Commentary Magazine


Topic: Churchill

Churchill, Edward VIII, and ‘Arms and the Covenant’

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

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.

And then there’s Churchill. Hitchens’s main charge is that Churchill was unreasonably (even intoxicatedly) loyal to Edward, at the expense of the “Arms and the Covenant” lobby he was building “against Neville Chamberlain’s collusion with European fascism.” It’s a minor point, but at the time of the abdication crisis, Stanley Baldwin, not Neville Chamberlain, was prime minister. More important, Hitchens overrates “Arms and the Covenant” and (strangely for a man who detests the “Churchill cult”) relies on the almost hagiographic Churchill biographer William Manchester for his evidence.

But as Graham Stewart points out in his massive Burying Caesar: The Churchill-Chamberlain Rivalry, while the abdication crisis did hurt Churchill, the potential of “Arms and the Covenant” was limited. To succeed, it had to win substantial support among Tory MPs — and given the traditional loyalty of the Conservative Party to its leaders, and Churchill’s long battle against the Government of India Act, there was almost no chance of this. The left and right were soon divided by their reactions to the Spanish Civil War, and the entire movement faded when quiet seemed to return to most of the continent in early 1937. In short, there is not much reason to believe that Hitler would have been stopped in 1936-37 if only Churchill had dumped Edward.

And what of Churchill’s attitude toward Edward? He was, as Stewart puts it, “emotional and sentimental” about the monarchy. But Stewart also approvingly quotes the New Statesman’s assertion that Churchill’s advice to the king “will be found to have been impeccable from every constitutional point of view.” Churchill’s monarchism did not spring only from sentiment. It sprang also from his belief that constitutional monarchies were a force for stability and democracy. He regarded the end of the German monarchy with regret and argued that, if the German people had been allowed to keep a kaiser — not Wilhelm — as a focus for loyalty, Hitler might never have won power.

Such views are, of course, not subject to proof. But as Churchill said at the time, they are worthy of reflection. It may not be a coincidence that, in spite of the errors of those who occupied the throne, it was the British people who believed in their constitutional monarchy who stood up to Hitler, and the monarchist Churchill who led the fight. Hitchens likes the fight. What he doesn’t like is the stubborn traditionalism that made it possible.

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Getting Obama Half-Right — and All Wrong

Newt Gingrich has created a new controversy with remarks to National Review Online: “What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” As is sadly all too often the case with the former House speaker, he has said something that is half-sharp and half-politically destructive. He’s onto something by connecting Obama’s ideas to anti-colonialism, I think. The key principle in the social and political science Obama studied in the late 1970s and early 1980s was that colonialism was the great evil of the 20th century. The attacks on colonialism, which had been common on the left since the 1920s, were amplified in the 1960s by the reassertion of the Marxist-Leninist conception of “imperialism,” and for good reason — because the more general and less specific term “imperialism” was the way the left could put the United States at the center of its indictment of bourgeois Western corruption and rot.

To the extent that Obama believes that the West and the United States bear a considerable amount of blame for the parlous economic and political condition of other parts of the world and should offer some words of apologetic explanation, he may be operating (as Gingrich sort of suggests) from an ideological base in anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist thinking. This would go a long way to explaining, for example, his bizarre conduct toward Great Britain upon assuming the presidency — the snub of then-PM Gordon Brown, the presentation of a shoddy gift of DVDs, and the banishing of a bust of Churchill from the White House. Why do any of these things to this country’s closest ally unless there is some ideological root? That root could be anti-colonialist ideas, which always held that Great Britain was the worst colonial offender even if it hadn’t been the cruelest (the Belgians were the cruelest) because it portrayed itself as being so humane and orderly.

But by adding a connection to Obama’s father’s home country, Gingrich simply makes his anti-colonial point all but inaudible in the white-noise crackle produced by aligning himself, at least philosophically, with the “birther” crowd. To make the anti-colonial point, there was no need to mention Kenya; the center of anti-colonialist thinking during Obama’s formative educational years was on the Western left, particularly on social-science faculties at major universities here and in Europe. Far more important in this context, if you’re going to mention one of his parents, is his mother Stanley Ann Dunham, who did her academic training as an anthropologist as Obama was growing up. It would seem likely that any ideas of an anti-colonialist nature that Obama might have imbibed as a child would not have come from the father, whom he saw only twice in his life, but rather from his stoutly American, Kansas-to-Seattle-to-Hawaii mother, whose remarkable life journey also included taking up permanent residence on the academic left.

Gingrich might just have been careless in the way he was talking, and through that carelessness handed his party’s enemies a big stick to beat the GOP with at a particularly inopportune moment. Or he might have been sending a cutesy, cagey signal to the birthers that he had joined their number. Hard to say which would be worse.

Newt Gingrich has created a new controversy with remarks to National Review Online: “What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” As is sadly all too often the case with the former House speaker, he has said something that is half-sharp and half-politically destructive. He’s onto something by connecting Obama’s ideas to anti-colonialism, I think. The key principle in the social and political science Obama studied in the late 1970s and early 1980s was that colonialism was the great evil of the 20th century. The attacks on colonialism, which had been common on the left since the 1920s, were amplified in the 1960s by the reassertion of the Marxist-Leninist conception of “imperialism,” and for good reason — because the more general and less specific term “imperialism” was the way the left could put the United States at the center of its indictment of bourgeois Western corruption and rot.

To the extent that Obama believes that the West and the United States bear a considerable amount of blame for the parlous economic and political condition of other parts of the world and should offer some words of apologetic explanation, he may be operating (as Gingrich sort of suggests) from an ideological base in anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist thinking. This would go a long way to explaining, for example, his bizarre conduct toward Great Britain upon assuming the presidency — the snub of then-PM Gordon Brown, the presentation of a shoddy gift of DVDs, and the banishing of a bust of Churchill from the White House. Why do any of these things to this country’s closest ally unless there is some ideological root? That root could be anti-colonialist ideas, which always held that Great Britain was the worst colonial offender even if it hadn’t been the cruelest (the Belgians were the cruelest) because it portrayed itself as being so humane and orderly.

But by adding a connection to Obama’s father’s home country, Gingrich simply makes his anti-colonial point all but inaudible in the white-noise crackle produced by aligning himself, at least philosophically, with the “birther” crowd. To make the anti-colonial point, there was no need to mention Kenya; the center of anti-colonialist thinking during Obama’s formative educational years was on the Western left, particularly on social-science faculties at major universities here and in Europe. Far more important in this context, if you’re going to mention one of his parents, is his mother Stanley Ann Dunham, who did her academic training as an anthropologist as Obama was growing up. It would seem likely that any ideas of an anti-colonialist nature that Obama might have imbibed as a child would not have come from the father, whom he saw only twice in his life, but rather from his stoutly American, Kansas-to-Seattle-to-Hawaii mother, whose remarkable life journey also included taking up permanent residence on the academic left.

Gingrich might just have been careless in the way he was talking, and through that carelessness handed his party’s enemies a big stick to beat the GOP with at a particularly inopportune moment. Or he might have been sending a cutesy, cagey signal to the birthers that he had joined their number. Hard to say which would be worse.

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The Theoretical Right to Exist

British author, think-tanker, and generally indispensable agitator Douglas Murray gives a rather brilliant interview to Ilan Evyatar in today’s Jerusalem Post. Here’s Murray on England’s leadership and Israel’s right to exist:

They consistently speak about such a right in theory, but whenever in practice, whether it’s Gaza or the flotilla, they don’t, and they condemn Israel on it. I hate reverting to 1930s quotes, because I don’t think history is an endless lesson of repeating the 1930s, but you know [Winston] Churchill’s famous description of an appeaser as someone who feeds the crocodile and hopes it will eat him last. Some major leader has to explain in relation to Israel and Britain that this crocodile would eat us next, not last. Therefore it would be a very very stupid thing, for your own security, as well as your own sense of what’s morally right, to keep sacrificing Israel in this way.

Murray is just as eloquent on university education, immigration, and welfare. The interview is, in its entirety, a must-read.

British author, think-tanker, and generally indispensable agitator Douglas Murray gives a rather brilliant interview to Ilan Evyatar in today’s Jerusalem Post. Here’s Murray on England’s leadership and Israel’s right to exist:

They consistently speak about such a right in theory, but whenever in practice, whether it’s Gaza or the flotilla, they don’t, and they condemn Israel on it. I hate reverting to 1930s quotes, because I don’t think history is an endless lesson of repeating the 1930s, but you know [Winston] Churchill’s famous description of an appeaser as someone who feeds the crocodile and hopes it will eat him last. Some major leader has to explain in relation to Israel and Britain that this crocodile would eat us next, not last. Therefore it would be a very very stupid thing, for your own security, as well as your own sense of what’s morally right, to keep sacrificing Israel in this way.

Murray is just as eloquent on university education, immigration, and welfare. The interview is, in its entirety, a must-read.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Thanks to the NAACP, Hallmark was forced to remove from the shelves space-themed cards that used the phrase “black hole.” The group’s professional grievants apparently misheard the second word. No kidding.

Thanks to Barack Obama, the Middle East is more dangerous than ever: “The Gaza flotilla incident might have been a great setback to the radical camp had the United States reacted sharply, defending Israel, condemning the jihadists on board and their sponsors in Turkey, blocking UN Security Council action, and refusing to sponsor another international inquiry that will condemn Israel. And Israel’s interests were not the only ones at stake: The blockade of Gaza is a joint Israeli-Egyptian action to weaken Hamas. But the American position reflects the Obama line: carefully balancing the interests of friend and foe, seeking to avoid offense to our enemies, or, as Churchill famously described British policy in the 1930s, ‘resolved to be irresolute.’ Middle Eastern states, including Arab regimes traditionally allied with the United States, view this pose as likely to get them all killed when enemies come knocking at the door.”

