Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 20, 2008

Shifting the Weight Around

The Canadian Supreme Court has ruled that obese airline passengers have a right to two seats for the price of one:

The high court declined to hear an appeal by Canadian airlines of a decision by the Canadian Transportation Agency that people who are “functionally disabled by obesity” deserve to have two seats for one fare.

Putting aside the important question of whether obesity should be a legal disability, it is ironic that this decision comes down at the same time that airlines are instituting stricter weight limits on baggage, with fees for excess weight. Maybe the ideal solution for clotheshorse travelers in Canada is to wear all of their apparel onto the plane, thereby saving them the excess fee, and at the same time getting then an extra free seat thanks to their apparent resemblance to the Michelin Man.

The Canadian Supreme Court has ruled that obese airline passengers have a right to two seats for the price of one:

The high court declined to hear an appeal by Canadian airlines of a decision by the Canadian Transportation Agency that people who are “functionally disabled by obesity” deserve to have two seats for one fare.

Putting aside the important question of whether obesity should be a legal disability, it is ironic that this decision comes down at the same time that airlines are instituting stricter weight limits on baggage, with fees for excess weight. Maybe the ideal solution for clotheshorse travelers in Canada is to wear all of their apparel onto the plane, thereby saving them the excess fee, and at the same time getting then an extra free seat thanks to their apparent resemblance to the Michelin Man.

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Commentary of the Day

Vail Beach, on Jennifer Rubin:

Three successful corporate executives, advised by perhaps 40 or 50 of the sharpest PR minds in the business and another 100 lobbyists whose entire expertise is in anticipating members of congress’ reactions – and none of them saw anything wrong with the use of a private jet?

I don’t believe it.

I think these executives are only going through the motions. They know as well as anyone else what a terrible waste of money and time the bailout would be. Rick Wagoner couldn’t even promise congress yesterday that the infusion of funds via a 10-year loan would allow GM to survive through March. Not exactly putting your best foot forward to the lending officer. “Hi, can you lend me $25 billion? And, in five months, do you mind getting in line behind all my other creditors to get it paid back by a bankruptcy judge?”

No. The CEOs have to play this out for the sake of homestate politicians and media, and the UAW, but they don’t really want the bailout. They want bankruptcy. It is, literally, their only hope. That’s the hidden message of the private plane fiasco

Vail Beach, on Jennifer Rubin:

Three successful corporate executives, advised by perhaps 40 or 50 of the sharpest PR minds in the business and another 100 lobbyists whose entire expertise is in anticipating members of congress’ reactions – and none of them saw anything wrong with the use of a private jet?

I don’t believe it.

I think these executives are only going through the motions. They know as well as anyone else what a terrible waste of money and time the bailout would be. Rick Wagoner couldn’t even promise congress yesterday that the infusion of funds via a 10-year loan would allow GM to survive through March. Not exactly putting your best foot forward to the lending officer. “Hi, can you lend me $25 billion? And, in five months, do you mind getting in line behind all my other creditors to get it paid back by a bankruptcy judge?”

No. The CEOs have to play this out for the sake of homestate politicians and media, and the UAW, but they don’t really want the bailout. They want bankruptcy. It is, literally, their only hope. That’s the hidden message of the private plane fiasco

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Conflicting Narratives

A story in today’s LA Times explores the fear and loathing on the anti-war left as the Obama administration begins to take form:

The activists are uneasy not only about signs that both Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates could be in the Obama Cabinet, but at reports suggesting that several other short-list candidates for top security posts backed the decision to go to war.

“Obama ran his campaign around the idea the war was not legitimate, but it sends a very different message when you bring in people who supported the war from the beginning,” said Kelly Dougherty, executive director of the 54-chapter Iraq Veterans Against the War.

This inquisition raises some interesting questions. These are the same groups which insist America was lied into war by the Bush administration. The corollary of this claim is that those who voted to authorize force in 2002 did so under the influence of a campaign of manipulation by the Bush administration, which employed false intelligence to build its case for war. John Edwards, to take an obvious example, in 2005 repudiated his 2002 vote, writing in a Washington Post op-ed that Iraq intelligence was “manipulated to fit a political agenda.” In other words, the John Edwardses of the world should be added to the list of victims of the Iraq War, not counted as its perpetrators. Anti-war groups responded to this moral reorganization by congratulating the bravery of those who stepped forward to declare that they, too, were casualties of the Bush administration.

But now the anti-war cadres are crestfallen that Barack Obama is filling his cabinet not with members of the Bread & Puppet Theater, but with some people who voted to allow the war. Earnest questions: If those who voted to authorize force in 2002 did so only under the sway of a campaign of lies, why is their participation in the Obama administration problematic? Or more precisely, why is it problematic on anti-war grounds, rather than on the grounds that such people, if they did fall for neocon disinformation, are too gullible to serve in high office?

And if such people were not, after all, lied into war, and must be barred from the Obama administration because they made a disastrously foolish foreign policy decision in 2002, then what remains of the validity of the Bush-lied-people-died narrative?

It’s been five and a half years since the start of the Iraq war, and many of its detractors still can’t get their story straight.

A story in today’s LA Times explores the fear and loathing on the anti-war left as the Obama administration begins to take form:

The activists are uneasy not only about signs that both Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates could be in the Obama Cabinet, but at reports suggesting that several other short-list candidates for top security posts backed the decision to go to war.

“Obama ran his campaign around the idea the war was not legitimate, but it sends a very different message when you bring in people who supported the war from the beginning,” said Kelly Dougherty, executive director of the 54-chapter Iraq Veterans Against the War.

This inquisition raises some interesting questions. These are the same groups which insist America was lied into war by the Bush administration. The corollary of this claim is that those who voted to authorize force in 2002 did so under the influence of a campaign of manipulation by the Bush administration, which employed false intelligence to build its case for war. John Edwards, to take an obvious example, in 2005 repudiated his 2002 vote, writing in a Washington Post op-ed that Iraq intelligence was “manipulated to fit a political agenda.” In other words, the John Edwardses of the world should be added to the list of victims of the Iraq War, not counted as its perpetrators. Anti-war groups responded to this moral reorganization by congratulating the bravery of those who stepped forward to declare that they, too, were casualties of the Bush administration.

But now the anti-war cadres are crestfallen that Barack Obama is filling his cabinet not with members of the Bread & Puppet Theater, but with some people who voted to allow the war. Earnest questions: If those who voted to authorize force in 2002 did so only under the sway of a campaign of lies, why is their participation in the Obama administration problematic? Or more precisely, why is it problematic on anti-war grounds, rather than on the grounds that such people, if they did fall for neocon disinformation, are too gullible to serve in high office?

And if such people were not, after all, lied into war, and must be barred from the Obama administration because they made a disastrously foolish foreign policy decision in 2002, then what remains of the validity of the Bush-lied-people-died narrative?

It’s been five and a half years since the start of the Iraq war, and many of its detractors still can’t get their story straight.

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The Fix-It List

Through a combination of firmness by Republicans and the automakers’ egregious lack of political tact (Gulf Stream-gate?), a bailout of the auto companies has been put on hold. The Big Three have to come back with a “plan” before Congress will consider a bailout. That’s a fine idea. But what should be on their list? Here are my suggestions:

– Sell Corporate Jets

— Remove GM’s CEO

— Cut wages and benefits 52% to match other U.S.-based producers

— Make cars people want

Unless and until these sorts of items are on the list, Congress should hold the line and force the car companies to do what other failing businesses always have done: get their own houses in order.

