Commentary Magazine


Topic: Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Why She’s So Angry With Tim Russert

In light of a Drudge story that the Clinton campaign is trying to put the fear of G-d into Wolf Blitzer about not going after Hillary in Thursday night’s debate in the aggressive manner of Tim Russert at the debate two weeks ago, Jonah Goldberg asks: “Can someone please explain to me how asking the junior Senator from New York state whether she agrees with the governor of the state (and a close political ally) on the question of drivers’ licenses for illegals is even remotely wrong, never mind some sort of vicious, Nazi-like, personal assault on truth, decency, and Hillary Clinton’s integrity? I really, really, don’t get it.”

Here’s an answer: There is a history here. Tim Russert moderated the only debate in 2000 between Senate candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican rival, Rick Lazio. While most remember that debate because Lazio crossed the stage to hand a piece of paper to Mrs. Clinton and was upbraided, preposterously but effectively, for somehow “violating her personal space,” Hillary and her people were enraged at Russert for what they took to be an extraordinarily hostile approach to her.
Here was Russert, opening the debate in 2000:

Mrs. Clinton, you have no voting record as such. People, in order to determine how you will behave as a legislator, look to your principal policy initiative: health care. I want to ask you a couple questions about that.
In 1993-94 you proposed a health care bill that was very controversial in this state. The man that you want to replace, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, had this to say…: ‘The administration’s solution was rationing. Cut the number of doctors by a quarter, specialists by a half.” And he went on to say,`Teaching hospitals would be at risk. The finance committee passed a bill in `94 to provide financing for the medical schools and the teaching hospitals. The Clinton administration rejected the committee bill.’ Why did you propose cutting the number of doctors by 25 percent, the number of specialists by 50 percent?

A fair question, to be sure, but very tough and, in fact, asked with more than a soupçon of hostility. To say the Clintons were furious about this would be an understatement. And to say the Clintons have a long memory for things they consider slights would be the understatement of the century. One thing is for sure: Don’t expect Russert to be invited to a state dinner at Hillary Clinton’s White House.

In light of a Drudge story that the Clinton campaign is trying to put the fear of G-d into Wolf Blitzer about not going after Hillary in Thursday night’s debate in the aggressive manner of Tim Russert at the debate two weeks ago, Jonah Goldberg asks: “Can someone please explain to me how asking the junior Senator from New York state whether she agrees with the governor of the state (and a close political ally) on the question of drivers’ licenses for illegals is even remotely wrong, never mind some sort of vicious, Nazi-like, personal assault on truth, decency, and Hillary Clinton’s integrity? I really, really, don’t get it.”

Here’s an answer: There is a history here. Tim Russert moderated the only debate in 2000 between Senate candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican rival, Rick Lazio. While most remember that debate because Lazio crossed the stage to hand a piece of paper to Mrs. Clinton and was upbraided, preposterously but effectively, for somehow “violating her personal space,” Hillary and her people were enraged at Russert for what they took to be an extraordinarily hostile approach to her.
Here was Russert, opening the debate in 2000:

Mrs. Clinton, you have no voting record as such. People, in order to determine how you will behave as a legislator, look to your principal policy initiative: health care. I want to ask you a couple questions about that.
In 1993-94 you proposed a health care bill that was very controversial in this state. The man that you want to replace, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, had this to say…: ‘The administration’s solution was rationing. Cut the number of doctors by a quarter, specialists by a half.” And he went on to say,`Teaching hospitals would be at risk. The finance committee passed a bill in `94 to provide financing for the medical schools and the teaching hospitals. The Clinton administration rejected the committee bill.’ Why did you propose cutting the number of doctors by 25 percent, the number of specialists by 50 percent?

A fair question, to be sure, but very tough and, in fact, asked with more than a soupçon of hostility. To say the Clintons were furious about this would be an understatement. And to say the Clintons have a long memory for things they consider slights would be the understatement of the century. One thing is for sure: Don’t expect Russert to be invited to a state dinner at Hillary Clinton’s White House.

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Pernicious Pentagon Software

Yesterday I wrote about the danger that the Pentagon might inadvertently purchase foreign-produced “malicious” software to run some of its most critical computer systems.

Now comes news that some new Pentagon software—pernicious if not malicious—is to be domestically produced, and on orders from the Pentagon itself.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded Lockheed Martin a $1.3-million contract to develop something called “the Predicting Stability through Analyzing Germane Events (PRESAGE) system.” Typical events that will be predicted “may include rebellions, insurgencies, ethnic/religious violence, civil war, and major economic crises.”

How will it work?

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Yesterday I wrote about the danger that the Pentagon might inadvertently purchase foreign-produced “malicious” software to run some of its most critical computer systems.

Now comes news that some new Pentagon software—pernicious if not malicious—is to be domestically produced, and on orders from the Pentagon itself.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded Lockheed Martin a $1.3-million contract to develop something called “the Predicting Stability through Analyzing Germane Events (PRESAGE) system.” Typical events that will be predicted “may include rebellions, insurgencies, ethnic/religious violence, civil war, and major economic crises.”

