Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 13, 2008

Handshakes with the Enemy

Abe already blogged about this, but I wanted to follow up on Diana West’s fretting in the Washington Times about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent trip to Iraq, where he was supposedly given a warm reception by the Baghdad government. “[O]ur Iraqi allies have welcomed our Iranian enemies right into it.” Not so fast. Iraq and Iran are two Shia-majority countries. They share a long border and a terrible history, as Abe pointed out. They should be expected to have relations of some kind, and the more civil the better considering the depth of hatred Iranian Persians and Iraqi Arabs have for each other. Another full-blown war between Iraq and Iran is in the interests of no one.

In any case, a meeting, a few agreements, and a photo op don’t make these two countries an axis. Iran supports insurgents that for years have been trying to destroy the Baghdad government using terrorism, guerilla warfare, assassination, and sabotage. Who can seriously believe after all this–not to mention the centuries of conflict that preceded it–that the two governments actually like each other? Baghdad may formally welcome Ahmadinejad, but certainly not his proxy armies.

But let’s put that aside for the sake or argument and assume Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may be a quiet Iranian sympathizer. What about Iraq’s president?

“Mr. Ahmadinejad was greeted with multiple kisses from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani,” West notes before saying “Blech.” Talabani is not only Iraq’s president. He is also the political leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the staunchly secular leftist political party with its home base in the Kurdish city of Suleimaniya. The PUK provides funds and materials to at least two exiled Kurdish Iranian political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan whose explicit goal is the destruction of the Islamic Republic regime in Tehran. Each of these parties has their own private army. One crossed into Iran recently and fought the regime in the streets during an uprising in the city of Mahabad. The idea that the secular, leftist, and Kurdish Jalal Talabani supports the theocratic, rightist, and Persian Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while at the same time funding and supplying revolutionaries who cross the border, doesn’t make sense.

If you want to know the truth, pay close attention to what Middle Easterners do, not what they say. At least some elements in each of these governments hope to remove the other from power by force. Their making nice in front of the cameras is no more meaningful than Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat shaking Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn.

Middle Eastern leaders go through the motions of being nice to each other all the time when what they’d really like to do is pull out a dagger. Last May, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the international tribunal to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is not directed at “sister Syria.” Of course he doesn’t believe that, but that’s diplomacy for you. Almost everyone in Lebanon knows the Syrian regime was complicit in Hariri’s murder, as well as the murders that have picked off Siniora’s allies in parliament and the media one by one ever since.

I rented an apartment just around the corner from Siniora’s residence in Beirut, and I couldn’t walk anywhere near his house while using my cell phone. The signals are jammed. Cell phones can detonate car bombs. Siniora knows very well that he might be next and doesn’t think of Syria as anything like a brother or sister–at least not while the murderous Assad regime is in power.

In From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman tells the story of Christian militia leader Camille Chamoun receiving flowers from his arch enemy Yasser Arafat while he was laid up in the hospital. During this time they both hoped to kill each other. “These two men,” Friedman wrote, “had sent so many young men to die in defense of their own personal power and status, and now they were sending bouquets. That was Beirut.”

It is not just Beirut. It is the whole Middle East where smoke, mirrors, and false friendships are normal.

Diana West correctly notes that some Middle Eastern leaders claim to be American allies while fomenting jihad. Well, yes. Of course. They do the same thing to each other.

Abe already blogged about this, but I wanted to follow up on Diana West’s fretting in the Washington Times about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent trip to Iraq, where he was supposedly given a warm reception by the Baghdad government. “[O]ur Iraqi allies have welcomed our Iranian enemies right into it.” Not so fast. Iraq and Iran are two Shia-majority countries. They share a long border and a terrible history, as Abe pointed out. They should be expected to have relations of some kind, and the more civil the better considering the depth of hatred Iranian Persians and Iraqi Arabs have for each other. Another full-blown war between Iraq and Iran is in the interests of no one.

In any case, a meeting, a few agreements, and a photo op don’t make these two countries an axis. Iran supports insurgents that for years have been trying to destroy the Baghdad government using terrorism, guerilla warfare, assassination, and sabotage. Who can seriously believe after all this–not to mention the centuries of conflict that preceded it–that the two governments actually like each other? Baghdad may formally welcome Ahmadinejad, but certainly not his proxy armies.

But let’s put that aside for the sake or argument and assume Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may be a quiet Iranian sympathizer. What about Iraq’s president?

“Mr. Ahmadinejad was greeted with multiple kisses from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani,” West notes before saying “Blech.” Talabani is not only Iraq’s president. He is also the political leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the staunchly secular leftist political party with its home base in the Kurdish city of Suleimaniya. The PUK provides funds and materials to at least two exiled Kurdish Iranian political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan whose explicit goal is the destruction of the Islamic Republic regime in Tehran. Each of these parties has their own private army. One crossed into Iran recently and fought the regime in the streets during an uprising in the city of Mahabad. The idea that the secular, leftist, and Kurdish Jalal Talabani supports the theocratic, rightist, and Persian Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while at the same time funding and supplying revolutionaries who cross the border, doesn’t make sense.

If you want to know the truth, pay close attention to what Middle Easterners do, not what they say. At least some elements in each of these governments hope to remove the other from power by force. Their making nice in front of the cameras is no more meaningful than Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat shaking Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn.

Middle Eastern leaders go through the motions of being nice to each other all the time when what they’d really like to do is pull out a dagger. Last May, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the international tribunal to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is not directed at “sister Syria.” Of course he doesn’t believe that, but that’s diplomacy for you. Almost everyone in Lebanon knows the Syrian regime was complicit in Hariri’s murder, as well as the murders that have picked off Siniora’s allies in parliament and the media one by one ever since.

