Commentary Magazine


Topic: Diana West

Rare Praise for Andrew Sullivan

I don’t often give props these days to Andrew Sullivan, but give credit where it’s due: Andrew is willing to (tacitly) concede error. After accusing me of “glossing over” General Petraeus’s supposed criticisms of Israel, he now links to my Commentary item and to an item I had linked to by Philip Klein of the American Spectator explicating Petraeus’s actual, even-handed position — in the general’s own words. Andrew quotes another commentator acknowledging, “There really does seem to be not very much to the story about Petraeus,” and says the point is well taken.

True, Andrew does make a weak attempt to salvage something out of a story that has not gone his way:

Nonetheless, the paper Petraeus presented made a clear distinction between American interests and Israeli interests in the wider war on Jihadist terrorism. Until recently, Washington polite opinion could not publicly concede that. Now it’s taken for granted.

Whatever. I don’t think even the most rabid pro-Israel partisan would argue that American and Israeli interests are 100 percent the same. For instance, the U.S. had a major interest in toppling Saddam Hussein, whereas most Israelis didn’t care much whether he stayed in power or not. (Putting the lie, incidentally, to the risible Walt-Mearsheimer claims that the Zionist Lobby was behind the Iraq War.)

But in the present instance, Andrew is a model of intellectual honesty compared to Diana West and her acolytes on the extreme Right who continue to fulminate against Petraeus (and me) — see, e.g., this and this – posts that display, as usual with this crowd, an utter disregard for basic facts and the conventions of rational debate. Ironically, after suggesting that Petraeus is an “Islamic tool” and that General Stanley McChrystal is “a zealot” and “a high priest of the multicultural orthodoxy,” La West accuses me of engaging in “ad hominem attacks.” Pot, kettle.

I’ve probably given West and her ilk more attention than they deserve because their work is so utterly inconsequential and uninfluential. But I do believe there is a duty to police one’s own ideological precincts, and because West & Co. claim to be conservatives, I think it is important for conservatives to condemn their extremist rhetoric — as has previously happened with Pat Buchanan, Joe Sobran, and other right-wing embarrassments.

I don’t often give props these days to Andrew Sullivan, but give credit where it’s due: Andrew is willing to (tacitly) concede error. After accusing me of “glossing over” General Petraeus’s supposed criticisms of Israel, he now links to my Commentary item and to an item I had linked to by Philip Klein of the American Spectator explicating Petraeus’s actual, even-handed position — in the general’s own words. Andrew quotes another commentator acknowledging, “There really does seem to be not very much to the story about Petraeus,” and says the point is well taken.

True, Andrew does make a weak attempt to salvage something out of a story that has not gone his way:

Nonetheless, the paper Petraeus presented made a clear distinction between American interests and Israeli interests in the wider war on Jihadist terrorism. Until recently, Washington polite opinion could not publicly concede that. Now it’s taken for granted.

Whatever. I don’t think even the most rabid pro-Israel partisan would argue that American and Israeli interests are 100 percent the same. For instance, the U.S. had a major interest in toppling Saddam Hussein, whereas most Israelis didn’t care much whether he stayed in power or not. (Putting the lie, incidentally, to the risible Walt-Mearsheimer claims that the Zionist Lobby was behind the Iraq War.)

But in the present instance, Andrew is a model of intellectual honesty compared to Diana West and her acolytes on the extreme Right who continue to fulminate against Petraeus (and me) — see, e.g., this and this – posts that display, as usual with this crowd, an utter disregard for basic facts and the conventions of rational debate. Ironically, after suggesting that Petraeus is an “Islamic tool” and that General Stanley McChrystal is “a zealot” and “a high priest of the multicultural orthodoxy,” La West accuses me of engaging in “ad hominem attacks.” Pot, kettle.

I’ve probably given West and her ilk more attention than they deserve because their work is so utterly inconsequential and uninfluential. But I do believe there is a duty to police one’s own ideological precincts, and because West & Co. claim to be conservatives, I think it is important for conservatives to condemn their extremist rhetoric — as has previously happened with Pat Buchanan, Joe Sobran, and other right-wing embarrassments.

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I Make No Apology, Ms. West

I received the following e-mail today from columnist Diana West demanding a correction:

You wrote:

Diana West added a truly inventive spin, by suggesting that Petraeus was a protégé of Stephen Walt, who was his faculty adviser many years ago at Princeton before the good professor won renown as a leading basher of the “Israel Lobby” and the state of Israel itself. It was from Walt, Ms. West claims, that Petraeus imbibed his “Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes.”

Max,
There is ZERO evidence for this distortion of my analysis as “inventive spin” — namely:
“It was from Walt, Ms. West claims, that Petraeus imbibed his `Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes.’ ”
Please reread my post with care. You will see this claim does not exist. Please write a correction so that your readers are not misled.

Sincerely,
Diana West

Zero — excuse me, “ZERO” — evidence? Here is what La West actually wrote:

It is up to Petraeus to refute the Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes now far and widely attributed to him by media now taking his words, written and spoken and reported on, at face value if they are truly incorrect. Personally, I’m not holding my breath. The fact is, assuaging “Arab anger” is, when you think of it, is the very heart of “hearts and minds” current counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) — and Petraeus wrote the book.

