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Posts For: November 13, 2007

With an Improving Iraq, Who Gains Politically?

Two powerful newspaper columns today — one by Ralph Peters and the other by Rich Lowry — make the point that in these days, when almost all the news from Iraq is positive and hopeful, the war has practically vanished from the front pages.

Peters, who was writing in tones of deep pessimism about the Iraq effort as early as summer 2003 and with passionate anger at the policies of the Rumsfeld Pentagon until the day Donald Rumsfeld departed at the end of 2006 — writes: “The situation has changed so unmistakably and so swiftly that we should be reading proud headlines daily. Where are they? Is it really so painful for all those war-porno journos to accept that our military — and the Iraqis — may have turned the situation around? Shouldn’t we read and see and hear a bit of praise for today’s soldiers and the progress they’re making?”

This is Lowry: “In Israel, there’s a law that bans reporting on sensitive national-security operations; you could be forgiven for thinking that the U.S. has a similar ban on any encouraging news from the hottest battlefront in the war on terror. The United States might be the only country in world history that reverse-propagandizes itself, magnifying its setbacks and ignoring its successes so that nothing can disturb what Sen. Joe Lieberman calls the ‘narrative of defeat.'”

Still, no matter how invested many people are in the “narrative of defeat,” that narrative cannot be sustained if the seeds of progress planted in Iraq over the past four months flourish and begin to bear exactly the kind of fruit everyone has been waiting for.

Which raises another interesting question: What will be the political effect of a growing national sense that there will be a positive outcome to our tormented efforts in Iraq, especially since the timing suggests the change (if it is real and lasting) will become clear to Americans some time during the coming election year?

On the one hand, it is unalloyedly good news for Republicans. If things in Iraq look bad in the fall of 2008, it will be almost impossible for a Republican to win. A change for the better is a necessary precondition for a possible Republican victory.

On the other hand, maybe the politician who benefits the most would be: Hillary Clinton. Her have-it-all-ways position on the war in Iraq — she voted for it, she now thinks it was a mistake, Bush mishandled it, she won’t pick a date certain to end it, she’s against it but she can’t say we won’t still have troops there by the end of a putative Clinton presidency — may be reasonably close to the general American mood about Iraq on Election Day 2008.

In this scenario, the thorniest foreign-policy issue in the 2008 election will not be Iraq, but Iran.

Two powerful newspaper columns today — one by Ralph Peters and the other by Rich Lowry — make the point that in these days, when almost all the news from Iraq is positive and hopeful, the war has practically vanished from the front pages.

Peters, who was writing in tones of deep pessimism about the Iraq effort as early as summer 2003 and with passionate anger at the policies of the Rumsfeld Pentagon until the day Donald Rumsfeld departed at the end of 2006 — writes: “The situation has changed so unmistakably and so swiftly that we should be reading proud headlines daily. Where are they? Is it really so painful for all those war-porno journos to accept that our military — and the Iraqis — may have turned the situation around? Shouldn’t we read and see and hear a bit of praise for today’s soldiers and the progress they’re making?”

This is Lowry: “In Israel, there’s a law that bans reporting on sensitive national-security operations; you could be forgiven for thinking that the U.S. has a similar ban on any encouraging news from the hottest battlefront in the war on terror. The United States might be the only country in world history that reverse-propagandizes itself, magnifying its setbacks and ignoring its successes so that nothing can disturb what Sen. Joe Lieberman calls the ‘narrative of defeat.'”

Still, no matter how invested many people are in the “narrative of defeat,” that narrative cannot be sustained if the seeds of progress planted in Iraq over the past four months flourish and begin to bear exactly the kind of fruit everyone has been waiting for.

Which raises another interesting question: What will be the political effect of a growing national sense that there will be a positive outcome to our tormented efforts in Iraq, especially since the timing suggests the change (if it is real and lasting) will become clear to Americans some time during the coming election year?

On the one hand, it is unalloyedly good news for Republicans. If things in Iraq look bad in the fall of 2008, it will be almost impossible for a Republican to win. A change for the better is a necessary precondition for a possible Republican victory.

