Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 11, 2008

Smoking Out China

Today, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said the six-party talks to disarm North Korea could resume this month. Hill, America’s chief representative at the long-running negotiations, is in Moscow in an effort to save the Bush administration’s faltering campaign to take away Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. Kim Jong Il’s militant state failed to honor an agreement to make a declaration of all its nuclear programs by the end of 2007.

This is a particularly bad moment for Kim to stiff the international community. He is set to lose his most valuable ally, the other Korea. Elections last month ended a decade of “progressive”—actually leftist—rule in the South. A conservative, Lee Myung-bak, is set to take over on February 25. After his victory, Lee’s spokesman stated that he would review Seoul’s policies and programs that have supported its northern neighbor. The potential loss of assistance is critical because the North Korean economy largely failed to respond to a package of restructuring measures announced in July 2002, and since then aid from China and South Korea is the primary reason why the regime has remained afloat. Kim Jong Il’s one-man government appears so shaky that some American and South Korean officials think that North Korea could collapse in the near future.

These and other developments suggest that Kim should be even more amenable to giving up his arsenal for immediate financial assistance and the promise of admission into the international community. On the contrary, he is digging in his heels.

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Today, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said the six-party talks to disarm North Korea could resume this month. Hill, America’s chief representative at the long-running negotiations, is in Moscow in an effort to save the Bush administration’s faltering campaign to take away Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. Kim Jong Il’s militant state failed to honor an agreement to make a declaration of all its nuclear programs by the end of 2007.

This is a particularly bad moment for Kim to stiff the international community. He is set to lose his most valuable ally, the other Korea. Elections last month ended a decade of “progressive”—actually leftist—rule in the South. A conservative, Lee Myung-bak, is set to take over on February 25. After his victory, Lee’s spokesman stated that he would review Seoul’s policies and programs that have supported its northern neighbor. The potential loss of assistance is critical because the North Korean economy largely failed to respond to a package of restructuring measures announced in July 2002, and since then aid from China and South Korea is the primary reason why the regime has remained afloat. Kim Jong Il’s one-man government appears so shaky that some American and South Korean officials think that North Korea could collapse in the near future.

These and other developments suggest that Kim should be even more amenable to giving up his arsenal for immediate financial assistance and the promise of admission into the international community. On the contrary, he is digging in his heels.

Why is he doing that? Hill provided one clue yesterday when he was in Beijing. There the American envoy told reporters that Pyongyang was delaying the issuance of its declaration because “to acknowledge certain activities would invite additional questioning on our part and further scrutiny on things.” By “certain activities,” Hill was primarily referring to North Korea’s efforts to develop a program to build nukes with uranium cores.

There is, in all probability, great concern in Beijing that a complete North Korean declaration would reveal the Chinese origin of Pyongyang’s uranium program. Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the head of a global black-market ring in nuclear weapons technology, said he began working with North Korea around 1991. Khan agreed to transfer Chinese-designed equipment to Pyongyang, and China helped him deliver it. When Khan’s proliferation activities were exposed in the early part of this decade, Beijing persuaded Islamabad to end its investigation, pardon Khan, and keep him away from American interrogators. Beijing has steadfastly professed that it has been “completely in the dark” about Kim Jong Il’s uranium program when it is clear that it had substantial knowledge.

These denials are, as intelligence analyst John Loftus notes, “a real signal of partnership.” Some speculate that the Chinese may even have developed the long-term master plan that contemplated Pyongyang giving up its visible plutonium weapons program and keeping its covert uranium one. In any event, on Monday Agence France-Presse reported that China has developed contingency plans to grab North Korea’s nukes if that is necessary. Such an exercise would, of course, eliminate evidence of Beijing’s nuclear assistance to Pyongyang. In light of all the evidence, it appears that China recently ordered North Korea not to provide its promised declaration of its nuclear activities.

Another round of six-party talks, which Christopher Hill wants, will not help persuade North Korea to give up its arsenal. Yet insisting on a complete declaration and dragging out the disarmament process may help smoke out the world’s most dangerous proliferator. And I’m not referring to North Korea.

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Ms. Magazine’s Unexpected Publicity

Lots of people around the blogosphere today have noted the Ms. magazine controversy, in which the publication refused to run an ad from the American Jewish Congress that noted the prominence of women in Israeli politics and government. Eugene Volokh has the details, and in particular I had a good laugh at this comment to his post:

It would be nice if Ms. set out to reform & enlighten its remaining 27 readers, but it’s understandable they prefer not to.

Lots of people around the blogosphere today have noted the Ms. magazine controversy, in which the publication refused to run an ad from the American Jewish Congress that noted the prominence of women in Israeli politics and government. Eugene Volokh has the details, and in particular I had a good laugh at this comment to his post:

It would be nice if Ms. set out to reform & enlighten its remaining 27 readers, but it’s understandable they prefer not to.

