Commentary Magazine


Topic: Gabriel Schoenfeld

WikiLeaks: Nihilism in the Guise of Transparency

Yesterday I wrote about the WikiLeaks document dump in terms of what we learned about Arab leaders and their views toward Iran. Today I want to focus on its damage to American national security, and to do so by quoting from Henry Kissinger’s memoir White House Years.

In discussing the so-called Pentagon Papers — the release of more than 7,000 pages of secret documents related to the Vietnam war — Kissinger wrote that the documents “were in no way damaging to the Nixon Presidency.” He points out that “there was some sentiment among White House political operatives to exploit them as an illustration of the machinations of our predecessor and the difficulties we inherited.” Kissinger rightly believed that this was against the public interest. He then zeroed in on a point that is apposite today, in the context of the WikiLeaks matter:

Our nightmare at that moment was that Peking might conclude our government was too unsteady, too harassed, and too insecure to be a useful partner. The massive hemorrhage of state secrets was bound to raise doubts about our reliability in the minds of other government, friend and foe, and indeed about the stability of our political system. We had secret talks going on at the same time with the North Vietnamese, which we believed — incorrectly, as it turned out — were close to a breakthrough. We were in an important point in the sensitive SALT talks. And we were in the final stages of delicate Berlin negotiations which also depended on secrecy.

… I continue to believe that the theft and publication of official documents did a grave disservice to the nation. In the event, the release of the Pentagon Papers did not impede our overture to Peking. But this does not change the principle. We could not know so at the time; nor did those who stole the documents consider the consequences of their action, or even care — their purpose was, after all, to undermine confidence in their government.

(For a very helpful overview of the Pentagon Papers and its relevance, see Gabriel Schoenfeld’s essay “Rethinking the Pentagon Papers” in National Affairs magazine.)

In this particular instance, there does not appear to be any evidence that the American government misled the public on any matter. Rather, it appears to be an effort to release secret communications simply for the sake of malice and to undermine confidence in order to create chaos, embarrassment, and offense.

The collateral damage from these leaks could be massive, as Emanuele Ottolenghi has noted. If foreign governments and diplomats do not have confidence that their candid opinions will remain confidential — if they must now edit their appraisals and judgments with the assumption that they will appear on the front pages of the New York Times or Der Spiegel — then it will make diplomacy and the conduct of foreign policy substantially more difficult.

One can imagine extremely rare circumstances in which exposing state secrets is justifiable or at least debatable. This case is nothing close to that. What we have in Julian Assange is a nihilist and a malcontent, disturbed and dangerous. He really ought to be stopped.

Yesterday I wrote about the WikiLeaks document dump in terms of what we learned about Arab leaders and their views toward Iran. Today I want to focus on its damage to American national security, and to do so by quoting from Henry Kissinger’s memoir White House Years.

In discussing the so-called Pentagon Papers — the release of more than 7,000 pages of secret documents related to the Vietnam war — Kissinger wrote that the documents “were in no way damaging to the Nixon Presidency.” He points out that “there was some sentiment among White House political operatives to exploit them as an illustration of the machinations of our predecessor and the difficulties we inherited.” Kissinger rightly believed that this was against the public interest. He then zeroed in on a point that is apposite today, in the context of the WikiLeaks matter:

Our nightmare at that moment was that Peking might conclude our government was too unsteady, too harassed, and too insecure to be a useful partner. The massive hemorrhage of state secrets was bound to raise doubts about our reliability in the minds of other government, friend and foe, and indeed about the stability of our political system. We had secret talks going on at the same time with the North Vietnamese, which we believed — incorrectly, as it turned out — were close to a breakthrough. We were in an important point in the sensitive SALT talks. And we were in the final stages of delicate Berlin negotiations which also depended on secrecy.

… I continue to believe that the theft and publication of official documents did a grave disservice to the nation. In the event, the release of the Pentagon Papers did not impede our overture to Peking. But this does not change the principle. We could not know so at the time; nor did those who stole the documents consider the consequences of their action, or even care — their purpose was, after all, to undermine confidence in their government.

(For a very helpful overview of the Pentagon Papers and its relevance, see Gabriel Schoenfeld’s essay “Rethinking the Pentagon Papers” in National Affairs magazine.)

In this particular instance, there does not appear to be any evidence that the American government misled the public on any matter. Rather, it appears to be an effort to release secret communications simply for the sake of malice and to undermine confidence in order to create chaos, embarrassment, and offense.

The collateral damage from these leaks could be massive, as Emanuele Ottolenghi has noted. If foreign governments and diplomats do not have confidence that their candid opinions will remain confidential — if they must now edit their appraisals and judgments with the assumption that they will appear on the front pages of the New York Times or Der Spiegel — then it will make diplomacy and the conduct of foreign policy substantially more difficult.

One can imagine extremely rare circumstances in which exposing state secrets is justifiable or at least debatable. This case is nothing close to that. What we have in Julian Assange is a nihilist and a malcontent, disturbed and dangerous. He really ought to be stopped.

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Not If — but When — Does Holder Go?

COMMENTARY contributor Gabriel Schoenfeld writes:

Eric Holder has been a disastrous attorney general. “Classic 101 Boobery” was how one Democratic operative memorably called his decision, now on hold, to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court in lower Manhattan. Other blunders have piled up and the White House has been repeatedly embarrassed by his string of ill-considered decisions and gaffes. With the midterm elections approaching, it would not be surprising if Holder soon finds himself under the Obama bus, lying next to former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair.

No doubt Holder has become a liability. It’s not clear, however, that shoving him aside before the election would win Obama any brownie points with voters. But one thing is for sure: if the Republicans take either the House or the Senate, Holder will get bounced before new chairmen take over key committees and start firing subpoenas his way. The stonewall act will end, or the Obama administration will wind up in nasty court fights. And we will learn how Holder’s operation, supposedly dedicated to de-politicizing the Justice Department, has been corrupted by left-wing ideologues. For a White House increasingly perceived as a bastion of liberal political hackery, Holder has become one more problem that they’d rather have behind them. Better to have Holder skewered as the former attorney general and to let a brand-new attorney general promise to take a “hard look” at Justice than to watch the agonizing sight of Holder twisting and turning, struggling to explain himself and his crew of leftist lawyers.

COMMENTARY contributor Gabriel Schoenfeld writes:

Eric Holder has been a disastrous attorney general. “Classic 101 Boobery” was how one Democratic operative memorably called his decision, now on hold, to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court in lower Manhattan. Other blunders have piled up and the White House has been repeatedly embarrassed by his string of ill-considered decisions and gaffes. With the midterm elections approaching, it would not be surprising if Holder soon finds himself under the Obama bus, lying next to former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair.

No doubt Holder has become a liability. It’s not clear, however, that shoving him aside before the election would win Obama any brownie points with voters. But one thing is for sure: if the Republicans take either the House or the Senate, Holder will get bounced before new chairmen take over key committees and start firing subpoenas his way. The stonewall act will end, or the Obama administration will wind up in nasty court fights. And we will learn how Holder’s operation, supposedly dedicated to de-politicizing the Justice Department, has been corrupted by left-wing ideologues. For a White House increasingly perceived as a bastion of liberal political hackery, Holder has become one more problem that they’d rather have behind them. Better to have Holder skewered as the former attorney general and to let a brand-new attorney general promise to take a “hard look” at Justice than to watch the agonizing sight of Holder twisting and turning, struggling to explain himself and his crew of leftist lawyers.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Obama loses to the movement ridiculed by the chattering class: “On major issues, 48% of voters say that the average Tea Party member is closer to their views than President Barack Obama. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 44% hold the opposite view and believe the president’s views are closer to their own.”

And the movement sort of looks like America, according to Gallup: “Tea Party supporters skew right politically; but demographically, they are generally representative of the public at large. … Tea Party supporters are decidedly Republican and conservative in their leanings. Also, compared with average Americans, supporters are slightly more likely to be male and less likely to be lower-income. … In several other respects, however — their age, educational background, employment status, and race — Tea Partiers are quite representative of the public at large.” In other words, they are pretty much like all the other voters Obama ignores.

Tom Goldstein’s reading the Supreme Court retirement tea leaves: “To clear up any remaining ambiguity, if you believe or hear anyone else say that Justice Ginsburg may retire this summer, this is the appropriate response: Will. Not. Happen. No other member of the Court has any reason to retire either. By all accounts, each of the Justices is in good health. All of them feel an obligation to serve. Although the Court is divided, it’s not Congress; none is going to pull an Evan Bayh and walk away. Justice Souter’s perspective on his role and tenure was unique. And it’s a good job, so few people want to give it up. (If offered it, you should take it.)”

Liberal reporters discover Obama is a phony.

Robert Gibbs finally says something both funny and true: “I think Michael Steele’s problem isn’t the race card; it’s the credit card.”

