Commentary Magazine


Topic: Balkans

Téa Obreht’s Anti-War Message

Just wrapped up a discussion of Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife in my course on contemporary literature. In my remarks, I made no secret of my unease with the novel’s ideological message. After the bombing raids start in an unnamed city in an unnamed Balkan country at some unspecified time in the last 12 years, her grandfather makes clear to the narrator Natalia his view of war:

When your fight has purpose — to free you from something, to interfere on the behalf of the innocent — it has a hope of finality. When the fight is about unraveling — when it is about your name, the places to which your blood is anchored, the attachment of your name to some landmark or event — there is nothing but hate, and the long, slow progression of people who feed on it and are fed it, meticulously, by the ones who come before them. Then the fight is endless, and comes in waves and waves, but always retains its capacity to surprise those who hope against it.

A little later in the novel, the grandfather explains that he has no side in the war. “I am all sides,” he says. The novelist too, by all appearances. Obreht’s method is to strip history from The Tiger’s Wife. Even when Germans “arrive” in grandfather’s village and “finally the train” begins to run through town, “the rattle and cough of the tracks” awakening the villagers at night, the Germans are not identified as Nazis and the train is not identified as going to Auschwitz (and the Jews are erased altogether). The “endless war” could be any war in which any innocents are killed in any way.

And my students were quick to notice as much. One pointed out how neatly the grandfather’s passage fits the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Another student observed that this is just his generation’s basic view of war. (Obreht, who is 26, is only slightly older than the students in my class.) “We are ambivalent about it [the Palestinian-Israeli conflict],” he said. “For us, neither side is clearly in the right.”

A clear majority of my students disliked The Tiger’s Wife, although their reasons were aesthetic rather than ideological. (Loose ends were not tied up, they complained. “I will not explain what happened between the tiger and his wife,” Natalia announces three pages from the end. “I had to read a whole novel to find out you were not even going to tell me what happened?” a student cried in outrage.) But my own dislike of the novel was almost entirely ideological. Its generalized dissatisfaction with the wanton destruction of endless (and featureless) war removed the story from the Balkans and set it in a No Place, where magical stories provide a magical refuge from history. Except for scattered references to rajika and gossip about the origins of its celebrated young author, there would be no way of knowing that The Tiger’s Wife was a novel about the Balkans and no reason to care.

Just wrapped up a discussion of Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife in my course on contemporary literature. In my remarks, I made no secret of my unease with the novel’s ideological message. After the bombing raids start in an unnamed city in an unnamed Balkan country at some unspecified time in the last 12 years, her grandfather makes clear to the narrator Natalia his view of war:

When your fight has purpose — to free you from something, to interfere on the behalf of the innocent — it has a hope of finality. When the fight is about unraveling — when it is about your name, the places to which your blood is anchored, the attachment of your name to some landmark or event — there is nothing but hate, and the long, slow progression of people who feed on it and are fed it, meticulously, by the ones who come before them. Then the fight is endless, and comes in waves and waves, but always retains its capacity to surprise those who hope against it.

A little later in the novel, the grandfather explains that he has no side in the war. “I am all sides,” he says. The novelist too, by all appearances. Obreht’s method is to strip history from The Tiger’s Wife. Even when Germans “arrive” in grandfather’s village and “finally the train” begins to run through town, “the rattle and cough of the tracks” awakening the villagers at night, the Germans are not identified as Nazis and the train is not identified as going to Auschwitz (and the Jews are erased altogether). The “endless war” could be any war in which any innocents are killed in any way.

And my students were quick to notice as much. One pointed out how neatly the grandfather’s passage fits the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Another student observed that this is just his generation’s basic view of war. (Obreht, who is 26, is only slightly older than the students in my class.) “We are ambivalent about it [the Palestinian-Israeli conflict],” he said. “For us, neither side is clearly in the right.”

A clear majority of my students disliked The Tiger’s Wife, although their reasons were aesthetic rather than ideological. (Loose ends were not tied up, they complained. “I will not explain what happened between the tiger and his wife,” Natalia announces three pages from the end. “I had to read a whole novel to find out you were not even going to tell me what happened?” a student cried in outrage.) But my own dislike of the novel was almost entirely ideological. Its generalized dissatisfaction with the wanton destruction of endless (and featureless) war removed the story from the Balkans and set it in a No Place, where magical stories provide a magical refuge from history. Except for scattered references to rajika and gossip about the origins of its celebrated young author, there would be no way of knowing that The Tiger’s Wife was a novel about the Balkans and no reason to care.

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RE: The Bracing Realism of Richard Holbrooke

Max Boot’s appreciation of Richard Holbrooke called to mind a sense among the military officers working the Balkans problems in 1995 that Holbrooke was “old school.” Most of us had come of age professionally in the Reagan and the Bush 41 years. We were accustomed to dealing with diplomatic envoys of awe-inspiring preparedness and a certain very American style: hard to describe in few words, but entailing a reliable and irreducible simplicity when it came to our common objectives. That quality could be combined with crustiness and high-handedness, but it was not unwelcome: you could do business with it.

Clinton appointees were a different story. With their penchant for triangulation and interpolation, they tended to produce shifting objectives and temporary principles. Guidance changed regularly. There were times when the U.S. forces working the Balkans problem — I was stationed at a headquarters in Italy from 1992 to 1995 — had the unnerving sense that our political leaders in Washington didn’t have our backs.

Holbrooke, however, seemed to embody the style of an older generation of U.S. diplomats and negotiators. “Scoop Jackson Democrat” was a popular shorthand for describing him. He knew, understood, and appreciated the military way of perceiving a geopolitical problem — unlike many Clinton officials who were actively offended by the “military mindset.”

A good friend of mine went with him as a briefer on a helicopter tour of Bosnia and Croatia, early in Holbrooke’s lengthy orientation from the U.S. and NATO chains of command in the Balkans theater. When I asked afterward how the briefing went, my friend laughed and said, “Well, basically, he briefed me.” Expanding on that, he recounted that Holbrooke had broken into his spiel in the first few minutes, preferring to explain what he considered important and then engaging my friend in a level of discourse that picked his brain on complex topics.

