Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 28, 2007

The Most-Viewed Posts of 2007

In the spirit of the season (top ten lists!), we give you here, in descending order, the top ten most viewed and talked about posts on contentions for 2007. Consider it a crash-course, if you’re new to our blog, or a way to find all your favorite posts in one place.

The Two-Man Republican Race by John Podhoretz

Dark Suspicions about the NIE by Norman Podhoretz

What the Army Wants You to See by Michael J. Totten

Not Surrender Monkeys Anymore by Max Boot

ANNAPOLIS: Bush’s Opening Remarks by Noah Pollak

Cheapening Free Speech by James Kirchick

New York is Not in Mexico by Gordon G. Chang

William Jennings Huckabee by Fred Siegel

Candidate Gore? by Gary Rosen

Olmert’s Bizarre Reading List by Eric Trager

In the spirit of the season (top ten lists!), we give you here, in descending order, the top ten most viewed and talked about posts on contentions for 2007. Consider it a crash-course, if you’re new to our blog, or a way to find all your favorite posts in one place.

The Two-Man Republican Race by John Podhoretz

Dark Suspicions about the NIE by Norman Podhoretz

What the Army Wants You to See by Michael J. Totten

Not Surrender Monkeys Anymore by Max Boot

ANNAPOLIS: Bush’s Opening Remarks by Noah Pollak

Cheapening Free Speech by James Kirchick

New York is Not in Mexico by Gordon G. Chang

William Jennings Huckabee by Fred Siegel

Candidate Gore? by Gary Rosen

Olmert’s Bizarre Reading List by Eric Trager

Read Less

Changing the Ground Rules in Gaza

I’ve never quite understood the uproar that Israel’s targeted killings of terrorists always causes. These assassinations are surely the most morally pure way to wage war: they allow minimal, often zero, civilian casualties or collateral damage; the people who bear the greatest culpability for terror attacks are eliminated instead of the lower echelons, which inevitably are comprised of fevered, brainwashed young men; their deterrent power is immense, as terror leaders are driven underground in fear for their lives and are forced to invest large amounts of time in the avoidance of being killed; and perhaps best of all, they instantaneously impose a debilitating paranoia on terror organizations, as the leadership scrambles to figure out who among them is collaborating. All in all, a morally righteous and devastating way to wage war — which is perhaps exactly why the tactic is so frequently condemned.

Over the past two weeks Israel has revived its targeted killing policy, re-instituting a tactic that was vital to winning the second intifada. In Gaza, the IDF and Shin Bet have been methodically picking off Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror leaders, creating a situation, in remarkably short order, in which Hamas is begging for a “cease-fire” (that is, a reprieve from the war it started), and both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are now turning on themselves, desperate to figure out how their rocket crews and terror chiefs continue to be plucked from existence by precision munitions while driving anonymously around the Gaza strip.

Khaled Abu Toameh has an interesting piece in the Jerusalem Post today about the inner chaos that Israel’s assassinations are causing:

The turmoil in Hamas reached its peak this week when a number of top Hamas officials were summoned for questioning by the movement’s security forces on suspicion of involvement in the alleged plot. Among those interrogated was Sami Abu Zuhri, a prominent spokesman for Hamas, the sources told the Post. . . .
The Hamas security forces have also interrogated Muhammad Abdel Al (Abu Abir), a senior commander of the Popular Resistance Committees, an alliance of radical armed groups closely associated with Hamas.

The sources said Abdel Al was questioned following the assassination of one of his colleagues, Mubarak al-Hasanat, and a top Islamic Jihad commander, Majed al-Harazeen. The two, who were responsible for firing rockets at Israel, were killed by the IDF. Abdel Al has also denied the charges.

The arrests have left the top brass of Hamas in disarray, the sources said, noting that tensions between top members of the movement reached a boiling point late Wednesday with the assassination of Hazem Muhammad Khalil.

The only thing more remarkable than the IDF and Shin Bet’s penetration of Palestinian terror groups is the continued calls on the part of a few Israeli politicians — and of course, among so many members of the international cognoscenti — to accept Hamas’s truce. No such cessation should happen. Israel demarcated terrible boundaries for itself after it disengaged from Gaza and allowed rocket fire to go unanswered; that acquiescence vindicated Hamas’s belief that its resistance forced Israel out of Gaza and that Israelis have a weak will to fight. Those boundaries are now, finally, being redrawn — and only the continuation of a relentless military campaign against Hamas will finish the job.

