Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 7, 2008

Brando and the Jews

The news of Charlton Heston’s death on April 5 at age 84 brought to mind the passing, four years ago, of one of his legendary contemporaries, primarily because April 3 would have been Marlin Brando’s 84th birthday.

I remembered the date because I had done a fair amount of research on Brando for a column I wrote shortly after he died. The column, which focused on an incident that both tarred Brando’s reputation for years afterward and served to illustrate how Jewish organizations and their spokesmen sometimes risk trivializing the serious issue of anti-Semitism, drew an unusually large number of reader responses.

It all began during an appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live” in April 1996. Brando praised Jews for their contributions to civilization, only to be reminded by King that he had voiced some criticism of Jews in the past, particularly Hollywood’s Jewish movers and shakers. King kept badgering Brando for negative comments; at one point the actor blurted out, “See, you are rushing me, I can’t think . . . I’m slightly rattled here.”

Brando finally gave King what he wanted. Hollywood, he said,

is run by Jews; it is owned by Jews, and they should have a greater sensitivity about the issue of — of people who are suffering. Because they’ve exploited — we have seen the — have seen the nigger and greaseball, we’ve seen the chink, we’ve seen the slit-eyed dangerous Jap, we have seen the wily Filipino, we’ve seen everything but we never saw the kike. Because they know perfectly well, that is where you draw the wagons around.

Hardly reported was Brando’s reply when King wondered whether Brando’s complaint would play into the hands of anti-Semites: “No, no, because I will be the first one who will appraise the Jews honestly and say, ‘Thank God for the Jews.’ ”

Brando was an eccentric, a devotee of radical causes, a man given to all manner of weird fulmination. But he didn’t deserve the opprobrium that followed. Branded a Jew-hater, rebuked by the ADL and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, hounded by death threats from self-styled Jewish militants, Brando actually wept during a meeting with Jewish community representatives.

If Brando was an anti-Semite, I wrote at the time, we need more of that kind of anti-Semitism. As a young actor in 1946, he not only co-starred in Ben Hecht’s pro-Zionist play “A Flag Is Born,” he spoke at rallies and meetings organized by the play’s sponsor, Peter Bergson’s American League for a Free Palestine.

But Brando’s feelings about Jews can best be appreciated from the following eloquent passages in his 1994 autobiography, Songs My Mother Taught Me, about the year he spent as a young man at New York’s New School for Social Research:

I lived in a world of Jews. . . . They introduced me to a world of books and ideas that I didn’t know existed. I stayed up all night with them — asking questions, arguing, probing, discovering how little I knew, learning how inarticulate I was and how abysmal my education was. I hadn’t even finished high school, and many of them had advanced degrees from the finest institutes in Europe. I felt dumb and ashamed, but they gave me an appetite to learn everything. They made me hungry for information. . . .

One of the great mysteries that has always puzzled me is how Jews, who account for such a tiny fraction of the world’s population, have been able to achieve so much and excel in so many different fields — science, music, medicine, literature, arts, business and more. . . .

They are an amazing people. Imagine the persecution they endured over the centuries: pogroms, temple burnings, Cossack raids, uprootings of families, their dispersal to the winds and the Holocaust . . . . Yet their children survived and Jews became by far the most accomplished people per capita that the world has ever produced. . . .

Whatever the reasons for their brilliance and success, I was never educated until I was exposed to them.

The news of Charlton Heston’s death on April 5 at age 84 brought to mind the passing, four years ago, of one of his legendary contemporaries, primarily because April 3 would have been Marlin Brando’s 84th birthday.

I remembered the date because I had done a fair amount of research on Brando for a column I wrote shortly after he died. The column, which focused on an incident that both tarred Brando’s reputation for years afterward and served to illustrate how Jewish organizations and their spokesmen sometimes risk trivializing the serious issue of anti-Semitism, drew an unusually large number of reader responses.

It all began during an appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live” in April 1996. Brando praised Jews for their contributions to civilization, only to be reminded by King that he had voiced some criticism of Jews in the past, particularly Hollywood’s Jewish movers and shakers. King kept badgering Brando for negative comments; at one point the actor blurted out, “See, you are rushing me, I can’t think . . . I’m slightly rattled here.”

Brando finally gave King what he wanted. Hollywood, he said,

is run by Jews; it is owned by Jews, and they should have a greater sensitivity about the issue of — of people who are suffering. Because they’ve exploited — we have seen the — have seen the nigger and greaseball, we’ve seen the chink, we’ve seen the slit-eyed dangerous Jap, we have seen the wily Filipino, we’ve seen everything but we never saw the kike. Because they know perfectly well, that is where you draw the wagons around.

Hardly reported was Brando’s reply when King wondered whether Brando’s complaint would play into the hands of anti-Semites: “No, no, because I will be the first one who will appraise the Jews honestly and say, ‘Thank God for the Jews.’ ”

Brando was an eccentric, a devotee of radical causes, a man given to all manner of weird fulmination. But he didn’t deserve the opprobrium that followed. Branded a Jew-hater, rebuked by the ADL and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, hounded by death threats from self-styled Jewish militants, Brando actually wept during a meeting with Jewish community representatives.

If Brando was an anti-Semite, I wrote at the time, we need more of that kind of anti-Semitism. As a young actor in 1946, he not only co-starred in Ben Hecht’s pro-Zionist play “A Flag Is Born,” he spoke at rallies and meetings organized by the play’s sponsor, Peter Bergson’s American League for a Free Palestine.

But Brando’s feelings about Jews can best be appreciated from the following eloquent passages in his 1994 autobiography, Songs My Mother Taught Me, about the year he spent as a young man at New York’s New School for Social Research:

I lived in a world of Jews. . . . They introduced me to a world of books and ideas that I didn’t know existed. I stayed up all night with them — asking questions, arguing, probing, discovering how little I knew, learning how inarticulate I was and how abysmal my education was. I hadn’t even finished high school, and many of them had advanced degrees from the finest institutes in Europe. I felt dumb and ashamed, but they gave me an appetite to learn everything. They made me hungry for information. . . .

One of the great mysteries that has always puzzled me is how Jews, who account for such a tiny fraction of the world’s population, have been able to achieve so much and excel in so many different fields — science, music, medicine, literature, arts, business and more. . . .

They are an amazing people. Imagine the persecution they endured over the centuries: pogroms, temple burnings, Cossack raids, uprootings of families, their dispersal to the winds and the Holocaust . . . . Yet their children survived and Jews became by far the most accomplished people per capita that the world has ever produced. . . .

Whatever the reasons for their brilliance and success, I was never educated until I was exposed to them.

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Petraeus Hearing Preview

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham (who sits on the Armed Services Committee) gave a telephone briefing today on the Iraq hearings set to start tomorrow. As expected, he acknowledged that between the collapse of the Saddam Hussein’s government and the surge which began in January 2007 “all the trend lines were going in a negative direction.” But, he went on to observe, since the proper allocation of troops and a revised strategy there has been “undeniable progress.”

As for the hearings themselves, he hinted strongly that the “suspension of disbelief” line from Hillary Clinton and the Democrats’ previous dismissal of General Petraeus’ views during the last set of hearings in September would come up again. I asked about Barack Obama’s plan to pull out troops but leave in a “strike force” to combat al Qaeda. Graham dismissed this as exactly the “old strategy” which had failed in Iraq, pre-surge. He bluntly stated that this idea is a “bone” Obama is throwing to the public, which remains concerned about how a withdrawal of troops will affect our fight against Islamic terrorism.

On the political front he believes the changes in Iraq have fundamentally shifted the terrain in Congress, and among Republicans in particular there will be great reluctance to disrupt the current strategy. Bottom line: you can expect Republicans to be on the offense tomorrow.

