Commentary Magazine


Topic: disorder

In Egypt, We Cannot Afford to Repeat Past Mistakes

I fully understand the dangers of what is happening in Egypt. I am as apprehensive as anyone about the possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood exploiting current events to gain power. I am fully aware of how Hosni Mubarak has been a useful ally in many ways. Yet, when I watch pro-government thugs attacking peaceful protesters, I am rooting wholeheartedly for the protesters and against the thugs. I imagine most Americans are, indeed most people around the world — a few Realpolitikers excepted.

The attacks in downtown Cairo, which have left many bleeding and some no doubt dead, are the dying gasp of a discredited regime. This is no Tiananmen Square — this is not the army being unleashed to use decisive force to crush the demonstrations. Instead, it is a motley collection of thugs and mercenaries: many no doubt secret policemen or other government functionaries, others rented for the day for a few bucks. The army’s role seems to be limited to that of a bystander, which is alarming in and of itself. Previously, the army had appeared to be on the side of the people. Now, following Mubarak’s announcement that he would not seek re-election in September — an announcement that did not preclude a Mubarak crony like Omar Suleiman or even the dictator’s son Gamal from running in a rigged vote — the army appears to be up for grabs. Earlier today an army spokesman called on the demonstrators to disperse, but troops are not enforcing that edict. No doubt the army generals are sniffing the wind to figure out which way to go now. Just as clearly, the people of Egypt are demanding an end to the Mubarak regime — now, not in the fall.

The United States, a nation born in a liberal revolution, has no choice but to stand with the people. In many ways, this is a continuation of the same battle fought in the streets of Europe in 1848 and 1989: the quest of a people yearning for freedom against the representatives of a corrupt and entrenched ruling oligarchy. America’s role, as the champion of liberty, should be to usher Mubarak out of power as quickly and painlessly as possible in order to avert further bloodshed and to make it harder for malign elements to take advantage of the disorder for their own nefarious purposes. We did not do enough to aid democrats in Russia in 1917 or in Iran in 1979; in both cases, we stuck with a discredited ancien regime until it was too late and reacted too slowly to revolutionary upheavals. Let us not repeat that mistake in Egypt.

I fully understand the dangers of what is happening in Egypt. I am as apprehensive as anyone about the possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood exploiting current events to gain power. I am fully aware of how Hosni Mubarak has been a useful ally in many ways. Yet, when I watch pro-government thugs attacking peaceful protesters, I am rooting wholeheartedly for the protesters and against the thugs. I imagine most Americans are, indeed most people around the world — a few Realpolitikers excepted.

The attacks in downtown Cairo, which have left many bleeding and some no doubt dead, are the dying gasp of a discredited regime. This is no Tiananmen Square — this is not the army being unleashed to use decisive force to crush the demonstrations. Instead, it is a motley collection of thugs and mercenaries: many no doubt secret policemen or other government functionaries, others rented for the day for a few bucks. The army’s role seems to be limited to that of a bystander, which is alarming in and of itself. Previously, the army had appeared to be on the side of the people. Now, following Mubarak’s announcement that he would not seek re-election in September — an announcement that did not preclude a Mubarak crony like Omar Suleiman or even the dictator’s son Gamal from running in a rigged vote — the army appears to be up for grabs. Earlier today an army spokesman called on the demonstrators to disperse, but troops are not enforcing that edict. No doubt the army generals are sniffing the wind to figure out which way to go now. Just as clearly, the people of Egypt are demanding an end to the Mubarak regime — now, not in the fall.

The United States, a nation born in a liberal revolution, has no choice but to stand with the people. In many ways, this is a continuation of the same battle fought in the streets of Europe in 1848 and 1989: the quest of a people yearning for freedom against the representatives of a corrupt and entrenched ruling oligarchy. America’s role, as the champion of liberty, should be to usher Mubarak out of power as quickly and painlessly as possible in order to avert further bloodshed and to make it harder for malign elements to take advantage of the disorder for their own nefarious purposes. We did not do enough to aid democrats in Russia in 1917 or in Iran in 1979; in both cases, we stuck with a discredited ancien regime until it was too late and reacted too slowly to revolutionary upheavals. Let us not repeat that mistake in Egypt.