I rented an apartment just around the corner from Siniora’s residence in Beirut, and I couldn’t walk anywhere near his house while using my cell phone. The signals are jammed. Cell phones can detonate car bombs. Siniora knows very well that he might be next and doesn’t think of Syria as anything like a brother or sister–at least not while the murderous Assad regime is in power.

In From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman tells the story of Christian militia leader Camille Chamoun receiving flowers from his arch enemy Yasser Arafat while he was laid up in the hospital. During this time they both hoped to kill each other. “These two men,” Friedman wrote, “had sent so many young men to die in defense of their own personal power and status, and now they were sending bouquets. That was Beirut.”

It is not just Beirut. It is the whole Middle East where smoke, mirrors, and false friendships are normal.

Diana West correctly notes that some Middle Eastern leaders claim to be American allies while fomenting jihad. Well, yes. Of course. They do the same thing to each other.

Read Less

Hype Defined

Actor Ed Norton on the creative impetus behind his upcoming documentary on the Obama campaign:

We were all so struck by Barack’s speech and talked about how exciting it was to see someone from our generation, not our parents’, make his presence felt in such an inspiring way.

Doesn’t everyone who makes it into middle age experience a president from their generation?

Actor Ed Norton on the creative impetus behind his upcoming documentary on the Obama campaign:

We were all so struck by Barack’s speech and talked about how exciting it was to see someone from our generation, not our parents’, make his presence felt in such an inspiring way.

Doesn’t everyone who makes it into middle age experience a president from their generation?

Read Less

Not So New

Barack Obama’s main theme is that he is a new kind of politician, and that the old ones are corrupt and divisive. Well, today was not a good day for “new” politics.

First, under badgering from John McCain and the RNC, Obama released his list of 2006 and 2007 earmarks. It is long, really long. (I passed $180M before the “Energy & Water” category.) McCain earlier in the day put out a statement including this:

“I am proud to have fought against the practice of earmarking and wasteful pork-barrel spending. It has often been a lonely fight, but one I know is worth winning. I am encouraged by some of my Democratic colleagues’ new-found enthusiasm for suspending this practice for a year. I hope their recent commitments do not wane once they step off the campaign trail. I believe we must end this process, which has diverted billions in taxpayer dollars to needless projects, once and for all. If voters give me the pen, I will veto every single pork-barrel bill Congress sends me. . .I’m encouraged that Senators Clinton and Obama have joined me in supporting the DeMint amendment banning earmarks for one year. I renew my call for them to fully disclose all of their earmark requests while serving in the Senate and join me in increasing needed transparency and accountability in Washington.”

No word yet on when we will get the list of Obama’s 2005 earmarks or when Clinton’s will arrive (they are probably in the same stack as the tax returns and the visitor logs from the White House archives). Score one for the cheapskate McCain (who has zero earmarks in his much longer Senate career) over the “not so new after all” politics of spending taxpayer money on pork barrel projects.

But what of Obama’s other claim, that he will end the old, mean style of politics and usher in a new era of unity, both racial and political? As Abe and John have pointed out, the media have now caught on to his pastor, Reverend Wright. Like Michelle Obama, he sounds like he pretty much hates America.

Obama says his church is not “particularly controversial” (well, not like Geraldine Ferraro, I suppose) and Wright is just “like an old uncle who says things I don’t always agree with.” I think it is worth asking why Obama chose this man to officiate at his wedding and his kids’ baptisms. Does Obama agree what Wright says or does he just snooze through sermons from his favorite “old uncle”? Perhaps it is time to reject and denounce.

At the very least, what we have on both these issues is a significant gap between campaign rhetoric and reality. It’s looking more and more like Obama does not live up to his billing as the savior of American politics. No one is more relieved to see stuff like this on the front pages than Hillary Clinton. (Well, maybe Geraldine Ferraro.)

Barack Obama’s main theme is that he is a new kind of politician, and that the old ones are corrupt and divisive. Well, today was not a good day for “new” politics.

First, under badgering from John McCain and the RNC, Obama released his list of 2006 and 2007 earmarks. It is long, really long. (I passed $180M before the “Energy & Water” category.) McCain earlier in the day put out a statement including this:

“I am proud to have fought against the practice of earmarking and wasteful pork-barrel spending. It has often been a lonely fight, but one I know is worth winning. I am encouraged by some of my Democratic colleagues’ new-found enthusiasm for suspending this practice for a year. I hope their recent commitments do not wane once they step off the campaign trail. I believe we must end this process, which has diverted billions in taxpayer dollars to needless projects, once and for all. If voters give me the pen, I will veto every single pork-barrel bill Congress sends me. . .I’m encouraged that Senators Clinton and Obama have joined me in supporting the DeMint amendment banning earmarks for one year. I renew my call for them to fully disclose all of their earmark requests while serving in the Senate and join me in increasing needed transparency and accountability in Washington.”

No word yet on when we will get the list of Obama’s 2005 earmarks or when Clinton’s will arrive (they are probably in the same stack as the tax returns and the visitor logs from the White House archives). Score one for the cheapskate McCain (who has zero earmarks in his much longer Senate career) over the “not so new after all” politics of spending taxpayer money on pork barrel projects.

But what of Obama’s other claim, that he will end the old, mean style of politics and usher in a new era of unity, both racial and political? As Abe and John have pointed out, the media have now caught on to his pastor, Reverend Wright. Like Michelle Obama, he sounds like he pretty much hates America.

