Commentary Magazine

Neocons; Hong Kong; Benny Morris; etc.

Neocons To the Editor: By his compressed joining of some of the writers for the Public Interest on domestic policy and Commentary on foreign policy, Joshua Muravchik gives a somewhat misleading account of the origins in the 1970’s of the term “neoconservative” [“The Neoconservative Cabal,” September].

I was the co-founder and co-editor (unnamed by Mr. Muravchik) with Irving Kristol of the Public Interest. In a joint statement in our first issue, we stated that we were “anti-ideological,” and discarded prefabricated views of reality. Norman Podhoretz, when he became the editor of Commentary, rejected that point of view. As he wrote in Making It (1967):

Daniel Bell and Irving Kristol proposed to shape my thinking in accordance with what Bell called “the ladder of practicality.” Bell and Kristol were to found a new magazine of their own, the Public Interest, in line with this principle. Thanks to Kristol’s great editorial talents and Bell’s insatiable curiosity, it was to be much better than a company suggestion box, but it would still operate, like the art of politics itself, strictly within the limits of the immediately possible. Quite apart from my theoretical objection to their notion that “ideology” was dead [and the] belief that the system under which we were living in America was the best a fallible human nature was likely to build . . . I did not believe that intellectual discourse . . . need limit itself so masochistically in order to be “relevant” or influential.

Almost all the economic articles in our first five years were written by Robert M. Solow, Thomas Schelling, Robert Heilbroner, and Edwin Kuh. These men were social democrats, as was I (and as was Mr. Muravchik’s father Emmanuel, former director of the Jewish Labor Committee). In 1972, Irving Kristol decided to declare publicly for Richard Nixon. I thought that continuing as co-editor would be difficult, and I resigned, telling Irving that friendship was more important than ideology, a view that Podhoretz contests in Ex-Friends (1999).

In his first years as editor of Commentary, Podhoretz had gone Left and featured such writers as Paul Goodman and Staughton Lynd, a militant labor activist. By the late 1960’s and early 1970’s he had begun moving Right. At the end of the 70’s he published an essay by Jeane Kirkpatrick (then a Democrat) to the effect that authoritarian regimes could evolve politically, peacefully, while totalitarian regimes could not—a view brought to the attention of Ronald Reagan that led to her appointment as U.S. ambassador to the UN. On another matter, Mr. Muravchik disputes the argument that Leon Trotsky and the “theory of permanent revolution” were relevant sources of neoconservatism. On that he is right, but I should add that the theory was not coined by Trotsky.

Its author was a Russian revolutionary who used the name Parvus (his real name was Helphand). By the turn of the century, Parvus had written brilliant Marxist articles that impressed August Bebel, Karl Kautsky, Rosa Luxembourg, and Lenin, and he had become Trotsky’s mentor. In the 1905 revolution, Parvus and Trotsky sought to establish a workers’ soviet, which failed. Parvus prophesied that the industrial states would come to a world war, and that this would be the opportunity for revolutionists to telescope events in order to seize power. This would be an ongoing world process—a permanent revolution. Daniel Bell Cambridge, Massachusetts To the Editor: In “The Neoconservative Cabal,” where I am described as “looking as Jewish as [my] name sounds,” Joshua Muravchik asks whether neoconservatives are mostly Jews. The answer is yes, at least according to their hagiographer, Mark Gerson, author of The Neoconservative Vision. In that respect, neoconservatism is quite distinct from other U.S. political tendencies or movements, with the exception of various Trotskyist and other leftist sectarians. But unlike the latter, neoconservatives are highly visible and, especially under the Bush administration, have enjoyed unprecedented influence. Mr. Muravchik also asks whether Israeli interests have been a priority in the neoconservative outlook. One can find a wide range of foreign-policy opinions among neoconservatives, but a fervent commitment to Israel’s security is among the few universally shared fundamental principles. For more than 30 years, neoconservatives have called for a strategic alliance between Israel and the U.S.—even at the expense of other U.S. allies—based on the presumed commonality of their interests. “America’s fate and Israel’s fate are one and the same,” William J. Bennett said recently. Is it “pander[ing] to anti-Semitism” (as Mr. Muravchik puts it) to note that this view distinguishes neoconservatives from other national-security hawks? Mr. Muravchik’s assessment of a 1996 paper prepared by a group of neoconservatives for incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which argued that Iraq was the key to tipping the balance of power in the Middle East in Israel’s favor, is disingenuous. The seven people he cites as mere “attendees” at a conference were actually members of a “Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000” chaired by Richard Perle and sponsored by a private, Israel-based institute that credits him with authorship. Mr. Muravchik suggests that this task force, in calling for Israel’s support for ousting Saddam Hussein, may have been “trying to influence Israeli policy on behalf of American interests.” But he fails to mention that the paper, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” was a guide for how Netanyahu could not only destroy the Oslo peace process but also persuade Washington to abandon the “land-for-peace” formula on which U.S. policy in the region has been based since 1967. Finally, Mr. Muravchik is probably right that the BBC described me as a “longstanding opponent of anti-Semitism” to protect itself against predictable charges of anti-Semitism. That said, what has long most distressed me about neoconservatives is precisely their eagerness to denounce criticism from the Left of themselves and of Likud-led Israeli governments as anti-Semitism while at the same time defending, if not actively supporting, their own anti-Semitic allies on the Right—be they the murderous neo-Nazi military junta in Argentina, Afghan “freedom fighters,” or leaders of the Christian Right whose devotion to Israel, in the eyes of neoconservatives, invariably trumps their abiding and deep-seated distrust of Jews. Writing in support of Jerry Falwell and the “moral majority” in these pages almost twenty years ago, Irving Kristol noted, “It is their theology, but it is our Israel.” If anything empowers anti-Semitism, it is that kind of devil’s bargain. If Mr. Muravchik wonders about an “ulterior motive” for my concern about neoconservatism, he need look no further. Jim Lobe Takoma Park, Maryland To the Editor: Joshua Muravchik is unhappy with various writers (myself included) who have tried to show the influence of Straussians and former