Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 19, 2007

The Truth Will Out

We can now declare it official: the general perception of the Iraq war is changing, including among the mainstream media.

Yesterday, the Washington Post ran an editorial that began:

The evidence is now overwhelming that the “surge” of U.S. military forces in Iraq this year has been, in purely military terms, a remarkable success. By every metric used to measure the war—total attacks, U.S. casualties, Iraqi casualties, suicide bombings, roadside bombs—there has been an enormous improvement since January. U.S. commanders report that al Qaeda has been cleared from large areas it once controlled and that its remaining forces in Iraq are reeling. Markets in Baghdad are reopening, and the curfew is being eased; the huge refugee flow out of the country has begun to reverse itself. Credit for these achievements belongs in large part to U.S. soldiers in Iraq, who took on a tremendously challenging new counterterrorism strategy and made it work; to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the architect of that strategy; and to President Bush, for making the decision to launch the surge against the advice of most of Congress and the country’s foreign policy elite.

On the front page of today’s New York Times, we read this:

The American military said Sunday that the weekly number of attacks in Iraq had fallen to the lowest level since just before the February 2006 bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra, an event commonly used as a benchmark for the country’s worst spasm of bloodletting after the American invasion nearly five years ago. Data released at a news conference in Baghdad showed that attacks had declined to the lowest level since January 2006. It is the third week in a row that attacks have been at this reduced level. The statistics on attack trends have long been a standard measure that the American military has used to assess violence in Iraq. Because the data have been gathered for years and are deemed generally reliable they allow analysts to identify trends…. “These trends are stunning in military terms and beyond the predictions of most proponents of the surge last winter,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, referring to President Bush’s troop reinforcement plan. “Nobody knows if the trends are durable in the absence of national reconciliation and in the face of major U.S. troop drawdowns in 2008.”

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We can now declare it official: the general perception of the Iraq war is changing, including among the mainstream media.

Yesterday, the Washington Post ran an editorial that began:

The evidence is now overwhelming that the “surge” of U.S. military forces in Iraq this year has been, in purely military terms, a remarkable success. By every metric used to measure the war—total attacks, U.S. casualties, Iraqi casualties, suicide bombings, roadside bombs—there has been an enormous improvement since January. U.S. commanders report that al Qaeda has been cleared from large areas it once controlled and that its remaining forces in Iraq are reeling. Markets in Baghdad are reopening, and the curfew is being eased; the huge refugee flow out of the country has begun to reverse itself. Credit for these achievements belongs in large part to U.S. soldiers in Iraq, who took on a tremendously challenging new counterterrorism strategy and made it work; to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the architect of that strategy; and to President Bush, for making the decision to launch the surge against the advice of most of Congress and the country’s foreign policy elite.

On the front page of today’s New York Times, we read this:

The American military said Sunday that the weekly number of attacks in Iraq had fallen to the lowest level since just before the February 2006 bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra, an event commonly used as a benchmark for the country’s worst spasm of bloodletting after the American invasion nearly five years ago. Data released at a news conference in Baghdad showed that attacks had declined to the lowest level since January 2006. It is the third week in a row that attacks have been at this reduced level. The statistics on attack trends have long been a standard measure that the American military has used to assess violence in Iraq. Because the data have been gathered for years and are deemed generally reliable they allow analysts to identify trends…. “These trends are stunning in military terms and beyond the predictions of most proponents of the surge last winter,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, referring to President Bush’s troop reinforcement plan. “Nobody knows if the trends are durable in the absence of national reconciliation and in the face of major U.S. troop drawdowns in 2008.”

And Newsweek’s foreign correspondent Rod Nordland reports:

For someone who has returned periodically to Baghdad during these past four and a half years of war, there has been one constant: it only gets worse. The faces change, the units rotate, the victims vary, but it has always gotten worse…. For the first time, however, returning to Baghdad after an absence of four months, I can actually say that things do seem to have gotten better, and in ways that may even be durable…. Al Qaeda in Iraq is starting to look like a spent force, especially in Baghdad. The civil war is in the midst of a huge, though nervous, pause. Most Shiite militias are honoring a truce. Iran appears to have stopped shipping deadly arms to Iraqi militants. The indigenous Sunni insurgency has declared for the Americans across broad swaths of the country, especially in the capital. Emerging from our bunkers into the Red Zone, I see the results everywhere.

Each of these stories has important caveats: it’s far too early to celebrate, things can still get worse, Iraq is still a violent and fragile society, and the political opportunity created by the surge has yet to be taken advantage of by Iraq’s central government as eventually it must be if the country is to become stable. Nevertheless, it’s not too early to say that the military success in Iraq has the dimensions of a sea-change, and that, in turn, is having positive, radiating effects, as Max Boot noted earlier today.

What lessons can we draw from what we have seen during this remarkable year?

First, the changes in our military strategy clearly were necessary and should have come sooner. Second, President Bush deserves credit for having endorsed the surge in the face of ferocious opposition from Democrats and deep skepticism from Republicans. The President was almost alone in taking his stand—one now vindicated by events. Third, those who months ago declared that the surge was a failure and that Iraq was irredeemably lost were wrong and in some cases reckless in what they said. Fourth, change—sometimes for good and sometimes for ill—can happen faster than we think. Fifth, what we are seeing unfold in Iraq, under the leadership of General David Petraeus and his team, may well rank as among the most extraordinary military turnabouts in our history. The U.S. military, given the right strategy, is performing tasks that were thought to be nearly impossible. And sixth, the MSM, which has been skeptical (for some good reasons) about reporting good news from Iraq, is now doing just that, and it deserves credit for doing so.

