Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 27, 2011

The Actual Pauline Kael Quote—Not As Bad, and Worse

The clearest example of the bizarrely naive quality of hermetic liberal provincialism was attributed to the New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael almost 40 years ago, and has been discussed in right-wing circles ever since. It went something like this: “I can’t believe Nixon won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him.” Several years ago, I went on an admittedly desultory search for the original quote and was unable to locate it.

On Friday, on the New Yorker’s website, the magazine’s film editor Richard Brody offers what may be the first accurate version of the quote I’ve ever seen (I’m assuming it’s accurate because it comes from the New Yorker itself): “Pauline Kael famously commented, after the 1972 Presidential election, ‘I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.’”

Obviously, the paraphrase is far juicier than the original, but actually, if you think about it, the version quoted by Brody is even worse, as it indicates that Kael was actually acknowledging her provincialism (“I live in a rather special world”) and from its perch expressing her distaste for the unwashed masses with whom she sometimes had to share a movie theater. What this indicates is that, even then, liberal provincialism was as proud of its provincialism as any Babbitt.

The clearest example of the bizarrely naive quality of hermetic liberal provincialism was attributed to the New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael almost 40 years ago, and has been discussed in right-wing circles ever since. It went something like this: “I can’t believe Nixon won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him.” Several years ago, I went on an admittedly desultory search for the original quote and was unable to locate it.

On Friday, on the New Yorker’s website, the magazine’s film editor Richard Brody offers what may be the first accurate version of the quote I’ve ever seen (I’m assuming it’s accurate because it comes from the New Yorker itself): “Pauline Kael famously commented, after the 1972 Presidential election, ‘I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.’”

Obviously, the paraphrase is far juicier than the original, but actually, if you think about it, the version quoted by Brody is even worse, as it indicates that Kael was actually acknowledging her provincialism (“I live in a rather special world”) and from its perch expressing her distaste for the unwashed masses with whom she sometimes had to share a movie theater. What this indicates is that, even then, liberal provincialism was as proud of its provincialism as any Babbitt.

Read Less

Standing on the Sidelines of History

In one sense, Barack Obama is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Famous for his eloquence, he has nothing to say about world historical events, emerging after a week in the latest one to announce he instructed his administration to provide “options.”  Elected as a clarion for change, he issues a let-me-be-clear statement that the United States has had nothing to do with change sweeping the Middle East. A prior Democratic president wanted every nation to know we would bear any burden to assure the success of liberty in the world; the current president can hardly bear the burden of speaking up about it.

It is a portrait of a president who wants nothing to do with foreign affairs if he can help it. He will stay silent unless forced to say something and do only what the world agrees to do with “one voice.” He appeases adversaries (giving China a pass on human rights, Russia a reset, Iran an outstretched hand, and Syria an ambassador) in the hope the world will leave him alone while he concentrates on domestic affairs, where his real enthusiasms lie.

In this sense, Obama is not a mystery but the logical extension of George McGovern’s “Come home, America” theme in his 1972 presidential campaign and John Kerry’s “Let America Be America Again” one in 2004. They sought to throw off wars in Vietnam and Iraq to concentrate on domestic issues, asserting that using American power to advance freedom abroad was a mistake. Obama made withdrawal from Iraq the center of his own campaign, and emphasized in his West Point speech — finally accepting, after weeks of indecision, his general’s recommendation to send more soldiers to Afghanistan — that “the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.”  Read More

In one sense, Barack Obama is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Famous for his eloquence, he has nothing to say about world historical events, emerging after a week in the latest one to announce he instructed his administration to provide “options.”  Elected as a clarion for change, he issues a let-me-be-clear statement that the United States has had nothing to do with change sweeping the Middle East. A prior Democratic president wanted every nation to know we would bear any burden to assure the success of liberty in the world; the current president can hardly bear the burden of speaking up about it.

It is a portrait of a president who wants nothing to do with foreign affairs if he can help it. He will stay silent unless forced to say something and do only what the world agrees to do with “one voice.” He appeases adversaries (giving China a pass on human rights, Russia a reset, Iran an outstretched hand, and Syria an ambassador) in the hope the world will leave him alone while he concentrates on domestic affairs, where his real enthusiasms lie.

In this sense, Obama is not a mystery but the logical extension of George McGovern’s “Come home, America” theme in his 1972 presidential campaign and John Kerry’s “Let America Be America Again” one in 2004. They sought to throw off wars in Vietnam and Iraq to concentrate on domestic issues, asserting that using American power to advance freedom abroad was a mistake. Obama made withdrawal from Iraq the center of his own campaign, and emphasized in his West Point speech — finally accepting, after weeks of indecision, his general’s recommendation to send more soldiers to Afghanistan — that “the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.” 

It is, of course, preferable to build fire stations in Ohio rather than Iraq, but the world does not always permit a holiday from history; what happens abroad does not necessarily stay abroad. Obama’s mindset appears the same as Peter Beinart’s in “Mideast Policy: The Case for Sitting on Our Hands,” which argues that the last decade of American foreign policy has been “a terrible waste” because “time was on our side.” Beinart criticizes George W. Bush’s statement in his 2002 State of the Union address that he would “not wait on events.”

Bush removed a terrorist haven in Afghanistan from which an attack on America had been planned; his removal of Saddam Hussein resulted in Iran’s suspending its nuclear program and Libya giving up its own. It is doubtful that would have happened while the United States “waited.” And what we are witnessing in the Middle East today is something that may have started with Internet pictures of Iraqis voting with purple fingers in real elections.

The arc of history does not bend itself: it is people who bend it — and not those standing on the sidelines drinking slurpees.

