Commentary Magazine


Topic: Emperor

Chinese Anti-American Propaganda Song Played at State Dinner

So that lavish state dinner President Obama hosted for Chinese President Hu Jintao last week? Turns out it was an even worse decision than previously thought. Not only did Obama honor a regime of human-rights abusers, but it turns out they weren’t even appreciative. According to the Epoch Times, a pianist at the event played a well-known Chinese propaganda song that’s about defeating the U.S. in a war. And it sounds like the Chinese government may have known the song would be played beforehand.

Lang Lang the pianist says he chose it. Chairman Hu Jintao recognized it as soon as he heard it. Patriotic Chinese Internet users were delighted as soon as they saw the videos online. Early morning TV viewers in China knew it would be played an hour or two beforehand. At the White House State dinner on Jan. 19, about six minutes into his set, Lang Lang began tapping out a famous anti-American propaganda melody from the Korean War: the theme song to the movie “Battle on Shangganling Mountain.”

The Epoch Times provided some of the song’s lyrics, which literally translate into: “When friends are here, there is fine wine /But if the jackal comes /What greets it is the hunting rifle.” The “jackal” line refers to the U.S.

The song apparently thrilled hardliners in China, who saw it as a major humiliation of America:

“In the eyes of all Chinese, this will not be seen as anything other than a big insult to the U.S.,” says Yang Jingduan, a Chinese psychiatrist now living in Philadelphia who had in China been a doctor in the Chinese military. “It’s like insulting you in your face and you don’t know it, it’s humiliating.”

The whole concept of the Chinese playing an anti-American song during a state dinner in their honor is too petty and childish to even be insulting. The embarrassing part is that Obama-administration officials didn’t bother to find out the background of the songs on the agenda before they were played. In comparison, the Chinese delegation reportedly knew about the song in advance, and may have been the ones who tipped off news outlets in China beforehand:

Cheng said that “The White House had to report in advance to the Chinese delegation and so the Chinese delegation would have certainly known Lang Lang’s program.”

Cheng believes, however, that the Chinese delegation would see no reason to suggest a change in the program. “The program is not against the interests of China. In fact, it is the opposite.”

Awful. This is worse than Obama’s bow to the Japanese emperor in 2009. The White House better have a serious explanation for why this song was allowed to be played at its own party. And it should also serve as a lesson to Obama for why we don’t throw state dinners in honor of openly anti-American governments.

So that lavish state dinner President Obama hosted for Chinese President Hu Jintao last week? Turns out it was an even worse decision than previously thought. Not only did Obama honor a regime of human-rights abusers, but it turns out they weren’t even appreciative. According to the Epoch Times, a pianist at the event played a well-known Chinese propaganda song that’s about defeating the U.S. in a war. And it sounds like the Chinese government may have known the song would be played beforehand.

Lang Lang the pianist says he chose it. Chairman Hu Jintao recognized it as soon as he heard it. Patriotic Chinese Internet users were delighted as soon as they saw the videos online. Early morning TV viewers in China knew it would be played an hour or two beforehand. At the White House State dinner on Jan. 19, about six minutes into his set, Lang Lang began tapping out a famous anti-American propaganda melody from the Korean War: the theme song to the movie “Battle on Shangganling Mountain.”

The Epoch Times provided some of the song’s lyrics, which literally translate into: “When friends are here, there is fine wine /But if the jackal comes /What greets it is the hunting rifle.” The “jackal” line refers to the U.S.

The song apparently thrilled hardliners in China, who saw it as a major humiliation of America:

“In the eyes of all Chinese, this will not be seen as anything other than a big insult to the U.S.,” says Yang Jingduan, a Chinese psychiatrist now living in Philadelphia who had in China been a doctor in the Chinese military. “It’s like insulting you in your face and you don’t know it, it’s humiliating.”

The whole concept of the Chinese playing an anti-American song during a state dinner in their honor is too petty and childish to even be insulting. The embarrassing part is that Obama-administration officials didn’t bother to find out the background of the songs on the agenda before they were played. In comparison, the Chinese delegation reportedly knew about the song in advance, and may have been the ones who tipped off news outlets in China beforehand:

Cheng said that “The White House had to report in advance to the Chinese delegation and so the Chinese delegation would have certainly known Lang Lang’s program.”

Cheng believes, however, that the Chinese delegation would see no reason to suggest a change in the program. “The program is not against the interests of China. In fact, it is the opposite.”

Awful. This is worse than Obama’s bow to the Japanese emperor in 2009. The White House better have a serious explanation for why this song was allowed to be played at its own party. And it should also serve as a lesson to Obama for why we don’t throw state dinners in honor of openly anti-American governments.

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Democrats Heap Scorn on Obama

Fareed Zakaria has become an all-purpose apologist for Obama. First it was on the flotilla.  A colleague passes on the latest one. It seems he’s now shilling for Obama on his response to the oil spill. Last time, Zakaria was dismantled by Elliott Abrams. This time it was James Carville:

Zakaria, a Newsweek editor but also host of Fareed Zakaria GPS, recently wrote a defense of Pres. Obama’s response (actually he criticized the President for his overreaction).  … King read from Zakaria’s recent column, which said “what worries me is that we have gotten to the point where we expect the president to somehow magically solve every problem in the world, appear to be doing it and to reflect our anger and emotion. This is a kind of bizarre trivializing of the presidency into some kind of national psychiatrist-in-chief.”

Carville, smiling – but only at first – responded strongly:

“Yes, he talked about an offensive linebacker. And when I read that I wanted to hit him with a football bat, okay? This guy, there’s some kind of a breakdown here, because this is a very smart man. And I don’t think that he understands exactly what is going on down here. I don’t think he understands that an entire culture is at risk, an entire way of life that there is an invasion going here and he is whining about the fact that the president had to cancel a trip to Indonesia to do something about what’s going on in Louisiana. . … If that thing was in the Long Island Sound, I guarantee you Fareed Zakaria and all his friends would be going nuts out there.”

This tells us a few things. First, we should be wary of “experts” who peddle their foreign-policy lines while reflexively defending the administration across the board. Second, Obama no longer can command respect or discretion, let alone affection, from Democrats. Granted this is Carville, whose Clinton loyalty is well known and who has likely not let bygones be bygones. But if you turn on MSNBC, you will hear plenty of Democrats heaping criticism on Obama.

Again, as I and many others have pointed out, accidents — including big and awful ones — are not necessarily the president’s fault. But neither was 9/11 Rudy Giuliani’s.  But he grabbed the crisis by the throat. He was candid, informed, and informative. He did not whine or complain. He did not treat it as a PR problem but as a civic emergency. It is the failure of leadership and of executive competence that has exposed Obama. The closet analogy is not Jimmy Carter but the emperor who had no clothes. And now everyone notices.

Fareed Zakaria has become an all-purpose apologist for Obama. First it was on the flotilla.  A colleague passes on the latest one. It seems he’s now shilling for Obama on his response to the oil spill. Last time, Zakaria was dismantled by Elliott Abrams. This time it was James Carville:

Zakaria, a Newsweek editor but also host of Fareed Zakaria GPS, recently wrote a defense of Pres. Obama’s response (actually he criticized the President for his overreaction).  … King read from Zakaria’s recent column, which said “what worries me is that we have gotten to the point where we expect the president to somehow magically solve every problem in the world, appear to be doing it and to reflect our anger and emotion. This is a kind of bizarre trivializing of the presidency into some kind of national psychiatrist-in-chief.”

Carville, smiling – but only at first – responded strongly:

“Yes, he talked about an offensive linebacker. And when I read that I wanted to hit him with a football bat, okay? This guy, there’s some kind of a breakdown here, because this is a very smart man. And I don’t think that he understands exactly what is going on down here. I don’t think he understands that an entire culture is at risk, an entire way of life that there is an invasion going here and he is whining about the fact that the president had to cancel a trip to Indonesia to do something about what’s going on in Louisiana. . … If that thing was in the Long Island Sound, I guarantee you Fareed Zakaria and all his friends would be going nuts out there.”

This tells us a few things. First, we should be wary of “experts” who peddle their foreign-policy lines while reflexively defending the administration across the board. Second, Obama no longer can command respect or discretion, let alone affection, from Democrats. Granted this is Carville, whose Clinton loyalty is well known and who has likely not let bygones be bygones. But if you turn on MSNBC, you will hear plenty of Democrats heaping criticism on Obama.

Again, as I and many others have pointed out, accidents — including big and awful ones — are not necessarily the president’s fault. But neither was 9/11 Rudy Giuliani’s.  But he grabbed the crisis by the throat. He was candid, informed, and informative. He did not whine or complain. He did not treat it as a PR problem but as a civic emergency. It is the failure of leadership and of executive competence that has exposed Obama. The closet analogy is not Jimmy Carter but the emperor who had no clothes. And now everyone notices.

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The End of the Welfare-State Model?

Stuart Varney of Fox Business News said Thursday on Fox News Special Report that what we are witnessing with the debt crisis in Greece and the swoon of the markets over the last week and a half is the end of the welfare-state model of governance. I think he’s right.

Markets are notorious for sometimes being oblivious to developments in the economy that, in retrospect, seem obvious — and then, suddenly, waking up and acting. The American economy began to slow down in the spring of 1929, for instance, but Wall Street — usually ahead of the economy — paid no attention and soared over the summer to heights unseen before. Then, on the day after Labor Day, for a trivial reason, the market panicked in the last hour of trading, and the mood turned instantly from “the sky’s the limit” to “every man for himself.” Six weeks later, the great crash of 1929 happened.

For years, democratic governments have been promising citizens ever-increasing benefits in the future to win votes in the present. What they haven’t been doing is arranging to pay for them. Instead, they have used phony bookkeeping to make things look under control. New York City did this in the 60s and 70s until one day the banks said they weren’t rolling over the city’s paper anymore. Now, Greece has suffered the same fate. It lied to the EU to get in and has been cooking the books to hide the gathering fiscal disaster ever since. The market has now made it clear that it thinks Greek bonds are for wallpaper, not investing. With more than 10 billion euros in bonds coming due on May 19, Greece had no choice but to accept draconian cuts in its benefits and strict accountability in the future to be bailed out by its euro-zone partners. They, of course, fear the collapse of the euro as a currency and a spreading contagion to larger countries that have also been doing what Greece has done for so long.

Europe would need $60 trillion in the bank, earning government-borrowing-rate interest, to fund its future welfare benefits. Needless to say, no country has four times its GDP in the bank.

In short, the market has suddenly become aware that the emperor known as the welfare state is, financially speaking, buck naked. The cost of insuring against bank default in Europe, according to Bloomberg, is now more than it was when Lehman Brothers collapsed. Other rates are nowhere near those levels, but it would not take much to set off a global panic. Markets have been down all week, and the Dow was down today by 1.34 percent, down 7 percent since Monday.

