Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 9, 2008

A Kuwaiti Voice Speaks up against Iran

A top Kuwaiti strategist has asserted that the Arab world would be best off if Israel were to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. Interviewed in the daily Al Siyassah (as reported in Ha’aretz), Sami al-Faraj, a former adviser to the Kuwaiti government, suggested that an attack on Iran would be a good thing--especially if Israel executed it:

Honestly speaking, they would be achieving something of great strategic value for the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] by stopping Iran’s tendency for hegemony over the area . . . nipping it in the bud by Israeli hands would be less embarrassing for us than if the Americans did it.

Iran is a big problem for the entire Arab world, al-Faraj continued, and the last thing the Arab states need is a nuclear Iran. “The question is what would it do if it were a nuclear nation? We have to call a spade a spade and say that burying the military nuclear Iranian project is in the interest of GCC states, and other countries in the area,” he added.

For what it’s worth.

A top Kuwaiti strategist has asserted that the Arab world would be best off if Israel were to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. Interviewed in the daily Al Siyassah (as reported in Ha’aretz), Sami al-Faraj, a former adviser to the Kuwaiti government, suggested that an attack on Iran would be a good thing--especially if Israel executed it:

Honestly speaking, they would be achieving something of great strategic value for the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] by stopping Iran’s tendency for hegemony over the area . . . nipping it in the bud by Israeli hands would be less embarrassing for us than if the Americans did it.

Iran is a big problem for the entire Arab world, al-Faraj continued, and the last thing the Arab states need is a nuclear Iran. “The question is what would it do if it were a nuclear nation? We have to call a spade a spade and say that burying the military nuclear Iranian project is in the interest of GCC states, and other countries in the area,” he added.

For what it’s worth.

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I . . . Agree with Michael Scheuer

Gabriel Schoenfeld has done a masterly job of dissecting the bizarre world view of retired CIA officer Michael Scheuer. But today Scheuer has actually written an article that I for the most part agree with. It’s called “Break Out the Shock and Awe,” and in it he cautions against the notion that “the U.S. military should rely more on covert operations and special forces to fight counterinsurgencies and irregular wars.” Only conventional forces, he argues, can deliver a lasting victory.

The reality is a little more complex. When they have skilled allied forces to fight alongside, American special operators can in fact deliver outsize results. That’s what happened in El Salvador in the 1980′s, when 55 Special Forces trainers helped defeat a communist insurgency. But in the absence of large, competent, conventional forces-and they have been notably lacking in Afghanistan and Iraq during most of the time we have fought there-special operators cannot magically defeat our enemies.

But even when delivering generally sound analysis, Scheuer goes astray. He writes:

Anyone who reads works on the recommended book lists of the Army chief of staff and the Marines Corps commandant — books by such writers as Stephen Ambrose, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Dwight Eisenhower — will find little indication that wars can won by clandestine and special forces. Only Max Boot and his brethren at the Weekly Standard, Commentary and the National Review preach such nonsense as gospel.

I cannot speak for everyone at The Weekly Standard, COMMENTARY, or National Review, but off the top of my head (and speaking as the author of a book that is on the reading lists of both the Marine commandant and the chief of naval operations) I am hard put to think of any contributors to those publications who in fact “preach such nonsense as gospel.” Quite the reverse. Those publications have been supporting a surge of troops in Iraq precisely on the theory that special operators can’t do it alone.

Along with many of my “brethren” such as Fred Kagan, I have repeatedly warned against the special operations fallacy. For instance, in my Commentary article “How Not to Get Out of Iraq,” I wrote

If Special Operations Forces could not prevent the establishment under their noses of a Taliban-style “Islamic state” in Baquba during the past year, how much luck would they have operating from Kuwait or the Kurdish region, as suggested by proponents of this approach? It would be like trying to police Boston from Washington, D.C.

The major proponents of a commando-centric approach to fighting terrorists are not, in fact, to be found on the Right, especially now that Donald Rumsfeld is no longer at the Pentagon. They are primarily Democrats.  Some advocate this approach out of sheer ignorance; others do so out of political expediency.  All want to convince themselves that we can pull most of our troops out of Iraq and still keep Al Qaeda at bay. Scheuer would be well advised to aim his rhetorical fire a bit more carefully.