Two unrelated notes: Graham gamely defended the work of the Gang of 14 in pushing through judicial nominees, vowed that the Republicans would turn up the heat since the Democrats have now slowed confirmations to less-than-a-crawl, and stressed that judicial nominations and the Supreme Court will be key issues in the race. Second, and more interestingly, he let on that there was a “committee” working on McCain’s VP pick (who is on it he wouldn’t say) and joked there would be better picks than him, while emphasizing that no one votes for the VP.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham (who sits on the Armed Services Committee) gave a telephone briefing today on the Iraq hearings set to start tomorrow. As expected, he acknowledged that between the collapse of the Saddam Hussein’s government and the surge which began in January 2007 “all the trend lines were going in a negative direction.” But, he went on to observe, since the proper allocation of troops and a revised strategy there has been “undeniable progress.”

As for the hearings themselves, he hinted strongly that the “suspension of disbelief” line from Hillary Clinton and the Democrats’ previous dismissal of General Petraeus’ views during the last set of hearings in September would come up again. I asked about Barack Obama’s plan to pull out troops but leave in a “strike force” to combat al Qaeda. Graham dismissed this as exactly the “old strategy” which had failed in Iraq, pre-surge. He bluntly stated that this idea is a “bone” Obama is throwing to the public, which remains concerned about how a withdrawal of troops will affect our fight against Islamic terrorism.

On the political front he believes the changes in Iraq have fundamentally shifted the terrain in Congress, and among Republicans in particular there will be great reluctance to disrupt the current strategy. Bottom line: you can expect Republicans to be on the offense tomorrow.

Two unrelated notes: Graham gamely defended the work of the Gang of 14 in pushing through judicial nominees, vowed that the Republicans would turn up the heat since the Democrats have now slowed confirmations to less-than-a-crawl, and stressed that judicial nominations and the Supreme Court will be key issues in the race. Second, and more interestingly, he let on that there was a “committee” working on McCain’s VP pick (who is on it he wouldn’t say) and joked there would be better picks than him, while emphasizing that no one votes for the VP.

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In Praise of “Disrespect”

At Al Arabiya today, John Esposito–co-author of Who Speaks for Islam?, a book based on a study of 50,000 people in 35 Muslim countries–says

When we asked Muslims around the world what the West can do to improve relations with the Muslim world, the most frequent responses were for the West to demonstrate more respect for Islam and to regard Muslims as equals, not as inferior.

Respect, huh? Well, it’s good to keep an open mind about these things, and genuinely consider the nature of the complaint. This survey is being touted as a landmark event in Muslim opinion. So, here’s what Al Arabiya adduces as a sign of Western disrespect:

A recent example was the 2006 election in the Palestinian territories, which the Islamist movement Hamas won in a free and fair poll. The United States and Israel have since done much to ignore the result and try to push Hamas out of office.

If rejecting an organization sworn to destroy you is a sign of disrespect, it’s probably best the West remain impudent and graceless for the time-being. We can’t all be so cordial to “the other” as they manage to be in so many Muslim nations.

At Al Arabiya today, John Esposito–co-author of Who Speaks for Islam?, a book based on a study of 50,000 people in 35 Muslim countries–says

When we asked Muslims around the world what the West can do to improve relations with the Muslim world, the most frequent responses were for the West to demonstrate more respect for Islam and to regard Muslims as equals, not as inferior.

Respect, huh? Well, it’s good to keep an open mind about these things, and genuinely consider the nature of the complaint. This survey is being touted as a landmark event in Muslim opinion. So, here’s what Al Arabiya adduces as a sign of Western disrespect:

A recent example was the 2006 election in the Palestinian territories, which the Islamist movement Hamas won in a free and fair poll. The United States and Israel have since done much to ignore the result and try to push Hamas out of office.

If rejecting an organization sworn to destroy you is a sign of disrespect, it’s probably best the West remain impudent and graceless for the time-being. We can’t all be so cordial to “the other” as they manage to be in so many Muslim nations.

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A Mistake Hillary Could Not Afford

As the Jeremiah Wright scandal was breaking, I speculated that trouble of this sort for her rival was precisely the reason Hillary Clinton was staying in the race for the Democratic nomination — that the longer the primary season extended, the more chances there would be for Obama to stumble, and that she would be there to seize the baton and run for the finish line. But of course, the longer the primary season, the more chances there are for Hillary Clinton to stumble as well. And the difference between Obama and Clinton is that he can stumble and still win because he’s in the lead. She can’t afford to stumble at all if she is trying to gain on him.

And stumble she has. Her bizarre lie about the nonexistent sniper fire that threatened her in Bosnia was the first nail. The hurried departure of her chief campaign strategist, Mark Penn, is the second. It makes perfect sense that Penn has been defenestrated for doing something entirely sensible — meeting with representatives of a U.S. ally, Colombia, that wishes to pursue a closer trade relationship with us. Colombia is not only a friend of the United States; it is engaged in a battle with the worst player in the Americas, Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, which is trying to destabilize it. But because Hillary is engaged in a gross act of deception toward Democratic primary voters on the matter of free trade — which she has decided to oppose solely for P.T. Barnum reasons even as she would surely support it for every good reason once in the White House, — Penn had to go and go fast.

Whatever kind of error this was — Penn’s for taking the meeting, Hillary for employing Penn, or Hillary for chucking Penn out the door now when she might have done it more profitably two months ago once it became clear his strategy for her nomination had failed utterly —  it’s one error too many for her. How can she make the case that she is a better candidate in the general election than Obama if she can’t go five days without making a major blunder on the campaign trail?

She can’t.

As the Jeremiah Wright scandal was breaking, I speculated that trouble of this sort for her rival was precisely the reason Hillary Clinton was staying in the race for the Democratic nomination — that the longer the primary season extended, the more chances there would be for Obama to stumble, and that she would be there to seize the baton and run for the finish line. But of course, the longer the primary season, the more chances there are for Hillary Clinton to stumble as well. And the difference between Obama and Clinton is that he can stumble and still win because he’s in the lead. She can’t afford to stumble at all if she is trying to gain on him.

And stumble she has. Her bizarre lie about the nonexistent sniper fire that threatened her in Bosnia was the first nail. The hurried departure of her chief campaign strategist, Mark Penn, is the second. It makes perfect sense that Penn has been defenestrated for doing something entirely sensible — meeting with representatives of a U.S. ally, Colombia, that wishes to pursue a closer trade relationship with us. Colombia is not only a friend of the United States; it is engaged in a battle with the worst player in the Americas, Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, which is trying to destabilize it. But because Hillary is engaged in a gross act of deception toward Democratic primary voters on the matter of free trade — which she has decided to oppose solely for P.T. Barnum reasons even as she would surely support it for every good reason once in the White House, — Penn had to go and go fast.

Whatever kind of error this was — Penn’s for taking the meeting, Hillary for employing Penn, or Hillary for chucking Penn out the door now when she might have done it more profitably two months ago once it became clear his strategy for her nomination had failed utterly —  it’s one error too many for her. How can she make the case that she is a better candidate in the general election than Obama if she can’t go five days without making a major blunder on the campaign trail?

She can’t.

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More Iranian Hypocrisy

Following the release of MP Geert Wilders’ anti-Islamic film Fitna, the Dutch government unequivocally denounced the project. In a televised statement, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende condemned the film for serving “no purpose other than to cause offense.” Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Verhagen wrote an op-ed for the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, arguing that, “Islam must not be equated with the commission of atrocities.” Verhagen later addressed the ambassadors of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, vowing that Fitna did not represent the official position of the Dutch government.

Well, apparently none of this was good enough for Iran, where the Majlis is now considering severing economic ties with the Netherlands. Yesterday, the Majlis’ National Security and Foreign Policy Commission asked the ministers of commerce and economic affairs to produce a report on the current state of Dutch-Iranian economic relations, while Speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel called on Muslim countries to boycott products from any country involved in blasphemy against Islam.

At what point does the international community call Iran on its hypocrisy? After all, when it comes to sanctioning the production of offensive media, Iran is an absolute beacon of freedom. For example, in the aftermath of the Danish cartoons controversy of 2006, the major Iranian daily Hamshahri—with the support of the municipally owned House of Caricatures—announced a Holocaust cartoon competition, purportedly to test the West’s commitment to free speech. Of course, the competition was really just another example of Iran scapegoating the Jews in a moment of cultural crisis—an impetus that was again on display yesterday. Indeed, while announcing the proposed boycott against the Netherlands, MP Kadem Jalali declared, “It is quite natural that the Zionists have masterminded the plot and since they have suffered a crushing defeat in Palestine and Lebanon they seek to insult Islamic sanctities.”

