Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 11, 2007

More Good News from the MTF

Today at the White House President Bush announced the results of this year’s Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. This widely respected survey, conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, tracks smoking, drinking, and illicit drug use among the nation’s secondary school students, assessing every year about 50,000 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in more than 400 secondary schools.

The key findings are that 8th, 10th, and 12th graders across the country are continuing to show a gradual decline in the proportions reporting use of illicit drugs.

“The cumulative declines since recent peak levels of drug involvement in the mid-1990’s are quite substantial, especially among the youngest students,” said University of Michigan Distinguished Research Scientist Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the MTF study.

The proportion of 8th graders reporting use of an illicit drug at least once in the 12 months prior to the survey was 24 percent in 1996 but has fallen to 13 percent by 2007, a drop of nearly half. The decline has been less among 10th graders, from 39 percent to 28 percent between 1997 and 2007, and least among 12th graders, a decline from the recent peak of 42 percent in 1997 to 36 percent this year. All three grades showed some continuing decline this year in the prevalence of illicit drug use, though only the one-year decline in 8th grade (a drop of 1.6 percentage points) achieved statistical significance. The rates for the three grades now stand at 13 percent, 28 percent, and 36 percent. Today 860,000 fewer young people than in 2001 are using drugs.

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Today at the White House President Bush announced the results of this year’s Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. This widely respected survey, conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, tracks smoking, drinking, and illicit drug use among the nation’s secondary school students, assessing every year about 50,000 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in more than 400 secondary schools.

The key findings are that 8th, 10th, and 12th graders across the country are continuing to show a gradual decline in the proportions reporting use of illicit drugs.

“The cumulative declines since recent peak levels of drug involvement in the mid-1990’s are quite substantial, especially among the youngest students,” said University of Michigan Distinguished Research Scientist Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the MTF study.

The proportion of 8th graders reporting use of an illicit drug at least once in the 12 months prior to the survey was 24 percent in 1996 but has fallen to 13 percent by 2007, a drop of nearly half. The decline has been less among 10th graders, from 39 percent to 28 percent between 1997 and 2007, and least among 12th graders, a decline from the recent peak of 42 percent in 1997 to 36 percent this year. All three grades showed some continuing decline this year in the prevalence of illicit drug use, though only the one-year decline in 8th grade (a drop of 1.6 percentage points) achieved statistical significance. The rates for the three grades now stand at 13 percent, 28 percent, and 36 percent. Today 860,000 fewer young people than in 2001 are using drugs.

According to the MTF survey, we also saw a drop in smoking for all three grades. Including the decline this year, the rate of smoking in the prior 30 days is now down by two thirds among 8th graders to 7 percent from the peak level reached in 1996 of 21 percent. “That should eventually translate into many fewer illnesses and premature deaths for this generation of young people,” said Johnston. This year’s survey also noted the long-term decline in alcohol use among eighth-graders, down to 31.8 percent in 2007 from a peak of 46.8 percent in 1994.

“We are definitely seeing a decline in substance abuse among our youngest and most vulnerable teens,” said Dr. Elias Zerhouni, the director of the National Institutes of Health.

The results from the MTF survey builds on the good news we have seen on a range of social issues during the last ten to fifteen years, progress that my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin and I discuss in our essay in the December 2007 issue of COMMENTARY.

What accounts for the progress we’re witnessing? When it comes to teen drug use, smoking, and alcohol consumption, a key factor is perceptions of the dangers, consequences, and acceptability of using illegal substances. And those perceptions, in turn, are shaped by the messages, including the moral messages, sent by parents and adults, schools, community groups, television ads, and government (both in terms of what its leaders say and the policies they implement). Drug use, like welfare and crime, are areas in which we have seen public policies make an enormous and positive impact.

It is generally considered obvious that government should not, indeed cannot legislate morality. But in fact it does so, frequently; it should do so more often; and it never does anything more important. By the legislation of morality I mean the enactment of laws and implementation of policies that proscribe, mandate, regulate, or subsidize behavior that will, over time, have the predictable effect of nurturing, bolstering, or altering habits, dispositions and values on a broad scale.

