Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 10, 2007

Hamas at the Hajj

There is a story that went unnoticed in the furor over the NIE last week, a story that also contains elements of deception and perfidy. This one reveals where two of America’s key Arab allies stand when it comes to the peace process.

The Palestinian Authority had made a special arrangement with Israel to allow 2,000 Palestinians to leave Gaza in order to make the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. These Gazans were to leave Israel by way of the Kerem Shalom crossing in Gaza and the Allenby Bridge crossing in the West Bank, their PA-organized travel meant to show the residents of Gaza that Mahmoud Abbas can make things happen for them — in contrast to Hamas. But Cairo and Riyadh had made their own special arrangement with Hamas.

The Egyptians allowed 700 Palestinians on Monday and 1,300 on Tuesday to cross the border into Sinai, where buses were waiting to take them to Saudi Arabia.

“The Egyptians stabbed us in the back,” a senior PA official said. It turned out that the move had been coordinated with the Hamas government and Saudi Arabia. The Saudi embassy in Cairo swiftly processed the Gaza pilgrims’ visa applications sent by the Hamas government, while the Saudi embassy in Amman held up all the visa applications sent by the PA, even those of West Bank pilgrims. The PA, which had invested huge efforts in organizing the pilgrims’ trip to Saudi Arabia in a bid to improve President Mahmoud Abbas’ status in the Gaza Strip, was enraged by Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s conduct.

Not a very nice thing to do to the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Not a very nice thing to do to Condi Rice and the peace process, either. So why did these two countries pull such a petty and antagonistic stunt?

The Egyptians have been worried since the summer that Israel and America will succeed in isolating Gaza, and that Israel would thereby be able to accomplish the total severance of contact between the two territories. Since only Israel and Egypt share a border with Gaza, if Israel manages to get itself off the hook for providing fuel, electricity, water, and the like to Gaza, then these will become Egyptian responsibilities — and Gaza will have been turned into largely an Egyptian, instead of Israeli, problem.

Obviously, the Egyptians want none of this, which is why they’ve become so remarkably unable to stop the proliferation of smuggling tunnels underneath the Egypt-Gaza border, a subterranean network that allows Hamas terrorists to train in Iran, import explosives and rockets, and thereby ensure that Gaza will indeed remain Israel’s problem. So the Egyptians showed up in Annapolis, smiled wryly, winked at the Saudi foreign minister, and returned home to continue doing their part to keep Hamas in the picture and to make Abbas look foolish (which is never very hard).

What are the Saudis up to? It seems plain to me that the Saudis have never been on board with the idea of isolating Hamas. Recall that the Saudis hosted the leaders of Hamas and Fatah in Mecca early this year to encourage the formation of a national unity government. This obviously was a colossal failure, as a few months later Hamas showed the Saudis what it thought of reconciliation by instigating its six-day gangster takeover of Gaza. But the Saudis remain undeterred, and this weekend hosted Hamas’s Damascus-based leader, Khaled Meshal, once again for national-unity talks. The Saudis continue to encourage the political currency of Hamas because they wish to prevent the group from completely casting its lot in with Iran, and also because they see the Hamas-Fatah fight as a needless distraction from the more important, and beneficial, Palestinian fight against Israel. And now they have been joined by Egypt.

None of this is to suggest that the Abbas government, even with Saudi and Egyptian support, would be able to accomplish much more than the mau-mauing of a few more billions from western governments and the UN. But the hajj scandal does go a long way to illustrate the extent to which America’s Arab allies, which Annapolis was largely convened to cajole into the peace process, care little for America’s strategy, or for the peace process itself. Secretary Rice, of course, has been silent on the matter, lest it be revealed as another embarrassing demonstration of the flawed thinking behind Annapolis, and indeed of the improbability of her larger revitalization of the peace process.

There is a story that went unnoticed in the furor over the NIE last week, a story that also contains elements of deception and perfidy. This one reveals where two of America’s key Arab allies stand when it comes to the peace process.

The Palestinian Authority had made a special arrangement with Israel to allow 2,000 Palestinians to leave Gaza in order to make the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. These Gazans were to leave Israel by way of the Kerem Shalom crossing in Gaza and the Allenby Bridge crossing in the West Bank, their PA-organized travel meant to show the residents of Gaza that Mahmoud Abbas can make things happen for them — in contrast to Hamas. But Cairo and Riyadh had made their own special arrangement with Hamas.

The Egyptians allowed 700 Palestinians on Monday and 1,300 on Tuesday to cross the border into Sinai, where buses were waiting to take them to Saudi Arabia.

“The Egyptians stabbed us in the back,” a senior PA official said. It turned out that the move had been coordinated with the Hamas government and Saudi Arabia. The Saudi embassy in Cairo swiftly processed the Gaza pilgrims’ visa applications sent by the Hamas government, while the Saudi embassy in Amman held up all the visa applications sent by the PA, even those of West Bank pilgrims. The PA, which had invested huge efforts in organizing the pilgrims’ trip to Saudi Arabia in a bid to improve President Mahmoud Abbas’ status in the Gaza Strip, was enraged by Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s conduct.

Not a very nice thing to do to the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Not a very nice thing to do to Condi Rice and the peace process, either. So why did these two countries pull such a petty and antagonistic stunt?

The Egyptians have been worried since the summer that Israel and America will succeed in isolating Gaza, and that Israel would thereby be able to accomplish the total severance of contact between the two territories. Since only Israel and Egypt share a border with Gaza, if Israel manages to get itself off the hook for providing fuel, electricity, water, and the like to Gaza, then these will become Egyptian responsibilities — and Gaza will have been turned into largely an Egyptian, instead of Israeli, problem.

