Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 10, 2008

Farewell, Mean Streets

If everyone at the Manhattan Institute suddenly became raving socialists and decamped to Baltimore to concoct a sprawling, five-year missive on urban decay and the failures of public institutions in story form, you might end up with something resembling The Wire. Never before has any television series been so deeply and smartly concerned with the interplay between public policy, local institutions, and individual lives. What happens when teachers’ unions threaten the mayor’s office in a bid to get more funding and the police department budget is shorted? The Wire shows us. And not just at the political level–but also on the streets, in the lives of cops, kids, teachers, and drug dealers, as well as the politicos at city hall.

The HBO series–as far as I’m concerned, the best that television’s ever seen–ended last night with an episode that managed to be both satisfying and appropriately open-ended (Andrew Johnston has a great write-up on the finale over at The House Next Door). Sopranos creator David Chase should take note: As much as I enjoyed and defended the non-ending ending to his show, this is how to end a major series. Major plot points were largely resolved, but the intractable problems of social organization and human fallibility were not. That’s one of the marks of a genuinely great series-that it feels as if there is something outside the confines of the hours we see on screen. In that respect, no other show comes close to what Wire-creator David Simon has accomplished over the last five seasons. These stories come to an end, but for everyone in the show who survives–and, in this case, that means much of the city of Baltimore–life will go on.

If everyone at the Manhattan Institute suddenly became raving socialists and decamped to Baltimore to concoct a sprawling, five-year missive on urban decay and the failures of public institutions in story form, you might end up with something resembling The Wire. Never before has any television series been so deeply and smartly concerned with the interplay between public policy, local institutions, and individual lives. What happens when teachers’ unions threaten the mayor’s office in a bid to get more funding and the police department budget is shorted? The Wire shows us. And not just at the political level–but also on the streets, in the lives of cops, kids, teachers, and drug dealers, as well as the politicos at city hall.

The HBO series–as far as I’m concerned, the best that television’s ever seen–ended last night with an episode that managed to be both satisfying and appropriately open-ended (Andrew Johnston has a great write-up on the finale over at The House Next Door). Sopranos creator David Chase should take note: As much as I enjoyed and defended the non-ending ending to his show, this is how to end a major series. Major plot points were largely resolved, but the intractable problems of social organization and human fallibility were not. That’s one of the marks of a genuinely great series-that it feels as if there is something outside the confines of the hours we see on screen. In that respect, no other show comes close to what Wire-creator David Simon has accomplished over the last five seasons. These stories come to an end, but for everyone in the show who survives–and, in this case, that means much of the city of Baltimore–life will go on.

Read Less

The Danger of the Tri-State Area

Those of us who live in New Jersey, Connecticut and New York know that the local broadcast media refer to the region as the “tri-state area.” It’s also the Area of Disgraced Governors: New Jersey’s Jim McGreevey stepped down after the revelation that he had put a boyfriend on his staff as a homeland-security consultant, and Connecticut’s John G. Rowland quit and ended up in jail after taking illegal gifts. All in the past four years.

Those of us who live in New Jersey, Connecticut and New York know that the local broadcast media refer to the region as the “tri-state area.” It’s also the Area of Disgraced Governors: New Jersey’s Jim McGreevey stepped down after the revelation that he had put a boyfriend on his staff as a homeland-security consultant, and Connecticut’s John G. Rowland quit and ended up in jail after taking illegal gifts. All in the past four years.

Read Less

Eliot Spitzer, Crook

The thing is, Eliot Spitzer is a crook. I’m not referring to the current prostitution scandal. I’m not referring to the scandal last year involving his senior aides and the leaking of confidential police information to the Albany Times Union. I’m not referring to the threatening phone call he made to the august John Whitehead, retired head of Goldman Sachs, who had the temerity to question a case Spitzer was building against an old friend of Whitehead’s. I’m referring to his conduct dating back to 1994, when he designed a complex scheme involving loans and real estate and collateralized apartments to evade campaign-finance laws so that his own father, Bernard Spitzer,  could pay for his campaign as attorney general of New York state. Millions of dollars. And then, in 1998, running for the same office, he did it again. It’s hard to explain, but basically, Spitzer’s father gave him a lot of real estate. He used it to secure loans totaling more than $8 million. Then his father paid back the loans. He was supposed to pay his father back. He said he did. Then he acknowledged he hadn’t. Then somehow it all went away. I’m not a big fan of campaign-finance laws, but they are laws, and they are supposed to apply to everybody.

The rules don’t apply to Eliot Spitzer, or at least, that’s how Eliot Spitzer has acted throughout his public life. Sic transit gloria mundi.

The thing is, Eliot Spitzer is a crook. I’m not referring to the current prostitution scandal. I’m not referring to the scandal last year involving his senior aides and the leaking of confidential police information to the Albany Times Union. I’m not referring to the threatening phone call he made to the august John Whitehead, retired head of Goldman Sachs, who had the temerity to question a case Spitzer was building against an old friend of Whitehead’s. I’m referring to his conduct dating back to 1994, when he designed a complex scheme involving loans and real estate and collateralized apartments to evade campaign-finance laws so that his own father, Bernard Spitzer,  could pay for his campaign as attorney general of New York state. Millions of dollars. And then, in 1998, running for the same office, he did it again. It’s hard to explain, but basically, Spitzer’s father gave him a lot of real estate. He used it to secure loans totaling more than $8 million. Then his father paid back the loans. He was supposed to pay his father back. He said he did. Then he acknowledged he hadn’t. Then somehow it all went away. I’m not a big fan of campaign-finance laws, but they are laws, and they are supposed to apply to everybody.

The rules don’t apply to Eliot Spitzer, or at least, that’s how Eliot Spitzer has acted throughout his public life. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Read Less

Re: The Downfall of Eliot Spitzer

Many will celebrate the downfall of a man who hounded Wall Street and whose personal vindictiveness and nasty temper knew no bounds. As Rep. Peter King noted, Eliot Spitzer’s own behavior and personal conduct should ensure he will be alone in his worst public moment.

But he’s not alone. There is the heartbreaking sight of the wife who is dragged to the press conference. (I always wonder, “Hasn’t he made her life rotten enough–now he has to put her in front of cameras looking like a house fell on her?”) There is no joy in seeing that. Nor I think is there any larger political impact. Yes, Spitzer supported Hillary Clinton and, yes, sex scandals bring up bad memories of the Clinton presidency. But right now there are a lot of women who are really peeved at yet another male politician who has made his family’s life miserable. So this is not I think a “win” for anyone.

Many will celebrate the downfall of a man who hounded Wall Street and whose personal vindictiveness and nasty temper knew no bounds. As Rep. Peter King noted, Eliot Spitzer’s own behavior and personal conduct should ensure he will be alone in his worst public moment.

