Commentary Magazine


Topic: Financial Times

Flotsam and Jetsam

The ObamaCare votes don’t seem to be there. Could those “votes” have figured out that they are the sacrificial lambs in the Obami’s game plan?

Well, as Steny Hoyer says, “At this point in time we don’t have a bill. … It’s a little difficult to count votes if you don’t have a bill.”

Republicans can’t quite believe their good fortune. “First, it has allowed what is a relatively fractious group of Republicans Senators to appear entirely united — a sharp contrast to the divisions that have played out publicly between the moderate and liberal wings of the Democratic party. Second, Republicans argue, the health care focus is the main reason for the abandonment of Democratic candidates by independent voters in gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey as well as in Sen. Scott Brown’s (R) special election victory in January.”

You need a lineup card: Rangel is out, Stark is out: “Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) will be the acting chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced to her caucus on Thursday. … [Rep. Pete] Stark was the next in line for the post in terms of seniority, but some panel members recoiled at the idea of his leading the committee. Stark is known for making controversial and eccentric remarks, and in 2007 he apologized on the House floor for comments about President George W. Bush and the Iraq War.”

Phil Klein proves once again that all wisdom is contained in the Bible and The Godfather (I and II, definitely not III). It’s the Frankie Pentangeli moment — get the brother. “Obama has just awarded a judicial appointment to the brother of Utah Rep. Jim Matheson, who voted against the health care bill in November but who is now undecided.”

DNC chairman Tim Kaine says that something other than merit may be at work here. After all, “Life is life.” I imagine Republicans are collecting these pearls for their ad campaigns.

Speaking of criminal intrigue: did the White House violate federal statutes by dangling federal jobs in front of Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff to try to get them out of Senate primaries? “The real question, of course, is whether Eric Holder, who was so quick to reopen an investigation into CIA employees dedicated to trying to protect this country, will open an investigation into his political patrons in the White House who, in their dedication to furthering political objectives, may have violated several federal criminal laws.” I’m not holding my breath either.

I think there’s something to Megan McArdle’s theory of the Democrats’ scandal-a-thon: “The more members you have, the more members you have who can do something disastrous to your party’s public image. … Any party is going to have a given percentage of people in it doing fairly appalling things. If you up the numbers, and the transparency, you get about what we’re seeing now. And no doubt will see again, once the Republicans are back in power. ” Which will be fairly soon, many predict.

Andrew Roberts (a COMMENTARY contributor) goes after his own Israel-bashing Financial Times on its coverage of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh’s assassination: “All that the Dubai operation will do is remind the world that the security services of states at war — and Israel’s struggle with Hamas, Fatah and Hizbollah certainly constitutes that — occasionally employ targeted assassination as one of the weapons in their armoury, and that this in no way weakens their legitimacy. … The intelligence agents of states — sometimes operating with direct authority, sometimes not — have carried out many assassinations and assassination attempts in peacetime without the legitimacy of those states being called into question, or their being described as ‘rogue.’ … No, that insult is reserved for only one country: Israel.”

The ObamaCare votes don’t seem to be there. Could those “votes” have figured out that they are the sacrificial lambs in the Obami’s game plan?

Well, as Steny Hoyer says, “At this point in time we don’t have a bill. … It’s a little difficult to count votes if you don’t have a bill.”

Republicans can’t quite believe their good fortune. “First, it has allowed what is a relatively fractious group of Republicans Senators to appear entirely united — a sharp contrast to the divisions that have played out publicly between the moderate and liberal wings of the Democratic party. Second, Republicans argue, the health care focus is the main reason for the abandonment of Democratic candidates by independent voters in gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey as well as in Sen. Scott Brown’s (R) special election victory in January.”

You need a lineup card: Rangel is out, Stark is out: “Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) will be the acting chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced to her caucus on Thursday. … [Rep. Pete] Stark was the next in line for the post in terms of seniority, but some panel members recoiled at the idea of his leading the committee. Stark is known for making controversial and eccentric remarks, and in 2007 he apologized on the House floor for comments about President George W. Bush and the Iraq War.”

Phil Klein proves once again that all wisdom is contained in the Bible and The Godfather (I and II, definitely not III). It’s the Frankie Pentangeli moment — get the brother. “Obama has just awarded a judicial appointment to the brother of Utah Rep. Jim Matheson, who voted against the health care bill in November but who is now undecided.”

