Commentary Magazine


Topic: butcher

Let Them Meet Steel

As Noah pointed out yesterday, Syria is now being credibly accused of shipping Scud missiles with a range of more than 430 miles to Hezbollah, placing Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the Dimona nuclear power plant inside the kill zone. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been forced under duress to visit Damascus and make amends with his father’s assassins, as has Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, effectively terminating whatever independence Lebanon scratched out for itself in 2005. At the same time, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad contemptuously taunts the president of the United States, whom he clearly perceives as a pushover. “American officials bigger than you,” he said of President Obama’s attempts to talk him out of developing nuclear weapons, “more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you.”

Yet the Obama administration still seems to think engagement with Syria and the suggestion of possible sanctions against Iran may keep the Middle East from boiling over.

President George W. Bush lost a lot of credibility when the civil war and insurgency in Iraq made a hash of his policy there. It was eventually obvious to just about everyone that something different needed to happen, and fast. Replacing the top brass in the field with General David Petraeus and his like-minded war critics just barely saved Iraq and American interests from total disaster. The president himself never fully recovered.

If Obama’s squishy policies are misguided, as I think they are, it’s less obvious. The Middle East isn’t on fire as it was circa 2005. But it should be apparent that, at some point, all the pressure that’s building up will have to go somewhere. When and how is anyone’s guess, but there’s little chance it’s just going to dissipate or be slowly released during peace talks.

The Iranian-led resistance bloc is becoming better armed and more belligerent by the month. And the next round of conflict could tear up as many as six regions at the same time if everyone pulls out the stops. A missile war sparked between Hezbollah and Israel, for instance, could easily spread to Gaza, Syria, Iran, and even Iraq.

Even if it’s only half as bad as all that, we should still brace ourselves for more mayhem and bloodshed than we saw during the recent wars in Gaza and Lebanon. Israelis may show a lot less restraint if skyscrapers in Tel Aviv are exploding. Iran might even fire off some of its own if the leadership thinks Israel lacks the resources or strength to fight on too many fronts. The United States could be drawn in kicking and screaming, but resistance-bloc leaders have every reason to believe it won’t happen, that the U.S. is more likely to zip flex cuffs on Jerusalem.

I’m speculating, of course. The future is forever unknowable, and none of this is inevitable. An unexpected event — such as the overthrow of Ali Khamenei in Tehran — could change everything. A real-world conflict would take on a life of its own anyway that no one could predict or control.

What is clear, however, is that Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah are hurtling ever closer to the brink. They’re acting as though they’re figuratively following Vladimir Lenin’s advice: “Probe with a bayonet. If you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push.”

I doubt most residents of South Lebanon believe in their bones that they won the war against Israel in 2006. I’ve been down there several times since. Entire neighborhoods were utterly pulverized. Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, though, has touted his own “divine victory” so many times he may have convinced himself. Even if he knows he lost the last round, he has dug in with a much more formidable arsenal for the next one. As scholar Jonathan Spyer wrote not long ago, Hezbollah is “in a state of rude health. It is brushing aside local foes, marching through the institutions, as tactically agile as it is strategically deluded.”

It is also utterly unhinged ideologically. Let’s not forget what Christopher Hitchens saw at a rally last year in the suburbs south of Beirut commemorating its slain commander Imad Mugniyeh. “A huge poster of a nuclear mushroom cloud surmounts the scene,” he wrote, “with the inscription OH ZIONISTS, IF YOU WANT THIS TYPE OF WAR THEN SO BE IT!”

The Israelis may well decide they’d rather fight a bad war now than a worse one later. Their enemies can afford to lose wars because Israel isn’t out to destroy their countries. No Israeli believes Syria or Iran shouldn’t exist. Israel, meanwhile, can barely afford to lose small wars. And the resistance bloc is boldly threatening and preparing for one of the most ambitious and destructive wars yet.

There’s only so much President Obama can do about this, but he’s lucky, even so, in a small way. The Middle East isn’t burning right now as it was during the Bush years. He can change course without having to pay a butcher’s bill first if he starts thinking seriously about deterrence as well as engagement. Let the resistance bloc see glints of steel once in a while instead of just mush — and not only for the sake of the people who live there. Our own national interests are at stake, and so is his political hide. Iran’s leaders would savor few things more than a second Democratic president’s scalp.

As Noah pointed out yesterday, Syria is now being credibly accused of shipping Scud missiles with a range of more than 430 miles to Hezbollah, placing Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the Dimona nuclear power plant inside the kill zone. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been forced under duress to visit Damascus and make amends with his father’s assassins, as has Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, effectively terminating whatever independence Lebanon scratched out for itself in 2005. At the same time, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad contemptuously taunts the president of the United States, whom he clearly perceives as a pushover. “American officials bigger than you,” he said of President Obama’s attempts to talk him out of developing nuclear weapons, “more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you.”

Yet the Obama administration still seems to think engagement with Syria and the suggestion of possible sanctions against Iran may keep the Middle East from boiling over.

President George W. Bush lost a lot of credibility when the civil war and insurgency in Iraq made a hash of his policy there. It was eventually obvious to just about everyone that something different needed to happen, and fast. Replacing the top brass in the field with General David Petraeus and his like-minded war critics just barely saved Iraq and American interests from total disaster. The president himself never fully recovered.