On the other hand, maybe the politician who benefits the most would be: Hillary Clinton. Her have-it-all-ways position on the war in Iraq — she voted for it, she now thinks it was a mistake, Bush mishandled it, she won’t pick a date certain to end it, she’s against it but she can’t say we won’t still have troops there by the end of a putative Clinton presidency — may be reasonably close to the general American mood about Iraq on Election Day 2008.

In this scenario, the thorniest foreign-policy issue in the 2008 election will not be Iraq, but Iran.

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Googling Anti-Semitism

Yesterday, Google Israel Director Meir Brand, at a conference sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League in Israel, rejected censoring anti-Semitic material from Google search results. As Brand noted, “At Google, we have a bias in favor of people’s right to free expression.”

In short, whatever content Israeli law permits, Google’s search will find. Such a policy is easy for Google to administer and avoids difficult decisions for the company. “Google is not and should not become the central arbiter of what does and does not appear on the Web,” Brand explained. In doing this, Google is sensibly imitating a public utility. Your local telecom provider, for example, is not responsible for any of the things you say on the phone—whether your words be merely ill-advised or downright illegal—so the giant search company cannot be liable for what you read on the net. All this is perfectly reasonable, and I can accept this argument as a general proposition.

I just have a hard time accepting it specifically from Google. After all, just this April this same company successfully urged shareholders to reject a proposal that would have prohibited the search engine from engaging proactively in censorship. And don’t get me started about China, where Google management risked its do-no-evil reputation last year to establish a site—www.google.cn—that gives new meaning to the concept of self-censorship. Try Googling “Tiananmen” or “Tibet” on the Chinese and American versions of the search engine, and see what I mean. Read this and this.

In my more reflective moments I can sympathize with Google management as it deals with conflicting considerations. Obviously, it would be best if the search engine filters no content on behalf of anybody. Yet the company is in fact controlling content today. So if Google censors at the behest of the Communist Party of China, why should it not self-censor for the Anti-Defamation League?

Yesterday, Google Israel Director Meir Brand, at a conference sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League in Israel, rejected censoring anti-Semitic material from Google search results. As Brand noted, “At Google, we have a bias in favor of people’s right to free expression.”

In short, whatever content Israeli law permits, Google’s search will find. Such a policy is easy for Google to administer and avoids difficult decisions for the company. “Google is not and should not become the central arbiter of what does and does not appear on the Web,” Brand explained. In doing this, Google is sensibly imitating a public utility. Your local telecom provider, for example, is not responsible for any of the things you say on the phone—whether your words be merely ill-advised or downright illegal—so the giant search company cannot be liable for what you read on the net. All this is perfectly reasonable, and I can accept this argument as a general proposition.

I just have a hard time accepting it specifically from Google. After all, just this April this same company successfully urged shareholders to reject a proposal that would have prohibited the search engine from engaging proactively in censorship. And don’t get me started about China, where Google management risked its do-no-evil reputation last year to establish a site—www.google.cn—that gives new meaning to the concept of self-censorship. Try Googling “Tiananmen” or “Tibet” on the Chinese and American versions of the search engine, and see what I mean. Read this and this.

In my more reflective moments I can sympathize with Google management as it deals with conflicting considerations. Obviously, it would be best if the search engine filters no content on behalf of anybody. Yet the company is in fact controlling content today. So if Google censors at the behest of the Communist Party of China, why should it not self-censor for the Anti-Defamation League?

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Why She’s So Angry With Tim Russert

In light of a Drudge story that the Clinton campaign is trying to put the fear of G-d into Wolf Blitzer about not going after Hillary in Thursday night’s debate in the aggressive manner of Tim Russert at the debate two weeks ago, Jonah Goldberg asks: “Can someone please explain to me how asking the junior Senator from New York state whether she agrees with the governor of the state (and a close political ally) on the question of drivers’ licenses for illegals is even remotely wrong, never mind some sort of vicious, Nazi-like, personal assault on truth, decency, and Hillary Clinton’s integrity? I really, really, don’t get it.”