Obama vs. Bob McDonnell: “In Washington, President Obama is borrowing, taxing, and spending with abandon — with little apparent concern about the long-term consequences of his unprecedented expansion of government control of the economy and the claims it will make on future earnings of the American people. The president’s agenda relies on one-party power and minimal attempts at compromise. In Richmond, on the other hand, Gov. Bob McDonnell has just closed a $4 billion budget deficit without raising taxes. To do so, he made significant cuts in a budget that had expanded by more than 70 percent in a decade — better than 28 percent for every citizen in Virginia (in inflation-adjusted dollars).”

Gabriel Schoenfeld on Obama’s Iran policy: “The Obama administration is dithering. Bent upon getting a Security Council resolution rather than assembling a coalition of the willing, the White House and American policy is being held hostage by Russia and most of all by China. Here’s an informed prediction: if Beijing does come around and support a new round of sanctions, it will be hailed by the White House as a major breakthrough: peace in our time. But the actual sanctions will be weak to worthless. China has too much at stake in Iran as a source of energy. It also sees an opportunity to poke us in the eye. … One question that should be asked is what we will say the day after Iran tests its first nuclear device.”

Obama loses to the movement ridiculed by the chattering class: “On major issues, 48% of voters say that the average Tea Party member is closer to their views than President Barack Obama. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 44% hold the opposite view and believe the president’s views are closer to their own.”

And the movement sort of looks like America, according to Gallup: “Tea Party supporters skew right politically; but demographically, they are generally representative of the public at large. … Tea Party supporters are decidedly Republican and conservative in their leanings. Also, compared with average Americans, supporters are slightly more likely to be male and less likely to be lower-income. … In several other respects, however — their age, educational background, employment status, and race — Tea Partiers are quite representative of the public at large.” In other words, they are pretty much like all the other voters Obama ignores.

Tom Goldstein’s reading the Supreme Court retirement tea leaves: “To clear up any remaining ambiguity, if you believe or hear anyone else say that Justice Ginsburg may retire this summer, this is the appropriate response: Will. Not. Happen. No other member of the Court has any reason to retire either. By all accounts, each of the Justices is in good health. All of them feel an obligation to serve. Although the Court is divided, it’s not Congress; none is going to pull an Evan Bayh and walk away. Justice Souter’s perspective on his role and tenure was unique. And it’s a good job, so few people want to give it up. (If offered it, you should take it.)”

Liberal reporters discover Obama is a phony.

Robert Gibbs finally says something both funny and true: “I think Michael Steele’s problem isn’t the race card; it’s the credit card.”

Obama vs. Bob McDonnell: “In Washington, President Obama is borrowing, taxing, and spending with abandon — with little apparent concern about the long-term consequences of his unprecedented expansion of government control of the economy and the claims it will make on future earnings of the American people. The president’s agenda relies on one-party power and minimal attempts at compromise. In Richmond, on the other hand, Gov. Bob McDonnell has just closed a $4 billion budget deficit without raising taxes. To do so, he made significant cuts in a budget that had expanded by more than 70 percent in a decade — better than 28 percent for every citizen in Virginia (in inflation-adjusted dollars).”

Gabriel Schoenfeld on Obama’s Iran policy: “The Obama administration is dithering. Bent upon getting a Security Council resolution rather than assembling a coalition of the willing, the White House and American policy is being held hostage by Russia and most of all by China. Here’s an informed prediction: if Beijing does come around and support a new round of sanctions, it will be hailed by the White House as a major breakthrough: peace in our time. But the actual sanctions will be weak to worthless. China has too much at stake in Iran as a source of energy. It also sees an opportunity to poke us in the eye. … One question that should be asked is what we will say the day after Iran tests its first nuclear device.”

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U.S. Success and Democratic Woe

Doubtless there is reason to be sober about CIA Director Michael Hayden’s sunny new assessment of the fight against al Qaeda. In addition to its countless pre-9/11 fiascos, the agency seems–in its supposedly revamped state–still to suffer from a culture of political bias and unaccountability. One need only look at the absurd NIE on Iran’s nuclear weapons to note that the intelligence community is more than happy to, in Gabriel Schoenfeld’s well-chosen phrase, “cry sheep.”

However, someone’s crying sheep does not establish that there is no sheep. As my CONTENTIONS colleague Peter Wehner has noted, Hayden’s recognition comes amid a cluster of acknowledgments that Bush’s conception of the war on terror may not have been so disastrous after all.

So, where does this leave the Democrats who’ve been up-in-arms about George Bush’s “dropping the ball” in the fight against al Qaeda?

This week, Hayden’s said

On balance, we are doing pretty well. . . Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’ — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam.

On the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Barack Obama said

Above all, the war in Iraq has emboldened al Qaeda, whose recruitment has jumped and whose leadership enjoys a safe-haven in Pakistan – a thousand miles from Iraq.

The central front in the war against terror is not Iraq, and it never was. What more could America’s enemies ask for than an endless war where they recruit new followers and try out new tactics on a battlefield so far from their base of operations? That is why my presidency will shift our focus. Rather than fight a war that does not need to be fought, we need to start fighting the battles that need to be won on the central front of the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There is going to have to be some reconciliation of realities here. Of course we need to keep up the fight against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But considering the growing acceptance of George W. Bush’s successes, Obama is going to have a hard time proposing a “shift” as such. If the acknowledgment of U.S. accomplishments continue, John McCain may yet stop worrying about keeping that perceived space between himself and the President.

Doubtless there is reason to be sober about CIA Director Michael Hayden’s sunny new assessment of the fight against al Qaeda. In addition to its countless pre-9/11 fiascos, the agency seems–in its supposedly revamped state–still to suffer from a culture of political bias and unaccountability. One need only look at the absurd NIE on Iran’s nuclear weapons to note that the intelligence community is more than happy to, in Gabriel Schoenfeld’s well-chosen phrase, “cry sheep.”

However, someone’s crying sheep does not establish that there is no sheep. As my CONTENTIONS colleague Peter Wehner has noted, Hayden’s recognition comes amid a cluster of acknowledgments that Bush’s conception of the war on terror may not have been so disastrous after all.

So, where does this leave the Democrats who’ve been up-in-arms about George Bush’s “dropping the ball” in the fight against al Qaeda?

This week, Hayden’s said

On balance, we are doing pretty well. . . Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’ — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam.

On the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Barack Obama said

Above all, the war in Iraq has emboldened al Qaeda, whose recruitment has jumped and whose leadership enjoys a safe-haven in Pakistan – a thousand miles from Iraq.

The central front in the war against terror is not Iraq, and it never was. What more could America’s enemies ask for than an endless war where they recruit new followers and try out new tactics on a battlefield so far from their base of operations? That is why my presidency will shift our focus. Rather than fight a war that does not need to be fought, we need to start fighting the battles that need to be won on the central front of the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There is going to have to be some reconciliation of realities here. Of course we need to keep up the fight against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But considering the growing acceptance of George W. Bush’s successes, Obama is going to have a hard time proposing a “shift” as such. If the acknowledgment of U.S. accomplishments continue, John McCain may yet stop worrying about keeping that perceived space between himself and the President.

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Schoenfeld’s October Surprise

“Are we due for an ‘October surprise?'” asks Gabriel Schoenfeld in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. “Several factors have converged to make this more probable than in any recent election.”

According to the famous COMMENTARY editor and blogger, we should look for Iraqi insurgents to step up violence as a means of discrediting John McCain. J. E. Dyer, who often posts comments in this forum, replied to Schoenfeld by saying that the “October surprise” may be Iran temporarily appearing reasonable in order to give a boost to Barack I-will-talk-to-any-tyrant Obama. In any event, as Schoenfeld notes, the world’s worst leaders are hoping to defeat the Republican candidate in November. Unfortunately, they essentially get to “vote” in our election by perpetrating-or refraining from perpetrating-horrible acts.

There are two ways for American presidents to undermine autocrats. One is to adopt a conciliatory posture, deprive them of a foreign enemy, buy off crucial segments of their regimes, and expose them as the despicable creatures that they are. The second is to confront them at every turn and destroy them when the opportunity arises.

Of course, our enemies do not actually want to negotiate with us or be our friends. Fidel Castro, for instance, did all he could to derail attempts to end the American embargo because he needed an excuse for his own economic failures. Kim Jong Il, similarly, has worked hard to make sure the United States remains an enemy so he can keep his people in line.

Yet, as Schoenfeld notes, the world’s rogues are now publicly endorsing the Democrat. Why do they ostensibly favor him? Of course, as a matter of appearances they have to say they like Obama’s friendly approach. But there is a much more important reason. At this moment, they fear American military might. Yet they think trends are with them and that we will only weaken over time. In other words, our adversaries believe they can wait us out and think Obama’s engagement will buy them time.

I don’t buy their prediction of American decline, but they are acting on their beliefs and, as Schoenfeld notes, are already trying to elect the next American leader. They obviously think the contest in November is that important. So should we.