So saith George Will in his 1983 book Statecraft As Soulcraft: What Government Does. Will was right in what he wrote—and we are seeing some of the good fruits of statecraft in the MTF results today.

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Is Jose Rodriguez a Hero?

Jose A. Rodriguez Jr. is the covert-operations chief at the CIA who made the decision to destroy tape recordings of interrogations of Al Qaeda officials. This scandal has ignited perfervid fantasies of cover-up at the highest levels, which appear to be groundless in that those closest to politicians in the White House and elsewhere opposed the destruction of the tapes. Now, with those people having dosed themselves with the special responsibility repellent that Washingtonians seek to slather over themselves whenever there is bad news in the vicinity, Rodriguez is now suddenly famous as the Great Tape Destroyer.

According to Siobhan Gorman in the Wall Street Journal, he did so because he feared the identities of interrogators would be made public, and because he worried the tapes could be used to stain the United States the way the Abu Ghraib photos were:

Mr. Rodriguez had long been concerned that the CIA lacked a long-term plan for handling interrogations, they say. He also worried, given the response to Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, and an earlier agency scandal involving the shooting-down of a plane that turned out to be carrying Peruvian missionaries, that lower-level officers would take the fall if the videos became public, the former colleagues said.

One former official said interrogators’ faces were visible on at least one video, as were those of more senior officers who happened to be visiting. He said Mr. Rodriguez was concerned that “they were carrying out the direction from higher-ups in the administration, yet the people who would end up getting in trouble are going to be some GS-12s,” referring to a midlevel rank in the federal bureaucracy.

“Jose was concerned about how all this would end,” another former senior intelligence official said. “He wasn’t getting instructions from anybody.”

It seems clear that Rodriguez will now be ensnared in the Washington scandal machine. He will spend the first year of his retirement under subpoena, hounded by reporters and hassled by politicians. He will be accused of a rogue action by those seeking to indemnify the administration and alternately of having carried out secret orders from above by those who want to implicate the administration in the destruction of the tapes.

We know, from interviews with a former CIA interrogator, that the tapes included the waterboarding of Al Qaeda operations director Abu Zubaydah for 35 seconds — after which Abu Zubaydah broke and gave his interrogators enough information to block dozens of terrorist actions. Forget the whole ticking clock scenario. Here we have evidence that the use of this extraordinarily harsh technique was a key to saving perhaps hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives. And yet that does not seem to have given a moment’s pause to those who have made a kind of reverse fetish out of the technique — taking an almost lascivious pleasure in their expressions of outrage.

An interrogator who has gone public says he remains disturbed by it — that he now believes it was an act of torture and one that haunts him, but a necessary technique for saving lives. One will doubtless wait in vain to see the anti-waterboarding fetishists struggle in the reverse — struggle with the revelation that the use of the technique actually did interrupt Al Qaeda terror plots and how that calls into question the dogmatic certainty of their view.

The decision Rodriguez made — not to give ammunition to those who might use leaked copies of tapes as anti-American propaganda and to protect those Americans whose faces appeared on those tapes — appears to have been, at least in the early reckoning, a genuinely principled and patriotic act. If he is forced to create a defense fund to help pay his legal bills, I’ll be the first to send in a check.

Jose A. Rodriguez Jr. is the covert-operations chief at the CIA who made the decision to destroy tape recordings of interrogations of Al Qaeda officials. This scandal has ignited perfervid fantasies of cover-up at the highest levels, which appear to be groundless in that those closest to politicians in the White House and elsewhere opposed the destruction of the tapes. Now, with those people having dosed themselves with the special responsibility repellent that Washingtonians seek to slather over themselves whenever there is bad news in the vicinity, Rodriguez is now suddenly famous as the Great Tape Destroyer.

According to Siobhan Gorman in the Wall Street Journal, he did so because he feared the identities of interrogators would be made public, and because he worried the tapes could be used to stain the United States the way the Abu Ghraib photos were:

Mr. Rodriguez had long been concerned that the CIA lacked a long-term plan for handling interrogations, they say. He also worried, given the response to Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, and an earlier agency scandal involving the shooting-down of a plane that turned out to be carrying Peruvian missionaries, that lower-level officers would take the fall if the videos became public, the former colleagues said.