As I have previously argued, winning the public diplomacy war against Iran requires that we challenge Iranian orthodoxies head-on. In this vein, just as the international community was swift to condemn Fitna, it must immediately condemn Iran’s attempt to incite Muslim publics against the Netherlands. It should further throw Iran’s constant invocation of anti-Semitic rhetoric back at Tehran, asking how Iran—which aimed to challenge western free speech with its Holocaust cartoons conference—pathetically failed the challenge of free speech when faced with a peripheral, Internet-only film produced by a political pariah.

Following the release of MP Geert Wilders’ anti-Islamic film Fitna, the Dutch government unequivocally denounced the project. In a televised statement, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende condemned the film for serving “no purpose other than to cause offense.” Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Verhagen wrote an op-ed for the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, arguing that, “Islam must not be equated with the commission of atrocities.” Verhagen later addressed the ambassadors of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, vowing that Fitna did not represent the official position of the Dutch government.

Well, apparently none of this was good enough for Iran, where the Majlis is now considering severing economic ties with the Netherlands. Yesterday, the Majlis’ National Security and Foreign Policy Commission asked the ministers of commerce and economic affairs to produce a report on the current state of Dutch-Iranian economic relations, while Speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel called on Muslim countries to boycott products from any country involved in blasphemy against Islam.

At what point does the international community call Iran on its hypocrisy? After all, when it comes to sanctioning the production of offensive media, Iran is an absolute beacon of freedom. For example, in the aftermath of the Danish cartoons controversy of 2006, the major Iranian daily Hamshahri—with the support of the municipally owned House of Caricatures—announced a Holocaust cartoon competition, purportedly to test the West’s commitment to free speech. Of course, the competition was really just another example of Iran scapegoating the Jews in a moment of cultural crisis—an impetus that was again on display yesterday. Indeed, while announcing the proposed boycott against the Netherlands, MP Kadem Jalali declared, “It is quite natural that the Zionists have masterminded the plot and since they have suffered a crushing defeat in Palestine and Lebanon they seek to insult Islamic sanctities.”

As I have previously argued, winning the public diplomacy war against Iran requires that we challenge Iranian orthodoxies head-on. In this vein, just as the international community was swift to condemn Fitna, it must immediately condemn Iran’s attempt to incite Muslim publics against the Netherlands. It should further throw Iran’s constant invocation of anti-Semitic rhetoric back at Tehran, asking how Iran—which aimed to challenge western free speech with its Holocaust cartoons conference—pathetically failed the challenge of free speech when faced with a peripheral, Internet-only film produced by a political pariah.

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Business Bashing

One of the policy frustrations conservatives have experienced with John McCain has been his propensity to attack capitalists and hence capitalism. Despite high praise for his refusal to pander to the public with counterproductive government programs to address the mortgage crisis, McCain has, at least in tone and rhetoric, sounded a decidedly “unconservative” note in bashing the heads of mortgage companies for severance packages and profits they garnered from sales of stock. Although these stock sales were generally part of pre-timed plans that were perfectly legal and standard practice in executive compensation, this is an easy whipping boy for Democrats and now McCain too.

There is, of course, nothing logically to suggest the crisis would have been averted had these individuals not sold stock. Nor is there evidence that the executives had some nefarious motive to sink their own companies. But they are an easy, juicy target.
Conservatives contend this sort of populist rhetoric (similar to his attacks on the pharmaceutical companies) blurs the real issues and lends support to Democrats’ anti-business solutions (e.g. price controls or legislation on executive comp).

McCain is apparently walking a political tightrope–adhering to fiscally conservative policies while tossing in some rhetoric to show independence from business interests. Now, there is nothing to suggest McCain is not sincere in his invective toward the mortgage company executives or his belief that somehow drug companies are ripping off the public. Indeed, what troubles conservatives is that he does seem to believe his anti-business rhetoric.

But to the degree that his language does not mesh with his policy proposals (which tend to adhere to a market-based, limited government philosophy that shows skepticism about the wisdom of meddling in the free market), it will create a discordant message. And if he should be so fortunate to win the presidency, that rhetoric will pose a challenge to him as he constructs a governing agenda.

One of the policy frustrations conservatives have experienced with John McCain has been his propensity to attack capitalists and hence capitalism. Despite high praise for his refusal to pander to the public with counterproductive government programs to address the mortgage crisis, McCain has, at least in tone and rhetoric, sounded a decidedly “unconservative” note in bashing the heads of mortgage companies for severance packages and profits they garnered from sales of stock. Although these stock sales were generally part of pre-timed plans that were perfectly legal and standard practice in executive compensation, this is an easy whipping boy for Democrats and now McCain too.

There is, of course, nothing logically to suggest the crisis would have been averted had these individuals not sold stock. Nor is there evidence that the executives had some nefarious motive to sink their own companies. But they are an easy, juicy target.
Conservatives contend this sort of populist rhetoric (similar to his attacks on the pharmaceutical companies) blurs the real issues and lends support to Democrats’ anti-business solutions (e.g. price controls or legislation on executive comp).

McCain is apparently walking a political tightrope–adhering to fiscally conservative policies while tossing in some rhetoric to show independence from business interests. Now, there is nothing to suggest McCain is not sincere in his invective toward the mortgage company executives or his belief that somehow drug companies are ripping off the public. Indeed, what troubles conservatives is that he does seem to believe his anti-business rhetoric.

But to the degree that his language does not mesh with his policy proposals (which tend to adhere to a market-based, limited government philosophy that shows skepticism about the wisdom of meddling in the free market), it will create a discordant message. And if he should be so fortunate to win the presidency, that rhetoric will pose a challenge to him as he constructs a governing agenda.

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A Debate On The Surge

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Yochi Dreazen airs the views of Lieutenant Colonel Gian Gentile, an Iraq War veteran now teaching at West Point. Gentile opposes the surge–and thinks the army is making a mistake by preparing for counterinsurgency warfare at the risk of diminishing its conventional combat capabilities. As Gentile makes clear in this essay, he doesn’t think that U.S. forces have gotten any better at counterinsurgency since he commanded a battalion in Baghdad in 2006. The only difference between now and then, he argues, is that we paid off the insurgents not to fight.

Colonel Peter Mansoor, General Petraeus’s executive officer (who is retiring soon to become a professor of military history at Ohio State University), demolishes Gentile’s arguments in the Small Wars Journal. As Mansoor points out:

Gentile’s battalion occupied Ameriyah, which in 2006 was an Al Qaeda safe-haven infested by Sunni insurgents and their Al Qaeda-Iraq allies. I’m certain that he and his soldiers did their best to combat these enemies and to protect the people in their area. But since his battalion lived at Forward Operating Base Falcon and commuted to the neighborhood, they could not accomplish their mission. The soldiers did not fail. The strategy did.

I side with Mansoor in this debate, much as it pains me to disagree with Gentile, a fellow U.C. Berkeley graduate. But I am glad that Gentile is able to express a contrary viewpoint while remaining an officer in good standing. The U.S. Army has a reputation for conformity that is to some extent well-deserved. Obviously you need a “yes, sir” ethos to command forces in battle. But you also need a lively intellectual discourse—the willingness to say “no, sir, you’re wrong” in order to figure out how to prepare for battle. There is no doubt that, as many soldiers themselves say, the army can do better in this department. But as demonstrated by the Mansoor-Gentile debate—and a hundred other doctrinal disputes which are never written up in the Wall Street Journal—there is a greater degree of spirited debate and tolerance for competing viewpoints within the army than on many of our major college campuses.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Yochi Dreazen airs the views of Lieutenant Colonel Gian Gentile, an Iraq War veteran now teaching at West Point. Gentile opposes the surge–and thinks the army is making a mistake by preparing for counterinsurgency warfare at the risk of diminishing its conventional combat capabilities. As Gentile makes clear in this essay, he doesn’t think that U.S. forces have gotten any better at counterinsurgency since he commanded a battalion in Baghdad in 2006. The only difference between now and then, he argues, is that we paid off the insurgents not to fight.

