Commentary Magazine


Topic: Harper

RE: Why Aren’t There Any Republican Scientists?

Alana’s reference to the Pew Research poll that used the membership of the American Association for the Advancement of Science as a proxy for American scientists generally, which it is not, reminds me of perhaps the most famous poll in American History, the Literary Digest poll for the presidential election of 1936.

The Literary Digest, a middlebrow magazine perhaps roughly analogous to the Atlantic or Harper’s today, polled a huge number of people — 2,500,000 all told — and came up with the prediction that Alf Landon, the Republican candidate, would decisively defeat FDR. He didn’t. In fact he won only two states and eight electoral votes, tying the lowest total of any major party candidate since modern party politics began around the time of the Civil War.

What went wrong? As with the Pew Research poll, the problem was the pool from which the sample was drawn. The Digest used its own subscription base, people with registered automobiles, and those with telephones. In the Depression, that skewed the sample way up the socioeconomic scale. (It would not be until 1946 that half of American households had a telephone.)

When the poll was first published, it had a gloss of believability about it. Republicans had done well in the Maine gubernatorial and congressional races (which were then held in September), and Maine had a reputation a being a bellwether state. “As Maine goes,” went the political proverb, “so goes the nation.”

After the election, Democrats gleefully changed  the saying to “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont.” And the Literary Digest soon folded.

Alana’s reference to the Pew Research poll that used the membership of the American Association for the Advancement of Science as a proxy for American scientists generally, which it is not, reminds me of perhaps the most famous poll in American History, the Literary Digest poll for the presidential election of 1936.

The Literary Digest, a middlebrow magazine perhaps roughly analogous to the Atlantic or Harper’s today, polled a huge number of people — 2,500,000 all told — and came up with the prediction that Alf Landon, the Republican candidate, would decisively defeat FDR. He didn’t. In fact he won only two states and eight electoral votes, tying the lowest total of any major party candidate since modern party politics began around the time of the Civil War.

What went wrong? As with the Pew Research poll, the problem was the pool from which the sample was drawn. The Digest used its own subscription base, people with registered automobiles, and those with telephones. In the Depression, that skewed the sample way up the socioeconomic scale. (It would not be until 1946 that half of American households had a telephone.)

When the poll was first published, it had a gloss of believability about it. Republicans had done well in the Maine gubernatorial and congressional races (which were then held in September), and Maine had a reputation a being a bellwether state. “As Maine goes,” went the political proverb, “so goes the nation.”

After the election, Democrats gleefully changed  the saying to “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont.” And the Literary Digest soon folded.

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Re: Iran Strike, Out

Yesterday, I pointed out that the Obama administration seems to have taken the military option off the table regarding Iran. Hillary Clinton’s recent comments in Qatar leave little room for any other interpretation. How striking, then, to see the comparative hawkishness of our neighbor to the north:

An attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada, junior foreign minister Peter Kent says, suggesting that pre-emptive action may be needed against Iran.

“Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper has made it quite clear for some time now and has regularly stated that an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada,” said Kent, minister of state for foreign affairs (Americas).

Kent made the comments in an interview with the news site Shalom Life, based in Greater Toronto.

Discussing the nuclear ambitions of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kent said Ottawa favours further sanctions against Iran but only in “concert with other countries.

“It may soon be time to intensify the sanctions and to broaden those sanctions into other areas … which we hope would discourage Iran from its current course.

“I think the realization that it’s a dangerous situation that has been there for some time. It’s a matter of timing and it’s a matter of how long we can wait without taking more serious pre-emptive action.”

He said military action, while a long shot, is still on the table.

What a strange time indeed that finds the U.S. trailing Canada (and France) in its boldness toward a near-nuclear Iran.

Yesterday, I pointed out that the Obama administration seems to have taken the military option off the table regarding Iran. Hillary Clinton’s recent comments in Qatar leave little room for any other interpretation. How striking, then, to see the comparative hawkishness of our neighbor to the north:

An attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada, junior foreign minister Peter Kent says, suggesting that pre-emptive action may be needed against Iran.

“Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper has made it quite clear for some time now and has regularly stated that an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada,” said Kent, minister of state for foreign affairs (Americas).

Kent made the comments in an interview with the news site Shalom Life, based in Greater Toronto.

Discussing the nuclear ambitions of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kent said Ottawa favours further sanctions against Iran but only in “concert with other countries.

“It may soon be time to intensify the sanctions and to broaden those sanctions into other areas … which we hope would discourage Iran from its current course.

“I think the realization that it’s a dangerous situation that has been there for some time. It’s a matter of timing and it’s a matter of how long we can wait without taking more serious pre-emptive action.”

He said military action, while a long shot, is still on the table.

What a strange time indeed that finds the U.S. trailing Canada (and France) in its boldness toward a near-nuclear Iran.

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Nothing to See Here

Not long after Rudy Giuliani announced his foreign policy advisory team last year, liberal bloggers and journalists cried that the group represented “AIPAC’s Dream Team” (Harper’s Ken Silverstein), was ginning to implement “bloody, bloody, bloody foreign policy” (Matthew Yglesias) and that “RUDY GIULIANI WILL KILL US ALL” (The American Prospect). One could simultaneously disagree with such unhinged assessments of what a Giuliani foreign policy might look like and still believe that the essence of liberal criticism was not unfair: to a large degree, we can divine what a candidate thinks based upon the sort of people from whom he seeks counsel.

