Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 22, 2008

Abbie Hoffman and the Temple of Doom

Steven Spielberg was planning to direct a movie about the crazy trial of the Chicago Seven from a script by Aaron Sorkin. He had cast Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman. Now the most successful director in the history of the world has decided, as they used to say in Variety, to “ankle” the project. Maybe he looked at those box-office receipts from the Iraq War movies, not to mention the receipts from his own moral-equivalence-fest Munich, and decided to take a pass. Next up for Spielberg, interestingly enough, is a biographical picture not about a con-man-reprobate-crook like Abbie Hoffman but rather…Abraham Lincoln. Scripted by Tony Kushner.

Steven Spielberg was planning to direct a movie about the crazy trial of the Chicago Seven from a script by Aaron Sorkin. He had cast Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman. Now the most successful director in the history of the world has decided, as they used to say in Variety, to “ankle” the project. Maybe he looked at those box-office receipts from the Iraq War movies, not to mention the receipts from his own moral-equivalence-fest Munich, and decided to take a pass. Next up for Spielberg, interestingly enough, is a biographical picture not about a con-man-reprobate-crook like Abbie Hoffman but rather…Abraham Lincoln. Scripted by Tony Kushner.

Read Less

Bookshelf

• Why are so many Americans unaware that Joseph Stalin was as brutal, systematic and effective a killer as Adolf Hitler? One reason is because so much of the Old Left looked the other way at Stalin’s nefarious activities, and was unwilling later on to admit that it had done so. Another is that the Soviet Union remained a closed society long after the killing stopped, making it vastly more difficult for interested Westerners to study the Great Terror in the way that the Holocaust became a subject of detailed historical inquiry. As a result, we know far more about the individual innocents who died in the Holocaust than about those who were murdered at Stalin’s command.

Will this situation continue? Now that the Old Left is dying out, it has become somewhat more acceptable for American academics to study the Great Terror and report on it in a straightforward way, which doubtless explains the publication of The Voices of the Dead: Stalin’s Great Terror in the 1930s (Yale, 295 pp., $30), a new book by Hiroaki Kuromiya, a professor of history at Indiana University. For the past several years, Kuromiya has been examining the files of the secret police in Kiev, which in the 30’s was the Soviet Union’s third-largest city. (Now it is part of the independent state of Ukraine, whose rulers are more willing than their opposite numbers in Moscow to let outsiders study what Stalin wrought.) Like all bureaucrats, the killers of Kiev kept detailed records of their activities, right down to the late-night death warrants that were signed minutes before their prisoners were hustled out of their cells, shot in the nape of the neck and dumped into mass graves. In order to write The Voices of the Dead, Kuromiya examined the surviving dossiers of several dozen victims of the Great Terror, paying special attention to the handwritten notes in which official interrogators recorded the results of their attempts to extract confessions out of their prisoners prior to having them executed. The result is a book whose deliberate flatness of tone does not make it any less sickening.

Kuromiya’s own description of The Voices of the Dead is no less eloquent in its plainness:

The present book is a modest attempt to allow some of those executed in 1937-38 a voice. The focus is on individuals, in particular those whose lives meant absolutely nothing to Stalin: innocent people who were swept up in the maelstrom of political terror he unleashed. Most of the people discussed here are “unremarkable”: they left no conspicuous imprint on history. . . . Stalin was certain that no one would remember them. The “all-conquering power of Bolshevism” condemned them to oblivion, but it could not suppress their voices completely. Ironically, Stalin’s efforts to extinguish their voices helped preserve them, in the depths of their case files.

The people we meet in The Voices of the Dead are indeed “utterly unknown, ‘ordinary’ Soviet citizens: workers, peasants, homemakers, teachers, priests, musicians, soldiers, pensioners, ballerinas, beggars.” All they had in common was that they ran afoul of Stalin’s killing machine. Many appear to have been tortured before being sent to the execution chamber. Some confessed to crimes that they may or may not have committed, while others went to their graves swearing that they had done nothing wrong. To read about them is a jolting experience, no matter how much you may already know about the regime that sentenced them to die.

The Voices of the Dead is illustrated with reproductions of some of the documents examined by Kuromiya, including two harrowing “mug shots” of a pair of victims that appear to have been taken not long before they were executed. The book also contains contemporary photographs taken at the site of the mass graves on the outskirts of Kiev where tens of thousands of Stalin’s victims are buried. It is now a memorial park dotted with crosses, though few go there: “Except on commemorative occasions…the graves are deserted—dark, serene and eerie. History weighs on visitors here.” The main grave is marked with a monument inscribed with just two words: Vechnaya pamyat—eternal memory. It is a devastatingly simple reminder of the evil that men do in the name of ideas. So is this disturbing, invaluable book.

• Why are so many Americans unaware that Joseph Stalin was as brutal, systematic and effective a killer as Adolf Hitler? One reason is because so much of the Old Left looked the other way at Stalin’s nefarious activities, and was unwilling later on to admit that it had done so. Another is that the Soviet Union remained a closed society long after the killing stopped, making it vastly more difficult for interested Westerners to study the Great Terror in the way that the Holocaust became a subject of detailed historical inquiry. As a result, we know far more about the individual innocents who died in the Holocaust than about those who were murdered at Stalin’s command.

Will this situation continue? Now that the Old Left is dying out, it has become somewhat more acceptable for American academics to study the Great Terror and report on it in a straightforward way, which doubtless explains the publication of The Voices of the Dead: Stalin’s Great Terror in the 1930s (Yale, 295 pp., $30), a new book by Hiroaki Kuromiya, a professor of history at Indiana University. For the past several years, Kuromiya has been examining the files of the secret police in Kiev, which in the 30’s was the Soviet Union’s third-largest city. (Now it is part of the independent state of Ukraine, whose rulers are more willing than their opposite numbers in Moscow to let outsiders study what Stalin wrought.) Like all bureaucrats, the killers of Kiev kept detailed records of their activities, right down to the late-night death warrants that were signed minutes before their prisoners were hustled out of their cells, shot in the nape of the neck and dumped into mass graves. In order to write The Voices of the Dead, Kuromiya examined the surviving dossiers of several dozen victims of the Great Terror, paying special attention to the handwritten notes in which official interrogators recorded the results of their attempts to extract confessions out of their prisoners prior to having them executed. The result is a book whose deliberate flatness of tone does not make it any less sickening.

Kuromiya’s own description of The Voices of the Dead is no less eloquent in its plainness:

The present book is a modest attempt to allow some of those executed in 1937-38 a voice. The focus is on individuals, in particular those whose lives meant absolutely nothing to Stalin: innocent people who were swept up in the maelstrom of political terror he unleashed. Most of the people discussed here are “unremarkable”: they left no conspicuous imprint on history. . . . Stalin was certain that no one would remember them. The “all-conquering power of Bolshevism” condemned them to oblivion, but it could not suppress their voices completely. Ironically, Stalin’s efforts to extinguish their voices helped preserve them, in the depths of their case files.