Here’s an answer: There is a history here. Tim Russert moderated the only debate in 2000 between Senate candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican rival, Rick Lazio. While most remember that debate because Lazio crossed the stage to hand a piece of paper to Mrs. Clinton and was upbraided, preposterously but effectively, for somehow “violating her personal space,” Hillary and her people were enraged at Russert for what they took to be an extraordinarily hostile approach to her.
Here was Russert, opening the debate in 2000:

Mrs. Clinton, you have no voting record as such. People, in order to determine how you will behave as a legislator, look to your principal policy initiative: health care. I want to ask you a couple questions about that.
In 1993-94 you proposed a health care bill that was very controversial in this state. The man that you want to replace, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, had this to say…: ‘The administration’s solution was rationing. Cut the number of doctors by a quarter, specialists by a half.” And he went on to say,`Teaching hospitals would be at risk. The finance committee passed a bill in `94 to provide financing for the medical schools and the teaching hospitals. The Clinton administration rejected the committee bill.’ Why did you propose cutting the number of doctors by 25 percent, the number of specialists by 50 percent?

A fair question, to be sure, but very tough and, in fact, asked with more than a soupçon of hostility. To say the Clintons were furious about this would be an understatement. And to say the Clintons have a long memory for things they consider slights would be the understatement of the century. One thing is for sure: Don’t expect Russert to be invited to a state dinner at Hillary Clinton’s White House.

In light of a Drudge story that the Clinton campaign is trying to put the fear of G-d into Wolf Blitzer about not going after Hillary in Thursday night’s debate in the aggressive manner of Tim Russert at the debate two weeks ago, Jonah Goldberg asks: “Can someone please explain to me how asking the junior Senator from New York state whether she agrees with the governor of the state (and a close political ally) on the question of drivers’ licenses for illegals is even remotely wrong, never mind some sort of vicious, Nazi-like, personal assault on truth, decency, and Hillary Clinton’s integrity? I really, really, don’t get it.”

Here’s an answer: There is a history here. Tim Russert moderated the only debate in 2000 between Senate candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican rival, Rick Lazio. While most remember that debate because Lazio crossed the stage to hand a piece of paper to Mrs. Clinton and was upbraided, preposterously but effectively, for somehow “violating her personal space,” Hillary and her people were enraged at Russert for what they took to be an extraordinarily hostile approach to her.
Here was Russert, opening the debate in 2000:

Mrs. Clinton, you have no voting record as such. People, in order to determine how you will behave as a legislator, look to your principal policy initiative: health care. I want to ask you a couple questions about that.
In 1993-94 you proposed a health care bill that was very controversial in this state. The man that you want to replace, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, had this to say…: ‘The administration’s solution was rationing. Cut the number of doctors by a quarter, specialists by a half.” And he went on to say,`Teaching hospitals would be at risk. The finance committee passed a bill in `94 to provide financing for the medical schools and the teaching hospitals. The Clinton administration rejected the committee bill.’ Why did you propose cutting the number of doctors by 25 percent, the number of specialists by 50 percent?

A fair question, to be sure, but very tough and, in fact, asked with more than a soupçon of hostility. To say the Clintons were furious about this would be an understatement. And to say the Clintons have a long memory for things they consider slights would be the understatement of the century. One thing is for sure: Don’t expect Russert to be invited to a state dinner at Hillary Clinton’s White House.

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Re: Obama’s Surge

Fred, it was surely inevitable that Hillary Clinton would have a bad week or two — all candidates do, and she didn’t have even a bad day before her debate appearance two weeks ago, not even with the fundraising scandal swirling around her campaign’s relationship to Norman Hsu. But how bad were these weeks, really?

In one respect, she was weirdly lucky. Her refusal to say that illegal aliens should not receive drivers’ licenses could have had an extraordinarily deleterious impact on her campaign — if she had said it nine or ten months from now at a point at which she would already be the Democratic nominee for president. A Republican challenger could have taken the remark and used it against her in a hundred different ways, none of them good for her. But since she said it in October 2007 and to a very small audience, it won’t have anywhere near the same effectiveness as a weapon against her. Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but that can’t be said of negative campaigning.

She may also have been weirdly lucky in that she got into trouble now rather than in December or January. She didn’t get this bad press in the same month as the Iowa and New Hampshire contests, which is what happened with Howard Dean’s meltdown. The media have taken the tale of her woes and used it as a crowbar to pry open the Democratic race to Barack Obama (and, to a lesser extent, John Edwards) with tiny bits of data to bolster the case (a few polls in Iowa showing a three-way tie, which is actually nothing new, and a tightening in New Hampshire down to a dozen points, which still gives her blowout numbers).

