Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 28, 2007

ANNAPOLIS: Sharansky Speaks

Yesterday evening, Natan Sharansky—dissident, democracy activist, former Deputy PM of Israel, author of (among other things) the upcoming Defending Identity, and one of the most tireless defenders of human liberty on the planet—stopped by COMMENTARY’s offices. After two quick games with resident chess whiz Gabriel Schoenfeld, Sharansky graciously sat for a brief Q&A with me and online manager Davi Bernstein. Sharansky discusses the Annapolis conference, the Bush legacy, and the problem of Iran in the interview, which you can watch below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mcHdHnbnTE[/youtube]

Yesterday evening, Natan Sharansky—dissident, democracy activist, former Deputy PM of Israel, author of (among other things) the upcoming Defending Identity, and one of the most tireless defenders of human liberty on the planet—stopped by COMMENTARY’s offices. After two quick games with resident chess whiz Gabriel Schoenfeld, Sharansky graciously sat for a brief Q&A with me and online manager Davi Bernstein. Sharansky discusses the Annapolis conference, the Bush legacy, and the problem of Iran in the interview, which you can watch below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mcHdHnbnTE[/youtube]

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Not-So-Slick Willie

Slick Willie is at it again. This time it comes in the form of his assertion that he opposed the Iraq war from the start. You can see new contributor Abe Greenwald’s post below for details about Clinton’s claims.

What ought we to make of this?

First, if it’s true that Bill Clinton opposed the war but held his tongue because it would have been “inappropriate at the time for him, a former President, to oppose—in a direct, full-throated manner—the sitting President’s military decision,” one might ask: Why then would it be appropriate to criticize now—in a direct, full-throated manner—the same sitting President’s military decision? In fact, it would have been more responsible to voice his objections before the war, when it was being debated, rather than now, when the decision has been made.

Beyond that, Bill Clinton, unlike George H.W. Bush, has not been shy about criticizing the actions of the President who followed him. Bill Clinton has been a constant critic of President Bush, on a range of issues, including the Kyoto Treaty, the withdrawal of U.S. support for the International Criminal Court and the ABM Treaty, tax cuts, education funding, homeland security, and more.

The core point, of course, is that Bill Clinton did not oppose the war from the beginning; if he had, he would have made his views clear. He didn’t, and it’s no surprise he didn’t. Remember that support for the war at that time was quite high—and there have been few politicians in our lifetime who are less principled and less willing to take an unpopular stand than Bill Clinton. If at that point the country was for the war, he simply would not have been against it.

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Slick Willie is at it again. This time it comes in the form of his assertion that he opposed the Iraq war from the start. You can see new contributor Abe Greenwald’s post below for details about Clinton’s claims.

What ought we to make of this?

First, if it’s true that Bill Clinton opposed the war but held his tongue because it would have been “inappropriate at the time for him, a former President, to oppose—in a direct, full-throated manner—the sitting President’s military decision,” one might ask: Why then would it be appropriate to criticize now—in a direct, full-throated manner—the same sitting President’s military decision? In fact, it would have been more responsible to voice his objections before the war, when it was being debated, rather than now, when the decision has been made.

Beyond that, Bill Clinton, unlike George H.W. Bush, has not been shy about criticizing the actions of the President who followed him. Bill Clinton has been a constant critic of President Bush, on a range of issues, including the Kyoto Treaty, the withdrawal of U.S. support for the International Criminal Court and the ABM Treaty, tax cuts, education funding, homeland security, and more.

The core point, of course, is that Bill Clinton did not oppose the war from the beginning; if he had, he would have made his views clear. He didn’t, and it’s no surprise he didn’t. Remember that support for the war at that time was quite high—and there have been few politicians in our lifetime who are less principled and less willing to take an unpopular stand than Bill Clinton. If at that point the country was for the war, he simply would not have been against it.

The attempt to persuade us that Clinton was in favor of the authority to go to war but opposed President Bush’s decision to use that authority is not credible—but it is entirely predictable. After all, it is part of a well-known pattern when it comes to William Jefferson Clinton.

Bob Woodward put it this way:

People feel, and I think rightly, that they’re not being leveled with. . . . There is this tendency in Clinton which you see all through his life of, “How do we spin our way out of it? How do we put out 10 percent of the truth? How do we try to conceal or delay or obfuscate?” And that is a profound problem.

Michael Kelly, then of the New York Times, summarized things this way:

Mr. Clinton’s tendency to make misleading statements, renege on promises, and waffle on difficult questions has been a part of the story of his record in matters of public policy and politics, not just in personal terms.

Former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey put it more bluntly:

Clinton’s an unusually good liar. Unusually good.

One can imagine that Bill Clinton, if asked under oath about this matter, would say something like: “It depends on what the meaning of the words ‘the beginning of the war’ is.”

Bill Clinton’s comments cannot help Hillary Clinton, if only because it reminds people of some of the worst aspects of the Clinton presidency: the mendacity, the reckless disregard for the truth, the self-justification, self-indulgence, and shamelessness of the man. Hillary Clinton has enough negatives to last her a lifetime; her husband, in trying to rewrite history, is simply adding to them.

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ANNAPOLIS: The monitor & judge

The rumor in Annapolis yesterday was that the recently-retired Marine Gen. James Jones had been tapped as the man to lead the “monitoring and judging” component of the renewed American effort to push the implementation of the Roadmap. Today, it became official.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the job involves monitoring the development of Palestinian security services. One focus would be how those forces interact with neighboring security services, including Israeli authorities.

“There is in her mind a need for someone to take a look internally at not only the efforts of the Palestinians to build up their security forces, but how those efforts relate to the Israeli government and Israeli security efforts and how those efforts also relate through the region,” he said.

