Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 2, 2008

We Hardly Knew You, Hillary

Hillary Clinton’s campaign may end today. It may end tomorrow. But it will end soon enough. It has been an improbable journey for her, from inevitable to impossible. But the journey for many Republicans observing the Democratic primary has been just as strange.

She began the campaign, from the Republicans’ perspective, as the villainess, like movie character brought back from a prior film with a slightly different look but every bit as maddening and as scary. The cackle! The smarmy sidekick Bill! And that cloying campaign announcement! It all seemed painfully familiar. But slowly things changed. It is no secret that she got a much friendlier reception and fairer treatment from the conservative than the liberal media. Both in public and private Republicans shook their heads, admitting that she had, well, grown on them. What happened?

Yes, there was an element of mischief-making in some Republicans rooting her on, the most widely known aspect being Rush Limbaugh’s “Operation Chaos.” And sure, it was fun for Republicans to see the Democratic race drag on and on and on, as the Democrats attacked and villified one another. But there was something more.

Hillary became the sane one in the race, at least from Republicans’ perspective. She was the one who looked at George Stephanopoulos with a look of incredulity when he questioned why she would threaten to blow Iran to smithereens if Iran nuked Israel. When Obama defamed religious and gun-owning Americans she objected, reminding the Democratic party for a brief interval that people loved their faith because . . . they loved their faith. And when Obama offered that raising the payroll tax cap on those making $102K would affect only the “rich,” it was Hillary who said, “That’s not rich!” Most strikingly, it was she and her campaign who did object, and object strenuously, to Obama’s plan for direct, unconditonal talks with rogue state leaders. And she even withstood her fellow Democrats’ barbs for voting to classify the Iranian National Guard as a terrorist organization.

Some might question her authenticity on some of these issues, but whether or not she truly believed it all, her articulated views were often the least crazy thing coming out of the Democratic race on any given day. What’s more she was getting clobbered, unfairly and personally nearly every day in the race by Obama’s media cheerleaders who disclaimed much if any interest in reporting the race objectively. Republicans could relate to that.

And let’s face it: Republicans are not always the hippest folks in the crowd. They tend to frown on the excesses of popular culture and Hollywood fads in particular. So when he became the darling of the fashionable and she, the awkward middle-aged gal, rolled her eyes at Obama girls–again, Republicans could relate.

So it is a good thing, perhaps, for John McCain that she lost: what started out as an idle threat or joke (“I’ll vote for Hillary over McCain!”) among the conservative base became a distinct possibility for some Republicans, and certainly many conservative Independents.

Looking back, few would have thought eighteen months ago that Hillary would lose. And fewer still would have thought some Republicans would be sorry to see it.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign may end today. It may end tomorrow. But it will end soon enough. It has been an improbable journey for her, from inevitable to impossible. But the journey for many Republicans observing the Democratic primary has been just as strange.

She began the campaign, from the Republicans’ perspective, as the villainess, like movie character brought back from a prior film with a slightly different look but every bit as maddening and as scary. The cackle! The smarmy sidekick Bill! And that cloying campaign announcement! It all seemed painfully familiar. But slowly things changed. It is no secret that she got a much friendlier reception and fairer treatment from the conservative than the liberal media. Both in public and private Republicans shook their heads, admitting that she had, well, grown on them. What happened?

Yes, there was an element of mischief-making in some Republicans rooting her on, the most widely known aspect being Rush Limbaugh’s “Operation Chaos.” And sure, it was fun for Republicans to see the Democratic race drag on and on and on, as the Democrats attacked and villified one another. But there was something more.

Hillary became the sane one in the race, at least from Republicans’ perspective. She was the one who looked at George Stephanopoulos with a look of incredulity when he questioned why she would threaten to blow Iran to smithereens if Iran nuked Israel. When Obama defamed religious and gun-owning Americans she objected, reminding the Democratic party for a brief interval that people loved their faith because . . . they loved their faith. And when Obama offered that raising the payroll tax cap on those making $102K would affect only the “rich,” it was Hillary who said, “That’s not rich!” Most strikingly, it was she and her campaign who did object, and object strenuously, to Obama’s plan for direct, unconditonal talks with rogue state leaders. And she even withstood her fellow Democrats’ barbs for voting to classify the Iranian National Guard as a terrorist organization.

Some might question her authenticity on some of these issues, but whether or not she truly believed it all, her articulated views were often the least crazy thing coming out of the Democratic race on any given day. What’s more she was getting clobbered, unfairly and personally nearly every day in the race by Obama’s media cheerleaders who disclaimed much if any interest in reporting the race objectively. Republicans could relate to that.

And let’s face it: Republicans are not always the hippest folks in the crowd. They tend to frown on the excesses of popular culture and Hollywood fads in particular. So when he became the darling of the fashionable and she, the awkward middle-aged gal, rolled her eyes at Obama girls–again, Republicans could relate.

So it is a good thing, perhaps, for John McCain that she lost: what started out as an idle threat or joke (“I’ll vote for Hillary over McCain!”) among the conservative base became a distinct possibility for some Republicans, and certainly many conservative Independents.

Looking back, few would have thought eighteen months ago that Hillary would lose. And fewer still would have thought some Republicans would be sorry to see it.

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Uniting The Base

I am sure that the media will now focus on the very real problem that Barack Obama will have in uniting the base. After all, for months, well after the polls showed any evidence of significant division in the Republican base, we were treated to a daily dose of “conservatives aren’t happy” stories about John McCain. So now that there are real, not imagined threats of defections, especially with older women, among Democrats we should be checking their pulse daily, right? Geraldine, are you fully satisfied today?

But whether the press chooses to focus on them or not, the real concerns of many of Hillary Clinton supporters, be they men or women, will need to be addressed. And unlike McCain, Obama cannot solve these by meeting the base on policy grounds (as McCain did on judges). The reason many Clinton supporters rejected him were personal — his qualifications and his unpreparedness to be commander-in-chief. And if you don’t believe me, you can read their comments directly. If those concerns are genuine, and they sound so, then the choice of a VP or an appeal on abortion rights may not do the trick.

I am sure that the media will now focus on the very real problem that Barack Obama will have in uniting the base. After all, for months, well after the polls showed any evidence of significant division in the Republican base, we were treated to a daily dose of “conservatives aren’t happy” stories about John McCain. So now that there are real, not imagined threats of defections, especially with older women, among Democrats we should be checking their pulse daily, right? Geraldine, are you fully satisfied today?

But whether the press chooses to focus on them or not, the real concerns of many of Hillary Clinton supporters, be they men or women, will need to be addressed. And unlike McCain, Obama cannot solve these by meeting the base on policy grounds (as McCain did on judges). The reason many Clinton supporters rejected him were personal — his qualifications and his unpreparedness to be commander-in-chief. And if you don’t believe me, you can read their comments directly. If those concerns are genuine, and they sound so, then the choice of a VP or an appeal on abortion rights may not do the trick.

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Not Done With The Mahdi Army

There is a strange quality to the repeated “ceasefires” between the Iraqi government and Moqtada al-Sadr. Bill Roggio reports that Iraqi and Coalition forces are currently engaged in anti-Sadrist operations in the eastern town of Abu Al Khasib, along the Iranian border. And they’re doing very well. The following is particularly interesting:

Abu Al Khasib is on Highway 6 at the border crossing with Iran at Shalamcheh. The Iranian city of Shalamcheh is the main forward operating base for the Ramazan Corps’s southernmost command. The Ramazan Corps is the Qods Force command assigned to direct operations inside Iraq. Weapons, fighters, and cash smuggled across the border into Basrah would pass through Abu Al Khasib.

The Iraqi Army has been expanding its operations along the Iranian supply routes in the South during the month of May. After clearing the Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backed militias from Basrah, operations have expanded into Az Zubayr and Al Qurnah.

Iraqi troops from the 1st Iraqi Army Division entered Az Zubayr on May 25. Az Zubayr, which is just southeast of Basrah, sits at the crossroads to Nasariyah, a tactical distribution hub for Iranian weapons. Mahdi Army Special groups would pass through Az Zubayr as they moved weapons from Iran to Basrah to Nasariyah. Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured a Special Groups financier and weapons smuggler in Az Zubayr on May 21.

Prime Minister Maliki is going after the Iranian support system, which puts a crimp in theories about the Iraqi government’s affection for Ahmadinejad.

Roggio also reports that Iraqi forces are continuing to clamp down on Sadrists in Baghdad, where eleven Mahdi Army members have been rounded up in the last 24 hours. It has become clear that the Iraqi Army, once laughed off as perpetually weak and green, is now involved in decisions and operations too fast-paced and complex for the mainstream media to follow. The New York Times coverage of Basra and Sadr City was so misleading, I find it barely pays to turn to any but experts such as Roggio on these matters.

There is a strange quality to the repeated “ceasefires” between the Iraqi government and Moqtada al-Sadr. Bill Roggio reports that Iraqi and Coalition forces are currently engaged in anti-Sadrist operations in the eastern town of Abu Al Khasib, along the Iranian border. And they’re doing very well. The following is particularly interesting:

Abu Al Khasib is on Highway 6 at the border crossing with Iran at Shalamcheh. The Iranian city of Shalamcheh is the main forward operating base for the Ramazan Corps’s southernmost command. The Ramazan Corps is the Qods Force command assigned to direct operations inside Iraq. Weapons, fighters, and cash smuggled across the border into Basrah would pass through Abu Al Khasib.

The Iraqi Army has been expanding its operations along the Iranian supply routes in the South during the month of May. After clearing the Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backed militias from Basrah, operations have expanded into Az Zubayr and Al Qurnah.

Iraqi troops from the 1st Iraqi Army Division entered Az Zubayr on May 25. Az Zubayr, which is just southeast of Basrah, sits at the crossroads to Nasariyah, a tactical distribution hub for Iranian weapons. Mahdi Army Special groups would pass through Az Zubayr as they moved weapons from Iran to Basrah to Nasariyah. Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured a Special Groups financier and weapons smuggler in Az Zubayr on May 21.

Prime Minister Maliki is going after the Iranian support system, which puts a crimp in theories about the Iraqi government’s affection for Ahmadinejad.