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Can’t Anybody Here Play This White House Game?

The breaking news is that the national security adviser, General James Jones, has resigned and is being replaced by his deputy, Thomas Donilon. There had been speculation Jones could not possibly retain his job after saying uncomplimentary things about other Obama officials in Bob Woodward’s book. (Jones was evidently no great shakes in his current position, though according to Woodward, Defense Secretary Bob Gates considers Donilon a disaster.) Even so, this is astonishing. Just weeks before an election widely seen as a referendum on the past two years and the West Wing has lost its chief of staff and its national security adviser, without question the two most important jobs in the White House below the president’s. Turnover of this sort can only contribute to a general sense of disarray and disorder, which will only worsen the White House’s standing with those depressed voters it is so eager to buck up and get to the polls on November 2. This is what is known as an unforced error, a gift to the other team, exactly the sort of behavior that led Casey Stengel, managing the Mets in the first year of their existence to a 40-120 record, to cry out as if to the gods, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

The breaking news is that the national security adviser, General James Jones, has resigned and is being replaced by his deputy, Thomas Donilon. There had been speculation Jones could not possibly retain his job after saying uncomplimentary things about other Obama officials in Bob Woodward’s book. (Jones was evidently no great shakes in his current position, though according to Woodward, Defense Secretary Bob Gates considers Donilon a disaster.) Even so, this is astonishing. Just weeks before an election widely seen as a referendum on the past two years and the West Wing has lost its chief of staff and its national security adviser, without question the two most important jobs in the White House below the president’s. Turnover of this sort can only contribute to a general sense of disarray and disorder, which will only worsen the White House’s standing with those depressed voters it is so eager to buck up and get to the polls on November 2. This is what is known as an unforced error, a gift to the other team, exactly the sort of behavior that led Casey Stengel, managing the Mets in the first year of their existence to a 40-120 record, to cry out as if to the gods, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

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Obama’s Faulty Middle East Vision

Lee Smith has a two-part series featuring different takes on the Middle East. I previously highlighted Elliott Abrams’s concise summary in part one of Obama’s multiple failings. Martin Kramer offers this insight on the region more generally:

In the Middle East, power is a zero-sum game, domination by a benevolent hegemon creates order, and the regional balance of power is the foundation of peace. It’s the pax Americana, and while it may be stressful to uphold it, the alternative is more stressful still. And as the impression of American power wanes, we are getting a foretaste of “post-American” disorder. A struggle has begun among the middle powers—Iran, Turkey, and Israel—to fill the vacuum. Iran floods Lebanon with rockets, Turkey sends a flotilla to Gaza, Israel sends an assassination squad to Dubai—these are all the signs of an accelerating regional cold war. Each middle power seeks to demonstrate its reach, around, above, and behind the fading superpower.

The response in Washington is to huff and puff, imposing settlement “freezes” and “crippling” sanctions. This is the illusion of power, not its substance. The Obama Administration is bringing the United States out of the Middle East, to a position from which it believes it can “contain” threats with diplomacy, deterrence, and drones. As the United States decamps, its allies will feel insecure, its enemies emboldened. The Middle East’s stress test has begun.

It is a zero-sum game that Obama understands not at all, for his strategy — give the aggressors more respect and our ally Israel more grief — is one that will encourage our enemies. And Obama and his advisers have missed the importance of the Iranian Green movement. Ramin Ahmadi, founder of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (which the Obama team defunded), observes:

The administration had looked at Iran’s democratic revolution as an inconvenience, and yet it didn’t seem wise to make concessions to an appalling regime that was falling apart. The Green Revolution is a powerful display of “people’s power,” and yet it has not toppled the regime after a full year, effectively putting all the possible rapprochement initiatives on hold. It exposed the brutality and corruption of the regime in Tehran and the lack of a cohesive Iran policy here in Washington. It took Obama some time to voice any support for the Green Revolution and when he finally did, it was too little too late.