If Obama’s squishy policies are misguided, as I think they are, it’s less obvious. The Middle East isn’t on fire as it was circa 2005. But it should be apparent that, at some point, all the pressure that’s building up will have to go somewhere. When and how is anyone’s guess, but there’s little chance it’s just going to dissipate or be slowly released during peace talks.

The Iranian-led resistance bloc is becoming better armed and more belligerent by the month. And the next round of conflict could tear up as many as six regions at the same time if everyone pulls out the stops. A missile war sparked between Hezbollah and Israel, for instance, could easily spread to Gaza, Syria, Iran, and even Iraq.

Even if it’s only half as bad as all that, we should still brace ourselves for more mayhem and bloodshed than we saw during the recent wars in Gaza and Lebanon. Israelis may show a lot less restraint if skyscrapers in Tel Aviv are exploding. Iran might even fire off some of its own if the leadership thinks Israel lacks the resources or strength to fight on too many fronts. The United States could be drawn in kicking and screaming, but resistance-bloc leaders have every reason to believe it won’t happen, that the U.S. is more likely to zip flex cuffs on Jerusalem.

I’m speculating, of course. The future is forever unknowable, and none of this is inevitable. An unexpected event — such as the overthrow of Ali Khamenei in Tehran — could change everything. A real-world conflict would take on a life of its own anyway that no one could predict or control.

What is clear, however, is that Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah are hurtling ever closer to the brink. They’re acting as though they’re figuratively following Vladimir Lenin’s advice: “Probe with a bayonet. If you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push.”

I doubt most residents of South Lebanon believe in their bones that they won the war against Israel in 2006. I’ve been down there several times since. Entire neighborhoods were utterly pulverized. Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, though, has touted his own “divine victory” so many times he may have convinced himself. Even if he knows he lost the last round, he has dug in with a much more formidable arsenal for the next one. As scholar Jonathan Spyer wrote not long ago, Hezbollah is “in a state of rude health. It is brushing aside local foes, marching through the institutions, as tactically agile as it is strategically deluded.”

It is also utterly unhinged ideologically. Let’s not forget what Christopher Hitchens saw at a rally last year in the suburbs south of Beirut commemorating its slain commander Imad Mugniyeh. “A huge poster of a nuclear mushroom cloud surmounts the scene,” he wrote, “with the inscription OH ZIONISTS, IF YOU WANT THIS TYPE OF WAR THEN SO BE IT!”

The Israelis may well decide they’d rather fight a bad war now than a worse one later. Their enemies can afford to lose wars because Israel isn’t out to destroy their countries. No Israeli believes Syria or Iran shouldn’t exist. Israel, meanwhile, can barely afford to lose small wars. And the resistance bloc is boldly threatening and preparing for one of the most ambitious and destructive wars yet.

There’s only so much President Obama can do about this, but he’s lucky, even so, in a small way. The Middle East isn’t burning right now as it was during the Bush years. He can change course without having to pay a butcher’s bill first if he starts thinking seriously about deterrence as well as engagement. Let the resistance bloc see glints of steel once in a while instead of just mush — and not only for the sake of the people who live there. Our own national interests are at stake, and so is his political hide. Iran’s leaders would savor few things more than a second Democratic president’s scalp.

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A Weather Vane Shifts in Lebanon

Walid Jumblatt is one of the wiliest and least predictable politicians in the Middle East. A canny survivor, he has led the tiny Druze community in Lebanon since the late 1970s. He is usually described as a warlord, but he is also the leader of his own political party, the Progressive Socialists. Over the years, he has been aligned both with and against Syria and has taken aid from both the Soviet Union and the United States. He is a charming host and raconteur who, as I discovered during a visit to his Beirut home last year with a group of American journalists, is not afraid of offering outspoken opinions on most subjects under the sun.

In 2007, for example, he publicly referred to Bashar al-Assad — the Syrian dictator and son of the previous Syrian dictator, Hafez al-Assad, who was most likely responsible for the assassination of Walid’s father, Kamal, in 1977 — as a “monkey, snake and a butcher.” Now Jumblatt is saying, in effect, oops, I didn’t mean it:

“In a moment of anger I said inappropriate and illogical comments against him (Assad). Can Syria overcome this page and open a new page? I don’t know,” he told al-Jazeera television.

This is one of the more notable attempts at a retraction in recent history, but, aside from its comic value, it does have some geopolitical significance. Jumblatt, as I mentioned, is known above all for being a survivor, and if he now feels compelled to distance himself from the March 14 coalition (something he has been doing to some degree since 2008) and to propitiate Bashar al-Assad, it is an indication that the balance of power in the Levant is shifting in Assad’s favor. That is bad news, indeed. Assad has shown no willingness to give up his support of terrorist groups (notably Hezbollah and Hamas) or to sever links with Iran. And why should he, when the Obama administration is trying to court him despite his unwillingness to change his ways?

Jumblatt knows which way the wind is blowing. This most sensitive of weather vanes indicates that American interests in the region are suffering serious setbacks. But the administration is probably too busy beating up on our most reliable ally in the area to notice.