Read Less

In Supreme Court Case, Obama Defends Ashcroft’s Terror Strategies

During his 2008 campaign, President Obama indicated that, upon taking office, he would “immediately” investigate the legality of the war-on-terror tactics used by Bush administration officials. Nearly three years later, many of Bush’s strategies are still in place, and the Obama administration has even commenced a vigorous defense of one of the antiwar movement’s biggest bogeymen, John Ashcroft, in a Supreme Court case:

The Obama solicitor general’s office is representing Ashcroft, contending he’s immune from legal action that springs from his actions as attorney general.

“That immunity rests on important public policy considerations, including the concern that harassment by unfounded litigation would cause a deflection of the prosecutor’s energies from his public duties,” Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal argued in a legal brief.

The case involves a Muslim convert, Abdullah al-Kidd, who is disputing the legality of his detention as a material witness in a 2003 terror case. Leftists and antiwar activists have often cited al-Kidd’s case as evidence that the Bush administration exploited the material-witness law to detain civilians unjustly.

But in court documents, the Obama administration continues to assert what many Bush-administration officials have been saying for years — that these strategies are necessary for law-enforcement agencies to do their jobs.

“The fear of personal liability may dissuade prosecutors from obtaining such a warrant when they harbor any suspicion that the subject might be involved in criminal wrongdoing but do not yet have probable cause to bring criminal charges,” said Katyal.

The left has been largely silent on Obama’s continuation of Bush’s terror policies. Will it now start going after the president for his defense of Ashcroft? This high-profile Supreme Court case could create a schism in Obama’s left-wing base.

During his 2008 campaign, President Obama indicated that, upon taking office, he would “immediately” investigate the legality of the war-on-terror tactics used by Bush administration officials. Nearly three years later, many of Bush’s strategies are still in place, and the Obama administration has even commenced a vigorous defense of one of the antiwar movement’s biggest bogeymen, John Ashcroft, in a Supreme Court case:

The Obama solicitor general’s office is representing Ashcroft, contending he’s immune from legal action that springs from his actions as attorney general.

“That immunity rests on important public policy considerations, including the concern that harassment by unfounded litigation would cause a deflection of the prosecutor’s energies from his public duties,” Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal argued in a legal brief.

The case involves a Muslim convert, Abdullah al-Kidd, who is disputing the legality of his detention as a material witness in a 2003 terror case. Leftists and antiwar activists have often cited al-Kidd’s case as evidence that the Bush administration exploited the material-witness law to detain civilians unjustly.

But in court documents, the Obama administration continues to assert what many Bush-administration officials have been saying for years — that these strategies are necessary for law-enforcement agencies to do their jobs.

“The fear of personal liability may dissuade prosecutors from obtaining such a warrant when they harbor any suspicion that the subject might be involved in criminal wrongdoing but do not yet have probable cause to bring criminal charges,” said Katyal.

The left has been largely silent on Obama’s continuation of Bush’s terror policies. Will it now start going after the president for his defense of Ashcroft? This high-profile Supreme Court case could create a schism in Obama’s left-wing base.

Read Less

Obama, the Freedom Whisperer

We know democracy promotion is in fashion because the press is hard at work composing the heroic narrative of Barack Obama, stealth freedom enthusiast. The president’s bonding sessions with Hosni Mubarak in Washington and Cairo, his indulging Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his courting the revanchist Kremlin were evidently all part of a top-secret undercover plan to liberate the Arab world.

In a Washington Post column this week, Fareed Zakaria praises Obama’s “quieter approach” to pushing liberty. Unlike George W. Bush, you see, Obama went about “supporting freedom but insisting that the United States did not intend to impose it on anyone.” In a peerless display of spin, Zakaria explained that this had “the effect of allowing the Arab revolts of 2011 to be wholly owned by Arabs.”

In truth, most Arabs are “wholly owned” by their governments and for two years Obama took the quiet approach to accepting that. The media’s efforts notwithstanding, most observers recognize reality. In this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, Bari Weiss interviews leading Egyptian democrat Saad Ibrahim, who has this to say about Obama’s low-decibel call for liberty:

The president “wasted two and a half years” cozying up to dictators and abandoning dissidents, he says. “Partly to distance himself from Bush, democracy promotion became a kind of bad phrase for him.” He also made the Israeli-Palestinian conflict his top priority, at the expense of pushing for freedom. “By putting the democracy file on hold, on the back burner, he did not accomplish peace nor did he serve democracy,” says Mr. Ibrahim.

People like Fareed Zakaria point to the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere as implicit evidence for the effectiveness of Obama’s approach. This is post-hoc analysis of the most shameless sort. Obama hoped to keep various dictatorships stable and, therefore, amenable to much-needed American diplomacy. To cite the very inverse of the president’s aim as justification of his means is to find oneself calling abandonment the gift of “ownership.”

Worst of all, the implosion of Obama’s stability agenda has left the administration with an empty toolbox. Zakaria knows this, of course. So in the very last sentence of his column, he notes off-handedly, “the Obama administration will have to step back and think about a new American strategy for a Middle East.”  It is not pretty when one doesn’t buy one’s own spin.

We know democracy promotion is in fashion because the press is hard at work composing the heroic narrative of Barack Obama, stealth freedom enthusiast. The president’s bonding sessions with Hosni Mubarak in Washington and Cairo, his indulging Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his courting the revanchist Kremlin were evidently all part of a top-secret undercover plan to liberate the Arab world.

In a Washington Post column this week, Fareed Zakaria praises Obama’s “quieter approach” to pushing liberty. Unlike George W. Bush, you see, Obama went about “supporting freedom but insisting that the United States did not intend to impose it on anyone.” In a peerless display of spin, Zakaria explained that this had “the effect of allowing the Arab revolts of 2011 to be wholly owned by Arabs.”