Roggio also reports that Iraqi forces are continuing to clamp down on Sadrists in Baghdad, where eleven Mahdi Army members have been rounded up in the last 24 hours. It has become clear that the Iraqi Army, once laughed off as perpetually weak and green, is now involved in decisions and operations too fast-paced and complex for the mainstream media to follow. The New York Times coverage of Basra and Sadr City was so misleading, I find it barely pays to turn to any but experts such as Roggio on these matters.

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“Less, Please”

The crowd apparently liked what it heard at AIPAC, and–contrary to the Democratic hit squad assembled to criticize the speech–thought it really was about Israel. (It was a very revealing that the Democrats considered a speech largely devoted to Israel’s security threats–Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran–to be lacking relevancy to AIPAC.)

But the surest sign of success by the McCain camp is Barack Obama’s plea to change the subject. After a few weeks of tangling with McCain on Iraq, Iran, and Israel he has had enough, declaring, “it seems like all Senator McCain is talking about on the campaign trail is Iraq.” Well . . . yes. What is anyone talking about? But enough of that for the Obama camp.

Obama is right, though. He isn’t going to win on national security experience. And with Iraq looking much improved, it has now become a sore point for his campaign. His hopes really do rest with being able to shift voters’ attention to the economy, health care, and other domestic matters. The challenge for McCain will be both to keep up the drumbeat on foreign policy and to meet Obama on the domestic front. It won’t be every day that he gets a standing ovation at AIPAC and a made-to-order rant from Ahmadinejad.

The crowd apparently liked what it heard at AIPAC, and–contrary to the Democratic hit squad assembled to criticize the speech–thought it really was about Israel. (It was a very revealing that the Democrats considered a speech largely devoted to Israel’s security threats–Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran–to be lacking relevancy to AIPAC.)

But the surest sign of success by the McCain camp is Barack Obama’s plea to change the subject. After a few weeks of tangling with McCain on Iraq, Iran, and Israel he has had enough, declaring, “it seems like all Senator McCain is talking about on the campaign trail is Iraq.” Well . . . yes. What is anyone talking about? But enough of that for the Obama camp.

Obama is right, though. He isn’t going to win on national security experience. And with Iraq looking much improved, it has now become a sore point for his campaign. His hopes really do rest with being able to shift voters’ attention to the economy, health care, and other domestic matters. The challenge for McCain will be both to keep up the drumbeat on foreign policy and to meet Obama on the domestic front. It won’t be every day that he gets a standing ovation at AIPAC and a made-to-order rant from Ahmadinejad.

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The World Inverted?

“For a while the world was flat,” writes Roger Cohen in today’s New York Times. “Now it’s upside down.” His thesis is simple: today, the developed world depends on the developing one. Those fortunate enough to live in the latter control the minerals, and now they have cash. They’re buying up American and European companies with theirs, now larger than ours. So sorry, Tom Friedman, your flat-world paradigm, once so popular, is simply out of date.

We should forgive Cohen for taking every trend today and assuming they will continue indefinitely. After all, he’s following in the footsteps of extremely distinguished company, Fareed Zakaria, for instance. The title of Zakaria’s most recent book, The Post-American World, tells you all you need to know about the direction of geopolitical thinking.

With economic might comes power. Therefore, we’ll just have to expand the G-8 to include China, India, Brazil, and others. And the Security Council? As Cohen tells us this morning, “The 21st century can’t be handled with 20th-century institutions.” Therefore, the UN’s power center will, of course, have to be enlarged to reflect our new multipolar international system. Cohen even suggests that the West will need all the charity it can get from the upstarts.

So will the next American President have to view the world while standing on his head, as Cohen suggests? When economic development has evenly spread wealth from nation to nation, it will be impossible for a country with just 4.6 percent of global population–that’s the United States, by the way–to produce 25.5 percent of the world’s economic output, as it did in 2007. Eventually, a China five times more populous than the United States will have a gross domestic product five times larger than ours-and armed forces five times more powerful. Our fate, in short, is to be swamped.

There’s only one minor clarification I wish to make. Cohen’s scenario will not happen in our lifetime. It won’t even happen this century. The homogenization of the world economy, like the Age of Aquarius, is further away than any of us can imagine.

Why? History absolutely refuses to travel in straight lines. For instance, the political conditions that created globalization–the removal of barriers to international commerce after the failure of the Soviet Union–will inevitably go back up again. Check out “progress” on the Doha Round if you want to understand why the days of free trade across the globe could be coming to an end. Moreover, the authoritarian states are banding together around Russia and China, and this is bound to cause extreme difficulties for the American-led international system. Remember that the second most optimistic period in history–a time when many thought trade and globalization would usher in a period of permanent peace–was followed by the First World War, the most destructive conflict up until that time.

Even in the absence of intercontinental warfare, the resource-rich nations of the developing world will probably falter. If there is any common reason why none of Iran, Venezuela, or Saudi Arabia will sit on the Security Council, it is because a country’s form of government is critical to national success. Each of these states is struggling to adjust to a modernizing world where the tone is generally set by the capitalist democracies. In the last few months as China’s one-party state has been rocked by one internal crisis after another, talk of “the Chinese century” has largely disappeared from international discourse.

So Cohen may look brilliant today, but let’s put all this talk about the end of Western dominance into context. Yes, it is unlikely that we will ever be as powerful in relative terms as we were in the days immediately following World War II, but we have to remember that all of the periods of American decline since then were followed by extraordinary recoveries. And if there is anything that sets America apart from the rest of the world, it is the ability to renew itself. Despite all the troubles that lie ahead, we are living in the Second American Century.

“For a while the world was flat,” writes Roger Cohen in today’s New York Times. “Now it’s upside down.” His thesis is simple: today, the developed world depends on the developing one. Those fortunate enough to live in the latter control the minerals, and now they have cash. They’re buying up American and European companies with theirs, now larger than ours. So sorry, Tom Friedman, your flat-world paradigm, once so popular, is simply out of date.

We should forgive Cohen for taking every trend today and assuming they will continue indefinitely. After all, he’s following in the footsteps of extremely distinguished company, Fareed Zakaria, for instance. The title of Zakaria’s most recent book, The Post-American World, tells you all you need to know about the direction of geopolitical thinking.

With economic might comes power. Therefore, we’ll just have to expand the G-8 to include China, India, Brazil, and others. And the Security Council? As Cohen tells us this morning, “The 21st century can’t be handled with 20th-century institutions.” Therefore, the UN’s power center will, of course, have to be enlarged to reflect our new multipolar international system. Cohen even suggests that the West will need all the charity it can get from the upstarts.

So will the next American President have to view the world while standing on his head, as Cohen suggests? When economic development has evenly spread wealth from nation to nation, it will be impossible for a country with just 4.6 percent of global population–that’s the United States, by the way–to produce 25.5 percent of the world’s economic output, as it did in 2007. Eventually, a China five times more populous than the United States will have a gross domestic product five times larger than ours-and armed forces five times more powerful. Our fate, in short, is to be swamped.

There’s only one minor clarification I wish to make. Cohen’s scenario will not happen in our lifetime. It won’t even happen this century. The homogenization of the world economy, like the Age of Aquarius, is further away than any of us can imagine.

Why? History absolutely refuses to travel in straight lines. For instance, the political conditions that created globalization–the removal of barriers to international commerce after the failure of the Soviet Union–will inevitably go back up again. Check out “progress” on the Doha Round if you want to understand why the days of free trade across the globe could be coming to an end. Moreover, the authoritarian states are banding together around Russia and China, and this is bound to cause extreme difficulties for the American-led international system. Remember that the second most optimistic period in history–a time when many thought trade and globalization would usher in a period of permanent peace–was followed by the First World War, the most destructive conflict up until that time.

Even in the absence of intercontinental warfare, the resource-rich nations of the developing world will probably falter. If there is any common reason why none of Iran, Venezuela, or Saudi Arabia will sit on the Security Council, it is because a country’s form of government is critical to national success. Each of these states is struggling to adjust to a modernizing world where the tone is generally set by the capitalist democracies. In the last few months as China’s one-party state has been rocked by one internal crisis after another, talk of “the Chinese century” has largely disappeared from international discourse.

So Cohen may look brilliant today, but let’s put all this talk about the end of Western dominance into context. Yes, it is unlikely that we will ever be as powerful in relative terms as we were in the days immediately following World War II, but we have to remember that all of the periods of American decline since then were followed by extraordinary recoveries. And if there is anything that sets America apart from the rest of the world, it is the ability to renew itself. Despite all the troubles that lie ahead, we are living in the Second American Century.

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Whatever Happened to Donna Brazile?

The wackiest political development this past weekend was the arbitrary division of the Michigan and Florida Democratic Convention delegates. Final result: The delegates will be seated at the convention in August, but each vote will count only half. For one member of the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee, Donna Brazile, this decision should have provoked a lot of ire.

As Al Gore’s presidential campaign manager, Brazile published an op-ed in the Washington Post on December 25, 2000. By then, Gore had conceded the election, but Brazile was still worried enough about alleged voting suppression in Florida to write the following, an attempt to de-legitimize the election results:

I hope the civil rights community will start the healing process by holding town meetings and vigils on Jan. 15, the birthday of Martin Luther King and a federal holiday.

As for me, this was supposed to be my last campaign—my exit from grass-roots politics and moving on to other things to enjoy—such as teaching, cooking and gardening. But how can anyone move on with so many angry voices and so much bitterness? With all the progress made over the past eight years under the leadership of President Clinton and Vice President Gore, we must still fight on and work with Congress and the new administration on fixing what ails some of us at the ballot box.

The question must now be posed to Brazile: how does eliminating half the voting power of the Michigan and Florida voters rectify of ballot-box ailments? Moreover, why should an “uncommitted” vote be automatically awarded to Barack Obama, as it now is resolved to be for 45% of the Democratic voters in Michigan? Brazile’s outlook seems to have changed, without explanation or qualification. According to the Los Angeles Times,

Brazile described herself as wanting to give the two states a voice at the convention, but “I also want to put on the record, because this goes to what my mama taught me . . . that when you decide to change the rules, especially [in the] middle of the game, end of the game, that is referred to as cheating.”

Cheers, boos and applause followed.

Brazile urged the panel to craft a compromise that would “pay tribute” to voters who wrote in candidates or did not go to the polls.

