Commentary Magazine


Topic: Henry Kissinger

Not Realpolitik

The New York Times and Rahm Emanuel were spinning this week that Obama was a practitioner of “realpolitik” in the style of George H.W. Bush. I suggested this was poppycock, for there is little that is realistic or hardheaded or frankly effective about the Obama foreign policy. Others agree. In a forum at Foreign Policy magazine, Peter Feaver opines:

Emanuel’s quote is puzzling. President Obama may be more “realpolitik” than George W. Bush in the sense that he has downgraded the place of human rights and support for democracy in his foreign policy. But it is certainly not “realpolitik” to slight the personal relationships of presidential diplomacy — and it would be hard to identify something more unlike George H.W. Bush than this feature of the Obama approach to foreign policy. In any case, the rewards for this alleged “realpolitik” turn are still hard to measure. President Obama is significantly more popular with the general publics in the other great powers (except possibly in Asia), but if measured cold-bloodedly by American “self-interest,” the last President Bush had at least as good and probably more effective and cooperative relations with the governments of those great powers (except possibly with Russia). Relations with Britain, China, France, Germany, India, and Japan were more troubled in 2009 than they were in 2008.

Bob Kagan – like Justice Potter Stewart on pornography (“I know it when I see it”) — says he thinks he knows “realpolitik,” and this isn’t it:

It is not a plan to rid the world of nuclear weapons through common agreement by all the world’s powers. And it is not a foreign policy built on the premise that if only the United States reduces its nuclear arsenal, this will somehow persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program, or persuade China and other reluctant nations in the world to redouble their pressure on Iran to do so. That is idealism of a high order. It is a 21st-century Wilsonian vision. And it is precisely the kind of idealism that realists in the middle of the 20th century rose up to challenge. Realists would point out that the divergent interests of the great powers, not to mention those of Iran, will not be affected in the slightest by marginal cuts in American and Russian nuclear forces.

The confusion no doubt stems from the fact that President Obama is attempting to work with autocratic governments to achieve his ends. But that does not make him Henry Kissinger. When Kissinger pursued diplomacy with China, it was to gain strategic leverage over the Soviet Union. When he sought détente with the Soviets, it was to gain breathing space for the United States after Vietnam. Right or wrong, that was “realpolitik.” Global nuclear disarmament may or may not be a worthy goal, but it is nothing if not idealistic.

It is interesting that the Obami spinners seek refuge in Kissinger (or Metternich) for a role model for the supposedly high-minded, we-are-the-world president. It does, I think, convey a certain nervousness that the country, not to mention the rest of the world, might find the president, well, not very savvy or hard-headed. After all, he frittered away a year on Iranian engagement, is shrinking our defense budget as a share of federal expenditures, and has let lefty lawyers rewrite anti-terror policies from the ACLU handbook. So perhaps they are a bit worried that the president might get tagged as a run-of-the-mill weak-on-national-security liberal. So they’ve come up with label that is as ill-suited a description of Obama’s foreign policy as “moderate” was to describe his domestic policy predilections. And frankly, they aren’t fooling anyone this time around.

Realpolitik would be using the threat of force to corner the mullahs. Realpolitik would be eschewing time-wasting entreaties to the mullahs and instead promoting regime change in Iran. Realpolitik would be bolstering our missile defenses and enhancing our Eastern European alliances to check the Russian bear. Realpolitik would be enhancing rather than straining our relations with Britain, France, Israel, and India. In short, it’s doing what Obama is not.

The New York Times and Rahm Emanuel were spinning this week that Obama was a practitioner of “realpolitik” in the style of George H.W. Bush. I suggested this was poppycock, for there is little that is realistic or hardheaded or frankly effective about the Obama foreign policy. Others agree. In a forum at Foreign Policy magazine, Peter Feaver opines:

Emanuel’s quote is puzzling. President Obama may be more “realpolitik” than George W. Bush in the sense that he has downgraded the place of human rights and support for democracy in his foreign policy. But it is certainly not “realpolitik” to slight the personal relationships of presidential diplomacy — and it would be hard to identify something more unlike George H.W. Bush than this feature of the Obama approach to foreign policy. In any case, the rewards for this alleged “realpolitik” turn are still hard to measure. President Obama is significantly more popular with the general publics in the other great powers (except possibly in Asia), but if measured cold-bloodedly by American “self-interest,” the last President Bush had at least as good and probably more effective and cooperative relations with the governments of those great powers (except possibly with Russia). Relations with Britain, China, France, Germany, India, and Japan were more troubled in 2009 than they were in 2008.

Bob Kagan – like Justice Potter Stewart on pornography (“I know it when I see it”) — says he thinks he knows “realpolitik,” and this isn’t it:

It is not a plan to rid the world of nuclear weapons through common agreement by all the world’s powers. And it is not a foreign policy built on the premise that if only the United States reduces its nuclear arsenal, this will somehow persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program, or persuade China and other reluctant nations in the world to redouble their pressure on Iran to do so. That is idealism of a high order. It is a 21st-century Wilsonian vision. And it is precisely the kind of idealism that realists in the middle of the 20th century rose up to challenge. Realists would point out that the divergent interests of the great powers, not to mention those of Iran, will not be affected in the slightest by marginal cuts in American and Russian nuclear forces.

The confusion no doubt stems from the fact that President Obama is attempting to work with autocratic governments to achieve his ends. But that does not make him Henry Kissinger. When Kissinger pursued diplomacy with China, it was to gain strategic leverage over the Soviet Union. When he sought détente with the Soviets, it was to gain breathing space for the United States after Vietnam. Right or wrong, that was “realpolitik.” Global nuclear disarmament may or may not be a worthy goal, but it is nothing if not idealistic.

It is interesting that the Obami spinners seek refuge in Kissinger (or Metternich) for a role model for the supposedly high-minded, we-are-the-world president. It does, I think, convey a certain nervousness that the country, not to mention the rest of the world, might find the president, well, not very savvy or hard-headed. After all, he frittered away a year on Iranian engagement, is shrinking our defense budget as a share of federal expenditures, and has let lefty lawyers rewrite anti-terror policies from the ACLU handbook. So perhaps they are a bit worried that the president might get tagged as a run-of-the-mill weak-on-national-security liberal. So they’ve come up with label that is as ill-suited a description of Obama’s foreign policy as “moderate” was to describe his domestic policy predilections. And frankly, they aren’t fooling anyone this time around.

Realpolitik would be using the threat of force to corner the mullahs. Realpolitik would be eschewing time-wasting entreaties to the mullahs and instead promoting regime change in Iran. Realpolitik would be bolstering our missile defenses and enhancing our Eastern European alliances to check the Russian bear. Realpolitik would be enhancing rather than straining our relations with Britain, France, Israel, and India. In short, it’s doing what Obama is not.

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Hillary Clinton’s Meddling

The ideological extremism of the Obama administration keeps popping up on an almost daily basis, like a game of whack-a-mole. The latest example comes to us courtesy of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was in Canada, where she was lecturing Canadians on how they should be more pro-abortion.

Secretary Clinton’s comments were made in the context of the Canadian government’s G8 maternal and child health initiative. According to Clinton: “You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion.”

So here’s a question: can you imagine Henry Kissinger or Dean Acheson ever saying such a thing? Hillary Clinton is Secretary of State; she’s not the president of Planned Parenthood. And for an administration that insists it shouldn’t meddle in the internal affairs of other nations — unless it means making life considerably more difficult for our allies like Honduras and Israel — this is quite remarkable.

Or perhaps not. It fits in quite well with those who argue that no administration in history has been quite as radical on quite as many fronts as this one. There have been exceptions, of course, most especially on Obama’s policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. But for the most part, the Obama administration cannot help itself from pushing the most extreme side of a host of issues, whether it comes to spending; or deficits and the debt; or expanding the reach and power of the federal government; or nationalizing health care; or decimating the morale of the CIA; or providing terrorists with unprecedented rights; or bashing our allies; or criticizing America abroad; or promoting abortion in other lands.

All of this is coming together in the minds of the members of the public, which is why November looks like it will be so bad for Democrats, in so many ways.