DNC chairman Tim Kaine says that something other than merit may be at work here. After all, “Life is life.” I imagine Republicans are collecting these pearls for their ad campaigns.

Speaking of criminal intrigue: did the White House violate federal statutes by dangling federal jobs in front of Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff to try to get them out of Senate primaries? “The real question, of course, is whether Eric Holder, who was so quick to reopen an investigation into CIA employees dedicated to trying to protect this country, will open an investigation into his political patrons in the White House who, in their dedication to furthering political objectives, may have violated several federal criminal laws.” I’m not holding my breath either.

I think there’s something to Megan McArdle’s theory of the Democrats’ scandal-a-thon: “The more members you have, the more members you have who can do something disastrous to your party’s public image. … Any party is going to have a given percentage of people in it doing fairly appalling things. If you up the numbers, and the transparency, you get about what we’re seeing now. And no doubt will see again, once the Republicans are back in power. ” Which will be fairly soon, many predict.

Andrew Roberts (a COMMENTARY contributor) goes after his own Israel-bashing Financial Times on its coverage of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh’s assassination: “All that the Dubai operation will do is remind the world that the security services of states at war — and Israel’s struggle with Hamas, Fatah and Hizbollah certainly constitutes that — occasionally employ targeted assassination as one of the weapons in their armoury, and that this in no way weakens their legitimacy. … The intelligence agents of states — sometimes operating with direct authority, sometimes not — have carried out many assassinations and assassination attempts in peacetime without the legitimacy of those states being called into question, or their being described as ‘rogue.’ … No, that insult is reserved for only one country: Israel.”

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We’ll Meet at the Knesset, in Tel Aviv

A British media watchdog named Just Journalism has released its review of 2009 Financial Times editorials, and it finds what anyone familiar with this newspaper would expect: the FT fits in perfectly with the media culture of obsessive and deranged coverage of Israel that is a national embarrassment for Great Britain. My favorite example of this (as is Marty Peretz’s) is the fact that the FT, as official policy, refers to Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel, a plain denial of reality. Can you imagine the FT referring, today, to Philadelphia or New York as the capital of the United States? That would be crazy. It would cause the FT to become a laughingstock. But it is really no more neurotic than the Tel Aviv rule. Just Journalism’s complete report (PDF) can be found here.

A British media watchdog named Just Journalism has released its review of 2009 Financial Times editorials, and it finds what anyone familiar with this newspaper would expect: the FT fits in perfectly with the media culture of obsessive and deranged coverage of Israel that is a national embarrassment for Great Britain. My favorite example of this (as is Marty Peretz’s) is the fact that the FT, as official policy, refers to Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel, a plain denial of reality. Can you imagine the FT referring, today, to Philadelphia or New York as the capital of the United States? That would be crazy. It would cause the FT to become a laughingstock. But it is really no more neurotic than the Tel Aviv rule. Just Journalism’s complete report (PDF) can be found here.

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IOC: Stop Bothering China

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge is asking the world to stop bothering China on issues such as human rights. “You don’t obtain anything in China with a loud voice,” he said in an interview appearing Friday on the website of the Financial Times. “That is the big mistake of people in the west wanting to add their views. To keep face is of paramount importance. All the Chinese specialists will tell you that only one thing works-respectful, quiet but firm discussion.”

Really? Rogge, echoing the view of China’s Communist Party as carried in People’s Daily, was speaking in the context of protests that for more than a month have dogged the Olympic torch relay, starting with the flame-lighting ceremony in Greece. He raises the broader issue: How should the world deal with China today?

It is true that China will change on its own. The Chinese people are in the midst of the process of both shedding their self-image as outsiders and ending their traditional role as adversaries of the existing global order. There is unimaginable societal change at unheard of speed thanks to the energy and enthusiasm of China’s 1.5 billion or so restless souls. They are making a “kinetic dash into the future” without so much as a roadmap or compass. If there is any cause for optimism in the world today, it is that the Chinese people are aware, assertive, and confident.

But they are not yet in charge. Unfortunately for them, nine men in blue suits and red ties sit at the apex of political power on the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee. These modern autocrats, more than anyone else, are standing in the way of transformation of the Chinese nation.

