Commentary Magazine


Topic: driver

From the October Issue: ‘The Mosque and the Mythical Backlash’

On August 25, 2010, a New York City cabdriver was slashed and stabbed by a drunken passenger who allegedly accompanied his assault with anti-Muslim remarks. The driver, Ahmed H. Sharif, a native of Bangladesh, survived the attack, and the accused assailant was quickly arrested and faces a stiff prison sentence. Attacks on New York cabdrivers are not unheard of, but this incident quickly assumed the nature of a symbol of American intolerance for Muslims because of the contentious national debate over plans to build an Islamic community center two blocks from Ground Zero—the site of the former World Trade Center destroyed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

To read the rest of this article from the October issue of COMMENTARY magazine, click here.

On August 25, 2010, a New York City cabdriver was slashed and stabbed by a drunken passenger who allegedly accompanied his assault with anti-Muslim remarks. The driver, Ahmed H. Sharif, a native of Bangladesh, survived the attack, and the accused assailant was quickly arrested and faces a stiff prison sentence. Attacks on New York cabdrivers are not unheard of, but this incident quickly assumed the nature of a symbol of American intolerance for Muslims because of the contentious national debate over plans to build an Islamic community center two blocks from Ground Zero—the site of the former World Trade Center destroyed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

To read the rest of this article from the October issue of COMMENTARY magazine, click here.

Read Less

Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, and America’s “Crisis in Spirit”

I’ve certainly had my run-ins with Joe Klein in recent years. But this story, written after a four-week road trip across America, is worth reading. “Topic A is the growing sense that our best days as a nation are behind us,” Klein writes, “that our kids won’t live as well as we did, that China is in the driver’s seat. … I found the same themes dominant everywhere — a rethinking of basic assumptions, a moment of national introspection.”

The reasons for this anxiety and national introspection are complicated — based in part, but certainly not solely, on the failure of our political class. Yet in the coming years, this cast of mind is going to frame politics in America, much like Jimmy Carter’s “crisis of spirit” speech framed politics at the end of the 1970s. On July 15, 1979, Carter gave his most memorable, and disastrous, speech – declaring, in part, this:

But after listening to the American people I have been reminded again that all the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America. So, I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even more serious than energy or inflation. I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.

I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

In the end, the public will (rightfully) insist that its political leaders not simply diagnosis such problems, but do something to solve them. Ronald Reagan did this for the country as a whole, which is one reason he’s now widely seen as having been a great president. On a smaller scale, Rudy Giuliani could have lamented the desiccated state of New York City when he became mayor. Instead, he took steps to repair it. The result was a better, stronger, prouder city. New York became great again.

So far, President Obama has fallen terribly short of what the citizenry expects of him. He has contributed rather than ameliorated the anxieties and concerns people have. His policies, especially on the economy, are holding us down. Mr. Obama doesn’t seem able to tap into America’s remarkable strengths, spirit, and resilience, which are unique in the world and virtually unmatched in history. Indeed, in some deep way, he doesn’t even seem to recognize them and can therefore hardly acknowledge them.

If the president doesn’t correct these things relatively soon – if this “crisis of confidence” continues to spread and the president seems impotent to deal with the problems we face – then Barack Obama will share a fate similar to that of Jimmy Carter.

I’ve certainly had my run-ins with Joe Klein in recent years. But this story, written after a four-week road trip across America, is worth reading. “Topic A is the growing sense that our best days as a nation are behind us,” Klein writes, “that our kids won’t live as well as we did, that China is in the driver’s seat. … I found the same themes dominant everywhere — a rethinking of basic assumptions, a moment of national introspection.”

The reasons for this anxiety and national introspection are complicated — based in part, but certainly not solely, on the failure of our political class. Yet in the coming years, this cast of mind is going to frame politics in America, much like Jimmy Carter’s “crisis of spirit” speech framed politics at the end of the 1970s. On July 15, 1979, Carter gave his most memorable, and disastrous, speech – declaring, in part, this:

But after listening to the American people I have been reminded again that all the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America. So, I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even more serious than energy or inflation. I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.

I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

In the end, the public will (rightfully) insist that its political leaders not simply diagnosis such problems, but do something to solve them. Ronald Reagan did this for the country as a whole, which is one reason he’s now widely seen as having been a great president. On a smaller scale, Rudy Giuliani could have lamented the desiccated state of New York City when he became mayor. Instead, he took steps to repair it. The result was a better, stronger, prouder city. New York became great again.

So far, President Obama has fallen terribly short of what the citizenry expects of him. He has contributed rather than ameliorated the anxieties and concerns people have. His policies, especially on the economy, are holding us down. Mr. Obama doesn’t seem able to tap into America’s remarkable strengths, spirit, and resilience, which are unique in the world and virtually unmatched in history. Indeed, in some deep way, he doesn’t even seem to recognize them and can therefore hardly acknowledge them.

If the president doesn’t correct these things relatively soon – if this “crisis of confidence” continues to spread and the president seems impotent to deal with the problems we face – then Barack Obama will share a fate similar to that of Jimmy Carter.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” Carly Fiorina says there has been more condemnation of Israel than there was of North Korea when it sank a South Korean ship. She says bad things are happening in the world because Obama is displaying weakness.

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” Bill Kristol tells us, “The dispute over this terror-friendly flotilla is about more than policy toward Gaza. It is about more than Israel. It is about whether the West has the will to defend itself against its enemies. It is about showing (to paraphrase William Gladstone) that the resources of civilization against terror are by no means exhausted.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” Michael Oren says, “Turkey has embraced the leaders of Iran and Hamas, all of whom called for Israel’s destruction. …  Our policy has not changed but Turkey’s policy has changed, very much, over the last few years. … Under a different government with an Islamic orientation, Turkey has turned away from the West.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” the U.S. State Department urges “caution and restraint” — from Israel in intercepting the next terrorist flotilla.

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” Helen Thomas tells Jews to leave Israel and go back to Germany and Poland. (She later apologized, claiming that she really doesn’t believe what she said.)

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” this blather is written: “But that 2 a.m. boarding of an unarmed ship with an unarmed crew, carrying no munitions or weapons, 65 miles at sea, was an act of piracy. What the Israeli commandos got is what any armed hijacker should expect who tries to steal a car from a driver who keeps a tire iron under the front seat. … But we have a blockade of Gaza, say the Israelis, and this flotilla was a provocation. Indeed, it was. And Selma was a provocation. The marchers at Edmund Pettus Bridge were disobeying orders of the governor of Alabama and state police not to march.” Pat Buchanan or Peter Beinart? It’s hard to tell, isn’t it?

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” the IDF releases a tape showing that the flotilla was warned to back away and the “peace activists” shouted, “Go back to Auschwitz.” Sounds as though their ideal PR flack would be (is?) Helen Thomas.