Trotskyists on neoconservatism. He thinks we are guilty of “ancestor hunting,” finding obscure intellectual sources to explain contemporary ideas. Mr. Muravchik should take up his complaint not with me but with Irving Kristol. In his indispensable 1995 collection, Neoconservatism: Autobiography of an Idea, Kristol pays lavish attention to the formative impact of his youthful days as a Trotskyist and to his slightly more mature encounters with Strauss. Here is Kristol on the “frequent debates” among Trotskyists he often attended: “I have never since seen or heard their equal, and, as a learning experience for college students, they were beyond comparison.” Aside from Kristol, there were many other future neoconservatives who received their political education at the school of Trotsky: Gertrude Himmelfarb, Seymour Martin Lipset, Martin Diamond, Albert Wohlstetter, and (in a younger generation) Stephen Schwartz, among others. As for Strauss, Kristol writes: “Encountering Strauss’s work produced the kind of intellectual shock that is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. He turned one’s intellectual universe upside down.” Again, a long list can be made of other neoconservative writers influenced by Strauss. Riffling through back issues of Commentary and the Public Interest, I came across articles by Walter Berns, Werner Dannhauser, Allan Bloom, Robert Goldwin, Harvey Mansfield, Thomas Pangle, Clifford Orwin, and Leon Kass, each of whom was either a student of Strauss or strongly influenced by his teaching. On a more personal note, I must point out that Mr. Muravchik gives a very distorted interpretation of my Boston Globe article on Strauss. He states that I portray Strauss as an “authoritarian,” and he has “the impression” that I learned what I know of Strauss “from a polemical book by one Shadia Drury.” (Drury has written two books on Strauss, not one, as Mr. Muravchik seems to think. The second is indeed polemical, but I have talked to some Straussians who admire the first.) Strauss’s followers describe him as a friend of liberal democracy, although not quite a liberal democrat. Strauss’s critics, however, think there is something profoundly anti-democratic in his thought. Pace Mr. Muravchik, Shadia Drury is not the most prominent critic of Strauss on these grounds. Long ago, Hannah Arendt accused Strauss of being an enemy of liberal democracy, and more recently the political theorist Stephen Holmes has taken up the same line. My article attempted to provide a balanced assessment by presenting the arguments of both Strauss’s admirers and his critics. In researching it, I not only read deeply into Strauss’s writing but also interviewed several Straussians—Stanley Rosen, Clifford Orwin, and Robert Goldwin—and my piece gave the friends of Strauss a fair hearing. Readers can get a sense of the balance I tried to strike by looking at my conclusion: “But just how ‘sinister’ was Leo Strauss himself?” I asked. The answer depends on how a reader approaches his books. If you read Strauss with a well-disposed spirit, he can be interpreted as a genuine friend of American liberal democracy. He worked to create an elite that was strong, sober, and sufficiently free of illusions about the goodness of man to fight the totalitarian enemies of liberal democracy—be they fascists, Communists, or Islamicist fundamentalists. But if you read Strauss with a skeptical mind, the way he himself read the great philosophers, a more disturbing picture takes shape. Strauss, by this view, emerges as a disguised Machiavelli, a cynical teacher who encouraged his followers to believe that their intellectual superiority entitles them to rule over the bulk of humanity by means of duplicity. The worst thing you can do to Leo Strauss, perhaps, is to read his books with Straussian eyes. Mr. Muravchik gives a truncated quotation from the last paragraph, creating the false impression that my article was a hatchet-job on Strauss. With his weak reading skills, if Mr. Muravchik took a class on Strauss’s ideas, he would earn a C minus. Finally, Mr. Muravchik raises the ugly specter of anti-Semitism in an uncharacteristically murky way. Could he explain exactly who, among the writers he mentions, is an anti-Semite? And what evidence does Mr. Muravchik have to support this grave accusation? Jeet Heer Toronto, Canada To the Editor: Joshua Muravchik offers a valuable antidote to the conspiracy theories that have proliferated about neoconservatives over the past year. But in debunking the more fanciful claims about neoconservative motives, he goes astray in dismissing the influence of Leon Trotsky and Leo Strauss on the movement. Mr. Muravchik is quite right to pooh-pooh any direct connection between Trotsky and figures like Douglas Feith, R. James Woolsey, and Richard Perle. But Trotsky was an important intellectual figure for the founding fathers of the neoconservative movement like Elliot E. Cohen (the first editor of Commentary) and Sidney Hook. For a host of New York intellectuals, Trotsky provided what seemed at the time like a sophisticated alternative to Stalin. In this regard, Trotskyism can be seen as a pit-stop on the way to the all-out rejection of Communism championed by Hook, Cohen, Irving Kristol, and others after World War II. The fact that the Trotskyist past has been wielded as a cudgel against neoconservatives—beginning, I think, not with John B. Judis (as Mr. Muravchik suggests) but rather with Sidney Blumenthal in The Rise of the Counter-Establishment—should not prompt them to disown it. Something similar might be said about Leo Strauss. Mr. Muravchik correctly observes that Strauss was anything but a politico. But his unworldliness did not mean that he was oblivious to the threat posed by totalitarianism to the West. Strauss, whose hero was Winston Churchill, did provide a kind of “political counsel.” Much of Strauss’s writing—On Tyranny in particular—was a warning, implicit and explicit, about the flaccidity of liberal democracy in the face of fascism and Communism, something he witnessed first-hand when Weimar Germany collapsed. No less a neoconservative than Daniel Patrick Moynihan was influenced by Strauss in the 1970’s as ambassador to the United Nations at a moment when the third world had become virulently anti-Israel and anti-American. Nor is it quite right to assert, as Mr. Muravchik does, that Strauss did not believe in an elite. He declared that he was training “princes” who could make a special contribution to liberal democracy, but who would not enjoy unique privileges. In a 1959 speech, for instance, he observed that “Liberal education is the necessary endeavor to found an aristocracy within democratic mass society.” Obviously, Strauss does not provide a blueprint for neoconservatism. But it seems fair to say that while not all neoconservatives are Straussians, almost all Straussians are neoconservatives. All of which suggests that neoconservativism may be more complicated than some of its adversaries care to admit. Jacob Heilbrunn Washington, D.C. To the Editor: A certain defensiveness tinges