“Are we due for an ‘October surprise?'” asks Gabriel Schoenfeld in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. “Several factors have converged to make this more probable than in any recent election.”

According to the famous COMMENTARY editor and blogger, we should look for Iraqi insurgents to step up violence as a means of discrediting John McCain. J. E. Dyer, who often posts comments in this forum, replied to Schoenfeld by saying that the “October surprise” may be Iran temporarily appearing reasonable in order to give a boost to Barack I-will-talk-to-any-tyrant Obama. In any event, as Schoenfeld notes, the world’s worst leaders are hoping to defeat the Republican candidate in November. Unfortunately, they essentially get to “vote” in our election by perpetrating-or refraining from perpetrating-horrible acts.

There are two ways for American presidents to undermine autocrats. One is to adopt a conciliatory posture, deprive them of a foreign enemy, buy off crucial segments of their regimes, and expose them as the despicable creatures that they are. The second is to confront them at every turn and destroy them when the opportunity arises.

Of course, our enemies do not actually want to negotiate with us or be our friends. Fidel Castro, for instance, did all he could to derail attempts to end the American embargo because he needed an excuse for his own economic failures. Kim Jong Il, similarly, has worked hard to make sure the United States remains an enemy so he can keep his people in line.

Yet, as Schoenfeld notes, the world’s rogues are now publicly endorsing the Democrat. Why do they ostensibly favor him? Of course, as a matter of appearances they have to say they like Obama’s friendly approach. But there is a much more important reason. At this moment, they fear American military might. Yet they think trends are with them and that we will only weaken over time. In other words, our adversaries believe they can wait us out and think Obama’s engagement will buy them time.

I don’t buy their prediction of American decline, but they are acting on their beliefs and, as Schoenfeld notes, are already trying to elect the next American leader. They obviously think the contest in November is that important. So should we.

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What Iran Truly Fears

Yesterday, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that the “criminal regime” of Israel “would not dare attack Iran.” Why? “It knows that any attack on Iranian territories would prompt a fierce response.” Ahmadinejad also says he is not worried about the United States. Hostile talk, the fiery leader noted, is just campaign rhetoric “aimed at American domestic consumption as they need it in the upcoming presidential elections.”

Why are we hearing war talk from Tehran at this moment? After all, the United States is merely pursuing a peaceful course of action, pushing the Security Council to enact a third set of sanctions for Iran’s failure to stop the enrichment of uranium. Washington can count on Germany’s support, but it is meeting increasingly stiff resistance where it counts.

Russia, by giving the cold shoulder to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Moscow yesterday, signaled that it will not vote in favor of a new round of coercive measures. For its part, China hosted Americans and Iranians in Beijing in the last few days and ended up siding with the latter. Yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said, “We hope that the international community will intensify diplomatic efforts to break the deadlock for an early resumption of talks so that the issue will be solved in a comprehensive, lasting and proper manner.” Today, Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, was more direct. “On the Iranian nuclear issue, China and Iran have a similar stance,” he crowed after meeting with his Chinese counterparts.

On Tuesday, the five veto-wielding members will meet in Berlin to discuss new sanctions, but there will be no satisfactory outcome, especially because Chinese and Russian diplomats are repeating their almost word-for-word calls for more useless talks. These cynical pleas for additional negotiations, which would give the mullahs more time to develop their weapons, show that the Iranians have now neutralized the United Nations. Even if the Security Council should come up with new sanctions in the months ahead, we can be sure that they will be totally ineffective.

So let’s start connecting the dots, if I may borrow a phrase from Gabriel Schoenfeld. The Iranians are not worried about Washington’s diplomatic initiatives. They must realize that the only thing that can stop their nuclear program at this moment is military action. That’s why Iranian fast boats challenged the U.S. Navy earlier this month in the Strait of Hormuz—to remind Washington and the international community of the price of war. And that’s why Ahmadinejad said that neither Israel nor the United States would attack. The Iranians, I believe, wish to prevent the one thing they cannot control and truly fear.

Yesterday, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that the “criminal regime” of Israel “would not dare attack Iran.” Why? “It knows that any attack on Iranian territories would prompt a fierce response.” Ahmadinejad also says he is not worried about the United States. Hostile talk, the fiery leader noted, is just campaign rhetoric “aimed at American domestic consumption as they need it in the upcoming presidential elections.”

Why are we hearing war talk from Tehran at this moment? After all, the United States is merely pursuing a peaceful course of action, pushing the Security Council to enact a third set of sanctions for Iran’s failure to stop the enrichment of uranium. Washington can count on Germany’s support, but it is meeting increasingly stiff resistance where it counts.

Russia, by giving the cold shoulder to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Moscow yesterday, signaled that it will not vote in favor of a new round of coercive measures. For its part, China hosted Americans and Iranians in Beijing in the last few days and ended up siding with the latter. Yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said, “We hope that the international community will intensify diplomatic efforts to break the deadlock for an early resumption of talks so that the issue will be solved in a comprehensive, lasting and proper manner.” Today, Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, was more direct. “On the Iranian nuclear issue, China and Iran have a similar stance,” he crowed after meeting with his Chinese counterparts.

On Tuesday, the five veto-wielding members will meet in Berlin to discuss new sanctions, but there will be no satisfactory outcome, especially because Chinese and Russian diplomats are repeating their almost word-for-word calls for more useless talks. These cynical pleas for additional negotiations, which would give the mullahs more time to develop their weapons, show that the Iranians have now neutralized the United Nations. Even if the Security Council should come up with new sanctions in the months ahead, we can be sure that they will be totally ineffective.

So let’s start connecting the dots, if I may borrow a phrase from Gabriel Schoenfeld. The Iranians are not worried about Washington’s diplomatic initiatives. They must realize that the only thing that can stop their nuclear program at this moment is military action. That’s why Iranian fast boats challenged the U.S. Navy earlier this month in the Strait of Hormuz—to remind Washington and the international community of the price of war. And that’s why Ahmadinejad said that neither Israel nor the United States would attack. The Iranians, I believe, wish to prevent the one thing they cannot control and truly fear.

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Re: Bill Kristol Is Worse Than a Poisonous Mushroom

Over at Connecting the Dots, Gabriel Schoenfeld notes the peculiar journalistic standards of the New York Times‘s ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, who gets the vapors at the thought of Bill Kristol being an NYT columnist, but had no problem with–and even defended as an example of high journalistic integrity–the publication of an op-ed last summer by a Hamas spokesman.

Hoyt believes that it is a matter of pride for the Times to run op-eds by terrorists, because “Op-ed pages should be open especially to controversial ideas, because that’s the way a free society decides what’s right and what’s wrong for itself.” Let’s look at that op-ed, and attempt to discern the “controversial ideas” that the Times helped bring into the public debate. Under the title, “What Hamas Wants,” Ahmed Yousef wrote:

We want to get children back to school, get basic services functioning again, and provide long-term economic gains for our people.

Our stated aim when we won the election was to effect reform, end corruption and bring economic prosperity to our people. Our sole focus is Palestinian rights and good governance. We now hope to create a climate of peace and tranquillity within our community that will pave the way for an end to internal strife…

It goes without saying that these words were lies, articulated in perfect pitch to a western ear that desperately wishes to believe that Palestinian terrorism might actually be intended to accomplish noble ends.

What the Times accomplished was nothing so great as the airing of “controversial” views–it would have done that if it had published an honest defense of Islamic imperialism and terrorism from a Hamas spokesman. Instead it advertised to the world its own astonishing gullibility in believing that a piece of obvious propaganda from Hamas was actually a forthright attempt by its spokesman at explaining the group to the world. It’s not so much that people like Hoyt are hypocrites: being a hypocrite requires a level of shrewdness that I’m not sure was ever on display in this case. Instead I apply Occam’s Razor: Hoyt objects to Kristol but celebrates Yousef because he fervently wishes to believe that behind all of its savagery, Hamas’ goals are perfectly understandable–they want “Palestinian rights and good governance.” Who could have a problem with that? In this case, I think, naivety and gullibility are a lot worse than a little hypocrisy.

Over at Connecting the Dots, Gabriel Schoenfeld notes the peculiar journalistic standards of the New York Times‘s ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, who gets the vapors at the thought of Bill Kristol being an NYT columnist, but had no problem with–and even defended as an example of high journalistic integrity–the publication of an op-ed last summer by a Hamas spokesman.

Hoyt believes that it is a matter of pride for the Times to run op-eds by terrorists, because “Op-ed pages should be open especially to controversial ideas, because that’s the way a free society decides what’s right and what’s wrong for itself.” Let’s look at that op-ed, and attempt to discern the “controversial ideas” that the Times helped bring into the public debate. Under the title, “What Hamas Wants,” Ahmed Yousef wrote:

We want to get children back to school, get basic services functioning again, and provide long-term economic gains for our people.