Thanks to Obama, Bobby Jindal has regained a lot of stature. He appears to be what Obama is not — competent, engaged, and proactive.

Thanks to Jon Stewart, Tim Pawlenty gets to show that he has a sense of humor.

Thanks to Leslie Gelb, we are reminded that things can always be worse: Robert Gates departs, Hillary Clinton goes to the Defense Department, and Chuck Hagel goes to the State Department. Oy.

Thanks to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, “a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 19% of voters think it would be better for the country if most incumbents in Congress were reelected this November. Sixty-five percent (65%) disagree and say it would be better if most were defeated. Sixteen percent (16%) aren’t sure.”

Thanks to Obama, “people close to the president [Harmid Karzai] say he began to lose confidence in the Americans last summer, after national elections in which independent monitors determined that nearly one million ballots had been stolen on Mr. Karzai’s behalf. The rift worsened in December, when President Obama announced that he intended to begin reducing the number of American troops by the summer of 2011.” It’s no surprise, then, that “Mr. Karzai has been pressing to strike his own deal with the Taliban and the country’s archrival Pakistan, the Taliban’s longtime supporter. According to a former senior Afghan official, Mr. Karzai’s maneuverings involve secret negotiations with the Taliban outside the purview of American and NATO officials.”

Thanks to Ben Bernanke, Rep. Gerry Connolly makes a fool of himself and his Republican challenger has a boffo campaign ad.

Thanks to Obama and the Democratic Congress, you’re probably not going to get to keep your health-care plan: “Over and over in the health care debate, President Barack Obama said people who like their current coverage would be able to keep it. But an early draft of an administration regulation estimates that many employers will be forced to make changes to their health plans under the new law. In just three years, a majority of workers—51 percent—will be in plans subject to new federal requirements, according to the draft.”

Thanks to Israel, there is a place in the Middle East where gays are not persecuted: “Tel Aviv embraced Israel’s GLBT community Friday as it hosted the 13th annual gay parade.Dozens of policemen and civilian police watched on as thousands marched, dancing and waving rainbow flags.”

Thanks to the economic-policy wizardry of the Obama administration: “U.S. consumers unexpectedly ratcheted back spending on everything from cars to clothing in May, adding to concerns that a volatile stock market and high unemployment are increasingly weighing down the economic recovery. The Commerce Department reported Friday that sales at retail establishments — including department stores, gas stations and restaurants — fell 1.2% in May from the previous month. The decline, driven by sharp drops in autos and building materials, was the first and largest since September 2009, when sales fell 2.2%.”

Thanks to the NAACP, Hallmark was forced to remove from the shelves space-themed cards that used the phrase “black hole.” The group’s professional grievants apparently misheard the second word. No kidding.

Thanks to Barack Obama, the Middle East is more dangerous than ever: “The Gaza flotilla incident might have been a great setback to the radical camp had the United States reacted sharply, defending Israel, condemning the jihadists on board and their sponsors in Turkey, blocking UN Security Council action, and refusing to sponsor another international inquiry that will condemn Israel. And Israel’s interests were not the only ones at stake: The blockade of Gaza is a joint Israeli-Egyptian action to weaken Hamas. But the American position reflects the Obama line: carefully balancing the interests of friend and foe, seeking to avoid offense to our enemies, or, as Churchill famously described British policy in the 1930s, ‘resolved to be irresolute.’ Middle Eastern states, including Arab regimes traditionally allied with the United States, view this pose as likely to get them all killed when enemies come knocking at the door.”

Thanks to Obama, Bobby Jindal has regained a lot of stature. He appears to be what Obama is not — competent, engaged, and proactive.

Thanks to Jon Stewart, Tim Pawlenty gets to show that he has a sense of humor.

Thanks to Leslie Gelb, we are reminded that things can always be worse: Robert Gates departs, Hillary Clinton goes to the Defense Department, and Chuck Hagel goes to the State Department. Oy.

Thanks to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, “a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 19% of voters think it would be better for the country if most incumbents in Congress were reelected this November. Sixty-five percent (65%) disagree and say it would be better if most were defeated. Sixteen percent (16%) aren’t sure.”

Thanks to Obama, “people close to the president [Harmid Karzai] say he began to lose confidence in the Americans last summer, after national elections in which independent monitors determined that nearly one million ballots had been stolen on Mr. Karzai’s behalf. The rift worsened in December, when President Obama announced that he intended to begin reducing the number of American troops by the summer of 2011.” It’s no surprise, then, that “Mr. Karzai has been pressing to strike his own deal with the Taliban and the country’s archrival Pakistan, the Taliban’s longtime supporter. According to a former senior Afghan official, Mr. Karzai’s maneuverings involve secret negotiations with the Taliban outside the purview of American and NATO officials.”

Thanks to Ben Bernanke, Rep. Gerry Connolly makes a fool of himself and his Republican challenger has a boffo campaign ad.

Thanks to Obama and the Democratic Congress, you’re probably not going to get to keep your health-care plan: “Over and over in the health care debate, President Barack Obama said people who like their current coverage would be able to keep it. But an early draft of an administration regulation estimates that many employers will be forced to make changes to their health plans under the new law. In just three years, a majority of workers—51 percent—will be in plans subject to new federal requirements, according to the draft.”

Thanks to Israel, there is a place in the Middle East where gays are not persecuted: “Tel Aviv embraced Israel’s GLBT community Friday as it hosted the 13th annual gay parade.Dozens of policemen and civilian police watched on as thousands marched, dancing and waving rainbow flags.”

Thanks to the economic-policy wizardry of the Obama administration: “U.S. consumers unexpectedly ratcheted back spending on everything from cars to clothing in May, adding to concerns that a volatile stock market and high unemployment are increasingly weighing down the economic recovery. The Commerce Department reported Friday that sales at retail establishments — including department stores, gas stations and restaurants — fell 1.2% in May from the previous month. The decline, driven by sharp drops in autos and building materials, was the first and largest since September 2009, when sales fell 2.2%.”

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She’s a Liberal Jew and She Can’t Manage to Defend Israel

I thought this piece might have been a clever parody of American Jewry. (Not as clever as this one, but it’s a hard standard to meet.) But it’s for real and appears in the lefty Tablet magazine, home to many a whimpering, indecisive, and guilt-ridden liberal Jew who can’t quite manage to defend the Jewish state. (I use that phrase intentionally since they no doubt bristle at it.)

One Marjorie Ingall writes:

I am deeply ambivalent about Israel. Modern-day Israel, as opposed to historical Israel, is a subject I avoid with my children. Yes, of course I believe the state should exist, but the word “Zionist” makes me skittish. (I understand that I may be the Jewish equivalent of all the twentysomething women I want to smack for saying, “I’m not a feminist, but I believe in equal rights.”) I shy away from conversations about Israeli politics. I feel no stirring in my heart when I see the Israeli flag. I would no sooner attend an Israel Day parade than a Justin Bieber concert. Neither Abe Foxman nor AIPAC speaks for me. I am a liberal, and I am deeply troubled by the Matzav, Israeli shorthand for tension with the Palestinians, and I do not have answers, and I do not know what to do about it, and I do not know what to tell my children.

From her stack of books, her eight-year-old daughter chose one and came to her mother for advice:

I stumbled desperately through an explanation of why two peoples feel they have a legitimate claim to the same land.

“But having land is like having a seat on a bus,” Josie replied. “You can’t just push someone out of their seat, and you can’t just leave your seat and then come back to it after a long time and just expect the person who is sitting there now to give it to you.” [Smart child!]

My panicked reaction to her words surprised me. I found myself trying to convince her that Israel did have that right. But that’s not what I believe. But I’m not sure what I believe. I want my children to love Israel, but I don’t want them to identify with bullies. I was spinning in my own head like the desperate, overwhelmed woman in the Calgon commercial: J Street, take me away! . . .

Baby-boomer Jews seem wedded to a sepia-toned image of Jews as victims—in the shtetl, in the Holocaust, in Israel’s early wars. But in real life, victims can turn into bullies. Perhaps being the parent to girls, rather than boys, helps me see this—in Mean Girl dynamics, the power shifts back and forth almost every day. We want a bright clear line, but heroes and villains in the real world are much fuzzier.

You get the picture. (And you wonder why American Jewry is in trouble?) But there is good news: she confesses, “I’ve taught my children about Jewish identity through ancient history, through food, through songs and prayers, through the story of American immigration. I’ve left any Israel talk to their teachers.” Still, it gives her angst to know her child might be a — you know (and lower your voice) — Zionist!

But the better news comes in the comments, where a few less-confused Jews try to set her straight:

You’re just confused. You can’t imagine that anyone would want to spend the past 110 years wanting you and your people dead. Once you wrap your mind around that idea, you’ll stop being confused. As far as two people wanting the same piece of land, I suggest you go live on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma if you feel so strongly about the dispossessed.

Another advises: “Please don’t talk to your kids about Israel. Hopefully they will find out the truth from other more knowledgeable, less neurotic people or perhaps go to Israel on a Birthright trip and see it for themselves.” These and others restore some confidence that the wider Jewish community (even liberals reading that publication) is not completely out to lunch.

Well, Ingall is certainly ready for J Street membership — maybe a board post. And it is a reminder, as Bibi Netanyahu said in a recent AIPAC  speech, that the “future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.” He was referring to Churchill and FDR, but how much more true it is given the current White House occupant and the performance to date of mainstream Jewish organizations.

I thought this piece might have been a clever parody of American Jewry. (Not as clever as this one, but it’s a hard standard to meet.) But it’s for real and appears in the lefty Tablet magazine, home to many a whimpering, indecisive, and guilt-ridden liberal Jew who can’t quite manage to defend the Jewish state. (I use that phrase intentionally since they no doubt bristle at it.)