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” the Jerusalem Post reports: “Hamas’s security forces on Monday and Tuesday raided the offices of several non-governmental organizations in the Gaza Strip and confiscated equipment and furniture, drawing sharp condemnations from human rights groups.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” the Christian Science Monitor calls on Turkey to tone it down.”The Middle East does not need another country of fist-shakers, and that’s why the tone in Turkey is of such concern. Not just this incident, but others have increased anti-Semitism in this mostly Muslim country of about 80 million people – a democracy anchored in NATO and working on membership in the European Union.The rhetoric, if unchecked, runs the risk of further undermining Turkey’s credibility and goal of being a regional problem solver, and of the West’s interest in Turkey as a bridge between the Muslim and Christian worlds.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” David Brog, executive director of Christians United For Israel (CUFI), declares, “Israel will face challenges in the days ahead, and it is vital that her allies in the United States stand beside her. A true ally stands with their partners in both easy and difficult times -no democracy under attack, no American ally, deserves any less.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” the Zionist Organization of America “renewed its call for an investigation of Turkey for permitting a flotilla of armed and violent extremists to sail in an attempt to breach the lawful Israeli blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” Obama says nothing.

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” Carly Fiorina says there has been more condemnation of Israel than there was of North Korea when it sank a South Korean ship. She says bad things are happening in the world because Obama is displaying weakness.

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” Bill Kristol tells us, “The dispute over this terror-friendly flotilla is about more than policy toward Gaza. It is about more than Israel. It is about whether the West has the will to defend itself against its enemies. It is about showing (to paraphrase William Gladstone) that the resources of civilization against terror are by no means exhausted.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” Michael Oren says, “Turkey has embraced the leaders of Iran and Hamas, all of whom called for Israel’s destruction. …  Our policy has not changed but Turkey’s policy has changed, very much, over the last few years. … Under a different government with an Islamic orientation, Turkey has turned away from the West.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” the U.S. State Department urges “caution and restraint” — from Israel in intercepting the next terrorist flotilla.

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” Helen Thomas tells Jews to leave Israel and go back to Germany and Poland. (She later apologized, claiming that she really doesn’t believe what she said.)

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” this blather is written: “But that 2 a.m. boarding of an unarmed ship with an unarmed crew, carrying no munitions or weapons, 65 miles at sea, was an act of piracy. What the Israeli commandos got is what any armed hijacker should expect who tries to steal a car from a driver who keeps a tire iron under the front seat. … But we have a blockade of Gaza, say the Israelis, and this flotilla was a provocation. Indeed, it was. And Selma was a provocation. The marchers at Edmund Pettus Bridge were disobeying orders of the governor of Alabama and state police not to march.” Pat Buchanan or Peter Beinart? It’s hard to tell, isn’t it?

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” the IDF releases a tape showing that the flotilla was warned to back away and the “peace activists” shouted, “Go back to Auschwitz.” Sounds as though their ideal PR flack would be (is?) Helen Thomas.

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” the Jerusalem Post reports: “Hamas’s security forces on Monday and Tuesday raided the offices of several non-governmental organizations in the Gaza Strip and confiscated equipment and furniture, drawing sharp condemnations from human rights groups.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” the Christian Science Monitor calls on Turkey to tone it down.”The Middle East does not need another country of fist-shakers, and that’s why the tone in Turkey is of such concern. Not just this incident, but others have increased anti-Semitism in this mostly Muslim country of about 80 million people – a democracy anchored in NATO and working on membership in the European Union.The rhetoric, if unchecked, runs the risk of further undermining Turkey’s credibility and goal of being a regional problem solver, and of the West’s interest in Turkey as a bridge between the Muslim and Christian worlds.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” David Brog, executive director of Christians United For Israel (CUFI), declares, “Israel will face challenges in the days ahead, and it is vital that her allies in the United States stand beside her. A true ally stands with their partners in both easy and difficult times -no democracy under attack, no American ally, deserves any less.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” the Zionist Organization of America “renewed its call for an investigation of Turkey for permitting a flotilla of armed and violent extremists to sail in an attempt to breach the lawful Israeli blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza.”

While the Turks call for a “final solution,” Obama says nothing.

Read Less

The Backlash Against Obamism

Andrew Kohut, the president of Pew Research, confirms the trend that’s been developing since the 2008 election:

A desire for smaller government is particularly evident since Barack Obama took office. In four surveys over the past year, about half have consistently said they would rather have a smaller government with fewer services, while about 40% have consistently preferred a bigger government providing more services. In October 2008, shortly before the presidential election, the public was evenly split on this question.

The public is now divided over whether it is a good idea for the government to exert more control over the economy than it has in recent years. Just 40% say this is a good idea, while a 51% majority says it is not. Last March, by 54% to 37%, more people said it was a good idea for the government to exert more control over the economy. The exception here is the undiminished support for the government to more strictly regulate the way major financial companies do business. This is favored by a 61% to 31% margin.

And while anti-government sentiment in general is up, Democrats are the target of most of the public’s anger and “a more significant driver of possible turnout among Republicans and independents than among Democrats.” Independents, Kohut notes, “favor the Republican candidates in their districts by an overwhelming 66% to 13% margin.”

Kohut doesn’t delve into the motivation for this swing. One can, like the Democrats, chalk this up to random anger and misplaced anxiety. But that assumes that the electorate has not been paying attention or has been bamboozled by, well, by whom isn’t certain. Or one can give the voters some credit and see the connection between voter sentiment and what it is that the Democrats have done while in office. It seems logical that the enormous uptick in debt and spending, the massive health-care bill, the bailouts, and the car-company takeovers have sparked a significant voter backlash.

We will see in November whether voters are irrationally angry with everyone in office or whether their ire is directed at those who sought a huge expansion of the scope and power of the federal government. If it’s the latter case, I’m sure the Democrats will come up with some excuse. But by then it’ll be hard to miss the message: a vast overreach by the Democrats has sparked a revival of the public’s distaste for liberal statism.

Andrew Kohut, the president of Pew Research, confirms the trend that’s been developing since the 2008 election:

A desire for smaller government is particularly evident since Barack Obama took office. In four surveys over the past year, about half have consistently said they would rather have a smaller government with fewer services, while about 40% have consistently preferred a bigger government providing more services. In October 2008, shortly before the presidential election, the public was evenly split on this question.

The public is now divided over whether it is a good idea for the government to exert more control over the economy than it has in recent years. Just 40% say this is a good idea, while a 51% majority says it is not. Last March, by 54% to 37%, more people said it was a good idea for the government to exert more control over the economy. The exception here is the undiminished support for the government to more strictly regulate the way major financial companies do business. This is favored by a 61% to 31% margin.

