Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 9, 2008

Gee Whiz, Superman!

“A Superman Approach to Foreign Policy.” That’s the title of this Ezra Klein essay over at The American Prospect, currently the feature piece on the homepage. (Comic books seem to be a popular analytical framework for the up-and-coming blogger set: Matthew Yglesias writes at length about “The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics” in his new book).

To be fair, TAP is a magazine that that has a former editor of Lyndon LaRouche’s newspaper on its masthead and publishes the work of a denier of the genocide in Cambodia. But Superman? Really? Here’s the core of the piece:

Yet the internationalist vision was more deeply interwoven into our cultural fabric than we often realize. Superman and Captain America were superheroes of an odd sort: tremendously powerful beings whose primary struggle was often to follow the self-imposed rules and strictures that lent their power a moral legitimacy. Neither allowed themselves to kill, and both sought to work within the law. Given their strength, either could have sought world domination, and even if they didn’t, they could have been viewed with deep suspicion and even hatred by those who were convinced that they one day would seek world domination. It was only by following ostentatiously strict moral codes that they could legitimize their power and thus exist cooperatively with a world that had every right to fear them. Indeed, soon enough, both were forming communities of like-minded super beings (The Justice League for Superman, the Avengers for Captain America) and generally operating much like, well, the nation that birthed them. As Spiderman — a later hero who, like so many heroes, bought into the idea that rules and restraint separated the good guys from the bad guys — liked to say, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

That strain of foreign-policy thinking was largely abandoned in the rubble of the Twin Towers. As Yglesias puts it, “9/11 marked the beginning of an enormous psychological change on the part of the American people.” With a newfound sense of vulnerability, there was a newfound sense of fear. Restraint was a luxury, a nice ideal when we were primarily dealing with the problems of other people, but less desirable when our own lives were on the line. After 9-11, the country’s foreign-policy debate contracted, and liberal internationalists, who had always been better at pursuing their agenda than selling it politically, were largely left out. Instead, the conversation was dominated by those on the right who believed in unilateral U.S military hegemony over the world, and those on the left who believed in a superficially multilateral U.S military hegemony over the world, with the option to revert back to unilateralism if other countries proved disagreeable. It was Michael O’Hanlon versus Richard Perle, and few even seemed to find that strange.

This, too, saw its expression in a new type of hero: Jack Bauer. If Superman and Captain America were the emblems of the national mood directly after World War II, Bauer expressed the national anxieties uncovered by 9-11. Rather than an invincible superhero, Bauer was but a man, one who could perish like any other, and was aware of not only his own vulnerability, but that of his family, his government, and his country. Though there were laws he was supposed to follow, the enormity of the dangers he faced and the ruthlessness of the enemies he encountered led him to break them almost constantly, and so he tortured, killed, and generally let the ends lay claim to whatever means they could think of. Indeed, he did it so often, and with such abandon, that he’ll start Season 7 on trial for torture.

All very neat, indeed. But it has little to do with reality: America had been engaging in the kind of war-making putatively forbidden by the Superman model since well before the birth of DC and Marvel, and continued doing so in the years between Superman’s heyday and 9/11. Klein’s framework is cute–but very, very reductive.

When you attempt to force the paradigm of comic books onto something as inherently chaotic as global politics, your hopes of making sense are limited. And Klein’s essay doesn’t, in the end, cohere. But it does serve as a useful reminder of the intellectual vagaries of “the kind of whole bloggy progressive thing.” Serious people who want to engage in serious debate about foreign policy have no shortage of publications they can check out, offering any number of wildly conflicting views. Without, I might add, having recourse to infusions of inept popcult references.

“A Superman Approach to Foreign Policy.” That’s the title of this Ezra Klein essay over at The American Prospect, currently the feature piece on the homepage. (Comic books seem to be a popular analytical framework for the up-and-coming blogger set: Matthew Yglesias writes at length about “The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics” in his new book).

To be fair, TAP is a magazine that that has a former editor of Lyndon LaRouche’s newspaper on its masthead and publishes the work of a denier of the genocide in Cambodia. But Superman? Really? Here’s the core of the piece:

Yet the internationalist vision was more deeply interwoven into our cultural fabric than we often realize. Superman and Captain America were superheroes of an odd sort: tremendously powerful beings whose primary struggle was often to follow the self-imposed rules and strictures that lent their power a moral legitimacy. Neither allowed themselves to kill, and both sought to work within the law. Given their strength, either could have sought world domination, and even if they didn’t, they could have been viewed with deep suspicion and even hatred by those who were convinced that they one day would seek world domination. It was only by following ostentatiously strict moral codes that they could legitimize their power and thus exist cooperatively with a world that had every right to fear them. Indeed, soon enough, both were forming communities of like-minded super beings (The Justice League for Superman, the Avengers for Captain America) and generally operating much like, well, the nation that birthed them. As Spiderman — a later hero who, like so many heroes, bought into the idea that rules and restraint separated the good guys from the bad guys — liked to say, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

That strain of foreign-policy thinking was largely abandoned in the rubble of the Twin Towers. As Yglesias puts it, “9/11 marked the beginning of an enormous psychological change on the part of the American people.” With a newfound sense of vulnerability, there was a newfound sense of fear. Restraint was a luxury, a nice ideal when we were primarily dealing with the problems of other people, but less desirable when our own lives were on the line. After 9-11, the country’s foreign-policy debate contracted, and liberal internationalists, who had always been better at pursuing their agenda than selling it politically, were largely left out. Instead, the conversation was dominated by those on the right who believed in unilateral U.S military hegemony over the world, and those on the left who believed in a superficially multilateral U.S military hegemony over the world, with the option to revert back to unilateralism if other countries proved disagreeable. It was Michael O’Hanlon versus Richard Perle, and few even seemed to find that strange.

This, too, saw its expression in a new type of hero: Jack Bauer. If Superman and Captain America were the emblems of the national mood directly after World War II, Bauer expressed the national anxieties uncovered by 9-11. Rather than an invincible superhero, Bauer was but a man, one who could perish like any other, and was aware of not only his own vulnerability, but that of his family, his government, and his country. Though there were laws he was supposed to follow, the enormity of the dangers he faced and the ruthlessness of the enemies he encountered led him to break them almost constantly, and so he tortured, killed, and generally let the ends lay claim to whatever means they could think of. Indeed, he did it so often, and with such abandon, that he’ll start Season 7 on trial for torture.

All very neat, indeed. But it has little to do with reality: America had been engaging in the kind of war-making putatively forbidden by the Superman model since well before the birth of DC and Marvel, and continued doing so in the years between Superman’s heyday and 9/11. Klein’s framework is cute–but very, very reductive.

When you attempt to force the paradigm of comic books onto something as inherently chaotic as global politics, your hopes of making sense are limited. And Klein’s essay doesn’t, in the end, cohere. But it does serve as a useful reminder of the intellectual vagaries of “the kind of whole bloggy progressive thing.” Serious people who want to engage in serious debate about foreign policy have no shortage of publications they can check out, offering any number of wildly conflicting views. Without, I might add, having recourse to infusions of inept popcult references.

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McCain’s Dilemma

Others have noted that John McCain faces a challenge staying in the news: he’s fencing with no same-party opponent. This is especially acute for a candidate, like McCain, who does best as a counterpuncher–taking Mitt Romney to task for negative ads in New Hampshire, for example. McCain has nevertheless has tried to respond to every attack. And he’s struggled to keep the heat on his most likely election opponent, Barack Obama.

With help from unlikely sources he has succeeded at this, to some degree. And he’s at it again today. However, the danger of demanding “personal apologies” from Obama for statements made by surrogates is a two-edged sword. It might force McCain to atone for the sins of his off-message associates later in the race. And there is a point at which apology-seeking begins to sound like whining. Petulance has never been an attractive quality in a candidate. If Obama is not “living up” to his ideals, there are plenty of ways for McCain to make the point. (Preferably not Bob Dole’s “Stop lying about my record.”) Pleading for a sorry doesn’t seem especially effective–or presidential.