How will it work?

According to the announcement, PRESAGE will “combine a portfolio of state-of-the-art and operationally deployed social-science models and technologies” that will let “military commanders anticipate and respond to world-wide political crises and predict events of interest and stability of countries of interest with greater than 80-percent accuracy.”

Eighty-percent accuracy? That’s far better than the CIA’s rate of accuracy in predicting  “political events of interest.” And it is far better than Merrill Lynch does in predicting economic ones (Stan O’Neal please call your former office).

Perhaps we should now do as my former boss, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, proposed: abolish the spy agency altogether. Moynihan wanted the State Department to take responsibility for gathering intelligence. But it seems we could let computers carry out our intelligence functions instead. 

There is only one small hitch. When it comes to predicting the future, computers are not likely to do a better job than the CIA, or Goldman Sachs, or even Connecting the Dots. I haven’t had a chance to examine the algorithms in PRESAGE, but as Vladimir Ilych Lenin said, when you see a heap of dung in the road, you don’t need to stick your nose in it to know what it is. And I know enough about junk political science to know it when I see it.

Does anyone disagree? The Lockheed team building PRESAGE includes specialists from the University of Pennsylvania, University of Kansas, University of Washington, and University of Georgia. Despite this stellar lineup, I can predict with more than 80-percent accuracy that the program will flop, at a cost of $1.3 million. That money would be far better spent repairing dangerous dams built by Saddam Hussein.

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The Politics of the Playground

Last month, in response to the overwhelming passage of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment labeling Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson had this to say:

Calling them names, labeling them terrorists, drawing up military options is just making the situation worse and inflaming the Muslim world.

That this utterance received so little attention might be due to the fact that it is only the latest in a string of Richardson gaffes, from a professed belief that homosexuality is a “choice” to calling Al Sharpton “governor” (woe betide the day Sharpton earns that title). Or perhaps the press largely ignored this statement because Richardson is a second-tier candidate. Either way, that a former Democratic Congressman, governor, potential Senator, and, most importantly, United Nations ambassador thinks that “calling [terrorists] names” is “making the situation [with Iran] worse” indicates that playground politics hold sway over an influential portion of the Democratic Party.

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Last month, in response to the overwhelming passage of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment labeling Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson had this to say:

Calling them names, labeling them terrorists, drawing up military options is just making the situation worse and inflaming the Muslim world.

That this utterance received so little attention might be due to the fact that it is only the latest in a string of Richardson gaffes, from a professed belief that homosexuality is a “choice” to calling Al Sharpton “governor” (woe betide the day Sharpton earns that title). Or perhaps the press largely ignored this statement because Richardson is a second-tier candidate. Either way, that a former Democratic Congressman, governor, potential Senator, and, most importantly, United Nations ambassador thinks that “calling [terrorists] names” is “making the situation [with Iran] worse” indicates that playground politics hold sway over an influential portion of the Democratic Party.

It wasn’t always like this for the Democrats. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democratic Senator and, like Richardson, a United Nations ambassador, had no trouble calling authoritarians “names.” He famously called Idi Amin a “racist murderer” (which was actually letting the Ugandan strongman off lightly). Richardson’s mode of thinking represents a deep-seated and long-held belief on the Left: that America’s enemies have legitimate grievances and that every problem in the world ultimately can be laid at our feet. According to Richardson, it is not the Iranian regime’s killing of American soldiers, construction of a nuclear program, or decades-long international terrorism that is the root problem in our relationship with Tehran, but the United States’s “name calling.” We’re antagonizing “racist murderers” and “terrorists” by “calling them names,” and if we just cut it out Osama bin Laden would call off the jihad.

This is what many believed during the cold war: that the United States was “antagonizing” the Soviet Union with our calls for democracy and the funding of anti-Communist elements abroad. In this light, worldwide Soviet expansionism (violent and non-consensual) was an understandable reaction against the West’s “bellicosity.” It was on this basis that the muscular foreign policies of Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy, Democrats both, were denounced by fringes on both the Right and Left.

While once a minority viewpoint, this aversion to the mere act of calling our enemies what they in fact are—terrorists or Islamic fascists—is a form of self-hatred that now reigns in the Democratic Party. Those Democrats who are serious about the threats America faces would do well to ensure that such self-hatred stays out of the White House.

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I Got My Job Through COMMENTARY

First there was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose COMMENTARY article, “The United States in Opposition,” ended up bringing him to the United Nations. Then there was Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, whose article for this magazine, “Dictatorships & Double Standards,” brought her, also, to the United Nations.

We now take note of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’s announcement of new appointments to his department’s Defense Policy Board. One of them is Peter Rodman, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense and, before that, an occasional COMMENTARY contributor. He joins, among others already on the board, two other well known writers for the magazine: Aaron Friedberg and James Q. Wilson.