In truth, most Arabs are “wholly owned” by their governments and for two years Obama took the quiet approach to accepting that. The media’s efforts notwithstanding, most observers recognize reality. In this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, Bari Weiss interviews leading Egyptian democrat Saad Ibrahim, who has this to say about Obama’s low-decibel call for liberty:

The president “wasted two and a half years” cozying up to dictators and abandoning dissidents, he says. “Partly to distance himself from Bush, democracy promotion became a kind of bad phrase for him.” He also made the Israeli-Palestinian conflict his top priority, at the expense of pushing for freedom. “By putting the democracy file on hold, on the back burner, he did not accomplish peace nor did he serve democracy,” says Mr. Ibrahim.

People like Fareed Zakaria point to the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere as implicit evidence for the effectiveness of Obama’s approach. This is post-hoc analysis of the most shameless sort. Obama hoped to keep various dictatorships stable and, therefore, amenable to much-needed American diplomacy. To cite the very inverse of the president’s aim as justification of his means is to find oneself calling abandonment the gift of “ownership.”

Worst of all, the implosion of Obama’s stability agenda has left the administration with an empty toolbox. Zakaria knows this, of course. So in the very last sentence of his column, he notes off-handedly, “the Obama administration will have to step back and think about a new American strategy for a Middle East.”  It is not pretty when one doesn’t buy one’s own spin.

Read Less

NGO Monitor Calls on Human Rights Watch Director to Resign Over Libya Cover-Up

NGO Monitor has called for the resignation of Sarah Leah Whitson, the director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division, amid allegations that she whitewashed the atrocities committed by Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi for years. Despite the fact that a press conference Whitson called last winter in Libya was reportedly sabotaged and shouted down by government agents, she wrote a glowing depiction of the event and glossed over the disruptions.

“That only two government hacks delivered screaming denunciations puts our Tripoli session at the polite end of Middle East news conferences,” wrote Whitson in a dispatch. She also praised the human-rights “breakthroughs” in the country and noted “a shift in the Libyan winds.”

The HRW Middle East director had earlier extolled the “reforms” of the Libyan regime in a 2009 Foreign Policy column. “For the first time in memory, change is in the air in Libya,” she wrote. “The brittle atmosphere of repression has started to fracture, giving way to expanded space for discussion and debate, proposals for legislative reform, and even financial compensation for families of the hundreds of men killed in a prison riot a decade ago. Many Libyans say the changes were unavoidable in the face of the open satellite and Internet access of the past decade.”

But now that Muammar Qaddafi has turned Libya into a bloodbath, Whitson has appeared to back away from her past optimistic statements. In a February 24 column for the Los Angeles Times, she wrote that “most Libyans we spoke with never had much faith that Moammar Qaddafi would learn new tricks, or that the announced reforms were anything more than an endless loop of promises made and broken.” Read More

NGO Monitor has called for the resignation of Sarah Leah Whitson, the director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division, amid allegations that she whitewashed the atrocities committed by Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi for years. Despite the fact that a press conference Whitson called last winter in Libya was reportedly sabotaged and shouted down by government agents, she wrote a glowing depiction of the event and glossed over the disruptions.

“That only two government hacks delivered screaming denunciations puts our Tripoli session at the polite end of Middle East news conferences,” wrote Whitson in a dispatch. She also praised the human-rights “breakthroughs” in the country and noted “a shift in the Libyan winds.”

The HRW Middle East director had earlier extolled the “reforms” of the Libyan regime in a 2009 Foreign Policy column. “For the first time in memory, change is in the air in Libya,” she wrote. “The brittle atmosphere of repression has started to fracture, giving way to expanded space for discussion and debate, proposals for legislative reform, and even financial compensation for families of the hundreds of men killed in a prison riot a decade ago. Many Libyans say the changes were unavoidable in the face of the open satellite and Internet access of the past decade.”

But now that Muammar Qaddafi has turned Libya into a bloodbath, Whitson has appeared to back away from her past optimistic statements. In a February 24 column for the Los Angeles Times, she wrote that “most Libyans we spoke with never had much faith that Moammar Qaddafi would learn new tricks, or that the announced reforms were anything more than an endless loop of promises made and broken.”

NGO Monitor president Gerald Steinberg says that this about-face shows that Whitson was deliberately misleading the public about the prospects for reform in Libya. “What Sarah Leah Whitson admits she knew about the Qaddafi family’s fraudulent reform agenda completely contradicts statements during her Tripoli trip,” he said in a press release today.

Anne Herzberg, the legal adviser for NGO Monitor, said that Whitson “cannot continue to head the MENA division, and we call for her immediate resignation.”

Whitson’s actions are certainly puzzling. If Libyans had expressed doubt that Qaddafi would ever make good on his promises, why had she implied that the regime was open to reforms in the past? And further, why has HRW published only six major reports on Libya since 1991? Was the organization simply apathetic about Libya? Was it unable to access enough data to issue accurate reports? Or was it deliberately misrepresenting the Qaddafi regime for some reason or another?

The public needs and deserves an immediate explanation from Whitson and others at Human Rights Watch. And there may be a good explanation for the group’s actions. But based on the evidence available now, the situation doesn’t seem to bode well for HRW or for Whitson.

Read Less

Barzani’s Forces Shoot 12-Year-Old. What Lessons Are Leaders Drawing?

That’s what’s happening in Iraqi Kurdistan right now. Here is a YouTube video (graphic) of KDP forces in Chamchamal firing into a crowd, reportedly killing a 12-year-old boy. The United States is going to lose all credibility in Iraqi Kurdistan if it does not demand an explanation from regional leader Masud Barzani, as well as from Qubad Talabani, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s representative in Washington. Iraqi Kurdistan may call itself a democracy, but Masud Barzani should realize that what is depicted here is not what democracies do; it is what Muammar Qaddafi does.