“Guy knows what he’s doing,” concluded my friend. Not every civilian diplomat leaves that impression with the military. I haven’t agreed with all of Holbrooke’s ideas on “AfPak” since he took on that portfolio, but I am very sorry to see the Obama administration lose him. His entry onto the stage in the Balkans conflict brought a sense of order and purpose that was very welcome to the U.S. military in Europe, weary from several years of experimental and ineffective multilateralism. Richard Holbrooke was old school, in the best sense, and he will be missed.

Max Boot’s appreciation of Richard Holbrooke called to mind a sense among the military officers working the Balkans problems in 1995 that Holbrooke was “old school.” Most of us had come of age professionally in the Reagan and the Bush 41 years. We were accustomed to dealing with diplomatic envoys of awe-inspiring preparedness and a certain very American style: hard to describe in few words, but entailing a reliable and irreducible simplicity when it came to our common objectives. That quality could be combined with crustiness and high-handedness, but it was not unwelcome: you could do business with it.

Clinton appointees were a different story. With their penchant for triangulation and interpolation, they tended to produce shifting objectives and temporary principles. Guidance changed regularly. There were times when the U.S. forces working the Balkans problem — I was stationed at a headquarters in Italy from 1992 to 1995 — had the unnerving sense that our political leaders in Washington didn’t have our backs.

Holbrooke, however, seemed to embody the style of an older generation of U.S. diplomats and negotiators. “Scoop Jackson Democrat” was a popular shorthand for describing him. He knew, understood, and appreciated the military way of perceiving a geopolitical problem — unlike many Clinton officials who were actively offended by the “military mindset.”

A good friend of mine went with him as a briefer on a helicopter tour of Bosnia and Croatia, early in Holbrooke’s lengthy orientation from the U.S. and NATO chains of command in the Balkans theater. When I asked afterward how the briefing went, my friend laughed and said, “Well, basically, he briefed me.” Expanding on that, he recounted that Holbrooke had broken into his spiel in the first few minutes, preferring to explain what he considered important and then engaging my friend in a level of discourse that picked his brain on complex topics.

“Guy knows what he’s doing,” concluded my friend. Not every civilian diplomat leaves that impression with the military. I haven’t agreed with all of Holbrooke’s ideas on “AfPak” since he took on that portfolio, but I am very sorry to see the Obama administration lose him. His entry onto the stage in the Balkans conflict brought a sense of order and purpose that was very welcome to the U.S. military in Europe, weary from several years of experimental and ineffective multilateralism. Richard Holbrooke was old school, in the best sense, and he will be missed.

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WikiLeaks Precedent Points to the Proper U.S. Response: Get Over It!

Leave it to master historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to come up with a historical precedent for the latest WikiLeaks fiasco. In today’s Daily Beast, Roberts writes that Julian Assange’s assault on America’s secrets is not so very different from what happened to Benjamin Disraeli’s British government back in 1878.

At that time, Dizzy’s last government was attempting to prop up the tottering Ottoman Empire at the Congress of Berlin by standing off an aggressive Russia that was looking to knock the Turks out of the Balkans. But while the world was focusing on the diplomats meeting in Germany, the Brits and Russians had already concluded a treaty sorting everything out to Disraeli’s satisfaction. But a copying clerk in Britain’s Foreign Office named Charles Marvin sold the secret treaty to the Globe newspaper for 40 pounds. The Globe published it in full, a development that might have thrown a less confident figure than Disraeli’s foreign secretary, the Marquess of Salisbury. As Roberts puts it:

Although Lord Salisbury initially described the scoop as “incomplete, and therefore inaccurate”—which Hillary Clinton can hardly do over WikiLeaks—he then basically told the chancelleries of Europe to get over it. Such was the self-confidence of the British Empire of the day, that the rest of Europe—though privately outraged at his duplicity—had little option but to comply.

Roberts’s point here is that for all the justified outrage about the WikiLeaks disclosures of diplomatic cables, Salisbury’s response is one that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should follow. Instead of “squirming with embarrassment,” the United States should tell the world to just get over it. American diplomats can and should pursue our country’s diplomatic and security ends and report candidly about their observations to the State Department. The problem is that not only does the feckless Obama administration lack the chutzpah to assume such an attitude but also that America’s current standing around the world is such that no one would accept it.

Roberts sums up the situation when he notes: “As well as being a snapshot of the retreat of American power, therefore, these WikiLeaks could also become a contributing factor to it. America should tell the world to get over it, but whether the world will listen is another matter.”

Leave it to master historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to come up with a historical precedent for the latest WikiLeaks fiasco. In today’s Daily Beast, Roberts writes that Julian Assange’s assault on America’s secrets is not so very different from what happened to Benjamin Disraeli’s British government back in 1878.

At that time, Dizzy’s last government was attempting to prop up the tottering Ottoman Empire at the Congress of Berlin by standing off an aggressive Russia that was looking to knock the Turks out of the Balkans. But while the world was focusing on the diplomats meeting in Germany, the Brits and Russians had already concluded a treaty sorting everything out to Disraeli’s satisfaction. But a copying clerk in Britain’s Foreign Office named Charles Marvin sold the secret treaty to the Globe newspaper for 40 pounds. The Globe published it in full, a development that might have thrown a less confident figure than Disraeli’s foreign secretary, the Marquess of Salisbury. As Roberts puts it:

Although Lord Salisbury initially described the scoop as “incomplete, and therefore inaccurate”—which Hillary Clinton can hardly do over WikiLeaks—he then basically told the chancelleries of Europe to get over it. Such was the self-confidence of the British Empire of the day, that the rest of Europe—though privately outraged at his duplicity—had little option but to comply.

Roberts’s point here is that for all the justified outrage about the WikiLeaks disclosures of diplomatic cables, Salisbury’s response is one that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should follow. Instead of “squirming with embarrassment,” the United States should tell the world to just get over it. American diplomats can and should pursue our country’s diplomatic and security ends and report candidly about their observations to the State Department. The problem is that not only does the feckless Obama administration lack the chutzpah to assume such an attitude but also that America’s current standing around the world is such that no one would accept it.

Roberts sums up the situation when he notes: “As well as being a snapshot of the retreat of American power, therefore, these WikiLeaks could also become a contributing factor to it. America should tell the world to get over it, but whether the world will listen is another matter.”

