward-thinking analysis on the part of the African National Congress, which has ruled the single-party-dominated democracy since 1994. South Africa has long opposed international and even regional efforts to stave off the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, telling the world that the situation is one for the Zimbabwean people to deal with themselves. This is an abject impossibility, considering that one side to the dispute is a crazed tyrant who has no desire to negotiate any of his power away, and who controls the army, police force, and the distribution of scarce food supplies.

The African National Congress looks north to Zimbabwe in horror at what might become of its own political power in South Africa. No, South Africa is not about to become the nightmare situation for whites that Zimbabwe has become. Rather, the ANC sees that an upstart opposition—consisting of trade unionists, ethnic minorities, civil society activists, and white farmers—successfully challenged Zimbabwe’s legendary liberation hero in a series of democratic polls (only to be thwarted by physical intimidation and murder). The ANC worries, understandably, what precedent would be set if a liberation movement-cum-political party were thrown out of power in Zimbabwe, and what would happen if a similar fate were to befall them. It is for this reason that the African National Congress government allows Zimbabwe to fester, never approaching what can be the country’s only viable political solution: regime change.

Peter Vale, the Nelson Mandela Professor of Politics at South Africa’s Rhodes University, traveled to Burma over a decade ago at the behest of a Scandinavian government, in order to provide advice to opposition groups based upon the South African anti-apartheid experience. “Was SA’s experience instructive elsewhere?” he asks. This is what he reports:

But the high hopes that the African National Congress had promised for this country’s foreign policy had been largely muted. The cunning insertion of the 19th-century idea of “national interest” into the foreign policy agenda had emptied all high-sounding words of their content. In their place, a new procedural discourse purported to link SA to the “real world”—this held that the legal clause always carried greater weight than the liberation cause. . . .
It was both difficult and painful to explain this to the Burmese. Their understandings of this country glowed in the hype around the ending of apartheid and were embellished by Nelson Mandela’s commanding international standing. Surely, I was repeatedly asked, SA would do something that would both secure the release of Aung San Sui Kyi—who had been under house arrest for six years—and get conversations going between her and the junta.

Chang wants to know if any country has “the gall” to oppose sanctions on the miserable junta in Rangoon. South Africa, or, more precisely, the African National Congress, does.

Read Less

A Tale of Two Republics

An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people thronged to the streets of Tbilisi on Friday to protest the government of Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili. Most news accounts are treating this as an indictment of Saakashvili, a Columbia-trained lawyer who took power four years ago in the Rose Revolution, and who is a close ally of the United States. That may well be right (although the protesters are not seeking to overthrow him; they merely want elections moved up).

Undoubtedly, like any other leader of an emerging democracy, he has made some mistakes and alienated some people. But what struck me as notable, and what hasn’t been mentioned in most press reports (see here and here), was the restrained reaction of the authorities.

Saakashvili didn’t call out an army of riot police to bust up the protests. The police presence was limited to a few lightly armed officers who, for the most part, got along well with the crowds. Contrast that with Russia, where far smaller anti-government rallies have been broken up by club-wielding riot police who have assaulted some protesters and arrested others, including the former chess champ Garry Kasparov.

This is clearly a tale of two former Soviet republics going in different directions: Georgia toward liberal democracy, Russia toward autocracy. Whatever his mistakes, Saakashvili deserves credit for his efforts to create greater freedom, including the freedom to protest against the government.

An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people thronged to the streets of Tbilisi on Friday to protest the government of Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili. Most news accounts are treating this as an indictment of Saakashvili, a Columbia-trained lawyer who took power four years ago in the Rose Revolution, and who is a close ally of the United States. That may well be right (although the protesters are not seeking to overthrow him; they merely want elections moved up).

Undoubtedly, like any other leader of an emerging democracy, he has made some mistakes and alienated some people. But what struck me as notable, and what hasn’t been mentioned in most press reports (see here and here), was the restrained reaction of the authorities.

Saakashvili didn’t call out an army of riot police to bust up the protests. The police presence was limited to a few lightly armed officers who, for the most part, got along well with the crowds. Contrast that with Russia, where far smaller anti-government rallies have been broken up by club-wielding riot police who have assaulted some protesters and arrested others, including the former chess champ Garry Kasparov.

This is clearly a tale of two former Soviet republics going in different directions: Georgia toward liberal democracy, Russia toward autocracy. Whatever his mistakes, Saakashvili deserves credit for his efforts to create greater freedom, including the freedom to protest against the government.

Read Less

We’ve Been Nominated

For a 2007 Weblog Award: best new blog. Polls close on Novemer 8th, so please help us out and vote for us! (You can cast your ballot here.) Thanks!

For a 2007 Weblog Award: best new blog. Polls close on Novemer 8th, so please help us out and vote for us! (You can cast your ballot here.) Thanks!

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.