Joshua Muravchik’s efforts to repel the genteel anti-Semitic suggestions that the war against terror is a Zionist concoction. These claims are so disconnected from reality that one wonders why they must engage one’s time at all. Jews in public life should not feel a necessity to defend themselves from personal feelings of attachment to Israel—quite aside from the fact of its strong support of the United States and Western values and its undertaking of military action only under demonstrable threat to its existence—any more than anyone in this country of immigrants should feel dissuaded from attachment to his or her ethnic or national roots. It serves Jews ill, and even endangers them, to strike too defensive a stance. Frederic Wile New York City To the Editor: I am surprised that Joshua Muravchik’s otherwise excellent piece fails to mention America’s leading anti-Semitic columnist—Patrick Buchanan and his rag the American Conservative. It was he, I believe, who gave the term “neoconservative” a dark and sinister meaning and made it into a new codeword for “yid.” I used to believe that Buchanan hated Jews because so many were liberals and he (rightly) blamed liberals for many of society’s problems. When some Jews woke up and abandoned liberalism, one might have thought that Buchanan would have welcomed them with open arms. Instead, he hates them for their impurity—sort of like the New Christians in medieval Spain. In Buchanan’s warped mind, these neoconservatives are lurking in the State and Defense Departments and are manipulating Bush into fighting wars that are only in the interest of Israel—never mind what happened on September 11, 2001. At any moment I expect to see a revised edition of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion with a new introduction by Buchanan and a distorted picture of Paul Wolfowitz on its cover. Peter A. Schneider Harrington Park, New Jersey Joshua Muravchik writes: My apologies to Daniel Bell for omitting his part as a founder of the Public Interest. The omission, however, is immaterial to the story of the neoconservatives since Mr. Bell was not and is not one—as his brief recapitulation of his differences with Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz seems designed to underscore. Readers will appreciate Mr. Bell’s disquisition on Parvus/Helphand (also known sometimes as Gelfand and, on account of his girth, as “Dr. Elephant” to Kautsky’s children). Parvus and Trotsky did indeed collaborate closely in 1905 and for a time afterward, though by 1917 Parvus would play a very different role, persuading the German general staff to insinuate Lenin back into Russia to derail the February Revolution. While Parvus apparently led in the formulation of the theory of permanent revolution, it was Trotsky’s name that became attached to it. This has been taken as grist by the conspiracy-theorists who claim that neoconservatism is a form of Trotskyism. Regardless of authorship, what was distinct about the theory was not its internationalism, a notion inherent in all Marxism, but the idea that different historical stages could somehow occur simultaneously. What all of this has to do with neoconservatives is of course precisely nothing. In any event, by rescuing Parvus from obscurity, Mr. Bell may have paved the way for yet a new set of revelations, tracing the origins of neoconservatism to the Jew Parvus and alleging, perhaps, that neocons are trying to subvert the Arab world for the benefit of Israel just as Parvus helped to subvert Russia for the benefit of Germany. Pace Jim Lobe, I did not ask whether most neoconservatives were Jews. I asserted that many were and others were not. Neither I nor Mr. Lobe nor any source he wishes to invoke can say what the proportion is because there is no agreed roster of neoconservatives or any agreed criteria for inclusion on it. But Mr. Lobe is dead wrong in claiming that the high proportion of Jews distinguishes neoconservatism from other political currents. The Communist and Socialist parties, the 1960’s New Left, reform Democrats, the civil-rights movement, the ACLU—in short, almost every left-of-center political formation in America of recent memory—has counted substantial “disproportions” of Jews in its ranks. I do not know the reasons for this, but similar patterns have appeared outside the U.S., such as in the Russian revolutionary movements or the South African anti-apartheid camp. Right-wing extremists and anti-Semites, including notoriously the Nazis, have seized on these demographic facts to paint the Communists, socialists, liberals, race-mixers, or whatever as at bottom Jewish conspiracies aimed at serving Jewish interests—much as Mr. Lobe now tries to paint neoconservatism. In pushing this accusation, Mr. Lobe claims that a commitment to Israel’s security “is among the few universally shared fundamental principles” of neoconservatives. This weaves a small truth into a big lie. To be sure, there is a strong commitment to Israel’s security. But the points of agreement among neocons are hardly few; the only reason we have the word “neocon” is that a rather small group of people came to share a broad outlook. What defined the neoconservatives ab initio was their hawkish approach to the cold war, support for defense spending, skepticism toward détente and arms pacts with Communist states, advocacy of the Reagan doctrine, and the like. In the post-Soviet era, neocons have continued to be “hard-liners” vis-à-vis imminent or potential threats from China, North Korea, Islamism, Serbian expansionism, and international terrorism, and they have taken a highly internationalist view of America’s security interests. Any fair-minded reading would see the neocons’ defense of Israel as part of this broader worldview. As a Jew, I would never deny that Israel holds a special place in my heart, but this scarcely distinguishes me from Jewish liberals who are foreign-policy doves. What does distinguish me—what makes me a “neocon” and binds me to others of the same ilk—is that I am no less adamant about the security of, say, Taiwan or Poland. With regard to the 1996 paper, it is not I but Mr. Lobe who is being disingenuous. The so-called “study group” was a one-meeting affair. The BBC, guided by Mr. Lobe, claimed that Richard Perle and others “wrote” the document. But the document itself makes clear that the function of those named was much more tenuous. It says: “The main substantive ideas in this paper emerged from a discussion in which prominent opinion makers, including Richard Perle, James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Douglas Feith, Robert Loewenberg, David Wurmser, and Meyrav Wurmser participated.” Furthermore, although Mr. Lobe gives the impression that the paper was something done at Netanyahu’s request, in truth it was an uninvited effort to lobby Netanyahu, and there is no evidence that he ever read it or heard of it. Worse still, Mr. Lobe’s assertion—which lies at the heart of the conspiracy theory—that the paper “argued that Iraq was the key to tipping the balance of power in the Middle East