12/29 Update: This piece in Ynet by Uri Elitzur — titled, “Keep on striking” — makes some of the same points. Elitzur, writing about the targeted killings that helped win the second intifada: “very quickly the moment arrived where reality is stronger than fury. People who must hide all the time, who cannot sleep two nights in one place, who cannot speak on the phone, are unable to run a terror group or plan terror attacks. Their motivation may be growing, yet the tools at their disposal are increasingly declining.”

I’ve never quite understood the uproar that Israel’s targeted killings of terrorists always causes. These assassinations are surely the most morally pure way to wage war: they allow minimal, often zero, civilian casualties or collateral damage; the people who bear the greatest culpability for terror attacks are eliminated instead of the lower echelons, which inevitably are comprised of fevered, brainwashed young men; their deterrent power is immense, as terror leaders are driven underground in fear for their lives and are forced to invest large amounts of time in the avoidance of being killed; and perhaps best of all, they instantaneously impose a debilitating paranoia on terror organizations, as the leadership scrambles to figure out who among them is collaborating. All in all, a morally righteous and devastating way to wage war — which is perhaps exactly why the tactic is so frequently condemned.

Over the past two weeks Israel has revived its targeted killing policy, re-instituting a tactic that was vital to winning the second intifada. In Gaza, the IDF and Shin Bet have been methodically picking off Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror leaders, creating a situation, in remarkably short order, in which Hamas is begging for a “cease-fire” (that is, a reprieve from the war it started), and both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are now turning on themselves, desperate to figure out how their rocket crews and terror chiefs continue to be plucked from existence by precision munitions while driving anonymously around the Gaza strip.

Khaled Abu Toameh has an interesting piece in the Jerusalem Post today about the inner chaos that Israel’s assassinations are causing:

The turmoil in Hamas reached its peak this week when a number of top Hamas officials were summoned for questioning by the movement’s security forces on suspicion of involvement in the alleged plot. Among those interrogated was Sami Abu Zuhri, a prominent spokesman for Hamas, the sources told the Post. . . .
The Hamas security forces have also interrogated Muhammad Abdel Al (Abu Abir), a senior commander of the Popular Resistance Committees, an alliance of radical armed groups closely associated with Hamas.

The sources said Abdel Al was questioned following the assassination of one of his colleagues, Mubarak al-Hasanat, and a top Islamic Jihad commander, Majed al-Harazeen. The two, who were responsible for firing rockets at Israel, were killed by the IDF. Abdel Al has also denied the charges.

The arrests have left the top brass of Hamas in disarray, the sources said, noting that tensions between top members of the movement reached a boiling point late Wednesday with the assassination of Hazem Muhammad Khalil.

The only thing more remarkable than the IDF and Shin Bet’s penetration of Palestinian terror groups is the continued calls on the part of a few Israeli politicians — and of course, among so many members of the international cognoscenti — to accept Hamas’s truce. No such cessation should happen. Israel demarcated terrible boundaries for itself after it disengaged from Gaza and allowed rocket fire to go unanswered; that acquiescence vindicated Hamas’s belief that its resistance forced Israel out of Gaza and that Israelis have a weak will to fight. Those boundaries are now, finally, being redrawn — and only the continuation of a relentless military campaign against Hamas will finish the job.

12/29 Update: This piece in Ynet by Uri Elitzur — titled, “Keep on striking” — makes some of the same points. Elitzur, writing about the targeted killings that helped win the second intifada: “very quickly the moment arrived where reality is stronger than fury. People who must hide all the time, who cannot sleep two nights in one place, who cannot speak on the phone, are unable to run a terror group or plan terror attacks. Their motivation may be growing, yet the tools at their disposal are increasingly declining.”

Read Less

Who Killed Bhutto?

Today, the Pakistani government identified the killer of Benazir Bhutto, a day after her assassination at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi. The Interior Ministry has fingered Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni militant group linked to al Qaeda.

That was fast police work, but President Bush was even faster. He blamed “murderous extremists” in his statement issued from Crawford just a few hours after the horrible event. Rudy Giuliani, for his part, connected the assassination to “the terrorists’ war against us.” Barack Obama referred to “this terrorist atrocity” that killed Bhutto.

The senator from Illinois is undoubtedly correct. It was a terrorist act—a suicide bombing—that killed Bhutto. Yet that does not necessarily mean that “terrorists” were the ones behind this hideous deed.