Colonel Peter Mansoor, General Petraeus’s executive officer (who is retiring soon to become a professor of military history at Ohio State University), demolishes Gentile’s arguments in the Small Wars Journal. As Mansoor points out:

Gentile’s battalion occupied Ameriyah, which in 2006 was an Al Qaeda safe-haven infested by Sunni insurgents and their Al Qaeda-Iraq allies. I’m certain that he and his soldiers did their best to combat these enemies and to protect the people in their area. But since his battalion lived at Forward Operating Base Falcon and commuted to the neighborhood, they could not accomplish their mission. The soldiers did not fail. The strategy did.

I side with Mansoor in this debate, much as it pains me to disagree with Gentile, a fellow U.C. Berkeley graduate. But I am glad that Gentile is able to express a contrary viewpoint while remaining an officer in good standing. The U.S. Army has a reputation for conformity that is to some extent well-deserved. Obviously you need a “yes, sir” ethos to command forces in battle. But you also need a lively intellectual discourse—the willingness to say “no, sir, you’re wrong” in order to figure out how to prepare for battle. There is no doubt that, as many soldiers themselves say, the army can do better in this department. But as demonstrated by the Mansoor-Gentile debate—and a hundred other doctrinal disputes which are never written up in the Wall Street Journal—there is a greater degree of spirited debate and tolerance for competing viewpoints within the army than on many of our major college campuses.

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Politics Of The Olympics

In the substantive debate, aptly argued by Gordon Chang and David Hazony, over whether the U.S. should participate in the Olympics, I find myself searching for a clear middle ground. To my shock, Hillary Clinton steps forward to offer this:

The violent clashes in Tibet and the failure of the Chinese government to use its full leverage with Sudan to stop the genocide in Darfur are opportunities for Presidential leadership. These events underscore why I believe the Bush administration has been wrong to downplay human rights in its policy towards China. At this time, and in light of recent events, I believe President Bush should not plan on attending the opening ceremonies in Beijing, absent major changes by the Chinese government. I encourage the Chinese to take advantage of this moment as an opportunity to live up to universal human aspirations of respect for human rights and unity, ideals that the Olympic games have come to represent. Americans will stand strong in support of freedom of religious and political expression and human rights. Americans will also stand strong and root for the success of American athletes who have worked hard and earned the right to compete in the Olympic Games of 2008.

This strikes me, aside from the argument’s merits, as just plain smart politics. It shifts the focus off Penn-gate. It sounds a note simultaneously likely to appeal to those on the Right (who like standing up to dictators) and Left (who want more attention to human rights). She was first of the candidates to speak up on this issue and now looks bolder than her opponents. If this is a sign of the post-Penn Hillary, things may be looking up.

In the substantive debate, aptly argued by Gordon Chang and David Hazony, over whether the U.S. should participate in the Olympics, I find myself searching for a clear middle ground. To my shock, Hillary Clinton steps forward to offer this:

The violent clashes in Tibet and the failure of the Chinese government to use its full leverage with Sudan to stop the genocide in Darfur are opportunities for Presidential leadership. These events underscore why I believe the Bush administration has been wrong to downplay human rights in its policy towards China. At this time, and in light of recent events, I believe President Bush should not plan on attending the opening ceremonies in Beijing, absent major changes by the Chinese government. I encourage the Chinese to take advantage of this moment as an opportunity to live up to universal human aspirations of respect for human rights and unity, ideals that the Olympic games have come to represent. Americans will stand strong in support of freedom of religious and political expression and human rights. Americans will also stand strong and root for the success of American athletes who have worked hard and earned the right to compete in the Olympic Games of 2008.

This strikes me, aside from the argument’s merits, as just plain smart politics. It shifts the focus off Penn-gate. It sounds a note simultaneously likely to appeal to those on the Right (who like standing up to dictators) and Left (who want more attention to human rights). She was first of the candidates to speak up on this issue and now looks bolder than her opponents. If this is a sign of the post-Penn Hillary, things may be looking up.

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Heston, Obama, and Race in America

I saw Michael Moore’s 2002 “documentary” Bowling for Columbine in a packed movie theater on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. In the movie’s most painful sequence, Moore badgers the aged and ailing Charlton Heston about gun violence in America. Watching the impact of Moore’s disingenuous sucker punch criticisms on Heston’s face was enough to make me turn away from the screen. But not so my right-thinking co-audience members.

At one point in the action, however, this thoughtful New York City bunch decided they had had enough. After Moore makes his case against America and her historic bloodlust, Heston tries to wind down the interview: “Well, it’s an interesting point, which can be explored and you’re good to explore it at great lengths, but I think that’s about all I have to say on it.”

Not satisfied, Moore presses on:”You don’t have any opinion, though, as to why that is, that we are the unique country,the only country, that does this, that kills each other on this level, with guns?”

Heston’s response: “Well, we have, probably, more mixed ethnicity than other countries, some other countries.”

The collective gasp of the audience nearly robbed the theater of air. It was the kind of animated disgust that trailed on in snickers and hisses for half a minute, which is why most of them probably missed what followed.

Moore: You think it’s an ethnic thing?

Heston: No, I don’t. It’s…I wouldn’t go so far as to say that. We had enough problems with civil rights in the beginning.

For a man under that kind of fire, ill or not, he made, I think, an excellent double-point. A) America’s unique ethnic history is a factor in violent crime, but B) to label it an “ethnic thing” is to distort the issue and risk the health of the discussion.

Someone will have to tell me how that’s less honorable than the sentiment of these words taken from Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech:

We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

When Charlton Heston said that the history of race in the U.S. is a factor in analyzing some of America’s domestic conflicts, liberal Americans hissed him into oblivion. When Obama said it, he was heralded as a bold speaker of truths willing to level with Americans like adults.

There is, however, a telling difference between the sentiments of the two men. Charlton Heston wanted to drop the subject, so that his words wouldn’t be used to “tackle race only as spectacle,” as Obama put it. Obama himself, however, did in fact go on to “recite here the history of racial injustice in this country,” in order to create a diversion that distracted people from the jam he was in.

In any case, the movie manipulation worked and Charlton Heston—a genuine civil rights activist—was portrayed as a racist by Michael Moore—the man who said that if more blacks had been on the hijacked planes, the 9/11 attacks would have been thwarted. As for Obama, Moore should put the question to him. The anti-Americanism in his church: “You think it’s an ethnic thing?”

I saw Michael Moore’s 2002 “documentary” Bowling for Columbine in a packed movie theater on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. In the movie’s most painful sequence, Moore badgers the aged and ailing Charlton Heston about gun violence in America. Watching the impact of Moore’s disingenuous sucker punch criticisms on Heston’s face was enough to make me turn away from the screen. But not so my right-thinking co-audience members.

At one point in the action, however, this thoughtful New York City bunch decided they had had enough. After Moore makes his case against America and her historic bloodlust, Heston tries to wind down the interview: “Well, it’s an interesting point, which can be explored and you’re good to explore it at great lengths, but I think that’s about all I have to say on it.”

Not satisfied, Moore presses on:”You don’t have any opinion, though, as to why that is, that we are the unique country,the only country, that does this, that kills each other on this level, with guns?”

Heston’s response: “Well, we have, probably, more mixed ethnicity than other countries, some other countries.”

The collective gasp of the audience nearly robbed the theater of air. It was the kind of animated disgust that trailed on in snickers and hisses for half a minute, which is why most of them probably missed what followed.

Moore: You think it’s an ethnic thing?

Heston: No, I don’t. It’s…I wouldn’t go so far as to say that. We had enough problems with civil rights in the beginning.

For a man under that kind of fire, ill or not, he made, I think, an excellent double-point. A) America’s unique ethnic history is a factor in violent crime, but B) to label it an “ethnic thing” is to distort the issue and risk the health of the discussion.

Someone will have to tell me how that’s less honorable than the sentiment of these words taken from Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech:

We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

When Charlton Heston said that the history of race in the U.S. is a factor in analyzing some of America’s domestic conflicts, liberal Americans hissed him into oblivion. When Obama said it, he was heralded as a bold speaker of truths willing to level with Americans like adults.