And while anti-government sentiment in general is up, Democrats are the target of most of the public’s anger and “a more significant driver of possible turnout among Republicans and independents than among Democrats.” Independents, Kohut notes, “favor the Republican candidates in their districts by an overwhelming 66% to 13% margin.”

Kohut doesn’t delve into the motivation for this swing. One can, like the Democrats, chalk this up to random anger and misplaced anxiety. But that assumes that the electorate has not been paying attention or has been bamboozled by, well, by whom isn’t certain. Or one can give the voters some credit and see the connection between voter sentiment and what it is that the Democrats have done while in office. It seems logical that the enormous uptick in debt and spending, the massive health-care bill, the bailouts, and the car-company takeovers have sparked a significant voter backlash.

We will see in November whether voters are irrationally angry with everyone in office or whether their ire is directed at those who sought a huge expansion of the scope and power of the federal government. If it’s the latter case, I’m sure the Democrats will come up with some excuse. But by then it’ll be hard to miss the message: a vast overreach by the Democrats has sparked a revival of the public’s distaste for liberal statism.

Read Less

Re: Obama Takes Aim

The released Obama budget contains many new taxes, including the proposed hike in 2011 of individual tax rates as the Bush tax cuts expire. Just last week at the State of the Union, Obama was bragging that he hadn’t raised taxes on anyone. Well, that’s changing fast. There is the $122 billion in higher taxes from “international tax enforcement and reform.” And the president is proposing to repeal several tax preferences for fossil fuels, raising taxes by $39 billion over 10 years. He also proposes to reinstate Superfund taxes ($20 billion), tax carried interest as ordinary income ($24 billion), modify the cellulosic biofuel producer credit ($24 billion), and repeal last-in-first-out accounting ($59 billion).

But, as John points out, perhaps most shocking is the administration’s revival of an idea panned last year: limiting charitable deductions for upper-income earners. The Orthodox Union, for one, objects, releasing a statement that reads in part:

The President proposes that taxpayers earning more than $250,000 will have their ability to deduct contributions to charities reduced from a rate of 35% to a rate of 28%. (Thus, for example, a person making a $10,000 contribution to a charity would, under the Obama proposal, receive a tax deduction of $2800, as opposed to $3500.) The Administration claims that the current tax deductibility is a disparity that this budget will remedy.

Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the Orthodox Union, issued the following statement:

The Orthodox Union, like so many in America’s nonprofit sector, is gravely concerned over President Obama’s budget proposal to reduce the rate of deductibility for charitable contributions. Even in good economic times, a proposal such as the one put forth in the President’s budget would adversely affect America’s charities. In these distressed times, in which charities are serving more people’s needs while at the same time already suffering a dramatic downturn in donations, the proposal to reduce the rate of tax deductibility for contributions is a recipe for disastrous displacements and cuts in much-needed non-profit sector institutions and services.

It is hard to imagine this proposal will fare any better than it did last year, when it faced a firestorm of bipartisan opposition. It is a measure of just how impervious the administration is to public opinion and political realities that it would seek to recycle an idea this bad. And this once again suggests that the Obami will no longer be in the driver’s seat on legislation. Really, what lawmaker is going to vote to take a bite out of charities when the unemployment rate is in double digits?

The released Obama budget contains many new taxes, including the proposed hike in 2011 of individual tax rates as the Bush tax cuts expire. Just last week at the State of the Union, Obama was bragging that he hadn’t raised taxes on anyone. Well, that’s changing fast. There is the $122 billion in higher taxes from “international tax enforcement and reform.” And the president is proposing to repeal several tax preferences for fossil fuels, raising taxes by $39 billion over 10 years. He also proposes to reinstate Superfund taxes ($20 billion), tax carried interest as ordinary income ($24 billion), modify the cellulosic biofuel producer credit ($24 billion), and repeal last-in-first-out accounting ($59 billion).

But, as John points out, perhaps most shocking is the administration’s revival of an idea panned last year: limiting charitable deductions for upper-income earners. The Orthodox Union, for one, objects, releasing a statement that reads in part:

The President proposes that taxpayers earning more than $250,000 will have their ability to deduct contributions to charities reduced from a rate of 35% to a rate of 28%. (Thus, for example, a person making a $10,000 contribution to a charity would, under the Obama proposal, receive a tax deduction of $2800, as opposed to $3500.) The Administration claims that the current tax deductibility is a disparity that this budget will remedy.

Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the Orthodox Union, issued the following statement:

The Orthodox Union, like so many in America’s nonprofit sector, is gravely concerned over President Obama’s budget proposal to reduce the rate of deductibility for charitable contributions. Even in good economic times, a proposal such as the one put forth in the President’s budget would adversely affect America’s charities. In these distressed times, in which charities are serving more people’s needs while at the same time already suffering a dramatic downturn in donations, the proposal to reduce the rate of tax deductibility for contributions is a recipe for disastrous displacements and cuts in much-needed non-profit sector institutions and services.

It is hard to imagine this proposal will fare any better than it did last year, when it faced a firestorm of bipartisan opposition. It is a measure of just how impervious the administration is to public opinion and political realities that it would seek to recycle an idea this bad. And this once again suggests that the Obami will no longer be in the driver’s seat on legislation. Really, what lawmaker is going to vote to take a bite out of charities when the unemployment rate is in double digits?

Read Less

Consensus Forms: Obama’s Terror Approach Is Mindless

Broad-based criticism is mounting in response to the Obami’s unthinking fixation on handling terrorists within the criminal-justice model. National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair got the ball rolling in a testimony concerning the Christmas Day bomber. Stephen Hayes quotes his testimony, in which he acknowledges that no thought was given to designating Abdulmutallab for questioning by the high-value interrogation unit:

Frankly, we were thinking more of overseas people and—duh! [here Blair theatrically slaps palm to forehead]—we didn’t put it [into effect] then. That’s what we will do now. .  .  .I was not consulted; the decision was made on the scene. It seemed logical to the people there, but it should have been taken using this HIG format at a higher level.

Hayes explains: “We had a load of information on Abdulmutallab—his background, his movements, his contacts—that never came into play in the cursory questioning of him. And we missed a chance to get a load of information from him which could have greatly aided efforts to head off future attacks and destroy al Qaeda assets in Yemen and elsewhere.”

He is not alone in his condemnation of the Obami’s approach. The Washington Post editors agree that “the decision to try Mr. Abdulmutallab turns out to have resulted not from a deliberative process but as a knee-jerk default to a crime-and-punishment model. . . The administration claims Mr. Abdulmutallab provided valuable information — and probably exhausted his knowledge of al-Qaeda operations — before he clammed up. This was immediately after he was read his Miranda rights and provided with a court-appointed lawyer. The truth is, we may never know whether the administration made the right call or whether it squandered a valuable opportunity.”