As I argued yesterday, the manner in which this job is performed will be vital to how the Palestinian effort at developing competent security services is going to be viewed. And that, in turn, is going to affect how much pressure is put on Israel to reduce its security presence in the West Bank. Check out Wikipedia for a little more info on Jones. Shmuel Rosner and Aluf Benn have more on the Jones appointment in their Annapolis diary:

The issue that threatened to disrupt the talks between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and her lead-negotiating counterpart, former PA prime minister Ahmed Qureia, was over who would supervise the two sides and decide whether they are meeting their road map obligations. Experience in the Middle East suggests that the Israelis and the Palestinians are very good at blaming the other side, but they do not really like to keep their obligations. Had this been different the Palestinian terrorist groups and the outposts in the West Bank would have long gone. During the Oslo period there was no responsible adult around to ensure that the obligations were met. The road map sought to correct this and set a mechanism of monitoring under American control.

The Palestinians and the Americans proposed for the current negotiations to set up a tripartite committee that would discuss all issues and decide who was right and who needs to correct things. Defense Minister Ehud Barak opposed this proposal, fearing that Israel will find itself in a minority position, and proposed instead that an American arbitrator would be assigned to decide. The final compromise is that a committee will be set up, but the decision maker will be U.S. General Jim Jones, the former NATO commander, who will take up his new duties in the coming days. Like other generals appointed by the White House for this thankless job, Jones will also probably go through a complicated breaking-in period in the Middle East.

The rumor in Annapolis yesterday was that the recently-retired Marine Gen. James Jones had been tapped as the man to lead the “monitoring and judging” component of the renewed American effort to push the implementation of the Roadmap. Today, it became official.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the job involves monitoring the development of Palestinian security services. One focus would be how those forces interact with neighboring security services, including Israeli authorities.

“There is in her mind a need for someone to take a look internally at not only the efforts of the Palestinians to build up their security forces, but how those efforts relate to the Israeli government and Israeli security efforts and how those efforts also relate through the region,” he said.

As I argued yesterday, the manner in which this job is performed will be vital to how the Palestinian effort at developing competent security services is going to be viewed. And that, in turn, is going to affect how much pressure is put on Israel to reduce its security presence in the West Bank. Check out Wikipedia for a little more info on Jones. Shmuel Rosner and Aluf Benn have more on the Jones appointment in their Annapolis diary:

The issue that threatened to disrupt the talks between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and her lead-negotiating counterpart, former PA prime minister Ahmed Qureia, was over who would supervise the two sides and decide whether they are meeting their road map obligations. Experience in the Middle East suggests that the Israelis and the Palestinians are very good at blaming the other side, but they do not really like to keep their obligations. Had this been different the Palestinian terrorist groups and the outposts in the West Bank would have long gone. During the Oslo period there was no responsible adult around to ensure that the obligations were met. The road map sought to correct this and set a mechanism of monitoring under American control.

The Palestinians and the Americans proposed for the current negotiations to set up a tripartite committee that would discuss all issues and decide who was right and who needs to correct things. Defense Minister Ehud Barak opposed this proposal, fearing that Israel will find itself in a minority position, and proposed instead that an American arbitrator would be assigned to decide. The final compromise is that a committee will be set up, but the decision maker will be U.S. General Jim Jones, the former NATO commander, who will take up his new duties in the coming days. Like other generals appointed by the White House for this thankless job, Jones will also probably go through a complicated breaking-in period in the Middle East.

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A Star Is Worn

Hillary Clinton’s sending her husband on the stump has long been thought of as a no-brainer. Where she fights each potentially incriminating syllable as it escapes her lips, Bill glides through every exchange with a kind of post-moral ease.

So what happened yesterday? At an Iowa campaign stop, Bill Clinton claimed he “opposed Iraq from the beginning. . .”

Never mind that Clinton practically birthed “the beginning” with the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. The bald lie is nothing new. But his failure to finesse the gaffe is.

The New York Times reports:

Advisers to Mr. Clinton said yesterday that he did oppose the war, but that it would have been inappropriate at the time for him, a former president, to oppose—in a direct, full-throated manner—the sitting president’s military decision.

Ohhh, so he didn’t lie yesterday: he lied four years ago when it mattered.

With advisers like that, who needs Ken Starr? Watching the old Clinton machine go through the motions yesterday was a bit like watching a first season episode of Saturday Night Live: one’s forced to admit it hasn’t aged well. Charm, like humor, depends on context. The post 9/11 universe is a more serious place than the, um, “full-throated” Clinton 90’s. With the advent of consequence, fool’s paradises tend to vanish. As Senator Clinton’s numbers continue to drop she’ll find herself in the real world, and the old no-brainers may not be so consequence-free anymore.

Hillary Clinton’s sending her husband on the stump has long been thought of as a no-brainer. Where she fights each potentially incriminating syllable as it escapes her lips, Bill glides through every exchange with a kind of post-moral ease.

So what happened yesterday? At an Iowa campaign stop, Bill Clinton claimed he “opposed Iraq from the beginning. . .”

Never mind that Clinton practically birthed “the beginning” with the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. The bald lie is nothing new. But his failure to finesse the gaffe is.

The New York Times reports:

Advisers to Mr. Clinton said yesterday that he did oppose the war, but that it would have been inappropriate at the time for him, a former president, to oppose—in a direct, full-throated manner—the sitting president’s military decision.

Ohhh, so he didn’t lie yesterday: he lied four years ago when it mattered.

