Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 23, 2008

Better Left Unsaid

Well, this was a tasteless remark, albeit an accurate one. If the election is about who will protect us against terrorists, John McCain will in fact benefit. (As Jake Tapper remarked, “Regardless of McCain distancing himself from Black’s sentiment, Democratic consultants have said similar things to me.”) But no candidate ever wants to benefit from Americans’ misfortunes. (Except if you are Barack Obama and can convince Americans that things are much worse than they are.) So it was wise of McCain to slap down his campaign chief’s comment and get him to apologize as well.

Well, this was a tasteless remark, albeit an accurate one. If the election is about who will protect us against terrorists, John McCain will in fact benefit. (As Jake Tapper remarked, “Regardless of McCain distancing himself from Black’s sentiment, Democratic consultants have said similar things to me.”) But no candidate ever wants to benefit from Americans’ misfortunes. (Except if you are Barack Obama and can convince Americans that things are much worse than they are.) So it was wise of McCain to slap down his campaign chief’s comment and get him to apologize as well.

Read Less

Re: Energy Wars

John McCain who has not always pleased conservatives with his views on energy gets kudos for his electric car contest idea. I initially thought it was a goofy idea but I am persuaded that it is better to reward success than subsidize failed attempts which find no private equity to support them.

John McCain who has not always pleased conservatives with his views on energy gets kudos for his electric car contest idea. I initially thought it was a goofy idea but I am persuaded that it is better to reward success than subsidize failed attempts which find no private equity to support them.

Read Less

A Drive Across Israel

We hear a lot about how Israel’s size makes it so vulnerable. Here’s someone who figured out a way to convey that point without comparing the Jewish state to New Jersey yet again.

We hear a lot about how Israel’s size makes it so vulnerable. Here’s someone who figured out a way to convey that point without comparing the Jewish state to New Jersey yet again.

Read Less

Arrogance Born Of Insecurity?

I’m no psychiatrist, but perhaps all the arrogance which Barack Obama displays is born from intellectual insecurity. He gives a great speech. But is he capable of more rigorous intellectual rigor than that required to reiterate words written by others? A sympathetic source from the blogoshpere admits that “Obama generally does not operate outside his comfort zone.” We also learned that although he was president of the Harvard Law Review he didn’t write a single article himself. (That is odd, to say the least.) And his impromptu performances in pressers and debates have ranged from mediocre to horrible.

In short, outside of his verbal acuity in prepared and controlled settings, he has yet to dazzle with his insightful analysis or original thinking. Couple that with a non-existent national political record and one wonders how and why he should be so impressed with himself. (Other than the fact that crowds and the media genuflect before him.) I can understand why he would be so touchy about John McCain not recognizing his “achievements.”

More importantly, whether the issue is intellectual or emotional, this seems to be a very problematic quality for a President. Is this a good thing for a potential President — to operate only controlled circumstances where he is sheltered and protected from potential harm? One can only imagine if the Republican candidate demonstrated the same reticence to operate outside his media cocoon.

I’m no psychiatrist, but perhaps all the arrogance which Barack Obama displays is born from intellectual insecurity. He gives a great speech. But is he capable of more rigorous intellectual rigor than that required to reiterate words written by others? A sympathetic source from the blogoshpere admits that “Obama generally does not operate outside his comfort zone.” We also learned that although he was president of the Harvard Law Review he didn’t write a single article himself. (That is odd, to say the least.) And his impromptu performances in pressers and debates have ranged from mediocre to horrible.

In short, outside of his verbal acuity in prepared and controlled settings, he has yet to dazzle with his insightful analysis or original thinking. Couple that with a non-existent national political record and one wonders how and why he should be so impressed with himself. (Other than the fact that crowds and the media genuflect before him.) I can understand why he would be so touchy about John McCain not recognizing his “achievements.”

More importantly, whether the issue is intellectual or emotional, this seems to be a very problematic quality for a President. Is this a good thing for a potential President — to operate only controlled circumstances where he is sheltered and protected from potential harm? One can only imagine if the Republican candidate demonstrated the same reticence to operate outside his media cocoon.

Read Less

Sarkozy “Guarantees” Israel

French President Nicholas Sarkozy consistently says the right things, but his actions tend to confuse. As Eric Trager pointed out last month, Sarkozy’s congratulatory phone call to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after the disastrous Doha agreement was a disturbing contradiction of the French President’s public condemnation of the Assad regime. Yet today brings news that Sarkozy has returned to his hard-line stance.

As the first French President to visit Israel in twelve years, Sarkozy received a standing ovation at the Knesset and pledged to “block” Iran from developing nuclear weapons. He added: “I ask you to trust us because we want to help you . . . France is ready to provide its guarantee, ready to mobilize its diplomatic service, its resources, its soldiers. You can trust France.” Furthermore, Sarkozy vowed to halt France’s rapprochement with Syria until the latter curbs its coziness with terrorists in general and Iran in particular.

Can Israel “trust France”? Who knows? Sarkozy may be on a roll. His pledge comes on the heels of his announcement to bring France back into NATO’s command structure, and the looming threat of a nuclear Iran is a game-changer that brings sharp clarity to parties with habitually blurred vision. In the French case it’s not the prospect of military assistance that matters most, but the demonstration of solidarity with Israel. Hopefully, France’s overdue recognition of Israel’s existential challenge will resonate in Europe. With Tehran ignoring the EU’s incentives and sanctions, it’s not impossible that Sarkozy’s actions will begin to align more closely with his words.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy consistently says the right things, but his actions tend to confuse. As Eric Trager pointed out last month, Sarkozy’s congratulatory phone call to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after the disastrous Doha agreement was a disturbing contradiction of the French President’s public condemnation of the Assad regime. Yet today brings news that Sarkozy has returned to his hard-line stance.