So, since the state parties “cheated,” as Brazile calls it, the voters of each state lose their voting power. Sounds like voter suppression to me! What about the will of the people?

In her 2000 Op-Ed, Brazile ends by suggesting that she will take a much-needed break from politics and take time to turn in upon herself:

But as most Americans prepare for a new political season in Washington, I look forward to cooking and stirring my creole gumbo. After I open my gifts, I will go down to my basement and play favorite songs from my youth—songs that will remind me that the struggle for civil rights in America will never die unless we let it.

What say you now, Donna? Perhaps the time has come for yet another self-indulging trip to the basement.

The wackiest political development this past weekend was the arbitrary division of the Michigan and Florida Democratic Convention delegates. Final result: The delegates will be seated at the convention in August, but each vote will count only half. For one member of the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee, Donna Brazile, this decision should have provoked a lot of ire.

As Al Gore’s presidential campaign manager, Brazile published an op-ed in the Washington Post on December 25, 2000. By then, Gore had conceded the election, but Brazile was still worried enough about alleged voting suppression in Florida to write the following, an attempt to de-legitimize the election results:

I hope the civil rights community will start the healing process by holding town meetings and vigils on Jan. 15, the birthday of Martin Luther King and a federal holiday.

As for me, this was supposed to be my last campaign—my exit from grass-roots politics and moving on to other things to enjoy—such as teaching, cooking and gardening. But how can anyone move on with so many angry voices and so much bitterness? With all the progress made over the past eight years under the leadership of President Clinton and Vice President Gore, we must still fight on and work with Congress and the new administration on fixing what ails some of us at the ballot box.

The question must now be posed to Brazile: how does eliminating half the voting power of the Michigan and Florida voters rectify of ballot-box ailments? Moreover, why should an “uncommitted” vote be automatically awarded to Barack Obama, as it now is resolved to be for 45% of the Democratic voters in Michigan? Brazile’s outlook seems to have changed, without explanation or qualification. According to the Los Angeles Times,

Brazile described herself as wanting to give the two states a voice at the convention, but “I also want to put on the record, because this goes to what my mama taught me . . . that when you decide to change the rules, especially [in the] middle of the game, end of the game, that is referred to as cheating.”

Cheers, boos and applause followed.

Brazile urged the panel to craft a compromise that would “pay tribute” to voters who wrote in candidates or did not go to the polls.

So, since the state parties “cheated,” as Brazile calls it, the voters of each state lose their voting power. Sounds like voter suppression to me! What about the will of the people?

In her 2000 Op-Ed, Brazile ends by suggesting that she will take a much-needed break from politics and take time to turn in upon herself:

But as most Americans prepare for a new political season in Washington, I look forward to cooking and stirring my creole gumbo. After I open my gifts, I will go down to my basement and play favorite songs from my youth—songs that will remind me that the struggle for civil rights in America will never die unless we let it.

What say you now, Donna? Perhaps the time has come for yet another self-indulging trip to the basement.

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What Change of Position?

In a media call organized by the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the National Security Network, three Democrats attacked John McCain’s speech at AIPAC: Mara Rudman, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and an Adviser to Middle East Progress; Jon B. Alterman, Director and Senior Fellow of the CSIS Middle East Program; and Rand Beers, President of the National Security Network.

They repeated the Democratic canard that McCain’s speech showed he was “stuck in the Bush administration.” They advocated broaders steps to engage Iran, contended that McCain’s sanctions approach would not work, and called it a “mischaracterization” of Barack Obama’s position that Obama wants to “rush off to Tehran.” They also criticized the speech which they said did not have “a whole heck of a lot” to say about Israel. Apparently, they do not recognize Iran or Iraq as related to Israel’s security and therefore consider those comments off topic.

I asked if the Bush administration had in fact not already gone down the negotiation road, deferring to the Europeans. Beers responded that it was a mistake to allow the Europeans to become the “interlocutors” and that the current talks do not address nuclear issues. He reiterated the view that what was needed was direct talks and that ratcheting up the pressure on Iran simply won’t work.

But when I questioned why it was incorrect to say that Obama was “rushing off to Tehran,” things got a bit hot and heavy. They denied that was his position, pointing to recent interviews. When I asked about his own website and his response in the CNN/YouTube debate, they insisted I quote those comments, not accepting my offer to read them at CONTENTIONS (or the many other outlets where they have been reported). I tried again, asking if the website comments and earlier remarks evincing his willingness to talk directly to Ahmadinejad were “inoperative,” they accused the McCain camp of wanting to muddy the waters. In short, none of the three was willing to acknowledge that Obama still wanted to have direct, unconditional talks OR to acknowledge that his position had changed.

And, as if on cue, with John McCain AIPAC speech we have this report:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad predicted on Monday that Muslims would uproot “satanic powers” and repeated his controversial belief that Israel will soon disappear, the Mehr news agency reported. “I must announce that the Zionist regime (Israel), with a 60-year record of genocide, plunder, invasion and betrayal is about to die and will soon be erased from the geographical scene,” he said.

And these foreign policy “experts” critiquing McCain don’t see what Iran has to do with Israel? I can understand why they are so touchy about those old YouTube clips.

In a media call organized by the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the National Security Network, three Democrats attacked John McCain’s speech at AIPAC: Mara Rudman, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and an Adviser to Middle East Progress; Jon B. Alterman, Director and Senior Fellow of the CSIS Middle East Program; and Rand Beers, President of the National Security Network.

They repeated the Democratic canard that McCain’s speech showed he was “stuck in the Bush administration.” They advocated broaders steps to engage Iran, contended that McCain’s sanctions approach would not work, and called it a “mischaracterization” of Barack Obama’s position that Obama wants to “rush off to Tehran.” They also criticized the speech which they said did not have “a whole heck of a lot” to say about Israel. Apparently, they do not recognize Iran or Iraq as related to Israel’s security and therefore consider those comments off topic.

I asked if the Bush administration had in fact not already gone down the negotiation road, deferring to the Europeans. Beers responded that it was a mistake to allow the Europeans to become the “interlocutors” and that the current talks do not address nuclear issues. He reiterated the view that what was needed was direct talks and that ratcheting up the pressure on Iran simply won’t work.

But when I questioned why it was incorrect to say that Obama was “rushing off to Tehran,” things got a bit hot and heavy. They denied that was his position, pointing to recent interviews. When I asked about his own website and his response in the CNN/YouTube debate, they insisted I quote those comments, not accepting my offer to read them at CONTENTIONS (or the many other outlets where they have been reported). I tried again, asking if the website comments and earlier remarks evincing his willingness to talk directly to Ahmadinejad were “inoperative,” they accused the McCain camp of wanting to muddy the waters. In short, none of the three was willing to acknowledge that Obama still wanted to have direct, unconditional talks OR to acknowledge that his position had changed.

And, as if on cue, with John McCain AIPAC speech we have this report:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad predicted on Monday that Muslims would uproot “satanic powers” and repeated his controversial belief that Israel will soon disappear, the Mehr news agency reported. “I must announce that the Zionist regime (Israel), with a 60-year record of genocide, plunder, invasion and betrayal is about to die and will soon be erased from the geographical scene,” he said.

And these foreign policy “experts” critiquing McCain don’t see what Iran has to do with Israel? I can understand why they are so touchy about those old YouTube clips.

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From Middle East Journal: A Dark Corner of Europe

cross-posted at Middle East Journal

“If Yugoslavia was the laboratory of Communism, then Communism would breathe its last dying breath here in Belgrade. And to judge by what [Slobodan] Milosevic was turning into by early 1989, Communism would exit the world stage revealed for what it truly was: fascism, without fascism’s ability to make the trains run on time.” – Robert D. Kaplan

“You bombed my country.” These were the nearly first words I heard after clearing passport control on arrival in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, from a taxi driver who flagged me down inside the airport. “Fifteen countries bombed my country.”

I didn’t know what to say. Neither did my American friend and traveling companion Sean LaFreniere.

“Why are you here in Serbia?” the driver said.

“We’re tourists,” I lied. I didn’t want to say I was an American journalist on a trip through the former Yugoslavia with an end destination in Kosovo. Serbia’s last war of ethnic-cleansing was fought there, and it only ended when NATO, led by the United States, bombed Belgrade’s tyrant Slobodan Milosevic into submission. That was nine years ago, but just three months ago Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. A mob of Serbian nationalists answered by fire-bombing the American embassy. The U.S. responded by evacuating its non-essential employees.

“If people ask what two tourists are doing here,” the driver said, “where you are from, you say you’re from Holland.”

Read the rest of the post here.

cross-posted at Middle East Journal

“If Yugoslavia was the laboratory of Communism, then Communism would breathe its last dying breath here in Belgrade. And to judge by what [Slobodan] Milosevic was turning into by early 1989, Communism would exit the world stage revealed for what it truly was: fascism, without fascism’s ability to make the trains run on time.” – Robert D. Kaplan

“You bombed my country.” These were the nearly first words I heard after clearing passport control on arrival in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, from a taxi driver who flagged me down inside the airport. “Fifteen countries bombed my country.”

I didn’t know what to say. Neither did my American friend and traveling companion Sean LaFreniere.

“Why are you here in Serbia?” the driver said.

“We’re tourists,” I lied. I didn’t want to say I was an American journalist on a trip through the former Yugoslavia with an end destination in Kosovo. Serbia’s last war of ethnic-cleansing was fought there, and it only ended when NATO, led by the United States, bombed Belgrade’s tyrant Slobodan Milosevic into submission. That was nine years ago, but just three months ago Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. A mob of Serbian nationalists answered by fire-bombing the American embassy. The U.S. responded by evacuating its non-essential employees.

“If people ask what two tourists are doing here,” the driver said, “where you are from, you say you’re from Holland.”

Read the rest of the post here.

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Islamists Are Naive

My colleague Pete Wehner has already called attention to this Washington Post article on “Basra’s Wary Rebirth,” but I would just like to emphasize that it bears a close reading-not only for what it tells us about the current state of Iraq but also for what it says about the future prospects of political Islam.

