Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 2007

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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Piano Teachers

The Piano Teacher, by Julia Cho, which opened recently at the Vineyard Theater off-Broadway to mixed reviews, features a haunted keyboard pedagogue with nasty secrets to hide. The Vineyard Theater production benefits from the presence of the veteran actress Elizabeth Franz in the title role of an isolated, shunned teacher who is only marginally more sane than the sado-masochistic piano teacher incarnated by Isabelle Huppert in the 2001 French film of the same title, based on a perverse novel by the Austrian Nobel-Prize winning author Elfriede Jelinek.

The reiterated imagery of peccant piano instructors is so ingrained in our culture that a Google Search of “piano teacher” by anyone actually trying to learn to play the instrument will bring up references to Jelinek’s book and film, first and foremost. The world of music education as represented by such writers belongs to an earlier, less psychologically acute era. It is a relief to escape such querulous and indeed unmusical paradigms and look at today’s real world of superb piano teachers, who represent a vastly more intriguing, mysterious, and gratifying accomplishment.

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The Piano Teacher, by Julia Cho, which opened recently at the Vineyard Theater off-Broadway to mixed reviews, features a haunted keyboard pedagogue with nasty secrets to hide. The Vineyard Theater production benefits from the presence of the veteran actress Elizabeth Franz in the title role of an isolated, shunned teacher who is only marginally more sane than the sado-masochistic piano teacher incarnated by Isabelle Huppert in the 2001 French film of the same title, based on a perverse novel by the Austrian Nobel-Prize winning author Elfriede Jelinek.

The reiterated imagery of peccant piano instructors is so ingrained in our culture that a Google Search of “piano teacher” by anyone actually trying to learn to play the instrument will bring up references to Jelinek’s book and film, first and foremost. The world of music education as represented by such writers belongs to an earlier, less psychologically acute era. It is a relief to escape such querulous and indeed unmusical paradigms and look at today’s real world of superb piano teachers, who represent a vastly more intriguing, mysterious, and gratifying accomplishment.

Juilliard’s Yoheved “Veda” Kaplinsky, the Tel Aviv-born chair of the school’s piano department, also teaches in the Pre-College division, where some of America’s most astonishing prodigies are currently thriving. One such is Conrad Tao, a pianist and composer born in Illinois in 1994, whose live recordings on CD and video convey a sense of musical line (with the entire score evoked in every measure of a given work) as found only in the greatest musicians. Tao is also a characterful, accomplished composer of charm and nuance; his early compositions on CD sound more adult, individualistic, and masterful than those by any preteen composer I have heard, including Mozart.

One of the most admirable aspects of Tao’s musicality is his collaborative acumen, and another outstanding Kaplinsky pupil, the Chinese pianist Peng-Peng Gong, born in 1992, often plays with Tao, in addition to his solo performances. Such brilliant students are allowed to flower into musical maturity in a healthy, non-neurotic way. Encouraging, rather than stifling, prodigies allows them to develop as artists and human beings, instead of condemning them to becoming the stunted, frustrated, unhappy leftovers, some of whom are alas still present on the concert scene today.

Another outstanding Juilliard piano teacher, Oxana Yablonskaya, is helping to guide the destiny of Alice Burla, born in Toronto in 1997. In such challenging works as Chopin’s “Variations brilliants,” Burla displays the suavity and maturity of an adult musician, quite apart from her fabulous technique. Tao, Peng-Peng, and Burla already are more accomplished artists than a number of adult pianists who trudge around the concert circuit; the challenge for their teachers is clearly not to spoil or discourage their inborn talent. This custodial task of wonderful young talent is far more thrilling than any fictional elaboration of a pathological teacher.

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No War on Puberty

Jewcy blogger Abe Greenwald lets us know today just how far reporters from the New York Times to Time to the BBC are willing to go not to admit the obvious about the participants in the riots that began in France this past weekend.

For some reason, I can’t imagine why, these news outlets avoid stating that the rioters are Muslim. In fact, consistently referring to the rioters as “youths,” the news outlets make it sound as though, as Greenwald points out, what France and Nicolas Sarkozy are confronting is “teenage extremism” that “demands nothing less than a fully committed War on Puberty.”