Walid Jumblatt is one of the wiliest and least predictable politicians in the Middle East. A canny survivor, he has led the tiny Druze community in Lebanon since the late 1970s. He is usually described as a warlord, but he is also the leader of his own political party, the Progressive Socialists. Over the years, he has been aligned both with and against Syria and has taken aid from both the Soviet Union and the United States. He is a charming host and raconteur who, as I discovered during a visit to his Beirut home last year with a group of American journalists, is not afraid of offering outspoken opinions on most subjects under the sun.

In 2007, for example, he publicly referred to Bashar al-Assad — the Syrian dictator and son of the previous Syrian dictator, Hafez al-Assad, who was most likely responsible for the assassination of Walid’s father, Kamal, in 1977 — as a “monkey, snake and a butcher.” Now Jumblatt is saying, in effect, oops, I didn’t mean it:

“In a moment of anger I said inappropriate and illogical comments against him (Assad). Can Syria overcome this page and open a new page? I don’t know,” he told al-Jazeera television.

This is one of the more notable attempts at a retraction in recent history, but, aside from its comic value, it does have some geopolitical significance. Jumblatt, as I mentioned, is known above all for being a survivor, and if he now feels compelled to distance himself from the March 14 coalition (something he has been doing to some degree since 2008) and to propitiate Bashar al-Assad, it is an indication that the balance of power in the Levant is shifting in Assad’s favor. That is bad news, indeed. Assad has shown no willingness to give up his support of terrorist groups (notably Hezbollah and Hamas) or to sever links with Iran. And why should he, when the Obama administration is trying to court him despite his unwillingness to change his ways?

Jumblatt knows which way the wind is blowing. This most sensitive of weather vanes indicates that American interests in the region are suffering serious setbacks. But the administration is probably too busy beating up on our most reliable ally in the area to notice.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

At the precise moment one of its own is collapsing in a puddle of his own ineptitude, the Left punditocracy congratulates itself that Democrats have the smartest presidents (“veritable geniuses—tops of their classes, brilliant orators, connoisseurs of facts, and champions of analysis”) who outshine the dummies the GOP produces. But let’s get real: “When you’re comparing the men who brought down the Berlin Wall and the Cold War along with it, liberated the people of Iraq from their butcher dictator and declared war against our terrorist enemies with the men who presided over the Iranian hostage crisis, gas lines, and our national malaise, and sullied the office of the president in a very big way, does it really matter who scored higher on his SATs?”

Another Nevada Senate poll, another double-digit deficit for Harry Reid. It might have something to do with the fact that Obama’s approval is only at 39 percent.

Michael Barone observes that even liberal pundits think the Republicans did quite well at the health-care summit. (Note to file: disregard Republican insiders who fear that every opportunity to talk to the American people is a “trap.”) He concludes: “Last month, we were told that Obama would switch his focus from health care to jobs. But Democrats have spent February and seem about to spend March focusing on health care. It’s hard to see how they can navigate the legislative process successfully — and even harder to see how they turn around public opinion. Summit flop indeed.”

I think most endorsements don’t matter very much. But some are downright absurd: Condi Rice backs Meg Whitman. What voter would be influenced by this?

Sometimes there is no right answer: “Republicans will win back Congress if Democrats use a majority-vote tactic on healthcare reform, according to the House GOP whip. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the second-ranking Republican in the House, tied the use of budget reconciliation rules on the healthcare bill to Democrats’ electoral fortunes this fall.” Then again, voters might punish the Democrats even if reconciliation isn’t used. You get the sense the Republicans are having fun taunting their opponents. It’s that kind of year.

Warren Buffet agrees with Republicans, suggesting that “President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats go back to the drawing board on health-care overhaul legislation and work with Republicans to come up with new legislation that deals with the ‘cost, cost, cost,’ that he calls a ‘tapeworm eating at American competitiveness.’” Not sure Obama listens to him, since Buffet went after most everything on Obama’s agenda, from card check to cap-and-trade. But really, didn’t Buffet know what Obama was all about when he backed him for president? I guess not.

Shocking, I know, but Steny Hoyer wants the deficit commission to raise taxes.

Must be George W. Bush’s fault: “Barack Obama now has a negative approval rating in every state he flipped from the Bush column to his in 2008. In each of those places his level of support is now in the 44-46% range. It’s probably a good thing he doesn’t have to run for reelection this year. He can only hope things start turning around for him once the midterms are in the rear view mirror, much as they did for Bill Clinton.”

At the precise moment one of its own is collapsing in a puddle of his own ineptitude, the Left punditocracy congratulates itself that Democrats have the smartest presidents (“veritable geniuses—tops of their classes, brilliant orators, connoisseurs of facts, and champions of analysis”) who outshine the dummies the GOP produces. But let’s get real: “When you’re comparing the men who brought down the Berlin Wall and the Cold War along with it, liberated the people of Iraq from their butcher dictator and declared war against our terrorist enemies with the men who presided over the Iranian hostage crisis, gas lines, and our national malaise, and sullied the office of the president in a very big way, does it really matter who scored higher on his SATs?”

Another Nevada Senate poll, another double-digit deficit for Harry Reid. It might have something to do with the fact that Obama’s approval is only at 39 percent.

Michael Barone observes that even liberal pundits think the Republicans did quite well at the health-care summit. (Note to file: disregard Republican insiders who fear that every opportunity to talk to the American people is a “trap.”) He concludes: “Last month, we were told that Obama would switch his focus from health care to jobs. But Democrats have spent February and seem about to spend March focusing on health care. It’s hard to see how they can navigate the legislative process successfully — and even harder to see how they turn around public opinion. Summit flop indeed.”