Gabriel Schoenfeld has done a masterly job of dissecting the bizarre world view of retired CIA officer Michael Scheuer. But today Scheuer has actually written an article that I for the most part agree with. It’s called “Break Out the Shock and Awe,” and in it he cautions against the notion that “the U.S. military should rely more on covert operations and special forces to fight counterinsurgencies and irregular wars.” Only conventional forces, he argues, can deliver a lasting victory.

The reality is a little more complex. When they have skilled allied forces to fight alongside, American special operators can in fact deliver outsize results. That’s what happened in El Salvador in the 1980′s, when 55 Special Forces trainers helped defeat a communist insurgency. But in the absence of large, competent, conventional forces-and they have been notably lacking in Afghanistan and Iraq during most of the time we have fought there-special operators cannot magically defeat our enemies.

But even when delivering generally sound analysis, Scheuer goes astray. He writes:

Anyone who reads works on the recommended book lists of the Army chief of staff and the Marines Corps commandant — books by such writers as Stephen Ambrose, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Dwight Eisenhower — will find little indication that wars can won by clandestine and special forces. Only Max Boot and his brethren at the Weekly Standard, Commentary and the National Review preach such nonsense as gospel.

I cannot speak for everyone at The Weekly Standard, COMMENTARY, or National Review, but off the top of my head (and speaking as the author of a book that is on the reading lists of both the Marine commandant and the chief of naval operations) I am hard put to think of any contributors to those publications who in fact “preach such nonsense as gospel.” Quite the reverse. Those publications have been supporting a surge of troops in Iraq precisely on the theory that special operators can’t do it alone.

Along with many of my “brethren” such as Fred Kagan, I have repeatedly warned against the special operations fallacy. For instance, in my Commentary article “How Not to Get Out of Iraq,” I wrote

If Special Operations Forces could not prevent the establishment under their noses of a Taliban-style “Islamic state” in Baquba during the past year, how much luck would they have operating from Kuwait or the Kurdish region, as suggested by proponents of this approach? It would be like trying to police Boston from Washington, D.C.

The major proponents of a commando-centric approach to fighting terrorists are not, in fact, to be found on the Right, especially now that Donald Rumsfeld is no longer at the Pentagon. They are primarily Democrats.  Some advocate this approach out of sheer ignorance; others do so out of political expediency.  All want to convince themselves that we can pull most of our troops out of Iraq and still keep Al Qaeda at bay. Scheuer would be well advised to aim his rhetorical fire a bit more carefully.

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Al Jazeera Apologizes . . . to Islamic Radicals

Very hard to be the CNN of the Arab world. This week, Al Jazeera triggered a major controversy when it broadcast the comments of Wafa Sultan, a psychologist living in the United States who is an ardent critic of Islamic extremism. Here is what Sultan said:

All the religions and faiths have been subject throughout history to criticism and insults, and this helped to develop and amend them over time. The only faith which beheads those who oppose it – is destined to turn into terror and tyranny.

This is the situation of Islam from its beginning to this day. It has sentenced its critics to prison terms, and those who escaped custody were killed. The Danish cartoons have managed to drop the first brick in the wall and open a window, through which the sun rays will be able to enter after a long period of darkness . . .

If Islam was not what it is, these cartoons would not appear. They did not come from an empty space, and the cartoonist did not make them up from his sick mind. They were an expression of what he is familiar with. . . . The Muslims’ barbaric reaction added to the value of these cartoons. It simply proved their rightness: The Muslim is an irrational creature, and the things he learned overpower his mind and inflame his feelings. That is why these remarks have turned him into an inferior creature, who cannot control himself and respond to events in a rational way.

Heavy stuff, especially when said in Arabic. And there is more where that came from. A Jordanian newspaper accused the channel of leading a “normalization campaign with the Zionist enemy and is the only one which hosts the official spokespersons of the enemy’s army and government.” (Funny: all this time I thought Jordan was at peace with Israel.)

Not to worry, though. Apparently this degree of free expression is too much even for Al Jazeera, which has issued an apology, cancelled all reruns of the program, and warned the show’s host never to have Sultan on again.