The issue is not just Kurdistan; regional leaders are drawing lessons about accountability from the revolutions. Some, like the King of Jordan, are trying to speed up reform. Others, like Qaddafi, are cracking down harder. It is now apparent that some moderate leaders, like Barzani, have concluded not that they should embrace reform but rather that they should crack down without mercy. If this is not the lesson Obama wants the moderate rulers in the Middle East to draw, he has to speak up now and not, as in Libya, wait until the body count is in the thousands.

That’s what’s happening in Iraqi Kurdistan right now. Here is a YouTube video (graphic) of KDP forces in Chamchamal firing into a crowd, reportedly killing a 12-year-old boy. The United States is going to lose all credibility in Iraqi Kurdistan if it does not demand an explanation from regional leader Masud Barzani, as well as from Qubad Talabani, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s representative in Washington. Iraqi Kurdistan may call itself a democracy, but Masud Barzani should realize that what is depicted here is not what democracies do; it is what Muammar Qaddafi does.

The issue is not just Kurdistan; regional leaders are drawing lessons about accountability from the revolutions. Some, like the King of Jordan, are trying to speed up reform. Others, like Qaddafi, are cracking down harder. It is now apparent that some moderate leaders, like Barzani, have concluded not that they should embrace reform but rather that they should crack down without mercy. If this is not the lesson Obama wants the moderate rulers in the Middle East to draw, he has to speak up now and not, as in Libya, wait until the body count is in the thousands.

Read Less

The Guardian Aligned Itself with the Autocrats on Israel

This headline in the Guardian commentary section may have caused some to do a double-take this morning: “Our absurd obsession with Israel is laid bare.” Sadly, it wasn’t the title of a long-overdue introspective editorial by the Guardian staff. But it was something almost as good — an excellent column by Nick Cohen about how the Israel-centric view of the Middle East has been discredited by recent events. And there was really no better place for it to be published than in the Guardian’s exceedingly anti-Israel Comment-is-free section.

The Guardian’s predilection for over-the-top anti-Israel commentary has been well-documented. It’s editorial board has taken views similar to Hamas’s on the peace process, it has published letters applauding terrorism against Israelis, and it recently printed a highly offensive cartoon of President Mahmoud Abbas dressed up like an Orthodox Jew.

And while Guardian editors may equate their anti-Israel views with anti-imperialism, Cohen points out in his column that the demonization of Israel has actually helped keep the autocratic leaders of the Muslim world in power:

Far from being a cause of the revolution, antagonism to Israel everywhere served the interests of oppressors. Europeans have no right to be surprised. Of all people, we ought to know from our experience of Nazism that antisemitism is a conspiracy theory about power, rather than a standard racist hatred of poor immigrants. Fascistic regimes reached for it when they sought to deny their own people liberty. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the forgery the far-right wing of the decaying tsarist regime issued in 1903 to convince Russians they should continue to obey the tsar’s every command, denounces human rights and democracy as facades behind which the secret Jewish rulers of the world manipulated gullible gentiles.

The Guardian has been one of the loudest and most reliable mouthpieces of anti-Israel propaganda in the media. Perhaps Cohen’s column will finally cause readers to pause and consider who is actually benefiting from the paper’s editorial slant.

This headline in the Guardian commentary section may have caused some to do a double-take this morning: “Our absurd obsession with Israel is laid bare.” Sadly, it wasn’t the title of a long-overdue introspective editorial by the Guardian staff. But it was something almost as good — an excellent column by Nick Cohen about how the Israel-centric view of the Middle East has been discredited by recent events. And there was really no better place for it to be published than in the Guardian’s exceedingly anti-Israel Comment-is-free section.

The Guardian’s predilection for over-the-top anti-Israel commentary has been well-documented. It’s editorial board has taken views similar to Hamas’s on the peace process, it has published letters applauding terrorism against Israelis, and it recently printed a highly offensive cartoon of President Mahmoud Abbas dressed up like an Orthodox Jew.

And while Guardian editors may equate their anti-Israel views with anti-imperialism, Cohen points out in his column that the demonization of Israel has actually helped keep the autocratic leaders of the Muslim world in power:

Far from being a cause of the revolution, antagonism to Israel everywhere served the interests of oppressors. Europeans have no right to be surprised. Of all people, we ought to know from our experience of Nazism that antisemitism is a conspiracy theory about power, rather than a standard racist hatred of poor immigrants. Fascistic regimes reached for it when they sought to deny their own people liberty. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the forgery the far-right wing of the decaying tsarist regime issued in 1903 to convince Russians they should continue to obey the tsar’s every command, denounces human rights and democracy as facades behind which the secret Jewish rulers of the world manipulated gullible gentiles.

The Guardian has been one of the loudest and most reliable mouthpieces of anti-Israel propaganda in the media. Perhaps Cohen’s column will finally cause readers to pause and consider who is actually benefiting from the paper’s editorial slant.

Read Less

Blowing the Statistics

Charles Blow in his New York Times column yesterday decried the fact that the United States ranks last among 33 developed countries in infant mortality. His solution — prepare to be shocked — is to reverse Republican proposed budget cuts for various government programs that deal with premature-birth and neonatal care. The column, which seems to be a reworked press release from the March of Dimes, contrasts Republican opposition to abortion with that party’s apparent indifference to newborn life, as evidenced by the budget cuts.