This non-partisan analytical instrument is useless, apparently, when it comes to the people advising Barack Obama. Over the past few months, several of Barack Obama’s advisers (foreign policy advisers in particular) have entered the spotlight for things they have said or written which are supposedly at odds with the beliefs of the candidate for whom they work. First, there was the incident in which Obama’s top economics advisor, Austan Goolsbee, reassured Canadian consular officials in Chicago that Obama’s anti-NAFTA position wasn’t sincere. Then, there was the now-departed Samantha Power, who told the BBC that Barack Obama’s real position on Iraq withdrawal was not, in actual fact, what he’d been saying on the campaign trail. Like Goolsbee, we were told at the time that Ms. Power was “just” an adviser — a past one, at this point — and that what she said about the Iraq War is ultimately irrelevant.

On a similar note, last week we discovered — thanks to the tireless reporting of the New York Sun’s Eli Lake — that Colin Kahl, head of Obama’s Iraq working group, wrote a paper calling for 80,000 American troops to stay in Iraq until at least 2010. Susan Rice, another Obama foreign policy adviser, told Lake that, “Barack Obama cannot be held accountable for what we all write.” Finally, a 2003 interview with top Obama adviser Tony McPeak recently surfaced in which the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force said of Iraq, “We’ll be there a century, hopefully. If it works right.” This is the exact same sentiment that John McCain expressed in his much-distorted “100 years” remark.

Of course, given the pattern I’ve elucidated, I presume that we cannot hastily jump to the conclusion that McPeak — like Power, Kahl and Goolsbee before him, and who knows how many advisers into the future — necessarily represents the views of Barack Obama. A great journalistic assignment for an enterprising young reporter would be to find out what Obama does believe.

Not long after Rudy Giuliani announced his foreign policy advisory team last year, liberal bloggers and journalists cried that the group represented “AIPAC’s Dream Team” (Harper’s Ken Silverstein), was ginning to implement “bloody, bloody, bloody foreign policy” (Matthew Yglesias) and that “RUDY GIULIANI WILL KILL US ALL” (The American Prospect). One could simultaneously disagree with such unhinged assessments of what a Giuliani foreign policy might look like and still believe that the essence of liberal criticism was not unfair: to a large degree, we can divine what a candidate thinks based upon the sort of people from whom he seeks counsel.

This non-partisan analytical instrument is useless, apparently, when it comes to the people advising Barack Obama. Over the past few months, several of Barack Obama’s advisers (foreign policy advisers in particular) have entered the spotlight for things they have said or written which are supposedly at odds with the beliefs of the candidate for whom they work. First, there was the incident in which Obama’s top economics advisor, Austan Goolsbee, reassured Canadian consular officials in Chicago that Obama’s anti-NAFTA position wasn’t sincere. Then, there was the now-departed Samantha Power, who told the BBC that Barack Obama’s real position on Iraq withdrawal was not, in actual fact, what he’d been saying on the campaign trail. Like Goolsbee, we were told at the time that Ms. Power was “just” an adviser — a past one, at this point — and that what she said about the Iraq War is ultimately irrelevant.

On a similar note, last week we discovered — thanks to the tireless reporting of the New York Sun’s Eli Lake — that Colin Kahl, head of Obama’s Iraq working group, wrote a paper calling for 80,000 American troops to stay in Iraq until at least 2010. Susan Rice, another Obama foreign policy adviser, told Lake that, “Barack Obama cannot be held accountable for what we all write.” Finally, a 2003 interview with top Obama adviser Tony McPeak recently surfaced in which the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force said of Iraq, “We’ll be there a century, hopefully. If it works right.” This is the exact same sentiment that John McCain expressed in his much-distorted “100 years” remark.

Of course, given the pattern I’ve elucidated, I presume that we cannot hastily jump to the conclusion that McPeak — like Power, Kahl and Goolsbee before him, and who knows how many advisers into the future — necessarily represents the views of Barack Obama. A great journalistic assignment for an enterprising young reporter would be to find out what Obama does believe.

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Home from the Sea

cross-posted at About Last Night

Moss Hart, who grew up poor and spent a not-inconsiderable portion of his young life riding the subway from deepest Brooklyn to Times Square, swore that if he ever struck it rich, he’d take cabs everywhere, even if his destination was only a block or two away. I’ve never been poor and have yet to strike it rich, but I rode the subway often enough in my first years as a New Yorker to be glad that I can now afford to take cabs. Be that as it may, a true New Yorker who wants to get somewhere at ten on a rainy morning takes the subway, and since today’s Mass for the repose of the soul of William F. Buckley, Jr., who died five weeks ago, was scheduled to start at ten o’clock sharp at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I put on my black outfit and raincoat, descended into the bowels of Manhattan, and made my bumpy way to Rockefeller Center in the midst of a rush-hour crowd.

It’s been quite a while since I walked through Rockefeller Center, even longer since I’ve been inside St. Patrick’s, and a very long time indeed since I last attended a memorial service for a public figure. For all these reasons, I have no standard against which to measure Bill’s funeral obsequies. All I can tell you was that today’s service seemed as splendid as it could possibly have been. The cathedral was full of mourners, the choir loft full of singers, and the music was mostly appropriate to the occasion. Bill was a serious amateur musician who loved Bach above all things–he actually performed the F Minor Harpsichord Concerto in public on more than one occasion–so the organist played “Sheep May Safely Graze” and the slow movement of the Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C Major. No less suitable were the sung portions of the Mass, drawn from Victoria’s sweetly austere Missa “O magnum mysterium,” and the closing hymn, the noble tune from Gustav Holst’s The Planets to which the following words were later set: I vow to thee, my country–all earthly things above–/Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love.

The only thing that made my inner critic smile wryly was the performance during communion of the Adagio in G Minor long attributed to Albinoni but in fact woven out of whole cloth by one Remo Giazotto. It is a preposterously operatic piece of spurious yard goods, and to hear it played on the organ with all stops pulled put me in mind of something Bill wrote after attending a Virgil Fox recital many years ago:

At one point during a prelude, I am tempted to rise solemnly, commandeer a shotgun, and advise Fox, preferably in imperious German, if only I could learn German in time to consummate the fantasy, that if he does not release the goddam vox humana, which is oohing-ahing-eeing the music where Bach clearly intended something closer to a bel canto, I shall simply have to blow his head off.