One former official said interrogators’ faces were visible on at least one video, as were those of more senior officers who happened to be visiting. He said Mr. Rodriguez was concerned that “they were carrying out the direction from higher-ups in the administration, yet the people who would end up getting in trouble are going to be some GS-12s,” referring to a midlevel rank in the federal bureaucracy.

“Jose was concerned about how all this would end,” another former senior intelligence official said. “He wasn’t getting instructions from anybody.”

It seems clear that Rodriguez will now be ensnared in the Washington scandal machine. He will spend the first year of his retirement under subpoena, hounded by reporters and hassled by politicians. He will be accused of a rogue action by those seeking to indemnify the administration and alternately of having carried out secret orders from above by those who want to implicate the administration in the destruction of the tapes.

We know, from interviews with a former CIA interrogator, that the tapes included the waterboarding of Al Qaeda operations director Abu Zubaydah for 35 seconds — after which Abu Zubaydah broke and gave his interrogators enough information to block dozens of terrorist actions. Forget the whole ticking clock scenario. Here we have evidence that the use of this extraordinarily harsh technique was a key to saving perhaps hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives. And yet that does not seem to have given a moment’s pause to those who have made a kind of reverse fetish out of the technique — taking an almost lascivious pleasure in their expressions of outrage.

An interrogator who has gone public says he remains disturbed by it — that he now believes it was an act of torture and one that haunts him, but a necessary technique for saving lives. One will doubtless wait in vain to see the anti-waterboarding fetishists struggle in the reverse — struggle with the revelation that the use of the technique actually did interrupt Al Qaeda terror plots and how that calls into question the dogmatic certainty of their view.

The decision Rodriguez made — not to give ammunition to those who might use leaked copies of tapes as anti-American propaganda and to protect those Americans whose faces appeared on those tapes — appears to have been, at least in the early reckoning, a genuinely principled and patriotic act. If he is forced to create a defense fund to help pay his legal bills, I’ll be the first to send in a check.

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Ahmadinejad the Blogger

Today’s New York Times reports that Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a blogger.

Mr. Ahmadinejad has tried to touch on most issues that concern him. He has written about freedom in Iran, referring to the protest of students against him a year ago at Amir Kabir University in Tehran as an example of its existence in Iran. “It was a joyous feeling to see a small group insult the elected president of people fearlessly amid a majority,” he wrote, without referring to the fate of the students, many of whom are in prison now.

Cherry-picking like that could get Ahmadinejad a regular spot at The Huffington Post. The Iranian president spends fifteen minutes a week updating readers on everything from his views on Washington to the role of Islam in government. These may be the most valuable fifteen minutes of his time. The U.S. hasn’t been on the winning side of a P.R. war since Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty broadcast into the Soviet Bloc. Rulers like Ahmadinejad, with no substantive credibility, are master manipulators of public perceptions.

From The New Times: “He has a very keen understanding of publicity,” said Karim Arghandehpour, a political scientist and journalist in Tehran. “His Web log shows how he believes in modern publicity instruments and wants to use them.”

Only this year, he used one such instrument, Mike Wallace, to extraordinary effect as his media liaison to the West. Former C.I.A. Director James Woolsey said that the State Department should enlist Southpark creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker to create pro-American propaganda. That’s the kind of bold strategizing the U.S. is going to have to employ to catch up to its enemies on the P.R. front.

Today’s New York Times reports that Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a blogger.

Mr. Ahmadinejad has tried to touch on most issues that concern him. He has written about freedom in Iran, referring to the protest of students against him a year ago at Amir Kabir University in Tehran as an example of its existence in Iran. “It was a joyous feeling to see a small group insult the elected president of people fearlessly amid a majority,” he wrote, without referring to the fate of the students, many of whom are in prison now.

Cherry-picking like that could get Ahmadinejad a regular spot at The Huffington Post. The Iranian president spends fifteen minutes a week updating readers on everything from his views on Washington to the role of Islam in government. These may be the most valuable fifteen minutes of his time. The U.S. hasn’t been on the winning side of a P.R. war since Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty broadcast into the Soviet Bloc. Rulers like Ahmadinejad, with no substantive credibility, are master manipulators of public perceptions.