It will be interesting to see if public opinion shifts in light of these developments. My sense is that the country remains deeply weary of the war, which will never be popular, and that there will be a considerable lag time before public opinion shifts in any significant way, if at all. But if progress continues the public will probably, with reservations, stick with the war until we achieve a decent outcome.

The other effect of the progress in Iraq is that it may not be nearly as potent a political weapon for Democrats as they thought six months ago. The facts on the ground have changed dramatically—and so may the politics of the war. Leading Democrats massively have mishandled their approach to this conflict. Almost every week, it seems, they position themselves as champions of a premature withdrawal, despite the awful geopolitical and human cost that would follow in its wake. These Democrats speak as if the events of the last year never happened. But blessedly they have—and more and more people realize they have. Even in Iraq, the truth will out.

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Michel Rocard’s War

The day after the International Atomic Energy Agency published a progress report on Iran that is highly critical of its regime’s conduct, France’s former Socialist Prime Minister (and current member of the EU Parliament) Michel Rocard published an article in Libération, co-signed by two others, launching an appeal to fellow Europeans to “prevent the coming war against Iran.”

Given France’s recently-renewed foreign policy vigor on Iran’s nuclear file, one might hope that this appeal endorses President Nicolas Sarkozy’s view that unless Europe and its allies increase sanction pressure on Tehran, they will soon face a stark choice—bombing Iran or Iran’s bomb. Unfortunately, Rocard & Co., from the pages of the left-leaning Liberation, have done nothing of the sort. Theirs is an appeal to screen Iran from any further pressure. There is no reference to what a nuclear Iran could mean to the region—or to European strategic concerns. There is no reference to Iran’s threats to annihilate another UN member state—only sanctimony about the UN Charter mandating its signatories like the United States not to use force against other member states. In the opinion of Rocard and his co-signatories, nuclear disarmament is what the West—and Israel—should offer Iran instead of strong sanctions.

Rocard is not the voice of power in Europe today—thankfully. His appeals, though, must be taken seriously, because his views are not isolated. If successful, this peace-at-all-costs position, in practice an apology for Iran’s refusal to comply with UN resolutions 1737 and 1747, would facilitate, rather than prevent, strikes against Iran. Its aim is not to offer peaceful alternatives to a real threat. Its goals are to dismiss any talk of the threat as warmongering rhetoric, to drive a wedge between Europe and the U.S., and to give Iran a free hand in the pursuit of its nuclear goals.

Pretending the real threat to Europe is a U.S.-launched strike against Iran—rather than a nuclear Iran—will pave the way for the very war Rocard wants to avoid. If Europe wants to avoid war, it should not dismiss Iran’s explicitly stated goals as gimmicks. It should increase the pressure on Iran now.

The day after the International Atomic Energy Agency published a progress report on Iran that is highly critical of its regime’s conduct, France’s former Socialist Prime Minister (and current member of the EU Parliament) Michel Rocard published an article in Libération, co-signed by two others, launching an appeal to fellow Europeans to “prevent the coming war against Iran.”

Given France’s recently-renewed foreign policy vigor on Iran’s nuclear file, one might hope that this appeal endorses President Nicolas Sarkozy’s view that unless Europe and its allies increase sanction pressure on Tehran, they will soon face a stark choice—bombing Iran or Iran’s bomb. Unfortunately, Rocard & Co., from the pages of the left-leaning Liberation, have done nothing of the sort. Theirs is an appeal to screen Iran from any further pressure. There is no reference to what a nuclear Iran could mean to the region—or to European strategic concerns. There is no reference to Iran’s threats to annihilate another UN member state—only sanctimony about the UN Charter mandating its signatories like the United States not to use force against other member states. In the opinion of Rocard and his co-signatories, nuclear disarmament is what the West—and Israel—should offer Iran instead of strong sanctions.

Rocard is not the voice of power in Europe today—thankfully. His appeals, though, must be taken seriously, because his views are not isolated. If successful, this peace-at-all-costs position, in practice an apology for Iran’s refusal to comply with UN resolutions 1737 and 1747, would facilitate, rather than prevent, strikes against Iran. Its aim is not to offer peaceful alternatives to a real threat. Its goals are to dismiss any talk of the threat as warmongering rhetoric, to drive a wedge between Europe and the U.S., and to give Iran a free hand in the pursuit of its nuclear goals.

Pretending the real threat to Europe is a U.S.-launched strike against Iran—rather than a nuclear Iran—will pave the way for the very war Rocard wants to avoid. If Europe wants to avoid war, it should not dismiss Iran’s explicitly stated goals as gimmicks. It should increase the pressure on Iran now.

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The Attacks Slow Down. . .

News reports indicate that weekly attack levels in Iraq are down to their lowest level since before the Samarra mosque bombing in February 2006. As this New York Times account notes,

[R]oughly 575 attacks occurred last week. That is substantially fewer than the more than 700 attacks that were recorded the week that Sunni militants set off a wave of sectarian violence in Iraq by blowing up a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February 2006. And it represents a huge drop since June when attacks soared to nearly 1,600 one week.