The gist of the article is that, since the Iraqi army broke the Mahdist Army’s control of Basra, a harsh brand of Islamic law has been lifted and a semblance of more urbane life has returned. Correspondent Sudarsan Raghavan writes: “Under the harsh constraints imposed by extremist Shiite Muslim clerics and militias that until recently controlled this city, men with Western hairstyles were threatened and beaten. Women without head scarves were sometimes raped and killed. Love was a secret ritual.” Now unmarried men and women can stroll in public, hand in hand; alcohol is sold and consumed in public; and secular CD’s and DVD’s are openly sold, many with lyrics or scenes considered risqué by Islamists. Of course the situation remains tenuous and many people are still afraid that the Mahdist Army will stage a comeback. Thus, Raghavan writes, “Samer Riad, 23, an artist, is still reluctant to paint portraits of women, another practice outlawed by the fundamentalists.”

What is fascinating is that the lesson of Basra confirms the lesson of Afghanistan and Iran: every place where a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam has been imposed it has proven to be wildly unpopular. It can only be imposed, in fact, at the point of a gun. That is probably true even of Saudi Arabia, which, lest we forget, is one of the most complete dictatorships on the planet. What this suggests is that President Bush and others who think that there is a fundamental desire for liberty inherent in most people are not being naïve. It is Islamists who are naïve (or simply deluded) for thinking that their crazed version of Islamic teaching provides a viable model for a modern society.

My colleague Pete Wehner has already called attention to this Washington Post article on “Basra’s Wary Rebirth,” but I would just like to emphasize that it bears a close reading-not only for what it tells us about the current state of Iraq but also for what it says about the future prospects of political Islam.

The gist of the article is that, since the Iraqi army broke the Mahdist Army’s control of Basra, a harsh brand of Islamic law has been lifted and a semblance of more urbane life has returned. Correspondent Sudarsan Raghavan writes: “Under the harsh constraints imposed by extremist Shiite Muslim clerics and militias that until recently controlled this city, men with Western hairstyles were threatened and beaten. Women without head scarves were sometimes raped and killed. Love was a secret ritual.” Now unmarried men and women can stroll in public, hand in hand; alcohol is sold and consumed in public; and secular CD’s and DVD’s are openly sold, many with lyrics or scenes considered risqué by Islamists. Of course the situation remains tenuous and many people are still afraid that the Mahdist Army will stage a comeback. Thus, Raghavan writes, “Samer Riad, 23, an artist, is still reluctant to paint portraits of women, another practice outlawed by the fundamentalists.”

What is fascinating is that the lesson of Basra confirms the lesson of Afghanistan and Iran: every place where a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam has been imposed it has proven to be wildly unpopular. It can only be imposed, in fact, at the point of a gun. That is probably true even of Saudi Arabia, which, lest we forget, is one of the most complete dictatorships on the planet. What this suggests is that President Bush and others who think that there is a fundamental desire for liberty inherent in most people are not being naïve. It is Islamists who are naïve (or simply deluded) for thinking that their crazed version of Islamic teaching provides a viable model for a modern society.

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The Lady Is Not For Turning. . . Yet

She isn’t Margaret Thatcher, but Hillary Clinton is not “for turning”–that is, she is not going anywhere. At least not yet. If the speech last night did not convince you, her interview with The Washington Post should. Not until the final vote is cast on Tuesday, and maybe not even then, will she exit. Why should she, after all? Superdelegates could still change their minds, so there is no reason to depart quite yet. Does she know something, does she “have” something or is she just hoping against all odds at this point that her vaunted research team will turn up something or that some unforseen event will fundamentally alter the race?

Well, many eyes are turned toward Trinity United–actually toward YouTube–to see what else shows up. Obama’s resignation is unlikely to remove the doubts and concerns perculating even among Democrats. As a Baptist minister quoted in the Wall Street Journal put it:

The fact is he benefited from his relationship with that church early on and he talked about it a lot. When the same church becomes somewhat of a burden, rather than a blessing, he decides to separate himself from it.

It is not as if Obama has improved over the last few months or solved these nagging issues; Clinton just fell too far behind before the public learned of the Trinity Church cast of characters and Bittergate. As Juan Williams explained:

It seems to me that the problem is people coming to know Senator Obama at this point — and you know, when Father Pfleger goes off about, you know, white people this, and Hillary Clinton is this kind of white person, and white — she’s crying and he’s mocking her, and it’s not just her crying, it’s white people all over the country are crying — you know, Nina, I hope that Christ is a liberation figure for black people, for white people, for everybody. He should stand for the oppressed. But when it’s put in these terms, it’s divisive and it suggests that Barack Obama for 20 years was willing, out of political expedience, to embrace that kind of talk. And then it says, “Well, what kind of guy is he? Is this really the guy?” . . . I think the New York Times this morning said he’s wheezing to the finish line. He’s had less votes. He’s won only, I think, less than half of the most recent primaries. And he’s won less in terms of the popular vote.

But none of this in and of itself is likely sufficient to deprive Obama of the nomination, absent some major new event. The general election is another matter, however. And if he falters and fritters away the Democrats’ “no way we can lose” 2008 election Clinton will certainly say, “It’s not like I didn’t warn you.” (That’ll fit on her 2012 bumper sticker.)

She isn’t Margaret Thatcher, but Hillary Clinton is not “for turning”–that is, she is not going anywhere. At least not yet. If the speech last night did not convince you, her interview with The Washington Post should. Not until the final vote is cast on Tuesday, and maybe not even then, will she exit. Why should she, after all? Superdelegates could still change their minds, so there is no reason to depart quite yet. Does she know something, does she “have” something or is she just hoping against all odds at this point that her vaunted research team will turn up something or that some unforseen event will fundamentally alter the race?

Well, many eyes are turned toward Trinity United–actually toward YouTube–to see what else shows up. Obama’s resignation is unlikely to remove the doubts and concerns perculating even among Democrats. As a Baptist minister quoted in the Wall Street Journal put it:

The fact is he benefited from his relationship with that church early on and he talked about it a lot. When the same church becomes somewhat of a burden, rather than a blessing, he decides to separate himself from it.

It is not as if Obama has improved over the last few months or solved these nagging issues; Clinton just fell too far behind before the public learned of the Trinity Church cast of characters and Bittergate. As Juan Williams explained:

It seems to me that the problem is people coming to know Senator Obama at this point — and you know, when Father Pfleger goes off about, you know, white people this, and Hillary Clinton is this kind of white person, and white — she’s crying and he’s mocking her, and it’s not just her crying, it’s white people all over the country are crying — you know, Nina, I hope that Christ is a liberation figure for black people, for white people, for everybody. He should stand for the oppressed. But when it’s put in these terms, it’s divisive and it suggests that Barack Obama for 20 years was willing, out of political expedience, to embrace that kind of talk. And then it says, “Well, what kind of guy is he? Is this really the guy?” . . . I think the New York Times this morning said he’s wheezing to the finish line. He’s had less votes. He’s won only, I think, less than half of the most recent primaries. And he’s won less in terms of the popular vote.

But none of this in and of itself is likely sufficient to deprive Obama of the nomination, absent some major new event. The general election is another matter, however. And if he falters and fritters away the Democrats’ “no way we can lose” 2008 election Clinton will certainly say, “It’s not like I didn’t warn you.” (That’ll fit on her 2012 bumper sticker.)

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Noah Nailed It

On May 20, my CONTENTIONS colleague Noah Pollak asserted that John McCain was losing the Iran policy debate to Barack Obama. McCain had framed his refusal to talk to Tehran in such a way as to ignore the fact that extensive diplomatic overtures had already failed to persuade the Iranian regime to budge. Noah wrote:

. . . it seems to me that McCain should be making a bigger deal over the fact that the western world has indeed been deeply involved in attempting to deal with the Iranian nuclear program through almost exactly the kind of diplomacy that Obama says has yet to be tried. McCain should emphasize the fact that the Iranians have not only been unmoved by this “diplomatic offensive,” but have used the negotiations in order to buy time for nuclear development.

I think Noah was right, and I think John McCain has come to see the wisdom in this point. From McCain’s AIPAC speech earlier today:

The Iranians have spent years working toward a nuclear program. And the idea that they now seek nuclear weapons because we refuse to engage in presidential-level talks is a serious misreading of history. In reality, a series of administrations have tried to talk to Iran, and none tried harder than the Clinton administration. In 1998, the secretary of state made a public overture to the Iranians, laid out a roadmap to normal relations, and for two years tried to engage. The Clinton administration even lifted some sanctions, and Secretary Albright apologized for American actions going back to the 1950s. But even under President Khatami–a man by all accounts less radical than the current president–Iran rejected these overtures.

Then, further proving the absurdity of diplomatic hopefulness, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today came out with fresh redoubled threats against both Israel and the U.S.

I must announce that the Zionist regime (Israel), with a 60-year record of genocide, plunder, invasion and betrayal is about to die and will soon be erased from the geographical scene. . . . Today, the time for the fall of the satanic power of the United States has come and the countdown to the annihilation of the emperor of power and wealth has started.

Well, Senator Obama, Tehran is talking. What is your reply?

On May 20, my CONTENTIONS colleague Noah Pollak asserted that John McCain was losing the Iran policy debate to Barack Obama. McCain had framed his refusal to talk to Tehran in such a way as to ignore the fact that extensive diplomatic overtures had already failed to persuade the Iranian regime to budge. Noah wrote:

. . . it seems to me that McCain should be making a bigger deal over the fact that the western world has indeed been deeply involved in attempting to deal with the Iranian nuclear program through almost exactly the kind of diplomacy that Obama says has yet to be tried. McCain should emphasize the fact that the Iranians have not only been unmoved by this “diplomatic offensive,” but have used the negotiations in order to buy time for nuclear development.

I think Noah was right, and I think John McCain has come to see the wisdom in this point. From McCain’s AIPAC speech earlier today:

The Iranians have spent years working toward a nuclear program. And the idea that they now seek nuclear weapons because we refuse to engage in presidential-level talks is a serious misreading of history. In reality, a series of administrations have tried to talk to Iran, and none tried harder than the Clinton administration. In 1998, the secretary of state made a public overture to the Iranians, laid out a roadmap to normal relations, and for two years tried to engage. The Clinton administration even lifted some sanctions, and Secretary Albright apologized for American actions going back to the 1950s. But even under President Khatami–a man by all accounts less radical than the current president–Iran rejected these overtures.