I think most endorsements don’t matter very much. But some are downright absurd: Condi Rice backs Meg Whitman. What voter would be influenced by this?

Sometimes there is no right answer: “Republicans will win back Congress if Democrats use a majority-vote tactic on healthcare reform, according to the House GOP whip. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the second-ranking Republican in the House, tied the use of budget reconciliation rules on the healthcare bill to Democrats’ electoral fortunes this fall.” Then again, voters might punish the Democrats even if reconciliation isn’t used. You get the sense the Republicans are having fun taunting their opponents. It’s that kind of year.

Warren Buffet agrees with Republicans, suggesting that “President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats go back to the drawing board on health-care overhaul legislation and work with Republicans to come up with new legislation that deals with the ‘cost, cost, cost,’ that he calls a ‘tapeworm eating at American competitiveness.’” Not sure Obama listens to him, since Buffet went after most everything on Obama’s agenda, from card check to cap-and-trade. But really, didn’t Buffet know what Obama was all about when he backed him for president? I guess not.

Shocking, I know, but Steny Hoyer wants the deficit commission to raise taxes.

Must be George W. Bush’s fault: “Barack Obama now has a negative approval rating in every state he flipped from the Bush column to his in 2008. In each of those places his level of support is now in the 44-46% range. It’s probably a good thing he doesn’t have to run for reelection this year. He can only hope things start turning around for him once the midterms are in the rear view mirror, much as they did for Bill Clinton.”

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The Dubai Hit

Eli Lake has another scoop, this time on the surgical strike in Dubai — that is, the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the co-founder of Hamas’ military arm. While some in the West are in a knot over the execution of a butcher (with no collateral damage, no innocents disturbed), Israeli sources tell Lake that the operation hasn’t posed any real complications for them. He writes:

“There is a lot of hyperventilating about this in the public arena,” said the senior official, who asked not to be named because he was speaking about sensitive intelligence matters. The official said he was speaking only about the effects on intelligence links and was not confirming Israel’s involvement in the hit.

“The countries that coordinate the war on terror with allies like Israel and the United States and Europe are not as exercised about this as some of the public statements,” the official said. “There has been no effect on the operational side.”

It’s not only the Israelis who confirm that the operation had little downside for them. For example, the founder of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center is quoted as saying, “I don’t think anyone is going to come out and say, ‘That was wonderful [really? well lots of Israelis, Fatah members and others rooting for Hamas' downfall sure do]. … But on the other hand, this will not have an effect on Mossad’s relationship with other intelligence services over the long run. That is why intelligence-to-intelligence relationships exist, so they can carry on in moments like this.”

Yes, publicly the EU is fussing over the use of false passports, but that seems to be more for show. In all this, two things are clear. First, the Israelis have reminded the terrorists of the world that no place is safe from the reach of Mossad. And second, when Israel acts from strength and demonstrates its military and intelligence prowess, it incurs respect and admiration from others. Well, not from many on the American Left, but then only a weak and defenseless Israel would please them. But what really matters is that Mabhouh is dead, fewer innocents will die, and terrorists will think twice before checking into a hotel in Dubai.

Eli Lake has another scoop, this time on the surgical strike in Dubai — that is, the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the co-founder of Hamas’ military arm. While some in the West are in a knot over the execution of a butcher (with no collateral damage, no innocents disturbed), Israeli sources tell Lake that the operation hasn’t posed any real complications for them. He writes:

“There is a lot of hyperventilating about this in the public arena,” said the senior official, who asked not to be named because he was speaking about sensitive intelligence matters. The official said he was speaking only about the effects on intelligence links and was not confirming Israel’s involvement in the hit.

“The countries that coordinate the war on terror with allies like Israel and the United States and Europe are not as exercised about this as some of the public statements,” the official said. “There has been no effect on the operational side.”

It’s not only the Israelis who confirm that the operation had little downside for them. For example, the founder of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center is quoted as saying, “I don’t think anyone is going to come out and say, ‘That was wonderful [really? well lots of Israelis, Fatah members and others rooting for Hamas' downfall sure do]. … But on the other hand, this will not have an effect on Mossad’s relationship with other intelligence services over the long run. That is why intelligence-to-intelligence relationships exist, so they can carry on in moments like this.”

Yes, publicly the EU is fussing over the use of false passports, but that seems to be more for show. In all this, two things are clear. First, the Israelis have reminded the terrorists of the world that no place is safe from the reach of Mossad. And second, when Israel acts from strength and demonstrates its military and intelligence prowess, it incurs respect and admiration from others. Well, not from many on the American Left, but then only a weak and defenseless Israel would please them. But what really matters is that Mabhouh is dead, fewer innocents will die, and terrorists will think twice before checking into a hotel in Dubai.

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Bookshelf

• Anyone who doubts the existence of original sin, or something very much like it, would do well to reflect on the enduring popularity of the novels of Richard Stark. For forty-six years now, Stark has been writing terse, hard-nosed books about a cold-hearted burglar named Parker (nobody seems to know his first name) who steals for a living, usually gets away with it, and stops at nothing, including murder, in order to do so. I couldn’t begin to count the number of people Parker has killed in the course of the twenty-four books in which he figures. His only virtues are his intelligence and his professionalism–yet you end up rooting for him whenever you read about him. Nietzsche knew why: when you look into an abyss, the abyss looks into you.