Obama says his church is not “particularly controversial” (well, not like Geraldine Ferraro, I suppose) and Wright is just “like an old uncle who says things I don’t always agree with.” I think it is worth asking why Obama chose this man to officiate at his wedding and his kids’ baptisms. Does Obama agree what Wright says or does he just snooze through sermons from his favorite “old uncle”? Perhaps it is time to reject and denounce.

At the very least, what we have on both these issues is a significant gap between campaign rhetoric and reality. It’s looking more and more like Obama does not live up to his billing as the savior of American politics. No one is more relieved to see stuff like this on the front pages than Hillary Clinton. (Well, maybe Geraldine Ferraro.)

Read Less

FISA Standoff

At a brief appearance at the White House this morning, President Bush tried to turn up the heat on the House Democrats. They have proposed an alternative version of the FISA reauthorization bill, rather than allowing a straight up-or-down vote on the Senate version (which passed by a 68-29 margin). Bush noted that the 21-day extension on the existing statute passed on Saturday and that the House measure is just a rehash of versions previously rejected by the Senate. On the hot-button issue of immunity for telecom companies, Bush explained that:

the House bill fails to provide liability protection to companies believed to have assisted in protecting our nation after the 9/11 attacks. Instead, the House bill would make matters even worse by allowing litigation to continue for years. In fact, House leaders simply adopted the position that class action trial lawyers are taking in the multi-billion-dollar lawsuits they have filed. This litigation would undermine the private sector’s willingness to cooperate with the intelligence community, cooperation that is absolutely essential to protecting our country from harm. This litigation would require the disclosure of state secrets that could lead to the public release of highly classified information that our enemies could use against us. And this litigation would be unfair, because any companies that assisted us after 9/11 were assured by our government that their cooperation was legal and necessary. Companies that may have helped us save lives should be thanked for their patriotic service, not subjected to billion-dollar lawsuits that will make them less willing to help in the future. The House bill may be good for class action trial lawyers, but it would be terrible for the United States.

Then word came that the House Republicans are going to do their part in putting the squeeze on their Democratic colleagues. They will call a “closed session” for up to one hour later today. A GOP memo explained:

The reason for calling a closed session is so that all members of the House can be present to discuss and have a candid debate on the importance of passing a long-term modernization of our nation’s foreign surveillance.

On both the merits and the politics of this, Bush and the Congressional Republicans seem to have the upper hand. Other than the trial lawyers, few Americans will be pleased to learn that, in the balance between national security and the trial bar, the Democrats apparently are more concerned about the latter.

For the Democratic presidential candidates, this poses a sticky problem. Yes, they do not want to antagonize their liberal base (or their supporters among the trial bar). But they are supposedly in favor of “smart” tactics to fight terrorism. And it’s hard to be “smart” when you’re telling phone companies not to bother cooperating with surveillance of international calls from suspected terrorists. (I wonder how many of those ex-generals and intelligence officers Democrats parade out for endorsements favor the House bill. At least one does not.)

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama managed to avoid voting on the passage of the final Senate bill. But Obama voted against cloture for it, with Clinton again managing to escape a recorded vote. How long before this works its way into a John McCain ad?

At a brief appearance at the White House this morning, President Bush tried to turn up the heat on the House Democrats. They have proposed an alternative version of the FISA reauthorization bill, rather than allowing a straight up-or-down vote on the Senate version (which passed by a 68-29 margin). Bush noted that the 21-day extension on the existing statute passed on Saturday and that the House measure is just a rehash of versions previously rejected by the Senate. On the hot-button issue of immunity for telecom companies, Bush explained that:

the House bill fails to provide liability protection to companies believed to have assisted in protecting our nation after the 9/11 attacks. Instead, the House bill would make matters even worse by allowing litigation to continue for years. In fact, House leaders simply adopted the position that class action trial lawyers are taking in the multi-billion-dollar lawsuits they have filed. This litigation would undermine the private sector’s willingness to cooperate with the intelligence community, cooperation that is absolutely essential to protecting our country from harm. This litigation would require the disclosure of state secrets that could lead to the public release of highly classified information that our enemies could use against us. And this litigation would be unfair, because any companies that assisted us after 9/11 were assured by our government that their cooperation was legal and necessary. Companies that may have helped us save lives should be thanked for their patriotic service, not subjected to billion-dollar lawsuits that will make them less willing to help in the future. The House bill may be good for class action trial lawyers, but it would be terrible for the United States.

Then word came that the House Republicans are going to do their part in putting the squeeze on their Democratic colleagues. They will call a “closed session” for up to one hour later today. A GOP memo explained:

The reason for calling a closed session is so that all members of the House can be present to discuss and have a candid debate on the importance of passing a long-term modernization of our nation’s foreign surveillance.

On both the merits and the politics of this, Bush and the Congressional Republicans seem to have the upper hand. Other than the trial lawyers, few Americans will be pleased to learn that, in the balance between national security and the trial bar, the Democrats apparently are more concerned about the latter.

For the Democratic presidential candidates, this poses a sticky problem. Yes, they do not want to antagonize their liberal base (or their supporters among the trial bar). But they are supposedly in favor of “smart” tactics to fight terrorism. And it’s hard to be “smart” when you’re telling phone companies not to bother cooperating with surveillance of international calls from suspected terrorists. (I wonder how many of those ex-generals and intelligence officers Democrats parade out for endorsements favor the House bill. At least one does not.)