Then, further proving the absurdity of diplomatic hopefulness, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today came out with fresh redoubled threats against both Israel and the U.S.

I must announce that the Zionist regime (Israel), with a 60-year record of genocide, plunder, invasion and betrayal is about to die and will soon be erased from the geographical scene. . . . Today, the time for the fall of the satanic power of the United States has come and the countdown to the annihilation of the emperor of power and wealth has started.

Well, Senator Obama, Tehran is talking. What is your reply?

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RIP William Odom

I was saddened to read of the death of William E. Odom, one of America’s leading soldier-scholars. In recent years he has become known as an outspoken critic of Bush foreign policy and advocate of withdrawal from Iraq. I disagreed with him, and we even debated at least once on the radio. But I never lost my respect or affection for him, formulated initially when, as a graduate student at Yale in 1991-92, I took a class with him on the Russian military. He was a refreshing outpost of pro-military, anti-communist thinking on a campus where neither viewpoint was much encouraged.

Bill Odom spent much of his career as a military intelligence officer specializing in the Soviet Union including serving as a military attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. He went to Columbia to receive an MA and Ph.D. in political science. While there he worked closely with a professor named Zbigniew Brzezinski. When Brzezinski became Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, Odom became his military assistant. He then went on to become a three-star general and director of the National Security Agency in the Reagan administration. He finally retired in 1988 to pursue a career in the twin worlds of academia and think-tankery, which is how I came to know him.

During the Cold War, Odom had a reputation as a hawk and hardliner. (So, for that matter, did Brzezinski.) In the years since then, both seemed to drift to the left, though, in fairness to Odom, I am sure he would have denied it. He often said that he had opposed the Vietnam War from the start because he thought that containing North Vietnam was in the interests of China, not the United States. He opposed the Iraq War because he thought it was equally ill-advised. Unlike so many leading analysts and politicians, he did not turn into a dove only when it became clear the war was not going well: he was against the war from the beginning, which took some guts considering that he was employed by a conservative think tank, the Hudson Institute.

Where I truly disagreed with him was not in his opposition to the war in the first place-the decision to invade Iraq was a close call and there were good arguments on both sides. I thought he went too far when he said, during the course of the war, that victory was not an option and therefore we should pull out all of our troops, notwithstanding the dire likely consequences. He even puckishly authored an article in 2005 entitled “What’s Wrong with Cutting and Running?”

Notwithstanding his dovish views on Iraq (and related subjects, such as Iran), he remained committed to a fairly expansive view of the American role in the world, as he made clear in his book, co-authored with Robert Dujarric, America’s Inadvertent Empire. He approved of the “empire” in question, even if he never had much patience with those on either the Left or the Right who would place our ideals at the center of our foreign policy.

Agree with him or not, Odom deserves to be remembered for a long and illustrious career of service-a legacy carried on by his son, Mark, an army lieutenant-colonel who was wounded in Iraq. He was particularly notable for managing to combine scholarly achievement with a successful military career-a combination that both academia and the military too often frown upon.

I was saddened to read of the death of William E. Odom, one of America’s leading soldier-scholars. In recent years he has become known as an outspoken critic of Bush foreign policy and advocate of withdrawal from Iraq. I disagreed with him, and we even debated at least once on the radio. But I never lost my respect or affection for him, formulated initially when, as a graduate student at Yale in 1991-92, I took a class with him on the Russian military. He was a refreshing outpost of pro-military, anti-communist thinking on a campus where neither viewpoint was much encouraged.

Bill Odom spent much of his career as a military intelligence officer specializing in the Soviet Union including serving as a military attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. He went to Columbia to receive an MA and Ph.D. in political science. While there he worked closely with a professor named Zbigniew Brzezinski. When Brzezinski became Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, Odom became his military assistant. He then went on to become a three-star general and director of the National Security Agency in the Reagan administration. He finally retired in 1988 to pursue a career in the twin worlds of academia and think-tankery, which is how I came to know him.

During the Cold War, Odom had a reputation as a hawk and hardliner. (So, for that matter, did Brzezinski.) In the years since then, both seemed to drift to the left, though, in fairness to Odom, I am sure he would have denied it. He often said that he had opposed the Vietnam War from the start because he thought that containing North Vietnam was in the interests of China, not the United States. He opposed the Iraq War because he thought it was equally ill-advised. Unlike so many leading analysts and politicians, he did not turn into a dove only when it became clear the war was not going well: he was against the war from the beginning, which took some guts considering that he was employed by a conservative think tank, the Hudson Institute.

Where I truly disagreed with him was not in his opposition to the war in the first place-the decision to invade Iraq was a close call and there were good arguments on both sides. I thought he went too far when he said, during the course of the war, that victory was not an option and therefore we should pull out all of our troops, notwithstanding the dire likely consequences. He even puckishly authored an article in 2005 entitled “What’s Wrong with Cutting and Running?”

Notwithstanding his dovish views on Iraq (and related subjects, such as Iran), he remained committed to a fairly expansive view of the American role in the world, as he made clear in his book, co-authored with Robert Dujarric, America’s Inadvertent Empire. He approved of the “empire” in question, even if he never had much patience with those on either the Left or the Right who would place our ideals at the center of our foreign policy.

Agree with him or not, Odom deserves to be remembered for a long and illustrious career of service-a legacy carried on by his son, Mark, an army lieutenant-colonel who was wounded in Iraq. He was particularly notable for managing to combine scholarly achievement with a successful military career-a combination that both academia and the military too often frown upon.

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McCain on Iran

In his AIPAC speech this morning, John McCain talked tough on Iran:

[W]e hear talk of a meeting with the Iranian leadership offered up as if it were some sudden inspiration, a bold new idea that somehow nobody has ever thought of before. Yet it’s hard to see what such a summit with President Ahmadinejad would actually gain, except an earful of anti-Semitic rants, and a worldwide audience for a man who denies one Holocaust and talks before frenzied crowds about starting another. Such a spectacle would harm Iranian moderates and dissidents, as the radicals and hardliners strengthen their position and suddenly acquire the appearance of respectability. Rather than sitting down unconditionally with the Iranian president or supreme leader in the hope that we can talk sense into them, we must create the real-world pressures that will peacefully but decisively change the path they are on. Essential to this strategy is the UN Security Council, which should impose progressively tougher political and economic sanctions. Should the Security Council continue to delay in this responsibility, the United States must lead like-minded countries in imposing multilateral sanctions outside the UN framework. I am proud to have been a leader on these issues for years, having coauthored the 1992 Iran-Iraq Arms Non-Proliferation Act. Over a year ago I proposed applying sanctions to restrict Iran’s ability to import refined petroleum products, on which it is highly dependent, and the time has come for an international campaign to do just that. A severe limit on Iranian imports of gasoline would create immediate pressure on Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to change course, and to cease in the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

On the subject of Iraq he did not mince words:

It’s worth recalling that America’s progress in Iraq is the direct result of the new strategy that Senator Obama opposed. It was the strategy he predicted would fail, when he voted cut off funds for our forces in Iraq. He now says he intends to withdraw combat troops from Iraq – one to two brigades per month until they are all removed. He will do so regardless of the conditions in Iraq, regardless of the consequences for our national security, regardless of Israel’s security, and in disregard of the best advice of our commanders on the ground. This course would surely result in a catastrophe. If our troops are ordered to make a forced retreat, we risk all-out civil war, genocide, and a failed state in the heart of the Middle East. Al Qaeda terrorists would rejoice in the defeat of the United States. Allowing a potential terrorist sanctuary would profoundly affect the security of the United States, Israel, and our other friends, and would invite further intervention from Iraq’s neighbors, including an emboldened Iran. We must not let this happen. We must not leave the region to suffer chaos, terrorist violence and a wider war.

But the speech was more than a series of public policy pronouncements. It was in many ways a tender, heart-filled tribute to Israel. He concludes:

If there are ties between America and Israel that critics of our alliance have never understood, perhaps that is because they do not fully understand the love of liberty and the pursuit of justice. But they should know those ties cannot be broken. We were brought together by shared ideals and by shared adversity. We have been comrades in struggle, and trusted partners in the quest for peace. We are the most natural of allies. And, like Israel itself, that alliance is forever.

If there has been a sweeter public expression of affection for and solidarity with Israel I would be hard pressed to recollect it.

In his AIPAC speech this morning, John McCain talked tough on Iran:

[W]e hear talk of a meeting with the Iranian leadership offered up as if it were some sudden inspiration, a bold new idea that somehow nobody has ever thought of before. Yet it’s hard to see what such a summit with President Ahmadinejad would actually gain, except an earful of anti-Semitic rants, and a worldwide audience for a man who denies one Holocaust and talks before frenzied crowds about starting another. Such a spectacle would harm Iranian moderates and dissidents, as the radicals and hardliners strengthen their position and suddenly acquire the appearance of respectability. Rather than sitting down unconditionally with the Iranian president or supreme leader in the hope that we can talk sense into them, we must create the real-world pressures that will peacefully but decisively change the path they are on. Essential to this strategy is the UN Security Council, which should impose progressively tougher political and economic sanctions. Should the Security Council continue to delay in this responsibility, the United States must lead like-minded countries in imposing multilateral sanctions outside the UN framework. I am proud to have been a leader on these issues for years, having coauthored the 1992 Iran-Iraq Arms Non-Proliferation Act. Over a year ago I proposed applying sanctions to restrict Iran’s ability to import refined petroleum products, on which it is highly dependent, and the time has come for an international campaign to do just that. A severe limit on Iranian imports of gasoline would create immediate pressure on Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to change course, and to cease in the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

On the subject of Iraq he did not mince words:

It’s worth recalling that America’s progress in Iraq is the direct result of the new strategy that Senator Obama opposed. It was the strategy he predicted would fail, when he voted cut off funds for our forces in Iraq. He now says he intends to withdraw combat troops from Iraq – one to two brigades per month until they are all removed. He will do so regardless of the conditions in Iraq, regardless of the consequences for our national security, regardless of Israel’s security, and in disregard of the best advice of our commanders on the ground. This course would surely result in a catastrophe. If our troops are ordered to make a forced retreat, we risk all-out civil war, genocide, and a failed state in the heart of the Middle East. Al Qaeda terrorists would rejoice in the defeat of the United States. Allowing a potential terrorist sanctuary would profoundly affect the security of the United States, Israel, and our other friends, and would invite further intervention from Iraq’s neighbors, including an emboldened Iran. We must not let this happen. We must not leave the region to suffer chaos, terrorist violence and a wider war.

