Commentary Magazine


Topic: Communist government

The ADL Is Wrong: Boycotts Can Be Kosher

A long simmering dispute about the level of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement going on at the University of California at Irvine has prompted a debate between Jewish groups about the propriety of academic boycotts. After the latest incident in which heckler disrupted a speech being given by Michael Oren — Israel’s ambassador to the United States — at the school’s campus, the Zionist Organization of America has called for donors to cease making contributions to the institution and for students to stop applying to the school. But the Anti-Defamation League says this is a mistake, since such boycotts are a “double-edged sword that legitimizes a tactic so often used against Jews and Israel.”

The problem with UC Irvine goes deeper than just the bunch of loudmouths who interrupted Oren. For a number of years, the Irvine campus’s Muslim Student Union and its leftist allies have made the school a haven of Israel-and-Jew bashing without the university’s administration doing much or anything about it. The result has apparently been the creation of a hostile atmosphere for Jewish students. Repeated attempts to get the university to address the grievances of the Jewish community have failed. After years of talking about the problem, the ZOA has apparently concluded that the only thing the school will understand is a boycott that will bring home to them that their indulgence of radical anti-Israel and anti-Jewish elements has consequences. The ADL prefers to keep the lines of communications open with the university and, in its usual manner, spends as much time complimenting the administration for the little it has done as it does criticizing them for their obvious failures.

The conflict on campus is sometimes construed as one between free speech and civility. On the one hand, friends of Israel have a right to expect that a campus mafia of Muslim Jew-haters does not disrupt pro-Israel speakers and events, thus protecting the right of the Jews to free speech. That means that anti-Israel events must have the same protection. Yet if the latter descend as they often do, into hate speech against Israelis and Jews, a university that claims to be trying to create a haven of free inquiry must at some point step in and say enough is enough. The dispute here is not between Jews and Arabs who both want to be heard but rather between a democratic Zionist movement on campus that is under siege and a Muslim anti-Zionist movement that holds fundraisers for Hamas terrorists.

The question here is whether, after repeated attempts to get satisfaction, the Jewish community is justified in throwing up its hands and saying that it serves no further purpose to go on supporting a place that allows such a situation to persist — or whether, by contrast, it should continue its quiet diplomacy aimed at flattering or shaming the university into doing the right thing. The ZOA and the ADL, with their very different organizational cultures — the former being rabble-rousing activists at heart and the latter, the quintessential establishment group — are bound to disagree about that.

But no matter whether you think further efforts to improve the situation at UC Irvine are warranted or not, the ADL’s belief that boycotts are inherently wrong cannot be sustained. It is true that in our own time anti-Israel and anti-Semitic elements have attempted to create boycotts of Israeli academics and produce and that the Jewish community has rightly decried such despicable campaigns. But these boycotts are wrong not because a desire to isolate any movement or country is inherently evil but rather because it is unjust to apply such measures to a democratic state besieged by terrorists who wish to destroy. In the past, Jews have readily embraced boycotts. Jewish activists once boycotted the Soviet Union and protested any commerce or diplomatic niceties conducted with an anti-Semitic Communist government, which had refused to let Russian Jews immigrate to freedom in Israel or the United States. Jews also boycotted Germany during the 1930s as the Nazis set the stage for the Holocaust. There is also the fact that the vast majority of American Jews were profoundly sympathetic to boycotts of grapes picked by non-union labor as well as those aimed at isolating apartheid-era South Africa. The idea that one cannot boycott evildoers just because leftist extremists wish to wrongly use the same tactic on Israel makes no sense.

Thus, one can argue that the ZOA’s boycott of UC Irvine is unjustified, not helpful, or even premature. But you cannot, as the ADL does, argue that there is something inherently wrong with any boycott. The principle of free speech must protect pro-Israel speakers as well as forums for those who take the other side. But no principle obligates any Jew to attend or contribute to a school where Jews are made to feel uncomfortable or where fundraisers are held for groups that kill Jews.