Jewcy blogger Abe Greenwald lets us know today just how far reporters from the New York Times to Time to the BBC are willing to go not to admit the obvious about the participants in the riots that began in France this past weekend.

For some reason, I can’t imagine why, these news outlets avoid stating that the rioters are Muslim. In fact, consistently referring to the rioters as “youths,” the news outlets make it sound as though, as Greenwald points out, what France and Nicolas Sarkozy are confronting is “teenage extremism” that “demands nothing less than a fully committed War on Puberty.”

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ANNAPOLIS: What It All Means

Noah, what Annapolis reveals about the Bush administration may be nothing more than it has 14 months left — and that Condi Rice has gone native, as nearly all Secretaries of State (George Shultz being the only exception I can think of) do. That doesn’t make her a fool or a narcissist, as you charge. It marks her, in the end, as a conventional foreign-policy thinker. And while she may have used her close relationship with Bush to allow her room to get to this point, she apparently did not push the president to move away from the architecture of his 2002 “vision of two states living side by side” — according to which that the United States will only recognize a Palestinian state that gives up terror as a weapon and is a democracy. That, as Bush’s remarks this morning indicate, remains the framework for the administration’s policy. Bush clearly likes his framework, and when Bush likes a policy, he tends not to alter it a whit.

Does this indicate a disastrous turn in American foreign policy, as some of those articles you cite (though not mine) indicate? I discern, in the end, very little change, despite the worries. The open evidence so far indicates that the low-expectations summit has in fact met its low expectations, with the “lots of other nations present” business proving essentially meaningless except as a bragging point for the diplomats who got them there and a shopping opportunity for them and their wives at outlet malls and Tysons Corner. That doesn’t mean the State Department wouldn’t like it otherwise. But that doesn’t seem to be the story of this summit. If we’ve seen the worst of Annapolis — and I grant you we may not have; we won’t know for a few days — I think we can actually breathe a sigh of relief.

Noah, what Annapolis reveals about the Bush administration may be nothing more than it has 14 months left — and that Condi Rice has gone native, as nearly all Secretaries of State (George Shultz being the only exception I can think of) do. That doesn’t make her a fool or a narcissist, as you charge. It marks her, in the end, as a conventional foreign-policy thinker. And while she may have used her close relationship with Bush to allow her room to get to this point, she apparently did not push the president to move away from the architecture of his 2002 “vision of two states living side by side” — according to which that the United States will only recognize a Palestinian state that gives up terror as a weapon and is a democracy. That, as Bush’s remarks this morning indicate, remains the framework for the administration’s policy. Bush clearly likes his framework, and when Bush likes a policy, he tends not to alter it a whit.

Does this indicate a disastrous turn in American foreign policy, as some of those articles you cite (though not mine) indicate? I discern, in the end, very little change, despite the worries. The open evidence so far indicates that the low-expectations summit has in fact met its low expectations, with the “lots of other nations present” business proving essentially meaningless except as a bragging point for the diplomats who got them there and a shopping opportunity for them and their wives at outlet malls and Tysons Corner. That doesn’t mean the State Department wouldn’t like it otherwise. But that doesn’t seem to be the story of this summit. If we’ve seen the worst of Annapolis — and I grant you we may not have; we won’t know for a few days — I think we can actually breathe a sigh of relief.

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Re: the meaning of Annapolis

John, those are good points, and I’m largely in agreement with you on the interplay among Israel, America, and the Palestinians. It’s true—there’s going to be a time when the rubber meets the road, when all of the Annapolis rhetoric is tested against the situation on the ground. The same dynamic has controlled the entirety of the post-Gulf war history of peace processing—the ideas are old, the speeches are hackneyed plagiarisms of themselves, the strategies have always failed, the Arabs still refuse to accept Israel, administration after administration. One of the most common comments I’ve heard journalists make here today is the remark that they’ve all been there, done that when it comes to peace conferences. (Some of these guys are at the half-dozen mark.)