But really, the race is still entirely about Hillary and Hillary alone — it’s not about Obama and Edwards in any way except as counterweights to her. Should that persist, she will still win the nomination going away because she will remain the focal point of the election and will seem like a larger and more formidable figure than her rivals because of it.

And the media are fickle. If Mrs. Clinton turns in a good performance in the upcoming candidate debate on Thursday night, the storyline will inevitably change to “Hillary’s Comeback.” Even though she never really left.

Fred, it was surely inevitable that Hillary Clinton would have a bad week or two — all candidates do, and she didn’t have even a bad day before her debate appearance two weeks ago, not even with the fundraising scandal swirling around her campaign’s relationship to Norman Hsu. But how bad were these weeks, really?

In one respect, she was weirdly lucky. Her refusal to say that illegal aliens should not receive drivers’ licenses could have had an extraordinarily deleterious impact on her campaign — if she had said it nine or ten months from now at a point at which she would already be the Democratic nominee for president. A Republican challenger could have taken the remark and used it against her in a hundred different ways, none of them good for her. But since she said it in October 2007 and to a very small audience, it won’t have anywhere near the same effectiveness as a weapon against her. Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but that can’t be said of negative campaigning.

She may also have been weirdly lucky in that she got into trouble now rather than in December or January. She didn’t get this bad press in the same month as the Iowa and New Hampshire contests, which is what happened with Howard Dean’s meltdown. The media have taken the tale of her woes and used it as a crowbar to pry open the Democratic race to Barack Obama (and, to a lesser extent, John Edwards) with tiny bits of data to bolster the case (a few polls in Iowa showing a three-way tie, which is actually nothing new, and a tightening in New Hampshire down to a dozen points, which still gives her blowout numbers).

But really, the race is still entirely about Hillary and Hillary alone — it’s not about Obama and Edwards in any way except as counterweights to her. Should that persist, she will still win the nomination going away because she will remain the focal point of the election and will seem like a larger and more formidable figure than her rivals because of it.

And the media are fickle. If Mrs. Clinton turns in a good performance in the upcoming candidate debate on Thursday night, the storyline will inevitably change to “Hillary’s Comeback.” Even though she never really left.

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Obama’s Surge

Journalists bored with Hillary Clinton’s seemingly certain anointment as the Democratic nominee finally have what they’ve been anticipating. After two terrible weeks for Hillary Clinton, commencing on October 30 during a Democratic candidates debate with her weaselly answer to the question of whether she supported New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s plan to issue drivers licenses to illegal aliens, a national poll from USAToday/Gallup that had Barack Obama down 30 points just nine days ago now shows them virtually even. (The Rasmussen daily tracking polls, which have generally been more accurate than Gallup, have Hillary losing some ground but still leading by 21 points.)

Still, even if the USAToday poll was skewed, this has to be a considerable boost for Obama. It comes, I’d say, from two sources. The first is that the Clinton campaign has made, recently, one gaffe after another. The debate on October 30 was followed by Hillary’s complaints about the men ganging up on her and by Bill accusing them of attempting to swiftboat her—neither of which played well. And this week she’s had to admit that her campaign planted questions in an Iowa audience. It’s been as if her once flawless campaign was doing its best to confirm her critics’ complaints about her.

The other is precisely those men about whom Hillary was complaining. Obama and Edwards, notes Ben Smith in an astute column for the Politico, have become, in effect, “arms-length allies in their attempt to take her down.” (“The differences between Sen. Clinton and myself are much more dramatic,” said Edwards, “than the differences between Sen. Obama and myself.”) But an Obama surge comes at a considerable cost to the Democrats as a party. It cuts them off from the legacy of Bill Clinton—the only example of an effective Democratic President in recent memory. And it brings a contentious issue—driver’s licenses for illegals—back into focus. Hillary muffed her answer on this during the debate, but she was right to see the tensions in trying to both uphold our immigration law and manage a large population of people who can commit crimes or spread disease but who are unknown to authorities. Obama sees no such tensions; he’s unambiguously in support of driver’s licenses for undocumented workers—a policy opposed by nearly 80 percent of all Americans. Licenses for illegals would make for a fat political target come the November elections. Obama’s rise may end up hurting the Democrats big time.