With advisers like that, who needs Ken Starr? Watching the old Clinton machine go through the motions yesterday was a bit like watching a first season episode of Saturday Night Live: one’s forced to admit it hasn’t aged well. Charm, like humor, depends on context. The post 9/11 universe is a more serious place than the, um, “full-throated” Clinton 90’s. With the advent of consequence, fool’s paradises tend to vanish. As Senator Clinton’s numbers continue to drop she’ll find herself in the real world, and the old no-brainers may not be so consequence-free anymore.

		

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Álvaro Rousselot’s Journey

Roberto Bolaño, the author of the much-lauded novels The Savage Detectives and 2666 (the latter still unfinished at the time of his death in 2003), and one of the most serious and gifted modern writers, has enjoyed over the past year a highly public upswing in his American reputation. (The Savage Detectives became for a time, in my anecdotal experience, one of those books large numbers of people read on the subway, a sure sign of critical success.) One of the benefits of the rise in his stock is the interest high-profile magazines have taken in him: he has a newly-translated story in this week’s issue of The New Yorker, the subtle and disturbing “Álvaro Rousselot’s Journey,” a Borgesian meditation on artistic identity.

Roberto Bolaño, the author of the much-lauded novels The Savage Detectives and 2666 (the latter still unfinished at the time of his death in 2003), and one of the most serious and gifted modern writers, has enjoyed over the past year a highly public upswing in his American reputation. (The Savage Detectives became for a time, in my anecdotal experience, one of those books large numbers of people read on the subway, a sure sign of critical success.) One of the benefits of the rise in his stock is the interest high-profile magazines have taken in him: he has a newly-translated story in this week’s issue of The New Yorker, the subtle and disturbing “Álvaro Rousselot’s Journey,” a Borgesian meditation on artistic identity.

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Pundit Accountability

In his column last week in Time, the political columnist Joe Klein continued to offer withering criticisms against views he once held.

To set the stage: a few weeks ago Klein wrote that the Iraq war was “the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President.” What he didn’t tell us in his blog posting is that on February 22, 2003—before Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced—Klein told Tim Russert (on Russert’s CNBC program) that he thought the Iraq war was probably the right decision and proceeded to explain why. (My comments on Klein’s flip can be found here.)

This time Joe, in a column devoted mostly to Democrats, cannot resist a dig at George W. Bush, “whose naïve support for democracy in countries that aren’t ready for it has destabilized the Middle East.”

Yet during the “Arab Spring”—meaning the early months of 2005—Klein held a different view. In the February 6, 2005 issue of Time, Klein wrote this:

Yes, disentanglement will be difficult. And, yes, we shouldn’t “overhype” the [Iraq] election, as John Kerry clumsily suggested. But this is not a moment for caveats. It is a moment for solemn appreciation of the Iraqi achievement—however it may turn out—and for hope…. This was a symptom of a larger disease: most Democrats seemed as reluctant as Kerry to express the slightest hint of optimism about the elections.

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In his column last week in Time, the political columnist Joe Klein continued to offer withering criticisms against views he once held.

To set the stage: a few weeks ago Klein wrote that the Iraq war was “the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President.” What he didn’t tell us in his blog posting is that on February 22, 2003—before Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced—Klein told Tim Russert (on Russert’s CNBC program) that he thought the Iraq war was probably the right decision and proceeded to explain why. (My comments on Klein’s flip can be found here.)

This time Joe, in a column devoted mostly to Democrats, cannot resist a dig at George W. Bush, “whose naïve support for democracy in countries that aren’t ready for it has destabilized the Middle East.”

Yet during the “Arab Spring”—meaning the early months of 2005—Klein held a different view. In the February 6, 2005 issue of Time, Klein wrote this:

Yes, disentanglement will be difficult. And, yes, we shouldn’t “overhype” the [Iraq] election, as John Kerry clumsily suggested. But this is not a moment for caveats. It is a moment for solemn appreciation of the Iraqi achievement—however it may turn out—and for hope…. This was a symptom of a larger disease: most Democrats seemed as reluctant as Kerry to express the slightest hint of optimism about the elections.

Two weeks later, Klein wrote this:

And yet, for the moment, Bush’s instincts—his supporters would argue these are bedrock values—seem to be paying off. The President’s attention span may be haphazard, but the immediate satisfactions are difficult to dispute. Saddam Hussein? Evildoer. Take him out. But wait, no WMD? No post-invasion planning? Deaths and chaos? Awful, but…. Freedom! Look at those Shiites vote! And now, after all that rapid-eye movement, who can say the Shiites and the Kurds won’t create a government with a loyal Shiite-Kurd security force? And who can say the Sunni rebels won’t—with some creative dealmaking—eventually acquiesce? The foreign-policy priesthood may be appalled by all the unexpected consequences, but there has been stunned silence in the non-neocon think tanks since the Iraqi elections.

And several weeks later he wrote this:

Under the enlightened leadership of Grand Ayatullah Ali Husaini Sistani, the Shiite majority has played the democracy game with gusto. It has acknowledged the importance of Kurdish and Sunni minority rights and seems unlikely to demand the constitutional imposition of strict Islamic law. Most important, it has resisted the temptation to retaliate against the outrageous violence of Sunni extremists, especially against Shiite mosques…. If the President turns out to be right—and let’s hope he is—a century’s worth of woolly-headed liberal dreamers will be vindicated. And he will surely deserve that woolliest of all peace prizes, the Nobel.

From support for the Iraq war to calling it the “stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President;” from possible vindication and a Nobel Peace Prize for George W. Bush to his “naïve support for democracy in countries that aren’t ready for it;” these are head-snapping turnabouts.

In his preface to The Gathering Storm, Winston Churchill wrote, “I have adhered to my rule of never criticizing any measure of war or policy after the event unless I had before expressed publicly or formally my opinion or warning about it.”