Actually the news is even better than that. Colonel Steve Boylan, General David Petraeus’s public affairs officer, has released a PowerPoint slide that shows that, seen in the long run, January 2006 was a bit of an anomaly—a month when attacks levels dipped. The last time that attack levels were as consistently low as they are today was back in the first half of 2005. The PowerPoint slide below is a bit dense, but it’s worth studying because it shows how far we’ve come since the “surge” started earlier this year.

boot-image-4.jpg
Rod Norland of Newsweek offers an account of what this drop in violence means on the ground in this dispatch, aptly titled “Baghdad Comes Alive.” He writes:

Throughout Baghdad, shops and street markets are open late again, taking advantage of the fine November weather. Parks are crowded with strollers, and kids play soccer on the streets. Traffic has resumed its customary epic snarl. The Baghdad Zoo is open, and caretakers have even managed to bring in two lionesses to replace the menagerie that escaped in the early days of the war (and was hunted down by U.S. soldiers). The nearby Funfair in Zawra Park—where insurgents used to set up mortar tubes to rocket government ministries, and where a car bombing killed four and wounded 25 on Oct. 15—is back in business.

The biggest concern expressed by American officers is over whether the security progress made so far can be sustained at a political level. The answer is unknowable, but there are some positive indicators in this Los Angeles Times story. It describes how Shiites and Sunnis increasingly are working together in community-watch groups to fight terrorists.

The article notes that there are “nearly 70,000 Iraqi men in the Awakening movement, started by Sunni Muslim sheiks who turned their followers against al Qaeda in Iraq,” and “there are now more in Baghdad and its environs than anywhere else, and a growing number of those are Shiite Muslim. . . . As late as this summer, there were no Shiites in the community policing groups. Today, there are about 15,000 in 24 all-Shiite groups and eighteen mixed groups, senior U.S. military officials say. More are joining daily.”

Such cooperation across sectarian lines suggests that the drop in violence seen in recent months may not be a statistical blip but an indication of more enduring progress.

News reports indicate that weekly attack levels in Iraq are down to their lowest level since before the Samarra mosque bombing in February 2006. As this New York Times account notes,

[R]oughly 575 attacks occurred last week. That is substantially fewer than the more than 700 attacks that were recorded the week that Sunni militants set off a wave of sectarian violence in Iraq by blowing up a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February 2006. And it represents a huge drop since June when attacks soared to nearly 1,600 one week.

Actually the news is even better than that. Colonel Steve Boylan, General David Petraeus’s public affairs officer, has released a PowerPoint slide that shows that, seen in the long run, January 2006 was a bit of an anomaly—a month when attacks levels dipped. The last time that attack levels were as consistently low as they are today was back in the first half of 2005. The PowerPoint slide below is a bit dense, but it’s worth studying because it shows how far we’ve come since the “surge” started earlier this year.

boot-image-4.jpg
Rod Norland of Newsweek offers an account of what this drop in violence means on the ground in this dispatch, aptly titled “Baghdad Comes Alive.” He writes:

Throughout Baghdad, shops and street markets are open late again, taking advantage of the fine November weather. Parks are crowded with strollers, and kids play soccer on the streets. Traffic has resumed its customary epic snarl. The Baghdad Zoo is open, and caretakers have even managed to bring in two lionesses to replace the menagerie that escaped in the early days of the war (and was hunted down by U.S. soldiers). The nearby Funfair in Zawra Park—where insurgents used to set up mortar tubes to rocket government ministries, and where a car bombing killed four and wounded 25 on Oct. 15—is back in business.

The biggest concern expressed by American officers is over whether the security progress made so far can be sustained at a political level. The answer is unknowable, but there are some positive indicators in this Los Angeles Times story. It describes how Shiites and Sunnis increasingly are working together in community-watch groups to fight terrorists.

The article notes that there are “nearly 70,000 Iraqi men in the Awakening movement, started by Sunni Muslim sheiks who turned their followers against al Qaeda in Iraq,” and “there are now more in Baghdad and its environs than anywhere else, and a growing number of those are Shiite Muslim. . . . As late as this summer, there were no Shiites in the community policing groups. Today, there are about 15,000 in 24 all-Shiite groups and eighteen mixed groups, senior U.S. military officials say. More are joining daily.”

Such cooperation across sectarian lines suggests that the drop in violence seen in recent months may not be a statistical blip but an indication of more enduring progress.

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Wardrobe Malfunction

Unsurprisingly, the Vice President of Zimbabwe has publicly endorsed the proposition that his boss, Robert Mugabe, become President for life. This would not be the sort of statement permissible in any sort of democracy, no matter how rootless its institutions, and of course, Zimbabwe has never been a democracy, not when it was Rhodesia, and certainly not for any duration of time under the leadership of Robert Mugabe. What’s troubling, however, is that international observers—particularly neighboring South Africa—are treating the upcoming March 2008 election with a degree of seriousness that lends it undeserved legitimacy.

South Africa and the African Union are building up the region’s hopes for a democratic ballot, when what will transpire will be anything but free and fair. That the country’s Vice President feels emboldened enough to declare that a man who has ruled uninterrupted for nearly three decades should continue to hold power until he dies indicates a political atmosphere that allows for such brazen endorsements of totalitarianism without fear of any repercussion.

In any event, the Vice President in question, Joseph Masika, had this to say, according to the Sunday Mail, a state newspaper:

“We do not change leaders as fast as we change our shirts.”

Twenty-seven years to change a shirt? Hard to fathom . . .

Unsurprisingly, the Vice President of Zimbabwe has publicly endorsed the proposition that his boss, Robert Mugabe, become President for life. This would not be the sort of statement permissible in any sort of democracy, no matter how rootless its institutions, and of course, Zimbabwe has never been a democracy, not when it was Rhodesia, and certainly not for any duration of time under the leadership of Robert Mugabe. What’s troubling, however, is that international observers—particularly neighboring South Africa—are treating the upcoming March 2008 election with a degree of seriousness that lends it undeserved legitimacy.