A long simmering dispute about the level of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement going on at the University of California at Irvine has prompted a debate between Jewish groups about the propriety of academic boycotts. After the latest incident in which heckler disrupted a speech being given by Michael Oren — Israel’s ambassador to the United States — at the school’s campus, the Zionist Organization of America has called for donors to cease making contributions to the institution and for students to stop applying to the school. But the Anti-Defamation League says this is a mistake, since such boycotts are a “double-edged sword that legitimizes a tactic so often used against Jews and Israel.”

The problem with UC Irvine goes deeper than just the bunch of loudmouths who interrupted Oren. For a number of years, the Irvine campus’s Muslim Student Union and its leftist allies have made the school a haven of Israel-and-Jew bashing without the university’s administration doing much or anything about it. The result has apparently been the creation of a hostile atmosphere for Jewish students. Repeated attempts to get the university to address the grievances of the Jewish community have failed. After years of talking about the problem, the ZOA has apparently concluded that the only thing the school will understand is a boycott that will bring home to them that their indulgence of radical anti-Israel and anti-Jewish elements has consequences. The ADL prefers to keep the lines of communications open with the university and, in its usual manner, spends as much time complimenting the administration for the little it has done as it does criticizing them for their obvious failures.

The conflict on campus is sometimes construed as one between free speech and civility. On the one hand, friends of Israel have a right to expect that a campus mafia of Muslim Jew-haters does not disrupt pro-Israel speakers and events, thus protecting the right of the Jews to free speech. That means that anti-Israel events must have the same protection. Yet if the latter descend as they often do, into hate speech against Israelis and Jews, a university that claims to be trying to create a haven of free inquiry must at some point step in and say enough is enough. The dispute here is not between Jews and Arabs who both want to be heard but rather between a democratic Zionist movement on campus that is under siege and a Muslim anti-Zionist movement that holds fundraisers for Hamas terrorists.

The question here is whether, after repeated attempts to get satisfaction, the Jewish community is justified in throwing up its hands and saying that it serves no further purpose to go on supporting a place that allows such a situation to persist — or whether, by contrast, it should continue its quiet diplomacy aimed at flattering or shaming the university into doing the right thing. The ZOA and the ADL, with their very different organizational cultures — the former being rabble-rousing activists at heart and the latter, the quintessential establishment group — are bound to disagree about that.

But no matter whether you think further efforts to improve the situation at UC Irvine are warranted or not, the ADL’s belief that boycotts are inherently wrong cannot be sustained. It is true that in our own time anti-Israel and anti-Semitic elements have attempted to create boycotts of Israeli academics and produce and that the Jewish community has rightly decried such despicable campaigns. But these boycotts are wrong not because a desire to isolate any movement or country is inherently evil but rather because it is unjust to apply such measures to a democratic state besieged by terrorists who wish to destroy. In the past, Jews have readily embraced boycotts. Jewish activists once boycotted the Soviet Union and protested any commerce or diplomatic niceties conducted with an anti-Semitic Communist government, which had refused to let Russian Jews immigrate to freedom in Israel or the United States. Jews also boycotted Germany during the 1930s as the Nazis set the stage for the Holocaust. There is also the fact that the vast majority of American Jews were profoundly sympathetic to boycotts of grapes picked by non-union labor as well as those aimed at isolating apartheid-era South Africa. The idea that one cannot boycott evildoers just because leftist extremists wish to wrongly use the same tactic on Israel makes no sense.

Thus, one can argue that the ZOA’s boycott of UC Irvine is unjustified, not helpful, or even premature. But you cannot, as the ADL does, argue that there is something inherently wrong with any boycott. The principle of free speech must protect pro-Israel speakers as well as forums for those who take the other side. But no principle obligates any Jew to attend or contribute to a school where Jews are made to feel uncomfortable or where fundraisers are held for groups that kill Jews.

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Google Grows a Conscience in China. Will Obama?