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New Best Friends in the Balkans

Some news you might have missed last week: Serbia and Turkey have inaugurated a series of unprecedented initiatives of military and diplomatic cooperation, including joint aviation exercises and a mutual abolition of visas. The timing of these gallantries is rather ironic, as it coincides with the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, which marks the extermination of nearly 8,000 Bosnians, mostly boys and men, as well as the ethnic cleansing of some 25,000 to 30,000 more — which extermination and concomitant ethnic cleansing the Serb perpetrators justified in the name of “driving out the Turks” (i.e., the Bosnian Muslims).

This was the first year the Serbian government ever condemned the massacre — a humbling gesture aimed at smoothing its path toward EU membership. Some may consider this an occasion of which Serbia has availed itself in order to also mend fences with Turkey — a party its war slogans of 15 years ago had indirectly offended. But it is far more likely that the two developments bear no more relation to each other than did the Serbs’ genocide against the Bosnians and their animosity toward the Turks — which is to say, none at all.

What this newly forged friendship between Serbia and Turkey actually represents is a miniature replica of the trend in the relationship between their respective patrons, Russia and Iran, who have recently grown very close. For, of late, Turkey has become a firm node of the Iran-Syria-Venezuela axis, and as for Serbia, well — as an independent state, Serbia has not exercised any political free will of its own since the Middle Ages without first consulting Russia’s interests. And while under that whipped fluff of much-talked-about UN sanctions the ties between Iran and Russia continue to flourish, so do those between their proxies in the Balkans.

The club of disaffected anti-Western regimes is growing. And they look like a relatively enlightened bunch these days, since they certainly don’t make much of religious differences. When they do, it’s only to their own people, and that, only for the perfectly understandable purpose of inciting politically useful hatreds in them. Among allies, however, respect and tolerance reign supreme.

Some news you might have missed last week: Serbia and Turkey have inaugurated a series of unprecedented initiatives of military and diplomatic cooperation, including joint aviation exercises and a mutual abolition of visas. The timing of these gallantries is rather ironic, as it coincides with the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, which marks the extermination of nearly 8,000 Bosnians, mostly boys and men, as well as the ethnic cleansing of some 25,000 to 30,000 more — which extermination and concomitant ethnic cleansing the Serb perpetrators justified in the name of “driving out the Turks” (i.e., the Bosnian Muslims).

This was the first year the Serbian government ever condemned the massacre — a humbling gesture aimed at smoothing its path toward EU membership. Some may consider this an occasion of which Serbia has availed itself in order to also mend fences with Turkey — a party its war slogans of 15 years ago had indirectly offended. But it is far more likely that the two developments bear no more relation to each other than did the Serbs’ genocide against the Bosnians and their animosity toward the Turks — which is to say, none at all.

What this newly forged friendship between Serbia and Turkey actually represents is a miniature replica of the trend in the relationship between their respective patrons, Russia and Iran, who have recently grown very close. For, of late, Turkey has become a firm node of the Iran-Syria-Venezuela axis, and as for Serbia, well — as an independent state, Serbia has not exercised any political free will of its own since the Middle Ages without first consulting Russia’s interests. And while under that whipped fluff of much-talked-about UN sanctions the ties between Iran and Russia continue to flourish, so do those between their proxies in the Balkans.

The club of disaffected anti-Western regimes is growing. And they look like a relatively enlightened bunch these days, since they certainly don’t make much of religious differences. When they do, it’s only to their own people, and that, only for the perfectly understandable purpose of inciting politically useful hatreds in them. Among allies, however, respect and tolerance reign supreme.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Now anti-Israel venom is even featured on sports talk. ESPN’s Kevin Blackistone (with an assist from Israel-hater Desmond Tutu) calls for a sports boycott of Israel: “In the wake of widespread international condemnation of Israel’s botched commando raid last week that killed nine people on a humanitarian aid flotilla headed to the Gaza Strip — where Palestinians live under what Nobel-prize winning South African Bishop Desmond Tutu … once said is Israel’s apartheid-like thumb — could it not be time for sport to illuminate Israel’s deadly occupation of Palestinians?” (h/t New Ledger)

Now, as Cliff May reminds us, Jew-hatred is quite fashionable elsewhere: “The fever of anti-Israelism seems to be rising too fast to be reduced by the cold compress of truth. Jew-hatred is increasingly acceptable, even fashionable, not just in the Middle East but in Europe and in some of America’s finer salons — and journals and blogs. And now, apparently, interest in a ‘final solution’ — to borrow Hitler’s apt phrase — is emerging as well. Helen Thomas’s sudden retirement is unlikely to significantly slow that trend. The quaint idea that, having learned the lessons of the Holocaust, civilized people would ‘never again’ tolerate genocide has become a cruel joke — one repeated in Cambodia, Kurdistan, Rwanda, the Balkans, Darfur, and beyond. Radical anti-Semites of the 20th century had a goal: the extermination of Europe’s Jews. Radical anti-Semites of the 21st century also have a goal: the extermination of the Middle East’s Jewish state.”

Now Obama’s ineffectiveness is so apparent that Joe Biden has become the administration’s principal spokesman.

Now the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Federalist Papers come with a warning label. A small publishing company slaps this on a volume of the documents: “This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work.” Any such parent needs a warning label.

Now Rand Paul is annoying libertarians. But good to know he thinks “there are times when we have to go in and prevent, at times, people that are organizing to attack us.”

Now we have the quintessential un-Obama : “[Chris]Christie has already put the state on a tough new fiscal regimen and set it on course toward being solvent once again. Refusing to raise taxes, he’s challenged the entrenched, vested interests and has dared to take on the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s powerful teachers union. And now he’s out to enact a constitutional amendment creating a 2.5 percent cap on property tax increases. Through it all, he seems remarkably willing to take the flak that’s inevitably come his way. At town meetings across the state he tells crowds: ‘I think I know why you elected me. I know you didn’t elect me for my matinee idol looks or my charm. So, I’m trying to do what you elected me to do.'”

Now all those “Harry Reid bounces back” headlines will have to be rewritten: “Sharron Angle, following her come-from-behind Republican Primary win Tuesday, has bounced to an 11-point lead over Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada’s closely-watched U.S. Senate race.”