Great Britain and the United States, insulated from the crisis in Europe because they do not use the euro, have big financial promises they can’t pay for, either. President Obama, of course, wants to make more promises.

If Greece stands up to its unions and its outraged bureaucrats and reforms its ways, I suspect the current crisis will pass. But unless the rest of the democratic world reforms its ways — and soon — then, as Bette Davis famously said in All About Eve: “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Stuart Varney of Fox Business News said Thursday on Fox News Special Report that what we are witnessing with the debt crisis in Greece and the swoon of the markets over the last week and a half is the end of the welfare-state model of governance. I think he’s right.

Markets are notorious for sometimes being oblivious to developments in the economy that, in retrospect, seem obvious — and then, suddenly, waking up and acting. The American economy began to slow down in the spring of 1929, for instance, but Wall Street — usually ahead of the economy — paid no attention and soared over the summer to heights unseen before. Then, on the day after Labor Day, for a trivial reason, the market panicked in the last hour of trading, and the mood turned instantly from “the sky’s the limit” to “every man for himself.” Six weeks later, the great crash of 1929 happened.

For years, democratic governments have been promising citizens ever-increasing benefits in the future to win votes in the present. What they haven’t been doing is arranging to pay for them. Instead, they have used phony bookkeeping to make things look under control. New York City did this in the 60s and 70s until one day the banks said they weren’t rolling over the city’s paper anymore. Now, Greece has suffered the same fate. It lied to the EU to get in and has been cooking the books to hide the gathering fiscal disaster ever since. The market has now made it clear that it thinks Greek bonds are for wallpaper, not investing. With more than 10 billion euros in bonds coming due on May 19, Greece had no choice but to accept draconian cuts in its benefits and strict accountability in the future to be bailed out by its euro-zone partners. They, of course, fear the collapse of the euro as a currency and a spreading contagion to larger countries that have also been doing what Greece has done for so long.

Europe would need $60 trillion in the bank, earning government-borrowing-rate interest, to fund its future welfare benefits. Needless to say, no country has four times its GDP in the bank.

In short, the market has suddenly become aware that the emperor known as the welfare state is, financially speaking, buck naked. The cost of insuring against bank default in Europe, according to Bloomberg, is now more than it was when Lehman Brothers collapsed. Other rates are nowhere near those levels, but it would not take much to set off a global panic. Markets have been down all week, and the Dow was down today by 1.34 percent, down 7 percent since Monday.

Great Britain and the United States, insulated from the crisis in Europe because they do not use the euro, have big financial promises they can’t pay for, either. President Obama, of course, wants to make more promises.

If Greece stands up to its unions and its outraged bureaucrats and reforms its ways, I suspect the current crisis will pass. But unless the rest of the democratic world reforms its ways — and soon — then, as Bette Davis famously said in All About Eve: “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

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Time for Jews to Take On the President

Obama wrote a letter to Alan Solow of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which reads in part:

“As for our relations with Israel, let me be very clear: we have a special relationship with Israel and that will not change. Our countries are bound together by shared values, deep and interwoven connections, and mutual interests. Many of the same forces that threaten Israel also threaten the United States and our efforts to secure peace and stability in the Middle East. Our alliance with Israel serves our national security interests.”

“As we continue to strive for lasting peace agreements between Israel, the Palestinians, and Israel’s neighbors, all sides should understand that our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable and that no wedge will be driven between us. We will have our differences, but when we do, we will work to resolve them as close allies.”

This is, quite bluntly, nonsense coming from this president and an insult to the intelligence of Jewish voters. The appropriate response to Obama is: “Mr. President, you’re not fostering the special relationship; you are undermining it. You are not confronting the most lethal of those ‘forces that threaten Israel [which] also threaten the United States,’ namely Iran. You have resigned yourself to a nuclear Iran and eliminated the most feasible tactics for preventing a nuclear Iran. When, Mr. President, you ‘condemn’ Israel, you do not demonstrate that our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable. Instead, you sow doubt about our willingness to defend the Jewish state. And, Mr. President, no American president has ever driven a larger wedge between the U.S. and Israel than you have. You have not treated Israel as a close ally, but rather as a pariah and an impediment to your effort to cozy up to the ‘Muslim World.’”

As for his additional representation to Solow that “he would not impose ‘peace from the outside; it must be negotiated directly by the leaders who are required to make the hard choices and compromises that take on history,’” Solow would be well advised to demand that Obama therefore publicly rebuke his advisers who have suggested otherwise and announce there will be no further consideration of an imposed peace deal.

But, of course, Solow is not likely to say any of those things in public, and certainly not in writing. And this is precisely what is wrong and entirely dysfunctional about American Jewish officialdom these days. Jewish “leaders” privately grouse and express horror over Obama’s Israel attacks, but they are unwilling to declare that the emperor has no clothes when he says the most ludicrously disingenuous things. In doing so they actually harm the Israel-U.S. relationship and only encourage Obama’s anti-Israel gambit. When they politely nod — and worse, tout the letter as an accomplishment – they give cover to the president’s anti-Israel animus. If the Conference and other Jewish organizations won’t call them like they see them and take on this president, they risk becoming irrelevant and counterproductive. Really, isn’t it time to risk losing precious “access” to the White House in order to deliver a full-throated and candid condemnation of the administration’s Israel-bashing?

Obama wrote a letter to Alan Solow of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which reads in part:

“As for our relations with Israel, let me be very clear: we have a special relationship with Israel and that will not change. Our countries are bound together by shared values, deep and interwoven connections, and mutual interests. Many of the same forces that threaten Israel also threaten the United States and our efforts to secure peace and stability in the Middle East. Our alliance with Israel serves our national security interests.”

“As we continue to strive for lasting peace agreements between Israel, the Palestinians, and Israel’s neighbors, all sides should understand that our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable and that no wedge will be driven between us. We will have our differences, but when we do, we will work to resolve them as close allies.”

This is, quite bluntly, nonsense coming from this president and an insult to the intelligence of Jewish voters. The appropriate response to Obama is: “Mr. President, you’re not fostering the special relationship; you are undermining it. You are not confronting the most lethal of those ‘forces that threaten Israel [which] also threaten the United States,’ namely Iran. You have resigned yourself to a nuclear Iran and eliminated the most feasible tactics for preventing a nuclear Iran. When, Mr. President, you ‘condemn’ Israel, you do not demonstrate that our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable. Instead, you sow doubt about our willingness to defend the Jewish state. And, Mr. President, no American president has ever driven a larger wedge between the U.S. and Israel than you have. You have not treated Israel as a close ally, but rather as a pariah and an impediment to your effort to cozy up to the ‘Muslim World.’”

As for his additional representation to Solow that “he would not impose ‘peace from the outside; it must be negotiated directly by the leaders who are required to make the hard choices and compromises that take on history,’” Solow would be well advised to demand that Obama therefore publicly rebuke his advisers who have suggested otherwise and announce there will be no further consideration of an imposed peace deal.

But, of course, Solow is not likely to say any of those things in public, and certainly not in writing. And this is precisely what is wrong and entirely dysfunctional about American Jewish officialdom these days. Jewish “leaders” privately grouse and express horror over Obama’s Israel attacks, but they are unwilling to declare that the emperor has no clothes when he says the most ludicrously disingenuous things. In doing so they actually harm the Israel-U.S. relationship and only encourage Obama’s anti-Israel gambit. When they politely nod — and worse, tout the letter as an accomplishment – they give cover to the president’s anti-Israel animus. If the Conference and other Jewish organizations won’t call them like they see them and take on this president, they risk becoming irrelevant and counterproductive. Really, isn’t it time to risk losing precious “access” to the White House in order to deliver a full-throated and candid condemnation of the administration’s Israel-bashing?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

In the second part of a fascinating interview (which should be read in full), former Israeli Defense Minister and ambassador to the U.S. Moshe Arens posits that Bibi has been too accommodating: “What he has been doing, however, is apologizing to the Obama administration, which, as part of its maneuver to pressure Israel, declared it was insulted by the announcement that 1,600 housing units were being added to a Jerusalem neighborhood. The whole thing is really ludicrous. It all had to do with some clerk on the local planning commission and a meeting that happened to fall on the day of Vice President Joe Biden’s visit. But the Netanyahu government decided to play along and say, ‘You’re insulted? OK, we apologize.’ It could have said, ‘You’re not insulted. There’s no reason to be insulted. You don’t know what you’re talking about.’”

Sen. Jon Kyl declares that the emperor has no clothes: “The greatest threat of nuclear proliferation and terrorism comes from Iran, which has for years supported terrorists and is growing closer and closer to having a nuclear weapons capability. The summit, with 42 heads of state in Washington, should have been an opportunity to develop a consensus to deal with the greatest threat to our security: an Iran with a nuclear weapons capability. Despite the talk at the security summit, it appears we are no closer to tough sanctions or a meaningful Security Council resolution today, seven months after the President said that the regime would face sanctions.”

But don’t you feel safer — all nuclear material is going to be secured in four years. Who tells Ahmadinejad?

Meanwhile, proving Kyl right, we learn that a whole lot of nothing was accomplished: “President Barack Obama acknowledged on Tuesday that, despite his full-court press for tough sanctions aimed at persuading Iran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program, he could not promise that China and other major powers would go along. … ‘Sanctions are not a magic wand. … What sanctions can do … is to hopefully change the calculus of a country like Iran.’” And if not, we learn to live with a nuclear-armed Islamic revolutionary state sponsor of terror, you see.

Two senators who were not going to be nominated declare they aren’t interested in a Supreme Court nod. (Me neither!) “Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), two senators with significant legal backgrounds who have been mentioned as possible Supreme Court nominees, took themselves out of the running Tuesday.”

Dana Milbank has a fit when he learns this isn’t the “most transparent administration in history.”

Joe Sestak is within the margin of error of Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania primary. Maybe the whole party switcheroo wasn’t a good idea after all.

The “most ethical Congress ever” wasn’t: “Just three months after Eric Massa was elected to Congress, his young male employees on Capitol Hill began complaining to supervisors that the lawmaker was making aggressive, sexual overtures toward them, according to new interviews and internal documents. The senior staff, one of whom said he heard Massa (D-N.Y.) making lewd remarks to young staffers, tried to manage the problem internally. But reports of Massa’s inappropriate behavior continued, leaving junior workers feeling helpless, according to victims, other staffers and sources close to an ongoing House ethics investigation. … This account, drawn from more than two dozen interviews and internal documents, shows that aides were accusing the 50-year-old married lawmaker of far more egregious behavior than previously known.”

