Commentary Magazine


Topic: architect

The Conservative Moment

One of the more interesting facts surrounding the midterm elections is that Barack Obama, the most activist, liberal president since Lyndon Johnson, is presiding over a collapse of confidence in government.

According to ABC News, optimism in the country’s system of government has dropped to a new low when measured against polls going back 36 years. In 1974 — shortly after Richard Nixon’s resignation in the Watergate scandal — 55 percent of Americans were optimistic about “our system of government and how well it works.” Today, 33 percent say that, the lowest number in nearly a dozen measurements taken through decades.

In addition, a Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll reported that 69 percent of independents say they have less faith in government now than they did just before Obama was elected.

A president who appears to have almost limitless faith in big government is the architect of growing public disdain for it. “Our ills are creating their own antibodies,” Margaret Thatcher said in 1977, as the conditions were being put in place that swept her to the position of prime minister in the United Kingdom.

In America today we are seeing something similar occur. Mr. Obama’s unchecked liberalism, combined with a struggling economy and a growing sense of governing ineptness, is creating a new conservative moment. The most powerful political idea in America today — the one that is creating the framework for today’s election — is the need to re-limit government as a means to restore economic growth.

Over the next several years, the task of the GOP will be to demonstrate that they have a plan that matches the gravity of this moment. Whether they achieve this or not is an open question. But the fact that they have this opportunity is not. Like Jimmy Carter before him, Barack Obama — by discrediting liberalism — is creating a large new opening for conservatives. It is up to them to seize it.

One of the more interesting facts surrounding the midterm elections is that Barack Obama, the most activist, liberal president since Lyndon Johnson, is presiding over a collapse of confidence in government.

According to ABC News, optimism in the country’s system of government has dropped to a new low when measured against polls going back 36 years. In 1974 — shortly after Richard Nixon’s resignation in the Watergate scandal — 55 percent of Americans were optimistic about “our system of government and how well it works.” Today, 33 percent say that, the lowest number in nearly a dozen measurements taken through decades.

In addition, a Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll reported that 69 percent of independents say they have less faith in government now than they did just before Obama was elected.

A president who appears to have almost limitless faith in big government is the architect of growing public disdain for it. “Our ills are creating their own antibodies,” Margaret Thatcher said in 1977, as the conditions were being put in place that swept her to the position of prime minister in the United Kingdom.

In America today we are seeing something similar occur. Mr. Obama’s unchecked liberalism, combined with a struggling economy and a growing sense of governing ineptness, is creating a new conservative moment. The most powerful political idea in America today — the one that is creating the framework for today’s election — is the need to re-limit government as a means to restore economic growth.

Over the next several years, the task of the GOP will be to demonstrate that they have a plan that matches the gravity of this moment. Whether they achieve this or not is an open question. But the fact that they have this opportunity is not. Like Jimmy Carter before him, Barack Obama — by discrediting liberalism — is creating a large new opening for conservatives. It is up to them to seize it.

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Forgetful Architecture

It is hard to design a memorial, let alone a Holocaust museum. There are a handful of firms equipped to handle the demands of the institution, the local community, the municipality, and those who are to be honored, let alone the style du jour of memorial-building.

Take, for example, the opening of the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum this week. Reviewing the museum in the Forward, Gavriel Rosenfeld discusses how the building, literally underground and conforming, mostly, to the terrain of Pan Pacific Park, is itself a metaphor for Holocaust remembrance. He writes:

It is hard not to conclude that the building’s underground location also has deeper significance. In one sense, the building’s self-effacing character might be seen as reflecting an assimilationist reflex on the part of L.A.’s Jewish community. After all, some of the city’s most important Jewish institutions, such as the Museum of Tolerance and the Skirball Cultural Center (designed by Moshe Safdie in the years 1986 to 1995), have strived not to appear architecturally Jewish in any way, a strategy that echoes their universalistic mission of reaching out to non-Jewish audiences.

As Rosenfeld notes, other museums have shied away from architectural elements that are distinctly Jewish. What he is referring to are direct references to Holocaust imagery such as smoke stacks and barbed wire. Some designs are not so literal but are nonetheless specific. The Houston Holocaust Museum design includes six steel poles, stand-ins for the 6 million murdered Jews.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum does not include such literalist elements but is designed to create an experience. James Ingo Freed, the architect for this building, writes, “There are no literal references to particular places or occurrences from the historic event. Instead, the architectural form is open-ended so the Museum becomes a resonator of memory.” Read More

It is hard to design a memorial, let alone a Holocaust museum. There are a handful of firms equipped to handle the demands of the institution, the local community, the municipality, and those who are to be honored, let alone the style du jour of memorial-building.

Take, for example, the opening of the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum this week. Reviewing the museum in the Forward, Gavriel Rosenfeld discusses how the building, literally underground and conforming, mostly, to the terrain of Pan Pacific Park, is itself a metaphor for Holocaust remembrance. He writes:

It is hard not to conclude that the building’s underground location also has deeper significance. In one sense, the building’s self-effacing character might be seen as reflecting an assimilationist reflex on the part of L.A.’s Jewish community. After all, some of the city’s most important Jewish institutions, such as the Museum of Tolerance and the Skirball Cultural Center (designed by Moshe Safdie in the years 1986 to 1995), have strived not to appear architecturally Jewish in any way, a strategy that echoes their universalistic mission of reaching out to non-Jewish audiences.

As Rosenfeld notes, other museums have shied away from architectural elements that are distinctly Jewish. What he is referring to are direct references to Holocaust imagery such as smoke stacks and barbed wire. Some designs are not so literal but are nonetheless specific. The Houston Holocaust Museum design includes six steel poles, stand-ins for the 6 million murdered Jews.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum does not include such literalist elements but is designed to create an experience. James Ingo Freed, the architect for this building, writes, “There are no literal references to particular places or occurrences from the historic event. Instead, the architectural form is open-ended so the Museum becomes a resonator of memory.”

Freed wants the visitor to experience the museum building viscerally. Just as the Holocaust defies understanding, so, too, should the building, which is meant not to be understood but rather felt.

Such experience-as-metaphor is the sin qua non of contemporary memorial design. The as-yet-to-be-built 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero exhibits many of the same tropes as the LAHM. Michael Arad and Peter Walker, the creators of the winning design, describe viewers’ experience of Reflecting Absence:

Bordering each pool is a pair of ramps that lead down to the memorial spaces. Descending into the memorial, visitors are removed from the sights and sounds of the city and immersed in a cool darkness. As they proceed, the sound of water falling grows louder, and more daylight filters in from below. At the bottom of their descent, they find themselves behind a thin curtain of water, staring out at an enormous pool. Surrounding this pool is a continuous ribbon of names. The enormity of this space and the multitude of names that form this endless ribbon underscore the vast scope of the destruction. Standing there at the water’s edge, looking at a pool of water that is flowing away into an abyss, a visitor to the site can sense that what is beyond this curtain of water and ribbon of names is inaccessible.

These contemporary designs wish to evoke an experience. Certain motifs prevail, such as a descent into the ground, a list of individual names, familiar yet distant forms — all of which are intended to “move” the viewer to contemplate the inaccessibility of horrific tragedy.

These motifs are not new. Take for example this description of perhaps the first such “non-monument”:

A corner submerged into the earth, the work is welcoming in its open-ended, book-like form, and yet disconcerting to those who realize that to read the names is to stand below the horizon — six feet under — conversing in the space of the dead. The work is outspoken and angry in the way in which it functions as a visual scar on the American landscape, cutting aggressively into the Washington Mall, and yet is dignified for the way in which it carves out a space for a public display of grief and pain. These emotions, necessary to the healing process, have a place in Lin’s work and are as natural as the cycles of the earth.

This describes the Vietnam Memorial designed by Maya Lin on the Washington Mall in Washington, D.C. This monument makes it clear that passage underground is a metaphor for death. One feels an uneasiness while reading the names of each soldier. Her monument does indeed reflect “grief and pain” and is to be understood not only as a memorial to those who sacrificed their lives but also to the ambivalence and anger at the country that sent them to war.

But should ambivalence be what visitors experience toward the Holocaust or 9/11? The architectural motif of descent into the ground does not carry the same complexity as it does for the Vietnam Memorial, nor should it. But if we accept the interpretation offered by the LAHM architect, Hagy Belzberg, not only are these monuments invisible, they celebrate that invisibility by communicating a dubious contradiction:

He noted that embedding LAMH into the natural environment of a public park represented a commentary on how the Holocaust transpired in the midst of ordinary German life. Citing Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, in Berlin, whose location in the heart of the busy metropolis lends itself to such prosaic activities “as picnicking and playing Frisbee,” Belzberg observed that the daily occurrence of these same activities near LAMH would symbolically underscore the chilling fact that during the Holocaust, “people knowingly or unknowingly went on with their lives while extraordinary events were taking place.” Given this claim, the museum’s relative inconspicuousness as architecture does not so much hide as illuminate one of the more disturbing facts of the Holocaust: the coexistence of atrocity and normalcy.

Rosenfeld and Belzberg are exactly correct; the horror of the Holocaust is heightened when one considers German complicity and daily life. And life goes on for us. We picnic and play frisbee and visit parks on our day off. But when even our monuments dedicated to the memory of atrocity forget the victims, surely everyone else will too.

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A Failing Presidency and a Broken Party

This heartfelt comment and question, the first one President Obama received at a CNBC town hall gathering yesterday, may well become emblematic of the first half (at least) of the Obama presidency.

Ms. Velma Hart — middle class, a wife and the mother of two, a veteran, and an African-American Obama supporter — said this:

Quite frankly, I’m exhausted – I’m exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now. I have been told that I voted for a man who said was going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. I’m one of those people and I’m waiting, sir. I’m waiting. I don’t feel it yet. And I thought while it wouldn’t be in great measure, I’d feel it in some small measure.  I have two children in private school and the financial recession has taken an enormous toll on my family. My husband and I have joked for years that we thought we were well beyond the hot dogs and beans era of our lives, but, quite frankly, it’s starting to knock on our door and ring true that that might be where we’re headed again, and, quite frankly, Mr. President, I need you to answer this honestly. Is this my new reality?

This was a very bad moment for the Obama presidency because it was such an honest and representative one.

Velma Hart is obviously no Tea Party activist. The town hall audience was undoubtedly vetted by the White House in advance of the event. So for Ms. Hart to frame the question she did, in the manner she did, was fairly extraordinary. And she was not the only person who asked searching questions of Mr. Obama. A recent law school graduate, Ted Brassfield, told Mr. Obama that he had hoped to pursue a career in public service, like Obama himself, but said he could barely pay the interest on his student loans, let alone think of getting married or starting a family. “I was really inspired by you and your campaign and the message you brought,” Brassfield said, “and that inspiration is dying away. And I really want to know, is the American dream dead for me?”

Having worked in the White House, I can assure you this is not what Obama and his team of advisers wanted to hear — certainly not from a hand-picked audience at an economic town hall forum that is being broadcast on television six weeks before a crucial midterm election.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a contributor to CONTENTIONS wrote this cautionary note regarding the new president-elect:

Sooner than he might imagine, and certainly sooner than he might wish, the responsibility for how America is performing will fall to him and his Democratic colleagues in the House and the Senate. A year from now, it won’t be enough to blame the problems on others. He and other Democrats ran and won on the promise that they would turn things around, and do so quickly. Those promises can’t be reeled back. Obama in particular has set a very high bar. Indeed, the expectations for “change”–in policies, in performance, even in the way we conduct our politics–is as high as I can recall … For understandable reasons, many people are being swept up in this remarkable American moment. But reality will intrude soon enough, and Barack Obama will face the same standards that every other President has faced. Incantations of “hope” and “change” can work in a campaign. They are virtually useless when it comes to governing. Barack Obama is about to enter the crucible. We’ll see how he performs.