But he’s not alone. There is the heartbreaking sight of the wife who is dragged to the press conference. (I always wonder, “Hasn’t he made her life rotten enough–now he has to put her in front of cameras looking like a house fell on her?”) There is no joy in seeing that. Nor I think is there any larger political impact. Yes, Spitzer supported Hillary Clinton and, yes, sex scandals bring up bad memories of the Clinton presidency. But right now there are a lot of women who are really peeved at yet another male politician who has made his family’s life miserable. So this is not I think a “win” for anyone.

Read Less

Big Moves in Malaysia

For the past several decades Malaysia, along with its neighbor, Singapore, one of the primary exhibits pointed to by those intent on extolling the virtues of benign authoritarianism. Ever since winning independence from Britain in 1957, the country has been ruled by the National Front, a political bloc dominated by the United Malays National Organization, representing the country’s ethnic Malay majority.

Under Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who ruled from 1981 to 2003, the government pursued a policy of economic diversification. Formerly dependent on mineral mining and plantations, Malaysia turned into a high-tech manufacturing powerhouse. Its per capita GDP, at $14,400, is now higher than Thailand’s, Turkey’s, or Bulgaria’s. That wealth is instantly visible to anyone who visits Kuala Lumpur, which is full of high-rise office buildings, expensive malls, and ritzy restaurants.

But now the National Front’s control is cracking, and that is a good thing. The Wall Street Journal sums up the recent election results:

Although the National Front mustered just enough seats to form the next national government, it lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time in almost 40 years.

Exceeding its most optimistic forecasts, an alliance of three opposition parties also secured control of five of Malaysia’s 13 state administrations. The opposition now controls the crucial states of Penang and Selangor, home to much of Malaysia’s industrial base and to billions of dollars in U.S. and other foreign investments.

“This is a major political earthquake,” said Ibrahim Suffian, executive director of polling firm Merdeka Center in Kuala Lumpur. “The monopoly of power has now been broken.”

Indeed it has. Along with another of its neighbors, Indonesia, Malaysia is now starting to show that “Islamic democracy” is not an oxymoron. This is a development to be applauded in the long run, though in the short run it will undoubtedly cause some dislocations, especially for a business class that has gotten cozy with the ruling party.

For the past several decades Malaysia, along with its neighbor, Singapore, one of the primary exhibits pointed to by those intent on extolling the virtues of benign authoritarianism. Ever since winning independence from Britain in 1957, the country has been ruled by the National Front, a political bloc dominated by the United Malays National Organization, representing the country’s ethnic Malay majority.

Under Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who ruled from 1981 to 2003, the government pursued a policy of economic diversification. Formerly dependent on mineral mining and plantations, Malaysia turned into a high-tech manufacturing powerhouse. Its per capita GDP, at $14,400, is now higher than Thailand’s, Turkey’s, or Bulgaria’s. That wealth is instantly visible to anyone who visits Kuala Lumpur, which is full of high-rise office buildings, expensive malls, and ritzy restaurants.

But now the National Front’s control is cracking, and that is a good thing. The Wall Street Journal sums up the recent election results:

Although the National Front mustered just enough seats to form the next national government, it lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time in almost 40 years.

Exceeding its most optimistic forecasts, an alliance of three opposition parties also secured control of five of Malaysia’s 13 state administrations. The opposition now controls the crucial states of Penang and Selangor, home to much of Malaysia’s industrial base and to billions of dollars in U.S. and other foreign investments.

“This is a major political earthquake,” said Ibrahim Suffian, executive director of polling firm Merdeka Center in Kuala Lumpur. “The monopoly of power has now been broken.”

Indeed it has. Along with another of its neighbors, Indonesia, Malaysia is now starting to show that “Islamic democracy” is not an oxymoron. This is a development to be applauded in the long run, though in the short run it will undoubtedly cause some dislocations, especially for a business class that has gotten cozy with the ruling party.

Read Less

The Downfall of Eliot Spitzer

Well, I guess he’s not going to be the first Jewish president after all.

Well, I guess he’s not going to be the first Jewish president after all.

Read Less

Putin the Paranoid

On Saturday, Vladimir Putin tried to dash hopes that Dmitry Medvedev will be a softie in his dealings with the West. “I have the feeling that some of our partners cannot wait for me to stop exercising my powers so that they can deal with another person,” the outgoing president noted after meeting with Germany’s Angela Merkel on the outskirts of Moscow. Then, referring to his 42-year-old hand-picked successor, Putin said this: “He is no less of a Russian nationalist than me, in the good sense of the word, and I do not think our partners will have it easier with him.”

Will Medvedev be a better partner for the international community? The president-elect probably holds more conciliatory views than his predecessor, but at least for the next half decade, it doesn’t really matter what he thinks. The victor in the Soviet-style election on March 2 has lived in the shadow of Putin, who will serve as Russia’s next prime minister. Moreover, Medvedev has vowed not to change things too much, saying that his presidency “will be a direct continuation.”

And he thinks that’s a good thing? Putin has staked out an assertive foreign policy, and that, unfortunately, is the path the Kremlin will take. As one Washington analyst recently remarked, “The Russians are acting like Russians again.”

While they do so, we will not be able to do much to influence them or redirect their foreign policy toward a more conciliatory course. As Merkel implied after listening to Putin, Kremlin leaders might actually become even more difficult in the future.

So what should we do? Putin the Paranoid, surprisingly enough, suggested an answer. After meeting with Merkel, he said the West was attempting to replace the United Nations with NATO. That’s a ludicrous charge, as the German chancellor bluntly noted. Yet now that he’s mentioned it, such a course of action makes more sense than trying to continue to engage Moscow and make it a partner.

More than a decade of trying to work with Russia has not had the desired effect. It’s about time that we stop, examine our policies, and change course. We have consulted with Moscow, deferred to its views, and even brought it into the club of industrialized democracies. Unfortunately, over time the Kremlin has chosen to go its own way.

Perhaps that is because the Kremlin no longer feels it is tethered to America or even neighboring Europe. “Until recently, Russia saw itself as Pluto in the Western solar system, very far from the center but still fundamentally a part of it,” wrote Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center in 2006. “Now it has left that orbit entirely.” On its own, Russia feels it can indulge its sense of grievance. Angered by NATO’s eastward enlargement, humiliated by perceived Western indifference to its post-Soviet plight, and feeling insufficiently appreciated by all, Russia is a nation that has staked a course different from our own. Unfortunately, Putin has signaled that Medvedev’s arrival will not change the nation’s approach to the world.

We cannot force the Russians to change their policies, but there is one thing we can do. We can change ours. We should stop treating Russia as if it were a respected member of the international community.

.

On Saturday, Vladimir Putin tried to dash hopes that Dmitry Medvedev will be a softie in his dealings with the West. “I have the feeling that some of our partners cannot wait for me to stop exercising my powers so that they can deal with another person,” the outgoing president noted after meeting with Germany’s Angela Merkel on the outskirts of Moscow. Then, referring to his 42-year-old hand-picked successor, Putin said this: “He is no less of a Russian nationalist than me, in the good sense of the word, and I do not think our partners will have it easier with him.”