In real life “Richard Stark” is the pseudonym of Donald E. Westlake, a thoroughly delightful literary craftsman about whose virtues I have previously written in this space.

It’s a permanent puzzlement that Westlake, who is best known for his charming comic crime novels, should also have dreamed up so comprehensively unfunny a character as Parker, which doubtless tells us something of interest about human dualism, the subject matter of all film noir and noir-style fiction. I wouldn’t care to speculate about what it is in Westlake’s psyche that makes him so good at writing about Parker, much less what it is that makes me like the Parker novels so much. Suffice it to say that Stark/Westlake is the cleanest of all noir novelists, a styleless stylist who gets to the point with stupendous economy, hustling you down the path of plot so briskly that you have to read his books a second time to appreciate the elegance and sober wit with which they are written.

Parker’s latest caper, Dirty Money (Grand Central, 276 pp., $23.99), is a sequel to Nobody Runs Forever, the 2004 novel in which he stole two million dollars from an armored car, then had to stash it in an abandoned New England country church in order to escape arrest. The money, it turns out, is “poisoned,” meaning that the authorities have a record of the serial number on each bill, so Parker has to figure out not only how to get it back but also how to launder it. As always, his task is complicated by the fact that his colleagues in crime lack his chilly singlemindedness–unlike them, Parker always keeps both eyes on the prize–and thus have a way of lousing things up.

Readers familiar with the series of comic novels written by Westlake about a hapless career criminal named Dortmunder will know that they take place in a parallel universe in which the not-so-tough guys are constantly tripping over their own feet. The first of these books, The Hot Rock, began life as a Parker novel, but Westlake changed it when he realized that it was turning out funny. In a later Dortmunder novel, Jimmy the Kid, one of the characters actually gets an idea for a caper by reading a nonexistent Parker novel called Child Heist.

Needless to say, nothing like that happens in Dirty Money–Parker is all business–but you’ll smile from time to time at the spare economy with which Stark/Westlake paints his verbal pictures of life on the wrong side of the law. Imagine, for instance, that you’re a slightly crooked doctor who made the mistake of doing business with Parker’s gang and is now being interrogated by a bad guy. How might you be feeling? Probably a lot like this:

The doctor felt as though invisible straps were clamping every part of his body. He sat tilted forward, feet together and heels lifted, knees together, hands folded into his lap as though he were trying to hide a baseball….The doctor’s mind filled with regrets, that he had ever involved himself with these people, but then regrets for the past were overwhelmed by horror of the present. What could he do?

Answer: nothing.

It’s possible to read and enjoy Dirty Money without having read Nobody Runs Forever, but you’ll enjoy it even more if you know how Parker got into this mess, so I suggest you buy both books and read them in sequence, after which you’ll doubtless want to work your way through Richard Stark’s complete oeuvre. That isn’t so easy to do, alas, since many of his earlier novels are out of print. (My favorite Parker novel, Butcher’s Moon, is currently going for as much as $300 a copy on the used-book market.) Fortunately, a dozen or so of the best ones are quite easy to find. As for the others, you could always heist them.

• Anyone who doubts the existence of original sin, or something very much like it, would do well to reflect on the enduring popularity of the novels of Richard Stark. For forty-six years now, Stark has been writing terse, hard-nosed books about a cold-hearted burglar named Parker (nobody seems to know his first name) who steals for a living, usually gets away with it, and stops at nothing, including murder, in order to do so. I couldn’t begin to count the number of people Parker has killed in the course of the twenty-four books in which he figures. His only virtues are his intelligence and his professionalism–yet you end up rooting for him whenever you read about him. Nietzsche knew why: when you look into an abyss, the abyss looks into you.

In real life “Richard Stark” is the pseudonym of Donald E. Westlake, a thoroughly delightful literary craftsman about whose virtues I have previously written in this space.

It’s a permanent puzzlement that Westlake, who is best known for his charming comic crime novels, should also have dreamed up so comprehensively unfunny a character as Parker, which doubtless tells us something of interest about human dualism, the subject matter of all film noir and noir-style fiction. I wouldn’t care to speculate about what it is in Westlake’s psyche that makes him so good at writing about Parker, much less what it is that makes me like the Parker novels so much. Suffice it to say that Stark/Westlake is the cleanest of all noir novelists, a styleless stylist who gets to the point with stupendous economy, hustling you down the path of plot so briskly that you have to read his books a second time to appreciate the elegance and sober wit with which they are written.

Parker’s latest caper, Dirty Money (Grand Central, 276 pp., $23.99), is a sequel to Nobody Runs Forever, the 2004 novel in which he stole two million dollars from an armored car, then had to stash it in an abandoned New England country church in order to escape arrest. The money, it turns out, is “poisoned,” meaning that the authorities have a record of the serial number on each bill, so Parker has to figure out not only how to get it back but also how to launder it. As always, his task is complicated by the fact that his colleagues in crime lack his chilly singlemindedness–unlike them, Parker always keeps both eyes on the prize–and thus have a way of lousing things up.