Journalists bored with Hillary Clinton’s seemingly certain anointment as the Democratic nominee finally have what they’ve been anticipating. After two terrible weeks for Hillary Clinton, commencing on October 30 during a Democratic candidates debate with her weaselly answer to the question of whether she supported New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s plan to issue drivers licenses to illegal aliens, a national poll from USAToday/Gallup that had Barack Obama down 30 points just nine days ago now shows them virtually even. (The Rasmussen daily tracking polls, which have generally been more accurate than Gallup, have Hillary losing some ground but still leading by 21 points.)

Still, even if the USAToday poll was skewed, this has to be a considerable boost for Obama. It comes, I’d say, from two sources. The first is that the Clinton campaign has made, recently, one gaffe after another. The debate on October 30 was followed by Hillary’s complaints about the men ganging up on her and by Bill accusing them of attempting to swiftboat her—neither of which played well. And this week she’s had to admit that her campaign planted questions in an Iowa audience. It’s been as if her once flawless campaign was doing its best to confirm her critics’ complaints about her.

The other is precisely those men about whom Hillary was complaining. Obama and Edwards, notes Ben Smith in an astute column for the Politico, have become, in effect, “arms-length allies in their attempt to take her down.” (“The differences between Sen. Clinton and myself are much more dramatic,” said Edwards, “than the differences between Sen. Obama and myself.”) But an Obama surge comes at a considerable cost to the Democrats as a party. It cuts them off from the legacy of Bill Clinton—the only example of an effective Democratic President in recent memory. And it brings a contentious issue—driver’s licenses for illegals—back into focus. Hillary muffed her answer on this during the debate, but she was right to see the tensions in trying to both uphold our immigration law and manage a large population of people who can commit crimes or spread disease but who are unknown to authorities. Obama sees no such tensions; he’s unambiguously in support of driver’s licenses for undocumented workers—a policy opposed by nearly 80 percent of all Americans. Licenses for illegals would make for a fat political target come the November elections. Obama’s rise may end up hurting the Democrats big time.

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Europe’s Choice

Despite European worries about an imminent U.S. attack on Iran—issuing largely from people who fear the U.S. more than nuclearized mullahs—a U.S. strike on Iranian nuclear facilities is, according to CentCom head William Fallon, not in the offing. (Max Boot’s criticism of Fallon can be found here). Nonetheless, the pressure is mounting from the U.S. on Europe to put its money where its mouth is: One cannot be against a military solution and also oppose more sanctions, as the EU generally does. That position, in practice, supports Iran’s nuclear ambitions. And Europe has held that position for some time, culminating in the decision, a month ago, by the EU-27 foreign ministers, not to endorse France’s proposal—pushed by its FM, Bernard Kouchner—to adopt broader EU sanctions against Iran. Opposition largely came from countries such as Austria, Germany, Italy, and Sweden, which all have thriving commercial relations with Iran.

Since then, there’s been a slight change for the better. Pressure from the U.S. (along with a change of mood in some European capitals) has been brought to bear on European companies. Thanks to Berlin’s recent decision to endorse a tougher approach, Deutsche Bank, the Dresdner and Kommerz banks, and Siemens have pulled out of any new business dealings in Iran. So far, so good, but it’s not enough. It would behoove those Europeans most worried about military strikes against Iran to show more courage and willingness to sacrifice a contract or two for the sake of peace. If, as Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi recently said, a military solution is to be opposed because it would further “destabilize the region,” then Prodi, as the prime minister of Iran’s first trading partner, might wish to instruct his foreign minister to endorse France’s view: support broader sanctions—the only alternative to war.