Obviously, the Egyptians want none of this, which is why they’ve become so remarkably unable to stop the proliferation of smuggling tunnels underneath the Egypt-Gaza border, a subterranean network that allows Hamas terrorists to train in Iran, import explosives and rockets, and thereby ensure that Gaza will indeed remain Israel’s problem. So the Egyptians showed up in Annapolis, smiled wryly, winked at the Saudi foreign minister, and returned home to continue doing their part to keep Hamas in the picture and to make Abbas look foolish (which is never very hard).

What are the Saudis up to? It seems plain to me that the Saudis have never been on board with the idea of isolating Hamas. Recall that the Saudis hosted the leaders of Hamas and Fatah in Mecca early this year to encourage the formation of a national unity government. This obviously was a colossal failure, as a few months later Hamas showed the Saudis what it thought of reconciliation by instigating its six-day gangster takeover of Gaza. But the Saudis remain undeterred, and this weekend hosted Hamas’s Damascus-based leader, Khaled Meshal, once again for national-unity talks. The Saudis continue to encourage the political currency of Hamas because they wish to prevent the group from completely casting its lot in with Iran, and also because they see the Hamas-Fatah fight as a needless distraction from the more important, and beneficial, Palestinian fight against Israel. And now they have been joined by Egypt.

None of this is to suggest that the Abbas government, even with Saudi and Egyptian support, would be able to accomplish much more than the mau-mauing of a few more billions from western governments and the UN. But the hajj scandal does go a long way to illustrate the extent to which America’s Arab allies, which Annapolis was largely convened to cajole into the peace process, care little for America’s strategy, or for the peace process itself. Secretary Rice, of course, has been silent on the matter, lest it be revealed as another embarrassing demonstration of the flawed thinking behind Annapolis, and indeed of the improbability of her larger revitalization of the peace process.

Read Less

Huckabee and Not-Huckabee

Mike Huckabee is the first serious Christian identity-politics presidential candidate. He is not running as the only hard-line pro-lifer, though he probably is the only one. He is not running as the most conservative candidate, which, at least on the issues of taxes and foreign policy, he certainly is not. He is running, most prominently, as an evangelical Christian and structuring his appeal to those who share his beliefs. His meta-message: I am one of you. The Mormon from Massachusetts is not. The New York Catholic with the messy private life is not. The sleepy television star is not. I am your brother.

The Christian base of the Republican party is unquestionably important. It may make up as much as 35 percent of the primary vote. If Huckabee wins a landslide majority of evangelical votes nationwide, say 65 percent, he will have in his pocket one-fifth of the Republicans participating in the primaries. That’s a very significant number in a populous and divided field.

But here’s the thing: It’s not enough. The Huckabee math leaves another 80 percent of Republican voters up for grabs to choose between Giuliani, Romney, Thompson and McCain. Assume that a huge defeat in Iowa for Thompson causes him to withdraw from the race, which is a safe assumption. That leaves three candidates contending for the non-Huckabee vote. If they were to divide that vote evenly (which won’t happen, but it’s worth thinking of it this way), they would each receive 26.5 percent of the overall vote, and would do so, moreover, in populous states where there are a lot more delegates to be had.

The problem Huckabee faces as he moves into the first tier is that, aside from his very pleasing demeanor, he is not giving any other kind of Republican — a national-security Republican, a small-government Republican, a low-taxes Republican — any reason whatever to vote for him. Everyone understands you can’t win without the base. But the obsession with winning the base can blind some people to this basic fact: A man cannot win by base alone.

Mike Huckabee is the first serious Christian identity-politics presidential candidate. He is not running as the only hard-line pro-lifer, though he probably is the only one. He is not running as the most conservative candidate, which, at least on the issues of taxes and foreign policy, he certainly is not. He is running, most prominently, as an evangelical Christian and structuring his appeal to those who share his beliefs. His meta-message: I am one of you. The Mormon from Massachusetts is not. The New York Catholic with the messy private life is not. The sleepy television star is not. I am your brother.

The Christian base of the Republican party is unquestionably important. It may make up as much as 35 percent of the primary vote. If Huckabee wins a landslide majority of evangelical votes nationwide, say 65 percent, he will have in his pocket one-fifth of the Republicans participating in the primaries. That’s a very significant number in a populous and divided field.

But here’s the thing: It’s not enough. The Huckabee math leaves another 80 percent of Republican voters up for grabs to choose between Giuliani, Romney, Thompson and McCain. Assume that a huge defeat in Iowa for Thompson causes him to withdraw from the race, which is a safe assumption. That leaves three candidates contending for the non-Huckabee vote. If they were to divide that vote evenly (which won’t happen, but it’s worth thinking of it this way), they would each receive 26.5 percent of the overall vote, and would do so, moreover, in populous states where there are a lot more delegates to be had.

The problem Huckabee faces as he moves into the first tier is that, aside from his very pleasing demeanor, he is not giving any other kind of Republican — a national-security Republican, a small-government Republican, a low-taxes Republican — any reason whatever to vote for him. Everyone understands you can’t win without the base. But the obsession with winning the base can blind some people to this basic fact: A man cannot win by base alone.

Read Less

Spillover

Whatever the reason for the Chinese refusal to let nine U.S. Navy ships dock in Hong Kong, one casualty of the “misunderstanding” has been U.S. credibility in Asia. Nations throughout the region watched the events closely, not least of all because the U.S. Navy, and the Kitty Hawk in particular, is the most visible symbol of America’s commitment to stability in the Pacific.