From The New Times: “He has a very keen understanding of publicity,” said Karim Arghandehpour, a political scientist and journalist in Tehran. “His Web log shows how he believes in modern publicity instruments and wants to use them.”

Only this year, he used one such instrument, Mike Wallace, to extraordinary effect as his media liaison to the West. Former C.I.A. Director James Woolsey said that the State Department should enlist Southpark creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker to create pro-American propaganda. That’s the kind of bold strategizing the U.S. is going to have to employ to catch up to its enemies on the P.R. front.

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The Philharmonic in Pyongyang

cross-posted at About Last Night

I just got back from a press conference at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall at which the New York Philharmonic officially announced its plans to play in Pyongyang on February 26. Present were Paul Guenther, the orchestra’s chairman; Zarin Mehta, the orchestra’s president and executive director; and Pak Gil Yon, North Korea’s ambassador to the UN. Christopher Hill, an assistant secretary of state in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, was also supposed to be at the press conference, but sent his apologies, claiming that “responsibilities” in Washington prevented him from attending.

Highlights:

• The Philharmonic will spend two and a half days in North Korea. During that time it will give a single concert in Pyongyang in a hall seating 1,500 people. It will then fly to Seoul, the capital of South Korea, to give a second concert there.

• Lorin Maazel, the orchestra’s music director, will conduct both performances.

• The Pyongyang program will consist of Gershwin’s An American in Paris and Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, plus the national anthems of the U.S. and North Korea. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony will be played in Seoul.

• According to a statement released this morning, the orchestra is making the trip with “the encouragement and support of the U.S. Department of State.”

• Paul Guenther said that the Philharmonic’s “somewhat unusual journey” to North Korea would be a reflection of its “calling to serve, which the New York Philharmonic has never shied away from.”

• The concert will be broadcast, but as of this morning Zarin Mehta had no information on whether or how it would be heard inside North Korea, or who will be permitted to attend the performance. “I would guess they do not have the kind of system we have of advertising concerts and selling them,” he said.

• Fifty members of the international media will accompany the orchestra to Pyongyang. Mehta does not know what restrictions will be placed on them by the North Korean government.

• The orchestra wants to give master classes in Pyongyang for “music students and other professionals,” but so far no final arrangements have been made to do so.

• Ambassador Pak dodged the question of whether news of the concert has been released by North Korea’s state-controlled media as of this hour.

• Asked whether the concert would be a propaganda coup for North Korea, Mehta replied, “We’re not going to do any propaganda.”

• More quotes from Mehta:

“One small symphony is a giant leap.”

“All we can do is show the way that music can unite people.”

“We’re going there to create some joy.”

* * *

To read “Serenading a Tyrant,” my original October 27 Wall Street Journal column on the Philharmonic’s trip to Pyongyang, go here.

cross-posted at About Last Night

I just got back from a press conference at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall at which the New York Philharmonic officially announced its plans to play in Pyongyang on February 26. Present were Paul Guenther, the orchestra’s chairman; Zarin Mehta, the orchestra’s president and executive director; and Pak Gil Yon, North Korea’s ambassador to the UN. Christopher Hill, an assistant secretary of state in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, was also supposed to be at the press conference, but sent his apologies, claiming that “responsibilities” in Washington prevented him from attending.

Highlights:

• The Philharmonic will spend two and a half days in North Korea. During that time it will give a single concert in Pyongyang in a hall seating 1,500 people. It will then fly to Seoul, the capital of South Korea, to give a second concert there.

• Lorin Maazel, the orchestra’s music director, will conduct both performances.

• The Pyongyang program will consist of Gershwin’s An American in Paris and Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, plus the national anthems of the U.S. and North Korea. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony will be played in Seoul.

• According to a statement released this morning, the orchestra is making the trip with “the encouragement and support of the U.S. Department of State.”

• Paul Guenther said that the Philharmonic’s “somewhat unusual journey” to North Korea would be a reflection of its “calling to serve, which the New York Philharmonic has never shied away from.”