Will Medvedev be a better partner for the international community? The president-elect probably holds more conciliatory views than his predecessor, but at least for the next half decade, it doesn’t really matter what he thinks. The victor in the Soviet-style election on March 2 has lived in the shadow of Putin, who will serve as Russia’s next prime minister. Moreover, Medvedev has vowed not to change things too much, saying that his presidency “will be a direct continuation.”

And he thinks that’s a good thing? Putin has staked out an assertive foreign policy, and that, unfortunately, is the path the Kremlin will take. As one Washington analyst recently remarked, “The Russians are acting like Russians again.”

While they do so, we will not be able to do much to influence them or redirect their foreign policy toward a more conciliatory course. As Merkel implied after listening to Putin, Kremlin leaders might actually become even more difficult in the future.

So what should we do? Putin the Paranoid, surprisingly enough, suggested an answer. After meeting with Merkel, he said the West was attempting to replace the United Nations with NATO. That’s a ludicrous charge, as the German chancellor bluntly noted. Yet now that he’s mentioned it, such a course of action makes more sense than trying to continue to engage Moscow and make it a partner.

More than a decade of trying to work with Russia has not had the desired effect. It’s about time that we stop, examine our policies, and change course. We have consulted with Moscow, deferred to its views, and even brought it into the club of industrialized democracies. Unfortunately, over time the Kremlin has chosen to go its own way.

Perhaps that is because the Kremlin no longer feels it is tethered to America or even neighboring Europe. “Until recently, Russia saw itself as Pluto in the Western solar system, very far from the center but still fundamentally a part of it,” wrote Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center in 2006. “Now it has left that orbit entirely.” On its own, Russia feels it can indulge its sense of grievance. Angered by NATO’s eastward enlargement, humiliated by perceived Western indifference to its post-Soviet plight, and feeling insufficiently appreciated by all, Russia is a nation that has staked a course different from our own. Unfortunately, Putin has signaled that Medvedev’s arrival will not change the nation’s approach to the world.

We cannot force the Russians to change their policies, but there is one thing we can do. We can change ours. We should stop treating Russia as if it were a respected member of the international community.

.

Read Less

Frenchness 101

It is dawning on Europe at last that if a state is to survive, citizenship must mean something more than an aggregate of tribal affiliations. All that “land of the free and home of the brave” stuff is, perhaps, starting to look less like jingoism and more like a sound sense of national identity. With France’s occasional Muslim riots morphing into a steady Muslim boil, the French are beginning to wonder about this thing called immigration—why is it becoming the French nightmare if it has been so integral to the American dream?

Isolated in squalid quartiers sensibles or touchy neighborhoods, France’s Muslim immigrant communities are becoming an increasingly insular state within a state. Following their homelands’ mores and customs, the only needs these homogeneous communities have of larger France are the ample state benefits doled out,  no questions asked. In what feels like an emergency measure, France has decided to foster the idea of citizenship in these religious and cultural enclaves: the French government has just launched a program to train its Muslim clerics in Frenchness. The first class of 25 began meeting at the Catholic Institute of Paris in January. The program’s director, Olivier Bobineau, says he wants students to better comprehend the values and rules of France, particularly in regard to the relationship between religion and politics. In some cases, foreign-born clerics don’t even know how to speak French. (This, too, would presumably be addressed.)

Well, triage is a French word; perhaps they can start there. But then what? What do you do if, at the end of the day, being French means . . . being French? What enduring principle can these instructors point to as an ideological foundation for French citizenship? The French have made indispensable contributions to ideas and art, but how does that translate into a practical vision of statehood? Is there even a consistent direction in which French history moves, so that one can speak of an ideal not yet attained? Since 1776, France has done repeated stints as a monarchy, a republic, an empire, and once, a puppet regime of neighboring fascists. More recently, it has teetered on the brink of fuzzy socialism. (For all the talk about America’s youth as a country, it is the oldest existing democracy on the planet.)

Another problem is that citizenship is not a top-down proposal. France cannot redefine by fiat the motives of those who have already taken up residence inside her borders. Having come to France to be paid isolates, these immigrants will not suddenly wish to emulate Pascal or Voltaire because of a government-sponsored class. Any step towards bringing France’s Muslims into the fold has to begin much further upstream, with a clear definition of what France hopes to be and with a better understanding of what prospective immigrants expect to contribute to this vision.

It is dawning on Europe at last that if a state is to survive, citizenship must mean something more than an aggregate of tribal affiliations. All that “land of the free and home of the brave” stuff is, perhaps, starting to look less like jingoism and more like a sound sense of national identity. With France’s occasional Muslim riots morphing into a steady Muslim boil, the French are beginning to wonder about this thing called immigration—why is it becoming the French nightmare if it has been so integral to the American dream?

Isolated in squalid quartiers sensibles or touchy neighborhoods, France’s Muslim immigrant communities are becoming an increasingly insular state within a state. Following their homelands’ mores and customs, the only needs these homogeneous communities have of larger France are the ample state benefits doled out,  no questions asked. In what feels like an emergency measure, France has decided to foster the idea of citizenship in these religious and cultural enclaves: the French government has just launched a program to train its Muslim clerics in Frenchness. The first class of 25 began meeting at the Catholic Institute of Paris in January. The program’s director, Olivier Bobineau, says he wants students to better comprehend the values and rules of France, particularly in regard to the relationship between religion and politics. In some cases, foreign-born clerics don’t even know how to speak French. (This, too, would presumably be addressed.)

Well, triage is a French word; perhaps they can start there. But then what? What do you do if, at the end of the day, being French means . . . being French? What enduring principle can these instructors point to as an ideological foundation for French citizenship? The French have made indispensable contributions to ideas and art, but how does that translate into a practical vision of statehood? Is there even a consistent direction in which French history moves, so that one can speak of an ideal not yet attained? Since 1776, France has done repeated stints as a monarchy, a republic, an empire, and once, a puppet regime of neighboring fascists. More recently, it has teetered on the brink of fuzzy socialism. (For all the talk about America’s youth as a country, it is the oldest existing democracy on the planet.)

Another problem is that citizenship is not a top-down proposal. France cannot redefine by fiat the motives of those who have already taken up residence inside her borders. Having come to France to be paid isolates, these immigrants will not suddenly wish to emulate Pascal or Voltaire because of a government-sponsored class. Any step towards bringing France’s Muslims into the fold has to begin much further upstream, with a clear definition of what France hopes to be and with a better understanding of what prospective immigrants expect to contribute to this vision.

Read Less

Re: Blair’s a Yale Man Now

Ted Bromund’s analysis of the benefits that Tony Blair will bring to Yale is well taken.  However, the former British Prime Minister’s sudden retreat to New Haven might represent something far more politically significant.  After all, Blair is currently serving as envoy for the Quartet on the Middle East, which means his official purpose is to promote the Road Map for Israeli-Palestinian peace—a job that could probably keep one employed forever.  By serving notice after barely eight months on the job, is the once-optimistic Blair signaling that Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects are nil?          