Our stated aim when we won the election was to effect reform, end corruption and bring economic prosperity to our people. Our sole focus is Palestinian rights and good governance. We now hope to create a climate of peace and tranquillity within our community that will pave the way for an end to internal strife…

It goes without saying that these words were lies, articulated in perfect pitch to a western ear that desperately wishes to believe that Palestinian terrorism might actually be intended to accomplish noble ends.

What the Times accomplished was nothing so great as the airing of “controversial” views–it would have done that if it had published an honest defense of Islamic imperialism and terrorism from a Hamas spokesman. Instead it advertised to the world its own astonishing gullibility in believing that a piece of obvious propaganda from Hamas was actually a forthright attempt by its spokesman at explaining the group to the world. It’s not so much that people like Hoyt are hypocrites: being a hypocrite requires a level of shrewdness that I’m not sure was ever on display in this case. Instead I apply Occam’s Razor: Hoyt objects to Kristol but celebrates Yousef because he fervently wishes to believe that behind all of its savagery, Hamas’ goals are perfectly understandable–they want “Palestinian rights and good governance.” Who could have a problem with that? In this case, I think, naivety and gullibility are a lot worse than a little hypocrisy.

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Why Was Ronnie Kasrils in Iran?

In today’s Business Day of South Africa, Paul Moorcraft of the British Centre for Policy Analysis raises some troubling questions about South Africa’s nuclear program (thanks to Joel Pollak for the link). contentions readers may recall that Gabriel Schoenfeld raised questions about a break-in at South Africa’s Pelindaba nuclear facility back in December, a story which appeared on page A29 of the Washington Post.

Moorcraft cites a new book by the journalist A.J. Venter:

Venter also sheds new light on the extent of SA’s post-apartheid deals in missile and nuclear technology. He makes the startling claim that SA, which dismantled its six nukes under international auspices, is considering renewing its nuclear arsenal. Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils, “a card-carrying, outspokenly anti-Israel Jewish member of the South African Communist Party”, in Venter’s words, allegedly briefed his intelligence staff in Pretoria that a nuclear-armed SA would propel the country to the forefront of African politics and “be able to look after itself in the event of serious trouble”.

Kasrils is more than just an “outspokenly anti-Israel” member of the African National Congress. He is the most high-profile and prolific slanderer of Israel in South Africa. I wrote about Kasrils, in the broader context of South Africa’s troubling direction towards an anti-Western foreign policy, in last summer’s Azure. It appears that Iran is looking in the most unlikely of places to gain the materials necessary for strengthening its nuclear capability:

Venter’s evidence bolsters the conventional wisdom that Iran is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. In the intelligence world, threat is calculated as capability plus intention. The crude statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about destroying Israel grafts open intention on to the feared future capability. Iran has been shopping all over the world, so the South African connection, although worrying to western intelligence, is relatively small compared with the bigger players, such as Pakistan and North Korea.

As Pollak rightly surmises, “Perhaps we now know why Kasrils and other senior South African government officials have been visiting Iran in recent months.”

In today’s Business Day of South Africa, Paul Moorcraft of the British Centre for Policy Analysis raises some troubling questions about South Africa’s nuclear program (thanks to Joel Pollak for the link). contentions readers may recall that Gabriel Schoenfeld raised questions about a break-in at South Africa’s Pelindaba nuclear facility back in December, a story which appeared on page A29 of the Washington Post.

Moorcraft cites a new book by the journalist A.J. Venter:

Venter also sheds new light on the extent of SA’s post-apartheid deals in missile and nuclear technology. He makes the startling claim that SA, which dismantled its six nukes under international auspices, is considering renewing its nuclear arsenal. Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils, “a card-carrying, outspokenly anti-Israel Jewish member of the South African Communist Party”, in Venter’s words, allegedly briefed his intelligence staff in Pretoria that a nuclear-armed SA would propel the country to the forefront of African politics and “be able to look after itself in the event of serious trouble”.

Kasrils is more than just an “outspokenly anti-Israel” member of the African National Congress. He is the most high-profile and prolific slanderer of Israel in South Africa. I wrote about Kasrils, in the broader context of South Africa’s troubling direction towards an anti-Western foreign policy, in last summer’s Azure. It appears that Iran is looking in the most unlikely of places to gain the materials necessary for strengthening its nuclear capability:

Venter’s evidence bolsters the conventional wisdom that Iran is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. In the intelligence world, threat is calculated as capability plus intention. The crude statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about destroying Israel grafts open intention on to the feared future capability. Iran has been shopping all over the world, so the South African connection, although worrying to western intelligence, is relatively small compared with the bigger players, such as Pakistan and North Korea.

As Pollak rightly surmises, “Perhaps we now know why Kasrils and other senior South African government officials have been visiting Iran in recent months.”

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Connecting the Dots

There’s a lot going on at contentions about the NIE, but make sure to check out Gabriel Schoenfeld’s tackling of the same subject over at connecting the dots.

There’s a lot going on at contentions about the NIE, but make sure to check out Gabriel Schoenfeld’s tackling of the same subject over at connecting the dots.

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ANNAPOLIS: Sharansky Speaks

Yesterday evening, Natan Sharansky—dissident, democracy activist, former Deputy PM of Israel, author of (among other things) the upcoming Defending Identity, and one of the most tireless defenders of human liberty on the planet—stopped by COMMENTARY’s offices. After two quick games with resident chess whiz Gabriel Schoenfeld, Sharansky graciously sat for a brief Q&A with me and online manager Davi Bernstein. Sharansky discusses the Annapolis conference, the Bush legacy, and the problem of Iran in the interview, which you can watch below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mcHdHnbnTE[/youtube]

Yesterday evening, Natan Sharansky—dissident, democracy activist, former Deputy PM of Israel, author of (among other things) the upcoming Defending Identity, and one of the most tireless defenders of human liberty on the planet—stopped by COMMENTARY’s offices. After two quick games with resident chess whiz Gabriel Schoenfeld, Sharansky graciously sat for a brief Q&A with me and online manager Davi Bernstein. Sharansky discusses the Annapolis conference, the Bush legacy, and the problem of Iran in the interview, which you can watch below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mcHdHnbnTE[/youtube]

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Michael Scheuer Watch #12: Expletive Deleted

I had predicted that as our hero’s ideas and associations became better known, he would be compelled to move from the mainstream media to the far-out margins. Yesterday, as evidence that this shift was under way, I linked to a Scheuer rant on a website called The Jingoist (now only available here), adjacent to all sorts of other rants like “Israel: Perpetual Criminal, Perpetual Liar” and one detailing French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s hidden ties to the Israel’s Mossad.

My imputation of Scheuer’s guilt by association –– and there is such a thing as such guilt, if not in a court of law than in the realm of public opinion –– has evidently struck a nerve. On his website anti-war.com, Justin Raimondo, a self-appointed flack for our hero, has offered a post in which he emphatically argues that Scheuer has not moved to the margins. Scheuer, he says, wrote his rant not for The Jingoist but for his own website, and The Jingoist simply purloined it without permission.

Connecting the Dots is interested in constructing an accurate picture of our hero. But uncertainties abound. I do not know where Scheuer’s work first appeared, and I am not ready to take his or his flack’s word for anything, or take sides in a fight between The Jingoist and anti-war.com. Members of the 9/11 Commission have called into question our hero’s integrity. And our hero has also yet to clear up allegations (leveled by me) that he has prevaricated about when and why he was awarded a medal by the CIA.

But putting aside all such questions, and putting aside the fact that The Jingoist bills itself as a “partner site” of anti-war.com, and assuming for the sake of discussion that Justin Raimondo is right and that anti-war.com was the original home of Scheuer’s ranting, would this daisy chain of assumptions lead us to conclude that Scheuer has not strayed to the fringes and remained in the mainstream?

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I had predicted that as our hero’s ideas and associations became better known, he would be compelled to move from the mainstream media to the far-out margins. Yesterday, as evidence that this shift was under way, I linked to a Scheuer rant on a website called The Jingoist (now only available here), adjacent to all sorts of other rants like “Israel: Perpetual Criminal, Perpetual Liar” and one detailing French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s hidden ties to the Israel’s Mossad.

My imputation of Scheuer’s guilt by association –– and there is such a thing as such guilt, if not in a court of law than in the realm of public opinion –– has evidently struck a nerve. On his website anti-war.com, Justin Raimondo, a self-appointed flack for our hero, has offered a post in which he emphatically argues that Scheuer has not moved to the margins. Scheuer, he says, wrote his rant not for The Jingoist but for his own website, and The Jingoist simply purloined it without permission.

Connecting the Dots is interested in constructing an accurate picture of our hero. But uncertainties abound. I do not know where Scheuer’s work first appeared, and I am not ready to take his or his flack’s word for anything, or take sides in a fight between The Jingoist and anti-war.com. Members of the 9/11 Commission have called into question our hero’s integrity. And our hero has also yet to clear up allegations (leveled by me) that he has prevaricated about when and why he was awarded a medal by the CIA.