As the first French President to visit Israel in twelve years, Sarkozy received a standing ovation at the Knesset and pledged to “block” Iran from developing nuclear weapons. He added: “I ask you to trust us because we want to help you . . . France is ready to provide its guarantee, ready to mobilize its diplomatic service, its resources, its soldiers. You can trust France.” Furthermore, Sarkozy vowed to halt France’s rapprochement with Syria until the latter curbs its coziness with terrorists in general and Iran in particular.

Can Israel “trust France”? Who knows? Sarkozy may be on a roll. His pledge comes on the heels of his announcement to bring France back into NATO’s command structure, and the looming threat of a nuclear Iran is a game-changer that brings sharp clarity to parties with habitually blurred vision. In the French case it’s not the prospect of military assistance that matters most, but the demonstration of solidarity with Israel. Hopefully, France’s overdue recognition of Israel’s existential challenge will resonate in Europe. With Tehran ignoring the EU’s incentives and sanctions, it’s not impossible that Sarkozy’s actions will begin to align more closely with his words.

Read Less

Energy Wars

The battle over energy policy rages on. John McCain is scoring some points with his energy policy efforts. One pundit observes:

With the exception of his support for ethanol subsidies, Obama generally has little to say about how to reduce gas prices in the short term largely because he and his advisers don’t believe that there’s much the U.S. can do to bring the prices down, short of shaming or threatening the oil companies. . . With his gas tax holiday, his renewable challenges, his support for nuclear energy and his support for off-shore oil drilling, McCain has a package of action verbs he can use to show votes that he is serious about fixing the problem.

He goes on to qualify his praise by saying McCain’s plans mostly won’t affect carbon consumption, except nuclear power, which among other things would require lots of research and a massive shift in public opinion. One wonders what type of testing would be needed for undisclosed technologies on which Obama wants the government will spend $15B and what secret opinion shifter there is for weaning Americans off oil, but I’m sure the McCain camp is pleased to have even the most muted praise.

I do have the sense that the Obama camp never planned on energy being a serious issue. Their entire primary effort was essentially based on the negative contrast with George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton. Aside from bashing the Bush-Cheney energy bill (yes, I know he voted for it), he never really addressed what is soon becoming a key issue.

At the very least Obama will need to figure out what short term solution is not too short and what long term solution is not too long. For now his plan seems to consist mainly of excoriating his opponent. That worked fairly well when his opponents were Bush and Clinton. It isn’t clear whether, on this subject, it will work as well against McCain.

The battle over energy policy rages on. John McCain is scoring some points with his energy policy efforts. One pundit observes:

With the exception of his support for ethanol subsidies, Obama generally has little to say about how to reduce gas prices in the short term largely because he and his advisers don’t believe that there’s much the U.S. can do to bring the prices down, short of shaming or threatening the oil companies. . . With his gas tax holiday, his renewable challenges, his support for nuclear energy and his support for off-shore oil drilling, McCain has a package of action verbs he can use to show votes that he is serious about fixing the problem.

He goes on to qualify his praise by saying McCain’s plans mostly won’t affect carbon consumption, except nuclear power, which among other things would require lots of research and a massive shift in public opinion. One wonders what type of testing would be needed for undisclosed technologies on which Obama wants the government will spend $15B and what secret opinion shifter there is for weaning Americans off oil, but I’m sure the McCain camp is pleased to have even the most muted praise.

I do have the sense that the Obama camp never planned on energy being a serious issue. Their entire primary effort was essentially based on the negative contrast with George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton. Aside from bashing the Bush-Cheney energy bill (yes, I know he voted for it), he never really addressed what is soon becoming a key issue.

At the very least Obama will need to figure out what short term solution is not too short and what long term solution is not too long. For now his plan seems to consist mainly of excoriating his opponent. That worked fairly well when his opponents were Bush and Clinton. It isn’t clear whether, on this subject, it will work as well against McCain.

Read Less

Maybe Next Time

Clark Hoyt hasn’t yet done an investigation of why the New York Times was so late in figuring out the shift of ground on Iraq. (Funny how they were also so delinquent on the other story most damaging to Barack Obama — Reverend Wright. Are they ever late on stories unhelpful to John McCain?). But he has gotten around to chastising Maureen Dowd for sexism where Hillary Clinton is concerned. He writes:

But the relentless nature of her gender-laden assault on Clinton — in 28 of 44 columns since Jan. 1 — left many readers with the strong feeling that an impermissible line had been crossed, even though, as Dowd noted, she is a columnist who is paid not to be objective.

He concludes, “Even she, I think, by assailing Clinton in gender-heavy terms in column after column, went over the top this election season.” She of course is in good . . . er. . . bad company, but I would think she has a defense as an equal-opportunity candidate basher. Nevertheless, it’s nice to know that Hoyt is keeping an eagle eye out for sexism. When do you think will they get around to ageism? I’m sure once we get that done, he’ll get on the case about the Times’s Iraq coverage.

Clark Hoyt hasn’t yet done an investigation of why the New York Times was so late in figuring out the shift of ground on Iraq. (Funny how they were also so delinquent on the other story most damaging to Barack Obama — Reverend Wright. Are they ever late on stories unhelpful to John McCain?). But he has gotten around to chastising Maureen Dowd for sexism where Hillary Clinton is concerned. He writes:

But the relentless nature of her gender-laden assault on Clinton — in 28 of 44 columns since Jan. 1 — left many readers with the strong feeling that an impermissible line had been crossed, even though, as Dowd noted, she is a columnist who is paid not to be objective.

He concludes, “Even she, I think, by assailing Clinton in gender-heavy terms in column after column, went over the top this election season.” She of course is in good . . . er. . . bad company, but I would think she has a defense as an equal-opportunity candidate basher. Nevertheless, it’s nice to know that Hoyt is keeping an eagle eye out for sexism. When do you think will they get around to ageism? I’m sure once we get that done, he’ll get on the case about the Times’s Iraq coverage.