If so, this pessimism might be gaining traction within the Bush administration.  Today, the White House announced that, next week, Vice President Dick Cheney will visit Oman, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the West Bank to discuss “issues of mutual interest.”  Just as Blair will soon be conspicuously absent from the Middle East, the word “peace” was conspicuously absent from Cheney’s press release . . .

Ted Bromund’s analysis of the benefits that Tony Blair will bring to Yale is well taken.  However, the former British Prime Minister’s sudden retreat to New Haven might represent something far more politically significant.  After all, Blair is currently serving as envoy for the Quartet on the Middle East, which means his official purpose is to promote the Road Map for Israeli-Palestinian peace—a job that could probably keep one employed forever.  By serving notice after barely eight months on the job, is the once-optimistic Blair signaling that Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects are nil?          

If so, this pessimism might be gaining traction within the Bush administration.  Today, the White House announced that, next week, Vice President Dick Cheney will visit Oman, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the West Bank to discuss “issues of mutual interest.”  Just as Blair will soon be conspicuously absent from the Middle East, the word “peace” was conspicuously absent from Cheney’s press release . . .

Read Less

The Politics of Cynicism

Two revelations in the past couple of weeks have raised the question of whether Barack Obama’s “politics of hope” is transmogrifying into the politics of cynicism.

First we learned that Austan Goolsbee, Obama’s chief economic adviser, was cited in a memo by a Canadian consular official in Chicago as saying in a private meeting that Obama’s vocal opposition to NAFTA doesn’t reflect his real views. Rather, according to the memo, Obama’s arguments are based on political positioning. (Goolsbee disputes the characterization of the memo.) We then we learned that Samantha Power, at the time a key Obama foreign policy adviser (she has since resigned for calling Hillary Clinton a “monster”), said on the BBC TV show Hardtalk said that Obama’s commitment to withdraw all U.S. combat troops within 16 months is simply a “best-case scenario.”

The Hardtalk host asked, “So what the American public thinks is a commitment to get combat forces out in 16 months isn’t a commitment?”

Power went on to tell the New Statesman in an interview:

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.

The Obama campaign reacted by saying that his commitment to withdraw combat troops within 16 months is “rock solid.”

As it happens, I hope both Goolsbee and Power are right in what they say about Senator Obama’s true views on both NAFTA and Iraq. Their positions are certainly more responsible than the positions Senator Obama has taken on the campaign trail.

At the same time, Obama is running as a candidate who will transcend the usual politics. He’s spoken out forcefully against cynicism and fashioned himself as the candidate of “hope” and “change”–someone whom we can believe in, someone whose words and commitments can be counted on. So when two top aides are essentially saying that we shouldn’t take all that seriously what Obama is saying on two key issues, it raises question marks about his authenticity and candor. As the New York Times put it on Saturday, “[the Power controversy] is the second time in two weeks that the actions of a top aide have forced Mr. Obama to defend the idea that he means what he says–hardly the ideal situation for a candidate who asks voters to trust his judgment and integrity.”

Obama is apparently making promises that he knows will be problematic to keep if he were to win the presidency. But by putting forward the belief that he is something different, and something better, than most politicians, he’s creating problems for himself. The best thing for Obama to do is to run his campaign in an honest manner, one in which he says what he believes and qualifies what deserves qualification. Among the advantages of this approach is that it wouldn’t require him to say one thing now, for public (liberal) consumption, and plan to do something different if he were elected president.

In a powerful 1991 speech the playwright Vaclav Havel, then president of Czechoslovakia, spoke about the temptations of political power. In his remarks Havel said

I am one of those people who consider their term in political office as an expression of responsibility and duty toward the whole community, and even as a sort of sacrifice. But, observing other politicians whom I know very well and who make the same claim, I feel compelled again and again to examine my own motives and ask whether I am not beginning to deceive myself . . . Those who claim that politics is a dirty business are lying to us. Politics is work of a kind that requires especially pure people, because it is especially easy to become morally tainted. So easy, in fact, that a less vigilant spirit may not notice it happening at all.

I’ve had favorable things to say about Senator Obama, who has struck me as a fairly admirable, if left-leaning, figure. But it’s fair to ask now, in light of what we’re learning about Senator Obama, whether the Audacity of hope is gradually giving way to the audacity of politics.

Two revelations in the past couple of weeks have raised the question of whether Barack Obama’s “politics of hope” is transmogrifying into the politics of cynicism.

First we learned that Austan Goolsbee, Obama’s chief economic adviser, was cited in a memo by a Canadian consular official in Chicago as saying in a private meeting that Obama’s vocal opposition to NAFTA doesn’t reflect his real views. Rather, according to the memo, Obama’s arguments are based on political positioning. (Goolsbee disputes the characterization of the memo.) We then we learned that Samantha Power, at the time a key Obama foreign policy adviser (she has since resigned for calling Hillary Clinton a “monster”), said on the BBC TV show Hardtalk said that Obama’s commitment to withdraw all U.S. combat troops within 16 months is simply a “best-case scenario.”

The Hardtalk host asked, “So what the American public thinks is a commitment to get combat forces out in 16 months isn’t a commitment?”

Power went on to tell the New Statesman in an interview:

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.

The Obama campaign reacted by saying that his commitment to withdraw combat troops within 16 months is “rock solid.”

As it happens, I hope both Goolsbee and Power are right in what they say about Senator Obama’s true views on both NAFTA and Iraq. Their positions are certainly more responsible than the positions Senator Obama has taken on the campaign trail.

At the same time, Obama is running as a candidate who will transcend the usual politics. He’s spoken out forcefully against cynicism and fashioned himself as the candidate of “hope” and “change”–someone whom we can believe in, someone whose words and commitments can be counted on. So when two top aides are essentially saying that we shouldn’t take all that seriously what Obama is saying on two key issues, it raises question marks about his authenticity and candor. As the New York Times put it on Saturday, “[the Power controversy] is the second time in two weeks that the actions of a top aide have forced Mr. Obama to defend the idea that he means what he says–hardly the ideal situation for a candidate who asks voters to trust his judgment and integrity.”

Obama is apparently making promises that he knows will be problematic to keep if he were to win the presidency. But by putting forward the belief that he is something different, and something better, than most politicians, he’s creating problems for himself. The best thing for Obama to do is to run his campaign in an honest manner, one in which he says what he believes and qualifies what deserves qualification. Among the advantages of this approach is that it wouldn’t require him to say one thing now, for public (liberal) consumption, and plan to do something different if he were elected president.