A number of my Asia-wonk acquaintances in Washington have expressed their concern that Washington is sending a signal of weakness by making no response to the Chinese provocations (sailing the fleet back through the Taiwan Straits doesn’t quite cut it)—even canceling some meetings would have been seen as something. Most concerning to them is that this seems to be part of a trend, as Washington has let go by in virtual silence the Chinese anti-satellite test in January, the surfacing of a Chinese sub near the Kitty Hawk earlier this year, and reports of Chinese hacking into Pentagon computers, all in the context of a massive Chinese military buildup this decade.

The White House may not want to roil the waters, so to speak, with China, and thinks that quiet diplomacy is the way to nudge the Chinese back to acceptable behavior. But our Asian allies see it at least partly in a different light. They worry that the U.S. is allowing China unilaterally to change the norms of accepted maritime behavior in the region, and since all of them depend on sea lanes of communication for their survival, any indication that the U.S. is losing its will is of potentially major strategic concern. It is of less interest to them whether the incidents arose from a clear Chinese policy or miscommunication between the PLA military and the political leadership in Beijing. Their focus was on our response, or lack thereof.

How many more “misunderstandings” have to occur before nations in the region consider it in their interests to begin thinking about band-wagoning with China? Push some knowledgeable people here in D.C. a bit and the response is unsettling.

Whatever the reason for the Chinese refusal to let nine U.S. Navy ships dock in Hong Kong, one casualty of the “misunderstanding” has been U.S. credibility in Asia. Nations throughout the region watched the events closely, not least of all because the U.S. Navy, and the Kitty Hawk in particular, is the most visible symbol of America’s commitment to stability in the Pacific.

A number of my Asia-wonk acquaintances in Washington have expressed their concern that Washington is sending a signal of weakness by making no response to the Chinese provocations (sailing the fleet back through the Taiwan Straits doesn’t quite cut it)—even canceling some meetings would have been seen as something. Most concerning to them is that this seems to be part of a trend, as Washington has let go by in virtual silence the Chinese anti-satellite test in January, the surfacing of a Chinese sub near the Kitty Hawk earlier this year, and reports of Chinese hacking into Pentagon computers, all in the context of a massive Chinese military buildup this decade.

The White House may not want to roil the waters, so to speak, with China, and thinks that quiet diplomacy is the way to nudge the Chinese back to acceptable behavior. But our Asian allies see it at least partly in a different light. They worry that the U.S. is allowing China unilaterally to change the norms of accepted maritime behavior in the region, and since all of them depend on sea lanes of communication for their survival, any indication that the U.S. is losing its will is of potentially major strategic concern. It is of less interest to them whether the incidents arose from a clear Chinese policy or miscommunication between the PLA military and the political leadership in Beijing. Their focus was on our response, or lack thereof.

How many more “misunderstandings” have to occur before nations in the region consider it in their interests to begin thinking about band-wagoning with China? Push some knowledgeable people here in D.C. a bit and the response is unsettling.

Read Less

This Year in Democracy

December 10 is as good a date as any to review democracy’s progress in 2007. Michael Barone does just that in today’s New York Sun and finds that “the world looks, safer, friendlier, more hopeful” than it did a year ago.

His tripartite assessment is solely predicated on recent developments in Iraq, Iran, and Venezuela. While I concur with Barone’s overall judgment that 2007 was a good year for the U.S. and its global democratizing influence, I’d offer a few additions and criticisms to his finer points.

He asserts that if the NIE is right then the Iraq invasion is the cause of Iran’s halted nuclear weapons program. I agree wholeheartedly, but I’m skeptical enough of the NIE to leave Iranian matters well off the plus side of the ledger for now.

As for Venezuela, I think the popular rejection of Hugo Chavez’s power grab is a critical evolutionary step in Latin American self determination, but as this must-read in the Wall Street Journal makes clear, Chavez’s “for now” is a most ominous stopgap. Barone’s exclusion of recent news from Russia and Pakistan is conspicuous. Putin’s United Russia party has ratcheted up the tyrannical tendencies that caused the human rights group Freedom House to downgrade Russia’s status from “partly free” to “unfree” in 2006. Musharraf’s asterisked martial law feels more and more like democracy on indefinite hold.

However, I think the turnaround in Iraq is so extraordinary as to outweigh those last two examples. There’s just no way to overemphasize the importance of an emerging consensually governed state in the heart of Mesopotamia. The outgrowth from a democratic Iraq could make next year’s assessment exponentially more impressive.

December 10 is as good a date as any to review democracy’s progress in 2007. Michael Barone does just that in today’s New York Sun and finds that “the world looks, safer, friendlier, more hopeful” than it did a year ago.

His tripartite assessment is solely predicated on recent developments in Iraq, Iran, and Venezuela. While I concur with Barone’s overall judgment that 2007 was a good year for the U.S. and its global democratizing influence, I’d offer a few additions and criticisms to his finer points.

He asserts that if the NIE is right then the Iraq invasion is the cause of Iran’s halted nuclear weapons program. I agree wholeheartedly, but I’m skeptical enough of the NIE to leave Iranian matters well off the plus side of the ledger for now.

As for Venezuela, I think the popular rejection of Hugo Chavez’s power grab is a critical evolutionary step in Latin American self determination, but as this must-read in the Wall Street Journal makes clear, Chavez’s “for now” is a most ominous stopgap. Barone’s exclusion of recent news from Russia and Pakistan is conspicuous. Putin’s United Russia party has ratcheted up the tyrannical tendencies that caused the human rights group Freedom House to downgrade Russia’s status from “partly free” to “unfree” in 2006. Musharraf’s asterisked martial law feels more and more like democracy on indefinite hold.