That was the Bill Buckley I knew, whip-smart and impishly outrageous, the same man that David Remnick had in mind when he described Bill as having “the eyes of a child who has just displayed a horrid use for the microwave oven and the family cat.”

I wish I could say I knew him well, but I didn’t. I dined at his table a number of times but was only alone with him once, when I interviewed him about Whittaker Chambers for an anthology of Chambers’ journalism that I edited in 1989. On that occasion Bill assured me that although they had been close, Chambers never had “any direct historical or intellectual influence” on him. The reason he gave is striking:

I never embraced, in part because subjectively it’s contra naturam to me, that utter, total, objective, strategic pessimism of his. Among other things, I think it’s wrong theologically to assume that the world is doomed before God decides to doom it. So I never drank too deeply of his Weltschmerz.

Indeed he did not: Bill was the least weltschmerzy person imaginable. Henry Kissinger, who eulogized him this morning, alluded to that side of Bill’s personality when he remarked that Bill “was vouchsafed a little miracle: to enjoy so much what was compelled by inner necessity.” I couldn’t have put it better. Bill worked fearfully hard and was deadly serious about what he believed, but he extracted self-evident enjoyment from everything he did, and you couldn’t be in his presence for more than a minute or two without responding to his joie de vivre. If I’d been in charge of the music today, I would have made a point of picking something a good deal more festive–Bach’s Fugue à la gigue, say, or one of the harpsichord sonatas in which Scarlatti turns the instrument Bill loved best into a giant guitar.

Christopher Buckley, Bill’s son, followed Henry Kissinger, and gave just the sort of eulogy I’d expected from him, funny and light-fingered, putting much-needed smiles on our faces. Only at the end did he sound a darker note, quoting the lines from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Requiem” that he chose as the epitaph for a man who loved sailing as much as he loved Bach: Here he lies where he long’d to be;/Home is the sailor, home from the sea,/And the hunter home from the hill. Then we all sang “I Vow to Thee, My Country,” pushed our way past the waiting photographers, and returned to the gray, misty day.

I passed up a lunch invitation and went home by myself, preferring to be alone with my thoughts. I was thinking of an evening in the fall of 1985, not long after I moved to New York from the Midwest. I’d been writing for National Review, Bill’s magazine, since 1981, but I’d never met my first great patron face to face, so he invited me to an editorial dinner at his Park Avenue apartment. Back then I was working for Harper’s, whose offices were in Greenwich Village, and the thought of meeting Bill for the first time was so exciting that I walked all the way from Astor Place up to 73 E. 73rd Street (where Bill invariably entertained at 7:30).

It was, of course, a symbolic gesture: I was taking possession of the streets of the city to which I had moved and in which I hoped someday to make a name for myself. At the end of my journey I knocked on the door of Bill’s maisonette, and a few moments later he clasped my hand and said, “Hey, buddy!” It was, I would learn, his standard greeting, always uttered with a warmth that remained disarming no matter how many times you heard it.

Ever since then I have associated Bill Buckley with New York, whose doors he flung wide to me, just as he opened the pages of the magazine he edited. Now New York is my home–but Bill is gone, buried in Connecticut, home at last from the sea. Somehow you never imagine outliving the people who show you through the doors that lead to the rest of your life.

cross-posted at About Last Night

Moss Hart, who grew up poor and spent a not-inconsiderable portion of his young life riding the subway from deepest Brooklyn to Times Square, swore that if he ever struck it rich, he’d take cabs everywhere, even if his destination was only a block or two away. I’ve never been poor and have yet to strike it rich, but I rode the subway often enough in my first years as a New Yorker to be glad that I can now afford to take cabs. Be that as it may, a true New Yorker who wants to get somewhere at ten on a rainy morning takes the subway, and since today’s Mass for the repose of the soul of William F. Buckley, Jr., who died five weeks ago, was scheduled to start at ten o’clock sharp at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I put on my black outfit and raincoat, descended into the bowels of Manhattan, and made my bumpy way to Rockefeller Center in the midst of a rush-hour crowd.

It’s been quite a while since I walked through Rockefeller Center, even longer since I’ve been inside St. Patrick’s, and a very long time indeed since I last attended a memorial service for a public figure. For all these reasons, I have no standard against which to measure Bill’s funeral obsequies. All I can tell you was that today’s service seemed as splendid as it could possibly have been. The cathedral was full of mourners, the choir loft full of singers, and the music was mostly appropriate to the occasion. Bill was a serious amateur musician who loved Bach above all things–he actually performed the F Minor Harpsichord Concerto in public on more than one occasion–so the organist played “Sheep May Safely Graze” and the slow movement of the Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C Major. No less suitable were the sung portions of the Mass, drawn from Victoria’s sweetly austere Missa “O magnum mysterium,” and the closing hymn, the noble tune from Gustav Holst’s The Planets to which the following words were later set: I vow to thee, my country–all earthly things above–/Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love.

The only thing that made my inner critic smile wryly was the performance during communion of the Adagio in G Minor long attributed to Albinoni but in fact woven out of whole cloth by one Remo Giazotto. It is a preposterously operatic piece of spurious yard goods, and to hear it played on the organ with all stops pulled put me in mind of something Bill wrote after attending a Virgil Fox recital many years ago:

At one point during a prelude, I am tempted to rise solemnly, commandeer a shotgun, and advise Fox, preferably in imperious German, if only I could learn German in time to consummate the fantasy, that if he does not release the goddam vox humana, which is oohing-ahing-eeing the music where Bach clearly intended something closer to a bel canto, I shall simply have to blow his head off.