Many columnists and commentators suffer from the opposite syndrome—though Klein more so than most. They write with passionate conviction and certitude at The Moment—even when what they believe at that moment is significantly different than, or even the opposite of, what they once said and believed. They are, to amend an observation Michael Kelly made about Bill Clinton, “the existential pundits, living with absolute sincerity in the passing moment.”

Politics has accountability in the form of elections. Punditry, it sometimes seems, is an accountability-free zone.

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The Real Power of Stem Cells

A week ago, two teams of scientists announced they had successfully produced the equivalent of human embryonic stem cells by “reprogramming” skin cells, without the need to use embryos. It was a much hoped-for and anticipated development, and very welcome news. And the transformation of the stem cell debate in just the few days since has been nothing short of amazing.

Witness this article in yesterday’s New York Times. Nothing like it could have been written before last Tuesday—and not just because of the way it begins to speak of the stem cell debate in the past tense, but because of the honesty with which it speaks of the realities and limits of stem cell research: “Scientists still face the challenge of taking that abundant raw material and turning it into useful medical treatments, like replacement tissue for damaged hearts and brains,” the Times notes, “and that challenge will be roughly as daunting for the new cells as it has been for the embryonic stem cells.

That daunting challenge, and the likelihood that, quite apart from one federal funding policy or another, treatments using such cells will likely not be possible for many years (if ever), were never much on the lips of Times reporters and editorialists in the past.

The article even notes that until last week’s announcement, there was only one way to create genetically matched pluripotent stem cells:

Some scientists have been trying to make disease-specific embryonic cells by creating a cloned embryo of a person with the disease. But that effort requires women to undergo sometimes risky treatments to donate their eggs.

In the past, when the paper has mentioned this technique, they did not admit so frankly that human cloning was involved or that women were at risk. Just this past June, speaking of exactly the same method, the Times noted that researchers:

want to develop embryonic stem cells by nuclear transfer, the replacement of an egg nucleus with one from an adult cell. A major benefit of nuclear transfer would be to walk a patient’s cell back to an embryonic state so disease processes could be better understood.

They dared not call it cloning, or mention any drawbacks. Only now that science may have provided a way around the ethical (and therefore political) dilemma, and that, as the godfather of embryonic stem cell research James Thomson told the Times last weekend “a decade from now, [the stem cell wars] will be just a funny historical footnote,” can they speak openly about what they had so long been advocating.

It is to Thomson’s credit (and to that of all the many other stem cell researchers quoted in the press this past week) that he’s willing to speak frankly about how momentous this advance may really be. He’s willing, too, to see the consequences for the political fight over stem cells—and they are good consequences for both sides of the argument: the science can go forward without raising ethical concerns. (Unsurprisingly, some of the politicians involved in the fight seem to want the argument more than the science.)

It seems, though, that even the New York Times—which has been tenaciously partisan and frankly dishonest in its advocacy for embryo-destructive research in the past decade—now sees that the fight may be drawing to a close, and it’s time to put away the word games and speak openly about what has always been at stake. If these new cells can make the Times do that, maybe they really are a panacea.

A week ago, two teams of scientists announced they had successfully produced the equivalent of human embryonic stem cells by “reprogramming” skin cells, without the need to use embryos. It was a much hoped-for and anticipated development, and very welcome news. And the transformation of the stem cell debate in just the few days since has been nothing short of amazing.

Witness this article in yesterday’s New York Times. Nothing like it could have been written before last Tuesday—and not just because of the way it begins to speak of the stem cell debate in the past tense, but because of the honesty with which it speaks of the realities and limits of stem cell research: “Scientists still face the challenge of taking that abundant raw material and turning it into useful medical treatments, like replacement tissue for damaged hearts and brains,” the Times notes, “and that challenge will be roughly as daunting for the new cells as it has been for the embryonic stem cells.

That daunting challenge, and the likelihood that, quite apart from one federal funding policy or another, treatments using such cells will likely not be possible for many years (if ever), were never much on the lips of Times reporters and editorialists in the past.

The article even notes that until last week’s announcement, there was only one way to create genetically matched pluripotent stem cells:

Some scientists have been trying to make disease-specific embryonic cells by creating a cloned embryo of a person with the disease. But that effort requires women to undergo sometimes risky treatments to donate their eggs.

In the past, when the paper has mentioned this technique, they did not admit so frankly that human cloning was involved or that women were at risk. Just this past June, speaking of exactly the same method, the Times noted that researchers:

want to develop embryonic stem cells by nuclear transfer, the replacement of an egg nucleus with one from an adult cell. A major benefit of nuclear transfer would be to walk a patient’s cell back to an embryonic state so disease processes could be better understood.

They dared not call it cloning, or mention any drawbacks. Only now that science may have provided a way around the ethical (and therefore political) dilemma, and that, as the godfather of embryonic stem cell research James Thomson told the Times last weekend “a decade from now, [the stem cell wars] will be just a funny historical footnote,” can they speak openly about what they had so long been advocating.

It is to Thomson’s credit (and to that of all the many other stem cell researchers quoted in the press this past week) that he’s willing to speak frankly about how momentous this advance may really be. He’s willing, too, to see the consequences for the political fight over stem cells—and they are good consequences for both sides of the argument: the science can go forward without raising ethical concerns. (Unsurprisingly, some of the politicians involved in the fight seem to want the argument more than the science.)

It seems, though, that even the New York Times—which has been tenaciously partisan and frankly dishonest in its advocacy for embryo-destructive research in the past decade—now sees that the fight may be drawing to a close, and it’s time to put away the word games and speak openly about what has always been at stake. If these new cells can make the Times do that, maybe they really are a panacea.