In the second part of a fascinating interview (which should be read in full), former Israeli Defense Minister and ambassador to the U.S. Moshe Arens posits that Bibi has been too accommodating: “What he has been doing, however, is apologizing to the Obama administration, which, as part of its maneuver to pressure Israel, declared it was insulted by the announcement that 1,600 housing units were being added to a Jerusalem neighborhood. The whole thing is really ludicrous. It all had to do with some clerk on the local planning commission and a meeting that happened to fall on the day of Vice President Joe Biden’s visit. But the Netanyahu government decided to play along and say, ‘You’re insulted? OK, we apologize.’ It could have said, ‘You’re not insulted. There’s no reason to be insulted. You don’t know what you’re talking about.’”

Sen. Jon Kyl declares that the emperor has no clothes: “The greatest threat of nuclear proliferation and terrorism comes from Iran, which has for years supported terrorists and is growing closer and closer to having a nuclear weapons capability. The summit, with 42 heads of state in Washington, should have been an opportunity to develop a consensus to deal with the greatest threat to our security: an Iran with a nuclear weapons capability. Despite the talk at the security summit, it appears we are no closer to tough sanctions or a meaningful Security Council resolution today, seven months after the President said that the regime would face sanctions.”

But don’t you feel safer — all nuclear material is going to be secured in four years. Who tells Ahmadinejad?

Meanwhile, proving Kyl right, we learn that a whole lot of nothing was accomplished: “President Barack Obama acknowledged on Tuesday that, despite his full-court press for tough sanctions aimed at persuading Iran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program, he could not promise that China and other major powers would go along. … ‘Sanctions are not a magic wand. … What sanctions can do … is to hopefully change the calculus of a country like Iran.’” And if not, we learn to live with a nuclear-armed Islamic revolutionary state sponsor of terror, you see.

Two senators who were not going to be nominated declare they aren’t interested in a Supreme Court nod. (Me neither!) “Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), two senators with significant legal backgrounds who have been mentioned as possible Supreme Court nominees, took themselves out of the running Tuesday.”

Dana Milbank has a fit when he learns this isn’t the “most transparent administration in history.”

Joe Sestak is within the margin of error of Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania primary. Maybe the whole party switcheroo wasn’t a good idea after all.

The “most ethical Congress ever” wasn’t: “Just three months after Eric Massa was elected to Congress, his young male employees on Capitol Hill began complaining to supervisors that the lawmaker was making aggressive, sexual overtures toward them, according to new interviews and internal documents. The senior staff, one of whom said he heard Massa (D-N.Y.) making lewd remarks to young staffers, tried to manage the problem internally. But reports of Massa’s inappropriate behavior continued, leaving junior workers feeling helpless, according to victims, other staffers and sources close to an ongoing House ethics investigation. … This account, drawn from more than two dozen interviews and internal documents, shows that aides were accusing the 50-year-old married lawmaker of far more egregious behavior than previously known.”

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Will Reality Intrude into the Nuclear Nonproliferation Summit?

It’s not clear whether the Obama administration is practicing misdirection on a grand scale or is genuinely confused about which nuclear threats are real and which are not. But what is clear is that we’re not dealing with the real ones. Paul Wolfowitz explains:

Unfortunately, President Obama’s talk about a world free of nuclear weapons seems to have little connection to the passive U.S. responses to North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear activities.

There is certainly room for additional reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, but it is unlikely to have any effect on those countries. Indeed, if the new treaty constrains U.S. missile defense efforts, it could be counterproductive. Although President Reagan wanted to eliminate nuclear weapons—believing it dangerous to rely indefinitely on a balance of nuclear terror—when Mikhail Gorbachev offered to eliminate ballistic missiles in exchange for eliminating missile defenses, Reagan refused the deal.

We should be focusing on, as Wolfowitz notes, developing our own missile defense and coming up with a backup plan when sanctions fail to thwart the Iranians’ nuclear ambitions. But there is little sign Obama is interested in either. Does he really imagine that a START deal or Ukraine’s offer to give up its stockpile of enriched uranium will induce the mullahs or the North Koreans to throw in the towel on their own plans? If so, the naiveté is stunning. Or perhaps this simply fills the time while we’re not doing anything about the Iranian menace. That’s a more cynical but equally naive approach, for it imagines there will never be a moment of reckoning when Iran goes nuclear, followed by a Middle East nuclear arms race and a legacy for Obama as “the president who let the mullahs get the bomb.”

We keep waiting for the voice of sanity to be heard — an “emperor has no clothes” moment when the charade of nuclear nonproliferation summitry is disturbed and the West is forced to confront in a serious manner the actual threat not only to Israel and the Middle East but to the entire civilized world. It hasn’t happened yet. And time is running out.

It’s not clear whether the Obama administration is practicing misdirection on a grand scale or is genuinely confused about which nuclear threats are real and which are not. But what is clear is that we’re not dealing with the real ones. Paul Wolfowitz explains:

Unfortunately, President Obama’s talk about a world free of nuclear weapons seems to have little connection to the passive U.S. responses to North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear activities.

There is certainly room for additional reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, but it is unlikely to have any effect on those countries. Indeed, if the new treaty constrains U.S. missile defense efforts, it could be counterproductive. Although President Reagan wanted to eliminate nuclear weapons—believing it dangerous to rely indefinitely on a balance of nuclear terror—when Mikhail Gorbachev offered to eliminate ballistic missiles in exchange for eliminating missile defenses, Reagan refused the deal.

We should be focusing on, as Wolfowitz notes, developing our own missile defense and coming up with a backup plan when sanctions fail to thwart the Iranians’ nuclear ambitions. But there is little sign Obama is interested in either. Does he really imagine that a START deal or Ukraine’s offer to give up its stockpile of enriched uranium will induce the mullahs or the North Koreans to throw in the towel on their own plans? If so, the naiveté is stunning. Or perhaps this simply fills the time while we’re not doing anything about the Iranian menace. That’s a more cynical but equally naive approach, for it imagines there will never be a moment of reckoning when Iran goes nuclear, followed by a Middle East nuclear arms race and a legacy for Obama as “the president who let the mullahs get the bomb.”

We keep waiting for the voice of sanity to be heard — an “emperor has no clothes” moment when the charade of nuclear nonproliferation summitry is disturbed and the West is forced to confront in a serious manner the actual threat not only to Israel and the Middle East but to the entire civilized world. It hasn’t happened yet. And time is running out.

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Words, Words, Words — Obama’s Foreign-Policy Obsession

Eliot Cohen gives Obama’s foreign policy the Dickensian title of “Bumble, Stumble, and Skid.” His review of the 2009 low-lights is, alas, not so funny:

It began with apologies to the Muslim world that went nowhere, a doomed attempt to beat Israel into line, utopian pleas to abolish nuclear weapons, unreciprocated concessions to Russia, and a curt note to the British to take back the bust of Winston Churchill that had graced the Oval Office. It continued with principled offers of serious negotiation to an Iranian regime too busy torturing, raping and killing demonstrators, and building new underground nuclear facilities, to take them up. Subsequently Beijing smothered domestic coverage of a presidential visit but did give the world the spectacle of the American commander in chief getting a talking-to about fiscal responsibility from a Communist chieftain.

As Cohen observes, some of this is traceable to novice foreign-policy practitioners, but much of it seems to flow directly from Obama’s worldview and own hubris. He came to office convinced that George W. Bush had been the biggest obstacle to more productive relations with the rest of the world, that differences between nations could be papered over in a blizzard of words, and that “smart diplomacy” required that we sublimate traditional American values and support for human rights and democracy. It is a view not uncommon in liberal-elite circles (which eschew hard power or even the threat of hard power). And it seems to flow directly from Obama’s historic illiteracy (e.g., FDR met with our enemies rather than defeating them in WWII, the Emperor of Japan surrendered on the USS Missouri, and the Cold War was won seemingly without a massive defense buildup by the U.S.), and his narcissistic personality. Cohen explains:

It was nonetheless a year of international displays of presidential ego, sometimes disguised as cosmic modesty (“I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war”), but mainly of one slip after another. The decision to reinforce our military in Afghanistan came after an excruciating dither that undermined the confidence of our allies. Mr. Obama’s loose talk of withdrawal beginning in 18 months then undid much of the good in his decision to send troops.

One senses that Obama uses speeches to get the critics off his back (as at Oslo and with his belated “the buck stops here” Christmas Day response, for example), while he never takes the substance of his critics’ objections very seriously. He is infatuated with words, generally his own. He assumes that they will persuade foes and hush critics. But both tend to look at what the president does. And when it comes to words, critics look to see whether those words (on human rights, for example) are addressed to adversaries when it matters or to rally allies to action when it is needed. Why didn’t Obama use his eloquence to explain to the world that Guantanamo is, as he concedes privately, a humane and professionally run facility? Why didn’t Obama use the revelation of the Qom site to rally eager allies and pivot away from a failing Iran engagement strategy?

Obama will have to do better than reactive addresses and empty platitudes if 2010 is to be a less harrowing year for his foreign-policy team. A dramatic change in perception and some deep soul-searching are always possible. They just aren’t likely, especially with a president as convinced of his own intellectual prowess as this one.

Eliot Cohen gives Obama’s foreign policy the Dickensian title of “Bumble, Stumble, and Skid.” His review of the 2009 low-lights is, alas, not so funny:

It began with apologies to the Muslim world that went nowhere, a doomed attempt to beat Israel into line, utopian pleas to abolish nuclear weapons, unreciprocated concessions to Russia, and a curt note to the British to take back the bust of Winston Churchill that had graced the Oval Office. It continued with principled offers of serious negotiation to an Iranian regime too busy torturing, raping and killing demonstrators, and building new underground nuclear facilities, to take them up. Subsequently Beijing smothered domestic coverage of a presidential visit but did give the world the spectacle of the American commander in chief getting a talking-to about fiscal responsibility from a Communist chieftain.

As Cohen observes, some of this is traceable to novice foreign-policy practitioners, but much of it seems to flow directly from Obama’s worldview and own hubris. He came to office convinced that George W. Bush had been the biggest obstacle to more productive relations with the rest of the world, that differences between nations could be papered over in a blizzard of words, and that “smart diplomacy” required that we sublimate traditional American values and support for human rights and democracy. It is a view not uncommon in liberal-elite circles (which eschew hard power or even the threat of hard power). And it seems to flow directly from Obama’s historic illiteracy (e.g., FDR met with our enemies rather than defeating them in WWII, the Emperor of Japan surrendered on the USS Missouri, and the Cold War was won seemingly without a massive defense buildup by the U.S.), and his narcissistic personality. Cohen explains:

It was nonetheless a year of international displays of presidential ego, sometimes disguised as cosmic modesty (“I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war”), but mainly of one slip after another. The decision to reinforce our military in Afghanistan came after an excruciating dither that undermined the confidence of our allies. Mr. Obama’s loose talk of withdrawal beginning in 18 months then undid much of the good in his decision to send troops.

