Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and the innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,
Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honors at their feet.
Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.
Topic: Christopher Hitchens
I have several recollections of Christopher Hitchens, who died yesterday at the age of 62.
The first is when I served in the George W. Bush White House and, in the first term, invited Christopher to speak to the White House staff. He spoke very well, of course, but what I most recall are a couple of things that occurred before the speech. The first is standing with him outside of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. He had gone out to smoke, which wasn’t unusual — and he confided to me that he was nervous, which was. The words “Christopher Hitchens” and “nervous” don’t usually belong in the same sentence. He also wore a tie, which he indicated to me he hadn’t done in years — and, he told me, he had gotten his shoes shined before the speech, which he didn’t recall ever having had done.
The great Christopher Hitchens, an essayist of fierce and unshakable integrity, has died in Houston of the esophageal cancer with which he was first diagnosed just a year and a half ago.
A complicated figure who should be remembered for the undeviating contrarianism that made him such a good journalist (see his 2001 Letters to a Young Contrarian), Hitchens also emerged in recent years as a leading voice of the New Atheism (see his 2007 God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything). He specialized in angering people — a lot of people, a lot of the time. (Update: Including the Jews. This morning at Jewish Ideas Daily, Benjamin Kerstein examines Hitchens’s “loathing for Judaism, or rather the grotesque caricature he refers to as Judaism.” It does not diminish his achievement to observe that many of those whom Hitchens angered were right to be angry.)
He drove his former comrades on the left especially crazy. Many of them broke with him after he condemned “Islamic fascism” in the days following 9/11. By then he had already turned away from his youthful Trotskyism. And he had tried the left’s patience with his bitter opposition to President Clinton (see his 1999 No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton). But the heresy of locating fascism in the Islamic and not the capitalist world was the last straw. He stopped writing for the Nation, to which he had regularly contributed for 20 years, and never again let up on the left for its appeasement of terrorism.
In an essay written for Slate on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Hitchens explained his conception of his literary role:
The proper task of the “public intellectual” might be conceived as the responsibility to introduce complexity into the argument: the reminder that things are very infrequently as simple as they can be made to seem. But what I learned in a highly indelible manner from the events and arguments of September 2001 was this: Never, ever ignore the obvious either.
His detractors on the left and among the religious never understood this about him: everything Hitchens wrote was a provocation to rethink and an invitation to reply. He could be disdainful of his opponents — this is the usual reason given by people who refuse to read him — but Hitchens’s essays are a call to defend themselves. His essays are never bullying, because Hitchens never pretends to have the last word on a subject. Hence the title of his last book: Arguably. (If there is any justice in the literary world it will win the National Book Critics Circle award in nonfiction, for which I — and many others, I’m sure — have nominated it.)
Hitchens set a high standard of argument in several genres, writing a hugely entertaining memoir (his 2010 Hitch-22), political history (his 2005 Thomas Jefferson: Author of America), and literary criticism (his 2002 Why Orwell Matters). In his last months, he added his unsparing honesty to the literature of cancer (see here, for example, and here and particularly here). He is routinely compared to Orwell, but the comparison does neither man justice. Better to say this: exactly like Orwell, he was a man of the left who was the left’s best critic, an utterly unique figure with a plain and compelling voice all his own, perfectly fitted to his age. To honor his memory, I will not pray for him.
Rest in peace.
No novel is better than Philip Roth’s Plot against America at summoning up the Jews’ fear that, after 9/11, their enemies would find some way to drive a wedge between the majority of Americans and themselves. Roth’s great 2004 novel is a “parable for the post-Sept. 11 world.”
The answer is simple. It’s absurd to suggest that Roth’s Plot is any kind of “parable for the post-Sept. 11 world,” that’s why. The novel was an experiment in imagining what it would have been like, as Roth himself put it, for “America’s Jews to feel the pressure of a genuine anti-Semitic threat.” But if Jews are now under the threat of genuine anti-Semitism — and they are — the threat does not come from the quarter described in Roth’s Plot.
The book is about what might have happened if Charles A. Lindbergh had won the Republican nomination for president and defeated Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. For unexplained reasons, Lindbergh’s election causes Philip’s mother to start crying at the sight of a leather-jacketed D.C. motorcycle policeman, leads Herman Roth to be called a “loudmouth Jew” in a restaurant, and gets the Roths kicked out of their hotel. (The leading characters in this nightmare vision are drawn from Roth’s own family.)