Others have noted that John McCain faces a challenge staying in the news: he’s fencing with no same-party opponent. This is especially acute for a candidate, like McCain, who does best as a counterpuncher–taking Mitt Romney to task for negative ads in New Hampshire, for example. McCain has nevertheless has tried to respond to every attack. And he’s struggled to keep the heat on his most likely election opponent, Barack Obama.

With help from unlikely sources he has succeeded at this, to some degree. And he’s at it again today. However, the danger of demanding “personal apologies” from Obama for statements made by surrogates is a two-edged sword. It might force McCain to atone for the sins of his off-message associates later in the race. And there is a point at which apology-seeking begins to sound like whining. Petulance has never been an attractive quality in a candidate. If Obama is not “living up” to his ideals, there are plenty of ways for McCain to make the point. (Preferably not Bob Dole’s “Stop lying about my record.”) Pleading for a sorry doesn’t seem especially effective–or presidential.

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Bloomberg’s Legacy

The mayoralty of New York’s Michael Bloomberg has been an uncommonly boring one, and primarily for that reason, it has been judged a smashing success. For those who felt exhausted by the constant battles between Rudy Giuliani and the city’s liberal elites in the eight years prior to his election, Bloomberg brought a surprising measure of peace — some of which he purchased, by the way, through personal gift- and grant-giving, which had the effect of quieting attacks from leftie and arts institutions that liked nothing more than to get into a scuffle with City Hall and thereby earn plaudits and attention from the New York Times. Given the size of Bloomberg’s personal fortune, the money he spent to buy himself social quiet was doubtless worth it. And for causing these intolerable loudmouths to shut themselves up and enjoy their financial goodies, Bloomberg deserves a pat on the back. And for keeping the city on the even keel on which Rudy had left it, he deserves credit as well. He didn’t upset the apple cart.

That said, however, Bloomberg’s mayoralty has been, at least to measure by his own ambitions, a horrific failure. This week brought the collapse of his grand design for a car-toll system in Manhattan. This followed the failure, two years and tens of millions of dollars in planning ago, to secure the Olympic games for New York City in 2012 — a loss that had every single person who lives in the city sighing with relief, as you could not find a single person here outside of the construction trade that did not dread the possibility of the city being turned inside out for three solid weeks so that a bunch of stoned volleyball players could vie for a medal on an invented East River beach in the very unpicturesque neighborhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. And that followed the failure, two years before that, of his plan to build a stadium in the West 30s only a few years after Rudy had tried and failed at the same thing.

Bloomberg’s signature accomplishments have been: an increase in the property tax, most of which he then returned to city folk in the form of a tax rebate; and a draconian smoking ban, which has caused jam-ups in front of every bar in the city, as drunken louts and lasses crowd the sidewalk, puffing madly away because they are no longer allowed to have a cig with their scotch. He also succeeded in taking control of the city’s elementary schools, a long-sought-after reform that has resulted in mostly nothing.

And now comes the hard part. The reduction in economic activity that inevitably accompanies a slowing or recessionary economy will hit New York City’s public coffers very hard. The city makes its money from transactions — stock trades, mergers and acquisitions, and the like — of which it takes a teeny tiny cut. When the number of those transactions falls from 100 billion a year to 50 billion in a year, the city instantly finds itself going from a surplus in its budget to a huge deficit that, by law, it must close. And it will fall to Bloomberg to close it. And close it he will, with his favorite method of closing it — raising taxes.

He is going to end his mayoralty vastly less popular than he has been through most of it. And that will reflect the true quality of the mayoralty, which has been mediocre.

The mayoralty of New York’s Michael Bloomberg has been an uncommonly boring one, and primarily for that reason, it has been judged a smashing success. For those who felt exhausted by the constant battles between Rudy Giuliani and the city’s liberal elites in the eight years prior to his election, Bloomberg brought a surprising measure of peace — some of which he purchased, by the way, through personal gift- and grant-giving, which had the effect of quieting attacks from leftie and arts institutions that liked nothing more than to get into a scuffle with City Hall and thereby earn plaudits and attention from the New York Times. Given the size of Bloomberg’s personal fortune, the money he spent to buy himself social quiet was doubtless worth it. And for causing these intolerable loudmouths to shut themselves up and enjoy their financial goodies, Bloomberg deserves a pat on the back. And for keeping the city on the even keel on which Rudy had left it, he deserves credit as well. He didn’t upset the apple cart.

That said, however, Bloomberg’s mayoralty has been, at least to measure by his own ambitions, a horrific failure. This week brought the collapse of his grand design for a car-toll system in Manhattan. This followed the failure, two years and tens of millions of dollars in planning ago, to secure the Olympic games for New York City in 2012 — a loss that had every single person who lives in the city sighing with relief, as you could not find a single person here outside of the construction trade that did not dread the possibility of the city being turned inside out for three solid weeks so that a bunch of stoned volleyball players could vie for a medal on an invented East River beach in the very unpicturesque neighborhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. And that followed the failure, two years before that, of his plan to build a stadium in the West 30s only a few years after Rudy had tried and failed at the same thing.

Bloomberg’s signature accomplishments have been: an increase in the property tax, most of which he then returned to city folk in the form of a tax rebate; and a draconian smoking ban, which has caused jam-ups in front of every bar in the city, as drunken louts and lasses crowd the sidewalk, puffing madly away because they are no longer allowed to have a cig with their scotch. He also succeeded in taking control of the city’s elementary schools, a long-sought-after reform that has resulted in mostly nothing.

And now comes the hard part. The reduction in economic activity that inevitably accompanies a slowing or recessionary economy will hit New York City’s public coffers very hard. The city makes its money from transactions — stock trades, mergers and acquisitions, and the like — of which it takes a teeny tiny cut. When the number of those transactions falls from 100 billion a year to 50 billion in a year, the city instantly finds itself going from a surplus in its budget to a huge deficit that, by law, it must close. And it will fall to Bloomberg to close it. And close it he will, with his favorite method of closing it — raising taxes.

He is going to end his mayoralty vastly less popular than he has been through most of it. And that will reflect the true quality of the mayoralty, which has been mediocre.

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The Fruits of “Diplomacy”

Poor Obama. He might have to start backing away from his statement about wanting to sit down with our enemies. AFP just reported the following:

DOHA (AFP) — Iranian judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi told leaders of the Gulf Arab state of Qatar on Wednesday that his country was willing to put its controversial nuclear expertise at the service of all Muslim states.

“Iran is determined to make the best use of this technology not only for Iran but also for all Muslim states,” Shahroudi told a news conference in the Qatari capital Doha.

When A.Q. Khan was busted for illegally selling nuclear know-how, at least he was busted. Inaction on Iran has led to an openly boastful illicit nuke network. Even if the most deliriously hopeful reading of the NIE on Iran proves to be the correct one, this pledge from the Ayatollah should trouble us profoundly.

Poor Obama. He might have to start backing away from his statement about wanting to sit down with our enemies. AFP just reported the following:

DOHA (AFP) — Iranian judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi told leaders of the Gulf Arab state of Qatar on Wednesday that his country was willing to put its controversial nuclear expertise at the service of all Muslim states.

“Iran is determined to make the best use of this technology not only for Iran but also for all Muslim states,” Shahroudi told a news conference in the Qatari capital Doha.

When A.Q. Khan was busted for illegally selling nuclear know-how, at least he was busted. Inaction on Iran has led to an openly boastful illicit nuke network. Even if the most deliriously hopeful reading of the NIE on Iran proves to be the correct one, this pledge from the Ayatollah should trouble us profoundly.

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Gaza Saga

Today’s infiltration of terrorists from Gaza into Israel is another reminder — as if one was needed — that Hamas and its regional patrons continue to drive events, not the other way around. The incursion at Nachal Oz appears to have been an abduction attempt, and comes amidst recent threats from Hamas that another border breach, into either Egypt or Israel, may soon be attempted.