Obama fancies himself a sort of Muslim expert, a far more informed observer of the region that was his predecessor. But it turns out that the Obama Middle East policy has been operating with ideological blinders, oblivious to the realities on the ground. You can’t practice “smart” diplomacy if you haven’t a clue what’s going on. And so America’s influence recedes, and the region becomes more dangerous and unstable.

Lee Smith has a two-part series featuring different takes on the Middle East. I previously highlighted Elliott Abrams’s concise summary in part one of Obama’s multiple failings. Martin Kramer offers this insight on the region more generally:

In the Middle East, power is a zero-sum game, domination by a benevolent hegemon creates order, and the regional balance of power is the foundation of peace. It’s the pax Americana, and while it may be stressful to uphold it, the alternative is more stressful still. And as the impression of American power wanes, we are getting a foretaste of “post-American” disorder. A struggle has begun among the middle powers—Iran, Turkey, and Israel—to fill the vacuum. Iran floods Lebanon with rockets, Turkey sends a flotilla to Gaza, Israel sends an assassination squad to Dubai—these are all the signs of an accelerating regional cold war. Each middle power seeks to demonstrate its reach, around, above, and behind the fading superpower.

The response in Washington is to huff and puff, imposing settlement “freezes” and “crippling” sanctions. This is the illusion of power, not its substance. The Obama Administration is bringing the United States out of the Middle East, to a position from which it believes it can “contain” threats with diplomacy, deterrence, and drones. As the United States decamps, its allies will feel insecure, its enemies emboldened. The Middle East’s stress test has begun.

It is a zero-sum game that Obama understands not at all, for his strategy — give the aggressors more respect and our ally Israel more grief — is one that will encourage our enemies. And Obama and his advisers have missed the importance of the Iranian Green movement. Ramin Ahmadi, founder of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (which the Obama team defunded), observes:

The administration had looked at Iran’s democratic revolution as an inconvenience, and yet it didn’t seem wise to make concessions to an appalling regime that was falling apart. The Green Revolution is a powerful display of “people’s power,” and yet it has not toppled the regime after a full year, effectively putting all the possible rapprochement initiatives on hold. It exposed the brutality and corruption of the regime in Tehran and the lack of a cohesive Iran policy here in Washington. It took Obama some time to voice any support for the Green Revolution and when he finally did, it was too little too late.

Obama fancies himself a sort of Muslim expert, a far more informed observer of the region that was his predecessor. But it turns out that the Obama Middle East policy has been operating with ideological blinders, oblivious to the realities on the ground. You can’t practice “smart” diplomacy if you haven’t a clue what’s going on. And so America’s influence recedes, and the region becomes more dangerous and unstable.

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Bookshelf

• One of the many sins for which the baby boomers must someday answer is the extent to which their chronic self-absorption has devalued the memoir as a literary genre. Fortunately, it is still possible to write a good book about an unhappy childhood, and Alyse Myers has done just that with Who Do You Think You Are? (Touchstone, 250 pp., $24).

Part of what is so paradoxically interesting about Myers’ book is that it contains none of the can-you-top-this horror stories (many of which later prove to be fictionalized) that are the stock-in-trade of so many contemporary memoirists. Nor does she write of her youthful sorrows with the chop-licking lasciviousness that is no less endemic to the genre. Her story is simple and straightforward, and she tells it with the laconic, unadorned directness of a hurt child. Born into a working-class family of Jews from Queens who failed to make the economic grade, Myers knew the quotidian heartbreak of being raised by a hard-hearted, seemingly loveless mother and a disillusioned father who had withdrawn his affections from his spouse to seek romantic consolation elsewhere. He died of cancer when Myers was eleven, leaving her in the hands of a now-single parent whose coldness was as puzzling as it was painful.