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama managed to avoid voting on the passage of the final Senate bill. But Obama voted against cloture for it, with Clinton again managing to escape a recorded vote. How long before this works its way into a John McCain ad?

Read Less

What Will Obama Do About His Pastor?

Barack Obama must have been dreading this for a long time. ABC News has uncovered several examples of unadulterated anti-American fury in the printed sermons of Obama’s Chicago pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright:

Wright’s sermons, offered for sale by the church, found repeated denunciations of the U.S. based on what he described as his reading of the Gospels and the treatment of black Americans.

“The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people,” he said in a 2003 sermon. “God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.

Here’s Rev. Wright the Sunday after 9/11:

“We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye,” Rev. Wright said in a sermon on Sept. 16, 2001.

“We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost,” he told his congregation.

In the past, Obama has said Wright is “like an old uncle who says things I don’t always agree with.” Which would be an okay excuse if Wright was Obama’s uncle—a wacky relative you can ignore on the occasional holiday. But Wright is Obama’s spiritual advisor. Wright married Obama and his wife and baptized their children. Furthermore, the level of hateful vitriol that’s now become apparent can no longer be glossed over with a folksy claim to avuncular affection. If I were this man’s nephew, I’d happily denounce my flesh-and-blood. The simpleminded political fury that Wright calls religion demands Obama’s unqualified repudiation.

So why doesn’t Obama repudiate Wright? If it’s true, as Obama’s campaign asserts, that Jeremiah Wright is “one of the country’s ten most influential black pastors,” then hate speech like Wright’s isn’t a big deal to a giant swath of American blacks. Moreover, that vote must be courted. Funny, how Democrats have spent decades stoking fears about the dangerous and discriminatory political influence of the religious Right, and now a demonstrably vile Reverend like Jeremiah Wright has the ear of a man who could become the Democratic nominee for president.

Barack Obama must have been dreading this for a long time. ABC News has uncovered several examples of unadulterated anti-American fury in the printed sermons of Obama’s Chicago pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright:

Wright’s sermons, offered for sale by the church, found repeated denunciations of the U.S. based on what he described as his reading of the Gospels and the treatment of black Americans.

“The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people,” he said in a 2003 sermon. “God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.

Here’s Rev. Wright the Sunday after 9/11:

“We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye,” Rev. Wright said in a sermon on Sept. 16, 2001.

“We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost,” he told his congregation.

In the past, Obama has said Wright is “like an old uncle who says things I don’t always agree with.” Which would be an okay excuse if Wright was Obama’s uncle—a wacky relative you can ignore on the occasional holiday. But Wright is Obama’s spiritual advisor. Wright married Obama and his wife and baptized their children. Furthermore, the level of hateful vitriol that’s now become apparent can no longer be glossed over with a folksy claim to avuncular affection. If I were this man’s nephew, I’d happily denounce my flesh-and-blood. The simpleminded political fury that Wright calls religion demands Obama’s unqualified repudiation.

So why doesn’t Obama repudiate Wright? If it’s true, as Obama’s campaign asserts, that Jeremiah Wright is “one of the country’s ten most influential black pastors,” then hate speech like Wright’s isn’t a big deal to a giant swath of American blacks. Moreover, that vote must be courted. Funny, how Democrats have spent decades stoking fears about the dangerous and discriminatory political influence of the religious Right, and now a demonstrably vile Reverend like Jeremiah Wright has the ear of a man who could become the Democratic nominee for president.

Read Less

Not Good Sports

The State Department has released its annual report on human rights around the world. It’s not going to offer any comfort to those who, like the International Olympic Committee or President Bush, believe that the Games are forcing the Chinese to take human rights more seriously, or that the Olympics are just about sports.

Given the rise of lawless government in Russia and Pakistan, the fact that China was dropped from list of the ten worst abusers is nothing to be proud of: this is classic grading on a curve. When you move to on the ground realities, the report notes that, far from China opening up as the Game draw nearer, “The government [has] tightened restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, particularly in anticipation of and during sensitive events, including increased efforts to control and censor the Internet.” It also mentions the reports of large-scale forced relocations in Beijing to make way for Olympic projects.

None of this is going to make the slightest impression on the IOC, or on U.S. participation in the Games. And to anyone who has been awake for the past sixty years, the IOC could hardly be more discredited than it already is. As Arch Puddington pointed out in November, there is nothing new about the IOC truckling to dictators. What the IOC prizes most in a host country is not human rights: it’s order.

This is why the IOC has such an ambivalent relationship with the U.S., which on the one hand is the source of a lot of corporate money, but on the other is a disorderly place where institutions like State publish critical reports on China, and where the press exposes the IOC’s love of bribes, as it did before the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

The kind of press the IOC likes is well-illustrated by the International Herald Tribune‘s story on the report, which editorializes furiously that Iraq and Afghanistan “account for a huge chunk of the U.S. defense budget, and a disproportionate amount of diplomatic attention and resources.” For both the IOC and the Tribune, the problem is not what’s going on: the problem is that people persist in talking and trying to do something about it.

The State Department has released its annual report on human rights around the world. It’s not going to offer any comfort to those who, like the International Olympic Committee or President Bush, believe that the Games are forcing the Chinese to take human rights more seriously, or that the Olympics are just about sports.

Given the rise of lawless government in Russia and Pakistan, the fact that China was dropped from list of the ten worst abusers is nothing to be proud of: this is classic grading on a curve. When you move to on the ground realities, the report notes that, far from China opening up as the Game draw nearer, “The government [has] tightened restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, particularly in anticipation of and during sensitive events, including increased efforts to control and censor the Internet.” It also mentions the reports of large-scale forced relocations in Beijing to make way for Olympic projects.