After President Lindbergh mysteriously disappears, his protofascist successor (Burton K. Wheeler, an antiwar Democratic senator from Montana who in historical reality cofounded the America First Committee along with Lindbergh) imposes martial law and accuses “warmongers,” by which everyone understands him to mean the Jews, of seeking to maneuver the U.S. into war against Germany. Anti-Semitic rioting kills 122.
On the literal level, the parallel between 9/11 and Roth’s Plot is hard to discern. It’s true that crackpots like the poet Amiri Baraka shrilled that “4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers” had been told “To stay home that day.” There is no popular audience for anti-Semitism in America, though. Baraka was booed when he read the poem at a poetry festival, and New Jersey officials eventually found a way to remove him as the state’s poet laureate.
It’s also true that some Democratic Party isolationists, who might perhaps be called latter-day Wheelers, argued against taking the war on terror to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. But not even the most extreme of conservatives accused them of being fascists. And what is more, American Jews continued to vote for Democrats in numbers that suggested they did not associate the party with anti-Semitism.
The real fascists on 9/11 were the Islamist terrorists who brought down the towers. Shortly afterwards, Christopher Hitchens described the ideology behind the attacks as “fascism with an Islamic face,” and since then he has not flinched at the term Islamofascism. The fascists in Roth’s Plot, however, are native-born Americans. They are suspicious of the Jews as a foreign element in the American bloodstream. But the post-9/11 suspicion of a “foreign element” in this country, at least according to sources like the Center for American Progress and the novelist Kamila Shamsie, is directed toward Arab Muslims, “America’s persecuted minority of the moment,” as Heeb magazine called them. Yet Roth’s foreign element are warmongers, while American Muslims overwhelmingly opposed the war in Iraq.
The confusion is not merely the result of misreading The Plot against America as a parable, however. Much of the confusion belongs to the novel itself. As Ruth R. Wisse said in her masterful review in COMMENTARY, the genuine threat to American Jews, “aside from the real possibility of Islamic terrorism,” arises from a “kind of homegrown anti-Semitic coalition, combining elements of the isolationist Buchananite Right (Lindbergh’s direct heirs) with the much more energetic and influential forces of the anti-Israel and anti-American Left,” which increasingly find a welcome refuge on American university campuses. Such a threat could easily serve as the basis of a frightening dystopic novel, but as Wisse observed, that novel would not be entitled The Plot against America. Nor would Adam Kirsch be likely to praise it even if it were.
Christopher Hitchens doesn’t like The King’s Speech. Not because of its cinematic qualities, which he appreciates, but because of its political ones. According to him, the movie is a “a gross falsification of history” because it shows Churchill as “generally in favor of a statesmanlike solution to the crisis of the abdication” and because it neglects to portray Edward VIII as “a firm admirer of the Third Reich” and George VI as an appeaser and anti-Churchill.
When I first read Hitchens’s piece, my mind flashed back to an article Hitchens contributed to the Atlantic in July/August 2002, an article that, as the subtitle puts it, “takes the Great Man down a peg or two.” It occasioned a characteristically understated and effective response from my adviser Paul Kennedy, who pointed out the “misinformation” that Hitchens appeared to be circulating. Not at all abashed, Hitchens continues to regret that “it seems we shall never reach a time when the Churchill cult is open for honest inspection.”
It’s curious that Hitchens both criticizes the “Churchill cult” for supporting the Great Man, and George VI for supposedly failing to do so. But Hitchens is shooting at several targets simultaneously: Churchill for being a monarchist, and the monarchy for existing. When coupled with his opposition to appeasement, the result is not always convincing.
Of Edward VIII, let us say little. Hitchens may be putting it too strongly when he characterizes him as firmly committed to the Third Reich — Edward was too self-centered and witless to be firmly committed to anything but his own desires, which was why he didn’t last long on the throne — but there’s no doubt he was an embarrassment and a liability. Fortunately, his ability to do mischief was seriously limited by the fact that he was a constitutional monarch. And, regrettably, his opinions were far from unique: in mid-1930s Britain, they were held by many people whose views mattered a good deal more than his.