They have been able to do so and stay in power because they have been ruthlessly pragmatic. They, like all successful leaders, can be flexible when they must. In other words, they react to pressure. As Arthur Waldron has been pointing out recently, they just bowed to global sentiment by agreeing to talk to representatives of the Dalai Lama. And almost universal African defiance of Beijing’s wishes has forced China’s leaders to give up their attempt to deliver arms to the repugnant Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

So if we want China to change now–and not years from now when it will be too late–the world has no choice but to convince the country’s leaders that the price of resistance is too high. Rogge is right insofar as he notes that the Chinese are concerned about world opinion. When the international community has been united in the past, Beijing has almost invariably modified its behavior. So if we want those nine Chinese autocrats to change their abhorrent policies and practices of today, we must give them no choice at this moment but to do the right thing.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge is asking the world to stop bothering China on issues such as human rights. “You don’t obtain anything in China with a loud voice,” he said in an interview appearing Friday on the website of the Financial Times. “That is the big mistake of people in the west wanting to add their views. To keep face is of paramount importance. All the Chinese specialists will tell you that only one thing works-respectful, quiet but firm discussion.”

Really? Rogge, echoing the view of China’s Communist Party as carried in People’s Daily, was speaking in the context of protests that for more than a month have dogged the Olympic torch relay, starting with the flame-lighting ceremony in Greece. He raises the broader issue: How should the world deal with China today?

It is true that China will change on its own. The Chinese people are in the midst of the process of both shedding their self-image as outsiders and ending their traditional role as adversaries of the existing global order. There is unimaginable societal change at unheard of speed thanks to the energy and enthusiasm of China’s 1.5 billion or so restless souls. They are making a “kinetic dash into the future” without so much as a roadmap or compass. If there is any cause for optimism in the world today, it is that the Chinese people are aware, assertive, and confident.

But they are not yet in charge. Unfortunately for them, nine men in blue suits and red ties sit at the apex of political power on the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee. These modern autocrats, more than anyone else, are standing in the way of transformation of the Chinese nation.

They have been able to do so and stay in power because they have been ruthlessly pragmatic. They, like all successful leaders, can be flexible when they must. In other words, they react to pressure. As Arthur Waldron has been pointing out recently, they just bowed to global sentiment by agreeing to talk to representatives of the Dalai Lama. And almost universal African defiance of Beijing’s wishes has forced China’s leaders to give up their attempt to deliver arms to the repugnant Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

So if we want China to change now–and not years from now when it will be too late–the world has no choice but to convince the country’s leaders that the price of resistance is too high. Rogge is right insofar as he notes that the Chinese are concerned about world opinion. When the international community has been united in the past, Beijing has almost invariably modified its behavior. So if we want those nine Chinese autocrats to change their abhorrent policies and practices of today, we must give them no choice at this moment but to do the right thing.

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More in Afghanistan

Democrats have a point when they say that the Iraq War has caused us to lose focus on Afghanistan. But that isn’t an argument for scuttling out of Iraq. Among other things, a defeat in Iraq would make our task in Afghanistan much tougher. It is an argument for doing more in Afghanistan.

Even as the situation in Iraq has been improving, things seem to be getting worse in Afghanistan. The Karzai government looks weak and ineffectual (hence the rumors that America’s Afghan-born ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, is exploring a run to succeed Karzai), while the Taliban and Al Qaeda are looking stronger thanks to their sanctuaries in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

NATO is having a hard time meeting its responsibilities in the south because so few of its members are willing to fight. The Canadians, British, Australians, and Dutch are welcome exceptions, but attempts to get the Germans and other nations to step have gotten nowhere. Even the Canadians and others who are willing to fight are having trouble doing so because of equipment shortages. This Financial Times article gives a good overview of the parlous state of the south.

Since attempts to get NATO do more are likely to prove unavailing, that leaves only one serious option: sending more American troops. The administration has already decided to send 3,200 more Marines, but a working group at the American Enterprise Institute is calling for a much larger commitment. According to this article, the AEI group, headed by historian Fred Kagan, is recommending a surge of three extra brigades (probably around 15,000 troops) in 2008-2009. That will put further stress on the overstretched armed forces, but it should be doable, especially with five surge brigades leaving Iraq.