There is, however, a telling difference between the sentiments of the two men. Charlton Heston wanted to drop the subject, so that his words wouldn’t be used to “tackle race only as spectacle,” as Obama put it. Obama himself, however, did in fact go on to “recite here the history of racial injustice in this country,” in order to create a diversion that distracted people from the jam he was in.

In any case, the movie manipulation worked and Charlton Heston—a genuine civil rights activist—was portrayed as a racist by Michael Moore—the man who said that if more blacks had been on the hijacked planes, the 9/11 attacks would have been thwarted. As for Obama, Moore should put the question to him. The anti-Americanism in his church: “You think it’s an ethnic thing?”

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Child Abuse among the Ultra-Orthodox

For the last month, the Israeli media have been awash with cases of horrific child abuse, mostly among ultra-Orthodox, or “haredi,” families. I will spare readers most of the awful, awful details, which can be found by following the links.

First there was the 52-year-old mother of 12 from Beit Shemesh, who had been the head of a group of women who clothed themselves in black and wore a Muslim-style veil (these women were known as the “Taliban of Beit Shemesh”), who was just arrested for severely abusing her children and encouraging incest among them. In Netivot, a 38-year-old mother of eight was charged with raping two of her sons, age 8 and 11, to get back at her husband for leaving her. In Ramla, a 45-year-old man was charged, together with his wife, of with horribly beating his 8 children from a former marriage. And in Jerusalem, a 38-year-old American immigrant who “comes from a prominent family in the New York Jewish community” was charged with repeatedly abusing her three- and four-year-old boys, using means we normally associate with the interrogation of terrorists.

One of the most debilitating aspects of ultra-Orthodox Judaism today, both in Israel and the U.S., is the widespread belief that child abuse should be covered up in order to protect the public image of the community. In many cases, parental abuse goes unreported, whereas educators who molest their students are either ignored or transferred to other educational institutions, and the sense of shame and the alienation from the authorities prevents anyone from stepping in or taking decisive action. As Ynet columnist Tali Farkash put it in a column today:

The famous conspiracy of silence among the haredi population, which the welfare services and police are dealing with, is a mark of disgrace to the entire sector. Wanting to maintain an image of morality at any cost, they fall into the hole dug by negative elements in the name of Torah, in the name of righteousness. An intensive brainwash has turned psychologists into “religion’s enemies”, social workers into those “causing people to leave religion” and the police into the messenger of the foreign regime. In this glass house, monsters grow and thrive among us.

This is a community that is slow to change, and prides itself in following the rulings of its rabbis. If rabbinic leaders do not take aggressive, public action to discourage abuse, to encourage its reporting, and to find a way to make sure predators are separated from their prey, then the awful consequences–borne by thousands of innocent children every day and carried with them for the rest of their lives–will be on their heads.


For the last month, the Israeli media have been awash with cases of horrific child abuse, mostly among ultra-Orthodox, or “haredi,” families. I will spare readers most of the awful, awful details, which can be found by following the links.

First there was the 52-year-old mother of 12 from Beit Shemesh, who had been the head of a group of women who clothed themselves in black and wore a Muslim-style veil (these women were known as the “Taliban of Beit Shemesh”), who was just arrested for severely abusing her children and encouraging incest among them. In Netivot, a 38-year-old mother of eight was charged with raping two of her sons, age 8 and 11, to get back at her husband for leaving her. In Ramla, a 45-year-old man was charged, together with his wife, of with horribly beating his 8 children from a former marriage. And in Jerusalem, a 38-year-old American immigrant who “comes from a prominent family in the New York Jewish community” was charged with repeatedly abusing her three- and four-year-old boys, using means we normally associate with the interrogation of terrorists.

One of the most debilitating aspects of ultra-Orthodox Judaism today, both in Israel and the U.S., is the widespread belief that child abuse should be covered up in order to protect the public image of the community. In many cases, parental abuse goes unreported, whereas educators who molest their students are either ignored or transferred to other educational institutions, and the sense of shame and the alienation from the authorities prevents anyone from stepping in or taking decisive action. As Ynet columnist Tali Farkash put it in a column today:

The famous conspiracy of silence among the haredi population, which the welfare services and police are dealing with, is a mark of disgrace to the entire sector. Wanting to maintain an image of morality at any cost, they fall into the hole dug by negative elements in the name of Torah, in the name of righteousness. An intensive brainwash has turned psychologists into “religion’s enemies”, social workers into those “causing people to leave religion” and the police into the messenger of the foreign regime. In this glass house, monsters grow and thrive among us.

This is a community that is slow to change, and prides itself in following the rulings of its rabbis. If rabbinic leaders do not take aggressive, public action to discourage abuse, to encourage its reporting, and to find a way to make sure predators are separated from their prey, then the awful consequences–borne by thousands of innocent children every day and carried with them for the rest of their lives–will be on their heads.


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Ignatius: Scrap The CIA and Start Over

David Ignatius has written several spy-thrillers in addition to his day job. (He’s now a columnist for the Washington Post.) He has developed some good sources within the intelligence community and for good reason—he is generally a defender of the CIA against its multitude of critics. So it is significant when even Igantius suggests that the CIA’s day may have passed. In Sunday’s column, he writes:

When the next president thinks about fixing the CIA, he or she ought to consider the radical thought that it’s time to blow up the CIA and start over. That’s not to denigrate the thousands of professionals who work there; but they deserve a chance to do their jobs without having those three scarlet letters attached permanently to their work. It’s too late, unfortunately, to undo the reorganization that created the DNI [Director of National Intelligence]. So let those three initials cloak a new, elite corps of analysts drawn from the CIA cadre; let’s give the science and technology division to the DNI, too. The tech revolution hasn’t prospered in the past decade under CIA management.

Meanwhile, let’s float the clandestine service free from its barnacle-encrusted CIA anchor and let it find a new home — somewhere distant from Langley, where the old ghosts and myths are far away.

Ignatius’s comments suggest that the next president might have bipartisan support for a massive restructuring of the intelligence community. Of course the CIA can be expected to fight change with every bit of cunning it possesses. And while the agency has muffed many of its overseas assignments, it has shown a disconcerting aptitude for political infighting in Washington.

David Ignatius has written several spy-thrillers in addition to his day job. (He’s now a columnist for the Washington Post.) He has developed some good sources within the intelligence community and for good reason—he is generally a defender of the CIA against its multitude of critics. So it is significant when even Igantius suggests that the CIA’s day may have passed. In Sunday’s column, he writes:

When the next president thinks about fixing the CIA, he or she ought to consider the radical thought that it’s time to blow up the CIA and start over. That’s not to denigrate the thousands of professionals who work there; but they deserve a chance to do their jobs without having those three scarlet letters attached permanently to their work. It’s too late, unfortunately, to undo the reorganization that created the DNI [Director of National Intelligence]. So let those three initials cloak a new, elite corps of analysts drawn from the CIA cadre; let’s give the science and technology division to the DNI, too. The tech revolution hasn’t prospered in the past decade under CIA management.

Meanwhile, let’s float the clandestine service free from its barnacle-encrusted CIA anchor and let it find a new home — somewhere distant from Langley, where the old ghosts and myths are far away.

Ignatius’s comments suggest that the next president might have bipartisan support for a massive restructuring of the intelligence community. Of course the CIA can be expected to fight change with every bit of cunning it possesses. And while the agency has muffed many of its overseas assignments, it has shown a disconcerting aptitude for political infighting in Washington.

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Netanyahu Embraces Evangelicals

On Sunday, Likud opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu described Christian Zionists as Israel’s best friends:

This is a friendship of the heart, a friendship of common roots, and a friendship of common civilization.

The comments came at an Evangelical event in Jerusalem organized by the San Antonio, Texas-based Christians United for Israel and led by evangelical Pastor John Hagee.

There’s always a lot of grumbling about the Jewish-Evangelical alliance in support of Israel. Many Jews have misgivings about the relationship for a number of reasons. Abe Foxman, for example, considers Evangelical support for Jews “openly arrogant,” in that it reflects a degree of condescension. This is a ridiculous posture that reveals a lack of confidence in identity: a people should be secure enough to acccept partnerships with others. Not doing so suggests that there’s a great deal still to prove.