George VI deserved better than he gets from Hitchens, who believes that the monarch’s supposedly shabby history “can easily be known by anybody willing to do some elementary research.” Yes, George supported Chamberlain and initially distrusted Churchill. In this, he was sadly far from unusual. What Hitchens doesn’t point out is that, once Churchill was in charge, George gave him — in the words of David Cannadine, a far from friendly historian — “loyal and increasingly admiring support throughout the war.” If Hitchens wants to call out the monarchy’s errors before May 1940, that’s fine; but there’s no “post-fabricated myth of its participation in ‘Britain’s finest hour.’” The participation was real, and if George had a bad peace, he had a good war. The same can be said of many others. Read More
The most recent Gallup poll finds that a near-record percentage of Americans see religion losing influence in America.
According to Gallup:
* Seven in 10 Americans say religion is losing its influence on American life — one of the highest such responses in Gallup’s 53-year history of asking this question and significantly higher than in the first half of the past decade. (The last time the figure was higher was in 1970, during the height of the sexual revolution, when the figure was 75 percent.)
* Fifty-four percent of Americans in 2010 say religion is “very important” in their lives. This is down slightly from the past two decades, but roughly equal with levels measured in the 1980s. Americans were much more positive about the effect of religion on their own lives in the 1950s and 1960s, including the historic high of 75 percent who said religion was very important in 1952.
* Self-reported church or synagogue membership has drifted slowly downward over the past 70 years. The current 61 percent of Americans who report church or synagogue membership is tied with 2007 and 2008 as the lowest in Gallup’s history and down significantly from a high of 76 percent in 1947.
One would need to explore the data with great care before drawing conclusions that were definitive or sweeping. It’s certainly not clear to me what all, or even most of, the factors are that are driving these numbers. But whatever they are, there is no question that the last half-decade has seen a sharp rise in the percentage of Americans who see religion losing influence in America and a sharp drop (to 25 percent) of those who believe religion is increasing its influence in America. Presumably these findings will delight Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris. Many of the rest of us are a good deal less encouraged by them.
On Jewish Ideas Daily, the extraordinary website run by my predecessor as editor of COMMENTARY Neal Kozodoy. the young critic Benjamin Kerstein offers a coruscating and long-overdue analysis of Christopher Hitchens’s animus toward Judaism.
Kerstein shows how the intellectual fundament of Hitchens’s thought about Judaism, Israel Shahak, was “cracked” (among other things, he accused Martin Buber, the 20th-century Jewish philosopher, of mass murder). Most important, he reveals the ways in which Hitchens’s passionate atheism cannot be used as the explanation for his feelings about Judaism, which run deeper than his hostility to the faiths that followed it; as Kerstein writes, “Judaism is to blame for everything Hitchens hates about monotheism as a whole.”
It’s a dazzling analysis of a dazzling polemicist whose brave turn against the sacred cows of his own leftist camp in the past decade should not blind us to the ugliness of his own core ideas.
An enterprising journalism school might want to start offering a one-day seminar in the effective staging of videotaped waterboarding. Getting under a wet towel is a surefire way to put your name out there. It’s sort of like the reality TV of journalism. Get a cheap camera, do something unpleasant, and welcome your new audience.
Before today, I had never heard of the Sun’s Oliver Harvey. But now that he got wet and held his breath for 12 seconds while being videotaped he’s become the subject of this post. Harvey is the latest in a string of writers who’ve taken this shortcut to a larger readership. Of all the volunteer splashees, Christopher Hitchens got the most mileage when he submitted himself to the whims of fake interrogators in 2008. This produced an immediately forgettable Vanity Fair article and an immortal YouTube video.
Apparently it eludes these eager bathers that as more of them get dunked for dough, the case for the unspeakable inhumanity of waterboarding becomes increasingly weak. In fact, there’s something wonderfully pro-American in all this. So evil are the wartime methods of the United States that they’ve inspired a succession of entrepreneurial self-administering copycats to capitalize on them in the free market. Tell me there’s no poetry in that. You don’t see the denizens of Fleet Street offering themselves up to the interrogation methods of the regimes they’re so eager to defend, do you? When you see an Iran apologist suffering the identical treatment of an Evin prison captive then we’ll talk.
One of the pleasures of the just-published Saul Bellow: Letters is the letter about the 1989 dinner with Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens – where Commentary played a dramatic role. Amis wrote about it in his 2001 memoir, Experience; Hitchens described it last year in Hitch-22. Now we have Bellow’s perspective, in an August 29, 1989, letter to Cynthia Ozick.