I think that the real significance of the conference, though, has little to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The significance of Annapolis is in what it has revealed about the thinking of the Bush administration, and how it sees itself in the region today. This observation is borne out, I think, in the fact that so much of the criticism of Annapolis, especially from conservatives, has involved an airing of the feeling that the Bush administration has grotesquely betrayed the basic principles to which it committed itself in the war on terror—viz the writings of Andy McCarthy, Bret Stephens, Ralph Peters, David Frum, some guy named John Podhoretz, etc.

Annapolis is really about the Bush administration, not the peace process. It has been Condi’s pet project; she has shuttled to Israel and the Palestinian territories on a monthly basis for almost a year; she has been permitted by President Bush to prioritize a quixotic diplomatic endeavor over and above other crises that by any sensible measure are of far greater concern for the United States—Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Syria and Hizballah, and Pakistan, to name a few. If Condi’s pursuit of the peace process is due to a belief that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is possible and will unlock the forces of moderation and conviviality in the Middle East, then, well, she is simply a fool. If it is because she wishes to add this most elusive accomplishment to her legacy, then she is a narcissist. There is a more legitimate question about the extent to which American leadership in the peace process will earn us favorable treatment from European and Arab states in dealing with Iran, but I am skeptical of that line of thinking—a matter for another post.

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John, those are good points, and I’m largely in agreement with you on the interplay among Israel, America, and the Palestinians. It’s true—there’s going to be a time when the rubber meets the road, when all of the Annapolis rhetoric is tested against the situation on the ground. The same dynamic has controlled the entirety of the post-Gulf war history of peace processing—the ideas are old, the speeches are hackneyed plagiarisms of themselves, the strategies have always failed, the Arabs still refuse to accept Israel, administration after administration. One of the most common comments I’ve heard journalists make here today is the remark that they’ve all been there, done that when it comes to peace conferences. (Some of these guys are at the half-dozen mark.)

I think that the real significance of the conference, though, has little to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The significance of Annapolis is in what it has revealed about the thinking of the Bush administration, and how it sees itself in the region today. This observation is borne out, I think, in the fact that so much of the criticism of Annapolis, especially from conservatives, has involved an airing of the feeling that the Bush administration has grotesquely betrayed the basic principles to which it committed itself in the war on terror—viz the writings of Andy McCarthy, Bret Stephens, Ralph Peters, David Frum, some guy named John Podhoretz, etc.

Annapolis is really about the Bush administration, not the peace process. It has been Condi’s pet project; she has shuttled to Israel and the Palestinian territories on a monthly basis for almost a year; she has been permitted by President Bush to prioritize a quixotic diplomatic endeavor over and above other crises that by any sensible measure are of far greater concern for the United States—Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Syria and Hizballah, and Pakistan, to name a few. If Condi’s pursuit of the peace process is due to a belief that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is possible and will unlock the forces of moderation and conviviality in the Middle East, then, well, she is simply a fool. If it is because she wishes to add this most elusive accomplishment to her legacy, then she is a narcissist. There is a more legitimate question about the extent to which American leadership in the peace process will earn us favorable treatment from European and Arab states in dealing with Iran, but I am skeptical of that line of thinking—a matter for another post.

There is an overall sense that with Annapolis, the administration is conceding the range of false premises on both the region and the conflict, premises that in earlier years the administration itself rejected—the myth of the conflict’s centrality to the Middle East; the myth of linkage, in which peripheral Arab grievances are tethered to Palestinian grievances (hence the invitation to Syria); the push to “engage” with the region’s worst offenders, so long as they are part of the grievance-with-Israel coalition; and overall the assent to the idea that the Arab states are interested in supporting a resolution to the conflict that does not involve Israel’s destruction, or at least its grave enfeeblement. The administration prostrated itself to the Saudis to win their attendance, and the Saudis repaid the favor, in the days before the conference, by releasing 1,500 al Qaeda prisoners and publicly putting the entire onus for resolving the conflict on Israel, and on rigidly Saudi terms. Bush, Rice, and their people have either genuinely bought into all of this rubbish, or they don’t mind appearing as if they have done so, thinking that such a public abnegation will put them in the good graces of Europe and the Arab world.

Either way, I think it’s been a far worse day for America than it has been for Israel.

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“There are differences, of course.”