It is, in short, the old, old story, only ennobled by Myers’ transparent style and given further value by the fact that Who Do You Think You Are? is as much a tale of upward mobility as it is a chronicle of disorder and early sorrow. Such tales are growing less and less common in literary America–most of our writers, it seems, now come from comfortable backgrounds and board the new-class escalator in elementary school–which makes it all the more profitable to read about the way things used to be not so very long ago:

I counted the days until my eighteenth birthday, when I would legally be able to move out and rent my own apartment. And the more I traveled away from her, from her apartment, from her life and into Manhattan-to go to high school, to go to museums, to explore the streets and neighborhoods-the more confident I became and the more I felt I deserved everything my mother thought was out of her league.

That last phrase, it seems to me, is the key to understanding Myers’ mother: she had gone as far as she thought she could go, landing a dull job as a switchboard operator at a girdle factory, and her daughter’s modest ambitions filled her with a volatile mixture of fear and resentment. Not until her daughter had a daughter did Myers mère find it possible to express a kind of love for her own child, and not until she died did Alyse Myers make a discovery that helped her to understand the source of her mother’s angry disappointment. Again, there is nothing especially unusual about all this–Tolstoy was wrong about the alleged variety in the lives of unhappy families–but the art of a memoir is in the telling, not what is told, and the unselfconscious simplicity with which Myers tells her tale conceals no small amount of artfulness.

• By a fortunate coincidence, I read Who Do You Think You Are? immediately after finishing Jeanne Safer’s Death Benefits: How Losing a Parent Can Change an Adult’s Life-For The Better (Basic Books, 227 pp., $25). The author is a New York-based psychotherapist who already has three exceedingly readable books under her belt, and this one, like its predecessors, is both sensible and thought-provoking. Don’t be thrown by the honest but macabre-sounding subtitle: Dr. Safer has brought off the hard task of casting a cold eye on the feelings of relief that so often follow upon losing a parent in one’s own adulthood, acknowledging that “the death of a parent-any parent-can set us free” and offering practical suggestions for acting on that insight. I don’t usually go in for self-help books, but Death Benefits is an exception.

• One of the many sins for which the baby boomers must someday answer is the extent to which their chronic self-absorption has devalued the memoir as a literary genre. Fortunately, it is still possible to write a good book about an unhappy childhood, and Alyse Myers has done just that with Who Do You Think You Are? (Touchstone, 250 pp., $24).

Part of what is so paradoxically interesting about Myers’ book is that it contains none of the can-you-top-this horror stories (many of which later prove to be fictionalized) that are the stock-in-trade of so many contemporary memoirists. Nor does she write of her youthful sorrows with the chop-licking lasciviousness that is no less endemic to the genre. Her story is simple and straightforward, and she tells it with the laconic, unadorned directness of a hurt child. Born into a working-class family of Jews from Queens who failed to make the economic grade, Myers knew the quotidian heartbreak of being raised by a hard-hearted, seemingly loveless mother and a disillusioned father who had withdrawn his affections from his spouse to seek romantic consolation elsewhere. He died of cancer when Myers was eleven, leaving her in the hands of a now-single parent whose coldness was as puzzling as it was painful.

It is, in short, the old, old story, only ennobled by Myers’ transparent style and given further value by the fact that Who Do You Think You Are? is as much a tale of upward mobility as it is a chronicle of disorder and early sorrow. Such tales are growing less and less common in literary America–most of our writers, it seems, now come from comfortable backgrounds and board the new-class escalator in elementary school–which makes it all the more profitable to read about the way things used to be not so very long ago:

I counted the days until my eighteenth birthday, when I would legally be able to move out and rent my own apartment. And the more I traveled away from her, from her apartment, from her life and into Manhattan-to go to high school, to go to museums, to explore the streets and neighborhoods-the more confident I became and the more I felt I deserved everything my mother thought was out of her league.