Other American Jews fear that joining forces with Evangelicals means, in turn, lending support to the Evangelical “Christianizing” of the U.S. This is an overblown media phenomenon, often exploited to turn Jews against the Republican Party. American Evangelicals, in their millions, have never been able to establish a national Christian agenda to which top leaders are held accountable.

But the objection to Evangelical Zionists that gets the most attention has to do with the Evangelical conception of Armageddon. According to this, once Jews are safe and sound in Israel they will be converted to Christianity or killed upon Christ’s return. Scary stuff, indeed. But there is nothing in Evangelical eschatology that calls for the hastening of Armageddon. That is, aside from a handful of unhinged radicals, Evangelicals expect God to put an end to things in his own time. (As opposed to, for example, the sect of Shia Islam to which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad belongs.) Now, I don’t believe personally in Evangelical eschatology. But, to amend Pascal’s wager, if Christ is coming back, and Jews must convert or die, then repudiating John Hagee’s support can’t do a thing about it. If not, then things proceed as normal for Jews—with the helpful addition of Evangelical friendship. Netanyahu is wise to avoid hysteria that can alienate important strategic friends.

On Sunday, Likud opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu described Christian Zionists as Israel’s best friends:

This is a friendship of the heart, a friendship of common roots, and a friendship of common civilization.

The comments came at an Evangelical event in Jerusalem organized by the San Antonio, Texas-based Christians United for Israel and led by evangelical Pastor John Hagee.

There’s always a lot of grumbling about the Jewish-Evangelical alliance in support of Israel. Many Jews have misgivings about the relationship for a number of reasons. Abe Foxman, for example, considers Evangelical support for Jews “openly arrogant,” in that it reflects a degree of condescension. This is a ridiculous posture that reveals a lack of confidence in identity: a people should be secure enough to acccept partnerships with others. Not doing so suggests that there’s a great deal still to prove.

Other American Jews fear that joining forces with Evangelicals means, in turn, lending support to the Evangelical “Christianizing” of the U.S. This is an overblown media phenomenon, often exploited to turn Jews against the Republican Party. American Evangelicals, in their millions, have never been able to establish a national Christian agenda to which top leaders are held accountable.

But the objection to Evangelical Zionists that gets the most attention has to do with the Evangelical conception of Armageddon. According to this, once Jews are safe and sound in Israel they will be converted to Christianity or killed upon Christ’s return. Scary stuff, indeed. But there is nothing in Evangelical eschatology that calls for the hastening of Armageddon. That is, aside from a handful of unhinged radicals, Evangelicals expect God to put an end to things in his own time. (As opposed to, for example, the sect of Shia Islam to which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad belongs.) Now, I don’t believe personally in Evangelical eschatology. But, to amend Pascal’s wager, if Christ is coming back, and Jews must convert or die, then repudiating John Hagee’s support can’t do a thing about it. If not, then things proceed as normal for Jews—with the helpful addition of Evangelical friendship. Netanyahu is wise to avoid hysteria that can alienate important strategic friends.

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Blogging Will KILL YOU! (Not)

There’s a certain type of news story that ought to be called “link catnip” — because it appears to have been designed to garner the maximum number of links on blogs around the world. Such was the case with Sunday’s alarmist tale in the New York Times, “In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop.” It appears one blogger had a heart attack, while another had chest pains. A third says he’ll be having a nervous breakdown pretty soon. This is, the piece’s author says breathlessly, “the age of the digital sweatshop.”

To say this is ridiculous is to do an injustice to the word “ridiculous.” Journalists – and the bloggers highlighted by the piece are basically old-time deadline journalists in Internet form — have always functioned at high speeds, working to get a story first. It used to be that much of the stress was about getting the piece into the paper — writing on a pad, finding a pay phone, phoning notes into a copy boy so that a rewrite man on the desk could flesh it out into a story that could appear in the next edition. This was not something they whined about. It was something they were proud of, and they didn’t think it was particularly hard work, maybe because for most of this century reporters came from the working class and their relatives worked in industrial plants or coal mines, doing hard labor in professions that really did threaten to shorten their lives.

The fact that bloggers find themselves unable to stop blogging day and night really has less to do with the commercial demands of the medium than it does to the heightened experience of life lived on the Internet. Because it is possible to write a blog item and have it appear instantaneously, many bloggers presume that an item is fresh only to the extent that it conceived, fleshed out, and posted — and that no one will find their blogs of value unless they are sitting at their desks constantly, always at the ready to file. This is not only a source of stress, but a source of fun. It’s fun to be able to be among the first people on earth to issue forth a comment about a news event. People are doing this for a living not because they can’t find something else to do, but because there is nothing else they would rather do. The sniveling about it is repugnant.

There’s a certain type of news story that ought to be called “link catnip” — because it appears to have been designed to garner the maximum number of links on blogs around the world. Such was the case with Sunday’s alarmist tale in the New York Times, “In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop.” It appears one blogger had a heart attack, while another had chest pains. A third says he’ll be having a nervous breakdown pretty soon. This is, the piece’s author says breathlessly, “the age of the digital sweatshop.”

To say this is ridiculous is to do an injustice to the word “ridiculous.” Journalists – and the bloggers highlighted by the piece are basically old-time deadline journalists in Internet form — have always functioned at high speeds, working to get a story first. It used to be that much of the stress was about getting the piece into the paper — writing on a pad, finding a pay phone, phoning notes into a copy boy so that a rewrite man on the desk could flesh it out into a story that could appear in the next edition. This was not something they whined about. It was something they were proud of, and they didn’t think it was particularly hard work, maybe because for most of this century reporters came from the working class and their relatives worked in industrial plants or coal mines, doing hard labor in professions that really did threaten to shorten their lives.

The fact that bloggers find themselves unable to stop blogging day and night really has less to do with the commercial demands of the medium than it does to the heightened experience of life lived on the Internet. Because it is possible to write a blog item and have it appear instantaneously, many bloggers presume that an item is fresh only to the extent that it conceived, fleshed out, and posted — and that no one will find their blogs of value unless they are sitting at their desks constantly, always at the ready to file. This is not only a source of stress, but a source of fun. It’s fun to be able to be among the first people on earth to issue forth a comment about a news event. People are doing this for a living not because they can’t find something else to do, but because there is nothing else they would rather do. The sniveling about it is repugnant.

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NATO Disappoints

Last week’s NATO summit was disappointing on many levels. The member states refused to endorse a membership action plan for Ukraine or Georgia, thus seeming to give in to hysterical Russian objections—something that will only encourage more Russian truculence in the future. They did admit Croatia and Albania to the alliance, but they did not let Macedonia through the door because of overwrought Greek objections to that state using the same name as a province of Greece.

The members did not agree to a major increase in troop strength in Afghanistan, which is badly needed. The French did come through with another battalion (1,000 troops) for eastern Afghanistan, but that was about it. That means, as usual, the U.S. will have to send the bulk of the needed troops, even though we are already far more committed in Iraq than any other NATO member. The NATO members did agree to set up a trust fund to help Afghanistan, thereby giving states unwilling to send troops a way to contribute to the success of a key NATO mission. But it remains to be seen how much will be pledged and (more importantly) how many of those pledges will actually be delivered.

On another issue relating to Afghanistan, and one that did not get nearly as much attention as it deserved, the NATO members agreed in principle to increase the size of the Afghan National Army from an authorized level of 86,000 to 120,000. But as pointed out in this Guardian article, the actual increase was put off until 2010 at the earliest. That is worrisome because the Afghan army, while growing in competence, is far too small for the task of pacifying a country with a larger land area and population than Iraq.

While Iraq has around 200,000 soldiers, Afghanistan has only 55,000. As noted in this Christian Science Monitor article, Afghan and American experts think that Afghanistan needs at least 200,000 soldiers, but asked for NATO’s help to equip and train only 120,000 because that is the most they thought they could get. Even that lesser level has produced more rhetorical than actual support from NATO. Unless NATO members step up, there is a real danger that the alliance’s most critical “out of area” mission will fail and drag down the alliance with it.