All of this is prelude to a serious showdown between Hamas and the IDF; war, not diplomacy, continues to be the engine of history in the Middle East. Someone who understands this is Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post, who on Monday laid out some very basic realities in his column.

He says Israeli leaders have been quietly informing Washington that a showdown with Hamas is coming soon to a television screen near you, and that the peace process will not survive it:

The grim Israeli view is driven to a large degree by what officials say is the massive and continuing smuggling of weapons into Gaza, sponsored by Iran and tacitly allowed by Egypt, which despite considerable pressure from Washington shrinks from actions that might trigger its own confrontation with Hamas. . . .

Bush and Rice would like Israel to hold off against Hamas until Olmert can complete an agreement on principles for a final Israeli-Palestinian settlement with Abbas. While Olmert still wants that deal, it’s become increasingly clear to the Israelis that an Abbas-led government will never be able to implement it. Despite extensive international aid, the West Bank Palestinian administration remains little more than a shell kept in power by Israel’s troops. Hamas, the Israelis say, can stop the peace process at any time by resuming missile attacks against Ashkelon. . . .

But what concerns some Israelis is the lack of readiness by the Bush administration for the possibility that its drive for Mideast peace will be overwhelmed by a Mideast war.

I would add that not only will the peace process be overwhelmed by war in Gaza, but so will the political saliency of Mahmoud Abbas — and indeed of any western-approved Palestinian leader. Abbas today is a walking anachronism. If there is real progress in the peace process, Hamas and Iran will unleash violence and the ensuing battle will force Abbas to suspend negotiations; if Israel tries to negotiate with Hamas, his credibility will be fatally undermined; if he negotiates with Hamas, he will face abandonment from the U.S. and Israel; if a prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit is accomplished, he will be shown among the Palestinians to be even weaker opposite Hamas than he already looks.

The important questions now revolve around Israeli dealings with the Bush administration over the timing and nature of war in Gaza. Will it commence on Israel’s initiative, or on Hamas’s? And what will Condi Rice have to say about it?

Today’s infiltration of terrorists from Gaza into Israel is another reminder — as if one was needed — that Hamas and its regional patrons continue to drive events, not the other way around. The incursion at Nachal Oz appears to have been an abduction attempt, and comes amidst recent threats from Hamas that another border breach, into either Egypt or Israel, may soon be attempted.

All of this is prelude to a serious showdown between Hamas and the IDF; war, not diplomacy, continues to be the engine of history in the Middle East. Someone who understands this is Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post, who on Monday laid out some very basic realities in his column.

He says Israeli leaders have been quietly informing Washington that a showdown with Hamas is coming soon to a television screen near you, and that the peace process will not survive it:

The grim Israeli view is driven to a large degree by what officials say is the massive and continuing smuggling of weapons into Gaza, sponsored by Iran and tacitly allowed by Egypt, which despite considerable pressure from Washington shrinks from actions that might trigger its own confrontation with Hamas. . . .

Bush and Rice would like Israel to hold off against Hamas until Olmert can complete an agreement on principles for a final Israeli-Palestinian settlement with Abbas. While Olmert still wants that deal, it’s become increasingly clear to the Israelis that an Abbas-led government will never be able to implement it. Despite extensive international aid, the West Bank Palestinian administration remains little more than a shell kept in power by Israel’s troops. Hamas, the Israelis say, can stop the peace process at any time by resuming missile attacks against Ashkelon. . . .

But what concerns some Israelis is the lack of readiness by the Bush administration for the possibility that its drive for Mideast peace will be overwhelmed by a Mideast war.

I would add that not only will the peace process be overwhelmed by war in Gaza, but so will the political saliency of Mahmoud Abbas — and indeed of any western-approved Palestinian leader. Abbas today is a walking anachronism. If there is real progress in the peace process, Hamas and Iran will unleash violence and the ensuing battle will force Abbas to suspend negotiations; if Israel tries to negotiate with Hamas, his credibility will be fatally undermined; if he negotiates with Hamas, he will face abandonment from the U.S. and Israel; if a prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit is accomplished, he will be shown among the Palestinians to be even weaker opposite Hamas than he already looks.

The important questions now revolve around Israeli dealings with the Bush administration over the timing and nature of war in Gaza. Will it commence on Israel’s initiative, or on Hamas’s? And what will Condi Rice have to say about it?

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Calling All Contentions Readers!

If you have a few minutes, please click here and take our survey. We’re trying to find out more about you — who you are, what you’re reading here on commentarymagazine.com and elsewhere, what you like to do in your spare time, and other information that will allow us to draw a complete picture of our growing, engaged, and passionate community. And by taking the survey, you also have a chance to win an iPod Touch. So give it a look, will you?

If you have a few minutes, please click here and take our survey. We’re trying to find out more about you — who you are, what you’re reading here on commentarymagazine.com and elsewhere, what you like to do in your spare time, and other information that will allow us to draw a complete picture of our growing, engaged, and passionate community. And by taking the survey, you also have a chance to win an iPod Touch. So give it a look, will you?

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Re: Streisand in Jerusalem

I heartily concur with a Bob Dylan invite to Israel’s 60th, if only so he can perform a little number from the early 80’s called “Neighborhood Bully.” Check out these lyrics:

The neighborhood bully just lives to survive,
He’s criticized and condemned for being alive.
He’s not supposed to fight back, he’s supposed to have thick skin,
He’s supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in.
He’s the neighborhood bully.

Well, he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized,
Old women condemned him, said he should apologize.
Then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad.
The bombs were meant for him.
He was supposed to feel bad.
He’s the neighborhood bully.

Every empire that’s enslaved him is gone,
Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon.
He’s made a garden of paradise in the desert sand,
In bed with nobody, under no one’s command.
He’s the neighborhood bully.

What do you think of that, hippies? Youtube version here.

I heartily concur with a Bob Dylan invite to Israel’s 60th, if only so he can perform a little number from the early 80’s called “Neighborhood Bully.” Check out these lyrics:

The neighborhood bully just lives to survive,
He’s criticized and condemned for being alive.
He’s not supposed to fight back, he’s supposed to have thick skin,
He’s supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in.
He’s the neighborhood bully.

Well, he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized,
Old women condemned him, said he should apologize.
Then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad.
The bombs were meant for him.
He was supposed to feel bad.
He’s the neighborhood bully.

Every empire that’s enslaved him is gone,
Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon.
He’s made a garden of paradise in the desert sand,
In bed with nobody, under no one’s command.
He’s the neighborhood bully.

What do you think of that, hippies? Youtube version here.

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Streisand in Jerusalem

Israeli President Shimon Peres has announced the impressive list of luminaries who will attend the upcoming conference celebrating Israel’s 60th birthday. They include George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger, Rupert Murdoch, Vaclav Havel, Alan Dershowitz, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.

While these VIP’s will highlight Israel’s many successes in a variety of sectors, the conference will also pay respect to the challenges that Israel has yet to overcome. At least this is how I’m interpreting the invitation of Barbra Streisand, whose rendition of Avinu Malkeinu promises to be a low point in Israel’s cultural history.

So, here’s to a more hopeful Israeli future–which, in my book, means inviting an 82-year-old Bob Dylan to play Hava Negila at the 75th celebration. (Frankly, even Bill Clinton returning for a repeat performance of “Imagine” might be an improvement.)

Israeli President Shimon Peres has announced the impressive list of luminaries who will attend the upcoming conference celebrating Israel’s 60th birthday. They include George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger, Rupert Murdoch, Vaclav Havel, Alan Dershowitz, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.

While these VIP’s will highlight Israel’s many successes in a variety of sectors, the conference will also pay respect to the challenges that Israel has yet to overcome. At least this is how I’m interpreting the invitation of Barbra Streisand, whose rendition of Avinu Malkeinu promises to be a low point in Israel’s cultural history.