He also wrote a Ph. D. thesis at Princeton in 1987 called “The American military and the Lessons of Vietnam: A Study of Military Influence and the Use of Force in the Post-Vietnam Era” (available here).
One of his two faculty advisors, it is interesting to note in light of this recent debate was… Stephen Walt — of Walt and Mearshimer infamy.

In another blog item, she wrote, “It sounded as if Gen. Petraeus were chanelling Walt (if not Mearshimer) in his Senate testimony when he invoked the Arabist narrative regarding the ‘conflict’ between Israelis and Palestinians.”

I leave it to readers to decide whether my supposition — that West was blaming Stephen Walt for Petraeus’s supposed views — is unwarranted.

For my part, I await West’s correction and apology for the numerous calumnies she has lodged against the most distinguished American military commander since Eisenhower. Her accusations that Petraeus holds “Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes” are without foundation — but hardly without precedent in her overheated writing. In the past, she has asked of this soldier who, more than anyone else, is responsible for defeating Islamist extremists in Iraq: “Is Petraeus an Islamic Tool?” In Part II of this post, she wrote in what is presumably her idea of jest:

Here’s a plan Gen. Petraeus should be able to get behind: A new battle strategy, maybe a Kilcullen special, for him to join forces with Iran to once and for all nuke Israel and its genocidal apartment houses out of existence. That, according to his own lights, is sure to keep American troops safe in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She made equally wild and specious accusations against General Stanley McChrystal, another of our most respected commanders who, as head of the Joint Special Operations Command, sent too many jihadists to count to meet their 72 virgins. (Wonder how many jihadists Diana West has eliminated by comparison?) She writes, again with zero — sorry, “ZERO” — evidence, that McChrystal is “zealot and “a high priest of the politically correct orthodoxy,” that his views on counterinsurgency are “despicable,” and that he should be fired for “throwing away [his] men’s lives in a misguided infidel effort to win the ‘trust’ of a primitive Islamic people.”

Those are truly disgusting charges to lodge against such distinguished soldiers who have repeatedly risked their lives to defend our nation. They recall, in fact, the widely condemned Moveon.org advertisement that called Petraeus “General Betray-Us.” Her writing suggests that some of the more extreme precincts of the Right are copying the worst excesses of the Left.

I received the following e-mail today from columnist Diana West demanding a correction:

You wrote:

Diana West added a truly inventive spin, by suggesting that Petraeus was a protégé of Stephen Walt, who was his faculty adviser many years ago at Princeton before the good professor won renown as a leading basher of the “Israel Lobby” and the state of Israel itself. It was from Walt, Ms. West claims, that Petraeus imbibed his “Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes.”

Max,
There is ZERO evidence for this distortion of my analysis as “inventive spin” — namely:
“It was from Walt, Ms. West claims, that Petraeus imbibed his `Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes.’ ”
Please reread my post with care. You will see this claim does not exist. Please write a correction so that your readers are not misled.

Sincerely,
Diana West

Zero — excuse me, “ZERO” — evidence? Here is what La West actually wrote:

It is up to Petraeus to refute the Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes now far and widely attributed to him by media now taking his words, written and spoken and reported on, at face value if they are truly incorrect. Personally, I’m not holding my breath. The fact is, assuaging “Arab anger” is, when you think of it, is the very heart of “hearts and minds” current counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) — and Petraeus wrote the book.

He also wrote a Ph. D. thesis at Princeton in 1987 called “The American military and the Lessons of Vietnam: A Study of Military Influence and the Use of Force in the Post-Vietnam Era” (available here).
One of his two faculty advisors, it is interesting to note in light of this recent debate was… Stephen Walt — of Walt and Mearshimer infamy.

In another blog item, she wrote, “It sounded as if Gen. Petraeus were chanelling Walt (if not Mearshimer) in his Senate testimony when he invoked the Arabist narrative regarding the ‘conflict’ between Israelis and Palestinians.”

I leave it to readers to decide whether my supposition — that West was blaming Stephen Walt for Petraeus’s supposed views — is unwarranted.

For my part, I await West’s correction and apology for the numerous calumnies she has lodged against the most distinguished American military commander since Eisenhower. Her accusations that Petraeus holds “Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes” are without foundation — but hardly without precedent in her overheated writing. In the past, she has asked of this soldier who, more than anyone else, is responsible for defeating Islamist extremists in Iraq: “Is Petraeus an Islamic Tool?” In Part II of this post, she wrote in what is presumably her idea of jest:

Here’s a plan Gen. Petraeus should be able to get behind: A new battle strategy, maybe a Kilcullen special, for him to join forces with Iran to once and for all nuke Israel and its genocidal apartment houses out of existence. That, according to his own lights, is sure to keep American troops safe in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She made equally wild and specious accusations against General Stanley McChrystal, another of our most respected commanders who, as head of the Joint Special Operations Command, sent too many jihadists to count to meet their 72 virgins. (Wonder how many jihadists Diana West has eliminated by comparison?) She writes, again with zero — sorry, “ZERO” — evidence, that McChrystal is “zealot and “a high priest of the politically correct orthodoxy,” that his views on counterinsurgency are “despicable,” and that he should be fired for “throwing away [his] men’s lives in a misguided infidel effort to win the ‘trust’ of a primitive Islamic people.”