The people we meet in The Voices of the Dead are indeed “utterly unknown, ‘ordinary’ Soviet citizens: workers, peasants, homemakers, teachers, priests, musicians, soldiers, pensioners, ballerinas, beggars.” All they had in common was that they ran afoul of Stalin’s killing machine. Many appear to have been tortured before being sent to the execution chamber. Some confessed to crimes that they may or may not have committed, while others went to their graves swearing that they had done nothing wrong. To read about them is a jolting experience, no matter how much you may already know about the regime that sentenced them to die.

The Voices of the Dead is illustrated with reproductions of some of the documents examined by Kuromiya, including two harrowing “mug shots” of a pair of victims that appear to have been taken not long before they were executed. The book also contains contemporary photographs taken at the site of the mass graves on the outskirts of Kiev where tens of thousands of Stalin’s victims are buried. It is now a memorial park dotted with crosses, though few go there: “Except on commemorative occasions…the graves are deserted—dark, serene and eerie. History weighs on visitors here.” The main grave is marked with a monument inscribed with just two words: Vechnaya pamyat—eternal memory. It is a devastatingly simple reminder of the evil that men do in the name of ideas. So is this disturbing, invaluable book.

Read Less

I Scream, You Scream

The Democratic Party has wasted no time in making hay out of the John McCain non-scandal. Here’s an excerpt from Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean’s fund-raising email sent this morning:

Don’t let John McCain’s team of lobbyists, Rush Limbaugh and the right-wing noise machine, the RNC and their special-interest backers take advantage of John McCain’s most recent ethics scandal — it’s disgusting, and we can’t let them get ahead like this. They’re screaming as loud as they can, and you can send a message right back.

Is Howard Dean really in a position to complain about other people “screaming as loud as they can”? [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDwODbl3muE[/youtub[/youtube]

The Democratic Party has wasted no time in making hay out of the John McCain non-scandal. Here’s an excerpt from Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean’s fund-raising email sent this morning:

Don’t let John McCain’s team of lobbyists, Rush Limbaugh and the right-wing noise machine, the RNC and their special-interest backers take advantage of John McCain’s most recent ethics scandal — it’s disgusting, and we can’t let them get ahead like this. They’re screaming as loud as they can, and you can send a message right back.

Is Howard Dean really in a position to complain about other people “screaming as loud as they can”? [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDwODbl3muE[/youtub[/youtube]

Read Less

McCain Blogger Call

John McCain just completed another blogger call. He began by talking about Kosovo, saying he believed it would be an independent country and that Vladimir Putin’s comments were “very unhelpful” and his discussion of Georgia’s breakaway provinces was “outrageous.” He also again took Barack Obama to task for offering to meet with Raul Castro without preconditions. He stated that Raul was “the bad guy of the duo” and responsible for sentencing people to death and maintaining a dictatorship and that McCain would only meet with him after “the prisons were emptied,” fair elections were held and other conditions had been met. (In response to a question later in the call he noted that the danger in meeting with Raul would be to legitimize him when a transition to a freer system might otherwise be possible. He argued that the embargo policy had successfully contained Castro.)

I asked him about the potential Democratic nominees’ unwillingness to recognize progress in Iraq. He said he was “disappointed but not surprised they continue to deny obvious facts” that political and military progress was being made. He termed it “almost Orwellian” that people would assert that the threat of withdrawal actually contributed to improved conditions. He suggested that his opponents need not “apologize” but they should admit they were wrong in opposing the surge. (He offered that MoveOn.org has a “significant influence in the Democrat party.”)

Abe Greenwald asked about Jay Lefkowitz’s criticisms (which were given the back of the hand by Secretary of State Condi Rice) that the Six Party talks involving North Korea should address human rights abuses. McCain said succinctly that he does believe the talks should address human rights and that North Korea remains the world’s largest functioning “gulag.” (He mentioned his disappointment that the South Korean government was not as “mindful” of the human rights abuses as it should be.) He said undue focus on the make-up of the talks rather than the content was misguided and drew analogies to Vietnam, mentioning that talks went on unsuccessfully for years until “B-52′s appeared in the skies.” He said that he was concerned about the North Korea’s failure to live up to its committments and its potential involvement with Syria’s nuclear program. (He ended his response by quoting Ronald Reagan’s “Trust but verify” addage.)

On other matters: 1) He expressed “distress” that Congressman Rick Renzi was indicted and agreed he would likely step down as an Arizona co-chair; 2) He said he was on “solid ground” in withdrawing from the public financing constraints imposed by the FEC as Congressman Dick Gephardt previously had done in similar circumstances; 3) He said he would be competitive in California and states in the northeast like New Jersey and even New York and intended to go to places Republicans usually don’t and compete in all states.; 4) Explained his “100 years in Iraq” comment as an indication that our security arrangements would be ongoing but that we would be successful militarily in the short term and defended himself against the Democratic charges that he was not expert on the economy by saying he was most expert on foreign policy given his decades of involvement in that area, but that his low tax, free market philosophy would stack up well against the Democrats. He declined to comment further on the New York Times lobbyist story.

In general, he seemed engaged and forward looking. There was no trace of animus or bitterness about yesterday’s events, and he seemed energized when talking about differences with his Democratic opponents.

John McCain just completed another blogger call. He began by talking about Kosovo, saying he believed it would be an independent country and that Vladimir Putin’s comments were “very unhelpful” and his discussion of Georgia’s breakaway provinces was “outrageous.” He also again took Barack Obama to task for offering to meet with Raul Castro without preconditions. He stated that Raul was “the bad guy of the duo” and responsible for sentencing people to death and maintaining a dictatorship and that McCain would only meet with him after “the prisons were emptied,” fair elections were held and other conditions had been met. (In response to a question later in the call he noted that the danger in meeting with Raul would be to legitimize him when a transition to a freer system might otherwise be possible. He argued that the embargo policy had successfully contained Castro.)

I asked him about the potential Democratic nominees’ unwillingness to recognize progress in Iraq. He said he was “disappointed but not surprised they continue to deny obvious facts” that political and military progress was being made. He termed it “almost Orwellian” that people would assert that the threat of withdrawal actually contributed to improved conditions. He suggested that his opponents need not “apologize” but they should admit they were wrong in opposing the surge. (He offered that MoveOn.org has a “significant influence in the Democrat party.”)