That last phrase, it seems to me, is the key to understanding Myers’ mother: she had gone as far as she thought she could go, landing a dull job as a switchboard operator at a girdle factory, and her daughter’s modest ambitions filled her with a volatile mixture of fear and resentment. Not until her daughter had a daughter did Myers mère find it possible to express a kind of love for her own child, and not until she died did Alyse Myers make a discovery that helped her to understand the source of her mother’s angry disappointment. Again, there is nothing especially unusual about all this–Tolstoy was wrong about the alleged variety in the lives of unhappy families–but the art of a memoir is in the telling, not what is told, and the unselfconscious simplicity with which Myers tells her tale conceals no small amount of artfulness.

• By a fortunate coincidence, I read Who Do You Think You Are? immediately after finishing Jeanne Safer’s Death Benefits: How Losing a Parent Can Change an Adult’s Life-For The Better (Basic Books, 227 pp., $25). The author is a New York-based psychotherapist who already has three exceedingly readable books under her belt, and this one, like its predecessors, is both sensible and thought-provoking. Don’t be thrown by the honest but macabre-sounding subtitle: Dr. Safer has brought off the hard task of casting a cold eye on the feelings of relief that so often follow upon losing a parent in one’s own adulthood, acknowledging that “the death of a parent-any parent-can set us free” and offering practical suggestions for acting on that insight. I don’t usually go in for self-help books, but Death Benefits is an exception.

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Truth or Consequences

Is it good news? The Pentagon has unveiled a new weapon for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan that will save American lives. It is a portable lie detector: 

known by the acronym PCASS, for Preliminary Credibility Assessment Screening System, uses a commercial TDS Ranger hand-held personal digital assistant with three wires connected to sensors attached to the hand. An interpreter will ask a series of 20 or so questions in Persian, Arabic or Pashto: “Do you intend to answer my questions truthfully?” “Are the lights on in this room” “Are you a member of the Taliban?” The operator will punch in each answer and, after a delay of a minute or so for processing, the screen will display the results: “Green,” if it thinks the person has told the truth, “Red” for deception, and “Yellow” if it can’t decide.

“We’re not promising perfection — we’ve been very careful in that,” Donald Krapohl, special assistant to the director at the Defense Academy for Credibility Assessment, told MSNBC, which reports on the deployment of the device today.

It’s a good thing that the DoD is not promising “perfection.” That would be very hard to achieve, to say the least. Even non-portable lie-detector systems have a startlingly poor record of ferreting out deception. And these are almost always used in highly-controlled circumstances in which the psychological pressure on the individual being questioned is at its maximum.

The list of spies who have defeated the polygraph to penetrate U.S. intelligence is lengthy and includes Aldrich Ames, the Soviet mole in the CIA, Robert Hanssen, the Soviet mole in the FBI, and Ana Belen Montes, who toiled away in the Defense Intelligence Agency on behalf of Cuba for a decade-and-a-half, until her apprehension in 2001. The most recent case is that of Nada Nadim Prouty, the Lebanese woman arrested this winter, who moved from sensitive positions in the FBI to even more sensitive positions within the CIA despite a fictitious marriage and ties to the terrorist organization, Hizballah.

The idea that our troops can rely on primitive polygraphs to make snap decisions on the battlefield about whom to trust and whom to suspect is a formula for disaster. One of our most attractive and useful characteristics as a society is fascination with and love of technology. Sometimes, however, fascination and love turn into obsession. We seem to be in the grip of a clinical case of that disorder here.