One senses that Obama uses speeches to get the critics off his back (as at Oslo and with his belated “the buck stops here” Christmas Day response, for example), while he never takes the substance of his critics’ objections very seriously. He is infatuated with words, generally his own. He assumes that they will persuade foes and hush critics. But both tend to look at what the president does. And when it comes to words, critics look to see whether those words (on human rights, for example) are addressed to adversaries when it matters or to rally allies to action when it is needed. Why didn’t Obama use his eloquence to explain to the world that Guantanamo is, as he concedes privately, a humane and professionally run facility? Why didn’t Obama use the revelation of the Qom site to rally eager allies and pivot away from a failing Iran engagement strategy?

Obama will have to do better than reactive addresses and empty platitudes if 2010 is to be a less harrowing year for his foreign-policy team. A dramatic change in perception and some deep soul-searching are always possible. They just aren’t likely, especially with a president as convinced of his own intellectual prowess as this one.

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Why Is Obama So Disrespectful of Britain?

The Daily Mail today points out (h/t Instapundit) that Barack Obama, as candidate and president, has not said a single word in a speech regarding the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. That overstates the case a bit, as he did, at least once, use the phrase at a press conference with Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he visited Britain in April.

But the Daily Mail is right in general. Obama has been minimal, to say the least, in his treatment of Great Britain. In his speech at West Point last week, he did not mention Britain. This despite the fact that the British have been our staunchest ally in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where the British now have 10,000 soldiers and have suffered 237 killed, more than a hundred this year alone. That’s 15 percent of all deaths in Afghanistan and 25 percent of the number of soldiers the United States has lost there. In other words, Britain has lost more soldiers in Afghanistan, relative to its population, than has the United States. And its contribution to the war effort has been every bit as large relative to its economy.

Obama has not only mostly ignored our British ally, he has positively insulted them.  Hardly had he moved into the Oval Office when he ordered that a bronze bust of Winston Churchill be returned to the British embassy. It had been given to the White House, in a symbolic gesture of solidarity, shortly after 9/11 .

When Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited the White House in March, he was denied a joint press conference and a formal dinner, as is standard when world leaders have talks with the president. Brown gave the president a pen holder made from the timbers of HMS Gannet, which had played an active part in suppressing the slave trade in the early 19th century. He also gave him the commissioning papers of HMS Resolute, which had been trapped in arctic ice, abandoned, found by an American whaling vessel, purchased by Congress, and presented to Queen Victoria as a gesture of friendship. In 1880, after the Resolute was broken up, the Queen ordered two magnificent desks made from her timbers. One is in Buckingham Palace. The other was presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes and has been used by almost every president since, including Barack Obama.

Obama gave Brown, not a movie buff, a bunch of classic American films on DVDs that won’t even play on British DVD players.

Although Obama bowed deeply to the King of Saudi Arabia and the Emperor of Japan, when he met Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in April, a hand shake was deemed sufficient.

When Brown came to the United States for the UN General Assembly meeting and the G20 summit in September, Obama refused repeated requests by the British Foreign Office to meet privately with Brown, although he found time to meet with the presidents of Russia and China, and the Japanese prime minister.

Why is the Obama White House treating the British this way? What has it got to gain from deliberate rudeness, such as returning the gift of a bust of the man who in 1940 saved the world — including the United States – from “a new Dark Age, made more sinister and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science”?

Why treat Gordon Brown as though he headed the government of a banana republic rather than the world’s sixth-largest economy and one of the few friendly countries on earth with serious military capabilities?

Like so much of this administration, it seems just gratuitous arrogance.

The Daily Mail today points out (h/t Instapundit) that Barack Obama, as candidate and president, has not said a single word in a speech regarding the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. That overstates the case a bit, as he did, at least once, use the phrase at a press conference with Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he visited Britain in April.

But the Daily Mail is right in general. Obama has been minimal, to say the least, in his treatment of Great Britain. In his speech at West Point last week, he did not mention Britain. This despite the fact that the British have been our staunchest ally in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where the British now have 10,000 soldiers and have suffered 237 killed, more than a hundred this year alone. That’s 15 percent of all deaths in Afghanistan and 25 percent of the number of soldiers the United States has lost there. In other words, Britain has lost more soldiers in Afghanistan, relative to its population, than has the United States. And its contribution to the war effort has been every bit as large relative to its economy.

Obama has not only mostly ignored our British ally, he has positively insulted them.  Hardly had he moved into the Oval Office when he ordered that a bronze bust of Winston Churchill be returned to the British embassy. It had been given to the White House, in a symbolic gesture of solidarity, shortly after 9/11 .

When Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited the White House in March, he was denied a joint press conference and a formal dinner, as is standard when world leaders have talks with the president. Brown gave the president a pen holder made from the timbers of HMS Gannet, which had played an active part in suppressing the slave trade in the early 19th century. He also gave him the commissioning papers of HMS Resolute, which had been trapped in arctic ice, abandoned, found by an American whaling vessel, purchased by Congress, and presented to Queen Victoria as a gesture of friendship. In 1880, after the Resolute was broken up, the Queen ordered two magnificent desks made from her timbers. One is in Buckingham Palace. The other was presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes and has been used by almost every president since, including Barack Obama.

Obama gave Brown, not a movie buff, a bunch of classic American films on DVDs that won’t even play on British DVD players.

Although Obama bowed deeply to the King of Saudi Arabia and the Emperor of Japan, when he met Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in April, a hand shake was deemed sufficient.

When Brown came to the United States for the UN General Assembly meeting and the G20 summit in September, Obama refused repeated requests by the British Foreign Office to meet privately with Brown, although he found time to meet with the presidents of Russia and China, and the Japanese prime minister.

Why is the Obama White House treating the British this way? What has it got to gain from deliberate rudeness, such as returning the gift of a bust of the man who in 1940 saved the world — including the United States – from “a new Dark Age, made more sinister and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science”?

Why treat Gordon Brown as though he headed the government of a banana republic rather than the world’s sixth-largest economy and one of the few friendly countries on earth with serious military capabilities?

Like so much of this administration, it seems just gratuitous arrogance.

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Obama’s Amateur-Hour Road Show

Amid the media gang tackle of Sarah Palin as she flogs her book, the refrain that she was — and is — unworthy of respect as a policy cipher and ignoramus is heard again around the land. Liberal pundits still wax indignant about the chutzpah of the Republicans in nominating a person for the vice presidency who lacked experience and good judgment. And yet even as the focus on Palin reached a crescendo this week, the inexperienced person whom the Democrats put at the top of their ticket took his show on the road in Asia, and the negative reviews of his astonishingly bad performance while abroad are still coming in.

As a “news analysis” that appeared in yesterday’s New York Times noted, “with the novelty of a visit as America’s first black president having given way to the reality of having to plow through intractable issues like monetary policy (China), trade (Singapore, China, South Korea), security (Japan) and the 800-pound gorilla on the continent (China), Mr. Obama’s Asia trip has been, in many ways, a long, uphill slog.”

The media did not miss the way the Chinese leadership handled Obama. Even such a purveyor of the conventional wisdom as David Gergen wrote on CNN.com to compare Obama’s poor performance with that of another young and inexperienced president, John F. Kennedy, whose disastrous 1961 meeting with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave the Russians the impression that the Americans didn’t know what they were doing and that they could be pushed around. That led to the nearly catastrophic showdown over missiles in Cuba a year later.

“Why bring up that story now, as President Obama comes home from Asia?” Gergen asks. “Because it has considerable relevance to his meetings in China with President Hu. Obama went into those sessions like Kennedy: with great hope that his charm and appeal to reason — qualities so admired in the United States — would work well with Hu. By numerous accounts, that is not at all what happened: reports from correspondents on the scene are replete with statements that Hu stiffed the President.”

Gergen is right. Though the most embarrassing moment of the trip was Obama’s obsequious deep bow to the Japanese emperor — which was duly noted by American bloggers and dismissed by the liberal punditry as well as by the White House — the real damage done to the national interest by Obama’s travels is the way he has come across to America’s rivals and foes, not to our allies. The Chinese, like the Iranians and the Russians, all think they have the measure of Barack Obama. He strikes them as a weak man more interested in trying to please and to evoke applause than in standing up for principles such as human rights or even the danger of nuclear proliferation. The occasional tough talk that has come from Obama has been undermined by his relentless devotion to engagement, which has convinced these countries that he is a leader to be trifled with. That is the only explanation for the disrespect that the Iranians have shown to his diplomatic outreach as well as for the harsh way in which the Chinese demonstrated their disdain for the president.

Gergen believes that Obama must treat this as a moment for a “wake up call” to revive his foreign policy. “For the President, the challenge is whether he will start approaching international affairs with a greater measure of toughness, standing up more firmly and assertively for American interests.”

We will soon see whether Obama is capable of doing that or whether his blind faith in engagement as well as his unbounded desire for adulation will lead to similar or worse fiascoes in the future. The problem, as the Kennedy example highlights, is that the country’s margin for error on dangerous foreign-policy issues is limited. Obama’s ongoing failure to act to halt Iran’s nuclear program is evidence of the price the country is paying for the president’s on-the-job education. Those laughing hardest at Sarah Palin’s antics may be enjoying themselves as her media circus rules the 24/7 news cycle. But Obama’s weakness, a fault rooted deeply in his inexperience in foreign affairs as well as in his overweening vanity, has become a major liability for the United States, the price of which has yet to be fully assessed.

Amid the media gang tackle of Sarah Palin as she flogs her book, the refrain that she was — and is — unworthy of respect as a policy cipher and ignoramus is heard again around the land. Liberal pundits still wax indignant about the chutzpah of the Republicans in nominating a person for the vice presidency who lacked experience and good judgment. And yet even as the focus on Palin reached a crescendo this week, the inexperienced person whom the Democrats put at the top of their ticket took his show on the road in Asia, and the negative reviews of his astonishingly bad performance while abroad are still coming in.

As a “news analysis” that appeared in yesterday’s New York Times noted, “with the novelty of a visit as America’s first black president having given way to the reality of having to plow through intractable issues like monetary policy (China), trade (Singapore, China, South Korea), security (Japan) and the 800-pound gorilla on the continent (China), Mr. Obama’s Asia trip has been, in many ways, a long, uphill slog.”

The media did not miss the way the Chinese leadership handled Obama. Even such a purveyor of the conventional wisdom as David Gergen wrote on CNN.com to compare Obama’s poor performance with that of another young and inexperienced president, John F. Kennedy, whose disastrous 1961 meeting with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave the Russians the impression that the Americans didn’t know what they were doing and that they could be pushed around. That led to the nearly catastrophic showdown over missiles in Cuba a year later.

“Why bring up that story now, as President Obama comes home from Asia?” Gergen asks. “Because it has considerable relevance to his meetings in China with President Hu. Obama went into those sessions like Kennedy: with great hope that his charm and appeal to reason — qualities so admired in the United States — would work well with Hu. By numerous accounts, that is not at all what happened: reports from correspondents on the scene are replete with statements that Hu stiffed the President.”