• The concert will be broadcast, but as of this morning Zarin Mehta had no information on whether or how it would be heard inside North Korea, or who will be permitted to attend the performance. “I would guess they do not have the kind of system we have of advertising concerts and selling them,” he said.

• Fifty members of the international media will accompany the orchestra to Pyongyang. Mehta does not know what restrictions will be placed on them by the North Korean government.

• The orchestra wants to give master classes in Pyongyang for “music students and other professionals,” but so far no final arrangements have been made to do so.

• Ambassador Pak dodged the question of whether news of the concert has been released by North Korea’s state-controlled media as of this hour.

• Asked whether the concert would be a propaganda coup for North Korea, Mehta replied, “We’re not going to do any propaganda.”

• More quotes from Mehta:

“One small symphony is a giant leap.”

“All we can do is show the way that music can unite people.”

“We’re going there to create some joy.”

* * *

To read “Serenading a Tyrant,” my original October 27 Wall Street Journal column on the Philharmonic’s trip to Pyongyang, go here.

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The Downside of Authenticity

Mike Huckabee, at 52, and Barack Obama, at 46, are the youngsters in their respective primaries. Both present themselves as breaking with the conventional hyper-partisan politics that emerged from the 1960’s and has intensified in the last decade. But both also represent a return to one of its most politically debilitating themes—the cult of authenticity. The ideological hothouse of the Iowa caucuses have unintentionally, though not accidentally, recreated the fervor for authenticity that found its home in both the New Right and the New Left.

Who could be more authentically representative of Rove-era Republicanism than Mike Huckabee, a pioneer-stock evangelical Baptist who wants to reclaim Americans for Christ? In Huckabee’s words: “I didn’t get into politics because I thought government had a better answer. I got into politics because I knew government didn’t have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives.”

This clearly has a considerable appeal in the Iowa caucuses, where upwards of 40 percent of the participants are themselves Evangelicals. As of now Huckabee, whose affability and quick wit make him an appealing figure, has a two-to-one lead over his nearest rival, Mitt Romney. (Huckabee took a jab at Romney’s inauthenticity on cultural issues when he insisted that social conservatives need a candidate who speaks “the language of Zion as a mother tongue.”) But as the 2006 elections made clear, this is not the kind of platform likely to be able to create the broad coalition necessary to win a presidential majority.

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Mike Huckabee, at 52, and Barack Obama, at 46, are the youngsters in their respective primaries. Both present themselves as breaking with the conventional hyper-partisan politics that emerged from the 1960’s and has intensified in the last decade. But both also represent a return to one of its most politically debilitating themes—the cult of authenticity. The ideological hothouse of the Iowa caucuses have unintentionally, though not accidentally, recreated the fervor for authenticity that found its home in both the New Right and the New Left.

Who could be more authentically representative of Rove-era Republicanism than Mike Huckabee, a pioneer-stock evangelical Baptist who wants to reclaim Americans for Christ? In Huckabee’s words: “I didn’t get into politics because I thought government had a better answer. I got into politics because I knew government didn’t have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives.”

This clearly has a considerable appeal in the Iowa caucuses, where upwards of 40 percent of the participants are themselves Evangelicals. As of now Huckabee, whose affability and quick wit make him an appealing figure, has a two-to-one lead over his nearest rival, Mitt Romney. (Huckabee took a jab at Romney’s inauthenticity on cultural issues when he insisted that social conservatives need a candidate who speaks “the language of Zion as a mother tongue.”) But as the 2006 elections made clear, this is not the kind of platform likely to be able to create the broad coalition necessary to win a presidential majority.

On the Democratic side, all the complaints from the Jesse Jacksons of the world about the questions of whether Obama is “black enough” miss the source of Obama’s appeal to upper-middle-class, caucus-going liberals. When Hillary equivocated on drivers licenses for illegal immigrants she paid a heavy political price. When Obama muffed the same question in a subsequent debate, he paid no apparent penalty in a state whose capital, Des Moines, is trying to turn itself into a sanctuary city for illegals. Why?