How could this be, you ask? Well, it’s simple. Obama made the call. This is his vision of how we should respond to terrorism. He is the author of the “not Bush” anti-terror approach. He has empowered Eric Holder to wage war on the intelligence community and to put Justice Department lawyers, rather than intelligence officials, in the driver seat. If this seems to have been foolhardy and fraught with peril, it will take bipartisan action to reverse it. Oversight hearings, use of the power of the purse, and ultimately legislation to determine the jurisdiction of the federal course are all within the purview of Congress. As Democratic lawmakers have learned on domestic policy, following Obama’s lead is politically unwise. Perhaps it is time they showed some independence and exercised their own constitutional responsibilities to think through our approach and set a sensible policy for handling terrorists whom we capture. The White House sure isn’t doing so.

Broad-based criticism is mounting in response to the Obami’s unthinking fixation on handling terrorists within the criminal-justice model. National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair got the ball rolling in a testimony concerning the Christmas Day bomber. Stephen Hayes quotes his testimony, in which he acknowledges that no thought was given to designating Abdulmutallab for questioning by the high-value interrogation unit:

Frankly, we were thinking more of overseas people and—duh! [here Blair theatrically slaps palm to forehead]—we didn’t put it [into effect] then. That’s what we will do now. .  .  .I was not consulted; the decision was made on the scene. It seemed logical to the people there, but it should have been taken using this HIG format at a higher level.

Hayes explains: “We had a load of information on Abdulmutallab—his background, his movements, his contacts—that never came into play in the cursory questioning of him. And we missed a chance to get a load of information from him which could have greatly aided efforts to head off future attacks and destroy al Qaeda assets in Yemen and elsewhere.”

He is not alone in his condemnation of the Obami’s approach. The Washington Post editors agree that “the decision to try Mr. Abdulmutallab turns out to have resulted not from a deliberative process but as a knee-jerk default to a crime-and-punishment model. . . The administration claims Mr. Abdulmutallab provided valuable information — and probably exhausted his knowledge of al-Qaeda operations — before he clammed up. This was immediately after he was read his Miranda rights and provided with a court-appointed lawyer. The truth is, we may never know whether the administration made the right call or whether it squandered a valuable opportunity.”

How could this be, you ask? Well, it’s simple. Obama made the call. This is his vision of how we should respond to terrorism. He is the author of the “not Bush” anti-terror approach. He has empowered Eric Holder to wage war on the intelligence community and to put Justice Department lawyers, rather than intelligence officials, in the driver seat. If this seems to have been foolhardy and fraught with peril, it will take bipartisan action to reverse it. Oversight hearings, use of the power of the purse, and ultimately legislation to determine the jurisdiction of the federal course are all within the purview of Congress. As Democratic lawmakers have learned on domestic policy, following Obama’s lead is politically unwise. Perhaps it is time they showed some independence and exercised their own constitutional responsibilities to think through our approach and set a sensible policy for handling terrorists whom we capture. The White House sure isn’t doing so.

Read Less

From Middle East Journal: A Dark Corner of Europe

cross-posted at Middle East Journal

“If Yugoslavia was the laboratory of Communism, then Communism would breathe its last dying breath here in Belgrade. And to judge by what [Slobodan] Milosevic was turning into by early 1989, Communism would exit the world stage revealed for what it truly was: fascism, without fascism’s ability to make the trains run on time.” – Robert D. Kaplan

“You bombed my country.” These were the nearly first words I heard after clearing passport control on arrival in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, from a taxi driver who flagged me down inside the airport. “Fifteen countries bombed my country.”

I didn’t know what to say. Neither did my American friend and traveling companion Sean LaFreniere.

“Why are you here in Serbia?” the driver said.

“We’re tourists,” I lied. I didn’t want to say I was an American journalist on a trip through the former Yugoslavia with an end destination in Kosovo. Serbia’s last war of ethnic-cleansing was fought there, and it only ended when NATO, led by the United States, bombed Belgrade’s tyrant Slobodan Milosevic into submission. That was nine years ago, but just three months ago Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. A mob of Serbian nationalists answered by fire-bombing the American embassy. The U.S. responded by evacuating its non-essential employees.

“If people ask what two tourists are doing here,” the driver said, “where you are from, you say you’re from Holland.”

Read the rest of the post here.

cross-posted at Middle East Journal

“If Yugoslavia was the laboratory of Communism, then Communism would breathe its last dying breath here in Belgrade. And to judge by what [Slobodan] Milosevic was turning into by early 1989, Communism would exit the world stage revealed for what it truly was: fascism, without fascism’s ability to make the trains run on time.” – Robert D. Kaplan

“You bombed my country.” These were the nearly first words I heard after clearing passport control on arrival in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, from a taxi driver who flagged me down inside the airport. “Fifteen countries bombed my country.”

I didn’t know what to say. Neither did my American friend and traveling companion Sean LaFreniere.

“Why are you here in Serbia?” the driver said.

“We’re tourists,” I lied. I didn’t want to say I was an American journalist on a trip through the former Yugoslavia with an end destination in Kosovo. Serbia’s last war of ethnic-cleansing was fought there, and it only ended when NATO, led by the United States, bombed Belgrade’s tyrant Slobodan Milosevic into submission. That was nine years ago, but just three months ago Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. A mob of Serbian nationalists answered by fire-bombing the American embassy. The U.S. responded by evacuating its non-essential employees.

“If people ask what two tourists are doing here,” the driver said, “where you are from, you say you’re from Holland.”

Read the rest of the post here.

Read Less

Buckley’s Achievement

He was the model of the modern American intellectual. He published a small magazine of ideas whose influence and centrality to the country in which he lived vastly outdistanced publications with 100 times its readership. He wrote a newspaper column for a half-century, twice or three times a week, at which he grew so expert that he could dash one off in the time it took his driver to navigate the length of the Bruckner Expressway, and with a quality of prose that made other newspaper scribes seem as simple-minded as the anonymous authors of Dick and Jane. He ran for office once, a fool’s errand that led to the publication of one of the best books ever written about politics, The Unmaking of a Mayor. He was one of the first writer-thinkers to find a home on television with his show Firing Line, and his wit made him a superb talk-show guest. For all these reasons, he transcended his roots and became a pop-culture icon, the only writer to have appeared as a caricatured figure in a Disney movie (when the genie in Aladdin, voiced by Robin Williams, converts himself into Buckley, complete with his patented lean-back in a chair, as he details the “three-wish” rule). From the first to the last, however, he had an intellectually transcendent purpose from which he never deviated: The explication of, defense of, and advancement of, traditional mores and traditional beliefs, and a concomitant commitment to the notion that social experiments are very dangerous things indeed. He was, ever and always, a serious man in an increasingly unserious time.