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Zionism’s Socialism Problem

The news came this week that Lev Leviev, Israel’s richest man, a diamond billionaire, is emigrating to the UK. Why? The obvious reason: the tax code in the UK is more hospitable than Israel’s. Make no mistake, Leviev is a serious Jew — a Chabadnik — who maintains a serious level of support, both ideological and philanthropic, for the Jewish state. Yet one can sympathize with his need to find a place to live that is less predatory of his wealth. (If you want more on Leviev, check out this recent Zev Chafets profile from the NYT Magazine.)

Rich people are vital to economic growth, and Israel just lost its richest person of all. What a needless shame.

The news came this week that Lev Leviev, Israel’s richest man, a diamond billionaire, is emigrating to the UK. Why? The obvious reason: the tax code in the UK is more hospitable than Israel’s. Make no mistake, Leviev is a serious Jew — a Chabadnik — who maintains a serious level of support, both ideological and philanthropic, for the Jewish state. Yet one can sympathize with his need to find a place to live that is less predatory of his wealth. (If you want more on Leviev, check out this recent Zev Chafets profile from the NYT Magazine.)

Rich people are vital to economic growth, and Israel just lost its richest person of all. What a needless shame.

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Kerry’s Endorsement Stings Hillary

Once again Obama out-Clintons the Clintons. John Kerry’s obvious snubbing of former running mate John Edwards is nothing compared to the frustration Hillary feels at having lost out on the Kerry endorsement. At Time.com Karen Tumulty reports: “a source close to Kerry tells me that the person who had been working hardest to get [Kerry’s endorsement] was Hillary Clinton–to the point where her husband had personally lobbied Kerry’s brother Cam and his former brother-in-law David Thorne.”

Tumulty explains that Kerry isn’t terribly fond of the Clintons, as they were pretty tepid in their support of him in 2004. The truth is, not many people have rubbed up against Bill and Hillary and walked away feeling particularly good about it; whereas most Democrats will stand in line to bask in Obama’s reflective glow. The unseemly after-effect of the personal Clinton encounter can be thought of as the flipside to the public Clinton cult—and it’s a campaign liability. It seems a lot of top Dems are waiting on the sidelines hoping to avoid a pro-Clinton stance. We haven’t heard much from Ted Kennedy, for example. And David Roberts at the environmental blog Gristmill suspects that, if it comes down to it, Gore would declare himself an Obama man.

There were a great many people persuaded by Hillary’s tears. She can’t expect many of her former associates to be among them.

Once again Obama out-Clintons the Clintons. John Kerry’s obvious snubbing of former running mate John Edwards is nothing compared to the frustration Hillary feels at having lost out on the Kerry endorsement. At Time.com Karen Tumulty reports: “a source close to Kerry tells me that the person who had been working hardest to get [Kerry’s endorsement] was Hillary Clinton–to the point where her husband had personally lobbied Kerry’s brother Cam and his former brother-in-law David Thorne.”

Tumulty explains that Kerry isn’t terribly fond of the Clintons, as they were pretty tepid in their support of him in 2004. The truth is, not many people have rubbed up against Bill and Hillary and walked away feeling particularly good about it; whereas most Democrats will stand in line to bask in Obama’s reflective glow. The unseemly after-effect of the personal Clinton encounter can be thought of as the flipside to the public Clinton cult—and it’s a campaign liability. It seems a lot of top Dems are waiting on the sidelines hoping to avoid a pro-Clinton stance. We haven’t heard much from Ted Kennedy, for example. And David Roberts at the environmental blog Gristmill suspects that, if it comes down to it, Gore would declare himself an Obama man.

There were a great many people persuaded by Hillary’s tears. She can’t expect many of her former associates to be among them.

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Bookshelf

• Everyone agrees that newspapers aren’t what they used to be—but what did they use to be? Fewer and fewer of us can remember a time when independently owned big-city newspapers, with their dictatorial proprietors and clean-up-this-town crusades, were a major cultural force in American life. For the most part, our understanding of these papers and their priorities now derives not from first-hand experience but from “Citizen Kane,” The Fountainhead and the half-nostalgic, half-jaundiced writings of A.J. Liebling and H.L. Mencken. Thus it was with great interest that I read Harry Haskell’s Boss-Busters and Sin Hounds: Kansas City and Its Star (University of Missouri Press, 450 pp., $34.95), a refreshingly well-written history of the Kansas City Star, which in its day was one of the most influential papers in the Midwest. I knew the Star well in my youth, and even wrote for it in the late 70’s and early 80’s, but by then it bore little resemblance to the paper founded by William Rockhill Nelson in 1880, and Haskell (whose grandfather, Henry Haskell, spent a half-century working for the paper) has done a sterling job of recreating the Star as it used to be.