South Africa and the African Union are building up the region’s hopes for a democratic ballot, when what will transpire will be anything but free and fair. That the country’s Vice President feels emboldened enough to declare that a man who has ruled uninterrupted for nearly three decades should continue to hold power until he dies indicates a political atmosphere that allows for such brazen endorsements of totalitarianism without fear of any repercussion.

In any event, the Vice President in question, Joseph Masika, had this to say, according to the Sunday Mail, a state newspaper:

“We do not change leaders as fast as we change our shirts.”

Twenty-seven years to change a shirt? Hard to fathom . . .

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“Security Concerns”?

Last week, the American University in Cairo’s faculty senate reconvened to discuss the possibility of academic exchanges with Israeli universities. AUC President David Arnold, who has refused to take a stand for academic freedom and defend these proposed exchanges, has now offered an official excuse to forestall any resolution that would open the campus to Israeli academics: security concerns. “My opinion is that it will be ill-advised and unwise for the senate to adopt a formal resolution dealing with cooperation with Israeli universities and research institutions,” Arnold said. Provost Tim Sullivan was more blunt, saying that AUC has to uphold “the high principle of security.”

But security from whom? The AUC campus, where I studied last year, is remarkably safe—its gates are protected 24 hours a day by security patrols, with bags and ID’s checked at every entrance. Moreover, little of what happens on campus permeates beyond these gates, as the Western dress of many female AUC students is rarely otherwise seen on the surrounding streets. Finally, AUC currently is situated in one of the most heavily policed—and thus safest—parts of Cairo, and will be moving to the outskirts of the city by fall 2008—where it will be even more insulated from those who might wish to do Israeli visitors harm.

Indeed, one is forced to wonder whether the “security concerns” to which AUC’s leadership alludes exist within AUC itself. As I reported two weeks ago, AUC students—outraged by the prospect of exchanges with Israelis—have threatened to hold strikes and sit-ins should Israelis be permitted on campus. On most campuses, the cancellation of proposed academic activities due to real security concerns might raise the alarm of students. Not so at AUC, however, where one active alumnus called Arnold’s decision a “win-win situation.” Meanwhile, another student deplored that AUC did not take a more explicitly political stance against exchanges with Israelis, saying that, “They have no right to say that AUC is only an academic institution.”

The facts of this case indicate that President Arnold is less motivated by “security concerns” than by a fear of challenging large segments of his student body. His American patrons need to call him on this shortcoming. If AUC is to serve its declared mission of fostering “freedom of expression” and “the exchange of ideas on campus,” its President must be the first to stand for these principles, leaving matters of security to his guards.

Last week, the American University in Cairo’s faculty senate reconvened to discuss the possibility of academic exchanges with Israeli universities. AUC President David Arnold, who has refused to take a stand for academic freedom and defend these proposed exchanges, has now offered an official excuse to forestall any resolution that would open the campus to Israeli academics: security concerns. “My opinion is that it will be ill-advised and unwise for the senate to adopt a formal resolution dealing with cooperation with Israeli universities and research institutions,” Arnold said. Provost Tim Sullivan was more blunt, saying that AUC has to uphold “the high principle of security.”

But security from whom? The AUC campus, where I studied last year, is remarkably safe—its gates are protected 24 hours a day by security patrols, with bags and ID’s checked at every entrance. Moreover, little of what happens on campus permeates beyond these gates, as the Western dress of many female AUC students is rarely otherwise seen on the surrounding streets. Finally, AUC currently is situated in one of the most heavily policed—and thus safest—parts of Cairo, and will be moving to the outskirts of the city by fall 2008—where it will be even more insulated from those who might wish to do Israeli visitors harm.

Indeed, one is forced to wonder whether the “security concerns” to which AUC’s leadership alludes exist within AUC itself. As I reported two weeks ago, AUC students—outraged by the prospect of exchanges with Israelis—have threatened to hold strikes and sit-ins should Israelis be permitted on campus. On most campuses, the cancellation of proposed academic activities due to real security concerns might raise the alarm of students. Not so at AUC, however, where one active alumnus called Arnold’s decision a “win-win situation.” Meanwhile, another student deplored that AUC did not take a more explicitly political stance against exchanges with Israelis, saying that, “They have no right to say that AUC is only an academic institution.”

The facts of this case indicate that President Arnold is less motivated by “security concerns” than by a fear of challenging large segments of his student body. His American patrons need to call him on this shortcoming. If AUC is to serve its declared mission of fostering “freedom of expression” and “the exchange of ideas on campus,” its President must be the first to stand for these principles, leaving matters of security to his guards.

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A Wonderful Essay…

…by James Wood, writing in the New Yorker about the new translation of War and Peace, which captures with gorgeous urgency the extraordinary contradictions of Tolstoy’s vision and finds the friction they generate one of the causes of the book’s unsurpassed evocation and replication of life itself in fictional prose:

The irony is that this novel about great egotists and solipsists (Pierre and Andrei are just the chief representatives), written by perhaps the greatest egotist ever to put pen to paper, is a cannon aimed directly at the egotism of Napoleon. As a result, Tolstoy the novelist, whenever he describes Napoleon dramatically, cannot help crediting the very vitality that Tolstoy the Russian patriot hates.

This is one of Wood’s finest pieces, which is saying a lot.