But putting aside all such questions, and putting aside the fact that The Jingoist bills itself as a “partner site” of anti-war.com, and assuming for the sake of discussion that Justin Raimondo is right and that anti-war.com was the original home of Scheuer’s ranting, would this daisy chain of assumptions lead us to conclude that Scheuer has not strayed to the fringes and remained in the mainstream?

Readers can judge for themselves. For if The Jingoist is in Holocaust-denial territory, anti-war.com is not far behind. A good place to begin is the long series that anti-war.com has devoted to the many Israeli “art students” who in the run-up to September 11 came to our country ostensibly to sketch, draw, and paint, but were actually working deep under cover, spying on Americans.

Here is one entry by Justin Raimondo himself, entitled 9/11: What Did Israel Know –– And When Did They Tell Us?:

A secret government report (originating with the Drug Enforcement Agency) detailing the highly suspicious activities of these aspiring Israeli “artists” was . . . uncovered, and a series of stories appeared in the international media . . .

Those of us who identified the Israeli “art students” as part of a spy operation in the U.S. were absolutely correct, that the Israelis were not only conducting covert operations against U.S. government facilities but were also watching the hijackers very closely, and that some people will go to any lengths to avoid considering some very unpleasant and politically explosive possibilities . . .

Suffice to say here that the Israeli role in the events leading up to 9/11 is, at best, highly suspicious. Certainly the news that their agents were close neighbors of Mohammed Atta and an accomplice leads to some disturbing juxtapositions. Did the “art students” stand behind the terrorists in line at the local supermarket? Did they bump into each other in the street –– and what, pray tell, did these dedicated Al Qaeda cadre think of a group of Israelis living in such close proximity?

What happened to these art students? And how did they make their escape? Why did all the Jewish employees stay at home on the day that the Twin Towers were destroyed? Is anti-war.com fringe or mainstream? Connecting the Dots is eager to know.

Connecting the Dots also must briefly call attention to the language in which these would-be members of the mainstream media talk.

Yesterday, we saw Michael Scheuer write:

I forthrightly damn, and pray that God damns, any American –– Jew, Catholic, Evangelical, Irish, German, Hindu, hermaphrodite, thespian, or otherwise – who flogs the insane idea that American and Israeli interests are one and the same.

In Raimondo’s post today, he asks:  “How dumb is Gabriel Schoenfeld?” and answers “Pretty damned dumb.” As his argument unfolds, he speaks of my “dumb-ass peroration” and labels me “a vicious nut-bar.” All this appears in a post entitled Gabriel Schoenfeld is an Ass-hat.

A reader of Connecting the Dots, who happens to have a Ph.D. in child psychology, has already sent me a query and a comment: “What is an ‘ass hat’? My son’s favorite insult these days is ‘poop nose,’ which is far more evocative. The rhetorical level here seems to hover somewhere between second and third grade.”

A complete guide to other items in this Michael Scheuer Watch series can be found here

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“Free Speech for Terrorists?”

This afternoon, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke by invitation at Columbia University. (See Gabriel Schoenfeld’s post here.) Ahmadinejad has made clear that he considers the U.S. and Iran to be mortal enemies, and that the victory of Iran in the struggle between them is divinely ordained. This is to say nothing of his intention to develop a nuclear bomb, his genocidal attitude toward Israel, his denial of the Holocaust, and his blatant anti-Semitism and hatred of Christianity. In March 2005, the noted legal scholar Andrew McCarthy addressed in COMMENTARY the question of how far American legal protections of speech should extend toward our nation’s declared Islamist enemies. In “Free Speech for Terrorists?” he concludes that the First Amendment is not now and never has been a suicide pact.

This afternoon, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke by invitation at Columbia University. (See Gabriel Schoenfeld’s post here.) Ahmadinejad has made clear that he considers the U.S. and Iran to be mortal enemies, and that the victory of Iran in the struggle between them is divinely ordained. This is to say nothing of his intention to develop a nuclear bomb, his genocidal attitude toward Israel, his denial of the Holocaust, and his blatant anti-Semitism and hatred of Christianity. In March 2005, the noted legal scholar Andrew McCarthy addressed in COMMENTARY the question of how far American legal protections of speech should extend toward our nation’s declared Islamist enemies. In “Free Speech for Terrorists?” he concludes that the First Amendment is not now and never has been a suicide pact.

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Weekend Reading

American movies show, with a contrast and vividness perhaps unmatched in any other medium, the depths and the heights of our collective culture. This goes some distance toward explaining why movies exert such an enduring fascination on the American mind. COMMENTARY has, for more than fifty years, published some of the most incisive and provocative writing on American films. We offer some of the best of that writing for this weekend’s reading.

The Movie Camera and the American
Robert Warshow – March 1952

The Strangely Polite “Dr. Strangelove”
Midge Decter – May 1964

The Man Who Refused to Watch the Academy Awards
David Evanier – April 1977

Woody Allen on the American Character
Richard Grenier — November 1983

A Dissent on “Schindler’s List”
Philip Gourevitch – February 1994

Journalism, Hollywood-Style
Terry Teachout – December 2005

Spielberg’s “Munich”
Gabriel Schoenfeld – February 2006

American movies show, with a contrast and vividness perhaps unmatched in any other medium, the depths and the heights of our collective culture. This goes some distance toward explaining why movies exert such an enduring fascination on the American mind. COMMENTARY has, for more than fifty years, published some of the most incisive and provocative writing on American films. We offer some of the best of that writing for this weekend’s reading.

The Movie Camera and the American
Robert Warshow – March 1952

The Strangely Polite “Dr. Strangelove”
Midge Decter – May 1964

The Man Who Refused to Watch the Academy Awards
David Evanier – April 1977

Woody Allen on the American Character
Richard Grenier — November 1983

A Dissent on “Schindler’s List”
Philip Gourevitch – February 1994

Journalism, Hollywood-Style
Terry Teachout – December 2005

Spielberg’s “Munich”
Gabriel Schoenfeld – February 2006

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Our Fallible CIA

I just finished reading Mark Bowden’s gripping account of the Iranian hostage crisis, Guests of the Ayatollah. And just in time, it seems. The Washington Post is proclaiming “A New Iranian Hostage Crisis” caused by Tehran’s illegal detention of Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari.

Bowden’s book has been extensively reviewed (including by Gabriel Schoenfeld in COMMENTARY), and I won’t bother to go over the same ground here. But one point that emerged from his account and that bears emphasizing is the CIA’s long track record of incompetence.

The “students” who took over the U.S. embassy in 1979 were convinced it was a “Den of Spies” plotting to overthrow the Islamic revolution and to assassinate their beloved Ayatollah Khomeini. In reality, as Bowden notes, the entire CIA presence consisted of three newly arrived officers, none of whom spoke Farsi, and who had no useful agents in the entire country. (The agency’s level of perceptiveness is suggested by an August 1978 analysis which concluded that Iran “is not in a revolutionary or even a prerevolutionary situation.”)

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I just finished reading Mark Bowden’s gripping account of the Iranian hostage crisis, Guests of the Ayatollah. And just in time, it seems. The Washington Post is proclaiming “A New Iranian Hostage Crisis” caused by Tehran’s illegal detention of Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari.

Bowden’s book has been extensively reviewed (including by Gabriel Schoenfeld in COMMENTARY), and I won’t bother to go over the same ground here. But one point that emerged from his account and that bears emphasizing is the CIA’s long track record of incompetence.

The “students” who took over the U.S. embassy in 1979 were convinced it was a “Den of Spies” plotting to overthrow the Islamic revolution and to assassinate their beloved Ayatollah Khomeini. In reality, as Bowden notes, the entire CIA presence consisted of three newly arrived officers, none of whom spoke Farsi, and who had no useful agents in the entire country. (The agency’s level of perceptiveness is suggested by an August 1978 analysis which concluded that Iran “is not in a revolutionary or even a prerevolutionary situation.”)

It’s no wonder the agency was so deceived. The CIA had depended for its knowledge of Iran on the Shah’s intelligence service, and when the Shah was overthrown, America’s intelligence agencies were left dumb and blind.

Unfortunately, there is good cause to suspect that conditions have not improved substantially in the past 28 years. The CIA has never had much luck operating in countries where there is not even an American embassy, and it would be remarkable if Iran today were an exception.

In fact, the Robb-Silberman Commission’s 2005 report strongly suggested—with details omitted in its unclassified version—that the American intelligence community has scant knowledge of what’s happening behind the scenes in either the North Korean or Iranian nuclear programs:

We found an intelligence community that has had some significant successes, but that is, on balance, badly equipped and badly organized to confront today’s threats. We found human intelligence collectors who have struggled in vain to find sources with valuable information—and often failed to vet properly the sources they did find. We found technical intelligence collectors whose traditional techniques have declining utility against threats that are increasingly elusive and diffuse. And we found an analytical community too quick to rely upon assumptions or conjecture, and too slow to communicate gaps and uncertainties to policymakers.