However, I think the turnaround in Iraq is so extraordinary as to outweigh those last two examples. There’s just no way to overemphasize the importance of an emerging consensually governed state in the heart of Mesopotamia. The outgrowth from a democratic Iraq could make next year’s assessment exponentially more impressive.

Read Less

Graham Goes to China

Earlier this month, the Reverend Franklin Graham, son of Billy, wrapped up the Hong Kong Franklin Graham Festival, his largest evangelistic event. Over the course of four days he preached to 423,335 people in Hong Kong and Macau. The two cities are special administrative regions on the southern periphery of the People’s Republic of China.

“I feel as though I am an ambassador for Christ, to bring this wonderful message to this part of the world,” Graham said. The famous preacher was undoubtedly happy that 33,464 souls accepted Jesus in his presence, yet he had a higher calling in mind. As he noted, “We pray that God will open up other doors.”

Which other doors, we might ask? Graham said he will go to Beijing in May to see if he can stage one of his extravaganzas on the mainland. “When I look at China and there’s a billion people and God loves each and every one of them; that is a wonderful truth and that is a great message that we are here to share with this city and this great nation,” he said. China, with a rapidly aging population, is religion’s most fertile ground today.

Read More

Earlier this month, the Reverend Franklin Graham, son of Billy, wrapped up the Hong Kong Franklin Graham Festival, his largest evangelistic event. Over the course of four days he preached to 423,335 people in Hong Kong and Macau. The two cities are special administrative regions on the southern periphery of the People’s Republic of China.

“I feel as though I am an ambassador for Christ, to bring this wonderful message to this part of the world,” Graham said. The famous preacher was undoubtedly happy that 33,464 souls accepted Jesus in his presence, yet he had a higher calling in mind. As he noted, “We pray that God will open up other doors.”

Which other doors, we might ask? Graham said he will go to Beijing in May to see if he can stage one of his extravaganzas on the mainland. “When I look at China and there’s a billion people and God loves each and every one of them; that is a wonderful truth and that is a great message that we are here to share with this city and this great nation,” he said. China, with a rapidly aging population, is religion’s most fertile ground today.

He’ll need God’s help to accomplish this. So far, the Chinese central government, which is officially atheistic and deeply hostile to religion, has confined prayer meetings to churches and prohibited the mass gatherings that Graham has in mind. Billy’s son should be glad that he is at least getting an audience with China’s Communist leaders. Those leaders have persecuted and tortured Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetans, Muslims, and Christians of all denominations.

Officially, Beijing says it guarantees freedom of religion, but it tolerates only seven “patriotic” religious organizations run by the state, and it has carried on long-running disputes with religious figures such as the Dalai Lama and the last six popes. An untold number of Chinese have died because they prayed in the way they chose.

Five mainland officials attended the Hong Kong event at Graham’s invitation, and due to his family’s long-standing connections to China—his mother was born there, for instance—he has a better chance than most of being able to stage some sort of event. Yet the Communist Party is an insecure mass organization that has lost the loyalty of most of its people and will not tolerate any organization it does not control. It will not allow a charismatic reverend to convert millions of Chinese at one time. Among other things, that would be too embarrassing.

Read Less

The House That Bashar Built

It has been widely speculated that the structure in northern Syria attacked by Israel’s Air Force ten weeks ago was a fledgling nuclear reactor, along the lines of the one operating in North Korea. Now Professor Uzi Even, a senior chemist at Tel Aviv University, with a background in nuclear research, has come to challenge that theory. His challenge is based on a number of factors, most notably that if the structure were a reactor, it would be so far away from completion (no cooling towers yet, for example) as to call into question the need for an Israeli strike. His views are aired in a Haaretz op-ed by Yossi Melman.

Instead, Even proposes that the structure was something far more ominous: A processing plant for plutonium, for the purpose of creating a bomb. In other words, instead of needing a plant to make plutonium, they already may have it. Speculation? Perhaps. But it may explain the extreme veil of secrecy that both the Bush administration and the Israeli government continue to place over the entire affair. Melman quotes U.S. Representatives Peter Hoekstra and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, respectively the senior Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the senior Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as being troubled by the fact that the administration

has thrown an unprecedented veil of secrecy around the Israeli air strike. It has briefed only a handful of very senior members of Congress, leaving the vast majority of foreign relations and intelligence committee members in the dark. We are among the very few who were briefed, but we have been sworn to secrecy on this matter.

From what my own friends tell me of the Israeli strike, this was one of the most impressive and complex Israeli operations in decades. Whether it was a reactor or a plutonium processing plant, the West may owe Israel an even greater debt than it did with the Osiraq strike in 1981—which kept Saddam from getting the bomb. So can we please stop “engaging” Syria now?

It has been widely speculated that the structure in northern Syria attacked by Israel’s Air Force ten weeks ago was a fledgling nuclear reactor, along the lines of the one operating in North Korea. Now Professor Uzi Even, a senior chemist at Tel Aviv University, with a background in nuclear research, has come to challenge that theory. His challenge is based on a number of factors, most notably that if the structure were a reactor, it would be so far away from completion (no cooling towers yet, for example) as to call into question the need for an Israeli strike. His views are aired in a Haaretz op-ed by Yossi Melman.