Amis had invited Hitchens, his best friend, to join him for dinner at Bellow’s Vermont home. On the ride there, Amis warned Hitchens that he “wasn’t to drag the conversation toward anything political, let alone left-wing, let alone anything to do with Israel.” But before dinner, Hitchens spotted something that would soon set him off:
Right on the wicker table in the room where we were chatting, there lay something that was as potentially hackneyed in its menace as Anton Chekhov’s gun on the mantelpiece. If it’s there in the first act … it will be fired before the curtain comes down. … It was the only piece of printed matter in view, and it was the latest edition of COMMENTARY magazine, and its bannered cover-story headline was: “Edward Said, Professor of Terror.”
As Hitchens told it, Bellow made an observation during dinner about anti-Zionism and went to retrieve his underlined copy of COMMENTARY to prove his point, and Hitchens decided he could not allow his friend Edward Said to be “defamed.” And “by the end of dinner nobody could meet anyone else’s eye and [Amis's] foot had become lamed and tired by its under-the-table collisions with my shins.” On the long ride home, Hitchens explained he had to defend his absent friend — to which Amis responded, “And what about me?” Read More
Jeffrey Goldberg takes nearly 10,000 words in the current Atlantic to ruminate about whether Israel or the United States will ever use force to stop the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons. His answer is that if the United States doesn’t act, sooner or later, the Israelis will. No surprise there.
As for whether the Obama administration is capable of launching a strike to forestall Iran from going nuclear, Goldberg professes he is closer to believing that it is possible. That was certainly the intent of many of those in the administration who discussed it with him. But, like much of the spin being delivered by both American and Israeli sources quoted by Goldberg, that strikes me just as likely to be disinformation as not.
Much of the piece centers on whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be forced by circumstances or by his father, the 100-year-old, formidable scholar Benzion Netanyahu, to pull the trigger on Iran. For all of his considerable knowledge of Israel, Goldberg is still stuck on the trope of figuring out how right-wing Bibi is, even though this issue transcends the right/left divide of Israeli politics because it is literally a matter of life and death.
More to the point, the endless speculation about an Israeli strike is at the same time both unhelpful and misleading.
It is unhelpful because, as Shimon Peres seems to be telling Goldberg in the conclusion to his essay, dealing with Iran is America’s responsibility, not Israel’s. The consequences of an Iranian bomb are enormous for Israel, but they are no less scary for the United States. A nuclear Iran would destabilize the Middle East, start a chain-reaction of nuclear proliferation among other countries in the region, and empower Islamist terrorists. If America stands by and meekly attempts to contain Tehran once it has the bomb, it won’t be just international law that won’t mean a thing, as Christopher Hitchens has pointed out. America’s credibility as a great power will be shredded. Putting the onus on Israel to act to save the day also has the unfortunate side effect of lessening the pressure on Obama to face his responsibilities.
Even worse, the impulse to let the Israelis do the dirty work — while the United States and its moderate Arab allies stand by tut-tutting about Likud hardliners as they reap the benefits of a preemptive strike — also creates the illusion that Israel can do just as good a job as America in terms of achieving the military objective. We should not shortchange the Israeli Defense Forces. As history has shown, the Israeli military can do amazing things. But there is simply no comparison between its capabilities and those of the armed forces of the United States. Knocking out or significantly damaging Iran’s nuclear facilities is a job for the Americans, not the Israelis.
And for all the bravado that emanates from Israel about its military, not everyone there is all that confident about the IDF’s ability to perform such a task. As one Israeli friend pointed out, it is more than optimistic — it is probably delusional — to expect this of a country whose intelligence agencies weren’t able to coordinate their efforts to deal effectively with a flotilla of small ships on their way to Hamas-run Gaza; that isn’t able to locate and rescue Gilad Shalit in a Hamas hideout only kilometers away from IDF bases; that didn’t make mincemeat out of the Lebanese army after it participated in a cross-border murder of an Israeli soldier last week; and whose top army command could go to a general who hired a political consultant to help him campaign for the job. Under these circumstances, many Israelis rightly see America as the world’s only hope for preventing the nightmare of Ahmadinejad and the mullahs who run that tyrannical regime acquiring a nuclear option.