He was the model of the modern American intellectual. He published a small magazine of ideas whose influence and centrality to the country in which he lived vastly outdistanced publications with 100 times its readership. He wrote a newspaper column for a half-century, twice or three times a week, at which he grew so expert that he could dash one off in the time it took his driver to navigate the length of the Bruckner Expressway, and with a quality of prose that made other newspaper scribes seem as simple-minded as the anonymous authors of Dick and Jane. He ran for office once, a fool’s errand that led to the publication of one of the best books ever written about politics, The Unmaking of a Mayor. He was one of the first writer-thinkers to find a home on television with his show Firing Line, and his wit made him a superb talk-show guest. For all these reasons, he transcended his roots and became a pop-culture icon, the only writer to have appeared as a caricatured figure in a Disney movie (when the genie in Aladdin, voiced by Robin Williams, converts himself into Buckley, complete with his patented lean-back in a chair, as he details the “three-wish” rule). From the first to the last, however, he had an intellectually transcendent purpose from which he never deviated: The explication of, defense of, and advancement of, traditional mores and traditional beliefs, and a concomitant commitment to the notion that social experiments are very dangerous things indeed. He was, ever and always, a serious man in an increasingly unserious time.

Read Less

Guns in the Desert

ANBAR PROVINCE, IRAQ – The Humvee slammed to a halt on the desert road between Fallujah and the town of Al Farris. I peered around the driver’s head from the back seat and tried to figure out what was happening.

“Why are we stopping?” I said.

“IED,” Sergeant Guerrero said.

I swallowed and took the lens cap off my camera.

“Where?” I said.

All five Humvees in our convoy had stopped and pulled to the side of the road. None had been hit.

“We think there’s one buried off the road around here.”

Two soldiers, including Sergeant Guerrero, stepped out of the vehicle. “Can I get out, too?” I said. I had no idea how long we would stop or if they would even let me out of the truck.

“Sure,” Sergeant Guerrero said. “You can get out.”

All IED’s are dangerous no matter how much body armor you’re wearing if you’re standing anywhere nearby when they explode. Some create small explosions that are merely intended to harass convoys. Others are formidable anti-tank mines. A smaller number create explosions as big as air strikes and will absolutely destroy you if you’re not inside a heavily armored vehicle. The term IED, short for improvised explosive device, is used to describe just about any explosive that isn’t discharged from a weapon.

I slowly pushed open the vault-thick up-armored door and stepped out into the desolate countryside of Al Anbar. An Iraqi Police truck was parked in the desert a few hundred feet to our right. I hoped there wasn’t an IED trigger man lurking somewhere who was waiting for all of us to expose ourselves.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com

ANBAR PROVINCE, IRAQ – The Humvee slammed to a halt on the desert road between Fallujah and the town of Al Farris. I peered around the driver’s head from the back seat and tried to figure out what was happening.

“Why are we stopping?” I said.

“IED,” Sergeant Guerrero said.

I swallowed and took the lens cap off my camera.

“Where?” I said.

All five Humvees in our convoy had stopped and pulled to the side of the road. None had been hit.

“We think there’s one buried off the road around here.”

Two soldiers, including Sergeant Guerrero, stepped out of the vehicle. “Can I get out, too?” I said. I had no idea how long we would stop or if they would even let me out of the truck.

“Sure,” Sergeant Guerrero said. “You can get out.”

All IED’s are dangerous no matter how much body armor you’re wearing if you’re standing anywhere nearby when they explode. Some create small explosions that are merely intended to harass convoys. Others are formidable anti-tank mines. A smaller number create explosions as big as air strikes and will absolutely destroy you if you’re not inside a heavily armored vehicle. The term IED, short for improvised explosive device, is used to describe just about any explosive that isn’t discharged from a weapon.

I slowly pushed open the vault-thick up-armored door and stepped out into the desolate countryside of Al Anbar. An Iraqi Police truck was parked in the desert a few hundred feet to our right. I hoped there wasn’t an IED trigger man lurking somewhere who was waiting for all of us to expose ourselves.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com

Read Less

Obama Backs Illegals’ Licenses–Again

Barack Obama has at last decided to declare himself on a specific policy. The problem is it’s not a policy regarding Americans. Well, that’s one of the problems. Here’s the San Francisco Chronicle:

“Barack Obama has not backed down” on driver’s licenses for undocumented people, said Federico Peña, a former Clinton administration Cabinet member and Denver mayor now supporting Obama. “I think when the Latino community hears Barack’s position on such an important and controversial issue, they’ll understand that his heart and his intellect is with Latino community.

What about the American community? Can we weigh in on this important and controversial issue? It’s actually hard to get at the worst aspect of this horrific policy. There’s the rewarding of illegal behavior and the enticement to remain undocumented. But the gross national security compromise takes the cake. A November 2, 2007 article by John Fund in the Wall Street Journal discusses how undocumented driver’s licenses lead to voter fraud. Fund points out:

The potential for fraud is not trivial, as federal privacy laws prevent cross-checking voter registration rolls with immigration records. Nevertheless, a 1997 Congressional investigation found that “4,023 illegal voters possibly cast ballots in [a] disputed House election” in California. After 9/11, the Justice Department found that eight of the 19 hijackers were registered to vote.

So, the decisive Barack Obama finally shows up, and he’s a nightmare. Why is Obama sticking to this ruinous course, after Hillary and Edwards backed away from the issue? “Obama’s intention is to draw distinctions between himself and Clinton on what are otherwise indistinguishable positions on immigration.” Actually, he’s drawing comparisons between himself and Clinton on the issue of race-pandering. This is a dumb, offensive, and dangerous policy, and any Democratic candidate who doesn’t think it will cost them in the general election is a little too hopeful for his own good.

Barack Obama has at last decided to declare himself on a specific policy. The problem is it’s not a policy regarding Americans. Well, that’s one of the problems. Here’s the San Francisco Chronicle:

“Barack Obama has not backed down” on driver’s licenses for undocumented people, said Federico Peña, a former Clinton administration Cabinet member and Denver mayor now supporting Obama. “I think when the Latino community hears Barack’s position on such an important and controversial issue, they’ll understand that his heart and his intellect is with Latino community.

What about the American community? Can we weigh in on this important and controversial issue? It’s actually hard to get at the worst aspect of this horrific policy. There’s the rewarding of illegal behavior and the enticement to remain undocumented. But the gross national security compromise takes the cake. A November 2, 2007 article by John Fund in the Wall Street Journal discusses how undocumented driver’s licenses lead to voter fraud. Fund points out:

The potential for fraud is not trivial, as federal privacy laws prevent cross-checking voter registration rolls with immigration records. Nevertheless, a 1997 Congressional investigation found that “4,023 illegal voters possibly cast ballots in [a] disputed House election” in California. After 9/11, the Justice Department found that eight of the 19 hijackers were registered to vote.