Last week’s NATO summit was disappointing on many levels. The member states refused to endorse a membership action plan for Ukraine or Georgia, thus seeming to give in to hysterical Russian objections—something that will only encourage more Russian truculence in the future. They did admit Croatia and Albania to the alliance, but they did not let Macedonia through the door because of overwrought Greek objections to that state using the same name as a province of Greece.

The members did not agree to a major increase in troop strength in Afghanistan, which is badly needed. The French did come through with another battalion (1,000 troops) for eastern Afghanistan, but that was about it. That means, as usual, the U.S. will have to send the bulk of the needed troops, even though we are already far more committed in Iraq than any other NATO member. The NATO members did agree to set up a trust fund to help Afghanistan, thereby giving states unwilling to send troops a way to contribute to the success of a key NATO mission. But it remains to be seen how much will be pledged and (more importantly) how many of those pledges will actually be delivered.

On another issue relating to Afghanistan, and one that did not get nearly as much attention as it deserved, the NATO members agreed in principle to increase the size of the Afghan National Army from an authorized level of 86,000 to 120,000. But as pointed out in this Guardian article, the actual increase was put off until 2010 at the earliest. That is worrisome because the Afghan army, while growing in competence, is far too small for the task of pacifying a country with a larger land area and population than Iraq.

While Iraq has around 200,000 soldiers, Afghanistan has only 55,000. As noted in this Christian Science Monitor article, Afghan and American experts think that Afghanistan needs at least 200,000 soldiers, but asked for NATO’s help to equip and train only 120,000 because that is the most they thought they could get. Even that lesser level has produced more rhetorical than actual support from NATO. Unless NATO members step up, there is a real danger that the alliance’s most critical “out of area” mission will fail and drag down the alliance with it.

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McCain Makes His Case

John McCain spoke to the VFW in Kansas City today on the Iraq War. The speech in many ways sets out the contour of the fight he will have with his Democratic opponent. First, he tries to shape the political debate by contending that the choice in 2008 is about the future, not the past:

But the question for the next President is not about the past, but about the future and how to secure it. Our most vital security interests are at stake in Iraq. The stability of the entire Middle East, that volatile and critically important region, is at stake. The United States’ credibility as a moral and political leader is at stake. How to safeguard those interests is what we should be debating.

That argument jibes with the notion that elections are about the future, not the past. But with a majority of the public still believing the war was a mistake and the benefits outweighed by the costs, convincing voters of this will probably be an uphill battle.

Second, he tries to challenge his opponents’ proposed course of action. Pivoting off Barack Obama’s amorphous “strike force” he notes:

There are those who today argue for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq. Some would withdraw regardless of the consequences. Others say that we can withdraw now and then return if trouble starts again. What they are really proposing, if they mean what they say, is a policy of withdraw and re-invade. For if we withdraw hastily and irresponsibly, we will guarantee the trouble will come immediately. Our allies, Arab countries, the UN, and the Iraqis themselves will not step up to their responsibilities if we recklessly retreat. I can hardly imagine a more imprudent and dangerous course.

Here he is trying to focus the public on the results of what he contends is the Democrats’ “feel-good” strategy. Because the Democrats have yet to explain fully how departing Iraq would improve our security, he characterizes this as a failure of “leadership”:

To promise a withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, regardless of the calamitous consequences to the Iraqi people, our most vital interests, and the future of the Middle East, is the height of irresponsibility. It is a failure of leadership.

Will this speech change voters’ minds about Iraq? Quite possibly no. What we have seen over the last year is that facts on the ground, much more than political rhetoric, shift public opinion. But however you look at it, McCain has put the ball back into his opponents’ court to explain what they plan to do about al Qaeda in Iraq and how their plan for immediate withdrawal will aid America’s long term interests.

John McCain spoke to the VFW in Kansas City today on the Iraq War. The speech in many ways sets out the contour of the fight he will have with his Democratic opponent. First, he tries to shape the political debate by contending that the choice in 2008 is about the future, not the past:

But the question for the next President is not about the past, but about the future and how to secure it. Our most vital security interests are at stake in Iraq. The stability of the entire Middle East, that volatile and critically important region, is at stake. The United States’ credibility as a moral and political leader is at stake. How to safeguard those interests is what we should be debating.

That argument jibes with the notion that elections are about the future, not the past. But with a majority of the public still believing the war was a mistake and the benefits outweighed by the costs, convincing voters of this will probably be an uphill battle.

Second, he tries to challenge his opponents’ proposed course of action. Pivoting off Barack Obama’s amorphous “strike force” he notes:

There are those who today argue for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq. Some would withdraw regardless of the consequences. Others say that we can withdraw now and then return if trouble starts again. What they are really proposing, if they mean what they say, is a policy of withdraw and re-invade. For if we withdraw hastily and irresponsibly, we will guarantee the trouble will come immediately. Our allies, Arab countries, the UN, and the Iraqis themselves will not step up to their responsibilities if we recklessly retreat. I can hardly imagine a more imprudent and dangerous course.

Here he is trying to focus the public on the results of what he contends is the Democrats’ “feel-good” strategy. Because the Democrats have yet to explain fully how departing Iraq would improve our security, he characterizes this as a failure of “leadership”:

To promise a withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, regardless of the calamitous consequences to the Iraqi people, our most vital interests, and the future of the Middle East, is the height of irresponsibility. It is a failure of leadership.

Will this speech change voters’ minds about Iraq? Quite possibly no. What we have seen over the last year is that facts on the ground, much more than political rhetoric, shift public opinion. But however you look at it, McCain has put the ball back into his opponents’ court to explain what they plan to do about al Qaeda in Iraq and how their plan for immediate withdrawal will aid America’s long term interests.

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Enough About Me, What Do You Think Of Me?

Barack Obama may be the perfect candidate for our narcissistic age. We may be way too fixated on issues and his character when all that matters is us. We learn from a Pew Poll:

While Mr. Obama’s positive personal image plays an important role in his high favorable ratings, the polling found that his ratings are more influenced by how he makes voters feel than by specific characteristics they attributed to him. In particular, views that Mr. Obama inspires hope and pride are the strongest determinants of a person’s opinion of him. In other words, he is a charismatic candidate who has made large numbers of Democratic voters feel good, and this is even more important to them than specific perceptions of him.

In an era in which many believe they are “special” for not doing anything in particular, they may have found the “special” candidate for them. No wonder Oprah adores him.

Barack Obama may be the perfect candidate for our narcissistic age. We may be way too fixated on issues and his character when all that matters is us. We learn from a Pew Poll:

While Mr. Obama’s positive personal image plays an important role in his high favorable ratings, the polling found that his ratings are more influenced by how he makes voters feel than by specific characteristics they attributed to him. In particular, views that Mr. Obama inspires hope and pride are the strongest determinants of a person’s opinion of him. In other words, he is a charismatic candidate who has made large numbers of Democratic voters feel good, and this is even more important to them than specific perceptions of him.

In an era in which many believe they are “special” for not doing anything in particular, they may have found the “special” candidate for them. No wonder Oprah adores him.

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Not Done?

Despite assurance from the Left blogosphere, pesky media outlets keep saying the Wright affair is not behind us. Even superdelegates here and there concede that it “has not been defused.” But why should this be surprising?

After ignoring the issue for a year, Barack Obama insisted that we needed to begin a dialogue on race, gave exactly one speech–and then dropped the subject. (This is a dialogue?) Even more importantly, he never really answered any of the key concerns which Democrats themselves have (Why choose a liberation theology church? Didn’t he sit through language similar to if not identical with what was on those dozens of tapes? Why bring his children to hear someone in a “time warp”?).

So if you don’t produce a promised dialogue and don’t answer any hard questions, you can’t be surprised when voters aren’t satisfied. That’s the difference between a candidate who goes in front of the media and answers every imaginable question and one who is trying to skate by.

Despite assurance from the Left blogosphere, pesky media outlets keep saying the Wright affair is not behind us. Even superdelegates here and there concede that it “has not been defused.” But why should this be surprising?