The ideological extremism of the Obama administration keeps popping up on an almost daily basis, like a game of whack-a-mole. The latest example comes to us courtesy of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was in Canada, where she was lecturing Canadians on how they should be more pro-abortion.

Secretary Clinton’s comments were made in the context of the Canadian government’s G8 maternal and child health initiative. According to Clinton: “You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion.”

So here’s a question: can you imagine Henry Kissinger or Dean Acheson ever saying such a thing? Hillary Clinton is Secretary of State; she’s not the president of Planned Parenthood. And for an administration that insists it shouldn’t meddle in the internal affairs of other nations — unless it means making life considerably more difficult for our allies like Honduras and Israel — this is quite remarkable.

Or perhaps not. It fits in quite well with those who argue that no administration in history has been quite as radical on quite as many fronts as this one. There have been exceptions, of course, most especially on Obama’s policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. But for the most part, the Obama administration cannot help itself from pushing the most extreme side of a host of issues, whether it comes to spending; or deficits and the debt; or expanding the reach and power of the federal government; or nationalizing health care; or decimating the morale of the CIA; or providing terrorists with unprecedented rights; or bashing our allies; or criticizing America abroad; or promoting abortion in other lands.

All of this is coming together in the minds of the members of the public, which is why November looks like it will be so bad for Democrats, in so many ways.

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The Resistance Bloc Will Not Be Appeased

Hezbollah’s reaction to Israel’s plan to build 1,600 apartments in a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem might help President Barack Obama understand something that has so far eluded him: the Syrian-Iranian-Hamas-Hezbollah resistance bloc will not allow him to appease it.

“The scheme is yet another part of a Judaization campaign,” Hezbollah said in a statement quoted by the Tehran Times, “that targets the holy city of al-Quds [Jerusalem] and a provocation of Muslim feeling.” If Obama expected a little appreciation from Israel’s enemies for making the same point with more diplomatic finesse, he was mistaken. “The Zionist plan to construct hundreds of homes in al-Quds,” Hezbollah continued, “truly shows American cover to it.”

So not only is Obama denied credit for standing up to Israel’s government, he is accused of doing precisely the opposite.

Anti-Americanism is ideological oxygen for partisans of the resistance bloc. They will no sooner let it go than they will stop breathing. Their entire worldview and political program would turn to ashes without it, much as Fidel Castro’s would without socialism. When the United States doesn’t follow the script, they just lie.

If we extend a hand in friendship, they’ll bite it and try to chew off a finger. If we take their side once in a while to appear evenhanded, they’ll twist the truth until it looks like a sinister plot, then they’ll bite us again.

A couple of years ago Hezbollah stretched a banner across an overpass near Lebanon’s international airport that said, in English, “All our catastrophes come from America.” Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah would have an awfully hard time climbing down from that high a tree even if his Iranian masters would let him — and they won’t. They’ve been calling Israel the “Little Satan” and the U.S. the “Great Satan” since Jimmy Carter, of all people, was president.

The resistance bloc would remain viciously anti-American even if the United States declared war on Israel and bombed Tel Aviv. Maybe — maybe — that wouldn’t be true if the U.S. were the little Satan instead of the great Satan, but even then it probably wouldn’t matter that much. Resistance-bloc leaders, like anyone else in the world, may enjoy watching their enemies slugging it out with each other, but that doesn’t mean they’ll warm to one or the other all of a sudden because of it.

That’s how the Iran-Iraq war looked to us in the 1980s. It was a “red on red” fight where two regimes we detested bloodied and weakened each other. Henry Kissinger summed up the sentiment on our side: “It’s too bad they can’t both lose.”

And that’s how the American-led invasion of Iraq looked from the point of view of Iran’s rulers in 2003. They had every reason in the world to hate Saddam Hussein more than anyone else in the world. His army killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians in an eight-year war he started less than a year after Ayatollah Khomeini became Supreme Leader. (Israel, meanwhile, has never fought a war with Iran and hasn’t killed any Iranians.) Yet the United States earned no points whatsoever for taking out their most dangerous enemy and placing their Shia co-religionists in the saddle in Baghdad.

There are, of course, millions of Arabs and Iranians who detest the Khomeinist-led resistance bloc and feel threatened by it, including about half of Palestinians. Most are less ideologically severe, and some have already made peace with Israel. Perhaps the Obama administration is hoping the U.S. can increase its standing with them by publicly sparring with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu.

Even if it works, though, it won’t make any difference. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can’t be divorced from the region-wide Arab-Israeli and Iranian-Israeli conflicts. If all the moderates in the whole Arab world were to drop their hostility to the U.S. and Israel and yearn for a peaceful solution, Hamas and Hezbollah, with Syrian and Iranian backing, could still scotch peace talks and peace treaties with kidnappings, suicide bombings, and missile attacks whenever they felt like it.

Resolving this mother of all quagmires would be excruciatingly difficult even if all four pieces of the resistance bloc were taken off the board yesterday. In the meantime, bruising our alliance with Israel to grease the skids on a peace process to nowhere is gratuitous.

Hezbollah’s reaction to Israel’s plan to build 1,600 apartments in a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem might help President Barack Obama understand something that has so far eluded him: the Syrian-Iranian-Hamas-Hezbollah resistance bloc will not allow him to appease it.

“The scheme is yet another part of a Judaization campaign,” Hezbollah said in a statement quoted by the Tehran Times, “that targets the holy city of al-Quds [Jerusalem] and a provocation of Muslim feeling.” If Obama expected a little appreciation from Israel’s enemies for making the same point with more diplomatic finesse, he was mistaken. “The Zionist plan to construct hundreds of homes in al-Quds,” Hezbollah continued, “truly shows American cover to it.”

So not only is Obama denied credit for standing up to Israel’s government, he is accused of doing precisely the opposite.

Anti-Americanism is ideological oxygen for partisans of the resistance bloc. They will no sooner let it go than they will stop breathing. Their entire worldview and political program would turn to ashes without it, much as Fidel Castro’s would without socialism. When the United States doesn’t follow the script, they just lie.

If we extend a hand in friendship, they’ll bite it and try to chew off a finger. If we take their side once in a while to appear evenhanded, they’ll twist the truth until it looks like a sinister plot, then they’ll bite us again.

A couple of years ago Hezbollah stretched a banner across an overpass near Lebanon’s international airport that said, in English, “All our catastrophes come from America.” Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah would have an awfully hard time climbing down from that high a tree even if his Iranian masters would let him — and they won’t. They’ve been calling Israel the “Little Satan” and the U.S. the “Great Satan” since Jimmy Carter, of all people, was president.

The resistance bloc would remain viciously anti-American even if the United States declared war on Israel and bombed Tel Aviv. Maybe — maybe — that wouldn’t be true if the U.S. were the little Satan instead of the great Satan, but even then it probably wouldn’t matter that much. Resistance-bloc leaders, like anyone else in the world, may enjoy watching their enemies slugging it out with each other, but that doesn’t mean they’ll warm to one or the other all of a sudden because of it.

That’s how the Iran-Iraq war looked to us in the 1980s. It was a “red on red” fight where two regimes we detested bloodied and weakened each other. Henry Kissinger summed up the sentiment on our side: “It’s too bad they can’t both lose.”

And that’s how the American-led invasion of Iraq looked from the point of view of Iran’s rulers in 2003. They had every reason in the world to hate Saddam Hussein more than anyone else in the world. His army killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians in an eight-year war he started less than a year after Ayatollah Khomeini became Supreme Leader. (Israel, meanwhile, has never fought a war with Iran and hasn’t killed any Iranians.) Yet the United States earned no points whatsoever for taking out their most dangerous enemy and placing their Shia co-religionists in the saddle in Baghdad.

There are, of course, millions of Arabs and Iranians who detest the Khomeinist-led resistance bloc and feel threatened by it, including about half of Palestinians. Most are less ideologically severe, and some have already made peace with Israel. Perhaps the Obama administration is hoping the U.S. can increase its standing with them by publicly sparring with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu.

Even if it works, though, it won’t make any difference. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can’t be divorced from the region-wide Arab-Israeli and Iranian-Israeli conflicts. If all the moderates in the whole Arab world were to drop their hostility to the U.S. and Israel and yearn for a peaceful solution, Hamas and Hezbollah, with Syrian and Iranian backing, could still scotch peace talks and peace treaties with kidnappings, suicide bombings, and missile attacks whenever they felt like it.