Now, if we only had a president who believed this: “It’s not just that the Israelis are being held to a different — and immeasurably higher — standard than the rest of humanity. Israel is now being judged in the absence of any objective standard whatsoever. As Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week, it seems that Israel is now ‘guilty until proven guilty.’ Sadly, it is no surprise to see angry mobs on the streets of Tehran or London calling for Jewish blood. It seems that we now must accustom ourselves to similar scenes playing out in Istanbul as well. Yet what is far more troubling is that we are now hearing these critiques being echoed right here in the United States.”

Now anti-Israel venom is even featured on sports talk. ESPN’s Kevin Blackistone (with an assist from Israel-hater Desmond Tutu) calls for a sports boycott of Israel: “In the wake of widespread international condemnation of Israel’s botched commando raid last week that killed nine people on a humanitarian aid flotilla headed to the Gaza Strip — where Palestinians live under what Nobel-prize winning South African Bishop Desmond Tutu … once said is Israel’s apartheid-like thumb — could it not be time for sport to illuminate Israel’s deadly occupation of Palestinians?” (h/t New Ledger)

Now, as Cliff May reminds us, Jew-hatred is quite fashionable elsewhere: “The fever of anti-Israelism seems to be rising too fast to be reduced by the cold compress of truth. Jew-hatred is increasingly acceptable, even fashionable, not just in the Middle East but in Europe and in some of America’s finer salons — and journals and blogs. And now, apparently, interest in a ‘final solution’ — to borrow Hitler’s apt phrase — is emerging as well. Helen Thomas’s sudden retirement is unlikely to significantly slow that trend. The quaint idea that, having learned the lessons of the Holocaust, civilized people would ‘never again’ tolerate genocide has become a cruel joke — one repeated in Cambodia, Kurdistan, Rwanda, the Balkans, Darfur, and beyond. Radical anti-Semites of the 20th century had a goal: the extermination of Europe’s Jews. Radical anti-Semites of the 21st century also have a goal: the extermination of the Middle East’s Jewish state.”

Now Obama’s ineffectiveness is so apparent that Joe Biden has become the administration’s principal spokesman.

Now the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Federalist Papers come with a warning label. A small publishing company slaps this on a volume of the documents: “This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work.” Any such parent needs a warning label.

Now Rand Paul is annoying libertarians. But good to know he thinks “there are times when we have to go in and prevent, at times, people that are organizing to attack us.”

Now we have the quintessential un-Obama : “[Chris]Christie has already put the state on a tough new fiscal regimen and set it on course toward being solvent once again. Refusing to raise taxes, he’s challenged the entrenched, vested interests and has dared to take on the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s powerful teachers union. And now he’s out to enact a constitutional amendment creating a 2.5 percent cap on property tax increases. Through it all, he seems remarkably willing to take the flak that’s inevitably come his way. At town meetings across the state he tells crowds: ‘I think I know why you elected me. I know you didn’t elect me for my matinee idol looks or my charm. So, I’m trying to do what you elected me to do.'”

Now all those “Harry Reid bounces back” headlines will have to be rewritten: “Sharron Angle, following her come-from-behind Republican Primary win Tuesday, has bounced to an 11-point lead over Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada’s closely-watched U.S. Senate race.”

Now, if we only had a president who believed this: “It’s not just that the Israelis are being held to a different — and immeasurably higher — standard than the rest of humanity. Israel is now being judged in the absence of any objective standard whatsoever. As Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week, it seems that Israel is now ‘guilty until proven guilty.’ Sadly, it is no surprise to see angry mobs on the streets of Tehran or London calling for Jewish blood. It seems that we now must accustom ourselves to similar scenes playing out in Istanbul as well. Yet what is far more troubling is that we are now hearing these critiques being echoed right here in the United States.”

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What Real Threats Look Like

There is a set of realities identified by the American left as threats to national, if not global, security. These include things like the U.S.’s own nuclear arsenal, the stationing abroad of some 370,000 American troops, Israel’s capable defenses, and warm weather. To call these phenomena threats is no mere act of speculation. It is a bold inversion of the truth.

Few policies boast a perfect record of 50-plus years, but U.S. nuclear deterrence has the right to do so. The American arsenal kept Russia from invading Western Europe throughout the entirety of the Cold War. Similarly, U.S. military bases, whether established in postwar Germany and Japan or set up 50 years later in the Balkans, have underwritten long-term stability in every hemisphere.

The left has ignored entirely the debt owed to Israel’s military. In 1981, the Israeli Airforce’s Operation Babylon took out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Osirak, robbing the world’s most dangerous leader of his own deterrence capabilities. This is to say nothing of Israel’s attack on other dangerous weapons programs and of the Jewish state’s perpetual battle to defeat Islamist terrorism the world over.

As for the deadly threat of high temperatures, a 2007 study reported: “From 1979 to 1997, extreme cold killed roughly twice as many Americans as heat waves, according to Indur Goklany of the U.S. Department of the Interior.”

It is remarkable how fast these boutique “threats” fall by the wayside when the genuine article appears. Today, the AP reports, “The Dow Jones industrials plunged below 10,000 Tuesday after traders dumped stocks on worries about the global economy and tensions between North and South Korea.” Funny, you never read about a stock-market nosedive in response to a balmy June, the ongoing maintenance of American nuclear weapons, an Israeli response to Hamas, or the construction of a distant American military base.

The world sets itself on edge like this only when an unmistakable, demonstrable threat to peace emerges. We now see one in the increasing bellicosity of Kim Jong-il’s regime.

And speaking of those dangerous American military bases abroad, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak doesn’t seem to be too offended by President Obama’s declaration that “the Republic of Korea can continue to count on the full support of the United States.” When Seoul turns down that support, we can start worrying about the left’s critical-threat list. Until then, the world has some actual problems to deal with, thanks very much.

There is a set of realities identified by the American left as threats to national, if not global, security. These include things like the U.S.’s own nuclear arsenal, the stationing abroad of some 370,000 American troops, Israel’s capable defenses, and warm weather. To call these phenomena threats is no mere act of speculation. It is a bold inversion of the truth.

Few policies boast a perfect record of 50-plus years, but U.S. nuclear deterrence has the right to do so. The American arsenal kept Russia from invading Western Europe throughout the entirety of the Cold War. Similarly, U.S. military bases, whether established in postwar Germany and Japan or set up 50 years later in the Balkans, have underwritten long-term stability in every hemisphere.