Through a combination of firmness by Republicans and the automakers’ egregious lack of political tact (Gulf Stream-gate?), a bailout of the auto companies has been put on hold. The Big Three have to come back with a “plan” before Congress will consider a bailout. That’s a fine idea. But what should be on their list? Here are my suggestions:

– Sell Corporate Jets

— Remove GM’s CEO

— Cut wages and benefits 52% to match other U.S.-based producers

— Make cars people want

Unless and until these sorts of items are on the list, Congress should hold the line and force the car companies to do what other failing businesses always have done: get their own houses in order.

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Privateers Against Pirates

With piracy on the seas increasingly becoming a major problem for international trade, one that is particularly difficult to deal with because of highly restrictive rules of engagement of the world’s most powerful navies (as Gordon discussed), perhaps it is time to dust off a solution that was effective the last time piracy was a serious issue. I speak of the letter of marque and reprisal, which Wikipedia helpfully defines as

an official warrant or commission from a government authorizing the designated agent to search, seize, or destroy specified assets or personnel belonging to a foreign party which has committed some offense under the laws of nations against the assets or citizens of the issuing nation, and has usually been used to authorize private parties to raid and capture merchant shipping of an enemy nation.

Such warrants were particularly important for fighting piracy in the early days of the American colonies and Republic, and the right of Congress to grant them is enshrined in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. The last time America extensively used letters of marque (against foreign enemies of war, not pirates) was in the War of 1812. Significantly, however, the U.S. was not a party to the 1856 Declaration of Paris, the treaty that abolished privateering for many countries, including Britain and France. And in an odd piece of trivia, the U.S. did in fact issue a letter of marque to Resolute, a privately-run airship that assisted with anti-submarine warfare during World War II.

Who could Congress set up as privateers today? Mercenary corporations such as Blackwater, despite the serious concerns about them, are one obvious choice. Blackwater, in fact, is already protecting merchant ships through its recently created subsidiary, Blackwater Maritime Security Solutions, which has the ability to deploy attack helicopters from its ships. (Admittedly, the company has a sinister-sounding name, reminiscent of the cover corporation James Bond worked for in Ian Fleming’s novels: Universal Exports, Ltd.)

Letters of marque would allow proactive measures against pirates, unlike than the current law, which merely permits merchant shippers to act defensively. Of course, there is the crucial question of whether non-state actors, even of the mercenary variety, would accept the legal risks that attend to capturing or attacking, on the high seas or in territorial waters, the citizens of other countries—even though pirates are “enemies of humanity” under international law. While privateers could not be prosecuted under the law of the country that commissioned them, other countries might attempt to seize them and/or their vessels as well as attempt extradition. (This was a problem even in the heyday of privateering.) And of course there are inherent risks to innocents whenever we allow preventive or retributive force to be used without prior adjudication.

I’m far from an expert in admiralty or international law, but I hope that the option of bringing back privateering is at least considered by individual states and, for still stronger reasons, the international community.

With piracy on the seas increasingly becoming a major problem for international trade, one that is particularly difficult to deal with because of highly restrictive rules of engagement of the world’s most powerful navies (as Gordon discussed), perhaps it is time to dust off a solution that was effective the last time piracy was a serious issue. I speak of the letter of marque and reprisal, which Wikipedia helpfully defines as

an official warrant or commission from a government authorizing the designated agent to search, seize, or destroy specified assets or personnel belonging to a foreign party which has committed some offense under the laws of nations against the assets or citizens of the issuing nation, and has usually been used to authorize private parties to raid and capture merchant shipping of an enemy nation.

Such warrants were particularly important for fighting piracy in the early days of the American colonies and Republic, and the right of Congress to grant them is enshrined in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. The last time America extensively used letters of marque (against foreign enemies of war, not pirates) was in the War of 1812. Significantly, however, the U.S. was not a party to the 1856 Declaration of Paris, the treaty that abolished privateering for many countries, including Britain and France. And in an odd piece of trivia, the U.S. did in fact issue a letter of marque to Resolute, a privately-run airship that assisted with anti-submarine warfare during World War II.

Who could Congress set up as privateers today? Mercenary corporations such as Blackwater, despite the serious concerns about them, are one obvious choice. Blackwater, in fact, is already protecting merchant ships through its recently created subsidiary, Blackwater Maritime Security Solutions, which has the ability to deploy attack helicopters from its ships. (Admittedly, the company has a sinister-sounding name, reminiscent of the cover corporation James Bond worked for in Ian Fleming’s novels: Universal Exports, Ltd.)

Letters of marque would allow proactive measures against pirates, unlike than the current law, which merely permits merchant shippers to act defensively. Of course, there is the crucial question of whether non-state actors, even of the mercenary variety, would accept the legal risks that attend to capturing or attacking, on the high seas or in territorial waters, the citizens of other countries—even though pirates are “enemies of humanity” under international law. While privateers could not be prosecuted under the law of the country that commissioned them, other countries might attempt to seize them and/or their vessels as well as attempt extradition. (This was a problem even in the heyday of privateering.) And of course there are inherent risks to innocents whenever we allow preventive or retributive force to be used without prior adjudication.

I’m far from an expert in admiralty or international law, but I hope that the option of bringing back privateering is at least considered by individual states and, for still stronger reasons, the international community.

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Still Waiting . . .

Matthew Rothschild sees the writing on the wall:

When is Obama going to appoint someone who reflects the progressive base that brought him to the White House?

He won the crucial Iowa caucuses on the strength of his anti-Iraq War stance, and many progressive peace and justice activists worked hard for him against John McCain.

So why in the world is he choosing Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State when she was one of the loudest hawks on Iraq and threatened to obliterate 75 million Iranians?

[. . .]

And if Obama really wanted change, if he really wanted to honor progressives who backed him early on and then did the grunt work against McCain, he’d nominate Dennis Kucinich as Secretary of State.

That sure would indicate a welcome departure from empire as usual.

But at this point, progressives are getting absolutely nothing from Obama.

Come on, Rothschild. Where’s your. . .what’s the word . . .oh yeah, HOPE?

Matthew Rothschild sees the writing on the wall:

When is Obama going to appoint someone who reflects the progressive base that brought him to the White House?

He won the crucial Iowa caucuses on the strength of his anti-Iraq War stance, and many progressive peace and justice activists worked hard for him against John McCain.

So why in the world is he choosing Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State when she was one of the loudest hawks on Iraq and threatened to obliterate 75 million Iranians?

[. . .]

And if Obama really wanted change, if he really wanted to honor progressives who backed him early on and then did the grunt work against McCain, he’d nominate Dennis Kucinich as Secretary of State.

That sure would indicate a welcome departure from empire as usual.

But at this point, progressives are getting absolutely nothing from Obama.

Come on, Rothschild. Where’s your. . .what’s the word . . .oh yeah, HOPE?

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24 and 7

At Entertainment Weekly‘s Popwatch blog, Christian Blauvelt wonders if a TV show about robust counterterrorism will still resonate with with a viewing public that’s been becalmed by the ambidirectional hope-and-change healing waves of Barack Obama:

Is 24 relevant anymore? Debuting in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the show — with its apoplectic mixture of hawkishness and paranoia and its Constitution-be-damned, torture-prone tragic hero Jack Bauer — reflected back our anxieties about the war on terror and its toll on our civil liberties. But the political landscape has changed dramatically over the last several months, and as we spoke to cast members Sutherland, Jon Voight, and Cherry Jones, along with executive producers Howard Gordon and Jon Cassar (who’s also Redemption‘s director), we wanted to get their takes on the show’s prospects heading into the Obama era.

Well, in the last 24 hours of the “Obama era,” al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri issued a new threat to America; the International Atomic Energy Agency announced that Iran has enough nuclear fuel for a bomb; Somali pirates, working with Islamists, seized a ninth ship in the Gulf of Aden; and U.S. drones killed 5 al Qaeda and Taliban members deeper inside Pakistan than we’ve ever struck before. Christian Blauvelt may think it’s time to replace a spy show with something from Oprah Winfrey’s stable of self-help gurus. But the Obama era kind of feels like the Bush era to me. In other words, it feels like “the immediate aftermath of 9/11.” Except now we’re awake and fighting back.