That surge, recall, was originally outlined by this same AEI group and drew much ridicule in the rest of Washington. But the Iraq surge has worked and so should the Afghanistan surge—especially if it is accompanied by some of the other steps recommended by the AEI group, including working to bolster the counterinsurgency effort in Pakistan.

Democrats have a point when they say that the Iraq War has caused us to lose focus on Afghanistan. But that isn’t an argument for scuttling out of Iraq. Among other things, a defeat in Iraq would make our task in Afghanistan much tougher. It is an argument for doing more in Afghanistan.

Even as the situation in Iraq has been improving, things seem to be getting worse in Afghanistan. The Karzai government looks weak and ineffectual (hence the rumors that America’s Afghan-born ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, is exploring a run to succeed Karzai), while the Taliban and Al Qaeda are looking stronger thanks to their sanctuaries in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

NATO is having a hard time meeting its responsibilities in the south because so few of its members are willing to fight. The Canadians, British, Australians, and Dutch are welcome exceptions, but attempts to get the Germans and other nations to step have gotten nowhere. Even the Canadians and others who are willing to fight are having trouble doing so because of equipment shortages. This Financial Times article gives a good overview of the parlous state of the south.

Since attempts to get NATO do more are likely to prove unavailing, that leaves only one serious option: sending more American troops. The administration has already decided to send 3,200 more Marines, but a working group at the American Enterprise Institute is calling for a much larger commitment. According to this article, the AEI group, headed by historian Fred Kagan, is recommending a surge of three extra brigades (probably around 15,000 troops) in 2008-2009. That will put further stress on the overstretched armed forces, but it should be doable, especially with five surge brigades leaving Iraq.

That surge, recall, was originally outlined by this same AEI group and drew much ridicule in the rest of Washington. But the Iraq surge has worked and so should the Afghanistan surge—especially if it is accompanied by some of the other steps recommended by the AEI group, including working to bolster the counterinsurgency effort in Pakistan.

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Sarkozy, Nuke Salesman

Nicolas Sarkozy has earned high marks for reorienting French diplomacy in a more pro-American direction. But he is also undertaking a little-noticed and potentially dangerous initiative. This Financial Times article reports that he is actively promoting the sale of French nuclear-power technology to Middle Eastern countries:

Since becoming president in May he has signed nuclear co-operation agreements with Morocco, Algeria and Libya as well as overseeing the sale of two nuclear power stations to China.

France is also looking to provide nuclear facilities or technical assistance to Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Egypt and Jordan.

The motive for this initiative is undoubtedly innocent: The French nuclear power industry leads the world, and Sarkozy no doubt figures he can help his economy by generating more sales. He is also probably interested in strengthening French influence in a region that it has long seen as its backyard.

But the outcome may be not-so-innocent. Every nation that has acquired nuclear weapons since the 1940’s has done so initially by launching a “nuclear power” program. The expertise and facilities needed to generate nuclear power can readily be converted to create nuclear weapons. The West barely nipped Libya’s nuclear program in the bud in 2003. What is Sarko thinking in helping Libya to rebuild its capacity? Even giving aid to more pro-Western regimes (such as those in Egypt and Jordan) is a dubious move, since they might be tempted to acquire a nuclear arsenal if Iran leads the way. The result could be a destabilizing nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region.

The French claim there will be enough safeguards built in to their sales to prevent such a scenario. Let us hope so. But it still seems like an unnecessary risk simply to earn a few more euros.

Nicolas Sarkozy has earned high marks for reorienting French diplomacy in a more pro-American direction. But he is also undertaking a little-noticed and potentially dangerous initiative. This Financial Times article reports that he is actively promoting the sale of French nuclear-power technology to Middle Eastern countries:

Since becoming president in May he has signed nuclear co-operation agreements with Morocco, Algeria and Libya as well as overseeing the sale of two nuclear power stations to China.

France is also looking to provide nuclear facilities or technical assistance to Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Egypt and Jordan.

The motive for this initiative is undoubtedly innocent: The French nuclear power industry leads the world, and Sarkozy no doubt figures he can help his economy by generating more sales. He is also probably interested in strengthening French influence in a region that it has long seen as its backyard.