Resolving this mother of all quagmires would be excruciatingly difficult even if all four pieces of the resistance bloc were taken off the board yesterday. In the meantime, bruising our alliance with Israel to grease the skids on a peace process to nowhere is gratuitous.

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Obama’s Extraordinary Irresponsibility

I wanted to follow up on the comments by Jennifer and Max regarding President Obama’s seeming inability to make a decision on General McChrystal’s request for more troops in Afghanistan. To put things in context: the McChrystal report was sent to the Obama administration at the end of August. McChrystal was emphatic in his 66-page request: “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”

According to our commanding general in Afghanistan, then, we have a window of 12 months to regain the initiative or we risk losing the war. We are now approaching the middle of November — two and a half months after McChrystal’s request — and based on media reports, President Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national-security team. If true — and I know from my time in the White House that what is reported sometimes reflects, rather than the thinking of the president,  the views of aides trying to influence a decision via public leaks  — this is both stunning and reckless. As one person pointed out to me, the same president who wants to ram through health-care legislation, despite the fact that we don’t face a health-care emergency, seems unable to settle on a hugely consequential, time-sensitive decision in the midst of a war.

I have not begrudged President Obama the time to carefully think through a decision on Afghanistan — but this is ridiculous. This issue should have been front and center for the administration the moment it was clear Obama won the presidency. He has already presented (in March) his “new” strategy for Afghanistan. The fact that he wants to revisit his decision may be understandable, except for the fact that his foot-dragging is now harming us. Sometimes presidents are forced to make decisions based on external events and pressing outside needs. “The public life of every political figure is a continual struggle to rescue an element of choice from the pressure of circumstance,” Henry Kissinger wrote in the first volume of his memoirs, White House Years. Governing the nation does not afford you the luxuries you have when conducting a college seminar.

President Obama not only needs to make a decision soon; once he does, assuming he does, we face the logistical challenges of getting the troops in place. Precious time has already been lost. If after all the time that’s been lost, Obama is now jettisoning all the options he has been presented with, including the McChrystal option, then what we are witnessing is extraordinarily irresponsible. Sometimes you can lose a war by not choosing. And that is the path we may well be on right now, if media reports are correct.

President Obama needs to get a grip on this process soon. Decisions need to be made and a war needs to be won.

I wanted to follow up on the comments by Jennifer and Max regarding President Obama’s seeming inability to make a decision on General McChrystal’s request for more troops in Afghanistan. To put things in context: the McChrystal report was sent to the Obama administration at the end of August. McChrystal was emphatic in his 66-page request: “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”

According to our commanding general in Afghanistan, then, we have a window of 12 months to regain the initiative or we risk losing the war. We are now approaching the middle of November — two and a half months after McChrystal’s request — and based on media reports, President Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national-security team. If true — and I know from my time in the White House that what is reported sometimes reflects, rather than the thinking of the president,  the views of aides trying to influence a decision via public leaks  — this is both stunning and reckless. As one person pointed out to me, the same president who wants to ram through health-care legislation, despite the fact that we don’t face a health-care emergency, seems unable to settle on a hugely consequential, time-sensitive decision in the midst of a war.

I have not begrudged President Obama the time to carefully think through a decision on Afghanistan — but this is ridiculous. This issue should have been front and center for the administration the moment it was clear Obama won the presidency. He has already presented (in March) his “new” strategy for Afghanistan. The fact that he wants to revisit his decision may be understandable, except for the fact that his foot-dragging is now harming us. Sometimes presidents are forced to make decisions based on external events and pressing outside needs. “The public life of every political figure is a continual struggle to rescue an element of choice from the pressure of circumstance,” Henry Kissinger wrote in the first volume of his memoirs, White House Years. Governing the nation does not afford you the luxuries you have when conducting a college seminar.

President Obama not only needs to make a decision soon; once he does, assuming he does, we face the logistical challenges of getting the troops in place. Precious time has already been lost. If after all the time that’s been lost, Obama is now jettisoning all the options he has been presented with, including the McChrystal option, then what we are witnessing is extraordinarily irresponsible. Sometimes you can lose a war by not choosing. And that is the path we may well be on right now, if media reports are correct.

President Obama needs to get a grip on this process soon. Decisions need to be made and a war needs to be won.

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What’s The Difference Between Obama and McCain?

John McCain’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg is an interesting counterpoint to Barack Obama’s. In McCain’s interview, you will find not a trace of moral equivalence, no infatuation with Philip Roth (whom Obama apparently imagines as the paragon of American Judaism–perhaps needing a more up to date understanding of Roth’s legacy among many American Jews), and no hesitancy to denounce Islamic jihadism.

Reading the two interviews side-by-side provides a telling contrast between two world views and two approaches to foreign affairs. McCain goes out of his way to stress the role of diplomacy at the right level and the right time, but the main differences between the two candidates are stark. These three questions and answers sum it up:

JG: What do you think motivates Iran?

JM: Hatred. I don’t try to divine people’s motives. I look at their actions and what they say. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the state of their emotions. I do know what their nation’s stated purpose is, I do know they continue in the development of nuclear weapons, and I know that they continue to support terrorists who are bent on the destruction of the state of Israel. You’ll have to ask someone who engages in this psycho stuff to talk about their emotions.

. . .

JG: Senator Obama has calibrated his views on unconditional negotiations. Do you see any circumstance in which you could negotiate with Iran, or do you believe that it’s leadership is impervious to rational dialogue?

JM: I’m amused by Senator Obama’s dramatic change since he’s gone from a candidate in the primary to a candidate in the general election. I’ve seen him do that on a number of issues that show his naivete and inexperience on national security issues. I believe that the history of the successful conduct of national security policy is that, one, you don’t sit down face-to-face with people who are behave the way they do, who are state sponsors of terrorism.

Senator Obama likes to refer to President Kennedy going to Vienna. Most historians see that as a serious mistake, which encouraged Khrushchev to build the Berlin Wall and to send missiles to Cuba. Another example is Richard Nixon going to China. I’ve forgotten how many visits Henry Kissinger made to China, and how every single word was dictated beforehand. More importantly, he went to China because China was then a counterweight to a greater threat, the Soviet Union. What is a greater threat in the Middle East than Iran today?

Senator Obama is totally lacking in experience, so therefore he makes judgments such as saying he would sit down with someone like Ahmadinejad without comprehending the impact of such a meeting. I know that his naivete and lack of experience is on display when he talks about sitting down opposite Hugo Chavez or Raul Castro or Ahmadinejad.

. . .

JG: Let’s go back to Iran. Some critics say that America conflates its problem with Iran with Israel’s problem with Iran. Iran is not threatening the extinction of America, it’s threatening the extinction of Israel. Why should America have a military option for dealing with Iran when the threat is mainly directed against Israel?

JM: The United States of America has committed itself to never allowing another Holocaust. That’s a commitment that the United States has made ever since we discovered the horrendous aspects of the Holocaust. In addition to that, I would respond by saying that I think these terrorist organizations that they sponsor, Hamas and the others, are also bent, at least long-term, on the destruction of the United States of America. That’s why I agree with General Petraeus that Iraq is a central battleground. Because these Shiite militias are sending in these special groups, as they call them, sending weapons in, to remove United States influence and to drive us out of Iraq and thereby achieve their ultimate goals. We’ve heard the rhetoric — the Great Satan, etc. It’s a nuance, their being committed to the destruction of the State of Israel, and their long-term intentions toward us.

A better explanation of the differences between the candidates will be hard to come by.

John McCain’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg is an interesting counterpoint to Barack Obama’s. In McCain’s interview, you will find not a trace of moral equivalence, no infatuation with Philip Roth (whom Obama apparently imagines as the paragon of American Judaism–perhaps needing a more up to date understanding of Roth’s legacy among many American Jews), and no hesitancy to denounce Islamic jihadism.

Reading the two interviews side-by-side provides a telling contrast between two world views and two approaches to foreign affairs. McCain goes out of his way to stress the role of diplomacy at the right level and the right time, but the main differences between the two candidates are stark. These three questions and answers sum it up:

JG: What do you think motivates Iran?