Maybe Entertainment Weekly‘s primetime tastes have changed in the seven years since 9/11, but the global forces that have built up and mobilized over the course of decades haven’t been influenced by the reality TV explosion. And the “political landscape” has not “changed dramatically over the last several months” just because a young eloquent personage made his wife proud of her country. Take a look at Obama’s picks and tell me about me about the “dramatic change.” They all come from the “Clinton age.” In fact, so do extraordinary rendition and the other creative methods of Constitution skirting to which Blauvelt takes offense. Seems to me the show will be a perfect fit with the times. I haven’t watched it, but I may start.

At Entertainment Weekly‘s Popwatch blog, Christian Blauvelt wonders if a TV show about robust counterterrorism will still resonate with with a viewing public that’s been becalmed by the ambidirectional hope-and-change healing waves of Barack Obama:

Is 24 relevant anymore? Debuting in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the show — with its apoplectic mixture of hawkishness and paranoia and its Constitution-be-damned, torture-prone tragic hero Jack Bauer — reflected back our anxieties about the war on terror and its toll on our civil liberties. But the political landscape has changed dramatically over the last several months, and as we spoke to cast members Sutherland, Jon Voight, and Cherry Jones, along with executive producers Howard Gordon and Jon Cassar (who’s also Redemption‘s director), we wanted to get their takes on the show’s prospects heading into the Obama era.

Well, in the last 24 hours of the “Obama era,” al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri issued a new threat to America; the International Atomic Energy Agency announced that Iran has enough nuclear fuel for a bomb; Somali pirates, working with Islamists, seized a ninth ship in the Gulf of Aden; and U.S. drones killed 5 al Qaeda and Taliban members deeper inside Pakistan than we’ve ever struck before. Christian Blauvelt may think it’s time to replace a spy show with something from Oprah Winfrey’s stable of self-help gurus. But the Obama era kind of feels like the Bush era to me. In other words, it feels like “the immediate aftermath of 9/11.” Except now we’re awake and fighting back.

Maybe Entertainment Weekly‘s primetime tastes have changed in the seven years since 9/11, but the global forces that have built up and mobilized over the course of decades haven’t been influenced by the reality TV explosion. And the “political landscape” has not “changed dramatically over the last several months” just because a young eloquent personage made his wife proud of her country. Take a look at Obama’s picks and tell me about me about the “dramatic change.” They all come from the “Clinton age.” In fact, so do extraordinary rendition and the other creative methods of Constitution skirting to which Blauvelt takes offense. Seems to me the show will be a perfect fit with the times. I haven’t watched it, but I may start.

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Re: Change We Could Do Without

Apparently, someone in the Obama camp thought twice about the idea of naming as Commerce Secretary a woman who presided over the demise of a subprime lending bank. One wonders why she was even considered.

Apparently, someone in the Obama camp thought twice about the idea of naming as Commerce Secretary a woman who presided over the demise of a subprime lending bank. One wonders why she was even considered.

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The Ultimate Ultimatum

This morning, the New York Times reported that Iran has accumulated enough uranium to make a single atomic weapon. “It’s a virtual milestone,” says Thomas Cochran, a nuclear analyst in Washington. The milestone is merely virtual because Iranian technicians have produced only lowly enriched material with their centrifuges. They would need to reconfigure this equipment and operate it for several months to produce the highly enriched metal needed for the core of a truly destructive bomb.

Tehran, of course, insists it has no intention of weaponizing its uranium, but the International Atomic Energy Agency notes that the Iranians have refused to answer its inquiries about suspicious activities. Reuters put it this way yesterday: the international community is in a “silent standoff” with the regime. As a senior U.N. official notes, “There is no communication whatsoever.”

No communication? Proponents of engagement take note, please! The Iranians have nothing to say to the U.N. organization to which they have a treaty obligation to speak. So will they really talk to you in good faith?

Now that the mullahs have clearly violated their obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the time for nuance is over. At this moment, we need to give to Iran the ultimate in ultimatums: “Immediately talk to the IAEA and comply with your international obligations or we will destroy your nuclear facilities and your capability to wage war.”

And if we are not willing to say that, we had better be prepared to live in the worst possible of worlds.

This morning, the New York Times reported that Iran has accumulated enough uranium to make a single atomic weapon. “It’s a virtual milestone,” says Thomas Cochran, a nuclear analyst in Washington. The milestone is merely virtual because Iranian technicians have produced only lowly enriched material with their centrifuges. They would need to reconfigure this equipment and operate it for several months to produce the highly enriched metal needed for the core of a truly destructive bomb.

Tehran, of course, insists it has no intention of weaponizing its uranium, but the International Atomic Energy Agency notes that the Iranians have refused to answer its inquiries about suspicious activities. Reuters put it this way yesterday: the international community is in a “silent standoff” with the regime. As a senior U.N. official notes, “There is no communication whatsoever.”

No communication? Proponents of engagement take note, please! The Iranians have nothing to say to the U.N. organization to which they have a treaty obligation to speak. So will they really talk to you in good faith?

Now that the mullahs have clearly violated their obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the time for nuance is over. At this moment, we need to give to Iran the ultimate in ultimatums: “Immediately talk to the IAEA and comply with your international obligations or we will destroy your nuclear facilities and your capability to wage war.”

And if we are not willing to say that, we had better be prepared to live in the worst possible of worlds.

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Just Words

Nicholas Kristof, bold as ever:

Because Russia behaves irresponsibly — including its latest disgraceful threat to base missiles near Poland — the temptation in the Obama administration will be to continue with NATO expansion and perhaps even with the ill-advised missile system for Europe. (We have so many better ways to spend money!) Instead, let’s engage Russia as we engage China — while still bluntly calling Russia on its uncivilized behavior.

You mean like calling the unprovoked invasion and occupation of a sovereign neighbor an example of how Russia “behaves irresponsibly”?

Nicholas Kristof, bold as ever:

Because Russia behaves irresponsibly — including its latest disgraceful threat to base missiles near Poland — the temptation in the Obama administration will be to continue with NATO expansion and perhaps even with the ill-advised missile system for Europe. (We have so many better ways to spend money!) Instead, let’s engage Russia as we engage China — while still bluntly calling Russia on its uncivilized behavior.

You mean like calling the unprovoked invasion and occupation of a sovereign neighbor an example of how Russia “behaves irresponsibly”?

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Colbert for Christmas

This Sunday, Comedy Central will be airing Stephen Colbert’s “A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All,” which should be as heart-warming as a hot toddy spiked with mescaline. From previews, the hour-long show looks to be following more in the tradition of Bing Crosby than the 1978 “Star Wars Holiday Special,” which was scarier than the Sarlacc.

But that is not to say that “A Colbert Christmas” is not hilariously off-kilter (eagle eyes will notice that Colbert wears a woman’s cardigan, making him into a sort of Mr. Rogers in drag). The special includes a country-western defense of Christmas against “atheists and judges who are trying to take it away” as well as a seductive R&B ballad dedicated to nutmeg (I hope it alludes to Malcolm X’s getting high on the spice in prison). All of the original songs were composed by Adam Schlesinger, which might end up adding to the long list of Christmas favorites scored by Jews. It will be interesting to see how Colbert, a practicing Catholic and former Sunday-school teacher, affectionately makes fun of Christmas—he said that he specifically wanted to avoid mocking the holiday. Will he put the χ back in Xmas?