Abe Greenwald asked about Jay Lefkowitz’s criticisms (which were given the back of the hand by Secretary of State Condi Rice) that the Six Party talks involving North Korea should address human rights abuses. McCain said succinctly that he does believe the talks should address human rights and that North Korea remains the world’s largest functioning “gulag.” (He mentioned his disappointment that the South Korean government was not as “mindful” of the human rights abuses as it should be.) He said undue focus on the make-up of the talks rather than the content was misguided and drew analogies to Vietnam, mentioning that talks went on unsuccessfully for years until “B-52′s appeared in the skies.” He said that he was concerned about the North Korea’s failure to live up to its committments and its potential involvement with Syria’s nuclear program. (He ended his response by quoting Ronald Reagan’s “Trust but verify” addage.)

On other matters: 1) He expressed “distress” that Congressman Rick Renzi was indicted and agreed he would likely step down as an Arizona co-chair; 2) He said he was on “solid ground” in withdrawing from the public financing constraints imposed by the FEC as Congressman Dick Gephardt previously had done in similar circumstances; 3) He said he would be competitive in California and states in the northeast like New Jersey and even New York and intended to go to places Republicans usually don’t and compete in all states.; 4) Explained his “100 years in Iraq” comment as an indication that our security arrangements would be ongoing but that we would be successful militarily in the short term and defended himself against the Democratic charges that he was not expert on the economy by saying he was most expert on foreign policy given his decades of involvement in that area, but that his low tax, free market philosophy would stack up well against the Democrats. He declined to comment further on the New York Times lobbyist story.

In general, he seemed engaged and forward looking. There was no trace of animus or bitterness about yesterday’s events, and he seemed energized when talking about differences with his Democratic opponents.

Read Less

Oscar Predictions

Here’s the thing: I’m generally lousy at them, because I always overthink these things. So I suppose since everybody and his brother are saying No Country for Old Men is going to win, it probably is — and since everybody is saying there’s a backlash against Juno, I guess there is.

But here’s the rub: I talk to a lot of people who actually just go to the movies rather than write about them. And most of these people didn’t really like No Country. They thought there were wonderful scenes but found the last 15 minutes baffling in a particularly off-putting way. I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t love Juno. People who write about movies twist themselves into knots thinking about these matters so much they decide Juno is meretricious and the end of No Country doesn’t matter.

What I’m saying is, evidently it would be an upset if Juno won. But why? Would would a universally liked, enormously popular, and very affecting film be considered an underdog against a brilliantly made but bloody and unsatisfying existential thriller? There are only 6,000 Academy Awards voters. None of them is a critic.

Last year, when The Departed beat Little Miss Sunshine, it did so in large measure because people really loved The Departed – and it was a slightly bigger hit. Nobody really loves No Country for Old Men. Juno is the movie this year that knocked people for a loop, a happy loop.

So it just seems to me the smart money being on No Country is a result of overthink. Based on what we know about the Oscars, the only obvious choice is Juno, except for the fact that it’s a comedy. Which is a big except. All of this only goes to show that if Atonement — epic, romantic, with English accents — had been better, it would have walked away with the award.

Daniel Day Lewis will win for best actor. Nobody knows who will win Best Actress — although if Ellen Page takes it for Juno, that will be a serious indication that the movie is going to win the big one. And while everybody says Javier Bardem is a lock for supporting actor in No Country, supporting is where the surprises always happen. Nobody knows about supporting actress either, though it strikes me as weird that the Academy might give Cate Blanchett a second Oscar for impersonating a famous person (the first was Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator; this would be for being Bob Dylan in I’m Not There).

But I’ve never won an Oscar pool.

Here’s the thing: I’m generally lousy at them, because I always overthink these things. So I suppose since everybody and his brother are saying No Country for Old Men is going to win, it probably is — and since everybody is saying there’s a backlash against Juno, I guess there is.

But here’s the rub: I talk to a lot of people who actually just go to the movies rather than write about them. And most of these people didn’t really like No Country. They thought there were wonderful scenes but found the last 15 minutes baffling in a particularly off-putting way. I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t love Juno. People who write about movies twist themselves into knots thinking about these matters so much they decide Juno is meretricious and the end of No Country doesn’t matter.

What I’m saying is, evidently it would be an upset if Juno won. But why? Would would a universally liked, enormously popular, and very affecting film be considered an underdog against a brilliantly made but bloody and unsatisfying existential thriller? There are only 6,000 Academy Awards voters. None of them is a critic.

Last year, when The Departed beat Little Miss Sunshine, it did so in large measure because people really loved The Departed – and it was a slightly bigger hit. Nobody really loves No Country for Old Men. Juno is the movie this year that knocked people for a loop, a happy loop.

So it just seems to me the smart money being on No Country is a result of overthink. Based on what we know about the Oscars, the only obvious choice is Juno, except for the fact that it’s a comedy. Which is a big except. All of this only goes to show that if Atonement — epic, romantic, with English accents — had been better, it would have walked away with the award.

Daniel Day Lewis will win for best actor. Nobody knows who will win Best Actress — although if Ellen Page takes it for Juno, that will be a serious indication that the movie is going to win the big one. And while everybody says Javier Bardem is a lock for supporting actor in No Country, supporting is where the surprises always happen. Nobody knows about supporting actress either, though it strikes me as weird that the Academy might give Cate Blanchett a second Oscar for impersonating a famous person (the first was Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator; this would be for being Bob Dylan in I’m Not There).

But I’ve never won an Oscar pool.

Read Less

Lush Life, by Richard Price

“Lush Life,” the forthcoming new novel of New York City from Richard Price, the author of “Clockers” and many a script for “The Wire,” is superficially a crime mystery but really it’s an acidly funny and hugely successful attempt to get everything that’s happening in the city today between two covers. The collision between confused, stupid and morally blank housing-project dirtbags on the one hand and, on the other, cosseted suburban-grown product who staff and patronize hot restaurants on the Lower East Side while they await certain celebrity, leads to a homicide and then a runway show of the vanities. Price dryly takes it all down: the way a young screenwriter/bartender-for-the-time-being confronts an armed robber by exclaiming, “Not tonight my man” and pays for his foolish movie behavior with his life. The way the young killer almost inadvertently squeezes off the round because he can’t think of anything else to do (then retreats to his unpleasant apartment to write rap lyrics extolling his great secret). The way the well-meaning cops terrrorize the wrong guy with a sneak-attack interrogation intended to wring a confession that instead alienates an innocent man who is the only reliable witness. One felon shakes down a tourist for cash and is instead offered a check; the criminal thinks this a great joke and keeps the check to show off to his friends as an example of humorous folly, never grasping that in doing so he is carrying around evidence against himself. A memorial service for the slain writer/barkeep degenerates into a competitive audition in which his creatively-inclined surviving pals work it for the news cameras on hand. “Lush Life” covers familiar ground without romancing any of it; it’s so vivid and real, it’s like “Rent” as rewritten by Balzac. The book is coming in March from FSG.