Very hard to be the CNN of the Arab world. This week, Al Jazeera triggered a major controversy when it broadcast the comments of Wafa Sultan, a psychologist living in the United States who is an ardent critic of Islamic extremism. Here is what Sultan said:

All the religions and faiths have been subject throughout history to criticism and insults, and this helped to develop and amend them over time. The only faith which beheads those who oppose it – is destined to turn into terror and tyranny.

This is the situation of Islam from its beginning to this day. It has sentenced its critics to prison terms, and those who escaped custody were killed. The Danish cartoons have managed to drop the first brick in the wall and open a window, through which the sun rays will be able to enter after a long period of darkness . . .

If Islam was not what it is, these cartoons would not appear. They did not come from an empty space, and the cartoonist did not make them up from his sick mind. They were an expression of what he is familiar with. . . . The Muslims’ barbaric reaction added to the value of these cartoons. It simply proved their rightness: The Muslim is an irrational creature, and the things he learned overpower his mind and inflame his feelings. That is why these remarks have turned him into an inferior creature, who cannot control himself and respond to events in a rational way.

Heavy stuff, especially when said in Arabic. And there is more where that came from. A Jordanian newspaper accused the channel of leading a “normalization campaign with the Zionist enemy and is the only one which hosts the official spokespersons of the enemy’s army and government.” (Funny: all this time I thought Jordan was at peace with Israel.)

Not to worry, though. Apparently this degree of free expression is too much even for Al Jazeera, which has issued an apology, cancelled all reruns of the program, and warned the show’s host never to have Sultan on again.

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More in Defense of Power

The lip-smacking glee with which the resignation of Obama adviser Samantha Power is being greeted on the right is perhaps an understandable reaction to the sanctimony (and success) of the Obama campaign. But some of the comments are simply over the top. For instance, Scott Johnson at Powerline (a blog which I regularly read and greatly respect) calls Power “self-righteous, high-minded, and utterly unserious — in short, a pompous phony.”

I can only imagine that Johnson has not read Power’s A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, a deeply serious, exhaustively-researched, 610-page work of history that garnered just about every literary prize in the known universe. If he has read it, I am at a loss to see how he could fling so many insults at its author.

Power doesn’t deserve all this venom. She is a centrist Democrat and a passionate human-rights activist who has risked her neck to cover carnage from Bosnia to Darfur. She shares a commitment with many conservatives that America is and should be a force for good in the world, even if she disagrees with them over some specific policies. Some of the very comments that got her into such hot water are, in fact, evidence of her fundamental seriousness.

When asked, for example, whether Obama would withdrew all American troops from Iraq within 16 months, she told a British interviewer “You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009. He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan–an operational plan–that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn’t have daily access now, as a result of not being the president.” That’s a gaffe only in the Kinsleyesque sense of the word, in which telling the truth in politics can be a faux pas.

Her downfall was not due to her having said anything intrinsically terrible; it was simply because her statements (calling Hillary Clinton a “monster”;  saying she was “confused by what’s happened to Gordon Brown”) have been subjected to the kind of minute scrutiny given to a high-level politician or administration official, rather than the kind of treatment she’s received in the past as an academic and author. No doubt Power erred in not realizing the greater weight her public words would carry given her closeness to the Democratic front-runner, but that hardly justifies the pummeling she is taking.

The lip-smacking glee with which the resignation of Obama adviser Samantha Power is being greeted on the right is perhaps an understandable reaction to the sanctimony (and success) of the Obama campaign. But some of the comments are simply over the top. For instance, Scott Johnson at Powerline (a blog which I regularly read and greatly respect) calls Power “self-righteous, high-minded, and utterly unserious — in short, a pompous phony.”

I can only imagine that Johnson has not read Power’s A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, a deeply serious, exhaustively-researched, 610-page work of history that garnered just about every literary prize in the known universe. If he has read it, I am at a loss to see how he could fling so many insults at its author.

Power doesn’t deserve all this venom. She is a centrist Democrat and a passionate human-rights activist who has risked her neck to cover carnage from Bosnia to Darfur. She shares a commitment with many conservatives that America is and should be a force for good in the world, even if she disagrees with them over some specific policies. Some of the very comments that got her into such hot water are, in fact, evidence of her fundamental seriousness.

When asked, for example, whether Obama would withdrew all American troops from Iraq within 16 months, she told a British interviewer “You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009. He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan–an operational plan–that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn’t have daily access now, as a result of not being the president.” That’s a gaffe only in the Kinsleyesque sense of the word, in which telling the truth in politics can be a faux pas.