Today Nelson is remembered, if at all, as the founder of Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, one of the greatest museums in the Midwest. In his lifetime, though, he ran the Star with an iron hand sans velvet glove. “I am publishing the Daily W.R. Nelson,” he said. “If people don’t like my paper they can buy another.” Nelson’s paper was known for clear, direct writing (Ernest Hemingway, who put in a brief stint there, claimed ever after to have been deeply influenced by its no-nonsense style) and a brand of politics that grew increasingly progressive over the years (the Star backed Theodore Roosevelt to the hilt). The Star played a key role in the transformation of Kansas City into a modern middle-class metropolis, and it was Nelson’s thinking that determined the paper’s editorial priorities until the day of his death in 1915, on which sad occasion it ran a two-page obituary that he had personally read and approved.

Like all such papers, the Star underwent great changes after its founder’s death, and by the 30’s it was a staunchly (if not rigidly) Republican paper whose editors looked upon the New Deal with dour skepticism but still retained a measure of their youthful idealism:

Believing personal liberty and private enterprise to be society’s greatest good, they viewed the rise of big government, interest-group politics, and self-governing nation-states with grave misgivings. Seeing an enlightened governing class as the surest bulwark against the “moronic underworld,” they nevertheless accepted the necessity for capitalist societies to reorganize themselves on a more equitable and sustainable basis, to forestall another disastrous slide into totalitarianism or complacency.

Harry Haskell writes about the early days of the Star in much the same way that Robert Caro writes about Lyndon Johnson, making no secret of his own liberal views:

The pages that follow tell the story of one great newspaper and of the compelling “power of purpose” it exerted during what might be called the long Progressive Era . . . Few, I suspect, would rush to turn back to turn back the clock to a time when it was said that “the Star is Kansas City and Kansas City is the Star.” But we may yet think again. If there is a more powerful engine for community building and civic renewal than a strong local newspaper, it has yet to be invented.

But like Caro’s Johnson biography, Boss-Busters and Sin Hounds can also be read in a somewhat different way than its author presumably intended. That papers like the Star were a force for good in turn-of-the-century America is certainly arguable. On the other hand, it was rare for a community as large as Kansas City to be dominated so totally by a single agenda-setting newspaper—the day of the one-newspaper town had not yet come—and one may take leave to doubt that Haskell would now look with equal favor on a paper whose proprietor had been more like Ronald Reagan than William Rockhill Nelson.

In any case, the emergence of the “ethereal Internet ‘communities’” of which he writes so skeptically in his preface was to a considerable extent stimulated by the increasing tendency of postwar newspaper editors and reporters to assume that their ideological points of view were unassailably right. Empowered by the disappearance of competing editorial voices, they succumbed to hubris and thereby lost their influence with much of the American reading public, in the process opening the way for the rise of Web-based journalism and the simultaneous decline of the traditional newspaper. That, too, is part of the ambiguous legacy of W.R. Nelson.

• Everyone agrees that newspapers aren’t what they used to be—but what did they use to be? Fewer and fewer of us can remember a time when independently owned big-city newspapers, with their dictatorial proprietors and clean-up-this-town crusades, were a major cultural force in American life. For the most part, our understanding of these papers and their priorities now derives not from first-hand experience but from “Citizen Kane,” The Fountainhead and the half-nostalgic, half-jaundiced writings of A.J. Liebling and H.L. Mencken. Thus it was with great interest that I read Harry Haskell’s Boss-Busters and Sin Hounds: Kansas City and Its Star (University of Missouri Press, 450 pp., $34.95), a refreshingly well-written history of the Kansas City Star, which in its day was one of the most influential papers in the Midwest. I knew the Star well in my youth, and even wrote for it in the late 70’s and early 80’s, but by then it bore little resemblance to the paper founded by William Rockhill Nelson in 1880, and Haskell (whose grandfather, Henry Haskell, spent a half-century working for the paper) has done a sterling job of recreating the Star as it used to be.

Today Nelson is remembered, if at all, as the founder of Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, one of the greatest museums in the Midwest. In his lifetime, though, he ran the Star with an iron hand sans velvet glove. “I am publishing the Daily W.R. Nelson,” he said. “If people don’t like my paper they can buy another.” Nelson’s paper was known for clear, direct writing (Ernest Hemingway, who put in a brief stint there, claimed ever after to have been deeply influenced by its no-nonsense style) and a brand of politics that grew increasingly progressive over the years (the Star backed Theodore Roosevelt to the hilt). The Star played a key role in the transformation of Kansas City into a modern middle-class metropolis, and it was Nelson’s thinking that determined the paper’s editorial priorities until the day of his death in 1915, on which sad occasion it ran a two-page obituary that he had personally read and approved.