“Lush Life,” the forthcoming new novel of New York City from Richard Price, the author of “Clockers” and many a script for “The Wire,” is superficially a crime mystery but really it’s an acidly funny and hugely successful attempt to get everything that’s happening in the city today between two covers. The collision between confused, stupid and morally blank housing-project dirtbags on the one hand and, on the other, cosseted suburban-grown product who staff and patronize hot restaurants on the Lower East Side while they await certain celebrity, leads to a homicide and then a runway show of the vanities. Price dryly takes it all down: the way a young screenwriter/bartender-for-the-time-being confronts an armed robber by exclaiming, “Not tonight my man” and pays for his foolish movie behavior with his life. The way the young killer almost inadvertently squeezes off the round because he can’t think of anything else to do (then retreats to his unpleasant apartment to write rap lyrics extolling his great secret). The way the well-meaning cops terrrorize the wrong guy with a sneak-attack interrogation intended to wring a confession that instead alienates an innocent man who is the only reliable witness. One felon shakes down a tourist for cash and is instead offered a check; the criminal thinks this a great joke and keeps the check to show off to his friends as an example of humorous folly, never grasping that in doing so he is carrying around evidence against himself. A memorial service for the slain writer/barkeep degenerates into a competitive audition in which his creatively-inclined surviving pals work it for the news cameras on hand. “Lush Life” covers familiar ground without romancing any of it; it’s so vivid and real, it’s like “Rent” as rewritten by Balzac. The book is coming in March from FSG.

Read Less

McCain’s Verbal Missile Crisis

John McCain was not at his most prudent when he recently said of Fidel Castro: “I hope he has the opportunity to meet Karl Marx very soon.” The funny line is, in its way, a welcome change from the mild reverence that’s attended the dictator’s retirement. But in wishing Fidel Castro a speedy trip to hell, McCain is begging critics to accuse him of being unreasonable, hot-headed, and generally too ill-tempered to serve as president.

With Fidel gone, it is at least conceivable that the next U.S. president will be called upon to step up U.S.-Cuban diplomacy. It’s not hard to imagine the chill that McCain’s words might cast on a face-to-face-meeting between himself and Fidel’s brother and successor Raul. To make matters colder still, McCain also said, “Apparently [Fidel] is trying to groom his brother Raul. Raul is worse in many respects than Fidel was.”

McCain’s lucky in a few respects here. The statements are not that easy for American politicians to criticize. Neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton need to go on record as defending Fidel or Raul Castro. This could keep their lips buttoned. And Mike Huckabee, whose campaign just may be far enough out there to hint at some kind of defense of Raul, has fallen off the radar. No matter what, this is a reminder that McCain’s anti-talent for sound-bites remains his biggest liability.

John McCain was not at his most prudent when he recently said of Fidel Castro: “I hope he has the opportunity to meet Karl Marx very soon.” The funny line is, in its way, a welcome change from the mild reverence that’s attended the dictator’s retirement. But in wishing Fidel Castro a speedy trip to hell, McCain is begging critics to accuse him of being unreasonable, hot-headed, and generally too ill-tempered to serve as president.

With Fidel gone, it is at least conceivable that the next U.S. president will be called upon to step up U.S.-Cuban diplomacy. It’s not hard to imagine the chill that McCain’s words might cast on a face-to-face-meeting between himself and Fidel’s brother and successor Raul. To make matters colder still, McCain also said, “Apparently [Fidel] is trying to groom his brother Raul. Raul is worse in many respects than Fidel was.”

McCain’s lucky in a few respects here. The statements are not that easy for American politicians to criticize. Neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton need to go on record as defending Fidel or Raul Castro. This could keep their lips buttoned. And Mike Huckabee, whose campaign just may be far enough out there to hint at some kind of defense of Raul, has fallen off the radar. No matter what, this is a reminder that McCain’s anti-talent for sound-bites remains his biggest liability.

Read Less

Sharing with China

Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the United States will release data on the Navy’s successful shootdown of a stricken American reconnaissance satellite. “We are prepared to share whatever appropriately we can,” he noted in remarks to reporters. Gates’s offer came in response to comments from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao. “China is closely following the possible damage to the security of outer space and relevant countries by the U.S. move,” he stated. Liu, calling on the United States to “fulfill its international obligations in earnest,” stated that the Pentagon should “provide necessary information and relevant data to the international community promptly.”

Liu’s request—more like a demand—came in conjunction with sharp comments carried by People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship paper, and unwarranted attacks from Beijing’s surrogates in the Chinese academic community. The harsh reaction orchestrated by China’s leaders raises a simple question: Why is Gates agreeing to release any information at all?

The defense secretary, of course, will not provide much, if anything, of technical value, but this is not an issue of supplying classified material to a potential adversary. The issue is the way we are interacting with China. The Chinese, for no good reason, threw a tantrum about this week’s shootdown. So how did we react? We tried to placate them with technical data.

For years we have given Chinese generals and admirals military information in the hopes they would respond in kind. They have almost always failed to do so. For instance, despite repeated requests, they still have not said anything to us about their destruction, with a ground-launched missile, of an old weather satellite in January of last year.

This week, both before and after we shot down our satellite, the Chinese hurled belligerent comments in our direction. Yet we reacted as if they were our long-time partners. They will not even agree to install a phone link connecting our military with theirs, despite our attempts spanning years to put one in place. What kind of “friends” are they?

By rewarding unfriendly conduct, we are encouraging the very behavior we wish to forestall. What Gates should have done yesterday is told the Chinese that we will cooperate with them only if they cooperate with us. It’s time we require reciprocity in our dealings with China. You don’t need a degree in International Relations to come to this conclusion. All you need is common sense.

Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the United States will release data on the Navy’s successful shootdown of a stricken American reconnaissance satellite. “We are prepared to share whatever appropriately we can,” he noted in remarks to reporters. Gates’s offer came in response to comments from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao. “China is closely following the possible damage to the security of outer space and relevant countries by the U.S. move,” he stated. Liu, calling on the United States to “fulfill its international obligations in earnest,” stated that the Pentagon should “provide necessary information and relevant data to the international community promptly.”

Liu’s request—more like a demand—came in conjunction with sharp comments carried by People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship paper, and unwarranted attacks from Beijing’s surrogates in the Chinese academic community. The harsh reaction orchestrated by China’s leaders raises a simple question: Why is Gates agreeing to release any information at all?

The defense secretary, of course, will not provide much, if anything, of technical value, but this is not an issue of supplying classified material to a potential adversary. The issue is the way we are interacting with China. The Chinese, for no good reason, threw a tantrum about this week’s shootdown. So how did we react? We tried to placate them with technical data.

For years we have given Chinese generals and admirals military information in the hopes they would respond in kind. They have almost always failed to do so. For instance, despite repeated requests, they still have not said anything to us about their destruction, with a ground-launched missile, of an old weather satellite in January of last year.