None of this is going to make the slightest impression on the IOC, or on U.S. participation in the Games. And to anyone who has been awake for the past sixty years, the IOC could hardly be more discredited than it already is. As Arch Puddington pointed out in November, there is nothing new about the IOC truckling to dictators. What the IOC prizes most in a host country is not human rights: it’s order.

This is why the IOC has such an ambivalent relationship with the U.S., which on the one hand is the source of a lot of corporate money, but on the other is a disorderly place where institutions like State publish critical reports on China, and where the press exposes the IOC’s love of bribes, as it did before the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

The kind of press the IOC likes is well-illustrated by the International Herald Tribune‘s story on the report, which editorializes furiously that Iraq and Afghanistan “account for a huge chunk of the U.S. defense budget, and a disproportionate amount of diplomatic attention and resources.” For both the IOC and the Tribune, the problem is not what’s going on: the problem is that people persist in talking and trying to do something about it.

Read Less

No Laughing Matter

It’s easy to have fun at Gov. Spitzer’s expense, and to an extent, I too find the impulse to joke about his fall irresistible. But it is not really a laughing matter. There is the fact that, regardless of the political capital he made of it earlier in his career, prostitution is indeed against the law, and the even more important consideration that elected officials in a democracy should not bring the system into disrepute by breaking the law, especially not in such ridiculous and foolish ways.

But what really bothers me is the opening this gives to the left. Not the Democrats, but the cultural left, for whom hypocrisy is the worst of all the sins. Indeed, it is the only sin. The fact that Spitzer crusaded against vice, only to be caught participating in it, merely tells them that the concept of vice is meaningless and anyone who argues that it is valuable to have standards of behavior is only doing so for self-interested reasons.

According to them, no one really believes anything, and nothing anyone does on their own account has the slightest impact on anybody else. It is the theme of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty taken to its most ridiculous extreme. Minus the reference to Mill, this was the argument being advanced last night on the G4 network’s “X-Play” (they review video games, and I like my Xbox 360), where Spitzer’s criticism of online violence came in for predictable scorn.

What Spitzer’s case proves, of course, is not that standards are valueless: it is that standards are all the more necessary because, as he has amply illustrated, the temptations to behave badly are all too real. They sometimes prove irresistible, but they would be all the more so in the antinomian, atomized world of those who mock him for his hypocrisy.

It’s easy to have fun at Gov. Spitzer’s expense, and to an extent, I too find the impulse to joke about his fall irresistible. But it is not really a laughing matter. There is the fact that, regardless of the political capital he made of it earlier in his career, prostitution is indeed against the law, and the even more important consideration that elected officials in a democracy should not bring the system into disrepute by breaking the law, especially not in such ridiculous and foolish ways.

But what really bothers me is the opening this gives to the left. Not the Democrats, but the cultural left, for whom hypocrisy is the worst of all the sins. Indeed, it is the only sin. The fact that Spitzer crusaded against vice, only to be caught participating in it, merely tells them that the concept of vice is meaningless and anyone who argues that it is valuable to have standards of behavior is only doing so for self-interested reasons.

According to them, no one really believes anything, and nothing anyone does on their own account has the slightest impact on anybody else. It is the theme of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty taken to its most ridiculous extreme. Minus the reference to Mill, this was the argument being advanced last night on the G4 network’s “X-Play” (they review video games, and I like my Xbox 360), where Spitzer’s criticism of online violence came in for predictable scorn.

What Spitzer’s case proves, of course, is not that standards are valueless: it is that standards are all the more necessary because, as he has amply illustrated, the temptations to behave badly are all too real. They sometimes prove irresistible, but they would be all the more so in the antinomian, atomized world of those who mock him for his hypocrisy.

Read Less

The Dems’ Iraq Paralysis

The Democrats may call it “George Bush’s war,” but a new Pew Poll reveals that most Americans think we are going to win it. 53 percent of those polled said “the U.S. will ultimately succeed in achieving its goals” in Iraq. Those who feel the war is going “very well” or “fairly well” have leaped from 30 percent about a year ago to 48 percent today. This new, widespread confidence in America’s Iraq effort presents a sizable problem for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, both of whom have used the “unpopular war” as a focal point.

Here is their unenviable task: to tell the American voter that his or her confidence in America’s ability to win at last is misplaced; to convince them what we need to do instead is pull our troops out and call for a troop surge in Afghanistan. Even more challenging for the Democrats is that time is not on their side. As recently as September 2007, only 42 percent of Americans believed the U.S. would succeed in Iraq. That number jumped 11 points in five months. The Democratic national convention is another five months away, and the benefits of the troop surge continue to mount. Just imagine the presidential nominee having to tell 64 percent of the country that they’re wrong about American victory.

The Democrats hitched their presidential hopes to a sense of national defeat that wasn’t sustained by circumstances. If there’s one thing every military expert will tell you, it’s that war is fluid. Defeatism does not allow for this fluidity. Once you declare a war lost, you’ve closed the door on the possibilities that arise with the changing nature of the fight and any potential innovations to capitalize on them. In this sense, defeatism is a practical handicap, whereas striving for victory necessarily depends upon the ability to adapt to a shifting landscape.