Is it good news? The Pentagon has unveiled a new weapon for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan that will save American lives. It is a portable lie detector: 

known by the acronym PCASS, for Preliminary Credibility Assessment Screening System, uses a commercial TDS Ranger hand-held personal digital assistant with three wires connected to sensors attached to the hand. An interpreter will ask a series of 20 or so questions in Persian, Arabic or Pashto: “Do you intend to answer my questions truthfully?” “Are the lights on in this room” “Are you a member of the Taliban?” The operator will punch in each answer and, after a delay of a minute or so for processing, the screen will display the results: “Green,” if it thinks the person has told the truth, “Red” for deception, and “Yellow” if it can’t decide.

“We’re not promising perfection — we’ve been very careful in that,” Donald Krapohl, special assistant to the director at the Defense Academy for Credibility Assessment, told MSNBC, which reports on the deployment of the device today.

It’s a good thing that the DoD is not promising “perfection.” That would be very hard to achieve, to say the least. Even non-portable lie-detector systems have a startlingly poor record of ferreting out deception. And these are almost always used in highly-controlled circumstances in which the psychological pressure on the individual being questioned is at its maximum.

The list of spies who have defeated the polygraph to penetrate U.S. intelligence is lengthy and includes Aldrich Ames, the Soviet mole in the CIA, Robert Hanssen, the Soviet mole in the FBI, and Ana Belen Montes, who toiled away in the Defense Intelligence Agency on behalf of Cuba for a decade-and-a-half, until her apprehension in 2001. The most recent case is that of Nada Nadim Prouty, the Lebanese woman arrested this winter, who moved from sensitive positions in the FBI to even more sensitive positions within the CIA despite a fictitious marriage and ties to the terrorist organization, Hizballah.

The idea that our troops can rely on primitive polygraphs to make snap decisions on the battlefield about whom to trust and whom to suspect is a formula for disaster. One of our most attractive and useful characteristics as a society is fascination with and love of technology. Sometimes, however, fascination and love turn into obsession. We seem to be in the grip of a clinical case of that disorder here.

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Say Nothing

How bizarre can Middle East politics get, you ask? In Israel—a democratic state which protects freedom of religious practice by law; a state which in principle is meant to express and protect the millennial longings of the Jews—a Jew who ascends the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, and utters the briefest of prayers, even under his breath, is subject to arrest and prosecution by Israeli police. Why? He is, allegedly, engaging in a provocative act which may lead to violence. That is, at least, the view of Israel’s public security minister Avi Dichter. Dichter recently wrote to two parliamentarians who, according to Haaretz, sought to pray in silence and without prayer shawls at the site. Such an act, Dichter wrote, is banned. It might “serve as a provocation” and result in “disorder, with a near certain likelihood of subsequent bloodshed.”

I do not think Dichter is wrong to suggest that Jews praying on the Temple Mount may upset Muslims, who also pray on the Temple Mount. Nor do I think that violence is an impossible outcome. The real question is: What happened to the individual’s rights in the face of the violent mob? Isn’t that what the police in a democracy are for—to deter precisely the kind of bloodshed that intimidates people into giving up cherished practices? And from the Jewish side—why go through the (quite considerable) trouble of having a Jewish state if a Jew cannot pray at his religion’s holiest site?

How bizarre can Middle East politics get, you ask? In Israel—a democratic state which protects freedom of religious practice by law; a state which in principle is meant to express and protect the millennial longings of the Jews—a Jew who ascends the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, and utters the briefest of prayers, even under his breath, is subject to arrest and prosecution by Israeli police. Why? He is, allegedly, engaging in a provocative act which may lead to violence. That is, at least, the view of Israel’s public security minister Avi Dichter. Dichter recently wrote to two parliamentarians who, according to Haaretz, sought to pray in silence and without prayer shawls at the site. Such an act, Dichter wrote, is banned. It might “serve as a provocation” and result in “disorder, with a near certain likelihood of subsequent bloodshed.”