Rather than wasting time worrying about whether Netanyahu’s daddy will shame him into preventing another Holocaust, as Goldberg has done, what is needed now is focusing all our attention on whether Barack Obama has the wisdom — and the guts — to do what needs to be done about Iran.
In his moving article in Vanity Fair about his cancer, Christopher Hitchens disclosed that just before he went on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he violently threw up — the result of the illness he had learned about that morning, when he woke unable to breathe, was barely able to cross his hotel room to call for help, and was saved by emergency treatment by doctors who did “quite a lot” of work on his heart and lungs and told him he needed to consult an oncologist immediately.
That evening he nevertheless appeared as scheduled on Stewart’s show (and then at the 92nd Street Y, where he threw up again), unwilling to disappoint his friends or miss the chance to sell his memoir. In the article, he did not describe what he said on The Daily Show, but his appearance there is worth remembering for reasons going beyond his extraordinary fortitude in proceeding with it.
The video is here. At the end, after discussing his work in a camp for revolutionaries in Cuba in the 60s, there was this colloquy:
Stewart: If you had been young today, going through this same sort of [unintelligible], where do you think your alliances would be, where do you think you would have—
Hitchens: Well, I teach at the New School, and I teach English and a lot of journalists and would-be journalists come, and I often hang out with young people who are journalists, and I’m sorry for them, in a way. Because what are they gonna do – I mean, are they going to say ‘I’m a global warming activist’? It’s not quite the same, is it?
Stewart: Isn’t it all the same once you realize that your idealism — you can use it to further your aims, [if] you realize that nothing is nirvana, nothing is perfect?
Hitchens: Oscar Wilde used to say that a map of the world that doesn’t include Utopia isn’t worth looking at. I used to think that was a beautiful statement. I don’t think that at all anymore. I tell you, to be honest, the most idealistic and brave and committed and intelligent young people that I know have joined the armed forces. And they are now guarding us while we sleep in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. … I never would have expected that would be what I would say about the students I have to teach.
Stewart’s audience, which is often raucous, listened to this in silence.
Hitchens writes in Hitch-22 that these days he thinks about “the shipwrecks and prison islands to which the quest [for Utopia] has led” and that he came to realize that “the only historical revolution with any verve left in it, or any example to offer others, was the American one.” His appearance on the Daily Show was an example not only of his physical courage but also of the intellectual audacity that pervades his book.
What would you do about Iran if you were Netanyahu? That’s the question Jeffrey Goldberg asks Christopher Hitchens in one of a series of interesting videos posted at the Atlantic‘s website that accompanies Goldberg’s major piece on the question of the threat from Iran.
Hitchens’s reply was that a better question is what would he do if he were president of the United States, because “That’s where the question has to be asked.”
Though he is at pains to remind us that he is a severe critic of Israel and Zionism and thinks it “wouldn’t have been a bad thing if it [Israel] had never been started,” Hitchens says that if, as seems inevitable, Iran is prepared to weaponize, it will be Obama’s “obligation to take out” the Iranian regime and to do it before it acts on its nefarious intentions.
Hitchens’s rationale is that since Iran has many times sworn in writing and in international forums that it has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons, while also declaring its intent to destroy Israel, then the United States must act “if international law means anything.” He also points out that there is no comparison between Iran’s nuclear program and the one that already exists in Israel, because the latter is a “status quo power,” while the former is run by a “crowd of genocidal fanatical theocrats.” Indeed, Hitchens takes the anti-Semitism of the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad government seriously and rightly points out that civilization can’t stand by and watch the Jews being slaughtered again.
But listening to Hitchens one wonders whether anyone in the current administration takes seriously the notion that it is America’s obligation to hold Iran accountable. It is more likely that the president and his advisers are more worried about validating the Bush doctrine that a preemptive strike is justified when the threat of a rogue regime getting hold of a weapon of mass destruction is on the table. Everything this administration has done seems to indicate that it sees a potential strike on Iran as more of a threat to the world than the Iranian bomb itself. Since Obama is almost certainly more afraid of another Iraq than he is of a genocidal threat to Israel’s existence, it is difficult to believe that he will take Hitchens’s advice.