Those are truly disgusting charges to lodge against such distinguished soldiers who have repeatedly risked their lives to defend our nation. They recall, in fact, the widely condemned Moveon.org advertisement that called Petraeus “General Betray-Us.” Her writing suggests that some of the more extreme precincts of the Right are copying the worst excesses of the Left.

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From the Horse’s Mouth: Petraeus on Israel

Back on March 13, terrorist groupie Mark Perry — a former Arafat aide who now pals around with Hamas and Hezbollah — posted an article on Foreign Policy’s website, claiming that General David Petraeus was behind the administration’s policy of getting tough with Israel. He attributed to Petraeus the view that “Israel’s intransigence” — meaning its unwillingness to give up every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem tomorrow — “could cost American lives.” His item received wide circulation though it may be doubted whether, as he now says, “It changed the way people think about the conflict.”

I tried to set the record straight with two Commentary items (see here and here) in which I suggested, based on talking to an officer familiar with Petraeus’s thinking, that Perry’s item was a gross distortion —in fact a fraud. I noted that in Petraeus’s view, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was only one factor among many affecting U.S. interests in the region and that Israeli settlements were far from the only, or even the main, obstacle to peace. I even suggested — again, based on inside information — that the 56-page posture statement that Central Command had submitted to Congress, which stated that the Arab-Israeli conflict “foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel,” was not the best indicator of his thinking. Better to look at what he actually told Congress — in a hearing he barely mentioned Israel (until prompted to do so) and never talked about settlements at all.

This brought hoots of derision from commentators on both the Left and the Right, who claimed that I was putting words into Petraeus’s mouth — that I was, in Joe Klein’s phrase, taking a “flying leap.” Predictably piling on were Andrew Sullivan, who said I was “glossing over” what Petraeus said, and Robert Wright, who claimed that, “by Boot’s lights, Petraeus is anti-Israel.” Diana West added a truly inventive spin, by suggesting that Petraeus was a protégé of Stephen Walt, who was his faculty adviser many years ago at Princeton before the good professor won renown as a leading basher of the “Israel Lobby” and the state of Israel itself. It was from Walt, Ms. West claims, that Petraeus imbibed his “Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes.”

So who was off-base here: those of us who tried to explain the nuances of General Petraeus’s thinking or those bloggers and commentators who tried to suggest that he is a strident critic of Israel?

The answer has now been publicly provided by Petraeus himself in a speech in New Hampshire. Watch it for yourself. A good summary is provided by the American Spectator’s Philip Klein, who was present at the event and asked Petraeus to clarify his thinking.

The general said that it was “unhelpful” that “bloggers” had “picked … up” what he had said and “spun it.” He noted that, aside from Israel’s actions, there are many other important factors standing in the way of peace, including “a whole bunch of extremist organizations, some of which by the way deny Israel’s right to exist. There’s a country that has a nuclear program who denies that the Holocaust took place. So again we have all these factors in there. This [Israel] is just one.”

What about Perry’s claim that American support for Israel puts our soldiers at risk? Petraeus said, “There is no mention of lives anywhere in there. I actually reread the statement. It doesn’t say that at all.”

He concluded by noting that he had sent to General Gabi Ashkenazi, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, the “blog by Max Boot” which, he said, had “picked apart this whole thing, as he typically does, pretty astutely.”

I hope Petraeus’s comments will put an end to this whole weird episode. Those who are either happy or unhappy about the administration’s approach to Israel should lodge their compliments or complaints where they belong — at the White House, not at Central Command.

Back on March 13, terrorist groupie Mark Perry — a former Arafat aide who now pals around with Hamas and Hezbollah — posted an article on Foreign Policy’s website, claiming that General David Petraeus was behind the administration’s policy of getting tough with Israel. He attributed to Petraeus the view that “Israel’s intransigence” — meaning its unwillingness to give up every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem tomorrow — “could cost American lives.” His item received wide circulation though it may be doubted whether, as he now says, “It changed the way people think about the conflict.”

I tried to set the record straight with two Commentary items (see here and here) in which I suggested, based on talking to an officer familiar with Petraeus’s thinking, that Perry’s item was a gross distortion —in fact a fraud. I noted that in Petraeus’s view, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was only one factor among many affecting U.S. interests in the region and that Israeli settlements were far from the only, or even the main, obstacle to peace. I even suggested — again, based on inside information — that the 56-page posture statement that Central Command had submitted to Congress, which stated that the Arab-Israeli conflict “foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel,” was not the best indicator of his thinking. Better to look at what he actually told Congress — in a hearing he barely mentioned Israel (until prompted to do so) and never talked about settlements at all.