The left has ignored entirely the debt owed to Israel’s military. In 1981, the Israeli Airforce’s Operation Babylon took out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Osirak, robbing the world’s most dangerous leader of his own deterrence capabilities. This is to say nothing of Israel’s attack on other dangerous weapons programs and of the Jewish state’s perpetual battle to defeat Islamist terrorism the world over.

As for the deadly threat of high temperatures, a 2007 study reported: “From 1979 to 1997, extreme cold killed roughly twice as many Americans as heat waves, according to Indur Goklany of the U.S. Department of the Interior.”

It is remarkable how fast these boutique “threats” fall by the wayside when the genuine article appears. Today, the AP reports, “The Dow Jones industrials plunged below 10,000 Tuesday after traders dumped stocks on worries about the global economy and tensions between North and South Korea.” Funny, you never read about a stock-market nosedive in response to a balmy June, the ongoing maintenance of American nuclear weapons, an Israeli response to Hamas, or the construction of a distant American military base.

The world sets itself on edge like this only when an unmistakable, demonstrable threat to peace emerges. We now see one in the increasing bellicosity of Kim Jong-il’s regime.

And speaking of those dangerous American military bases abroad, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak doesn’t seem to be too offended by President Obama’s declaration that “the Republic of Korea can continue to count on the full support of the United States.” When Seoul turns down that support, we can start worrying about the left’s critical-threat list. Until then, the world has some actual problems to deal with, thanks very much.

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Blockading Iran

On Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed a U.S. naval blockade of Iran. In talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he also suggested that nations not allow the entry of Iranian business people and senior regime leaders. Both measures are intended to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons. “The present economic sanctions on Iran have exhausted themselves,” Olmert said, according to today’s Haaretz, the Israeli paper, in its online edition.

At about the same time that Haaretz reported the news of Olmert’s proposals, the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security released a May 13 letter from Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In the letter, Iran proposed talks on its nuclear program and other topics, such as nuclear disarmament, the Palestinian issue, and democracy in the Balkans. “I see it as a way to start negotiations,” said Institute for Science and International Secutrity President David Albright, referring to Iran’s wide-ranging offer.

Is there anything left to negotiate at this point? After all, most everything that could be said about Iran’s enrichment of uranium has already been uttered. Most every proposal has already been made in one form or another. Mottaki, in his letter, notes his country wants “constructive interaction and reasonable and just negotiations, without preconditions and based on mutual respect.” Of course, what the foreign minister is really saying is that Iran will not stop enrichment as the Security Council has demanded.

So, despite Tehran’s defiance of U.N. demands, should we start discussions with its representatives on the problems of the world? I say, let’s talk. But let’s also impose the blockade before we sit down with the mullahs’ representatives. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday,

The key here is developing leverage, either through economic or diplomatic or military pressures on the Iranian government so they believe they must have talks with the United States because there is something they want from us, and that is the relief of the pressure.

There’s nothing wrong about talking with repugnant and dangerous adversaries–as long as they come to surrender.

On Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed a U.S. naval blockade of Iran. In talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he also suggested that nations not allow the entry of Iranian business people and senior regime leaders. Both measures are intended to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons. “The present economic sanctions on Iran have exhausted themselves,” Olmert said, according to today’s Haaretz, the Israeli paper, in its online edition.

At about the same time that Haaretz reported the news of Olmert’s proposals, the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security released a May 13 letter from Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In the letter, Iran proposed talks on its nuclear program and other topics, such as nuclear disarmament, the Palestinian issue, and democracy in the Balkans. “I see it as a way to start negotiations,” said Institute for Science and International Secutrity President David Albright, referring to Iran’s wide-ranging offer.

Is there anything left to negotiate at this point? After all, most everything that could be said about Iran’s enrichment of uranium has already been uttered. Most every proposal has already been made in one form or another. Mottaki, in his letter, notes his country wants “constructive interaction and reasonable and just negotiations, without preconditions and based on mutual respect.” Of course, what the foreign minister is really saying is that Iran will not stop enrichment as the Security Council has demanded.

So, despite Tehran’s defiance of U.N. demands, should we start discussions with its representatives on the problems of the world? I say, let’s talk. But let’s also impose the blockade before we sit down with the mullahs’ representatives. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday,

The key here is developing leverage, either through economic or diplomatic or military pressures on the Iranian government so they believe they must have talks with the United States because there is something they want from us, and that is the relief of the pressure.

There’s nothing wrong about talking with repugnant and dangerous adversaries–as long as they come to surrender.

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No Second Naqba

I’ve just always been astonished by how quickly Palestinian leaders hijack the most current Western political lingo for their narrative of oppression. It was only days after we started hearing about ethnic cleansing in the Balkans that Yasser Arafat started using the same expression about the Palestinians. Now we have Kamal Khatib of Israel’s Islamic Movement declaring that “there will not be a second naqba.” Assuming he does not read Charles Krauthammer’s columns, we should assume he ripped this from John McCain. Give them credit for staying up-to-date.

I’ve just always been astonished by how quickly Palestinian leaders hijack the most current Western political lingo for their narrative of oppression. It was only days after we started hearing about ethnic cleansing in the Balkans that Yasser Arafat started using the same expression about the Palestinians. Now we have Kamal Khatib of Israel’s Islamic Movement declaring that “there will not be a second naqba.” Assuming he does not read Charles Krauthammer’s columns, we should assume he ripped this from John McCain. Give them credit for staying up-to-date.

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The Futility of Talking to Tehran

In today’s Washington Times, Michael O’Hanlon suggests the U.S. should engage Iran diplomatically, for “hawkish” reasons:

U.S. diplomatic contact with Iran, the sooner the better, still makes sense — not because it will likely produce any breakthroughs, but because . . . “hawkish engagement” can set the U.S. up more effectively to galvanize the kind of growing international pressure on Iran that is probably our only long-term hope of producing better behavior from Tehran. By trying to talk, we better position ourselves to get tough and have others join the effort.

Through negotiation, we can prove to the world that American recalcitrance, Texas cowboy foreign policymaking, and pre-emption doctrine are not the real problems here. Only by patiently trying to work with Iran, and consistently failing to make progress, will we gradually convince Bush-haters and U.S. doubters around the world that the real problem does not lie in Washington.