So, the decisive Barack Obama finally shows up, and he’s a nightmare. Why is Obama sticking to this ruinous course, after Hillary and Edwards backed away from the issue? “Obama’s intention is to draw distinctions between himself and Clinton on what are otherwise indistinguishable positions on immigration.” Actually, he’s drawing comparisons between himself and Clinton on the issue of race-pandering. This is a dumb, offensive, and dangerous policy, and any Democratic candidate who doesn’t think it will cost them in the general election is a little too hopeful for his own good.

Read Less

The Five Most Overrated Films of 2007

1. Michael Clayton. (90 percent favorable rating on the movie review website Rotten Tomatoes). Billed as a realistic walk through the corridors of power, Michael Clayton winds up being a tepid, lugubrious, and preposterous thriller—art-house Grisham. George Clooney plays a kind of lawyer who doesn’t even exist—though he works for a huge law firm, he runs around the greater New York area doling out expertise on criminal cases, immigration issues, family law, and a dozen other specialized areas. Can you picture big law firms sending out sneaky hit teams to take down anyone who might testify against them, even though that person might have told any number of others what he knows? Can you picture firms hiring mugs to blow up cars? Would a hit squad be so dumb that the car is primed to blow up at a seemingly random moment rather than when the ignition is turned on? And finally: if a car exploded and there was no body in or around the car, would a lawyer (or even the stupidest guy in your high school woodworking class) assume that the driver of the car was dead? Like a lawyer who falls asleep during his closing argument, Michael Clayton saves its stupidest trick for last: the wheezing old gag that goes, “Aha! As I just tricked you into giving an incredibly detailed confession, I was recording the whole thing on this little gizmo!”

2. Grindhouse (81 percent favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes)—It’s two, two, TWO movies in one: the first, Robert Rodriguez’s bloody, intentionally amateurish zombie flick parody Planet Terror, is a great success: There’s no denying that it meets or even exceeds its goal to be unwatchably awful, one of the worst movies of the year. Not this year: 1974. You have to be pretty meta to convince yourself you’re enjoying a rotten movie, though. The second part of the double feature, Quentin Tarantino’s talky but enjoyable Death Proof, doesn’t make the mistake of thinking bad writing is good writing if the whole thing is nestled between ironic quotation marks.

3. Enchanted. (93 percent). Great trailer! A story about an animated princess from a Disney movie who winds up as a real person wandering the mean streets of New York sustains its single joke for almost two solid minutes. After that, it’s just Splash with taffeta—but without Tom Hanks or John Candy. The unshaven, barely conscious TV soap star Patrick Dempsey turns out to be the prince of the city. Which, again, like every other plot point, was clear from the trailer. Every so often the movie breaks into song, but none of the lyrics are as funny and tongue-in-cheek as the ones from actual Disney cartoons like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.

Read More

1. Michael Clayton. (90 percent favorable rating on the movie review website Rotten Tomatoes). Billed as a realistic walk through the corridors of power, Michael Clayton winds up being a tepid, lugubrious, and preposterous thriller—art-house Grisham. George Clooney plays a kind of lawyer who doesn’t even exist—though he works for a huge law firm, he runs around the greater New York area doling out expertise on criminal cases, immigration issues, family law, and a dozen other specialized areas. Can you picture big law firms sending out sneaky hit teams to take down anyone who might testify against them, even though that person might have told any number of others what he knows? Can you picture firms hiring mugs to blow up cars? Would a hit squad be so dumb that the car is primed to blow up at a seemingly random moment rather than when the ignition is turned on? And finally: if a car exploded and there was no body in or around the car, would a lawyer (or even the stupidest guy in your high school woodworking class) assume that the driver of the car was dead? Like a lawyer who falls asleep during his closing argument, Michael Clayton saves its stupidest trick for last: the wheezing old gag that goes, “Aha! As I just tricked you into giving an incredibly detailed confession, I was recording the whole thing on this little gizmo!”

2. Grindhouse (81 percent favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes)—It’s two, two, TWO movies in one: the first, Robert Rodriguez’s bloody, intentionally amateurish zombie flick parody Planet Terror, is a great success: There’s no denying that it meets or even exceeds its goal to be unwatchably awful, one of the worst movies of the year. Not this year: 1974. You have to be pretty meta to convince yourself you’re enjoying a rotten movie, though. The second part of the double feature, Quentin Tarantino’s talky but enjoyable Death Proof, doesn’t make the mistake of thinking bad writing is good writing if the whole thing is nestled between ironic quotation marks.

3. Enchanted. (93 percent). Great trailer! A story about an animated princess from a Disney movie who winds up as a real person wandering the mean streets of New York sustains its single joke for almost two solid minutes. After that, it’s just Splash with taffeta—but without Tom Hanks or John Candy. The unshaven, barely conscious TV soap star Patrick Dempsey turns out to be the prince of the city. Which, again, like every other plot point, was clear from the trailer. Every so often the movie breaks into song, but none of the lyrics are as funny and tongue-in-cheek as the ones from actual Disney cartoons like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.

4. Sicko (93 percent). A film that argues—seriously, it does; this part of the film isn’t meant to be funny—that health care in Castro’s Cuba is superior to that offered in the United States. Memo to critics who don’t read the papers much: Cuba has chronic shortages of aspirin. Michael Moore is an expert at being wrong, but it’s hard to believe he’ll ever be more detached from the truth than he is when he presents the legendarily dyspeptic, tranquilizer-addicted French as a delighted citizenry and deals with the copiously-documented issue of wait times in Canada by asking a couple of people in a single waiting room whether they had to wait long.

5. Persepolis. (98 percent). An animated movie so enticingly drawn, with charmingly childish line drawings and sweetly big-eyed characters, that it holds your interest for up to an hour. Rivetingly, Marjane Satrapi tells us about her childhood in pre-revolutionary Iran while dark clouds appear on the horizon. But it turns out that Iran’s history doesn’t have much to do with anything as Satrapi diverts the story from how her family dealt with the nation’s revolt to chat about her therapy sessions and boyfriend troubles. This isn’t a story; it’s a grab bag of anecdotes. Dead giveaway that this film is winning raves on affirmative action grounds: Critics keep using the word “vibrant.”

Read Less

Hillary’s “No”

The Washington Post and the New York Times may have missed it, but the New York Sun got it. The key moment for the Democrats as a party during last night’s debate came when Barack Obama stumbled on the same question about driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants that had tripped up Hillary Clinton two weeks earlier.