In a powerful 1991 speech the playwright Vaclav Havel, then president of Czechoslovakia, spoke about the temptations of political power. In his remarks Havel said

I am one of those people who consider their term in political office as an expression of responsibility and duty toward the whole community, and even as a sort of sacrifice. But, observing other politicians whom I know very well and who make the same claim, I feel compelled again and again to examine my own motives and ask whether I am not beginning to deceive myself . . . Those who claim that politics is a dirty business are lying to us. Politics is work of a kind that requires especially pure people, because it is especially easy to become morally tainted. So easy, in fact, that a less vigilant spirit may not notice it happening at all.

I’ve had favorable things to say about Senator Obama, who has struck me as a fairly admirable, if left-leaning, figure. But it’s fair to ask now, in light of what we’re learning about Senator Obama, whether the Audacity of hope is gradually giving way to the audacity of politics.

Read Less

Great Job Brownie. . . er. . . Penn

The New York Times has the latest tell-all on how poorly the Clinton campaign has been run. And it makes Hillary sound like a familiar and widely disparaged executive:

Mrs. Clinton showed a tendency toward an insular management style, relying on a coterie of aides who have worked for her for years, her aides and associates said. Her choice of lieutenants, and her insistence on staying with them even when friends urged her to shake things up, was blamed by some associates for the campaign’s woes. Again and again, the senator was portrayed as a manager who valued loyalty and familiarity over experience and expertise.

But the current incumbent had been a chief executive in the private and public sector before coming to the White House. It is now dawning on some that Clinton has no. . . (what’s the term?) . . . experience:

For all her years on the public stage, Mrs. Clinton has never come close to assembling and running an enterprise like the 700-person, $170 million-and-counting campaign organization that she has created.

As to the latter point, the same is obviously true of Barack Obama. His staffers may be better behaved. But losing momentum, being caught flatfooted by Clinton counterattacks, and frittering away their advantages (including fawning media coverage, which they took for granted but generally hid from) don’t suggest any greater level of competence by the Obama team or their candidate.

So both of these candidates will in large part be judged, as John McCain will be, on how well they do when things don’t go swimmingly, when conflicting advice comes pouring from multiple directions. McCain earned his nomination (and some respect from unlikely quarters) by demonstrating that when things go really wrong he does not lose his cool and can improvise, regroup, and turn to a core group of advisers, who are not just loyal but competent. But it’s not yet clear which of the Democrats has the capability to weather their own storms.

The New York Times has the latest tell-all on how poorly the Clinton campaign has been run. And it makes Hillary sound like a familiar and widely disparaged executive:

Mrs. Clinton showed a tendency toward an insular management style, relying on a coterie of aides who have worked for her for years, her aides and associates said. Her choice of lieutenants, and her insistence on staying with them even when friends urged her to shake things up, was blamed by some associates for the campaign’s woes. Again and again, the senator was portrayed as a manager who valued loyalty and familiarity over experience and expertise.

But the current incumbent had been a chief executive in the private and public sector before coming to the White House. It is now dawning on some that Clinton has no. . . (what’s the term?) . . . experience:

For all her years on the public stage, Mrs. Clinton has never come close to assembling and running an enterprise like the 700-person, $170 million-and-counting campaign organization that she has created.

As to the latter point, the same is obviously true of Barack Obama. His staffers may be better behaved. But losing momentum, being caught flatfooted by Clinton counterattacks, and frittering away their advantages (including fawning media coverage, which they took for granted but generally hid from) don’t suggest any greater level of competence by the Obama team or their candidate.

So both of these candidates will in large part be judged, as John McCain will be, on how well they do when things don’t go swimmingly, when conflicting advice comes pouring from multiple directions. McCain earned his nomination (and some respect from unlikely quarters) by demonstrating that when things go really wrong he does not lose his cool and can improvise, regroup, and turn to a core group of advisers, who are not just loyal but competent. But it’s not yet clear which of the Democrats has the capability to weather their own storms.

Read Less

Blair’s a Yale Man Now

Frankly, my initial reaction, as a Yale lecturer, on hearing that Tony Blair will spend 2008-09 at Yale as the Howland Distinguished Fellow (he’ll be teaching a seminar on “faith and globalization”) was that it puts us one up on Harvard. My second was to predict to myself that while Blair will receive a rapturous reception from the students, a few of his faculty colleagues will likely be no more than civil. This new position will not make Blair any better liked by his enemies at home, among whom his interest in matters of faith was almost as unpopular as his friendship with President Bush. Indeed, the two were often linked. The comment forums of the various British newspapers are already lighting up with predictable abuse, and the tinfoil hat brigade is asserting various implausible connections between the university, assorted multinationals, President Bush, Blair, and, inevitably, the Iraq War.

Blair’s choice of seminar subject must be seen in light of the fact that, later in the year, he will launch the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which will promote interfaith dialogue and understanding between Christians, Jews, and Muslims. But it’s possible to doubt his thesis that the central problem in the Middle East is the relationship between the “Abrahamic religions,” as he prefers to call them. The real problem, I’d say, is that the Middle East is largely ruled by dictators who see no law larger than themselves.

But Blair’s arrival is a contribution nonetheless. Over fifty years ago, William F. Buckley decried the retreat of faith at Yale. By the late 1990′s, it was no longer discussed here in any serious way: indeed, it was simply never mentioned. Since 9/11, interest in faith as a force in human affairs has begun to return at Yale. Blair’s seminar marks a further, higher-profile reinforcement of that vital trend. Even if you disagree with his diagnosis of the Middle East, he will be teaching the young and eager about things that truly matter.

Welcome to Yale, Mr. Prime Minister.

Frankly, my initial reaction, as a Yale lecturer, on hearing that Tony Blair will spend 2008-09 at Yale as the Howland Distinguished Fellow (he’ll be teaching a seminar on “faith and globalization”) was that it puts us one up on Harvard. My second was to predict to myself that while Blair will receive a rapturous reception from the students, a few of his faculty colleagues will likely be no more than civil. This new position will not make Blair any better liked by his enemies at home, among whom his interest in matters of faith was almost as unpopular as his friendship with President Bush. Indeed, the two were often linked. The comment forums of the various British newspapers are already lighting up with predictable abuse, and the tinfoil hat brigade is asserting various implausible connections between the university, assorted multinationals, President Bush, Blair, and, inevitably, the Iraq War.

Blair’s choice of seminar subject must be seen in light of the fact that, later in the year, he will launch the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which will promote interfaith dialogue and understanding between Christians, Jews, and Muslims. But it’s possible to doubt his thesis that the central problem in the Middle East is the relationship between the “Abrahamic religions,” as he prefers to call them. The real problem, I’d say, is that the Middle East is largely ruled by dictators who see no law larger than themselves.

But Blair’s arrival is a contribution nonetheless. Over fifty years ago, William F. Buckley decried the retreat of faith at Yale. By the late 1990′s, it was no longer discussed here in any serious way: indeed, it was simply never mentioned. Since 9/11, interest in faith as a force in human affairs has begun to return at Yale. Blair’s seminar marks a further, higher-profile reinforcement of that vital trend. Even if you disagree with his diagnosis of the Middle East, he will be teaching the young and eager about things that truly matter.