Her downfall was not due to her having said anything intrinsically terrible; it was simply because her statements (calling Hillary Clinton a “monster”;  saying she was “confused by what’s happened to Gordon Brown”) have been subjected to the kind of minute scrutiny given to a high-level politician or administration official, rather than the kind of treatment she’s received in the past as an academic and author. No doubt Power erred in not realizing the greater weight her public words would carry given her closeness to the Democratic front-runner, but that hardly justifies the pummeling she is taking.

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China Says Bush Supports Beijing against Activists

On Friday, Liu Guijin, Beijing’s special envoy for Sudan, argued that the attendance of Western leaders at this year’s Summer Olympics means they support China in its ongoing campaign against activist groups. “More and more spokesmen and public figures have decided that politicization of the Olympic Games is not compatible with the Olympic spirit,” he explained.

Are the Olympics a political event? Whether or not they were before, they are now. Beijing and its detractors are engaged in highly public struggles over Darfur, Tibet, human rights, democracy, and a dozen other topics in connection with the Olympic extravaganza. And Liu, in presenting Beijing’s case, has just explicitly politicized the attendance of foreign leaders. President Bush can no longer claim that he is going to the Games merely for the sport. Unfortunately, his host has contradicted him and is using him against the activists.

So the American leader must make a decision: Will he side with Beijing’s autocrats, who, among other things, repress the Chinese people and enable the mass slaughter in Darfur? The world awaits his answer.

On Friday, Liu Guijin, Beijing’s special envoy for Sudan, argued that the attendance of Western leaders at this year’s Summer Olympics means they support China in its ongoing campaign against activist groups. “More and more spokesmen and public figures have decided that politicization of the Olympic Games is not compatible with the Olympic spirit,” he explained.

Are the Olympics a political event? Whether or not they were before, they are now. Beijing and its detractors are engaged in highly public struggles over Darfur, Tibet, human rights, democracy, and a dozen other topics in connection with the Olympic extravaganza. And Liu, in presenting Beijing’s case, has just explicitly politicized the attendance of foreign leaders. President Bush can no longer claim that he is going to the Games merely for the sport. Unfortunately, his host has contradicted him and is using him against the activists.

So the American leader must make a decision: Will he side with Beijing’s autocrats, who, among other things, repress the Chinese people and enable the mass slaughter in Darfur? The world awaits his answer.

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Carter, Annan to Head Peace Mission to Mideast

No, really: that’s the headline of the story. Here are the details:

The council of world leaders launched by former President Nelson Mandela is sending a three-person team to help ease tensions in the troubled Middle East, the organization known as The Elders said Friday.

Former US President Jimmy Carter, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and former Irish president Mary Robinson will visit Israel, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia from April 13th to April 21st.

In other news, Rudy Giuliani and Benjamin Netanyahu will head a mission to Tehran seeking to ease international tensions over the Iranian nuclear program, Lou Dobbs is leading a delegation to Mexico City that hopes to assuage controversy about illegal immigration, and Al Sharpton will be appearing at the Manhattan Jewish Community Center to speak about his leadership in promoting social harmony between blacks and Jews.

No, really: that’s the headline of the story. Here are the details:

The council of world leaders launched by former President Nelson Mandela is sending a three-person team to help ease tensions in the troubled Middle East, the organization known as The Elders said Friday.

Former US President Jimmy Carter, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and former Irish president Mary Robinson will visit Israel, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia from April 13th to April 21st.

In other news, Rudy Giuliani and Benjamin Netanyahu will head a mission to Tehran seeking to ease international tensions over the Iranian nuclear program, Lou Dobbs is leading a delegation to Mexico City that hopes to assuage controversy about illegal immigration, and Al Sharpton will be appearing at the Manhattan Jewish Community Center to speak about his leadership in promoting social harmony between blacks and Jews.