Readers familiar with the series of comic novels written by Westlake about a hapless career criminal named Dortmunder will know that they take place in a parallel universe in which the not-so-tough guys are constantly tripping over their own feet. The first of these books, The Hot Rock, began life as a Parker novel, but Westlake changed it when he realized that it was turning out funny. In a later Dortmunder novel, Jimmy the Kid, one of the characters actually gets an idea for a caper by reading a nonexistent Parker novel called Child Heist.

Needless to say, nothing like that happens in Dirty Money–Parker is all business–but you’ll smile from time to time at the spare economy with which Stark/Westlake paints his verbal pictures of life on the wrong side of the law. Imagine, for instance, that you’re a slightly crooked doctor who made the mistake of doing business with Parker’s gang and is now being interrogated by a bad guy. How might you be feeling? Probably a lot like this:

The doctor felt as though invisible straps were clamping every part of his body. He sat tilted forward, feet together and heels lifted, knees together, hands folded into his lap as though he were trying to hide a baseball….The doctor’s mind filled with regrets, that he had ever involved himself with these people, but then regrets for the past were overwhelmed by horror of the present. What could he do?

Answer: nothing.

It’s possible to read and enjoy Dirty Money without having read Nobody Runs Forever, but you’ll enjoy it even more if you know how Parker got into this mess, so I suggest you buy both books and read them in sequence, after which you’ll doubtless want to work your way through Richard Stark’s complete oeuvre. That isn’t so easy to do, alas, since many of his earlier novels are out of print. (My favorite Parker novel, Butcher’s Moon, is currently going for as much as $300 a copy on the used-book market.) Fortunately, a dozen or so of the best ones are quite easy to find. As for the others, you could always heist them.

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Asser Levy

It’s seven months late, but we shouldn’t let 2007 pass without noting that it marks a milestone in American Jewish history. Although the first Jews came to New Amsterdam in 1654, it wasn’t until three years later that one of them, Asser Levy, was accorded the rights and status of a burgher, or citizen, of the colony. This year, then, marks the 350th anniversary, not just of the Jewish arrival in a new land, certainly something that had happened many times in the past, but of a much more meaningful passage: into nascent citizenhood, civil protection, and permanence of the Jewish presence in the New World.

Levy, all but forgotten today, was one of 23 Jews who arrived on September 7, 1654 on the bark St. Charles, carrying refugees fleeing Dutch Brazil, which had just been retaken by the Portuguese. Not wanting to run the risk of the New World’s Inquisition, having already escaped the Old World’s, the Jews were on their way back to Holland, where Levy apparently was from originally (his full surname was Levy van Swellem). Captured by pirates and rescued by a French privateer, the penniless Jews were brought to New Amsterdam, where Peter Stuyvesant immediately tried to have them expelled. The Directors of the Dutch West India Company, so the story goes, refused Stuyvesant’s demand, not out of mercy, but because many wealthy Dutch Jews were stockholders in the Company. (This was a lesson not lost on the new Jewish settlers about the importance of self-interest and property.)

The real test, however, started the following year, when Levy, a trader, petitioned to stand guard in the colony, one of the marks of being a burgher. Stuyvesant had excluded Jews from this privilege, and added injury to insult by fining them monthly for their exemption. Levy’s initial petition was rejected, but records later indicate he was permitted to do guard-duty. Soon after, Levy found his ability to trade goods limited by a decree that a “burgher right” was required. He duly petitioned, and after again being denied, appealed to the Company’s Director General. On April 21, 1657, a decree was issued that Jews in New Amsterdam should be admitted as burghers, equal in rights to the Dutch (though they were not allowed to form a religious congregation until nearly a century later). Seven years later, when the English took over New Amsterdam, the civil rights of Jews were upheld.

Levy was a trailblazer, and it is a shame he has been forgotten by those who owe him much. It appears he was the first licensed Jewish butcher (and a kosher one, at that, being exempted from killing hogs) and tavern owner, not to mention litigant in scores of cases. More importantly, Levy was likely the first Jew to own property in America, first in Albany, in 1661, and the following year in New Amsterdam itself, on what is now South William Street (just a stone’s throw from the headquarters of Goldman Sachs, appropriately). But it was Levy’s fight for citizenship 350 years ago that truly marked the beginnings of Jewish settlement in America, which is a date worth celebrating.

It’s seven months late, but we shouldn’t let 2007 pass without noting that it marks a milestone in American Jewish history. Although the first Jews came to New Amsterdam in 1654, it wasn’t until three years later that one of them, Asser Levy, was accorded the rights and status of a burgher, or citizen, of the colony. This year, then, marks the 350th anniversary, not just of the Jewish arrival in a new land, certainly something that had happened many times in the past, but of a much more meaningful passage: into nascent citizenhood, civil protection, and permanence of the Jewish presence in the New World.

Levy, all but forgotten today, was one of 23 Jews who arrived on September 7, 1654 on the bark St. Charles, carrying refugees fleeing Dutch Brazil, which had just been retaken by the Portuguese. Not wanting to run the risk of the New World’s Inquisition, having already escaped the Old World’s, the Jews were on their way back to Holland, where Levy apparently was from originally (his full surname was Levy van Swellem). Captured by pirates and rescued by a French privateer, the penniless Jews were brought to New Amsterdam, where Peter Stuyvesant immediately tried to have them expelled. The Directors of the Dutch West India Company, so the story goes, refused Stuyvesant’s demand, not out of mercy, but because many wealthy Dutch Jews were stockholders in the Company. (This was a lesson not lost on the new Jewish settlers about the importance of self-interest and property.)