Despite the incessant satire of The Colbert Report, the show has in fact taken religion seriously. Its guests have included the likes of Reverend Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, and William Donohue, the president of the Catholic League. And the regular segment “This Week in God” can be interpreted as mocking not religious belief but the news media’s treatment of religion as just another phenomenon to be reported, the equal to sports scores and the latest presidential press conference. If memory serves, it was the great Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton who said he’d rather be an eternalist than a journalist. (The latter derives from the word for “daily,” as in ephemeral.) And I imagine that the bibulous Chesterton would have liked “A Colbert Christmas,” especially since it appears to advocate good spirits of every kind.

This Sunday, Comedy Central will be airing Stephen Colbert’s “A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All,” which should be as heart-warming as a hot toddy spiked with mescaline. From previews, the hour-long show looks to be following more in the tradition of Bing Crosby than the 1978 “Star Wars Holiday Special,” which was scarier than the Sarlacc.

But that is not to say that “A Colbert Christmas” is not hilariously off-kilter (eagle eyes will notice that Colbert wears a woman’s cardigan, making him into a sort of Mr. Rogers in drag). The special includes a country-western defense of Christmas against “atheists and judges who are trying to take it away” as well as a seductive R&B ballad dedicated to nutmeg (I hope it alludes to Malcolm X’s getting high on the spice in prison). All of the original songs were composed by Adam Schlesinger, which might end up adding to the long list of Christmas favorites scored by Jews. It will be interesting to see how Colbert, a practicing Catholic and former Sunday-school teacher, affectionately makes fun of Christmas—he said that he specifically wanted to avoid mocking the holiday. Will he put the χ back in Xmas?

Despite the incessant satire of The Colbert Report, the show has in fact taken religion seriously. Its guests have included the likes of Reverend Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, and William Donohue, the president of the Catholic League. And the regular segment “This Week in God” can be interpreted as mocking not religious belief but the news media’s treatment of religion as just another phenomenon to be reported, the equal to sports scores and the latest presidential press conference. If memory serves, it was the great Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton who said he’d rather be an eternalist than a journalist. (The latter derives from the word for “daily,” as in ephemeral.) And I imagine that the bibulous Chesterton would have liked “A Colbert Christmas,” especially since it appears to advocate good spirits of every kind.

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Bailout Crash

Unfortunately, Washington operates in sound bites and symbols. The good news is that those sound bites and symbols occasionally shame Congress into doing the right thing. That seems to have happened with the auto bailout.

Columns and columns have been written, cogent arguments constructed, and plenty of good advice rendered to the effect that a bailout is misguided,  and that only a bankruptcy proceeding can provide the legal mechanism needed to restructure major American automakers. But it took a boneheaded move by the Big Three CEO’s–flying to D.C. in private jets–to galvanize the media and make it virtually impossible for the Democrats to throw away billions more on recalcitrant, failing companies. Harry Reid finally got it:

I want to help them. It’s not the companies. I want to help the workers. That’s where I am. The people who work there deserve our attention. But the path has been laid by these bosses who came here yesterday on their corporate jets. . . . They all flew down here in their corporate jets. It’s just not the right picture.

In some sense, this is karma. The arrogance and obtuseness of the car companies’ management has come back to haunt them. As self-evident as the anti-bailout argument seemed to be, it took a mega-gaffe to do it in. That’s the way Washington operates, I suppose. But at least this time it seems to have worked out for the best.

Unfortunately, Washington operates in sound bites and symbols. The good news is that those sound bites and symbols occasionally shame Congress into doing the right thing. That seems to have happened with the auto bailout.

Columns and columns have been written, cogent arguments constructed, and plenty of good advice rendered to the effect that a bailout is misguided,  and that only a bankruptcy proceeding can provide the legal mechanism needed to restructure major American automakers. But it took a boneheaded move by the Big Three CEO’s–flying to D.C. in private jets–to galvanize the media and make it virtually impossible for the Democrats to throw away billions more on recalcitrant, failing companies. Harry Reid finally got it:

I want to help them. It’s not the companies. I want to help the workers. That’s where I am. The people who work there deserve our attention. But the path has been laid by these bosses who came here yesterday on their corporate jets. . . . They all flew down here in their corporate jets. It’s just not the right picture.

In some sense, this is karma. The arrogance and obtuseness of the car companies’ management has come back to haunt them. As self-evident as the anti-bailout argument seemed to be, it took a mega-gaffe to do it in. That’s the way Washington operates, I suppose. But at least this time it seems to have worked out for the best.

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The Nerve of Richard Clarke

I both agree and disagree with Richard Clarke:

Obama’s election has taken the wind out of al Qaeda’s sails in much of the Islamic world because it demonstrates America’s renewed commitment to multiculturalism, human rights, and international law. It also proves to many that democracy can work and overcome ethnic, sectarian, or racial barriers.

Obama’s commitment to withdraw from Iraq also takes away an al Qaeda propaganda tenet: that the U.S. seeks to occupy oil rich Arab lands. His commitment to defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan also challenges their plans. Most of all, by returning to American values the world admires, Obama sets al Qaeda back enormously in the battle of ideas, the ideological struggle which determines whether al Qaeda will continue to have significant support in the Islamic world.

It’s true that a portion of the rest of the world thinks Obama’s election will usher in a set of “values the world admires” in America, but Obama’s just replacing an illusion with an illusion. American values were the same under George. W. Bush as they were under Bill Clinton or George H. W. Bush. And they’ll be the same under Obama. Any perception to the contrary can be blamed on people like Clarke. Let’s not forget his starring performance in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11–a project whose sole function was to broadcast a message of American dishonor, deceit, and immorality to the world. Clarke is the guy who admitted personal responsibility for the bin Laden family’s hasty post-9/11 exit from the U.S., before going in front of Moore’s cameras to let Arab citizens know that the American president was nothing more than a stooge of the oppressive Saudi oligarchy. And now he’s worried about our image?

Clarke, Moore, the liberal news media, and virtually all of Hollywood worked at nothing else for the past seven years other than convincing the world that American values were in a dangerous slump. This, during a time their country was engaged in a war to preserve the very values being doubted. These domestic propagandists never had to cite evidence to prove their case. The simple fact of America’s military engagement was all the proof they needed. The funny thing is, these people never needed to make a case against the U.S. to begin with. Despite all the blather about squandered sympathy, the rest of the world didn’t much “admire” American values before U.S. troops set foot on Iraqi soil. Here’s Robert Kagan:

According to a Pew Research Center poll released in August 2001, 70 percent of western Europeans surveyed (85 percent in France) believed that the Bush administration made decisions “based only on U.S. interests.”

[…]

When the shock and horror wore off, it turned out that the September 11 attacks had not altered fundamental global attitudes toward the United States. The resentments remained. A Pew poll of opinion leaders around the world taken in December 2001 revealed that while most were “sad to see what America [was] going through,” equally large majorities (70 percent of those polled worldwide, 66 percent in western Europe) believed it was “good that Americans know what it is like to be vulnerable.” Many opinion leaders around the world, including in Europe, said they believed that “U.S. policies and actions in the world” had been a “major cause” of the terrorist attacks and that, to borrow a phrase, the chickens had come home to roost.

So, we move from false cause to false cause. After trumping up the case against the American government for seven years, Clarke and company conclude that Barack Obama will help repair the global image of the American government. I’d say that’s nerve.

While Obama may help us finally win the PR war against Islamists, a premature withdrawal from Iraq would help us lose the real war against the same. In any case, if Obama is as savvy as he seems, he’ll reward Clarke with the job he so obviously wants. And if he does, let’s hope this personal travel agent to the bin Ladens has learned from at least some of his mistakes.

I both agree and disagree with Richard Clarke:

Obama’s election has taken the wind out of al Qaeda’s sails in much of the Islamic world because it demonstrates America’s renewed commitment to multiculturalism, human rights, and international law. It also proves to many that democracy can work and overcome ethnic, sectarian, or racial barriers.