in Israel’s favor” is made up out of whole cloth. The paper puts first emphasis on Israel’s relations with Turkey, Jordan, the Palestinians, and the United States. After many paragraphs on these subjects, it turns to Syria and Lebanon, then Saudi Arabia. Two-thirds of the way through, a single one of the paper’s 29 paragraphs discusses Iraq. It reads, in its entirety: Since Iraq’s future could affect the strategic balance in the Middle East profoundly, it would be understandable that Israel has an interest in supporting the Hashemites in their efforts to redefine Iraq, including such measures as: visiting Jordan as the first official state visit, even before a visit to the United States, of the new Netanyahu government; supporting King Hussein by providing him with some tangible security measures to protect his regime against Syrian subversion; encouraging—through influence in the U.S. business community—investment in Jordan to structurally shift Jordan’s economy away from dependence on Iraq; and diverting Syria’s attention by using Lebanese opposition elements to destabilize Syrian control of Lebanon. Mr. Lobe’s concluding point is of a piece with his dishonest method throughout. He claims that neocons hurl false charges of anti-Semitism, but he offers not a single example. He claims they were “allies” of the Argentine junta, which is a sheer concoction. Apparently he means to suggest by this that neocons are so faithful to the Right that they will overlook anti-Semitism within it. But when so stalwart an anti-Communist as Patrick J. Buchanan took after the Jews, the ones who called him on it most sharply were neocons like A. M. Rosenthal, Norman Podhoretz, and myself. In a similar spirit, and again without offering a shred of evidence, Mr. Lobe tars the entire Christian Right with an “abiding and deep-seated distrust of Jews.” Contrary to Mr. Lobe’s smear, the neocons have a record of remarkable consistency in their foreign-policy views regardless of “Jewish interests,” and in their opposition to anti-Semitism regardless of ideological interests. Ironically, Mr. Lobe reveals himself to be quite the opposite: a man who will play fast and loose with anti-Semitism according to the dictates of his ideological position. At one moment he lays broad-brush charges of anti-Semitism and at the next he shamelessly encourages anti-Semitism: whatever it takes to strike a blow against those to his Right. Jeet Heer quotes Irving Kristol on the heuristic value of the Trotskyist debates to which he was party some 60 years ago. Kristol, as I wrote, was the one major neocon figure who had a significant dalliance with Trotskyism. Mr. Heer throws up several other names of people he says “received their political education at the school of Trotsky.” But even granting the debatable premise that these people all deserve to be called neocons (it is doubtful that Diamond, Lipset, or Wohlstetter ever accepted such a label), Mr. Heer’s characterization of their relation to Trotskyism is a gross exaggeration (except perhaps in the case of Schwartz). Diamond was an expert on American constitutional theory with a special interest in the electoral college. Did his knowledge and insight concerning this subject come from studying how Trotsky apportioned the Petrograd soviet? Wohlstetter was a master of nuclear-weapons strategy. Was this owing to the lessons learned from Trotsky’s tactics as commander of the Red Army? In short, Mr. Heer is throwing up a smokescreen. The point of his article was to link the war in Iraq to the influence of Trotskyism. Its headline read: “Trotsky’s Ghost Wandering the White House: Influence of Bush Aides: Bolshevik’s Writings Supported the Idea of Pre-emptive War.” But none of the people Heer now adduces as students of Trotsky was active in the debate over the war, much less involved with formulating U.S. policy. It is not I who has distorted the import of Mr. Heer’s article on Leo Strauss, but rather Mr. Heer himself. He quotes two paragraphs from it that give alternative interpretations of Strauss’s legacy. The canons of daily journalism may require such “balance,” but readers can easily see that the balance is spurious—i.e., that a benign assessment of Strauss requires reading him with “well-disposed” (which is to say, credulous) eyes, whereas a skeptical reading (of a kind recommended, says Mr. Heer, by Strauss himself) leads to a far darker impression. If this does not make it abundantly clear which side of the argument Mr. Heer wants his readers to understand is the accurate one, he spelled it out flatly in another paragraph of his article that he does not bother to quote here: While some Straussians dispute the idea that the master was a godless cynic, it does seem that Strauss wanted a regime where the elite lived by a code of stoic fortitude while governing over a population that subscribes to superstitious religious beliefs. The fact that Trotskyism was being wielded as a cudgel against me, as Jacob Heilbrunn puts it, would not lead me to disown my Trotskyist past—if I had a Trotskyist past. Although I have been one of the neocons singled out in this respect by John Judis and Michael Lind, among others, that is merely emblematic of the larger fallaciousness of this issue. In truth, very few neocons had a Trotskyist past, and, as I have already indicated, none of them was an active participant in the debate over Iraq. It may be true, as Mr. Heilbrunn says, that some of the intellectual predecessors of neoconservatism went through Trotskyist episodes, but that is stretching things pretty thin. Mr. Heilbrunn is right that, for these people, Trotskyism served as a kind of way-station on the road from Communism. But that is all it was, leaving no lasting imprint on their thought. I would be curious to see anyone able to specify what exactly in the ideas of Elliot E. Cohen or Sidney Hook reflected a lingering kernel of Trotskyism. Indeed, I would say the same for Kristol, notwithstanding the florid quotation Jeet Heer has given us about the peerless learning experience Kristol felt he had had as a young Trot. Kristol’s point was not that any tenet of Trotskyism retained validity in his eyes, but rather that the intense theoretical give-and-take was a fine form of mental calisthenics. Kristol even went so far as to assess the exercise as “beyond comparison,” although I suspect that his forebears and mine got much the same workout (and of a nobler kind) debating the arguments of the rabbis of the Talmud. Contrary to Mr. Heilbrunn, nowhere did I assert that Strauss did not believe in an elite within a democracy. I rebutted some, like Jeet Heer, who have made Strauss out to be an advocate of some kind of elite-run, nondemocratic system. As for Mr. Heilbrunn’s interesting claim that almost all Straussians are neoconservatives, I wonder how he knows. To Frederic Wile’s point that imputations of a Zionist conspiracy behind the war against terrorism are so “disconnected from reality” as to be better left unanswered, I can only say that accusations against Jews far more “disconnected” than this have