Where have I heard this before? Oh yeah! When people said that Israel’s handing over Gaza would give the Jewish state the moral high ground in the eyes of the world. And how did that work out? International opinion described the second Lebanon War as a violent overreaction, and the international community talks about the Israeli government as if the Kadima party was formed in the sole hope of occupying more land.

O’Hanlon’s recommendation is based on two false premises, and together they create a circular bind. The first falsehood is the notion that America (like Israel) incurs more hatred through its actions than through its mere existence. If expressed sentiment toward America was based only on American policy, then most nations of the world would celebrate America Is Great Day every day of the year. In the history of the world there’s simply never been a country to extend either the largess or make the sacrifices of the United States today. Whether it’s monetary aid for Palestinians, natural disaster relief for Indonesia, military action on behalf of Muslims being killed in the Balkans, AIDS relief to Africa, or missile defense for Eastern Europe, if the rest of the world were to respond to the U.S. reciprocally, we’d never have another problem again.

The second false premise is that America’s ally deficit on Iran is one of number rather than approach. We have allies in opposition to Iran—many European countries are on board with tougher sanctions. But, in the end, these countries aren’t doing much aside from offering lip service. Why? Because the U.S. has ended up taking care of their geostrategy problems for half a century—which brings us right back to the first false premise.

If the U.S. talked to Iran, anti-Americans would point to it as a sign of defeat and weakness. They’d switch from enjoying self-righteous rage to savoring perceived superiority. And America’s allies wouldn’t pay all that much attention. They know full well that if the talks failed, the U.S. would still do something to keep the threat at bay.

In today’s Washington Times, Michael O’Hanlon suggests the U.S. should engage Iran diplomatically, for “hawkish” reasons:

U.S. diplomatic contact with Iran, the sooner the better, still makes sense — not because it will likely produce any breakthroughs, but because . . . “hawkish engagement” can set the U.S. up more effectively to galvanize the kind of growing international pressure on Iran that is probably our only long-term hope of producing better behavior from Tehran. By trying to talk, we better position ourselves to get tough and have others join the effort.

Through negotiation, we can prove to the world that American recalcitrance, Texas cowboy foreign policymaking, and pre-emption doctrine are not the real problems here. Only by patiently trying to work with Iran, and consistently failing to make progress, will we gradually convince Bush-haters and U.S. doubters around the world that the real problem does not lie in Washington.

Where have I heard this before? Oh yeah! When people said that Israel’s handing over Gaza would give the Jewish state the moral high ground in the eyes of the world. And how did that work out? International opinion described the second Lebanon War as a violent overreaction, and the international community talks about the Israeli government as if the Kadima party was formed in the sole hope of occupying more land.

O’Hanlon’s recommendation is based on two false premises, and together they create a circular bind. The first falsehood is the notion that America (like Israel) incurs more hatred through its actions than through its mere existence. If expressed sentiment toward America was based only on American policy, then most nations of the world would celebrate America Is Great Day every day of the year. In the history of the world there’s simply never been a country to extend either the largess or make the sacrifices of the United States today. Whether it’s monetary aid for Palestinians, natural disaster relief for Indonesia, military action on behalf of Muslims being killed in the Balkans, AIDS relief to Africa, or missile defense for Eastern Europe, if the rest of the world were to respond to the U.S. reciprocally, we’d never have another problem again.

The second false premise is that America’s ally deficit on Iran is one of number rather than approach. We have allies in opposition to Iran—many European countries are on board with tougher sanctions. But, in the end, these countries aren’t doing much aside from offering lip service. Why? Because the U.S. has ended up taking care of their geostrategy problems for half a century—which brings us right back to the first false premise.

If the U.S. talked to Iran, anti-Americans would point to it as a sign of defeat and weakness. They’d switch from enjoying self-righteous rage to savoring perceived superiority. And America’s allies wouldn’t pay all that much attention. They know full well that if the talks failed, the U.S. would still do something to keep the threat at bay.

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Odierno’s Departure

Nadia Schadlow has an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal pointing out why it would be folly to move General Petraeus out of Iraq prematurely. This is a point that others, including me, have previously made, but Nadia adds an important historical dimension by noting all of the major generals, from George Washington to Creighton Abrams, who have spent years overseas directing American war efforts. By those standards, Petraeus’s deployment abroad, while lengthy and strenuous (counting a tour in the Balkans, since 2001 he has spent 50 months, or more than four years, overseas), is not out of the norm.

What is abnormal, as Schadlow shows, is the American military’s current penchant for rotating almost everyone in the war zone after six, twelve, or, at most, eighteen months. (The State Department and CIA operate under similar policies.) That rotation policy is understandable when it comes to grunts who have to deal with combat and all its stresses. It makes less sense for headquarters staffers who serve in relative comfort and safety. (I stress relative, since life in Iraq or Afghanistan will always be a lot less safe and less comfortable than being stateside.) Turning over personnel constantly can lead to a loss of invaluable experience. Newcomers can take months to get up to speed, and in the meantime momentum may be lost.

That is a real concern because right now the entire headquarters staff of Multi-National Corps-Iraq is leaving Iraq along with its commander, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno. They are being replaced by an entirely new group of staff officers led by Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin. While Austin arrives to positive publicity, he has not wracked up the kind of invaluable experience that Odierno has during the past year while working with General Petraeus to direct the successful surge. Odierno arrived to some negative notices (in particular from Tom Ricks, author of Fiasco) but he is leaving to almost universal acclaim. The changeover will probably go smoothly, but there is a real risk of friction and loss of momentum.

The Defense Department should rethink its rotation policies. After Vietnam, the military rebelled against the policy of replacing individuals rather than entire units. The individual-rotation policy meant that often combat formations were made up of strangers—a deadly handicap in the heat of battle when esprit de corps is all-important. But while the unit rotation policy and 12- to 18-month tours make sense for combat units, they make less sense for staff officers, who could be deployed for longer periods and whose departures could be staggered to avoid a vast loss of experience such as the one we are now facing in Iraq.

Already General Petraeus and his predecessor, General George Casey, have served for longer than a year at a time, and so have a few of their key subordinates. It would make sense to extend that policy a bit more broadly.