…by James Wood, writing in the New Yorker about the new translation of War and Peace, which captures with gorgeous urgency the extraordinary contradictions of Tolstoy’s vision and finds the friction they generate one of the causes of the book’s unsurpassed evocation and replication of life itself in fictional prose:

The irony is that this novel about great egotists and solipsists (Pierre and Andrei are just the chief representatives), written by perhaps the greatest egotist ever to put pen to paper, is a cannon aimed directly at the egotism of Napoleon. As a result, Tolstoy the novelist, whenever he describes Napoleon dramatically, cannot help crediting the very vitality that Tolstoy the Russian patriot hates.

This is one of Wood’s finest pieces, which is saying a lot.

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An Unparalleled Tale of Chutzpah in Our Time

Andrew Trees has worked as a teacher at Horace Mann, the prestigious New York City private school, for six years. In 2006, he published a novel called Academy X, which a roman a clef about the students, parents, and faculty at a prestigious New York City private school. His conduct over the past two years is an object lesson in the degree to which shamelessness has become a way of life in new-millennium America.

His book was one of five published on exactly the same topic in the same year or so—there was one called Posh, a second called Glamorous Disasters, a third called Admissions, and still another called The Ivy Chronicles. (These other four books differ from Trees’s in that they all seem to be about the Dalton School, a wellspring of literary inspiration from Nora Johnson’s delightful The World of Henry Orient through Louise Fitzhugh’s glorious children’s novel, Harriet the Spy).

The proliferation of rich-kids-in-school books was clearly fallout from the wild success of The Nanny Diaries, after which there was a hungry market to acquire acid-dipped, lightly fictionalized portraits of Manhattan rich people. None of these novels actually sold well, but you can’t blame a publisher for trying. It turns out that adult readers don’t care much about the schooling issues of the well-to-do. A series of novels for teens under the rubric Gossip Girl (now a hit television series) did hit it big, which suggests Trees should have aimed for his students as an audience rather than their parents.

Had Trees’s book sold a fourth as many copies as The Nanny Diaries did, he would have surely high-tailed it out of Horace Mann, giggling all the way. But it didn’t, and he didn’t. Academy X is a fairly pedestrian book (if you want to read one of these, Posh is the best). It aspires to be Lucky Jim, but it’s hard to write Lucky Jim when your sense of humor is banal and when you are motivated primarily by envy of those you are parodying.

His novel having failed to make him rich and famous, Trees decided to stay at Horace Mann, where he earns $75,000 a year. This was not, to put it charitably, an honorable decision. It’s one thing to leave a place of employ and use your unhappy experience as grist for your mill. But it is, I think, unprecedented to try to stay at your place of employ when you have subjected it to ridicule and embarrasssment.

Horace Mann, in effect, said, “You have got to be kidding.” It informed Trees that his services would no longer be required at the end of the academic year.

And now Trees has done something deserving of a parody novel in itself: He is suing Horace Mann for wrongful termination. He claims that the school’s employee handbook basically promised him he could keep his job no matter what, since it says teachers’ contracts will be renewed “provided their performance and the needs of the school warrant continuation of their employment.”

In fact, the needs of the school—which include the privacy of its students, for whom it is in loco parentis—practically require Horace Mann not only to fire Andrew Trees, but to run him out of town on a rail for acting in a fashion injurious not only to it but to everyone associated with it.

The most interesting question here has to do with Trees and his character, to wit: Does he even have one?

Andrew Trees has worked as a teacher at Horace Mann, the prestigious New York City private school, for six years. In 2006, he published a novel called Academy X, which a roman a clef about the students, parents, and faculty at a prestigious New York City private school. His conduct over the past two years is an object lesson in the degree to which shamelessness has become a way of life in new-millennium America.

His book was one of five published on exactly the same topic in the same year or so—there was one called Posh, a second called Glamorous Disasters, a third called Admissions, and still another called The Ivy Chronicles. (These other four books differ from Trees’s in that they all seem to be about the Dalton School, a wellspring of literary inspiration from Nora Johnson’s delightful The World of Henry Orient through Louise Fitzhugh’s glorious children’s novel, Harriet the Spy).

The proliferation of rich-kids-in-school books was clearly fallout from the wild success of The Nanny Diaries, after which there was a hungry market to acquire acid-dipped, lightly fictionalized portraits of Manhattan rich people. None of these novels actually sold well, but you can’t blame a publisher for trying. It turns out that adult readers don’t care much about the schooling issues of the well-to-do. A series of novels for teens under the rubric Gossip Girl (now a hit television series) did hit it big, which suggests Trees should have aimed for his students as an audience rather than their parents.

Had Trees’s book sold a fourth as many copies as The Nanny Diaries did, he would have surely high-tailed it out of Horace Mann, giggling all the way. But it didn’t, and he didn’t. Academy X is a fairly pedestrian book (if you want to read one of these, Posh is the best). It aspires to be Lucky Jim, but it’s hard to write Lucky Jim when your sense of humor is banal and when you are motivated primarily by envy of those you are parodying.

His novel having failed to make him rich and famous, Trees decided to stay at Horace Mann, where he earns $75,000 a year. This was not, to put it charitably, an honorable decision. It’s one thing to leave a place of employ and use your unhappy experience as grist for your mill. But it is, I think, unprecedented to try to stay at your place of employ when you have subjected it to ridicule and embarrasssment.

Horace Mann, in effect, said, “You have got to be kidding.” It informed Trees that his services would no longer be required at the end of the academic year.

And now Trees has done something deserving of a parody novel in itself: He is suing Horace Mann for wrongful termination. He claims that the school’s employee handbook basically promised him he could keep his job no matter what, since it says teachers’ contracts will be renewed “provided their performance and the needs of the school warrant continuation of their employment.”