So, here’s to a more hopeful Israeli future–which, in my book, means inviting an 82-year-old Bob Dylan to play Hava Negila at the 75th celebration. (Frankly, even Bill Clinton returning for a repeat performance of “Imagine” might be an improvement.)

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Re: Re: Re: Re: In Praise of “Disrespect”

Eric, if you find the State Department statement less than meaningful, I must respectfully point out that you introduced it as evidence on which to rest your initial claim—I merely analyzed it afterward.

As for your assertion that the Bush administration should have told the Palestinian Legislative council that the U.S. would cut ties with the Palestinian government if Hamas was elected: it is a debatable point of policy. But simultaneously applauding free elections while effectively qualifying their freedom could not possibly have earned the U.S. any credit for being respectful. The move would have invited the instant charge of hypocrisy.

Eric, if you find the State Department statement less than meaningful, I must respectfully point out that you introduced it as evidence on which to rest your initial claim—I merely analyzed it afterward.

As for your assertion that the Bush administration should have told the Palestinian Legislative council that the U.S. would cut ties with the Palestinian government if Hamas was elected: it is a debatable point of policy. But simultaneously applauding free elections while effectively qualifying their freedom could not possibly have earned the U.S. any credit for being respectful. The move would have invited the instant charge of hypocrisy.

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Send the Torch Back to China

Actress Joan Chen, writing in today’s Washington Post, traces the arc of her native land. “Since the Cultural Revolution ended in the late 1970s,” she writes, “I have witnessed unimaginable progress in China.”

For her, human rights groups in Washington are “anti-China.” But it’s time to move beyond criticism, implies Chen, who became an American citizen in 1989. “Times are changing,” she argues. “We need to be open-minded and farsighted. We need to make more friends than enemies.”

Chen is evidently concerned about the Olympic torch protests in the streets of San Francisco. The demonstrations, she fears, will antagonize the Chinese people and anger their government just as their country is joining, in the words of Steve Clemons, “the blue chip end of the international order.” As the New York Times noted in an editorial this morning, “Given the country’s mighty economic power, nobody really wants to antagonize Beijing.”

That’s especially true when people like Chen and Clemons believe that China will continue its current course. Bill Gates assumed it will when he spoke on Friday in Miami at a meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank. “The fact that China is getting rich is overall a very good thing,” he said. “If you care about the human condition, really then a richer China is better.”

All of us want a better China. Yet the way to a better China is not to see the country the way we wish it to be—as Chen, Clemons, and Gates want us to do—but as it actually is. When we fail to speak out about the reality of the modern Chinese state, autocrats in Beijing feel emboldened. The real story behind the protests accompanying the Olympic torch relay is not how noisy or unruly the demonstrations were—it is that China’s leaders actually thought that ordinary people in the West would gather in their own streets to cheer the display of the Olympic torch, which Beijing has made a symbol of Chinese authoritarianism. Beijing’s rulers thought that way because Western presidents and prime ministers have almost always played along with China’s notions of its own grandeur.

Members of the International Olympic Committee will meet on Friday to consider ending the international leg of the torch relay. That is an excellent idea. The Chinese government might be embarrassed by a premature return to China of the Olympic flame, but it is time that we reject further abhorrent celebrations of their repression in our free lands.

Actress Joan Chen, writing in today’s Washington Post, traces the arc of her native land. “Since the Cultural Revolution ended in the late 1970s,” she writes, “I have witnessed unimaginable progress in China.”

For her, human rights groups in Washington are “anti-China.” But it’s time to move beyond criticism, implies Chen, who became an American citizen in 1989. “Times are changing,” she argues. “We need to be open-minded and farsighted. We need to make more friends than enemies.”

Chen is evidently concerned about the Olympic torch protests in the streets of San Francisco. The demonstrations, she fears, will antagonize the Chinese people and anger their government just as their country is joining, in the words of Steve Clemons, “the blue chip end of the international order.” As the New York Times noted in an editorial this morning, “Given the country’s mighty economic power, nobody really wants to antagonize Beijing.”

That’s especially true when people like Chen and Clemons believe that China will continue its current course. Bill Gates assumed it will when he spoke on Friday in Miami at a meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank. “The fact that China is getting rich is overall a very good thing,” he said. “If you care about the human condition, really then a richer China is better.”

All of us want a better China. Yet the way to a better China is not to see the country the way we wish it to be—as Chen, Clemons, and Gates want us to do—but as it actually is. When we fail to speak out about the reality of the modern Chinese state, autocrats in Beijing feel emboldened. The real story behind the protests accompanying the Olympic torch relay is not how noisy or unruly the demonstrations were—it is that China’s leaders actually thought that ordinary people in the West would gather in their own streets to cheer the display of the Olympic torch, which Beijing has made a symbol of Chinese authoritarianism. Beijing’s rulers thought that way because Western presidents and prime ministers have almost always played along with China’s notions of its own grandeur.

Members of the International Olympic Committee will meet on Friday to consider ending the international leg of the torch relay. That is an excellent idea. The Chinese government might be embarrassed by a premature return to China of the Olympic flame, but it is time that we reject further abhorrent celebrations of their repression in our free lands.

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Bookshelf

How exasperating can a very short book be? I give you Josh Ozersky’s The Hamburger: A History (Yale, 141 pp., $22). Ozersky, whose official title is “Food Editor/Online for New York Magazine” (love that slash), has contrived in not much more than a hundred pages of heavily leaded text to cram in everything I find most irksome about the postmodern branch of semi-scholarship known as cultural studies: the jaw-breaking jargon, the sniggering coyness, the don’t-take-me-too-seriously irony.

The irritation starts on the second page:

Even before the hamburger became a universal signifier of imperialism abroad and unwholesomeness at home, it had a special semiotic power-a quality not shared even by other great American sandwiches like the hot dog, the patty melt, the Dagwood, the Reuben, the po’boy, or even such totemic standards as fried chicken and apple pie. At the end of the day, nothing says America like a hamburger . . . . Is it a sizzling disc of goodness, served in a roadside restaurant dense with local lore, or the grim end product of a secret, sinister empire of tormented animals and unspeakable slaughtering practices? Is it cooking or commodity? An icon of freedom or the quintessence of conformity?

The Hamburger is like that from start to finish. Is the hamburger a Bad Thing? Well, yes, it must be, if only because it is an American Thing beloved of ordinary folk, and you know all about those pesky ordinary folk, right? But the damn thing still tastes good, so Ozersky writes about its cultural history in such a way as to suggest at all times his superiority to that which he nonetheless allows himself to enjoy–and the benighted Americans who continue to insist on enjoying it unselfconsciously. Like a limousine liberal of fast-food cuisine, he wanders in and out of both camps, nibbling his medium-rare cheeseburgers with just the right amount of ennobling guilt.

The have-it-both-ways trickery of The Hamburger is displayed at length in the chapter devoted to McDonald’s, which Ozersky calls “the most symbolically loaded business in the world,” one that “represents America to the world in a way no other business ever has or likely ever will.” We are simultaneously invited to admire the ingenuity with which the founders of McDonald’s contrived to automate the production of 15-cent hamburgers and to tremble at the larger implications of unleashing such a technology on an unprepared world–yet at no time does Ozersky ever commit himself to the loony leftism of the anti-McDonald’s fanatics who regard Ray Kroc as the source of all evil in the modern world. In describing the experience of Sandy Agate, one of the first McDonald’s franchisees, Ozersky assures us that his story “doesn’t end happily. (Arguably, the same could be said of the McDonald’s Corporation or for that matter America.)” That throwaway parenthesis says everything about The Hamburger.

Robert Warshow first anatomized Ozersky’s politico-literary technique in his 1947 Partisan Review essay on the New Yorker:

The New Yorker has always dealt with experience not by trying to understand it but by prescribing the attitude to be adopted toward it. This makes it possible to feel intelligent without thinking, and it is a way of making everything tolerable, for the assumption of a suitable attitude toward experience can give one the illusion of having dealt with it adequately.