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Schoenfeld vs. Sharansky

Natan Sharansky was in town yesterday and dropped by the offices of COMMENTARY– where I challenged him to a game of chess, thereby fulfilling a decades’ long dream. The trouble was, we did not have a chess set handy, which led him to remark that this meant that COMMENTARY was not a Jewish magazine. One of my colleagues ran out to the wonderful stationery store, Sam Flax, which agreed on the spot to sponsor the match and provided us with an odd but perfectly usable set.

During long years as a Soviet refusenik, and then a decade in the Gulag on the trumped-up crime of treason, Sharansky had a lot of time to ponder the fine points of the royal game. As the New York Times reported, “he had little time for chess during his dissident years in the Soviet Union, but he recovered his skills in prison, where he said he spent the long days in solitary confinement playing three simultaneous games in his mind.” Sharansky told the newspaper, “I played thousands of games, and I won them all.”

In Russia, he had earned the title of candidate master, which is equivalent to the rank of American master. The latter is the title I earned in 1989, the last year in which I played a game of competitive chess. Sharansky has played twice against the former world champion Garry Kasparov, emerging with one draw and one victory, an excellent score for an amateur even considering that both games took place at exhibitions in which Kasparov was playing multiple players simultaneously.

Lately, however, Sharansky has devoted most of his time to preventing the state of Israel from (to use chess lingo) sacrificing its pieces without adequate compensation. And so his chess, though strong, may not be as strong as it once was. When we sat down to play, I had little idea what I would be up against.

In our first game, playing black, Sharansky responded to 1.e4 with the ultra-aggressive Schliemann Defense in the Ruy Lopez. Unfortunately, I fell into a trap and the game was over in a mere seven moves, a humiliation for Connecting the Dots akin to the Arab defeat in the Six-Day war, and one that cried out for another round.

In our second game, I had the black pieces. I steered into one of my favorite lines of the rock-solid Caro-Kann. Before too long, I was able to exchange off some of Sharansky’s most actively placed pieces and then I managed to win one of his central pawns, obtaining a very strong position. On his 24th move, Sharansky made a blunder and gave up a second pawn. The game was now all but won.

But my opponent proved to be nothing if not resourceful, and unfortunately, through inaccurate play, I helped him along. As I pushed my pawns forward he managed to maneuver his rooks onto the seventh rank, whereupon I agreed (prematurely, it turns out) to a draw. At a score of 1/2 to 1 1/2, I ended up with the same result against Sharansky that Garry Kasparov had obtained against him, a score that left me immensely satisfied that I had been able to lay a finger on this remarkable Russian, Israeli, Jewish hero.

GAME 1

Schoenfeld vs. Sharansky

Ruy Lopez

1.e4 e5

2.Nf3 Nc6

3.Bb5 f5

4.Bxc6 dxc6

5.Nxe5 fxe4

6.Nc3 Nf6

7.0–0??

chess-pic-1b.jpg

POSITION AFTER 7.0-0??

White walks right into a trap and the game is over. I should have resigned immediately after Sharanksy’s next move, but was too stunned by the sudden turn of events.

7… Qd4

8.Re1 Qxe5

9.Nxe4 Nxe4

10.d3 Bf5

11.dxe4 Bg6

and realizing, belatedly, that I was lost, I resigned.

0–1

 

GAME 2

Sharansky vs. Schoenfeld

Caro-Kann

1.e4 c6

2.d4 d5

3.Nc3 dxe4

4.Nxe4 Nd7

5.Nf3 Ngf6

6.Ng3 e6

7.Bd3 Bd6

8.0–0 Qc7

9.c4 0–0

10.c5 Be7

11.Re1 b6

12.b4 a5

13.cxb6 Qxb6

14.bxa5 Rxa5

15.Bd2 Ra8

16.Qc2 Ba6

17.Bxa6 Qxa6

18.Ne5 c5

19.Nxd7 Nxd7

20.d5?

Akin to pulling out of Gaza. This gives up a pawn without compensation.

20… Bf6

21.Bc3

If 21.dxe6 Bxa1 22.exd7 Qxa2 23.Qxa2 Rxa2 24.Bg5 f6 25.Bf4 Be5 26.Bxe5 fxe5 27.Rxe5 Ra1+ 28.Nf1 Rd1 and white is up the exchange for a pawn in a winning endgame.

21… Qc4

22.Rec1 Qxc3

23.Qxc3 Bxc3

24.Rxc3 exd5

Black’s imposing central pawns give him a powerful advantage.

25.Nf5 Rfe8

26.a4??

Sharansky is momentarily distracted and drops a pawn after I explain to him that at Annapolis Olmert has just yielded the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem in exchange for the right to shake hands with the Saudi deputy foreign minister.

26… Rxa4

27.Rd1 d4

28.Rf3 Ne5

29.Rg3 g6

30.Nd6 Re6

31.Ne4 Rc6

32.f4 Nc4

33.Ng5 f5?

Unnecessary. Better to proceed simply with the attack via 33. Ne3.

34.Nf3 Ne3

35.Rc1 d3

36.Nd2 Ra2

37.Rxe3 Rxd2

38.Re7 Rc2?

Never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, I make the worst move on the board, giving white a draw. Far better is 38…Rb6 39.Ra1 Rb8 40.h3 Re2, and black runs out of threats.

39.Ra1 Rc8

40.Raa7 Re2

41.Rg7+ Kf8

42.Raf7+ Ke8

43.Rd7??

chess-pic-2b.jpg

POSITION AFTER 43. Rd7??

A disastrous comedy of errors. Sharansky would have had a simple draw by repetition after 43.Rb7. But my own play is even worse since I now offer a draw in a won position. 43…d2! wins.