caused grievous harm. Thanks to Peter Schneider for a kind word. His observation that it was Buchanan who gave “neoconservative” its current spin is new to me but may be accurate. In the current discourse I believe that Buchanan has marginalized himself, but I have treated his anti-Semitism elsewhere (see my “Patrick J. Buchanan and the Jews,” Commentary, January 1991). Fudging on China To the Editor: Arthur Waldron is right that last summer’s enormous demonstrations in Hong Kong against new laws on subversion, treason, and sedition demolish Washington’s wishful thinking about China and Hong Kong [“Hong Kong and the Future of Freedom,” September]. The protests, Mr. Waldron believes, will force Beijing and Washington to make choices. “Fudging is impossible,” he writes. In fact, American policy in the region is based on fudging. Since 1997, the U.S. has declared that Hong Kong is autonomous so that it can maintain the fiction, dreamed up by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, that China and Hong Kong are “one country” but “two systems.” American officials even admit the charade. Shortly before the handover, one of them told the New York Times that our own stance would be to “pretend that Hong Kong isn’t part of China, even though it is.” The U.S. carefully avoids mentioning Beijing in connection with Hong Kong—even though Hong Kong’s fate is tied to the mainland and, realistically, to a tolerance for political reform there. In the wake of the momentous protests showing the extreme dissatisfaction of Hong Kong’s people with the way they are ruled, the U.S. stated its support for democracy “as envisioned by the Basic Law,” even though the provisions of this Beijing-written “constitution” for Hong Kong make democracy practically impossible. Beijing, meanwhile, has wasted no time in responding to the political defeat it experienced at the hands of the demonstrators. Its postponement of the legislation on treason and subversion, as required by Article 23 of the Basic Law, is not the victory for Hong Kong’s people many would like to believe. Forging ahead with the unpopular legislation would have been disastrous for Hong Kong’s pro-China political parties. One in particular, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, which holds six of the 24 democratically elected seats in the 60-seat legislature, would have suffered at the polls for taking the government’s side. There is no evidence that Beijing is contemplating further democratization in Hong Kong, let alone reform on the mainland. Nor is there reason to think that Washington will change its policy of accepting Beijing’s plans for Hong Kong while fudging the truth about what it is doing. Ellen Bork Project for the New American Century Washington, D.C. To the Editor: Extraordinary developments have unfolded since the publication of Arthur Waldron’s article. On September 5, Hong Kong’s embattled chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, was forced to withdraw Article 23, the controversial antisubversion legislation, two months after some 500,000 people took to the streets to oppose it. Tung declared that he would not introduce a new version of the bill until the government has consulted with the public and gained its support. This was truly amazing: for the first time in its 54-year history of brutalizing China, the Chinese Communist party backed down in the face of a popular movement. Mr. Waldron argues correctly that Hong Kong will either be democratized or it will not. No merely tactical solution exists. As he writes, “Only full democratization—or full dictatorship—can restore something like equilibrium.” But Beijing may still believe it can keep “fudging.” State councilor Tang Jiaxuan said that many middle-class citizens took to the streets on July 1 because of their economic grievances, and that Hong Kong’s problems could be addressed by boosting the economy. In fact, Beijing has started to pump money into Hong Kong by relaxing restrictions on visits by tourists from the mainland. Nor does Beijing seem to be ready to get rid of Tung anytime soon. President Hu Jintao told Hong Kong business leaders to give their “all-out support” to Tung, and Politburo member Li Changchun told the media in Hong Kong that they too should support the chief executive. Tung himself has declared that he will serve out his term. As for the pace of democratization, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has cautioned Hong Kong to have “gradual development.” Old habits die hard. Support from the United States at this juncture is crucial in safeguarding Hong Kong’s freedom. A congressional resolution expressing support for democracy in Hong Kong, passed overwhelmingly by the House of Representatives in late June, certainly caught the attention of Beijing and Hong Kong. The White House and State Department also issued statements, but their tone, unfortunately, was quite lukewarm. Allowing Beijing to suppress the only seeds of democracy that now exist on Chinese soil would be tragic for Hong Kong, but it would also taint America’s record of defending liberty. Kin-ming Liu Apple Daily Hong Kong To the Editor: Many commentators maintain that Hong Kong’s chief executive Tung Chee-hwa and leaders in Beijing were willing to withdraw the contentious Article 23 draft legislation because they wished to salvage the pro-China parties that would have to face the electorate in district elections in November 2003 and legislative elections in September 2004. While this must have been one consideration, the fact is that the protesters and opposition parties got what they asked for and the pro-government parties still have a lot of explaining to do. One hopes the Tung administration has learned the bitter lesson that Hong Kong’s people can no longer be pushed around. The old assumption that the public in Hong Kong is apolitical and cares most about material wealth needs to be revisited. No one should miss the real significance of the July 1 protests: the transformation of Hong Kong’s residents from colonial subjects to citizens. They will likely behave quite differently in the future. Christine Loh Civic Exchange Hong Kong Arthur Waldron writes: In my article I argued that the mass demonstrations in Hong Kong on July 1 put Beijing in a much more difficult position than most have recognized, with implications that go far beyond the future of the former British dependent territory and even China, to the very future of freedom itself. This is a new situation. Normally, Beijing has been able to avoid clear and difficult decisions. As I wrote: The past 30 years have shown what masters of prevarication and illusion are China’s Communist leaders. Their greatest triumph has lain in their ability to convince the world, and many of their own people, that ever since the 1970’s they have been in the process of doing, or about to begin to do, things which, if they actually did them, would spell their own demise. Following this, I said that, when it came to democracy in Hong Kong, no such “fudging”—i.e., no manipulation of expectations and credulity—would any longer be possible. Ellen Bork, as clear-eyed an observer of the Hong Kong situation as I know, takes me to task for this latter statement, pointing out, correctly, that “fudging” comes close to being the foundation of U.S.