For the past two decades the Communist government of China has managed the unique trick of expanding its economy while maintaining its iron grip on the political life of the country. Western businesses have become willing accomplices in Beijing’s tyrannical rule in exchange for access to cheap labor and the world’s largest market. This has created a huge surge in China’s economic growth while solidifying the party’s hold on power. But it appears that one large Western company may have had enough. Yesterday, Google announced that it may soon close its Chinese operation as a result of the government’s attempt to hack into its computer system to penetrate the e-mail accounts of human-rights activists.

This is a reversal for Google, since in order to do business in China it had previously agreed to allow Communist censorship of its site in Chinese. That meant that in China, if you did a Google search for phrases such as “Tiananmen Square massacre” or “Dalai Llama,” the response would come up blank. Google had rationalized that the benefits of Google’s resources to ordinary Chinese would outweigh the deleterious effect of their participation in the regime’s thought-control policies. But the recent attacks on Google’s database — part of an ongoing crackdown on dissent and appeals for democracy in China — from sources that are almost certainly controlled by Beijing have convinced Google that there is no way they can continue to operate as an unwitting ally to the world’s largest tyranny. Google says it will attempt to negotiate an agreement with the government to create an uncensored Internet, but if it fails to obtain satisfactory results, it will close their Chinese offices and shut down Google.cn.

This is an important milestone for Westerners doing business in China. The attacks on Google have shown again that for all the opportunity for profit in that vast nation as its economy has opened up, it still lacks the basic premise for a free-market system: the rule of law. Property rights remain at the mercy of an all-powerful state that reserves the right to suppress any individual, company, or group that threatens its monopoly on power. Individuals and companies can certainly do business in China and make money, but they do so only at the mercy of a vicious authoritarian government.

It isn’t clear whether Google is flexing its libertarian muscles in China because of a decision that competing with the more widely trafficked but also more heavily censored local search engine Baidu is pointless or because it feels that it is strong enough to force Beijing to back down. But no matter what the source of their motivation, it’s apparent that the latest provocations by the Communists have convinced Google’s leadership that they must take a stand. And for that they deserve the applause of all believers in civil liberties and freedom. For too long, the vast forces dedicated to accommodation and appeasement of Beijing have sought to convince Americans that Chinese don’t care about freedom and that we shouldn’t lift a finger to help them obtain it. This attitude has been reflected in the Obama administration’s conscious decision to downplay the issue of human rights in our dealings with China. Such weakness hasn’t earned America China’s help on other issues, such as stopping Iran’s nuclear program. But it has resulted in a situation where the Communists think they can do virtually anything to the West and get away with it.

Who would have thought that an Internet company like Google, with much to lose, would show more backbone and commitment to freedom than the government of the United States? Is it too much to hope that Washington can take inspiration from Silicon Valley when it comes to China? Let’s hope that Google sticks to its guns on censorship. Whether it wins and forces Beijing to back down or even if it doesn’t, Google has thrown down the gauntlet of liberty to tyrants in a way that should make all Americans proud. It’s also given our elected leaders an example to follow.

For the past two decades the Communist government of China has managed the unique trick of expanding its economy while maintaining its iron grip on the political life of the country. Western businesses have become willing accomplices in Beijing’s tyrannical rule in exchange for access to cheap labor and the world’s largest market. This has created a huge surge in China’s economic growth while solidifying the party’s hold on power. But it appears that one large Western company may have had enough. Yesterday, Google announced that it may soon close its Chinese operation as a result of the government’s attempt to hack into its computer system to penetrate the e-mail accounts of human-rights activists.

This is a reversal for Google, since in order to do business in China it had previously agreed to allow Communist censorship of its site in Chinese. That meant that in China, if you did a Google search for phrases such as “Tiananmen Square massacre” or “Dalai Llama,” the response would come up blank. Google had rationalized that the benefits of Google’s resources to ordinary Chinese would outweigh the deleterious effect of their participation in the regime’s thought-control policies. But the recent attacks on Google’s database — part of an ongoing crackdown on dissent and appeals for democracy in China — from sources that are almost certainly controlled by Beijing have convinced Google that there is no way they can continue to operate as an unwitting ally to the world’s largest tyranny. Google says it will attempt to negotiate an agreement with the government to create an uncensored Internet, but if it fails to obtain satisfactory results, it will close their Chinese offices and shut down Google.cn.