Enter John McCain. He recognized the failings of the Rumsfeld plan and, determined not to quit, pushed for new ideas. Having backed the Petraeus plan that’s responsible for the shift in Iraq, he doesn’t need to dance around the pro-victory majority—let alone convince them to throw in the towel. Seeing these new figures, the Democrats will at some point try to back off on the defeatist rhetoric, but there’s only so far they can go and not seem preposterous. A 180-degree turn on Iraq would create too much fallout about flip-flopping, experience, and character. It’s not clear how the Democrats are going to wriggle out of this one. But the man who changed when it most mattered can stay in one place for a while.

The Democrats may call it “George Bush’s war,” but a new Pew Poll reveals that most Americans think we are going to win it. 53 percent of those polled said “the U.S. will ultimately succeed in achieving its goals” in Iraq. Those who feel the war is going “very well” or “fairly well” have leaped from 30 percent about a year ago to 48 percent today. This new, widespread confidence in America’s Iraq effort presents a sizable problem for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, both of whom have used the “unpopular war” as a focal point.

Here is their unenviable task: to tell the American voter that his or her confidence in America’s ability to win at last is misplaced; to convince them what we need to do instead is pull our troops out and call for a troop surge in Afghanistan. Even more challenging for the Democrats is that time is not on their side. As recently as September 2007, only 42 percent of Americans believed the U.S. would succeed in Iraq. That number jumped 11 points in five months. The Democratic national convention is another five months away, and the benefits of the troop surge continue to mount. Just imagine the presidential nominee having to tell 64 percent of the country that they’re wrong about American victory.

The Democrats hitched their presidential hopes to a sense of national defeat that wasn’t sustained by circumstances. If there’s one thing every military expert will tell you, it’s that war is fluid. Defeatism does not allow for this fluidity. Once you declare a war lost, you’ve closed the door on the possibilities that arise with the changing nature of the fight and any potential innovations to capitalize on them. In this sense, defeatism is a practical handicap, whereas striving for victory necessarily depends upon the ability to adapt to a shifting landscape.

Enter John McCain. He recognized the failings of the Rumsfeld plan and, determined not to quit, pushed for new ideas. Having backed the Petraeus plan that’s responsible for the shift in Iraq, he doesn’t need to dance around the pro-victory majority—let alone convince them to throw in the towel. Seeing these new figures, the Democrats will at some point try to back off on the defeatist rhetoric, but there’s only so far they can go and not seem preposterous. A 180-degree turn on Iraq would create too much fallout about flip-flopping, experience, and character. It’s not clear how the Democrats are going to wriggle out of this one. But the man who changed when it most mattered can stay in one place for a while.

Read Less

Cheaper Than Therapy?

Are women, especially older women, taking grievances about their own lives out on Barak Obama? One political science professor, Laura McKenna, says yes (h/t Instapundit). She explains:

Maureen Dowd stereotypes die-hard Hillary voters as “shoulder-pad feminists” — women who came of age in the era of shoulder pads and still see sexism everywhere. They are ticked off about injustices in their own lives. They relate to Hillary who jokes about her wrinkles. Their hatred of Obama is intensifying as his success grows: a slick young guy takes the spotlight again. . . .Most women — myself included — don’t experience these forms of soft sexism until later in life. We’re sailing through school work, out pacing men in the classroom. It’s only when the hard realities of family and work hit that women understand that they get the short end of the stick. As a result, women are mad. And they are carrying that grudge into the voting booth.

Well, if all politics is personal (the feminists had it the other way around) then voting is just an opportunity to express your inner resentments, grudges, and fears. Skip the issues, in other words, and get to the point–the petty personal bones voters want to pick.

There is some truth to this, of course. But older women may not be channeling their inner resentments when they vote against Obama. Aside from their peeves about bosses, husbands, and colleagues, they may also have accumulated some experience along the way that informs their view of politics, and makes them more clear-headed. In the years in the workplace and at home, they may have become more world-weary and realistic about human behavior, less prone to be snowed by someone peddling fluff. Maybe Hillary-voting older women aren’t angry. Maybe they’re more realistic than the swooning Obama girls. Rather than attribute the anti-Obama vote to female anger (which is rather anti-feminist in itself), perhaps we should ask why other voters look at politics through rose-colored glasses.

Are women, especially older women, taking grievances about their own lives out on Barak Obama? One political science professor, Laura McKenna, says yes (h/t Instapundit). She explains:

Maureen Dowd stereotypes die-hard Hillary voters as “shoulder-pad feminists” — women who came of age in the era of shoulder pads and still see sexism everywhere. They are ticked off about injustices in their own lives. They relate to Hillary who jokes about her wrinkles. Their hatred of Obama is intensifying as his success grows: a slick young guy takes the spotlight again. . . .Most women — myself included — don’t experience these forms of soft sexism until later in life. We’re sailing through school work, out pacing men in the classroom. It’s only when the hard realities of family and work hit that women understand that they get the short end of the stick. As a result, women are mad. And they are carrying that grudge into the voting booth.

Well, if all politics is personal (the feminists had it the other way around) then voting is just an opportunity to express your inner resentments, grudges, and fears. Skip the issues, in other words, and get to the point–the petty personal bones voters want to pick.

There is some truth to this, of course. But older women may not be channeling their inner resentments when they vote against Obama. Aside from their peeves about bosses, husbands, and colleagues, they may also have accumulated some experience along the way that informs their view of politics, and makes them more clear-headed. In the years in the workplace and at home, they may have become more world-weary and realistic about human behavior, less prone to be snowed by someone peddling fluff. Maybe Hillary-voting older women aren’t angry. Maybe they’re more realistic than the swooning Obama girls. Rather than attribute the anti-Obama vote to female anger (which is rather anti-feminist in itself), perhaps we should ask why other voters look at politics through rose-colored glasses.