Instead, Even proposes that the structure was something far more ominous: A processing plant for plutonium, for the purpose of creating a bomb. In other words, instead of needing a plant to make plutonium, they already may have it. Speculation? Perhaps. But it may explain the extreme veil of secrecy that both the Bush administration and the Israeli government continue to place over the entire affair. Melman quotes U.S. Representatives Peter Hoekstra and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, respectively the senior Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the senior Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as being troubled by the fact that the administration

has thrown an unprecedented veil of secrecy around the Israeli air strike. It has briefed only a handful of very senior members of Congress, leaving the vast majority of foreign relations and intelligence committee members in the dark. We are among the very few who were briefed, but we have been sworn to secrecy on this matter.

From what my own friends tell me of the Israeli strike, this was one of the most impressive and complex Israeli operations in decades. Whether it was a reactor or a plutonium processing plant, the West may owe Israel an even greater debt than it did with the Osiraq strike in 1981—which kept Saddam from getting the bomb. So can we please stop “engaging” Syria now?

Read Less

The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave?

It’s official: the trip that Benjamin Ivry deemed “likely” to happen on this blog in October will indeed go forward. This coming February, the New York Philharmonic will visit North Korea.

About the trip to the land of Kim Jong Il, the New York Times reports U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill’s commenting, “‘I hope it will be looked back upon as an event that helped bring that country back into the world.’” Yet, as horizon blogger Terry Teachout, himself quoted in today’s Times article, noted in an October opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal,

What would you have thought if Franklin Roosevelt had encouraged the Philharmonic to accept an official invitation to play in Berlin in the spring of 1939? Do you think such a concert would have softened the hearts of the Nazis, any more than Jesse Owens’s victories in the 1936 Olympics changed their minds about racial equality? Or inspired the German people to rise up and revolt against Adolf Hilter? Or saved a single Jewish life?

Only at the end of today’s article does the Times reporter mention that “Some questions have been raised about the appropriateness of visiting a country run by one of the world’s most repressive governments”—a regime that has starved millions of its own people.

The formal announcement of the New York Phil’s trip will take place tomorrow at Avery Fisher Hall, when more details about the visit will be revealed. What we do already know is that the Philharmonic sought pre-conditions relating to the trip and that these conditions have been met. Among them: “that the orchestra could play The Star-Spangled Banner.” The Philharmonic should consider whether it’s brave to entertain a land that isn’t free.

It’s official: the trip that Benjamin Ivry deemed “likely” to happen on this blog in October will indeed go forward. This coming February, the New York Philharmonic will visit North Korea.

About the trip to the land of Kim Jong Il, the New York Times reports U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill’s commenting, “‘I hope it will be looked back upon as an event that helped bring that country back into the world.’” Yet, as horizon blogger Terry Teachout, himself quoted in today’s Times article, noted in an October opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal,

What would you have thought if Franklin Roosevelt had encouraged the Philharmonic to accept an official invitation to play in Berlin in the spring of 1939? Do you think such a concert would have softened the hearts of the Nazis, any more than Jesse Owens’s victories in the 1936 Olympics changed their minds about racial equality? Or inspired the German people to rise up and revolt against Adolf Hilter? Or saved a single Jewish life?

Only at the end of today’s article does the Times reporter mention that “Some questions have been raised about the appropriateness of visiting a country run by one of the world’s most repressive governments”—a regime that has starved millions of its own people.

The formal announcement of the New York Phil’s trip will take place tomorrow at Avery Fisher Hall, when more details about the visit will be revealed. What we do already know is that the Philharmonic sought pre-conditions relating to the trip and that these conditions have been met. Among them: “that the orchestra could play The Star-Spangled Banner.” The Philharmonic should consider whether it’s brave to entertain a land that isn’t free.

Read Less

George Washington on the CIA’s Torture Tapes

First came the deeply flawed summary of the Iran NIE. The more we learn about this document, the more it is becoming apparent that leaks and the fear of leaks are what drove the decision to make it public.

Then came news of the destruction of the CIA “torture videos,” showing the interrogations of ranking members of al Qaeda. CIA director Michael Hayden made public the information that the videos had been destroyed because he expected possible “misinterpretations of the facts in the days ahead.” In other words, he expected that news of the destruction of the videos was on the verge of being leaked.

Now that the information is on the public record, the CIA is under investigation, its leading counterterrorism operatives may face criminal charges, and the agency’s efforts to apprehend and interrogate determined enemies of the United have been thrust into disarray.

We are in the midst of a war in which intelligence is the crucial front. But much of what the U.S. government tries to do in the realm of secret intelligence is rapidly made un-secret. And much of what it contemplates doing it cannot do because of fear that its plans will be leaked.

Does it make sense to have what is supposed to be a clandestine intelligence agency like the CIA operating transparently, its sources and methods and secrets bare to the world? “Upon secrecy, success depends in most enterprises,” George Washington said two-hundred some years ago, “and for want of it, they are generally defeated.”

Are we setting ourselves up for defeat? What can be done about damaging leaks? Connecting the Dots has made some suggestions, but they have not been acted upon and there is no sign that they will be — or that anything (aside from the spectacles of the AIPAC and Scooter Libby prosecutions) is even being contemplated. When disaster strikes next, it will be too late.

First came the deeply flawed summary of the Iran NIE. The more we learn about this document, the more it is becoming apparent that leaks and the fear of leaks are what drove the decision to make it public.

Then came news of the destruction of the CIA “torture videos,” showing the interrogations of ranking members of al Qaeda. CIA director Michael Hayden made public the information that the videos had been destroyed because he expected possible “misinterpretations of the facts in the days ahead.” In other words, he expected that news of the destruction of the videos was on the verge of being leaked.