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Hamas’s Iran Connection

Today’s London Times has an important piece on the Hamas-Iran connection. According to the report, Hamas has been sending its best minds to train in Tehran alongside the Revolutionary Guard for more than two years now. In addition, 650 Hamas fighters have trained in Syria “under instructors who learnt their techniques in Iran.” The Hamas commander interviewed also says that they are deliberately modeling themselves on Hezbollah, and are constantly upgrading their forces, munitions, and weapons. “They come home with more abilities that we need,” he says, “such as high-tech capabilities, knowledge about land mines and rockets, sniping, and fighting tactics like the ones used by Hezbollah, when they were able to come out of tunnels from behind the Israelis and attack them successfully.”

So let’s keep our eyes on the picture as it has emerged. The image of Hamas as just another Palestinian resistance group is simply wrong. Maybe that is what many of its followers are thinking when they launch those Kassam missiles at apartment buildings and kindergartens. But as I have said in the past, from a wider strategic perspective (and just like Hezbollah), Hamas functions as an arm of Iran. It exists so that there will be another front against Israel‘s Western flank, to parallel the one up north. The group hides behind its statelessness, taking no responsibility and suffering little sanction in terms of international treaties. Hezbollah, at least, is part of an actual state. And even if Lebanon is not currently held accountable for the group’s actions at all, at least one can hope for some kind of Lebanese anti-Hezbollah effort in the future, maybe even through force of arms. But Hamas is a non-state inside another non-state, distancing it even further from international standards. The Palestinian Authority, even when it had the power to kill Hamas off, never showed much interest in doing so. Hamas lives and breathes in the lacunae of international law. And it does so at the behest of Iran.

According to the Times piece, Iran’s main goal right now is to trouble the Israelis so much with different kinds of terror–shootings, missiles, mass rock-throwings, and so forth–that Israel will have no mind to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. Given how much progress Iran seems to be making on the bomb, and how distracted the Americans are right now with the elections, let us hope that the stratagem fails.

Today’s London Times has an important piece on the Hamas-Iran connection. According to the report, Hamas has been sending its best minds to train in Tehran alongside the Revolutionary Guard for more than two years now. In addition, 650 Hamas fighters have trained in Syria “under instructors who learnt their techniques in Iran.” The Hamas commander interviewed also says that they are deliberately modeling themselves on Hezbollah, and are constantly upgrading their forces, munitions, and weapons. “They come home with more abilities that we need,” he says, “such as high-tech capabilities, knowledge about land mines and rockets, sniping, and fighting tactics like the ones used by Hezbollah, when they were able to come out of tunnels from behind the Israelis and attack them successfully.”

So let’s keep our eyes on the picture as it has emerged. The image of Hamas as just another Palestinian resistance group is simply wrong. Maybe that is what many of its followers are thinking when they launch those Kassam missiles at apartment buildings and kindergartens. But as I have said in the past, from a wider strategic perspective (and just like Hezbollah), Hamas functions as an arm of Iran. It exists so that there will be another front against Israel‘s Western flank, to parallel the one up north. The group hides behind its statelessness, taking no responsibility and suffering little sanction in terms of international treaties. Hezbollah, at least, is part of an actual state. And even if Lebanon is not currently held accountable for the group’s actions at all, at least one can hope for some kind of Lebanese anti-Hezbollah effort in the future, maybe even through force of arms. But Hamas is a non-state inside another non-state, distancing it even further from international standards. The Palestinian Authority, even when it had the power to kill Hamas off, never showed much interest in doing so. Hamas lives and breathes in the lacunae of international law. And it does so at the behest of Iran.

According to the Times piece, Iran’s main goal right now is to trouble the Israelis so much with different kinds of terror–shootings, missiles, mass rock-throwings, and so forth–that Israel will have no mind to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. Given how much progress Iran seems to be making on the bomb, and how distracted the Americans are right now with the elections, let us hope that the stratagem fails.

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Bookshelf

Jennifer 8. Lee, the New York Times metro reporter with the numerical middle name, has written a funny, informative book about a subject likely to be near and dear to the hearts of most of the people who are reading these words. The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food (Twelve, 308 pp., $24.99) is a pop history of what should really be called Chinese-American cuisine, since it bears only a glancing resemblance to the style of cooking practiced in China and in the homes of Chinese immigrants. It is not, however, a clip job: Ms. Lee, as befits a reporter, has done an awesome amount of legwork, both here and abroad, in order to track down the hazy and oft-disputed origins of chop suey, General Tso’s chicken, and the fortune cookie.