This brought hoots of derision from commentators on both the Left and the Right, who claimed that I was putting words into Petraeus’s mouth — that I was, in Joe Klein’s phrase, taking a “flying leap.” Predictably piling on were Andrew Sullivan, who said I was “glossing over” what Petraeus said, and Robert Wright, who claimed that, “by Boot’s lights, Petraeus is anti-Israel.” Diana West added a truly inventive spin, by suggesting that Petraeus was a protégé of Stephen Walt, who was his faculty adviser many years ago at Princeton before the good professor won renown as a leading basher of the “Israel Lobby” and the state of Israel itself. It was from Walt, Ms. West claims, that Petraeus imbibed his “Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes.”

So who was off-base here: those of us who tried to explain the nuances of General Petraeus’s thinking or those bloggers and commentators who tried to suggest that he is a strident critic of Israel?

The answer has now been publicly provided by Petraeus himself in a speech in New Hampshire. Watch it for yourself. A good summary is provided by the American Spectator’s Philip Klein, who was present at the event and asked Petraeus to clarify his thinking.

The general said that it was “unhelpful” that “bloggers” had “picked … up” what he had said and “spun it.” He noted that, aside from Israel’s actions, there are many other important factors standing in the way of peace, including “a whole bunch of extremist organizations, some of which by the way deny Israel’s right to exist. There’s a country that has a nuclear program who denies that the Holocaust took place. So again we have all these factors in there. This [Israel] is just one.”

What about Perry’s claim that American support for Israel puts our soldiers at risk? Petraeus said, “There is no mention of lives anywhere in there. I actually reread the statement. It doesn’t say that at all.”

He concluded by noting that he had sent to General Gabi Ashkenazi, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, the “blog by Max Boot” which, he said, had “picked apart this whole thing, as he typically does, pretty astutely.”

I hope Petraeus’s comments will put an end to this whole weird episode. Those who are either happy or unhappy about the administration’s approach to Israel should lodge their compliments or complaints where they belong — at the White House, not at Central Command.

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More on Diana West

On Friday, I criticized Diana West’s defense of the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Baghdad. Over the weekend, Diana fired back at me on her blog. She begins:

Alas. Contentions, the blog of Commentary magazine, has a problem with this week’s column. Abe Greenwald writes:

Over on her blog, Diana West gets a little hysterical about the fallout over the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Bagdhad.

Nice, ad hominem opener.

She objects to the reprimand the soldier received and the general air of apology from the U.S.

Which included, just to refresh, a deferential public apology from Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond during which another US officer presented the assembled locals (likely insurgents, not long ago) with a brand new Koran after kissing it. Abe then quotes briefly from my column:

“Let’s play around some more with the story. Imagine if, during the Allied occupation of post-Nazi Germany, a GI had been discovered using “Mein Kampf” for target practice. Would Gen. George S. Patton have kissed a new copy of the Nazi bible as he presented it to a cadre of former Nazis?”

And then he writes:

That won’t do, Diana.

What won’t “do,” Abe–comparing Gen. Patton and “Mein Kampf” with Gen. Hammond and the Koran? Why not?”

Critics like to say that for neoconservatives it’s always 1938. So I take particular relish in pointing out to Diana that the 1938 framework in which she’s placed the war on terror is a functional nonstarter.

Yes, there are many nasty injunctions in the Qur’an. Yes, there are calls to anti-Semitism and supremacy. But Diana’s line of argument–that the West is up against nothing less than the Qur’an itself–is inevitably countered by one of two points. First, there are nasty parts in the foundational works of other major religions. Second, there are Qur’anic passages promoting humanity and understanding. This is rebutted in turn: “But there are more nasty bits in the Qur’an than in other holy books.” And once you’ve reached that less-than-stellar point, your crusade has lost a good deal of its moral clarity. If you’re going to wage wholesale war on an entire religion, you’ll need more than a tabulation showing that the religion’s core text is, on balance, nastier than the next.

Why are the Iraqi Kurds such reliable American allies? Why, last week, did a Turkish Muslim sit down with me for a glass of wine? After all, they read the same Qu’ran bearing the same proclamations about infidels and the same prohibition on alcohol. Religion is personal, fluid, mysterious. Yes, I know: the Qur’an is supposedly the direct word of God and therefore not open to interpretation. But in reality, it is interpreted and reinterpreted constantly. In various times and various locales, Muslims have given different parts of Qur’anic text different weight. Because of the U.S.’s indefatigable efforts on both the military and diplomatic fronts, we are currently witnessing the rejection of jihad among the Sunni and Shia of Iraq. Nothing spurs religious dynamism like major shifts in the political landscape. I have a hard time seeing how the unapologetic desecration of the Qur’an puts America on a better footing in the war on terror.

Diana goes on:

“I’m not sure whether Abe disputes my argument, but he certainly thinks it shouldn’t be made. Here’s why he says “that won’t do”:

While the Qur’an is sacred to our enemies in Iraq, it is also sacred to our allies in that country. Moreover, it is sacred to the millions of Muslims who are citizens of the United States, to say nothing of the thousands who serve in uniform.

Notice that this fact is given as a rationale for silence, not as a cause for concern.