But the speech was more than a series of public policy pronouncements. It was in many ways a tender, heart-filled tribute to Israel. He concludes:

If there are ties between America and Israel that critics of our alliance have never understood, perhaps that is because they do not fully understand the love of liberty and the pursuit of justice. But they should know those ties cannot be broken. We were brought together by shared ideals and by shared adversity. We have been comrades in struggle, and trusted partners in the quest for peace. We are the most natural of allies. And, like Israel itself, that alliance is forever.

If there has been a sweeter public expression of affection for and solidarity with Israel I would be hard pressed to recollect it.

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Blame It On The War

Yesterday’s New York Times ran a piece about the plight of Iraq’s Jews. Stephen Farrell writes:

Just over half a century ago, Iraq’s Jews numbered more than 130,000. But now, in the city that was once the community’s heart, they cannot muster even a minyan, the 10 Jewish men required to perform some of the most important rituals of their faith.

Farrell runs down the “decades of trauma” that have delivered Iraq’s Jews into the present day:

the 1941 Farhud pogrom in which more than 130 Jews were killed during the Feast of Shavuot, World War II, the Holocaust, the anti-Zionism of Saddam Hussein and the post-2003 rise of Islamic militants.

“Anti-Zionism,” huh? Is that what was behind Saddam’s observation that Hitler was “too mild”?

What’s most astounding here is the even weight Farrell places on, say, World War II, the Holocaust, and post-2003 Iraq. It’s as if each fact further displaced an equal number of Jews. In reality, the Ba’athist persecution of Jews (including public hangings) had caused that 130,000 to dwindle to scarcely more than a minyan before the Iraq War. If the new line on the war is that the U.S. has disturbed a hidden Jewish sanctuary in Mesopotamia, it’s safe to say things are going even better than we’ve been told.

UPDATE: Yglesias swallows it whole and notes Saddam was “rabidly anti-Zionist”.

Yesterday’s New York Times ran a piece about the plight of Iraq’s Jews. Stephen Farrell writes:

Just over half a century ago, Iraq’s Jews numbered more than 130,000. But now, in the city that was once the community’s heart, they cannot muster even a minyan, the 10 Jewish men required to perform some of the most important rituals of their faith.

Farrell runs down the “decades of trauma” that have delivered Iraq’s Jews into the present day:

the 1941 Farhud pogrom in which more than 130 Jews were killed during the Feast of Shavuot, World War II, the Holocaust, the anti-Zionism of Saddam Hussein and the post-2003 rise of Islamic militants.

“Anti-Zionism,” huh? Is that what was behind Saddam’s observation that Hitler was “too mild”?

What’s most astounding here is the even weight Farrell places on, say, World War II, the Holocaust, and post-2003 Iraq. It’s as if each fact further displaced an equal number of Jews. In reality, the Ba’athist persecution of Jews (including public hangings) had caused that 130,000 to dwindle to scarcely more than a minyan before the Iraq War. If the new line on the war is that the U.S. has disturbed a hidden Jewish sanctuary in Mesopotamia, it’s safe to say things are going even better than we’ve been told.

UPDATE: Yglesias swallows it whole and notes Saddam was “rabidly anti-Zionist”.

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John McCain, the Zionist

This morning, John McCain appeared before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and delivered a stemwinder about the American relationship to Israel, the threat from Iran, and the war in Iraq. We’ve made available the full text of the speech here. A few highlights:

The people of Israel reserve a special respect for courage, because so much courage has been required of them. In the record of history, sheer survival in the face of Israel’s many trials would have been impressive enough. But Israel has achieved much more than that these past sixty years. Israel has endured, and thrived, and her people have built a nation that is an inspiration to free nations everywhere.

I am committed to making certain Israel maintains its qualitative military edge. Israel’s enemies are too numerous, its margin of error too small, and our shared interests and values too great for us to follow any other policy.

Years ago, the moral clarity and conviction of civilized nations came together in a divestment campaign against South Africa, helping to rid that nation of the evil of apartheid. In our day, we must use that same power and moral conviction against the regime in Iran, and help to safeguard the people of Israel and the peace of the world.

Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are engaged in talks that all of us hope will yield progress toward peace. Yet while we encourage this process, we must also ensure that Israel’s people can live in safety until there is a Palestinian leadership willing and able to deliver peace. A peace process that places faith in terrorists can never end in peace.

[A]s the people of Israel know better than most, the safety of free people can never be taken for granted. And in a world full of dangers, Israel and the United States must always stand together.

This morning, John McCain appeared before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and delivered a stemwinder about the American relationship to Israel, the threat from Iran, and the war in Iraq. We’ve made available the full text of the speech here. A few highlights:

The people of Israel reserve a special respect for courage, because so much courage has been required of them. In the record of history, sheer survival in the face of Israel’s many trials would have been impressive enough. But Israel has achieved much more than that these past sixty years. Israel has endured, and thrived, and her people have built a nation that is an inspiration to free nations everywhere.

I am committed to making certain Israel maintains its qualitative military edge. Israel’s enemies are too numerous, its margin of error too small, and our shared interests and values too great for us to follow any other policy.

Years ago, the moral clarity and conviction of civilized nations came together in a divestment campaign against South Africa, helping to rid that nation of the evil of apartheid. In our day, we must use that same power and moral conviction against the regime in Iran, and help to safeguard the people of Israel and the peace of the world.

Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are engaged in talks that all of us hope will yield progress toward peace. Yet while we encourage this process, we must also ensure that Israel’s people can live in safety until there is a Palestinian leadership willing and able to deliver peace. A peace process that places faith in terrorists can never end in peace.

[A]s the people of Israel know better than most, the safety of free people can never be taken for granted. And in a world full of dangers, Israel and the United States must always stand together.

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Less in Sorrow Than In Anger

A young Democrat quoted in the Wall Street Journal says of Barack Obama’s association with Trinity Church: “I wouldn’t want to be associated with people who say things like that.” Many have tried to rationalize Obama’s continued presence at Trinity United. But now Stanley Kurtz come along to detail exactly why and how deeply Obama was associated with Wright, Pfleger, and liberation theology in practice. It seems clear that Obama very much wanted to be associated with these people precisely because his “long-held and decidedly audacious hope has been to spread Wright’s radical spirit by linking it to a viable, left-leaning political program, with Obama himself at the center.” Kurtz’s article is a must read, and the bottom line is disturbing :

So Obama’s political interest in Trinity went far beyond merely gaining a respectable public Christian identity. On his own account, Obama hoped to use the untapped power of the black church to supercharge hard-left politics in Chicago, creating a personal and institutional political base that would be free to part with conventional Democratic politics. By his own testimony, Obama would seem to have allied himself with Wright and Pfleger, not in spite of, but precisely because of their radical left-wing politics. It follows that Obama’s ties to Trinity reflect on far more than his judgment and character (although they certainly implicate that). Contrary to common wisdom, then, Obama’s religious history has everything to do with his political values and policy positions, since it confirms his affinity for leftist radicalism.

So if some were disturbed by the implication that Obama had “played” the black churches and put up a front to gain political acceptance and support for his blossoming career, it may come as a bigger shock to learn that his embrace of the radicals and their extreme rhetoric and agenda was sincere.  His current post-racial, moderate sounding themes may be a front. It would be ironic if those supposedly know-nothing hicks (according to the mainstream media) from West Virginia who told exit pollsters in overwhelming numbers that they believed Obama shared Wright’s views were exactly on the mark.

This explains, perhaps, why Obama took such great personal offense at being called out by Rev. Wright as insincere and acting like a politician. As nutty and vitriolic as he may be, Wright was witness to Obama’s deep involvement in the milieu which Kurtz describes. Wright’s willingness to pull back the curtain and reveal that Obama’s “signature theme” (as Kurtz put it) was in lockstep with Wright’s and Pfleger’s views struck at the heart of Obama’s efforts to win the nomination and the presidency. Because, after all, if Americans came to believe that Obama did not merely tolerate Wright and Pfleger, but agreed wholeheartedly with their outlook and approach then Obama’s chances for the presidency would likely be dashed. That’s enough to get a denouncement from the man who does not do denouncements.

A young Democrat quoted in the Wall Street Journal says of Barack Obama’s association with Trinity Church: “I wouldn’t want to be associated with people who say things like that.” Many have tried to rationalize Obama’s continued presence at Trinity United. But now Stanley Kurtz come along to detail exactly why and how deeply Obama was associated with Wright, Pfleger, and liberation theology in practice. It seems clear that Obama very much wanted to be associated with these people precisely because his “long-held and decidedly audacious hope has been to spread Wright’s radical spirit by linking it to a viable, left-leaning political program, with Obama himself at the center.” Kurtz’s article is a must read, and the bottom line is disturbing :

So Obama’s political interest in Trinity went far beyond merely gaining a respectable public Christian identity. On his own account, Obama hoped to use the untapped power of the black church to supercharge hard-left politics in Chicago, creating a personal and institutional political base that would be free to part with conventional Democratic politics. By his own testimony, Obama would seem to have allied himself with Wright and Pfleger, not in spite of, but precisely because of their radical left-wing politics. It follows that Obama’s ties to Trinity reflect on far more than his judgment and character (although they certainly implicate that). Contrary to common wisdom, then, Obama’s religious history has everything to do with his political values and policy positions, since it confirms his affinity for leftist radicalism.

So if some were disturbed by the implication that Obama had “played” the black churches and put up a front to gain political acceptance and support for his blossoming career, it may come as a bigger shock to learn that his embrace of the radicals and their extreme rhetoric and agenda was sincere.  His current post-racial, moderate sounding themes may be a front. It would be ironic if those supposedly know-nothing hicks (according to the mainstream media) from West Virginia who told exit pollsters in overwhelming numbers that they believed Obama shared Wright’s views were exactly on the mark.