This week, both before and after we shot down our satellite, the Chinese hurled belligerent comments in our direction. Yet we reacted as if they were our long-time partners. They will not even agree to install a phone link connecting our military with theirs, despite our attempts spanning years to put one in place. What kind of “friends” are they?

By rewarding unfriendly conduct, we are encouraging the very behavior we wish to forestall. What Gates should have done yesterday is told the Chinese that we will cooperate with them only if they cooperate with us. It’s time we require reciprocity in our dealings with China. You don’t need a degree in International Relations to come to this conclusion. All you need is common sense.

Read Less

Ready For Primetime?

Hillary Clinton chose not to come right out and say that Barack Obama is unprepared to be commander-in-chief. She may have been wary of the comeback (what makes her more fit?). Or she may have been concerned about becoming a soundbite in a John McCain general election campaign ad. Nevertheless, there is a good argument that he really is not ready. His “men without ammunition” tale is a good example, as explained here.

Likewise, I am still puzzling over this comment at last night’s debate, which he made after the compulsory salute to the brave fighting men of the next primary state:

And, you know, we honor their service. But this is a tactical victory imposed upon a huge strategic blunder. And I think that, when we’re having a debate with John McCain, it is going to be much easier for the candidate who was opposed to the concept of invading Iraq in the first place to have a debate about the wisdom of that decision . . . than having to argue about the tactics subsequent to the decision.

What does this mean exactly? I understand that he was opposed to the Iraq War, but isn’t he going to have to “argue” about what we do now? And why would it be easier for someone who fundamentally believes all hope is lost to devise a plan to salvage the best outcome possible? In a general election race, of course, he will need to explain why Anthony Cordesman is wrong (or his conclusion that there is a “very real chance that Iraq will emerge as a secure and stable state” is irrelevant) and why we should not conclude that Obama is one of the “Democrats so intent on denying George Bush retroactive vindication for a war they insist is his that they would deny their own country a now-achievable victory.” Good questions all, which Clinton will not ask. But McCain certainly will.

Hillary Clinton chose not to come right out and say that Barack Obama is unprepared to be commander-in-chief. She may have been wary of the comeback (what makes her more fit?). Or she may have been concerned about becoming a soundbite in a John McCain general election campaign ad. Nevertheless, there is a good argument that he really is not ready. His “men without ammunition” tale is a good example, as explained here.

Likewise, I am still puzzling over this comment at last night’s debate, which he made after the compulsory salute to the brave fighting men of the next primary state:

And, you know, we honor their service. But this is a tactical victory imposed upon a huge strategic blunder. And I think that, when we’re having a debate with John McCain, it is going to be much easier for the candidate who was opposed to the concept of invading Iraq in the first place to have a debate about the wisdom of that decision . . . than having to argue about the tactics subsequent to the decision.

What does this mean exactly? I understand that he was opposed to the Iraq War, but isn’t he going to have to “argue” about what we do now? And why would it be easier for someone who fundamentally believes all hope is lost to devise a plan to salvage the best outcome possible? In a general election race, of course, he will need to explain why Anthony Cordesman is wrong (or his conclusion that there is a “very real chance that Iraq will emerge as a secure and stable state” is irrelevant) and why we should not conclude that Obama is one of the “Democrats so intent on denying George Bush retroactive vindication for a war they insist is his that they would deny their own country a now-achievable victory.” Good questions all, which Clinton will not ask. But McCain certainly will.

Read Less

A Note to Our Readers

As you’ve probably noticed, THE HORIZON has gone on hiatus. The arts and culture bloggers you enjoy are still writing for us, but now they can be read at CONTENTIONS.

As you’ve probably noticed, THE HORIZON has gone on hiatus. The arts and culture bloggers you enjoy are still writing for us, but now they can be read at CONTENTIONS.

Read Less

You’ve Got to Be Kidding, Kinsley

Charles Krauthammer has a trenchant column today on how Democrats remain committed to a hasty withdrawal from Iraq, notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence that such a retreat would jeopardize the progress achieved by the surge during the past year. As if to illustrate Krauthammer’s point, Michael Kinsley has a particularly silly article in today’s Los Angeles Times.

His thesis is that “the surge has not worked yet.” He doesn’t deny that violence is down: “Choose your metric: attacks on American soldiers, car bombs, civilian deaths, potholes. They’re all down, down, down.” (He goes on a bit more like this with his trademark snideness.) But he grandly waves it all away from the comfort of his study. He claims that all this is irrelevant. He doesn’t mention the political progress that has been possible because of the decreasing violence, as seen in the recent passage of laws dealing with de-Baathification, provincial powers, the budget, the Iraqi flag, and other pressing matters. According to Kinsley, only one metric matters: “The test is simple and built into the concept of a surge: Has it allowed us to reduce troop levels to below where they were when it started? And the answer is no.”

So because one year after the surge started our troop levels have not yet gone down to presurge levels the surge is not a success. Got that? Kinsley is hard put to find any evidence that the administration had ever planned to reduce total troop levels a year after the surge’s start. The best he can do is to dredge up this vague quote from President Bush: “If we increase our support at this crucial moment and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.”

In point of fact, our troops are already starting to come home—one of the surge brigades has already left Iraq and others are on the way. By mid-July we’ll be down to presurge levels. But somehow I doubt that Kinsley will then concede that the surge has been a success.

Imagine if we applied his reasoning to other conflicts. World War II a success? Give me a break! We still have troops in Germany and Japan? . . .The Korean War a success? Don’t make me laugh! We still have troops in South Korea….

It is not, to put it mildly, a terribly convincing argument. But that’s how desperate opponents of the surge have gotten. They will grasp at any straw to deny George W. Bush—and incidentally the United States of America—a victory.

Charles Krauthammer has a trenchant column today on how Democrats remain committed to a hasty withdrawal from Iraq, notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence that such a retreat would jeopardize the progress achieved by the surge during the past year. As if to illustrate Krauthammer’s point, Michael Kinsley has a particularly silly article in today’s Los Angeles Times.

His thesis is that “the surge has not worked yet.” He doesn’t deny that violence is down: “Choose your metric: attacks on American soldiers, car bombs, civilian deaths, potholes. They’re all down, down, down.” (He goes on a bit more like this with his trademark snideness.) But he grandly waves it all away from the comfort of his study. He claims that all this is irrelevant. He doesn’t mention the political progress that has been possible because of the decreasing violence, as seen in the recent passage of laws dealing with de-Baathification, provincial powers, the budget, the Iraqi flag, and other pressing matters. According to Kinsley, only one metric matters: “The test is simple and built into the concept of a surge: Has it allowed us to reduce troop levels to below where they were when it started? And the answer is no.”