But the outcome may be not-so-innocent. Every nation that has acquired nuclear weapons since the 1940’s has done so initially by launching a “nuclear power” program. The expertise and facilities needed to generate nuclear power can readily be converted to create nuclear weapons. The West barely nipped Libya’s nuclear program in the bud in 2003. What is Sarko thinking in helping Libya to rebuild its capacity? Even giving aid to more pro-Western regimes (such as those in Egypt and Jordan) is a dubious move, since they might be tempted to acquire a nuclear arsenal if Iran leads the way. The result could be a destabilizing nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region.

The French claim there will be enough safeguards built in to their sales to prevent such a scenario. Let us hope so. But it still seems like an unnecessary risk simply to earn a few more euros.

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More from Georgia

I obviously spoke too soon when on November 5th I praised Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili for his restraint in handling large demonstrations in Tbilisi. Just after that item appeared, he declared a state of emergency, sent his riot police out to break up the demonstrations, and shut down an opposition TV station by force.

This has led many commentators to proclaim that the Rose Revolution is over and that Saakashvili is just another strongman bent on aggrandizing himself. (See, for example, this New York Times article.)

Not so fast. Ron Asmus, a former State Department official in the Clinton administration who is a major architect of NATO expansion and whose judgment I trust, offers a more nuanced view in this Financial Times op-ed.

Reporting on a recent visit to Tbilisi, he suggests that the decision to declare a state of emergency was not simply a whim of Saakashvili’s: “It was debated fiercely and decided collectively in the cabinet, including by many whose democratic credentials can hardly be questioned.”

The decision may still have been a wrong one, but Asmus pleads for some sympathy for a genuine reformer who is attempting to consolidate a process that has made Georgia a stand-out performer among former Soviet republics, notwithstanding a consistent campaign of subversion emanating from Moscow. “As westerners living in comfortable societies,” he writes, “we have trouble understanding the insecurity of a country that has teetered on being a failed state.”

This is not meant to be a whitewash of Saakashvili, who almost surely overreacted when he imposed the state of emergency. It’s a good thing that he has now lifted this decree, which is more than can be said of Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan. The Georgian president is undoubtedly headstrong and can be high-handed in dealing with opposition. But a more accommodating or weak leader would have trouble getting anything done, as witness Viktor Yushchenko’s struggles in Ukraine.

I second Asmus when he pleads for the West, while pressuring Saakashvili to respect democratic norms, to also pressure Moscow to keep hands off its former republic. There is no doubt that some bloom has come off the Georgian rose, but the revolution is not over yet.

I obviously spoke too soon when on November 5th I praised Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili for his restraint in handling large demonstrations in Tbilisi. Just after that item appeared, he declared a state of emergency, sent his riot police out to break up the demonstrations, and shut down an opposition TV station by force.

This has led many commentators to proclaim that the Rose Revolution is over and that Saakashvili is just another strongman bent on aggrandizing himself. (See, for example, this New York Times article.)

Not so fast. Ron Asmus, a former State Department official in the Clinton administration who is a major architect of NATO expansion and whose judgment I trust, offers a more nuanced view in this Financial Times op-ed.

Reporting on a recent visit to Tbilisi, he suggests that the decision to declare a state of emergency was not simply a whim of Saakashvili’s: “It was debated fiercely and decided collectively in the cabinet, including by many whose democratic credentials can hardly be questioned.”

The decision may still have been a wrong one, but Asmus pleads for some sympathy for a genuine reformer who is attempting to consolidate a process that has made Georgia a stand-out performer among former Soviet republics, notwithstanding a consistent campaign of subversion emanating from Moscow. “As westerners living in comfortable societies,” he writes, “we have trouble understanding the insecurity of a country that has teetered on being a failed state.”

This is not meant to be a whitewash of Saakashvili, who almost surely overreacted when he imposed the state of emergency. It’s a good thing that he has now lifted this decree, which is more than can be said of Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan. The Georgian president is undoubtedly headstrong and can be high-handed in dealing with opposition. But a more accommodating or weak leader would have trouble getting anything done, as witness Viktor Yushchenko’s struggles in Ukraine.

I second Asmus when he pleads for the West, while pressuring Saakashvili to respect democratic norms, to also pressure Moscow to keep hands off its former republic. There is no doubt that some bloom has come off the Georgian rose, but the revolution is not over yet.

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Is Max Boot Wrong, or Very Wrong?

Over at contentions, Max Boot has written skeptically about the fact that I have written skeptically about a new Defense Science Board study, which raises alarms about the Department of Defense’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks.
 