But above all, we found an intelligence community that was too disorganized and fragmented to use its many talented people and sophisticated tools effectively.

Keep the above in mind if you happen to read David Samuels’s cover story in the current issue of the Atlantic. Called “Grand Illusions,” it is a veeeery long account of the author’s travels and interviews with Condi Rice during her Middle Eastern diplomatic efforts. Amid the stultifying litany of meetings and press conferences, Samuels nonchalantly passes along a rather startling claim. A claim, in fact, that suggests the CIA is having a lot more behind-the-scenes success in Iran than anyone suspects.

Citing “[s]ources in the United States and the Middle East familiar with the covert side of the American-led effort to push back Iran,” Samuels claims that American agents are responsible for a series of recent events in Iran:

a bomb in Zahedan, the economic center of the province of Baluchistan, that killed 11 soldiers in the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on February 14; the mysterious death of the Iranian scientist Ardashir Hosseinpour, who worked on uranium enrichment at the Isfahan nuclear facility; and the defection of a high ranking Iranian general named Ali Asgari.

If true, this would be good news, indicating that the CIA is conducting an effective covert action against the Iranian regime currently making war on us in Iraq and other places. But a healthy measure of skepticism is warranted. I asked a friend, a former CIA clandestine-service officer, about the veracity of Samuels’s reporting. His response: “It’s all crap. The Atlantic should not have put that in. It couldn’t be further from the truth. The Atlantic should not descend to the level of the New Yorker.”

Of course my friend’s dismissal of these allegations will not convince hardcore conspiracy theorists. They will think that his words are part of an elaborate disinformation campaign. There is, apparently, no shortage of people, especially abroad, who watch movies like Spy Game (2001) and The Bourne Identity (2002) and think that they provide an accurate picture of CIA capabilities—that with a few words the CIA director can launch a commando mission to free a spy from a Chinese prison or send hit teams to Europe to hunt down a renegade agent. While Hollywood often depicts the CIA and other intelligence agencies such as the NSA (Enemy of the State, 1998) as malevolent entities, it inevitably presents them as nearly omnipotent.

Too bad the real world doesn’t bear much resemblance to the reel world. In fact, the upcoming film based on the classic TV series Get Smart might provide a more accurate picture of our intelligence capabilities.

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A Crisis in Generalship

In the new issue of the Armed Forces Journal, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling, deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and a distinguished veteran of two combat tours in Iraq (three, if you count Operation Desert Storm), has written a blistering critique of American generalship. His article is attracting well-justified attention, such as this Washington Post article by Tom Ricks and Gabriel Schoenfeld’s short take on it here.

Yingling’s article flies in the face of attempts by some civilian and military critics to lay the blame for all that has gone wrong in Iraq exclusively at the feet of George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and other civilian leaders. No doubt Bush and his cabinet are guilty of appalling errors of judgment; ultimately the buck stops in the Oval Office. But, as in the Vietnam war, our senior military leaders deserve their share of blame for trying to fight an insurgency with the tools and tactics of conventional war.

I have been hearing grumbling for a while from the uniformed ranks about the quality of their senior leaders. But until now, few soldiers have had the cojones to speak out publicly. Yingling has broken the code of omertà, at considerable risk to his own career.

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In the new issue of the Armed Forces Journal, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling, deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and a distinguished veteran of two combat tours in Iraq (three, if you count Operation Desert Storm), has written a blistering critique of American generalship. His article is attracting well-justified attention, such as this Washington Post article by Tom Ricks and Gabriel Schoenfeld’s short take on it here.

Yingling’s article flies in the face of attempts by some civilian and military critics to lay the blame for all that has gone wrong in Iraq exclusively at the feet of George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and other civilian leaders. No doubt Bush and his cabinet are guilty of appalling errors of judgment; ultimately the buck stops in the Oval Office. But, as in the Vietnam war, our senior military leaders deserve their share of blame for trying to fight an insurgency with the tools and tactics of conventional war.

I have been hearing grumbling for a while from the uniformed ranks about the quality of their senior leaders. But until now, few soldiers have had the cojones to speak out publicly. Yingling has broken the code of omertà, at considerable risk to his own career.

Yingling writes:

Despite engaging in numerous stability operations throughout the 1990’s, the armed forces did little to bolster their capabilities for civic reconstruction and security-force development. Procurement priorities during the 1990’s followed the cold-war model, with significant funding devoted to new fighter aircraft and artillery systems. The most commonly used tactical scenarios in both schools and training centers replicated high-intensity interstate conflict. At the dawn of the 21st century, the U.S. is fighting brutal, adaptive insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, while our armed forces have spent the preceding decade having done little to prepare for such conflicts.

Having spent a decade preparing to fight the wrong war, America’s generals then miscalculated both the means and ways necessary to succeed in Iraq. The most fundamental military miscalculation in Iraq has been the failure to commit sufficient forces to provide security to Iraq’s population. . . . Given the lack of troop strength, not even the most brilliant general could have devised the ways necessary to stabilize post-Saddam Iraq. However, inept planning for postwar Iraq took the crisis caused by a lack of troops and quickly transformed it into a debacle. . . . After failing to visualize the conditions of combat in Iraq, America’s generals failed to adapt to the demands of counterinsurgency. . . . After going into Iraq with too few troops and no coherent plan for postwar stabilization, America’s general officer corps did not accurately portray the intensity of the insurgency to the American public. . . . The intellectual and moral failures common to America’s general officer corps in Vietnam and Iraq constitute a crisis in American generalship.

Yingling goes on to suggest that the solution lies in more congressional oversight of the promotion and retention of generals. Senior officers who fail at their assignments could even be retired at a reduced rank.

Whether involving the barons of Capitol Hill more closely will resolve this crisis is, of course, debatable. But there is no disputing Yingling’s cri de coeur: “As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”

That has to change. And the most effective means of change is not more congressional micromanagement. It is a President who takes his responsibilities as commander-in-chief as seriously as Lincoln or FDR did. Although President Bush reportedly read Eliot Cohen’s book on the subject—Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime—he has not so far been nearly as vigorous as our most successful wartime leaders in holding military leaders accountable for their successes and failures. And, as Yingling notes, we’re paying the price in Iraq for that lack of oversight. Left to their own devices, generals often get it wrong.

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Brzezinski’s Paranoia

Writing in the Sunday, March 25 Outlook section of the Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski claims that “The ‘war on terror’ has created a culture of fear in America.” Moreover, he says, “the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors [to] stimulate . . . the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions, and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.” The “fear-mongering” of President Bush has been reinforced, says Brzezinski, “by security entrepreneurs, the mass media, and the entertainment industry.” As a result, the American people have been subjected to “five years of almost continuous national brainwashing on the subject of terror.”

This, Brzezinski continues, has “stimulate[d] Islamophobia.” In particular, the “Arab facial stereotypes, particularly in [American] newspaper cartoons,” remind Brzezinski of the “Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns.” The people who do such things are “apparently oblivious to the menacing connection between the stimulation of racial and religious hatreds and the unleashing of the unprecedented crimes of the Holocaust.”

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Writing in the Sunday, March 25 Outlook section of the Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski claims that “The ‘war on terror’ has created a culture of fear in America.” Moreover, he says, “the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors [to] stimulate . . . the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions, and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.” The “fear-mongering” of President Bush has been reinforced, says Brzezinski, “by security entrepreneurs, the mass media, and the entertainment industry.” As a result, the American people have been subjected to “five years of almost continuous national brainwashing on the subject of terror.”

This, Brzezinski continues, has “stimulate[d] Islamophobia.” In particular, the “Arab facial stereotypes, particularly in [American] newspaper cartoons,” remind Brzezinski of the “Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns.” The people who do such things are “apparently oblivious to the menacing connection between the stimulation of racial and religious hatreds and the unleashing of the unprecedented crimes of the Holocaust.”

Brzezinski’s goal, he says, is an end to “this hysteria . . . this paranoia.”

How to react to this? Would that one could say simply that it is sad to see a former high official go off the rails, and leave it at that. But the very fact that the Post chose to give the man such prime space shows that he will be taken seriously, although he no longer deserves to be. So here are a few comments.

It is rather rich to decry hysteria and paranoia in the same breath that one likens the slights to Arabs in the American news media to the depiction of Jews by the Nazis, and to imply that these slights may be the prelude to another Holocaust.

It is also rich to hear Brzezinski sneer at “security entrepreneurs.” How, exactly, would Brzezinski describe his own career? The Encyclopedia of World Biography’s entry on him reminds us that “Brzezinski was openly eager to be appointed assistant to the President for nation security affairs and delighted when President-elect Carter offered him the position in December 1976.”