Written in a breezy manner that grates only occasionally, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles really does tell you just about everything you could possibly want to know about how Chinese cooking was modified for American palates and marketed in such a way as to become the most ubiquitous of ethnic cuisines—and yes, it even contains a chapter called “Why Chow Mein is the Chosen Food of the Chosen People.” I commend it to your attention.

• A.J. Liebling, who was generously represented in the Library of America’s Reporting World War II, now has a volume of his own. World War II Writings (Library of America, 1089 pp., $40), edited by Pete Hamill, contains the complete texts of The Road Back to Paris (1944) and Mollie and Other War Pieces (1964), the two books of wartime reportage assembled by Liebling during his lifetime, plus Normandy Revisited, the uncommonly elegant 1958 memoir in which he weaves together present- and past-tense accounts of his wartime and postwar visits to Normandy. Also included are 28 uncollected pieces about World War II, most of which originally appeared in The New Yorker, and two excerpts from The Republic of Silence, Liebling’s 1947 anthology of articles from the French resistance press.

If all this sounds a bit dry, allow me to disabuse you of any such notion. Liebling’s wartime dispatches to The New Yorker were the finest work of their kind to be published by any American journalist during World War II. Ernie Pyle was his only rival, and Pyle was a very different sort of writer, unadorned and homespun where Liebling was ornate and self-revealing—though never self-regarding. He portrayed himself as a character in his own pieces, an out-of-place urbanite who somehow ended up in the middle of great events, and the humor with which he describes them does not diminish in the least the immense gravity underlying his writing. The chapters of The Road Back to Paris in which he describes the fall of France, for instance, combine lightness of touch with high seriousness to tremendously powerful effect: “You cannot keep your mind indefinitely on a war that does not begin. Toward the end of the year many of the people who three months before had been ready to pop into their cellars like prairie dogs at the first purring of an airplane motor, expecting Paris to be expunged between dark and dawn, were complaining because restaurants did not serve beefsteak on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays, and because the season had produced no new plays worth seeing.” (Modern-day New Yorkers will know exactly what Liebling was talking about.)

Many of Liebling’s most memorable dispatches are included in Reporting World War II, but by no means all of them, and those whose copies of the cheaply bound 1981 omnibus anthology Liebling At War are now falling to pieces will be delighted to replace it with this compact, handsomely printed collection. “Of all the specifically literary American journalism to come out of World War II, A.J. Liebling’s was by a long shot the very best,” I wrote on another occasion. Nothing in World War II Writings has made me change my mind.

Jennifer 8. Lee, the New York Times metro reporter with the numerical middle name, has written a funny, informative book about a subject likely to be near and dear to the hearts of most of the people who are reading these words. The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food (Twelve, 308 pp., $24.99) is a pop history of what should really be called Chinese-American cuisine, since it bears only a glancing resemblance to the style of cooking practiced in China and in the homes of Chinese immigrants. It is not, however, a clip job: Ms. Lee, as befits a reporter, has done an awesome amount of legwork, both here and abroad, in order to track down the hazy and oft-disputed origins of chop suey, General Tso’s chicken, and the fortune cookie.

Written in a breezy manner that grates only occasionally, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles really does tell you just about everything you could possibly want to know about how Chinese cooking was modified for American palates and marketed in such a way as to become the most ubiquitous of ethnic cuisines—and yes, it even contains a chapter called “Why Chow Mein is the Chosen Food of the Chosen People.” I commend it to your attention.

• A.J. Liebling, who was generously represented in the Library of America’s Reporting World War II, now has a volume of his own. World War II Writings (Library of America, 1089 pp., $40), edited by Pete Hamill, contains the complete texts of The Road Back to Paris (1944) and Mollie and Other War Pieces (1964), the two books of wartime reportage assembled by Liebling during his lifetime, plus Normandy Revisited, the uncommonly elegant 1958 memoir in which he weaves together present- and past-tense accounts of his wartime and postwar visits to Normandy. Also included are 28 uncollected pieces about World War II, most of which originally appeared in The New Yorker, and two excerpts from The Republic of Silence, Liebling’s 1947 anthology of articles from the French resistance press.