This explains, perhaps, why Obama took such great personal offense at being called out by Rev. Wright as insincere and acting like a politician. As nutty and vitriolic as he may be, Wright was witness to Obama’s deep involvement in the milieu which Kurtz describes. Wright’s willingness to pull back the curtain and reveal that Obama’s “signature theme” (as Kurtz put it) was in lockstep with Wright’s and Pfleger’s views struck at the heart of Obama’s efforts to win the nomination and the presidency. Because, after all, if Americans came to believe that Obama did not merely tolerate Wright and Pfleger, but agreed wholeheartedly with their outlook and approach then Obama’s chances for the presidency would likely be dashed. That’s enough to get a denouncement from the man who does not do denouncements.

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Obama Must Face Iraq’s Truth

Three Iraq-related stories from Sunday are worth noting. According to Reuters

U.S. troop deaths in Iraq fell to their lowest level last month since the 2003 invasion and officials said on Sunday improved security also helped the country boost oil production in May to a post-war high. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Iraq’s oil minister credited better security for the two milestones, which illustrated a dramatic turnabout in the fortunes of a country on the brink of all-out sectarian civil war just 12 months ago. “We’ve still got a distance to go but I think lower casualty rates are a reflection of some real progress,” Gates told reporters in Singapore. “The key will be to continue to sustain the progress we have seen.”

In the New York Times we read this:

The recent successes in quieting violence in Basra and Sadr City appear to be stretching to the long-rebellious Sunni Arab district here in Mosul, raising hopes that the Iraqi Army may soon have tenuous control over all three of Iraq’s major cities. In this city, never subdued by the increase of American troops in Iraq last year, weekly figures on attacks are down by half since May 10, when the Iraqi military began intensified operations here with the backing of the American military. Iraqi soldiers searching house to house, within American tank cordons, have arrested more than 1,000 people suspected of insurgent activity. The Iraqi soldiers “are heady from the Basra experience,” Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, the commander of American forces in Mosul, said in an interview. “They have learned the right lessons.”… American and Iraqi officials have called Mosul the last urban bastion of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other Sunni jihadist groups.

And in Washington Post we learned this:

A little over two weeks ago, U.S. troops in Sadr City were on the front lines of fierce, unrelenting urban warfare. But virtually overnight, their main mission has become one of rebuilding portions of the vast, tattered Shiite district and building trust in neighborhoods where many residents despise Americans. Reaching that point took a fragile cease-fire agreement that called for a limited U.S. role in military operations in Sadr City, a stronghold of militias loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr; thousands of Iraqi soldiers; and wads of cash. “If we get Sadr City right and create irreversible momentum, there’s no turning back,” Brig. Gen. Mike Milano, deputy commander of U.S. forces responsible for Baghdad, said Saturday during a visit to Sadr City.

Sunday is also the day the Washington Post editorialized that the U.S.-backed government and army in Iraq “may be winning the war,” that Iraq passed a “turning point last fall” (when the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign launched in 2007 produced a dramatic drop in violence), and that “another tipping point may be near, one that sees the Iraqi government and army restoring order in almost all of the country . . . ”

The Post rightly echoes the caution repeatedly issued by General Petraeus; it is of course too early to celebrate. Among other things, the Post cautions, Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army can still regroup and Iran will almost certainly seek to stir up new violence. Beyond that, Iraq, while far less violent and less fractured than in the past, is still a broken society in many respects –and rebuilding it will not be an easy or quick undertaking. We are, with the Iraqis, engaged in an enormous, long-term nation-building effort, one that was delayed for far longer than it should have been because we had in place the wrong counter-insurgency strategy.

Still, the Post is quite right to recognize the progress we have seen. And it is right in challenging Senator Obama, whose back-and-forth record on Iraq has culminated in his current support for a near-total withdrawal of U.S. combat troops (it’s worth recalling that in February 2007, in announcing his bid for the presidency, Obama called for withdrawing combat troops by March 2008–and in May 2007, Obama voted against funding for combat operations). In the words of the Post:

If the positive trends continue, proponents of withdrawing most U.S. troops, such as Mr. Obama, might be able to responsibly carry out further pullouts next year. Still, the likely Democratic nominee needs a plan for Iraq based on sustaining an improving situation, rather than abandoning a failed enterprise. That will mean tying withdrawals to the evolution of the Iraqi army and government, rather than an arbitrary timetable; Iraq’s 2009 elections will be crucial. It also should mean providing enough troops and air power to continue backing up Iraqi army operations such as those in Basra and Sadr City. When Mr. Obama floated his strategy for Iraq last year, the United States appeared doomed to defeat. Now he needs a plan for success.

In fact, Senator Obama doesn’t need a plan for success; that is already in place. He merely needs to demonstrate the intellectual honesty and political courage to embrace it and say, publicly, that he will stay with it.

Three Iraq-related stories from Sunday are worth noting. According to Reuters

U.S. troop deaths in Iraq fell to their lowest level last month since the 2003 invasion and officials said on Sunday improved security also helped the country boost oil production in May to a post-war high. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Iraq’s oil minister credited better security for the two milestones, which illustrated a dramatic turnabout in the fortunes of a country on the brink of all-out sectarian civil war just 12 months ago. “We’ve still got a distance to go but I think lower casualty rates are a reflection of some real progress,” Gates told reporters in Singapore. “The key will be to continue to sustain the progress we have seen.”

In the New York Times we read this:

The recent successes in quieting violence in Basra and Sadr City appear to be stretching to the long-rebellious Sunni Arab district here in Mosul, raising hopes that the Iraqi Army may soon have tenuous control over all three of Iraq’s major cities. In this city, never subdued by the increase of American troops in Iraq last year, weekly figures on attacks are down by half since May 10, when the Iraqi military began intensified operations here with the backing of the American military. Iraqi soldiers searching house to house, within American tank cordons, have arrested more than 1,000 people suspected of insurgent activity. The Iraqi soldiers “are heady from the Basra experience,” Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, the commander of American forces in Mosul, said in an interview. “They have learned the right lessons.”… American and Iraqi officials have called Mosul the last urban bastion of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other Sunni jihadist groups.

And in Washington Post we learned this:

A little over two weeks ago, U.S. troops in Sadr City were on the front lines of fierce, unrelenting urban warfare. But virtually overnight, their main mission has become one of rebuilding portions of the vast, tattered Shiite district and building trust in neighborhoods where many residents despise Americans. Reaching that point took a fragile cease-fire agreement that called for a limited U.S. role in military operations in Sadr City, a stronghold of militias loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr; thousands of Iraqi soldiers; and wads of cash. “If we get Sadr City right and create irreversible momentum, there’s no turning back,” Brig. Gen. Mike Milano, deputy commander of U.S. forces responsible for Baghdad, said Saturday during a visit to Sadr City.

Sunday is also the day the Washington Post editorialized that the U.S.-backed government and army in Iraq “may be winning the war,” that Iraq passed a “turning point last fall” (when the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign launched in 2007 produced a dramatic drop in violence), and that “another tipping point may be near, one that sees the Iraqi government and army restoring order in almost all of the country . . . ”

The Post rightly echoes the caution repeatedly issued by General Petraeus; it is of course too early to celebrate. Among other things, the Post cautions, Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army can still regroup and Iran will almost certainly seek to stir up new violence. Beyond that, Iraq, while far less violent and less fractured than in the past, is still a broken society in many respects –and rebuilding it will not be an easy or quick undertaking. We are, with the Iraqis, engaged in an enormous, long-term nation-building effort, one that was delayed for far longer than it should have been because we had in place the wrong counter-insurgency strategy.

Still, the Post is quite right to recognize the progress we have seen. And it is right in challenging Senator Obama, whose back-and-forth record on Iraq has culminated in his current support for a near-total withdrawal of U.S. combat troops (it’s worth recalling that in February 2007, in announcing his bid for the presidency, Obama called for withdrawing combat troops by March 2008–and in May 2007, Obama voted against funding for combat operations). In the words of the Post:

If the positive trends continue, proponents of withdrawing most U.S. troops, such as Mr. Obama, might be able to responsibly carry out further pullouts next year. Still, the likely Democratic nominee needs a plan for Iraq based on sustaining an improving situation, rather than abandoning a failed enterprise. That will mean tying withdrawals to the evolution of the Iraqi army and government, rather than an arbitrary timetable; Iraq’s 2009 elections will be crucial. It also should mean providing enough troops and air power to continue backing up Iraqi army operations such as those in Basra and Sadr City. When Mr. Obama floated his strategy for Iraq last year, the United States appeared doomed to defeat. Now he needs a plan for success.

In fact, Senator Obama doesn’t need a plan for success; that is already in place. He merely needs to demonstrate the intellectual honesty and political courage to embrace it and say, publicly, that he will stay with it.

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Bookshelf

• One good book deserves another, and I’m sorry to say that Daniel J. Levitin, the author of This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, has not quite lived up to expectations the second time around.

This Is Your Brain on Music, which I reviewed in this space last year, is that rarity of rarities, a lively and informative book written in a clear, straightforward style by a specialist in a field notable for its technical complexity. It was and still is the best introductory discussion of the psychology of musical perception and cognition ever to see print. But Levitin, a musician and record producer turned neuroscientist, has since succumbed to the urge to simplify and theorize, and The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature (Dutton, 333 pp., $25.95), while full of good things, doesn’t add up to a persuasive whole.

Part of the problem-most of it, really-is that The World in Six Songs makes a promise that it fails to keep. “I have come to believe,” Levitin writes, “that there are basically six kinds of songs, six ways that we use music in our lives, six broad categories of music. . . . They are songs of friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, and love.” This sentence is breathtakingly broad in its implications, and the book appears at first glance to be organized in such a way as to prove the point, though no more than a moment’s thought will leave most readers suspecting that the world of music is rather more complicated than Levitin suggests. What about songs of sorrow? Or story-driven ballads whose subject matter is not romantic love? Into which of his six pigeonholes would Levitin stuff, say, Irving Berlin’s “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails,” the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer,” or Donald Fagen’s “Morph the Cat”? And his decision to disregard instrumental music is so cavalier as to require far more justification than he offers:

The evolution of mind and music is easiest to follow in music that involves lyrics, because the meaning of the musical expression is less debatable. . . . Because music wasn’t recorded until about a hundred years ago, nor even accurately notated until a few hundred years before that, the historic record of music is substantially lyrics. For these two reasons, music with lyrics will be the predominant focus of The World in Six Songs.