It’s clear that al Qaeda wanted Bhutto dead, but we do not know if that organization or its offshoots had a hand in killing her. There are, after all, many others who wanted to get the popular opposition leader out of the way. There are, for instance, elements in the Pakistani intelligence services who feared what she might do if she came to power. And then there is the ruthless individual who had the most to gain from her death. His name is Pervez Musharraf.

Read More

Today, the Pakistani government identified the killer of Benazir Bhutto, a day after her assassination at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi. The Interior Ministry has fingered Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni militant group linked to al Qaeda.

That was fast police work, but President Bush was even faster. He blamed “murderous extremists” in his statement issued from Crawford just a few hours after the horrible event. Rudy Giuliani, for his part, connected the assassination to “the terrorists’ war against us.” Barack Obama referred to “this terrorist atrocity” that killed Bhutto.

The senator from Illinois is undoubtedly correct. It was a terrorist act—a suicide bombing—that killed Bhutto. Yet that does not necessarily mean that “terrorists” were the ones behind this hideous deed.

It’s clear that al Qaeda wanted Bhutto dead, but we do not know if that organization or its offshoots had a hand in killing her. There are, after all, many others who wanted to get the popular opposition leader out of the way. There are, for instance, elements in the Pakistani intelligence services who feared what she might do if she came to power. And then there is the ruthless individual who had the most to gain from her death. His name is Pervez Musharraf.

Mrs. Bhutto, in fact, blamed the Pakistani president. CNN reports it had received an October 26 message from her, through spokesman Mark Siegel, saying that if anything happened to her, it was because Musharraf had refused to provide adequate security. This sounds like campaign rhetoric from Bhutto, but it’s time that we look at the man who has so far refused to cede power.

We know that the former general is capable of almost anything. A German diplomat serving in Asia at the time told me that his country’s intelligence officials were convinced that Musharraf had staged two bombings of his own convoys in December 2003—one of them a deadly suicide attack—to scare the West into supporting him as a bulwark against terrorism. A terrorist attack on Mrs. Bhutto would serve two crucial purposes for the Pakistani president—get his only serious rival out of the way and again buttress his support from concerned Western governments. Musharraf had motive and opportunity to kill Bhutto, and the crime fits a suspected M.O. At the very least, the United States should consider him a prime suspect.

In any event, he has let terrorists run free in his country and is primarily responsible for triggering the long-running constitutional and political crises that ultimately led to Mrs. Bhutto’s death. In a larger sense, therefore, he is responsible for yesterday’s tragedy. He is either a murderer or a failing autocrat. In either case, the United States should stop supporting him in his ongoing struggle against the Pakistani people.

Read Less

Let’s Keep Our Eye on the (Nuclear) Ball

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a terrible tragedy. It is also a strategic nightmare for the United States and much of the world.

Estimates vary, but Pakistan is believed to possess an arsenal consisting of perhaps as many as 120 nuclear weapons. Its population is riddled with Islamic fundamentalists and supporters of the Taliban and of al Qaeda, the very forces who are claiming credit for carrying out this brutal killing. These radicals are said to have links to Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI.

If the country’s nuclear weapons ever appeared in danger of falling into the hands of the Islamists, Pakistan’s neighbors would almost certainly feel compelled to act. India, a nuclear power itself, would be the most apprehensive among them all.

The United States could also easily be drawn into the fray. If Washington cannot accept an Islamic regime in Iran that would have one or two bombs, it could hardly accept a similar or even more radical regime in Pakistan that would have more than 100.

Even under our ostensible ally, General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan became the world’s worst proliferator of nuclear weapons, the site of the worldwide atomic bazaar set up by the country’s most famous scientist, A. Q. Khan. The dangers that far worse might come are obvious and would pose a severe challenge to the United States, even as we are focused on two other wars in the same “arc of crisis” — to use Zbigniew Brzezinski’s term for the region.

To contemplate a scenario in which one of Pakistan’s neighbors or the United States attempts to disarm Pakistan by force is to contemplate a chain of events that could easily result in a major war. Could such a scenario unfold? Where are Pakistan’s nuclear weapons stored, and could they be captured or destroyed by an outside country? Who guards them, and who guards the guards?

These are only some of the questions that should be occupying U.S. intelligence on an urgent basis. For anyone interested in answers that are in the public domain, The Security of Nuclear Weapons in Pakistan by Shaun Gregory is an excellent place to start.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a terrible tragedy. It is also a strategic nightmare for the United States and much of the world.