So because one year after the surge started our troop levels have not yet gone down to presurge levels the surge is not a success. Got that? Kinsley is hard put to find any evidence that the administration had ever planned to reduce total troop levels a year after the surge’s start. The best he can do is to dredge up this vague quote from President Bush: “If we increase our support at this crucial moment and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.”

In point of fact, our troops are already starting to come home—one of the surge brigades has already left Iraq and others are on the way. By mid-July we’ll be down to presurge levels. But somehow I doubt that Kinsley will then concede that the surge has been a success.

Imagine if we applied his reasoning to other conflicts. World War II a success? Give me a break! We still have troops in Germany and Japan? . . .The Korean War a success? Don’t make me laugh! We still have troops in South Korea….

It is not, to put it mildly, a terribly convincing argument. But that’s how desperate opponents of the surge have gotten. They will grasp at any straw to deny George W. Bush—and incidentally the United States of America—a victory.

Read Less

Obama’s Ayers

Ben Smith of Politico discusses the relationship between Barack Obama and American terrorist Bill Ayers, who has become a leftist mainstay in Chicago’s Hyde Park, which Obama represented in the Illinois State Senate before becoming a U.S. Senator. Ayers’s home has evidently become an important political waystation for politicians of a certain sort, and it was there, according to Smith, that Obama’s predecessor introduced him to various neighborhood activist types.

Ayers now teaches at the University of Illinois in Chicago. That’s an outrage in and of itself, but at least he does not teach bombmaking, the craft that what made him infamous. Ayers was a Weatherman, and was resident in a Greenwich Village townhouse where his lovely group was working on a bomb intended to kill army personnel at Fort Dix in 1970. Fortunately, the device destroyed the Greenwich Village townhouse where it was being assembled and killed three of the bomb assemblers instead of innocents.

Ayers and his companion-wife, Bernadine Dohrn, went on the lam, and while she was sent to jail in connection with a Brinks truck robbery a decade later, he was never prosecuted owing to the kinds of objections about the FBI surveillance of his group that helped create the backlash against liberalism in this country in the 1970s and eventually gave rise to the Reagan era.

Smith says he couldn’t get anyone on the Obama campaign to comment, nor Ayers. Someone who was at the 1995 gathering at Ayers’s house, Smith notes, “described Obama and Ayers as ‘friends,’ but there’s no evidence their relationship is more than the casual friendship of two men who occupy overlapping Chicago political circles, and served together on the board of a Chicago foundation.”

Ayers was last in the news when the New York Times published an article about how wonderful he and Bernadine Dohrn were, and how they had adopted the child of cop-killer Kathy Boudin. The piece in question, which began with Ayers saying

”I don’t regret setting bombs,” Bill Ayers said. ”I feel we didn’t do enough.”

appeared in the New York Times on the morning of September 11, 2001.

Barack Obama is in no way responsible for anything William Ayers might have said or done, and anyone who suggests otherwise is guilty of demagougery.

But here’s a thought experiment. What if John McCain had visited the Unabomber’s cabin? Or had been photographed with Terry Nichols? Or had stopped off at David Duke’s house at some point because he was gathering support and donors?

How big a story would that be?

Ben Smith of Politico discusses the relationship between Barack Obama and American terrorist Bill Ayers, who has become a leftist mainstay in Chicago’s Hyde Park, which Obama represented in the Illinois State Senate before becoming a U.S. Senator. Ayers’s home has evidently become an important political waystation for politicians of a certain sort, and it was there, according to Smith, that Obama’s predecessor introduced him to various neighborhood activist types.

Ayers now teaches at the University of Illinois in Chicago. That’s an outrage in and of itself, but at least he does not teach bombmaking, the craft that what made him infamous. Ayers was a Weatherman, and was resident in a Greenwich Village townhouse where his lovely group was working on a bomb intended to kill army personnel at Fort Dix in 1970. Fortunately, the device destroyed the Greenwich Village townhouse where it was being assembled and killed three of the bomb assemblers instead of innocents.

Ayers and his companion-wife, Bernadine Dohrn, went on the lam, and while she was sent to jail in connection with a Brinks truck robbery a decade later, he was never prosecuted owing to the kinds of objections about the FBI surveillance of his group that helped create the backlash against liberalism in this country in the 1970s and eventually gave rise to the Reagan era.

Smith says he couldn’t get anyone on the Obama campaign to comment, nor Ayers. Someone who was at the 1995 gathering at Ayers’s house, Smith notes, “described Obama and Ayers as ‘friends,’ but there’s no evidence their relationship is more than the casual friendship of two men who occupy overlapping Chicago political circles, and served together on the board of a Chicago foundation.”

Ayers was last in the news when the New York Times published an article about how wonderful he and Bernadine Dohrn were, and how they had adopted the child of cop-killer Kathy Boudin. The piece in question, which began with Ayers saying

”I don’t regret setting bombs,” Bill Ayers said. ”I feel we didn’t do enough.”

appeared in the New York Times on the morning of September 11, 2001.

Barack Obama is in no way responsible for anything William Ayers might have said or done, and anyone who suggests otherwise is guilty of demagougery.

But here’s a thought experiment. What if John McCain had visited the Unabomber’s cabin? Or had been photographed with Terry Nichols? Or had stopped off at David Duke’s house at some point because he was gathering support and donors?

How big a story would that be?

Read Less

The CIA Goes On a War-Footing

Culinary Delights Soar to New Heights at CIA Thanks to Head Chef” – is the headline of a new CIA press release.

The head chef in question is Fred DeFilippo, a 1992 graduate of the other CIA, the Culinary Institute of America. At Langley, DeFillippo works with a special intelligence unit:

Four other chefs assist DeFilippo and spread out the work between the sauté, grill, and pantry stations. The sauté chef handles pasta and vegetable dishes, the grill chef prepares meat dishes, and the pantry chef crafts delicious salads and sandwiches. 

This is all very interesting and important, but there is still a question about it: Why is the agency circulating old news? The same press release acknowledges that DeFilippo “has been making a splash with dishes like his Chocolate Tiramisu since he began cooking for the agency in 2004.” 

The timing of this announcement is thus curious. DeFillippo was appointed in the George Tenet era. Tenet’s parents owned a Greek diner in Queens, New York. Is there some sort of one-upsmanship going on between the current CIA director, Michael Hayden, and his failure of a predecessor?

Whatever the answer, life in Langley sure beats searching for terrorists and/or a meal of curried goat in the backstreets of places like Peshawar.

 

Culinary Delights Soar to New Heights at CIA Thanks to Head Chef” – is the headline of a new CIA press release.

The head chef in question is Fred DeFilippo, a 1992 graduate of the other CIA, the Culinary Institute of America. At Langley, DeFillippo works with a special intelligence unit:

Four other chefs assist DeFilippo and spread out the work between the sauté, grill, and pantry stations. The sauté chef handles pasta and vegetable dishes, the grill chef prepares meat dishes, and the pantry chef crafts delicious salads and sandwiches. 