-China policy. Thus, we pretend that a dictatorship is a normal country, and that an economy having a closed capital account, government allocation of credit, and a vast state-owned sector is somehow “capitalist” or “free-market.” We pretend that Hong Kong is not part of China, and that Taiwan is. Nevertheless, I still maintain that on the question of democracy in Hong Kong, the standard make-believe is not going to suffice. The world will know the answer in five years’ time, no matter what Beijing or Hong Kong or Washington says. Free elections will either have been held or not, and there will be major consequences either way. Ellen Bork adds that “there is no evidence that Beijing is contemplating further democratization in Hong Kong, let alone in the mainland.” In fact, however, such evidence does exist, in the form of statements by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao that speak of democracy in a favorable way, quite different from the way in which former President Jiang Zemin spoke. Since I rarely accept official Chinese statements or statistics at face value, why do I accord significance to these particular statements? My answer is that some in Beijing—some, not all—are beginning to understand that democracy, if not desirable in itself, at least may provide the easiest solution to the current Hong Kong situation; it is the path of least resistance. We have already seen economic experimentation and change in China—not complete or consistent or even necessarily entirely beneficial, but real. I expect the current leadership to begin to fiddle with political change in a similar half-baked fashion. The problems that will arise when that fiddling begins are made clear by Kin-ming Liu, one of Hong Kong’s ablest and most respected journalists. Developments in his city have so far been extremely unfavorable to Beijing because, as Mr. Liu emphasizes, “for the first time in its 54-year history of brutalizing China, the Chinese Communist party backed down in the face of a popular movement.” This is bad (from the party’s point of view), but no obvious or easy way to reverse it has presented itself. So, for now, Beijing has evidently decided to play by the rules that it established in the Basic Law, using every ounce of influence it possesses to secure favorable outcomes in the upcoming district-council and legislative-council elections. But the rulers in Beijing have little knowledge, less skill, and no experience at all in democratic politics. Their emerging strategy makes these facts clear. Completely misunderstanding the basic situation, they have persuaded themselves that the malaise in Hong Kong is not political but at root economic—even though the economic downturn of several years’ duration elicited no mass protests and may even have helped pro-Beijing politicians, while it was the political attempt to ram through an odious “security bill” that brought the masses into the streets. Even more foolishly, from an electoral point of view, Beijing has decided to support the reviled Hong Kong chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa (whose approval rating hovers around 20 percent), despite the clear desire of Hong Kong voters that he be thrown out. Whatever mixture of carrots and sticks Beijing may choose as it attempts to determine the election’s outcome, the fact remains, as we are reminded by Christine Loh, a fearless advocate of democracy, that “Hong Kong people can no longer be pushed around.” They, like their cousins in China proper, are sick of being subjects and want to be citizens. And what of the United States? Both Ellen Bork and Kin-ming Liu call upon this country to support democratization, and we have indeed heard such sentiments already from the media and Congress. But the administration has been a good deal less enthusiastic. The Basic Law does not actually promise full democracy by a date certain, and the administration, rather than calling clearly for free elections, has instead punctiliously followed Beijing’s own weasel wording—supporting, as Ellen Bork tellingly points out, democracy “as envisioned by the Basic Law.” Sadly, this behavior is characteristic of American administrations both Republican and Democratic, not one of which, since the days of Ronald Reagan, has unreservedly supported democracy in Asia, choosing instead to favor “stability.” Nevertheless, the clock is ticking and our government ought to be considering our position more carefully. One reason, of-ten overlooked, is Taiwan. Washington’s entire policy toward that island has been premised on the assumption that “One Country, Two Systems” was going to work in Hong Kong, and that that shining example of easy coexistence between dictatorship and freedom would eventually persuade the 22 million Taiwanese to accept a similar settlement. Washington has never so much as considered a “plan B.” But if China makes a mess of Hong Kong—as well it may—“One Country, Two Systems” will be truly dead, and the whole contentious issue of Taiwan’s future will once again be open for discussion. Finally, we owe it to ourselves to avoid a repetition of the self-inflicted humiliation we underwent in the late 1980’s when democratization began in the Soviet empire and, instead of supporting it, we called for “stability.” Then we had the rather lame excuse that it had all happened too suddenly for us really to understand and respond appropriately. That excuse is not possible with respect to Hong Kong and China. Sometimes—as it did this past July in Hong Kong—history gives us a clear signal of what may be coming. Our task now is to ponder the full meaning of that message and its many implications for our current policies, which, sadly and I think mistakenly, assume and implicitly support the status quo. My thanks to these three distinguished correspondents for taking the time to write. New History? To the Editor: Efraim Karsh’s mendacity and hutzpah are truly mind-boggling [“Revisiting Israel’s ‘Original Sin,’” September]. Like most of his kind, he accuses others—in this case, me—of committing the serial distortion in which he himself blatantly indulges. Two examples should suffice to illustrate Mr. Karsh’s method. Over the years, and in defiance of overwhelming evidence, he has denied that the Zionist leadership in the 1930’s and 1940’s supported the idea of transferring Arabs out of the area of Palestine destined for Jewish statehood as a means of solving the Zionists’ “Arab problem.” He has asserted that I systematically falsified or tampered with the evidence in order to prove otherwise. Now he argues that I have withdrawn the point—or, as he puts it: “Already in the late 1990’s [Benny Morris] was forced to concede that ‘his treatment of [Zionist] transfer thinking before 1948 was, indeed, superficial.’” I made no such concession. What I wrote in the late 1990’s