In fact, the needs of the school—which include the privacy of its students, for whom it is in loco parentis—practically require Horace Mann not only to fire Andrew Trees, but to run him out of town on a rail for acting in a fashion injurious not only to it but to everyone associated with it.

The most interesting question here has to do with Trees and his character, to wit: Does he even have one?

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College or Kindergarten?

Powerline points to yet another instance of a campus roiled by a spurious accusation of racism. Gabriel Keith, a student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and a Marine with three terms of service in Iraq, was caught up in hysteria after an innocent gesture with his sweatshirt drawstring was taken as a threat to lynch blacks with a hangman’s noose.

The Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten, who has brought the incident to public attention, wonders why “college culture has become the laughingstock of the larger community?” How did hypersensitivity to slights, real and (as in this case) imagined, become a behavioral norm? Kersten’s answer: “Victimhood is a tremendous source of moral power,” and those seeking such moral power­—in this case a student group called the Association of Black Collegiates—are all too ready to deploy the race card in order to accumulate it.

That explanation is surely on the mark, but one is still left trying to grasp where such behavior comes from. A partial answer can be found in another story making headlines: hypersensitivity, it appears, is being taught at an early age. In Eagle Point, Oregon, a six year old was suspended from school last week for drawing a picture in which one stick figure was depicted shooting another stick figure in the head. The boy’s father told the local newspaper that the drawing was inspired by an episode from the Simpsons. But never mind: in the eyes of school administrators the drawing was an implicit threat to other students.

One is still left wondering where such hypersensitivity comes from. But one thing is clear from these two episodes: American colleges are becoming mirror images of American kindergartens.

Powerline points to yet another instance of a campus roiled by a spurious accusation of racism. Gabriel Keith, a student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and a Marine with three terms of service in Iraq, was caught up in hysteria after an innocent gesture with his sweatshirt drawstring was taken as a threat to lynch blacks with a hangman’s noose.

The Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten, who has brought the incident to public attention, wonders why “college culture has become the laughingstock of the larger community?” How did hypersensitivity to slights, real and (as in this case) imagined, become a behavioral norm? Kersten’s answer: “Victimhood is a tremendous source of moral power,” and those seeking such moral power­—in this case a student group called the Association of Black Collegiates—are all too ready to deploy the race card in order to accumulate it.

That explanation is surely on the mark, but one is still left trying to grasp where such behavior comes from. A partial answer can be found in another story making headlines: hypersensitivity, it appears, is being taught at an early age. In Eagle Point, Oregon, a six year old was suspended from school last week for drawing a picture in which one stick figure was depicted shooting another stick figure in the head. The boy’s father told the local newspaper that the drawing was inspired by an episode from the Simpsons. But never mind: in the eyes of school administrators the drawing was an implicit threat to other students.

One is still left wondering where such hypersensitivity comes from. But one thing is clear from these two episodes: American colleges are becoming mirror images of American kindergartens.

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A Response to Andrew Sullivan

In my article “The Case for Bombing Iran” (COMMENTARY, June 2007), in my book World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, and in various public appearances (including a televised debate with Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek), I quoted the Ayatollah Khomeini as having said the following:

We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.

My source for this statement was Amir Taheri, the prolific Iranian-born journalist now living in London, who has also contributed a number of articles to COMMENTARY. Now, however, the Economist, relying on another Iranian-born writer, Shaul Bakhash of George Mason University, has alleged on its blog “Democracy in America” that Khomeini never said any such thing. “Someone,” says Mr. Bakhash, “should inform Mr. Podhoretz he is citing a non-existent statement.”

That “someone” has turned out to be Andrew Sullivan in his widely read blog, “The Daily Dish.” Linking to the Economist post, Sullivan accuses me of intellectual dishonesty for failing to admit that I have made an “error” in relying on a “bogus quotation” to bolster my argument that if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, it would not be deterred from using them by the fear of retaliation.

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In my article “The Case for Bombing Iran” (COMMENTARY, June 2007), in my book World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, and in various public appearances (including a televised debate with Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek), I quoted the Ayatollah Khomeini as having said the following:

We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.

My source for this statement was Amir Taheri, the prolific Iranian-born journalist now living in London, who has also contributed a number of articles to COMMENTARY. Now, however, the Economist, relying on another Iranian-born writer, Shaul Bakhash of George Mason University, has alleged on its blog “Democracy in America” that Khomeini never said any such thing. “Someone,” says Mr. Bakhash, “should inform Mr. Podhoretz he is citing a non-existent statement.”

That “someone” has turned out to be Andrew Sullivan in his widely read blog, “The Daily Dish.” Linking to the Economist post, Sullivan accuses me of intellectual dishonesty for failing to admit that I have made an “error” in relying on a “bogus quotation” to bolster my argument that if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, it would not be deterred from using them by the fear of retaliation.

I do not usually bother responding to Sullivan’s frequent attacks on me, which are fueled by the same shrill hysteria that, as has often been pointed out, deforms most of what he “dishes” out on a daily basis. But in this case I have decided to respond because, by linking to a sober source like the Economist, he may for a change seem credible.

The Economist concludes its piece by challenging Amir Taheri to produce “the original source for this quote.” In response to a query from me, Mr. Taheri has now met that challenge. He writes:

The quote can be found in several editions of Khomeini’s speeches and messages. Here is one edition:

Paymaha va Sokhanraniyha-yi Imam Khomeini (“Messages and Speeches of Imam Khomeini”) published by Nur Research and Publication Institute (Tehran, 1981).

The quote, along with many other passages, disappeared from several subsequent editions as the Islamic Republic tried to mobilize nationalistic feelings against Iraq, which had invaded Iran in 1980.