Who could have predicted in 1947 that someone would come along six decades later who could write about the lowly hamburger in such a manner? Of such is the kingdom of cultural studies, where everything is permitted, even the consumption of ground beef on a white-bread bun–so long as you do it with the right attitude.

How exasperating can a very short book be? I give you Josh Ozersky’s The Hamburger: A History (Yale, 141 pp., $22). Ozersky, whose official title is “Food Editor/Online for New York Magazine” (love that slash), has contrived in not much more than a hundred pages of heavily leaded text to cram in everything I find most irksome about the postmodern branch of semi-scholarship known as cultural studies: the jaw-breaking jargon, the sniggering coyness, the don’t-take-me-too-seriously irony.

The irritation starts on the second page:

Even before the hamburger became a universal signifier of imperialism abroad and unwholesomeness at home, it had a special semiotic power-a quality not shared even by other great American sandwiches like the hot dog, the patty melt, the Dagwood, the Reuben, the po’boy, or even such totemic standards as fried chicken and apple pie. At the end of the day, nothing says America like a hamburger . . . . Is it a sizzling disc of goodness, served in a roadside restaurant dense with local lore, or the grim end product of a secret, sinister empire of tormented animals and unspeakable slaughtering practices? Is it cooking or commodity? An icon of freedom or the quintessence of conformity?

The Hamburger is like that from start to finish. Is the hamburger a Bad Thing? Well, yes, it must be, if only because it is an American Thing beloved of ordinary folk, and you know all about those pesky ordinary folk, right? But the damn thing still tastes good, so Ozersky writes about its cultural history in such a way as to suggest at all times his superiority to that which he nonetheless allows himself to enjoy–and the benighted Americans who continue to insist on enjoying it unselfconsciously. Like a limousine liberal of fast-food cuisine, he wanders in and out of both camps, nibbling his medium-rare cheeseburgers with just the right amount of ennobling guilt.

The have-it-both-ways trickery of The Hamburger is displayed at length in the chapter devoted to McDonald’s, which Ozersky calls “the most symbolically loaded business in the world,” one that “represents America to the world in a way no other business ever has or likely ever will.” We are simultaneously invited to admire the ingenuity with which the founders of McDonald’s contrived to automate the production of 15-cent hamburgers and to tremble at the larger implications of unleashing such a technology on an unprepared world–yet at no time does Ozersky ever commit himself to the loony leftism of the anti-McDonald’s fanatics who regard Ray Kroc as the source of all evil in the modern world. In describing the experience of Sandy Agate, one of the first McDonald’s franchisees, Ozersky assures us that his story “doesn’t end happily. (Arguably, the same could be said of the McDonald’s Corporation or for that matter America.)” That throwaway parenthesis says everything about The Hamburger.

Robert Warshow first anatomized Ozersky’s politico-literary technique in his 1947 Partisan Review essay on the New Yorker:

The New Yorker has always dealt with experience not by trying to understand it but by prescribing the attitude to be adopted toward it. This makes it possible to feel intelligent without thinking, and it is a way of making everything tolerable, for the assumption of a suitable attitude toward experience can give one the illusion of having dealt with it adequately.

Who could have predicted in 1947 that someone would come along six decades later who could write about the lowly hamburger in such a manner? Of such is the kingdom of cultural studies, where everything is permitted, even the consumption of ground beef on a white-bread bun–so long as you do it with the right attitude.

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Truth or Consequences

Is it good news? The Pentagon has unveiled a new weapon for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan that will save American lives. It is a portable lie detector: 

known by the acronym PCASS, for Preliminary Credibility Assessment Screening System, uses a commercial TDS Ranger hand-held personal digital assistant with three wires connected to sensors attached to the hand. An interpreter will ask a series of 20 or so questions in Persian, Arabic or Pashto: “Do you intend to answer my questions truthfully?” “Are the lights on in this room” “Are you a member of the Taliban?” The operator will punch in each answer and, after a delay of a minute or so for processing, the screen will display the results: “Green,” if it thinks the person has told the truth, “Red” for deception, and “Yellow” if it can’t decide.

“We’re not promising perfection — we’ve been very careful in that,” Donald Krapohl, special assistant to the director at the Defense Academy for Credibility Assessment, told MSNBC, which reports on the deployment of the device today.

It’s a good thing that the DoD is not promising “perfection.” That would be very hard to achieve, to say the least. Even non-portable lie-detector systems have a startlingly poor record of ferreting out deception. And these are almost always used in highly-controlled circumstances in which the psychological pressure on the individual being questioned is at its maximum.

The list of spies who have defeated the polygraph to penetrate U.S. intelligence is lengthy and includes Aldrich Ames, the Soviet mole in the CIA, Robert Hanssen, the Soviet mole in the FBI, and Ana Belen Montes, who toiled away in the Defense Intelligence Agency on behalf of Cuba for a decade-and-a-half, until her apprehension in 2001. The most recent case is that of Nada Nadim Prouty, the Lebanese woman arrested this winter, who moved from sensitive positions in the FBI to even more sensitive positions within the CIA despite a fictitious marriage and ties to the terrorist organization, Hizballah.

The idea that our troops can rely on primitive polygraphs to make snap decisions on the battlefield about whom to trust and whom to suspect is a formula for disaster. One of our most attractive and useful characteristics as a society is fascination with and love of technology. Sometimes, however, fascination and love turn into obsession. We seem to be in the grip of a clinical case of that disorder here.

Is it good news? The Pentagon has unveiled a new weapon for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan that will save American lives. It is a portable lie detector: 

known by the acronym PCASS, for Preliminary Credibility Assessment Screening System, uses a commercial TDS Ranger hand-held personal digital assistant with three wires connected to sensors attached to the hand. An interpreter will ask a series of 20 or so questions in Persian, Arabic or Pashto: “Do you intend to answer my questions truthfully?” “Are the lights on in this room” “Are you a member of the Taliban?” The operator will punch in each answer and, after a delay of a minute or so for processing, the screen will display the results: “Green,” if it thinks the person has told the truth, “Red” for deception, and “Yellow” if it can’t decide.

“We’re not promising perfection — we’ve been very careful in that,” Donald Krapohl, special assistant to the director at the Defense Academy for Credibility Assessment, told MSNBC, which reports on the deployment of the device today.

It’s a good thing that the DoD is not promising “perfection.” That would be very hard to achieve, to say the least. Even non-portable lie-detector systems have a startlingly poor record of ferreting out deception. And these are almost always used in highly-controlled circumstances in which the psychological pressure on the individual being questioned is at its maximum.

The list of spies who have defeated the polygraph to penetrate U.S. intelligence is lengthy and includes Aldrich Ames, the Soviet mole in the CIA, Robert Hanssen, the Soviet mole in the FBI, and Ana Belen Montes, who toiled away in the Defense Intelligence Agency on behalf of Cuba for a decade-and-a-half, until her apprehension in 2001. The most recent case is that of Nada Nadim Prouty, the Lebanese woman arrested this winter, who moved from sensitive positions in the FBI to even more sensitive positions within the CIA despite a fictitious marriage and ties to the terrorist organization, Hizballah.

The idea that our troops can rely on primitive polygraphs to make snap decisions on the battlefield about whom to trust and whom to suspect is a formula for disaster. One of our most attractive and useful characteristics as a society is fascination with and love of technology. Sometimes, however, fascination and love turn into obsession. We seem to be in the grip of a clinical case of that disorder here.

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Guess Why Camille Paglia Likes Obama…

For tough-minded Camille Paglia, Barack Obama’s lack of experience is only slightly relevant. Here, she gets to what really counts:

I too wish that Obama had more practical experience in government. But Washington is at a stalemate and needs fresh eyes and a new start. Furthermore, at this point in American history, with an ill-conceived, wasteful war dragging on in Iraq and with the nation’s world reputation in tatters, I believe that, because of his international heritage and upbringing, Obama is the right person at the right time.