The real test, however, started the following year, when Levy, a trader, petitioned to stand guard in the colony, one of the marks of being a burgher. Stuyvesant had excluded Jews from this privilege, and added injury to insult by fining them monthly for their exemption. Levy’s initial petition was rejected, but records later indicate he was permitted to do guard-duty. Soon after, Levy found his ability to trade goods limited by a decree that a “burgher right” was required. He duly petitioned, and after again being denied, appealed to the Company’s Director General. On April 21, 1657, a decree was issued that Jews in New Amsterdam should be admitted as burghers, equal in rights to the Dutch (though they were not allowed to form a religious congregation until nearly a century later). Seven years later, when the English took over New Amsterdam, the civil rights of Jews were upheld.

Levy was a trailblazer, and it is a shame he has been forgotten by those who owe him much. It appears he was the first licensed Jewish butcher (and a kosher one, at that, being exempted from killing hogs) and tavern owner, not to mention litigant in scores of cases. More importantly, Levy was likely the first Jew to own property in America, first in Albany, in 1661, and the following year in New Amsterdam itself, on what is now South William Street (just a stone’s throw from the headquarters of Goldman Sachs, appropriately). But it was Levy’s fight for citizenship 350 years ago that truly marked the beginnings of Jewish settlement in America, which is a date worth celebrating.

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Silence as Gesture

The world-famous mime Marcel Marceau (1923-2007), who died this week at 84, was buried on September 26 in Paris’s historic Père-Lachaise cemetery. The previous Grand Rabbi of France, Algerian-born René-Samuel Sirat, read the Kaddish over Marceau’s grave, reminding the modest crowd—France’s Culture Minister Christine Albanel did not even bother to attend—that Marceau “always defined himself as a citizen of the world, with Jewish roots.”

Indeed, he was born Marcel Mangel to a Polish Jewish family in Strasbourg in 1923. His father Charles Mangel, a butcher and amateur baritone who raised pigeons as a hobby, was deported to Auschwitz in 1944, where he was murdered. Young Marcel moved to Limoges and joined the Resistance, specializing in the counterfeiting of identity papers and helping to hide Jewish children from the Nazis. He counterfeited his own identity, choosing the name Marceau from a heroic poem by Victor Hugo in praise of a French Revolutionary general, François-Séverin Marceau.

Retaining his warrior’s name for the rest of his life, Marceau was more of a fighter than the general public—sometimes exasperated by the whimsy of his Chaplinesque flower-carrying character Bip—might perceive. Rabbi Sirat eloquently pointed to Marceau’s wartime experiences as leading him to the art of mime, with its “twin lessons of silence and gestures.” After D-Day, Marceau joined the French Army commanded by Marshal de Lattre de Tassigny, and only became a full-time performer after the Armistice. Interestingly, he chose among his first teachers the exceptional actor—and notorious collaborator with the wartime Nazi occupant—Charles Dullin.

By 1948, Marceau had established his own theater company, and his character Bip was born, named, according to Marceau, after the character Pip in Dickens’ Great Expectation. Bip is recalled for quaintly chasing butterflies and walking against the wind (a routine Michael Jackson admitted to ripping off in order to stage his own meaningless moonwalk). Bip at times expressed an inner violence, as in his early pantomime, “The Murderer,” which Marceau described as inspired by Raskolnikov, the murderer in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Marceau also claimed this mimed violence conveyed his own desire to “boot the Germans out of France.” When I myself met Marceau some fifteen years ago for an interview at the Espace Pierre-Cardin in Paris, he already seemed travel-worn, although, until very recently, he adamantly maintained a grueling international schedule of tours, with over 200 annual performances.
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The world-famous mime Marcel Marceau (1923-2007), who died this week at 84, was buried on September 26 in Paris’s historic Père-Lachaise cemetery. The previous Grand Rabbi of France, Algerian-born René-Samuel Sirat, read the Kaddish over Marceau’s grave, reminding the modest crowd—France’s Culture Minister Christine Albanel did not even bother to attend—that Marceau “always defined himself as a citizen of the world, with Jewish roots.”

Indeed, he was born Marcel Mangel to a Polish Jewish family in Strasbourg in 1923. His father Charles Mangel, a butcher and amateur baritone who raised pigeons as a hobby, was deported to Auschwitz in 1944, where he was murdered. Young Marcel moved to Limoges and joined the Resistance, specializing in the counterfeiting of identity papers and helping to hide Jewish children from the Nazis. He counterfeited his own identity, choosing the name Marceau from a heroic poem by Victor Hugo in praise of a French Revolutionary general, François-Séverin Marceau.

Retaining his warrior’s name for the rest of his life, Marceau was more of a fighter than the general public—sometimes exasperated by the whimsy of his Chaplinesque flower-carrying character Bip—might perceive. Rabbi Sirat eloquently pointed to Marceau’s wartime experiences as leading him to the art of mime, with its “twin lessons of silence and gestures.” After D-Day, Marceau joined the French Army commanded by Marshal de Lattre de Tassigny, and only became a full-time performer after the Armistice. Interestingly, he chose among his first teachers the exceptional actor—and notorious collaborator with the wartime Nazi occupant—Charles Dullin.