This is all very interesting and important, but there is still a question about it: Why is the agency circulating old news? The same press release acknowledges that DeFilippo “has been making a splash with dishes like his Chocolate Tiramisu since he began cooking for the agency in 2004.” 

The timing of this announcement is thus curious. DeFillippo was appointed in the George Tenet era. Tenet’s parents owned a Greek diner in Queens, New York. Is there some sort of one-upsmanship going on between the current CIA director, Michael Hayden, and his failure of a predecessor?

Whatever the answer, life in Langley sure beats searching for terrorists and/or a meal of curried goat in the backstreets of places like Peshawar.

 

Read Less

Reuters’ Sadr Story Vanishes

Reuters, the news agency with a policy forbidding the word “terrorist” from their stories and a penchant for printing doctored photos as evidence of Israeli aggression, has done it again.

Yesterday, Reuters posted a story entitled “Sadr Expected to End Truce”, implying it was likely that Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al Sadr would end his Mahdi Army’s six-month ceasefire in Iraq. I can’t offer the URL of that story because once their cynical prediction was proved immediately wrong (today, Sadr announced that he’d be extending the ceasefire another six months) the link started bringing me to a new Reuters story entitled (surprise, surprise) “Iraqi Cleric Sadr Extends Militia Ceasefire.” Soon after that, the original headline disappeared from internet searches altogether. The only place on the web I’ve been able to find the old headline (which links to the new story) is way down in the comments section of the firedoglake blog.

For Reuters, flesh-and-blood events of global importance seem to be no more than malleable bits of code. Stories are offered, embellished, and pulled at their discretion. Moreover, this lack of regard for a news-hungry public reveals a consistent bias: deception is okay when expressing opposition to the hopes and aims of the U.S.

Reuters, the news agency with a policy forbidding the word “terrorist” from their stories and a penchant for printing doctored photos as evidence of Israeli aggression, has done it again.

Yesterday, Reuters posted a story entitled “Sadr Expected to End Truce”, implying it was likely that Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al Sadr would end his Mahdi Army’s six-month ceasefire in Iraq. I can’t offer the URL of that story because once their cynical prediction was proved immediately wrong (today, Sadr announced that he’d be extending the ceasefire another six months) the link started bringing me to a new Reuters story entitled (surprise, surprise) “Iraqi Cleric Sadr Extends Militia Ceasefire.” Soon after that, the original headline disappeared from internet searches altogether. The only place on the web I’ve been able to find the old headline (which links to the new story) is way down in the comments section of the firedoglake blog.

For Reuters, flesh-and-blood events of global importance seem to be no more than malleable bits of code. Stories are offered, embellished, and pulled at their discretion. Moreover, this lack of regard for a news-hungry public reveals a consistent bias: deception is okay when expressing opposition to the hopes and aims of the U.S.

Read Less

Obama On Health Care

Although Hillary Clinton’s mandated universal health care plan may be a winner in the primary, Barack Obama’s responses last night on health care showed why he will be a more formidable general election candidate. He made two points that will resonate with independents and even aggrieved Republicans who remember the Clinton secret health care task force shepherded by Ira Magaziner. First, Obama explained:

It was also that Senator Clinton and the administration went behind closed doors, excluded the participation even of Democratic members of Congress who had slightly different ideas than the ones that Senator Clinton had put forward. And, as a consequence, it was much more difficult to get Congress to cooperate. And I’ve said that I’m going to do things differently. I think we have to open up the process. Everybody has to have a seat at the table. And most importantly, the American people have to be involved and educated about how this change is going to be brought about.

Now that does sound like a different approach than Hillary Clinton’s I-know-best-and-you-can-take-it-or-leave-it approach. (David Brooks brings it all back to life here.) Obama also showed himself to be a less authoritarian liberal than Clinton. He explained the downsides of a plan with individual mandates:

Number one, understand that when Senator Clinton says a mandate, it’s not a mandate on government to provide health insurance, it’s a mandate on individuals to purchase it. And Senator Clinton is right; we have to find out what works. Now, Massachusetts has a mandate right now. They have exempted 20 percent of the uninsured because they have concluded that that 20 percent can’t afford it. In some cases, there are people who are paying fines and still can’t afford it, so now they’re worse off than they were. They don’t have health insurance and they’re paying a fine. In order for you to force people to get health insurance, you’ve got to have a very harsh penalty, and Senator Clinton has said that we won’t go after their wages. Now, this is a substantive difference.

So, at least on this issue, Obama does seem to have both a stylistic and substantive approach less off-putting, less authoritarian, and frankly less scary for voters than what many Democrats have presented. That amounts to a considerable challenge for John McCain.

Although Hillary Clinton’s mandated universal health care plan may be a winner in the primary, Barack Obama’s responses last night on health care showed why he will be a more formidable general election candidate. He made two points that will resonate with independents and even aggrieved Republicans who remember the Clinton secret health care task force shepherded by Ira Magaziner. First, Obama explained:

It was also that Senator Clinton and the administration went behind closed doors, excluded the participation even of Democratic members of Congress who had slightly different ideas than the ones that Senator Clinton had put forward. And, as a consequence, it was much more difficult to get Congress to cooperate. And I’ve said that I’m going to do things differently. I think we have to open up the process. Everybody has to have a seat at the table. And most importantly, the American people have to be involved and educated about how this change is going to be brought about.

Now that does sound like a different approach than Hillary Clinton’s I-know-best-and-you-can-take-it-or-leave-it approach. (David Brooks brings it all back to life here.) Obama also showed himself to be a less authoritarian liberal than Clinton. He explained the downsides of a plan with individual mandates:

Number one, understand that when Senator Clinton says a mandate, it’s not a mandate on government to provide health insurance, it’s a mandate on individuals to purchase it. And Senator Clinton is right; we have to find out what works. Now, Massachusetts has a mandate right now. They have exempted 20 percent of the uninsured because they have concluded that that 20 percent can’t afford it. In some cases, there are people who are paying fines and still can’t afford it, so now they’re worse off than they were. They don’t have health insurance and they’re paying a fine. In order for you to force people to get health insurance, you’ve got to have a very harsh penalty, and Senator Clinton has said that we won’t go after their wages. Now, this is a substantive difference.

So, at least on this issue, Obama does seem to have both a stylistic and substantive approach less off-putting, less authoritarian, and frankly less scary for voters than what many Democrats have presented. That amounts to a considerable challenge for John McCain.