Evidently, the neoconservative crack-up is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Meanwhile, is the Defense Policy Board, under its new chairman, the former Clinton defense adviser John J. Hamre, all that it’s cracked up to be? Bill Gertz in today’s Washington Times takes up that question.

First there was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose COMMENTARY article, “The United States in Opposition,” ended up bringing him to the United Nations. Then there was Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, whose article for this magazine, “Dictatorships & Double Standards,” brought her, also, to the United Nations.

We now take note of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’s announcement of new appointments to his department’s Defense Policy Board. One of them is Peter Rodman, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense and, before that, an occasional COMMENTARY contributor. He joins, among others already on the board, two other well known writers for the magazine: Aaron Friedberg and James Q. Wilson.

Evidently, the neoconservative crack-up is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Meanwhile, is the Defense Policy Board, under its new chairman, the former Clinton defense adviser John J. Hamre, all that it’s cracked up to be? Bill Gertz in today’s Washington Times takes up that question.

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Pace David Brooks

In his October 5th column for The New York Times, David Brooks writes:

Over the past six years, the Republican Party has championed the spread of democracy in the Middle East. But the temperamental conservative is suspicious of rapid reform, believing that efforts to quickly transform anything will have, as Burke wrote, “pleasing commencements” but “lamentable conclusions.” The world is too complex, the Burkean conservative believes, for rapid reform. Existing arrangements contain latent functions that can be neither seen nor replaced by the reformer. The temperamental conservative prizes epistemological modesty, the awareness of the limitations on what we do and can know, what we can and cannot plan. Over the past six years, the Bush administration has operated on the assumption that if you change the political institutions in Iraq, the society will follow. But the Burkean conservative believes that society is an organism; that custom, tradition and habit are the prime movers of that organism; and that successful government institutions grow gradually from each nation’s unique network of moral and social restraints.

Brooks, who is not only an excellent columnist but also a fine and deep thinker, is raising a fair caution. The world is complex and change is often harder than we think—and rapid reform can often lead to “lamentable conclusions.” But let me raise a caution the other way as well.

In the mid-1990’s, some prominent conservatives opposed welfare reform on Burkean grounds. For example George Will, who traces the pedigree of his philosophy to Burke (as well as Newman, Disraeli, and others) chided welfare reformers as being “designers of a brave new world.” He praised Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s opposition to welfare reform, writing

Moynihan warns that welfare reform could produce a similar [to the “deinstitutionalization” of the mentally ill] unanticipated increase in children sleeping on, and freezing to death on, grates. . . . “There are,” says Moynihan, “not enough social workers, not enough nuns, not enough Salvation Army workers to care for children who would be purged from the welfare rolls were Congress to decree (as candidate Bill Clinton proposed) a two-year limit for welfare eligibility.”

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In his October 5th column for The New York Times, David Brooks writes:

Over the past six years, the Republican Party has championed the spread of democracy in the Middle East. But the temperamental conservative is suspicious of rapid reform, believing that efforts to quickly transform anything will have, as Burke wrote, “pleasing commencements” but “lamentable conclusions.” The world is too complex, the Burkean conservative believes, for rapid reform. Existing arrangements contain latent functions that can be neither seen nor replaced by the reformer. The temperamental conservative prizes epistemological modesty, the awareness of the limitations on what we do and can know, what we can and cannot plan. Over the past six years, the Bush administration has operated on the assumption that if you change the political institutions in Iraq, the society will follow. But the Burkean conservative believes that society is an organism; that custom, tradition and habit are the prime movers of that organism; and that successful government institutions grow gradually from each nation’s unique network of moral and social restraints.

Brooks, who is not only an excellent columnist but also a fine and deep thinker, is raising a fair caution. The world is complex and change is often harder than we think—and rapid reform can often lead to “lamentable conclusions.” But let me raise a caution the other way as well.

In the mid-1990’s, some prominent conservatives opposed welfare reform on Burkean grounds. For example George Will, who traces the pedigree of his philosophy to Burke (as well as Newman, Disraeli, and others) chided welfare reformers as being “designers of a brave new world.” He praised Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s opposition to welfare reform, writing

Moynihan warns that welfare reform could produce a similar [to the “deinstitutionalization” of the mentally ill] unanticipated increase in children sleeping on, and freezing to death on, grates. . . . “There are,” says Moynihan, “not enough social workers, not enough nuns, not enough Salvation Army workers to care for children who would be purged from the welfare rolls were Congress to decree (as candidate Bill Clinton proposed) a two-year limit for welfare eligibility.”

George Will concluded his September 14, 1995 column this way:

Conservatives say, well, nothing could be worse than the current system. They are underestimating their ingenuity.