It’s striking how far the notion of “America” has traveled in the mind of the Left. In the U.S., everyone except the Indians is already of “international heritage.” But for Ms. Paglia and the Left, it’s as if Americans have morphed into race-minded totalitarians, and only the “post-racial” Barack Obama can liberate the rest of the world by taking the U.S. down a few pegs to meet everyone else on everyone else’s terms.

This is, of course, the inverse of reality. Virtually all of America’s global critics—from European internationalists to Palestinian right-of-returners—operate from a point of self-perceived superiority, while the U.S. only demands the respect due all free people. European statesmen proclaim that it’s time for America to become more like Europe and George Bush merely calls them partners in return. Islamists speak about remaking the infidel world as one vast caliphate while American leaders praise the peace and beauty of Islam.

As for Obama’s ethnicity, this notion is long overdue for exposure. It would be helpful if Ms. Paglia could list the countries in which she thinks the color of Obama’s skin would function as a diplomatic asset. In tribal Europe, the assimilation of African immigrants has been anything but smooth. Throughout the Arab world, anti-black racism is a simple fact of life. And in Africa itself, both Arab-on-black racism and inter-tribal warfare remain deadly. In truth, it is only the U.S. in which being black is considered a positive, and this is because it isn’t, for the most part, considered at all.

If Ms. Paglia finds the U.S.’s “reputation in tatters,” she’s describing some internal or personal state of perception. Many Americans, perhaps, enjoyed the idea of America as a nation done with difficult wars. And Iraq has produced a cognitive dissonance there, it’s true. But the next president shouldn’t be elected so that the post-Viet Nam Left can achieve a delusive inner harmony.

For tough-minded Camille Paglia, Barack Obama’s lack of experience is only slightly relevant. Here, she gets to what really counts:

I too wish that Obama had more practical experience in government. But Washington is at a stalemate and needs fresh eyes and a new start. Furthermore, at this point in American history, with an ill-conceived, wasteful war dragging on in Iraq and with the nation’s world reputation in tatters, I believe that, because of his international heritage and upbringing, Obama is the right person at the right time.

It’s striking how far the notion of “America” has traveled in the mind of the Left. In the U.S., everyone except the Indians is already of “international heritage.” But for Ms. Paglia and the Left, it’s as if Americans have morphed into race-minded totalitarians, and only the “post-racial” Barack Obama can liberate the rest of the world by taking the U.S. down a few pegs to meet everyone else on everyone else’s terms.

This is, of course, the inverse of reality. Virtually all of America’s global critics—from European internationalists to Palestinian right-of-returners—operate from a point of self-perceived superiority, while the U.S. only demands the respect due all free people. European statesmen proclaim that it’s time for America to become more like Europe and George Bush merely calls them partners in return. Islamists speak about remaking the infidel world as one vast caliphate while American leaders praise the peace and beauty of Islam.

As for Obama’s ethnicity, this notion is long overdue for exposure. It would be helpful if Ms. Paglia could list the countries in which she thinks the color of Obama’s skin would function as a diplomatic asset. In tribal Europe, the assimilation of African immigrants has been anything but smooth. Throughout the Arab world, anti-black racism is a simple fact of life. And in Africa itself, both Arab-on-black racism and inter-tribal warfare remain deadly. In truth, it is only the U.S. in which being black is considered a positive, and this is because it isn’t, for the most part, considered at all.

If Ms. Paglia finds the U.S.’s “reputation in tatters,” she’s describing some internal or personal state of perception. Many Americans, perhaps, enjoyed the idea of America as a nation done with difficult wars. And Iraq has produced a cognitive dissonance there, it’s true. But the next president shouldn’t be elected so that the post-Viet Nam Left can achieve a delusive inner harmony.

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Disconnect

Barack Obama’s questioning of Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus reveals a series of disconnects in his (and many of the Democrats’) thinking and stated position on Iraq. He acknowledges that, with regard to al Qaeda, the goal is to “create a manageable situation where they’re not posing a threat to Iraq or using it as a base to launch attacks outside of Iraq.” (General Petraeus finds this summary “exactly right.”) However, Obama asks not a single question about, seems uninterested in, and seeks to end the surge strategy which has furthered that exact goal.

He disclaims any intention to push for a “precipitous withdrawal” of forces, but declares again and again on the campaign trail without qualification that he will start pulling out brigades each month as soon as he is in office. He insists, “We all have the greatest interest in seeing a successful resolution to Iraq. All of us do.” However, he suggests the venture was doomed from the start and ends his time by complaining that “the amount of money that we are spending is hemorrhaging our budget.” Afghanistan is where we should really be, he tells us, without explaining how leaving al Qaeda forces operating in Iraq will further our efforts elsewhere.

In sum, there is an utter disconnect between his stated intention (“we all have the greatest interest in seeing a successful resolution to Iraq”) and the means (withdrawal) he advocates for achieving it. If he were honest, he would either say all is lost and there is no successful resolution, OR he would acknowledge that there is no reasonable way to continue to reduce al Qaeda’s influence other than to keep doing what we have been doing –killing many of them, destroying their safe havens, developing the Iraqi military’s capabilities, and providing security to the population.

At bottom, he seems to be hoping the public agrees with his characterization of the decision to go to Iraq (“a massive strategic blunder”) and to be betting that things miraculously will work out for the best. (For example, engaging Iran in diplomatic discussions will somehow go better after we have started pulling out troops). Or perhaps he figures that, in the end, no one will blame him if he reverses course and relies on the advice of the experts who have shown results with the strategy he disparaged. It is all quite unclear and rather illogical. But it may well be politically attractive.

Barack Obama’s questioning of Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus reveals a series of disconnects in his (and many of the Democrats’) thinking and stated position on Iraq. He acknowledges that, with regard to al Qaeda, the goal is to “create a manageable situation where they’re not posing a threat to Iraq or using it as a base to launch attacks outside of Iraq.” (General Petraeus finds this summary “exactly right.”) However, Obama asks not a single question about, seems uninterested in, and seeks to end the surge strategy which has furthered that exact goal.

He disclaims any intention to push for a “precipitous withdrawal” of forces, but declares again and again on the campaign trail without qualification that he will start pulling out brigades each month as soon as he is in office. He insists, “We all have the greatest interest in seeing a successful resolution to Iraq. All of us do.” However, he suggests the venture was doomed from the start and ends his time by complaining that “the amount of money that we are spending is hemorrhaging our budget.” Afghanistan is where we should really be, he tells us, without explaining how leaving al Qaeda forces operating in Iraq will further our efforts elsewhere.

In sum, there is an utter disconnect between his stated intention (“we all have the greatest interest in seeing a successful resolution to Iraq”) and the means (withdrawal) he advocates for achieving it. If he were honest, he would either say all is lost and there is no successful resolution, OR he would acknowledge that there is no reasonable way to continue to reduce al Qaeda’s influence other than to keep doing what we have been doing –killing many of them, destroying their safe havens, developing the Iraqi military’s capabilities, and providing security to the population.

At bottom, he seems to be hoping the public agrees with his characterization of the decision to go to Iraq (“a massive strategic blunder”) and to be betting that things miraculously will work out for the best. (For example, engaging Iran in diplomatic discussions will somehow go better after we have started pulling out troops). Or perhaps he figures that, in the end, no one will blame him if he reverses course and relies on the advice of the experts who have shown results with the strategy he disparaged. It is all quite unclear and rather illogical. But it may well be politically attractive.

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Toobin on Gitmo

Jeffrey Toobin has a pretty good overview in the current issue of the New Yorker of the whole issue of Guatanamo and the handling of terrorist detainees–especially useful for those like me who have not followed the issue super-closely. Two points in particular jumped out at me.

1) “But, in 2004, the Supreme Court ruled, in Rasul v. Bush, that, because the Guantánamo base was under the exclusive control of the U.S. military, the detainees were effectively on American soil and had the right to bring habeas-corpus petitions in federal court.”