Nadia Schadlow has an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal pointing out why it would be folly to move General Petraeus out of Iraq prematurely. This is a point that others, including me, have previously made, but Nadia adds an important historical dimension by noting all of the major generals, from George Washington to Creighton Abrams, who have spent years overseas directing American war efforts. By those standards, Petraeus’s deployment abroad, while lengthy and strenuous (counting a tour in the Balkans, since 2001 he has spent 50 months, or more than four years, overseas), is not out of the norm.

What is abnormal, as Schadlow shows, is the American military’s current penchant for rotating almost everyone in the war zone after six, twelve, or, at most, eighteen months. (The State Department and CIA operate under similar policies.) That rotation policy is understandable when it comes to grunts who have to deal with combat and all its stresses. It makes less sense for headquarters staffers who serve in relative comfort and safety. (I stress relative, since life in Iraq or Afghanistan will always be a lot less safe and less comfortable than being stateside.) Turning over personnel constantly can lead to a loss of invaluable experience. Newcomers can take months to get up to speed, and in the meantime momentum may be lost.

That is a real concern because right now the entire headquarters staff of Multi-National Corps-Iraq is leaving Iraq along with its commander, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno. They are being replaced by an entirely new group of staff officers led by Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin. While Austin arrives to positive publicity, he has not wracked up the kind of invaluable experience that Odierno has during the past year while working with General Petraeus to direct the successful surge. Odierno arrived to some negative notices (in particular from Tom Ricks, author of Fiasco) but he is leaving to almost universal acclaim. The changeover will probably go smoothly, but there is a real risk of friction and loss of momentum.

The Defense Department should rethink its rotation policies. After Vietnam, the military rebelled against the policy of replacing individuals rather than entire units. The individual-rotation policy meant that often combat formations were made up of strangers—a deadly handicap in the heat of battle when esprit de corps is all-important. But while the unit rotation policy and 12- to 18-month tours make sense for combat units, they make less sense for staff officers, who could be deployed for longer periods and whose departures could be staggered to avoid a vast loss of experience such as the one we are now facing in Iraq.

Already General Petraeus and his predecessor, General George Casey, have served for longer than a year at a time, and so have a few of their key subordinates. It would make sense to extend that policy a bit more broadly.

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Michael Scheuer Watch #7: Heavy Medal

In 2005, Michael Scheuer wrote a letter to COMMENTARY in which he stated that he had received the CIA’s Intelligence Commendation Medal for having led a unit that:

helped to capture Talat Fuad Qassem, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, Wali Khan Amin Shah, and Hakim Murad; broke up Ramzi Yousef’s plot to down fourteen U.S. airliners over the Pacific; destroyed al-Qaeda cells in Africa, the Balkans, and the Caucasus; virtually destroyed the outside-Egypt wing of Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad; supplied all of the information used in the federal indictment of Osama bin Laden.

He also wrote:

There is no need to take my word for any of this: check with the CIA and the citation accompanying my Intelligence Commendation Medal.

From what I have been able to learn from the CIA, and which is what I noted in the June 2005 COMMENTARY, the CIA medal was bestowed on Scheuer in 1995, one year before he was assigned to the Osama bin Laden unit, and also, as I wrote, “well before he could have accomplished a number of the triumphs that he suggests are cited in the commendation, like supplying ‘all of the information used in the federal indictment of Osama bin Laden.’ Bin Laden was indicted in 1998, three years  after Mr. Scheuer’s medal was minted.”

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In 2005, Michael Scheuer wrote a letter to COMMENTARY in which he stated that he had received the CIA’s Intelligence Commendation Medal for having led a unit that:

helped to capture Talat Fuad Qassem, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, Wali Khan Amin Shah, and Hakim Murad; broke up Ramzi Yousef’s plot to down fourteen U.S. airliners over the Pacific; destroyed al-Qaeda cells in Africa, the Balkans, and the Caucasus; virtually destroyed the outside-Egypt wing of Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad; supplied all of the information used in the federal indictment of Osama bin Laden.

He also wrote:

There is no need to take my word for any of this: check with the CIA and the citation accompanying my Intelligence Commendation Medal.

From what I have been able to learn from the CIA, and which is what I noted in the June 2005 COMMENTARY, the CIA medal was bestowed on Scheuer in 1995, one year before he was assigned to the Osama bin Laden unit, and also, as I wrote, “well before he could have accomplished a number of the triumphs that he suggests are cited in the commendation, like supplying ‘all of the information used in the federal indictment of Osama bin Laden.’ Bin Laden was indicted in 1998, three years  after Mr. Scheuer’s medal was minted.”

My unconnected dots of the day are:

1. Am I correct about the medal being awarded in 1995?

2. Is the accompanying citation classified or unclassified?

3. What exactly does the citation say? Scheuer has declined to make a copy available. 

4. Can it be ferreted out using the Freedom of Information Act?

If you can help me connect these dots, write to letters@commentarymagazine.com and put Michael Scheuer Watch in the subject line.

Confidentiality is guaranteed. (But see my Why Journalists Are Not Above the Law to understand exactly how far I would go in protecting your identity.)

A complete guide to other items in this Michael Scheuer Watch series can be found here.

 

 

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Was Kurt Waldheim Human?

Kurt Waldheim, the former Secretary General of the United Nations and president of Austria, has died at the age of eighty-eight. What will be history’s verdict?

The Washington Post’s obituary offers a good summary of the facts leading to his being placed on a watch list of “prohibited persons” that barred him from entry into the United States. Although his participation in Nazi war crimes was never proved in a court of law, it was enough that he had repeatedly lied about his military service during World War II, striving especially to conceal his role as a lieutenant in the Wehrmacht from 1942 through 1945 in a unit that had butchered Yugoslav partisans. Later disclosures in the mid-1980’s, reports the Post, “included a secret 1948 finding by the UN War Crimes Commission that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute Waldheim for ‘murder’ and ‘putting hostages to death.’”

Despite his sinister past, Waldheim did have his admirers. One of them, remarkably enough, was the writer Gitta Sereny, whose anti-Nazi credentials, as a member of the French resistance and as a historian, are not in doubt. When she interviewed Waldheim in the late 1980’s about his activities in the Balkans, he explained to her that it was “a ‘savage war,’ like ‘Vietnam, and now the West Bank,’ where the Israelis ‘are breaking people’s bones.’”