That was the Bill Buckley I knew, whip-smart and impishly outrageous, the same man that David Remnick had in mind when he described Bill as having “the eyes of a child who has just displayed a horrid use for the microwave oven and the family cat.”

I wish I could say I knew him well, but I didn’t. I dined at his table a number of times but was only alone with him once, when I interviewed him about Whittaker Chambers for an anthology of Chambers’ journalism that I edited in 1989. On that occasion Bill assured me that although they had been close, Chambers never had “any direct historical or intellectual influence” on him. The reason he gave is striking:

I never embraced, in part because subjectively it’s contra naturam to me, that utter, total, objective, strategic pessimism of his. Among other things, I think it’s wrong theologically to assume that the world is doomed before God decides to doom it. So I never drank too deeply of his Weltschmerz.

Indeed he did not: Bill was the least weltschmerzy person imaginable. Henry Kissinger, who eulogized him this morning, alluded to that side of Bill’s personality when he remarked that Bill “was vouchsafed a little miracle: to enjoy so much what was compelled by inner necessity.” I couldn’t have put it better. Bill worked fearfully hard and was deadly serious about what he believed, but he extracted self-evident enjoyment from everything he did, and you couldn’t be in his presence for more than a minute or two without responding to his joie de vivre. If I’d been in charge of the music today, I would have made a point of picking something a good deal more festive–Bach’s Fugue à la gigue, say, or one of the harpsichord sonatas in which Scarlatti turns the instrument Bill loved best into a giant guitar.

Christopher Buckley, Bill’s son, followed Henry Kissinger, and gave just the sort of eulogy I’d expected from him, funny and light-fingered, putting much-needed smiles on our faces. Only at the end did he sound a darker note, quoting the lines from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Requiem” that he chose as the epitaph for a man who loved sailing as much as he loved Bach: Here he lies where he long’d to be;/Home is the sailor, home from the sea,/And the hunter home from the hill. Then we all sang “I Vow to Thee, My Country,” pushed our way past the waiting photographers, and returned to the gray, misty day.

I passed up a lunch invitation and went home by myself, preferring to be alone with my thoughts. I was thinking of an evening in the fall of 1985, not long after I moved to New York from the Midwest. I’d been writing for National Review, Bill’s magazine, since 1981, but I’d never met my first great patron face to face, so he invited me to an editorial dinner at his Park Avenue apartment. Back then I was working for Harper’s, whose offices were in Greenwich Village, and the thought of meeting Bill for the first time was so exciting that I walked all the way from Astor Place up to 73 E. 73rd Street (where Bill invariably entertained at 7:30).

It was, of course, a symbolic gesture: I was taking possession of the streets of the city to which I had moved and in which I hoped someday to make a name for myself. At the end of my journey I knocked on the door of Bill’s maisonette, and a few moments later he clasped my hand and said, “Hey, buddy!” It was, I would learn, his standard greeting, always uttered with a warmth that remained disarming no matter how many times you heard it.

Ever since then I have associated Bill Buckley with New York, whose doors he flung wide to me, just as he opened the pages of the magazine he edited. Now New York is my home–but Bill is gone, buried in Connecticut, home at last from the sea. Somehow you never imagine outliving the people who show you through the doors that lead to the rest of your life.

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Giuliani’s Weak Spot?

It’s not easy for a thrice-divorced Catholic mayor with a penchant for drag and a pro-choice, pro-immigration, and pro-gun control record to become the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Then again, it’s not easy to attack that candidate as your typical, sinister, white guy in a suit, either.

For months, the liberal press has stood back, expecting either that Rudy Giuliani would self-destruct—as he did in his aborted 2000 senate campaign, when he entered into a nasty, high-profile divorce, crashed on the couch of gay friends, and publicly discussed the effects of his cancer treatments on his sex life—or that Republicans would disavow him once they learned more about his personal life and political views. When it comes to his 9/11 performance, though, Giuliani’s foes have barely touched on what just may be the most vulnerable part of his record.

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It’s not easy for a thrice-divorced Catholic mayor with a penchant for drag and a pro-choice, pro-immigration, and pro-gun control record to become the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Then again, it’s not easy to attack that candidate as your typical, sinister, white guy in a suit, either.

For months, the liberal press has stood back, expecting either that Rudy Giuliani would self-destruct—as he did in his aborted 2000 senate campaign, when he entered into a nasty, high-profile divorce, crashed on the couch of gay friends, and publicly discussed the effects of his cancer treatments on his sex life—or that Republicans would disavow him once they learned more about his personal life and political views. When it comes to his 9/11 performance, though, Giuliani’s foes have barely touched on what just may be the most vulnerable part of his record.

When Giuliani announced his candidacy last November, the DNC responded with a press release attacking Giuliani for being…too left-wing—he was once a registered Democrat, he opposed the partial-birth abortion ban and some of Bush’s tax cuts, and he supported gay rights. In an editorial, the New York Sun remarked, “Mr. Giuliani may want to keep this press release on file for use in a general election campaign…. ‘Even the Democratic National Committee says I am pro-choice,’ Mr. Giuliani is going to be able to tell Democrats and independent voters.”

The incoherence of the DNC press release (which also attacked Giuliani for being too right-wing!) helped the candidate survive a choppy, ill-prepared launch, in which he stumbled badly while answering easy questions about abortion, the Terri Schiavo affair, and the various ethics and corruption scandals involving his former police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, which came out after President Bush nominated Kerik for Secretary of Homeland Security. Before these mistakes could crystallize into a defining moment, though, Giuliani righted the ship. That said, his critics on the Left continue to miss the mark in their hunt to bring down the Republican with the most appeal to Democratic and independent voters.