Read Less

Chamberlain, A Tragic Failure

Abe Greenwald has already drawn attention to Samantha Power’s perplexing effort to defend Barack Obama’s desire to negotiate with America’s enemies by arguing that he is not Neville Chamberlain. That is quite right: before he became Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain had a distinguished career as a businessman, Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Minister of Health, and Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was far better prepared to lead Great Britain in 1937 than Obama is to lead the United States in 2008, and though he was ultimately a tragic failure, he was neither “unprepared” nor “unsophisticated.”

But Power wants to take her stand on the comparison with Chamberlain, and on learning the “lessons” of Munich. Her own lessons are curiously contradictory: she acknowledges the fact that Chamberlain made the fatal error of deciding he could trust Hitler, but does not bother to ask whether we should trust Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and how we are to assess this. She agrees it was unwise of Chamberlain to negotiate out of fear, but neglects to ask why she wants to negotiate with Iran, if not because we fear the consequences of a nuclear Iran. She argues that Munich did not cause World War II, but admits that it emboldened Hitler and showed him that Britain did not want to fight. It is hard to escape the sense that Power very much wants to talk because she, like many liberals after Iraq, is at a dead end, afraid of the consequences both of action and inaction.

Read More

Abe Greenwald has already drawn attention to Samantha Power’s perplexing effort to defend Barack Obama’s desire to negotiate with America’s enemies by arguing that he is not Neville Chamberlain. That is quite right: before he became Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain had a distinguished career as a businessman, Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Minister of Health, and Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was far better prepared to lead Great Britain in 1937 than Obama is to lead the United States in 2008, and though he was ultimately a tragic failure, he was neither “unprepared” nor “unsophisticated.”

But Power wants to take her stand on the comparison with Chamberlain, and on learning the “lessons” of Munich. Her own lessons are curiously contradictory: she acknowledges the fact that Chamberlain made the fatal error of deciding he could trust Hitler, but does not bother to ask whether we should trust Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and how we are to assess this. She agrees it was unwise of Chamberlain to negotiate out of fear, but neglects to ask why she wants to negotiate with Iran, if not because we fear the consequences of a nuclear Iran. She argues that Munich did not cause World War II, but admits that it emboldened Hitler and showed him that Britain did not want to fight. It is hard to escape the sense that Power very much wants to talk because she, like many liberals after Iraq, is at a dead end, afraid of the consequences both of action and inaction.


It is telling that, for Power, the lessons of Munich are all about what we have to do in order to negotiate more effectively than Neville Chamberlain: it is as if all the tortuous negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 have failed to deliver results only because we have not tried hard enough. There is nothing liberals like better than blaming the United States when things go wrong, because it allows them to evade the troubling reality that other people have values too–and sometimes these values and our own are simply incompatible. At its heart, this kind of liberalism, by assuming that everyone’s desires are really no more than a reflection of what we want, is deeply illiberal.

In one sense, the lesson of Munich is easy to sum up: do not negotiate with Hitler. That is important, but it is of direct relevance only to the past. The lessons of Munich that are of enduring relevance center not on personalities, but on the structure of the international system and the damage the Agreement did to it. The lesson of World War I was that Germany was stronger than all of its neighbors put together. It could only be constrained in two ways: it could restrain itself, by becoming a stable democracy; or it could be held down from outside, by reducing its size and surrounding it with a network of allied states.

When Hitler rose to power, the first of those restraints, the Weimar Republic, was destroyed. This was tremendously dangerous, because it meant that–like Iran today–Germany was no longer bound internally by a free press and parliamentary processes. Perversely, the creation of the dictatorship both made Germany a less trustworthy negotiating partner and, because it wanted to satisfy Germany’s “just” grievances, made Britain more eager to negotiate with it. Neville Chamberlain did not love dictators, but he was staggeringly blind to the danger of negotiating with a state that was not subject to the will of its own people. As he put it in the House on October 3, 1938, he wanted to:

try to extend a little further the personal contact which I had established with Herr Hitler and which I believe to be essential in modern diplomacy. We had a friendly and entirely non-committal conversation, carried on, on my part, largely with a view to seeing whether there could be points in common between the head of a democratic Government and the ruler of a totalitarian State.

Churchill’s response was ferocious:

[T]here can never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi power, that power which spurns Christian ethics, which cheers its onward course by a barbarous paganism, which vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses, as we have seen, with pitiless brutality the threat of murderous force. That power cannot ever be the trusted friend of British democracy

With all internal restraints on German power cast aside, all that remained were the external restraints. Among these was the state of Czechoslovakia, which existed in the form it did in 1938 because of the Versailles Peace Conference. At Versailles, the Allies took the territory of the Sudetenland away from Germany, thus weakening it, and gave this mountainous perimeter to Czechoslovakia, thus making it defensible. France then drew the states of Central Europe together into an alliance that surrounded Germany, and confronted it with the prospect of a two front war. Combined with the arms reductions imposed on Germany, that offered safety, but it was safety that, once the Weimar Republic fell, rested entirely upon the willingness of the Allies to stand their ground.

The Munich Agreement sold this pass: it was a terrible agreement because it destroyed the means by which it could be enforced. If, after occupying the Sudetenland, Germany made fresh demands, Britain and France, by the very fact of having rendered Czechoslovakia indefensible, were in no position to resist. And Munich not only devastated Czechoslovakia, it ripped apart the entire French alliance structure in Eastern Europe. As long as Germany was restrained internally, it was safe to consider–as Churchill did–whether it was wise to negotiate with them. But once Weimar fell, negotiations were dangerous: every step the Allies took made it harder to resist the next.

The lessons of Munich, considered as an experiment in diplomacy, can be summed up simply. First, realize that no agreement enforces itself: as Reagan put it, trust, but verify. Second, never sign an agreement that, if your opponent breaks it, reduces your ability to respond effectively: do not give up solid advantages for the mere promise of better behavior in the future. And third, remember that democracies have more internal constraints than dictatorships: they are not to be trusted, and this makes it all the more imperative that you never give up the ability to restrain them externally.