I had wondered, “if our adversaries are as good as we are saying they are at exploiting vulnerabilities in our technology, why are their brilliant programmers not going off on freelance missions to tap in, say, to the electronic systems of a Goldman Sachs and transferring its assets to themselves?

Max says that “the short answer is they are doing precisely that. It’s just that the public doesn’t hear much about it because the targeted institutions want to keep as quiet as possible for obvious reasons, so as not to encourage copycats and not to endanger the confidence of their clients, investors, and counterparties.”

This I very much doubt. Major financial institutions operate in a highly regulated environment and are simply not permitted to conceal massive thefts. The big investment houses that do business in the United States are required to turn over immense reams of data every quarter to the Fed; they are also under intense scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Most of them are publicly held. It is inconceivable that some hackers could siphon a couple of hundred millions bucks from, say, Lehman Brothers, without shareholders learning of it. Even if the banks had the legal right to conceal massive thefts, I doubt they could. These kinds of institutions may not be quite as colander-like as the CIA, but if millions have been stolen from their coffers via a hacker’s keystroke, such juicy information would surely leak.

Like Max, I believe in protecting ourselves from all sorts of emerging threats, from nano-robots armed with lethal bacteria to Iranian ICBMs tipped with ayatollahs. But I don’t believe in developing a military policy based upon gropes in the dark.

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Over at contentions, Max Boot has written skeptically about the fact that I have written skeptically about a new Defense Science Board study, which raises alarms about the Department of Defense’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks.
 
I had wondered, “if our adversaries are as good as we are saying they are at exploiting vulnerabilities in our technology, why are their brilliant programmers not going off on freelance missions to tap in, say, to the electronic systems of a Goldman Sachs and transferring its assets to themselves?

Max says that “the short answer is they are doing precisely that. It’s just that the public doesn’t hear much about it because the targeted institutions want to keep as quiet as possible for obvious reasons, so as not to encourage copycats and not to endanger the confidence of their clients, investors, and counterparties.”

This I very much doubt. Major financial institutions operate in a highly regulated environment and are simply not permitted to conceal massive thefts. The big investment houses that do business in the United States are required to turn over immense reams of data every quarter to the Fed; they are also under intense scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Most of them are publicly held. It is inconceivable that some hackers could siphon a couple of hundred millions bucks from, say, Lehman Brothers, without shareholders learning of it. Even if the banks had the legal right to conceal massive thefts, I doubt they could. These kinds of institutions may not be quite as colander-like as the CIA, but if millions have been stolen from their coffers via a hacker’s keystroke, such juicy information would surely leak.

Like Max, I believe in protecting ourselves from all sorts of emerging threats, from nano-robots armed with lethal bacteria to Iranian ICBMs tipped with ayatollahs. But I don’t believe in developing a military policy based upon gropes in the dark.

One such grope is Max’s reference to a Financial Times story about a 2005 attack against the London offices of the Japanese bank, Sumitomo. That episode lends support to my view and casts skepticism on Max’s skepticism about my skepticism. A key phrase in Max’s telling of that story is that the thieves “almost managed” to carry out their plot. A somewhat different way of describing that same outcome is that they didn’t manage to carry it out.

How did Scotland Yard get wise to the cyber-thieves? They were uncovered when bells and whistles sounded after they tried to transfer funds electronically to an account in Israel. In other words, Sumitomo’s cyber-security kicked in. Perhaps Sumitomo subscribes to McAfee’s “Total Protection, 12-in-1″ anti-virus and firewall software available for only $59.95 a year. Perhaps they paid much more to some smart programmers to build far fancier and more effective programs to guard against intrusion and theft. Whatever they have in place, the Pentagon needs to buy a version of it as well, and make sure that that it is kept regularly updated. It worked for Sumitomo.

Yes, there are manifold dangers in the cyber-realm. One problem flows from the fact that approximately half of the U.S. population is of below average intelligence. This helps to explain why some 1.78 million Americans have fallen victim to fake emails encouraging them to disclose personal banking information. The ensuing losses total more than $1 billion to date. But bankers and the programmers they hire are decidely not of below average intelligence. That is a major reason why electronic robberies of corporate coffers remain exceedingly rare.