This is an important milestone for Westerners doing business in China. The attacks on Google have shown again that for all the opportunity for profit in that vast nation as its economy has opened up, it still lacks the basic premise for a free-market system: the rule of law. Property rights remain at the mercy of an all-powerful state that reserves the right to suppress any individual, company, or group that threatens its monopoly on power. Individuals and companies can certainly do business in China and make money, but they do so only at the mercy of a vicious authoritarian government.

It isn’t clear whether Google is flexing its libertarian muscles in China because of a decision that competing with the more widely trafficked but also more heavily censored local search engine Baidu is pointless or because it feels that it is strong enough to force Beijing to back down. But no matter what the source of their motivation, it’s apparent that the latest provocations by the Communists have convinced Google’s leadership that they must take a stand. And for that they deserve the applause of all believers in civil liberties and freedom. For too long, the vast forces dedicated to accommodation and appeasement of Beijing have sought to convince Americans that Chinese don’t care about freedom and that we shouldn’t lift a finger to help them obtain it. This attitude has been reflected in the Obama administration’s conscious decision to downplay the issue of human rights in our dealings with China. Such weakness hasn’t earned America China’s help on other issues, such as stopping Iran’s nuclear program. But it has resulted in a situation where the Communists think they can do virtually anything to the West and get away with it.

Who would have thought that an Internet company like Google, with much to lose, would show more backbone and commitment to freedom than the government of the United States? Is it too much to hope that Washington can take inspiration from Silicon Valley when it comes to China? Let’s hope that Google sticks to its guns on censorship. Whether it wins and forces Beijing to back down or even if it doesn’t, Google has thrown down the gauntlet of liberty to tyrants in a way that should make all Americans proud. It’s also given our elected leaders an example to follow.

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Obama Resists Anti-Censorship Efforts

The Wall Street Journal‘s Jerry Seib has a nice column today describing efforts by a group of senators — led, of course, by the Three Amigos: John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman — to provide funding to stymie Iran’s efforts to censor the Internet. As Seib notes, the Victims of Iranian Censorship Act “authorizes the U.S. government to develop proxy Web servers and Web addresses beyond the reach of the Iranian government, and to deploy technologies that would allow Iranians to go to those sites anonymously to stay in touch with one another and the outside world via the Internet.” This bill has already passed the Senate and is now awaiting an appropriation. But here’s the really interesting part of the article. Seib writes:

The idea is uncomfortable for the Obama administration, largely because some advocates of Internet-freedom legislation have in mind helping Chinese dissidents, not Iranian democracy protesters. Wrangling with China’s leaders, on whom the U.S. is depending for help with, among many other things, putting pressure on Iran, is a much trickier proposition.

Come again? The Obama administration doesn’t want to facilitate the free flow of information into China? It would prefer that the Chinese people be subject to censorship by their Communist government? If this were any other administration I would find that amazing. But coming from President Obama — who made no attempts to speak directly with the Chinese people during his recent visit and did everything possible to make nice with the ruling oligarchy — it is eminently believable. It is also deeply misguided. The U.S. has a long-term interest in fostering the growth of a free, liberal, and democratic China. The existing regime, while willing to do business with us (and buy up our debt), is also fostering a dangerous showdown with Taiwan in an attempt to bolster its nationalist credentials — a showdown that could eventually embroil us in war. Moreover, China consistently opposes U.S. interests in such flashpoints as North Korea and Iran, and it is fostering close ties with some of the worst thugs on the planet.