I do not think Dichter is wrong to suggest that Jews praying on the Temple Mount may upset Muslims, who also pray on the Temple Mount. Nor do I think that violence is an impossible outcome. The real question is: What happened to the individual’s rights in the face of the violent mob? Isn’t that what the police in a democracy are for—to deter precisely the kind of bloodshed that intimidates people into giving up cherished practices? And from the Jewish side—why go through the (quite considerable) trouble of having a Jewish state if a Jew cannot pray at his religion’s holiest site?

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Heil, Hamas

Before the movement came to power there was a period of extraordinary dissolution, political chaos, economic dislocation, corruption, and brutal criminality. Unemployment was staggeringly high. Shortages of basic staples were a commonplace. Rival factions vied for power not stopping short of bloodshed. Who was to blame? Was it neighboring foreign powers and their “peace” settlement? Was it the Jews?

Then, suddenly, it came to an end. One faction was victorious. Distinctive uniforms were visible on the streets and distinctive flags became ubiquitous. Order was imposed. It was not a lawful order, but for many it was preferable to the previous derangement. What is more, the party bringing order had a clear plan for reconstruction, and even redemption. Of course, many people were uneasy, but even the uneasy welcomed it; the disorder and violence were in the past and there was hope of remarkable progress toward a better future.

No, this is not Gaza but the end of the Weimar Republic with Hitler’s ascension to chancellor in 1933. And the streets were not adorned with the green flags of Hamas but the red and black of the Nazis.

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Before the movement came to power there was a period of extraordinary dissolution, political chaos, economic dislocation, corruption, and brutal criminality. Unemployment was staggeringly high. Shortages of basic staples were a commonplace. Rival factions vied for power not stopping short of bloodshed. Who was to blame? Was it neighboring foreign powers and their “peace” settlement? Was it the Jews?

Then, suddenly, it came to an end. One faction was victorious. Distinctive uniforms were visible on the streets and distinctive flags became ubiquitous. Order was imposed. It was not a lawful order, but for many it was preferable to the previous derangement. What is more, the party bringing order had a clear plan for reconstruction, and even redemption. Of course, many people were uneasy, but even the uneasy welcomed it; the disorder and violence were in the past and there was hope of remarkable progress toward a better future.

No, this is not Gaza but the end of the Weimar Republic with Hitler’s ascension to chancellor in 1933. And the streets were not adorned with the green flags of Hamas but the red and black of the Nazis.

Many Western observers were reluctant to criticize then, as they are now. Some were fawning then, as some are now.

A remarkable specimen of the latter is Steven Erlanger’s portrait of the Hamas terrorist Khaled Abu Hilal in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, singled out by Scott Johnson of powerline as “passing strange.”

Erlanger holds out hope that “the military victory of Hamas may also bring a welcome measure of quiet and security to the 1.5 million people of Gaza, nearly 70 percent of them refugees, who have been living a nightmare of criminal gangs, street-corner vendettas, clan warfare, absent police, corrupt officials, religious incitement and unremitting poverty.”

What can be said about liberals who embrace order, no matter what the price, and no matter the genocidal ambitions of those imposing it?

Passing strange is right. But perhaps they are not liberals at all, or perhaps liberalism, once the creed of tolerance, has itself become something else, something self-destructive: tolerant of everything, including the most lethal forms of intolerance.

But even that seems an inadequate explanation for Erlanger’s impulse—and he is not alone in harboring it—to hail the triumph of a violent and fanatical Islamic terrorist movement that has murdered hundreds of Israelis—men, women, and children alike—and readily tosses fellow Palestinians from buildings after shooting them in the knees.

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Cry for Harry, England, and Saint George

The British Army’s decision last week not to send Prince Harry to Iraq is unfortunate on at least three counts. It is a personal blow for the prince himself, who despite his off-duty antics is by all accounts a highly professional young officer eager to share the perils faced by his comrades. It will do nothing for British morale, already damaged by the humiliation of their naval hostages by Iran. Most importantly, the decision is a propaganda coup for the Islamist terrorists. Britain’s reluctance to commit the third-in-line to its throne to battle makes the West in general look weak. In doing so it places all coalition troops at greater risk.