By 1948, Marceau had established his own theater company, and his character Bip was born, named, according to Marceau, after the character Pip in Dickens’ Great Expectation. Bip is recalled for quaintly chasing butterflies and walking against the wind (a routine Michael Jackson admitted to ripping off in order to stage his own meaningless moonwalk). Bip at times expressed an inner violence, as in his early pantomime, “The Murderer,” which Marceau described as inspired by Raskolnikov, the murderer in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Marceau also claimed this mimed violence conveyed his own desire to “boot the Germans out of France.” When I myself met Marceau some fifteen years ago for an interview at the Espace Pierre-Cardin in Paris, he already seemed travel-worn, although, until very recently, he adamantly maintained a grueling international schedule of tours, with over 200 annual performances.

In the 1970’s, I saw him perform in Manhattan before unfriendly crowds who expressed their impatience with the slow pace of his act, his reliance on inferior young students who performed a good part of the mime show, and his own form, creaky even then. Years ago, a French journalist challenged him about his “conventional” pantomimes that seemed never to change. Marceau, ever revolutionary in spirit, replied, “Everything is convention, a fine word that hearkens back to the French Revolution and the notion of convening.” In his sources of inspiration, Marceau may eventually be seen as a kind of mute Elie Wiesel, a survivor who distrusted France’s wartime linguistic hypocrisy to the point of expressing his art silently.

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Who Won the Second Lebanon War?

Who won last summer’s Lebanon war, Israel or Hizballah? A year after combat ceased that question remains hotly controverted. If nothing else, the continuing debate is testimony to the ambiguous nature of the outcome between one of the world’s most powerful armies and the rag-tag Islamic militia that it faced.

Since neither side suffered a knock-out blow, what indicators, short of total defeat and surrender, can be employed to evaluate the conflict? Because Hizballah was fighting a rocket war, firing a variety of projectiles into Israel’s north, one key question that must be posed is: how effective was Hizballah’s rocket campaign, and how effective was Israel’s response?

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Who won last summer’s Lebanon war, Israel or Hizballah? A year after combat ceased that question remains hotly controverted. If nothing else, the continuing debate is testimony to the ambiguous nature of the outcome between one of the world’s most powerful armies and the rag-tag Islamic militia that it faced.

Since neither side suffered a knock-out blow, what indicators, short of total defeat and surrender, can be employed to evaluate the conflict? Because Hizballah was fighting a rocket war, firing a variety of projectiles into Israel’s north, one key question that must be posed is: how effective was Hizballah’s rocket campaign, and how effective was Israel’s response?

One exceedingly well-researched answer comes from Uzi Rubin, who served as the first director of Israel’s Missile Defense Organization in the 1990’s, where he managed development of the Arrow missile-defense system.

The picture that emerges from Rubin’s analysis is of an Islamic militia force that was astonishingly well prepared for the conflict, and which had thought carefully about matching means and ends. Even if Hizballah’s head, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, had misjudged the scope and scale of Israel’s response to the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, Hizballah’s basic approach was vindicated by the course of the fighting.

“[I]t can now be seen,” writes Rubin, that Hizballah had “devised a two-pronged strategy to overturn Israel’s predominance in terms of manpower, machinery, and technology.” In the first prong, “massive rocket fire was used against Israel’s homeland in order to provoke Israel into launching a ground offensive.” In the second prong, “well-entrenched defense in depth was employed in order to defeat the ground offensive.”

In other words, Hizballah, “aimed to bait Israel into entering its carefully laid trap with rocket fire.” The key for Israel would have been successfully suppressing the rocket fire that for 33 days rained destruction on its north, thereby avoiding having to pay the “butcher’s bill” for an incursion on the ground.

But even as the Israeli air force succeeded in destroying most if not all of Hizballah’s longer-range missiles, it was unable to deal with the short-range ones. On the final day of the war, to demonstrate that it had preserved quite a few arrows in its quiver, and that its lines of communication had survived Israel’s best destructive efforts, Hizballah launched a coordinated salvo, hurling a record 232 rockets over the Lebanese border at one time.

What can be learned from the war? Israel’s adversaries are certainly studying it carefully. Rubin notes that the outcome

may well prompt the Palestinian factions to intensify their already ongoing rocket attacks against southern Israel, both in terms of quality and quantity. Hamas in Gaza is already stocking up on longer-range rockets, and may well adapt the Hizballah’s two-pronged strategy. Syria, a patron of the Hizballah with its own vast stockpile of rockets and ballistic missiles, might be tempted to devise a doctrine of attrition by rocket and missile fire instead of a full-scale, 1973-style invasion, to gain back the Golan Heights.

Israel has been studying the conflict, too. The most obvious lesson, as Rubin writes, is that “[a]s long as simple, unsophisticated, cheaply produced rockets cannot be overcome, they are now and will remain in the future a veritable strategic threat to Israel’s national security.”

What is to be done to counter this strategic threat? Click here to learn about MTHEL. It is not a silver bullet, but one vital component of a successful Israeli response.

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