Well, who could better represent liberalism’s authentic ideal vision of itself than an eloquent, Harvard Law-educated, multiracial candidate who opposed the war in Iraq from the start, lived in the Third World, supports drivers licenses and perhaps amnesty for illegal immigrants, and promises to unify all Americans behind the liberal program. And, I might add, who arrives without any of Hillary Clinton’s baggage of pitched partisan battles.

But just as Democrats are salivating over the prospect of a Huckabee nomination, an Obama candidacy would almost certainly bolster the Republicans presidential possibilities. A new New York Times polls finds that only 14 percent of Democrats think that Obama (who has literally no record of political accomplishment) would be their strongest presidential candidate. That’s because what run-of-the-mill Democrats understand is that authenticity is antithetical to representation. Candidates who have the capacity to bring together a broad coalition are, of necessity, authentically insincere.

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Fukuda’s New Low

Yesterday, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura called a press conference to complain about China’s alteration of a joint press communiqué, which was released after the High-Level Economic Dialogue, bilateral economic talks held on December 1 in Beijing. The alteration, he said was “unthinkable from the viewpoint of customary international practice, and inexplicable.”

The Chinese deleted two references in the jointly-approved communiqué. The first omitted statement noted that Japan expressed its hope that Beijing would increase the value of the renminbi. The other deleted reference relates to China’s participation in the Energy Charter Treaty. The Japanese government delivered a formal protest on Friday.

Yasuo Fukuda, the current prime minister, has worked hard to improve Japan’s relations with Beijing. Since taking office in September he has reinvigorated dialogue with China, stepped up military exchanges, and increased financial assistance to the Mainland. Fukuda is scheduled to travel to Beijing soon, and the alteration may have been an attempt to limit the summit’s agenda.

Prospects for the meeting in the Chinese capital do not look good for the Japanese side. Officials in Beijing have not been impressed by gestures of friendship from a nation they consider to be inferior to their own. China and Japan have a troubled history going back centuries, and the act of altering an agreed text, virtually unheard of in the diplomatic world, shows a continuation of the Chinese people’s contempt for Japan and the Communist Party’s belief that others must accept its version of reality.

If anything, the incident shows that Fukuda’s conciliatory approach to China is undoubtedly the wrong one—unless he wishes Japan to become a vassal to the great and glorious Chinese state. So this is a crucial test for the prime minister and the nation he leads.

Yesterday, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura called a press conference to complain about China’s alteration of a joint press communiqué, which was released after the High-Level Economic Dialogue, bilateral economic talks held on December 1 in Beijing. The alteration, he said was “unthinkable from the viewpoint of customary international practice, and inexplicable.”

The Chinese deleted two references in the jointly-approved communiqué. The first omitted statement noted that Japan expressed its hope that Beijing would increase the value of the renminbi. The other deleted reference relates to China’s participation in the Energy Charter Treaty. The Japanese government delivered a formal protest on Friday.

Yasuo Fukuda, the current prime minister, has worked hard to improve Japan’s relations with Beijing. Since taking office in September he has reinvigorated dialogue with China, stepped up military exchanges, and increased financial assistance to the Mainland. Fukuda is scheduled to travel to Beijing soon, and the alteration may have been an attempt to limit the summit’s agenda.

Prospects for the meeting in the Chinese capital do not look good for the Japanese side. Officials in Beijing have not been impressed by gestures of friendship from a nation they consider to be inferior to their own. China and Japan have a troubled history going back centuries, and the act of altering an agreed text, virtually unheard of in the diplomatic world, shows a continuation of the Chinese people’s contempt for Japan and the Communist Party’s belief that others must accept its version of reality.

If anything, the incident shows that Fukuda’s conciliatory approach to China is undoubtedly the wrong one—unless he wishes Japan to become a vassal to the great and glorious Chinese state. So this is a crucial test for the prime minister and the nation he leads.

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Secretary of State Anne-Marie Slaughter?

Will she be Hillary Clinton’s Secretary of State, or Barack Obama’s? Or will she merely be a UN ambassador?

Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, has been visiting Australia, and from there she has penned some reflections on the world as it seen from Sydney. Or at least how it is seen from Sydney through the eyes of a dewy-eyed, Left-liberal American academic.