Now that the information is on the public record, the CIA is under investigation, its leading counterterrorism operatives may face criminal charges, and the agency’s efforts to apprehend and interrogate determined enemies of the United have been thrust into disarray.

We are in the midst of a war in which intelligence is the crucial front. But much of what the U.S. government tries to do in the realm of secret intelligence is rapidly made un-secret. And much of what it contemplates doing it cannot do because of fear that its plans will be leaked.

Does it make sense to have what is supposed to be a clandestine intelligence agency like the CIA operating transparently, its sources and methods and secrets bare to the world? “Upon secrecy, success depends in most enterprises,” George Washington said two-hundred some years ago, “and for want of it, they are generally defeated.”

Are we setting ourselves up for defeat? What can be done about damaging leaks? Connecting the Dots has made some suggestions, but they have not been acted upon and there is no sign that they will be — or that anything (aside from the spectacles of the AIPAC and Scooter Libby prosecutions) is even being contemplated. When disaster strikes next, it will be too late.

Read Less

Peacekeeping in Iraq

My Council on Foreign Relations colleague Stephen Biddle makes an excellent point in this Washington Post article. He cautions against concluding that, because American forces have had greater success recently in pacifying Iraq, they can be pulled out with impunity.

At best, as Steve notes, Iraqis will observe a fragile truce in the years ahead. Even if terrorism continues to fall, distrust among the various sectarian and ethnic groups will continue to run high. In such a situation, maintaining the peace requires the presence of a trusted outside force that can be seen as a neutral arbiter of intercommunal disputes and protector of each side against the other.

In Bosnia and Kosovo, that role has been played since 1995 and 1999, respectively, by NATO forces. In Iraq, there is scant prospect of other countries dispatching peacekeeping forces, at least not until the situation becomes a lot less violent than it is even today. Many of our remaining allies (the Poles, Brits, and Australians) are already pulling their forces out. That leaves the U.S. military as the only possible long-term peacekeeping force.

“The troop counts normally sought for peacekeeping are not much lower than those for counterinsurgency war fighting, at least in the early years, and a meaningful outside presence can be needed for a generation,” Biddle writes.

He’s right. And it would be a good thing if President Bush, the various presidential candidates, and Congressional leaders started talking more publicly about the need for this kind of generational commitment. As Steve notes, “If we are not prepared to stay in large numbers for a long time, the gains of recent months could easily be reversed.”

My Council on Foreign Relations colleague Stephen Biddle makes an excellent point in this Washington Post article. He cautions against concluding that, because American forces have had greater success recently in pacifying Iraq, they can be pulled out with impunity.

At best, as Steve notes, Iraqis will observe a fragile truce in the years ahead. Even if terrorism continues to fall, distrust among the various sectarian and ethnic groups will continue to run high. In such a situation, maintaining the peace requires the presence of a trusted outside force that can be seen as a neutral arbiter of intercommunal disputes and protector of each side against the other.

In Bosnia and Kosovo, that role has been played since 1995 and 1999, respectively, by NATO forces. In Iraq, there is scant prospect of other countries dispatching peacekeeping forces, at least not until the situation becomes a lot less violent than it is even today. Many of our remaining allies (the Poles, Brits, and Australians) are already pulling their forces out. That leaves the U.S. military as the only possible long-term peacekeeping force.

“The troop counts normally sought for peacekeeping are not much lower than those for counterinsurgency war fighting, at least in the early years, and a meaningful outside presence can be needed for a generation,” Biddle writes.

He’s right. And it would be a good thing if President Bush, the various presidential candidates, and Congressional leaders started talking more publicly about the need for this kind of generational commitment. As Steve notes, “If we are not prepared to stay in large numbers for a long time, the gains of recent months could easily be reversed.”

Read Less

Ben-Yehuda at 150

Although every language is unique, there is something especially intriguing about Hebrew. Part of it is the lingual leverage: It is a compact tongue in which prepositions become one-letter prefixes, possessives become one-letter suffixes, and the word “is” does not exist. As a result, you can say in just a few words things that in English may take long sentences. The words of the prophets are both more powerful and more intimate when read in the original. And modern Israelis are constantly referring back to Old-Testament idioms and ideas.

But what is especially beguiling is the story of the language. When the founder of modern Hebrew, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, was born (150 years ago this week!), the language was essentially an ecclesiastical one, like Latin: Restricted to the Bible, the synagogue, and scholarly texts, used in conversation only when Jews of distant lands had to communicate. Of all the achievements of the Zionist movement, the re-establishment of modern Hebrew is one of the most impressive and enduring. Today, an entire country thrives on an ancient tongue, which has modernized and developed to cover every aspect of life, from sex to sports to politics to art.

Today, Israeli journalist and author Meir Shalev offers a poignant discussion of the literary and cultural tsunami Ben-Yehuda unleashed:

I wonder whether he [Ben-Yehuda] predicted his grand victory. Did he understand what kind of sleeping beauty he was kissing? What sort of wonderful genie he was releasing from the books and prayers? In a relatively short time we got to have a living and dynamic language, to the point where parents find it difficult to understand what their children are saying, yet at the same time, they can read verses written thousands of years ago with those same children.

Every language holds the keys to a culture, and Hebrew is no exception. The inner vibrancy of Israelis—their loves, their ideals, their familiarity and their impatience for Western flourishes—are all wrapped up in a cutting-edge language in which a conversation with God is still, to quote an old joke about Menachem Begin, “a local call.” Read Shalev’s whole piece here.