Here is the late, great Senator Moynihan, expressing (on August 4, 1996) his opposition to welfare reform:

[O]pponents of this legislation were conservative social scientists who for years have argued against liberal nostrums for changing society with the argument that no one knows enough to mechanistically change society. Typically liberals think otherwise; to the extent that liberals can be said to think at all. . . . They [the Clinton White House] have only the flimsiest grasp of social reality, thinking all things doable and equally undoable. As, for example, the horror of this legislation. By contrast, the conservative social scientists . . . have warned over and over that this is radical legislation with altogether unforeseeable consequences, many of which will surely be loathsome.

So we see that some “temperamental conservatives” opposed on Burkean grounds what turned out to be perhaps the most successful social reform of the last half-century (forgetting perhaps the fact that Burke, a Whig, was himself a reformer of some note). The unforeseeable consequences were not loathsome; they were, in fact, enormously encouraging.

When it came to welfare and the underclass, the world was not “too complex” for rapid reform—and those who argued we should reject welfare reform on grounds of “epistemological modesty” and the “awareness of limits” were wrong. The reason they were wrong is that the poor (as other conservatives argued at the time) were fully capable of responding to rational incentives. They were not helpless and in need of a paternalistic state. They were actually able to get and keep jobs. And their children were not “collateral damage in a bombardment of severities” (the phrase is Will’s).

Perhaps the lesson to take away from all this is not to draw grand, sweeping conclusions when it comes to reforms. Maybe “epistemological modesty” should be directed not at reforms per se, but at those who think they can anticipate the outcomes and assume that success (or failure) in one area will lead to success (or failure) in another. (I would add that it’s still too early to declare that the effort in Iraq, which has been very difficult, is irredeemably lost. And Brooks fails to mention that foreign terrorists like al Qaeda in Iraq, and countries like Iran and Syria, have been the loci of many of the problems we’ve encountered. The ethnic tensions and cultural divisions in Iraq are real enough—but the situation there is far more complicated than Brooks presents in his column).

It’s worth recalling, too, that those who take the rigid view that “society is an organism” and that “custom, tradition, and habit are the prime movers of that organism” would in all likelihood have found themselves, intellectually at least, on the side of Calhoun and not Lincoln on the matter of slavery and the culture of the American South. And, by the way, on the opposite side from Burke, a committed abolitionist.

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The Freedom Fetishists Strike Back

My article “Freedom Fetishists” in last month’s COMMENTARY (reprinted in OpinionJournal.com with the subtitle “The Cultural Contradictions of Libertarianism”) has provoked quite a bit of discussion in the libertarian blogosphere, and while some of it is cranky (in many senses of the word), much of it is thoughtful. But even those thoughtful responses expose a few misunderstandings that tend to prove my point about the limitations of libertarianism in dealing with the breakdown of the family.

Misunderstanding one: I equate libertarianism and libertinism.

Not at all. I do observe that the libertarian movement has attracted more than its share of crazies—an observation supported by Reason editor Brian Doherty in his Radicals for Capitalism. I also point out that some libertarians were silent in the face of post-60’s attacks on marriage. This is not the same as saying that libertarianism programmatically supports what Brink Lindsey calls the Aquarian lifestyle. (And for what it’s worth, my libertarian friends and acquaintances are a rather buttoned-up group.)

Interesting, isn’t it? Of those who view family breakdown as a major social problem, I don’t know any who argue that we should ban divorce and lock up single mothers. I actually agree with libertarians that many government policies have greatly harmed the family, and while I would probably go further than they would in supporting some government attempts to stem the tide—say, state laws that provide longer waiting periods before divorce—I believe that the state is pretty hamstrung in this regard.

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My article “Freedom Fetishists” in last month’s COMMENTARY (reprinted in OpinionJournal.com with the subtitle “The Cultural Contradictions of Libertarianism”) has provoked quite a bit of discussion in the libertarian blogosphere, and while some of it is cranky (in many senses of the word), much of it is thoughtful. But even those thoughtful responses expose a few misunderstandings that tend to prove my point about the limitations of libertarianism in dealing with the breakdown of the family.

Misunderstanding one: I equate libertarianism and libertinism.

Not at all. I do observe that the libertarian movement has attracted more than its share of crazies—an observation supported by Reason editor Brian Doherty in his Radicals for Capitalism. I also point out that some libertarians were silent in the face of post-60’s attacks on marriage. This is not the same as saying that libertarianism programmatically supports what Brink Lindsey calls the Aquarian lifestyle. (And for what it’s worth, my libertarian friends and acquaintances are a rather buttoned-up group.)

Interesting, isn’t it? Of those who view family breakdown as a major social problem, I don’t know any who argue that we should ban divorce and lock up single mothers. I actually agree with libertarians that many government policies have greatly harmed the family, and while I would probably go further than they would in supporting some government attempts to stem the tide—say, state laws that provide longer waiting periods before divorce—I believe that the state is pretty hamstrung in this regard.