Gergen is right. Though the most embarrassing moment of the trip was Obama’s obsequious deep bow to the Japanese emperor — which was duly noted by American bloggers and dismissed by the liberal punditry as well as by the White House — the real damage done to the national interest by Obama’s travels is the way he has come across to America’s rivals and foes, not to our allies. The Chinese, like the Iranians and the Russians, all think they have the measure of Barack Obama. He strikes them as a weak man more interested in trying to please and to evoke applause than in standing up for principles such as human rights or even the danger of nuclear proliferation. The occasional tough talk that has come from Obama has been undermined by his relentless devotion to engagement, which has convinced these countries that he is a leader to be trifled with. That is the only explanation for the disrespect that the Iranians have shown to his diplomatic outreach as well as for the harsh way in which the Chinese demonstrated their disdain for the president.

Gergen believes that Obama must treat this as a moment for a “wake up call” to revive his foreign policy. “For the President, the challenge is whether he will start approaching international affairs with a greater measure of toughness, standing up more firmly and assertively for American interests.”

We will soon see whether Obama is capable of doing that or whether his blind faith in engagement as well as his unbounded desire for adulation will lead to similar or worse fiascoes in the future. The problem, as the Kennedy example highlights, is that the country’s margin for error on dangerous foreign-policy issues is limited. Obama’s ongoing failure to act to halt Iran’s nuclear program is evidence of the price the country is paying for the president’s on-the-job education. Those laughing hardest at Sarah Palin’s antics may be enjoying themselves as her media circus rules the 24/7 news cycle. But Obama’s weakness, a fault rooted deeply in his inexperience in foreign affairs as well as in his overweening vanity, has become a major liability for the United States, the price of which has yet to be fully assessed.

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What’s It Getting Us?

Mike Allen, who pouted over the weekend that readers were complaining about the lack of coverage of the “bow,” now seems to get it:

Greeting the Japanese emperor at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace last weekend, President Barack Obama bowed so low that he was looking straight at the stone floor. The next day, Obama shook hands with the prime minister of repressive Myanmar during a group meeting. The day after that, the president held a “town hall” with Chinese university students who had been selected by the regime.

The images from the president’s journey through Asia carried a potent symbolism that has riled critics back home. One conservative website called the episodes “Obamateurism.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney told POLITICO that Obama was advertising “weakness.”

But the Obami love all this. It is showing “modesty about our attitudes toward other countries,” our president tells us. No, it is submissiveness, not modesty. But modesty would be a good thing — for example, not telling Honduras what its constitution means and not bullying Israel on where Jews can live would be vast improvements. Allen tells us that Obama doesn’t like all those “bald assertions of American self-interest.” Yes, it’s a head scratcher because the American president is supposed to be doing everything in his power to advance American interests. Isn’t he? I thought that was in the job description.

Ah, but it’s all so clever. He really wants what is good for us, he’s just going to pretend he doesn’t all that much, thereby getting everyone to co-operate with us. The way to do this is by bowing, figuratively and literally, and showing we are in effect not only no better than others, but less deserving. (That’s the meaning of the low bow — the other guy has higher status.) Cheney explains: “There is no reason for an American president to bow to anyone. Our friends and allies don’t expect it, and our enemies see it as a sign of weakness.” What a quaint idea — that the president does not scrape before foreign leaders.

But is it working? The plan is to appear meek and mild and lure other countries into giving us stuff. But alas, it’s been a bust:

The pageantry of his trip is also playing out against a parade of disappointment: Administration officials have acknowledged that a binding international climate agreement won’t emerge from the Copenhagen summit next month. An arms-reduction treaty with Russia is going to expire Dec. 5 without a new one in place, forcing the parties to scramble to sign an interim “bridging agreement.” And Iran and North Korea have yet to deliver on Obama’s promise that U.S. engagement will yield better behavior.

And we’ve not exactly bowled them over in the Middle East or gotten anything from Russia.

You’d think Obama, who wanted “smart” diplomacy and new “pragmatism” (determined to “leave ideology behind”) would take a look around and see what his team has accomplished: nothing. If they have no innate aversion, no skin-crawling reaction to the suck-uppery, perhaps the Obama team will at least recognize that it’s all been a failure. Then they can fire some people and start over. Unfortunately, that photo of the bow is forever.

Mike Allen, who pouted over the weekend that readers were complaining about the lack of coverage of the “bow,” now seems to get it:

Greeting the Japanese emperor at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace last weekend, President Barack Obama bowed so low that he was looking straight at the stone floor. The next day, Obama shook hands with the prime minister of repressive Myanmar during a group meeting. The day after that, the president held a “town hall” with Chinese university students who had been selected by the regime.

The images from the president’s journey through Asia carried a potent symbolism that has riled critics back home. One conservative website called the episodes “Obamateurism.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney told POLITICO that Obama was advertising “weakness.”

But the Obami love all this. It is showing “modesty about our attitudes toward other countries,” our president tells us. No, it is submissiveness, not modesty. But modesty would be a good thing — for example, not telling Honduras what its constitution means and not bullying Israel on where Jews can live would be vast improvements. Allen tells us that Obama doesn’t like all those “bald assertions of American self-interest.” Yes, it’s a head scratcher because the American president is supposed to be doing everything in his power to advance American interests. Isn’t he? I thought that was in the job description.

Ah, but it’s all so clever. He really wants what is good for us, he’s just going to pretend he doesn’t all that much, thereby getting everyone to co-operate with us. The way to do this is by bowing, figuratively and literally, and showing we are in effect not only no better than others, but less deserving. (That’s the meaning of the low bow — the other guy has higher status.) Cheney explains: “There is no reason for an American president to bow to anyone. Our friends and allies don’t expect it, and our enemies see it as a sign of weakness.” What a quaint idea — that the president does not scrape before foreign leaders.

But is it working? The plan is to appear meek and mild and lure other countries into giving us stuff. But alas, it’s been a bust:

The pageantry of his trip is also playing out against a parade of disappointment: Administration officials have acknowledged that a binding international climate agreement won’t emerge from the Copenhagen summit next month. An arms-reduction treaty with Russia is going to expire Dec. 5 without a new one in place, forcing the parties to scramble to sign an interim “bridging agreement.” And Iran and North Korea have yet to deliver on Obama’s promise that U.S. engagement will yield better behavior.

And we’ve not exactly bowled them over in the Middle East or gotten anything from Russia.

You’d think Obama, who wanted “smart” diplomacy and new “pragmatism” (determined to “leave ideology behind”) would take a look around and see what his team has accomplished: nothing. If they have no innate aversion, no skin-crawling reaction to the suck-uppery, perhaps the Obama team will at least recognize that it’s all been a failure. Then they can fire some people and start over. Unfortunately, that photo of the bow is forever.

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Why Are We Doing This?

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey had tough words for the mind-numbingly misguided decision to move KSM to New York for trial. For starters, he thinks Obama has increased the danger of a terror incident in New York:

“The question is not whether they’re going to escape. The question is whether, not only that particular facility, but the city [at] large, will then become the focus for mischief in the form of murder by adherents of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — whether this raises the odds that it will. I would suggest to you that it raises them very high.”

And as for the rationale for moving the 9/11 mastermind to a civilian court, Mukasey explains:

“The plan seems to be to abandon the view that we’re in a war,” Mukasey said. “I can’t see anything good coming out of this. I certainly can’t see anything good coming out of it very quickly. And it think it would have been far preferable to try these case[s] in the venue that Congress created for trying and where they were about to be tried.”

Mukasey, a former federal judge who oversaw cases relating to the 1993 World Trade Center attacks, warned that a civilian court trial for the Sept. 11 plotters could produce “a cornucopia of information for those still at large and a circus for those still in custody.”

Mukasey is no political partisan. What he is, however, is the most experienced and knowledgeable judge in America on trying terrorists in civilian court. Perhaps the Obami should have sought out and listened to his counsel. Instead, they’ve come to believe the claptrap of the ACLU and the leftist lawyers who now populate the Justice Department.

They are out to prove a point about our traditions or legal system, or something. But wait. We didn’t try German soldiers in federal court, nor combatants in any other war. And our legal system currently provides for military tribunals, where the U.S.S. Cole terrorists will be tried. So what exactly is the reason for all this? When he returns from bowing to the emperor of Japan, the president, we suppose, can opine on American traditions and historical precedent.

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey had tough words for the mind-numbingly misguided decision to move KSM to New York for trial. For starters, he thinks Obama has increased the danger of a terror incident in New York:

“The question is not whether they’re going to escape. The question is whether, not only that particular facility, but the city [at] large, will then become the focus for mischief in the form of murder by adherents of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — whether this raises the odds that it will. I would suggest to you that it raises them very high.”

And as for the rationale for moving the 9/11 mastermind to a civilian court, Mukasey explains:

“The plan seems to be to abandon the view that we’re in a war,” Mukasey said. “I can’t see anything good coming out of this. I certainly can’t see anything good coming out of it very quickly. And it think it would have been far preferable to try these case[s] in the venue that Congress created for trying and where they were about to be tried.”

Mukasey, a former federal judge who oversaw cases relating to the 1993 World Trade Center attacks, warned that a civilian court trial for the Sept. 11 plotters could produce “a cornucopia of information for those still at large and a circus for those still in custody.”

Mukasey is no political partisan. What he is, however, is the most experienced and knowledgeable judge in America on trying terrorists in civilian court. Perhaps the Obami should have sought out and listened to his counsel. Instead, they’ve come to believe the claptrap of the ACLU and the leftist lawyers who now populate the Justice Department.

They are out to prove a point about our traditions or legal system, or something. But wait. We didn’t try German soldiers in federal court, nor combatants in any other war. And our legal system currently provides for military tribunals, where the U.S.S. Cole terrorists will be tried. So what exactly is the reason for all this? When he returns from bowing to the emperor of Japan, the president, we suppose, can opine on American traditions and historical precedent.

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The President Who Grovels

Could someone in the Chief of Protocol’s Office at the State Department please tell Barack Obama that heads of state do not bow to other heads of state? And for the head of state of the country founded on the idea that “all men are created equal,” that goes double.

When Obama bowed to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the White House denied it: “It wasn’t a bow. He grasped his hand with two hands, and he’s taller than King Abdullah,” said one aide. As a commentator on CNN said, “Ray Charles could see that he bowed.” (h/t PowerLine)

Now he has bowed, extravagantly, to Emperor Akihito of Japan. The Los Angeles Times called it a “wow bow” in its headline and asked “How low will he go?”

President Obama goes abroad apologizing for the supposed sins of a country that defended and extended freedom around the world at a staggering cost in lives and treasure and then grovels before the man whose country has yet to apologize for the Rape of Nanking.

As my mother used to say, “Pardon me while I throw up.”

Could someone in the Chief of Protocol’s Office at the State Department please tell Barack Obama that heads of state do not bow to other heads of state? And for the head of state of the country founded on the idea that “all men are created equal,” that goes double.