Read Less

The Reluctant Communist

Can a deserter, a seeming traitor and a star in a propaganda film produced by a Communist dictatorship also be, in the end, an American patriot? That is one of the questions posed by the life of Charles Robert Jenkins, the author of The Reluctant Communist. This extraordinary book is now available for sale on Amazon and elsewhere. It is one of the most important documents to come out of North Korea ever. I review it in today’s Wall Street Journal.  The review can be found on their site, or you can click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below to read it here.

Read More

Can a deserter, a seeming traitor and a star in a propaganda film produced by a Communist dictatorship also be, in the end, an American patriot? That is one of the questions posed by the life of Charles Robert Jenkins, the author of The Reluctant Communist. This extraordinary book is now available for sale on Amazon and elsewhere. It is one of the most important documents to come out of North Korea ever. I review it in today’s Wall Street Journal.  The review can be found on their site, or you can click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below to read it here.

The Reluctant Communist

By Charles Robert Jenkins, with Jim Frederick

University of California, 192 pages, $24.95

Can a deserter, a seeming traitor and a star in a propaganda film produced by a Communist dictatorship also be, in the end, an American patriot? That is one of the questions posed by the life of Charles Robert Jenkins, the author of The Reluctant Communist.

Uneducated, dirt poor, from rural North Carolina, Mr. Jenkins joined the U.S. Army in 1958 and rose to the rank of sergeant within three years. He was soon sent to South Korea, where he was assigned to patrols along the demilitarized zone and regularly came under hostile fire. Depressed and drinking heavily, he started searching for a way home. The scheme he cooked up: Cross into North Korea, get handed over to the Russians and then repatriated to the U.S. At most he would face the sanction of a court-martial.

But there was a hitch. “I did not understand,” Mr. Jenkins writes, “that the country I was seeking temporary refuge in was literally a giant, demented prison; once someone goes there, they almost never get out.” Mr. Jenkins was to spend the next four decades in North Korea. His memoir, written with the help of Jim Frederick, a Time magazine senior editor, is the story of his life in that bizarre and barbaric land.

After his capture, Mr. Jenkins recounts, he was subjected to a none-too-gentle period of interrogation and then brought together with three other Americans who had done the same thing, “all young dumb soldiers from poor backgrounds” like himself whose misbegotten actions turned them into North Korea’s “cold-war trophies.” Their lives were privileged compared with those of ordinary North Koreans, but the physical hardship was extreme: scarce, rotten food, lack of heat and indoor plumbing (not to mention privacy), insect and rat infestation.

But the mental strain was far worse. Complete isolation from the familiar world was a mere backdrop to the ordeal inflicted by an endless procession of Communist Party minders, who monitored Mr. Jenkins’s every move and who strove, by means of compulsory self-criticism sessions and beatings, to inculcate in him the “correct ideology.”

Under threat of transfer to a prison colony and almost certain death, Mr. Jenkins was routinely assigned to socialist toil. Sometimes it was weaving fishing nets, sometimes teaching English to North Korean military personnel. Sometimes it was acting in North Korean films, including one celebrating the North Korean capture of the USS Pueblo in 1968. (Mr. Jenkins played the captain of a U.S. aircraft carrier.) With characteristic inefficiency, the North Koreans shot the scenes in the order in which they would appear in the film, breaking down the sets each time and then rebuilding them when needed.

Thanks to Kim Il Sung’s “glorious benevolence,” as the North Koreans called it, Mr. Jenkins and his American comrades were eventually provided with female personal “cooks.” They were expected to serve the state as another set of watching eyes and, as it happened, as “unofficial wives” — potential consorts. The first words that Mr. Jenkins’s own cook said to him were: “I am not cooking for an American dog.” Relations between them, he observes, “went down from there.”

One of North Korea’s cruelest policies was to intersect bittersweetly with Mr. Jenkins’s life. Beginning sometime in the mid-1970s, the regime began kidnapping young Japanese women, some as young as 13, snatching them off streets near beaches in Japan and conveying them to North Korea to fulfill various tasks for its intelligence service. One such young woman was Hitomi Soga, seized along with her mother, stuffed into a black sack, taken by submarine to North Korea and, after a suitable “adjustment period,” delivered to Mr. Jenkins’s home and made to live with him, presumably to bolster the morale of a cold-war trophy.

Mr. Jenkins’s minders, he says, encouraged him to rape her. Instead he treated her with kindness and respect. Before long, the two fell in love, a bond apparently made all the stronger by the suffering both had endured at the hands of their common tormentors. Marriage followed, along with three children, one of whom died at birth. The whereabouts of Hitomi’s mother remain unknown to this day.

In 2002, North Korea unexpectedly acknowledged its kidnapping program and Hitomi was repatriated to Japan. Mr. Jenkins and the couple’s two daughters followed 18 months later. At that point, he turned himself in to American authorities in Tokyo, becoming the longest-missing U.S. deserter ever to report again for duty. The U.S. Army sentenced him, humanely, to 30 days in the brig. “Going AWOL to avoid combat is a serious crime,” Mr. Jenkins writes, “and abandoning troops under your command is one of the worst things a military man can do. . . . I am sorry for that, and I have spent my life having to live with my conscience and the consequence of my actions on that day.”