But unlike many libertarians, I don’t think that’s all there is to say. Family breakdown is largely a consequence of changing cultural norms. And when it comes to culture, libertarians are of two impossibly contradictory minds. In their Hayek mode, they argue, like the Volokh Conspiracy’s Ilya Somin, that the “harmful effects of private choices . . . are best dealt with through the private sector,” a sentiment with which I strongly agree.

Unfortunately, in practice libertarians tend to see all criticism of personal behavior as a threat to liberty. Brian Doherty snarks about my “tut-tutting” over America’s (his wording) “parlous moral state.” Glenn Reynolds taunts that libertarians “can even think that traditional childrearing and marriage are generally a good thing without insisting on social mores that punish those who live differently.” Libertarians believe government shouldn’t say anything about the family problem. And neither should anyone else.

Forty years ago, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan raised the alarm about the rising number of nonmarital black births, critics charging racism and sexism hounded him into silence. (For a fuller description, see my Marriage and Caste in America.) Today, you’re extremely unlikely to find a married couple in the inner city. It’s entirely possible that this would have happened if the subject of the black family had not been off limits for over two decades after Moynihan’s warning. But if I am correct in thinking that the way we go about marriage and childbearing is determined by cultural norms, then it’s possible that a vigorous assertion of the value of the two-parent family from elite opinion-makers might have done some good.

No, libertarians are not libertines. Nor, pace Doherty in his rebuttal to my article, are they the cause of family breakdown. But their tendency to view individual personal liberty as The Good that should swallow up all others (a view admittedly shared by more Americans than I would wish) sure makes it hard to deal with this major social problem—one that harms their own cause above all.

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Missing Moynihan

Over 30 years ago, the murderous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin came to New York City to speak at the United Nations General Assembly. Amin had, during his eight years in power, declared that Hitler was right to murder six million Jews and welcomed a plane full of Israeli passengers hijacked by Palestinian terrorists into his country. In his speech before the Assembly, Amin called for “the extinction of Israel as a state.” (This was the year that the Assembly passed its infamous resolution equating Zionism with racism, a resolution that was not repealed until 1991.)

The United States’s man at Turtle Bay at the time, former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was a giant among statesmen, of the sort we are unlikely to see again. While suits in the State Department squirmed, Moynihan did what America’s finest ambassadors do best: tell the simple truth. In language highly unusual for an American diplomat, he said of Amin: “[I]t’s no accident, I fear, that this ‘racist murderer’—as one of our leading newspapers called him this morning—is head of the Organization of African Unity.” (That newspaper, by the way, was the New York Times. Imagine them calling Robert Mugabe a “racist murderer” today). Moynihan was forced out after just eight months on the job.

Moynihan, like Jeane Kirkpatrick, got his job because of an article he wrote for COMMENTARY. “The United States in Opposition,” published March 1975, was a stirring petition to America’s diplomatic corps to realize that the so-called “Non-Aligned Movement” was anything but neutral in the Cold War, and that the United Nations had descended into a den of anti-American vitriol. America could use a man of Moynihan’s caliber this week, in the face of another dictator’s visit.

We miss you, Pat.

Over 30 years ago, the murderous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin came to New York City to speak at the United Nations General Assembly. Amin had, during his eight years in power, declared that Hitler was right to murder six million Jews and welcomed a plane full of Israeli passengers hijacked by Palestinian terrorists into his country. In his speech before the Assembly, Amin called for “the extinction of Israel as a state.” (This was the year that the Assembly passed its infamous resolution equating Zionism with racism, a resolution that was not repealed until 1991.)

The United States’s man at Turtle Bay at the time, former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was a giant among statesmen, of the sort we are unlikely to see again. While suits in the State Department squirmed, Moynihan did what America’s finest ambassadors do best: tell the simple truth. In language highly unusual for an American diplomat, he said of Amin: “[I]t’s no accident, I fear, that this ‘racist murderer’—as one of our leading newspapers called him this morning—is head of the Organization of African Unity.” (That newspaper, by the way, was the New York Times. Imagine them calling Robert Mugabe a “racist murderer” today). Moynihan was forced out after just eight months on the job.

Moynihan, like Jeane Kirkpatrick, got his job because of an article he wrote for COMMENTARY. “The United States in Opposition,” published March 1975, was a stirring petition to America’s diplomatic corps to realize that the so-called “Non-Aligned Movement” was anything but neutral in the Cold War, and that the United Nations had descended into a den of anti-American vitriol. America could use a man of Moynihan’s caliber this week, in the face of another dictator’s visit.

We miss you, Pat.

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Weekend Reading

Reflections on the high promise and assorted problems of American nationhood have always been a regular feature of COMMENTARY. Since the magazine’s inception in 1945, we have published many of the country’s leading thinkers on the great questions of American purpose and practice, whether in our own culture and politics or in our relations with the rest of the world. This weekend we offer a few prime selections.