Not silence, merely restraint from vandalism. Bluster about shooting up a Qur’an is no substitute for beneficial inquiry into the relationship between moderate and radical Islam. I’m proud to note that COMMENTARY does not shy away from exploring such questions at length. I refer Diana to “In Search of Moderate Muslims” by Joshua Muravchik and Charles P. Szrom in the February 2008 issue, and to these dissenting letters from Stephen Schwartz and COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Pipes.

I understand Diana’s concerns and I share some of them. But all in all it’s a good thing that the U.S. is not in the habit of waging war on religions. Such undertakings would contradict the noblest intentions of our Constitution. And on a purely strategic level, doing battle with Islam itself would surely lose us our most important allies. I always enjoy fielding the anti-war charge that America is trying to oppress Muslims worldwide: there’s not a shred of evidence to support it. And forfeiting that assurance would be the same thing as giving up the fight.

On Friday, I criticized Diana West’s defense of the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Baghdad. Over the weekend, Diana fired back at me on her blog. She begins:

Alas. Contentions, the blog of Commentary magazine, has a problem with this week’s column. Abe Greenwald writes:

Over on her blog, Diana West gets a little hysterical about the fallout over the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Bagdhad.

Nice, ad hominem opener.

She objects to the reprimand the soldier received and the general air of apology from the U.S.

Which included, just to refresh, a deferential public apology from Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond during which another US officer presented the assembled locals (likely insurgents, not long ago) with a brand new Koran after kissing it. Abe then quotes briefly from my column:

“Let’s play around some more with the story. Imagine if, during the Allied occupation of post-Nazi Germany, a GI had been discovered using “Mein Kampf” for target practice. Would Gen. George S. Patton have kissed a new copy of the Nazi bible as he presented it to a cadre of former Nazis?”

And then he writes:

That won’t do, Diana.

What won’t “do,” Abe–comparing Gen. Patton and “Mein Kampf” with Gen. Hammond and the Koran? Why not?”

Critics like to say that for neoconservatives it’s always 1938. So I take particular relish in pointing out to Diana that the 1938 framework in which she’s placed the war on terror is a functional nonstarter.

Yes, there are many nasty injunctions in the Qur’an. Yes, there are calls to anti-Semitism and supremacy. But Diana’s line of argument–that the West is up against nothing less than the Qur’an itself–is inevitably countered by one of two points. First, there are nasty parts in the foundational works of other major religions. Second, there are Qur’anic passages promoting humanity and understanding. This is rebutted in turn: “But there are more nasty bits in the Qur’an than in other holy books.” And once you’ve reached that less-than-stellar point, your crusade has lost a good deal of its moral clarity. If you’re going to wage wholesale war on an entire religion, you’ll need more than a tabulation showing that the religion’s core text is, on balance, nastier than the next.

Why are the Iraqi Kurds such reliable American allies? Why, last week, did a Turkish Muslim sit down with me for a glass of wine? After all, they read the same Qu’ran bearing the same proclamations about infidels and the same prohibition on alcohol. Religion is personal, fluid, mysterious. Yes, I know: the Qur’an is supposedly the direct word of God and therefore not open to interpretation. But in reality, it is interpreted and reinterpreted constantly. In various times and various locales, Muslims have given different parts of Qur’anic text different weight. Because of the U.S.’s indefatigable efforts on both the military and diplomatic fronts, we are currently witnessing the rejection of jihad among the Sunni and Shia of Iraq. Nothing spurs religious dynamism like major shifts in the political landscape. I have a hard time seeing how the unapologetic desecration of the Qur’an puts America on a better footing in the war on terror.

Diana goes on:

“I’m not sure whether Abe disputes my argument, but he certainly thinks it shouldn’t be made. Here’s why he says “that won’t do”:

While the Qur’an is sacred to our enemies in Iraq, it is also sacred to our allies in that country. Moreover, it is sacred to the millions of Muslims who are citizens of the United States, to say nothing of the thousands who serve in uniform.

Notice that this fact is given as a rationale for silence, not as a cause for concern.

Not silence, merely restraint from vandalism. Bluster about shooting up a Qur’an is no substitute for beneficial inquiry into the relationship between moderate and radical Islam. I’m proud to note that COMMENTARY does not shy away from exploring such questions at length. I refer Diana to “In Search of Moderate Muslims” by Joshua Muravchik and Charles P. Szrom in the February 2008 issue, and to these dissenting letters from Stephen Schwartz and COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Pipes.

I understand Diana’s concerns and I share some of them. But all in all it’s a good thing that the U.S. is not in the habit of waging war on religions. Such undertakings would contradict the noblest intentions of our Constitution. And on a purely strategic level, doing battle with Islam itself would surely lose us our most important allies. I always enjoy fielding the anti-war charge that America is trying to oppress Muslims worldwide: there’s not a shred of evidence to support it. And forfeiting that assurance would be the same thing as giving up the fight.