Like all such papers, the Star underwent great changes after its founder’s death, and by the 30’s it was a staunchly (if not rigidly) Republican paper whose editors looked upon the New Deal with dour skepticism but still retained a measure of their youthful idealism:

Believing personal liberty and private enterprise to be society’s greatest good, they viewed the rise of big government, interest-group politics, and self-governing nation-states with grave misgivings. Seeing an enlightened governing class as the surest bulwark against the “moronic underworld,” they nevertheless accepted the necessity for capitalist societies to reorganize themselves on a more equitable and sustainable basis, to forestall another disastrous slide into totalitarianism or complacency.

Harry Haskell writes about the early days of the Star in much the same way that Robert Caro writes about Lyndon Johnson, making no secret of his own liberal views:

The pages that follow tell the story of one great newspaper and of the compelling “power of purpose” it exerted during what might be called the long Progressive Era . . . Few, I suspect, would rush to turn back to turn back the clock to a time when it was said that “the Star is Kansas City and Kansas City is the Star.” But we may yet think again. If there is a more powerful engine for community building and civic renewal than a strong local newspaper, it has yet to be invented.

But like Caro’s Johnson biography, Boss-Busters and Sin Hounds can also be read in a somewhat different way than its author presumably intended. That papers like the Star were a force for good in turn-of-the-century America is certainly arguable. On the other hand, it was rare for a community as large as Kansas City to be dominated so totally by a single agenda-setting newspaper—the day of the one-newspaper town had not yet come—and one may take leave to doubt that Haskell would now look with equal favor on a paper whose proprietor had been more like Ronald Reagan than William Rockhill Nelson.

In any case, the emergence of the “ethereal Internet ‘communities’” of which he writes so skeptically in his preface was to a considerable extent stimulated by the increasing tendency of postwar newspaper editors and reporters to assume that their ideological points of view were unassailably right. Empowered by the disappearance of competing editorial voices, they succumbed to hubris and thereby lost their influence with much of the American reading public, in the process opening the way for the rise of Web-based journalism and the simultaneous decline of the traditional newspaper. That, too, is part of the ambiguous legacy of W.R. Nelson.

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What Mike Huckabee Said About Israel

Last night, in debate in South Carolina, Mike Huckabee took out after Ron Paul after the libertarian fringe candidate said, “We support Israel, and we try to have this balance. But I think it would be much better to have a balance by being out of there.”

Here’s what Huckabee said:

I’d like to just, with all due respect, Congressman Paul, the issue of whether the president should be in the Middle East comes to something that I think we’ve got to recognize.

We’ve got one true ally in the Middle East, and that’s Israel. It’s a tiny nation. I’ve been there nine time. I’ve literally traveled from Dan to Beersheba, and I understand something of that nation and the vulnerability of it.

And for us to give the world the impression that we would stand by if it were under attack and simply say, “It’s not our problem,” would be recklessly irresponsible on our part.

And if I were president, you can rest assured that we would not let an ally be annihilated by those enemies which is surround it, who have openly stated it is their direct intention to destroy that nation. It would not happen under my presidency.

Last night, in debate in South Carolina, Mike Huckabee took out after Ron Paul after the libertarian fringe candidate said, “We support Israel, and we try to have this balance. But I think it would be much better to have a balance by being out of there.”

Here’s what Huckabee said:

I’d like to just, with all due respect, Congressman Paul, the issue of whether the president should be in the Middle East comes to something that I think we’ve got to recognize.

We’ve got one true ally in the Middle East, and that’s Israel. It’s a tiny nation. I’ve been there nine time. I’ve literally traveled from Dan to Beersheba, and I understand something of that nation and the vulnerability of it.

And for us to give the world the impression that we would stand by if it were under attack and simply say, “It’s not our problem,” would be recklessly irresponsible on our part.

And if I were president, you can rest assured that we would not let an ally be annihilated by those enemies which is surround it, who have openly stated it is their direct intention to destroy that nation. It would not happen under my presidency.

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The Anti-Americanism of George Weigel

How should we think about the religious fanaticism that fuels al Qaeda’s war against the West? One set of penetrating answers can be found in George Weigel’s Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism: A Call to Action. Weigel, of course, is a frequent contributor to COMMENTARY and one of the most acute religious and political thinkers on the scene today. He sees a United States intellectually ill-equipped to deal with the challenge we are facing, in no small part because of “tone deafness to the fact that for the overwhelming majority of humanity, religious conviction provides the story line through which life’s meaning is read.” 

The existence of this tone deafness is indisputable. One might go further and say that it is not merely tones that go unheard, but sound itself. Some of us are suffering from just plain old deafness. Who has forgotten Silvestre Reyes, the current chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who after five years of service on that committee could not answer the softball question, pitched to him by Congressional Quarterly, of whether al Qaeda is Sunni or Shiite? “They have both,” was his ignorant guess. Silvestre is the man who now holds the pivotal responsibility of overseeing the U.S. intelligence agencies fighting the war against Jihadism.