America the Beautiful
Mary McCarthy – September 1947

The Continuing American Ideal
Robert Gorham Davis – May 1958

A Fever of Ethnicity
Robert Alter – June 1972

The United States in Opposition
Daniel Patrick Moynihan – March 1975

American Values & American Foreign Policy
Nathan Glazer – July 1976

American Politics, Then & Now
James Q. Wilson – February 1979

Two Nations or Two Cultures?
Gertrude Himmelfarb – January 2001

Our Creed and Our Culture
Terry Teachout – July/August 2007

Reflections on the high promise and assorted problems of American nationhood have always been a regular feature of COMMENTARY. Since the magazine’s inception in 1945, we have published many of the country’s leading thinkers on the great questions of American purpose and practice, whether in our own culture and politics or in our relations with the rest of the world. This weekend we offer a few prime selections.

America the Beautiful
Mary McCarthy – September 1947

The Continuing American Ideal
Robert Gorham Davis – May 1958

A Fever of Ethnicity
Robert Alter – June 1972

The United States in Opposition
Daniel Patrick Moynihan – March 1975

American Values & American Foreign Policy
Nathan Glazer – July 1976

American Politics, Then & Now
James Q. Wilson – February 1979

Two Nations or Two Cultures?
Gertrude Himmelfarb – January 2001

Our Creed and Our Culture
Terry Teachout – July/August 2007

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Do Not Bluff

Why did the CIA botch its Iraq-WMD estimate so badly? One factor was appalling tradecraft, some of it touched on in George Tenet’s memoir and all of it explored thoroughly by the Silberman-Robb commission.

Another factor was the unexpected behavior of Saddam himself. Saddam, to state the obvious, knew that he had no WMD program or stocks of any note. He also knew that we suspected him of having them and that we were threatening to take action against him on those very grounds. He also knew that if he cooperated fully with the UN inspectors, they would find next to nothing. But instead of cooperating, he chose a very different course.

Saddam, it would seem, wanted to appear to have the WMD. He evidently did not want hostile powers, like Iran or the U.S., to think that military action against him would go unpunished. It was thus a matter of keeping up appearances. Bluffing was a means of deterrence.

The CIA was surprised by this. Should it have been?

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Why did the CIA botch its Iraq-WMD estimate so badly? One factor was appalling tradecraft, some of it touched on in George Tenet’s memoir and all of it explored thoroughly by the Silberman-Robb commission.

Another factor was the unexpected behavior of Saddam himself. Saddam, to state the obvious, knew that he had no WMD program or stocks of any note. He also knew that we suspected him of having them and that we were threatening to take action against him on those very grounds. He also knew that if he cooperated fully with the UN inspectors, they would find next to nothing. But instead of cooperating, he chose a very different course.

Saddam, it would seem, wanted to appear to have the WMD. He evidently did not want hostile powers, like Iran or the U.S., to think that military action against him would go unpunished. It was thus a matter of keeping up appearances. Bluffing was a means of deterrence.

The CIA was surprised by this. Should it have been?

In addition to the CIA’s Family Jewels, which are stealing all the headlines, astonishing cold-war documents—the CEASAR, POLO, and ESAU papers—have been declassified by the spy agency in the last few days. The flood of information summons to mind a peculiarity of the Aldrich Ames espionage case. Ames was promoted repeatedly within the CIA’s counterintelligence division while actually working as a Soviet and then a Russian spy until his arrest in 1994.

Ames and the American agents he betrayed were used to convey disinformation to the United States. The KGB employed this devious channel to create the impression that the USSR’s military prowess was stronger than it actually was. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan characterized the gist of the disinformation campaign, it was designed to create “the effect that the Soviet colossus was growing in economic strength and military might and spoiling for a confrontation with the decadent and divided West.”

Moynihan, writing in 1996, was vastly overstating what the USSR was up to, but he was pointing in the right direction. The CIA’s own review, prepared by a Damage Assessment Team [DAT], put the matter in more measured terms. Ames’s activities, it stated:

facilitated the Soviet, and later the Russian, effort to engage in “perception management operations” by feeding carefully selected information to the United States through agents whom they were controlling without our knowledge. Although the extent and success of this effort cannot now be determined with certainty, we know that some of this information did reach senior decision-makers of the United States. . . .

it is very likely that the KGB, and later the SVR [the KGB successor organization], sought to influence U.S. decision-makers by providing controlled information designed to affect R&D [research and development] and procurement decisions of the Department of Defense. The DAT believes one of the primary purposes of the perception management program was to convince us that the Soviets remained a superpower and that their military R&D program was robust.

So the fact remains that, at least to some degree, the Kremlin was bluffing. But as both the Soviet leaders and Saddam were to find out, this was not a smart strategy.

In the Soviet case, perceptions of Moscow’s military might helped to sustain a U.S. counter-buildup, which the USSR could not compete against without straining itself to the breaking point. Under Mikhail Gorbachev, it broke.

Saddam Hussein, for his part, got himself into a shooting war that he rapidly lost, and he soon found himself hiding for his life in the basement of a hut.