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A Defense Riddled with Holes

Over on her blog, Diana West gets a little hysterical about the fallout over the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Bagdhad. She objects to the reprimand the soldier received and the general air of apology from the U.S.:

Let’s play around some more with the story. Imagine if, during the Allied occupation of post-Nazi Germany, a GI had been discovered using “Mein Kampf” for target practice. Would Gen. George S. Patton have kissed a new copy of the Nazi bible as he presented it to a cadre of former Nazis?

That won’t do, Diana. While the Qur’an is sacred to our enemies in Iraq, it is also sacred to our allies in that country. Moreover, it is sacred to the millions of Muslims who are citizens of the United States, to say nothing of the thousands who serve in uniform. True, teasing out Muslim extremists from the larger Muslim population is not always easy. True, the task is made harder still by the near silence of Muslim moderates. But this is a difficulty that demands thoughtful analysis, not crude characterization. Political correctness is a liability in the war on terror, but so too is its reflexive opposite. Whereas the first renders us helpless in the face of the enemy the second leaves us unable to capitalize on alliances.

The shot-up, graffiti-covered Qur’an was found by Sunnis two days after the incident. Any soldier who has been in Iraq will tell you about the importance of engaging the right Muslims in the right way. The whole strategic counterpart of the troop surge was based on building trust in just this manner. Think of the extraordinary progress made by soldiers who left large bases to man posts out among Iraqi civilians, and imagine the damage that could have been done had the U.S. not handled the sniper incident just right. There’s no defense for this sniper’s dangerous folly.

Over on her blog, Diana West gets a little hysterical about the fallout over the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Bagdhad. She objects to the reprimand the soldier received and the general air of apology from the U.S.:

Let’s play around some more with the story. Imagine if, during the Allied occupation of post-Nazi Germany, a GI had been discovered using “Mein Kampf” for target practice. Would Gen. George S. Patton have kissed a new copy of the Nazi bible as he presented it to a cadre of former Nazis?

That won’t do, Diana. While the Qur’an is sacred to our enemies in Iraq, it is also sacred to our allies in that country. Moreover, it is sacred to the millions of Muslims who are citizens of the United States, to say nothing of the thousands who serve in uniform. True, teasing out Muslim extremists from the larger Muslim population is not always easy. True, the task is made harder still by the near silence of Muslim moderates. But this is a difficulty that demands thoughtful analysis, not crude characterization. Political correctness is a liability in the war on terror, but so too is its reflexive opposite. Whereas the first renders us helpless in the face of the enemy the second leaves us unable to capitalize on alliances.

The shot-up, graffiti-covered Qur’an was found by Sunnis two days after the incident. Any soldier who has been in Iraq will tell you about the importance of engaging the right Muslims in the right way. The whole strategic counterpart of the troop surge was based on building trust in just this manner. Think of the extraordinary progress made by soldiers who left large bases to man posts out among Iraqi civilians, and imagine the damage that could have been done had the U.S. not handled the sniper incident just right. There’s no defense for this sniper’s dangerous folly.

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Handshakes with the Enemy

Abe already blogged about this, but I wanted to follow up on Diana West’s fretting in the Washington Times about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent trip to Iraq, where he was supposedly given a warm reception by the Baghdad government. “[O]ur Iraqi allies have welcomed our Iranian enemies right into it.” Not so fast. Iraq and Iran are two Shia-majority countries. They share a long border and a terrible history, as Abe pointed out. They should be expected to have relations of some kind, and the more civil the better considering the depth of hatred Iranian Persians and Iraqi Arabs have for each other. Another full-blown war between Iraq and Iran is in the interests of no one.

In any case, a meeting, a few agreements, and a photo op don’t make these two countries an axis. Iran supports insurgents that for years have been trying to destroy the Baghdad government using terrorism, guerilla warfare, assassination, and sabotage. Who can seriously believe after all this–not to mention the centuries of conflict that preceded it–that the two governments actually like each other? Baghdad may formally welcome Ahmadinejad, but certainly not his proxy armies.

But let’s put that aside for the sake or argument and assume Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may be a quiet Iranian sympathizer. What about Iraq’s president?

“Mr. Ahmadinejad was greeted with multiple kisses from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani,” West notes before saying “Blech.” Talabani is not only Iraq’s president. He is also the political leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the staunchly secular leftist political party with its home base in the Kurdish city of Suleimaniya. The PUK provides funds and materials to at least two exiled Kurdish Iranian political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan whose explicit goal is the destruction of the Islamic Republic regime in Tehran. Each of these parties has their own private army. One crossed into Iran recently and fought the regime in the streets during an uprising in the city of Mahabad. The idea that the secular, leftist, and Kurdish Jalal Talabani supports the theocratic, rightist, and Persian Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while at the same time funding and supplying revolutionaries who cross the border, doesn’t make sense.

If you want to know the truth, pay close attention to what Middle Easterners do, not what they say. At least some elements in each of these governments hope to remove the other from power by force. Their making nice in front of the cameras is no more meaningful than Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat shaking Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn.