When Obama bowed to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the White House denied it: “It wasn’t a bow. He grasped his hand with two hands, and he’s taller than King Abdullah,” said one aide. As a commentator on CNN said, “Ray Charles could see that he bowed.” (h/t PowerLine)

Now he has bowed, extravagantly, to Emperor Akihito of Japan. The Los Angeles Times called it a “wow bow” in its headline and asked “How low will he go?”

President Obama goes abroad apologizing for the supposed sins of a country that defended and extended freedom around the world at a staggering cost in lives and treasure and then grovels before the man whose country has yet to apologize for the Rape of Nanking.

As my mother used to say, “Pardon me while I throw up.”

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Noah Nailed It

On May 20, my CONTENTIONS colleague Noah Pollak asserted that John McCain was losing the Iran policy debate to Barack Obama. McCain had framed his refusal to talk to Tehran in such a way as to ignore the fact that extensive diplomatic overtures had already failed to persuade the Iranian regime to budge. Noah wrote:

. . . it seems to me that McCain should be making a bigger deal over the fact that the western world has indeed been deeply involved in attempting to deal with the Iranian nuclear program through almost exactly the kind of diplomacy that Obama says has yet to be tried. McCain should emphasize the fact that the Iranians have not only been unmoved by this “diplomatic offensive,” but have used the negotiations in order to buy time for nuclear development.

I think Noah was right, and I think John McCain has come to see the wisdom in this point. From McCain’s AIPAC speech earlier today:

The Iranians have spent years working toward a nuclear program. And the idea that they now seek nuclear weapons because we refuse to engage in presidential-level talks is a serious misreading of history. In reality, a series of administrations have tried to talk to Iran, and none tried harder than the Clinton administration. In 1998, the secretary of state made a public overture to the Iranians, laid out a roadmap to normal relations, and for two years tried to engage. The Clinton administration even lifted some sanctions, and Secretary Albright apologized for American actions going back to the 1950s. But even under President Khatami–a man by all accounts less radical than the current president–Iran rejected these overtures.

Then, further proving the absurdity of diplomatic hopefulness, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today came out with fresh redoubled threats against both Israel and the U.S.

I must announce that the Zionist regime (Israel), with a 60-year record of genocide, plunder, invasion and betrayal is about to die and will soon be erased from the geographical scene. . . . Today, the time for the fall of the satanic power of the United States has come and the countdown to the annihilation of the emperor of power and wealth has started.

Well, Senator Obama, Tehran is talking. What is your reply?

On May 20, my CONTENTIONS colleague Noah Pollak asserted that John McCain was losing the Iran policy debate to Barack Obama. McCain had framed his refusal to talk to Tehran in such a way as to ignore the fact that extensive diplomatic overtures had already failed to persuade the Iranian regime to budge. Noah wrote:

. . . it seems to me that McCain should be making a bigger deal over the fact that the western world has indeed been deeply involved in attempting to deal with the Iranian nuclear program through almost exactly the kind of diplomacy that Obama says has yet to be tried. McCain should emphasize the fact that the Iranians have not only been unmoved by this “diplomatic offensive,” but have used the negotiations in order to buy time for nuclear development.

I think Noah was right, and I think John McCain has come to see the wisdom in this point. From McCain’s AIPAC speech earlier today:

The Iranians have spent years working toward a nuclear program. And the idea that they now seek nuclear weapons because we refuse to engage in presidential-level talks is a serious misreading of history. In reality, a series of administrations have tried to talk to Iran, and none tried harder than the Clinton administration. In 1998, the secretary of state made a public overture to the Iranians, laid out a roadmap to normal relations, and for two years tried to engage. The Clinton administration even lifted some sanctions, and Secretary Albright apologized for American actions going back to the 1950s. But even under President Khatami–a man by all accounts less radical than the current president–Iran rejected these overtures.

Then, further proving the absurdity of diplomatic hopefulness, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today came out with fresh redoubled threats against both Israel and the U.S.

I must announce that the Zionist regime (Israel), with a 60-year record of genocide, plunder, invasion and betrayal is about to die and will soon be erased from the geographical scene. . . . Today, the time for the fall of the satanic power of the United States has come and the countdown to the annihilation of the emperor of power and wealth has started.

Well, Senator Obama, Tehran is talking. What is your reply?

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The Ambivalent Candidate

The amazing implosion of Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign will be analyzed and argued about for years to come. My own take, hardly original and admittedly based on nothing more than informed speculation, is that he simply was ambivalent about the whole enterprise to begin with.

Anyone who witnessed Rudy’s unforgettable eight-year turn as mayor of New York knows that when Rudy really wants something, he’s tenacious and single-minded about getting it. He’ll fight anyone and anything standing in his way, conventional wisdom and political nicety be damned.

And that’s exactly the Rudy we didn’t see in this campaign, from his surprisingly languid acknowledgment to Larry King in Feb. 2007 that yes, he was in the race, to his strangely subdued performance in what turned out to have been his last presidential debate in Florida last week.

It’s been suggested, by some who harbored a certain level of skepticism about the depth of Rudy’s commitment to a presidential run, that perhaps Rudy thought a tentative campaign, particularly in a year that looked, at least early on, like a washout for the GOP, would raise his profile to an even higher degree and be beneficial for business – i.e., for Giuliani Partners and his already astronomical speaking fees.

Perhaps there’s some truth to that, but lacking access to the inner workings of his psyche, I can only go back to my earlier suggestion about ambivalence. Part of him liked the idea of being president, of attempting to replicate his success in New York on a national level, but another part of him wasn’t so sure. If the presidency were handed to him, yes — but the gritty day-to-day work of campaigning for office had never been his strong suit.

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The amazing implosion of Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign will be analyzed and argued about for years to come. My own take, hardly original and admittedly based on nothing more than informed speculation, is that he simply was ambivalent about the whole enterprise to begin with.

Anyone who witnessed Rudy’s unforgettable eight-year turn as mayor of New York knows that when Rudy really wants something, he’s tenacious and single-minded about getting it. He’ll fight anyone and anything standing in his way, conventional wisdom and political nicety be damned.

And that’s exactly the Rudy we didn’t see in this campaign, from his surprisingly languid acknowledgment to Larry King in Feb. 2007 that yes, he was in the race, to his strangely subdued performance in what turned out to have been his last presidential debate in Florida last week.

It’s been suggested, by some who harbored a certain level of skepticism about the depth of Rudy’s commitment to a presidential run, that perhaps Rudy thought a tentative campaign, particularly in a year that looked, at least early on, like a washout for the GOP, would raise his profile to an even higher degree and be beneficial for business – i.e., for Giuliani Partners and his already astronomical speaking fees.

Perhaps there’s some truth to that, but lacking access to the inner workings of his psyche, I can only go back to my earlier suggestion about ambivalence. Part of him liked the idea of being president, of attempting to replicate his success in New York on a national level, but another part of him wasn’t so sure. If the presidency were handed to him, yes — but the gritty day-to-day work of campaigning for office had never been his strong suit.

That much was obvious from his first, mistake-prone and unsuccessful run for mayor in 1989 as well as his victorious second effort in 1993. Andrew Kirtzman, in his highly readable and balanced book Rudy Giuliani: Emperor of the City, described candidate Giuliani on the campaign trail in 1993:

Other politicians could lose themselves in the moment when working a crowd, but Giuliani never lost the look in his eye that said all this was a just a means to an end. . . . When he spoke before a crowd he didn’t romance them or flatter them or try to seduce them. Rather, he argued his case; a lawyer making his final summation. He was all prose and no poetry.

In 1997, Rudy could have shut himself up inside Gracie Mansion and still won reelection, such was his record of accomplishment in his first term of office and the mediocre opposition he faced in Manhattan borough president Ruth Messinger. So 1997 offered no real test of his campaigning skills.

But, certainly in retrospect, his short-lived run for U.S. Senate in 2000 was in many ways a precursor to his near-somnolent presidential bid seven years later. Kirtzman titles the chapter in his book about that campaign “The Reluctant Candidate” and describes the tenor of the campaign in the late winter and early spring of 2000 – before Rudy’s health and marital issues took him out of the running:

. . .Giuliani had barely deigned to mount a campaign. While [Hillary] Clinton was well on her way to visiting all sixty-two of New York State’s counties, he’d hardly traveled outside the city. While she was honing her message, he’d barely issued a position paper. Inside his camp, meetings weren’t being held, polls weren’t being taken. . . .

The mayor acted as though he were entitled to the Senate seat, and he didn’t seem to want it all that much. [Emphasis added]

In The Prince of the City, his fine study of the Giuliani mayoralty, unabashed Rudy admirer Fred Siegel wrote of the widespread surprise at “Giuliani’s lukewarm approach to a Senate race that had much of the country abuzz.”

Giuliani, wrote Siegel, “seemed to want the job but only if it meant he didn’t have to miss too many Yankee games or campaign too often in the frigid areas of upstate.”

Sound familiar?

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“The Smartest People on Earth”

Are Mainland Chinese becoming anti-Semitic?

The question arises because one of the hottest books in China is Song Hongbing’s Currency Wars. According to Song, the owners of international capital create financial crises, start wars, degrade the environment, and control the world. These financiers are responsible for the defeat of Napoleon, the deaths of half a dozen American presidents, the rise of Hitler, and the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997. All of this, Song contends, is ultimately tied back to the Rothschilds. Worrying theory, no?

“The Chinese people think that the Jews are smart and rich, so we should learn from them,” says the American-educated Song. “Even me, I think they are really smart, maybe the smartest people on earth.” That perception helps explain why there are an estimated 200,000 copies of the book, published by a commercial arm of the Chinese government, and another 400,000 pirated versions floating around the Mainland today. Worse, senior leaders in Beijing are lapping up Song’s theories.

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Are Mainland Chinese becoming anti-Semitic?

The question arises because one of the hottest books in China is Song Hongbing’s Currency Wars. According to Song, the owners of international capital create financial crises, start wars, degrade the environment, and control the world. These financiers are responsible for the defeat of Napoleon, the deaths of half a dozen American presidents, the rise of Hitler, and the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997. All of this, Song contends, is ultimately tied back to the Rothschilds. Worrying theory, no?

“The Chinese people think that the Jews are smart and rich, so we should learn from them,” says the American-educated Song. “Even me, I think they are really smart, maybe the smartest people on earth.” That perception helps explain why there are an estimated 200,000 copies of the book, published by a commercial arm of the Chinese government, and another 400,000 pirated versions floating around the Mainland today. Worse, senior leaders in Beijing are lapping up Song’s theories.

