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was the year that the Assembly passed its infamous resolution equating Zionism with racism, a resolution that was not repealed until 1991.)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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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 I • Hanson I • Boot II • Hanson II • Boot III • Hanson III • Boot IV • Hanson 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
The Struggle for Mastery in Asia
Aaron L. Friedberg
How to Cope with the Soviet Threat
Was Woodrow Wilson Right?
Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Vietnam: New Light on the Question of American Guilt