But how bad are the statistics really? That’s a good question that would take a lot of statistical horsepower to answer, if it’s even possible to do in a world where many countries quietly cook the books to make themselves look better. But had Mr. Blow dug deep in his research for the column — by, say, clicking on Infant Mortality in Wikipedia — he would have found that, while there is a standard definition of infant mortality from the World Health Organization (voluntary muscle contraction, a heart beat, or attempts to breathe spontaneously), many countries play fast and loose with it. The old Soviet Union, for instance, did not count as live births very premature babies who failed to survive for seven full days. France, the Netherlands, and other European countries don’t count as live births babies who weigh less than 500 grams or had less than 22 weeks of gestation. They are, instead, counted as stillbirths. Japan and Hong Kong, it seems, count babies that are almost a year old when they die as having lived a year and, thus, not an infant mortality.

So perhaps at least part of the reason for the low ranking of the United States with regard to infant mortality is that, in this country, we actually try to save premature and low-birth-weight babies rather than just chalk them up to stillbirths to make our numbers look good.

Charles Blow in his New York Times column yesterday decried the fact that the United States ranks last among 33 developed countries in infant mortality. His solution — prepare to be shocked — is to reverse Republican proposed budget cuts for various government programs that deal with premature-birth and neonatal care. The column, which seems to be a reworked press release from the March of Dimes, contrasts Republican opposition to abortion with that party’s apparent indifference to newborn life, as evidenced by the budget cuts.

But how bad are the statistics really? That’s a good question that would take a lot of statistical horsepower to answer, if it’s even possible to do in a world where many countries quietly cook the books to make themselves look better. But had Mr. Blow dug deep in his research for the column — by, say, clicking on Infant Mortality in Wikipedia — he would have found that, while there is a standard definition of infant mortality from the World Health Organization (voluntary muscle contraction, a heart beat, or attempts to breathe spontaneously), many countries play fast and loose with it. The old Soviet Union, for instance, did not count as live births very premature babies who failed to survive for seven full days. France, the Netherlands, and other European countries don’t count as live births babies who weigh less than 500 grams or had less than 22 weeks of gestation. They are, instead, counted as stillbirths. Japan and Hong Kong, it seems, count babies that are almost a year old when they die as having lived a year and, thus, not an infant mortality.

So perhaps at least part of the reason for the low ranking of the United States with regard to infant mortality is that, in this country, we actually try to save premature and low-birth-weight babies rather than just chalk them up to stillbirths to make our numbers look good.

Read Less

Obama Is Following, Not Leading, the World on Libya

As Michael Rubin has noted, on Saturday, President Obama finally said what the rest of the world realized days ago: Muammar Qaddafi needs to go. But instead of making this clear in a public statement, he said it over the phone to Angela Merkel.

The way this situation was handled was typical Obama. The uprisings across the Muslim world — which appeared to have caught him off-guard — have elicited slow and stumbling responses from him and his administration since they began. He equivocated on Cairo, and now he’s equivocating on Tripoli.

Instead of demanding that Qaddafi needed to go during his address to the nation on Thursday, Obama waited until the last minute, when he was finally forced to utter this obvious truth during his phone call with Merkel. The White House then immediately rushed to get the word out to reporters about Obama’s “bold” statement about the Libyan leader.

Of course, the president still refused to mention Qaddafi by name, even over the phone. And worse, he wasn’t leading the calls against Qaddafi. Merkel, like many other world leaders, had already bluntly spoken out against the Libyan regime. Obama, by making his statement to her over the phone, appeared to merely be running to catch up.

As Michael Rubin has noted, on Saturday, President Obama finally said what the rest of the world realized days ago: Muammar Qaddafi needs to go. But instead of making this clear in a public statement, he said it over the phone to Angela Merkel.

The way this situation was handled was typical Obama. The uprisings across the Muslim world — which appeared to have caught him off-guard — have elicited slow and stumbling responses from him and his administration since they began. He equivocated on Cairo, and now he’s equivocating on Tripoli.

Instead of demanding that Qaddafi needed to go during his address to the nation on Thursday, Obama waited until the last minute, when he was finally forced to utter this obvious truth during his phone call with Merkel. The White House then immediately rushed to get the word out to reporters about Obama’s “bold” statement about the Libyan leader.

Of course, the president still refused to mention Qaddafi by name, even over the phone. And worse, he wasn’t leading the calls against Qaddafi. Merkel, like many other world leaders, had already bluntly spoken out against the Libyan regime. Obama, by making his statement to her over the phone, appeared to merely be running to catch up.

Read Less

What’s Qaddafi Smoking?

Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi has always been bizarre, but in recent years he has looked positively unhealthy. There have been credible rumors for some time that Qaddafi abuses narcotics. It’s an open secret that many Middle Eastern figures have had drug problems. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was reportedly long addicted to opium but stopped cold turkey upon Ayatollah Khomeini’s death. (Opium was once legal in Iran and was grandfathered out, and so was available in many pharmacies through the 1970s.)

Rumors have also circulated about opium use by Khomeini’s grandson Hassan, and about King Abdullah II of Jordan dabbling in some harder drugs, at least during his school years and perhaps into his rule. In the mid-1990s, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime sponsored films satirizing Muslim Brotherhood behavior, often showing the Islamists dabbling in hard liquor and drugs behind closed doors. Iraqis nicknamed Muqatda al-Sadr’s militia the Jaysh al-Warda (Army of the Rose) because of the rose-colored amphetamines they took before going into battle.

When wealth is limitless and the thrills of power are gone, it is not only possible but probable that some dictators will dabble in drugs. It’s all well and good to give foreign leaders benefit of the doubt. Sitting in the Denver airport lounge, I’m watching journalists insist that Qaddafi may be weird but that he didn’t strike them as insane. What too many journalists don’t consider, though, is that Qaddafi’s sanity might be linked to his sobriety. Alas, that sobriety may not be 24/7.

Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi has always been bizarre, but in recent years he has looked positively unhealthy. There have been credible rumors for some time that Qaddafi abuses narcotics. It’s an open secret that many Middle Eastern figures have had drug problems. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was reportedly long addicted to opium but stopped cold turkey upon Ayatollah Khomeini’s death. (Opium was once legal in Iran and was grandfathered out, and so was available in many pharmacies through the 1970s.)

Rumors have also circulated about opium use by Khomeini’s grandson Hassan, and about King Abdullah II of Jordan dabbling in some harder drugs, at least during his school years and perhaps into his rule. In the mid-1990s, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime sponsored films satirizing Muslim Brotherhood behavior, often showing the Islamists dabbling in hard liquor and drugs behind closed doors. Iraqis nicknamed Muqatda al-Sadr’s militia the Jaysh al-Warda (Army of the Rose) because of the rose-colored amphetamines they took before going into battle.

When wealth is limitless and the thrills of power are gone, it is not only possible but probable that some dictators will dabble in drugs. It’s all well and good to give foreign leaders benefit of the doubt. Sitting in the Denver airport lounge, I’m watching journalists insist that Qaddafi may be weird but that he didn’t strike them as insane. What too many journalists don’t consider, though, is that Qaddafi’s sanity might be linked to his sobriety. Alas, that sobriety may not be 24/7.

Read Less

Preparing for All Eventualities Demands More Than Just Cuts to the Military

News coverage of Defense Secretary Bob Gates’s speech at West Point — his last to cadets while in office, he said — gives a misleading picture of what he said. Typical is the New York Times article, which begins:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates bluntly told an audience of West Point cadets on Friday that it would be unwise for the United States to ever fight another war like Iraq or Afghanistan, and that the chances of carrying out a change of government in that fashion again were slim.

“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it,” Mr. Gates told an assembly of Army cadets here.

Read as a stand-alone quote, this could easily be taken to mean that Gates wants to get out of the counterinsurgency and nation-building business and go back to practicing tank-on-tank battles against a mirror-image foe. That is precisely what some army traditionalists would prefer, but it’s not what the defense chief was suggesting. While he acknowledged that the “need for heavy armor and firepower to survive, close with, and destroy the enemy will always be there,” in the future, he argued, the army must “confront the reality that the most plausible, high-end scenarios for the U.S. military are primarily naval and air engagements — whether in Asia, the Persian Gulf, or elsewhere.”

Instead of suggesting that the Army go heavy and conventional, he said: “The strategic rationale for swift-moving expeditionary forces, be they Army or Marines, airborne infantry or special operations, is self-evident given the likelihood of counterterrorism, rapid reaction, disaster response, or stability or security force assistance missions.” It was in the very next sentence that he uttered the much-quoted line about not fighting major land wars, which could just as easily be taken as an admonition against a Gulf War or a Korean War as against the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Read More

News coverage of Defense Secretary Bob Gates’s speech at West Point — his last to cadets while in office, he said — gives a misleading picture of what he said. Typical is the New York Times article, which begins:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates bluntly told an audience of West Point cadets on Friday that it would be unwise for the United States to ever fight another war like Iraq or Afghanistan, and that the chances of carrying out a change of government in that fashion again were slim.

“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it,” Mr. Gates told an assembly of Army cadets here.

Read as a stand-alone quote, this could easily be taken to mean that Gates wants to get out of the counterinsurgency and nation-building business and go back to practicing tank-on-tank battles against a mirror-image foe. That is precisely what some army traditionalists would prefer, but it’s not what the defense chief was suggesting. While he acknowledged that the “need for heavy armor and firepower to survive, close with, and destroy the enemy will always be there,” in the future, he argued, the army must “confront the reality that the most plausible, high-end scenarios for the U.S. military are primarily naval and air engagements — whether in Asia, the Persian Gulf, or elsewhere.”

Instead of suggesting that the Army go heavy and conventional, he said: “The strategic rationale for swift-moving expeditionary forces, be they Army or Marines, airborne infantry or special operations, is self-evident given the likelihood of counterterrorism, rapid reaction, disaster response, or stability or security force assistance missions.” It was in the very next sentence that he uttered the much-quoted line about not fighting major land wars, which could just as easily be taken as an admonition against a Gulf War or a Korean War as against the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of course, we have heard such warnings before (including from the 1987 movie The Princess Bride!), and nevertheless we continue to get embroiled in such wars by events beyond our control. Who could have predicted on September 10, 2001, that we would shortly be sending troops to Afghanistan? Who can predict where they will have to go next? As Gates himself admitted: “When it comes to predicting the nature and location of our next military engagements, since Vietnam, our record has been perfect. We have never once gotten it right, from the Mayaguez to Grenada, Panama, Somalia, the Balkans, Haiti, Kuwait, Iraq, and more — we had no idea a year before any of these missions that we would be so engaged.”

Given that reality, we have to have an Army capable of dealing with all sorts of scenarios — from major land wars to humanitarian-assistance missions and everything in between. Gates offered many good suggestions for improving the quality of our forces, including enhancing language and cultural training and modifying a one-size-fits-all personnel system that drives too many of the most talented performers out of the system. (For more on the need to address these issues, see my 2005 Foreign Affairs article “The Struggle to Transform the Military.”)

He did not, however, explain how the Army can keep its full range of capabilities if it loses tens of thousands of soldiers in the future — as envisioned by the administration’s defense plans. That is a glaring omission, and it is an issue that Gates’s successors will have to struggle with, unless by some miracle the administration’s irresponsible cuts in force size are blocked in Congress.