It is amusing to be lectured that “America today is not the self-confident and determined nation that responded to Pearl Harbor” by the national security adviser of the President who delivered the infamous “malaise” speech, telling Americans that our problems arose from “a crisis of the American spirit” and a “los[s of] confidence in the future.” Aside from being rich, Brzezinski’s claim is false. Fear of the enemy is not the opposite of determination and confidence in ultimate victory. There was much fear of the enemy in 1941, including some that was quite hysterical. The main difference in regard to self-confidence between World War II and the war on terror is that after Pearl Harbor, one no longer heard voices like Brzezinski’s claiming that the real enemy was ourselves.

In a further sneer, Brzezinski writes: “President Bush even claims absurdly that he has to continue waging [the war on terror] lest al Qaeda cross the Atlantic to launch a war of terror here in the United States.” Quite a fool, that Bush. Terror here in the United States? Absurd, indeed! How could al Qaeda cross the Atlantic? In airplanes? Ha, ha.

Between sneers, Brzezinski waxes professorial. “Terrorism is not an enemy but a technique,” he explains. Quite so. The enemy might more precisely be described as jihadism, a political ideology that claims that the Christian and Jewish worlds are at war with Islam and that the Islamic world must make war on them. This ideology traces its roots to the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in the 1920’s. But it only took wing after a jihadist government seized power in Iran in 1979, much as Communism only emerged as a major force after a Communist government was established in Russia. And where was Brzezinski when this enemy was taking shape? At the very pinnacle of the American government, flapping about pathetically, pursuing policies that enabled this strategic disaster to happen. His qualification for instructing us about how to deal with jihadism is therefore clear: there are few Americans who did us much as he to create the problem.

* Editor’s Note: You can read Gabriel Schoenfeld’s response to one of Muravchik’s critics here.

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Weekend Reading

In the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books, George Soros, the billionaire investor, philanthropist, amateur political scientist, and self-styled “stateless statesman,” has an essay detailing the allegedly malign influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on American policy and political discourse. According to Soros, the influence wielded by AIPAC has succeeded in silencing any real criticism of the Bush administration’s stance toward Israel, or of Israel’s toward the Palestinians, to the real detriment of the national interest. Anyone who dares to speak out publicly against this insidious state of affairs is tarred with the epithet “anti-Semite” and summarily drummed out of polite society.

Soros is, of course, hardly the first public figure to bring such charges in recent years—without, incidentally, suffering any visible negative effects. Quite the contrary. In March 2006, the political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, of the University of Chicago and Harvard respectively, leaped to fame with a lengthy paper on much the same theme in the London Review of Books. (Mearsheimer and Walt criticized not AIPAC alone but a far more nebulous group, the “Israel Lobby,” of which AIPAC constituted one element.) The ranks of such “questioners” have also been swollen lately by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times and others, again to a chorus of approbation.

In COMMENTARY, both George Soros and the question of the “Israel Lobby” have received attention of another kind. In “The Mind of George Soros” (March 2004) Joshua Muravchik examined the life, the ideas, and the political megalomania of the financier. More recently, in “Dual Loyalty and the ‘Israel Lobby,’” our senior editor Gabriel Schoenfeld deconstructed the claims made by Mearsheimer and Walt and located them within a historical tradition of similarly suspect exercises. We offer these two indispensable articles for your weekend reading.

In the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books, George Soros, the billionaire investor, philanthropist, amateur political scientist, and self-styled “stateless statesman,” has an essay detailing the allegedly malign influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on American policy and political discourse. According to Soros, the influence wielded by AIPAC has succeeded in silencing any real criticism of the Bush administration’s stance toward Israel, or of Israel’s toward the Palestinians, to the real detriment of the national interest. Anyone who dares to speak out publicly against this insidious state of affairs is tarred with the epithet “anti-Semite” and summarily drummed out of polite society.

Soros is, of course, hardly the first public figure to bring such charges in recent years—without, incidentally, suffering any visible negative effects. Quite the contrary. In March 2006, the political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, of the University of Chicago and Harvard respectively, leaped to fame with a lengthy paper on much the same theme in the London Review of Books. (Mearsheimer and Walt criticized not AIPAC alone but a far more nebulous group, the “Israel Lobby,” of which AIPAC constituted one element.) The ranks of such “questioners” have also been swollen lately by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times and others, again to a chorus of approbation.

In COMMENTARY, both George Soros and the question of the “Israel Lobby” have received attention of another kind. In “The Mind of George Soros” (March 2004) Joshua Muravchik examined the life, the ideas, and the political megalomania of the financier. More recently, in “Dual Loyalty and the ‘Israel Lobby,’” our senior editor Gabriel Schoenfeld deconstructed the claims made by Mearsheimer and Walt and located them within a historical tradition of similarly suspect exercises. We offer these two indispensable articles for your weekend reading.

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Suzanne Garment’s Scandal

Gabriel Schoenfeld’s post on the Libby verdict below makes a good occasion to offer our readers veteran COMMENTARY contributor Paul Johnson’s review of Suzanne Garment’s Scandal—a penetrating book on issues not identical with but germane to those brought up by the Libby trial. Johnson’s review finds indisputable Garment’s contention that

Democratic Congresses, by devising special acts and procedures for the prosecution of public officials, in conjunction with “investigative journalists” of the media, overwhelmingly Democratic or even radical, have between them developed a culture of mistrust toward those in power which has made good government—that is to say, courageous government, willing to take calculated risks and make unpopular decisions—far more difficult.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Gabriel Schoenfeld’s post on the Libby verdict below makes a good occasion to offer our readers veteran COMMENTARY contributor Paul Johnson’s review of Suzanne Garment’s Scandal—a penetrating book on issues not identical with but germane to those brought up by the Libby trial. Johnson’s review finds indisputable Garment’s contention that

Democratic Congresses, by devising special acts and procedures for the prosecution of public officials, in conjunction with “investigative journalists” of the media, overwhelmingly Democratic or even radical, have between them developed a culture of mistrust toward those in power which has made good government—that is to say, courageous government, willing to take calculated risks and make unpopular decisions—far more difficult.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

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Mosley and the New Anti-Semitism

The oldest hatred never ceases to astonish us with its ability to rejuvenate itself. Anti-Semitism—nowadays invariably focused on Israel and repackaged as “anti-Zionism”—is once again ubiquitous in western countries. In some quarters, it is even considered respectable. Just as this salon anti-Semitism served the Nazis in the 1930’s by denying the threat to the very existence of the Jewish people in Europe, so today the re-emergence of anti-Semitism in the West serves the Islamists by denying the existential threat to the Jews of Israel.

To see how history is repeating itself, it is useful to compare the tactics used by the new anti-Semites with those of one of the most notorious anti-Semites in the history of the English-speaking world: the pre-war leader of the British Union of Fascists, Sir Oswald Mosley.

One of the commonest arguments used by the new anti-Semites is that nobody is allowed to criticize or even mention the “Israel lobby”—which amounts to claiming that Jews are above criticism. In their scurrilous polemic “The Israel Lobby,” John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, professors at the University of Chicago and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government respectively, claim that “the Lobby’s campaign to quash debate about Israel is unhealthy for democracy.” (Gabriel Schoenfeld wrote about Walt and Mearsheimer in the November 2006 issue of COMMENTARY.)
Besides being wholly untrue—there are few subjects on which debate is livelier than Israel—this argument has a thoroughly disreputable pedigree. Here is Sir Oswald Mosley, even after the Holocaust, making exactly the same complaint: “If you wanted to stop some Jews profiteering, you were accused of wanting to destroy all Jews. If you objected to the way some of them treated their labor, you were accused of seeking to deny all of then the right to live. If you dared to criticise anything that any Jew did, you were accused of seeking to crucify the whole race.”

Read More

The oldest hatred never ceases to astonish us with its ability to rejuvenate itself. Anti-Semitism—nowadays invariably focused on Israel and repackaged as “anti-Zionism”—is once again ubiquitous in western countries. In some quarters, it is even considered respectable. Just as this salon anti-Semitism served the Nazis in the 1930’s by denying the threat to the very existence of the Jewish people in Europe, so today the re-emergence of anti-Semitism in the West serves the Islamists by denying the existential threat to the Jews of Israel.

To see how history is repeating itself, it is useful to compare the tactics used by the new anti-Semites with those of one of the most notorious anti-Semites in the history of the English-speaking world: the pre-war leader of the British Union of Fascists, Sir Oswald Mosley.