President Obama has, so far at least, performed rather dismally. He set super-human expectations for himself — including his pledge to slow the rise of the oceans and begin to heal the planet, his commitment to resist the temptation to “fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long,” and to “transform” America at what he called a “defining moment.”

In some respects, of course, President Obama has transformed America — but in ways many American find alarming. What we are seeing all across our land is an extraordinary, organic movement rising up against Obamaism. If you go to the heart of this effort, beyond even the policy differences themselves, what you will find is an effort to restore America. It is a direct, energetic, and sometimes rambunctious response to the president’s transformational project, to his effort to remake America in his own liberal image and conforming to his own liberal views and values.

As we saw yesterday, at the economic town hall meeting, the hope and promise of Obama has collided with, and is being shattered by, reality.

Barack Obama is, right now, the architect of a failing presidency and, soon, a broken party.

This heartfelt comment and question, the first one President Obama received at a CNBC town hall gathering yesterday, may well become emblematic of the first half (at least) of the Obama presidency.

Ms. Velma Hart — middle class, a wife and the mother of two, a veteran, and an African-American Obama supporter — said this:

Quite frankly, I’m exhausted – I’m exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now. I have been told that I voted for a man who said was going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. I’m one of those people and I’m waiting, sir. I’m waiting. I don’t feel it yet. And I thought while it wouldn’t be in great measure, I’d feel it in some small measure.  I have two children in private school and the financial recession has taken an enormous toll on my family. My husband and I have joked for years that we thought we were well beyond the hot dogs and beans era of our lives, but, quite frankly, it’s starting to knock on our door and ring true that that might be where we’re headed again, and, quite frankly, Mr. President, I need you to answer this honestly. Is this my new reality?

This was a very bad moment for the Obama presidency because it was such an honest and representative one.

Velma Hart is obviously no Tea Party activist. The town hall audience was undoubtedly vetted by the White House in advance of the event. So for Ms. Hart to frame the question she did, in the manner she did, was fairly extraordinary. And she was not the only person who asked searching questions of Mr. Obama. A recent law school graduate, Ted Brassfield, told Mr. Obama that he had hoped to pursue a career in public service, like Obama himself, but said he could barely pay the interest on his student loans, let alone think of getting married or starting a family. “I was really inspired by you and your campaign and the message you brought,” Brassfield said, “and that inspiration is dying away. And I really want to know, is the American dream dead for me?”

Having worked in the White House, I can assure you this is not what Obama and his team of advisers wanted to hear — certainly not from a hand-picked audience at an economic town hall forum that is being broadcast on television six weeks before a crucial midterm election.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a contributor to CONTENTIONS wrote this cautionary note regarding the new president-elect:

Sooner than he might imagine, and certainly sooner than he might wish, the responsibility for how America is performing will fall to him and his Democratic colleagues in the House and the Senate. A year from now, it won’t be enough to blame the problems on others. He and other Democrats ran and won on the promise that they would turn things around, and do so quickly. Those promises can’t be reeled back. Obama in particular has set a very high bar. Indeed, the expectations for “change”–in policies, in performance, even in the way we conduct our politics–is as high as I can recall … For understandable reasons, many people are being swept up in this remarkable American moment. But reality will intrude soon enough, and Barack Obama will face the same standards that every other President has faced. Incantations of “hope” and “change” can work in a campaign. They are virtually useless when it comes to governing. Barack Obama is about to enter the crucible. We’ll see how he performs.

President Obama has, so far at least, performed rather dismally. He set super-human expectations for himself — including his pledge to slow the rise of the oceans and begin to heal the planet, his commitment to resist the temptation to “fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long,” and to “transform” America at what he called a “defining moment.”

In some respects, of course, President Obama has transformed America — but in ways many American find alarming. What we are seeing all across our land is an extraordinary, organic movement rising up against Obamaism. If you go to the heart of this effort, beyond even the policy differences themselves, what you will find is an effort to restore America. It is a direct, energetic, and sometimes rambunctious response to the president’s transformational project, to his effort to remake America in his own liberal image and conforming to his own liberal views and values.

As we saw yesterday, at the economic town hall meeting, the hope and promise of Obama has collided with, and is being shattered by, reality.

Barack Obama is, right now, the architect of a failing presidency and, soon, a broken party.

Read Less

Turkey and the Other MIT

Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization is known by the initials for its Turkish name: MIT.  It has focused for decades on internal security, but its recently appointed director, 42-year-old Hakan Fidan, intends to change that. A University of Maryland graduate, Fidan had multiple NATO assignments during his military career and wrote a doctoral thesis comparing Turkey’s foreign intelligence with America’s and Britain’s. He’s a long-time intimate of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the architect of Erdogan’s regional outreach policy.

In many ways, Fidan is an emblem of Turkey’s foot in the West. But peel back the veneer a little, and he also symbolizes Turkey’s unique position straddling East and West. Before assuming his post at MIT in June, Fidan was deeply involved in Turkey’s efforts to broker agreements on Iran’s nuclear program. Observers describe him variously as having “close knowledge” of Iran and being an admirer and supporter of the Islamic Republic. Government sources in Israel are reportedly concerned that he has been instrumental in souring ties between Ankara and Jerusalem and that he may have been a key government player behind the Turkish-sponsored May flotilla. Meanwhile, Turkey’s military — long the guardian of “Kemalist” secularism at the pinnacle of national power — views him with misgiving as an Islamist, like Erdogan, whose control of domestic intelligence will consolidate the ruling AKP’s growing hold on the courts, media, and civil communications. Comparisons of Fidan with the intelligence-service henchmen of 20th-century totalitarians can’t help but arise.

Given these trends, Michael Rubin wonders at NRO if it’s a good idea to put a new missile-defense radar in Turkey and sell the Turks the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. But there appears to be a more immediate vulnerability opening up, with this weekend’s news that Turkey and Iran will be sharing “real-time intelligence” on Kurdish separatists. In the intelligence world, this is a major advance in information sharing. It implies a daily routine: a means of constant communication involving low- or mid-level functionaries. The routine is certain to be administered, moreover, through closer ties between the two intelligence services: regular meetings, exchanges of personnel, ministerial-level interest in the product at both ends of the exchange pipeline.

Western intelligence professionals should recognize opportunity here along with danger. It might not be a bad thing to have a NATO ally in privileged contact with Iran’s intelligence service. But making use of such a connection requires a clear-headed, unsentimental approach, one that must start with the premise that Turkey’s loyalties are already divided.

It should be obvious at this point that they are; or, more accurately, that Erdogan’s loyalty is to a vision of a resurgent Turkey that wields an increasing influence in both the East and the West. But it shouldn’t surprise us that Erdogan’s Turkey is out for itself. There is nothing to be gained from addressing Turkey in a fatuous manner, as Obama and the U.K.’s David Cameron both have, but neither would it be wise to repudiate Turkey for its emerging connections to the East. The U.S. and our European allies should continue to be more interesting and rewarding partners than Russia or Iran; we should encourage liberalism and the modern legacy of secular government in Turkey; and we should firmly separate the issues of Israel and the Palestinian Arabs from our relations with Turkey and resist any efforts by the Erdogan government to meld them together.

Meanwhile, for each of our regional security arrangements in which Turkey has a featured role (e.g., the missile-defense radar), we should have a backup plan.

Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization is known by the initials for its Turkish name: MIT.  It has focused for decades on internal security, but its recently appointed director, 42-year-old Hakan Fidan, intends to change that. A University of Maryland graduate, Fidan had multiple NATO assignments during his military career and wrote a doctoral thesis comparing Turkey’s foreign intelligence with America’s and Britain’s. He’s a long-time intimate of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the architect of Erdogan’s regional outreach policy.

In many ways, Fidan is an emblem of Turkey’s foot in the West. But peel back the veneer a little, and he also symbolizes Turkey’s unique position straddling East and West. Before assuming his post at MIT in June, Fidan was deeply involved in Turkey’s efforts to broker agreements on Iran’s nuclear program. Observers describe him variously as having “close knowledge” of Iran and being an admirer and supporter of the Islamic Republic. Government sources in Israel are reportedly concerned that he has been instrumental in souring ties between Ankara and Jerusalem and that he may have been a key government player behind the Turkish-sponsored May flotilla. Meanwhile, Turkey’s military — long the guardian of “Kemalist” secularism at the pinnacle of national power — views him with misgiving as an Islamist, like Erdogan, whose control of domestic intelligence will consolidate the ruling AKP’s growing hold on the courts, media, and civil communications. Comparisons of Fidan with the intelligence-service henchmen of 20th-century totalitarians can’t help but arise.

Given these trends, Michael Rubin wonders at NRO if it’s a good idea to put a new missile-defense radar in Turkey and sell the Turks the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. But there appears to be a more immediate vulnerability opening up, with this weekend’s news that Turkey and Iran will be sharing “real-time intelligence” on Kurdish separatists. In the intelligence world, this is a major advance in information sharing. It implies a daily routine: a means of constant communication involving low- or mid-level functionaries. The routine is certain to be administered, moreover, through closer ties between the two intelligence services: regular meetings, exchanges of personnel, ministerial-level interest in the product at both ends of the exchange pipeline.

Western intelligence professionals should recognize opportunity here along with danger. It might not be a bad thing to have a NATO ally in privileged contact with Iran’s intelligence service. But making use of such a connection requires a clear-headed, unsentimental approach, one that must start with the premise that Turkey’s loyalties are already divided.

It should be obvious at this point that they are; or, more accurately, that Erdogan’s loyalty is to a vision of a resurgent Turkey that wields an increasing influence in both the East and the West. But it shouldn’t surprise us that Erdogan’s Turkey is out for itself. There is nothing to be gained from addressing Turkey in a fatuous manner, as Obama and the U.K.’s David Cameron both have, but neither would it be wise to repudiate Turkey for its emerging connections to the East. The U.S. and our European allies should continue to be more interesting and rewarding partners than Russia or Iran; we should encourage liberalism and the modern legacy of secular government in Turkey; and we should firmly separate the issues of Israel and the Palestinian Arabs from our relations with Turkey and resist any efforts by the Erdogan government to meld them together.

Meanwhile, for each of our regional security arrangements in which Turkey has a featured role (e.g., the missile-defense radar), we should have a backup plan.

Read Less

Mohammed Oudeh’s Lesson: Attacking the West Pays

After Mohammed Oudeh, planner of the terror attack that killed 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, died this weekend, media obituaries noted that he never regretted his actions. A 2006 interview with AP explained why:

“Before Munich, we were simply terrorists. After Munich, at least people started asking who are these terrorists? What do they want? Before Munich, nobody had the slightest idea about Palestine.”

George Habash, founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and architect of the campaign of airline hijackings that began terrorizing Europe in the late 1960s, offered an identical argument as far back as 1970:

“When we hijack a plane it has more effect than if we kill a hundred Israelis in battle. For decades, world public opinion has been neither for nor against the Palestinians. It simply ignored us. At least the world is talking about us now.”

Both men, of course, are right. As long as the Palestinians stuck to attacking Israelis on Israeli soil, the West ignored them. But when they began launching attacks in Europe, many Westerners suddenly started asking what could be done to satisfy their grievances and make them stop. And gradually, these questions morphed into a fixed determination to make Israel give the Palestinians whatever they wanted.

The same process is happening now with al-Qaeda. Before 9/11, almost nobody in the West had even heard of al-Qaeda. Since then, numerous articles by journalists, academics, ex-diplomats, ex-intelligence officers, et al. have argued that the West could take the wind out of al-Qaeda’s sails by withdrawing all troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim countries, forcing Israel to quit the territories, halting drone attacks on terrorists, and so forth.

This is not yet the consensus; the dominant view is still that al-Qaeda must be fought. But that was also the dominant view when Palestinians first began attacking Europe 40 years ago. It takes time for persistent questions and suggestions to create a consensus for appeasement.