Every one of these lessons has its parallel today. Any agreement with Iran about its nuclear program would have to be verified, and it is impossible to have the slightest confidence that Iran would permit this: it would set the U.S. and its allies up for a repeat of Saddam Hussein’s cat and mouse game in the 1990′s. Any conceivable agreement with Iran would leave them in possession of a “civilian” nuclear program, which it would be free to put to military use, which would in turn deter us from responding. And, yes, Iran is not a democracy: apart from the moral issues at stake, there is simply no reason to believe anything it says, because its leaders have no reason to tell the truth.

But Power is right about one thing. She ends her essay with a plea that the U.S. not reduce its options to “a false choice between appeasement and war.” Churchill agreed. He wanted neither. He wanted the cooperation of all the democratic powers–and even undemocratic ones, such as the USSR–against Germany:

All these forces, added to the other deterrents which combinations of Powers, great and small, ready to stand firm upon the front of law, and for the ordered remedy of grievances, would have formed, might well have been effective. Between submission and immediate war there was this third alternative, which gave a hope not only of peace but of justice.

It was, as Churchill admitted, only a hope, and by 1938, it was a fading one. But even so, it was a much larger hope than the banal lessons about the virtues of engaging with dictators that we are being offered in 2008.


		

Read Less

Who Doesn’t Want To Talk?

In all the debate about whether or not the U.S. should talk to Iran about halting its nuclear program, something critical was overlooked: Iran’s very refusal to discuss the matter. Today, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said, “Suspension of enrichment has no logical reason behind it. We believe that no proposals should be made that lead to the Iranian nation being denied its rights.” In other words, “Don’t even talk to us about stopping enrichment.”

Yet, the EU, along with China and Russia, are talking to them about stopping enrichment. The new sanctions on Iran are merely an extension of a package of proposals meant to induce Tehran to cooperate. Here’s Reuters:

The EU official stressed the sanctions were based on measures agreed by the U.N. Security Council and that six powers — the five permanent members of the Council plus Germany — still sought an answer from Iran to their incentives offer.

“We are continuing with the double-track,” the official said of the carrot-and-stick policy that has until now not induced Iran to curb a nuclear program, suspected by the West of being a cover for making an atom bomb.

But there is no carrot. And in the meantime Tehran is continuing with their double-track: uranium enrichment and missile construction. Moreover, the incentives farce is buying the regime time and giving them cover. While Hosseini completely ignores the idea of halting enrichment, he responds in the meaningless Western diplospeak of which talk fetishists just can’t get enough:

We believe this common ground is encouraging. We say that this common ground can help with the start of negotiations. Time is ripe for these talks and we should not lose this opportunity. We feel that compared to years past there is a more pronounced serious will on the side of the other party.

This is a calculated regurgitation of Western anti-Bushisms, and it will undoubtedly play well among present day liberals who think the greatest challenge of international relations is showing the rest of the world how nice we are.

So, the enrichment goes on with the benefit of a little good PR. “What’s there to lose by talking?” people often ask. Everything.

In all the debate about whether or not the U.S. should talk to Iran about halting its nuclear program, something critical was overlooked: Iran’s very refusal to discuss the matter. Today, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said, “Suspension of enrichment has no logical reason behind it. We believe that no proposals should be made that lead to the Iranian nation being denied its rights.” In other words, “Don’t even talk to us about stopping enrichment.”

Yet, the EU, along with China and Russia, are talking to them about stopping enrichment. The new sanctions on Iran are merely an extension of a package of proposals meant to induce Tehran to cooperate. Here’s Reuters:

The EU official stressed the sanctions were based on measures agreed by the U.N. Security Council and that six powers — the five permanent members of the Council plus Germany — still sought an answer from Iran to their incentives offer.

“We are continuing with the double-track,” the official said of the carrot-and-stick policy that has until now not induced Iran to curb a nuclear program, suspected by the West of being a cover for making an atom bomb.

But there is no carrot. And in the meantime Tehran is continuing with their double-track: uranium enrichment and missile construction. Moreover, the incentives farce is buying the regime time and giving them cover. While Hosseini completely ignores the idea of halting enrichment, he responds in the meaningless Western diplospeak of which talk fetishists just can’t get enough:

We believe this common ground is encouraging. We say that this common ground can help with the start of negotiations. Time is ripe for these talks and we should not lose this opportunity. We feel that compared to years past there is a more pronounced serious will on the side of the other party.

This is a calculated regurgitation of Western anti-Bushisms, and it will undoubtedly play well among present day liberals who think the greatest challenge of international relations is showing the rest of the world how nice we are.

So, the enrichment goes on with the benefit of a little good PR. “What’s there to lose by talking?” people often ask. Everything.

Read Less

Did Something Change?

Somewhere between the reneging on campaign finance reform and the Great Seal of Barack the mainstream media may have caught on. Do you think he might be arrogant, they ask? I sometimes get the sense that the liberal pundits aren’t very up on the news or are the last to know important news developments. Haven’t conservatives been saying this for months? Whether looking at the spoofable pictographs or the elevated sense of his own grandeur, it has been pretty obvious (at least to those on the Right) that he is in fact exceptionally arrogant. The arrogance is so jarring because his record is so thin. Remember this from the primary?

It’s ironic because this is supposedly the place where experience is most needed to be Commander-in-Chief. Experience in Washington is not knowledge of the world. This I know. When Senator Clinton brags ‘I’ve met leaders from eighty countries’–I know what those trips are like! I’ve been on them. You go from the airport to the embassy. There’s a group of children who do native dance. You meet with the CIA station chief and the embassy and they give you a briefing. You go take a tour of a plant that [with] the assistance of USAID has started something. And then–you go. You do that in eighty countries–you don’t know those eighty countries. So when I speak about having lived in Indonesia for four years, having family that is impoverished in small villages in Africa–knowing the leaders is not important–what I know is the people. . .