That doesn’t mean we should try to overthrow the existing regime by force. It does mean that, at a minimum, we should help dissidents and do more to facilitate accurate information getting to the people. That the Obama administration apparently views this as a dangerous policy shows a narrow realpolitik orientation that bodes ill for American foreign policy in the years ahead.

The Wall Street Journal‘s Jerry Seib has a nice column today describing efforts by a group of senators — led, of course, by the Three Amigos: John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman — to provide funding to stymie Iran’s efforts to censor the Internet. As Seib notes, the Victims of Iranian Censorship Act “authorizes the U.S. government to develop proxy Web servers and Web addresses beyond the reach of the Iranian government, and to deploy technologies that would allow Iranians to go to those sites anonymously to stay in touch with one another and the outside world via the Internet.” This bill has already passed the Senate and is now awaiting an appropriation. But here’s the really interesting part of the article. Seib writes:

The idea is uncomfortable for the Obama administration, largely because some advocates of Internet-freedom legislation have in mind helping Chinese dissidents, not Iranian democracy protesters. Wrangling with China’s leaders, on whom the U.S. is depending for help with, among many other things, putting pressure on Iran, is a much trickier proposition.

Come again? The Obama administration doesn’t want to facilitate the free flow of information into China? It would prefer that the Chinese people be subject to censorship by their Communist government? If this were any other administration I would find that amazing. But coming from President Obama — who made no attempts to speak directly with the Chinese people during his recent visit and did everything possible to make nice with the ruling oligarchy — it is eminently believable. It is also deeply misguided. The U.S. has a long-term interest in fostering the growth of a free, liberal, and democratic China. The existing regime, while willing to do business with us (and buy up our debt), is also fostering a dangerous showdown with Taiwan in an attempt to bolster its nationalist credentials — a showdown that could eventually embroil us in war. Moreover, China consistently opposes U.S. interests in such flashpoints as North Korea and Iran, and it is fostering close ties with some of the worst thugs on the planet.

That doesn’t mean we should try to overthrow the existing regime by force. It does mean that, at a minimum, we should help dissidents and do more to facilitate accurate information getting to the people. That the Obama administration apparently views this as a dangerous policy shows a narrow realpolitik orientation that bodes ill for American foreign policy in the years ahead.

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David Halberstam’s All-Too-Prescient Forecast

David Halberstam was killed yesterday in an automobile accident in Menlo Park, California, bringing to a close a legendary journalistic career. Plaudits for the Pulitzer-prize winning author are flowing with abandon. Here is a bit of hagiography from the New York Times:

Tall, square-jawed, and graced with an imposing voice so deep that it seemed to begin at his ankles, Mr. Halberstam came into his own as a journalist in the early 1960’s covering the nascent American war in South Vietnam for the New York Times.

This reporting, along with that of several colleagues, left little doubt that a corrupt South Vietnamese government supported by the United States was no match for Communist guerrillas and their North Vietnamese allies. His dispatches infuriated American military commanders and policy makers in Washington, but they accurately reflected the realities on the ground.

This is fascinating stuff, for what the Times omits to say is that Halberstam, who did come to deride the war in Vietnam ferociously, began his career as one of its most avid supporters. Indeed, as late as 1965 Halberstam was telling his readers that if America pulled out of Southeast Asia, a moral tragedy and strategic debacle would ensue:

[T]hose Vietnamese who committed themselves fully to the United States will suffer the most under a Communist government, while we lucky few with blue passports retire unharmed; it means a drab, lifeless, and controlled society for a people who deserve better. Withdrawal also means that the United States’s prestige will be lowered throughout the world, and it means that the pressure of Communism on the rest of Southeast Asia will intensify. Lastly, withdrawal means that throughout the world the enemies of the West will be encouraged to try insurgencies like the one in Vietnam.

Halberstam never came to terms with his past view of the war; he just silently shifted away from it.