Obama’s commitment to withdraw from Iraq also takes away an al Qaeda propaganda tenet: that the U.S. seeks to occupy oil rich Arab lands. His commitment to defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan also challenges their plans. Most of all, by returning to American values the world admires, Obama sets al Qaeda back enormously in the battle of ideas, the ideological struggle which determines whether al Qaeda will continue to have significant support in the Islamic world.

It’s true that a portion of the rest of the world thinks Obama’s election will usher in a set of “values the world admires” in America, but Obama’s just replacing an illusion with an illusion. American values were the same under George. W. Bush as they were under Bill Clinton or George H. W. Bush. And they’ll be the same under Obama. Any perception to the contrary can be blamed on people like Clarke. Let’s not forget his starring performance in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11–a project whose sole function was to broadcast a message of American dishonor, deceit, and immorality to the world. Clarke is the guy who admitted personal responsibility for the bin Laden family’s hasty post-9/11 exit from the U.S., before going in front of Moore’s cameras to let Arab citizens know that the American president was nothing more than a stooge of the oppressive Saudi oligarchy. And now he’s worried about our image?

Clarke, Moore, the liberal news media, and virtually all of Hollywood worked at nothing else for the past seven years other than convincing the world that American values were in a dangerous slump. This, during a time their country was engaged in a war to preserve the very values being doubted. These domestic propagandists never had to cite evidence to prove their case. The simple fact of America’s military engagement was all the proof they needed. The funny thing is, these people never needed to make a case against the U.S. to begin with. Despite all the blather about squandered sympathy, the rest of the world didn’t much “admire” American values before U.S. troops set foot on Iraqi soil. Here’s Robert Kagan:

According to a Pew Research Center poll released in August 2001, 70 percent of western Europeans surveyed (85 percent in France) believed that the Bush administration made decisions “based only on U.S. interests.”

[…]

When the shock and horror wore off, it turned out that the September 11 attacks had not altered fundamental global attitudes toward the United States. The resentments remained. A Pew poll of opinion leaders around the world taken in December 2001 revealed that while most were “sad to see what America [was] going through,” equally large majorities (70 percent of those polled worldwide, 66 percent in western Europe) believed it was “good that Americans know what it is like to be vulnerable.” Many opinion leaders around the world, including in Europe, said they believed that “U.S. policies and actions in the world” had been a “major cause” of the terrorist attacks and that, to borrow a phrase, the chickens had come home to roost.

So, we move from false cause to false cause. After trumping up the case against the American government for seven years, Clarke and company conclude that Barack Obama will help repair the global image of the American government. I’d say that’s nerve.

While Obama may help us finally win the PR war against Islamists, a premature withdrawal from Iraq would help us lose the real war against the same. In any case, if Obama is as savvy as he seems, he’ll reward Clarke with the job he so obviously wants. And if he does, let’s hope this personal travel agent to the bin Ladens has learned from at least some of his mistakes.

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Fidel Loves “Che”

From Page Six:

IF there was any question as to whether Steven Soderbergh‘s “Che” portrays the Marxist revolutionary as a hero, the four-hour movie will be shown next month in Cuba at Havana’s New Latin American Film Festival. Event president Alfredo Guevara said in July that “Che” would not be shown if it included any “attacks” on Fidel Castro, who was Che’s comrade in arms. But the film, starring Benicio Del Toro as the T-shirt icon, evidently passed muster with the dictator’s regime. The stars and filmmakers will have to get US permission to attend the screenings, unless they sneak in like most tourists.

Did anyone expect Soderbergh’s movie to offend Castro? Far too many in the movie business have already cozied up to El Comandante. Oliver Stone made a fawning documentary about him, with the director explaining that “I admire him because he’s a fighter. He stood alone and in a sense he’s Don Quixote.” Likewise, at Gerard Depardieu’s chic Parisian restaurant L’Ecaille de la Fontain there is a photo of the actor and the dictator proudly hanging on the wall. And the noted political philosopher Chevy Chase once said, “Socialism works. I think Cuba can prove that.” Regnery Press had enough material to publish a whole book on the subject, Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant.

While Hollywood has long been hoodwinked by Castro, will at least gays in the movie industry protest Soderbergh’s hagiographic portrayal of a vicious homophobe? In his National Book Award-winning memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy, Carlos Eire writes about a still little-known aspect of Che’s machismo:

[Che] thinks about that cruel ritual he has witnessed so many times, when the guards strip all the prisoners naked and parade the most handsome in front of the newly arrived inmates to find out who among them is gay. He thinks about how anyone who gets aroused is taken away for a special mandatory “rehabilitation” program that includes the application of electrical currents to the genitals.

From Page Six:

IF there was any question as to whether Steven Soderbergh‘s “Che” portrays the Marxist revolutionary as a hero, the four-hour movie will be shown next month in Cuba at Havana’s New Latin American Film Festival. Event president Alfredo Guevara said in July that “Che” would not be shown if it included any “attacks” on Fidel Castro, who was Che’s comrade in arms. But the film, starring Benicio Del Toro as the T-shirt icon, evidently passed muster with the dictator’s regime. The stars and filmmakers will have to get US permission to attend the screenings, unless they sneak in like most tourists.

Did anyone expect Soderbergh’s movie to offend Castro? Far too many in the movie business have already cozied up to El Comandante. Oliver Stone made a fawning documentary about him, with the director explaining that “I admire him because he’s a fighter. He stood alone and in a sense he’s Don Quixote.” Likewise, at Gerard Depardieu’s chic Parisian restaurant L’Ecaille de la Fontain there is a photo of the actor and the dictator proudly hanging on the wall. And the noted political philosopher Chevy Chase once said, “Socialism works. I think Cuba can prove that.” Regnery Press had enough material to publish a whole book on the subject, Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant.

While Hollywood has long been hoodwinked by Castro, will at least gays in the movie industry protest Soderbergh’s hagiographic portrayal of a vicious homophobe? In his National Book Award-winning memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy, Carlos Eire writes about a still little-known aspect of Che’s machismo:

[Che] thinks about that cruel ritual he has witnessed so many times, when the guards strip all the prisoners naked and parade the most handsome in front of the newly arrived inmates to find out who among them is gay. He thinks about how anyone who gets aroused is taken away for a special mandatory “rehabilitation” program that includes the application of electrical currents to the genitals.

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Change We Could Do Without

Barack Obama’s campaign finance chief Penny Pritzker has been tapped as Commerce Secretary. This Chicago Sun-Times article from April gives some background:

White House hopeful Barack Obama talks a lot on the campaign trail about how failing banks have used subprime loans to victimize customers. “Part of the reason we got a current mortgage crisis has to do with the fact that people got suckered into loans that they could not pay,” he told a crowd in Reading, Pa., last week. “There were a lot of predatory loans that were given out, a lot of teaser rates. Banks and financial institutions making these loans were making money hand over fist.”One of the banks that went under after making a lot of subprime loans — leaving 1,400 of its customers without part of their savings — was Chicago’s Superior Bank. At the helm of Superior Bank at least some of the time was Obama’s national finance chairwoman, Penny Pritzker, an heiress to the Pritzker fortune.

In October, the Washington Times reported:

The Obama campaign does not dispute that Ms. Pritzker advocated subprime lending as the bank was failing but said she was “never accused of any wrongdoing nor did she receive compensation in relation to the closing of Superior Bank.” The campaign said that instead of “walking away as millions of homeowners and stockholders suffered, the Pritzker family entered into a voluntary settlement and agreed to pay the government” $460 million that the bank cost taxpayers over 15 years to defray its losses.

That’s little solace to the victims of Superior Bank’s failure, who are still attempting to recoup their losses via a lawsuit and feel left behind in the current financial crisis, which was spurred, in part, by the very same subprime lending that sank their deposits.