I traveled to Pakistan when I was in college–I knew what Sunni and Shia was [sic] before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. . . . Nobody is entirely prepared for being Commander-in-Chief. The question is when the 3 AM phone call comes do you have somebody who has the judgment, the temperament to ask the right questions, to weigh the costs and benefits of military action, who insists on good intelligence, who is not going to be swayed by the short-term politics. By most criteria, I’ve passed those tests and my two opponents have not.

But all this went largely unremarked upon, because the media was in full rooting mode. If that is beginning to change, even marginally so, the coverage of the race may become more exacting as far as the Change Agent is concerned. That would be the most interesting and potentially significant development yet in the general election race.

Somewhere between the reneging on campaign finance reform and the Great Seal of Barack the mainstream media may have caught on. Do you think he might be arrogant, they ask? I sometimes get the sense that the liberal pundits aren’t very up on the news or are the last to know important news developments. Haven’t conservatives been saying this for months? Whether looking at the spoofable pictographs or the elevated sense of his own grandeur, it has been pretty obvious (at least to those on the Right) that he is in fact exceptionally arrogant. The arrogance is so jarring because his record is so thin. Remember this from the primary?

It’s ironic because this is supposedly the place where experience is most needed to be Commander-in-Chief. Experience in Washington is not knowledge of the world. This I know. When Senator Clinton brags ‘I’ve met leaders from eighty countries’–I know what those trips are like! I’ve been on them. You go from the airport to the embassy. There’s a group of children who do native dance. You meet with the CIA station chief and the embassy and they give you a briefing. You go take a tour of a plant that [with] the assistance of USAID has started something. And then–you go. You do that in eighty countries–you don’t know those eighty countries. So when I speak about having lived in Indonesia for four years, having family that is impoverished in small villages in Africa–knowing the leaders is not important–what I know is the people. . .

I traveled to Pakistan when I was in college–I knew what Sunni and Shia was [sic] before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. . . . Nobody is entirely prepared for being Commander-in-Chief. The question is when the 3 AM phone call comes do you have somebody who has the judgment, the temperament to ask the right questions, to weigh the costs and benefits of military action, who insists on good intelligence, who is not going to be swayed by the short-term politics. By most criteria, I’ve passed those tests and my two opponents have not.

But all this went largely unremarked upon, because the media was in full rooting mode. If that is beginning to change, even marginally so, the coverage of the race may become more exacting as far as the Change Agent is concerned. That would be the most interesting and potentially significant development yet in the general election race.

Read Less

The Free One

Four years and 500 million dollars later, the Bush Administration’s Arabic-language news network, Al-Hurra, is coming under serious fire. Last night “60 Minutes” ran a blistering investigative piece on the Springfield, VA-based channel. (You can view the piece in its entirety here.) It’s really quite shocking: The allegations run from horrific mismanagement to abysmal journalistic standards to a miniscule viewership to a total lack of oversight by anyone who actually knows Arabic. (The station’s top executive, for example, does not.) But the worst of it is that Al-Hurra, which means “the free one” despite its price tag, and whose purpose was to give the Arab world a taste of real journalism, nonetheless manages occasionally to become a mouthpiece for the very terrorists and Holocaust-deniers that it was meant to refute. I know the video is a full 13 minutes, but it’s really worth watching.

Four years and 500 million dollars later, the Bush Administration’s Arabic-language news network, Al-Hurra, is coming under serious fire. Last night “60 Minutes” ran a blistering investigative piece on the Springfield, VA-based channel. (You can view the piece in its entirety here.) It’s really quite shocking: The allegations run from horrific mismanagement to abysmal journalistic standards to a miniscule viewership to a total lack of oversight by anyone who actually knows Arabic. (The station’s top executive, for example, does not.) But the worst of it is that Al-Hurra, which means “the free one” despite its price tag, and whose purpose was to give the Arab world a taste of real journalism, nonetheless manages occasionally to become a mouthpiece for the very terrorists and Holocaust-deniers that it was meant to refute. I know the video is a full 13 minutes, but it’s really worth watching.

Read Less

Willful Blindness: The Sequel

The many-hatted Roger Kimball, who runs Encounter Books when he’s not running the New Criterion and writing art criticism and trying to keep the universities honest and sailing boats and God knows what else, has made an extraordinary decision: Encounter Books will no longer send review copies of its work to the New York Times Book Review. He writes:

In the last month, Encounter has had two titles on the extended New York Times best-seller list: Climate Confusion: How Global Warming Hysteria Leads to Bad Science, Pandering Politicians and Misguided Policies that Hurt the Poor by Roy Spencer, and Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad, by Andrew C. McCarthy. But that list is the only place you will find these books mentioned in the pages of The New York Times….

Once upon a time, and not that long ago, it meant something if your book was reviewed in The New York Times Book Review. A Times review imparted a vital existential certification as well as a commercial boost. Is that still the case? Less and less, I believe. The Times in general has lost influence as the paper has receded into parochial, left-liberal boosterism and politically correct reportage. And where its news and comment have become increasingly politicized, its cultural coverage has become increasingly superficial and increasingly captive of establishment, i.e., left-liberal, pieties and “lifestyle” radicalism.

Sure, a positive review in the Times still helps sell books. But it’s quite clear that books from Encounter won’t be getting those reviews, so it is pointless for us to send copies of our books to the Times—worse than pointless, because by so doing we help to perpetuate the charade that the Book Review is anything like even-handed in its treatment of conservative books. There is also this fact: the real impetus in selling books has decisively shifted away from legacy outlets like The New York Times towards the pluralistic universe of talk radio and the “blogosphere.” That is why Encounter can see its books on the Times’s bestseller list without ever making it into the paper’s review columns.