In contrast, there is no talk whatsoever in the West about how to satisfy the grievances of, say, the Congolese militias, who are slaughtering 45,000 of their countrymen every month, or the Kurdish PKK, which has been attacking Turkey for decades. That is because they, poor fools, are still trying to achieve their goals by fighting those they deem their enemies. They haven’t yet grasped what the perceptive Palestinians realized four decades ago: if you want the West to help you achieve your goals, you have to attack the West directly.

This clearly isn’t the message the West should be sending, as it merely invites more terror attacks on Western soil. The rule should have been that any attack on the West would cause it to join wholeheartedly with the terrorists’ adversaries in an effort to destroy them. But through their support of the Palestinian cause over the past few decades, the message Western governments have actually sent is that attacking the West pays.

And if other terrorist groups eventually wake up and adopt the same tactics, the West will have only itself to blame.

After Mohammed Oudeh, planner of the terror attack that killed 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, died this weekend, media obituaries noted that he never regretted his actions. A 2006 interview with AP explained why:

“Before Munich, we were simply terrorists. After Munich, at least people started asking who are these terrorists? What do they want? Before Munich, nobody had the slightest idea about Palestine.”

George Habash, founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and architect of the campaign of airline hijackings that began terrorizing Europe in the late 1960s, offered an identical argument as far back as 1970:

“When we hijack a plane it has more effect than if we kill a hundred Israelis in battle. For decades, world public opinion has been neither for nor against the Palestinians. It simply ignored us. At least the world is talking about us now.”

Both men, of course, are right. As long as the Palestinians stuck to attacking Israelis on Israeli soil, the West ignored them. But when they began launching attacks in Europe, many Westerners suddenly started asking what could be done to satisfy their grievances and make them stop. And gradually, these questions morphed into a fixed determination to make Israel give the Palestinians whatever they wanted.

The same process is happening now with al-Qaeda. Before 9/11, almost nobody in the West had even heard of al-Qaeda. Since then, numerous articles by journalists, academics, ex-diplomats, ex-intelligence officers, et al. have argued that the West could take the wind out of al-Qaeda’s sails by withdrawing all troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim countries, forcing Israel to quit the territories, halting drone attacks on terrorists, and so forth.

This is not yet the consensus; the dominant view is still that al-Qaeda must be fought. But that was also the dominant view when Palestinians first began attacking Europe 40 years ago. It takes time for persistent questions and suggestions to create a consensus for appeasement.

In contrast, there is no talk whatsoever in the West about how to satisfy the grievances of, say, the Congolese militias, who are slaughtering 45,000 of their countrymen every month, or the Kurdish PKK, which has been attacking Turkey for decades. That is because they, poor fools, are still trying to achieve their goals by fighting those they deem their enemies. They haven’t yet grasped what the perceptive Palestinians realized four decades ago: if you want the West to help you achieve your goals, you have to attack the West directly.

This clearly isn’t the message the West should be sending, as it merely invites more terror attacks on Western soil. The rule should have been that any attack on the West would cause it to join wholeheartedly with the terrorists’ adversaries in an effort to destroy them. But through their support of the Palestinian cause over the past few decades, the message Western governments have actually sent is that attacking the West pays.

And if other terrorist groups eventually wake up and adopt the same tactics, the West will have only itself to blame.

Read Less

Obama Helps Obama by Keeping McChrystal

There has been some surprising but welcomed (at least by those who’d like to win in Afghanistan) opposition to firing Gen. Stanley McChrystal over his Rolling Stone interview. The Washington Post editors reel off three reasons not to accept the general’s resignation:

First, Gen. McChrystal is the architect of a crucial counterinsurgency campaign underway in southern Afghanistan — a strategy Mr. Obama approved after months of deliberation last year. … Second, whatever his reputation in Washington, Gen. McChrystal has built strong ties with the Afghan and Pakistani officials whose cooperation is vital to the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. … Most important, the inflammatory comments in the Rolling Stone article are symptomatic of a deeper dysfunction for which Gen. McChrystal is not chiefly responsible. As we pointed out on this page last week, the administration’s performance in Afghanistan has been hamstrung by continuing differences between civilian officials and military commanders that date to the debate over strategy last year. …

Mr. Obama has tolerated this feuding, with consequences that include poor coordination of military and civilian operations and deteriorating relations with Mr. Karzai. His dismissal of Gen. McChrystal would hand a victory to those in his administration who have resisted the counterinsurgency operations.

There is a fourth reason: Obama needs to shed his peevish and self-absorbed persona, to demonstrate to friends and foes that he can command a war effort, and to dispel the growing perception that he’s in over his head. He doesn’t do this by being the tough guy with the general, whom we have relied on to win the war. (And by the way, if McChrystal does quit, won’t we hear a whole lot more from him about the civilian officials who’ve been making the military’s job harder?) For a president very much concerned about his own image, maybe the most compelling argument for him to keep McChrystal is this: it’ll make Obama look good.

There has been some surprising but welcomed (at least by those who’d like to win in Afghanistan) opposition to firing Gen. Stanley McChrystal over his Rolling Stone interview. The Washington Post editors reel off three reasons not to accept the general’s resignation:

First, Gen. McChrystal is the architect of a crucial counterinsurgency campaign underway in southern Afghanistan — a strategy Mr. Obama approved after months of deliberation last year. … Second, whatever his reputation in Washington, Gen. McChrystal has built strong ties with the Afghan and Pakistani officials whose cooperation is vital to the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. … Most important, the inflammatory comments in the Rolling Stone article are symptomatic of a deeper dysfunction for which Gen. McChrystal is not chiefly responsible. As we pointed out on this page last week, the administration’s performance in Afghanistan has been hamstrung by continuing differences between civilian officials and military commanders that date to the debate over strategy last year. …

Mr. Obama has tolerated this feuding, with consequences that include poor coordination of military and civilian operations and deteriorating relations with Mr. Karzai. His dismissal of Gen. McChrystal would hand a victory to those in his administration who have resisted the counterinsurgency operations.

There is a fourth reason: Obama needs to shed his peevish and self-absorbed persona, to demonstrate to friends and foes that he can command a war effort, and to dispel the growing perception that he’s in over his head. He doesn’t do this by being the tough guy with the general, whom we have relied on to win the war. (And by the way, if McChrystal does quit, won’t we hear a whole lot more from him about the civilian officials who’ve been making the military’s job harder?) For a president very much concerned about his own image, maybe the most compelling argument for him to keep McChrystal is this: it’ll make Obama look good.

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Capturing the Imagination of the World

Barack Obama’s description of the barbaric butchering of Daniel Pearl — “one of those moments that captured the world’s imagination because it reminded us of how valuable a free press is” — represents, as Mark Steyn writes, a remarkably fatuous statement.

Pearl was beheaded by the architect of 9/11, on video, immediately after he pronounced himself an American Jew. No one watching it was reminded of how valuable a free press is; nor did it capture anyone’s imagination, other than that of the jihadists who downloaded it to congratulate themselves, re-energize their efforts, and recruit others. It came five months after jihadists flew two aircraft into the World Trade Center, murdering 3,000 people, and two months before a jihadist murdered another 30 people (the demographic equivalent of 1,350 people in a country the size of Israel) during a Passover seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya. These were not moments reminding us of the importance of tall buildings and nice hotels.

Ironically, Barack Obama will not be prosecuting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for beheading Daniel Pearl (perhaps because reminding us of the value of a free press is not technically a crime), but rather for the act of war committed on September 11, 2001. Obama wants to try him not as an enemy combatant but as a common criminal, in a civilian trial, giving him a public platform to create another video to be watched by jihadists around the world. It will undoubtedly be one of those moments that capture the imagination of the world.

Barack Obama’s description of the barbaric butchering of Daniel Pearl — “one of those moments that captured the world’s imagination because it reminded us of how valuable a free press is” — represents, as Mark Steyn writes, a remarkably fatuous statement.

Pearl was beheaded by the architect of 9/11, on video, immediately after he pronounced himself an American Jew. No one watching it was reminded of how valuable a free press is; nor did it capture anyone’s imagination, other than that of the jihadists who downloaded it to congratulate themselves, re-energize their efforts, and recruit others. It came five months after jihadists flew two aircraft into the World Trade Center, murdering 3,000 people, and two months before a jihadist murdered another 30 people (the demographic equivalent of 1,350 people in a country the size of Israel) during a Passover seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya. These were not moments reminding us of the importance of tall buildings and nice hotels.

Ironically, Barack Obama will not be prosecuting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for beheading Daniel Pearl (perhaps because reminding us of the value of a free press is not technically a crime), but rather for the act of war committed on September 11, 2001. Obama wants to try him not as an enemy combatant but as a common criminal, in a civilian trial, giving him a public platform to create another video to be watched by jihadists around the world. It will undoubtedly be one of those moments that capture the imagination of the world.

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How Do You Impose Peace?

This report explains the latest Palestinian celebration of terrorism:

The future Palestinian Authority presidential compound will be built along a street named for an infamous Hamas arch-terrorist, Channel 10 reported on Wednesday.

The Ramallah street was named for notorious Hamas suicide bomb mastermind Yihyeh Ayyash, also known as the “engineer,” who was the architect of multiple attacks, including a 1994 bombing of a Tel Aviv bus, which killed 20 people, and injured dozens.

Ayyash was killed in 1996 in what was most likely an Israeli assassination, after his cell phone exploded in his Beit Lahia home, in the Gaza Strip.

Last time, the Palestinians pulled this — naming a square in Ramallah for terrorist Dalal al-Mughrabi, who killed 38 Israelis — Hillary Clinton tried to pass it off as the doing of Hamas, despite ample evidence that the PA joined in the festivities. It’s going to be even harder for the Obami to make excuses for the PA this time:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement in response to the naming, saying it was an “outrageous glorification of terrorism by the Palestinian Authority.”

“Right next to a Presidential compound in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority has named a street after a terrorist who murdered hundreds of innocent Israeli men, women and children,” the statement said, adding that “the world must forcefully condemn this official Palestinian incitement for terrorism and against peace.”

So does the Obama team manage to get out a simple declaratory sentence this time — “We condemn this behavior,” for example? But more important, given this is the behavior and mentality of the PA — the supposedly reasonable Palestinian party to negotiations — how do the Obami intend to impose a peace deal? If one party is still caught in the grip of the cult of death, what reason is there to suppose that it is prepared to sign and then live up to an agreement by which they disarm and renounce terrorism?

At the AIPAC conference, Tony Blair laid out the challenge:

Until the year 2000, and with the heroic attempts of President Clinton, we attempted to achieve an agreement first and then shape reality around it. But it was not to be. After that came the Intifada. Thousands died. Then came the withdrawal from Gaza. Israel got out. It took 7000 settlers with it. In Israeli eyes, it received violence and terror in return.

The occupation deepened. Gaza was isolated. Faith in peace collapsed.

Ten years on, that faith has to be restored.

It can’t be done in a summit.

It has to be done patiently, and over time on the ground.

It can’t only be negotiated top-down.

It has also to be built bottom up.

Peace now will not come simply through an agreement negotiated; it must come through a reality created and sustained.

It means building institutions of Palestinian Government: not just well equipped, loyal security forces, but civil police, courts, prisons, prosecutors, the whole infrastructure of the rule of law.

It means treating those who commit acts of terror not only as enemies of Israel but enemies of Palestine.

Obviously, we are not remotely at that juncture – a point utterly lost or ignored by the Obami. So they imagine a pristine paper agreement will create peace — a  notion so divorced from experience and so blind to the realities occurring daily that one is tempted to conclude, “They can’t be serious!”  Blair got it when he declared: “The mentality has to move from resistance to governance. There can be no ambiguity, no wavering, no half heart towards terrorism. It is totally and completely without justification and we will never compromise in our opposition to it or those that practice it.” The Obami don’t.

It therefore follows that the Obami’s indifference to that fundamental requirement for peace disqualifies them as competent interlocutors. They are neither “honest” nor “brokering” — they have become henchmen for the Palestinians who await deliverance of the Jewish state — or what remains of it — without need to root out and renounce violence, without cultivation of the Palestinian institutions that can sustain peace. Israel and its supporters should be clear: there is no role for this administration in any peace process — they are, in fact merely, establishing incentives for violence and Palestinian rejectionism.