One Marjorie Ingall writes:

I am deeply ambivalent about Israel. Modern-day Israel, as opposed to historical Israel, is a subject I avoid with my children. Yes, of course I believe the state should exist, but the word “Zionist” makes me skittish. (I understand that I may be the Jewish equivalent of all the twentysomething women I want to smack for saying, “I’m not a feminist, but I believe in equal rights.”) I shy away from conversations about Israeli politics. I feel no stirring in my heart when I see the Israeli flag. I would no sooner attend an Israel Day parade than a Justin Bieber concert. Neither Abe Foxman nor AIPAC speaks for me. I am a liberal, and I am deeply troubled by the Matzav, Israeli shorthand for tension with the Palestinians, and I do not have answers, and I do not know what to do about it, and I do not know what to tell my children.

From her stack of books, her eight-year-old daughter chose one and came to her mother for advice:

I stumbled desperately through an explanation of why two peoples feel they have a legitimate claim to the same land.

“But having land is like having a seat on a bus,” Josie replied. “You can’t just push someone out of their seat, and you can’t just leave your seat and then come back to it after a long time and just expect the person who is sitting there now to give it to you.” [Smart child!]

My panicked reaction to her words surprised me. I found myself trying to convince her that Israel did have that right. But that’s not what I believe. But I’m not sure what I believe. I want my children to love Israel, but I don’t want them to identify with bullies. I was spinning in my own head like the desperate, overwhelmed woman in the Calgon commercial: J Street, take me away! . . .

Baby-boomer Jews seem wedded to a sepia-toned image of Jews as victims—in the shtetl, in the Holocaust, in Israel’s early wars. But in real life, victims can turn into bullies. Perhaps being the parent to girls, rather than boys, helps me see this—in Mean Girl dynamics, the power shifts back and forth almost every day. We want a bright clear line, but heroes and villains in the real world are much fuzzier.

You get the picture. (And you wonder why American Jewry is in trouble?) But there is good news: she confesses, “I’ve taught my children about Jewish identity through ancient history, through food, through songs and prayers, through the story of American immigration. I’ve left any Israel talk to their teachers.” Still, it gives her angst to know her child might be a — you know (and lower your voice) — Zionist!

But the better news comes in the comments, where a few less-confused Jews try to set her straight:

You’re just confused. You can’t imagine that anyone would want to spend the past 110 years wanting you and your people dead. Once you wrap your mind around that idea, you’ll stop being confused. As far as two people wanting the same piece of land, I suggest you go live on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma if you feel so strongly about the dispossessed.

Another advises: “Please don’t talk to your kids about Israel. Hopefully they will find out the truth from other more knowledgeable, less neurotic people or perhaps go to Israel on a Birthright trip and see it for themselves.” These and others restore some confidence that the wider Jewish community (even liberals reading that publication) is not completely out to lunch.

Well, Ingall is certainly ready for J Street membership — maybe a board post. And it is a reminder, as Bibi Netanyahu said in a recent AIPAC  speech, that the “future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.” He was referring to Churchill and FDR, but how much more true it is given the current White House occupant and the performance to date of mainstream Jewish organizations.

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Dreams of Disarmament

Mark Steyn predicts future historians will marvel at the omission of any discussion of Iran at this week’s Nuclear Security Summit:

For once, the cheap comparisons with 1930s appeasement barely suffice: To be sure, in 1933, the great powers were meeting in Geneva and holding utopian arms-control talks even as Hitler was taking office in Berlin. But it’s difficult to imagine Neville Chamberlain in 1938 hosting a conference on the dangers of rearmament, and inviting America, France, Brazil, Liberia, and Thailand . . . but not even mentioning Germany.

For the proper historical analogy, we may have to look back even further – to the 1921 Washington Conference on naval disarmament in the Pacific, which Churchill described in the opening chapter of “The Gathering Storm:”

At the Washington Conference of 1921 far-reaching proposals for naval disarmament were made by the United States, and the British and American governments proceeded to sink their battleships and break up their military establishments with gusto. It was argued in odd logic that it would be immoral to disarm the vanquished unless the victors also stripped themselves of their weapons.

Chalk it up to the early twentieth century belief that it was ships that killed people. Churchill wrote that Japan, then just becoming a rising Pacific power, “watched with an attentive eye.” Two decades later, the U.S. ended a world war in the Pacific with bombs not yet invented when the U.S. had led the world in dreaming of disarmament.

The 2010 Washington Conference was an idea President Obama announced last year in his Prague disarmament speech, which set forth his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. The speech featured the odd logic that America had a moral responsibility to disarm, as “the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon.” The speech was marred by North Korea’s firing, on the morning of the speech, rockets designed to demonstrate a long-range missile capability, and neither Iran nor North Korea found the speech particularly persuasive: a year later, they still resist Obama’s solution to their nuclear weapons programs – talks.

Future historians may find the Prague speech a useful guide to the themes that pervaded the Obama administration. Obama began by noting that, when he was born, “few people would have predicted that someone like me would one day become the President of the United States” – an observation he would repeat in the video he sent as the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall without him. He noted the Czechs’ Velvet Revolution had “showed us that peaceful protest could shake the foundations of an empire, and expose the emptiness of an ideology,” proving “moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon” – but stood by in silence months later as he watched regime-threatening demonstrations in Iran.

He provided another trademark “let me be clear” moment – one the Czechs learned several months later was not quite as clear as they thought:

So let me be clear: Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles.  As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. (Applause.)

The balance of the speech set forth a lengthy series of proposals – arms reductions, treaties that would be “sufficiently bold,” strengthened international inspections, “real and immediate consequences” for rule-breakers, a global summit, etc. – ending with an applause-producing assertion that “Yes, we can.”

It was all there: the self-referential view of history, the rhetoric divorced from reality, the disingenuous let-me-be-clear assurance, the implicit denigration of his country for its supposed sins, the celebration of the moral leadership he would bring to the world, the panoply of proposals – all delivered while rockets were fired and centrifuges were spun, with no U.S. response other than a conference at which the rockets and centrifuges were not discussed.

Mark Steyn predicts future historians will marvel at the omission of any discussion of Iran at this week’s Nuclear Security Summit:

For once, the cheap comparisons with 1930s appeasement barely suffice: To be sure, in 1933, the great powers were meeting in Geneva and holding utopian arms-control talks even as Hitler was taking office in Berlin. But it’s difficult to imagine Neville Chamberlain in 1938 hosting a conference on the dangers of rearmament, and inviting America, France, Brazil, Liberia, and Thailand . . . but not even mentioning Germany.

For the proper historical analogy, we may have to look back even further – to the 1921 Washington Conference on naval disarmament in the Pacific, which Churchill described in the opening chapter of “The Gathering Storm:”

At the Washington Conference of 1921 far-reaching proposals for naval disarmament were made by the United States, and the British and American governments proceeded to sink their battleships and break up their military establishments with gusto. It was argued in odd logic that it would be immoral to disarm the vanquished unless the victors also stripped themselves of their weapons.

Chalk it up to the early twentieth century belief that it was ships that killed people. Churchill wrote that Japan, then just becoming a rising Pacific power, “watched with an attentive eye.” Two decades later, the U.S. ended a world war in the Pacific with bombs not yet invented when the U.S. had led the world in dreaming of disarmament.

The 2010 Washington Conference was an idea President Obama announced last year in his Prague disarmament speech, which set forth his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. The speech featured the odd logic that America had a moral responsibility to disarm, as “the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon.” The speech was marred by North Korea’s firing, on the morning of the speech, rockets designed to demonstrate a long-range missile capability, and neither Iran nor North Korea found the speech particularly persuasive: a year later, they still resist Obama’s solution to their nuclear weapons programs – talks.

Future historians may find the Prague speech a useful guide to the themes that pervaded the Obama administration. Obama began by noting that, when he was born, “few people would have predicted that someone like me would one day become the President of the United States” – an observation he would repeat in the video he sent as the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall without him. He noted the Czechs’ Velvet Revolution had “showed us that peaceful protest could shake the foundations of an empire, and expose the emptiness of an ideology,” proving “moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon” – but stood by in silence months later as he watched regime-threatening demonstrations in Iran.

He provided another trademark “let me be clear” moment – one the Czechs learned several months later was not quite as clear as they thought:

So let me be clear: Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles.  As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. (Applause.)

The balance of the speech set forth a lengthy series of proposals – arms reductions, treaties that would be “sufficiently bold,” strengthened international inspections, “real and immediate consequences” for rule-breakers, a global summit, etc. – ending with an applause-producing assertion that “Yes, we can.”

It was all there: the self-referential view of history, the rhetoric divorced from reality, the disingenuous let-me-be-clear assurance, the implicit denigration of his country for its supposed sins, the celebration of the moral leadership he would bring to the world, the panoply of proposals – all delivered while rockets were fired and centrifuges were spun, with no U.S. response other than a conference at which the rockets and centrifuges were not discussed.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Michael Rubin: “[Iran] Foreign Minister Mottaki: ‘Mr. [Yukiya] Amanu’s [IAEA] report shows that he is relatively new in his job. It takes some time until he reaches the maturity of Mr. El Baradei.’ That’s a bit like Hitler complaining that Churchill doesn’t have the maturity of Chamberlain. Congratulations to the IAEA for putting mission first, and leaving politics to the politicians.”

James Capretta on ObamaCare II: “The latest Obama plan would still pile a massive new health-entitlement program on top of the unaffordable ones already on the books. The Congressional Budget Office says the cost of the coverage expansions in the Senate bill (upon which the president’s plan is based) will reach $200 billion annually by 2019 and increase 8 percent every year thereafter. The Obama plan would increase those costs with even more expensive promises. Over the next decade, the plan would cost at least $1.2 trillion. Over a full ten years of implementation, its cost would approach $2.5 trillion.”