For two weeks Obama and Edwards had attacked Clinton for her flip-flopping “politics of parsing” because she seemed both to support and oppose the licenses. (Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Clinton had taken “two weeks and six different positions to answer one question.”) But last night Clinton, having pushed New York Governor Eliot Spitzer into entirely abandoning his plan to issue driver’s licenses, responded with a crisp “no” when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the moderator, asked for a straight up-or-down answer on whether the candidates supported licenses for undocumented workers. Last night it was Obama who wanted it both ways. Asked the question, Obama launched into a discussion of how “When I was a state senator in Illinois, I voted to require that illegal aliens get trained, get a license, get insurance to protect public safety. That was my intention.” But when Blitzer pressed him for a yes-or-no answer, the usually exquisitely articulate Obama froze. Visibly off-balance, he replied that “I am not proposing that that’s what we do.” He then went on to say, “I have already said I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety.” A frustrated Blizter responded, “This is the sort of question available to a yes or no answer.”

Read More

The Washington Post and the New York Times may have missed it, but the New York Sun got it. The key moment for the Democrats as a party during last night’s debate came when Barack Obama stumbled on the same question about driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants that had tripped up Hillary Clinton two weeks earlier.

For two weeks Obama and Edwards had attacked Clinton for her flip-flopping “politics of parsing” because she seemed both to support and oppose the licenses. (Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Clinton had taken “two weeks and six different positions to answer one question.”) But last night Clinton, having pushed New York Governor Eliot Spitzer into entirely abandoning his plan to issue driver’s licenses, responded with a crisp “no” when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the moderator, asked for a straight up-or-down answer on whether the candidates supported licenses for undocumented workers. Last night it was Obama who wanted it both ways. Asked the question, Obama launched into a discussion of how “When I was a state senator in Illinois, I voted to require that illegal aliens get trained, get a license, get insurance to protect public safety. That was my intention.” But when Blitzer pressed him for a yes-or-no answer, the usually exquisitely articulate Obama froze. Visibly off-balance, he replied that “I am not proposing that that’s what we do.” He then went on to say, “I have already said I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety.” A frustrated Blizter responded, “This is the sort of question available to a yes or no answer.”

Clinton’s definitive “no” took her partly off the general election hook. But with nearly 80 percent of voters opposing driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, her party, as represented by Obama and Bill Richardson, is still in the hot seat on this issue. Led by liberal Democrats, seventeen states have opposed a national standard for driver’s licenses. (In eight of these states, licenses are already being issued to undocumented workers.) This has led Peter Brown of the Quinnipiac Poll to analogize that, like affirmative action for racial minorities—an issue that badly damaged the Democrats in the 1970’s and 1980’s—today’s immigration issue has split the party’s working class supporters from its liberal activists. And as with affirmative action, liberal activists are quick to deride their opponents as racists.

Brown is right about the broad similarities. But there are also significant differences. Affirmative action and racial quotas pitted middle- and lower-middle-class white male Democrats against African-Americans and liberal activists. But on immigration, the remaining white working-class Democrats are aligned with most African-American voters, who are often those most directly in competition with low cost illegal immigrant labor. And this tension can only be exacerbated by the reality of black downward mobility. According to a new study from the Economic Mobility Project, “children of black parents earning in the middle 20 percent of all families in the late 1960’s had a 69 percent chance of earning less than their parents, the study found. For white children, that chance was just 32 percent.”

Hillary may have dodged a bullet for now, but the internal Democratic party debate on undocumented workers has only begun.

Read Less

Obama’s Surge

Journalists bored with Hillary Clinton’s seemingly certain anointment as the Democratic nominee finally have what they’ve been anticipating. After two terrible weeks for Hillary Clinton, commencing on October 30 during a Democratic candidates debate with her weaselly answer to the question of whether she supported New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s plan to issue drivers licenses to illegal aliens, a national poll from USAToday/Gallup that had Barack Obama down 30 points just nine days ago now shows them virtually even. (The Rasmussen daily tracking polls, which have generally been more accurate than Gallup, have Hillary losing some ground but still leading by 21 points.)

Still, even if the USAToday poll was skewed, this has to be a considerable boost for Obama. It comes, I’d say, from two sources. The first is that the Clinton campaign has made, recently, one gaffe after another. The debate on October 30 was followed by Hillary’s complaints about the men ganging up on her and by Bill accusing them of attempting to swiftboat her—neither of which played well. And this week she’s had to admit that her campaign planted questions in an Iowa audience. It’s been as if her once flawless campaign was doing its best to confirm her critics’ complaints about her.

The other is precisely those men about whom Hillary was complaining. Obama and Edwards, notes Ben Smith in an astute column for the Politico, have become, in effect, “arms-length allies in their attempt to take her down.” (“The differences between Sen. Clinton and myself are much more dramatic,” said Edwards, “than the differences between Sen. Obama and myself.”) But an Obama surge comes at a considerable cost to the Democrats as a party. It cuts them off from the legacy of Bill Clinton—the only example of an effective Democratic President in recent memory. And it brings a contentious issue—driver’s licenses for illegals—back into focus. Hillary muffed her answer on this during the debate, but she was right to see the tensions in trying to both uphold our immigration law and manage a large population of people who can commit crimes or spread disease but who are unknown to authorities. Obama sees no such tensions; he’s unambiguously in support of driver’s licenses for undocumented workers—a policy opposed by nearly 80 percent of all Americans. Licenses for illegals would make for a fat political target come the November elections. Obama’s rise may end up hurting the Democrats big time.

Journalists bored with Hillary Clinton’s seemingly certain anointment as the Democratic nominee finally have what they’ve been anticipating. After two terrible weeks for Hillary Clinton, commencing on October 30 during a Democratic candidates debate with her weaselly answer to the question of whether she supported New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s plan to issue drivers licenses to illegal aliens, a national poll from USAToday/Gallup that had Barack Obama down 30 points just nine days ago now shows them virtually even. (The Rasmussen daily tracking polls, which have generally been more accurate than Gallup, have Hillary losing some ground but still leading by 21 points.)

Still, even if the USAToday poll was skewed, this has to be a considerable boost for Obama. It comes, I’d say, from two sources. The first is that the Clinton campaign has made, recently, one gaffe after another. The debate on October 30 was followed by Hillary’s complaints about the men ganging up on her and by Bill accusing them of attempting to swiftboat her—neither of which played well. And this week she’s had to admit that her campaign planted questions in an Iowa audience. It’s been as if her once flawless campaign was doing its best to confirm her critics’ complaints about her.