There are a few things to note about Kimball’s decision. First, it will save his firm a few thousand dollars, which isn’t nothing, and given the importance of Encounter Books in the world of ideas, every nickel counts. Second, part of the problem here, which Kimball does not note, is the slow-motion financial wreck that is the New York Times, which has had a profound impact on the number of pages the Book Review is allowed to print every week — with a corresponding drop in the number of books reviewed.

Third, I hope Kimball’s missive will awaken those on the Right from the dream they had that Sam Tanenhaus’s appointment a few years ago to the editorship of the Book Review heralded a hopeful new day for conservative books. Tanenhaus wrote a terrific biography of Whittaker Chambers and is at work on the authorized biography of William F. Buckley, Jr. As an editor with an eye for interesting assignments and good journalism, he has revitalized the Times Book Review, which lay there like a dead fish in the decade before his appointment and is anything but these days. However, Tanenhaus is not himself a man of the Right. He’s a very good editor and a very good writer and was an inspired choice by the Times, but his own ideological predilections were apparent in a piece in the New Republic a year ago in which he used Bill Buckley’s skepticism about the Iraq War to declare the death of American conservatism with a bit of lip-smacking glee.

But what is astonishing, and indefensible, is that the Times, a newspaper in New York, failed to comment on Willful Blindness, an authoritative account of the first World Trade Center bombing and the terrorism trial that followed it — written by the lead prosecutor in the case. (An excerpt of this remarkable, layered, and beautifully written book appeared in the March issue of COMMENTARY, and can be read here.)

If memory serves, the World Trade Center bombing of 1993 took place in New York City. The trial also took place in New York City. The New York Times Book Review is published in…well, you get the idea.

The many-hatted Roger Kimball, who runs Encounter Books when he’s not running the New Criterion and writing art criticism and trying to keep the universities honest and sailing boats and God knows what else, has made an extraordinary decision: Encounter Books will no longer send review copies of its work to the New York Times Book Review. He writes:

In the last month, Encounter has had two titles on the extended New York Times best-seller list: Climate Confusion: How Global Warming Hysteria Leads to Bad Science, Pandering Politicians and Misguided Policies that Hurt the Poor by Roy Spencer, and Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad, by Andrew C. McCarthy. But that list is the only place you will find these books mentioned in the pages of The New York Times….

Once upon a time, and not that long ago, it meant something if your book was reviewed in The New York Times Book Review. A Times review imparted a vital existential certification as well as a commercial boost. Is that still the case? Less and less, I believe. The Times in general has lost influence as the paper has receded into parochial, left-liberal boosterism and politically correct reportage. And where its news and comment have become increasingly politicized, its cultural coverage has become increasingly superficial and increasingly captive of establishment, i.e., left-liberal, pieties and “lifestyle” radicalism.

Sure, a positive review in the Times still helps sell books. But it’s quite clear that books from Encounter won’t be getting those reviews, so it is pointless for us to send copies of our books to the Times—worse than pointless, because by so doing we help to perpetuate the charade that the Book Review is anything like even-handed in its treatment of conservative books. There is also this fact: the real impetus in selling books has decisively shifted away from legacy outlets like The New York Times towards the pluralistic universe of talk radio and the “blogosphere.” That is why Encounter can see its books on the Times’s bestseller list without ever making it into the paper’s review columns.

There are a few things to note about Kimball’s decision. First, it will save his firm a few thousand dollars, which isn’t nothing, and given the importance of Encounter Books in the world of ideas, every nickel counts. Second, part of the problem here, which Kimball does not note, is the slow-motion financial wreck that is the New York Times, which has had a profound impact on the number of pages the Book Review is allowed to print every week — with a corresponding drop in the number of books reviewed.

Third, I hope Kimball’s missive will awaken those on the Right from the dream they had that Sam Tanenhaus’s appointment a few years ago to the editorship of the Book Review heralded a hopeful new day for conservative books. Tanenhaus wrote a terrific biography of Whittaker Chambers and is at work on the authorized biography of William F. Buckley, Jr. As an editor with an eye for interesting assignments and good journalism, he has revitalized the Times Book Review, which lay there like a dead fish in the decade before his appointment and is anything but these days. However, Tanenhaus is not himself a man of the Right. He’s a very good editor and a very good writer and was an inspired choice by the Times, but his own ideological predilections were apparent in a piece in the New Republic a year ago in which he used Bill Buckley’s skepticism about the Iraq War to declare the death of American conservatism with a bit of lip-smacking glee.

But what is astonishing, and indefensible, is that the Times, a newspaper in New York, failed to comment on Willful Blindness, an authoritative account of the first World Trade Center bombing and the terrorism trial that followed it — written by the lead prosecutor in the case. (An excerpt of this remarkable, layered, and beautifully written book appeared in the March issue of COMMENTARY, and can be read here.)

If memory serves, the World Trade Center bombing of 1993 took place in New York City. The trial also took place in New York City. The New York Times Book Review is published in…well, you get the idea.

Read Less

Where Are The Grown Ups?

To go with an infantile view of foreign policy we have, as Bill Kristol highlights today, an infantile ad by MoveOn.org on behalf of Barack Obama. The ad suggests that members of our all-volunteer army are incapable of adult decision-making. But this, of course, should not surprise us. The Left generally takes a dim view of our citizenry, which is why we need an ever-expanding government to protect the people from themselves.

If Americans were responsible for their own decisions we wouldn’t bail them out of foolish home loans. We would allow them private accounts for their retirement savings. We would give them greater choices over their children’s education. And on it goes.

In 1992, we had the ponytail man pleading with the candidates on behalf of the people who he deemed “symbolically the children of the future president.” Now the Democratic candidate, his advisers and his ultra-left leaning supporters are treating voters like they are children. At some point you would think adults would resent being condescended to and ask why many in the Democratic party think they are such fools.