Although every language is unique, there is something especially intriguing about Hebrew. Part of it is the lingual leverage: It is a compact tongue in which prepositions become one-letter prefixes, possessives become one-letter suffixes, and the word “is” does not exist. As a result, you can say in just a few words things that in English may take long sentences. The words of the prophets are both more powerful and more intimate when read in the original. And modern Israelis are constantly referring back to Old-Testament idioms and ideas.

But what is especially beguiling is the story of the language. When the founder of modern Hebrew, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, was born (150 years ago this week!), the language was essentially an ecclesiastical one, like Latin: Restricted to the Bible, the synagogue, and scholarly texts, used in conversation only when Jews of distant lands had to communicate. Of all the achievements of the Zionist movement, the re-establishment of modern Hebrew is one of the most impressive and enduring. Today, an entire country thrives on an ancient tongue, which has modernized and developed to cover every aspect of life, from sex to sports to politics to art.

Today, Israeli journalist and author Meir Shalev offers a poignant discussion of the literary and cultural tsunami Ben-Yehuda unleashed:

I wonder whether he [Ben-Yehuda] predicted his grand victory. Did he understand what kind of sleeping beauty he was kissing? What sort of wonderful genie he was releasing from the books and prayers? In a relatively short time we got to have a living and dynamic language, to the point where parents find it difficult to understand what their children are saying, yet at the same time, they can read verses written thousands of years ago with those same children.

Every language holds the keys to a culture, and Hebrew is no exception. The inner vibrancy of Israelis—their loves, their ideals, their familiarity and their impatience for Western flourishes—are all wrapped up in a cutting-edge language in which a conversation with God is still, to quote an old joke about Menachem Begin, “a local call.” Read Shalev’s whole piece here.

Read Less

Walt and Mearsheimer at Princeton

The Israel Lobby duo is speaking at Princeton tonight, and the indispensable Martin Kramer has a few prefatory thoughts on what it might be worth asking them about:

In [their] book, Mearsheimer and Walt admit that Israel was pushing for Iran over Iraq. And yes, they say, Israel only joined the Iraq bandwagon when the Bush administration seemed set on Iraq. But they haven’t dismantled their thesis–far from it. Instead they’ve come up with the new and improved Mearsheimer-Walt thesis, and it goes like this: the Iraq war must still be blamed on Israel, because in the lead-up to the war, Israel and its lobby worked overtime to ensure that Bush didn’t get “cold feet.”

Believe it or not, this the new Mearsheimer-Walt twist: the “cold feet” thesis of Israel’s responsibility for the Iraq war. For example, page 234: “Israeli leaders worried constantly in the months before the war that President Bush might decide not to go to war after all, and they did what they could to ensure Bush did not get cold feet.” And this, page 261: “Top Israeli officials were doing everything in their power to make sure that the United States went after Saddam and did not get cold feet at the last moment.”

Mearsheimer and Walt bring not a single footnote, in their copiously footnoted book, to substantiate this new and bizarre claim. You have to be pretty credulous to imagine that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld would waver “at the last moment” when they had Saddam squarely in their sights. You can read Bob Woodward forward and backward and find no evidence of wobble. Nor is there any evidence of Israeli worries that the Bush administration would waver on Iraq. Mearsheimer and Walt just made it up.

The Israel Lobby duo is speaking at Princeton tonight, and the indispensable Martin Kramer has a few prefatory thoughts on what it might be worth asking them about:

In [their] book, Mearsheimer and Walt admit that Israel was pushing for Iran over Iraq. And yes, they say, Israel only joined the Iraq bandwagon when the Bush administration seemed set on Iraq. But they haven’t dismantled their thesis–far from it. Instead they’ve come up with the new and improved Mearsheimer-Walt thesis, and it goes like this: the Iraq war must still be blamed on Israel, because in the lead-up to the war, Israel and its lobby worked overtime to ensure that Bush didn’t get “cold feet.”

Believe it or not, this the new Mearsheimer-Walt twist: the “cold feet” thesis of Israel’s responsibility for the Iraq war. For example, page 234: “Israeli leaders worried constantly in the months before the war that President Bush might decide not to go to war after all, and they did what they could to ensure Bush did not get cold feet.” And this, page 261: “Top Israeli officials were doing everything in their power to make sure that the United States went after Saddam and did not get cold feet at the last moment.”

Mearsheimer and Walt bring not a single footnote, in their copiously footnoted book, to substantiate this new and bizarre claim. You have to be pretty credulous to imagine that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld would waver “at the last moment” when they had Saddam squarely in their sights. You can read Bob Woodward forward and backward and find no evidence of wobble. Nor is there any evidence of Israeli worries that the Bush administration would waver on Iraq. Mearsheimer and Walt just made it up.

Read Less

L’enfer, c’est moi-même

As we approach the New Year, our thoughts inevitably turn to resolutions. Running a marathon, learning Mandarin, and reading the Deipnosophistae are among the many things I will end up not doing in 2008. Keeping a diary will appear on many to-do lists, but anyone contemplating this soul-pulping undertaking should first read Louis Menand’s New Yorker essay, “Woke Up This Morning,” on the subject. He begins with a discussion of three reasons (ego, id, and superego, for convenience) why people keep diaries, and why they often fail to record more than a week or two at a stretch:

The ego theory holds that maintaining a diary demands a level of vanity and self-importance that is simply too great for most people to sustain for long periods of time. It obliges you to believe that the stuff that happened to you is worth writing down because it happened to you. This is why so many diaries are abandoned by circa January 10th: keeping this up, you quickly realize, means something worse than being insufferable to others; it means being insufferable to yourself.