JM: Hatred. I don’t try to divine people’s motives. I look at their actions and what they say. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the state of their emotions. I do know what their nation’s stated purpose is, I do know they continue in the development of nuclear weapons, and I know that they continue to support terrorists who are bent on the destruction of the state of Israel. You’ll have to ask someone who engages in this psycho stuff to talk about their emotions.

. . .

JG: Senator Obama has calibrated his views on unconditional negotiations. Do you see any circumstance in which you could negotiate with Iran, or do you believe that it’s leadership is impervious to rational dialogue?

JM: I’m amused by Senator Obama’s dramatic change since he’s gone from a candidate in the primary to a candidate in the general election. I’ve seen him do that on a number of issues that show his naivete and inexperience on national security issues. I believe that the history of the successful conduct of national security policy is that, one, you don’t sit down face-to-face with people who are behave the way they do, who are state sponsors of terrorism.

Senator Obama likes to refer to President Kennedy going to Vienna. Most historians see that as a serious mistake, which encouraged Khrushchev to build the Berlin Wall and to send missiles to Cuba. Another example is Richard Nixon going to China. I’ve forgotten how many visits Henry Kissinger made to China, and how every single word was dictated beforehand. More importantly, he went to China because China was then a counterweight to a greater threat, the Soviet Union. What is a greater threat in the Middle East than Iran today?

Senator Obama is totally lacking in experience, so therefore he makes judgments such as saying he would sit down with someone like Ahmadinejad without comprehending the impact of such a meeting. I know that his naivete and lack of experience is on display when he talks about sitting down opposite Hugo Chavez or Raul Castro or Ahmadinejad.

. . .

JG: Let’s go back to Iran. Some critics say that America conflates its problem with Iran with Israel’s problem with Iran. Iran is not threatening the extinction of America, it’s threatening the extinction of Israel. Why should America have a military option for dealing with Iran when the threat is mainly directed against Israel?

JM: The United States of America has committed itself to never allowing another Holocaust. That’s a commitment that the United States has made ever since we discovered the horrendous aspects of the Holocaust. In addition to that, I would respond by saying that I think these terrorist organizations that they sponsor, Hamas and the others, are also bent, at least long-term, on the destruction of the United States of America. That’s why I agree with General Petraeus that Iraq is a central battleground. Because these Shiite militias are sending in these special groups, as they call them, sending weapons in, to remove United States influence and to drive us out of Iraq and thereby achieve their ultimate goals. We’ve heard the rhetoric — the Great Satan, etc. It’s a nuance, their being committed to the destruction of the State of Israel, and their long-term intentions toward us.

A better explanation of the differences between the candidates will be hard to come by.

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Our Enemies and the Election

Are we due for an “October surprise?” Ever since October 1972, when Henry Kissinger, then Richard Nixon’s national security adviser, announced that “peace is at hand” in Vietnam, an October surprise — or the impending possibility of one — has been a perennial feature of American political life. Will a dramatic foreign-policy development tip the electoral balance this year?

Several factors have converged to make this more probable than in any recent election. I explore what they are in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Are we due for an “October surprise?” Ever since October 1972, when Henry Kissinger, then Richard Nixon’s national security adviser, announced that “peace is at hand” in Vietnam, an October surprise — or the impending possibility of one — has been a perennial feature of American political life. Will a dramatic foreign-policy development tip the electoral balance this year?

Several factors have converged to make this more probable than in any recent election. I explore what they are in today’s Wall Street Journal.

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Streisand in Jerusalem

Israeli President Shimon Peres has announced the impressive list of luminaries who will attend the upcoming conference celebrating Israel’s 60th birthday. They include George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger, Rupert Murdoch, Vaclav Havel, Alan Dershowitz, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.

While these VIP’s will highlight Israel’s many successes in a variety of sectors, the conference will also pay respect to the challenges that Israel has yet to overcome. At least this is how I’m interpreting the invitation of Barbra Streisand, whose rendition of Avinu Malkeinu promises to be a low point in Israel’s cultural history.

So, here’s to a more hopeful Israeli future–which, in my book, means inviting an 82-year-old Bob Dylan to play Hava Negila at the 75th celebration. (Frankly, even Bill Clinton returning for a repeat performance of “Imagine” might be an improvement.)

Israeli President Shimon Peres has announced the impressive list of luminaries who will attend the upcoming conference celebrating Israel’s 60th birthday. They include George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger, Rupert Murdoch, Vaclav Havel, Alan Dershowitz, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.

While these VIP’s will highlight Israel’s many successes in a variety of sectors, the conference will also pay respect to the challenges that Israel has yet to overcome. At least this is how I’m interpreting the invitation of Barbra Streisand, whose rendition of Avinu Malkeinu promises to be a low point in Israel’s cultural history.

So, here’s to a more hopeful Israeli future–which, in my book, means inviting an 82-year-old Bob Dylan to play Hava Negila at the 75th celebration. (Frankly, even Bill Clinton returning for a repeat performance of “Imagine” might be an improvement.)

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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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The Bill Buckley Memorial

I’m just back from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where a memorial mass was held for “the repose of the soul” of William F. Buckley Jr., who died last month at the age of 82. The grave majesty of the proceedings was a reminder that, as Fr. George Rutler said in his homily, Bill was, first and last, a man of deep and abiding faith, and whose faith was not his lodestar but his core and root. This was a quality often missed in the blizzard of tributes to him immediately following his passing. In the first of two eulogies, Henry Kissinger dwelled at beautifully eloquent length on the mysterious quality of Bill’s perpetual good cheer, which was twinned (especially in his final years) by a certain remoteness and remove — in all of which Kissinger, not known for a preoccupation with the divine, brilliantly discerned a state of grace. Finally, Christopher Buckley offered parting words in a portrait so supple that one hopes he will offer the portrait at full length in a memoir of what was clearly a complex and singular relationship. The words “we shall not see his like again” are often spoken in tribute to the dead, primarily to honor people whose like we will actually see again — people whose lives follow the same arc as most others. Those words were not spoken today, perhaps because they are so obvious that they are unnecessary.

I’m just back from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where a memorial mass was held for “the repose of the soul” of William F. Buckley Jr., who died last month at the age of 82. The grave majesty of the proceedings was a reminder that, as Fr. George Rutler said in his homily, Bill was, first and last, a man of deep and abiding faith, and whose faith was not his lodestar but his core and root. This was a quality often missed in the blizzard of tributes to him immediately following his passing. In the first of two eulogies, Henry Kissinger dwelled at beautifully eloquent length on the mysterious quality of Bill’s perpetual good cheer, which was twinned (especially in his final years) by a certain remoteness and remove — in all of which Kissinger, not known for a preoccupation with the divine, brilliantly discerned a state of grace. Finally, Christopher Buckley offered parting words in a portrait so supple that one hopes he will offer the portrait at full length in a memoir of what was clearly a complex and singular relationship. The words “we shall not see his like again” are often spoken in tribute to the dead, primarily to honor people whose like we will actually see again — people whose lives follow the same arc as most others. Those words were not spoken today, perhaps because they are so obvious that they are unnecessary.

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Out of Iraq Now

Barack Obama has a plan to the end the war in Iraq. Since he may well be the next President of the United States, let’s give it a respectful hearing. Here is the sum and substance of it, as presented in an issue paper posted on his website:

Bring Our Troops Home: Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.

Hillary Clinton also has a plan to the end the war in Iraq. Even though her chances of becoming President are diminishing by the day, she is still in the race, so let’s give her plan a respectful hearing, too. Here is the sum and substance of it, as presented in an issue paper posted on her website:

Starting Phased Redeployment within Hillary’s First Days in Office: The most important part of Hillary’s plan is the first: to end our military engagement in Iraq’s civil war and immediately start bringing our troops home. As president, one of Hillary’s first official actions would be to convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, her Secretary of Defense, and her National Security Council. She would direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to bring our troops home starting with the first 60 days of her Administration.

Obama is promising a faster withdrawal than Hillary. although Hillary has also said, “Our message to the President is clear. It is time to begin ending this war — not next year, not next month — but today.”