This report explains the latest Palestinian celebration of terrorism:

The future Palestinian Authority presidential compound will be built along a street named for an infamous Hamas arch-terrorist, Channel 10 reported on Wednesday.

The Ramallah street was named for notorious Hamas suicide bomb mastermind Yihyeh Ayyash, also known as the “engineer,” who was the architect of multiple attacks, including a 1994 bombing of a Tel Aviv bus, which killed 20 people, and injured dozens.

Ayyash was killed in 1996 in what was most likely an Israeli assassination, after his cell phone exploded in his Beit Lahia home, in the Gaza Strip.

Last time, the Palestinians pulled this — naming a square in Ramallah for terrorist Dalal al-Mughrabi, who killed 38 Israelis — Hillary Clinton tried to pass it off as the doing of Hamas, despite ample evidence that the PA joined in the festivities. It’s going to be even harder for the Obami to make excuses for the PA this time:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement in response to the naming, saying it was an “outrageous glorification of terrorism by the Palestinian Authority.”

“Right next to a Presidential compound in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority has named a street after a terrorist who murdered hundreds of innocent Israeli men, women and children,” the statement said, adding that “the world must forcefully condemn this official Palestinian incitement for terrorism and against peace.”

So does the Obama team manage to get out a simple declaratory sentence this time — “We condemn this behavior,” for example? But more important, given this is the behavior and mentality of the PA — the supposedly reasonable Palestinian party to negotiations — how do the Obami intend to impose a peace deal? If one party is still caught in the grip of the cult of death, what reason is there to suppose that it is prepared to sign and then live up to an agreement by which they disarm and renounce terrorism?

At the AIPAC conference, Tony Blair laid out the challenge:

Until the year 2000, and with the heroic attempts of President Clinton, we attempted to achieve an agreement first and then shape reality around it. But it was not to be. After that came the Intifada. Thousands died. Then came the withdrawal from Gaza. Israel got out. It took 7000 settlers with it. In Israeli eyes, it received violence and terror in return.

The occupation deepened. Gaza was isolated. Faith in peace collapsed.

Ten years on, that faith has to be restored.

It can’t be done in a summit.

It has to be done patiently, and over time on the ground.

It can’t only be negotiated top-down.

It has also to be built bottom up.

Peace now will not come simply through an agreement negotiated; it must come through a reality created and sustained.

It means building institutions of Palestinian Government: not just well equipped, loyal security forces, but civil police, courts, prisons, prosecutors, the whole infrastructure of the rule of law.

It means treating those who commit acts of terror not only as enemies of Israel but enemies of Palestine.

Obviously, we are not remotely at that juncture – a point utterly lost or ignored by the Obami. So they imagine a pristine paper agreement will create peace — a  notion so divorced from experience and so blind to the realities occurring daily that one is tempted to conclude, “They can’t be serious!”  Blair got it when he declared: “The mentality has to move from resistance to governance. There can be no ambiguity, no wavering, no half heart towards terrorism. It is totally and completely without justification and we will never compromise in our opposition to it or those that practice it.” The Obami don’t.

It therefore follows that the Obami’s indifference to that fundamental requirement for peace disqualifies them as competent interlocutors. They are neither “honest” nor “brokering” — they have become henchmen for the Palestinians who await deliverance of the Jewish state — or what remains of it — without need to root out and renounce violence, without cultivation of the Palestinian institutions that can sustain peace. Israel and its supporters should be clear: there is no role for this administration in any peace process — they are, in fact merely, establishing incentives for violence and Palestinian rejectionism.

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Imposed Arrogance

David Ignatius writes: “Despite recent turbulence in U.S. relations with Israel, President Obama is ‘seriously considering’ proposing an American peace plan to resolve the Palestinian conflict, according to two top administration officials.” As frightful as this sounds, it smacks of just the sort of arrogance we have come to expect from this administration. The gang that deplored “cowboy diplomacy” and said we should be more attuned to our allies’ concerns has devoted itself to bullying and blustering — but, of course, not when it comes to despotic regimes. There, it’s all smiles and bows.

Who might be the architect of such a scheme — one that presupposes there is a Palestinian negotiator with the authority to make a deal and enforce the peace? Why, Ignatius tells us, “the real strategist in chief is Obama himself. If he decides to launch a peace plan, it would mark a return to the ambitious themes the president sounded in his June 2009 speech in Cairo.” That would be the speech in which he skipped over 60 years of Palestinian rejectionism, analogized Palestinians to enslaved African Americans, and posited that Israel’s legitimacy rested on Holocaust guilt.

Ignatius concludes:

A political battle royal is likely to begin soon, with Israeli officials and their supporters in the United States protesting what they fear would be an American attempt to impose a settlement and arguing to focus instead on Iran. The White House rejoinder is expressed this way by one of the senior officials: “It’s not either Iran or the Middle East peace process. You have to do both.”

This is poppycock, of course. The Obami can’t come up with an effective Iran approach. And now they want to add to their overwhelmed and underperforming foreign-policy apparatus by imposing a Middle East plan? It is apparent that the latter is an excuse and diversion from doing anything about the former. It is also very dangerous.

Writing last fall, Barry Rubin (no relation) explained the fallacy of a get-tough-with-Bibi approach, a less extreme variation on an imposed settlement presumably under contemplation:

It never enters the minds of these people that a “peace” agreement that was broken or had dangerous provisions (giving up strategic territory; east Jerusalem; empowering a radical regime in a next-door Palestinian state; opening the door to foreign Arab or Iranian armies entering; bringing in millions of Palestinian Arabs to Israel) could leave Israel far worse off.

Or perhaps it does, and the Obami simply don’t care. They’ve shown very little sympatico for Israel of late, and perhaps the increased peril that an imposed settlement (With what Palestinian entity, by the way? Is Hamas in on this?) would inflict on the Jewish state is not of great concern to the president, who has made Muslim outreach, not the U.S.-Israel alliance, the cornerstone of his Middle East policy. And why would Obama be able to divine a magical solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? As Rubin reminded us last year (and his points are even more on point with the passage of time):

As for those giving advice, here’s what we’ve seen in the last six months from those who want to “save” others by imposing their own vision:

–The idea that stopping construction on Jewish settlements would bring some Arab concession has already proven wrong.

–The idea that engagement with Iran would work has already proven wrong.

–The idea that the United States could successfully engage Syria in a set of mutual compromises has already proven wrong.

–The idea that an Obama charm offensive would bring higher levels of Arab support has already proven wrong. And that’s just in six months!

Let’s have a little humility and readiness to listen, please, from those who would play with the lives of other people.

But humility is not a trait in the Obama repetoire. Saner heads who forsee the unworkability of an imposed peace (Is the U.S. going to disarm the Palestinians and enforce the peace?) may prevail in the administration, but it would behoove Israel’s supporters to register their loud and unequivocal objection — and enlist Congress if need be — to make clear that an imposed “peace deal” against Israel’s will is a non-starter. Moreover, talk of such a deal (perhaps just another form of public bullying of Israel) only encourages the same Palestinian rejectionism and violence that has deprived the Palestinians of their own state for over six decades.

David Ignatius writes: “Despite recent turbulence in U.S. relations with Israel, President Obama is ‘seriously considering’ proposing an American peace plan to resolve the Palestinian conflict, according to two top administration officials.” As frightful as this sounds, it smacks of just the sort of arrogance we have come to expect from this administration. The gang that deplored “cowboy diplomacy” and said we should be more attuned to our allies’ concerns has devoted itself to bullying and blustering — but, of course, not when it comes to despotic regimes. There, it’s all smiles and bows.

Who might be the architect of such a scheme — one that presupposes there is a Palestinian negotiator with the authority to make a deal and enforce the peace? Why, Ignatius tells us, “the real strategist in chief is Obama himself. If he decides to launch a peace plan, it would mark a return to the ambitious themes the president sounded in his June 2009 speech in Cairo.” That would be the speech in which he skipped over 60 years of Palestinian rejectionism, analogized Palestinians to enslaved African Americans, and posited that Israel’s legitimacy rested on Holocaust guilt.

Ignatius concludes:

A political battle royal is likely to begin soon, with Israeli officials and their supporters in the United States protesting what they fear would be an American attempt to impose a settlement and arguing to focus instead on Iran. The White House rejoinder is expressed this way by one of the senior officials: “It’s not either Iran or the Middle East peace process. You have to do both.”

This is poppycock, of course. The Obami can’t come up with an effective Iran approach. And now they want to add to their overwhelmed and underperforming foreign-policy apparatus by imposing a Middle East plan? It is apparent that the latter is an excuse and diversion from doing anything about the former. It is also very dangerous.

Writing last fall, Barry Rubin (no relation) explained the fallacy of a get-tough-with-Bibi approach, a less extreme variation on an imposed settlement presumably under contemplation:

It never enters the minds of these people that a “peace” agreement that was broken or had dangerous provisions (giving up strategic territory; east Jerusalem; empowering a radical regime in a next-door Palestinian state; opening the door to foreign Arab or Iranian armies entering; bringing in millions of Palestinian Arabs to Israel) could leave Israel far worse off.

Or perhaps it does, and the Obami simply don’t care. They’ve shown very little sympatico for Israel of late, and perhaps the increased peril that an imposed settlement (With what Palestinian entity, by the way? Is Hamas in on this?) would inflict on the Jewish state is not of great concern to the president, who has made Muslim outreach, not the U.S.-Israel alliance, the cornerstone of his Middle East policy. And why would Obama be able to divine a magical solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? As Rubin reminded us last year (and his points are even more on point with the passage of time):

As for those giving advice, here’s what we’ve seen in the last six months from those who want to “save” others by imposing their own vision:

–The idea that stopping construction on Jewish settlements would bring some Arab concession has already proven wrong.

–The idea that engagement with Iran would work has already proven wrong.

–The idea that the United States could successfully engage Syria in a set of mutual compromises has already proven wrong.

–The idea that an Obama charm offensive would bring higher levels of Arab support has already proven wrong. And that’s just in six months!

Let’s have a little humility and readiness to listen, please, from those who would play with the lives of other people.

But humility is not a trait in the Obama repetoire. Saner heads who forsee the unworkability of an imposed peace (Is the U.S. going to disarm the Palestinians and enforce the peace?) may prevail in the administration, but it would behoove Israel’s supporters to register their loud and unequivocal objection — and enlist Congress if need be — to make clear that an imposed “peace deal” against Israel’s will is a non-starter. Moreover, talk of such a deal (perhaps just another form of public bullying of Israel) only encourages the same Palestinian rejectionism and violence that has deprived the Palestinians of their own state for over six decades.

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Obama’s Own Begin to Turn on Him

When a presidency and an agenda are collapsing at the rate that President Obama’s are, it isn’t long before his party begins to distance itself from him. We’ve seen plenty of signs of this lately. Politico.com has a story today titled “Family feud: Nancy Pelosi at odds with President Obama.” According to the story:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s increasingly public disagreements with President Barack Obama are a reflection of something deeper: the seething resentment some Democrats feel over what they see as cavalier treatment from a wounded White House.

Then there are the comments by Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, who said, “He [Obama] says ‘I’m for clean coal,’ and then he says it in his speeches, but he doesn’t say it in here. And he doesn’t say it in the minds of my own people. And he’s beginning to not be believable to me.”

Much of what President Obama has said hasn’t been believable to many of us for quite some time now. But when influential figures in a president’s own party begin to make statements such as these — especially when you’re only 13 months into a presidency — it’s clear that things are beginning to become a bit unglued. Party discipline is tossed aside; the intra-party sniping makes the situation even worse. And the vicious cycle Democrats are caught in merely accelerates.