Despite European worries about an imminent U.S. attack on Iran—issuing largely from people who fear the U.S. more than nuclearized mullahs—a U.S. strike on Iranian nuclear facilities is, according to CentCom head William Fallon, not in the offing. (Max Boot’s criticism of Fallon can be found here). Nonetheless, the pressure is mounting from the U.S. on Europe to put its money where its mouth is: One cannot be against a military solution and also oppose more sanctions, as the EU generally does. That position, in practice, supports Iran’s nuclear ambitions. And Europe has held that position for some time, culminating in the decision, a month ago, by the EU-27 foreign ministers, not to endorse France’s proposal—pushed by its FM, Bernard Kouchner—to adopt broader EU sanctions against Iran. Opposition largely came from countries such as Austria, Germany, Italy, and Sweden, which all have thriving commercial relations with Iran.

Since then, there’s been a slight change for the better. Pressure from the U.S. (along with a change of mood in some European capitals) has been brought to bear on European companies. Thanks to Berlin’s recent decision to endorse a tougher approach, Deutsche Bank, the Dresdner and Kommerz banks, and Siemens have pulled out of any new business dealings in Iran. So far, so good, but it’s not enough. It would behoove those Europeans most worried about military strikes against Iran to show more courage and willingness to sacrifice a contract or two for the sake of peace. If, as Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi recently said, a military solution is to be opposed because it would further “destabilize the region,” then Prodi, as the prime minister of Iran’s first trading partner, might wish to instruct his foreign minister to endorse France’s view: support broader sanctions—the only alternative to war.

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Bookshelf

• Would Truman Capote now be read if he hadn’t written In Cold Blood? I wonder, and Portraits and Observations: The Essays of Truman Capote makes me wonder all the more.

It happens that I hadn’t read any of Capote’s early essays for a number of years prior to the publication of this posthumous collection, but the impression they made on me when I was in college remained unchanged after I looked through Portraits and Observations. The young Capote was a very talented, very precious journalist who had a knack for travel writing and literary portraiture but was greatly in need of precisely the kind of rigorous editing he got when he started writing for the New Yorker. There is an unmistakable difference between the flossy essaylets he was writing for Vogue and Mademoiselle in the 40’s and early 50’s and the long, elaborately reported pieces on Marlon Brando and Porgy and Bess in Russia that passed through the scrupulous hands of William Shawn before seeing print. In “The Duke in His Domain” and “The Muses Are Heard” we meet for the first time the “nonfiction novelist” who poured all the tricks he’d learned from writing fiction into the creation of In Cold Blood, a book that for all its undeniable flaws remains a classic of postwar American journalism.

Capote never wrote anything better than In Cold Blood—and next to nothing after it that was any good at all. Once he made his bundle, he let loose the reins of his craft and succumbed to self-indulgence. The results can be seen in Portraits and Observations, the first half of which consists of pieces written between 1946 and 1959, not a few of which are very fine indeed. In that year Capote departed for Holcomb, Kansas and his rendezvous with the murderers of the Clutter family, and from then onward Portraits and Observations becomes increasingly uneven and ultimately pointless.

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• Would Truman Capote now be read if he hadn’t written In Cold Blood? I wonder, and Portraits and Observations: The Essays of Truman Capote makes me wonder all the more.

It happens that I hadn’t read any of Capote’s early essays for a number of years prior to the publication of this posthumous collection, but the impression they made on me when I was in college remained unchanged after I looked through Portraits and Observations. The young Capote was a very talented, very precious journalist who had a knack for travel writing and literary portraiture but was greatly in need of precisely the kind of rigorous editing he got when he started writing for the New Yorker. There is an unmistakable difference between the flossy essaylets he was writing for Vogue and Mademoiselle in the 40’s and early 50’s and the long, elaborately reported pieces on Marlon Brando and Porgy and Bess in Russia that passed through the scrupulous hands of William Shawn before seeing print. In “The Duke in His Domain” and “The Muses Are Heard” we meet for the first time the “nonfiction novelist” who poured all the tricks he’d learned from writing fiction into the creation of In Cold Blood, a book that for all its undeniable flaws remains a classic of postwar American journalism.

Capote never wrote anything better than In Cold Blood—and next to nothing after it that was any good at all. Once he made his bundle, he let loose the reins of his craft and succumbed to self-indulgence. The results can be seen in Portraits and Observations, the first half of which consists of pieces written between 1946 and 1959, not a few of which are very fine indeed. In that year Capote departed for Holcomb, Kansas and his rendezvous with the murderers of the Clutter family, and from then onward Portraits and Observations becomes increasingly uneven and ultimately pointless.