Read Less

Libya’s Not Just About Libya

President Obama finally said that Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi must go. At least the leader of the free world beat the Grand Duke of Liechtenstein to that conclusion, even if not other Western leaders. It’s important that the White House did not see the uprising in Libya as just about Libya, however. Despite Stephen M. Walt’s useful idiocy, Qaddafi’s regime is the most brutal and dictatorial in the Middle East. After North Korea, it competes with Turkmenistan for the second-most-autocratic regime on earth.

Qaddafi’s exile or death will be the last nail in the coffin of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Egyptians thought, “If Tunisians can do it, why not us.” When Mubarak fled, Libyans concluded that it was their turn. If people power can topple Qaddafi, not even the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps will be able to contain the rage of the Iranian people. And if the Islamic Republic collapses, then suddenly the threats from Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad will decline as their state support evaporates.

The Iranians often say that Washington plays checkers while Tehran plays chess. It’s time for us to get into the game and checkmate Ayatollah Khamenei.

President Obama finally said that Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi must go. At least the leader of the free world beat the Grand Duke of Liechtenstein to that conclusion, even if not other Western leaders. It’s important that the White House did not see the uprising in Libya as just about Libya, however. Despite Stephen M. Walt’s useful idiocy, Qaddafi’s regime is the most brutal and dictatorial in the Middle East. After North Korea, it competes with Turkmenistan for the second-most-autocratic regime on earth.

Qaddafi’s exile or death will be the last nail in the coffin of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Egyptians thought, “If Tunisians can do it, why not us.” When Mubarak fled, Libyans concluded that it was their turn. If people power can topple Qaddafi, not even the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps will be able to contain the rage of the Iranian people. And if the Islamic Republic collapses, then suddenly the threats from Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad will decline as their state support evaporates.

The Iranians often say that Washington plays checkers while Tehran plays chess. It’s time for us to get into the game and checkmate Ayatollah Khamenei.

Read Less

Rolling Stone Hit Job Misses Its Military Mark

Remember Michael Hastings? He is the Rolling Stone writer who brought down Gen. Stanley McChrystal by disclosing all sorts of undiplomatic comments allegedly made by the general’s staff during the course of a drinking session they believed to be off the record but that he chose, nevertheless, to write about anyway. Having brought down McChrystal — one of the most respected generals in the army — Hastings then set his sights on McChrystal’s successor, the even better-respected David Petraeus. Alas for Hastings and Rolling Stone, his hit job on Petraeus, snidely titled “King David’s War,” has attracted no attention, in large part because Petraeus wisely refused to grant any face time to the unscrupulous hack.

Hastings has now set his sights on the scalp of another outstanding and dedicated officer — Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell, who commands the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, in which capacity he has been doing a terrific job of expanding and improving the Afghan National Security Forces. What has Caldwell done to earn Hastings’s ire? The lead of his newest article, “Another Runaway General,” breathlessly announces, “The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in ‘psychological operations’ to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned — and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.”

Turns out there is a lot less here than meets the eye. As the Washington Times notes in an eye-opening editorial, Hastings’s entire hit job seems to be based largely on a single source — a disgruntled lieutenant colonel named Michael Holmes who was assigned to head an Information Operations cell working for Caldwell. But according to the Washington Times, Caldwell decided he didn’t need an Information Operations (i.e., propaganda) function and assigned those officers to do other staff work. This included preparing background papers on visiting congressional staff members — the sort of innocuous work that in Hastings’s feverish imagination was transformed into a scandal. He writes: “Holmes was even expected to sit in on Caldwell’s meetings with the senators and take notes, without divulging his background.” Gasp — a note taker not disclosing his background. What a scandal. Read More

Remember Michael Hastings? He is the Rolling Stone writer who brought down Gen. Stanley McChrystal by disclosing all sorts of undiplomatic comments allegedly made by the general’s staff during the course of a drinking session they believed to be off the record but that he chose, nevertheless, to write about anyway. Having brought down McChrystal — one of the most respected generals in the army — Hastings then set his sights on McChrystal’s successor, the even better-respected David Petraeus. Alas for Hastings and Rolling Stone, his hit job on Petraeus, snidely titled “King David’s War,” has attracted no attention, in large part because Petraeus wisely refused to grant any face time to the unscrupulous hack.

Hastings has now set his sights on the scalp of another outstanding and dedicated officer — Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell, who commands the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, in which capacity he has been doing a terrific job of expanding and improving the Afghan National Security Forces. What has Caldwell done to earn Hastings’s ire? The lead of his newest article, “Another Runaway General,” breathlessly announces, “The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in ‘psychological operations’ to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned — and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.”

Turns out there is a lot less here than meets the eye. As the Washington Times notes in an eye-opening editorial, Hastings’s entire hit job seems to be based largely on a single source — a disgruntled lieutenant colonel named Michael Holmes who was assigned to head an Information Operations cell working for Caldwell. But according to the Washington Times, Caldwell decided he didn’t need an Information Operations (i.e., propaganda) function and assigned those officers to do other staff work. This included preparing background papers on visiting congressional staff members — the sort of innocuous work that in Hastings’s feverish imagination was transformed into a scandal. He writes: “Holmes was even expected to sit in on Caldwell’s meetings with the senators and take notes, without divulging his background.” Gasp — a note taker not disclosing his background. What a scandal.

It would indeed be considered improper if Caldwell were using information-operations techniques to influence the home front, but there is no indication that he did anything of the sort. In any case, it is not always easy to distinguish “public affairs” (permitted) from “information operations” (prohibited for domestic audiences). Just because Lt. Col. Holmes has a background in information operations does not mean that every function he carried out was IO-related. In fact, according to the Washington Times, he was aggrieved precisely because he was not being employed in his specialty. (Although the New York Times reports that the Department of Defense has no record that he was even officially qualified in psychological operations.)