Pritzker has described the bank’s failure as a “complex” matter, but as the Washington Times reported, the FDIC was quite harsh in its evaluation:

A Feb. 7, 2002, FDIC report said the bank’s failure “was directly attributable to the bank’s board of directors and executives ignoring sound risk management principles.” The report said the bank “paid dividends and other financial benefits without regard to the deteriorating financial and operating condition of Superior.”

“Superior Bank suffered as a result of its former high-risk business strategy, which was focused on the generation of significant volumes of subprime mortgage and automobile loans for securitization and sale in the secondary market,” the OTS said. “The bank also suffered from poor lending practices, improper record keeping and accounting, and ineffective board and management supervision.”

Will any of this prevent her confirmation? Unlikely, given the large Democratic majority in the Senate. But, as with the Eric Holder selection, one would think there must have been equally qualified people without such baggage. One thing is for certain: no Republican would have had the nerve to nominate someone with this background.

Barack Obama’s campaign finance chief Penny Pritzker has been tapped as Commerce Secretary. This Chicago Sun-Times article from April gives some background:

White House hopeful Barack Obama talks a lot on the campaign trail about how failing banks have used subprime loans to victimize customers. “Part of the reason we got a current mortgage crisis has to do with the fact that people got suckered into loans that they could not pay,” he told a crowd in Reading, Pa., last week. “There were a lot of predatory loans that were given out, a lot of teaser rates. Banks and financial institutions making these loans were making money hand over fist.”One of the banks that went under after making a lot of subprime loans — leaving 1,400 of its customers without part of their savings — was Chicago’s Superior Bank. At the helm of Superior Bank at least some of the time was Obama’s national finance chairwoman, Penny Pritzker, an heiress to the Pritzker fortune.

In October, the Washington Times reported:

The Obama campaign does not dispute that Ms. Pritzker advocated subprime lending as the bank was failing but said she was “never accused of any wrongdoing nor did she receive compensation in relation to the closing of Superior Bank.” The campaign said that instead of “walking away as millions of homeowners and stockholders suffered, the Pritzker family entered into a voluntary settlement and agreed to pay the government” $460 million that the bank cost taxpayers over 15 years to defray its losses.

That’s little solace to the victims of Superior Bank’s failure, who are still attempting to recoup their losses via a lawsuit and feel left behind in the current financial crisis, which was spurred, in part, by the very same subprime lending that sank their deposits.

Pritzker has described the bank’s failure as a “complex” matter, but as the Washington Times reported, the FDIC was quite harsh in its evaluation:

A Feb. 7, 2002, FDIC report said the bank’s failure “was directly attributable to the bank’s board of directors and executives ignoring sound risk management principles.” The report said the bank “paid dividends and other financial benefits without regard to the deteriorating financial and operating condition of Superior.”

“Superior Bank suffered as a result of its former high-risk business strategy, which was focused on the generation of significant volumes of subprime mortgage and automobile loans for securitization and sale in the secondary market,” the OTS said. “The bank also suffered from poor lending practices, improper record keeping and accounting, and ineffective board and management supervision.”

Will any of this prevent her confirmation? Unlikely, given the large Democratic majority in the Senate. But, as with the Eric Holder selection, one would think there must have been equally qualified people without such baggage. One thing is for certain: no Republican would have had the nerve to nominate someone with this background.

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To What End?

This column by Dan Gerstein highlights the President-elect’s most powerful appeal–and his greatest challenge. His supporters want him to use his powers of “persuasion” and his skill as “explainer in chief” in the auto industry crisis. Gerstein declares:

But the mess in Motown could prove to be a blessing in disguise for Obama. It provides a unique opportunity to test drive his new model of leadership–and if he succeeds, whether it is tomorrow or two months from now, to begin restoring the American people’s confidence that the president and Congress can come together to solve national problems.

To do what? And for what purpose? Why is government intervention superior to Chapter 11? Moreover, the notion that the President-elect (or even the President) can personally reorder an entire industry is not terribly realistic. At some point, the atmospherics and process-fetish must end. Then, real policy decisions–revealing Obama’s true philosophy and disappointing some allies–must be made. So rather than reveling in his negotiating skills, his admirers should explain what he believes. Then we will all know. But intervening for the sake of intervening, and negotiating for the sake of a deal, are not a good idea. Anyone familiar with the Middle East “peace process” knows that.

This column by Dan Gerstein highlights the President-elect’s most powerful appeal–and his greatest challenge. His supporters want him to use his powers of “persuasion” and his skill as “explainer in chief” in the auto industry crisis. Gerstein declares:

But the mess in Motown could prove to be a blessing in disguise for Obama. It provides a unique opportunity to test drive his new model of leadership–and if he succeeds, whether it is tomorrow or two months from now, to begin restoring the American people’s confidence that the president and Congress can come together to solve national problems.

To do what? And for what purpose? Why is government intervention superior to Chapter 11? Moreover, the notion that the President-elect (or even the President) can personally reorder an entire industry is not terribly realistic. At some point, the atmospherics and process-fetish must end. Then, real policy decisions–revealing Obama’s true philosophy and disappointing some allies–must be made. So rather than reveling in his negotiating skills, his admirers should explain what he believes. Then we will all know. But intervening for the sake of intervening, and negotiating for the sake of a deal, are not a good idea. Anyone familiar with the Middle East “peace process” knows that.

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Israel’s Nukes

Three days ago, I argued that recommendations to “do something” about Israel’s nuclear capabilities will come more frequently now, with the change of administration in Washington. “There are two reasons for this,” I wrote. “1. Some members of the Obama camp will be receptive to these ideas. 2. The international community has found no way of stopping Iran, and is now looking for new solutions to the problem of a nuclearized Middle East.”

I said more frequently, not immediately! But lo and behold, a new Foreign Affairs article–written by Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution and Jan Lodal, a former senior Defense Department and White House official–has appeared, saying thatWashington must lead the way to a world without nuclear weapons.” That’s an interesting, if far-fetched, idea. For this to happen, the U.S. has to reduce its own nuclear arsenal and form an international coalition with the intention of getting rid of all nuclear arms:

Once U.S. allies are on board, Washington’s diplomatic attention should shift to the nonnuclear states that have long clamored for greater progress in arms control and disarmament. Countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, Ireland, Mexico, South Africa, and Sweden are important players in the international disarmament field — and have long accepted the logic of zero — and they should be natural allies in this effort. Some of them seriously considered acquiring nuclear weapons (and in the case of South Africa actually did) only to conclude that even in the absence of having a formal alliance with a nuclear weapons state, their security would be enhanced if they did not have them. Similarly, the proposed comprehensive nuclear-control regime ought to be attractive to nations that have long complained about the discriminatory nature of the current nonproliferation regime… More challenging will be to convince the other four long-standing nuclear powers — France, Pakistan, Israel, and, of course, Russia.

When the authors get to the point of specifying what ought to be done regarding Israel, they actually formulate a cautious framework:

Israel initially developed nuclear weapons out of the fear that its army could be overrun by the vastly larger Arab armies in the region. Today, Israel also faces the prospect of a nuclear-armed regime, Iran, that has openly called for its destruction — a critical reason to maintain a nuclear deterrent. But if strong pressure on Iran could succeed in reversing its nuclear program, Israel would have much less need for its nuclear weapons. Israel’s peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, for all of their disappointments, have largely eliminated any conventional military threat to Israel’s existence, and Israel’s own conventional forces, with significant and continuing help from the United States, are now dominant in the region. Israel has also consistently stated — as recently as this year — that it favors an agreement that would make the Middle East a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction. As with Pakistan, if Israel can be assured that it will not face any nuclear threat from another state, it should prove possible to convince it to see the merits of joining a global effort to eliminate nuclear weapons and thus deny terrorists any opportunity to get the bomb.