A cautionary conclusion for U.S. policymakers: some authoritarian regimes have a desperate desire to appear strong, even if it means exaggerating their capabilities and risking a tougher or more vigorous response from their enemies.

A second cautionary conclusion for U.S. policymakers: not every authoritarian regime is always bluffing. There is not a shred of evidence that Iran, for example, is bluffing about its growing nuclear program.

A third cautionary conclusion is for foreign dictators: when dealing with the United States, it is generally not smart to bluff.

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Prague, Part II

Yesterday, I wrote about the recent Prague Conference on Democracy and Security, focusing on the speech of President Bush. Another speech worthy of attention was given by Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, a man who, before our eyes, grows stronger as the going gets tougher. His keynote speech to the opening dinner was an easy occasion for platitudes. He might have heaped praise on Natan Sharansky and Václav Havel, topped it off with some bromides about freedom, and taken his bow to much applause. Instead, he plunged unflinchingly into the most difficult issue of the day, and threw down a rhetorical gauntlet to those demanding a quick U.S. exit from Iraq. Here is a key excerpt:

What is happening in the Middle East today is not simply a battle between the United States and its enemies in one particular country, but a much larger struggle between freedom and fear, in which Iraq happens to be the central front. On the one side of this conflict are the latest in a long line of totalitarians, a loose alliance of terrorists and tyrants every bit as fanatical as the fascists and communists with whom they share a hatred of America and the values for which it stands.

Terrorism is their preferred weapon, but it is not their ultimate aim. Their vision is far more ambitious and terrifying: a vision of hatred and conquest, in which billions of people fall under a jihadist jackboot of vicious and repressive rule. . . .

The outcome of the struggle in Iraq will go a long way toward determining whether our future in Europe, and America, and throughout much of the world belongs to these totalitarians, or to democrats. . . .

Iraq is about the survival and success of the very ideal of freedom not only in Iraq, but in Iran, and Syria, and the rest of that region, and in a very real way, in the rest of the world. . . .

Today, the choice we face is not simply whether we support the advance of democracy in the abstract, but at what cost we are willing to fight for it.

Read More

Yesterday, I wrote about the recent Prague Conference on Democracy and Security, focusing on the speech of President Bush. Another speech worthy of attention was given by Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, a man who, before our eyes, grows stronger as the going gets tougher. His keynote speech to the opening dinner was an easy occasion for platitudes. He might have heaped praise on Natan Sharansky and Václav Havel, topped it off with some bromides about freedom, and taken his bow to much applause. Instead, he plunged unflinchingly into the most difficult issue of the day, and threw down a rhetorical gauntlet to those demanding a quick U.S. exit from Iraq. Here is a key excerpt:

What is happening in the Middle East today is not simply a battle between the United States and its enemies in one particular country, but a much larger struggle between freedom and fear, in which Iraq happens to be the central front. On the one side of this conflict are the latest in a long line of totalitarians, a loose alliance of terrorists and tyrants every bit as fanatical as the fascists and communists with whom they share a hatred of America and the values for which it stands.

Terrorism is their preferred weapon, but it is not their ultimate aim. Their vision is far more ambitious and terrifying: a vision of hatred and conquest, in which billions of people fall under a jihadist jackboot of vicious and repressive rule. . . .

The outcome of the struggle in Iraq will go a long way toward determining whether our future in Europe, and America, and throughout much of the world belongs to these totalitarians, or to democrats. . . .

Iraq is about the survival and success of the very ideal of freedom not only in Iraq, but in Iran, and Syria, and the rest of that region, and in a very real way, in the rest of the world. . . .

Today, the choice we face is not simply whether we support the advance of democracy in the abstract, but at what cost we are willing to fight for it.

What is the response of the Pelosis and Reids and Murthas and Levins to this argument? Note that Lieberman claims nothing about whether we were right or wrong to invade Iraq in the first place. Grant for argument’s sake that it was a mistake to have gone in, that we should have chosen to fight these enemies on some other soil. That changes not a whit of what Lieberman says is at stake now. With what point in his chain of reasoning do they disagree? Perhaps they would say that he exaggerates the impact that defeat or surrender in Iraq would have on America’s domestic institutions. But that is a quibble. The point remains that it would do disastrous damage to the cause of the West. What is their answer?

In fact, we know their answer. It has been, in effect, to kick Lieberman out of their party, so that there is no one left within its ranks to raise such questions. So much the worse for them. For his part, unbeholden to the Democrats, Lieberman has emerged as one of the most eloquent leaders of what Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to call the “freedom party.” The Prague gathering, you might say, was its convention.

Tomorrow, one last report on some of the more interesting sessions in Prague.

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George Tenet: CIA or CYA?

Former CIA director George Tenet’s score-settling memoir, At the Center of the Storm, is rocking Washington, with officials in the Bush administration dashing for shelter from his charge that they ignored or distorted CIA intelligence findings as they hurtled toward war. Tenet’s signature line, a paraphrase of something clever said once by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, is: “Policymakers are entitled to their own opinions—but not to their own set of facts.”