Middle Eastern leaders go through the motions of being nice to each other all the time when what they’d really like to do is pull out a dagger. Last May, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the international tribunal to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is not directed at “sister Syria.” Of course he doesn’t believe that, but that’s diplomacy for you. Almost everyone in Lebanon knows the Syrian regime was complicit in Hariri’s murder, as well as the murders that have picked off Siniora’s allies in parliament and the media one by one ever since.

I rented an apartment just around the corner from Siniora’s residence in Beirut, and I couldn’t walk anywhere near his house while using my cell phone. The signals are jammed. Cell phones can detonate car bombs. Siniora knows very well that he might be next and doesn’t think of Syria as anything like a brother or sister–at least not while the murderous Assad regime is in power.

In From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman tells the story of Christian militia leader Camille Chamoun receiving flowers from his arch enemy Yasser Arafat while he was laid up in the hospital. During this time they both hoped to kill each other. “These two men,” Friedman wrote, “had sent so many young men to die in defense of their own personal power and status, and now they were sending bouquets. That was Beirut.”

It is not just Beirut. It is the whole Middle East where smoke, mirrors, and false friendships are normal.

Diana West correctly notes that some Middle Eastern leaders claim to be American allies while fomenting jihad. Well, yes. Of course. They do the same thing to each other.

Abe already blogged about this, but I wanted to follow up on Diana West’s fretting in the Washington Times about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent trip to Iraq, where he was supposedly given a warm reception by the Baghdad government. “[O]ur Iraqi allies have welcomed our Iranian enemies right into it.” Not so fast. Iraq and Iran are two Shia-majority countries. They share a long border and a terrible history, as Abe pointed out. They should be expected to have relations of some kind, and the more civil the better considering the depth of hatred Iranian Persians and Iraqi Arabs have for each other. Another full-blown war between Iraq and Iran is in the interests of no one.

In any case, a meeting, a few agreements, and a photo op don’t make these two countries an axis. Iran supports insurgents that for years have been trying to destroy the Baghdad government using terrorism, guerilla warfare, assassination, and sabotage. Who can seriously believe after all this–not to mention the centuries of conflict that preceded it–that the two governments actually like each other? Baghdad may formally welcome Ahmadinejad, but certainly not his proxy armies.

But let’s put that aside for the sake or argument and assume Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may be a quiet Iranian sympathizer. What about Iraq’s president?

“Mr. Ahmadinejad was greeted with multiple kisses from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani,” West notes before saying “Blech.” Talabani is not only Iraq’s president. He is also the political leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the staunchly secular leftist political party with its home base in the Kurdish city of Suleimaniya. The PUK provides funds and materials to at least two exiled Kurdish Iranian political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan whose explicit goal is the destruction of the Islamic Republic regime in Tehran. Each of these parties has their own private army. One crossed into Iran recently and fought the regime in the streets during an uprising in the city of Mahabad. The idea that the secular, leftist, and Kurdish Jalal Talabani supports the theocratic, rightist, and Persian Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while at the same time funding and supplying revolutionaries who cross the border, doesn’t make sense.

If you want to know the truth, pay close attention to what Middle Easterners do, not what they say. At least some elements in each of these governments hope to remove the other from power by force. Their making nice in front of the cameras is no more meaningful than Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat shaking Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn.

Middle Eastern leaders go through the motions of being nice to each other all the time when what they’d really like to do is pull out a dagger. Last May, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the international tribunal to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is not directed at “sister Syria.” Of course he doesn’t believe that, but that’s diplomacy for you. Almost everyone in Lebanon knows the Syrian regime was complicit in Hariri’s murder, as well as the murders that have picked off Siniora’s allies in parliament and the media one by one ever since.

I rented an apartment just around the corner from Siniora’s residence in Beirut, and I couldn’t walk anywhere near his house while using my cell phone. The signals are jammed. Cell phones can detonate car bombs. Siniora knows very well that he might be next and doesn’t think of Syria as anything like a brother or sister–at least not while the murderous Assad regime is in power.

In From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman tells the story of Christian militia leader Camille Chamoun receiving flowers from his arch enemy Yasser Arafat while he was laid up in the hospital. During this time they both hoped to kill each other. “These two men,” Friedman wrote, “had sent so many young men to die in defense of their own personal power and status, and now they were sending bouquets. That was Beirut.”

It is not just Beirut. It is the whole Middle East where smoke, mirrors, and false friendships are normal.

Diana West correctly notes that some Middle Eastern leaders claim to be American allies while fomenting jihad. Well, yes. Of course. They do the same thing to each other.

Read Less

A Mesopotamian Love Triangle?

Diana West just emailed me her March 7 Washington Times column about Mahmoud Ahmadinijad’s visit to Iraq. The article “Whose Side is Iraq really on?” was sent with the tag “Feedback welcome.” With Diana’s permission, I’ll use this space for my thoughts.

Diana is disgusted with Ahmadinejad’s seemingly warm welcome in Iraq. She compares the U.S.-Iraq-Iran relationship to a pulp fiction love triangle. “The good guy (us, natch), has been betrayed by the love object he supports and defends (Iraq), having been left to watch and stew as she gallivants with his rival (Iran).”