Holmes was reprimanded for failing to carry out a lawful order from Caldwell — and also for various other missteps. According to Hastings himself, “The [army] investigator accuses Holmes of going off base in civilian clothes without permission, improperly using his position to start a private business, consuming alcohol, using Facebook too much, and having an ‘inappropriate’ relationship with one of his subordinates, Maj. Laural Levine.” Hastings treats all this as a big joke, but anyone familiar with military decorum in a theater of war will recognize that these are all breaches of discipline — potentially serious ones in some cases. According to Hastings, Holmes believes “he was being targeted for questioning the legality of waging an IO campaign against U.S. visitor,” but if there is any evidence to back up that charge it is not presented in the article. In fact, the Washington Times reports that Holmes filed a complaint against Caldwell with the inspector general’s office, but that it was dismissed. He was left embittered and ready to start spilling to Hastings, who acted as his amanuensis.

General Petraeus has no choice but to open an investigation of the incident. But even on a worst-case reading of Hastings’s article, there is not much scandal there — unless it’s considered a scandal for a general to want to have some standard background information about important visitors. The story does not throw a negative light on Lt. Gen. Caldwell. It does, however, reveal the venomous, anti-military agenda of Hastings and his employers at Rolling Stone. Apparently, they will stop at nothing — leave no distinguished reputation untarnished — in their bid to sell magazines.

Read Less

Israel Moves to Limit Google Street View Risks

My friend Dr. Andre Oboler has an exhaustive article up on the Jerusalem Post site about the potential risks and benefits of Google Street View coming to Israel. The service, as most people know, allows you to take “virtual tours” up and down streets mapped by Google Maps (and Google Maps itself goes way beyond public streets, into zoos, amusement parks, and so on).

The problem, of course, is that terrorists and militias use services like Google Maps and Google Earth to maximize their carnage. The Mumbai terrorists very famously mapped out their attacks beforehand using Google services. Google Earth images of British military bases were found in the homes of Iraqi insurgents. And the Iranian proxies surrounding Israel have been bragging for years that they use Google Earth to set rocket targets.

On the other hand, it’s a losing battle to fight the spread of information, especially when Google gets involved. The deep controversy is about the advance of technology outpacing our legal and ethical coping mechanisms, but that’s not really important for this context. Suffice to say that new communication technologies are being developed and deployed almost recklessly, and certainly in the absence of mass public deliberation. India expressed concerns about Google Maps and Google Earth as early as 2005, those concerns were largely ignored, and then Mumbai happened. Israel is afraid that something similar will occur. Read More

My friend Dr. Andre Oboler has an exhaustive article up on the Jerusalem Post site about the potential risks and benefits of Google Street View coming to Israel. The service, as most people know, allows you to take “virtual tours” up and down streets mapped by Google Maps (and Google Maps itself goes way beyond public streets, into zoos, amusement parks, and so on).

The problem, of course, is that terrorists and militias use services like Google Maps and Google Earth to maximize their carnage. The Mumbai terrorists very famously mapped out their attacks beforehand using Google services. Google Earth images of British military bases were found in the homes of Iraqi insurgents. And the Iranian proxies surrounding Israel have been bragging for years that they use Google Earth to set rocket targets.

On the other hand, it’s a losing battle to fight the spread of information, especially when Google gets involved. The deep controversy is about the advance of technology outpacing our legal and ethical coping mechanisms, but that’s not really important for this context. Suffice to say that new communication technologies are being developed and deployed almost recklessly, and certainly in the absence of mass public deliberation. India expressed concerns about Google Maps and Google Earth as early as 2005, those concerns were largely ignored, and then Mumbai happened. Israel is afraid that something similar will occur.

But the Jewish state is small enough that at least some checks can potentially be enacted, and Israeli security services are calling for exactly that. Oboler suggests several obvious measures:

Any permission to proceed with Google Street View should be coupled with both specific and general obligations on Google; for example, an obligation to collect and use data only in a manner consistent with the public interest, and an obligation to respect the rights of individuals. Keeping the data in Israel is the only way to ensure the Israeli courts can order enforcement. … Israel also has a responsibility to act in the Interests of its people and of the Jewish people more generally. … Israel may also request further unrelated guarantees from Google, such as an undertaking to cooperate more fully with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the fight against Antisemitism.

This is a conversation that should be happening in the United States as well. Google and similar companies make billions by quite literally entering and mapping public spaces and then selling ads related to what they organize. They don’t really owe anyone anything if they’re only helping convey information, but new technologies do introduce new risks, and inevitably Google Maps will be exploited for a domestic terrorist attacks. It’s something that should be talked about more, and more explicitly and more publicly.

Read Less

How’s That Syria Engagement Going?

Syria both continues its covert nuclear program and refuses IAEA inspections. While President Bush pursued a policy of isolation of Syria, the Democrats made defiance of the Bush approach and outreach to Syria one of their key policies. Once President Obama entered office, he sought, through engagement, to flip Syria.

It didn’t work, it isn’t working, and it will never work. Perhaps it’s time for Obama to recognize that incentivizing rogue behavior always undercuts U.S. national security.

Syria both continues its covert nuclear program and refuses IAEA inspections. While President Bush pursued a policy of isolation of Syria, the Democrats made defiance of the Bush approach and outreach to Syria one of their key policies. Once President Obama entered office, he sought, through engagement, to flip Syria.

It didn’t work, it isn’t working, and it will never work. Perhaps it’s time for Obama to recognize that incentivizing rogue behavior always undercuts U.S. national security.

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.