For those Americans who want to end the war as rapidly as possible, should we vote for him or for her?

There can be only one answer: neither.

When the United States was contemplating the invasion, Colin Powell memorably enunciated the Pottery Barn doctrine: “you break it, you own it.” Both Hillary and Obama want to walk out of the shop with the crockery in pieces and without paying. Indeed, the main issue between them is which will exit the shop faster.

This leaves Connecting the Dots with two questions: 

1.  Is there anything more shameful than their blithe indifference to the fate of the Iraqi people?

2.  Is there anything more shameful then their insouciant disregard of the iron-clad logic of events: that if the U.S. withdraws without a credible security system in place, our forces will have to fight their way back after one or another ruthless Islamic group terrorizes its way into power?

Last night I listened to Henry Kissinger speak at a dinner (honoring Norman Podhoretz for his new book) that was put on by the amazing trio running Power Line. He made one point that struck me with special force: American withdrawal from Iraq will be an unmistakable American defeat, and the consequences will not be long-term, they will be immediate and grave.

No one can predict the future, but Kissinger’s analysis and warning seems irrefutable. Is that what America wants? This election is shaping up to be even more critical than the Carter-Reagan choice of 1980. Am I correct in thinking that, of the post-war elections, only the Nixon-McGovern race in 1972 had more riding on it?

 

Barack Obama has a plan to the end the war in Iraq. Since he may well be the next President of the United States, let’s give it a respectful hearing. Here is the sum and substance of it, as presented in an issue paper posted on his website:

Bring Our Troops Home: Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.

Hillary Clinton also has a plan to the end the war in Iraq. Even though her chances of becoming President are diminishing by the day, she is still in the race, so let’s give her plan a respectful hearing, too. Here is the sum and substance of it, as presented in an issue paper posted on her website:

Starting Phased Redeployment within Hillary’s First Days in Office: The most important part of Hillary’s plan is the first: to end our military engagement in Iraq’s civil war and immediately start bringing our troops home. As president, one of Hillary’s first official actions would be to convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, her Secretary of Defense, and her National Security Council. She would direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to bring our troops home starting with the first 60 days of her Administration.

Obama is promising a faster withdrawal than Hillary. although Hillary has also said, “Our message to the President is clear. It is time to begin ending this war — not next year, not next month — but today.”

For those Americans who want to end the war as rapidly as possible, should we vote for him or for her?

There can be only one answer: neither.

When the United States was contemplating the invasion, Colin Powell memorably enunciated the Pottery Barn doctrine: “you break it, you own it.” Both Hillary and Obama want to walk out of the shop with the crockery in pieces and without paying. Indeed, the main issue between them is which will exit the shop faster.

This leaves Connecting the Dots with two questions: 

1.  Is there anything more shameful than their blithe indifference to the fate of the Iraqi people?

2.  Is there anything more shameful then their insouciant disregard of the iron-clad logic of events: that if the U.S. withdraws without a credible security system in place, our forces will have to fight their way back after one or another ruthless Islamic group terrorizes its way into power?

Last night I listened to Henry Kissinger speak at a dinner (honoring Norman Podhoretz for his new book) that was put on by the amazing trio running Power Line. He made one point that struck me with special force: American withdrawal from Iraq will be an unmistakable American defeat, and the consequences will not be long-term, they will be immediate and grave.

No one can predict the future, but Kissinger’s analysis and warning seems irrefutable. Is that what America wants? This election is shaping up to be even more critical than the Carter-Reagan choice of 1980. Am I correct in thinking that, of the post-war elections, only the Nixon-McGovern race in 1972 had more riding on it?

 

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World War IV: Powerline’s Book of the Year

Powerline has just announced that Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV is the winner of its first Book of the Year Award. Podhoretz is, of course, COMMENTARY’S Editor at Large, and the articles that formed the basis of the book first appeared in COMMENTARY. As Scott Johnson, one of the three proprietors of Powerline, writes:

We judge Podhoretz’s book perhaps the most important published last year. It is an elegantly written assessment of the long war in which we are engaged, and a passionate defense of the Bush Doctrine. As Podhoretz notes in the book, we have occasionally expressed our own second thoughts about the Bush Doctrine and do not necessarily agree with every tenet of his argument. We are nevertheless quite sure that it is a book, not just for this season, but for the foreseeable future during which the United States will confront the Islamist enemy that is at war with us.

The $25,000 prize, funded by an anonymous benefactor and to be donated in Podhoretz’s honor to Soldier’s Angels, makes it the most financially substantial award in American publishing. “With this award,” Johnson writes, “it is our intention to raise awareness of one of the several outstanding books published by conservative authors last year that have been or will be given short shrift by the Pulitzer and NBCC judges.” The award will be presented Monday night at a dinner in New York featuring Henry Kissinger and Mark Steyn.

Powerline has just announced that Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV is the winner of its first Book of the Year Award. Podhoretz is, of course, COMMENTARY’S Editor at Large, and the articles that formed the basis of the book first appeared in COMMENTARY. As Scott Johnson, one of the three proprietors of Powerline, writes:

We judge Podhoretz’s book perhaps the most important published last year. It is an elegantly written assessment of the long war in which we are engaged, and a passionate defense of the Bush Doctrine. As Podhoretz notes in the book, we have occasionally expressed our own second thoughts about the Bush Doctrine and do not necessarily agree with every tenet of his argument. We are nevertheless quite sure that it is a book, not just for this season, but for the foreseeable future during which the United States will confront the Islamist enemy that is at war with us.

The $25,000 prize, funded by an anonymous benefactor and to be donated in Podhoretz’s honor to Soldier’s Angels, makes it the most financially substantial award in American publishing. “With this award,” Johnson writes, “it is our intention to raise awareness of one of the several outstanding books published by conservative authors last year that have been or will be given short shrift by the Pulitzer and NBCC judges.” The award will be presented Monday night at a dinner in New York featuring Henry Kissinger and Mark Steyn.

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The Fab Four Speak

Yesterday, George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn repeated their arguments for complete nuclear disarmament in the Wall Street Journal. “With nuclear weapons more widely available, deterrence is decreasingly effective and increasingly hazardous,” they write.

In this judgment the Fab Four of geopolitics are undoubtedly correct. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union successfully deterred the other with mutual threats of annihilation. Today, we do not have a bipolar international system or even generally symmetric relations between ourselves and our adversaries. Dictators and autocrats seeking the ultimate weapon have big-power sponsors—China and Russia—and seem to believe they face weak and divided leaders in America and Europe. Unfortunately, there is no consensus in the West as to the nature of present nuclear threats or the means to deal with them. All this means that we cannot risk everything on the assumption that yesterday’s concepts of deterrence apply to today’s situation.

This argument is the intellectual foundation for the disarmament proposal made by Messrs. Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn. Yet it is, coincidentally, also the best reason for the use of force. In both North Korea and Iran we face nations led by hard men who might not be amenable to Western notions of persuasion or reason and may, in some circumstances, be unafraid of the prospect of massive death.

As Kim Jong Il, the generally unpredictable leader of North Korea once said, “If we lose, I will destroy the world.” And we all have read the millennial notions that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad propagates. When it comes to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, we should all listen to the wisdom of the oft-ridiculed Dan Quayle. “People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history,” he once said.

How we deal with really weird leaders of very dangerous states will depend on the exigencies of the moment, of course. Yet when we consider our options, we should remember that we got into today’s perilous situation by adopting middle-of-the-road measures and accepting unpromising compromises. Therefore, enduring solutions may come only from the extremes of the political spectrum. Whatever one may think of the Shultz-Perry-Kissinger-Nunn proposal, it is a suggestion that will take decades to implement. In the meantime, we may have to accept their assumptions and be willing to disarm rogues the old fashioned way—by force.

Yesterday, George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn repeated their arguments for complete nuclear disarmament in the Wall Street Journal. “With nuclear weapons more widely available, deterrence is decreasingly effective and increasingly hazardous,” they write.