Slaughter’s first point is that Americans and Australians see the world very differently. Over the past week, for example, the big issue in the U.S. has been the prospect or non-prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. The obsession with nuclear proliferation is part of a larger distorted framework.

Americans like President Bush and “arch neo-conservative Norman Podhoretz” see the world “as engaged in an epic struggle that pits tyranny against freedom, tyranny that today takes the primary form of Islamo-fascism. Islamo-fascists are the heirs to Nazis and communists, determined to suppress individual freedom in the name of a totalitarian ideology.”

But this is horribly simple minded. Down in Australia the big issue is “combating climate change.” The term Islamo-fascism “was never uttered in the recent Australian election.” Australians are for more sophisticated than to see the world in terms of black and white; instead, they “see the world as full of various threats as well as many opportunities.”

But the good news, writes Slaughter, is that not all Americans are as blinkered as Bush and Podhoretz. Thus, “the  Democratic candidates running for US president in 2008 largely take the Australian side in this debate.” Hillary Clinton, for one, sees not only threats from states and non-state actors but also from “nature itself,” while Barack Obama acknowledges “the variety and interconnectedness of many different threats facing people across the world.”

The bad news is that on the whole the American electorate is benighted:

It is far easier to explain to voters that “the enemy” is one movement, one ideology that “hates us for what we are and what we value,” a vast terrorist network that has declared war on the US and attacked us repeatedly, than to spend ten minutes cataloguing the complexities of an interdependent world and listing dangers from nuclear proliferation to climate change. Moving from clarity to complexity is rarely a vote-getter.

It is unfortunate that Americans are so much dumber than Australians and fail to see the “interconnectedness” of everything. And it is also unfortunate, goes the corollary, that so many of them stand in the way of a high government position for a Princeton dean.

Will she be Hillary Clinton’s Secretary of State, or Barack Obama’s? Or will she merely be a UN ambassador?

Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, has been visiting Australia, and from there she has penned some reflections on the world as it seen from Sydney. Or at least how it is seen from Sydney through the eyes of a dewy-eyed, Left-liberal American academic.

Slaughter’s first point is that Americans and Australians see the world very differently. Over the past week, for example, the big issue in the U.S. has been the prospect or non-prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. The obsession with nuclear proliferation is part of a larger distorted framework.

Americans like President Bush and “arch neo-conservative Norman Podhoretz” see the world “as engaged in an epic struggle that pits tyranny against freedom, tyranny that today takes the primary form of Islamo-fascism. Islamo-fascists are the heirs to Nazis and communists, determined to suppress individual freedom in the name of a totalitarian ideology.”

But this is horribly simple minded. Down in Australia the big issue is “combating climate change.” The term Islamo-fascism “was never uttered in the recent Australian election.” Australians are for more sophisticated than to see the world in terms of black and white; instead, they “see the world as full of various threats as well as many opportunities.”

But the good news, writes Slaughter, is that not all Americans are as blinkered as Bush and Podhoretz. Thus, “the  Democratic candidates running for US president in 2008 largely take the Australian side in this debate.” Hillary Clinton, for one, sees not only threats from states and non-state actors but also from “nature itself,” while Barack Obama acknowledges “the variety and interconnectedness of many different threats facing people across the world.”

The bad news is that on the whole the American electorate is benighted:

It is far easier to explain to voters that “the enemy” is one movement, one ideology that “hates us for what we are and what we value,” a vast terrorist network that has declared war on the US and attacked us repeatedly, than to spend ten minutes cataloguing the complexities of an interdependent world and listing dangers from nuclear proliferation to climate change. Moving from clarity to complexity is rarely a vote-getter.

It is unfortunate that Americans are so much dumber than Australians and fail to see the “interconnectedness” of everything. And it is also unfortunate, goes the corollary, that so many of them stand in the way of a high government position for a Princeton dean.