If you haven’t read Christopher Hitchens’s Vanity Fair article on his battle with cancer, you should. It’s a remarkable article, really — honest and raw, in parts poignant and quite moving. It ends this way:
I am quietly resolved to resist bodily as best I can, even if only passively, and to seek the most advanced advice. My heart and blood pressure and many other registers are now strong again: indeed, it occurs to me that if I didn’t have such a stout constitution I might have led a much healthier life thus far. Against me is the blind, emotionless alien, cheered on by some who have long wished me ill. But on the side of my continued life is a group of brilliant and selfless physicians plus an astonishing number of prayer groups. On both of these I hope to write next time if — as my father invariably said — I am spared.
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.
Christopher Hitchens is out hawking his book with tales of his Oxford escapades. Alas, now “he’s a Dorian-Gray picture of his former self invoking the memory of it all to sell books this time around, and he’s given it—and himself—a very bad name indeed.”
In case there was any confusion about what the enemy is up to: “Al-Qaida’s American-born spokesman on Sunday called on Muslims serving in the U.S. armed forces to emulate the Army major charged with killing 13 people in Fort Hood. In a 25-minute video posted on militant Web sites, Adam Gadahn described Maj. Nidal Hasan as a pioneer who should serve as a role model for other Muslims, especially those serving Western militaries. ‘Brother Nidal is the ideal role-model for every repentant Muslim in the armies of the unbelievers and apostate regimes,’ he said.”
This was televised on C-SPAN: “Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich talked about ethics in politics. Following his remarks he responded to questions from law professors. The panel included Professors Tonja Jacobi, Donald Gordon, and Donna Leff.” (h/t Taegan Goddard) Seems better suited to Comedy Central.
Who better to send on a fool’s errand? “U.S. President Barack Obama dispatches his vice president to the Middle East on Sunday to try to build support for reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks despite deep skepticism on both sides.”
Clark Hoyt gets around to discussing the latest plagiarism scandal at the New York Times involving now departed Zachery Kouwe. He wonders: “How did his serial plagiarism happen and go undetected for so long? Why were warning signs overlooked? Was there anything at fault in the culture of DealBook, the hyper-competitive news blog on which Kouwe worked? And, now that the investigation is complete, what about a full accounting to readers?” Well, for starters, the Times let Maureen Dowd get away with plagiarism, so maybe Kouwe got the idea that it wasn’t really a “mortal journalistic sin.”
David Freddoso on the ongoing sanctimony festival: “‘Bankers don’t need another vote in the United States Senate,’ President Obama said as he urged Massachusetts voters to support Attorney General Martha Coakley over Republican Scott Brown. He also railed against ‘the same fat-cats who are getting rewarded for their failure.’ But in Illinois, Democrats have nominated a banker for Obama’s old Senate seat. Not only is Alexi Giannoulias’s family bank on the verge of failing, but he has a golden parachute made of federal tax refunds.”
Like all those Iran deadlines, no real deadline on ObamaCare: “Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Sunday dodged a series of questions about the White House’s plans for healthcare reform in the event lawmakers failed to pass it by the Easter recess. When asked on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ whether President Barack Obama would still pursue that legislation after the break, Sebelius offered no direct answer, only stressing, ‘I think we’ll have the votes when the leadership decides to call the votes, and I think it will pass.’”
Dana Perino on Fox News Sunday sums up the difficulty in rounding up votes for ObamaCare: “I think that a lot of the details just are now going past people’s heads and that the fundamental problem for the Democrats is that people do not want the big government spending. They don’t want the big program. They don’t understand why they’re pushing so hard on this and not on jobs. And it occurs to me that you can only vote against your constituents so many times before they start to vote against you.”
Robert Zelnick is very upset to learn that the Gray Lady doesn’t report news adverse to Obama. On Obama’s Medicare gimmickry: “The Times should, of course, be over this story like flies at a picnic table.Where will the money come from, Mr. President? Is there any precedent for draining funds like this from one soon-to-be insolvent program to another? Have you computed how the projected cuts in payment to doctors would affect the supply of physicians, the quality of medicine practiced, the health and longevity of the American people? Aren’t we really dealing with a series of misrepresentations — both explicit and implicit — unprecedented in the nation’s history.”
Reason to celebrate: “Defying a sustained barrage of mortars and rockets in Baghdad and other cities, Iraqis went to the polls in numbers on Sunday to choose a new parliament meant to outlast the American military presence here. … Insurgents here vowed to disrupt the election, and the concerted wave of attacks — as many as 100 thunderous blasts in the capital alone starting just before the polls opened — did frighten voters away, but only initially. The shrugging response of voters could signal a fundamental weakening of the insurgency’s potency.” And reason to be so very proud of one of the greatest military forces ever assembled, which, despite the naysayers, freed Iraqis from a brutal dictatorship.