Weigel ranges over the issues with deep learning in measured tones. It is interesting therefore, to note some of the fierce passions his book has unleashed. One sample comes from our old friend Michael Scheuer, who regards Weigel as anti-American:

What, one wonders, can possibly inspire the neoconservatives’ hate for Americans, their history, their traditions, and their ideas? In the context of this question, George Weigel’s new book, Faith, Reason, and the War against Jihadism. A Call to Action, is more troubling than Norman Podhoretz’s viciously anti-American World War IV: The Long War Against Islamofacism because of Mr. Weigel’s reputation as a brilliant Catholic scholar, confidant of popes, and commentator on Catholicism’s role in America. In Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism, however, Mr. Weigel reveals himself as just one more America-hating neoconservative; he is a clone of Mr. Podhoretz and his acolytes, and, like them, can barely constrain his contempt for his countrymen, saying, for example, that it is the “sovereign prerogative” of these fools to elect non-neoconservative candidates who are incompetent, naive, and clueless. [p. 142].

I went to page 142 of Weigel’s book, where the contemptuous remarks about Americans were supposedly to be found, and I am afraid I came up blank. 

It seems, once again, that Scheuer, along with a penchant for bizarre outbursts, has trouble checking the checkables. A fair conclusion from reading George Weigel’s book is that Weigel is about as anti-American as Michael Scheuer is calm and rational.  

For previous Connecting the Dots postings about Michael Scheuer, click here.

How should we think about the religious fanaticism that fuels al Qaeda’s war against the West? One set of penetrating answers can be found in George Weigel’s Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism: A Call to Action. Weigel, of course, is a frequent contributor to COMMENTARY and one of the most acute religious and political thinkers on the scene today. He sees a United States intellectually ill-equipped to deal with the challenge we are facing, in no small part because of “tone deafness to the fact that for the overwhelming majority of humanity, religious conviction provides the story line through which life’s meaning is read.” 

The existence of this tone deafness is indisputable. One might go further and say that it is not merely tones that go unheard, but sound itself. Some of us are suffering from just plain old deafness. Who has forgotten Silvestre Reyes, the current chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who after five years of service on that committee could not answer the softball question, pitched to him by Congressional Quarterly, of whether al Qaeda is Sunni or Shiite? “They have both,” was his ignorant guess. Silvestre is the man who now holds the pivotal responsibility of overseeing the U.S. intelligence agencies fighting the war against Jihadism.

Weigel ranges over the issues with deep learning in measured tones. It is interesting therefore, to note some of the fierce passions his book has unleashed. One sample comes from our old friend Michael Scheuer, who regards Weigel as anti-American:

What, one wonders, can possibly inspire the neoconservatives’ hate for Americans, their history, their traditions, and their ideas? In the context of this question, George Weigel’s new book, Faith, Reason, and the War against Jihadism. A Call to Action, is more troubling than Norman Podhoretz’s viciously anti-American World War IV: The Long War Against Islamofacism because of Mr. Weigel’s reputation as a brilliant Catholic scholar, confidant of popes, and commentator on Catholicism’s role in America. In Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism, however, Mr. Weigel reveals himself as just one more America-hating neoconservative; he is a clone of Mr. Podhoretz and his acolytes, and, like them, can barely constrain his contempt for his countrymen, saying, for example, that it is the “sovereign prerogative” of these fools to elect non-neoconservative candidates who are incompetent, naive, and clueless. [p. 142].

I went to page 142 of Weigel’s book, where the contemptuous remarks about Americans were supposedly to be found, and I am afraid I came up blank. 

It seems, once again, that Scheuer, along with a penchant for bizarre outbursts, has trouble checking the checkables. A fair conclusion from reading George Weigel’s book is that Weigel is about as anti-American as Michael Scheuer is calm and rational.  

For previous Connecting the Dots postings about Michael Scheuer, click here.

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More Hollywood Iraq Madness

Yet another Iraq movie started shooting this week. This one is a fictionalized version of the book Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone. Director Paul Greengrass is one of the most impressive talents working in film today, and he’s secured Amy Ryan, a likely Oscar winner for Gone Baby Gone, and Greg Kinnear to star with Matt Damon. Ryan plays a New York Times reporter, and the apparent point of the movie is that the Army is making a huge mistake by staying holed up away from the Iraqi public in the heavily fortified Baghdad Green Zone.One of the many problems you face when you make a movie about Iraq is this: it takes years to put a movie together, by which time you can bet that whatever you are saying will be outdated. Since the Surge, for example, the Army no longer sticks to its Green Zone-think. And anyway, the armchair generals who have been offering their wisdom to actual military officers since day one keep contradicting themselves. An excellent example is No End In Sight, which has won a shelf full of awards for Best Documentary of 2007. The movie argues at length that the American forces made a huge mistake by keeping inside the Green Zone, and offers up as an example of what they should have done the tale of the U.N. official Sergio Vieira de Mello. It’s true that Viera de Mello operated within a much more open and welcoming site. It’s also true that he was promptly killed by a bomb. To add insult to it all, the book on which the Greengrass film is based was written by a Washington Post man, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, yet it’s a Times reporter who is a lead character. If there’s anything the public likes less than an antiwar Iraq movie, it’s a movie about how wonderful journalists are.