was that the massive, additional evidence I had uncovered since the publication in 1988 of my The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 only served to reinforce my view that Zionist leaders during the 1930’s and 1940’s firmly, almost consensually, supported the idea of transfer. (See my November 28, 1997 letter in the [London] Times Literary Supplement, prompted by Mr. Karsh’s hysterical letter denouncing historian Omer Bartov’s very negative review of Mr. Karsh’s Fabricating Israeli History.) I did not retract. Rather, I “confessed” that my 1988 treatment of Zionist thinking on transfer had, indeed, been “superficial” and insufficient—in the sense that I had not realized how deeply and broadly the pro-transfer current ran and had not attributed to it sufficient weight in what transpired in 1948. As to the exactness of my quotations from original sources, I recommend that interested readers, when in Jerusalem, consult the actual documents in the Central Zionist Archive. Do not rely on what Mr. Karsh says is in them, and do not rely on what Mr. Karsh says I say is in them. In his article, Mr. Karsh also hints at another canard that he has been purveying for years among the unwitting. He has regularly charged that, in The Birth, I failed to make use of Israeli military archival material (“[Morris] didn’t bother to go to the archives of the Hagana or the IDF”)—while knowing full well that all the relevant materials in the IDF and Hagana archives were closed to researchers when I wrote my book in the mid-1980’s. The two archives began opening the relevant files and giving researchers access to them only in the 1990’s. In The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (soon to be published by Cambridge University Press, at almost twice the length of the original book), I devote a full chapter to pre-1948 transfer thinking. And most of the new description and analysis of what transpired in the course of 1948 is now firmly grounded in the newly released IDF and Hagana documentation. The new (or revised) Birth might put the minds of some doubters to rest at least on these counts (though I am not hopeful about Mr. Karsh himself, given his manically obsessive interest in Benny Morris and the New Historians). Curiously, Mr. Karsh shares with Ilan Pappe—the radical Israeli New Historian whom he loathes—an incapacity to separate current political beliefs from views about the past. Both abhor complexity and cleave to single-cause explanations. Both see historiography, their own and others, in terms of how it serves or obstructs their political agendas. For Mr. Karsh—an ardent Zionist who lives in London—the Arabs are all black, the Jews all white; for Pappe—an anti-Zionist who lives in Haifa—it is the opposite. Both, as a result, are poor historians—and, indeed, fail to understand the present, in which we are witness to a terroristic Palestinian assault on Israel that is motivated both by a basic rejectionism vis-à-vis Jewish statehood and by the slings and arrows of an oppressive military occupation, expansionist settlements, terrible economic conditions, and religious-political incitement. Benny Morris Jerusalem, Israel To the Editor: Efraim Karsh’s critique of Benny Morris is clouded by his own political agenda. Pace Mr. Karsh, the desire to “mitigate the original sin of Israel’s existence” does not “help explain,” even “in part,” the “embrace of the Oslo process” by “so many educated Israelis.” A more accurate description of Israeli hopes for Oslo has been offered by the Israeli Arab intellectual Zuhair Andreus. As he wrote in Haaretz, the idea of a two-state solution without repatriation of 1948 refugees “gave Israelis, on a silver platter, a convenient solution to the historical annoyance of the Palestinian refugees.” The Oslo concept was transparent: Palestinians would recoup their losses of 1967 while writing off their losses from 1948. Israelis would escape the demographic threat entailed by repatriation, at the price of lands on the West Bank and Gaza that polls show most Israelis have always been willing to live without. Failure to disengage from the territories will bring about the demographic eradication of the Zionist idea. The Palestinian rejection of Oslo is thus a Jewish tragedy far beyond the painful loss of life; it is a rejection of Israel’s most viable strategy for survival. Sam Shube Jerusalem, Israel To the Editor: As Efraim Karsh points out with some tact, Jews are often their own worst enemies. The writings of Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe, and Tom Segev contain the seeds of a virulent strain of self-destruction. Is it merely a coincidence that the al-Aqsa intifada began soon after the appearance of this Jewish genre of hatred for Zionism? Whether or not the outlying Jewish communities of the West Bank and Gaza pose a problem, Israel demands at least a modicum of loyalty to its welfare. If Benny Morris has made at least a partial about-face with respect to his “discovery” of Israel’s “original sin,” I await similar recantations from Pappe and Segev. In the meantime, kudos to Mr. Karsh and to Commentary for the courage to take on the post-Zionists. Morton J. Summer Council for Jewish Education Monsey, New York Efraim Karsh writes: Benny Morris is anxious to reassure Commentary readers that he has not retracted his misrepresentation of Zionism as a predatory movement bent on dispossessing the Palestinian Arabs from their land. Let me set his mind at ease. I made no such claim in my article. Rather, I argued that his failure to disown the “transfer” canard, at a time when he has finally acknowledged Zionism’s longstanding readiness to coexist with the Arabs in a partitioned Palestine, raises a big question mark about the sincerity of his self-proclaimed “reassessment” of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Mr. Morris has yet to decide which of the two contradictory historical narratives he has been simultaneously propagating over the past two years is the correct one. Either Zionism resigned itself early on to the existence of a substantial Arab minority in the prospective Jewish state—which was indeed the case—or it believed that, in Mr. Morris’s words, “there could be no viable Jewish state in all or part of Palestine unless there was a mass displacement of Arab inhabitants.” There is simply no middle way. Actually, Mr. Morris seems to have made his choice. In his revised edition of The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, he now tells us, he devotes a full chapter to “pre-1948 Zionist transfer thinking.” This we are supposed to take as a refreshing advance over the book’s first edition, where the “treatment of [Zionist] transfer thinking before 1948 was, indeed, superficial,” focusing mostly on three meetings of the Jewish Agency executive between June 7 and 12, 1938. He is right about the superficiality: five days in the life of a national movement could hardly provide proof of longstanding trends or ideologies. Moreover, these particular meetings were called in response to a specific agenda forced