Consider three recent critiques of the candidate. In the New Yorker, a remarkably long—sixteen pages and nearly 15,000 words—and meandering profile by Peter J. Boyer offers a too-cute-by-half inversion of the newly outdated conventional wisdom that the South will bring down Giuliani as it did McCain in 2000. After a thinly-sourced accounting of how Giuliani’s contentious style rubbed many New Yorkers the wrong way, the article reaches the conclusion that, as one second-tier critic of the mayor puts it, “All the things that a lot of New Yorkers, myself included, hate about this guy are the things that are actually fuelling his campaign.” Thousands of words into what’s effectively a sanctioned hit focused on how Giuliani alienated New Yorkers, Boyer correctly concludes that this alienation may be a political asset, and certainly does no harm.

Still less effective is the cover story of the August issue of Harper’s, “A Fate Worse Than Bush,” by the superb historical novelist Kevin Smith. It’s a nine-page complaint about how in the “new politics, the candidate is everything” (how this differs from the old politics escapes me). Smith claims that Giuliani governed through “regular authoritarian gestures” and “achieved almost nothing of significance.” As in the New Yorker piece, there’s plenty at which the self-satisfied can nod knowingly, but nothing of worth for those still considering their decision, let alone the writers and operatives looking to craft a compelling critique of Giuliani.

The one attack with some teeth comes from Village Voice political reporter Wayne Barrett, the legendary digger who’s long played Ahab to the mayor’s white whale. In “Rudy Giuliani’s Five Big Lies About 9/11,” the cover story of last week’s Voice, Barrett launches a lengthy, and at points compelling, attack on the mayor’s 9/11 record. Most resonant is Barrett’s well-documented claim that Giuliani did little to protect the health and safety of first responders, who, at an alarming rate, are being diagnosed with cancer and various rare illness.

As previously noted in these pages, Giuliani’s decision to focus on 9/11 and neglect the rest of his accomplishments as mayor leaves him highly vulnerable to an effective assault on his record in the days and months following the terrorist attack. It’s a danger from which he attempted to insulate himself with his claim earlier this week that “I was at Ground Zero as often, if not more, than most of the workers…. I was there working with them. I was exposed to exactly the same things they were exposed to.” First responders and political foes pounced on the statement, for which Giuliani quickly apologized.

It was a rare misstep from his increasingly disciplined campaign, but it was a dangerous one—there’s little doubt that the health issues swirling around first responders will become a national story before the campaign is over. While this story will also hurt Clinton and Bloomberg to some extent, it’s Giuliani who has the most to lose should his image as a heroic responder be tarnished.

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The Mystery of Ross Macdonald

Seeking inspiration and education along with entertainment, generals like to read about earlier generals, presidents about earlier presidents, tycoons about earlier tycoons, and so on. I like to read tales of generals, presidents, tycoons, and other men of action, too, but, as a writer, I have a special fondness for stories about fellow writers, even if they work in very different genres.

I just finished one such book—Ross Macdonald: A Biography by Tom Nolan—which strikes me as particularly inspirational to anyone who is a published author, or aspires to be one. The subject is one of our greatest mystery novelists—a man who is usually considered one of the grand masters of the form, along with his predecessors, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Although Hammett was the most original of the three—he basically invented the hard-boiled detective genre—for some reason, I’ve never found his novels and short stories all that engaging; I make an exception of his best-known work, The Maltese Falcon, which is undoubtedly a masterpiece. Chandler has always been my favorite mystery novelist (and one of my favorite novelists, period), notwithstanding his problems with plotting, because of his beautiful writing and timeless evocations of my hometown, Los Angeles.

Ross Macdonald, author of classics such as The Galton Case, The Chill, The Goodbye Look, and The Moving Target (filmed as Harper in 1966, starring Paul Newman), featuring detective Lew Archer, has always ranked second in my pantheon. But I never knew much about him until picking up this fascinating biography by the Wall Street Journal’s mystery reviewer, Tom Nolan.

Nolan’s book features many revelations about Macdonald, the pen name for the writer Kenneth Millar. We learn about Macdonald’s relationship with his wife, fellow mystery writer Margaret Millar; the story of their troubled daughter, who as a teenager killed a child in a drunk driving accident, and then died in her early thirties; Macdonald’s seriousness of purpose and generosity to fellow writers. All this interested me.

But what really made the book inspirational was the story of how long it took Macdonald to succeed at his chosen craft. He began writing novels as a graduate student at the University of Michigan in the 1940′s, but he didn’t achieve widespread renown or bestsellerdom until the late 1960′s/early 1970′s. For two decades he churned out well-crafted books, year after year, only to sell a few thousand copies in hardcover and attract positive notices in “mystery roundup” columns relegated to newspaper inside pages. Together, he and his wife often made as much as a high school teacher. Money was a constant worry. But Macdonald kept toiling away, getting better and better, rejecting the extreme violence and bad writing that allowed hacks like Mickey Spillane, author of the Mike Hammer series, to sell far more books. And eventually Macdonald was rewarded by readers and critics. Now that’s what I call a happy ending.

Seeking inspiration and education along with entertainment, generals like to read about earlier generals, presidents about earlier presidents, tycoons about earlier tycoons, and so on. I like to read tales of generals, presidents, tycoons, and other men of action, too, but, as a writer, I have a special fondness for stories about fellow writers, even if they work in very different genres.

I just finished one such book—Ross Macdonald: A Biography by Tom Nolan—which strikes me as particularly inspirational to anyone who is a published author, or aspires to be one. The subject is one of our greatest mystery novelists—a man who is usually considered one of the grand masters of the form, along with his predecessors, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Although Hammett was the most original of the three—he basically invented the hard-boiled detective genre—for some reason, I’ve never found his novels and short stories all that engaging; I make an exception of his best-known work, The Maltese Falcon, which is undoubtedly a masterpiece. Chandler has always been my favorite mystery novelist (and one of my favorite novelists, period), notwithstanding his problems with plotting, because of his beautiful writing and timeless evocations of my hometown, Los Angeles.