Estimates vary, but Pakistan is believed to possess an arsenal consisting of perhaps as many as 120 nuclear weapons. Its population is riddled with Islamic fundamentalists and supporters of the Taliban and of al Qaeda, the very forces who are claiming credit for carrying out this brutal killing. These radicals are said to have links to Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI.

If the country’s nuclear weapons ever appeared in danger of falling into the hands of the Islamists, Pakistan’s neighbors would almost certainly feel compelled to act. India, a nuclear power itself, would be the most apprehensive among them all.

The United States could also easily be drawn into the fray. If Washington cannot accept an Islamic regime in Iran that would have one or two bombs, it could hardly accept a similar or even more radical regime in Pakistan that would have more than 100.

Even under our ostensible ally, General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan became the world’s worst proliferator of nuclear weapons, the site of the worldwide atomic bazaar set up by the country’s most famous scientist, A. Q. Khan. The dangers that far worse might come are obvious and would pose a severe challenge to the United States, even as we are focused on two other wars in the same “arc of crisis” — to use Zbigniew Brzezinski’s term for the region.

To contemplate a scenario in which one of Pakistan’s neighbors or the United States attempts to disarm Pakistan by force is to contemplate a chain of events that could easily result in a major war. Could such a scenario unfold? Where are Pakistan’s nuclear weapons stored, and could they be captured or destroyed by an outside country? Who guards them, and who guards the guards?

These are only some of the questions that should be occupying U.S. intelligence on an urgent basis. For anyone interested in answers that are in the public domain, The Security of Nuclear Weapons in Pakistan by Shaun Gregory is an excellent place to start.

Read Less

Ron Paul on Benazir Bhutto

At last! To makes sense of things, here’s Ron Paul on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination:

We’ve been supporting the, um, Musharraf government and he’s a military dictator who overthrew an elected government. We just gave him $10 billion over the last seven years. He’s supported by 8 percent of the people, and, and that does annoy some people. And there’s so many factions over there. There’s the Bhutto faction, the Musharraf faction and it just gives incentives for people to resort to violence, and I’m opposed to that. We, we, don’t need to be further involved over there. We shouldn’t have been supporting this military dictator anyway.

After a while I realized why this elliptical rant rang a bell:

I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some people out there in our nation don’t have maps and, uh, I believe that our, uh, education like such as in, uh, South Africa and, uh, the Iraq and everywhere like such as, and I believe that they should, uh, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S.

Those are the words of Miss South Carolina 2007.

In Ron Paul’s sci-fi analysis the fact that there are Bhutto supporters and Musharraf supporters “gives incentives for people to resort to violence.” Furthermore, it’s somehow Musharraf’s unpopularity that inspired the murder of his opposition. I suppose if Musharraf had been adored, Bhutto would have remained safe.

At last! To makes sense of things, here’s Ron Paul on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination:

We’ve been supporting the, um, Musharraf government and he’s a military dictator who overthrew an elected government. We just gave him $10 billion over the last seven years. He’s supported by 8 percent of the people, and, and that does annoy some people. And there’s so many factions over there. There’s the Bhutto faction, the Musharraf faction and it just gives incentives for people to resort to violence, and I’m opposed to that. We, we, don’t need to be further involved over there. We shouldn’t have been supporting this military dictator anyway.

After a while I realized why this elliptical rant rang a bell:

I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some people out there in our nation don’t have maps and, uh, I believe that our, uh, education like such as in, uh, South Africa and, uh, the Iraq and everywhere like such as, and I believe that they should, uh, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S.

Those are the words of Miss South Carolina 2007.

In Ron Paul’s sci-fi analysis the fact that there are Bhutto supporters and Musharraf supporters “gives incentives for people to resort to violence.” Furthermore, it’s somehow Musharraf’s unpopularity that inspired the murder of his opposition. I suppose if Musharraf had been adored, Bhutto would have remained safe.

Read Less

Iraq in Fragments

COMMENTARY’s online editor Sam Munson asked if I’d like to write a short piece about what I think are the top five movies of 2007 from and about the Middle East. Sure, I said. But once I got started I found I couldn’t write about five. I started with a two-paragraph blurb about James Longley’s masterful Iraq in Fragments, but I exceeded the word limit before I could even get to the second film on the list. Iraq in Fragments is too good for a blurb. So here, instead, is a piece about the top single film from the Middle East, or at least Iraq. One caveat: Iraq in Fragments actually dates from 2005, but it was released on DVD only a few months ago, and it’s such a powerful and important film that it should make the cut.