True enough, but in evaluating the CIA’s intelligence in the run-up to the second Gulf war, could policymakers really trust the facts provided by the CIA, or would they have been justified in being quite skeptical of anything and everything the agency said?

The latter is far more likely, for despite the billions spent on intelligence (the exact sum is classified, but it is known that the U.S. paid out $26.7 billion in 1998), the track record of the CIA in this period, and on this critical subject, was not exactly stellar.

One event that loomed large in the mind of decision-makers at the time was a plot that came out of the blue skies on September 11, 2001. This was an event whose possibility the spy agency had caught glimpses of but mostly missed, and whose actuality it proved unable to stop—the most consequential intelligence failure since Pearl Harbor.

Read More

Former CIA director George Tenet’s score-settling memoir, At the Center of the Storm, is rocking Washington, with officials in the Bush administration dashing for shelter from his charge that they ignored or distorted CIA intelligence findings as they hurtled toward war. Tenet’s signature line, a paraphrase of something clever said once by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, is: “Policymakers are entitled to their own opinions—but not to their own set of facts.”

True enough, but in evaluating the CIA’s intelligence in the run-up to the second Gulf war, could policymakers really trust the facts provided by the CIA, or would they have been justified in being quite skeptical of anything and everything the agency said?

The latter is far more likely, for despite the billions spent on intelligence (the exact sum is classified, but it is known that the U.S. paid out $26.7 billion in 1998), the track record of the CIA in this period, and on this critical subject, was not exactly stellar.

One event that loomed large in the mind of decision-makers at the time was a plot that came out of the blue skies on September 11, 2001. This was an event whose possibility the spy agency had caught glimpses of but mostly missed, and whose actuality it proved unable to stop—the most consequential intelligence failure since Pearl Harbor.

And the CIA had been horribly wrong about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the first Gulf war, when, despite blithe agency assurances, Saddam turned out to be far closer to putting the final screw in a nuclear bomb than any of its assessments had previously entertained.

Tenet faults the Bush administration for going beyond facts established by the CIA as, ten years later, it was gearing up for a campaign against Saddam. But even at that moment, the CIA had botched the facts. As Tenet himself concedes, the agency’s appraisal of Iraq’s WMD programs in its 2002 National Intelligence Estimate—the critical one on which the war was premised—was flawed.

Tenet implicitly wants to have it both ways: the Bush administration was reckless when it ignored “facts” put forward by the CIA, and it was equally reckless when it acted on those same supposed facts. Perhaps I am missing something, but this score-settling memoir appears to be more of a CYA operation than anything else.

George W. Bush has clearly made his share of serious mistakes, but one of the biggest ones, to my mind, was awarding America’s highest honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to George Tenet, a holdover from the Clinton administration, who presided over a series of critical intelligence failures and let the country down.

Why Bush bestowed this award is something about which one can only conjecture. Was it because Tenet had named the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, after Bush’s father, or was it a way—a successful way—to hedge in advance against criticism from Tenet? While Tenet skewers vice-president Cheney and cabinet-level figures one after the other in the book, he largely leaves the President alone.

A caveat: I have not yet read At the Center of the Storm in its entirety; I intend to review it in COMMENTARY; and I am reserving the right to change my mind.

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Weekend Reading

We’re sorry to see the lively debate on Iraq between Max Boot and Victor Davis Hanson end today. You can follow the debate’s fascinating progress below:

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

COMMENTARY has been a major voice in the American debate over foreign policy for more than sixty years. The questions Max and Victor raise about Iraq are contemporary echoes of those that have engaged thinkers in this realm since the end of World War II. Here are a few classic examinations of America’s strategic and political role in the world from our archives to feed your intellectual appetite till Monday. Enjoy.

World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win
Norman Podhoretz

The Struggle for Mastery in Asia
Aaron L. Friedberg

How to Cope with the Soviet Threat
Richard Pipes

Was Woodrow Wilson Right?
Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Vietnam: New Light on the Question of American Guilt
Guenter Lewy

We’re sorry to see the lively debate on Iraq between Max Boot and Victor Davis Hanson end today. You can follow the debate’s fascinating progress below:

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

COMMENTARY has been a major voice in the American debate over foreign policy for more than sixty years. The questions Max and Victor raise about Iraq are contemporary echoes of those that have engaged thinkers in this realm since the end of World War II. Here are a few classic examinations of America’s strategic and political role in the world from our archives to feed your intellectual appetite till Monday. Enjoy.

World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win
Norman Podhoretz

The Struggle for Mastery in Asia
Aaron L. Friedberg

How to Cope with the Soviet Threat
Richard Pipes

Was Woodrow Wilson Right?
Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Vietnam: New Light on the Question of American Guilt
Guenter Lewy

Read Less




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