China’s Communist Party has long persecuted the few Jews in the Mainland, but that was part of a broader effort to eradicate religion. Today, Christians and the Buddhist-inspired Falun Gong bear the brunt of Beijing’s wrath. Most analysts note the lack of an anti-Semitic tradition in Chinese history and a strong admiration for Jewish culture and accomplishment, as Song’s own words reveal. Shalom Salomon Wald, author of China and the Jewish People, believes that the Chinese find common cause with the Jews, as both of them were the subject of persecution. Moreover, most sons and daughters of the Yellow Emperor admire other peoples with old cultures, and many Chinese perceive that the two oldest belong to them and the descendants of Abraham.

Even with these mitigating factors taken into account, Song’s book (which manages to be zany and offensive at the same time) is a manifestation of a worrying trend. Many Chinese at this moment perceive that others are conspiring to contain their nation’s rise. Song, after all, has written a self-help manual to deal with American efforts to force a revaluation of the renminbi, the Chinese currency. Chinese nationalism has turned especially ugly in recent years, and any conspiracy theory—even ones not grounded in malice—could be used to justify the most reprehensible conduct.

“The Chinese believe the Jews are a big people. It makes no sense to tell them we’re not,” says Wald. “It also doesn’t help to tell them this is anti-Semitic.” He may be correct, but it is perfectly logical to tell the Chinese that they shouldn’t adopt crank theories of history—and they should stop blaming other peoples, including ones they may otherwise admire.

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The Hypothetical Atheist

One of Christopher Hitchens’s favorite evangelists of atheism is Pierre-Simon Laplace, the French mathematician. In God is Not Great, the Anglo-American polemicist takes special delight in retelling the story of how Laplace was asked by Napoleon why his great Treatise on Celestial Mechanics made no mention of God. “Sire, je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse,” Laplace is supposed to have replied. (“Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis.”) This incident is the occasion for one of Hitchens’s diatribes against the Judeo-Christian God—though I am bewildered as to why a mere superfluous hypothesis should arouse his odium theologicum.

However, there are a few problems with the way that Hitchens uses this anecdote to bolster his argument. In the first place, Laplace was dealing with a specific scientific problem—the instability of the solar system—rather than with the general question of God’s place in nature. A century earlier, Isaac Newton, who was a theist of a very esoteric kind, had believed in the necessity of regular “corrections” by God to preserve cosmic equilibrium. Using much more accurate observational data, Laplace showed that no such interventions by the divine clockmaker were necessary. In his paper Does God Play Dice? Stephen Hawking commented: “I don’t think that Laplace was claiming that God didn’t exist. It is just that He doesn’t intervene, to break the laws of science.”

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One of Christopher Hitchens’s favorite evangelists of atheism is Pierre-Simon Laplace, the French mathematician. In God is Not Great, the Anglo-American polemicist takes special delight in retelling the story of how Laplace was asked by Napoleon why his great Treatise on Celestial Mechanics made no mention of God. “Sire, je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse,” Laplace is supposed to have replied. (“Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis.”) This incident is the occasion for one of Hitchens’s diatribes against the Judeo-Christian God—though I am bewildered as to why a mere superfluous hypothesis should arouse his odium theologicum.

However, there are a few problems with the way that Hitchens uses this anecdote to bolster his argument. In the first place, Laplace was dealing with a specific scientific problem—the instability of the solar system—rather than with the general question of God’s place in nature. A century earlier, Isaac Newton, who was a theist of a very esoteric kind, had believed in the necessity of regular “corrections” by God to preserve cosmic equilibrium. Using much more accurate observational data, Laplace showed that no such interventions by the divine clockmaker were necessary. In his paper Does God Play Dice? Stephen Hawking commented: “I don’t think that Laplace was claiming that God didn’t exist. It is just that He doesn’t intervene, to break the laws of science.”

The second, far more serious problem, is that Laplace never used the words attributed to him by Hitchens. The encounter took place in 1802, before Napoleon had crowned himself emperor, when he was still First Consul of the French Republic, so Laplace would certainly not have addressed him as “Sire.” Laplace was in the company of Sir William Herschel, the English astronomer, who is our only eyewitness source for the meeting with Napoleon. According to Brandon Watson’s science website Houyhnhnm Land, the anecdote is found in Herschel’s diary of his visit to Paris, quoted in Constance Lubbock’s The Herschel Chronicle (Cambridge, 1933), p. 310:

The first Consul then asked a few questions relating to Astronomy and the construction of the heavens to which I made such answers as seemed to give him great satisfaction. He also addressed himself to Mr. Laplace on the same subject, and held a considerable argument with him in which he differed from that eminent mathematician. The difference was occasioned by an exclamation of the first Consul, who asked in a tone of exclamation or admiration (when we were speaking of the extent of the sidereal heavens): “And who is the author of all this!” Mons. De la Place wished to shew that a chain of natural causes would account for the construction and preservation of the wonderful system. This the first Consul rather opposed. Much may be said on the subject; by joining the arguments of both we shall be led to “Nature and nature’s God.”

Where, then, did the bon mot attributed to Laplace by Hitchens and countless others come from? Watson believes that it was invented by the popular historian E.T. Bell, whose well-known book Men of Mathematics appeared in 1937, just four years after Lubbock’s book. Bell gives no source for the Laplace quotation, and it appears to be one of many that he embellished or simply made up. Bell’s scholarship, incidentally, was unreliable in other ways, too: his book contains odious asides about the “aggressive clannishness” of Jewish academics.

Herschel’s account leaves no doubt that he, like Napoleon, believed in God. What, though, did Laplace believe? One of his two recent biographers, Charles Coulston Gillispie, does not even mention the discussion with Napoleon. Perhaps he regarded the question of Laplace’s views on God as a superfluous hypothesis. But Roger Hahn, another biographer of Laplace, found in his papers a 25-page manuscript detailing his objections to Catholicism, in particular to miracles and transubstantiation. (Clearly this manuscript was not intended for publication until after the author’s death.)

Laplace, who looks more and more like the Talleyrand of French science, enjoyed both Bonapartist and Bourbon patronage. Born in 1749, he was able to publish freely throughout the period from the ancien regime, the Republic, and the Empire through to the Restoration. Briefly Napoleon’s interior minister and president of his puppet senate, Laplace never hesitated to sign the warrant for the emperor’s deposition. He died a marquis, and was buried with great pomp, in 1827. If he was an atheist, he was certainly not prepared to risk his position in society by openly expressing his views. Laplace was a great man of science, but he was a great trimmer, as well. Hitchens and other militant atheists should look elsewhere for their heroes.

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Bookshelf

• When I was an undergraduate music student, there were two pieces of New York-related classical-music trivia guaranteed to reduce the most unruly class to stunned (if short-lived) silence. One was that Leonard Bernstein was listed in the Manhattan phone book, and the other was that Lorenzo Da Ponte was buried in Queens. Bernstein has since acquired a new number, but Da Ponte’s bones can still be found in a common grave within the city limits of New York. From time to time this fact comes to the attention of a local newspaper editor, who thereupon commissions a feature story about the complicated life of the man who wrote the libretti for Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro and Così fan tutte.

I humbly confess that until last week, everything I knew about Lorenzo Da Ponte could easily have been crammed into the compass of a shortish feature story. Now, however, I know enough to fill a book. The book in question is Rodney Bolt’s The Librettist of Venice: The Remarkable Life of Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart’s Poet, Casanova’s Friend, and Italian Opera’s Impresario in America, a fully sourced biography that is nonetheless intended for the edification of a non-scholarly audience. Bolt is a director-turned-travel writer who has a lively style, a good eye for detail, and a fabulous story to tell, all of which add up to an exceedingly readable book.

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• When I was an undergraduate music student, there were two pieces of New York-related classical-music trivia guaranteed to reduce the most unruly class to stunned (if short-lived) silence. One was that Leonard Bernstein was listed in the Manhattan phone book, and the other was that Lorenzo Da Ponte was buried in Queens. Bernstein has since acquired a new number, but Da Ponte’s bones can still be found in a common grave within the city limits of New York. From time to time this fact comes to the attention of a local newspaper editor, who thereupon commissions a feature story about the complicated life of the man who wrote the libretti for Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro and Così fan tutte.

I humbly confess that until last week, everything I knew about Lorenzo Da Ponte could easily have been crammed into the compass of a shortish feature story. Now, however, I know enough to fill a book. The book in question is Rodney Bolt’s The Librettist of Venice: The Remarkable Life of Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart’s Poet, Casanova’s Friend, and Italian Opera’s Impresario in America, a fully sourced biography that is nonetheless intended for the edification of a non-scholarly audience. Bolt is a director-turned-travel writer who has a lively style, a good eye for detail, and a fabulous story to tell, all of which add up to an exceedingly readable book.

It would, I suppose, be all but impossible to write an unreadable book about Da Ponte. He was born a Jew, became a Roman Catholic priest, and married at 43, having hitherto conducted his private life along lines not unlike those of his old friend Giacomo Casanova, in evidence of which I offer these two deliciously characteristic sentences from his Memoirs:

A beautiful girl of sixteen (I should have preferred to love her only as a daughter, but . . . ) was living in the house with her mother, who took care of the family, and would come to my room at the sound of the bell. To tell the truth, I rang the bell quite often, especially at moments when I felt my inspiration flagging.

A famously charming fellow far more interested in writing poetry than performing his priestly duties, the Abbé Da Ponte was duly expelled from Venice and made his way to Vienna, where he somehow contrived to become the Emperor Joseph II’s house librettist. There he began his collaboration with Mozart, for whom he wrote what are now generally regarded as the first great opera libretti. He also continued his friendship with Casanova, who was, believe it or not, present at the first performance of Don Giovanni, a coincidence that is almost too good to be true.

Bolt writes very well about the Mozart-Da Ponte collaboration, especially the creation of Così, a worldly, startlingly modern comedy of disillusionment and acceptance whose emotional complexities are no more easily unraveled in 2007 than they were in 1790:

Mozart and Da Ponte created a work that would have critics arguing for centuries, berating it then rescuing it, damning it for its cynicism and triviality, lauding it for its complexity . . . Mozart’s music enriched Da Ponte’s libretto with shades and further ambiguities, softening crueler edges, adding lacquer-layers of meaning and affection, pointing moments of satire. As before, composer and poet delicately stitched the comic and the serious together, and made their mix even more complex by an interplay of real and faked emotions, histrionic bombast and moments of transporting beauty . . . Così fan tutte was Les Liaisons dangereuses with heart.

From Vienna Da Ponte made his way to London, then New York, where he became Columbia University’s first professor of Italian after having run a grocery store and a bookshop whose customers included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. (Presumably he was the only person to have known Longfellow, Mozart, and Casanova.) All these adventures and many others like them are skillfully recounted in The Librettist of Venice, and if Rodney Bolt occasionally fails to make them especially plausible-sounding . . . well, sometimes real life is like that.

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Beyond Japan’s “Peace Constitution”

On Monday, Japan’s Diet enacted a law establishing procedures for national referenda on amendments to the country’s constitution. On Tuesday, China publicly complained. This is not really surprising: for many Asians, Japan’s constitutional arrangements have long been a matter of international concern.