upon the Zionist movement by the British government—namely, the implementation of the 1937 Peel partition plan, including its proposal of an exchange of land and population between the prospective Jewish and Arab states similar to that effected between Turkey and Greece in the wake of World War I. Actually, the Peel Commission had recommended neither the unilateral “transfer” of Arabs nor their expulsion from Palestine: the relocated populations, both Arab and Jewish, were to remain within the boundaries of Mandate Palestine. Nevertheless, after much deliberation, the Zionist leadership rejected the idea, informing the British government that “Jewish opinion was opposed to the exercise of any degree of compulsion.” Yet superficiality was the least of Mr. Morris’s professional flaws. Far worse was, and remains, his propensity to distort archival source-material in an attempt to rewrite history in an image of his own devising. In this respect, his present decision to redouble his efforts to prove the “transfer” canard, rather than to concentrate on illuminating the real obstacle to regional peace during the 20th century—the unrelenting Arab rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood—bodes very ill indeed. Now Mr. Morris charges me, “like most of [my] kind” (what precisely does this mean?), with engaging in “serial distortion,” and he urges interested readers to check for themselves the veracity of my quotations. A good place to start would be with a close comparison of his own two renditions of the self-same passage by David Ben-Gurion. Here they are, taken respectively from the Hebrew and English versions of Mr. Morris’s The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem: “We must expel Arabs and take their places . . . and if we have to use force—not to dispossess the Arabs of the Negev and Transjordan, but to guarantee our own right to settle in those places—then we have force at our disposal,” [Ben-Gurion] wrote to his son, Amos, contemplating the implementation of the transfer recommendation of the Peel commission report. As readers of Hebrew can see for themselves, Ben-Gurion argued that “We do not wish, we do not need, to expel Arabs and take their place. All our aspiration is built on the assumption . . . that there is enough room for ourselves and the Arabs in Palestine.” The English-language version of Mr. Morris’s book contrives to state precisely the opposite. In his letter, Mr. Morris concedes that he wrote The Birth without consulting the archives of the key Israeli institutions whose actions in 1947-49 formed the burden of his indictment. He claims, however, that at the time of his writing—the mid-1980’s—these archives were closed to researchers. If this were so, Mr. Morris was being dishonest in presenting his research as “new history”—a term he himself coined on grounds of alleged access to newly available documentary evidence. Instead, he should have informed his readers that his conclusions were tentative, pending the opening of the archives. But were the archives actually closed to researchers in the mid-1980’s? The first three volumes of Uri Milstein’s Hebrew-language history of Israel’s war of independence, published in Tel Aviv in 1989—a year after The Birth—draw on countless documents from the Hagana and the IDF archives. In his introduction, Milstein gratefully acknowledges the generous assistance of these two archives, among others, in the writing of his study, which he says was in the making since 1976. Nor is that the end of it. As early as 1976, the historian Elhanan Oren published a book on the Israeli offensive of mid-July 1948, codenamed Operation Danny, that captured the Arab towns of Lydda and Ramleh. The book makes extensive use of Hagana and IDF archives, including telegrams from the operations department, daily reports of the Qiryati brigade, Palmach files, and so on. Mr. Morris’s The Birth appeared twelve years later, without benefit of these same two archives. But this did not prevent him from launching a stinging attack on Oren, deriding him and other Israeli researchers as “old historians” who had supposedly composed their works without access to recently declassified documentation on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Sam Shube gives too much credit to the Israeli architects of Oslo. The problem with Oslo was not its vision of a two-state solution—i.e., Israel living side by side in peace with a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. This idea had been accepted by mainstream Zionism as early as 1937 and 1947, and to this day remains the only conceivable basis of a peace settlement should the Palestinians one day truly reconcile themselves to Israel’s existence. Rather, the tragedy of Oslo lay first in the insistence of its advocates on making “peace” with an organization committed to Israel’s destruction and then in their no less insistent clinging to their designated “partner” in the face of irrefutable evidence that, for this “partner”—i.e., Yasir Arafat and the PLO—Oslo was a means not to a two-state solution but to the substitution of a Palestinian state for Israel. The recent “Geneva agreement” between PLO officials and leftist Israeli politicians headed by Yossi Beilin affords the latest illustration of this infinite capacity for self-delusion. The Oslo process may be the only instance in diplomatic history where one signatory to a peace accord has declared a priori that it is amenable to its co-signatory’s violation of the accord. Of course, there have been numerous agreements in which one or both parties acted in bad faith. In September 1938, Adolf Hitler signed the Munich agreement with the deliberate intent of using it as a “Trojan horse” for the destruction of Czechoslovakia. Given their marked military inferiority, and the fact of their abandonment by the international community, there was little the Czechs could do about this. At Oslo, by contrast, it was the far stronger party that allowed the far weaker one to emulate Hitler’s strategy. Why? In the words of Shimon Peres in 1996, long after Arafat had fully demonstrated his bad faith, “We close our eyes. We don’t criticize, because for peace, we must produce a partner.” Hitler’s Opera To the Editor: I greatly appreciated Terry Teachout’s “The Murder Artist” [September]. He is entirely right about Hitler; a reading of the dictator’s “table talk” amply bears out Mr. Teachout’s idea that the Nazi revolution was conceived by him as a great piece of theater, and one based largely on the work of Richard Wagner. Although Mr. Teachout suggests that Hitler’s obsession with Wagner began at the age of twelve, with a viewing of Lohengrin, I am surprised he does not cite Wagner’s Rienzi, which Hitler himself referred to as the prototype for his political career. Indeed, anyone reading the libretto or listening to the score of that opera will quickly become familiar with the outlines of a drama that, in time, Hitler would succeed in turning into dreadful reality. Robb Thurston Seattle, Washington

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