The practice of editing and even censoring Khomeini to suit the circumstances is widely known by Iranian scholars. This is how Professor Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, the Director of the Center for Persian Studies at the University of Maryland and a specialist in Islamic censorship, states the problem: “Khumayni’s [sic] speeches are regularly published in fresh editions wherein new selections are made, certain references deleted, and various adjustments introduced depending on the state’s current preoccupation” (Persian Studies in North America, 1994).

In any case, Mr. Taheri continues in his letter to me:

Your real argument is that Khomeini is not an Iranian nationalist but a pan-Islamist and thus would not have been affected by ordinary nationalistic considerations, including the safety of any “motherland.” This is known to Iranians as a matter of fact. Khomeini opposed the use of the words mellat (“nation”) and melli (“national”), replacing them with Ummat (“the Islamic community”) and ummati (“pertaining to the Islamic community”).

Thus, Majlis Shuray e Melli (“The National Consultative Assembly”) was renamed by Khomeini as Majlis Shuray Islami (“Islamic Consultative Assembly”). He also replaced the Iranian national insignia of Lion and Sun with a stylized calligraphy of the word Allah.

Thus, too, when he returned to Tehran after sixteen years of exile, Khomeini was asked by a French journalist, who had accompanied him on the Air France plane from Paris, what he felt. “Nothing,” the ayatollah replied. He then rejected the suggestion by his welcoming committee to kiss the soil of Iran. That would have been sherk, which means associating something with Allah, the gravest of sins in Islam.

Finally, Mr. Taheri rightly observes:

What is at issue here is the exact nature of the Khomeinist regime. Is it a nationalistic power pursuing the usual goals of nations? Or is it a messianic power with an eschatological ideology and the pretension to conquer the world on behalf of “The One and Only True Faith”?

Khomeini built a good part of his case against the Shah by claiming that the latter was trying to force Iranians to worship Iran rather than Allah. The theme remains a leitmotif of Khomeinists even today. . . . Those who try to portray this regime as just another opportunistic power with a quixotic tendency do a grave disservice to a proper understanding of the challenge that the world faces.

But this is not new. Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot also had their apologists who saw them as “nationalists” with “legitimate grievances.”

So much for the allegation that the Khomeini quotation is “non-existent.” But there is another quotation I have cited repeatedly in the course of showing why Iran would not be deterred by the fear of retaliation. This one is a statement by the supposedly moderate former President Rafsanjani:

If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession . . . application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.

In chiding me for using this statement as well, all the Economist can come up with is the feeble objection that “some say Rafsanjani was misleadingly quoted.” Well, some also say that it is on the basis of a mistranslation that Ahmadinejad has been quoted as calling for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” It is true that Ahmadinejad’s declaration can be translated in other ways. Yet the official Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), in its own English edition, reported that “Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday called for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map.’”

Since the case I make both in my COMMENTARY article and in my book rests on much more than the two quotations from Khomeini and Rafsanjani, it would still stand even if those quotations were in fact “bogus” or “fabricated.” But the truth is that Khomeini and Rafsanjani did say what I said they said. Not that this will silence the growing number of foreign-policy establishmentarians who—having finally recognized that Iran’s nuclear program cannot be stopped by diplomacy and sanctions, but having ruled out military force even as a last resort—are now desperately trying to persuade us that “we can live” with an Iranian bomb. God help us all if the counsels of these apologists and appeasers disguised as “realists” should in the end prevail.

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A Warning for Paulson

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, traveling yesterday in Africa, acknowledged the support of the G-20 nations for a “best practices” code for sovereign wealth funds. There could now be as much as $3 trillion in such vehicles, which are capital pools accumulated by foreign governments for investment abroad. The amount might be five times larger in half a decade.

“How do we actually deal with funds in state hands?” asks German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her government is already drawing up plans to restrict investments from other countries. Paulson, on the other hand, has adopted a different approach. “I’d like nothing more than to get more of that money,” he said recently.

Do we really want to encourage what amounts to the “cross-border nationalization” of America’s private enterprises? Norway has a sovereign wealth fund thanks to its oil and gas revenues, but nobody is concerned about Oslo’s $350 billion because of its model management practices. Yet even the Norwegians have allowed political views to affect their investment decisions. They did not like Wal-Mart’s union and other labor practices, so the government divested its stock in the gigantic retailer. They did not try to influence Washington by buying up more of the shares so that they could use the Arkansas-based company to promote its views on, say, the war in Iraq.

Hugo Chavez hasn’t gone quite that far. But he has employed Citgo Petroleum to further his ideological goals. Beginning in 2005, the company, acquired by Venezuela two decades ago, has provided tens of millions of gallons of home heating oil at subsidized prices for poor families in several Northeast states as a stunt to embarrass the United States, and especially the Bush administration. Moreover, he has been gutting Citgo’s operations in the United States to support his “oil socialism” policies at home. As the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, political decisions made in Caracas are ruining the company’s business here. That’s a potential problem because Citgo, which is now run like a police state, owns 5 percent of our nation’s refining capacity. Chavez, should he want to, could throw the American oil market into turmoil merely by turning off the switch.

Our open investment policies are based on the notion that America will prosper as foreign parties participate in the economy. Yet Chavez is beginning to undermine this fundamental assumption, and he is giving no indication that Paulson’s best practices code will deter him. When despots control trillions of dollars in funds, prohibiting investments from autocrats is not protectionist—it’s plain common sense.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, traveling yesterday in Africa, acknowledged the support of the G-20 nations for a “best practices” code for sovereign wealth funds. There could now be as much as $3 trillion in such vehicles, which are capital pools accumulated by foreign governments for investment abroad. The amount might be five times larger in half a decade.