This is not to say that the Pentagon should not be on guard. It should certainly be wary of purchasing software applications written by starving North Korean programmers toiling in front of Soviet-era workstations with Kalashnikovs pointed at their heads. And it also should be on guard against denial-of-service attacks of the kind Russia launched against Estonia earlier this year. But when Max cites that episode and concludes that “the U.S. is just as vulnerable to such an attack,” for the first time since I met Max a decade ago, I suddenly began to doubt his command of Estonian.

Silicon Valley is located in California not in Tallinn. Microsoft is located in Seattle not in Tartu. The GDP of Estonia last year was $26.8 billion. The market value of Lehman Brothers last year—one Fortune 500 corporation alone—was $38 billion. Is the mighty U.S. truly just as vulnerable to cyber-attack as mouse-sized Estonia? The U.S. may face dangers in the realm of malicious software and from hacking, but we also clearly face dangers from those who would exaggerate those dangers.

Max Boot is a good friend but I am afraid that there are only two ways that this bitter dispute can be settled. The first is that he and I face off in a duel. The second is that just before sundown on Sunday he should admit that he has been doing some groping in the dark. I will simultaneously make the same admission.

Before either of us reaches any firm conclusions about the Pentagon’s software problems, it would behoove us both to hear from computer experts in the financial industry—not just from those who are captives of our military-industrial-computer complex—about our real vulnerabilities and about the most cost-efficient way to address them.

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Taiwan’s Pride

The plan for Taiwan’s first national day military parade in sixteen years is much in the news today, notably on the front page of Thursday’s Financial Times. The reason is that rumor suggests the country’s new, indigenously-developed cruise missile, capable of hitting targets as distant as Shanghai, may be displayed publicly for the first time during the parade

We may confidently expect much misinformation to follow in the media, with the most important falsehood being an assertion the development of the cruise missile and Taiwan’s increasingly capable anti-air and anti-ship weapons, are a “provocation” against China, being cynically engineered by the unpopular current President Chen Shuibian for his own political purposes. So it is important to understand that Taiwan’s quest for defense capabilities beyond ambiguous statements by the United States has deep roots.

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The plan for Taiwan’s first national day military parade in sixteen years is much in the news today, notably on the front page of Thursday’s Financial Times. The reason is that rumor suggests the country’s new, indigenously-developed cruise missile, capable of hitting targets as distant as Shanghai, may be displayed publicly for the first time during the parade

We may confidently expect much misinformation to follow in the media, with the most important falsehood being an assertion the development of the cruise missile and Taiwan’s increasingly capable anti-air and anti-ship weapons, are a “provocation” against China, being cynically engineered by the unpopular current President Chen Shuibian for his own political purposes. So it is important to understand that Taiwan’s quest for defense capabilities beyond ambiguous statements by the United States has deep roots.

Taiwan’s indigenous self-defense programs date back to the 1950’s, when the dictatorial Kuomintang of Chiang Kai-shek was firmly in control and current President Chen Shuibian (born 1951) was a toddler. Important steps included the foundation of the science- and engineering-focused National Tsing Hua University, in 1956, and the establishment of the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology, a military research center, in 1969.

Taiwan was clearly influenced by Israeli steps to ensure an indigenous defense capability. The first Taiwanese missiles are thought to have been based on the Israeli Gabriel (1962). From these steps flowed development of a carefully-considered array of defensive and counter-strike missiles as well as a nuclear program that made major advances before the United States forced its shut down in 1988.

My own view is that, judged militarily and strategically, such capabilities are essential to Taiwan. They give the country the credible ability to stop a Chinese attack on their own. I believe, moreover, that they will help stabilize the situation in the Strait by restoring some of the balance that was lost when the United States ended its military alliance in 1979.

Whether flaunting these new weapons in a politicized parade makes sense is, however, another question. (My own inclination would be to maintain a low profile and stress the country’s powerful desire for peace.) But the insistence of the 23 million Taiwanese people that they be recognized internationally is bipartisan. Furthermore, being quiet and low key (as we Americans invariably advise) has gotten them nothing, other than a steadily-building deployment of Chinese ballistic missiles targeted on them from just across the Strait, rigid exclusion from the international community, and American dithering over whether supply even of F-16’s is appropriate.