So, the authors want Israel to dismantle its capabilities, but do not suggest that this should be done before two important conditions are met: “if strong pressure on Iran could succeed in reversing its nuclear program,” and “if Israel can be assured that it will not face any nuclear threat from another state.” As for the first condition, we will have to wait and see. As for the second, it’s an especially interesting proposition, since it comes just a day after the official announcment that “Damascus was [probably] building a secret nuclear reactor, according to a U.N. report that also confirmed the discovery of traces of uranium amid the ruins.”

Three days ago, I argued that recommendations to “do something” about Israel’s nuclear capabilities will come more frequently now, with the change of administration in Washington. “There are two reasons for this,” I wrote. “1. Some members of the Obama camp will be receptive to these ideas. 2. The international community has found no way of stopping Iran, and is now looking for new solutions to the problem of a nuclearized Middle East.”

I said more frequently, not immediately! But lo and behold, a new Foreign Affairs article–written by Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution and Jan Lodal, a former senior Defense Department and White House official–has appeared, saying thatWashington must lead the way to a world without nuclear weapons.” That’s an interesting, if far-fetched, idea. For this to happen, the U.S. has to reduce its own nuclear arsenal and form an international coalition with the intention of getting rid of all nuclear arms:

Once U.S. allies are on board, Washington’s diplomatic attention should shift to the nonnuclear states that have long clamored for greater progress in arms control and disarmament. Countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, Ireland, Mexico, South Africa, and Sweden are important players in the international disarmament field — and have long accepted the logic of zero — and they should be natural allies in this effort. Some of them seriously considered acquiring nuclear weapons (and in the case of South Africa actually did) only to conclude that even in the absence of having a formal alliance with a nuclear weapons state, their security would be enhanced if they did not have them. Similarly, the proposed comprehensive nuclear-control regime ought to be attractive to nations that have long complained about the discriminatory nature of the current nonproliferation regime… More challenging will be to convince the other four long-standing nuclear powers — France, Pakistan, Israel, and, of course, Russia.

When the authors get to the point of specifying what ought to be done regarding Israel, they actually formulate a cautious framework:

Israel initially developed nuclear weapons out of the fear that its army could be overrun by the vastly larger Arab armies in the region. Today, Israel also faces the prospect of a nuclear-armed regime, Iran, that has openly called for its destruction — a critical reason to maintain a nuclear deterrent. But if strong pressure on Iran could succeed in reversing its nuclear program, Israel would have much less need for its nuclear weapons. Israel’s peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, for all of their disappointments, have largely eliminated any conventional military threat to Israel’s existence, and Israel’s own conventional forces, with significant and continuing help from the United States, are now dominant in the region. Israel has also consistently stated — as recently as this year — that it favors an agreement that would make the Middle East a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction. As with Pakistan, if Israel can be assured that it will not face any nuclear threat from another state, it should prove possible to convince it to see the merits of joining a global effort to eliminate nuclear weapons and thus deny terrorists any opportunity to get the bomb.

So, the authors want Israel to dismantle its capabilities, but do not suggest that this should be done before two important conditions are met: “if strong pressure on Iran could succeed in reversing its nuclear program,” and “if Israel can be assured that it will not face any nuclear threat from another state.” As for the first condition, we will have to wait and see. As for the second, it’s an especially interesting proposition, since it comes just a day after the official announcment that “Damascus was [probably] building a secret nuclear reactor, according to a U.N. report that also confirmed the discovery of traces of uranium amid the ruins.”

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How Low Does It Have To Go?

The stock market tumbled yesterday, taking the Dow below 8000. The Wall Street Journal editors observe:

One problem is that this is an especially bad time to have a Presidential transition. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson has more or less announced that he’s done making major policy calls, save for an emergency. He understandably — if a little too loudly amid a panic — wants to leave the field to the new Administration. Yet President-elect Barack Obama has seemed in no hurry to assemble an economic team, or perhaps he simply hasn’t been able to settle on one. With nerves as taut as they are, picking an HHS Secretary . .  before a Treasury chief is a rookie mistake.

.    .    .

No doubt many Democrats figure nothing that happens before January 20 is on their watch, so they don’t need to worry. But the deeper the economic fall, the harder the road back. The world could use a signal from Mr. Obama that he favors policies to put private capital back to work, not merely to grow the government.

As I have been noting for a couple of weeks, it was surprising that the President-elect did not have his Treasury Secretary pick within days of the election. Selection of a respected and capable Treasury Secretary is not by any means a guarantee that the slide will halt. But the cumulative impact of the current Treasury Secretary’s lack of an articulated gameplan, the absence of any hint as to his successor, and ongoing buzz that a tax increase is still in the mix are weighing heavily on the minds of investors.

Some speculate that the President-elect will be only too happy to let things deteriorate,  as FDR did, on his predecessor’s watch. But Obama, I think, is smart enough to know how much harder and longer the recovery will be if the slide continues, and how it will impact his policy options and his party’s political fortunes in two or four years if we are still mired in recession.

So why the delay? It is a huge decision, one which will define him domestically and conceivably alienate part of his base. We forget that he has no experience in making tough, quick calls. It now shows.

The stock market tumbled yesterday, taking the Dow below 8000. The Wall Street Journal editors observe:

One problem is that this is an especially bad time to have a Presidential transition. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson has more or less announced that he’s done making major policy calls, save for an emergency. He understandably — if a little too loudly amid a panic — wants to leave the field to the new Administration. Yet President-elect Barack Obama has seemed in no hurry to assemble an economic team, or perhaps he simply hasn’t been able to settle on one. With nerves as taut as they are, picking an HHS Secretary . .  before a Treasury chief is a rookie mistake.

.    .    .

No doubt many Democrats figure nothing that happens before January 20 is on their watch, so they don’t need to worry. But the deeper the economic fall, the harder the road back. The world could use a signal from Mr. Obama that he favors policies to put private capital back to work, not merely to grow the government.

As I have been noting for a couple of weeks, it was surprising that the President-elect did not have his Treasury Secretary pick within days of the election. Selection of a respected and capable Treasury Secretary is not by any means a guarantee that the slide will halt. But the cumulative impact of the current Treasury Secretary’s lack of an articulated gameplan, the absence of any hint as to his successor, and ongoing buzz that a tax increase is still in the mix are weighing heavily on the minds of investors.

Some speculate that the President-elect will be only too happy to let things deteriorate,  as FDR did, on his predecessor’s watch. But Obama, I think, is smart enough to know how much harder and longer the recovery will be if the slide continues, and how it will impact his policy options and his party’s political fortunes in two or four years if we are still mired in recession.

So why the delay? It is a huge decision, one which will define him domestically and conceivably alienate part of his base. We forget that he has no experience in making tough, quick calls. It now shows.

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Guarantees?

Shimon Peres has been talking up the Arab League peace plan, saying that Israel is currently negotiating a 100% withdrawal from the West Bank (with a 4-5% territorial exchange).  That would put every Israeli city in rocket range, but Peres has a solution — “guarantees.”

Israel must be given guarantees [Peres said] because “in Gaza we failed.  We took down 30 settlements by force, and there is not one Israeli citizen or soldier there anymore.  But instead of settlements, they’ve built launching sites for missiles.  And I have to give an answer to Israelis who are asking:  ‘How can we be sure that it won’t happen if we leave more settlements?'”

It is not clear what “guarantees” Peres has in mind:  perhaps a “binding” UN resolution (like Res.1701, which required all UN members to stop the flow of weapons into Lebanon); or a “robust” international force (like the one that watched Hezbollah not only replenish but redouble its arsenal); or an explicit U.S. commitment (like George W. Bush’s April 14, 2004 Gaza disengagement letter, promising U.S-led efforts to “prevent areas from which Israel has withdrawn from posing a threat that would have to be addressed by any other means”).