1/2-1/2

Natan Sharansky was in town yesterday and dropped by the offices of COMMENTARY– where I challenged him to a game of chess, thereby fulfilling a decades’ long dream. The trouble was, we did not have a chess set handy, which led him to remark that this meant that COMMENTARY was not a Jewish magazine. One of my colleagues ran out to the wonderful stationery store, Sam Flax, which agreed on the spot to sponsor the match and provided us with an odd but perfectly usable set.

During long years as a Soviet refusenik, and then a decade in the Gulag on the trumped-up crime of treason, Sharansky had a lot of time to ponder the fine points of the royal game. As the New York Times reported, “he had little time for chess during his dissident years in the Soviet Union, but he recovered his skills in prison, where he said he spent the long days in solitary confinement playing three simultaneous games in his mind.” Sharansky told the newspaper, “I played thousands of games, and I won them all.”

In Russia, he had earned the title of candidate master, which is equivalent to the rank of American master. The latter is the title I earned in 1989, the last year in which I played a game of competitive chess. Sharansky has played twice against the former world champion Garry Kasparov, emerging with one draw and one victory, an excellent score for an amateur even considering that both games took place at exhibitions in which Kasparov was playing multiple players simultaneously.

Lately, however, Sharansky has devoted most of his time to preventing the state of Israel from (to use chess lingo) sacrificing its pieces without adequate compensation. And so his chess, though strong, may not be as strong as it once was. When we sat down to play, I had little idea what I would be up against.

In our first game, playing black, Sharansky responded to 1.e4 with the ultra-aggressive Schliemann Defense in the Ruy Lopez. Unfortunately, I fell into a trap and the game was over in a mere seven moves, a humiliation for Connecting the Dots akin to the Arab defeat in the Six-Day war, and one that cried out for another round.

In our second game, I had the black pieces. I steered into one of my favorite lines of the rock-solid Caro-Kann. Before too long, I was able to exchange off some of Sharansky’s most actively placed pieces and then I managed to win one of his central pawns, obtaining a very strong position. On his 24th move, Sharansky made a blunder and gave up a second pawn. The game was now all but won.

But my opponent proved to be nothing if not resourceful, and unfortunately, through inaccurate play, I helped him along. As I pushed my pawns forward he managed to maneuver his rooks onto the seventh rank, whereupon I agreed (prematurely, it turns out) to a draw. At a score of 1/2 to 1 1/2, I ended up with the same result against Sharansky that Garry Kasparov had obtained against him, a score that left me immensely satisfied that I had been able to lay a finger on this remarkable Russian, Israeli, Jewish hero.

GAME 1

Schoenfeld vs. Sharansky

Ruy Lopez

1.e4 e5

2.Nf3 Nc6

3.Bb5 f5

4.Bxc6 dxc6

5.Nxe5 fxe4

6.Nc3 Nf6

7.0–0??

chess-pic-1b.jpg

POSITION AFTER 7.0-0??

White walks right into a trap and the game is over. I should have resigned immediately after Sharanksy’s next move, but was too stunned by the sudden turn of events.

7… Qd4

8.Re1 Qxe5

9.Nxe4 Nxe4

10.d3 Bf5

11.dxe4 Bg6

and realizing, belatedly, that I was lost, I resigned.

0–1

 

GAME 2

Sharansky vs. Schoenfeld

Caro-Kann

1.e4 c6

2.d4 d5

3.Nc3 dxe4

4.Nxe4 Nd7

5.Nf3 Ngf6

6.Ng3 e6

7.Bd3 Bd6

8.0–0 Qc7

9.c4 0–0

10.c5 Be7

11.Re1 b6

12.b4 a5

13.cxb6 Qxb6

14.bxa5 Rxa5

15.Bd2 Ra8

16.Qc2 Ba6

17.Bxa6 Qxa6

18.Ne5 c5

19.Nxd7 Nxd7

20.d5?

Akin to pulling out of Gaza. This gives up a pawn without compensation.

20… Bf6

21.Bc3

If 21.dxe6 Bxa1 22.exd7 Qxa2 23.Qxa2 Rxa2 24.Bg5 f6 25.Bf4 Be5 26.Bxe5 fxe5 27.Rxe5 Ra1+ 28.Nf1 Rd1 and white is up the exchange for a pawn in a winning endgame.

21… Qc4

22.Rec1 Qxc3

23.Qxc3 Bxc3

24.Rxc3 exd5

Black’s imposing central pawns give him a powerful advantage.

25.Nf5 Rfe8

26.a4??

Sharansky is momentarily distracted and drops a pawn after I explain to him that at Annapolis Olmert has just yielded the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem in exchange for the right to shake hands with the Saudi deputy foreign minister.

26… Rxa4

27.Rd1 d4

28.Rf3 Ne5

29.Rg3 g6

30.Nd6 Re6

31.Ne4 Rc6

32.f4 Nc4

33.Ng5 f5?

Unnecessary. Better to proceed simply with the attack via 33. Ne3.

34.Nf3 Ne3

35.Rc1 d3

36.Nd2 Ra2

37.Rxe3 Rxd2

38.Re7 Rc2?

Never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, I make the worst move on the board, giving white a draw. Far better is 38…Rb6 39.Ra1 Rb8 40.h3 Re2, and black runs out of threats.

39.Ra1 Rc8

40.Raa7 Re2

41.Rg7+ Kf8

42.Raf7+ Ke8

43.Rd7??

chess-pic-2b.jpg

POSITION AFTER 43. Rd7??

A disastrous comedy of errors. Sharansky would have had a simple draw by repetition after 43.Rb7. But my own play is even worse since I now offer a draw in a won position. 43…d2! wins.

1/2-1/2

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Beowulf Besieged

A wonderful piece on The New Republic’s website by John Fleming, a Princeton medievalist, on the barbaric revision of Beowulf currently hurling itself at you in 3-D.