Even the Washington Post‘s editors don’t have nice things to say about Obama: “Overall, though, the president has proposed a plan whose uncertain savings are made even less certain, and whose known costs are increased. Already a trillion-dollar plan was ‘paid for’ with hundreds of billions of dollars in promised ‘savings’ from Medicare; already it ignored a known cost of well over $200 billion in Medicare payments to physicians; already it relegated too many reforms to pilot programs with long horizons. Now it postpones the key savings mechanism [the Cadillac excise tax]. Administration officials argue that Mr. Obama deserves credit for not dropping the tax altogether. But when did he stand up and fight for the better approach?”

Might it be all that talk of ObamaCare II? “For the second straight week, Republican candidates lead Democrats by nine points in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot.”

Not buying Eric Holder’s latest: “Republicans are hitting back against Democratic claims that a guilty plea from an al Qaeda operative in federal court is proof the criminal justice system is up to the task of prosecuting terrorism suspects. … Republicans, however, remain steadfastly opposed to trying terrorism suspects in civilian courts and argued that the [Najibullah] Zazi case has no bearing on other prospective terrorism prosecutions, because Zazi is a legal permanent resident of the United States, while most accused terrorists are citizens of other countries who are not entitled to the constitutional rights civilian trials afford.” Rep. Lamar Smith chides Holder: “But comparing the prosecution of Zazi — a legal permanent resident of the U.S. — to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — who engaged in an act of war against the U.S. by plotting the mass murder of Americans on 9/11 — is misleading at best.” Holder’s response? Still waiting.

Leslie Gelb points out that Rahm Emanuel is defending himself by dumping on Obama. “In other words, Mr. Obama could have thrived and saved himself on key issues had he only listened to Rahm. It sure looks like Rahm (or someone near and dear to him) trying to save himself at the president’s expense.” Or maybe anti-Rahm forces are trying to make Rahm look like a disloyal snitch.

Not a headline Gov. Charlie Crist wants to see: “Wounded Crist Campaign Losing Staff.”

Sen. Harry Reid gets criticized for saying that unemployment contributes to domestic abuse. (“I met with some people while I was home dealing with domestic abuse. It has gotten out of hand. Why? Men don’t have jobs.”) He actually has a point and certainly has said dumber, less defensible things. But he now has the ability to make even a plausible observation seem like a gaffe.

Michael Rubin: “[Iran] Foreign Minister Mottaki: ‘Mr. [Yukiya] Amanu’s [IAEA] report shows that he is relatively new in his job. It takes some time until he reaches the maturity of Mr. El Baradei.’ That’s a bit like Hitler complaining that Churchill doesn’t have the maturity of Chamberlain. Congratulations to the IAEA for putting mission first, and leaving politics to the politicians.”

James Capretta on ObamaCare II: “The latest Obama plan would still pile a massive new health-entitlement program on top of the unaffordable ones already on the books. The Congressional Budget Office says the cost of the coverage expansions in the Senate bill (upon which the president’s plan is based) will reach $200 billion annually by 2019 and increase 8 percent every year thereafter. The Obama plan would increase those costs with even more expensive promises. Over the next decade, the plan would cost at least $1.2 trillion. Over a full ten years of implementation, its cost would approach $2.5 trillion.”

Even the Washington Post‘s editors don’t have nice things to say about Obama: “Overall, though, the president has proposed a plan whose uncertain savings are made even less certain, and whose known costs are increased. Already a trillion-dollar plan was ‘paid for’ with hundreds of billions of dollars in promised ‘savings’ from Medicare; already it ignored a known cost of well over $200 billion in Medicare payments to physicians; already it relegated too many reforms to pilot programs with long horizons. Now it postpones the key savings mechanism [the Cadillac excise tax]. Administration officials argue that Mr. Obama deserves credit for not dropping the tax altogether. But when did he stand up and fight for the better approach?”

Might it be all that talk of ObamaCare II? “For the second straight week, Republican candidates lead Democrats by nine points in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot.”

Not buying Eric Holder’s latest: “Republicans are hitting back against Democratic claims that a guilty plea from an al Qaeda operative in federal court is proof the criminal justice system is up to the task of prosecuting terrorism suspects. … Republicans, however, remain steadfastly opposed to trying terrorism suspects in civilian courts and argued that the [Najibullah] Zazi case has no bearing on other prospective terrorism prosecutions, because Zazi is a legal permanent resident of the United States, while most accused terrorists are citizens of other countries who are not entitled to the constitutional rights civilian trials afford.” Rep. Lamar Smith chides Holder: “But comparing the prosecution of Zazi — a legal permanent resident of the U.S. — to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — who engaged in an act of war against the U.S. by plotting the mass murder of Americans on 9/11 — is misleading at best.” Holder’s response? Still waiting.

Leslie Gelb points out that Rahm Emanuel is defending himself by dumping on Obama. “In other words, Mr. Obama could have thrived and saved himself on key issues had he only listened to Rahm. It sure looks like Rahm (or someone near and dear to him) trying to save himself at the president’s expense.” Or maybe anti-Rahm forces are trying to make Rahm look like a disloyal snitch.

Not a headline Gov. Charlie Crist wants to see: “Wounded Crist Campaign Losing Staff.”

Sen. Harry Reid gets criticized for saying that unemployment contributes to domestic abuse. (“I met with some people while I was home dealing with domestic abuse. It has gotten out of hand. Why? Men don’t have jobs.”) He actually has a point and certainly has said dumber, less defensible things. But he now has the ability to make even a plausible observation seem like a gaffe.

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O Death Penalty, Where Is Thy Sting?

The New York Times reports this morning that an inmate on Arizona’s death row has died. He was under sentence of execution for a murder he committed in 1982. That’s 28 years ago. Viva Leroy Nash was 68 when he committed his last murder. He was 94 when he died of natural causes.

If ever there was an illustration that something is profoundly wrong with how capital punishment is handled in this country, this is it. Convicted in 1983, the Supreme Court of Arizona upheld his conviction in 1985. But appeal after appeal after appeal to state and federal courts kept the case — and Viva Leroy Nash — alive for a quarter of a century.

The point of capital punishment, of course, is not only to punish the offender but also to deter others from committing the same crime with a force that a jail sentence, however long, cannot match. But if execution is not to come until a point well after the criminal’s normal life expectancy, how does it deter?

It wasn’t always this way. On February 15, 1933, a man named Giuseppe Zangara tried to assassinate president-elect Franklin Roosevelt in Miami. He missed Roosevelt but hit Anton Cermak, the mayor of Chicago, who was shaking hands with Roosevelt at the time. Zangara pleaded guilty to attempted murder and was sentenced to 80 years. But when Cermak died of his wounds two weeks later, Zangara was tried for murder, convicted, sentenced to death, and executed on March 20, 33 days — not years — after the crime.

If we are to have the death penalty in this country, the system needs to be thoroughly reformed to prevent the gaming of it that has rendered the system absurd. A big part of the problem here, of course, is the duel sovereignty of the states and the federal government. Appeals bounce back and forth between the two justice systems with agonizing slowness. Perhaps there should be special courts to handle only death-penalty cases and appeals, with both the federal and state appeals being pursued simultaneously, and strict time limits for all but evidentiary reasons. A requirement that first-rate lawyers be assigned the defendant, not the usual courthouse hangers-on, and a standard of beyond any doubt instead of mere reasonable doubt would go a long way to ensure that only the truly guilty were executed.

I’m not an eye-for-an-eye-tooth-for-a-tooth sort of guy, but I think that it is possible for a person in possession of his faculties to commit a crime of such enormity as to justify the forfeit of his life. Hitler, after all, was not crazy. Would anyone have objected to his being hanged with the other Nazis at Nuremberg? Norway abolished the death penalty in the early 1920s, but the Norwegian government in exile re-established it in 1942, and after the war the government tried and executed 37 collaborators for treason and war crimes, including Vidkun Quisling, whose name entered many languages as a synonym for traitor. Quisling became a word that, in Churchill’s phrase, “will carry the scorn of mankind down the centuries.” Having seen justice done, the Norwegian parliament then once again abolished the death penalty.

It seems to me this country should either abolish the death penalty or reform the system to make it effective.

The New York Times reports this morning that an inmate on Arizona’s death row has died. He was under sentence of execution for a murder he committed in 1982. That’s 28 years ago. Viva Leroy Nash was 68 when he committed his last murder. He was 94 when he died of natural causes.

If ever there was an illustration that something is profoundly wrong with how capital punishment is handled in this country, this is it. Convicted in 1983, the Supreme Court of Arizona upheld his conviction in 1985. But appeal after appeal after appeal to state and federal courts kept the case — and Viva Leroy Nash — alive for a quarter of a century.

The point of capital punishment, of course, is not only to punish the offender but also to deter others from committing the same crime with a force that a jail sentence, however long, cannot match. But if execution is not to come until a point well after the criminal’s normal life expectancy, how does it deter?

It wasn’t always this way. On February 15, 1933, a man named Giuseppe Zangara tried to assassinate president-elect Franklin Roosevelt in Miami. He missed Roosevelt but hit Anton Cermak, the mayor of Chicago, who was shaking hands with Roosevelt at the time. Zangara pleaded guilty to attempted murder and was sentenced to 80 years. But when Cermak died of his wounds two weeks later, Zangara was tried for murder, convicted, sentenced to death, and executed on March 20, 33 days — not years — after the crime.

If we are to have the death penalty in this country, the system needs to be thoroughly reformed to prevent the gaming of it that has rendered the system absurd. A big part of the problem here, of course, is the duel sovereignty of the states and the federal government. Appeals bounce back and forth between the two justice systems with agonizing slowness. Perhaps there should be special courts to handle only death-penalty cases and appeals, with both the federal and state appeals being pursued simultaneously, and strict time limits for all but evidentiary reasons. A requirement that first-rate lawyers be assigned the defendant, not the usual courthouse hangers-on, and a standard of beyond any doubt instead of mere reasonable doubt would go a long way to ensure that only the truly guilty were executed.