If all this sounds a bit dry, allow me to disabuse you of any such notion. Liebling’s wartime dispatches to The New Yorker were the finest work of their kind to be published by any American journalist during World War II. Ernie Pyle was his only rival, and Pyle was a very different sort of writer, unadorned and homespun where Liebling was ornate and self-revealing—though never self-regarding. He portrayed himself as a character in his own pieces, an out-of-place urbanite who somehow ended up in the middle of great events, and the humor with which he describes them does not diminish in the least the immense gravity underlying his writing. The chapters of The Road Back to Paris in which he describes the fall of France, for instance, combine lightness of touch with high seriousness to tremendously powerful effect: “You cannot keep your mind indefinitely on a war that does not begin. Toward the end of the year many of the people who three months before had been ready to pop into their cellars like prairie dogs at the first purring of an airplane motor, expecting Paris to be expunged between dark and dawn, were complaining because restaurants did not serve beefsteak on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays, and because the season had produced no new plays worth seeing.” (Modern-day New Yorkers will know exactly what Liebling was talking about.)

Many of Liebling’s most memorable dispatches are included in Reporting World War II, but by no means all of them, and those whose copies of the cheaply bound 1981 omnibus anthology Liebling At War are now falling to pieces will be delighted to replace it with this compact, handsomely printed collection. “Of all the specifically literary American journalism to come out of World War II, A.J. Liebling’s was by a long shot the very best,” I wrote on another occasion. Nothing in World War II Writings has made me change my mind.

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Attack, Attack, Attack

Hillary Clinton does not let her opponents up off the mat when they are down.  She is trying to make sure Samantha Power’s negative impact on Barack Obama lives on long after Power is gone from Obama’s campaign. In a campaign email blast Saturday, Clinton made the argument that Obama is prone to telling voters one thing, only to do or say something different in another context. The memo read, in part:

After months of speeches from Senator Obama promising a hard end date to the Iraq war, his top foreign policy adviser that counseled his campaign during that period is on the record saying that Senator Obama will “not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator.” Voters already have serious questions about whether Senator Obama is ready to be Commander-in-Chief. Now there are questions about whether he’s serious about the Iraq plan he’s discussed for the last year on the campaign trail. Senator Obama has made hard end dates about Iraq a centerpiece of his campaign and has repeatedly attacked Senator Clinton for not being clear about her intentions with regard to troop withdrawal. It turns out those attacks and speeches were just words. And if you can’t trust Senator Obama’s words, what’s left? This latest incident is part of a larger pattern where Senator Obama doesn’t deliver on the promises he makes on the campaign trail — whether it’s his 2004 Senate race or his 2008 White House campaign. In 2003, Senator Obama said he was for a single payer health system, but now opposes plans that cover every American. He promised to repeal the Patriot Act, but then voted to extend it. He promised to normalize relations with Cuba, but flip-flopped when he started running for president. In 2008, Senator Obama rails against NAFTA in Ohio while his top economic advisor assures the Canadians his rhetoric is just “political positioning.” He promises to opt in to public financing if the GOP nominee does, but then breaks that pledge in real time. He promises to withdraw from Iraq within 16 months, and now his top foreign policy adviser says that he’s not relying on the plan. With a short record to run on, Senator Obama’s entire campaign is based on the speeches he makes on the campaign trail. So when he and his advisers dismiss the plans he touts on the stump, it undermines his entire candidacy. Americans have heard plenty of speeches.

This, of course, is the latest twist on Clinton’s efforts to attack Obama’s rhetoric. First, she tried the “he’s all talk” tactic. Now she says “you can’t really trust the talk, so what is left?” (The corrollary point that he’s too inexperienced hardly has to be raised–once SNL does a bit like this, you know that point is sinking into the national psyche.) Hillary’s effort to attack the reliability of Obama’s rhetoric is now aided by increasingly tough media coverage on topics such as his evolving stance on Iraq.

On a broader level, all this suggests that Obama will have a difficult time getting off the defensive. Clinton will raise issue after issue of alleged inconsistency, forcing him into a tedious process of trying to rebut each alleged policy reversal. (Notice Clinton is more than happy to invoke McCain’s argument that Obama has reneged on his public financing pledge.) It reminds one of the Republican “flip flop” barrage aimed at John Kerry in 2004. Even liberal commmentators (h/t NRO)  are concerned that the impression created is “that Obama won’t fight back, that he’s easy to fluster, that he’s weak.”