In describing the situation as fiction, Diana is more correct than she knows. Ahmadinejad’s celebrated tour of Iraq was, more than anything else, a PR coup staged by a small group of Iranian proxies. Troubling as it is to read that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said to Ahmadinejad, “Call me Uncle Jalal,” it hardly means that the U.S is in an unprecedented historical pickle. In fact, he’s simply known to all as “Uncle Jalal.”

Though at times maddening, Talabani is in some sense exactly what Iraq needs to move forward: a shrewd, pragmatic leader with a cool eye on long-term solutions. In a region that’s known only murderous realists or murderous idealogues, a man for whom occasional compromise is a means to just ends is a promising change.

Iraq and Iran share an enormous border. Iraq is in no position militarily to stop the mullahs to their east. Frankly that will come down to us or Israel, or no one. If Talabani thinks observing the hollow niceties of “diplomatic” jaunts can buy his country a little peace, he is being, in my estimation, disturbingly “realist” and surprisingly naïve. But he’s not going over to the dark side.

Talabani may have been willing to go through the motions because, as mentioned earlier, Ahmadinejad’s trip was ultimately a failure. Orchestrated by Iranian surrogates inside Iraq, the deck was stacked wherever he went. Former employees of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Qods Force, and the Ministry of Intelligence greeted him in various locations, while hordes of Iraqis outside his caravan protested.

But Ahmadinejad was deprived of what he wanted most: a picture with Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. This would have advertised solidarity between Shi’ite Iran and the most important Shi’ite in Iraq. Though Diana cites the fact that al-Sistani still has an Iranian passport as evidence of the Iran-Iraq romance, al-Sistani seems to feel otherwise. He cited “scheduling conflicts” and sent Ahmadinejad back to Iran with nothing but a very dull razor in hand. The U.S., however, is still in Iraq, fighting the good fight, forging legitimate ties with a potentially powerful ally, and reestablishing throughout the region what had all but disappeared: American credibility.

Diana recently wrote a book entitled The Death of the Grown-up. It’s a fascinating study of how the West now faces the most pressing issues with a dangerously adolescent worldview. Diana writes at the end of her Times piece: “I wonder whether we will ever walk out on these destructive relationships and recover our self-respect.” I must say, respectfully, to her: Relationships are work, Diana. Kids quit.

Diana West just emailed me her March 7 Washington Times column about Mahmoud Ahmadinijad’s visit to Iraq. The article “Whose Side is Iraq really on?” was sent with the tag “Feedback welcome.” With Diana’s permission, I’ll use this space for my thoughts.

Diana is disgusted with Ahmadinejad’s seemingly warm welcome in Iraq. She compares the U.S.-Iraq-Iran relationship to a pulp fiction love triangle. “The good guy (us, natch), has been betrayed by the love object he supports and defends (Iraq), having been left to watch and stew as she gallivants with his rival (Iran).”

In describing the situation as fiction, Diana is more correct than she knows. Ahmadinejad’s celebrated tour of Iraq was, more than anything else, a PR coup staged by a small group of Iranian proxies. Troubling as it is to read that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said to Ahmadinejad, “Call me Uncle Jalal,” it hardly means that the U.S is in an unprecedented historical pickle. In fact, he’s simply known to all as “Uncle Jalal.”

Though at times maddening, Talabani is in some sense exactly what Iraq needs to move forward: a shrewd, pragmatic leader with a cool eye on long-term solutions. In a region that’s known only murderous realists or murderous idealogues, a man for whom occasional compromise is a means to just ends is a promising change.

Iraq and Iran share an enormous border. Iraq is in no position militarily to stop the mullahs to their east. Frankly that will come down to us or Israel, or no one. If Talabani thinks observing the hollow niceties of “diplomatic” jaunts can buy his country a little peace, he is being, in my estimation, disturbingly “realist” and surprisingly naïve. But he’s not going over to the dark side.

Talabani may have been willing to go through the motions because, as mentioned earlier, Ahmadinejad’s trip was ultimately a failure. Orchestrated by Iranian surrogates inside Iraq, the deck was stacked wherever he went. Former employees of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Qods Force, and the Ministry of Intelligence greeted him in various locations, while hordes of Iraqis outside his caravan protested.

But Ahmadinejad was deprived of what he wanted most: a picture with Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. This would have advertised solidarity between Shi’ite Iran and the most important Shi’ite in Iraq. Though Diana cites the fact that al-Sistani still has an Iranian passport as evidence of the Iran-Iraq romance, al-Sistani seems to feel otherwise. He cited “scheduling conflicts” and sent Ahmadinejad back to Iran with nothing but a very dull razor in hand. The U.S., however, is still in Iraq, fighting the good fight, forging legitimate ties with a potentially powerful ally, and reestablishing throughout the region what had all but disappeared: American credibility.

Diana recently wrote a book entitled The Death of the Grown-up. It’s a fascinating study of how the West now faces the most pressing issues with a dangerously adolescent worldview. Diana writes at the end of her Times piece: “I wonder whether we will ever walk out on these destructive relationships and recover our self-respect.” I must say, respectfully, to her: Relationships are work, Diana. Kids quit.

Read Less




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