To go with an infantile view of foreign policy we have, as Bill Kristol highlights today, an infantile ad by MoveOn.org on behalf of Barack Obama. The ad suggests that members of our all-volunteer army are incapable of adult decision-making. But this, of course, should not surprise us. The Left generally takes a dim view of our citizenry, which is why we need an ever-expanding government to protect the people from themselves.

If Americans were responsible for their own decisions we wouldn’t bail them out of foolish home loans. We would allow them private accounts for their retirement savings. We would give them greater choices over their children’s education. And on it goes.

In 1992, we had the ponytail man pleading with the candidates on behalf of the people who he deemed “symbolically the children of the future president.” Now the Democratic candidate, his advisers and his ultra-left leaning supporters are treating voters like they are children. At some point you would think adults would resent being condescended to and ask why many in the Democratic party think they are such fools.

Read Less

A New Bloviator

It’s no secret that many of cable news’ most prominent hosts approach their news coverage with distinctive biases. But this Sunday, CNN foreign affairs analyst Fareed Zakaria set a new standard in agenda-driven journalism on his new program, Fareed Zakaria: GPS. Prior to airing an interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on a host of Middle Eastern issues, Zakaria sat for his own interview with CNN to lambaste the Bush administration’s ongoing refusal to engage Hamas. The result was a double helping of blatant editorializing, with Zakaria working the opinions he expressed during his personal interview into leading questions for his interview with Rice.

Check out the shameful synergy. Here’s Zakaria during his personal interview with CNN:

By the U.S. isolating Hamas from commerce and contact with the outside world, we are strengthening the forces of fundamentalism and extremism in Gaza. By all accounts, Hamas is stronger now than it was six months ago.

And here’s Zakaria’s chock-full-of-interruptions interview with Rice:

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about Gaza. There is some criticism of the basic approach that you have taken to Gaza, which is to isolate it, to put it under sanctions — in effect, to cut it off from the rest of the world. … What do you say to people who point out this doesn’t seem to be working. It seems as though the people in Gaza are becoming more radical. Hamas is gaining a certain amount of support. …

RICE: Well, given the violence and the intimidation that Hamas uses in Gaza, I’m not certain that Hamas is actually becoming more popular. I believe …

ZAKARIA: Well, you had the elections and they won.

RICE: No, no, no. I mean now, since the — since Gaza has been under Hamas control since the coup, as Abu Mazen has called it. … I do see things getting better in the West Bank. I don’t see things getting better in Gaza. And I think that says…

ZAKARIA: But that’s my point, that you’re isolating…

RICE: … as well…

ZAKARIA: … Gaza, and it’s doing worse.

RICE: No, but…

ZAKARIA: Why is that?

RICE: … but — well, because — Gaza is doing worse, because Hamas is isolating Gaza, and Hamas has a stranglehold on Gaza.

ZAKARIA: But isn’t that collective punishment on the people of Gaza, not on Hamas?

In short, Zakaria needs you to know that he wants the U.S. to engage Hamas. He’s even willing to waste a U.S. Secretary of State’s time if it will get your attention.

It’s no secret that many of cable news’ most prominent hosts approach their news coverage with distinctive biases. But this Sunday, CNN foreign affairs analyst Fareed Zakaria set a new standard in agenda-driven journalism on his new program, Fareed Zakaria: GPS. Prior to airing an interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on a host of Middle Eastern issues, Zakaria sat for his own interview with CNN to lambaste the Bush administration’s ongoing refusal to engage Hamas. The result was a double helping of blatant editorializing, with Zakaria working the opinions he expressed during his personal interview into leading questions for his interview with Rice.

Check out the shameful synergy. Here’s Zakaria during his personal interview with CNN:

By the U.S. isolating Hamas from commerce and contact with the outside world, we are strengthening the forces of fundamentalism and extremism in Gaza. By all accounts, Hamas is stronger now than it was six months ago.

And here’s Zakaria’s chock-full-of-interruptions interview with Rice:

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about Gaza. There is some criticism of the basic approach that you have taken to Gaza, which is to isolate it, to put it under sanctions — in effect, to cut it off from the rest of the world. … What do you say to people who point out this doesn’t seem to be working. It seems as though the people in Gaza are becoming more radical. Hamas is gaining a certain amount of support. …

RICE: Well, given the violence and the intimidation that Hamas uses in Gaza, I’m not certain that Hamas is actually becoming more popular. I believe …

ZAKARIA: Well, you had the elections and they won.

RICE: No, no, no. I mean now, since the — since Gaza has been under Hamas control since the coup, as Abu Mazen has called it. … I do see things getting better in the West Bank. I don’t see things getting better in Gaza. And I think that says…

ZAKARIA: But that’s my point, that you’re isolating…

RICE: … as well…

ZAKARIA: … Gaza, and it’s doing worse.

RICE: No, but…

ZAKARIA: Why is that?

RICE: … but — well, because — Gaza is doing worse, because Hamas is isolating Gaza, and Hamas has a stranglehold on Gaza.

ZAKARIA: But isn’t that collective punishment on the people of Gaza, not on Hamas?

In short, Zakaria needs you to know that he wants the U.S. to engage Hamas. He’s even willing to waste a U.S. Secretary of State’s time if it will get your attention.

Read Less

They Want to Live Where?

In the past, I have suggested that Israeli Arabs are far more pro-Israel than their political leaders and the international media would have us believe. Now a new poll, conducted by Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and Haifa University, seems to prove the point beyond doubt.

According to the poll, 77 percent would rather live in Israel than any other country on earth. This is a shockingly high number: One wonders whether so many Israeli Jews would answer the same way if asked. This, combined with another poll showing that over 70 percent support Arab participation in Israeli national service, seems to make the point fairly incontrovertible. But still the question remains: When will their own leaders reflect their feelings?

In the past, I have suggested that Israeli Arabs are far more pro-Israel than their political leaders and the international media would have us believe. Now a new poll, conducted by Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and Haifa University, seems to prove the point beyond doubt.