What does Obama have on his side? Math. Wyoming was another comfortable win for him (although just a net gain of two delegates) and he leads in Mississippi. However, the Clinton line that Democrats should be concerned that he is not winning in must-win states for November is gaining traction. Will his delegate lead stand up after weeks of Clinton attacks (even with possible do-over elections in Florida and Michigan)? Probably. But the fact that she is still in the game and these questions are being raised indicates the “inevitable Obama” meme is likely a thing of the past. And even if he is still a dozen or so delegates ahead, but has lost Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan and is doing worse than Clinton in head-to-head match ups with McCain, will superdelegates care who’s marginally ahead? The answer is “no.”

Hillary Clinton does not let her opponents up off the mat when they are down.  She is trying to make sure Samantha Power’s negative impact on Barack Obama lives on long after Power is gone from Obama’s campaign. In a campaign email blast Saturday, Clinton made the argument that Obama is prone to telling voters one thing, only to do or say something different in another context. The memo read, in part:

After months of speeches from Senator Obama promising a hard end date to the Iraq war, his top foreign policy adviser that counseled his campaign during that period is on the record saying that Senator Obama will “not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator.” Voters already have serious questions about whether Senator Obama is ready to be Commander-in-Chief. Now there are questions about whether he’s serious about the Iraq plan he’s discussed for the last year on the campaign trail. Senator Obama has made hard end dates about Iraq a centerpiece of his campaign and has repeatedly attacked Senator Clinton for not being clear about her intentions with regard to troop withdrawal. It turns out those attacks and speeches were just words. And if you can’t trust Senator Obama’s words, what’s left? This latest incident is part of a larger pattern where Senator Obama doesn’t deliver on the promises he makes on the campaign trail — whether it’s his 2004 Senate race or his 2008 White House campaign. In 2003, Senator Obama said he was for a single payer health system, but now opposes plans that cover every American. He promised to repeal the Patriot Act, but then voted to extend it. He promised to normalize relations with Cuba, but flip-flopped when he started running for president. In 2008, Senator Obama rails against NAFTA in Ohio while his top economic advisor assures the Canadians his rhetoric is just “political positioning.” He promises to opt in to public financing if the GOP nominee does, but then breaks that pledge in real time. He promises to withdraw from Iraq within 16 months, and now his top foreign policy adviser says that he’s not relying on the plan. With a short record to run on, Senator Obama’s entire campaign is based on the speeches he makes on the campaign trail. So when he and his advisers dismiss the plans he touts on the stump, it undermines his entire candidacy. Americans have heard plenty of speeches.

This, of course, is the latest twist on Clinton’s efforts to attack Obama’s rhetoric. First, she tried the “he’s all talk” tactic. Now she says “you can’t really trust the talk, so what is left?” (The corrollary point that he’s too inexperienced hardly has to be raised–once SNL does a bit like this, you know that point is sinking into the national psyche.) Hillary’s effort to attack the reliability of Obama’s rhetoric is now aided by increasingly tough media coverage on topics such as his evolving stance on Iraq.

On a broader level, all this suggests that Obama will have a difficult time getting off the defensive. Clinton will raise issue after issue of alleged inconsistency, forcing him into a tedious process of trying to rebut each alleged policy reversal. (Notice Clinton is more than happy to invoke McCain’s argument that Obama has reneged on his public financing pledge.) It reminds one of the Republican “flip flop” barrage aimed at John Kerry in 2004. Even liberal commmentators (h/t NRO)  are concerned that the impression created is “that Obama won’t fight back, that he’s easy to fluster, that he’s weak.”

What does Obama have on his side? Math. Wyoming was another comfortable win for him (although just a net gain of two delegates) and he leads in Mississippi. However, the Clinton line that Democrats should be concerned that he is not winning in must-win states for November is gaining traction. Will his delegate lead stand up after weeks of Clinton attacks (even with possible do-over elections in Florida and Michigan)? Probably. But the fact that she is still in the game and these questions are being raised indicates the “inevitable Obama” meme is likely a thing of the past. And even if he is still a dozen or so delegates ahead, but has lost Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan and is doing worse than Clinton in head-to-head match ups with McCain, will superdelegates care who’s marginally ahead? The answer is “no.”

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