As I wrote in my review of Robert S. McNamara’s memoirs in Commentary, “considering what happened to the South Vietnamese after America did pull out—hundreds of thousands bidding farewell forever to their ancestors’ sacred graves to flee ‘reeducation camps’ and other appurtenances of Communist rule, and so many perishing at sea at the hands of pirates or with the foundering of their rickety ships, not to mention the even more unspeakable fate suffered by millions in the mass graveyard that the entire nation of neighboring Cambodia became—surely Halberstam’s is the most clear-sighted forecast ever to be quietly disavowed.”

David Halberstam was killed yesterday in an automobile accident in Menlo Park, California, bringing to a close a legendary journalistic career. Plaudits for the Pulitzer-prize winning author are flowing with abandon. Here is a bit of hagiography from the New York Times:

Tall, square-jawed, and graced with an imposing voice so deep that it seemed to begin at his ankles, Mr. Halberstam came into his own as a journalist in the early 1960’s covering the nascent American war in South Vietnam for the New York Times.

This reporting, along with that of several colleagues, left little doubt that a corrupt South Vietnamese government supported by the United States was no match for Communist guerrillas and their North Vietnamese allies. His dispatches infuriated American military commanders and policy makers in Washington, but they accurately reflected the realities on the ground.

This is fascinating stuff, for what the Times omits to say is that Halberstam, who did come to deride the war in Vietnam ferociously, began his career as one of its most avid supporters. Indeed, as late as 1965 Halberstam was telling his readers that if America pulled out of Southeast Asia, a moral tragedy and strategic debacle would ensue:

[T]hose Vietnamese who committed themselves fully to the United States will suffer the most under a Communist government, while we lucky few with blue passports retire unharmed; it means a drab, lifeless, and controlled society for a people who deserve better. Withdrawal also means that the United States’s prestige will be lowered throughout the world, and it means that the pressure of Communism on the rest of Southeast Asia will intensify. Lastly, withdrawal means that throughout the world the enemies of the West will be encouraged to try insurgencies like the one in Vietnam.

Halberstam never came to terms with his past view of the war; he just silently shifted away from it.

As I wrote in my review of Robert S. McNamara’s memoirs in Commentary, “considering what happened to the South Vietnamese after America did pull out—hundreds of thousands bidding farewell forever to their ancestors’ sacred graves to flee ‘reeducation camps’ and other appurtenances of Communist rule, and so many perishing at sea at the hands of pirates or with the foundering of their rickety ships, not to mention the even more unspeakable fate suffered by millions in the mass graveyard that the entire nation of neighboring Cambodia became—surely Halberstam’s is the most clear-sighted forecast ever to be quietly disavowed.”

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Brzezinski’s Paranoia

Writing in the Sunday, March 25 Outlook section of the Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski claims that “The ‘war on terror’ has created a culture of fear in America.” Moreover, he says, “the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors [to] stimulate . . . the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions, and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.” The “fear-mongering” of President Bush has been reinforced, says Brzezinski, “by security entrepreneurs, the mass media, and the entertainment industry.” As a result, the American people have been subjected to “five years of almost continuous national brainwashing on the subject of terror.”

This, Brzezinski continues, has “stimulate[d] Islamophobia.” In particular, the “Arab facial stereotypes, particularly in [American] newspaper cartoons,” remind Brzezinski of the “Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns.” The people who do such things are “apparently oblivious to the menacing connection between the stimulation of racial and religious hatreds and the unleashing of the unprecedented crimes of the Holocaust.”

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Writing in the Sunday, March 25 Outlook section of the Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski claims that “The ‘war on terror’ has created a culture of fear in America.” Moreover, he says, “the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors [to] stimulate . . . the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions, and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.” The “fear-mongering” of President Bush has been reinforced, says Brzezinski, “by security entrepreneurs, the mass media, and the entertainment industry.” As a result, the American people have been subjected to “five years of almost continuous national brainwashing on the subject of terror.”

This, Brzezinski continues, has “stimulate[d] Islamophobia.” In particular, the “Arab facial stereotypes, particularly in [American] newspaper cartoons,” remind Brzezinski of the “Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns.” The people who do such things are “apparently oblivious to the menacing connection between the stimulation of racial and religious hatreds and the unleashing of the unprecedented crimes of the Holocaust.”