Some people possess an amazing stamina when it comes to vanity and self-importance, and the results can be horrifying. (See, for example, horizon blogger Sam Munson’s hilarious review of the diaries of Joyce Carol Oates.) When such results are validated by publication, they probably push their authors even deeper into the abyss of self-regard. Yet I suspect that for many of us, the embarrassment of rereading an old journal can have a tonic effect on our capacity for humility—which is exactly why I’ve never kept one.

Read More

As we approach the New Year, our thoughts inevitably turn to resolutions. Running a marathon, learning Mandarin, and reading the Deipnosophistae are among the many things I will end up not doing in 2008. Keeping a diary will appear on many to-do lists, but anyone contemplating this soul-pulping undertaking should first read Louis Menand’s New Yorker essay, “Woke Up This Morning,” on the subject. He begins with a discussion of three reasons (ego, id, and superego, for convenience) why people keep diaries, and why they often fail to record more than a week or two at a stretch:

The ego theory holds that maintaining a diary demands a level of vanity and self-importance that is simply too great for most people to sustain for long periods of time. It obliges you to believe that the stuff that happened to you is worth writing down because it happened to you. This is why so many diaries are abandoned by circa January 10th: keeping this up, you quickly realize, means something worse than being insufferable to others; it means being insufferable to yourself.

Some people possess an amazing stamina when it comes to vanity and self-importance, and the results can be horrifying. (See, for example, horizon blogger Sam Munson’s hilarious review of the diaries of Joyce Carol Oates.) When such results are validated by publication, they probably push their authors even deeper into the abyss of self-regard. Yet I suspect that for many of us, the embarrassment of rereading an old journal can have a tonic effect on our capacity for humility—which is exactly why I’ve never kept one.

Menand gives us snippets of Virginia Woolf, Samuel Pepys (of course), Andy Warhol, Ronald Reagan, Arthur Schlesinger, and Leo Lerman. The major lesson to be drawn from these vastly different documents is that a diary’s greatness lies less in portraying its author than in portraying the remarkable people its author knows. Here is a memorable description of T. S. Eliot by way of Woolf, dated February 16, 1921:

Pale, marmoreal Eliot was there last week, like a chapped office boy on a high stool, with a cold in his head, until he warms a little, which he did. We walked back along the Strand. “The critics say I am learned & cold” he said. “The truth is I am neither.” As he said this, I think coldness at least must be a sore point with him.

If a diary manages this sort of thing, it should be seen as an act of literary and historical magnanimity, not least because it saves its subjects the misery of keeping diaries themselves.

Read Less

Massad: the Next Generation

In a previous post I cited a Haaretz piece that describes the attitude of Barnard Professor Nadia Abu El-Haj, the post-modern anthropologist who dismisses all archaeological evidence of biblical history, and in fact the value of evidence more broadly.

I neglected to mention that the piece was written by Bari Weiss, who in 2005, while an undergrad at Columbia, was one of the leading student voices against anti-Western, anti-Israel thuggery then taking place in the classrooms of several professors, most notably Joseph Massad.

Now Ynet reports that an Israeli professor, Nizar Hassan of Sapir College in Israel’s southern Negev region, has taken a lesson from Massad & Friends. Last week he denied entry to a student, Eyal Cohen, who arrived in class wearing an IDF uniform, having come from a long and grueling stint of reserve duty. (In Israel, most people go to college only after completing army duty, and often have their studies interrupted by reserve call-ups that can last anywhere from a few days to a month. Soldiers on campus are not uncommon, for they are frequently students themselves.) Hassan, a filmmaker who considers the IDF to be evil, announced that “I do not teach soldiers, policemen, and officers in uniform.” When Cohen refused to leave, Hassan spent much of the lesson taunting him and refusing his questions. Although the incident has aroused the protests of members of Israel’s parliament, many of Hassan’s colleagues have rallied to support him, in the name of “academic freedom.”

It seems natural that individuals in institutes of higher learning would see themselves as symbols of reason, enlightenment, and freedom of thought; what is strange is that such individuals might also find great comfort in stifling and humiliating others.

In a previous post I cited a Haaretz piece that describes the attitude of Barnard Professor Nadia Abu El-Haj, the post-modern anthropologist who dismisses all archaeological evidence of biblical history, and in fact the value of evidence more broadly.

I neglected to mention that the piece was written by Bari Weiss, who in 2005, while an undergrad at Columbia, was one of the leading student voices against anti-Western, anti-Israel thuggery then taking place in the classrooms of several professors, most notably Joseph Massad.

Now Ynet reports that an Israeli professor, Nizar Hassan of Sapir College in Israel’s southern Negev region, has taken a lesson from Massad & Friends. Last week he denied entry to a student, Eyal Cohen, who arrived in class wearing an IDF uniform, having come from a long and grueling stint of reserve duty. (In Israel, most people go to college only after completing army duty, and often have their studies interrupted by reserve call-ups that can last anywhere from a few days to a month. Soldiers on campus are not uncommon, for they are frequently students themselves.) Hassan, a filmmaker who considers the IDF to be evil, announced that “I do not teach soldiers, policemen, and officers in uniform.” When Cohen refused to leave, Hassan spent much of the lesson taunting him and refusing his questions. Although the incident has aroused the protests of members of Israel’s parliament, many of Hassan’s colleagues have rallied to support him, in the name of “academic freedom.”

It seems natural that individuals in institutes of higher learning would see themselves as symbols of reason, enlightenment, and freedom of thought; what is strange is that such individuals might also find great comfort in stifling and humiliating others.

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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