In 1999, Christopher Hitchens said Bill Clinton was
in terrible trouble mentally and psychologically and is a completely hollow narcissist and egomaniac. And he thinks that the best therapy for it is being president. My view is that presidential therapy hasn’t worked for him and shouldn’t have been tried. But he certainly does need professional help
It seems Clinton is still an advocate of “presidential therapy” and is recommending it to the whole Clinton clan. People magazine has a story in which Bill talks about Hillary’s
ability to endure in the face of all the blows that have been rained on her: outspent, dismissed, denigrated, declared dead . . . when I met her, I found that in her personal relationships she lacked self-confidence and was painfully shy. She is having more fun now than at the beginning. If you look at her, she seems perfectly relaxed, doesn’t she?
You have to admit: Hitchens’s formulation rings true. This intimate rant of Bill’s is evidence of how the Clintons see their relationship with American citizens. We’re here to serve, to help, to encourage. By the way, Bill also talks about how the campaign trail has helped Chelsea go from being a tearfully defensive mother’s daughter to a skilled stumpswoman. The question here is, how do we terminate therapy?
Today in Slate, Christopher Hitchens phoned in a piece on John McCain’s temper–a subject that could benefit from frank analysis. Hitchens merely uses the occasion to unload a barrage of comic euphemisms, but at least something of interest is touched upon. Hitchens writes:
About two decades ago, facing a group in his state GOP that resisted proclaiming a state holiday for Martin Luther King Jr., he shouted, “You will damn well do this” and rammed the idea home with other crisp and terse remarks.
Remember when, once in a while, politicians would lose their cool over a matter of principle? All we’ve seen this election go-round are tantrums in response to personal slights and manufactured anger designed to create the illusion of character. The problem for Democrats is that genuine outrage requires intolerance–and if there’s one thing the Left can’t stand, it’s intolerance.
Damning America? Unfortunate but tolerable. Engaging in domestic terrorist acts in the 70′s? Regrettable but tolerable. What, after all, was John Kerry’s national security goal? “[T]o get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they’re a nuisance,” i.e., tolerable. And now that we’re at war? After five years of hard-won progress, we are supposed to understand that while letting Iraq slip into the hands of either Sunni or Shiite extremists would be perhaps a “nuisance,” it would be . . .tolerable. A nuclear Iran? Tolerable. And on, and on.
There’s something wrong with a leader who can’t muster a little justified outrage and even anger in response to the abominations of the enemy. Hoping is the easiest thing in the world. It’s getting mad in a multi-culti, PC world that demands audacity.
In declining to jump on the bandwagon of pundits praising Barack Obama’s oratorical skills last week, Christopher Hitchens points out the intentionally fuzzy vocabulary which Obama uses to mask his own culpability in countenancing Reverend Wright’s hate speech. Hitchens explains:
But is it “inflammatory” to say that AIDS and drugs are wrecking the black community because the white power structure wishes it? No. Nor is it “controversial.” It is wicked and stupid and false to say such a thing. And it not unimportantly negates everything that Obama says he stands for by way of advocating dignity and responsibility over the sick cults of paranoia and victimhood.
I assume that Obama believes Wright’s words are “wicked and stupid and false.” And I assume that he has the linguistic skills to express this belief. The only thing he lacks is the moral courage to say so as clearly at Hitchens does. To do so would be to recognize the fundamental contradiction between Obama’s admonishing all of us to follow his vision of racial unity and his bringing his own children to hear Wright’s sermons. It would make him look less like an agent of change than a hapless participant in the polarized racial politics of the past.
Indeed, the stated purpose of the speech–to embark on a racial dialogue, albeit one which voters never asked for and which he for over a year felt no need to start–was a clever exercise in misdirection. But voters and nervous Democratic leaders didn’t want to hear about our failures to achieve racial harmony. They wanted to hear about his behavior and shortcomings. He obviously preferred to talk much more about the former than the latter.
Obama is glib and attractive and has been given every accommodation by the media. But this may be one time he can’t fudge or disguise his own intentions and behavior. In the end, the voters will decide whether all his words were designed to uplift, or merely to obfuscate.