It has dawned on many Democrats that in hitching their fortunes to Obama and Obamaism, they have put themselves at enormous political risk. They are all complicit in this; Obama himself outsourced much of his agenda to Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The entire Democratic establishment is the architect of what is shaping up as an epic political failure. But Mr. Obama is head of the Democratic party, and so the responsibility lies with him more than with anyone else. He is primus inter pares. And he is now, with every passing week, the target of their unhappiness. More is sure to follow.

This isn’t going to end well for them.

When a presidency and an agenda are collapsing at the rate that President Obama’s are, it isn’t long before his party begins to distance itself from him. We’ve seen plenty of signs of this lately. Politico.com has a story today titled “Family feud: Nancy Pelosi at odds with President Obama.” According to the story:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s increasingly public disagreements with President Barack Obama are a reflection of something deeper: the seething resentment some Democrats feel over what they see as cavalier treatment from a wounded White House.

Then there are the comments by Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, who said, “He [Obama] says ‘I’m for clean coal,’ and then he says it in his speeches, but he doesn’t say it in here. And he doesn’t say it in the minds of my own people. And he’s beginning to not be believable to me.”

Much of what President Obama has said hasn’t been believable to many of us for quite some time now. But when influential figures in a president’s own party begin to make statements such as these — especially when you’re only 13 months into a presidency — it’s clear that things are beginning to become a bit unglued. Party discipline is tossed aside; the intra-party sniping makes the situation even worse. And the vicious cycle Democrats are caught in merely accelerates.

It has dawned on many Democrats that in hitching their fortunes to Obama and Obamaism, they have put themselves at enormous political risk. They are all complicit in this; Obama himself outsourced much of his agenda to Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The entire Democratic establishment is the architect of what is shaping up as an epic political failure. But Mr. Obama is head of the Democratic party, and so the responsibility lies with him more than with anyone else. He is primus inter pares. And he is now, with every passing week, the target of their unhappiness. More is sure to follow.

This isn’t going to end well for them.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Lynn Sweet on Obama’s home state: “Never ending ethics scandals and the near insolvency of the state government burst the bubble of any post Obama euphoria months ago. On Saturday, Chicagoans awoke to these stories: a suburban mayor sentenced for bribery; a Chicago alderman taking a bribery plea deal, and a former alderman learning he may face prison time for a real estate kickback scheme. Illinois Democrats are splintered and frazzled in the wake of the impeachment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who will be tried this summer on federal public corruption charges for, among other items, trying to auction off Obama’s seat.” Probably doesn’t help that the likely Democratic Senate nominee for state treasurer, Alexi Giannoulias, is Tony Rezko’s banker.

Another precarious Blue State Senate seat: “Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) isn’t yet considered highly vulnerable in 2010. But a new poll, coupled with Scott Brown’s upset win in Massachusetts, has Republicans rethinking their chances against the three-term senator. A poll released Thursday from Moore Insight, an Oregon-based GOP polling firm, showed Dino Rossi, a two-time Republican candidate for governor, leading Murray 45 percent to 43 percent, with 9 percent undecided.”

Not even Chuck Schumer is holding up under the torrent of anti-incumbent anger: “Senator Chuck Schumer’s once rock solid approval rating has taken a slide. For the first time in nearly nine years, Schumer’s approval rating has fallen below 50%. According to the latest Marist Poll in New York, 47% of registered voters statewide report Schumer is doing either an excellent or good job in office. 31% rate the job he is doing as fair, and 17% view him as performing poorly. This is Schumer’s lowest job approval rating since April 2001 when 49% of voters approved of the job he was doing.”

The moment of reckoning: “President Barack Obama’s new $3.83 trillion budget is a chickens-come-home-to-roost moment for Democrats who skipped past the deficit to tackle health care last year and now risk paying a heavy price in November. The great White House political gamble was to act quickly — before the deficits hit home — and institute major changes which proponents say will serve the long-term fiscal health of the country. Instead, a year of wrangling and refusal to consider more incremental steps have brought Obama and Congress to this juncture, where waves of red ink threaten to swamp their boat and drown reform altogether.”

How vulnerable is Obama on the mega-deficit he is proposing? Glenn Reynolds: “One telling indicator is a growing effort by the remaining Obama partisans to paint Bush as an equivalent big spender, even though the Bush deficits were much smaller than Obama’s, and declining throughout most of his second term. Not that Bush was any prize, but Obama’s deficits are of an entirely different magnitude.” This raises another issue — who exactly is still an Obama partisan? Not even Chris Matthews and Jon Stewart are on board.

Shocking as it may be, the Obami are making stuff up. On the number of terrorists they claim to have convicted in the criminal justice system, Andy McCarthy explains: “The DOJ ‘fact sheet’ goes on to tell us there are 300 ‘terrorists’ in custody. But look at what they have to do to get there: (a) gone is the ‘since 9/11′ limitation — the 300 figure represents all terrorists ever convicted who are still in jail; and (b) they have to add in domestic terrorists to goose up the numbers — even though no one is contending that domestic terrorists should be treated as enemy combatants. We are at war with al-Qaeda, not PETA.” Even the lesser figure of 195 is highly suspect. McCarthy has a good idea: have the Justice Department release all the backup data. It would be the transparent thing to do.

Even those who like the idea of civilian trials for terrorists are furious with the Obami. Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations: “There is no question that the Obama administration blundered by failing to ensure that New York’s leaders were fully committed to a civilian trial for KSM in New York City. The result has been a dismal outcome — an embarrassing climb down that leaves the United States looking too scared to mete out justice to the architect of the worst mass murder in U.S. history.”

Unlike Bob McDonnell in Virginia, Rep. Joe Sestak says he’d be “open to the idea” of hosting the KSM trial in his state.

Lynn Sweet on Obama’s home state: “Never ending ethics scandals and the near insolvency of the state government burst the bubble of any post Obama euphoria months ago. On Saturday, Chicagoans awoke to these stories: a suburban mayor sentenced for bribery; a Chicago alderman taking a bribery plea deal, and a former alderman learning he may face prison time for a real estate kickback scheme. Illinois Democrats are splintered and frazzled in the wake of the impeachment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who will be tried this summer on federal public corruption charges for, among other items, trying to auction off Obama’s seat.” Probably doesn’t help that the likely Democratic Senate nominee for state treasurer, Alexi Giannoulias, is Tony Rezko’s banker.

Another precarious Blue State Senate seat: “Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) isn’t yet considered highly vulnerable in 2010. But a new poll, coupled with Scott Brown’s upset win in Massachusetts, has Republicans rethinking their chances against the three-term senator. A poll released Thursday from Moore Insight, an Oregon-based GOP polling firm, showed Dino Rossi, a two-time Republican candidate for governor, leading Murray 45 percent to 43 percent, with 9 percent undecided.”

Not even Chuck Schumer is holding up under the torrent of anti-incumbent anger: “Senator Chuck Schumer’s once rock solid approval rating has taken a slide. For the first time in nearly nine years, Schumer’s approval rating has fallen below 50%. According to the latest Marist Poll in New York, 47% of registered voters statewide report Schumer is doing either an excellent or good job in office. 31% rate the job he is doing as fair, and 17% view him as performing poorly. This is Schumer’s lowest job approval rating since April 2001 when 49% of voters approved of the job he was doing.”

The moment of reckoning: “President Barack Obama’s new $3.83 trillion budget is a chickens-come-home-to-roost moment for Democrats who skipped past the deficit to tackle health care last year and now risk paying a heavy price in November. The great White House political gamble was to act quickly — before the deficits hit home — and institute major changes which proponents say will serve the long-term fiscal health of the country. Instead, a year of wrangling and refusal to consider more incremental steps have brought Obama and Congress to this juncture, where waves of red ink threaten to swamp their boat and drown reform altogether.”

How vulnerable is Obama on the mega-deficit he is proposing? Glenn Reynolds: “One telling indicator is a growing effort by the remaining Obama partisans to paint Bush as an equivalent big spender, even though the Bush deficits were much smaller than Obama’s, and declining throughout most of his second term. Not that Bush was any prize, but Obama’s deficits are of an entirely different magnitude.” This raises another issue — who exactly is still an Obama partisan? Not even Chris Matthews and Jon Stewart are on board.

Shocking as it may be, the Obami are making stuff up. On the number of terrorists they claim to have convicted in the criminal justice system, Andy McCarthy explains: “The DOJ ‘fact sheet’ goes on to tell us there are 300 ‘terrorists’ in custody. But look at what they have to do to get there: (a) gone is the ‘since 9/11′ limitation — the 300 figure represents all terrorists ever convicted who are still in jail; and (b) they have to add in domestic terrorists to goose up the numbers — even though no one is contending that domestic terrorists should be treated as enemy combatants. We are at war with al-Qaeda, not PETA.” Even the lesser figure of 195 is highly suspect. McCarthy has a good idea: have the Justice Department release all the backup data. It would be the transparent thing to do.

Even those who like the idea of civilian trials for terrorists are furious with the Obami. Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations: “There is no question that the Obama administration blundered by failing to ensure that New York’s leaders were fully committed to a civilian trial for KSM in New York City. The result has been a dismal outcome — an embarrassing climb down that leaves the United States looking too scared to mete out justice to the architect of the worst mass murder in U.S. history.”

Unlike Bob McDonnell in Virginia, Rep. Joe Sestak says he’d be “open to the idea” of hosting the KSM trial in his state.

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The Dubai Effect

Max Boot is quite right that the Middle East needs Dubai, and not only because it embraces modernity and flouts the region’s taboos. It’s also an example of good government, at least by the Arab world’s standards, and good economics if you look past its excesses.

The United Arab Emirates’ most extravagant city-state has a more or less transparent market economy and a degree of personal freedom rarely found elsewhere in the Middle East outside Israel and Lebanon. The government doesn’t micromanage the personal lives of its citizens as in Iran and Saudi Arabia, nor does it smother the economy with heavy state socialism as in Egypt and Syria. Its bureaucracy is efficient — investors don’t spend years acquiring permits and filling out paperwork before they can open a shopping center, a hotel, or a Starbucks. The Islamic religion is respected as it is everywhere else in the Middle East, but clerics don’t make the rules. Read More

Max Boot is quite right that the Middle East needs Dubai, and not only because it embraces modernity and flouts the region’s taboos. It’s also an example of good government, at least by the Arab world’s standards, and good economics if you look past its excesses.

The United Arab Emirates’ most extravagant city-state has a more or less transparent market economy and a degree of personal freedom rarely found elsewhere in the Middle East outside Israel and Lebanon. The government doesn’t micromanage the personal lives of its citizens as in Iran and Saudi Arabia, nor does it smother the economy with heavy state socialism as in Egypt and Syria. Its bureaucracy is efficient — investors don’t spend years acquiring permits and filling out paperwork before they can open a shopping center, a hotel, or a Starbucks. The Islamic religion is respected as it is everywhere else in the Middle East, but clerics don’t make the rules.

Lebanon and Iraq have both been hailed as possible models for the rest of the region, but they aren’t really. Maybe they will be someday, but they aren’t today. Freewheeling Lebanon is more or less democratic, but it’s unstable. It blows up every year. The Beirut Spring in 2005 ousted the Syrian military dictatorship, but shaking off Iran and its private Hezbollah militia has proved nearly impossible. Iraq is likewise still too violent and dysfunctional to be an inspiring model right now.

Many of the skyscrapering steel and glass cities of the Persian Gulf feel like soulless shopping malls. It wouldn’t occur to anyone to suggest that one of these places is “the Paris of the Middle East,” as Beirut has often been called. Dubai’s outrageous attractions and socially liberal atmosphere, however, makes it something like a Las Vegas of the Middle East as a traveler’s destination. And it really is something like a Hong Kong or Singapore as a place to do business.

It features prominently in Vali Nasr’s compelling new book Forces of Fortune, where he argues that the Middle East may finally liberalize politically after it has first been transformed economically by a middle-class commercial revolution. Most in the West haven’t noticed, but that revolution has already begun. And what he calls “the Dubai effect” is a key part of it.