This week’s Economist, in a long and intelligent piece about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his political fortunes, offers up a rather inflammatory comparison (and an instant retraction):

Yet in both America and Iran, currents of dissent are growing, even inside their administrations. In neither case do the dissenters differ much from their leader’s stated objective: for Iran it is to claim a perceived right to nuclear technology; for America it is to perform an assumed duty to stop Iran making atomic bombs. In both cases, critics lambast their leaders for tactics that may take their countries to war.

In some respects, those leaders are oddly similar. George Bush and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are both deeply religious, referring frequently to God’s guiding hand. Both are idealists rather than pragmatists, and skilled at folksy populism. Both have replaced dozens of competent officials with like-minded conservatives. And both are now considered, by a large slice of their countrymen, to be bungling and dangerous. The difference is that it has taken Mr Ahmadinejad just two years in power to achieve the unpopularity Mr Bush has gained after six.

There are differences, of course. Mr Bush may be accused of curtailing civil liberties in pursuit of his war on terror. But his government does not drag women off the streets for maladjusting hijabs, the obligatory covering of head and shoulders, or jail student activists as dangers to national security or smear political opponents as traitors or muzzle their speech.

The second and third paragraphs quoted are a bit mind-boggling. The wording suggests (at least to me) that dissent in America and Iran is identical in form, nature, and inherent risk; that “like-minded conservative” means the same thing in the context of Iranian politics that it does in American politics; that Bush’s populism is indistinguishable from Ahmadinejad’s. Isn’t it reasonable to say that the essential differences—the fact that George W. Bush, whatever his critics may say, does not preside over a theocratic, totalitarian regime—make the similarities purely superficial? Or even negligible? Puzzling . . .

This week’s Economist, in a long and intelligent piece about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his political fortunes, offers up a rather inflammatory comparison (and an instant retraction):

Yet in both America and Iran, currents of dissent are growing, even inside their administrations. In neither case do the dissenters differ much from their leader’s stated objective: for Iran it is to claim a perceived right to nuclear technology; for America it is to perform an assumed duty to stop Iran making atomic bombs. In both cases, critics lambast their leaders for tactics that may take their countries to war.

In some respects, those leaders are oddly similar. George Bush and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are both deeply religious, referring frequently to God’s guiding hand. Both are idealists rather than pragmatists, and skilled at folksy populism. Both have replaced dozens of competent officials with like-minded conservatives. And both are now considered, by a large slice of their countrymen, to be bungling and dangerous. The difference is that it has taken Mr Ahmadinejad just two years in power to achieve the unpopularity Mr Bush has gained after six.

There are differences, of course. Mr Bush may be accused of curtailing civil liberties in pursuit of his war on terror. But his government does not drag women off the streets for maladjusting hijabs, the obligatory covering of head and shoulders, or jail student activists as dangers to national security or smear political opponents as traitors or muzzle their speech.

The second and third paragraphs quoted are a bit mind-boggling. The wording suggests (at least to me) that dissent in America and Iran is identical in form, nature, and inherent risk; that “like-minded conservative” means the same thing in the context of Iranian politics that it does in American politics; that Bush’s populism is indistinguishable from Ahmadinejad’s. Isn’t it reasonable to say that the essential differences—the fact that George W. Bush, whatever his critics may say, does not preside over a theocratic, totalitarian regime—make the similarities purely superficial? Or even negligible? Puzzling . . .

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Bookshelf

• The last time I had occasion to write about the late, unlamented Edward W. Said in COMMENTARY, I called him “an intellectual thug who poses as a thoughtful, troubled citizen of the world while simultaneously serving as an apologist for Arab terrorism.” Now I find myself confronted with a posthumous collection of his essays on music, most of them originally published in The Nation, and so I suppose you are entitled to take with a stalactite of salt the fact that I didn’t think much of Music at the Limits. Nevertheless, I feel bound by duty to report that Said’s music criticism, next to none of which I had read prior to examining this volume, isn’t very good—though not always for the reasons I’d expected.