This is something that conservative critics of John McCain don’t seem to have grasped–that, rightly or wrongly, the Supreme Court has already conferred rights on detainees at Gitmo and they probably won’t gain any more rights simply by being transferred to the mainland, as McCain has proposed. (Full disclosure: I am a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

2) Neal Katyal and Jack Goldsmith–a liberal and a conservative law professor–have come up with an idea for trying detainees: “a national-security court:”

According to their proposal, which was recently the subject of a conference sponsored by American University’s Washington College of Law and the Brookings Institution, sitting federal judges would preside over proceedings in which prosecutors would make the case that a person should be detained. There would be trials of sorts, and detainees would have lawyers, but they would have fewer rights than in a criminal case. Hearsay evidence may be admissible-so government agents could testify about what informants told them-and there would be no requirement for Miranda warnings before interrogations.

This seems like an excellent idea and one that could address concerns that if detainees are moved from Gitmo they will be afforded all the same rights as normal criminal defendants.

Of course even beyond the issue of trials there is the equally vital issue of preventative detention: There is insufficient evidence against many of the Gitmo detainees to convict them in a court of law but sufficient evidence to hold them indefinitely because of the risk that if released they would go back to terrorism. Obviously this needs to be part of any longterm legal solution. But simply keeping them at Gitmo will not do anything to resolve this thorny issue–and all the while it will continue to cost us international support.

Jeffrey Toobin has a pretty good overview in the current issue of the New Yorker of the whole issue of Guatanamo and the handling of terrorist detainees–especially useful for those like me who have not followed the issue super-closely. Two points in particular jumped out at me.

1) “But, in 2004, the Supreme Court ruled, in Rasul v. Bush, that, because the Guantánamo base was under the exclusive control of the U.S. military, the detainees were effectively on American soil and had the right to bring habeas-corpus petitions in federal court.”

This is something that conservative critics of John McCain don’t seem to have grasped–that, rightly or wrongly, the Supreme Court has already conferred rights on detainees at Gitmo and they probably won’t gain any more rights simply by being transferred to the mainland, as McCain has proposed. (Full disclosure: I am a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

2) Neal Katyal and Jack Goldsmith–a liberal and a conservative law professor–have come up with an idea for trying detainees: “a national-security court:”

According to their proposal, which was recently the subject of a conference sponsored by American University’s Washington College of Law and the Brookings Institution, sitting federal judges would preside over proceedings in which prosecutors would make the case that a person should be detained. There would be trials of sorts, and detainees would have lawyers, but they would have fewer rights than in a criminal case. Hearsay evidence may be admissible-so government agents could testify about what informants told them-and there would be no requirement for Miranda warnings before interrogations.

This seems like an excellent idea and one that could address concerns that if detainees are moved from Gitmo they will be afforded all the same rights as normal criminal defendants.

Of course even beyond the issue of trials there is the equally vital issue of preventative detention: There is insufficient evidence against many of the Gitmo detainees to convict them in a court of law but sufficient evidence to hold them indefinitely because of the risk that if released they would go back to terrorism. Obviously this needs to be part of any longterm legal solution. But simply keeping them at Gitmo will not do anything to resolve this thorny issue–and all the while it will continue to cost us international support.

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The Dems on God and Climate?

This Sunday, CNN will broadcast something called the “Compassion Forum” in which Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama shoot the breeze on God, religion, etc. This is how CNN’s Roland Martin describes the event:

Sunday’s forum, which will be held at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, will allow each candidate to speak for 40 minutes on various moral issues, including poverty, global AIDS, climate change and human rights.

Climate change?

Now this is progress. Finally, the politico-media set is admitting that climate change is a religious matter. What else but faith could sustain the contention that the planet is boiling, when the United Nations World Meteorological Organization just announced that not only have temperatures been steady for that past 10 years, but it looks like things are getting . . . colder. So while families in Japan and India—India!—are being literally crushed to death by record snowfall, Ted Turner is composing cannibalistic Global Warming Armageddon scenarios. I wouldn’t miss the pious pronouncements on Sunday for all the snow in Kashmir.

This Sunday, CNN will broadcast something called the “Compassion Forum” in which Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama shoot the breeze on God, religion, etc. This is how CNN’s Roland Martin describes the event:

Sunday’s forum, which will be held at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, will allow each candidate to speak for 40 minutes on various moral issues, including poverty, global AIDS, climate change and human rights.

Climate change?

Now this is progress. Finally, the politico-media set is admitting that climate change is a religious matter. What else but faith could sustain the contention that the planet is boiling, when the United Nations World Meteorological Organization just announced that not only have temperatures been steady for that past 10 years, but it looks like things are getting . . . colder. So while families in Japan and India—India!—are being literally crushed to death by record snowfall, Ted Turner is composing cannibalistic Global Warming Armageddon scenarios. I wouldn’t miss the pious pronouncements on Sunday for all the snow in Kashmir.

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Bait and Switch

Barack Obama is preparing to renege on his pledge to accept public financing. But rather than be honest and say, “I changed my mind,” he is going to try to convince us that he really has a “parallel public financing.” What is that? Raising gobs of money from the internet. In normal-speak, this would be NOT be called public financing. But hey, the terms seems to have a fluid definition: in Hillary Clinton-speak, it means taking over $200,000 from oil and gas company employees.

Most conservatives favor the private funding of campaigns, which is what Obama is prepared to do. It is Democrats who have raged that such a system gives undue influence to fatcats and special interests (not labor unions, mind you: only interests they don’t like) who, although restrained by campaign donation limits, can still bundle large sums of money. Obama’s message: never mind all that.

But this is nothing new. He seems to have perfected the art of cloaking rank hypocrisy in high-minded rhetoric and hoping the media and public are too dim to catch on. For the man who favored strict handgun control but now seeks the pro-gun vote and who preaches racial unity but refuses to separate himself from his race-baiting mentor, this is really par for the course.

Barack Obama is preparing to renege on his pledge to accept public financing. But rather than be honest and say, “I changed my mind,” he is going to try to convince us that he really has a “parallel public financing.” What is that? Raising gobs of money from the internet. In normal-speak, this would be NOT be called public financing. But hey, the terms seems to have a fluid definition: in Hillary Clinton-speak, it means taking over $200,000 from oil and gas company employees.

Most conservatives favor the private funding of campaigns, which is what Obama is prepared to do. It is Democrats who have raged that such a system gives undue influence to fatcats and special interests (not labor unions, mind you: only interests they don’t like) who, although restrained by campaign donation limits, can still bundle large sums of money. Obama’s message: never mind all that.

But this is nothing new. He seems to have perfected the art of cloaking rank hypocrisy in high-minded rhetoric and hoping the media and public are too dim to catch on. For the man who favored strict handgun control but now seeks the pro-gun vote and who preaches racial unity but refuses to separate himself from his race-baiting mentor, this is really par for the course.

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Re: Re: Re: In Praise of “Disrespect”

Abe, the State Department statement in question doesn’t constitute meaningful public diplomacy for two key reasons.

First, the essence of public diplomacy is that it defends one country’s foreign policy to a foreign public as directly as possible. Yet this statement was merely posted on the State Department’s website—a very indirect mode of communication. This illustrates how the Bush administration hoped to avoid Hamas’ election: by appearing as uninvolved in shaping the outcome of the elections as possible, and thereby doing nothing to encourage Palestinians to protest U.S. involvement by electing Hamas. In this vein, the U.S. quietly gave $2 million to the Palestinian Authority for public works projects intended to boost Fatah, with the typical USAID insignia conspicuously absent.

Second, the statement is hardly explicit regarding how the election of Hamas will affect U.S.-Palestinian relations. It merely says that a group that doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist cannot participate in the peace process—a position that is logically obvious and thus hardly a meaningful statement of policy. Put another way, the threat of being excluded from the peace process wasn’t menacing to Hamas or its supporters; but the promise to cut ties with the Palestinian government if Hamas were elected would have been. Palestinians might have still elected Hamas, but they would have done so with more realistic expectations.