Japan’s “peace constitution” was imposed in 1946 by General Douglas MacArthur, the so-called “second emperor.” In article nine of that document the Japanese people “forever” renounced both “war” and “the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.” They also promised “never” to maintain “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential.”

But article nine has not been enforced for decades. Tokyo now maintains approximately 240,000 soldiers, sailors, and pilots supported by the world’s fifth-largest military budget. Article nine today is narrowly interpreted as a ban on participation in “collective self-defense,” but even that prohibition has been eroded. Japan sent minesweepers to the Persian Gulf in 1991, an Aegis destroyer to the Indian Ocean in 2002 to support U.S. operations, and, most notably, a contingent of troops to Iraq in 2004. The Iraq deployment was the first time Japan has sent ground troops to a war zone since the end of World War II. And, unlike Japan’s 1992 mission in Cambodia and later peacekeeping efforts, the soldiers sent to Iraq operated outside a UN framework.

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On Monday, Japan’s Diet enacted a law establishing procedures for national referenda on amendments to the country’s constitution. On Tuesday, China publicly complained. This is not really surprising: for many Asians, Japan’s constitutional arrangements have long been a matter of international concern.

Japan’s “peace constitution” was imposed in 1946 by General Douglas MacArthur, the so-called “second emperor.” In article nine of that document the Japanese people “forever” renounced both “war” and “the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.” They also promised “never” to maintain “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential.”

But article nine has not been enforced for decades. Tokyo now maintains approximately 240,000 soldiers, sailors, and pilots supported by the world’s fifth-largest military budget. Article nine today is narrowly interpreted as a ban on participation in “collective self-defense,” but even that prohibition has been eroded. Japan sent minesweepers to the Persian Gulf in 1991, an Aegis destroyer to the Indian Ocean in 2002 to support U.S. operations, and, most notably, a contingent of troops to Iraq in 2004. The Iraq deployment was the first time Japan has sent ground troops to a war zone since the end of World War II. And, unlike Japan’s 1992 mission in Cambodia and later peacekeeping efforts, the soldiers sent to Iraq operated outside a UN framework.

Other Asians are uncomfortable with Japanese participation in such military efforts. As Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore, famously said, permitting the Japanese to carry arms abroad is like “giving liqueur chocolates to a reformed alcoholic.” The new referendum law caused “high concern and misgivings among the people of Asia who suffered Japanese invasion and enslavement,” according to a statement released by Beijing’s official Xinhua news agency. “People have begun to doubt whether Japan will continue its path of peaceful development.”

Paradoxically, however, Tokyo’s attempt formally to legalize its defensive forces is a necessary step in ensuring that peaceful development. Article nine makes it extremely difficult for the Japanese to have honest debates among themselves about their history. The constitution stigmatizes the past and, as one of the country’s most prominent journalists said to me recently, prevents Japan from becoming “a normal country.”

East Asians may never feel fully comfortable with a rearmed Japan, but their unease is heightened by Tokyo’s openly violating the country’s constitution. The way to end, finally, the long aftermath of World War II in Asia is for the Japanese to amend their constitution—and subsequently to adhere to it.

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Did Baudrillard Exist?

The papers report the death of a French philosopher called Jean Baudrillard. He is said to have written an entire book entitled The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. After the attack on the Twin Towers, he is supposed to have denied the reality of that, too. The horror of the victims in the collapsing towers, according to Baudrillard, “is inseparable from the horror of living in them.” It is claimed that this once-obscure teacher of high-school German was catapulted to fame by a Ph.D. thesis that analyzed consumerism as a form of pornography. His was the face that launched a thousand Ph.D.’s (not to mention such films as The Matrix). As one of the leading figures in “cultural theory,” he is rumored to have been greeted as a “messiah” by the New York art world when he appeared at the Whitney Museum in 1987. Though it was part of his legend to loathe all forms of culture, he was believed to share his apartment with 50 television sets and pictures of America, the “hyperpower” that embodied “hyperreality.”

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The papers report the death of a French philosopher called Jean Baudrillard. He is said to have written an entire book entitled The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. After the attack on the Twin Towers, he is supposed to have denied the reality of that, too. The horror of the victims in the collapsing towers, according to Baudrillard, “is inseparable from the horror of living in them.” It is claimed that this once-obscure teacher of high-school German was catapulted to fame by a Ph.D. thesis that analyzed consumerism as a form of pornography. His was the face that launched a thousand Ph.D.’s (not to mention such films as The Matrix). As one of the leading figures in “cultural theory,” he is rumored to have been greeted as a “messiah” by the New York art world when he appeared at the Whitney Museum in 1987. Though it was part of his legend to loathe all forms of culture, he was believed to share his apartment with 50 television sets and pictures of America, the “hyperpower” that embodied “hyperreality.”

How real, though, was this “Baudrillard,” and what reason do we have to believe that he actually existed outside the realm of “theory?” According to the reductio ad absurdum of structuralism, semiotics, postmodernism, and all the other ideological products of the intellectual fashion industry in Paris, even if “Baudrillard” had not existed it would have been necessary to invent him. The inevitable disappointment that followed the “events” of May 1968 required an explanation, and “Baudrillard” provided a suitably grand one: in the absence of total revolution, everything was a non-event, an illusion, a simulacrum. French intellectuals could continue to pretend that the world outside Paris did not count, and the rest of the world could continue to revere “Baudrillard” as a virtual philosopher—an emperor of the intellectuals who gloried in his intellectual nakedness.

The truth was, however, the reverse of the fairy tale: “Baudrillard” was a suit of clothes with no emperor inside—or rather, an academic gown with no professor inside. Since the 1960′s, Paris has ceased to be the seat of learning to which students of philosophy flocked since the days of Abelard and Heloïse. Instead, Paris has become an intellectual theme park—an academic Disneyland. “Baudrillard” was less real than Mickey Mouse. The philosopher of the hyperreal was himself mere hype.

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Israel and the German Bishops

“In the morning at Yad Vashem, photos of the inhuman Warsaw Ghetto; in the afternoon, we go to the ghetto in Ramallah. It’s enough to make you blow your top.” This outburst in Bethlehem by Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstätt was only one of several provocative comments made during a much-heralded pilgrimage to Israel and the Palestinian terroritories by all 27 German Catholic bishops last week.

The Bishop of Augsburg, Walter Mixa, accused the Israelis of “racism,” while the most senior member of the delegation, the Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Meisner, compared Israel’s security fence to the Berlin Wall and predicted that it, too, would be torn down. “This is something that is done to animals, not people,” Cardinal Meisner declared.

While in Israel, the bishops were given VIP treatment by Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres and other senior officials. At the Yad Vashem memorial, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the chairman of the Bishops’ Conference, gave a respectful speech. But the tone changed dramatically after the bishops left Israel and entered Palestinian-controlled territory.

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“In the morning at Yad Vashem, photos of the inhuman Warsaw Ghetto; in the afternoon, we go to the ghetto in Ramallah. It’s enough to make you blow your top.” This outburst in Bethlehem by Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstätt was only one of several provocative comments made during a much-heralded pilgrimage to Israel and the Palestinian terroritories by all 27 German Catholic bishops last week.

The Bishop of Augsburg, Walter Mixa, accused the Israelis of “racism,” while the most senior member of the delegation, the Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Meisner, compared Israel’s security fence to the Berlin Wall and predicted that it, too, would be torn down. “This is something that is done to animals, not people,” Cardinal Meisner declared.

While in Israel, the bishops were given VIP treatment by Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres and other senior officials. At the Yad Vashem memorial, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the chairman of the Bishops’ Conference, gave a respectful speech. But the tone changed dramatically after the bishops left Israel and entered Palestinian-controlled territory.

Despite sharp reactions from Shimon Stein, the Israeli ambassador to Germany, and from German Jewish leaders (described by the Iranian news agency as “German Zionist lobbyists”), the bishops seem unrepentant. They issued a statement vehemently denying that they had “demonized” Israel, adding that the “emotional consternation” of their visit to Bethlehem had evoked some “very personal remarks” that had already been “self-critically corrected.” In fact, however, Bishop Hanke merely said that “comparisons between the Holocaust and the present situation in Palestine are unacceptable and were not intended.” Neither he nor Cardinal Meisner and Bishop Mixa offered any apology.

I do not know what to make of this lamentable tale. Do the German bishops really need to be reminded of the collaboration with the Nazis of many of their predecessors during the Third Reich? Do they need to be reminded of what the Germans actually did in the Warsaw Ghetto? Does an East German like Cardinal Meisner need to be reminded of the difference between the Berlin Wall, built to stop people fleeing from Communist tyranny, and Israel’s fence, built to protect its people from Palestinian terrorists? Do the German bishops still know so little of the tragic struggle for survival of the Jewish people that they need to be reminded of their own unique responsibility, as Germans and as Christians, to counter the revival of anti-Semitism in Europe?

I hope that Pope Benedict XVI will summon the offending bishops to Rome and discipline them. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he encouraged John Paul II to make unprecedented gestures toward the Jewish people and the state of Israel. As the first German pope for a thousand years, he declared his intention to continue to lead the Church down the path of reconciliation. As a man who knows the Third Reich from personal experience—he was a member of the Hitler Youth and served in an anti-aircraft unit during the last months of the war—Pope Benedict has a special duty to distance the Catholic Church from comparisons between Israel and the Nazis. Such comparisons, though commonplace in the Islamic world, are not a Muslim monopoly.

This incident has a particular resonance for me, as a philo-Semitic Catholic, a friend both of Israel and of Germany. Quite simply, I feel ashamed of these bishops. Nobody wants the Germans to be perpetually beating their breasts to atone for the crimes of the Nazis. Like anybody else, they are entitled to criticize the Israeli government. After all, Israelis themselves criticize their own government all the time. But I am angry that German bishops, of all people, should come out with extremist propaganda that delegitimizes Israel, a state that is threatened with a second Holocaust at the hands of a nuclear-armed Iran.

These campaigns of vilification against Israel have done terrible harm. A new BBC poll conducted in 27 countries finds that Israel has the most negative image of all, ahead of Iran, the United States, and North Korea. This grotesque attitude to the beleaguered Jewish state is fuelled by comments like those of the German bishops, and reinforced by their failure to apologize.

In medieval times, Christians knew how to do penance for their sins. The German Emperor Henry IV went to Canossa, in Tuscany, to beg Pope Gregory VII to lift a sentence of excommunication. The monarch stood in the snow outside the castle for three days, wearing only a hairshirt, before the pope forgave him.

To repair the damage they have done to German-Israeli and Catholic-Jewish relations, these three German bishops must make their own journey to Canossa. They don’t have to wear hairshirts, but they do need to show that they have grasped the magnitude of their folly. They owe that much to the younger generation of Germans—some of whom last week destroyed a medieval Jewish cemetery in Bavaria.

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