However we judge Mr. Jenkins’s actions so many years ago, “The Reluctant Communist” is itself an act of redemption. This extraordinary book opens a window on a world of fathomless evil, and it tells a heartbreaking story — of a life lived in adversity and conducted with a mixture of fortitude, resignation, tenderness and regret. Clearly Charles Robert Jenkins emerged from his years of ordeal with his Americanness intact. True patriotism can come in many forms.

Read Less

Re: What A Harvard Education Will Teach You

Jennifer Rubin has fun at the expense of Harvard sociology professor Orlando Patterson, and his “specious” comments on Hillary Clinton’s “3 a.m.” TV ad. But this is what we have to look forward to if Obama wins: four years of the most intelligent (or at least, the most tenured) people in the country drawing on all their resources to explain why every critique of him is racially insensitive.

Patterson’s piece is a delightful example of what I call 360-degree criticism, because it can be made from every angle. There is no way to make that ad that would not have drawn Patterson’s ire. If the ad had featured an African-American family, Patterson would have criticized Clinton for attacking Obama while free-riding on his appeal as the bringer of racial harmony. If the family had been Hispanic, he would have argued that Clinton was trying to play Latinos off against African-Americans. And if they’d been of mixed race, he would have looked at who answered the phone and claimed that this somehow revealed the hidden hierarchies of race and privilege within the patriarchal bounds of the family.

This sort of “heads I win, tails you lose” approach is basically valueless, in that all it really tells us is that Patterson likes Obama a lot. The proper criticism of Clinton’s ad is not that it reveals her racism, but that it is silly. Obama has precisely as much experience with answering early-morning phone calls on vital national security issues as does Clinton: none at all.

Jennifer Rubin has fun at the expense of Harvard sociology professor Orlando Patterson, and his “specious” comments on Hillary Clinton’s “3 a.m.” TV ad. But this is what we have to look forward to if Obama wins: four years of the most intelligent (or at least, the most tenured) people in the country drawing on all their resources to explain why every critique of him is racially insensitive.

Patterson’s piece is a delightful example of what I call 360-degree criticism, because it can be made from every angle. There is no way to make that ad that would not have drawn Patterson’s ire. If the ad had featured an African-American family, Patterson would have criticized Clinton for attacking Obama while free-riding on his appeal as the bringer of racial harmony. If the family had been Hispanic, he would have argued that Clinton was trying to play Latinos off against African-Americans. And if they’d been of mixed race, he would have looked at who answered the phone and claimed that this somehow revealed the hidden hierarchies of race and privilege within the patriarchal bounds of the family.

This sort of “heads I win, tails you lose” approach is basically valueless, in that all it really tells us is that Patterson likes Obama a lot. The proper criticism of Clinton’s ad is not that it reveals her racism, but that it is silly. Obama has precisely as much experience with answering early-morning phone calls on vital national security issues as does Clinton: none at all.

Read Less

Math and Non-Math

There are two ways to look at the Democratic race: math and non-math. On the former, Hillary Clinton’s campaign team is usually loath to talk about delegate math. But her people were happy to point out that the gains Barack Obama made in Mississippi were erased by Hillary’s pick up of some late-tabulating delegates from two February 5 states.

However, the real delegate action for Clinton lies in potential re-votes in Michigan and Florida. Should she win in Pennsylvania and those two states, not only will the delegate count look much tighter, but her argument that Obama lacks appeal in diverse, delegate-rich states will get more traction.

On the non-math front, Geraldine Ferraro has been able to give voice to what lies beneath much of the campaigns’ verbal jousting: the contention that, for all his post-racial themes, Obama is simply the beneficiary of racial politics. As Mickey Kaus observes, “If Obama were white, he wouldn’t embody hopes of a post-racial future. Duh! That’s part of his appeal. It seems obvious. Why does Obama dispute it? Why isn’t Ferraro allowed to acknowledge it?” Kaus questions why Obama doesn’t just say: “I think being black helps me in some ways, and hurts me in others. I’m running on my record, on the issues, on my ability to do the best job as President for all Americans, etc.” Well, I think the answer is fairly clear: his record is virtually nonexistent and his stance on issues is practically indistinguishable from Clinton’s.

So Ferraro now has Democrats openly discussing this touchy subject. And that, more than math, is what gives Clinton hope.

There are two ways to look at the Democratic race: math and non-math. On the former, Hillary Clinton’s campaign team is usually loath to talk about delegate math. But her people were happy to point out that the gains Barack Obama made in Mississippi were erased by Hillary’s pick up of some late-tabulating delegates from two February 5 states.

However, the real delegate action for Clinton lies in potential re-votes in Michigan and Florida. Should she win in Pennsylvania and those two states, not only will the delegate count look much tighter, but her argument that Obama lacks appeal in diverse, delegate-rich states will get more traction.

On the non-math front, Geraldine Ferraro has been able to give voice to what lies beneath much of the campaigns’ verbal jousting: the contention that, for all his post-racial themes, Obama is simply the beneficiary of racial politics. As Mickey Kaus observes, “If Obama were white, he wouldn’t embody hopes of a post-racial future. Duh! That’s part of his appeal. It seems obvious. Why does Obama dispute it? Why isn’t Ferraro allowed to acknowledge it?” Kaus questions why Obama doesn’t just say: “I think being black helps me in some ways, and hurts me in others. I’m running on my record, on the issues, on my ability to do the best job as President for all Americans, etc.” Well, I think the answer is fairly clear: his record is virtually nonexistent and his stance on issues is practically indistinguishable from Clinton’s.

So Ferraro now has Democrats openly discussing this touchy subject. And that, more than math, is what gives Clinton hope.

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.