Yet another Iraq movie started shooting this week. This one is a fictionalized version of the book Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone. Director Paul Greengrass is one of the most impressive talents working in film today, and he’s secured Amy Ryan, a likely Oscar winner for Gone Baby Gone, and Greg Kinnear to star with Matt Damon. Ryan plays a New York Times reporter, and the apparent point of the movie is that the Army is making a huge mistake by staying holed up away from the Iraqi public in the heavily fortified Baghdad Green Zone.One of the many problems you face when you make a movie about Iraq is this: it takes years to put a movie together, by which time you can bet that whatever you are saying will be outdated. Since the Surge, for example, the Army no longer sticks to its Green Zone-think. And anyway, the armchair generals who have been offering their wisdom to actual military officers since day one keep contradicting themselves. An excellent example is No End In Sight, which has won a shelf full of awards for Best Documentary of 2007. The movie argues at length that the American forces made a huge mistake by keeping inside the Green Zone, and offers up as an example of what they should have done the tale of the U.N. official Sergio Vieira de Mello. It’s true that Viera de Mello operated within a much more open and welcoming site. It’s also true that he was promptly killed by a bomb. To add insult to it all, the book on which the Greengrass film is based was written by a Washington Post man, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, yet it’s a Times reporter who is a lead character. If there’s anything the public likes less than an antiwar Iraq movie, it’s a movie about how wonderful journalists are.

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“Occupation”?

In Ramallah yesterday President Bush declared there “should be an end to the [Israeli] occupation that began in 1967.”

Invoking the word “occupation,” which Israeli leaders have also used, strikes me as an odd and unhelpful thing. The West Bank and Gaza, as well as the Sinai desert and Golan Heights, were lost in an Arab war of aggression against Israel–and yet the aggressor states took on the mantle of the aggrieved. This historical fact cannot be stressed often enough: Israel did not set out to conquer anything; it seized the land in a war of self-defense. And Israel ceded—at Camp David in 1979—more land in pursuit of peace than virtually any victor in history. Israel gave up more than 90 percent of the land, including oil-rich land, it won in a war in which it was not the aggressor state. Post-World War II Germany lost land compared to pre-World War II Germany—but Germans do not refer to that lost land as “occupied territory.” It lost the land in a war—and when you lose a war, you often lose land, and the claims on that land.

It’s worth adding that if Arab nations have such a deep, abiding interest in a Palestinian homeland, why didn’t they give them one when they could. During their 19-year rule (1948-1967) neither Jordan nor Egypt made any effort to establish a Palestinian state in either the West Bank or Gaza. No demands for a West Bank and Gaza independent state were heard until Israel took control of these areas in a defensive war for its survival.

This does not necessarily mean that Israel should not cede land in the West Bank; it might be in Israel’s interest to do such a thing, given the demographic and security realities it faces. But to keep referring to the West Bank as “occupied territory” perpetrates a myth—holds Israel to a double standard that is often used and always wrong.

In Ramallah yesterday President Bush declared there “should be an end to the [Israeli] occupation that began in 1967.”

Invoking the word “occupation,” which Israeli leaders have also used, strikes me as an odd and unhelpful thing. The West Bank and Gaza, as well as the Sinai desert and Golan Heights, were lost in an Arab war of aggression against Israel–and yet the aggressor states took on the mantle of the aggrieved. This historical fact cannot be stressed often enough: Israel did not set out to conquer anything; it seized the land in a war of self-defense. And Israel ceded—at Camp David in 1979—more land in pursuit of peace than virtually any victor in history. Israel gave up more than 90 percent of the land, including oil-rich land, it won in a war in which it was not the aggressor state. Post-World War II Germany lost land compared to pre-World War II Germany—but Germans do not refer to that lost land as “occupied territory.” It lost the land in a war—and when you lose a war, you often lose land, and the claims on that land.

It’s worth adding that if Arab nations have such a deep, abiding interest in a Palestinian homeland, why didn’t they give them one when they could. During their 19-year rule (1948-1967) neither Jordan nor Egypt made any effort to establish a Palestinian state in either the West Bank or Gaza. No demands for a West Bank and Gaza independent state were heard until Israel took control of these areas in a defensive war for its survival.

This does not necessarily mean that Israel should not cede land in the West Bank; it might be in Israel’s interest to do such a thing, given the demographic and security realities it faces. But to keep referring to the West Bank as “occupied territory” perpetrates a myth—holds Israel to a double standard that is often used and always wrong.