Brzezinski’s goal, he says, is an end to “this hysteria . . . this paranoia.”

How to react to this? Would that one could say simply that it is sad to see a former high official go off the rails, and leave it at that. But the very fact that the Post chose to give the man such prime space shows that he will be taken seriously, although he no longer deserves to be. So here are a few comments.

It is rather rich to decry hysteria and paranoia in the same breath that one likens the slights to Arabs in the American news media to the depiction of Jews by the Nazis, and to imply that these slights may be the prelude to another Holocaust.

It is also rich to hear Brzezinski sneer at “security entrepreneurs.” How, exactly, would Brzezinski describe his own career? The Encyclopedia of World Biography’s entry on him reminds us that “Brzezinski was openly eager to be appointed assistant to the President for nation security affairs and delighted when President-elect Carter offered him the position in December 1976.”

It is amusing to be lectured that “America today is not the self-confident and determined nation that responded to Pearl Harbor” by the national security adviser of the President who delivered the infamous “malaise” speech, telling Americans that our problems arose from “a crisis of the American spirit” and a “los[s of] confidence in the future.” Aside from being rich, Brzezinski’s claim is false. Fear of the enemy is not the opposite of determination and confidence in ultimate victory. There was much fear of the enemy in 1941, including some that was quite hysterical. The main difference in regard to self-confidence between World War II and the war on terror is that after Pearl Harbor, one no longer heard voices like Brzezinski’s claiming that the real enemy was ourselves.

In a further sneer, Brzezinski writes: “President Bush even claims absurdly that he has to continue waging [the war on terror] lest al Qaeda cross the Atlantic to launch a war of terror here in the United States.” Quite a fool, that Bush. Terror here in the United States? Absurd, indeed! How could al Qaeda cross the Atlantic? In airplanes? Ha, ha.

Between sneers, Brzezinski waxes professorial. “Terrorism is not an enemy but a technique,” he explains. Quite so. The enemy might more precisely be described as jihadism, a political ideology that claims that the Christian and Jewish worlds are at war with Islam and that the Islamic world must make war on them. This ideology traces its roots to the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in the 1920’s. But it only took wing after a jihadist government seized power in Iran in 1979, much as Communism only emerged as a major force after a Communist government was established in Russia. And where was Brzezinski when this enemy was taking shape? At the very pinnacle of the American government, flapping about pathetically, pursuing policies that enabled this strategic disaster to happen. His qualification for instructing us about how to deal with jihadism is therefore clear: there are few Americans who did us much as he to create the problem.

* Editor’s Note: You can read Gabriel Schoenfeld’s response to one of Muravchik’s critics here.

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“Hurt Into Poetry”

Last week I attended a reading of the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert’s poems at the New School in downtown Manhattan. At the podium were the poets Edward Hirsch and Adam Zagajewski, Herbert’s translator Alissa Valles, the journalist and dissident Adam Michnik, and New Yorker poetry editor Alice Quinn. This event marked a long-awaited occasion: the publication of Herbert’s collected works in English. Collected Poems, 1956-1998, in Valles’s sensitive translation, makes an important addition to our understanding of post-war literary modernism, and of post-war poetry in general.

On the occasion of Herbert’s death in 1998, his compatriot, translator, and friend Czesław Miłosz wrote a short, understated poem about their shared art form and how the deceased unfailingly attended it:

He, who served [poetry],
is changed into a thing,
delivered to decomposition
into salts and phosphates,
sinks
into the home of chaos.

Changed into a thing: a line Herbert himself would have seen as no small compliment. A battered son of Eastern Europe who saw his country repeatedly swapped by Hitler and Stalin, Herbert was understandably preoccupied with the permanent and stable. His poetry is a lasting monument to the safety of objects, to what he once called “a predatory love of the concrete.” Flowers, diamonds, armchairs, stools–these rarely let one down in the flux of life, and through them mankind can fashion a saner metaphysics than through appeals to History and the inevitable forces of “progress.”