Welcome to Yale, Mr. Prime Minister.

Read Less

Sadr on the Wane

At last Friday’s noon prayers (and in a subsequent statement on his website), Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr admitted that his influence over Iraqis is on the wane. Sadr’s Mahdi Army had wreaked havoc on Iraq during the country’s initial post-Saddam phase, killing non-Shi’ites and fomenting anti-American chaos. Now, in the face of increased national unity and a continued desire for calm, he’s been forced to recognize his growing irrelevance.

Best of all, in acknowledging his marginalization, Sadr cites the very things the war in Iraq was meant to provide for Iraqi citizens: freedom and prosperity. He said, “Many persons who are close to me have split for materialistic reasons or for wanting to be independent, and this was one of the reasons behind my absence.” The best reasons I can imagine.

In Sadr’s statement, we’re seeing the militant Shia analog of al Qaeda’s (inadvertent) admission of an operational meltdown last year. In November, during a raid north of Baghdad, U.S. forces seized documents in which al Qaeda leaders ranted about being in a state of “extraordinary crisis” due to the anti-terrorism efforts of Sunni Awakening groups. Hearing admissions of Islamist defeat in stereo, as it were, from extremist Sunni and Shia elements, is very promising. As the violent fringe withers away, the Iraqi center continues to step up and forge a path towards legitimate statehood. However, recognition of Iraqi progress from al Qaeda and Muqtada al-Sadr raises a question: When will our own Democratic leaders acknowledge the same?

At last Friday’s noon prayers (and in a subsequent statement on his website), Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr admitted that his influence over Iraqis is on the wane. Sadr’s Mahdi Army had wreaked havoc on Iraq during the country’s initial post-Saddam phase, killing non-Shi’ites and fomenting anti-American chaos. Now, in the face of increased national unity and a continued desire for calm, he’s been forced to recognize his growing irrelevance.

Best of all, in acknowledging his marginalization, Sadr cites the very things the war in Iraq was meant to provide for Iraqi citizens: freedom and prosperity. He said, “Many persons who are close to me have split for materialistic reasons or for wanting to be independent, and this was one of the reasons behind my absence.” The best reasons I can imagine.

In Sadr’s statement, we’re seeing the militant Shia analog of al Qaeda’s (inadvertent) admission of an operational meltdown last year. In November, during a raid north of Baghdad, U.S. forces seized documents in which al Qaeda leaders ranted about being in a state of “extraordinary crisis” due to the anti-terrorism efforts of Sunni Awakening groups. Hearing admissions of Islamist defeat in stereo, as it were, from extremist Sunni and Shia elements, is very promising. As the violent fringe withers away, the Iraqi center continues to step up and forge a path towards legitimate statehood. However, recognition of Iraqi progress from al Qaeda and Muqtada al-Sadr raises a question: When will our own Democratic leaders acknowledge the same?

Read Less

“Paranoid” about Malley?

Now that Samantha Power has left Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, attention should perhaps turn to Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley. Perhaps best known for his gushing over Yasser Arafat and Camp David revisionism, Malley’s true danger lies in the extent to which he has called key events in the Palestinian arena–his supposed area of expertise–blatantly wrong. As I noted a few weeks ago, Malley supported allowing Hamas’ participation in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, and welcomed last year’s brief period of Hamas-Fatah “unity governance,” predicting that a “wholesale breakdown of relations between the two groups” was unlikely. In short, Malley has a consistent record of supporting policies that ultimately strengthened Hamas and undermined Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects, thus warranting the scrutiny he has received as Obama’s adviser.

But Aaron David Miller, Malley’s former peace-processing colleague during the Clinton administration, won’t have any of this. In yesterday’s LA Times, Miller ignored these substantive criticisms, attributing the backlash against Malley to Jewish paranoia. Miller argues that the charges against Malley stem from “the tendency of many American Jews active in pro-Israeli causes to worry about everything”; he continues:

I’ve lost count of the number of times Jewish activists or friends have said to me that this official or that journalist or this academic must be anti-Semitic. On other occasions, I have been told that I myself should not be so publicly critical of Israel, lest we give our enemies grist for their propaganda mills.

Yet Miller’s charge that Jewish identity politics–rather than Malley’s own faulty ideas–have informed public scrutiny of Malley is profoundly ironic. After all, insofar as Miller depicts criticisms of Malley in “us versus them” terms, he is guiltiest of playing identity politics.

Still, if Miller’s utter misrepresentation of the case against Malley in a major U.S. newspaper requires further proof of its substance, examples of Malley’s dubious policy analysis abound. So, here’s another one. While addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in the aftermath of Hamas’ Gaza coup last June, Malley argued that the United Nations had erred in not engaging Hamas:

The UN, of all entities, has made the biggest mistake, because they had no restrictions on talking to anyone-their role is to speak to everyone. To talk to Hamas and to give them more realistic things that they should be doing: imposing a ceasefire and empowering Abbas to talk to Israel.

Of course, the notion that Hamas would empower Abbas to talk to Israel is delusional. But perhaps more disturbing is Malley’s belief that the UN should talk to terrorist organizations. And, to correct Miller, one need not be Jewish or paranoid to say so.

Now that Samantha Power has left Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, attention should perhaps turn to Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley. Perhaps best known for his gushing over Yasser Arafat and Camp David revisionism, Malley’s true danger lies in the extent to which he has called key events in the Palestinian arena–his supposed area of expertise–blatantly wrong. As I noted a few weeks ago, Malley supported allowing Hamas’ participation in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, and welcomed last year’s brief period of Hamas-Fatah “unity governance,” predicting that a “wholesale breakdown of relations between the two groups” was unlikely. In short, Malley has a consistent record of supporting policies that ultimately strengthened Hamas and undermined Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects, thus warranting the scrutiny he has received as Obama’s adviser.

But Aaron David Miller, Malley’s former peace-processing colleague during the Clinton administration, won’t have any of this. In yesterday’s LA Times, Miller ignored these substantive criticisms, attributing the backlash against Malley to Jewish paranoia. Miller argues that the charges against Malley stem from “the tendency of many American Jews active in pro-Israeli causes to worry about everything”; he continues:

I’ve lost count of the number of times Jewish activists or friends have said to me that this official or that journalist or this academic must be anti-Semitic. On other occasions, I have been told that I myself should not be so publicly critical of Israel, lest we give our enemies grist for their propaganda mills.

Yet Miller’s charge that Jewish identity politics–rather than Malley’s own faulty ideas–have informed public scrutiny of Malley is profoundly ironic. After all, insofar as Miller depicts criticisms of Malley in “us versus them” terms, he is guiltiest of playing identity politics.