In 1963, Random House brought out Selected Writings of Truman Capote, a neat little anthology of Capote’s fiction and journalism that contains the best of his work prior to In Cold Blood, including “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “A Christmas Memory” and the two big New Yorker pieces reprinted in Portraits and Observations. Selected Writings is out of print, alas, but I suggest that you seek out a used copy, since this new volume is not an adequate substitute for it, unless you feel an irresistible desire to wallow in Capote’s later writings. The only “late” piece in Portraits and Observations that I was glad to add to my shelf was “Ghosts in Sunlight: The Filming of In Cold Blood,” an interesting 1967 reminiscence of the making of Richard Brooks’s film. The rest is dross.

Incidentally, Capote makes the following nostalgic claim in a 1959 essay about Louis Armstrong:

I met him when I was four, that would be around 1928, and he, a hard-plump and belligerently happy brown Buddha, was playing aboard a pleasure steamer that paddled between New Orleans and St. Louis…. The Satch, he was good to me, he told me I had talent, that I ought to be in vaudeville; he gave me a bamboo cane and a straw boater with a peppermint headband; and every night from the stand announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, now we’re going to present you one of America’s nice kids, he’s going to do a little tap dance.” Afterward I passed among the passengers, collecting in my hat nickels and dimes.

As the Brits say, no doubt this is true, but the fact is that “the Satch” stopped playing on New Orleans excursion boats in 1921, three years before Capote was born. It seems that the author of In Cold Blood was fabricating material long before the reliability of his most successful and admired book was challenged by those in a position to know. William Shawn wouldn’t have liked that one bit.

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Mixed Message on Iran

I recently spent a week in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia as part of a delegation of American policy wonks and former government officials organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. One of the big subjects of our discussions with Emiratis and Saudis, both in government and out of it, was the looming threat from Iran, which is felt keenly by its Sunni neighbors.

All agreed that Iran is a major menace. There was disagreement about whether military action is warranted; many said they dreaded the prospect of another war, but many others (including senior government officials) said that a prophylactic air strike was better than the alternative—a nuclear Iran dominating the region.

Whatever you think about the desirability of a preemptive strike, one thing is clear: it would be the height of foolishness for the United States to take that option off the table. Only if the mullahs think they face a serious military threat are they likely to slow down their quest for the bomb.

Thus it was puzzling to see Admiral William Fallon, head of U.S. Central Command, telling the Financial Times that, as the headline had it, “U.S. strike on Iran ‘not being prepared.’” The content of the article was a bit more complex: while Fallon was quoted as saying that a strike is not “in the offing,” he continued, “That said, we have to make sure there is no mistake on the part of the Iranians about our resolve in tending to business in the region.”

The Iranians can be forgiven for having grave doubts about U.S. resolve, however, when the senior U.S. military figure in the region is going out of his way to assure them that their threatening actions will not result in American military action.

I recently spent a week in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia as part of a delegation of American policy wonks and former government officials organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. One of the big subjects of our discussions with Emiratis and Saudis, both in government and out of it, was the looming threat from Iran, which is felt keenly by its Sunni neighbors.

All agreed that Iran is a major menace. There was disagreement about whether military action is warranted; many said they dreaded the prospect of another war, but many others (including senior government officials) said that a prophylactic air strike was better than the alternative—a nuclear Iran dominating the region.

Whatever you think about the desirability of a preemptive strike, one thing is clear: it would be the height of foolishness for the United States to take that option off the table. Only if the mullahs think they face a serious military threat are they likely to slow down their quest for the bomb.

Thus it was puzzling to see Admiral William Fallon, head of U.S. Central Command, telling the Financial Times that, as the headline had it, “U.S. strike on Iran ‘not being prepared.’” The content of the article was a bit more complex: while Fallon was quoted as saying that a strike is not “in the offing,” he continued, “That said, we have to make sure there is no mistake on the part of the Iranians about our resolve in tending to business in the region.”

The Iranians can be forgiven for having grave doubts about U.S. resolve, however, when the senior U.S. military figure in the region is going out of his way to assure them that their threatening actions will not result in American military action.

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