Most recent documentaries filmed in Iraq can be fairly categorized as liberal or conservative. All are about the war, and most are cinematic equivalents of op-eds. James Longley’s lush and intimate Iraq in Fragments is different. While the director appears to be some kind of liberal or leftist, his film is refreshingly none of the above. Iraq in Fragmentsis about the war only insomuch as it was shot in Iraq during the war. This film is a collection of portraits of Iraqis, not Americans or the American military. And unlike almost any other documentary out there, Longley’s includes the Kurds.The director is invisible. We never see him or hear him, and he uses his camera as though he were shooting a fictional film. This is emphatically not the kind of documentary you’re accustomed to seeing. Longley’s camera and editing work are so stylish and deft that the end result is perhaps the most artful documentary ever made on any subject. (Watch the high-definition trailer here for a powerful preview.)

Read More

COMMENTARY’s online editor Sam Munson asked if I’d like to write a short piece about what I think are the top five movies of 2007 from and about the Middle East. Sure, I said. But once I got started I found I couldn’t write about five. I started with a two-paragraph blurb about James Longley’s masterful Iraq in Fragments, but I exceeded the word limit before I could even get to the second film on the list. Iraq in Fragments is too good for a blurb. So here, instead, is a piece about the top single film from the Middle East, or at least Iraq. One caveat: Iraq in Fragments actually dates from 2005, but it was released on DVD only a few months ago, and it’s such a powerful and important film that it should make the cut.

Most recent documentaries filmed in Iraq can be fairly categorized as liberal or conservative. All are about the war, and most are cinematic equivalents of op-eds. James Longley’s lush and intimate Iraq in Fragments is different. While the director appears to be some kind of liberal or leftist, his film is refreshingly none of the above. Iraq in Fragmentsis about the war only insomuch as it was shot in Iraq during the war. This film is a collection of portraits of Iraqis, not Americans or the American military. And unlike almost any other documentary out there, Longley’s includes the Kurds.The director is invisible. We never see him or hear him, and he uses his camera as though he were shooting a fictional film. This is emphatically not the kind of documentary you’re accustomed to seeing. Longley’s camera and editing work are so stylish and deft that the end result is perhaps the most artful documentary ever made on any subject. (Watch the high-definition trailer here for a powerful preview.)

The title refers to Iraq as it is now—a geographic abstraction made up of fragments. But it also refers to the film’s structure. The first third is a story of Sunni Arabs in Baghdad, the middle chapter covers Moqtada al-Sadr’s radical Shia Mahdi Army militia, and the final third is about the Kurdish Spring in the northern autonomous region.

A Sunni Arab boy named Muhammad anchors the film’s opening segment. He works for his cruel and abusive uncle in a machine shop, and his ability to lie to himself and the camera is a painful revelation.

“He loves me, he loves me,” the boy says about his tyrannical guardian as we see him smacked in the head and called a dog. “He’s nice to me. He doesn’t swear at me or beat me.” What are we then to make of Muhammad’s uncle when he says he wishes Saddam Hussein were still in charge? “So what if he oppressed us and was hard on us,” he says.

Muhammad knows cruelty and loss, as do all Iraqis. His father was a police officer. “Then he started talking about Saddam,” he tells us. “They put him in prison.” We never find out what happened to his father, but he appears to have vanished forever. Contrary to what some naïve Westerners seem to believe, Iraqis, even children, know very well that they live in a hard and tragic country even if they have never known anything else.

“It’s not safe here,” Muhammad says. “It’s scary. There is no security. I want to go abroad. When you are abroad, nothing will happen to you. My teacher told me I could be a pilot. I want to fly the plane, to see a place that’s beautiful and nice. Not Iraq, but a beautiful place. I imagine . . . I imagine . . . I’m high in the sky. I can see the doves, the sky. I can see the birds. I am in the plane and seeing countries beautiful and nice. I fly down to those countries. I’ll go to that country. The beautiful one.”

Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia is the focus of the middle third of the film. Longley was given access to the Mahdi Army’s political meetings where they discuss their revolutionary strategy. It amounts, basically, to one part democracy and one part thuggery. Amazingly, the director was allowed to bring his camera along while some of the militiamen don masks, storm a local market, and beat and kidnap men selling alcohol. The decades-long tragedy in Iraq is summed up in a few short, devastating sentences from a blindfolded and kidnapped man who weeps on the floor.