Said was, of course, an amateur pianist of what I take to have been considerable seriousness, and when such folk write about music, they not infrequently combine technical understanding with breadth of culture to interesting effect. Thus I was hugely surprised to find that in his capacity as a music critic, he was a merchant of bromides, of which choice specimens can be found by opening Music at the Limits virtually at random. I especially like the clunkingly obvious sentences with which he invariably launches his essays:

Glenn Gould is an exception to almost all the other musical performers in this century.

Pianists retain a remarkable hold on our cultural life.

Reading the brief but intelligent article on festivals in Grove’s Dictionary, you become aware of the deep divergence between premodern music festivals as symbolic rituals connected with religion and agriculture and modern music festivals as commemorations of great composers or as commercial and tourist attractions.

Nearly half a century after his death, Richard Strauss’s role in twentieth-century music remains an unresolved matter.

I have always agreed with Richard Wagner about the Jews.

O.K., I made that last one up. But the first four sentences quoted above really do kick off the first four chapters of Music at the Limits, and there’s plenty more where they came from. How is it possible that the editors of The Nation thought such platitudinous stuff worthy of publication without extensive and ruthless editing? The truth is that Edward Said had next to nothing fresh or individual to say about music, and I can only explain the fact that he was allowed to say what he had to say at such enervating length in so widely admired a publication by the sheer novelty of its having being said by so celebrated a scholar. Alas, that didn’t and doesn’t make it any less boring.

As for the matter of Wagner and the Jews, Said did in fact describe the anti-Semitic views of the composer of Die Meistersinger as “vile” and “despicable,” though he also disapproved of the Israeli ban on public performances of Wagner’s music (no surprise there) and apparently found it impossible to discuss the subject without dragging in the subject of Israeli-Palestinian relations (ditto). He also says pretty much what you’d expect him to say about John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer:

But as you sit there watching this vast work unfold, you need to ask yourself how many times you have seen any substantial work of music or dramatic or literary or pictorial art that actually tries to treat the Palestinians as tragically aggrieved, albeit sometimes criminally intent, people. The answer is never, and you must go on to ask Messrs.-the-nonideological-music-and-culture-critics whether they ever complain about works that are skewed the other way, or whether for instance, in the flood of images and words that assert that Israel is a democracy, any of them note that 2 million Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza have fewer rights than South African blacks had during the worst days of apartheid, and that the paeans and the $77 billion sent to Israel from the United States were keeping the Palestinian people endlessly oppressed?

Whatever else that is or isn’t, it definitely isn’t criticism. Or good writing. Or interesting.

• The last time I had occasion to write about the late, unlamented Edward W. Said in COMMENTARY, I called him “an intellectual thug who poses as a thoughtful, troubled citizen of the world while simultaneously serving as an apologist for Arab terrorism.” Now I find myself confronted with a posthumous collection of his essays on music, most of them originally published in The Nation, and so I suppose you are entitled to take with a stalactite of salt the fact that I didn’t think much of Music at the Limits. Nevertheless, I feel bound by duty to report that Said’s music criticism, next to none of which I had read prior to examining this volume, isn’t very good—though not always for the reasons I’d expected.

Said was, of course, an amateur pianist of what I take to have been considerable seriousness, and when such folk write about music, they not infrequently combine technical understanding with breadth of culture to interesting effect. Thus I was hugely surprised to find that in his capacity as a music critic, he was a merchant of bromides, of which choice specimens can be found by opening Music at the Limits virtually at random. I especially like the clunkingly obvious sentences with which he invariably launches his essays:

Glenn Gould is an exception to almost all the other musical performers in this century.

Pianists retain a remarkable hold on our cultural life.

Reading the brief but intelligent article on festivals in Grove’s Dictionary, you become aware of the deep divergence between premodern music festivals as symbolic rituals connected with religion and agriculture and modern music festivals as commemorations of great composers or as commercial and tourist attractions.

Nearly half a century after his death, Richard Strauss’s role in twentieth-century music remains an unresolved matter.

I have always agreed with Richard Wagner about the Jews.

O.K., I made that last one up. But the first four sentences quoted above really do kick off the first four chapters of Music at the Limits, and there’s plenty more where they came from. How is it possible that the editors of The Nation thought such platitudinous stuff worthy of publication without extensive and ruthless editing? The truth is that Edward Said had next to nothing fresh or individual to say about music, and I can only explain the fact that he was allowed to say what he had to say at such enervating length in so widely admired a publication by the sheer novelty of its having being said by so celebrated a scholar. Alas, that didn’t and doesn’t make it any less boring.