“How do we actually deal with funds in state hands?” asks German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her government is already drawing up plans to restrict investments from other countries. Paulson, on the other hand, has adopted a different approach. “I’d like nothing more than to get more of that money,” he said recently.

Do we really want to encourage what amounts to the “cross-border nationalization” of America’s private enterprises? Norway has a sovereign wealth fund thanks to its oil and gas revenues, but nobody is concerned about Oslo’s $350 billion because of its model management practices. Yet even the Norwegians have allowed political views to affect their investment decisions. They did not like Wal-Mart’s union and other labor practices, so the government divested its stock in the gigantic retailer. They did not try to influence Washington by buying up more of the shares so that they could use the Arkansas-based company to promote its views on, say, the war in Iraq.

Hugo Chavez hasn’t gone quite that far. But he has employed Citgo Petroleum to further his ideological goals. Beginning in 2005, the company, acquired by Venezuela two decades ago, has provided tens of millions of gallons of home heating oil at subsidized prices for poor families in several Northeast states as a stunt to embarrass the United States, and especially the Bush administration. Moreover, he has been gutting Citgo’s operations in the United States to support his “oil socialism” policies at home. As the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, political decisions made in Caracas are ruining the company’s business here. That’s a potential problem because Citgo, which is now run like a police state, owns 5 percent of our nation’s refining capacity. Chavez, should he want to, could throw the American oil market into turmoil merely by turning off the switch.

Our open investment policies are based on the notion that America will prosper as foreign parties participate in the economy. Yet Chavez is beginning to undermine this fundamental assumption, and he is giving no indication that Paulson’s best practices code will deter him. When despots control trillions of dollars in funds, prohibiting investments from autocrats is not protectionist—it’s plain common sense.

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The Right Promotions

One of the biggest impediments to transforming the U.S. government for the Long War is personnel policies that were designed for a different kind of world in which we faced very different kinds of enemies. The armed forces, for example, tend to reward officers who come from a very conventional mold. They may be world-class at defeating, say, the Iraqi Republican Guard. But can they deal with the threat posed by Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Jaish al Mahdi?

On the evidence of more than four years of war, a lot of officers have not been up to the challenge. Some have been—but they are not necessarily the ones getting promoted to general officer rank. For instance, two of the most outstanding and accomplished colonels in the U.S. Army have been passed over for promotion. Both Peter Mansoor and H.R. McMaster have history Ph.D.s, both successfully commanded brigades in Iraq, and both have been instrumental in crafting the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine. Mansoor serves as General David Petraeus’s executive officer, or right hand man; McMaster, who is currently a fellow at a think tank in London, has been called back to Baghdad frequently for consultations. The fact that neither one has yet been raised to brigadier general indicates to a lot of people that there is something wrong with the entire promotion system.

Apparently General George Casey, the Army chief of staff, and Secretary of the Army Pete Geren think the same thing. Thus, according to the Washington Post, they’ve brought General Petraeus back from Iraq to preside over a board that will pick the next crop of 40 brigadier generals from among a pool of 1,000 colonels.

The article notes:

“It’s unprecedented for the commander of an active theater to be brought back to head something like a brigadier generals board,” said retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, former head of the Army War College. A senior defense official said Petraeus is “far too high-profile for this to be a subtle thing.”

The fact that the Army is taking such an unusual and high-profile step is good news indeed. There is much more that needs to be done to transform the armed forces for the fights of the 21st century, but this is an excellent start.

Too bad it’s too late for Mansoor. After having been passed over, he decided to retire and become a history professor at Ohio State University. The Army’s loss will be the students’ gain.

One of the biggest impediments to transforming the U.S. government for the Long War is personnel policies that were designed for a different kind of world in which we faced very different kinds of enemies. The armed forces, for example, tend to reward officers who come from a very conventional mold. They may be world-class at defeating, say, the Iraqi Republican Guard. But can they deal with the threat posed by Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Jaish al Mahdi?

On the evidence of more than four years of war, a lot of officers have not been up to the challenge. Some have been—but they are not necessarily the ones getting promoted to general officer rank. For instance, two of the most outstanding and accomplished colonels in the U.S. Army have been passed over for promotion. Both Peter Mansoor and H.R. McMaster have history Ph.D.s, both successfully commanded brigades in Iraq, and both have been instrumental in crafting the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine. Mansoor serves as General David Petraeus’s executive officer, or right hand man; McMaster, who is currently a fellow at a think tank in London, has been called back to Baghdad frequently for consultations. The fact that neither one has yet been raised to brigadier general indicates to a lot of people that there is something wrong with the entire promotion system.

Apparently General George Casey, the Army chief of staff, and Secretary of the Army Pete Geren think the same thing. Thus, according to the Washington Post, they’ve brought General Petraeus back from Iraq to preside over a board that will pick the next crop of 40 brigadier generals from among a pool of 1,000 colonels.

The article notes:

“It’s unprecedented for the commander of an active theater to be brought back to head something like a brigadier generals board,” said retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, former head of the Army War College. A senior defense official said Petraeus is “far too high-profile for this to be a subtle thing.”

The fact that the Army is taking such an unusual and high-profile step is good news indeed. There is much more that needs to be done to transform the armed forces for the fights of the 21st century, but this is an excellent start.

Too bad it’s too late for Mansoor. After having been passed over, he decided to retire and become a history professor at Ohio State University. The Army’s loss will be the students’ gain.

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