“People in the region who visit Dubai,” he writes, “return home wondering why their governments can’t issue passports in a day or provide clean mosques and schools, better airports, airlines and roads, and above all better government.”

He’s right. Most Beirutis I know look down on Dubai as artificial and gimmicky, but just about everyone else in the region who isn’t a radical Islamist thinks it’s amazing.

It’s different geopolitically, too. The government is more sincerely pro-American than the nominally pro-American governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Michael Yon put it this way when he visited in 2006 on his way to Iraq: “Our friends in the UAE want the Coalition efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan to succeed, and they are vocal about it. While much of the west, including many of our oldest allies, postures on about how the war on terror is a horrible mistake, the sentiment in the UAE is that it would be a horrible mistake not to face the facts about our common enemy, an enemy that might be just as happy to destroy the UAE as America.”

Its leadership has also stepped a long way back from the Arab-Israeli conflict. Neither Dubai nor any of the other UAE emirates have gone so far as to sign a peace treaty with Israel, but they also aren’t participating in the conflict or making it worse. Israeli citizens can and do visit, which is unthinkable almost everywhere else in the Arab world. A rotating tower designed by an Israeli architect is slated to be completed next year. There isn’t a chance that even Egypt or Jordan, both of which have signed peace treaties, would let an Israeli design one of their architectural set pieces.

Dubai has problems, of course, aside from the inevitable bursting of its financial bubble. Its government is a fairly benign dictatorship, especially compared with the likes of Syria and Iran, but it’s a dictatorship all the same. Many of its imported laborers live and work in ghastly conditions, and some are lured there under false pretenses.

It’s flawed, it’s weird, and its overall model of development can’t be ported everywhere else. Only so many cities can build ski resorts in the desert and underwater hotel rooms that go for $5,000 a night. But Dubai’s model needn’t be copied and pasted as-is, and Nasr’s “Dubai effect” is a powerful thing. The city proves to everyone who goes there that when an Arab Muslim country opens up its economy, keeps the clerics out of the saddle, and eschews radical causes, it can build places that are impressive not just by local standards but by international standards as well. If even half its foreign and domestic policies are adopted by its neighbors, the region will be a much nicer place for the people who live there, and less of a headache for everyone else.

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Burke vs. Beck

Glenn Beck is at it again. This time he’s making the claim that America’s two political parties are essentially indistinguishable from one another, that they want to do the same things and head in the same direction. The only difference, he insists, is the rate of the journey. He then suggests, without quite saying so, that it’s time to end the two-party system in America. And for effect, Beck had his staff build two coffins, representing both the Democratic and the Republican parties. (In the world according to Beck, America is about to step into the coffin, thanks to the failures of both parties.)

Beck’s argument strikes me as superficial; the differences between the two parties on issues — including health care, tort reform, taxes, the culture of life, America’s role in the world, and so much else – are obvious and don’t need to be elaborated on. For Beck to put forth the argument he does, in the manner he does, is evidence, I think, of a kind of animus toward political parties (Beck would probably insist that he is not against parties per se but simply against the choices before him now).

Contrast Beck’s attitude toward political parties with those of a founder of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke. In his outstanding biography on Burke, Carl B. Cone writes:

No man of his generation understood better than Burke how natural and how necessary it was for men of similar opinions to work together to give effect to their beliefs. …

Burke therefore lived at a time when a man who possessed a genius for expressing his ideas and who firmly believed in the rightness and necessity of parties might promote their growth. This Burke did not only by his writings but by his activities in and out of parliament as a party man. As a practical politician even more than as the political philosopher, Burke helped devise political practices and conventions without which the modern British constitution could not have come into existence. Burke was an architect of the constitution because he was a party politician. …

As he told the House of Commons on February 15, 1781, “Government is the exercise of all the great qualities of the human mind.” Oliver Goldsmith in 1774 spoke for all who knew Burke when he described him as devoting his best talents to the cause of party. But Burke disavowed Goldsmith’s assertion that he gave up to party what was meant for mankind. In Burke’s mind there was no contradiction. He did not forsake mankind in identifying himself with a particular political party. Given the nature of man and of politics, he had placed himself in a situation the better to serve mankind.

Burke understood that parties were not always right. And I happen to approach these matters as someone who considers himself to be a philosophical conservative before he is a Republican. Yet genuine conservatives understand the important role parties play in organizing people of similar beliefs to do the practical, and often the slow and imperfect, work of advancing an agenda that can eventually be translated into governing. We cannot expect perfection or utopia; what we can hope for is to make progress, a step (and sometimes two) at a time. It’s also worth pointing out that many of our greatest figures in American political history were men who proudly associated themselves with political parties — and the greatest figure in American political history, Abraham Lincoln, helped found one (the Republican party).

Glenn Beck is at it again. This time he’s making the claim that America’s two political parties are essentially indistinguishable from one another, that they want to do the same things and head in the same direction. The only difference, he insists, is the rate of the journey. He then suggests, without quite saying so, that it’s time to end the two-party system in America. And for effect, Beck had his staff build two coffins, representing both the Democratic and the Republican parties. (In the world according to Beck, America is about to step into the coffin, thanks to the failures of both parties.)

Beck’s argument strikes me as superficial; the differences between the two parties on issues — including health care, tort reform, taxes, the culture of life, America’s role in the world, and so much else – are obvious and don’t need to be elaborated on. For Beck to put forth the argument he does, in the manner he does, is evidence, I think, of a kind of animus toward political parties (Beck would probably insist that he is not against parties per se but simply against the choices before him now).

Contrast Beck’s attitude toward political parties with those of a founder of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke. In his outstanding biography on Burke, Carl B. Cone writes:

No man of his generation understood better than Burke how natural and how necessary it was for men of similar opinions to work together to give effect to their beliefs. …

Burke therefore lived at a time when a man who possessed a genius for expressing his ideas and who firmly believed in the rightness and necessity of parties might promote their growth. This Burke did not only by his writings but by his activities in and out of parliament as a party man. As a practical politician even more than as the political philosopher, Burke helped devise political practices and conventions without which the modern British constitution could not have come into existence. Burke was an architect of the constitution because he was a party politician. …

As he told the House of Commons on February 15, 1781, “Government is the exercise of all the great qualities of the human mind.” Oliver Goldsmith in 1774 spoke for all who knew Burke when he described him as devoting his best talents to the cause of party. But Burke disavowed Goldsmith’s assertion that he gave up to party what was meant for mankind. In Burke’s mind there was no contradiction. He did not forsake mankind in identifying himself with a particular political party. Given the nature of man and of politics, he had placed himself in a situation the better to serve mankind.

Burke understood that parties were not always right. And I happen to approach these matters as someone who considers himself to be a philosophical conservative before he is a Republican. Yet genuine conservatives understand the important role parties play in organizing people of similar beliefs to do the practical, and often the slow and imperfect, work of advancing an agenda that can eventually be translated into governing. We cannot expect perfection or utopia; what we can hope for is to make progress, a step (and sometimes two) at a time. It’s also worth pointing out that many of our greatest figures in American political history were men who proudly associated themselves with political parties — and the greatest figure in American political history, Abraham Lincoln, helped found one (the Republican party).

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Embraced

There’s a very “balanced” piece about the planned Flight 93 memorial in today’s New York Times. But this surreal tale has been kicking around the blogosphere for a few years now.

In the name of Islam, a group of terrorists turned an airplane full of unsuspecting civilians into a missile packed with corpses. In order to honor the men, women, and children whose last experience was a death plunge over Pennsylvania, a memorial is designed. This memorial, named “Crescent of Embrace,” is a massive landscape sculpture of a star and crescent, the symbol of Islam.

The memorial’s designer, Paul Murdoch, said “The framing of that space is like a large-scale embrace, on a scale commensurate of the heroic acts of the people who died there.” There’s more than enough vagueness in that drivel to leave you wondering just whose acts Murdoch deems heroic.

The original design has to be seen to be believed. It’s as unmistakably an Islamic crescent as Mount Rushmore is a row of U.S. presidents. This is from the Times:

The critics complain that the shape of the memorial – designed by Paul Murdoch, an architect based in Los Angeles – is an Islamic crescent, that a wind-chime tower mirrors an Islamic minaret and that the memorial would point east toward the Islamic holy city of Mecca.

Here’s an experiment: Take out the words “The critics complain that” and take out the “that” after “crescent.” Look at the picture of the original design for the memorial side-by-side with a picture of an Islamic crescent. Can there be any doubt that “the critics” are merely observers? And sloppy observers to boot. They missed something: the little satellite cluster of trees standing in place of the crescent’s star.

Is there a term to describe this phenomenon? Irony doesn’t cut it, and self-loathing misses the irony. Forget the nuances. Let’s go with surrender. For that’s what the symbol literally says. The Arabic meaning of Islam is “surrender” (not “peace” or “love” or any other rubber-bracelet sentiment). Constructing the “Crescent of Embrace” on a Pennsylvania field is simply writing “we surrender” in the very language of our enemy.

People have complained, and the Times reports that the design has been changed. It’s now the “Circle of Embrace.” The crescent’s gap has been (mostly) filled in, giving the Islamic symbolism a “Where’s Waldo?” spin. It’s still in there, you just have to look a little harder. Of course, the design and the designer should have been scrapped altogether. But amid all this embracing, it would be rude to leave him out.

If and when there’s another such attack, one wonders what they might throw up to commemorate victims. Maybe an all-in-one flight school, passport office, and mosque?

There’s a very “balanced” piece about the planned Flight 93 memorial in today’s New York Times. But this surreal tale has been kicking around the blogosphere for a few years now.

In the name of Islam, a group of terrorists turned an airplane full of unsuspecting civilians into a missile packed with corpses. In order to honor the men, women, and children whose last experience was a death plunge over Pennsylvania, a memorial is designed. This memorial, named “Crescent of Embrace,” is a massive landscape sculpture of a star and crescent, the symbol of Islam.

The memorial’s designer, Paul Murdoch, said “The framing of that space is like a large-scale embrace, on a scale commensurate of the heroic acts of the people who died there.” There’s more than enough vagueness in that drivel to leave you wondering just whose acts Murdoch deems heroic.

The original design has to be seen to be believed. It’s as unmistakably an Islamic crescent as Mount Rushmore is a row of U.S. presidents. This is from the Times:

The critics complain that the shape of the memorial – designed by Paul Murdoch, an architect based in Los Angeles – is an Islamic crescent, that a wind-chime tower mirrors an Islamic minaret and that the memorial would point east toward the Islamic holy city of Mecca.

Here’s an experiment: Take out the words “The critics complain that” and take out the “that” after “crescent.” Look at the picture of the original design for the memorial side-by-side with a picture of an Islamic crescent. Can there be any doubt that “the critics” are merely observers? And sloppy observers to boot. They missed something: the little satellite cluster of trees standing in place of the crescent’s star.

Is there a term to describe this phenomenon? Irony doesn’t cut it, and self-loathing misses the irony. Forget the nuances. Let’s go with surrender. For that’s what the symbol literally says. The Arabic meaning of Islam is “surrender” (not “peace” or “love” or any other rubber-bracelet sentiment). Constructing the “Crescent of Embrace” on a Pennsylvania field is simply writing “we surrender” in the very language of our enemy.

People have complained, and the Times reports that the design has been changed. It’s now the “Circle of Embrace.” The crescent’s gap has been (mostly) filled in, giving the Islamic symbolism a “Where’s Waldo?” spin. It’s still in there, you just have to look a little harder. Of course, the design and the designer should have been scrapped altogether. But amid all this embracing, it would be rude to leave him out.

If and when there’s another such attack, one wonders what they might throw up to commemorate victims. Maybe an all-in-one flight school, passport office, and mosque?