As for the matter of Wagner and the Jews, Said did in fact describe the anti-Semitic views of the composer of Die Meistersinger as “vile” and “despicable,” though he also disapproved of the Israeli ban on public performances of Wagner’s music (no surprise there) and apparently found it impossible to discuss the subject without dragging in the subject of Israeli-Palestinian relations (ditto). He also says pretty much what you’d expect him to say about John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer:

But as you sit there watching this vast work unfold, you need to ask yourself how many times you have seen any substantial work of music or dramatic or literary or pictorial art that actually tries to treat the Palestinians as tragically aggrieved, albeit sometimes criminally intent, people. The answer is never, and you must go on to ask Messrs.-the-nonideological-music-and-culture-critics whether they ever complain about works that are skewed the other way, or whether for instance, in the flood of images and words that assert that Israel is a democracy, any of them note that 2 million Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza have fewer rights than South African blacks had during the worst days of apartheid, and that the paeans and the $77 billion sent to Israel from the United States were keeping the Palestinian people endlessly oppressed?

Whatever else that is or isn’t, it definitely isn’t criticism. Or good writing. Or interesting.

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Suing the UN

Today, Reuters reports that a Dutch court has rejected the UN’s claims of immunity and allowed the families of massacre victims to sue the Netherlands and the global body. In 1995, Bosnian Serbs were able to enter Srebrenica and slaughter approximately 8,000 Muslims. The town had been guarded by Dutch soldiers serving as UN peacekeepers, but they failed to stop the Serb forces from taking control of the enclave. The families allege that the Dutch troops could have prevented the massacre if the UN had provided air support. It appears that senior Dutch officers inside the UN wanted to prevent friendly-fire casualties and so blocked the use of aircraft. Srebrenica is considered the worst atrocity in Europe since the end of World War II.

“The UN has the duty to prevent genocide,” said Marco Gerritsen, lawyer for the families, in a statement. “An appeal to immunity in a case of genocide, as in the Srebrenica drama, is irreconcilable with the UN’s own objectives and its international obligations.”

So if the UN has an obligation to prevent genocide, does it have other responsibilities as well? For instance, has it made a binding commitment to the people of the world to enforce its Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Article 3 states that every person has the right to “liberty.” Article 18 guarantees “freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” Article 21 recognizes “the right to take part in the government of his country.” Why can’t a court just outlaw autocracy on the basis of the Declaration? Personally, I have a hard time justifying the presence of either China or Russia on the Security Council. And why do Cuba and Saudi Arabia sit on the new Human Rights Council?

I am sure that readers of contentions can think of other ways to use judicial mechanisms to make the UN live up to its ideals. And if the organization ultimately proves incapable of doing so, perhaps someone might ask a judge to abolish it.

Today, Reuters reports that a Dutch court has rejected the UN’s claims of immunity and allowed the families of massacre victims to sue the Netherlands and the global body. In 1995, Bosnian Serbs were able to enter Srebrenica and slaughter approximately 8,000 Muslims. The town had been guarded by Dutch soldiers serving as UN peacekeepers, but they failed to stop the Serb forces from taking control of the enclave. The families allege that the Dutch troops could have prevented the massacre if the UN had provided air support. It appears that senior Dutch officers inside the UN wanted to prevent friendly-fire casualties and so blocked the use of aircraft. Srebrenica is considered the worst atrocity in Europe since the end of World War II.

“The UN has the duty to prevent genocide,” said Marco Gerritsen, lawyer for the families, in a statement. “An appeal to immunity in a case of genocide, as in the Srebrenica drama, is irreconcilable with the UN’s own objectives and its international obligations.”

So if the UN has an obligation to prevent genocide, does it have other responsibilities as well? For instance, has it made a binding commitment to the people of the world to enforce its Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Article 3 states that every person has the right to “liberty.” Article 18 guarantees “freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” Article 21 recognizes “the right to take part in the government of his country.” Why can’t a court just outlaw autocracy on the basis of the Declaration? Personally, I have a hard time justifying the presence of either China or Russia on the Security Council. And why do Cuba and Saudi Arabia sit on the new Human Rights Council?