“We were saved from tyranny,” he says while he cries. “And you brought another. How can it be, brother? When Saddam fell I rejoiced, but now again I am blindfolded.”

The radical Shias who simultaneously defend and terrorize their community constantly rail against America as the “enemy of God.” It’s excruciatingly hard to take after a while. But just as emotional exhaustion sets in, Longley gives us relief by ending his film with the Kurds.

He takes a train from the south of Iraq to the north and delivers a breathtaking time-lapsed montage of scenery shot through smudged and broken windows. We know he is leaving the Arabs behind and going north to Iraqi Kurdistan. The haunting music—which he himself wrote—is somehow sad and hopeful at the same time. The simple yet unforgettable score resonates with the both the tragedy of the Arabs and the hopeful rebirth of the Kurds.

The striking differences between Arabic and Kurdish cultures in Iraq are felt at once. The lighting, the music, the characters, the tones of voice—everything changes dramatically. Kurdistan is the part of Iraq where the war is already over, and it has been finished there for a long time.

The culture in Kurdistan is non-violent, pro-American, and moderate to the core. There isn’t much drama to capture on film in this part of Iraq, so Longley contents himself with a quiet study of a family of farmers who are grateful for the chance to rest after so many years of oppression and war. It’s enough to make you wonder all over again how Iraq can possibly continue to exist as a country. Some of Longley’s subjects wonder, as well.

“The future of Iraq will be in three pieces,” says an old man with certainty. But a very young child, perhaps the man’s grandchild, answers him this way: “Iraq is not something you can cut into pieces. Iraq is a country. How do you cut a country into pieces? With a saw?”

America is not the enemy of God in Kurdistan, as it is to the ideologues in al Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia. God plays a very different role in that part of Iraq.

“Two men are wrestling,” says the main character in this segment as he sums up the realism and pragmatism that hold sway in his country-in-all-but-name. “Someone asks, Whose side is God on? They answer, God is always on the side of the winner.”

Iraq in Fragmentsisn’t the whole story of Iraq. It doesn’t pretend to be. It is an album of fragments of that story. And what gorgeous, striking, and unforgettable fragments they are.

Read Less

Castro, Clinging

Last Monday, Fidel Castro, in a letter read on state television, stated that “My elemental duty is not to cling to positions, or even less to obstruct the path of younger people.” This Monday, however, his younger brother gave every indication that Fidel has no intention of giving up his formal positions of power. Raul, who has been running the country for seventeen months as “provisional” president, claimed that the 81-year-old leader is fine and hampered only by “some small physical limitations.” Said the younger Castro: “We consult him on principal matters, that is why we the leaders of the party defend his right to run again as deputy of the National Assembly as a first step.”

First step? Castro must keep his National Assembly seat in order to retain his official position atop the Cuban political order as president of the Council of State. Elections take place January 20. Despite his I-won’t-cling declarations, Fidel this month announced he would run for the legislative seat.

Of course, it’s unlikely his constituents will see much of him on the stump. Since last July, when he was hospitalized for intestinal problems, he has released photos of himself in his Adidas track suits, he has met with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, and he has issued written pronouncements with great regularity, yet he has not been well enough to appear in public. Not surprisingly, therefore, he’s asked Raul to campaign for him for the National Assembly seat.

And there is something else he has been asking Raul. Fidel evidently wants his brother to take over formally when he dies. That will be only the second dynastic succession in a Communist state. In the first, North Korea’s Kim Jong Il assumed power after his father, Great Leader Kim Il Sung, died in 1994. At the time, virtually every analyst assumed that the North Korean state would collapse without its charismatic founder. Today, history is repeating itself as most every Cuba watcher thinks there will be great changes after Fidel, who brought Communism to Cuba, goes. Raul is said to be more pragmatic than his hardline brother and appears to want reform.

There is always optimism when leaders in Communist nations change. We hope that Raul is indeed a reformer, yet we have to remember that Marxist states operate according to their own logic. The risk is that, when Fidel finally passes from the scene, the West will reward Cuba in anticipation of changes we assume his successor will make. The better approach is to first watch what happens. After all, North Korea is still the same North Korea, just more dangerous.