One of the commonest arguments used by the new anti-Semites is that nobody is allowed to criticize or even mention the “Israel lobby”—which amounts to claiming that Jews are above criticism. In their scurrilous polemic “The Israel Lobby,” John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, professors at the University of Chicago and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government respectively, claim that “the Lobby’s campaign to quash debate about Israel is unhealthy for democracy.” (Gabriel Schoenfeld wrote about Walt and Mearsheimer in the November 2006 issue of COMMENTARY.)
Besides being wholly untrue—there are few subjects on which debate is livelier than Israel—this argument has a thoroughly disreputable pedigree. Here is Sir Oswald Mosley, even after the Holocaust, making exactly the same complaint: “If you wanted to stop some Jews profiteering, you were accused of wanting to destroy all Jews. If you objected to the way some of them treated their labor, you were accused of seeking to deny all of then the right to live. If you dared to criticise anything that any Jew did, you were accused of seeking to crucify the whole race.”


The new anti-Semites allege that the “Israel lobby” controls American foreign policy. Having dragged President George W. Bush into Iraq, they claim, it is now trying to manipulate him into attacking Iran. This argument, too, was a staple of Mosley and his blackshirts. In November 1938, immediately after the Kristallnacht progrom in Nazi Germany, Mosley wrote: “Why is it only when Jews are affected that we have any demand for war with the country concerned?” The anti-Semites and the appeasers were then and are now natural allies.

Mearsheimer and Walt claim that the new anti-Semitism is an invention of the Israel lobby. They also deny that anti-Semitism is rising in Europe, suggesting that this too is a myth created by the Israel lobby. (For a concise history of European anti-Semitism, see Paul Johnson’s article in the June 2005 issue.) Yet according to the Community Security Trust, which monitors anti-Semitic incidents in Britain, in 2006 there was a 37 percent increase in violent assaults on Jews and a 46 percent increase in attacks on synagogues, Jewish cemeteries, and other communal property. This is an alarming rate of increase in a single year, and the trend is long-term: the numbers have doubled over a decade and are now at their highest level since records began. In its impact on the daily lives of British Jews, anti-Semitism is now much worse than it was in Mosley’s time. The situation in much of continental Europe is even worse.

This is not yet the case in the United States, but that is no reason to be complacent. Some university campuses have become places where thinly-disguised anti-Semitism is openly propagated. One such is Columbia, which invited Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak last September. The invitation was withdrawn, but the fact that it was issued at all is bizarre. Another is Stanford, where groups calling themselves the “Coalition for Justice in the Middle East” and “Students Confronting Apartheid in Israel” invited Norman Finkelstein to address them last month. Mr. Finkelstein is not in the same league of infamy as the Iranian president, but his book The Holocaust Industry defames those who keep alive the memory of the Holocaust’s six million Jewish victims and has handed a potent slogan to anti-Semites everywhere. Like other self-hating Jews of his ilk, he has embraced the Islamist cause. He is associated with more overt anti-Semites such as David Duke and David Irving. Academic freedom does not have to extend to offering platforms to a Finkelstein or an Ahmadinejad. Europe has let the genie of anti-Semitism out of the bottle; America must not follow suit.

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The Jewish Al Sharpton?

After a long absence from respectable circles, Jew-baiting is back.

When Patrick J. Buchanan denounced the 1991 U.S. military action to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, saying it had been cooked up by “Israel and its amen corner,” he largely sealed the doom of his political career. His remark, blaming the Jews for steering U.S. policy to actions that he alleged were in their own interest but not in America’s, made use of the classic anti-Semitic formula. Anti-Semitism, however, had been taboo in America for a generation or more, partly as a response to the Holocaust and partly due to the wider revulsion against bigotry occasioned by the civil-rights revolution. Commentators unloaded on Buchanan from many directions, led by the New York Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal.

Fifteen years later, however, anti-Semitism is becoming, more and more, an accepted part of national discourse. First, Harvard University published the fulminations of scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (dissected in the pages of COMMENTARY by Gabriel Schoenfeld) accusing the “amen corner,” or in their term “the Israel Lobby,” of distorting U.S. policy to serve Israel rather than America. Then came former President Jimmy Carter’s book, blaming the Arab-Israel conflict entirely on the Jews, and claiming that this information had been kept from the American people by the pervasive and intimidating influence of certain “religious groups,” i.e., the Jews. (See my piece about Carter in the February issue of COMMENTARY.) Next came Democratic presidential aspirant, Wesley Clark, who commented recently that pressure for U.S. action against Iran’s nuclear weapons program was coming primarily from “New York money people.” Can you guess which religious/ethnic group he might be referring to?

Enter the New York Times, a paper famously Jewish-owned and long edited by A.M. Rosenthal, and therefore the target of many anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of the kind once propounded by cranks (and now routinely put forth by the likes of Carter, Walt, and Mearsheimer).

The Times‘s Sunday magazine of January 14 carried James Traub’s astounding hatchet job on Abe Foxman. Foxman is head of the Anti-Defamation League, which in Traub’s view, should long ago “have moved away from its original mission [of combating anti-Semitism] in favor of either promoting tolerance and diversity or leading the nonsectarian fight against extremism.” Instead, Foxman, a “hectoring” man of “spleen” who is “domineering” and “brazen,” “an anachronism” who resembles “a Cadillac-driving ward-heeler” and “stages public rituals of accusation,” insists perversely on “dwell[ing] imaginatively in the Holocaust.”

“It is tempting,” writes Traub, “to compare Abe Foxman with Al Sharpton, another portly, bellicose, melodramatizing defender of ethnic ramparts.” Leave aside that Sharpton is a notorious fraud who gave America the Tawana Brawley farce. More to the point is that for all the publicity that he succeeds in garnering, Sharpton represents no one but himself. Foxman, in contrast, is the chief of one of the leading, if not the leading, organizations through which American Jews defend their civil rights. Traub’s complaint that Foxman is obsessive about anti-Semitism is akin to assailing the head of, say, the NAACP for being overly sensitive to racism. But that’s an exposé you won’t read in the Times any time soon.

Apparently for the likes of Walt and Mearsheimer to bait the Jews is all right: Traub gives them extremely respectful treatment. But for Jews to defend themselves is, it seems, disgusting.

After a long absence from respectable circles, Jew-baiting is back.

When Patrick J. Buchanan denounced the 1991 U.S. military action to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, saying it had been cooked up by “Israel and its amen corner,” he largely sealed the doom of his political career. His remark, blaming the Jews for steering U.S. policy to actions that he alleged were in their own interest but not in America’s, made use of the classic anti-Semitic formula. Anti-Semitism, however, had been taboo in America for a generation or more, partly as a response to the Holocaust and partly due to the wider revulsion against bigotry occasioned by the civil-rights revolution. Commentators unloaded on Buchanan from many directions, led by the New York Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal.

Fifteen years later, however, anti-Semitism is becoming, more and more, an accepted part of national discourse. First, Harvard University published the fulminations of scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (dissected in the pages of COMMENTARY by Gabriel Schoenfeld) accusing the “amen corner,” or in their term “the Israel Lobby,” of distorting U.S. policy to serve Israel rather than America. Then came former President Jimmy Carter’s book, blaming the Arab-Israel conflict entirely on the Jews, and claiming that this information had been kept from the American people by the pervasive and intimidating influence of certain “religious groups,” i.e., the Jews. (See my piece about Carter in the February issue of COMMENTARY.) Next came Democratic presidential aspirant, Wesley Clark, who commented recently that pressure for U.S. action against Iran’s nuclear weapons program was coming primarily from “New York money people.” Can you guess which religious/ethnic group he might be referring to?

Enter the New York Times, a paper famously Jewish-owned and long edited by A.M. Rosenthal, and therefore the target of many anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of the kind once propounded by cranks (and now routinely put forth by the likes of Carter, Walt, and Mearsheimer).

The Times‘s Sunday magazine of January 14 carried James Traub’s astounding hatchet job on Abe Foxman. Foxman is head of the Anti-Defamation League, which in Traub’s view, should long ago “have moved away from its original mission [of combating anti-Semitism] in favor of either promoting tolerance and diversity or leading the nonsectarian fight against extremism.” Instead, Foxman, a “hectoring” man of “spleen” who is “domineering” and “brazen,” “an anachronism” who resembles “a Cadillac-driving ward-heeler” and “stages public rituals of accusation,” insists perversely on “dwell[ing] imaginatively in the Holocaust.”

“It is tempting,” writes Traub, “to compare Abe Foxman with Al Sharpton, another portly, bellicose, melodramatizing defender of ethnic ramparts.” Leave aside that Sharpton is a notorious fraud who gave America the Tawana Brawley farce. More to the point is that for all the publicity that he succeeds in garnering, Sharpton represents no one but himself. Foxman, in contrast, is the chief of one of the leading, if not the leading, organizations through which American Jews defend their civil rights. Traub’s complaint that Foxman is obsessive about anti-Semitism is akin to assailing the head of, say, the NAACP for being overly sensitive to racism. But that’s an exposé you won’t read in the Times any time soon.

Apparently for the likes of Walt and Mearsheimer to bait the Jews is all right: Traub gives them extremely respectful treatment. But for Jews to defend themselves is, it seems, disgusting.

Read Less




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