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The Bravery of Iraqis

Iraqi Army soldiers have a terrible reputation for cowardice and corruption – especially in Baghdad – but it’s unfair to write them all off after reading the news out of Iraq’s capital Sunday. Three Iraqi Army soldiers tackled a suicide bomber at an Army Day parade and were killed when he exploded his vest.

While embedded with the United States Army and Marines I heard over and over again that the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police have improved a lot in the past year. This is encouraging, on the one hand, but at the same time it is worrisome. If they are as bad now in some places as I’ve seen myself, they must have really been something in 2005.

At the War Eagle outpost in Baghdad’s Graya’at neighborhood, I was told by a military intelligence officer that the most likely reason we weren’t under mortar attack is because huge numbers of Moqtada al Sadr’s radical Mahdi Army militiamen had infiltrated the ranks of Iraqi Army soldiers who shared the base with us.

A colonel at Camp Taji north of the city told me the U.S. Army doesn’t dare inform their Iraqi Army counterparts about sensitive operations until the very last minute because they don’t want infiltrators to alert the insurgents.

The Iraqi Police in Mushadah, near Taji, were more of a military force than a police force when I visited last July. As many as half were thought to be Al Qaeda operatives, and the other half were so scared they refused to go on patrols until a female American captain showed them up by going outside the station herself.

And this is the new and improved Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police of 2007 during General Petraeus’s surge. Progress in Iraq is relative. It’s hard to say if the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police could hold the country together by themselves in 2008. Personally, I doubt it. So do most American soldiers and Marines I’ve spoken to. The Iraqis certainly could not have held it together in 2005 or 2006.

The Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police deserve kudos for progress, even so. And they deserve more credit for bravery than they’ve been getting. Iraqis are far more likely to be killed in combat than Americans due to their inferior equipment and lack of experience. And if the insurgents win the war, American soldiers and Marines get to go home. Iraqis who sided with the Americans in the army and police will have to face retribution alone, with little chance of escape, from the new regime.

And what of those three who threw themselves on a suicide bomber? They are hardly less brave than American soldiers. They are arguably as brave as the Americans who sacked the Al Qaeda hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93 over Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, and sacrificed themselves so that others could live.

These Iraqis deserve recognition, and they deserved to be recognized by their names. Yet I could not find their names cited in any media articles. All three of their names generate zero hits using Google at the time of this writing. I had to contact Baghdad myself to find out who they were. Lieutenant Colonel James Hutton was kind enough to pass their names on.

Iraq between the time of the initial invasion and 2007 was easily as nasty a place as Lebanon was during the 1980s, and the conflict is eerily similar. Thomas Friedman made a haunting observation about anonymous death during the civil war in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem: “Death had no echo in Beirut. No one’s life seemed to leave any mark on the city or reverberate in its ear.” Then he quoted a young woman. “In the United States if you die in a car accident, at least your name gets mentioned on television,” she said. “Here they don’t even mention your name anymore. They just say ‘thirty people died.’ Well, what thirty people? They don’t even bother to give their names. At least say their names. I want to feel that I was something more than a body when I die.”

Here are the names of the three brave Iraqis who hurled themselves on an exploding suicide bomber.

Malik Abdul Ghanem
Asa’ad Hussein Ali
Abdul-Hamza Abdul-Hassan Rissan

They were friends the Americans and Iraqis did not know we had until they were gone.

Iraqi Army soldiers have a terrible reputation for cowardice and corruption – especially in Baghdad – but it’s unfair to write them all off after reading the news out of Iraq’s capital Sunday. Three Iraqi Army soldiers tackled a suicide bomber at an Army Day parade and were killed when he exploded his vest.

While embedded with the United States Army and Marines I heard over and over again that the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police have improved a lot in the past year. This is encouraging, on the one hand, but at the same time it is worrisome. If they are as bad now in some places as I’ve seen myself, they must have really been something in 2005.

At the War Eagle outpost in Baghdad’s Graya’at neighborhood, I was told by a military intelligence officer that the most likely reason we weren’t under mortar attack is because huge numbers of Moqtada al Sadr’s radical Mahdi Army militiamen had infiltrated the ranks of Iraqi Army soldiers who shared the base with us.

A colonel at Camp Taji north of the city told me the U.S. Army doesn’t dare inform their Iraqi Army counterparts about sensitive operations until the very last minute because they don’t want infiltrators to alert the insurgents.

The Iraqi Police in Mushadah, near Taji, were more of a military force than a police force when I visited last July. As many as half were thought to be Al Qaeda operatives, and the other half were so scared they refused to go on patrols until a female American captain showed them up by going outside the station herself.