I’m not an eye-for-an-eye-tooth-for-a-tooth sort of guy, but I think that it is possible for a person in possession of his faculties to commit a crime of such enormity as to justify the forfeit of his life. Hitler, after all, was not crazy. Would anyone have objected to his being hanged with the other Nazis at Nuremberg? Norway abolished the death penalty in the early 1920s, but the Norwegian government in exile re-established it in 1942, and after the war the government tried and executed 37 collaborators for treason and war crimes, including Vidkun Quisling, whose name entered many languages as a synonym for traitor. Quisling became a word that, in Churchill’s phrase, “will carry the scorn of mankind down the centuries.” Having seen justice done, the Norwegian parliament then once again abolished the death penalty.

It seems to me this country should either abolish the death penalty or reform the system to make it effective.

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Andrew Roberts’ History Lesson

Andrew Roberts, Britain’s distinguished historian, has an important front-page article in the Jewish Press, entitled “Israel’s Fair-Weather British Friends” – a survey of the history of British diplomatic betrayals and genteel anti-Semitism that should be read in its entirety.

Here’s a remarkable fact about the Queen’s travels, which are controlled by the British Foreign Office:

Though the queen has made over 250 official overseas visits to 129 different countries during her reign, neither she nor any other member of the British royal family has ever been to Israel on an official visit. …

But the Foreign Office has somehow managed to find the time over the years to send the queen on state visits to Libya, Iran, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Turkey. So it can’t have been that she wasn’t in the area.

Perhaps Her Majesty hasn’t been on the throne long enough, at 57 years, for the Foreign Office to get around to allowing her to visit one of the only democracies in the Middle East.

Barack Obama has been in office for 56 fewer years than the Queen, but he did a remarkable amount of traveling last year – including three trips to Scandinavia alone (to make a pitch, receive a prize, and negotiate a non-binding agreement) — without visiting Israel. He went to Egypt to give a speech and to Saudi Arabia to make a bow, and to Turkey on another trip, so it couldn’t have been that he wasn’t in the area.

The absence of a trip to Israel was one of many signals he gave over the past year that he wanted to put daylight between the U.S. and Israel – something that did not go unnoticed across the political spectrum in Israel. Haaretz’s Yoel Marcus, one of the most liberal columnists in the country, argued that Obama should “come to Israel and declare here courageously, before the entire world, that our connection to this land began long before the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Holocaust; and that 4,000 years ago, Jews already stood on the ground where he is standing.” Aluf Benn, another prominent Haaretz columnist, used the op-ed page of  the New York Times to urge Obama to come to Israel to talk directly to its citizens. Those pleas, made six months ago, produced no response.

Roberts observes that if Israel “decides preemptively to strike against [the Iranian] threat – as Nelson preemptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill preemptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran – then it can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office.” He advises Israel to ignore it — “because Britain has only ever really been at best a fair weather friend to Israel.”

Britain’s disregard for Israel is an historical embarrassment. The disregard by the American president is a matter of current importance. Israel struck preemptively the incipient nuclear program of Iraq in 1981 and that of Syria in 2007; it found itself required to strike preemptively against Egypt in 1967. If it finds itself in a position of having to strike preemptively again, it will be because of an American failure to deal with a problem that casts its shadow beyond Israel, aggravated by the signals of the president’s uncertain support of one of the very rare democracies in the Middle East.

Andrew Roberts, Britain’s distinguished historian, has an important front-page article in the Jewish Press, entitled “Israel’s Fair-Weather British Friends” – a survey of the history of British diplomatic betrayals and genteel anti-Semitism that should be read in its entirety.

Here’s a remarkable fact about the Queen’s travels, which are controlled by the British Foreign Office:

Though the queen has made over 250 official overseas visits to 129 different countries during her reign, neither she nor any other member of the British royal family has ever been to Israel on an official visit. …

But the Foreign Office has somehow managed to find the time over the years to send the queen on state visits to Libya, Iran, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Turkey. So it can’t have been that she wasn’t in the area.

Perhaps Her Majesty hasn’t been on the throne long enough, at 57 years, for the Foreign Office to get around to allowing her to visit one of the only democracies in the Middle East.

Barack Obama has been in office for 56 fewer years than the Queen, but he did a remarkable amount of traveling last year – including three trips to Scandinavia alone (to make a pitch, receive a prize, and negotiate a non-binding agreement) — without visiting Israel. He went to Egypt to give a speech and to Saudi Arabia to make a bow, and to Turkey on another trip, so it couldn’t have been that he wasn’t in the area.

The absence of a trip to Israel was one of many signals he gave over the past year that he wanted to put daylight between the U.S. and Israel – something that did not go unnoticed across the political spectrum in Israel. Haaretz’s Yoel Marcus, one of the most liberal columnists in the country, argued that Obama should “come to Israel and declare here courageously, before the entire world, that our connection to this land began long before the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Holocaust; and that 4,000 years ago, Jews already stood on the ground where he is standing.” Aluf Benn, another prominent Haaretz columnist, used the op-ed page of  the New York Times to urge Obama to come to Israel to talk directly to its citizens. Those pleas, made six months ago, produced no response.

Roberts observes that if Israel “decides preemptively to strike against [the Iranian] threat – as Nelson preemptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill preemptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran – then it can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office.” He advises Israel to ignore it — “because Britain has only ever really been at best a fair weather friend to Israel.”

Britain’s disregard for Israel is an historical embarrassment. The disregard by the American president is a matter of current importance. Israel struck preemptively the incipient nuclear program of Iraq in 1981 and that of Syria in 2007; it found itself required to strike preemptively against Egypt in 1967. If it finds itself in a position of having to strike preemptively again, it will be because of an American failure to deal with a problem that casts its shadow beyond Israel, aggravated by the signals of the president’s uncertain support of one of the very rare democracies in the Middle East.

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Is Reconciliation “Soft”?

Conservative bloggers such as Bill Roggio, Andrew McCarthy, and our own Jennifer Rubin, are understandably irate over news that U.S. forces have released imprisoned terrorist leader Qais Qazali (also spelled Khazali) at the same time that his group, the Asaib al-Haq (AAH), has released British hostage Peter Moore. They see this as another sign of the Obama administration’s weakness in the face of terrorism. “No conceivable justification for this one” reads the headline over Jen’s blog item.

Whether this deal is justified or not remains to be seen, but I do think there is a reasonable justification for it and I don’t see this as evidence of Obama’s supineness in dealing with Iran. (There’s plenty of other evidence to make that case.) The fact is that under the U.S.-Iraq security accord brokered by the Bush administration, our forces’ legal right to hold detainees in Iraq has essentially expired. We have released most of our detainees. We are still holding a few hard-core terrorists at the sufferance of the Iraqi government but even that arrangement will not last long, with U.S. forces drawing down to 50,000 in September and to zero (or close to it) by the end of 2011. While U.S. forces have been moving into an “over-watch” role, Iraqis have stepped forward with a fair extent of success, notwithstanding some high-profile bombings in Baghdad. As General David Petraeus noted at a ceremony in Baghdad marking the inauguration of a new U.S. command, U.S. Forces-Iraq, “insurgent attacks have dropped from more than 200 a day two years ago to approximately 15 a day,” and no U.S. troops were killed in combat in December.

Part of this improvement is attributable to better security operations. But part is also due to a process of reconciliation that has been happening behind the scenes. We all know about the former Sunni insurgents who, as part of the Sons of Iraq, have joined the governmental side in fighting against al-Qaeda in Iraq. They have received amnesty for attacks carried out when they were on the other side. (Some have subsequently been arrested on charges of breaking the law after joining the Sons of Iraq.)

Less well known is the fact that most Shiite insurgents have also laid down their arms, including most of the former Mahdist movement. Moqtada al-Sadr’s decline has led to the establishment of various breakaway factions, including the AAH, which is led by the Qazali brothers, supported by Iran’s Quds Force, and responsible for some gruesome attacks on U.S. forces in the past. The most notorious of them was a well-organized raid on the government center in Karbala in January 2007, which killed five American service members. In the spring of 2009, Laith Qazali was released from custody as part of a provisional arrangement whereby AAH agreed to stop mounting violent attacks. When I was in Iraq in October, I was told by American intelligence analysts that they believed AAH has largely stuck by its word. Hence the turnover of Qais to the Iraqis and his probable release.

All of these deals have been brokered by Prime Minister Maliki with the close oversight of General Ray Odierno, now the U.S. Forces-Iraq commander, and his boss, General Petraeus. They can hardly be accused of being “soft” on terrorism, yet they know that in the end warfare alone will not suffice to end an insurgency. There must be a process of political reconciliation, which involves accommodating even vile figures such as the Qazali brothers, who have American blood on their hands. It is the same realization reached by Lincoln, Churchill, and other great wartime commanders who understood that after the guns fell silent they would have to learn to live with former enemies.

Conservative bloggers such as Bill Roggio, Andrew McCarthy, and our own Jennifer Rubin, are understandably irate over news that U.S. forces have released imprisoned terrorist leader Qais Qazali (also spelled Khazali) at the same time that his group, the Asaib al-Haq (AAH), has released British hostage Peter Moore. They see this as another sign of the Obama administration’s weakness in the face of terrorism. “No conceivable justification for this one” reads the headline over Jen’s blog item.

Whether this deal is justified or not remains to be seen, but I do think there is a reasonable justification for it and I don’t see this as evidence of Obama’s supineness in dealing with Iran. (There’s plenty of other evidence to make that case.) The fact is that under the U.S.-Iraq security accord brokered by the Bush administration, our forces’ legal right to hold detainees in Iraq has essentially expired. We have released most of our detainees. We are still holding a few hard-core terrorists at the sufferance of the Iraqi government but even that arrangement will not last long, with U.S. forces drawing down to 50,000 in September and to zero (or close to it) by the end of 2011. While U.S. forces have been moving into an “over-watch” role, Iraqis have stepped forward with a fair extent of success, notwithstanding some high-profile bombings in Baghdad. As General David Petraeus noted at a ceremony in Baghdad marking the inauguration of a new U.S. command, U.S. Forces-Iraq, “insurgent attacks have dropped from more than 200 a day two years ago to approximately 15 a day,” and no U.S. troops were killed in combat in December.