A wonderful piece on The New Republic’s website by John Fleming, a Princeton medievalist, on the barbaric revision of Beowulf currently hurling itself at you in 3-D.

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The Passion of Eric Alterman

In a typically frothing and self-aggrandizing post, Eric Alterman lashes out at any and all enemies:

Speaking of me, I often have trouble deciding which attacks on me in the blogosphere demand responses and which I am elevating to an importance they do not deserve by doing so (in addition to wasting my time). But I see that in the past few days, I’ve been attacked as an anti-Japanese racist by a right-wing blogger, attacked as an anti-black racist by a left-wing blogger, quoted favorably by right-wing anti-Semites, attacked by Naderites, and attacked in Commentary by “Jamie Kirchick,” who I continue to maintain does not really exist but was invented as a sock puppet/imaginary friend, Lee Siegel-style, by the friendless Marty Peretz.

There is an especially amusing piece of this excerpt: amidst all these left-wing bloggers, Naderites, and imaginary friends of Marty Peretz attacking the brave Alterman at the barricades of reason and justice and light, the only people in agreement with him are “right-wing anti-Semites.” (That this might have something to do with Alterman’s ideas does not seem to faze our intrepid friend.) But the bulk of Alterman’s post is taken up with his response to criticism leveled by the brilliant British blogger and London Times columnist Oliver Kamm (whom Alterman incorrectly labels “right-wing;” Kamm is an Advisory Editor of Democratiya, a journal whose founding statement declares: “We will be, everywhere, pro-democracy, pro-labour rights, pro-women’s rights, pro-gay rights, pro-liberty, pro-reason and pro-social justice” and that avowedly attempts to emulate Dissent) about a recent Nation column by Alterman. In his column, Alterman asserted that “virtually no reputable historian would put the casualty figure for a U.S. invasion of Japan anywhere near [1 million].” (I wrote about Kamm’s critique earlier on contentions, here.) Ever the petulant pundit, Alterman provides no links to these critiques that would otherwise help the reader understand this intellectual dispute. But since Alterman’s readership consists, I believe, almost entirely of left-wing cranks on the one hand, and those who read it for laughs on the other (I’m in this camp), Alterman’s failure to insert a simple link to the arguments of his interlocutors comes as no surprise.

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In a typically frothing and self-aggrandizing post, Eric Alterman lashes out at any and all enemies:

Speaking of me, I often have trouble deciding which attacks on me in the blogosphere demand responses and which I am elevating to an importance they do not deserve by doing so (in addition to wasting my time). But I see that in the past few days, I’ve been attacked as an anti-Japanese racist by a right-wing blogger, attacked as an anti-black racist by a left-wing blogger, quoted favorably by right-wing anti-Semites, attacked by Naderites, and attacked in Commentary by “Jamie Kirchick,” who I continue to maintain does not really exist but was invented as a sock puppet/imaginary friend, Lee Siegel-style, by the friendless Marty Peretz.

There is an especially amusing piece of this excerpt: amidst all these left-wing bloggers, Naderites, and imaginary friends of Marty Peretz attacking the brave Alterman at the barricades of reason and justice and light, the only people in agreement with him are “right-wing anti-Semites.” (That this might have something to do with Alterman’s ideas does not seem to faze our intrepid friend.) But the bulk of Alterman’s post is taken up with his response to criticism leveled by the brilliant British blogger and London Times columnist Oliver Kamm (whom Alterman incorrectly labels “right-wing;” Kamm is an Advisory Editor of Democratiya, a journal whose founding statement declares: “We will be, everywhere, pro-democracy, pro-labour rights, pro-women’s rights, pro-gay rights, pro-liberty, pro-reason and pro-social justice” and that avowedly attempts to emulate Dissent) about a recent Nation column by Alterman. In his column, Alterman asserted that “virtually no reputable historian would put the casualty figure for a U.S. invasion of Japan anywhere near [1 million].” (I wrote about Kamm’s critique earlier on contentions, here.) Ever the petulant pundit, Alterman provides no links to these critiques that would otherwise help the reader understand this intellectual dispute. But since Alterman’s readership consists, I believe, almost entirely of left-wing cranks on the one hand, and those who read it for laughs on the other (I’m in this camp), Alterman’s failure to insert a simple link to the arguments of his interlocutors comes as no surprise.

Alterman chiefly takes issue with one of Kamm’s assertions. In the midst of explaining why Alterman would so readily discount the figure of 1 million casualties, Kamm concludes that “the most charitable explanation I can give is that Alterman is (unlike the late General [Paul] Tibbets) sufficiently ethnocentric not to take into account the deaths of Japanese civilians that would have resulted from a conventional invasion and blockade of the home islands . . .” Alterman does not bother to respond to the salient argument (that is, the debate over whether dropping the bomb was necessary, in light of the number of casualties, American and Japanese, that would have resulted in either scenario), but instead repeats the straw-man argument that the only thing Americans cared about at the time were sparing American, not Japanese, lives. This casuistry is encapsulated here in a portion from his original piece about the New York Times obituary of Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay:

Indeed, the decision to nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki is presented as so uncontroversial that we read Tibbets’s admission that “I wanted to kill the bastards,” followed later by his claim that “I viewed my mission as one to save lives,” as if no inconsistency is apparent between these two sentiments.

That’s because there is nothing at all inconsistent about these sentiments. Tibbets wanted to kill enough of America’s enemies so as to convince them that further war—which would have taken the lives of even more Americans and more of said enemies—was futile. And that’s what dropping the atomic bombs did. End of story.