In this judgment the Fab Four of geopolitics are undoubtedly correct. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union successfully deterred the other with mutual threats of annihilation. Today, we do not have a bipolar international system or even generally symmetric relations between ourselves and our adversaries. Dictators and autocrats seeking the ultimate weapon have big-power sponsors—China and Russia—and seem to believe they face weak and divided leaders in America and Europe. Unfortunately, there is no consensus in the West as to the nature of present nuclear threats or the means to deal with them. All this means that we cannot risk everything on the assumption that yesterday’s concepts of deterrence apply to today’s situation.

This argument is the intellectual foundation for the disarmament proposal made by Messrs. Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn. Yet it is, coincidentally, also the best reason for the use of force. In both North Korea and Iran we face nations led by hard men who might not be amenable to Western notions of persuasion or reason and may, in some circumstances, be unafraid of the prospect of massive death.

As Kim Jong Il, the generally unpredictable leader of North Korea once said, “If we lose, I will destroy the world.” And we all have read the millennial notions that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad propagates. When it comes to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, we should all listen to the wisdom of the oft-ridiculed Dan Quayle. “People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history,” he once said.

How we deal with really weird leaders of very dangerous states will depend on the exigencies of the moment, of course. Yet when we consider our options, we should remember that we got into today’s perilous situation by adopting middle-of-the-road measures and accepting unpromising compromises. Therefore, enduring solutions may come only from the extremes of the political spectrum. Whatever one may think of the Shultz-Perry-Kissinger-Nunn proposal, it is a suggestion that will take decades to implement. In the meantime, we may have to accept their assumptions and be willing to disarm rogues the old fashioned way—by force.

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Extreme Prejudice

“I am extremely concerned about the tendency of the intelligence community to turn itself into a kind of check on, instead of a part of, the executive branch,” Henry Kissinger writes in today’s Washington Post. “When intelligence personnel expect their work to become the subject of public debate, they are tempted into the roles of surrogate policymakers and advocates.” In this instance, they created the “extraordinary spectacle of the president’s national security adviser obliged to defend the president’s Iran policy against a National Intelligence Estimate.”

Scott Johnson over at powerline is absolutely right: when someone of Henry Kissinger’s stature joins in in denouncing the intelligence community for its handling of the Iran NIE something significant is going on.

What exactly is it? Perhaps it is the fact that the intelligence failures of the last seven years have impressed upon all Americans the price of lapses in this vital area. This explains why voices on both the Right and the Left — even the New York Times has tepidly joined in — are criticizing the intelligence community for its handling of the Iran NIE. All this gives rise to the hope that after the presidential elections a bipartisan coalition will emerge that could find some radical way to address a problem that has become apparent to all.

But I am not holding my breath. American intelligence agencies, the CIA foremost among them, have proved themselves to be extraordinarily recalcitrant to reform. And the agencies are not the only problem. In today’s Washington Post, David Ignatius, a long-time observer of the intelligence world, takes a look at the other end of the snake.

Intelligence oversight by Congress is in a “free fall,” Ignatius writes. And the problem is not the standard liberal complaint that the CIA is withholding vital information from congressional oversight panels. Rather, right now

we are getting the worst possible mix — a dearth of adequate congressional scrutiny on the front end that could improve performance and check abuses, and a flood of second-guessing at the back end, after each flap, that further demoralizes and enfeebles the spies. Congress silently blesses the CIA’s harsh interrogation tactics, for example, and then denounces the practices when they become public.

Ignatius’s column opens the door to some thoughts that have hitherto been unthinkable in Washington D.C.. Perhaps the time has come to ask whether an experiment embarked upon in 1975 in response to genuine abuses of intelligence is appropriate for our own time. To judge by the picture painted by Ignatius, the experiment clearly has failed:

The intelligence committees have become politicized. Members and staffers encourage political vendettas against intelligence officers they don’t like, as happened when [CIA Director Porter] Goss brought his congressional aides with him to the CIA. The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran has become a political football; so has negotiation over legal rules on intercepting foreign communications, one of the nation’s most sensitive activities. The bickering has turned the intelligence world into a nonstop political circus, to the point that foreign governments have become increasingly wary of sharing secrets.

Congressional oversight was a “radical idea” when it was introduced in response to the abuses of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon years. Back then, Ignatius notes, “[s]ome experts questioned whether it was realistic to ask elected officials to sign off on the work of intelligence agencies — which, when you strip away all the high-minded language, basically involves the systematic violation of other countries’ laws. Intelligence agencies steal other nations’ secrets, bribe their officials into committing treason, intercept their most private conversations.”

Those skeptics seem to have been proved right. At a time when our intelligence agencies are the crucial front in the war we are facing, we cannot afford to have it managed by a “political circus.” The time has come to bring an end this state of affairs — with extreme prejudice.

“I am extremely concerned about the tendency of the intelligence community to turn itself into a kind of check on, instead of a part of, the executive branch,” Henry Kissinger writes in today’s Washington Post. “When intelligence personnel expect their work to become the subject of public debate, they are tempted into the roles of surrogate policymakers and advocates.” In this instance, they created the “extraordinary spectacle of the president’s national security adviser obliged to defend the president’s Iran policy against a National Intelligence Estimate.”

Scott Johnson over at powerline is absolutely right: when someone of Henry Kissinger’s stature joins in in denouncing the intelligence community for its handling of the Iran NIE something significant is going on.

What exactly is it? Perhaps it is the fact that the intelligence failures of the last seven years have impressed upon all Americans the price of lapses in this vital area. This explains why voices on both the Right and the Left — even the New York Times has tepidly joined in — are criticizing the intelligence community for its handling of the Iran NIE. All this gives rise to the hope that after the presidential elections a bipartisan coalition will emerge that could find some radical way to address a problem that has become apparent to all.

But I am not holding my breath. American intelligence agencies, the CIA foremost among them, have proved themselves to be extraordinarily recalcitrant to reform. And the agencies are not the only problem. In today’s Washington Post, David Ignatius, a long-time observer of the intelligence world, takes a look at the other end of the snake.

Intelligence oversight by Congress is in a “free fall,” Ignatius writes. And the problem is not the standard liberal complaint that the CIA is withholding vital information from congressional oversight panels. Rather, right now

we are getting the worst possible mix — a dearth of adequate congressional scrutiny on the front end that could improve performance and check abuses, and a flood of second-guessing at the back end, after each flap, that further demoralizes and enfeebles the spies. Congress silently blesses the CIA’s harsh interrogation tactics, for example, and then denounces the practices when they become public.

Ignatius’s column opens the door to some thoughts that have hitherto been unthinkable in Washington D.C.. Perhaps the time has come to ask whether an experiment embarked upon in 1975 in response to genuine abuses of intelligence is appropriate for our own time. To judge by the picture painted by Ignatius, the experiment clearly has failed:

The intelligence committees have become politicized. Members and staffers encourage political vendettas against intelligence officers they don’t like, as happened when [CIA Director Porter] Goss brought his congressional aides with him to the CIA. The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran has become a political football; so has negotiation over legal rules on intercepting foreign communications, one of the nation’s most sensitive activities. The bickering has turned the intelligence world into a nonstop political circus, to the point that foreign governments have become increasingly wary of sharing secrets.

Congressional oversight was a “radical idea” when it was introduced in response to the abuses of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon years. Back then, Ignatius notes, “[s]ome experts questioned whether it was realistic to ask elected officials to sign off on the work of intelligence agencies — which, when you strip away all the high-minded language, basically involves the systematic violation of other countries’ laws. Intelligence agencies steal other nations’ secrets, bribe their officials into committing treason, intercept their most private conversations.”

Those skeptics seem to have been proved right. At a time when our intelligence agencies are the crucial front in the war we are facing, we cannot afford to have it managed by a “political circus.” The time has come to bring an end this state of affairs — with extreme prejudice.

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What Did Kissinger Know and When Did He Know It?

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, the Department of State is releasing a steady stream of documents from the days when Henry Kissinger ruled the roost. Among the latest batch to be made public are transcripts of Kissinger’s conversations with leading statesmen all over the world.

Here, in a December 21, 1976 record of a telephone conversation between Kissinger and Israeli ambassador Simcha Dinitz, is a sample of diplomacy as it was conducted at the highest levels by America’s most adroit Secretary of State:

D: How are you Mr. Secretary?

K: Okay.

D: I have difficulty in getting flights on Thursday. I can change my flight from 8:30 to 12:30.