Part of this improvement is attributable to better security operations. But part is also due to a process of reconciliation that has been happening behind the scenes. We all know about the former Sunni insurgents who, as part of the Sons of Iraq, have joined the governmental side in fighting against al-Qaeda in Iraq. They have received amnesty for attacks carried out when they were on the other side. (Some have subsequently been arrested on charges of breaking the law after joining the Sons of Iraq.)

Less well known is the fact that most Shiite insurgents have also laid down their arms, including most of the former Mahdist movement. Moqtada al-Sadr’s decline has led to the establishment of various breakaway factions, including the AAH, which is led by the Qazali brothers, supported by Iran’s Quds Force, and responsible for some gruesome attacks on U.S. forces in the past. The most notorious of them was a well-organized raid on the government center in Karbala in January 2007, which killed five American service members. In the spring of 2009, Laith Qazali was released from custody as part of a provisional arrangement whereby AAH agreed to stop mounting violent attacks. When I was in Iraq in October, I was told by American intelligence analysts that they believed AAH has largely stuck by its word. Hence the turnover of Qais to the Iraqis and his probable release.

All of these deals have been brokered by Prime Minister Maliki with the close oversight of General Ray Odierno, now the U.S. Forces-Iraq commander, and his boss, General Petraeus. They can hardly be accused of being “soft” on terrorism, yet they know that in the end warfare alone will not suffice to end an insurgency. There must be a process of political reconciliation, which involves accommodating even vile figures such as the Qazali brothers, who have American blood on their hands. It is the same realization reached by Lincoln, Churchill, and other great wartime commanders who understood that after the guns fell silent they would have to learn to live with former enemies.

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Why WWII Matters

Matthew Yglesias asks “Do we really need a Richard Cohen column about how World War II was, in fact, a good war? Surely there’s some more pressing topic that the precious Washington Post op-ed page real estate could be devoted to.”

It would indeed be nice if, over half a century later, we did not require Washington Post columnists to remind us that “World War II was, in fact, a good war.” But recently a major American novelist undertook a history of World War II aimed at convincing us, in the words of the New York Sun’s Adam Kirsch,

that the Holocaust was, at least in part, Hitler’s response to British aggression, and that the only people who demonstrated true wisdom in the run-up to the war were American and British pacifists, who refused to take up arms no matter how pressing the need.

Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke (which Yglesias does not bother to mention in attacking the decision to publish Cohen’s piece) was not published by the sort of press that puts out tracts by Lyndon LaRouche or Lew Rockwell, but by Simon and Schuster. The book has received favorable notices in both the Los Angeles Times and New York magazine. It enjoyed, in other words, the blessing of American literary culture. Yglesias has an award for political non-conformism named after him. You’d think he’d be more skeptical of thinkers like Baker and the political sophism they practice, whatever sympathies he may share with them.

David Pryce-Jones’s review of Human Smoke, published in COMMENTARY last month, shows why Baker, with his outrageous moral equivalency, is what George Orwell would call “objectively pro-fascist.”Pryce-Jones writes:

For Baker, Churchill and Roosevelt were just as bad then as Bush is now: foolish, small-minded cowards who ordered the bombing of innocent civilians from the air and so participated in a process of reciprocal killing, both blind and, worse, needless.

Leon Wieseltier’s review of Baker’s 2004 novel Checkpoint (about assassinating President Bush), memorably began “This scummy little book . . .” Judgments about Baker’s latest effort should be no more charitable, and should find their way into even Yglesias’s discussions of the Second World War.

Matthew Yglesias asks “Do we really need a Richard Cohen column about how World War II was, in fact, a good war? Surely there’s some more pressing topic that the precious Washington Post op-ed page real estate could be devoted to.”

It would indeed be nice if, over half a century later, we did not require Washington Post columnists to remind us that “World War II was, in fact, a good war.” But recently a major American novelist undertook a history of World War II aimed at convincing us, in the words of the New York Sun’s Adam Kirsch,

that the Holocaust was, at least in part, Hitler’s response to British aggression, and that the only people who demonstrated true wisdom in the run-up to the war were American and British pacifists, who refused to take up arms no matter how pressing the need.

Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke (which Yglesias does not bother to mention in attacking the decision to publish Cohen’s piece) was not published by the sort of press that puts out tracts by Lyndon LaRouche or Lew Rockwell, but by Simon and Schuster. The book has received favorable notices in both the Los Angeles Times and New York magazine. It enjoyed, in other words, the blessing of American literary culture. Yglesias has an award for political non-conformism named after him. You’d think he’d be more skeptical of thinkers like Baker and the political sophism they practice, whatever sympathies he may share with them.

David Pryce-Jones’s review of Human Smoke, published in COMMENTARY last month, shows why Baker, with his outrageous moral equivalency, is what George Orwell would call “objectively pro-fascist.”Pryce-Jones writes:

For Baker, Churchill and Roosevelt were just as bad then as Bush is now: foolish, small-minded cowards who ordered the bombing of innocent civilians from the air and so participated in a process of reciprocal killing, both blind and, worse, needless.

Leon Wieseltier’s review of Baker’s 2004 novel Checkpoint (about assassinating President Bush), memorably began “This scummy little book . . .” Judgments about Baker’s latest effort should be no more charitable, and should find their way into even Yglesias’s discussions of the Second World War.

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Competing Chamberlains and a Churchill

“[C]ompeting Chamberlains and the hope of a Churchill.” That’s how Middle East expert Bernard Lewis described the choices on offer in America’s upcoming presidential elections. Not much need to spell out who’s who, is there?

Bernard Lewis should be able to spot Churchills and Chamberlains easily enough. At 91, he boasts a 60-plus-year-career as a political observer. (Furthermore, he was a Jewish Brit who lived through World War II.)

He made the observation last week while speaking at the University of Pennsylvania. He was, of course, comparing Britain’s confrontation with the evil of Nazi Germany to the U.S.’s current conflict with evil in the form of radical Islam. Among other choice observations, he spoke about the “pre-emptive cringe” that prohibits good Westerners from speaking candidly about the Islamist nature of the enemy. Lewis also said that, from the extremists’ standpoint, the defeat of the Soviet Union represents a Muslim victory and “There now remains the task of dealing with the pampered Americans.”

Our Chamberlains are pretty vicious towards each other, considering their inclination towards appeasement. But Lewis’ point is an invaluable one. We’re so pampered we can’t bear to choose a leader without our entertainment being the top priority. With identity, dishonesty, and nastiness as the main concerns this election season, any discussion of issues makes voters change the channel. And a long-view reminder such as Lewis’ seems, sadly, out of place (or even histrionic) to many Americans. Here’s to Churchill rising.

“[C]ompeting Chamberlains and the hope of a Churchill.” That’s how Middle East expert Bernard Lewis described the choices on offer in America’s upcoming presidential elections. Not much need to spell out who’s who, is there?

Bernard Lewis should be able to spot Churchills and Chamberlains easily enough. At 91, he boasts a 60-plus-year-career as a political observer. (Furthermore, he was a Jewish Brit who lived through World War II.)

He made the observation last week while speaking at the University of Pennsylvania. He was, of course, comparing Britain’s confrontation with the evil of Nazi Germany to the U.S.’s current conflict with evil in the form of radical Islam. Among other choice observations, he spoke about the “pre-emptive cringe” that prohibits good Westerners from speaking candidly about the Islamist nature of the enemy. Lewis also said that, from the extremists’ standpoint, the defeat of the Soviet Union represents a Muslim victory and “There now remains the task of dealing with the pampered Americans.”

Our Chamberlains are pretty vicious towards each other, considering their inclination towards appeasement. But Lewis’ point is an invaluable one. We’re so pampered we can’t bear to choose a leader without our entertainment being the top priority. With identity, dishonesty, and nastiness as the main concerns this election season, any discussion of issues makes voters change the channel. And a long-view reminder such as Lewis’ seems, sadly, out of place (or even histrionic) to many Americans. Here’s to Churchill rising.

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Wanting Blair Back

Tony Blair saved the British Labor Party from self-destruction. He rescued its future when he became leader in 1994, and moved it away from its constitutional socialism to the type of New Democrat-style centrist-liberalism championed by Bill Clinton. It was largely Blair’s modernization of the party—pulling it away from the domineering control of the country’s obstinate labor unions—that was responsible for its landslide victory in 1997 and for its continuing governance of the country today.

But by the time Tony Blair resigned last year, his approval ratings had sunk and his friends were few. The conventional wisdom reads that Blair’s support for the Iraq War and his closeness to President Bush is to blame. This may be true, and if it is, it says much about the British electorate, seeing that their country has not seen an international statesman of Blair’s character since Churchill.

Michael Gove, a Conservative Member of Parliament and a prolific writer, had a piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal arguing that for all of Blair’s faults, his successor Gordon Brown’s mishandling of several key foreign policy issues ought to make Laborites pine for the old days. Brown has made clear his attempt to distance himself from Blair’s freedom agenda, appointing individuals like Mark Malloch Brown to key Foreign Office posts and deploying his international development secretary to Washington to warn against dependence on “military might.” Most ridiculous have been the British government’s secret attempts to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan—a rebel force conducting an insurgency against a coalition force comprising 8,000 British servicemen—allegations that Brown has denied. It’s hard not to agree with Gove’s conclusion:

And so Mr. Blair’s judgment has been vindicated on another issue as well—his succession. We can all understand now why he tried, for as long as possible, to avoid handing over power to his flawed No. 2.