Among Palestinians, the cult of helpless victimhood is a dominant theme. By stating that the outcome of their elections could have consequences—which it clearly did—the Bush administration might have finally given the Palestinian people some tangible responsibility for ending the Middle East conflict. This is not disrespectful, but empowering—which was the point of pushing for elections in the first place.

Only a serious attempt at public diplomacy could explain this rationale. When we read that Muslim publics still feel “disrespected” on account of the ongoing western boycott of Hamas, it becomes clear that we have failed to communicate our policies effectively. I would argue that we’ve barely tried.

Abe, the State Department statement in question doesn’t constitute meaningful public diplomacy for two key reasons.

First, the essence of public diplomacy is that it defends one country’s foreign policy to a foreign public as directly as possible. Yet this statement was merely posted on the State Department’s website—a very indirect mode of communication. This illustrates how the Bush administration hoped to avoid Hamas’ election: by appearing as uninvolved in shaping the outcome of the elections as possible, and thereby doing nothing to encourage Palestinians to protest U.S. involvement by electing Hamas. In this vein, the U.S. quietly gave $2 million to the Palestinian Authority for public works projects intended to boost Fatah, with the typical USAID insignia conspicuously absent.

Second, the statement is hardly explicit regarding how the election of Hamas will affect U.S.-Palestinian relations. It merely says that a group that doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist cannot participate in the peace process—a position that is logically obvious and thus hardly a meaningful statement of policy. Put another way, the threat of being excluded from the peace process wasn’t menacing to Hamas or its supporters; but the promise to cut ties with the Palestinian government if Hamas were elected would have been. Palestinians might have still elected Hamas, but they would have done so with more realistic expectations.

Among Palestinians, the cult of helpless victimhood is a dominant theme. By stating that the outcome of their elections could have consequences—which it clearly did—the Bush administration might have finally given the Palestinian people some tangible responsibility for ending the Middle East conflict. This is not disrespectful, but empowering—which was the point of pushing for elections in the first place.

Only a serious attempt at public diplomacy could explain this rationale. When we read that Muslim publics still feel “disrespected” on account of the ongoing western boycott of Hamas, it becomes clear that we have failed to communicate our policies effectively. I would argue that we’ve barely tried.

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What’s Missing Here?

One of the familiar tropes of the anti-war caucus is that Iraq had no links to terrorism prior to the American invasion but now it has become a breeding ground of terrorists who will destabilize other countries. The first part of the argument—the claim that Saddam-era Iraq was not linked to terrorism—should have been demolished by the recent Iraq Perspectives Project report. (Unfortunately, its findings were generally misreported by the MSM.) The second part of the argument—the claim that Iraq is exporting terrorism—has now come under serious assault from, of all people, the French. 

In a blockbuster article, Elaine Sciolino of the New York Times yesterday reported that French security experts are retracting their earlier claims that, as then-Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin put it in 2005, Iraq-trained jihadists would “come back to France, armed with their experience, to carry out attacks.”

Read the rest of Max Boot’s article at COMMENTARY Online.

One of the familiar tropes of the anti-war caucus is that Iraq had no links to terrorism prior to the American invasion but now it has become a breeding ground of terrorists who will destabilize other countries. The first part of the argument—the claim that Saddam-era Iraq was not linked to terrorism—should have been demolished by the recent Iraq Perspectives Project report. (Unfortunately, its findings were generally misreported by the MSM.) The second part of the argument—the claim that Iraq is exporting terrorism—has now come under serious assault from, of all people, the French. 

In a blockbuster article, Elaine Sciolino of the New York Times yesterday reported that French security experts are retracting their earlier claims that, as then-Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin put it in 2005, Iraq-trained jihadists would “come back to France, armed with their experience, to carry out attacks.”

Read the rest of Max Boot’s article at COMMENTARY Online.

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Obama, Divider

He’s not even the Democratic nominee yet and already Barack Obama is getting into diplomatic tiffs with the leader of a foreign country. Last week, Colombian president–and staunch U.S. ally–Alvaro Uribe told The Wall Street Journal that Congress’ failure to pass the Colombia Free Trade Act would deal a harsh blow to American-Colombian relations. “I wouldn’t know what to say. It would be very serious,” Uribe said. Colombia is not just any ally. It is our strongest ally in Latin America, a bulwark against the hegemonic Marxist dictator Hugo Chavez. With anti-American sentiment rising across that continent, we need all the friends we can get, and Mr. Uribe is certainly one of them.

Obama doesn’t care. “I think the president is absolutely wrong on this,” he said last week. “You’ve got a government that is under a cloud of potentially having supported violence against unions, against labor, against opposition.” Obama, like much of the rest of his party these days, is in hock to labor unions. They oppose free trade deals on principle because to do so is in the short-term economic interests of their members. But the American people, as a whole, are harmed by protectionism, and so unions and other free trade opponents must therefore dress up their opposition to trade in deceptive arguments. In this case, labor has launched a campaign against the Colombian government, which, they claim, is responsible for the deaths of trade unionists. It is paramilitaries which are responsible for these murders, however, and Uribe has courageously (and effectively) taken them on during his tenure in office, along with crime in general. Considering how enormous a problem violent crime has been in Colombia over the past several decades, this is no small thing.

For all of Obama’s talk about repairing the global alliances destroyed by the Bush administration, the junior senator from Illinois does not seem to care about what his anti-free trade posturing says, not just to Colombia, but the world. What must the Mexicans and Canadians think of his anti-NAFTA demagoguery? What about the South Koreans–another, vital, U.S. ally in a dangerous region–who probably didn’t relish his crusading against their own free trade agreement? Barack Obama’s protectionist rhetoric has done an excellent job of uniting the left-wing of the Democratic Party. Should he become President, the same won’t be said about its effect on the rest of the world.

He’s not even the Democratic nominee yet and already Barack Obama is getting into diplomatic tiffs with the leader of a foreign country. Last week, Colombian president–and staunch U.S. ally–Alvaro Uribe told The Wall Street Journal that Congress’ failure to pass the Colombia Free Trade Act would deal a harsh blow to American-Colombian relations. “I wouldn’t know what to say. It would be very serious,” Uribe said. Colombia is not just any ally. It is our strongest ally in Latin America, a bulwark against the hegemonic Marxist dictator Hugo Chavez. With anti-American sentiment rising across that continent, we need all the friends we can get, and Mr. Uribe is certainly one of them.

Obama doesn’t care. “I think the president is absolutely wrong on this,” he said last week. “You’ve got a government that is under a cloud of potentially having supported violence against unions, against labor, against opposition.” Obama, like much of the rest of his party these days, is in hock to labor unions. They oppose free trade deals on principle because to do so is in the short-term economic interests of their members. But the American people, as a whole, are harmed by protectionism, and so unions and other free trade opponents must therefore dress up their opposition to trade in deceptive arguments. In this case, labor has launched a campaign against the Colombian government, which, they claim, is responsible for the deaths of trade unionists. It is paramilitaries which are responsible for these murders, however, and Uribe has courageously (and effectively) taken them on during his tenure in office, along with crime in general. Considering how enormous a problem violent crime has been in Colombia over the past several decades, this is no small thing.

For all of Obama’s talk about repairing the global alliances destroyed by the Bush administration, the junior senator from Illinois does not seem to care about what his anti-free trade posturing says, not just to Colombia, but the world. What must the Mexicans and Canadians think of his anti-NAFTA demagoguery? What about the South Koreans–another, vital, U.S. ally in a dangerous region–who probably didn’t relish his crusading against their own free trade agreement? Barack Obama’s protectionist rhetoric has done an excellent job of uniting the left-wing of the Democratic Party. Should he become President, the same won’t be said about its effect on the rest of the world.

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