K: The trouble is I will be in Boston.

D: I know that. I thought of two possibilities. Ah, maybe you can . . . when are you leaving?

K: Tomorrow morning.

D: Would you like me to stop in this evening or early tomorrow morning?

K: No, I am tied up all evening.

D: If you think it can wait until I come back.

K: It is something that should be dealt with. I can’t discuss it on the phone. I have to see you before my people here begin leaking against you.

D: The other possibility is for me to see you . . .

K: Why don’t we do it early tomorrow morning?

D: That would be fine.

K: Okay, why don’t you come in at 8:00.

D: 8:00 would be fine. Thank you Mr. Secretary.

What does this document reveal? We already knew that Kissinger lived in constant fear of leaks. The shocking revelation here is the fact that the mighty Kissinger kept his own calendar.

As I noted some years back in reviewing a memoir by the East German spy, Markus Wolf, “not everything kept hidden during the cold war was significant. . . . The larger and more important truth . . . is that few genuinely significant things were kept secret for long.”

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, the Department of State is releasing a steady stream of documents from the days when Henry Kissinger ruled the roost. Among the latest batch to be made public are transcripts of Kissinger’s conversations with leading statesmen all over the world.

Here, in a December 21, 1976 record of a telephone conversation between Kissinger and Israeli ambassador Simcha Dinitz, is a sample of diplomacy as it was conducted at the highest levels by America’s most adroit Secretary of State:

D: How are you Mr. Secretary?

K: Okay.

D: I have difficulty in getting flights on Thursday. I can change my flight from 8:30 to 12:30.

K: The trouble is I will be in Boston.

D: I know that. I thought of two possibilities. Ah, maybe you can . . . when are you leaving?

K: Tomorrow morning.

D: Would you like me to stop in this evening or early tomorrow morning?

K: No, I am tied up all evening.

D: If you think it can wait until I come back.

K: It is something that should be dealt with. I can’t discuss it on the phone. I have to see you before my people here begin leaking against you.

D: The other possibility is for me to see you . . .

K: Why don’t we do it early tomorrow morning?

D: That would be fine.

K: Okay, why don’t you come in at 8:00.

D: 8:00 would be fine. Thank you Mr. Secretary.

What does this document reveal? We already knew that Kissinger lived in constant fear of leaks. The shocking revelation here is the fact that the mighty Kissinger kept his own calendar.

As I noted some years back in reviewing a memoir by the East German spy, Markus Wolf, “not everything kept hidden during the cold war was significant. . . . The larger and more important truth . . . is that few genuinely significant things were kept secret for long.”

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No More Vietnams (or Cambodias)

In his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday, President Bush reminded us of the agony and genocide that followed the American retreat in Vietnam:

In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation and torture and execution. In Vietnam, former allies of the United States and government workers and intellectuals and businessmen were sent off to prison camps, where tens of thousands perished. Hundreds of thousands more fled the country on rickety boats, many of them going to their graves in the South China Sea. Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left. . . . Whatever your position is on that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like “boat people,” “re-education camps,” and “killing fields.”

These words summon to mind a powerful passage from the third volume of Henry Kissinger’s memoirs, Years of Renewal, about the horror that befell Cambodia in the wake of Congress’s decision to cut off funding to the governments of Cambodia and South Vietnam.

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In his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday, President Bush reminded us of the agony and genocide that followed the American retreat in Vietnam:

In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation and torture and execution. In Vietnam, former allies of the United States and government workers and intellectuals and businessmen were sent off to prison camps, where tens of thousands perished. Hundreds of thousands more fled the country on rickety boats, many of them going to their graves in the South China Sea. Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left. . . . Whatever your position is on that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like “boat people,” “re-education camps,” and “killing fields.”

These words summon to mind a powerful passage from the third volume of Henry Kissinger’s memoirs, Years of Renewal, about the horror that befell Cambodia in the wake of Congress’s decision to cut off funding to the governments of Cambodia and South Vietnam.

Kissinger writes that messages were sent to top-level Cambodians offering to evacuate them, but to the astonishment and shame of Americans, the vast majority refused. Responding to one such offer, the former Prime Minister Sirik Matak sent a handwritten note to John Gunther Dean, the U.S. Ambassador, while the evacuation was in progress:

Dear Excellency and Friend:

I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you, and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection, and we can do nothing about it.

You leave, and my wish is that you and your country will find happiness under this sky. But, mark it well, that if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is no matter, because we all are born and must die. I have only committed this mistake of believing in you [the Americans].

Please accept, Excellency and dear friend, my faithful and friendly sentiments.

S/Sirik Matak

Kissinger continues:

On April 13th, the New York Times correspondent [Sydney Schanberg] reported the American departure under the headline, “Indochina Without Americans: For Most, a Better Life.” The Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh on April 17th . . . . The 2 million citizens of Phnom Penh were ordered to evacuate the city for the countryside ravaged by war and incapable of supporting urban dwellers unused to fending for themselves. Between 1 and 2 million Khmer were murdered by the Khmer Rouge until Hanoi occupied the country at the end of 1978, after which a civil war raged for another decade. Sirik Matak was shot in the stomach and left without medical help. It took him three days to die.

This is a sober reminder that there are enormous human, as well as geopolitical, consequences when nations that fight for human rights and liberty grow weary and give way to barbaric and bloodthirsty enemies.

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Brooke Astor, R.I.P.

Brooke Astor, “Aristocrat of the People,” as her Times obituary labeled her, died Monday afternoon at the ripe age of 105. She will be missed sorely by a city that loved her, and that she loved back.

Taking a stroll in any of the city’s five boroughs, it is unlikely that one could avoid noticing some park, tenement, library or other institution that Mrs. Astor’s generosity had not touched.

Hopefully a very public, and very ugly, fight will not erupt over Mrs. Astor’s will. Her son, Anthony Marshall, made headlines for allegedly stealing priceless art work from Astor’s apartment and leaving his own mother in a state of egregiously poor care. He was sued by his own son, Philip, who secured affidavits from a host of New York dignitaries (Henry Kissinger, Annette de la Renta, David Rockefeller) to protect his grandmother’s safety. Marshall and his wife, as part of a settlement in which they would not have to admit guilt, agreed to give up their roles as co-executors of Mrs. Astor’s estate.

Everyone who has enjoyed the cultural blessings that New York City has to offer owes a debt of gratitude to Brooke Astor. Perhaps her greatest contribution was not Astor Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Astor Hall at the New York Public Library, or the windows she paid to install at a nursing home on Riverside Drive, but the example she set of private philanthropy for the betterment of her fellow citizens.

Brooke Astor, “Aristocrat of the People,” as her Times obituary labeled her, died Monday afternoon at the ripe age of 105. She will be missed sorely by a city that loved her, and that she loved back.

Taking a stroll in any of the city’s five boroughs, it is unlikely that one could avoid noticing some park, tenement, library or other institution that Mrs. Astor’s generosity had not touched.

Hopefully a very public, and very ugly, fight will not erupt over Mrs. Astor’s will. Her son, Anthony Marshall, made headlines for allegedly stealing priceless art work from Astor’s apartment and leaving his own mother in a state of egregiously poor care. He was sued by his own son, Philip, who secured affidavits from a host of New York dignitaries (Henry Kissinger, Annette de la Renta, David Rockefeller) to protect his grandmother’s safety. Marshall and his wife, as part of a settlement in which they would not have to admit guilt, agreed to give up their roles as co-executors of Mrs. Astor’s estate.

Everyone who has enjoyed the cultural blessings that New York City has to offer owes a debt of gratitude to Brooke Astor. Perhaps her greatest contribution was not Astor Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Astor Hall at the New York Public Library, or the windows she paid to install at a nursing home on Riverside Drive, but the example she set of private philanthropy for the betterment of her fellow citizens.

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Friedman’s Folly

Thomas Friedman is the second- or third-best columnist at the New York Times. Admittedly that’s damning with faint praise. But he does know a fair amount about the Middle East and some other topics, and even if he repeats himself far too often (especially on the need for ending oil dependency), and gets a lot of things wrong (such as his support for the Oslo Peace Process), and exaggerates in those areas where he’s basically right (his support of globalization), I find him often worth a read, which is more than I can say for some of his colleagues. But in yesterday’s newspaper, Friedman sounded more like a talk-radio blowhard than the Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign-affairs columnist for the Newspaper of Record. (Read his column free here.)