Tony Blair saved the British Labor Party from self-destruction. He rescued its future when he became leader in 1994, and moved it away from its constitutional socialism to the type of New Democrat-style centrist-liberalism championed by Bill Clinton. It was largely Blair’s modernization of the party—pulling it away from the domineering control of the country’s obstinate labor unions—that was responsible for its landslide victory in 1997 and for its continuing governance of the country today.

But by the time Tony Blair resigned last year, his approval ratings had sunk and his friends were few. The conventional wisdom reads that Blair’s support for the Iraq War and his closeness to President Bush is to blame. This may be true, and if it is, it says much about the British electorate, seeing that their country has not seen an international statesman of Blair’s character since Churchill.

Michael Gove, a Conservative Member of Parliament and a prolific writer, had a piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal arguing that for all of Blair’s faults, his successor Gordon Brown’s mishandling of several key foreign policy issues ought to make Laborites pine for the old days. Brown has made clear his attempt to distance himself from Blair’s freedom agenda, appointing individuals like Mark Malloch Brown to key Foreign Office posts and deploying his international development secretary to Washington to warn against dependence on “military might.” Most ridiculous have been the British government’s secret attempts to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan—a rebel force conducting an insurgency against a coalition force comprising 8,000 British servicemen—allegations that Brown has denied. It’s hard not to agree with Gove’s conclusion:

And so Mr. Blair’s judgment has been vindicated on another issue as well—his succession. We can all understand now why he tried, for as long as possible, to avoid handing over power to his flawed No. 2.

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Book Review: God and Gold

In God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World, Walter Russell Mead coyly claims that the originality of his interpretation of the roots of Anglo-Saxon primacy rests in its focus on the meaning, as opposed to the mere dimensions, of American power. This is too modest: Mead’s achievement is larger than that. His real accomplishment is to restore religion to its rightful place in the history of Great Britain and the United States, and their roles in the world. This no small feat. It’s hard enough to explain why Britain—a small island in the North Sea lacking all natural resources except coal, potatoes, and herring—rose to be the first of the great powers by 1815, and equally hard to explain how the United States inherited and adapted the British system in the 20th century. Factoring the influence of religion into this dynamic is vastly more difficult, but Mead does an admirable job of it.

The historic grand strategy of Great Britain and the United States, as Mead understands it, is simply told: Britain was the world’s first enduringly liberal modern society, and the first practitioner of an open and dynamic economic system that traded throughout the world, relying on its navy to defend its trade routes. This system provided Britain the resources to fight and win its wars, and the power and self-confidence to promote liberal values and institutions. In the 20th century, the United States, shaped by its British inheritance, took over the role of protector of this maritime order from the totalitarian empires and enemies of modernity that continued to threaten it, of whom al Qaeda is merely the latest example. But the rise of Britain as a liberal capitalist power is only the better known half of the story. While capitalism generates resources and tax revenues on a scale unimaginable to early modern empires, it poses a big problem: the vast expansion of state power. Once the revenues begin to flow, in other words, the challenge becomes limiting the power of the state.

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In God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World, Walter Russell Mead coyly claims that the originality of his interpretation of the roots of Anglo-Saxon primacy rests in its focus on the meaning, as opposed to the mere dimensions, of American power. This is too modest: Mead’s achievement is larger than that. His real accomplishment is to restore religion to its rightful place in the history of Great Britain and the United States, and their roles in the world. This no small feat. It’s hard enough to explain why Britain—a small island in the North Sea lacking all natural resources except coal, potatoes, and herring—rose to be the first of the great powers by 1815, and equally hard to explain how the United States inherited and adapted the British system in the 20th century. Factoring the influence of religion into this dynamic is vastly more difficult, but Mead does an admirable job of it.

The historic grand strategy of Great Britain and the United States, as Mead understands it, is simply told: Britain was the world’s first enduringly liberal modern society, and the first practitioner of an open and dynamic economic system that traded throughout the world, relying on its navy to defend its trade routes. This system provided Britain the resources to fight and win its wars, and the power and self-confidence to promote liberal values and institutions. In the 20th century, the United States, shaped by its British inheritance, took over the role of protector of this maritime order from the totalitarian empires and enemies of modernity that continued to threaten it, of whom al Qaeda is merely the latest example. But the rise of Britain as a liberal capitalist power is only the better known half of the story. While capitalism generates resources and tax revenues on a scale unimaginable to early modern empires, it poses a big problem: the vast expansion of state power. Once the revenues begin to flow, in other words, the challenge becomes limiting the power of the state.

The Anglo-Saxon societies surmounted this challenge because of their dynamic religious faith, which provided both a spiritual compass and assurance in the middle of rapid social and economic change and which, as a result of the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution of 1689, limited the ability of the monarchy to raise money without the consent of Parliament. The result was that British and American state power left room for both faith in God and the use of human reason, striking a balance between the two. This balancing continues today: the “cultural and political rebalancing the United States is currently witnessing,” writes Mead, is “part of the process by which American society adjust[s] to the rapid pace of change.”

In his book, Mead channels both Adam Smith’s understanding of the role of faith in the making of Anglo-Saxon society, and Alexis de Tocqueville’s convictions that democratic, open, and liberal institutions could not exist unless rooted in a society of believers. The failure of the declared enemies of the Anglo-Saxon order—Mead calls them Waspophobes—to understand the strengths of this order derives precisely from their focus on materialism, and on their failure to arrive at de Tocqueville’s realization that British and American society have, in their faith and their broader civil society, a cultural and intellectual life that is far from simply materialist. (Contemporary liberalism, I would say, suffers in a more mild way from the same deficiency.) Mead’s work, taken as a whole, offers a compelling vision of the roots of American power that is liberal in the truest sense of the word: that is, a study in the importance of human freedom and responsibility.

It is regrettable, therefore, that having run so well, Mead stumbles at the last gate. Throughout his book, Mead’s view is very much the view from 30,000 feet: events like the American Revolution, the U.S. Civil War, or the Suez Crisis fly by in paragraphs, or even in phrases. The emphasis throughout is on the essential unity of Anglo-Saxon culture, and on the grand strategy that resulted from it. There is much to be said for this vision, unpopular though it will be in some quarters, but by limiting himself to it, Mead misses the essential contribution of Britain and, especially, the United States to the modern world order. It is one thing to claim that the United States was influenced profoundly by British culture and faith. But while there may be an Anglo-Saxon culture, or even an Anglo-Saxon grand strategy, there is no Anglo-Saxon state: 1776 saw to that. The Anglo-Saxons did not invent the state or the diplomatic institutions by which states relate to one another. Nor, as Mead notes, is the Anglo-Saxon form of the state dominant in the world today: the French or Soviet models have a far better claim to that title. The uniqueness of Anglo-Saxon grand strategy is that it emphasized resisting empires and establishing rules of secession and state legitimacy; it was only within the nation-state order that the liberal values with which Britain and the United States identified could be defended.

In this context, the final chapters of Mead’s work are truly perplexing. Indeed, they are so out of tune that they raise the suspicion that Mead included them solely to cover himself on the Left. For, after three hundred pages of praise for the Anglo-Saxon order, he about-faces to argue that the mission of the United States now is to carry out a “diplomacy of civilizations” to assuage the grievances of the Islamic world, grievances that began with the Crusades. The United States now must turn to remedying the “centuries of inequality and oppression” by assuring that Muslims have “due recognition” for their “just and legitimate aspirations”—which Mead recognizes may not be compatible with the existing framework of the liberal maritime order.

Coming at the close of a book dedicated to sympathetic explanation of that order, this is a remarkable claim. It is only proper to note that Mead proposes to make the United States responsible for the resolution of grievances that arose long before it came into existence. Burdening the United States with the responsibility for Arab grievances is bad enough, but to view “the Arab world” as a unified entity is to make the same fundamental error that Mead makes when he writes of the Anglo-Saxons: it is to assume political unity where there are merely cultural commonalities. More concretely, it is to agree with the Islamists that the fall of the Caliphate was an immense tragedy.

Through his advocacy of the “diplomacy of civilizations,” Mead turns his back on the nation-state system and on the international organizations that Britain and the United States have, above all other nations, been responsible for creating. Mead, in fact, places the burden of satisfying the Muslim peoples entirely on the United States. He argues that “pious Muslims of unimpeachable orthodoxy, conspicuous virtue, conservative principles, and great passion for their faith,” not liberal reformers, must bring the Muslim peoples into a dynamic, capitalist, and liberal world.

To make things worse, Mead’s precise policy recommendations for the United States are conspicuous by their absence. His “diplomacy of civilizations” revolves, in the end, around listening more closely to the grievances of the Muslim world. Mead cites the liberal theologian Reinhold Niebuhr as this philosophy’s guiding light. Niebuhr’s role in Mead’s work, as it was in Peter Beinart’s The Good Fight: Why Liberals—and Only Liberals—Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again (2006), is to serve as a tough-minded but sensitive liberal who was fully aware of the reality of original sin, and, hence, of the need for the United States to be more understanding of its enemies and more aware of its own potential for evil. From all points of view, this is a most implausible picture. Developing a sympathetic understanding of declared enemies of the system is entirely foreign to Anglo-Saxon grand strategy and its values. Elizabeth I, Pitt the Younger, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Reagan had no time for this approach. Neither, in fact, did Niebuhr. His role in history was, in the era of Hitler and Stalin, to tell American liberals to get in the game, to remind them that a relentless focus on their own capacity for evil was demoralizing and destructive, and that there really were worse things in the world than the United States.