Somehow the binding resolutions, robust international forces, and explicit commitments never seem to work.  As new governments are about to take office in both the U.S. and Israel, it may be time to re-think this “process.”

Two important recent essays do precisely that.  Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, the IDF Chief of Staff from 2002-05, lays out a different path in “Israel and the Palestinians: A New Strategy” in the new issue of Azure.  He says the “present diplomatic path, which forces Israel to make far-reaching concessions and take genuine risks in return for empty Palestinian declarations, is headed for war, not peace.”  The critical error has been that the Palestinians “received political concessions without ever proving their willingness or ability to bring about order and stability in the territories handed over to their control.”

True, Israel demanded again and again that the PA stand up to its commitments and take the necessary steps to dismantle the terrorist infrastructures in the West Bank and Gaza.  Nevertheless, the fact that these demands were not met did not prevent Israeli statesmen from negotiating with Palestinian representatives over a permanent-status agreement.  The ongoing farce reached its pinnacle at the Annapolis summit in November 2007, when the Israelis and Palestinians announced their plans to reach a permanent-status agreement by the end of 2008-despite the fact that Abu Mazen does not have the power to enforce so much as a rental contract in Gaza City.

Caroline Glick, in “Israel and the Palestinians: Ending the Stalemate” in the current issue of The Journal of International Security Affairs, notes that the more the process has failed, the more it has been accelerated.  Not only has there been no penalty for Palestinian failures (failure to dismantle a single terrorist organization, electing their premier terrorist group to control their legislature, daily rockets into Israel, etc.), but each failure has simply produced more Israeli concessions to keep the process going (the Gaza disengagement, serial releases of more prisoners, transfers of money, etc.), as well as increasing commitments of U.S. funds.   It is in effect a self-sustaining failure.

Ya’alon and Glick each propose a more principled process, with progress measured by facts on the ground rather than by a “peace agreement” that by its nature cannot be enforced — even with “guarantees.”  Both articles are worth reading in their entirety.

Shimon Peres has been talking up the Arab League peace plan, saying that Israel is currently negotiating a 100% withdrawal from the West Bank (with a 4-5% territorial exchange).  That would put every Israeli city in rocket range, but Peres has a solution — “guarantees.”

Israel must be given guarantees [Peres said] because “in Gaza we failed.  We took down 30 settlements by force, and there is not one Israeli citizen or soldier there anymore.  But instead of settlements, they’ve built launching sites for missiles.  And I have to give an answer to Israelis who are asking:  ‘How can we be sure that it won’t happen if we leave more settlements?'”

It is not clear what “guarantees” Peres has in mind:  perhaps a “binding” UN resolution (like Res.1701, which required all UN members to stop the flow of weapons into Lebanon); or a “robust” international force (like the one that watched Hezbollah not only replenish but redouble its arsenal); or an explicit U.S. commitment (like George W. Bush’s April 14, 2004 Gaza disengagement letter, promising U.S-led efforts to “prevent areas from which Israel has withdrawn from posing a threat that would have to be addressed by any other means”).

Somehow the binding resolutions, robust international forces, and explicit commitments never seem to work.  As new governments are about to take office in both the U.S. and Israel, it may be time to re-think this “process.”

Two important recent essays do precisely that.  Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, the IDF Chief of Staff from 2002-05, lays out a different path in “Israel and the Palestinians: A New Strategy” in the new issue of Azure.  He says the “present diplomatic path, which forces Israel to make far-reaching concessions and take genuine risks in return for empty Palestinian declarations, is headed for war, not peace.”  The critical error has been that the Palestinians “received political concessions without ever proving their willingness or ability to bring about order and stability in the territories handed over to their control.”

True, Israel demanded again and again that the PA stand up to its commitments and take the necessary steps to dismantle the terrorist infrastructures in the West Bank and Gaza.  Nevertheless, the fact that these demands were not met did not prevent Israeli statesmen from negotiating with Palestinian representatives over a permanent-status agreement.  The ongoing farce reached its pinnacle at the Annapolis summit in November 2007, when the Israelis and Palestinians announced their plans to reach a permanent-status agreement by the end of 2008-despite the fact that Abu Mazen does not have the power to enforce so much as a rental contract in Gaza City.

Caroline Glick, in “Israel and the Palestinians: Ending the Stalemate” in the current issue of The Journal of International Security Affairs, notes that the more the process has failed, the more it has been accelerated.  Not only has there been no penalty for Palestinian failures (failure to dismantle a single terrorist organization, electing their premier terrorist group to control their legislature, daily rockets into Israel, etc.), but each failure has simply produced more Israeli concessions to keep the process going (the Gaza disengagement, serial releases of more prisoners, transfers of money, etc.), as well as increasing commitments of U.S. funds.   It is in effect a self-sustaining failure.

Ya’alon and Glick each propose a more principled process, with progress measured by facts on the ground rather than by a “peace agreement” that by its nature cannot be enforced — even with “guarantees.”  Both articles are worth reading in their entirety.

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And Now We Wait

Many Americans are rooting for Hillary Clinton to be the next Secretary of State. Included are a number of conservatives. Rep. Peter King says of Clinton:

She is from the very realistic wing of the Democratic Party. I don’t think she is going to have any delusions about trusting her enemies.

Many (but not all) conservatives agree. In large part, they are enthusiastic because, as Politico reminds us, of what happens if she doesn’t take the job:

PLAN B: Some insiders believe it’s Sen. John Forbes Kerry. Other possibilities: Gov. Richardson, Senator Hagel and, less likely, Richard Holbrooke.

Now, if that doesn’t drum up support for her, I don’t know what will.

But conservatives have come to terms with the reality that they don’t get to choose the next cabinet, only cheer the better picks and raise doubts or threaten to block the worst of them. Clinton’s selection would be a gift in their eyes, the arrival of someone who disparaged the notion of direct, unconditional chats with Ahmadinejad, who stood up to the liberal base as best she could (e.g. on Iran), and whom no one will take as a fuzzy-headed, feel-good encounter group leader.

Bill Clinton is doing his best to help his wife on this. In doing so he’d get back in many people’s good graces and ultimately make his biggest contribution to America’s national security–clearing the way for his wife to serve. Conflicts, personal and political, would be resolved for both of them. In some way, to borrow a phrase, it would be a fairytale. And this one could have a very happy ending.

Many Americans are rooting for Hillary Clinton to be the next Secretary of State. Included are a number of conservatives. Rep. Peter King says of Clinton:

She is from the very realistic wing of the Democratic Party. I don’t think she is going to have any delusions about trusting her enemies.

Many (but not all) conservatives agree. In large part, they are enthusiastic because, as Politico reminds us, of what happens if she doesn’t take the job:

PLAN B: Some insiders believe it’s Sen. John Forbes Kerry. Other possibilities: Gov. Richardson, Senator Hagel and, less likely, Richard Holbrooke.

Now, if that doesn’t drum up support for her, I don’t know what will.

But conservatives have come to terms with the reality that they don’t get to choose the next cabinet, only cheer the better picks and raise doubts or threaten to block the worst of them. Clinton’s selection would be a gift in their eyes, the arrival of someone who disparaged the notion of direct, unconditional chats with Ahmadinejad, who stood up to the liberal base as best she could (e.g. on Iran), and whom no one will take as a fuzzy-headed, feel-good encounter group leader.

Bill Clinton is doing his best to help his wife on this. In doing so he’d get back in many people’s good graces and ultimately make his biggest contribution to America’s national security–clearing the way for his wife to serve. Conflicts, personal and political, would be resolved for both of them. In some way, to borrow a phrase, it would be a fairytale. And this one could have a very happy ending.

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