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Last week I attended a reading of the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert’s poems at the New School in downtown Manhattan. At the podium were the poets Edward Hirsch and Adam Zagajewski, Herbert’s translator Alissa Valles, the journalist and dissident Adam Michnik, and New Yorker poetry editor Alice Quinn. This event marked a long-awaited occasion: the publication of Herbert’s collected works in English. Collected Poems, 1956-1998, in Valles’s sensitive translation, makes an important addition to our understanding of post-war literary modernism, and of post-war poetry in general.

On the occasion of Herbert’s death in 1998, his compatriot, translator, and friend Czesław Miłosz wrote a short, understated poem about their shared art form and how the deceased unfailingly attended it:

He, who served [poetry],
is changed into a thing,
delivered to decomposition
into salts and phosphates,
sinks
into the home of chaos.

Changed into a thing: a line Herbert himself would have seen as no small compliment. A battered son of Eastern Europe who saw his country repeatedly swapped by Hitler and Stalin, Herbert was understandably preoccupied with the permanent and stable. His poetry is a lasting monument to the safety of objects, to what he once called “a predatory love of the concrete.” Flowers, diamonds, armchairs, stools–these rarely let one down in the flux of life, and through them mankind can fashion a saner metaphysics than through appeals to History and the inevitable forces of “progress.”

That is not to say, however, that Herbert was unconcerned with politics and ideas. Born in 1924 in Lwow, he seemed destined for a quiet life of the mind until the noise of invasion and occupation roused him from that idyllic might-have-been. He joined the resistance, continued his studies while underground, and performed odd jobs throughout Poland until his gifts as a poet were recognized with the publication of his book Chord of Light in 1956

Herbert’s career as a poet only became possible after the Communist “thaw” of that year, the slight liberalization following Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech.” It is sobering to consider how great the loss would have been had this modest liberalization tempted him to compromise his talents for the sake of political expedience. (He once wrote a wry and haunting poem, A Life, that imagined what doing exactly that would be like: it ends with the poet-stooge and his friends asking rhetorically if “the dictatorship of the proletariat / may exclude art in the true sense,” before erupting into grim laughter.)

Yet a figure far more expressive of Herbert’s actual biography was his alter ego Mr. Cogito, a supremely ironic and polymorphous being, inhabiting every mode of thought and experience, through which the poet voiced his deepest insecurities, longings and fears: becoming a has-been, returning to his native town, confronting the abyss of “fathomless days,” his own eventual decay.

It’s well worth recalling that after the Berlin Wall came down, Herbert returned to his homeland with harsh words for the agreements struck between Solidarity and the Communist government. A staunch cold warrior, he went so far as blame the softer politics of Milosz and Michnik for the national malaise then gripping Poland. But not even this slight minimized Herbert’s artistic achievement and his indomitable humanity in the eyes of his anti-totalitarian compatriots. Michnik is all forgiveness today. When, during the question and answer period after the reading, Edward Hirsch drew a comparison between Herbert and the Latin American poets, specifically Pablo Neruda, the great Polish dissident shot back: “Neruda wrote about Stalin, Herbert wrote about Marcus Aurelius. I’d like to have the value of the difference between them in dollars.” (So would I.)

Auden wrote of Yeats that “mad Ireland hurt [him] into poetry.” Without World War II, there’s a good chance Zbigniew Herbert would now be remembered, if at all, as a professor of philosophy or art history: he, too, was hurt into poetry. He loved antiquity and used myths and other classical imagery to evoke the grim conditions of the ravaged world outside his window, but could also be arrestingly direct about those conditions: “Metaphors mock you as you flee/into a spray of righteous bullets.” Hard to surpass, as a comment on the fragile and tragicomic position of the artist in history. But we should be grateful, in Herbert’s case: if not for the bullets, then for the metaphors.

 

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