The current welling-up of national feeling in Taiwan is correctly understood not as the product of ploys by a president whose popularity has been plunging (as Washington regularly suggests). Rather it is exactly the sort of rooted and organic nationalism with which history and political scientists have long been familiar. It should tell us something that the person charged with planning the October 10th celebrations and parade is not a Chen Shuibian loyalist, but the speaker of Taiwan’s legislative branch, Wang Jin-pyng, from the opposition Kuomintang party.

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No “Islamophobia”

For years now, pundits, journalists, and community leaders have warned against the rise of so-called “Islamophobia” in Great Britain. Given the presence and increasing visibility of homegrown radical Islam, it would not be surprising to discover that the British public is growing fearful of the Muslim minority in its midst. After all, race attacks against Asians—British Muslims are overwhelmingly from the subcontinent—were reported to have increased exponentially after the 2005 July bombings in Central London.

There have been plenty of triggers for an anti-Muslim backlash in Britain. Britain is home to some of the world’s most radical Islamist organizations,such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir. The country gave shelter to radical self-styled Imams, such as Omar Bakri Muhammad, the leader of now-disbanded al Muhajiroun. And Britain was the scene of the first European instance of homegrown Islamist mass-murderous terrorism. It has since witnessed more outrages, like the failed plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners, and the recent failed Glasgow and London attacks. When the Muhammad cartoon censorship campaign began, Londoners witnessed angry mobs agitate in the streets of their capital, calling for the beheading of anyone who insulted Islam. As for foreign policy, Britain went to war against two Muslim regimes in the last five years—the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq—and was accused of refraining from saving Muslims from ethnic cleansing in the early 1990’s.

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For years now, pundits, journalists, and community leaders have warned against the rise of so-called “Islamophobia” in Great Britain. Given the presence and increasing visibility of homegrown radical Islam, it would not be surprising to discover that the British public is growing fearful of the Muslim minority in its midst. After all, race attacks against Asians—British Muslims are overwhelmingly from the subcontinent—were reported to have increased exponentially after the 2005 July bombings in Central London.

There have been plenty of triggers for an anti-Muslim backlash in Britain. Britain is home to some of the world’s most radical Islamist organizations,such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir. The country gave shelter to radical self-styled Imams, such as Omar Bakri Muhammad, the leader of now-disbanded al Muhajiroun. And Britain was the scene of the first European instance of homegrown Islamist mass-murderous terrorism. It has since witnessed more outrages, like the failed plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners, and the recent failed Glasgow and London attacks. When the Muhammad cartoon censorship campaign began, Londoners witnessed angry mobs agitate in the streets of their capital, calling for the beheading of anyone who insulted Islam. As for foreign policy, Britain went to war against two Muslim regimes in the last five years—the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq—and was accused of refraining from saving Muslims from ethnic cleansing in the early 1990’s.

It is plausible to assume that, against this background, a significant portion of Britons may feel—unexcusably, to be sure—that Muslims can be suspected of dual loyalties, and that their identity is irreconcilable with being British. And it may be equally plausible that some Muslims genuinely will feel conflicted about their loyalties—especially when part of the British-Muslim elites encourage this linkage in their rhetoric, accusing foreign policy of being the root cause of extremism.

A recent poll now offers us a new perspective on this issue. The good news is that, according to the Harris Interactive/Financial Times survey, the majority of Britons—59 percent—thinks that “it is possible to be both a Muslim and a Briton.” The bad news is that 29 percent disagrees. Still, given the circumstances, one can interpret these data to mean that Britain remains, overall, tolerant. Of Muslims, that is. But when asked to respond to a similar proposition about Jews in a recent Anti-Defamation League sponsored poll (“Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Britain”), 50 percent of Britons answered yes.

This is strange, to say the least. Jews have had no problem integrating in the UK. As for Israel, its sound and solid relation with Great Britain derives from a commonality of interests and values. Jewish extremists have not blown themselves up in the London tube. They do not advocate the establishment of a global Jewish theocracy to dominate the world—as Hizb-ut-Tahrir does—and when they get angry or offended at depictions of their beliefs and habits, Jews will at most write angry emails and letters to the editors, not call for the beheading of those who insult Judaism. Nevertheless, half of England doubts their loyalty.

British attitudes to Muslims could, and should, be better. But it is British attitudes towards Jews that truly expose intolerance.

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