Still, if Miller’s utter misrepresentation of the case against Malley in a major U.S. newspaper requires further proof of its substance, examples of Malley’s dubious policy analysis abound. So, here’s another one. While addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in the aftermath of Hamas’ Gaza coup last June, Malley argued that the United Nations had erred in not engaging Hamas:

The UN, of all entities, has made the biggest mistake, because they had no restrictions on talking to anyone-their role is to speak to everyone. To talk to Hamas and to give them more realistic things that they should be doing: imposing a ceasefire and empowering Abbas to talk to Israel.

Of course, the notion that Hamas would empower Abbas to talk to Israel is delusional. But perhaps more disturbing is Malley’s belief that the UN should talk to terrorist organizations. And, to correct Miller, one need not be Jewish or paranoid to say so.

Read Less

Where’s the Outrage?

Are we serious about defending ourselves from terrorism? The various departments of the executive branch, from the CIA to the FBI to the Department of Homeland Security, have had their lapses, and we have had ample occasion to explore some of those here.

But Congress is a coequal branch, and some of the bizarre shortcomings of the executive branch –for example, the fixation on instituting racial quotas inside our intelligence agencies, first initiated by the Clinton administration — are sustained by constituencies on Capitol Hill.

Last week, Michael Chertoff, the man charged with the awesome responsibility of running the Department of Homeland Security, was testifying  before the House Judiciary Committee. The Washington Times offers a snapshot of the proceedings:

Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat, led off his questions to Mr. Chertoff by demanding that the secretary’s staff stand up to be scrutinized. Minutes later, during his own questions, Rep. Melvin Watt, North Carolina Democrat, said the point was to prove that none of the 10 staffers who stood met his definition of diverse.

“You brought 10 staff people with you, all white males. I know this hearing is not about diversity of the staff, but I hope you’ve got more diversity in your staff than you’ve reflected here in the people you’ve brought with you,” Mr. Watt told the secretary.

According to a National Intelligence Estimate issued last July, al Qaeda has significantly reconstituted itself in the lawless borderlands of Pakistan and is working hard to find a way to attack the United States again.

“We assess,” the document warns,

that al Qaeda will continue to enhance its capabilities to attack the Homeland through greater cooperation with regional terrorist groups. Of note, we assess that al Qaeda will probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the Homeland. In addition, we assess that its association with AQI helps al-Qa’ida to energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources, and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks.

We assess that al-Qa’ida’s Homeland plotting is likely to continue to focus on prominent political, economic, and infrastructure targets with the goal of producing mass casualties, visually dramatic destruction, significant economic aftershocks, and/or fear among the U.S. population.

The only thing more frightening than this assessment is the behavior of Congress in response.

But where’s the outrage? The answer is: there is none. Seven years after 9/11, we’ve seemingly become inured to the clowns now running the circus. 

Are we serious about defending ourselves from terrorism? The various departments of the executive branch, from the CIA to the FBI to the Department of Homeland Security, have had their lapses, and we have had ample occasion to explore some of those here.

But Congress is a coequal branch, and some of the bizarre shortcomings of the executive branch –for example, the fixation on instituting racial quotas inside our intelligence agencies, first initiated by the Clinton administration — are sustained by constituencies on Capitol Hill.

Last week, Michael Chertoff, the man charged with the awesome responsibility of running the Department of Homeland Security, was testifying  before the House Judiciary Committee. The Washington Times offers a snapshot of the proceedings:

Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat, led off his questions to Mr. Chertoff by demanding that the secretary’s staff stand up to be scrutinized. Minutes later, during his own questions, Rep. Melvin Watt, North Carolina Democrat, said the point was to prove that none of the 10 staffers who stood met his definition of diverse.

“You brought 10 staff people with you, all white males. I know this hearing is not about diversity of the staff, but I hope you’ve got more diversity in your staff than you’ve reflected here in the people you’ve brought with you,” Mr. Watt told the secretary.

According to a National Intelligence Estimate issued last July, al Qaeda has significantly reconstituted itself in the lawless borderlands of Pakistan and is working hard to find a way to attack the United States again.

“We assess,” the document warns,

that al Qaeda will continue to enhance its capabilities to attack the Homeland through greater cooperation with regional terrorist groups. Of note, we assess that al Qaeda will probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the Homeland. In addition, we assess that its association with AQI helps al-Qa’ida to energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources, and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks.

We assess that al-Qa’ida’s Homeland plotting is likely to continue to focus on prominent political, economic, and infrastructure targets with the goal of producing mass casualties, visually dramatic destruction, significant economic aftershocks, and/or fear among the U.S. population.

The only thing more frightening than this assessment is the behavior of Congress in response.

But where’s the outrage? The answer is: there is none. Seven years after 9/11, we’ve seemingly become inured to the clowns now running the circus. 

Read Less

Florida and Michigan Do-Overs

Ever so gradually, the notion of do-over primaries in Florida and Michigan is taking hold. It really is the only solution that avoids excluding two important states and preserves the DNC’s position that they have the right to set the primary schedule (and to penalize these two states which jumped the queue in violation of party rules). Even the question of who will pay for the re-votes seems moot, as Governors Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania (yes, two Hillary Clinton backers) have agreed to raise the money.

So now over 350 delegates may very well be put back in play. In the first Florida primary Clinton “won” with virtually no campaigning. A look at the exit polls tells us she may be able to do it again. (Yes, the primary did not “count,” but over 935,000 people voted in it all the same.) 61 percent of these voters were 50 years or older and 78 percent of the voters were Hispanic or white. (You can be sure that Barack Obama’s comments about his willingness to meet with Raul Castro will make an appearance in Clinton ads during the run-up to the re-vote.)

In Michigan, Clinton will be looking at an electorate (according to the first primary’s exit polls) with 65 percent non-college-educated voters, 83 percent of voters making less than $100,000 per year, and 73 percent of voters who are either Hispanic or white. Now, the Michigan exits may be less representative, given the smaller turnout on the first go-around. But if Ohio tells us that Clinton does well with downscale white voters in economically distressed states, then Michigan looks promising.

That Obama lead of 100 or so delegates? It may not be so secure after all.

Ever so gradually, the notion of do-over primaries in Florida and Michigan is taking hold. It really is the only solution that avoids excluding two important states and preserves the DNC’s position that they have the right to set the primary schedule (and to penalize these two states which jumped the queue in violation of party rules). Even the question of who will pay for the re-votes seems moot, as Governors Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania (yes, two Hillary Clinton backers) have agreed to raise the money.

So now over 350 delegates may very well be put back in play. In the first Florida primary Clinton “won” with virtually no campaigning. A look at the exit polls tells us she may be able to do it again. (Yes, the primary did not “count,” but over 935,000 people voted in it all the same.) 61 percent of these voters were 50 years or older and 78 percent of the voters were Hispanic or white. (You can be sure that Barack Obama’s comments about his willingness to meet with Raul Castro will make an appearance in Clinton ads during the run-up to the re-vote.)