Niebuhr is indeed the philosopher that we, and the democratic world, need today. Mead’s work illustrates why. By casting his lot with the Muslim conservatives and accepting their right to set the international agenda of grievances, and by abandoning the Muslim liberals and reformers whom Niebuhr would have celebrated, Mead undermines, rather than reinforces, the order he wisely, if only partially, explains. A true history of the Anglo-Saxon contribution to the making of the modern world would emphasize not only religion and capitalism, but also the transformation of the world of empires into the international state system. Mead’s failure to find this third leg of the triad leads him into historical errors and contemporary fallacies that reveal the pervasive weakness in our understanding of the system that we ourselves have been the leading force in creating. But, by restoring religion to the story, he has already done a very great deal to correct the prevailing vision.

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Hitler’s Record Collection?

It is ironic that just as the death of the distinguished Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg is announced, the media here and abroad should broadcast news of the rediscovery of Hitler’s presumed “record collection.” Der Spiegel reported that the daughter of Lev Bezymensky (1920-2007), a World War II Soviet military intelligence officer, revealed some 100 records, which her father reportedly stole from the Berlin Reich chancellery in 1945, after the Red Army invasion. Readers may remember that the same Lev Bezymensky (his name transliterated as Bezymenski) authored the 1968 book The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives, in which Bezymensky claimed to have been present at Hitler’s autopsy. Bezymensky himself later admitted the claim was a lie. Toeing the line of the notorious Soviet counter-intelligence organization SMERSH, Bezymensky’s memoir of the autopsy was persuasively exposed as fraud in Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil.

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It is ironic that just as the death of the distinguished Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg is announced, the media here and abroad should broadcast news of the rediscovery of Hitler’s presumed “record collection.” Der Spiegel reported that the daughter of Lev Bezymensky (1920-2007), a World War II Soviet military intelligence officer, revealed some 100 records, which her father reportedly stole from the Berlin Reich chancellery in 1945, after the Red Army invasion. Readers may remember that the same Lev Bezymensky (his name transliterated as Bezymenski) authored the 1968 book The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives, in which Bezymensky claimed to have been present at Hitler’s autopsy. Bezymensky himself later admitted the claim was a lie. Toeing the line of the notorious Soviet counter-intelligence organization SMERSH, Bezymensky’s memoir of the autopsy was persuasively exposed as fraud in Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil.

The London Times trumpeted the story about Hitler’s record collection with headlines like “Hitler’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ turn up in a dead Russian soldier’s attic” and “A cultivated taste that went for very best,” lauding the dictator’s musical acumen. This praise was based on information that the collection includes recordings by the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin singing Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, the violinist Bronislaw Huberman, a Polish Jew, playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, and pianist Artur Schnabel, an Austrian Jew, performing a Mozart sonata. These recordings are available on CD from Naxos, Pearl, and Music & Arts Records respectively; they are exceptional performances from a time when the choice of major musical repertory on disc was limited.

The London Times goes so far as to praise Hitler as a recordings connoisseur: “Hitler appeared to enjoy a good tune.” This sentiment echoes such mock kudos from Mel Brooks’s The Producers as “Hitler was a better dancer than Churchill.” Other media reports managed to find a moral to the story. A headline in the Australian proclaimed that “Hitler relaxed to music of Jews”; the article that followed suggested he was guilty of hypocrisy. The cellist Steven Isserlis claims in the Guardian that “racial rules could be stretched where the glory and comfort of supermen were concerned.”

Do we really need new reasons to despise Hitler? The hoopla surrounding this record collection rates as the most frivolous innovation in Third Reich studies since Lothar Machtan’s 2001 The Hidden Hitler claimed that Hitler was gay (an idea also advanced by The Producers). Even during the slow news days of summer, the media would do well to maintain a sense of the ridiculous, as well as a healthy suspicion of reports originating from deceased Soviet intelligence officers.

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Britain’s Humiliation

An American friend asks what I, as an Englishman, think about the hostage affair. My answer is that words cannot express how sickened, humiliated, soiled, contaminated, and ashamed I feel.

I feel sickened by the fact that a ship in the navy of Nelson could be captured without a shot being fired, and that British sailors and marines could participate in propaganda stunts that go far beyond the old rubric of giving name, rank and number only, and finally parade before Ahmadinejad to beg his forgiveness.

I feel humiliated by the impotence of our government and armed forces in the face of naked aggression, a humiliation compounded by the disloyalty of our European partners and the refusal of Russia and China to support British forces kidnapped while carrying out a UN mission.

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An American friend asks what I, as an Englishman, think about the hostage affair. My answer is that words cannot express how sickened, humiliated, soiled, contaminated, and ashamed I feel.

I feel sickened by the fact that a ship in the navy of Nelson could be captured without a shot being fired, and that British sailors and marines could participate in propaganda stunts that go far beyond the old rubric of giving name, rank and number only, and finally parade before Ahmadinejad to beg his forgiveness.

I feel humiliated by the impotence of our government and armed forces in the face of naked aggression, a humiliation compounded by the disloyalty of our European partners and the refusal of Russia and China to support British forces kidnapped while carrying out a UN mission.

I feel soiled by the apologists for Iran who pervade our airwaves and press, led by the former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont, now chairman of the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce. Lamont claims that Tony Blair’s support for American policy is to blame for Iran’s hostility, and that the release of the hostages proves that “neocons” were wrong to urge a tough line.

I feel contaminated by the sight of Ahmadinejad posing as a benefactor even as he orders yet more terrorist attacks in Iraq. One of the most recent: a bomb that killed four British soldiers and an interpreter in Basra just as the hostages were being released.

I feel ashamed of Patricia Hewitt, our health secretary, who criticized the woman sailor held hostage for smoking a cigarette, but said nothing about the indignity of her being deprived of her uniform, forced to wear a Muslim headscarf, and patronized by Ahmadinejad because she was a mother.

Tony Blair waited until the sailors and marines were safely home before reminding the British people that Iran is arming, financing, and inciting terrorism throughout the region while defying the will of the international community in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, reported the prime minister’s remarks as responding to a gesture of friendship from Iran with “a slap in the face.”

In reality, Blair has been frustrated by his inability to respond more robustly to the Iranian provocation. America’s former ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, told the BBC that the Iranians were testing the British to see if there would be any price to pay for their outrageous behavior. Now they had their answer, said Bolton: “Softly, softly.” I don’t think he meant it as a compliment.

The Iranians will be emboldened, realizing that the media’s sentimentality in hostage crises imposes a crippling handicap on Western leaders who, like Blair, wish to avoid appeasement at all costs. Negotiations with Tehran almost certainly made no difference to Ahmadinejad’s decision. (They may even have been counter-productive in their bestowal of a spurious legitimacy on Iran.) Such negotiations were nonetheless demanded by the arbiters of public opinion in preference to other diplomatic or military responses.

In the U.S., Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi are demanding similar negotiations with Syria. Wrong for Iran; wrong for Syria. To jaw-jaw may, as Churchill said to Eisenhower in 1954, always be better than to war-war, but not if the guy you are jaw-jawing with is quietly war-warring behind your back.

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Bush the Bookworm

No myth about George W. Bush has been cultivated more sedulously by his enemies than the idea that he has never read anything—that he is too ignorant to be the leader of the West. Of course, the same myth was created about Reagan, but the Teflon president had the natural ebullience to remain indifferent and undamaged in public esteem. Bush is more vulnerable.

Yet the accusation is even less warranted in his case than it was in Reagan’s. Last Wednesday the British historian Andrew Roberts was a lunch guest at the White House. The President had already read Roberts’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900—a chunky volume of over 700 pages—over Christmas, months before it was published in the United States. (It had appeared in Britain last fall.) His first instinct was to arrange to meet the author, a long-standing habit of his.

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No myth about George W. Bush has been cultivated more sedulously by his enemies than the idea that he has never read anything—that he is too ignorant to be the leader of the West. Of course, the same myth was created about Reagan, but the Teflon president had the natural ebullience to remain indifferent and undamaged in public esteem. Bush is more vulnerable.

Yet the accusation is even less warranted in his case than it was in Reagan’s. Last Wednesday the British historian Andrew Roberts was a lunch guest at the White House. The President had already read Roberts’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900—a chunky volume of over 700 pages—over Christmas, months before it was published in the United States. (It had appeared in Britain last fall.) His first instinct was to arrange to meet the author, a long-standing habit of his.

According to Roberts, he and his wife Susan “spent 45 minutes alone with the President in the Oval Office” before they were joined at lunch by Vice President Cheney and other senior officials. Then Mr. Bush proudly showed his guests the desk at which Churchill and Roosevelt were sitting when the latter broke the news of the British defeat at Tobruk—the opening scene of Roberts’s next book. In other words, the President had not only read the current book but had taken the trouble to inform himself about Roberts’s next one, too.

So how does this distinguished historian think President Bush compares to his predecessors? “He’s an amazingly well-read man, contrary to the way he’s portrayed in the media,” Roberts told the Daily Telegraph.

This chimes with the experience of my father, Paul Johnson, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Mr. Bush last December. In his eulogy, the President listed a few of my father’s many books and added, with typically self-deprecating irony, “I’ve read them all, of course.” The audience laughed, but it emerged in conversation that he actually had read some of them. Like Reagan, whose reading—including Modern Times, my father’s history of the world since 1917—encouraged him to persevere in his mission to win the cold war, George W. Bush has been strengthened by books in his determination not to give up in the war on terror.

Is it only the natural modesty of this President that leads him to wear his erudition so lightly that a cynical intelligentsia assumes that he has never opened a book? Or is it native cunning? Far better to be “misunderestimated” by your enemies than to flaunt your academic prowess and then—like the former president of France, Valery Giscard d’Estaing—find your admission to the Académie Française publicly ridiculed. The only possible motive for President Bush to read big books by historians like Andrew Roberts and Paul Johnson is that he thinks history has important lessons to teach him. Whether he draws the correct conclusions from what he reads is another matter—but he can be sure that future historians of the early 21st century will at least judge him without the insufferable condescension of his contemporaries.

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