And this is the new and improved Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police of 2007 during General Petraeus’s surge. Progress in Iraq is relative. It’s hard to say if the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police could hold the country together by themselves in 2008. Personally, I doubt it. So do most American soldiers and Marines I’ve spoken to. The Iraqis certainly could not have held it together in 2005 or 2006.

The Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police deserve kudos for progress, even so. And they deserve more credit for bravery than they’ve been getting. Iraqis are far more likely to be killed in combat than Americans due to their inferior equipment and lack of experience. And if the insurgents win the war, American soldiers and Marines get to go home. Iraqis who sided with the Americans in the army and police will have to face retribution alone, with little chance of escape, from the new regime.

And what of those three who threw themselves on a suicide bomber? They are hardly less brave than American soldiers. They are arguably as brave as the Americans who sacked the Al Qaeda hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93 over Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, and sacrificed themselves so that others could live.

These Iraqis deserve recognition, and they deserved to be recognized by their names. Yet I could not find their names cited in any media articles. All three of their names generate zero hits using Google at the time of this writing. I had to contact Baghdad myself to find out who they were. Lieutenant Colonel James Hutton was kind enough to pass their names on.

Iraq between the time of the initial invasion and 2007 was easily as nasty a place as Lebanon was during the 1980s, and the conflict is eerily similar. Thomas Friedman made a haunting observation about anonymous death during the civil war in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem: “Death had no echo in Beirut. No one’s life seemed to leave any mark on the city or reverberate in its ear.” Then he quoted a young woman. “In the United States if you die in a car accident, at least your name gets mentioned on television,” she said. “Here they don’t even mention your name anymore. They just say ‘thirty people died.’ Well, what thirty people? They don’t even bother to give their names. At least say their names. I want to feel that I was something more than a body when I die.”

Here are the names of the three brave Iraqis who hurled themselves on an exploding suicide bomber.

Malik Abdul Ghanem
Asa’ad Hussein Ali
Abdul-Hamza Abdul-Hassan Rissan

They were friends the Americans and Iraqis did not know we had until they were gone.

Read Less

You Can Dream, Can’t You?

“The Last Fanatic” is now climbing the charts at YouTube. Probably one of the cleverest fake movie trailers ever made. See it here.

“The Last Fanatic” is now climbing the charts at YouTube. Probably one of the cleverest fake movie trailers ever made. See it here.

Read Less

Gandhi II: The Apology

Yesterday I brought to you the startling comments of Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, in which he said that “Israel and the Jews are the biggest players” in a “culture of violence [that] is eventually going to destroy humanity.” (I neglected to mention that he also called Israel a “snake pit.”) Today he has posted an “apology,” which, in the sake of fairness, I now quote in full:

My Apology for My Poorly Worded Post
I am writing to correct some regrettable mis-impressions I have given in my comments on my blog this week. While I stand behind my criticisms of the use of violence by recent Israeli governments — and I have criticized the governments of the U.S., India and China in much the same way — I want to correct statements that I made with insufficient care, and that have inflicted unnecessary hurt and caused anger.

I do not believe and should not have implied that the policies of the Israeli government are reflective of the views of all Jewish people. Indeed, many are as concerned as I am by the use of violence for state purposes, by Israel and many other governments.

I do believe that when a people hold on to historic grievances too firmly it can lead to bitterness and the loss of support from those who would be friends. But as I have noted in previous writings, the suffering of the Jewish people, particularly in the Holocaust, was historic in its proportions. While we must strive for a future of peace that rejects violence, it is also important not to forget the past, lest we fail to learn from it. Having learned from it, we can then find the path to peace and rejection of violence through forgiveness.

I feel so much better now.

Yesterday I brought to you the startling comments of Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, in which he said that “Israel and the Jews are the biggest players” in a “culture of violence [that] is eventually going to destroy humanity.” (I neglected to mention that he also called Israel a “snake pit.”) Today he has posted an “apology,” which, in the sake of fairness, I now quote in full:

My Apology for My Poorly Worded Post
I am writing to correct some regrettable mis-impressions I have given in my comments on my blog this week. While I stand behind my criticisms of the use of violence by recent Israeli governments — and I have criticized the governments of the U.S., India and China in much the same way — I want to correct statements that I made with insufficient care, and that have inflicted unnecessary hurt and caused anger.

I do not believe and should not have implied that the policies of the Israeli government are reflective of the views of all Jewish people. Indeed, many are as concerned as I am by the use of violence for state purposes, by Israel and many other governments.

I do believe that when a people hold on to historic grievances too firmly it can lead to bitterness and the loss of support from those who would be friends. But as I have noted in previous writings, the suffering of the Jewish people, particularly in the Holocaust, was historic in its proportions. While we must strive for a future of peace that rejects violence, it is also important not to forget the past, lest we fail to learn from it. Having learned from it, we can then find the path to peace and rejection of violence through forgiveness.

I feel so much better now.

Read Less




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