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Architectural Kudzu

It was only a matter of time before someone picked up the cudgels on behalf of the “starchitects”—that new but already tired term for our celebrity architects—but it is surprising that it would be the New York Times’s architecture critic. Last Sunday, Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote with great urgency in praise of starchitects, touting them not only for the audacity of their imagination but for their ability to work with gargantuan real estate developers. Why the Times would cheer the rise of the international starchitect, which is an aspect of globalization, is not entirely obvious. It may be a sufficient explanation that the phenomenon has been criticized by certain critics on the right, such as John Silber and me.

For Ouroussoff, the starchitect is not a shallow and ambitious showman but a seasoned master—someone who is likely to have paid his dues, often in academia, toiling for decades in obscurity to refine and distill his visionary ideas:

Today these architects, many of them in their 60s and 70s, are finally getting to test those visions in everyday life, often on a grand scale. What followed has been one of the most exhilarating periods in recent architectural history. For every superficial expression of a culture obsessed with novelty, you can point to a work of blazing originality.

Ouroussoff dismisses the notion that the starchitect is a new phenomenon. After all, was not Bernini “a tireless self-promoter,” and should not our own “greatest architectural talents also be celebrated for their accomplishments?”

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It was only a matter of time before someone picked up the cudgels on behalf of the “starchitects”—that new but already tired term for our celebrity architects—but it is surprising that it would be the New York Times’s architecture critic. Last Sunday, Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote with great urgency in praise of starchitects, touting them not only for the audacity of their imagination but for their ability to work with gargantuan real estate developers. Why the Times would cheer the rise of the international starchitect, which is an aspect of globalization, is not entirely obvious. It may be a sufficient explanation that the phenomenon has been criticized by certain critics on the right, such as John Silber and me.

For Ouroussoff, the starchitect is not a shallow and ambitious showman but a seasoned master—someone who is likely to have paid his dues, often in academia, toiling for decades in obscurity to refine and distill his visionary ideas:

Today these architects, many of them in their 60s and 70s, are finally getting to test those visions in everyday life, often on a grand scale. What followed has been one of the most exhilarating periods in recent architectural history. For every superficial expression of a culture obsessed with novelty, you can point to a work of blazing originality.

Ouroussoff dismisses the notion that the starchitect is a new phenomenon. After all, was not Bernini “a tireless self-promoter,” and should not our own “greatest architectural talents also be celebrated for their accomplishments?”

The problem of starchitects, however, is not the shallowness of celebrity, as Ouroussoff’s schematic model suggests, but the danger of monoculture. We rightly lament the loss of ecological diversity in nature, as local ecosystems, overwhelmed by invasive species from outside, lose their fragile equilibrium. One thinks of Japanese kudzu, inundating the American southeast and driving out native species, or the way that American cactus has come to dominate the Mediterranean basin. But one can lose cultural diversity just as one loses ecological diversity, and already we see the warning signs of the emergence of an international architectural monoculture.

The city I know best, Philadelphia, once had a thriving and unusually vibrant local culture, and the very fact of its parochial oddness perversely made it intensely interesting to outsiders (giving the world such extraordinary figures as Frank Furness, Robert Venturi, and Louis Kahn). And until quite recently, its tallest and most important buildings were by Philadelphia architects. But now every item on the skyline is the work of one of the handful of prestigious national firms. They are not bad—Robert A. M. Stern’s forthcoming Comcast Tower looks as if it might be amusing—so much as generic; they might stand as easily in Houston or Seattle (and perhaps they do). I suspect this will prove to be the case in other cities as well.

In fact, Ouroussoff’s own roster of our “greatest architectural talents, ” Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, and Jean Nouvel—an American, a Dutch, and a French architect—inadvertently makes the same point. None is rooted in a specific city or even country, with distinctive local traditions and practices, instilling in each the strong sense of physical place that is the power of much of our greatest architecture. This is perhaps the first generation of architects since the late middle ages to practice with no sense of linguistic or national borders.

In the end, one can concede to Ouroussoff that some of our starchitects have produced works of “blazing originality,” even while wishing he were able to take a step backwards and see the phenomenon in its most spacious sense, as the rise of a lush but rather barren monoculture, the architectural equivalent of kudzu.

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Blair Kamin, Cheerleader

CORRECTION: Michael J. Lewis, in this post, substantially understates the extent of John Silber’s errors and the breadth of the praise Millennium Park received in the national press, as well as misstating Blair Kamin’s position on Silber.

It did not take long for the bouncers at the flashy and exclusive nightclub that is contemporary architecture to show John Silber the door. Silber, the former president of Boston University, has just published Architecture of the Absurd: How ‘Genius’ Disfigured a Practical Art, a heartfelt essay about the state of architecture today, and the visual mayhem wreaked by the cult of the celebrity architect. Already the first snide response has come in and—predictably—it does not so much engage the book’s ideas as condemn the author’s temerity in writing about architecture in the first place.

The review of Blair Kamin, the architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune, is remarkable for its quality of vitriol. For him, Architecture of the Absurd is “just another rant in the culture wars,” written by someone who “isn’t an architect” and who has not even inspected the buildings he reviles, merely “bloviating from afar.” Nor does Silber’s criticism offer anything new: “architecture critics have said it all before.” In the end, Architecture of the Absurd is written off as “more rant than reason.”

Such is the magisterial disdain reserved for outsiders from whom one expects no retribution and whom one can attack with impunity. But is it true that outsiders—those who bloviate from afar—have nothing to offer? What about those who bloviate from within—like, for example, Kamin?

Kamin makes much of a factual error by Silber concerning Chicago’s Millennium Park (Frank Gehry was not its planner, as Silber stated, although he designed its Pritzker Pavilion). Having found this slip, Kamin acts as if one need pay no attention to anything else that Silber says. In fact, Silber looked at Chicago’s new park, with its thicket of eye-catching public sculptures, critically, something that Kamin himself never did. Throughout the long history of that controversial project, Kamin was a dependable cheerleader, praising the park as “a real public space, not a gated fantasyland.”

It’s something of an occupational hazard for critics at municipal newspapers to be civic boosters. But Kamin’s embrace of local pieties blinded him to one of the most intriguing (and disturbing) developments in contemporary architecture. One of the reasons that Millennium Park was built so swiftly was that its planners divided it into a series of discrete features, giving donors the right to choose their own architects and sculptors. Instead of providing a comprehensive aesthetic vision, in effect the park presented, as I wrote at the time, “a series of detached vignettes—in effect, naming opportunities.” The results may indeed be extraordinarily popular, but their broader ramifications are ominous, especially once other cities relinquish aesthetic control to their fund-raising operations.

So long as there are architecture critics like Kamin, who cannot separate aesthetic judgment from civic boosterism, we have all the more need for the fresh outside perspective of an audacious and delightfully independent critic like Silber.

 

CORRECTION: Michael J. Lewis, in this post, substantially understates the extent of John Silber’s errors and the breadth of the praise Millennium Park received in the national press, as well as misstating Blair Kamin’s position on Silber.

It did not take long for the bouncers at the flashy and exclusive nightclub that is contemporary architecture to show John Silber the door. Silber, the former president of Boston University, has just published Architecture of the Absurd: How ‘Genius’ Disfigured a Practical Art, a heartfelt essay about the state of architecture today, and the visual mayhem wreaked by the cult of the celebrity architect. Already the first snide response has come in and—predictably—it does not so much engage the book’s ideas as condemn the author’s temerity in writing about architecture in the first place.

The review of Blair Kamin, the architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune, is remarkable for its quality of vitriol. For him, Architecture of the Absurd is “just another rant in the culture wars,” written by someone who “isn’t an architect” and who has not even inspected the buildings he reviles, merely “bloviating from afar.” Nor does Silber’s criticism offer anything new: “architecture critics have said it all before.” In the end, Architecture of the Absurd is written off as “more rant than reason.”

Such is the magisterial disdain reserved for outsiders from whom one expects no retribution and whom one can attack with impunity. But is it true that outsiders—those who bloviate from afar—have nothing to offer? What about those who bloviate from within—like, for example, Kamin?

Kamin makes much of a factual error by Silber concerning Chicago’s Millennium Park (Frank Gehry was not its planner, as Silber stated, although he designed its Pritzker Pavilion). Having found this slip, Kamin acts as if one need pay no attention to anything else that Silber says. In fact, Silber looked at Chicago’s new park, with its thicket of eye-catching public sculptures, critically, something that Kamin himself never did. Throughout the long history of that controversial project, Kamin was a dependable cheerleader, praising the park as “a real public space, not a gated fantasyland.”

It’s something of an occupational hazard for critics at municipal newspapers to be civic boosters. But Kamin’s embrace of local pieties blinded him to one of the most intriguing (and disturbing) developments in contemporary architecture. One of the reasons that Millennium Park was built so swiftly was that its planners divided it into a series of discrete features, giving donors the right to choose their own architects and sculptors. Instead of providing a comprehensive aesthetic vision, in effect the park presented, as I wrote at the time, “a series of detached vignettes—in effect, naming opportunities.” The results may indeed be extraordinarily popular, but their broader ramifications are ominous, especially once other cities relinquish aesthetic control to their fund-raising operations.

So long as there are architecture critics like Kamin, who cannot separate aesthetic judgment from civic boosterism, we have all the more need for the fresh outside perspective of an audacious and delightfully independent critic like Silber.

 

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The New CW

The security progress in Iraq this year is so overwhelming and obvious that even critics of the war cannot gainsay it. And now, belatedly, we are seeing the inevitable political ramifications in this country of that progress. On the front page of Sunday’s New York Times, for example, we read:

As violence declines in Baghdad, the leading Democratic presidential candidates are undertaking a new and challenging balancing act on Iraq: acknowledging that success, trying to shift the focus to the lack of political progress there, and highlighting more domestic concerns like health care and the economy. Advisers to Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama say that the candidates have watched security conditions improve after the troop escalation in Iraq and concluded that it would be folly not to acknowledge those gains…. While the Democratic candidates are continuing to assail the war—a popular position with many of the party’s primary voters—they run the risk that Republicans will use those critiques to attack the party’s nominee in the election as defeatist and lacking faith in the American military…. “The politics of Iraq are going to change dramatically in the general election, assuming Iraq continues to show some hopefulness,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who is a supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s and a proponent of the military buildup. “If Iraq looks at least partly salvageable, it will be important to explain as a candidate how you would salvage it—how you would get our troops out and not lose the war. The Democrats need to be very careful with what they say and not hem themselves in.”

In the Financial Times, Clive Crook writes

Up to now, Democrats have been stinting in their recognition that the situation in Iraq has improved: “Yes, violence is down a bit, but….” That is the wrong posture. They need to celebrate the success, as long as it lasts, as enthusiastically as the Republicans. They also need to stop harrying the administration with symbolic war-funding measures demanding a timetable for rapid withdrawal, as though nothing has changed. This would take little away from their larger valid criticisms of the war and of its conduct until very recently. And it is not as though Iraq is all the Democrats have going for them in this election – they are on to a winner with healthcare. Any suspicion that they are rooting for defeat in Iraq could sink them.

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The security progress in Iraq this year is so overwhelming and obvious that even critics of the war cannot gainsay it. And now, belatedly, we are seeing the inevitable political ramifications in this country of that progress. On the front page of Sunday’s New York Times, for example, we read:

As violence declines in Baghdad, the leading Democratic presidential candidates are undertaking a new and challenging balancing act on Iraq: acknowledging that success, trying to shift the focus to the lack of political progress there, and highlighting more domestic concerns like health care and the economy. Advisers to Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama say that the candidates have watched security conditions improve after the troop escalation in Iraq and concluded that it would be folly not to acknowledge those gains…. While the Democratic candidates are continuing to assail the war—a popular position with many of the party’s primary voters—they run the risk that Republicans will use those critiques to attack the party’s nominee in the election as defeatist and lacking faith in the American military…. “The politics of Iraq are going to change dramatically in the general election, assuming Iraq continues to show some hopefulness,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who is a supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s and a proponent of the military buildup. “If Iraq looks at least partly salvageable, it will be important to explain as a candidate how you would salvage it—how you would get our troops out and not lose the war. The Democrats need to be very careful with what they say and not hem themselves in.”