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The First Assault on Annapolis

Most coverage of the Annapolis Conference conceded that Israeli-Palestinian peace was hardly a likely outcome. Indeed, there were many reasons to be skeptical: the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships are too weak; Hamas is too strong; Israeli and Palestinian publics are too pessimistic; and the “Arab street” is too apathetic, if not downright opposed, to accepting peace with the Jewish state. Given these realities, commentators floated a number of theories as to what Annapolis could realistically accomplish. Perhaps the most compelling of these theories argued that Annapolis sought to establish a broad U.S.-Arab-Israeli coalition against Iranian ascendancy. This theory convincingly explained why even Saudi Arabia—whose leaders proudly refused to shake hands with their Israeli counterparts—participated.

Yet, only two weeks after Annapolis, the it’s-all-about-Iran theory can be laid to rest. Rather than using Annapolis and the ensuing diplomatic process to isolate Iran and its regional proxies, Arab participants have reached out to Iranian-backed Hamas, pushing for a truce with Fatah that would readmit Hamas to the Palestinian political process. This weekend, Saudi Arabia took the first step towards reconciling Hamas and Fatah when it welcomed Damascus-based Hamas leader Khalid Meshal for talks, while Iranian television has announced that Hamas officials will visit Egypt later this week—a move aimed at pressuring Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate.

Make no mistake: if Arab states successfully force Abbas to negotiate with Hamas, peace prospects will be conclusively doomed. Of course, Hamas and Fatah have been down this road before: after months of infighting, Abbas convened with Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh in Mecca in February 2007, forging a national unity government under Saudi patronage. The ensuing period of relative calm allowed Hamas to prepare for its takeover of Gaza, which formally terminated the national unity government after a mere four months and improved Iran’s ability to provide financial and military support to its radical Islamist allies.

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Most coverage of the Annapolis Conference conceded that Israeli-Palestinian peace was hardly a likely outcome. Indeed, there were many reasons to be skeptical: the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships are too weak; Hamas is too strong; Israeli and Palestinian publics are too pessimistic; and the “Arab street” is too apathetic, if not downright opposed, to accepting peace with the Jewish state. Given these realities, commentators floated a number of theories as to what Annapolis could realistically accomplish. Perhaps the most compelling of these theories argued that Annapolis sought to establish a broad U.S.-Arab-Israeli coalition against Iranian ascendancy. This theory convincingly explained why even Saudi Arabia—whose leaders proudly refused to shake hands with their Israeli counterparts—participated.

Yet, only two weeks after Annapolis, the it’s-all-about-Iran theory can be laid to rest. Rather than using Annapolis and the ensuing diplomatic process to isolate Iran and its regional proxies, Arab participants have reached out to Iranian-backed Hamas, pushing for a truce with Fatah that would readmit Hamas to the Palestinian political process. This weekend, Saudi Arabia took the first step towards reconciling Hamas and Fatah when it welcomed Damascus-based Hamas leader Khalid Meshal for talks, while Iranian television has announced that Hamas officials will visit Egypt later this week—a move aimed at pressuring Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate.

Make no mistake: if Arab states successfully force Abbas to negotiate with Hamas, peace prospects will be conclusively doomed. Of course, Hamas and Fatah have been down this road before: after months of infighting, Abbas convened with Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh in Mecca in February 2007, forging a national unity government under Saudi patronage. The ensuing period of relative calm allowed Hamas to prepare for its takeover of Gaza, which formally terminated the national unity government after a mere four months and improved Iran’s ability to provide financial and military support to its radical Islamist allies.

For now, the good news is that Abbas has blocked the resumption of dialogue with Hamas. Yet time is not on Fatah’s side: it enjoys little public support among Palestinians, while Hamas has overmatched it militarily. Negotiating with Hamas will only exacerbate these problems, allowing Hamas to reap the rewards of relative calm with more Iranian funding and increased political legitimacy.

If the Bush administration is serious about pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace as a strategy against Iran, it will immediately put an end to Egyptian and Saudi attempts to reengage Hamas. It could start by calling Egypt on its hypocritical policy of boosting Hamas even while it imprisons members of its own Muslim Brotherhood. It could also remind the Saudis that legitimizing Iran’s proxies is a dangerous strategy for a country just across the Persian Gulf and bordering Iraq. Whatever it does, the U.S. can hardly afford for the coalition it assembled in Annapolis to fall so quickly.

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