In Michigan, Clinton will be looking at an electorate (according to the first primary’s exit polls) with 65 percent non-college-educated voters, 83 percent of voters making less than $100,000 per year, and 73 percent of voters who are either Hispanic or white. Now, the Michigan exits may be less representative, given the smaller turnout on the first go-around. But if Ohio tells us that Clinton does well with downscale white voters in economically distressed states, then Michigan looks promising.

That Obama lead of 100 or so delegates? It may not be so secure after all.

Read Less

From Middle East Journal: In the Villages of Al Anbar

ANBAR PROVINCE, IRAQ – The Iraqi town of Al Farris looks like a model Soviet city up close and a rounded square from the sky. Saddam Hussein built it to house workers in the now-defunct weapons factory to the east, and they live in neighborhoods called City 1, City 2, City 3, City 4, and City 5. “Socialist living at its finest,” Sergeant Edward Guerrero said as we rolled through the gates in a Humvee. The place made me think of Libya, where I have been, and North Korea, where I have not.

Al Farris was part of Saddam’s attempt to launch Iraq into the sci-fi future before he ruined his country with four wars, two genocides, and an international sanctions regime. It was a failure. Like all utopian cities, Al Farris is dreary. Every apartment building is nearly identical. There are few stores, restaurants, or other businesses at street level. There certainly is no traditional Arabic souk. If it weren’t for the vaguely Arabesque windows, little would distinguish it from any other drab worker’s paradise.

“It’s like a gulag city,” one Military Police officer said. The grace note, if I could call it that, is the encircling coil or razor wire at the city limits which keeps insurgents from coming in and blowing up buildings and people. Billowing plastic bags have been snagged along the length of the wire.

Sergeant Guerrero had a private meeting scheduled with the local Iraqi Police chief, so I climbed a ladder to the roof where I could get a better view.

An Iraqi Police officer pointed out an American military outpost on top of the water tower. His job entailed sitting in silence in a rooftop bunker with a machine gun in case the station is attacked. I assumed the Americans on the water tower overwatched the city with sniper rifles. I didn’t ask, but if they are it would not be a secret.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

ANBAR PROVINCE, IRAQ – The Iraqi town of Al Farris looks like a model Soviet city up close and a rounded square from the sky. Saddam Hussein built it to house workers in the now-defunct weapons factory to the east, and they live in neighborhoods called City 1, City 2, City 3, City 4, and City 5. “Socialist living at its finest,” Sergeant Edward Guerrero said as we rolled through the gates in a Humvee. The place made me think of Libya, where I have been, and North Korea, where I have not.

Al Farris was part of Saddam’s attempt to launch Iraq into the sci-fi future before he ruined his country with four wars, two genocides, and an international sanctions regime. It was a failure. Like all utopian cities, Al Farris is dreary. Every apartment building is nearly identical. There are few stores, restaurants, or other businesses at street level. There certainly is no traditional Arabic souk. If it weren’t for the vaguely Arabesque windows, little would distinguish it from any other drab worker’s paradise.

“It’s like a gulag city,” one Military Police officer said. The grace note, if I could call it that, is the encircling coil or razor wire at the city limits which keeps insurgents from coming in and blowing up buildings and people. Billowing plastic bags have been snagged along the length of the wire.

Sergeant Guerrero had a private meeting scheduled with the local Iraqi Police chief, so I climbed a ladder to the roof where I could get a better view.

An Iraqi Police officer pointed out an American military outpost on top of the water tower. His job entailed sitting in silence in a rooftop bunker with a machine gun in case the station is attacked. I assumed the Americans on the water tower overwatched the city with sniper rifles. I didn’t ask, but if they are it would not be a secret.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

Read Less

“Man Enough” For The White House?

Maureen Dowd is worried that Barack Obama’s “impassioned egghead advisers have made his campaign seem not only out of his control, but effete and vaguely foreign—the same unflattering light that doomed Michael Dukakis and John Kerry.” This is a bum rap for Team Obama—they were the ones trying to suggest Obama was less effete, on Iraq for example. It’s Obama who’s been touting his childhood abroad and his Kenyan grandmother as evidence of his foreign policy credentials. Others in the media are fretting about his “toughness” as well.

So we may have reached the perfect gender dilemma: is Obama “man enough” to be President? That, really, is the question Clinton is raising in her own way. “Experience” is a dodge, a subterfuge for the real issue: the ability to face down both America’s enemies and John McCain in November.

Clinton has spent her Senate career developing a response to concerns about a woman’s ability to be commander-in-chief. She joined the Senate Armed Services Committee and voted in favor of the Iraq War, believing she would avoid the dilemma which faced Democrats who voted against the first Iraq war. And despite her feints and attempts to impress the liberal base with her willingness to withdraw troops from Iraq, she cannot shake her reputation for being something of a hawk. (She voted in favor of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment identifying the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, for example.)

Now it is Obama’s turn to prove he can stand up to Clinton and McCain, to say nothing of real bad guys like Fidel Castro and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In this regard, his excessive deference to personal engagement (Deborah Tannen has something to say about that) as a tool of foreign policy and his cool, aloof demeanor work against him. Can he take a punch or throw one? Does he really understand that as President he’ll face enemies utterly immune to reason, enemies beyond the conciliatory powers of even the best community organizer? Maureen Dowd and the rest of Obama’s media fans are waiting with bated breath for the answer.

Maureen Dowd is worried that Barack Obama’s “impassioned egghead advisers have made his campaign seem not only out of his control, but effete and vaguely foreign—the same unflattering light that doomed Michael Dukakis and John Kerry.” This is a bum rap for Team Obama—they were the ones trying to suggest Obama was less effete, on Iraq for example. It’s Obama who’s been touting his childhood abroad and his Kenyan grandmother as evidence of his foreign policy credentials. Others in the media are fretting about his “toughness” as well.

So we may have reached the perfect gender dilemma: is Obama “man enough” to be President? That, really, is the question Clinton is raising in her own way. “Experience” is a dodge, a subterfuge for the real issue: the ability to face down both America’s enemies and John McCain in November.

Clinton has spent her Senate career developing a response to concerns about a woman’s ability to be commander-in-chief. She joined the Senate Armed Services Committee and voted in favor of the Iraq War, believing she would avoid the dilemma which faced Democrats who voted against the first Iraq war. And despite her feints and attempts to impress the liberal base with her willingness to withdraw troops from Iraq, she cannot shake her reputation for being something of a hawk. (She voted in favor of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment identifying the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, for example.)

Now it is Obama’s turn to prove he can stand up to Clinton and McCain, to say nothing of real bad guys like Fidel Castro and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In this regard, his excessive deference to personal engagement (Deborah Tannen has something to say about that) as a tool of foreign policy and his cool, aloof demeanor work against him. Can he take a punch or throw one? Does he really understand that as President he’ll face enemies utterly immune to reason, enemies beyond the conciliatory powers of even the best community organizer? Maureen Dowd and the rest of Obama’s media fans are waiting with bated breath for the answer.

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.