The other is precisely those men about whom Hillary was complaining. Obama and Edwards, notes Ben Smith in an astute column for the Politico, have become, in effect, “arms-length allies in their attempt to take her down.” (“The differences between Sen. Clinton and myself are much more dramatic,” said Edwards, “than the differences between Sen. Obama and myself.”) But an Obama surge comes at a considerable cost to the Democrats as a party. It cuts them off from the legacy of Bill Clinton—the only example of an effective Democratic President in recent memory. And it brings a contentious issue—driver’s licenses for illegals—back into focus. Hillary muffed her answer on this during the debate, but she was right to see the tensions in trying to both uphold our immigration law and manage a large population of people who can commit crimes or spread disease but who are unknown to authorities. Obama sees no such tensions; he’s unambiguously in support of driver’s licenses for undocumented workers—a policy opposed by nearly 80 percent of all Americans. Licenses for illegals would make for a fat political target come the November elections. Obama’s rise may end up hurting the Democrats big time.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

Antique Courage

I love old books and I (mostly) like the gentle souls who sell them. Yet an elderly, convalescent antiquarian bookseller seems an improbable hero in the war on terror. Arthur Burton-Garnett deserves a medal for giving chase to a suicide bomber who had just failed to kill him and his fellow-passengers on a London subway train.

This is one of several extraordinary stories to emerge from the trial of six men who are accused of attempting a repetition of the 7/7 London bombings two weeks later, on July 21, 2005. According to the prosecution, Ramzi Mohammed tried to detonate his bomb as the train travelled between Stockwell and Oval stations just south of the River Thames.

Mohammed is alleged to have turned so that his backpack, containing a home-made bomb, pointed towards a young mother, Nadia Baro, with her nine-month-old baby in a buggy. He then set off his device, but only the detonator exploded, sounding like a large firecracker. Most of the passengers fled to the next carriage, but Mrs. Baro was left behind. A middle-aged off-duty fireman, Angus Campbell, helped her to get away. As the train drew into Oval station, he told the driver on the intercom: “Don’t open the doors!” Even though this was only two weeks after the carnage of 7/7, the driver ignored this request, and Mohammed ran out of the train. A retired engineer, George Brawley, tried to grab him, but he broke free.

At this point, Mr. Burton-Garnett decided to give chase. Though the fugitive was a third of his age and highly dangerous, the unarmed septuagenarian bookseller was fearless. He ran up the escalator after Mohammed, shouting: “Stop that man! Get the police!” In his own words, Mr. Burton-Garnett “tore after him but he was about nine or ten stair treads ahead of me. Halfway up I sort of ran out of steam. I was just recovering from a gall-bladder operation, otherwise I think I might have been a bit faster.”

What would have happened if he had caught Mohammed probably didn’t occur to him. It is surely significant that a man of Mr. Burton-Garnett’s age and health would be so careless of his own safety. Mr. Brawley and Mr. Campbell were also older men. Younger people are much less likely to feel an obligation to intervene in such situations, having been warned by the police and brought up by their parents not to do so. They learn that the “streetwise” thing to do if they see a crime being committed is to run away. I do not wish to disparage our youth: after all, the majority of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are in their teens or twenties. And plenty of young civilians are not afraid to have a go at criminals and terrorists. But in doing so they go against the grain of an overprotective culture.

The inspiring message of the passengers on Flight 93, who prevented an even worse catastrophe on 9/11, is that a war in which the suicide bomber is a key weapon can only be won if civilians defy regulations and rely on their own initiative.

Next time I open an old book, I shall think of Mr. Burton-Garnett. He may belong in the gallery of English eccentrics, but he is a hero nevertheless. Where manliness is mocked and cowardice is institutionalized, you need to be eccentric to be brave. There is something both comic and moving about the image of an erudite gentleman, more accustomed to leafing through old folios, in hot pursuit of an alleged suicide bomber who thought nothing of killing a mother and child in cold blood.

I love old books and I (mostly) like the gentle souls who sell them. Yet an elderly, convalescent antiquarian bookseller seems an improbable hero in the war on terror. Arthur Burton-Garnett deserves a medal for giving chase to a suicide bomber who had just failed to kill him and his fellow-passengers on a London subway train.

This is one of several extraordinary stories to emerge from the trial of six men who are accused of attempting a repetition of the 7/7 London bombings two weeks later, on July 21, 2005. According to the prosecution, Ramzi Mohammed tried to detonate his bomb as the train travelled between Stockwell and Oval stations just south of the River Thames.

Mohammed is alleged to have turned so that his backpack, containing a home-made bomb, pointed towards a young mother, Nadia Baro, with her nine-month-old baby in a buggy. He then set off his device, but only the detonator exploded, sounding like a large firecracker. Most of the passengers fled to the next carriage, but Mrs. Baro was left behind. A middle-aged off-duty fireman, Angus Campbell, helped her to get away. As the train drew into Oval station, he told the driver on the intercom: “Don’t open the doors!” Even though this was only two weeks after the carnage of 7/7, the driver ignored this request, and Mohammed ran out of the train. A retired engineer, George Brawley, tried to grab him, but he broke free.

At this point, Mr. Burton-Garnett decided to give chase. Though the fugitive was a third of his age and highly dangerous, the unarmed septuagenarian bookseller was fearless. He ran up the escalator after Mohammed, shouting: “Stop that man! Get the police!” In his own words, Mr. Burton-Garnett “tore after him but he was about nine or ten stair treads ahead of me. Halfway up I sort of ran out of steam. I was just recovering from a gall-bladder operation, otherwise I think I might have been a bit faster.”

What would have happened if he had caught Mohammed probably didn’t occur to him. It is surely significant that a man of Mr. Burton-Garnett’s age and health would be so careless of his own safety. Mr. Brawley and Mr. Campbell were also older men. Younger people are much less likely to feel an obligation to intervene in such situations, having been warned by the police and brought up by their parents not to do so. They learn that the “streetwise” thing to do if they see a crime being committed is to run away. I do not wish to disparage our youth: after all, the majority of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are in their teens or twenties. And plenty of young civilians are not afraid to have a go at criminals and terrorists. But in doing so they go against the grain of an overprotective culture.

The inspiring message of the passengers on Flight 93, who prevented an even worse catastrophe on 9/11, is that a war in which the suicide bomber is a key weapon can only be won if civilians defy regulations and rely on their own initiative.

Next time I open an old book, I shall think of Mr. Burton-Garnett. He may belong in the gallery of English eccentrics, but he is a hero nevertheless. Where manliness is mocked and cowardice is institutionalized, you need to be eccentric to be brave. There is something both comic and moving about the image of an erudite gentleman, more accustomed to leafing through old folios, in hot pursuit of an alleged suicide bomber who thought nothing of killing a mother and child in cold blood.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.