In yesterday’s Times, Friedman went for cheap and easy populist point-scoring. He excoriated Iraqi parliamentarians for taking August off while our troops swelter in the Iraq heat wearing body armor. “Here’s what I think of that: I think it’s a travesty,” he exclaimed—words you can easily imagine coming out of the mouth of Lou Dobbs or Bill O’Reilly or someone else not normally to be confused with Tom Friedman.

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Thomas Friedman is the second- or third-best columnist at the New York Times. Admittedly that’s damning with faint praise. But he does know a fair amount about the Middle East and some other topics, and even if he repeats himself far too often (especially on the need for ending oil dependency), and gets a lot of things wrong (such as his support for the Oslo Peace Process), and exaggerates in those areas where he’s basically right (his support of globalization), I find him often worth a read, which is more than I can say for some of his colleagues. But in yesterday’s newspaper, Friedman sounded more like a talk-radio blowhard than the Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign-affairs columnist for the Newspaper of Record. (Read his column free here.)

In yesterday’s Times, Friedman went for cheap and easy populist point-scoring. He excoriated Iraqi parliamentarians for taking August off while our troops swelter in the Iraq heat wearing body armor. “Here’s what I think of that: I think it’s a travesty,” he exclaimed—words you can easily imagine coming out of the mouth of Lou Dobbs or Bill O’Reilly or someone else not normally to be confused with Tom Friedman.

The rest of Friedman’s column was equally simplistic. He proposes that we “draft the country’s best negotiators—Henry Kissinger, Jim Baker, George Shultz, George Mitchell, Dennis Ross, or Richard Holbrooke” and send them to Baghdad to either force the Iraqi factions to reach a political deal to settle all their problems, or report back that no such deal is possible. Friedman gives no reason to think that any of these gentlemen would have any better luck than the negotiators we’ve had in Baghdad before—diplomats of formidable accomplishment such as John Negroponte and Zalmay Khalilzad.

While it’s true that the long-term solution in Iraq must be political, we won’t achieve a political deal unless we can create a more secure environment in which to negotiate. Thus, as I argued on the Times op-ed page in an article designed to deflate the very argument that Friedman now makes, our focus at the moment has to be military, not political or diplomatic.

We need above all to defeat Shiite and Sunni extremists who are holding the more moderate elements of their communities hostage. In this endeavor, U.S. troops are hardly alone. Iraqi cops and soldiers are fighting alongside them and actually suffering higher casualties—two to three times more killed and wounded. So much for Friedman’s offensive inference that Americans are dying to save Iraq while Iraqis won’t lift a finger to help their own country.

His attempted analogy between U.S. troops (“fighting in the heat”) and Iraqi legislators (“on vacation in August so they can be cool”) is bogus in any case. The better parallel is between Iraqi and American legislators. The Iraqis could certainly do better, but they are also risking their lives and their relatives’ lives to serve, not something that could be said of American senators and congressmen.

For the past few weeks—before they take off on their own August recess—our legislators have hardly been a profile in courage or perspicacity. Democrats and some Republicans have been loudly screaming to “end the war” even while showing scant interest in what will happen after U.S. troops are gone.

This Los Angeles Times story features some hair-raising quotes from the advocates of withdrawal about the consequences of their preferred strategy:

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s horrendous,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.), who has helped spearhead efforts against the war. “The only hope for the Iraqis is their own damned government, and there’s slim hope for that.”

“I believe, if we leave, the region will pull together,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma), a founding member of the influential House Out of Iraq caucus. “It’s important to them that Iraq stabilize.”

“The Out of Iraq caucus really has not looked beyond ending military involvement,” acknowledged Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a caucus leader and Pelosi ally. “Now that the environment is changing pretty significantly . . . everybody may be starting to look at what happens after the United States leaves.”

In their combination of naiveté, ignorance, and irresponsibility, our lawmakers almost make the Iraqis look good.

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A Weekend in Kennebunkport

President Bush and his Russian counterpart have not yet met in Kennebunkport, but Lou Dobbs has already figured out what will happen this coming Sunday and Monday in Maine. A few weeks ago, the CNN anchor had this to say about the upcoming summit between the American leader and Vladimir Putin: “A meeting in which I’m sure both men will look deeply into one another’s eyes and come up with the architecture of a brilliant geopolitical relationship between the two countries.”

Who can blame Dobbs for sounding so cynical and sarcastic? He has, after all, identified the one thing that will not happen during the upcoming talks. Bush and Putin will undoubtedly trade many fine words during their session in the sun, but they will not do much to improve ties between America and Russia.

Moscow, unfortunately, now has an agenda that clashes with ours. The Kremlin no longer feels itself tethered to America—or even to Europe. “Until recently, Russia saw itself as Pluto in the Western solar system, very far from the center but still fundamentally a part of it,” wrote Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center last year. “Now it has left that orbit entirely.”

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President Bush and his Russian counterpart have not yet met in Kennebunkport, but Lou Dobbs has already figured out what will happen this coming Sunday and Monday in Maine. A few weeks ago, the CNN anchor had this to say about the upcoming summit between the American leader and Vladimir Putin: “A meeting in which I’m sure both men will look deeply into one another’s eyes and come up with the architecture of a brilliant geopolitical relationship between the two countries.”

Who can blame Dobbs for sounding so cynical and sarcastic? He has, after all, identified the one thing that will not happen during the upcoming talks. Bush and Putin will undoubtedly trade many fine words during their session in the sun, but they will not do much to improve ties between America and Russia.

Moscow, unfortunately, now has an agenda that clashes with ours. The Kremlin no longer feels itself tethered to America—or even to Europe. “Until recently, Russia saw itself as Pluto in the Western solar system, very far from the center but still fundamentally a part of it,” wrote Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center last year. “Now it has left that orbit entirely.”

As Russia leaves the West’s orbit, it is making common cause with China and regimes that are challenging America. As a result, the authoritarian states are now acting in like-minded fashion. And as they do so, they are changing the international system.

Why is the world in such disarray? Because America has been so powerful, analysts believe the answer must lie in some recent defect in Washington’s stewardship of global affairs. The common assessment is that the Bush administration is unnecessarily belligerent, inexcusably clumsy, and otherwise ill-advised. But criticisms of this sort fail to take into account the context in which American policy-makers must operate today. As Henry Kissinger said in July of last year, “There’s never been a period in history in which so many changes were taking place simultaneously.” In particular, we are passing from the post-cold war hegemonic era. What we see today is the emergence of a balance-of-power arrangement in which weaker nations can easily frustrate the United States. The world can be stable in any sort of system, but it is almost never safe when it transitions from one system to another.

So the stakes will be high this weekend when George Bush sits down with Vladimir Putin. But as Dobbs suggests, no amount of eye contact between the two men will settle the differences between America and Russia. They seem to be meeting more—they last got together earlier this month at the G8 conclave in Germany—and accomplishing ever less.

Of course, there is no harm in the occasional chat in a shoreline setting, but it is time for our President to begin thinking more about how the world is changing—and how the U.S. can continue to lead in a new and much more difficult environment.

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The Norman Podhoretz Lecture: John Bolton

Last week, on May 16, COMMENTARY held its annual dinner at the Union League Club. Giving this year’s Norman Podhoretz Lecture—the dinner’s main event—was our former ambassador to the UN John Bolton. Bolton was given stellar introductions by COMMENTARY’s editor-in-chief Neal Kozodoy and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Here are a few highlights of Bolton’s speech, on regime change, preventative action, Iran, North Korea, and the general outlook for U.S. foreign policy going into the 2008 elections.

Last week, on May 16, COMMENTARY held its annual dinner at the Union League Club. Giving this year’s Norman Podhoretz Lecture—the dinner’s main event—was our former ambassador to the UN John Bolton. Bolton was given stellar introductions by COMMENTARY’s editor-in-chief Neal Kozodoy and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Here are a few highlights of Bolton’s speech, on regime change, preventative action, Iran, North Korea, and the general outlook for U.S. foreign policy going into the 2008 elections.

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