Last Monday, Fidel Castro, in a letter read on state television, stated that “My elemental duty is not to cling to positions, or even less to obstruct the path of younger people.” This Monday, however, his younger brother gave every indication that Fidel has no intention of giving up his formal positions of power. Raul, who has been running the country for seventeen months as “provisional” president, claimed that the 81-year-old leader is fine and hampered only by “some small physical limitations.” Said the younger Castro: “We consult him on principal matters, that is why we the leaders of the party defend his right to run again as deputy of the National Assembly as a first step.”

First step? Castro must keep his National Assembly seat in order to retain his official position atop the Cuban political order as president of the Council of State. Elections take place January 20. Despite his I-won’t-cling declarations, Fidel this month announced he would run for the legislative seat.

Of course, it’s unlikely his constituents will see much of him on the stump. Since last July, when he was hospitalized for intestinal problems, he has released photos of himself in his Adidas track suits, he has met with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, and he has issued written pronouncements with great regularity, yet he has not been well enough to appear in public. Not surprisingly, therefore, he’s asked Raul to campaign for him for the National Assembly seat.

And there is something else he has been asking Raul. Fidel evidently wants his brother to take over formally when he dies. That will be only the second dynastic succession in a Communist state. In the first, North Korea’s Kim Jong Il assumed power after his father, Great Leader Kim Il Sung, died in 1994. At the time, virtually every analyst assumed that the North Korean state would collapse without its charismatic founder. Today, history is repeating itself as most every Cuba watcher thinks there will be great changes after Fidel, who brought Communism to Cuba, goes. Raul is said to be more pragmatic than his hardline brother and appears to want reform.

There is always optimism when leaders in Communist nations change. We hope that Raul is indeed a reformer, yet we have to remember that Marxist states operate according to their own logic. The risk is that, when Fidel finally passes from the scene, the West will reward Cuba in anticipation of changes we assume his successor will make. The better approach is to first watch what happens. After all, North Korea is still the same North Korea, just more dangerous.

Read Less

The Real Real Pakistan

It is rare for me to agree with a writer from the New Republic over one from National Review, but I have to do so in the case of former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy’s intemperate denunciation of Pakistan. In this post, McCarthy claims that the extremists who murdered Benazir Bhutto represent the “real Pakistan”—a country that is “an enemy of the United States and the West” and “a breeding ground of Islamic holy war”. “Whether we get round to admitting it or not, in Pakistan, our quarrel is with the people,” McCarthy claims. In support of this alarming proposition he cites public opinion polls:

A recent CNN poll showed that 46 percent of Pakistanis approve of Osama bin Laden.

Aspirants to the American presidency should hope to score so highly in the United States. In Pakistan, though, the al-Qaeda emir easily beat out that country’s current president, Pervez Musharraf, who polled at 38 percent.

President George Bush, the face of a campaign to bring democracy — or, at least, some form of sharia-lite that might pass for democracy — to the Islamic world, registered nine percent. Nine!

McCarthy, who now works, ironically, at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, concludes that Pakistan offers evidence “that placing democratization at the top of our foreign policy priorities is high-order folly.”

Josh Patashnik at the Plank dissents from this judgment, and so do I. The poll evidence that McCarthy cites—which, incidentally, was compiled by an organization called Terror Free Tomorrow, not by CNN—is more ambiguous than he suggests. Yes, bin Laden scores 46 percent approval, but Bhutto, a symbol of opposition to the Islamists, scored considerably higher—63 percent. And: “Seventy-five percent of poll respondents said suicide bombings are rarely or never justified.”

As for Bush’s rock-bottom rating, that’s easy to explain. It’s not because of our “campaign to bring democracy . . . to the Islamic world.” It’s because in Pakistan (as in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia) we have been associated with dictatorship, not democracy. Bush has not pressed for free elections; he has been a steadfast supporter of Musharraf’s dictatorship. The result is that, as Musharraf has gotten more unpopular, so has the United States.

This might be a price worth paying if Musharraf were actually the great ally that Bush (and McCarthy) imagine him to be. He’s not. The jihadists have gotten considerably stronger on his watch, and the military he leads has long been complicit with the extremists.

McCarthy and others suggest that holding elections in Pakistan would be as misguided as holding them in the Palestinian Authority. But the differences are greater than the similarities. Notwithstanding its long history of military coups, Pakistan has over the years developed much more robust democratic institutions than the Palestinian Authority. Admittedly that’s not saying much, but Pakistan does have a relatively free press (at least it did before Musharraf imposed his State of Emergency), an independent judiciary (Musharraf’s attempts to compromise that independence have turned public opinion against him), and opposition parties that rely on the ballot box, not bullets, to win power (although Musharraf has hindered both the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League from freely competing in elections).