Ross Macdonald, author of classics such as The Galton Case, The Chill, The Goodbye Look, and The Moving Target (filmed as Harper in 1966, starring Paul Newman), featuring detective Lew Archer, has always ranked second in my pantheon. But I never knew much about him until picking up this fascinating biography by the Wall Street Journal’s mystery reviewer, Tom Nolan.

Nolan’s book features many revelations about Macdonald, the pen name for the writer Kenneth Millar. We learn about Macdonald’s relationship with his wife, fellow mystery writer Margaret Millar; the story of their troubled daughter, who as a teenager killed a child in a drunk driving accident, and then died in her early thirties; Macdonald’s seriousness of purpose and generosity to fellow writers. All this interested me.

But what really made the book inspirational was the story of how long it took Macdonald to succeed at his chosen craft. He began writing novels as a graduate student at the University of Michigan in the 1940′s, but he didn’t achieve widespread renown or bestsellerdom until the late 1960′s/early 1970′s. For two decades he churned out well-crafted books, year after year, only to sell a few thousand copies in hardcover and attract positive notices in “mystery roundup” columns relegated to newspaper inside pages. Together, he and his wife often made as much as a high school teacher. Money was a constant worry. But Macdonald kept toiling away, getting better and better, rejecting the extreme violence and bad writing that allowed hacks like Mickey Spillane, author of the Mike Hammer series, to sell far more books. And eventually Macdonald was rewarded by readers and critics. Now that’s what I call a happy ending.

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Secretary Slaughter?

Who will be Secretary of State or National Security Adviser in the Hillary Rodham Clinton administration? The answer as of now is still rather unclear. But one woman who might be angling for the job—as we see from her essay, “Undoing Bush: How to Repair Eight Years of Sabotage, Bungling, and Neglect,” (link requires a subscription) in the latest issue of Harper’s—is Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School.

Of course, just because she wants such an important job, doesn’t mean she’ll get it. Dean Slaughter may think of herself as a Democratic Condoleezza Rice, but she does not yet have even the minimal level of experience Condi had when Bush tapped her for office. What’s more, she’ll be up against some very power-thirsty competitors. Perhaps, given her interest in international organizations—the subject of her academic research—she will end up as Ambassador to the United Nations, or some such mid-level post.

Whatever her prospects, Slaughter’s Harper’s essay is significant. It casts light on what mainstream Democratic foreign-policy thinkers are talking about at a moment when George Bush has “taken a prosperous nation and mired it in war, replaced our national composure with terror, and left behind him a legacy of damage so profound that repairing it will likely be the work of generations.” Or so the editors of Harper’s say in their preface. 

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Who will be Secretary of State or National Security Adviser in the Hillary Rodham Clinton administration? The answer as of now is still rather unclear. But one woman who might be angling for the job—as we see from her essay, “Undoing Bush: How to Repair Eight Years of Sabotage, Bungling, and Neglect,” (link requires a subscription) in the latest issue of Harper’s—is Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School.

Of course, just because she wants such an important job, doesn’t mean she’ll get it. Dean Slaughter may think of herself as a Democratic Condoleezza Rice, but she does not yet have even the minimal level of experience Condi had when Bush tapped her for office. What’s more, she’ll be up against some very power-thirsty competitors. Perhaps, given her interest in international organizations—the subject of her academic research—she will end up as Ambassador to the United Nations, or some such mid-level post.

Whatever her prospects, Slaughter’s Harper’s essay is significant. It casts light on what mainstream Democratic foreign-policy thinkers are talking about at a moment when George Bush has “taken a prosperous nation and mired it in war, replaced our national composure with terror, and left behind him a legacy of damage so profound that repairing it will likely be the work of generations.” Or so the editors of Harper’s say in their preface. 

Interestingly, Slaughter is not quite as pessimistic as they are. According to her, undoing the damage wrought by Bush won’t take generations; it can be done right away. “The paradox of American foreign policy,” she writes, “is that the United States, though more powerful than ever, has rarely been so lost in the world and never more reviled.” But as recently as September 12, 2001, “everyone was with us—until we told them, both in word and in deed, that if they weren’t with us they were against us.” All a new President need do is “restore American moral and political leadership in the world” by taking five steps.

The first of these is very simple: “we must close Guantanamo.”

The second is a little less simple: “we must get serious about nuclear disarmament.” It is time, says Slaughter, for America to reduce its nuclear arsenal. If we do, and if we provide them with civilian nuclear aid, even the three members of the “axis of evil” might agree “not to pursue nuclear weapons”—a remarkably elegant solution to a perplexing problem. It is a wonder that no one (apart from Jimmy Carter) ever thought of it before.

Steps three and four are a little more simple: the U.S. should join the International Criminal Court and reform the United Nations to expand the Security Council. “Why isn’t a single African, Middle Eastern, or Latin American country permanently represented on the world’s highest decision-making body?” she asks. The time for global inclusiveness has come.

The final item, number five, is very simple: “we must try to stop global warming.”

Is number five a case of hedging one’s bets in case Al Gore becomes President? Perhaps. But such long-range calculations can be as difficult as forecasting the climate.

My favorite among Slaughter’s easy steps is number four: expanding the Security Council to bring in a third-world country. Consensus in the Council itself will of course be required to implement any such proposal. So which country should be invited by us to join? Sudan? Venezuela? Syria? I am sure our good friends on the Security Council, the Russians and the Chinese, would be very happy with any or all of the three.