I am sure that readers of contentions can think of other ways to use judicial mechanisms to make the UN live up to its ideals. And if the organization ultimately proves incapable of doing so, perhaps someone might ask a judge to abolish it.

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ANNAPOLIS: Well, Knock Me Down With a Feather

From the New York Times, 1:07 pm:

A Palestinian man was killed in the West Bank city of Hebron on Tuesday as Palestinian Authority police officers loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas fired their weapons to disperse protests against the Middle East peace gathering taking place in Annapolis, Md.

In Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamic group Hamas, huge crowds estimated at over 100,000 came out to protest the Annapolis meeting….A Hamas protester in Gaza, Asma Al-Fayoumi, 17, said: “There is a division among Palestinians. There are those after food, life, those that are materialistic, like Abbas, and there are those like us who are seeking life after death,” she said.

The large turnout in Gaza pleased her. “There are those who still enjoy good conscience,” she said.

From the New York Times, 1:07 pm:

A Palestinian man was killed in the West Bank city of Hebron on Tuesday as Palestinian Authority police officers loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas fired their weapons to disperse protests against the Middle East peace gathering taking place in Annapolis, Md.

In Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamic group Hamas, huge crowds estimated at over 100,000 came out to protest the Annapolis meeting….A Hamas protester in Gaza, Asma Al-Fayoumi, 17, said: “There is a division among Palestinians. There are those after food, life, those that are materialistic, like Abbas, and there are those like us who are seeking life after death,” she said.

The large turnout in Gaza pleased her. “There are those who still enjoy good conscience,” she said.

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ANNAPOLIS Re Re: Monitoring and Judging

Noah, there is one reason to feel relief about the goings-on at Annapolis so far, and that is this: The negotiations in question are between Israel and the PA, with the United States serving as some kind of road-map referee. In his statement, George W. Bush did not change American policy one iota. It is not the responsibility of the United States government if the prime minister of Israel decides to start talking about the 1967 borders, and it would be foolish to expect any American administration to be more hard-line toward Palestinian demands for land and territory and borders than the government of Israel. The issue now is: What kind of pressure will the Israeli public exert on Olmert to temper his peculiar enthusiasm? Or will it be pressure of another kind that slows things down — pressure from Hamas, in the form of rockets hurled at Israel from Gaza and fomenting more strife in the Abbas-controlled lands of the West Bank?

Noah, there is one reason to feel relief about the goings-on at Annapolis so far, and that is this: The negotiations in question are between Israel and the PA, with the United States serving as some kind of road-map referee. In his statement, George W. Bush did not change American policy one iota. It is not the responsibility of the United States government if the prime minister of Israel decides to start talking about the 1967 borders, and it would be foolish to expect any American administration to be more hard-line toward Palestinian demands for land and territory and borders than the government of Israel. The issue now is: What kind of pressure will the Israeli public exert on Olmert to temper his peculiar enthusiasm? Or will it be pressure of another kind that slows things down — pressure from Hamas, in the form of rockets hurled at Israel from Gaza and fomenting more strife in the Abbas-controlled lands of the West Bank?

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ANNAPOLIS Re: monitoring and judging

John, I’m certainly with you on the question of who is best suited to monitor and judge Roadmap compliance—there’s no question that the U.S. would be better than the EU or UN. The problem that many people foresee is the risk of an ostensibly objective monitoring and judging project being held captive to a set of bureaucratic and political interests that are unrelated to the task of assessing compliance. The Bush administration, and especially Condi Rice and the State Department, have a great deal invested in the appearance of the success of the peace process. In 2003, at the height of the intifada when the Roadmap was inaugurated, the U.S.-approved Palestinian leadership was uninterested in and incapable of even beginning to thwart terror attacks. Today, after years of lavish American funding for the training and equipping of PA security forces, Abbas has yet to show any kind of sustained competence in policing his territory or dealing with radicals. The “elite” Fatah security forces that U.S. General Keith Dayton has been responsible for training were routed in six days by a smaller number of Hamas goons in Gaza. We’ve had better luck training the Iraqi army.