The best news of all is that, while there are far too many Islamist sympathizers for comfort in Pakistan, by all indications they do not represent the majority of the population. Nowhere close to it. There is simply no Islamic party in Pakistan with the kind of popular following that Hamas has in Palestine. As I have mentioned before, only 4 percent of Pakistanis in a recent poll said they were planning to support religious parties in the next election. As McCarthy might say: “Four!”
The prospects of democracy in Pakistan, in short, are much more favorable than in Palestine. In any case, the Musharraf dictatorship has lost its last scraps of legitimacy. Sticking with Musharraf is no longer a serious option. As Hussain Haqqani argues in the Wall Street Journal, America has no choice but to press for a return to democracy.

It is rare for me to agree with a writer from the New Republic over one from National Review, but I have to do so in the case of former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy’s intemperate denunciation of Pakistan. In this post, McCarthy claims that the extremists who murdered Benazir Bhutto represent the “real Pakistan”—a country that is “an enemy of the United States and the West” and “a breeding ground of Islamic holy war”. “Whether we get round to admitting it or not, in Pakistan, our quarrel is with the people,” McCarthy claims. In support of this alarming proposition he cites public opinion polls:

A recent CNN poll showed that 46 percent of Pakistanis approve of Osama bin Laden.

Aspirants to the American presidency should hope to score so highly in the United States. In Pakistan, though, the al-Qaeda emir easily beat out that country’s current president, Pervez Musharraf, who polled at 38 percent.

President George Bush, the face of a campaign to bring democracy — or, at least, some form of sharia-lite that might pass for democracy — to the Islamic world, registered nine percent. Nine!

McCarthy, who now works, ironically, at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, concludes that Pakistan offers evidence “that placing democratization at the top of our foreign policy priorities is high-order folly.”

Josh Patashnik at the Plank dissents from this judgment, and so do I. The poll evidence that McCarthy cites—which, incidentally, was compiled by an organization called Terror Free Tomorrow, not by CNN—is more ambiguous than he suggests. Yes, bin Laden scores 46 percent approval, but Bhutto, a symbol of opposition to the Islamists, scored considerably higher—63 percent. And: “Seventy-five percent of poll respondents said suicide bombings are rarely or never justified.”

As for Bush’s rock-bottom rating, that’s easy to explain. It’s not because of our “campaign to bring democracy . . . to the Islamic world.” It’s because in Pakistan (as in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia) we have been associated with dictatorship, not democracy. Bush has not pressed for free elections; he has been a steadfast supporter of Musharraf’s dictatorship. The result is that, as Musharraf has gotten more unpopular, so has the United States.

This might be a price worth paying if Musharraf were actually the great ally that Bush (and McCarthy) imagine him to be. He’s not. The jihadists have gotten considerably stronger on his watch, and the military he leads has long been complicit with the extremists.

McCarthy and others suggest that holding elections in Pakistan would be as misguided as holding them in the Palestinian Authority. But the differences are greater than the similarities. Notwithstanding its long history of military coups, Pakistan has over the years developed much more robust democratic institutions than the Palestinian Authority. Admittedly that’s not saying much, but Pakistan does have a relatively free press (at least it did before Musharraf imposed his State of Emergency), an independent judiciary (Musharraf’s attempts to compromise that independence have turned public opinion against him), and opposition parties that rely on the ballot box, not bullets, to win power (although Musharraf has hindered both the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League from freely competing in elections).

The best news of all is that, while there are far too many Islamist sympathizers for comfort in Pakistan, by all indications they do not represent the majority of the population. Nowhere close to it. There is simply no Islamic party in Pakistan with the kind of popular following that Hamas has in Palestine. As I have mentioned before, only 4 percent of Pakistanis in a recent poll said they were planning to support religious parties in the next election. As McCarthy might say: “Four!”
The prospects of democracy in Pakistan, in short, are much more favorable than in Palestine. In any case, the Musharraf dictatorship has lost its last scraps of legitimacy. Sticking with Musharraf is no longer a serious option. As Hussain Haqqani argues in the Wall Street Journal, America has no choice but to press for a return to democracy.

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.