And yet, failing actually to engage with Kamm on the merits of the argument in play, Alterman has the gall to announce at the end of his post that “I’ve never taken a position on whether the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima was necessary or not.” This may be the first time Alterman has ever announced he does not have an opinion on something. Stranger, however, is that he could rant endlessly in indignation when he has (or claims to have) no opinion on the actual matter in dispute.

That Alterman is such a careless and nasty journalist might have something to do with his prolificness; after all, when you’re “a frequent lecturer and contributor to virtually every significant national publication in the United States and many in Europe,” it’s hard to find the time to be anything other than sloppy and ad hominem.

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The Middle East Money Shot

Last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that she had “better things to do than invite people to Annapolis for a photo op.” What she meant, of course, was that she had better things to do than invite people to Annapolis exclusively for a photo op. So have no fear, jpeg collectors: from the moment Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas arrived at the White House on Monday, the cameras were rolling.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photos that each Annapolis participant chooses to publicize are highly significant. Given that it had the most invested in the conference’s success, the White House naturally led the Annapolis photo race, offering a full slideshow of the opening state dinner, and as many photos as possible depicting Bush as the matchmaker behind an Olmert-Abbas courtship. The Israelis were not far behind, with photos suggesting that the courtship had progressed to the point that Abbas and Olmert even sat around a table with each other’s families. The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also made an impressive contribution to the Most Hopeful-Looking Photo Contest, depicting Bush forming the human chain with his counterparts.

Perhaps the real photo story emerging from Annapolis, however, was Bush’s relentless pursuit of the hallowed Middle East Money Shot, which typically features the sitting American president dramatically guiding an Arab-Israeli handshake. Jimmy Carter was the original choreographer of this image, while Bill Clinton was fortunate to enjoy the famous pose twice: at the signing of the Oslo Accords and the forging of Jordanian-Israeli peace. (Clinton narrowly missed out on a third Money Shot at the signing of the Wye River Memorandum, where he was boxed out by an ailing King Hussein.)

Prior to Annapolis, Bush had posed for the Money Shot only once—at the inconclusive 2003 Red Sea Summit on the “Road Map,” where Abbas, then Yasser Arafat’s impotent prime minister, locked hands with Ariel Sharon. But during the one-day Annapolis Conference, Bush went on a tear, managing no less than three different shots of himself standing amidst new best friends Olmert and Abbas.

Of course, the Money Shot is not as meaningful as it once was: it no longer signifies the signing of a treaty and, as Rice demonstrated in February, even a secretary of state can pose for one. But the optimism it symbolizes was apparently too seductive for the American and Israeli presses to pass up: The New York Times, MSNBC, FoxNews, Ma’ariv, and Ha’aretz all featured the Money Shot prominently in their Annapolis coverage.

Yet, in the absence of concrete steps taken to further peace, the pessimism of Arab photojournalism seems more apt. Arab press coverage of Annapolis naturally depicts Bush meeting with Abbas, but domestic Palestinian opposition to peace talks that challenge their viability is also a major theme. Moreover, Olmert is rarely displayed alongside Abbas, and the two are never seen shaking hands—with one key exception: Hezbollah’s al-Manar station, predictably misusing the symbols of Arab-Israeli peace, proudly features the Money Shot.

Last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that she had “better things to do than invite people to Annapolis for a photo op.” What she meant, of course, was that she had better things to do than invite people to Annapolis exclusively for a photo op. So have no fear, jpeg collectors: from the moment Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas arrived at the White House on Monday, the cameras were rolling.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photos that each Annapolis participant chooses to publicize are highly significant. Given that it had the most invested in the conference’s success, the White House naturally led the Annapolis photo race, offering a full slideshow of the opening state dinner, and as many photos as possible depicting Bush as the matchmaker behind an Olmert-Abbas courtship. The Israelis were not far behind, with photos suggesting that the courtship had progressed to the point that Abbas and Olmert even sat around a table with each other’s families. The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also made an impressive contribution to the Most Hopeful-Looking Photo Contest, depicting Bush forming the human chain with his counterparts.

Perhaps the real photo story emerging from Annapolis, however, was Bush’s relentless pursuit of the hallowed Middle East Money Shot, which typically features the sitting American president dramatically guiding an Arab-Israeli handshake. Jimmy Carter was the original choreographer of this image, while Bill Clinton was fortunate to enjoy the famous pose twice: at the signing of the Oslo Accords and the forging of Jordanian-Israeli peace. (Clinton narrowly missed out on a third Money Shot at the signing of the Wye River Memorandum, where he was boxed out by an ailing King Hussein.)

Prior to Annapolis, Bush had posed for the Money Shot only once—at the inconclusive 2003 Red Sea Summit on the “Road Map,” where Abbas, then Yasser Arafat’s impotent prime minister, locked hands with Ariel Sharon. But during the one-day Annapolis Conference, Bush went on a tear, managing no less than three different shots of himself standing amidst new best friends Olmert and Abbas.

Of course, the Money Shot is not as meaningful as it once was: it no longer signifies the signing of a treaty and, as Rice demonstrated in February, even a secretary of state can pose for one. But the optimism it symbolizes was apparently too seductive for the American and Israeli presses to pass up: The New York Times, MSNBC, FoxNews, Ma’ariv, and Ha’aretz all featured the Money Shot prominently in their Annapolis coverage.

Yet, in the absence of concrete steps taken to further peace, the pessimism of Arab photojournalism seems more apt. Arab press coverage of Annapolis naturally depicts Bush meeting with Abbas, but domestic Palestinian opposition to peace talks that challenge their viability is also a major theme. Moreover, Olmert is rarely displayed alongside Abbas, and the two are never seen shaking hands—with one key exception: Hezbollah’s al-Manar station, predictably misusing the symbols of Arab-Israeli peace, proudly features the Money Shot.

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