Today, unlike in 2003, Bush has convened a large peace conference and thrown his weight behind a peace process that has rather high pretensions, and as part of all this he has staked an ample amount of his credibility on Abbas being able to get the job done. When Abbas is unable to do so, and when Israel is forced to maintain its security presence in the West Bank, is the American judgment really going to be that, after all of our money, diplomatic attention, speeches, and conferences, after all the political legitimacy we’ve attempted to foist upon Abbas, he got us nowhere? Who knows, maybe that will be the assessment — but it will mean, in stark terms, that the entire peace process has been a sham, a negotiation with a nobody. It would be an assessment that would take a great deal of political and diplomatic courage to make, and would upset a large number of European and Arab governments. If, for example, certain factions of the State Department are put in charge of “monitoring and judging,” I highly doubt that such a judgment would be forthcoming. And that is serious cause for concern.

John, I’m certainly with you on the question of who is best suited to monitor and judge Roadmap compliance—there’s no question that the U.S. would be better than the EU or UN. The problem that many people foresee is the risk of an ostensibly objective monitoring and judging project being held captive to a set of bureaucratic and political interests that are unrelated to the task of assessing compliance. The Bush administration, and especially Condi Rice and the State Department, have a great deal invested in the appearance of the success of the peace process. In 2003, at the height of the intifada when the Roadmap was inaugurated, the U.S.-approved Palestinian leadership was uninterested in and incapable of even beginning to thwart terror attacks. Today, after years of lavish American funding for the training and equipping of PA security forces, Abbas has yet to show any kind of sustained competence in policing his territory or dealing with radicals. The “elite” Fatah security forces that U.S. General Keith Dayton has been responsible for training were routed in six days by a smaller number of Hamas goons in Gaza. We’ve had better luck training the Iraqi army.

Today, unlike in 2003, Bush has convened a large peace conference and thrown his weight behind a peace process that has rather high pretensions, and as part of all this he has staked an ample amount of his credibility on Abbas being able to get the job done. When Abbas is unable to do so, and when Israel is forced to maintain its security presence in the West Bank, is the American judgment really going to be that, after all of our money, diplomatic attention, speeches, and conferences, after all the political legitimacy we’ve attempted to foist upon Abbas, he got us nowhere? Who knows, maybe that will be the assessment — but it will mean, in stark terms, that the entire peace process has been a sham, a negotiation with a nobody. It would be an assessment that would take a great deal of political and diplomatic courage to make, and would upset a large number of European and Arab governments. If, for example, certain factions of the State Department are put in charge of “monitoring and judging,” I highly doubt that such a judgment would be forthcoming. And that is serious cause for concern.

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ANNAPOLIS: Olmert concedes

Presidents Bush and Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert have just finished giving their speeches here in Annapolis, and while Bush and Abbas said little of importance, Olmert broke new ground—and not, alas, in a good way. The money quote from his speech was:

The negotiations between us will not be here in Annapolis, but rather in our home and in yours. It will be bilateral, direct, ongoing, and continuous, in an effort to complete it during the course of 2008.

It will address all the issues that have thus far been evaded. We will do it directly, openly, and courageously. We will not avoid any subject, we will deal with all the core issues. I have no doubt that the reality created in our region in 1967 will change significantly. [Emphasis added] While this will be an extremely difficult process for many of us, it is nevertheless inevitable. I know it. Many of my people know it. We are ready for it.

Presidents Bush and Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert have just finished giving their speeches here in Annapolis, and while Bush and Abbas said little of importance, Olmert broke new ground—and not, alas, in a good way. The money quote from his speech was:

The negotiations between us will not be here in Annapolis, but rather in our home and in yours. It will be bilateral, direct, ongoing, and continuous, in an effort to complete it during the course of 2008.

It will address all the issues that have thus far been evaded. We will do it directly, openly, and courageously. We will not avoid any subject, we will deal with all the core issues. I have no doubt that the reality created in our region in 1967 will change significantly. [Emphasis added] While this will be an extremely difficult process for many of us, it is nevertheless inevitable. I know it. Many of my people know it. We are ready for it.

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