In the Financial Times, Clive Crook writes

Up to now, Democrats have been stinting in their recognition that the situation in Iraq has improved: “Yes, violence is down a bit, but….” That is the wrong posture. They need to celebrate the success, as long as it lasts, as enthusiastically as the Republicans. They also need to stop harrying the administration with symbolic war-funding measures demanding a timetable for rapid withdrawal, as though nothing has changed. This would take little away from their larger valid criticisms of the war and of its conduct until very recently. And it is not as though Iraq is all the Democrats have going for them in this election – they are on to a winner with healthcare. Any suspicion that they are rooting for defeat in Iraq could sink them.

And in Newsweek Charles Peters, founder of the Washington Monthly, writes

I have been troubled by the reluctance of my fellow liberals to acknowledge the progress made in Iraq in the last six months, a reluctance I am embarrassed to admit that I have shared. Giving Gen. David Petraeus his due does not mean we have to start saying it was a great idea to invade Iraq. It remains the terrible idea it always was. And the occupation that followed has been until recently a continuing disaster, causing the death or maiming of far too many American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. Still, the fact is that the situation in Iraq, though some violence persists, is much improved since the summer. Why do liberals not want to face this fact, let alone ponder its implications?

These accounts reinforce what some observers have been saying for months now: the Democratic Party crossed into treacherous political territory when its leadership declared the “surge” to be lost even before it was in place. This mistake was compounded when scores of Democrats denied, and even seemed to get agitated at, the progress the United States military was making in Iraq; when Democrats went out of their way to attack the credibility of General David Petraeus, the architect of our success there; and when they persisted, and continue to persist, in their attempts to subvert a military strategy that is showing extraordinary gains.

The better things got in Iraq, the more frantic the Democratic leadership seemed to get. While it is entirely legitimate for Democrats to criticize the Bush administration’s mistakes in Iraq, and while it was also understandable for them to be skeptical about the progress in the early part of this year, given the false summits we have experienced, what was unpardonable, according to Christopher Hitchens, was “the dank and sinister impression [liberals and Democrats] give that the worse the tidings, the better they would be pleased.”

That this happened at all ranks among the most disheartening and disturbing political developments we have seen. That there will be an accounting for it is only just—and, perhaps, only now a matter of time.

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She’s Growing In Office, Alas

Condoleezza Rice has been rewarded for her decision to  reinvigorate the “peace process” with a worshipful piece in today’s New York Times that charts her evolution from skeptic to architect in seven years. This is a standard-issue “growing in office” article, according to which a person considered a conservative ideologue has his or her eyes opened to the Truth — and suddenly seems wise and noble and brave where before she seemed unyielding, dogmatic and cowed by dark forces of the Right. The other term of art for these articles is “strange new respect,” according to which the officials in question are winning unexpected plaudits from politicians and thinkers who previously criticized or reviled them. And it is, of course, extremely seductive to receive praise for bravery and wisdom, especially when the official in question knows full well that one of the results of taking the new position is precisely that he or she will receive this kind of Establishment feedback.

Condoleezza Rice has been rewarded for her decision to  reinvigorate the “peace process” with a worshipful piece in today’s New York Times that charts her evolution from skeptic to architect in seven years. This is a standard-issue “growing in office” article, according to which a person considered a conservative ideologue has his or her eyes opened to the Truth — and suddenly seems wise and noble and brave where before she seemed unyielding, dogmatic and cowed by dark forces of the Right. The other term of art for these articles is “strange new respect,” according to which the officials in question are winning unexpected plaudits from politicians and thinkers who previously criticized or reviled them. And it is, of course, extremely seductive to receive praise for bravery and wisdom, especially when the official in question knows full well that one of the results of taking the new position is precisely that he or she will receive this kind of Establishment feedback.

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Processing Peace

There is a cynical, realpolitik justification for the Annapolis “peace conference.” Some will claim that, even if the odds of success are negligible, it is important to go through the motions to provide cover to moderate Arab states so that they can assuage the supposed anger among their populace about the lack of attention given to the Palestinian-Israeli “issue.” It is this anger, some will claim, that is a leading force behind terrorist recruitment. If the U.S. shows that it is applying serious pressure on Israel for “peace,” then, so the argument goes, Arab states will reciprocate by helping the U.S. achieve its foreign policy goals in Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere.

That position has never made much sense to me. Are Islamic radicals attacking Pakistani government troops in the Northwest Frontier Province because they’re upset about the “nakba” (catastrophe), as Arabs label the creation of Israel?

To the extent that Israel plays into Muslim anger, it isn’t because of the lack of a Palestinian-Israeli accord; it’s because of the existence of the state of Israel, period. Even more than 60 years later, a lot of Muslims still have not reconciled themselves to the “Zionist occupation” of any portion of “Palestine.” Some kind of compromise solution, even if it could be reached by the Palestinian Authority’s ineffectual leader, Mahmoud Abbas, would hardly satisfy the radicals, who in turn would be sure to stir up the masses. It would just lead them to label Abbas, as so many already do, another “Zionist-crusader” stooge.

But of course the odds of even Abbas and Olmert—widely seen as moderates in their respective polities—reaching an accord anytime soon are slim to none. And there is a price to be paid for failure, as Bret Stephens makes clear today in his Wall Street Journal column. He notes that Abbas “fears Palestinians would ‘turn to Hamas after they see that Annapolis did not give them anything,’ according to an unnamed Palestinian official quoted in the Jerusalem Post.” Moreover, Stephens writes, “Yossi Beilin, architect of the 1993 Oslo Accords and a political dove, predicts not only that Annapolis will fail, but that its failure will ‘weaken the Palestinian camp, strengthen Hamas, and cause violence.’”

When even the longtime advocates of negotiation fret that the upcoming negotiations will be counterproductive, perhaps the Bush administration should rethink its newfound enthusiasm for peace processing.

There is a cynical, realpolitik justification for the Annapolis “peace conference.” Some will claim that, even if the odds of success are negligible, it is important to go through the motions to provide cover to moderate Arab states so that they can assuage the supposed anger among their populace about the lack of attention given to the Palestinian-Israeli “issue.” It is this anger, some will claim, that is a leading force behind terrorist recruitment. If the U.S. shows that it is applying serious pressure on Israel for “peace,” then, so the argument goes, Arab states will reciprocate by helping the U.S. achieve its foreign policy goals in Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere.

That position has never made much sense to me. Are Islamic radicals attacking Pakistani government troops in the Northwest Frontier Province because they’re upset about the “nakba” (catastrophe), as Arabs label the creation of Israel?

To the extent that Israel plays into Muslim anger, it isn’t because of the lack of a Palestinian-Israeli accord; it’s because of the existence of the state of Israel, period. Even more than 60 years later, a lot of Muslims still have not reconciled themselves to the “Zionist occupation” of any portion of “Palestine.” Some kind of compromise solution, even if it could be reached by the Palestinian Authority’s ineffectual leader, Mahmoud Abbas, would hardly satisfy the radicals, who in turn would be sure to stir up the masses. It would just lead them to label Abbas, as so many already do, another “Zionist-crusader” stooge.

But of course the odds of even Abbas and Olmert—widely seen as moderates in their respective polities—reaching an accord anytime soon are slim to none. And there is a price to be paid for failure, as Bret Stephens makes clear today in his Wall Street Journal column. He notes that Abbas “fears Palestinians would ‘turn to Hamas after they see that Annapolis did not give them anything,’ according to an unnamed Palestinian official quoted in the Jerusalem Post.” Moreover, Stephens writes, “Yossi Beilin, architect of the 1993 Oslo Accords and a political dove, predicts not only that Annapolis will fail, but that its failure will ‘weaken the Palestinian camp, strengthen Hamas, and cause violence.’”

When even the longtime advocates of negotiation fret that the upcoming negotiations will be counterproductive, perhaps the Bush administration should rethink its newfound enthusiasm for peace processing.

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Norman Mailer, Architecture Critic?

What aspect of the life of the late Norman Mailer last week has not been examined, from his revolting pattern of violence against women, to his boxing and penchant for speaking in comic accents, to the strange décor of his Brooklyn apartment, with its apparatus of “ship’s rigging and nets”?

There is one: a brief but explosive public campaign against modern architecture in 1963 and 1964. The story is told by Neil Levine in Modern Architecture and Other Essays, an anthology of writings by Vincent Scully, the celebrated Yale professor who inadvertently became Mailer’s foil in that campaign.

Modern architecture was still at its summit of prestige and cultural authority in 1963, although the grumbling over Frank Lloyd Wright’s recent Guggenheim Museum and Walter Gropius’s Pan Am Building, which closed off Park Avenue’s long vista, was an indication of latent but unfocused public unhappiness. Mailer used his monthly column, “The Big Bite,” in Esquire magazine to rail against these and other buildings. His prose was characteristically bombastic: modern architecture was “totalitarian” and thrust us alone into “the empty landscapes of psychosis, precisely that inner landscape of voice and dread which we flee by turning to totalitarian styles of life.”

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What aspect of the life of the late Norman Mailer last week has not been examined, from his revolting pattern of violence against women, to his boxing and penchant for speaking in comic accents, to the strange décor of his Brooklyn apartment, with its apparatus of “ship’s rigging and nets”?

There is one: a brief but explosive public campaign against modern architecture in 1963 and 1964. The story is told by Neil Levine in Modern Architecture and Other Essays, an anthology of writings by Vincent Scully, the celebrated Yale professor who inadvertently became Mailer’s foil in that campaign.

Modern architecture was still at its summit of prestige and cultural authority in 1963, although the grumbling over Frank Lloyd Wright’s recent Guggenheim Museum and Walter Gropius’s Pan Am Building, which closed off Park Avenue’s long vista, was an indication of latent but unfocused public unhappiness. Mailer used his monthly column, “The Big Bite,” in Esquire magazine to rail against these and other buildings. His prose was characteristically bombastic: modern architecture was “totalitarian” and thrust us alone into “the empty landscapes of psychosis, precisely that inner landscape of voice and dread which we flee by turning to totalitarian styles of life.”

What Mailer proposed as an alternative to modernism was not made clear, and one was not sure what to make of his perverse praise for the “Gothic knots and Romanesque oppressions” of his childhood schoolhouses. But it scarcely mattered; the essay drew a storm of public attention and was reprinted in both the Architectural Forum and the Village Voice. For a rebuttal, the Forum enlisted Scully, a historian of unusual eloquence, who took Mailer to task for his “lazy, potboiling paragraphs.” Scully pointed out that modern architecture invariably was opposed to totalitarianism, that both the Soviet and the Nazi state suppressed it, and that Mailer himself was suffering from a vestigial affection for “representationalist” architecture.

Mailer’s rejoinder was memorable. It was not political totalitarianism that he meant but the cultural totalitarianism that arises when architects subordinate the visual character of neighborhoods and cities to their own insatiable egos:

modern architecture . . . tends to excite the Faustian and empty appetites of the architect’s ego rather than reveal an artist’s vision of our collective desire for shelter which is pleasurable, substantial, intricate, intimate, delicate, detailed, foibled, rich in gargoyle, guignol, false closet, secret stair, witch’s hearth, attic, grandeur, kitsch, a world of buildings as diverse as the need within the eye for stimulus and variation. For beware: the ultimate promise of modern architecture is collective sightlessness for the species. Blindness is the fruit of your design.

Such a sentiment is now a commonplace. But in 1964 it was rather unusual, even prescient. For a brief moment, Mailer perceived with clarity (and a surfeit of passion) that something had gone awry with modernism, and he expressed it with extraordinary force.

Mailer’s foray into criticism would be a one-shot affair, not a serious endeavor but simply an opportunity to play the Bad Boy in yet another sphere of human activity. More’s the pity; for Mailer—to judge from this one exchange—clearly had more natural ability as an architecture critic than a boxer.

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