Read Less

Reruns and Jiujitsu

As many have noted, Hillary’s best moment last night was her answer to the final question. What crisis had she faced and how did she handle it? Did anyone notice she reran her husband’s key pitch in numerous debates and speeches from 1992? Almost word for word, she opined that the hits she’s taken are nothing compared to the pain of ordinary people everyday across America. Back then, Bill was making up a phony “recession gap,” but Hillary perfectly linked it to the suffering of our veterans, eliciting sympathy for them and her simultaneously.
This is the essence of the early Clinton magic, making it seem all about her and not about her at the same time. Clearly, the applause for her was genuine, while Obama’s less than inspiring answer to the same question only underscored concerns if there’s a there there.

On the other hand, Republicans better take note that Obama is a jiujitsu master. In almost every answer, whether warranted or not, he indirectly and directly attacked Hillary or McCain. In answer to his $90 million dollars worth of earmarks–well, the real issue is John McCain’s support for a war costing us billions a month, that’s why we have budget deficits. Hillary, too, got pounded again and again, and failed to counterpunch. It may have made her seem the more sober of the two candidates, but Obama’s style is take-no-prisoners aggressive
wrapped in a velvet glove. He’ll work the body repeatedly, until his opponent is fatigued. McCain can’t afford to let him gain the advantage with that tactic, and will need to hit back early, often, and just as fluidly.

As many have noted, Hillary’s best moment last night was her answer to the final question. What crisis had she faced and how did she handle it? Did anyone notice she reran her husband’s key pitch in numerous debates and speeches from 1992? Almost word for word, she opined that the hits she’s taken are nothing compared to the pain of ordinary people everyday across America. Back then, Bill was making up a phony “recession gap,” but Hillary perfectly linked it to the suffering of our veterans, eliciting sympathy for them and her simultaneously.
This is the essence of the early Clinton magic, making it seem all about her and not about her at the same time. Clearly, the applause for her was genuine, while Obama’s less than inspiring answer to the same question only underscored concerns if there’s a there there.

On the other hand, Republicans better take note that Obama is a jiujitsu master. In almost every answer, whether warranted or not, he indirectly and directly attacked Hillary or McCain. In answer to his $90 million dollars worth of earmarks–well, the real issue is John McCain’s support for a war costing us billions a month, that’s why we have budget deficits. Hillary, too, got pounded again and again, and failed to counterpunch. It may have made her seem the more sober of the two candidates, but Obama’s style is take-no-prisoners aggressive
wrapped in a velvet glove. He’ll work the body repeatedly, until his opponent is fatigued. McCain can’t afford to let him gain the advantage with that tactic, and will need to hit back early, often, and just as fluidly.

Read Less

The Most Secretive Administration of All Time?

Helen Thomas, the doyenne of White House reporters, calls the Bush administration “the most secretive administration I have ever covered.” Barack Obama, going slightly further, sees it as one of the most secretive administrations in our history.” The New York Times editorial page concurs, saying the same thing in precisely the same words. A Nexis search will reveal that dozens of others have leveled the identical charge.

But is it true, and if so, would it be good or bad?

I examine that question today in The Bush Secrecy Myth, an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

Helen Thomas, the doyenne of White House reporters, calls the Bush administration “the most secretive administration I have ever covered.” Barack Obama, going slightly further, sees it as one of the most secretive administrations in our history.” The New York Times editorial page concurs, saying the same thing in precisely the same words. A Nexis search will reveal that dozens of others have leveled the identical charge.

But is it true, and if so, would it be good or bad?

I examine that question today in The Bush Secrecy Myth, an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

Read Less

Why Is McCain Pleased?

“In all the uproar, no one has challenged what we actually reported.” That howler was part of a statement issued yestersday by New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller. It would be true, if you did not include John McCain, his lawyer, his aides, his surrogates, the woman in question, and a large percentage of the media. The Page neatly summarized where things stood less than 24 hours after the story broke: “Paper of Record has worse day in the media than the subject of its Thursday scoop.” As a political matter, it turned some of his harshest critics into his defenders, and given Mike Huckabee’s wise move to defend McCain, the episode has hastened his reconcilliation with the Republican base.

Aside from his Chuchillian brush with the Times (“There is no greater exhilaration than being shot at without result”), McCain must have been very happy last night. The Democratic debate suggested a number of fruitful avenues for him to explore in the general election. On many points which Hillary Clinton did not or could not engage Barack Obama, McCain can and will. On earmarks, Obama will be hard pressed to grab the mantle of fiscal cheapstake from McCain. On Iraq, Obama’s curious concession that the reduced violence is a mere “tactical” victory will, of course, be met with query as to why we would retreat after both military and some political success. On Cuba, the Florida voters in particular will be interested in this response as to whether Obama would meet with Raul Castro:

I would meet without preconditions, although Senator Clinton is right that there has to be preparation. It is very important for us to make sure that there was an agenda and on that agenda was human rights, releasing of political prisoners, opening up the press. And that preparation might take some time. . . And then I think it is important for us to have the direct contact not just in Cuba, but I think this principle applies generally. I’m — I recall what John F. Kennedy once said, that we should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate. And this moment, this opportunity when Fidel Castro has finally stepped down I think is one that we should try to take advantage of.

And I suspect that McCain will do even better than Clinton on the “describe the moment that tested you the most, that moment of crisis” question.

“In all the uproar, no one has challenged what we actually reported.” That howler was part of a statement issued yestersday by New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller. It would be true, if you did not include John McCain, his lawyer, his aides, his surrogates, the woman in question, and a large percentage of the media. The Page neatly summarized where things stood less than 24 hours after the story broke: “Paper of Record has worse day in the media than the subject of its Thursday scoop.” As a political matter, it turned some of his harshest critics into his defenders, and given Mike Huckabee’s wise move to defend McCain, the episode has hastened his reconcilliation with the Republican base.

Aside from his Chuchillian brush with the Times (“There is no greater exhilaration than being shot at without result”), McCain must have been very happy last night. The Democratic debate suggested a number of fruitful avenues for him to explore in the general election. On many points which Hillary Clinton did not or could not engage Barack Obama, McCain can and will. On earmarks, Obama will be hard pressed to grab the mantle of fiscal cheapstake from McCain. On Iraq, Obama’s curious concession that the reduced violence is a mere “tactical” victory will, of course, be met with query as to why we would retreat after both military and some political success. On Cuba, the Florida voters in particular will be interested in this response as to whether Obama would meet with Raul Castro:

I would meet without preconditions, although Senator Clinton is right that there has to be preparation. It is very important for us to make sure that there was an agenda and on that agenda was human rights, releasing of political prisoners, opening up the press. And that preparation might take some time. . . And then I think it is important for us to have the direct contact not just in Cuba, but I think this principle applies generally. I’m — I recall what John F. Kennedy once said, that we should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate. And this moment, this opportunity when Fidel Castro has finally stepped down I think is one that we should try to take advantage of.

And I suspect that McCain will do even better than Clinton on the “describe the moment that tested you the most, that moment of crisis” question.

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.