Let’s wish Anne-Marie Slaughter godspeed in her pursuit of high office. Even if many of her ideas are ludicrous, she’s right about one thing. When it comes to foreign policy, the Bush coterie can be strikingly incompetent. Exhibit A is the fact that even as Slaughter trashes the President for “sabotage, bungling, and neglect,” his administration has turned around and showered her with honors, naming her to chair an important State Department initiative to promote democracy. It is going to take more than five easy steps to undo that particular piece of damage.

 

 

 

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Not A Dead End

I’ve been traveling a lot so have only now gotten around to reading “Dead End: Counterinsurgency Warfare as Military Malpractice,” Edward Luttwak’s article in the February issue of Harper’s. As usual with Luttwak, the article is thought-provoking and stylishly written. It’s also almost entirely wrong.

The blog of the Small Wars Journal has already posted two trenchant critiques of the article, by two of the leading counterinsurgency experts in the world: Dave Kilcullen, a former lieutenant colonel in the Australian army now working as an adviser to General David Petraeus in Baghdad, and Frank Hoffman, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

I won’t repeat most of what they have to say, except to note that Kilcullen scores a devastating hit when he observes that Luttwak is critiquing an early draft of FM 3-24, the Army/Marine Corps counterinsurgency field manual. This draft was changed substantially before its publication in December 2006—a full three months before Luttwak’s article appeared. It is also odd to read in Luttwak’s article that the manual’s principal drafters, Army General David Petraeus and Marine Lieutenant General James Mattis, are “each now responsible for the training and doctrine policy of his own service.” In fact, Mattis left that job last year to take over the First Marine Expeditionary Force; Petraeus left earlier this year to take over the U.S. command in Iraq. The editors of Harper’s seem to have sat on Luttwak’s piece for months without bothering to update it.

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I’ve been traveling a lot so have only now gotten around to reading “Dead End: Counterinsurgency Warfare as Military Malpractice,” Edward Luttwak’s article in the February issue of Harper’s. As usual with Luttwak, the article is thought-provoking and stylishly written. It’s also almost entirely wrong.

The blog of the Small Wars Journal has already posted two trenchant critiques of the article, by two of the leading counterinsurgency experts in the world: Dave Kilcullen, a former lieutenant colonel in the Australian army now working as an adviser to General David Petraeus in Baghdad, and Frank Hoffman, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

I won’t repeat most of what they have to say, except to note that Kilcullen scores a devastating hit when he observes that Luttwak is critiquing an early draft of FM 3-24, the Army/Marine Corps counterinsurgency field manual. This draft was changed substantially before its publication in December 2006—a full three months before Luttwak’s article appeared. It is also odd to read in Luttwak’s article that the manual’s principal drafters, Army General David Petraeus and Marine Lieutenant General James Mattis, are “each now responsible for the training and doctrine policy of his own service.” In fact, Mattis left that job last year to take over the First Marine Expeditionary Force; Petraeus left earlier this year to take over the U.S. command in Iraq. The editors of Harper’s seem to have sat on Luttwak’s piece for months without bothering to update it.

But these slip-ups, while embarrassing, should not prevent consideration of the merits of Luttwak’s article. He makes some excellent points in noting the difficulties that conventional militaries (such as our own) have in grappling with unconventional foes (such as those we confront today in Iraq and Afghanistan). He is especially accurate in bemoaning the lack of training in foreign languages and cultures that afflicts our armed forces, and the severe limitations of our technological intelligence-gathering systems. He is correct, as well, to argue that counterinsurgencies cannot be based entirely on civil-affairs measures designed to woo the population, and that there must be a strong element of coercion to counter the terrorism usually practiced by guerrillas.

But Luttwak wildly overstates his case. He argues that the only way to defeat an insurgency is to “out-terrorize the insurgents.” He cites almost approvingly the practices of the Ottoman Empire, the Roman Empire, and the German armed forces in World War II, all of whom employed “mass executions” and “massacres” to cow occupied populations into compliance. Oddly enough, he never mentions the success of the Arab uprising against the Ottomans during World War I, nor the numerous barbarian uprisings against the Romans, nor the Yugoslavian uprising against the Germans—all of which show that even utter ruthlessness does not necessarily win the day against determined guerrillas.

Ruthlessness of the kind Luttwak advocates may, in fact, backfire by provoking more resistance than it suppresses. That was certainly the lesson learned by the Red Army in Afghanistan, where, notwithstanding any number of “massacres,” it was defeated by determined indigenous forces. (This is another war that Luttwak does not mention.)

Nor does Luttwak mention the many counterinsurgencies that have been waged successfully along the lines advocated by the new field manual. The list is a long one, including the British prosecution of the first Boer war and the U.S. success in the Philippine uprising, among others.

Luttwak would be on solider ground if he were to write that modern Western democracies have a hard time waging counterinsurgency warfare because of their aversion to casualties, and to the bad press generated by ruthless practices. He would be right to say that autocracies have an easier time of it: witness the brutal way Egypt and Algeria put down Islamist uprisings in the 1990’s. He would certainly be right to say that indigenous governments have more success in putting down rebellions than do foreign occupiers, though foreign governments can do a lot to help local allies prevail. But instead of making these distinctions, he prefers to conclude with melodramatic overstatement, claiming that the prescriptions in FM 3-24 “are in the end of little or no use and amount to a kind of malpractice.”

And yet he recognizes that simply “out-terrorizing” the insurgents is not a policy the U.S. could pursue, even if it were as effective as he says (which it isn’t). So what does he think the U.S. should do? Opt out of irregular warfare entirely? Would that we could! But in order for us to do so, subnational groups like al Qaeda and nation-states like Iran will have to stop their own use of unconventional tactics. And Luttwak nowhere proposes a plan for bringing about this desirable state of affairs.