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Kurt Waldheim, the former Secretary General of the United Nations and president of Austria, has died at the age of eighty-eight. What will be history’s verdict?

The Washington Post’s obituary offers a good summary of the facts leading to his being placed on a watch list of “prohibited persons” that barred him from entry into the United States. Although his participation in Nazi war crimes was never proved in a court of law, it was enough that he had repeatedly lied about his military service during World War II, striving especially to conceal his role as a lieutenant in the Wehrmacht from 1942 through 1945 in a unit that had butchered Yugoslav partisans. Later disclosures in the mid-1980’s, reports the Post, “included a secret 1948 finding by the UN War Crimes Commission that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute Waldheim for ‘murder’ and ‘putting hostages to death.’”

Despite his sinister past, Waldheim did have his admirers. One of them, remarkably enough, was the writer Gitta Sereny, whose anti-Nazi credentials, as a member of the French resistance and as a historian, are not in doubt. When she interviewed Waldheim in the late 1980’s about his activities in the Balkans, he explained to her that it was “a ‘savage war,’ like ‘Vietnam, and now the West Bank,’ where the Israelis ‘are breaking people’s bones.’”

Sereny, despite all her talents as a writer and as investigator into the history of Nazi evil, raised only the barest challenge to her interlocutor’s likening of the Nazis to the Americans and the Israelis. She then went on to judge Waldheim a “fundamentally decent man.”

It was this, among other things, that led me to conclude in a review of her book, The Healing Wound, in the New York Times, that she was “incapable of. . . grasping, after a lifetime of studying it, the radical nature of Nazi evil.”

My appraisal of her then drew a letter to the editor defending Sereny. I still remember it today for its timeless encapsulation of a certain extreme but all-too-popular moral inversion: “It is precisely by rejecting the atavistic, thought-foreclosing notion of evil, and instead insisting on the complex humanity of her subjects,” wrote an indignant reader, “that Sereny has made fascism at all comprehensible to us. The enemy is human: that is a lesson today’s policymakers would do well to learn.”

Yes, Waldheim, was human. But he was also evil, and it is evil not to judge him so.

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Baghdad First

It’s early days in the Battle of Baghdad. Fewer than 3,000 of a promised 18,000 or more reinforcements have arrived. It will take at least six to twelve months before we know whether the crackdown is working. But already various commentators are stepping forward to dismiss the Bush plan as the “wrong surge” and to propose alternative strategies.

Three of the foreign-policy analysts I respect most—Charles Krauthammer, Fareed Zakaria, and Lawrence Kaplan—argue that we should be consolidating our forces in Anbar province, not trying to retake Baghdad.

There is no doubt that this Sunni province needs to be pacified eventually, but an Anbar-centric approach would not accomplish the goals these writers set out. Krauthammer notes correctly that, “If we had zero American casualties a day, there would be as little need to withdraw from Iraq as there is to withdraw from the Balkans,” but he gives little suggestion of how his plan to “maintain a significant presence in Anbar province” could be squared with keeping down casualty numbers, considering that Anbar is one of the most dangerous areas for American troops—more dangerous, in fact, than Baghdad over the past four years.

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It’s early days in the Battle of Baghdad. Fewer than 3,000 of a promised 18,000 or more reinforcements have arrived. It will take at least six to twelve months before we know whether the crackdown is working. But already various commentators are stepping forward to dismiss the Bush plan as the “wrong surge” and to propose alternative strategies.

Three of the foreign-policy analysts I respect most—Charles Krauthammer, Fareed Zakaria, and Lawrence Kaplan—argue that we should be consolidating our forces in Anbar province, not trying to retake Baghdad.

There is no doubt that this Sunni province needs to be pacified eventually, but an Anbar-centric approach would not accomplish the goals these writers set out. Krauthammer notes correctly that, “If we had zero American casualties a day, there would be as little need to withdraw from Iraq as there is to withdraw from the Balkans,” but he gives little suggestion of how his plan to “maintain a significant presence in Anbar province” could be squared with keeping down casualty numbers, considering that Anbar is one of the most dangerous areas for American troops—more dangerous, in fact, than Baghdad over the past four years.

Zakaria frets that the Baghdad clampdown will be perceived as anti-Sunni since the most immediate target is Sunni militants (the Shia militants are lying low for the time being). He quotes an anonymous “senior U.S. military officer” who says, “If we continue down the path we’re on, the Sunnis in Iraq will throw their lot behind al Qaeda, and the Sunni majority in the Arab world will believe that we helped in the killing and cleansing of their brethren in Iraq. That’s not a good outcome for the security of the American people.” Yet Zakaria’s preferred solution—“drawing down our forces to around 60,000 troops and concentrating on al Qaeda in Anbar province,” while presumably leaving the Sunnis of Baghdad to the tender mercies of the Jaish al Mahdi—would, if anything, exacerbate the perception of American policy as anti-Sunni.

For his part, Kaplan postulates, without any proof, that the U.S. could have greater military success in Anbar than in Baghdad, even though conditions there have been worse than in the capital. He fears that “Washington’s decision to twin its fate to Baghdad’s means that, if the city careens away, the United States will walk away not only from the civil war it could not quell—but also from the insurgency [in Anbar] it could.” But what would be the point of winning Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, if we lose Baghdad, the capital of the country? Which city is more important to Iraq’s future—an isolated outpost in the western desert, or a metropolis with one-fourth of the country’s population and much of its news media, business, cultural, and political leadership?

Krauthammer, Zakaria, and Kaplan are right to worry that the Baghdad plan won’t work. The odds are definitely against us by this point. But no other strategy—certainly not an Anbar-first approach—offers greater hope of success. I am reminded of the reasoning of General Franz Halder, chief of the German general staff, about Case Yellow, the plan for the invasion of France and the Low Countries in 1940. He put the odds of its working at ten-to-one against but concluded that all the other alternatives were worse. Of course Case Yellow did work. And the odds of success in Baghdad are much better than ten-to-one against.

The enemy (both Sunni and Shiite) has chosen to fight in Baghdad. We have no choice but meet the challenge, or else concede defeat. Let’s at least wait to see what happens before moving on to Plan B.

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