After ignoring the issue for a year, Barack Obama insisted that we needed to begin a dialogue on race, gave exactly one speech–and then dropped the subject. (This is a dialogue?) Even more importantly, he never really answered any of the key concerns which Democrats themselves have (Why choose a liberation theology church? Didn’t he sit through language similar to if not identical with what was on those dozens of tapes? Why bring his children to hear someone in a “time warp”?).

So if you don’t produce a promised dialogue and don’t answer any hard questions, you can’t be surprised when voters aren’t satisfied. That’s the difference between a candidate who goes in front of the media and answers every imaginable question and one who is trying to skate by.

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Between Wives

Several British papers report from Scotland that a local Muslim restaurant owner recently caught speeding in an urban area was given a lighter-than-usual sentence: instead of losing his license, the normal punishment, he had to pay a fine and get penalty points. Why was he speeding? He was traveling between wives. He has two, you see, and shares their bed on alternate nights.

What’s striking in the news reports is that, though it is acknowledged by reporters that polygamy in Great Britain is illegal, the offender’s lawyer actually used his bigamous status as an extenuating circumstance, and that the court bought this argument. It should, in my opinion, have prompted the judge to have the man arrested for a much more severe criminal offense than speeding: bigamy. Does this decision mean that Great Britain tolerates polygamy de facto and de jure?

Several British papers report from Scotland that a local Muslim restaurant owner recently caught speeding in an urban area was given a lighter-than-usual sentence: instead of losing his license, the normal punishment, he had to pay a fine and get penalty points. Why was he speeding? He was traveling between wives. He has two, you see, and shares their bed on alternate nights.

What’s striking in the news reports is that, though it is acknowledged by reporters that polygamy in Great Britain is illegal, the offender’s lawyer actually used his bigamous status as an extenuating circumstance, and that the court bought this argument. It should, in my opinion, have prompted the judge to have the man arrested for a much more severe criminal offense than speeding: bigamy. Does this decision mean that Great Britain tolerates polygamy de facto and de jure?

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A Question for Jeffrey Goldberg

The Atlantic‘s May issue will feature a cover article from Jeffrey Goldberg, titled “Is Israel Finished?” Given that the article is not out yet, I’ll refrain, for now, from making all the usual comments about how the author seems to be missing the point about Zionism, which is not an effort to make Jews safe, but a movement for the self-determination of the Jewish people, two very different things.

Regardless, what is really striking about the article–no doubt one of many to mark next month’s anniversary–is that Goldberg is reportedly concerned about whether, given the challenges, Israel will be around in 60 years’ time. The real question anyone should be asking at the moment–what with the Gaza–West Bank split, the demise of Fatah, the terminal decline of the PA-is the following: Given that the Palestinian cause did not really exist in 1948, and given its dysfunctional performance as a national liberation movement, will it still be around in 2068?

The Atlantic‘s May issue will feature a cover article from Jeffrey Goldberg, titled “Is Israel Finished?” Given that the article is not out yet, I’ll refrain, for now, from making all the usual comments about how the author seems to be missing the point about Zionism, which is not an effort to make Jews safe, but a movement for the self-determination of the Jewish people, two very different things.

Regardless, what is really striking about the article–no doubt one of many to mark next month’s anniversary–is that Goldberg is reportedly concerned about whether, given the challenges, Israel will be around in 60 years’ time. The real question anyone should be asking at the moment–what with the Gaza–West Bank split, the demise of Fatah, the terminal decline of the PA-is the following: Given that the Palestinian cause did not really exist in 1948, and given its dysfunctional performance as a national liberation movement, will it still be around in 2068?

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Nothing to See Here

Not long after Rudy Giuliani announced his foreign policy advisory team last year, liberal bloggers and journalists cried that the group represented “AIPAC’s Dream Team” (Harper’s Ken Silverstein), was ginning to implement “bloody, bloody, bloody foreign policy” (Matthew Yglesias) and that “RUDY GIULIANI WILL KILL US ALL” (The American Prospect). One could simultaneously disagree with such unhinged assessments of what a Giuliani foreign policy might look like and still believe that the essence of liberal criticism was not unfair: to a large degree, we can divine what a candidate thinks based upon the sort of people from whom he seeks counsel.

This non-partisan analytical instrument is useless, apparently, when it comes to the people advising Barack Obama. Over the past few months, several of Barack Obama’s advisers (foreign policy advisers in particular) have entered the spotlight for things they have said or written which are supposedly at odds with the beliefs of the candidate for whom they work. First, there was the incident in which Obama’s top economics advisor, Austan Goolsbee, reassured Canadian consular officials in Chicago that Obama’s anti-NAFTA position wasn’t sincere. Then, there was the now-departed Samantha Power, who told the BBC that Barack Obama’s real position on Iraq withdrawal was not, in actual fact, what he’d been saying on the campaign trail. Like Goolsbee, we were told at the time that Ms. Power was “just” an adviser — a past one, at this point — and that what she said about the Iraq War is ultimately irrelevant.

On a similar note, last week we discovered — thanks to the tireless reporting of the New York Sun’s Eli Lake — that Colin Kahl, head of Obama’s Iraq working group, wrote a paper calling for 80,000 American troops to stay in Iraq until at least 2010. Susan Rice, another Obama foreign policy adviser, told Lake that, “Barack Obama cannot be held accountable for what we all write.” Finally, a 2003 interview with top Obama adviser Tony McPeak recently surfaced in which the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force said of Iraq, “We’ll be there a century, hopefully. If it works right.” This is the exact same sentiment that John McCain expressed in his much-distorted “100 years” remark.

Of course, given the pattern I’ve elucidated, I presume that we cannot hastily jump to the conclusion that McPeak — like Power, Kahl and Goolsbee before him, and who knows how many advisers into the future — necessarily represents the views of Barack Obama. A great journalistic assignment for an enterprising young reporter would be to find out what Obama does believe.

Not long after Rudy Giuliani announced his foreign policy advisory team last year, liberal bloggers and journalists cried that the group represented “AIPAC’s Dream Team” (Harper’s Ken Silverstein), was ginning to implement “bloody, bloody, bloody foreign policy” (Matthew Yglesias) and that “RUDY GIULIANI WILL KILL US ALL” (The American Prospect). One could simultaneously disagree with such unhinged assessments of what a Giuliani foreign policy might look like and still believe that the essence of liberal criticism was not unfair: to a large degree, we can divine what a candidate thinks based upon the sort of people from whom he seeks counsel.

This non-partisan analytical instrument is useless, apparently, when it comes to the people advising Barack Obama. Over the past few months, several of Barack Obama’s advisers (foreign policy advisers in particular) have entered the spotlight for things they have said or written which are supposedly at odds with the beliefs of the candidate for whom they work. First, there was the incident in which Obama’s top economics advisor, Austan Goolsbee, reassured Canadian consular officials in Chicago that Obama’s anti-NAFTA position wasn’t sincere. Then, there was the now-departed Samantha Power, who told the BBC that Barack Obama’s real position on Iraq withdrawal was not, in actual fact, what he’d been saying on the campaign trail. Like Goolsbee, we were told at the time that Ms. Power was “just” an adviser — a past one, at this point — and that what she said about the Iraq War is ultimately irrelevant.

On a similar note, last week we discovered — thanks to the tireless reporting of the New York Sun’s Eli Lake — that Colin Kahl, head of Obama’s Iraq working group, wrote a paper calling for 80,000 American troops to stay in Iraq until at least 2010. Susan Rice, another Obama foreign policy adviser, told Lake that, “Barack Obama cannot be held accountable for what we all write.” Finally, a 2003 interview with top Obama adviser Tony McPeak recently surfaced in which the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force said of Iraq, “We’ll be there a century, hopefully. If it works right.” This is the exact same sentiment that John McCain expressed in his much-distorted “100 years” remark.

Of course, given the pattern I’ve elucidated, I presume that we cannot hastily jump to the conclusion that McPeak — like Power, Kahl and Goolsbee before him, and who knows how many advisers into the future — necessarily represents the views of Barack Obama. A great journalistic assignment for an enterprising young reporter would be to find out what Obama does believe.

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