That near-exclusive focus, alas, negates much of the explanatory power of The World in Six Songs, for it is impossible to take seriously any account of “the impact music has had on the course of our social history” that completely ignores the culture-shaping power of abstract instrumental music.

Fortunately, a closer look at Levitin’s book reveals that its purpose is not nearly so sweeping as the title suggests. In fact, the real subject matter of The World in Six Songs turns out to be “the evolution of music and brains over tens of thousands of years and across the six inhabited continents.” According to Levitin, music is “a core element of our identity as a species, an activity that paved the way for more complex behaviors such as language, large-scale cooperative undertakings, and the passing down of important information from one generation to the next.” Thus his six categories of song turn out not to be all-encompassing, but merely to represent the principal ways in which music “influenced the eveolution of human emotion, reason, and spirit.”

That I’ll buy, necessarily conjectural though it is. What I still find hard to accept is the loose organization of The World in Six Songs, which is less a well-structured book than a bagful of factual goodies into which the reader reaches more or less blindly to see which one comes out next. To be sure, I learned a lot from The World in Six Songs, but Levitin’s style is so discursive, anecdote-driven and gratuitously autobiographical (at one point he interrupts the narrative for an eight-page account of the development of his pacifist views) that I found much of the book needlessly difficult to follow. If you read it with patience, you’ll come away knowing more than when you started, but I wouldn’t blame you for giving up well before the halfway point.

• One good book deserves another, and I’m sorry to say that Daniel J. Levitin, the author of This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, has not quite lived up to expectations the second time around.

This Is Your Brain on Music, which I reviewed in this space last year, is that rarity of rarities, a lively and informative book written in a clear, straightforward style by a specialist in a field notable for its technical complexity. It was and still is the best introductory discussion of the psychology of musical perception and cognition ever to see print. But Levitin, a musician and record producer turned neuroscientist, has since succumbed to the urge to simplify and theorize, and The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature (Dutton, 333 pp., $25.95), while full of good things, doesn’t add up to a persuasive whole.

Part of the problem-most of it, really-is that The World in Six Songs makes a promise that it fails to keep. “I have come to believe,” Levitin writes, “that there are basically six kinds of songs, six ways that we use music in our lives, six broad categories of music. . . . They are songs of friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, and love.” This sentence is breathtakingly broad in its implications, and the book appears at first glance to be organized in such a way as to prove the point, though no more than a moment’s thought will leave most readers suspecting that the world of music is rather more complicated than Levitin suggests. What about songs of sorrow? Or story-driven ballads whose subject matter is not romantic love? Into which of his six pigeonholes would Levitin stuff, say, Irving Berlin’s “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails,” the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer,” or Donald Fagen’s “Morph the Cat”? And his decision to disregard instrumental music is so cavalier as to require far more justification than he offers:

The evolution of mind and music is easiest to follow in music that involves lyrics, because the meaning of the musical expression is less debatable. . . . Because music wasn’t recorded until about a hundred years ago, nor even accurately notated until a few hundred years before that, the historic record of music is substantially lyrics. For these two reasons, music with lyrics will be the predominant focus of The World in Six Songs.

That near-exclusive focus, alas, negates much of the explanatory power of The World in Six Songs, for it is impossible to take seriously any account of “the impact music has had on the course of our social history” that completely ignores the culture-shaping power of abstract instrumental music.

Fortunately, a closer look at Levitin’s book reveals that its purpose is not nearly so sweeping as the title suggests. In fact, the real subject matter of The World in Six Songs turns out to be “the evolution of music and brains over tens of thousands of years and across the six inhabited continents.” According to Levitin, music is “a core element of our identity as a species, an activity that paved the way for more complex behaviors such as language, large-scale cooperative undertakings, and the passing down of important information from one generation to the next.” Thus his six categories of song turn out not to be all-encompassing, but merely to represent the principal ways in which music “influenced the eveolution of human emotion, reason, and spirit.”

That I’ll buy, necessarily conjectural though it is. What I still find hard to accept is the loose organization of The World in Six Songs, which is less a well-structured book than a bagful of factual goodies into which the reader reaches more or less blindly to see which one comes out next. To be sure, I learned a lot from The World in Six Songs, but Levitin’s style is so discursive, anecdote-driven and gratuitously autobiographical (at one point he interrupts the narrative for an eight-page account of the development of his pacifist views) that I found much of the book needlessly difficult to follow. If you read it with patience, you’ll come away knowing more than when you started, but I wouldn’t blame you for giving up well before the halfway point.

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The Fiasco in Iraq

The title speaks for itself: Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005. Tom Ricks, the military correspondent of the Washington Post wrote that book in 2006.

Here we are two years later and we see a short item  – together with a chart — in today’s Post by Tom Ricks that shows some numbers that also, as the author says, “pretty much speak for themselves.

The chart shows

a major improvement in the safety of driving around Iraq with the U.S. Army. In January 2007, about 1 in 5 convoys in Iraq was attacked. By the end of last year, that ratio had fallen to 1 in 33. By April, it was just 1 in 100.

One reason the attacks have declined is that many Sunni insurgents have switched sides and are now on the U.S. payroll, in local militias that U.S. officials call the “Sons of Iraq.” Another is that al-Qaeda in Iraq has come under severe and prolonged attack over the last 12 months, with many of its leaders killed or captured. Finally, the redeployment of U.S. troops out into the Iraqi population, along with a rise in the quality of Iraqi forces, has helped produce better intelligence on the people carrying out roadside bombings.

Let’s hope that this particular “fiasco” continues.

The title speaks for itself: Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005. Tom Ricks, the military correspondent of the Washington Post wrote that book in 2006.

Here we are two years later and we see a short item  – together with a chart — in today’s Post by Tom Ricks that shows some numbers that also, as the author says, “pretty much speak for themselves.

The chart shows

a major improvement in the safety of driving around Iraq with the U.S. Army. In January 2007, about 1 in 5 convoys in Iraq was attacked. By the end of last year, that ratio had fallen to 1 in 33. By April, it was just 1 in 100.

One reason the attacks have declined is that many Sunni insurgents have switched sides and are now on the U.S. payroll, in local militias that U.S. officials call the “Sons of Iraq.” Another is that al-Qaeda in Iraq has come under severe and prolonged attack over the last 12 months, with many of its leaders killed or captured. Finally, the redeployment of U.S. troops out into the Iraqi population, along with a rise in the quality of Iraqi forces, has helped produce better intelligence on the people carrying out roadside bombings.

Let’s hope that this particular “fiasco” continues.

Read Less

The Apologists Are Stymied

Barack Obama’s greatest fan, commenting on the Washington Post op-ed that the “all is lost crowd” should rethink their Iraq plans, has this observation:

The trap Obama must not be caught in is one of excessive pessimism. Conditions now favor expeditious withdrawal more than they did only a few months ago. But the manner of withdrawal, its pace, and its concomitant diplomacy now require a different cast, and may require an even different one next February and March. None of this means that this war was not a mistake; it does suggest it need not in the medium term be a catastrophe. Petraeus deserves the lion’s share of the credit; luck and time and the self-defeating nihilism of the Jihadists have helped. But Bush and McCain equally merit points for pursuing the surge, even though the metrics pointed to failure. Obama needs to capitalize on these gains, not dismiss them.

Well, let’s unpack all of that. Conditions favor an expeditious withdrawal because . . . why, exactly? We had to withdraw, we were told, because all was lost, it was immoral to sacrifice any more brave Americans for a lost cause, there had been no political progress and nothing further could be gained. But in the face of recent progress, when a chance for success and a good outcome has emerged (acknowledged among the more honest mainstream media observers), we should still leave, and in fact it is more necessary that we should do so?

But that is small potatoes next to the real problem: Obama doesn’t think progress is being made, refuses to acknowledge reality and opposed the surgewhich even Obama’s greatest defender can admit was the correct course and likely saved us from a “catastrophe.” That obvious dilemma will not be lost, I am fairly certain, on those not predisposed to explain, justify, and protect Obama from unpleasant realities.

And if Obama fails to “capitalize”–to take advantage of circumstances his opponent helped create and he opposed–is he guilty of only excessive pessimism? Or has he proven himself to be inflexible, unmoved by new facts, unwilling to admit error and divorced from reality? Hmmm, seems like someone said similar things about George W. Bush.

Barack Obama’s greatest fan, commenting on the Washington Post op-ed that the “all is lost crowd” should rethink their Iraq plans, has this observation:

The trap Obama must not be caught in is one of excessive pessimism. Conditions now favor expeditious withdrawal more than they did only a few months ago. But the manner of withdrawal, its pace, and its concomitant diplomacy now require a different cast, and may require an even different one next February and March. None of this means that this war was not a mistake; it does suggest it need not in the medium term be a catastrophe. Petraeus deserves the lion’s share of the credit; luck and time and the self-defeating nihilism of the Jihadists have helped. But Bush and McCain equally merit points for pursuing the surge, even though the metrics pointed to failure. Obama needs to capitalize on these gains, not dismiss them.

Well, let’s unpack all of that. Conditions favor an expeditious withdrawal because . . . why, exactly? We had to withdraw, we were told, because all was lost, it was immoral to sacrifice any more brave Americans for a lost cause, there had been no political progress and nothing further could be gained. But in the face of recent progress, when a chance for success and a good outcome has emerged (acknowledged among the more honest mainstream media observers), we should still leave, and in fact it is more necessary that we should do so?

But that is small potatoes next to the real problem: Obama doesn’t think progress is being made, refuses to acknowledge reality and opposed the surgewhich even Obama’s greatest defender can admit was the correct course and likely saved us from a “catastrophe.” That obvious dilemma will not be lost, I am fairly certain, on those not predisposed to explain, justify, and protect Obama from unpleasant realities.

And if Obama fails to “capitalize”–to take advantage of circumstances his opponent helped create and he opposed–is he guilty of only excessive pessimism? Or has he proven himself to be inflexible, unmoved by new facts, unwilling to admit error and divorced from reality? Hmmm, seems like someone said similar things about George W. Bush.

Read Less




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