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Carter’s Lies

“This is the first time I’ve ever been called a liar,” said former President Jimmy Carter during his much-ballyhooed foray into the lion’s den of Brandeis University this week.

This, of course, is a lie.

The most talked-about article to appear during the 1976 presidential campaign was “Jimmy Carter’s Pathetic Lies.” Appearing in Harper’s, it contained Steven Brill’s account of several days spent accompanying Carter on the campaign trail, in the course of which Brill discovered that most of what Carter told audiences about himself was simply false.

Invariably Carter introduced himself as a “nuclear physicist and a peanut farmer.” He was neither: he held only a bachelor’s degree, and he owned a peanut warehouse. He invited listeners to write to him. “Just put ‘Jimmy Carter, Plains, Georgia’ on the envelope, and I’ll get it. I open every letter myself and read them all.” But Carter’s press secretary admitted to Brill that all mail so addressed was forwarded to the campaign staff in Atlanta. Carter boasted that at the completion of his term as governor he had left Georgia with a budget surplus of $200 million, but Brill discovered that the true amount was $43 million, which was all that remained of a $91 million surplus Carter had inherited when he took office. Carter described an innovative program he had pioneered, employing welfare mothers to care for the mentally handicapped. “You should see them bathing and feeding the retarded children. They’re the best workers we have in the state government,” he enthused to audiences. But there was no way to see them–they did not, in fact, exist, as Brill learned from state officials. “I guess he was mistaken,” conceded Carter’s press secretary. Brill’s piece contained much more in this vein.

In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, his recent book on the Middle East, Carter repeats the egregious lie that he set out twenty-odd years ago in his previous book on the subject–namely, that in the 1967 war Israel preemptively attacked Jordan. This is no small matter: it was from Jordan that Israel took the West Bank, the focus of most of today’s controversy. But the record is abundantly clear that while preemptively attacking Egypt and Syria, Israel pleaded with Jordan (through American intermediaries) to stay out of the fray. King Hussein felt he could not do that, so he ordered his forces to attack Israel, and the Israelis fought back. Both Carter’s old book and the new one are replete with countless other outright lies as well as less outright ones (as others have pointed out).

Whatever the subject, Carter makes a specialty of exploiting grammatical ambiguities to leave listeners or readers with the impression that he has said one thing, while a precise examination of his words shows them to mean something else. In a 2003 op-ed in USA Today on the North Korean nuclear crisis, he wrote: “There must be verifiable assurances that prevent North Korea from becoming a threatening nuclear power.” The average reader might think that the word “threatening” is merely descriptive. But, in fact, Carter had fought to allow Pyongyang to have some nuclear weapons, because he believed that was the price of an agreement. The word “threatening,” as Carter used it, actually meant that North Korea could have some nuclear weapons–but not so many as to be “threatening.”

This raises an obvious question: how many nukes, exactly, would that be? Carter hasn’t told us yet, but if he ever does, make sure to read his words carefully.

“This is the first time I’ve ever been called a liar,” said former President Jimmy Carter during his much-ballyhooed foray into the lion’s den of Brandeis University this week.

This, of course, is a lie.

The most talked-about article to appear during the 1976 presidential campaign was “Jimmy Carter’s Pathetic Lies.” Appearing in Harper’s, it contained Steven Brill’s account of several days spent accompanying Carter on the campaign trail, in the course of which Brill discovered that most of what Carter told audiences about himself was simply false.

Invariably Carter introduced himself as a “nuclear physicist and a peanut farmer.” He was neither: he held only a bachelor’s degree, and he owned a peanut warehouse. He invited listeners to write to him. “Just put ‘Jimmy Carter, Plains, Georgia’ on the envelope, and I’ll get it. I open every letter myself and read them all.” But Carter’s press secretary admitted to Brill that all mail so addressed was forwarded to the campaign staff in Atlanta. Carter boasted that at the completion of his term as governor he had left Georgia with a budget surplus of $200 million, but Brill discovered that the true amount was $43 million, which was all that remained of a $91 million surplus Carter had inherited when he took office. Carter described an innovative program he had pioneered, employing welfare mothers to care for the mentally handicapped. “You should see them bathing and feeding the retarded children. They’re the best workers we have in the state government,” he enthused to audiences. But there was no way to see them–they did not, in fact, exist, as Brill learned from state officials. “I guess he was mistaken,” conceded Carter’s press secretary. Brill’s piece contained much more in this vein.

In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, his recent book on the Middle East, Carter repeats the egregious lie that he set out twenty-odd years ago in his previous book on the subject–namely, that in the 1967 war Israel preemptively attacked Jordan. This is no small matter: it was from Jordan that Israel took the West Bank, the focus of most of today’s controversy. But the record is abundantly clear that while preemptively attacking Egypt and Syria, Israel pleaded with Jordan (through American intermediaries) to stay out of the fray. King Hussein felt he could not do that, so he ordered his forces to attack Israel, and the Israelis fought back. Both Carter’s old book and the new one are replete with countless other outright lies as well as less outright ones (as others have pointed out).

Whatever the subject, Carter makes a specialty of exploiting grammatical ambiguities to leave listeners or readers with the impression that he has said one thing, while a precise examination of his words shows them to mean something else. In a 2003 op-ed in USA Today on the North Korean nuclear crisis, he wrote: “There must be verifiable assurances that prevent North Korea from becoming a threatening nuclear power.” The average reader might think that the word “threatening” is merely descriptive. But, in fact, Carter had fought to allow Pyongyang to have some nuclear weapons, because he believed that was the price of an agreement. The word “threatening,” as Carter used it, actually meant that North Korea could have some nuclear weapons–but not so many as to be “threatening.”

This raises an obvious question: how many nukes, exactly, would that be? Carter hasn’t told us yet, but if he ever does, make sure to read his words carefully.

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