According to the poll, 77 percent would rather live in Israel than any other country on earth. This is a shockingly high number: One wonders whether so many Israeli Jews would answer the same way if asked. This, combined with another poll showing that over 70 percent support Arab participation in Israeli national service, seems to make the point fairly incontrovertible. But still the question remains: When will their own leaders reflect their feelings?

Read Less

Re: The Grey Lady

Once the New York Times inches closer to reality on Iraq, the liberal punditocracy can also begin its encounter with facts. Yes, it is odd that, for such sophisticated and supposedly well-read folks, it comes as startling news to learn that there has been considerable military and political progress. (Haven’t they been reading the Times’ op-eds?) This all seems to be a bizarre kabuki dance. The punditocracy is edging closer to reconciling their writings with ever-more widely available facts, while winking at their co-conspirators on the Left to make sure everyone understands the new ground rules.

It may be that only now, because the Times’ delinquently acknowledges the shifting ground, that media outlets which still take the Times as gospel can shift ground as well. Apparently the left-leaning media gurus need to expand their horizons, read some other publications, and sit in on some expert briefings. Or they could even go back and read the testimony which General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker gave in April. And hey–if they start doing their homework, maybe their favorite candidate will as well.

Once the New York Times inches closer to reality on Iraq, the liberal punditocracy can also begin its encounter with facts. Yes, it is odd that, for such sophisticated and supposedly well-read folks, it comes as startling news to learn that there has been considerable military and political progress. (Haven’t they been reading the Times’ op-eds?) This all seems to be a bizarre kabuki dance. The punditocracy is edging closer to reconciling their writings with ever-more widely available facts, while winking at their co-conspirators on the Left to make sure everyone understands the new ground rules.

It may be that only now, because the Times’ delinquently acknowledges the shifting ground, that media outlets which still take the Times as gospel can shift ground as well. Apparently the left-leaning media gurus need to expand their horizons, read some other publications, and sit in on some expert briefings. Or they could even go back and read the testimony which General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker gave in April. And hey–if they start doing their homework, maybe their favorite candidate will as well.

Read Less

Too Dovish for Europe

Barack Obama no doubt figured that his offer to hold “unconditional” talks with America’s enemies would be a two-fer: It would advance his standing both at home and abroad. In both places, he probably figured, most people are sick of George W. Bush’s hard-line style.

He must have been shocked, then, if he read this Washington Post article: “European officials are increasingly concerned that Sen. Barack Obama‘s campaign pledge to begin direct talks with Iran on its nuclear program without preconditions could potentially rupture U.S. relations with key European allies early in a potential Obama administration.” That’s right: Obama is too dovish even for our European allies. They are concerned that an unconditional offer of talks would dissipate the pressure of four U.N. Security Council resolutions which offer diplomatic and economic concessions to Iran only after it suspends its nuclear program.

A similar article could be written about the unease among our Arab allies to the idea of the American president breaking bread with the “Persians.” Or about the reaction of our friends in Latin America to the idea of talks with Hugo Chavez. Or about the views of our Japanese friends to the idea of a sit-down with Kim Jong Il. While everyone favors diplomacy in the abstract, presidential talks are fraught with dangers which our allies understand perfectly, and that Obama is only learning about.



Barack Obama no doubt figured that his offer to hold “unconditional” talks with America’s enemies would be a two-fer: It would advance his standing both at home and abroad. In both places, he probably figured, most people are sick of George W. Bush’s hard-line style.

He must have been shocked, then, if he read this Washington Post article: “European officials are increasingly concerned that Sen. Barack Obama‘s campaign pledge to begin direct talks with Iran on its nuclear program without preconditions could potentially rupture U.S. relations with key European allies early in a potential Obama administration.” That’s right: Obama is too dovish even for our European allies. They are concerned that an unconditional offer of talks would dissipate the pressure of four U.N. Security Council resolutions which offer diplomatic and economic concessions to Iran only after it suspends its nuclear program.

A similar article could be written about the unease among our Arab allies to the idea of the American president breaking bread with the “Persians.” Or about the reaction of our friends in Latin America to the idea of talks with Hugo Chavez. Or about the views of our Japanese friends to the idea of a sit-down with Kim Jong Il. While everyone favors diplomacy in the abstract, presidential talks are fraught with dangers which our allies understand perfectly, and that Obama is only learning about.



Read Less

If You Didn’t Like The Old Obama . . .

Barack Obama is beginning a massive undertaking to “reintroduce himself” to the American people. But unlike John McCain’s initial efforts, which suffered from excessive predictability, Obama’s new effort is fraught with tension and excitement. Which Obama will be introduced? The idealist reformer or the private-financed pol? The left-leaning foreign policy maven who wanted to meet without preconditions with rogue state leaders and withdraw from Iraq immediately or someone else? The post-racial or the race-card playing Obama? The free-trade or the protectionist Obama?

We can’t wait to find out. It is a measure of how erratic he has become that you can make an argument for any or all of these positions as potential avenues for Obama to pursue. So who is he? Well he’s not the reformer, town hall meeting participant David Broder was hoping for, is he?

Barack Obama is beginning a massive undertaking to “reintroduce himself” to the American people. But unlike John McCain’s initial efforts, which suffered from excessive predictability, Obama’s new effort is fraught with tension and excitement. Which Obama will be introduced? The idealist reformer or the private-financed pol? The left-leaning foreign policy maven who wanted to meet without preconditions with rogue state leaders and withdraw from Iraq immediately or someone else? The post-racial or the race-card playing Obama? The free-trade or the protectionist Obama?

We can’t wait to find out. It is a measure of how erratic he has become that you can make an argument for any or all of these positions as potential avenues for Obama to pursue. So who is he? Well he’s not the reformer, town hall meeting participant David Broder was hoping for, is he?

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.