Why, then, did General Sir Richard Dannatt, the chief of the British general staff, reverse his announcement only three weeks ago that the prince would be deployed? The answer is: Iran. British forces in Basra and the provinces bordering Iran lost twelve soldier in April—a higher casualty rate in proportion to their numbers (about 7,000) than those suffered by the much larger American forces. These heavier losses are attributed by the British to Iranian agents, who are supplying sophisticated weaponry and intelligence to the local insurgency. According to American Special Forces, they are doing the same for the Taliban in Afghanistan. Islamist websites have been threatening to target Prince Harry ever since his deployment was—most unwisely—made public in February. The kidnapping of three U.S. soldiers two weeks ago will have added to the credibility of these threats.

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The British Army’s decision last week not to send Prince Harry to Iraq is unfortunate on at least three counts. It is a personal blow for the prince himself, who despite his off-duty antics is by all accounts a highly professional young officer eager to share the perils faced by his comrades. It will do nothing for British morale, already damaged by the humiliation of their naval hostages by Iran. Most importantly, the decision is a propaganda coup for the Islamist terrorists. Britain’s reluctance to commit the third-in-line to its throne to battle makes the West in general look weak. In doing so it places all coalition troops at greater risk.

Why, then, did General Sir Richard Dannatt, the chief of the British general staff, reverse his announcement only three weeks ago that the prince would be deployed? The answer is: Iran. British forces in Basra and the provinces bordering Iran lost twelve soldier in April—a higher casualty rate in proportion to their numbers (about 7,000) than those suffered by the much larger American forces. These heavier losses are attributed by the British to Iranian agents, who are supplying sophisticated weaponry and intelligence to the local insurgency. According to American Special Forces, they are doing the same for the Taliban in Afghanistan. Islamist websites have been threatening to target Prince Harry ever since his deployment was—most unwisely—made public in February. The kidnapping of three U.S. soldiers two weeks ago will have added to the credibility of these threats.

In the light of new intelligence about ever-bolder Iranian activity in Iraq, General Dannatt found himself between a rock and a hard place. If he had stuck to his guns and sent Harry into action, not only the prince but those under his command would be vulnerable. Thanks to ubiquitous media coverage, which the British authorities had initially encouraged, the terrorists knew both where the prince could be found and even what type of vehicle he would use. Iran would almost certainly have put a price on his head to encourage assassins to try their luck. To kill such a high-profile “crusader” would be portrayed as a great victory by Islamists everywhere. To capture him would create the mother of all hostage crises. Militarily, Harry would be more trouble than he was worth. (Politically, too, his deployment had become a liability for the incoming administration of Gordon Brown.)

Discretion may often be the better part of valor, but this affair has been handled with indiscretion. Only a mind no longer confident of ultimate victory would have made such a hash of it. Just as the British navy mishandled the abduction of sailors and marines by the Iranians, so the British army has mishandled what ought to have been an operational decision.

And General Dannatt has a record of indiscretion. Last year he gave an interview in which he claimed that the British presence in Iraq was “exacerbating” instability. The general beat a hasty retreat, but not fast enough to dispel he impression that he was at odds with his government. Now he has again been forced to countermand his original decision. As the French military proverb has it: order, counter-order, disorder.

The vacillation over Prince Harry is all the more regrettable because British royalty has an admirable tradition of taking their places in the firing line. No British monarch has led his troops into battle since George II at Dettingen in 1743, but lesser members of the royal family have often seen combat, most recently in the Falklands war. As anyone who has seen The Queen will know, the young Princess Elizabeth served (at her own insistence) as a driver in the armed forces at the end of the Second World War. In those days, Shakespeare’s Henry V was still the model for soldiers going into battle: “Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George!” Iraq may not be Agincourt, but even modern armies need their officers to set them an example of courage. Prince Harry should not have been denied the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his forefathers.

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