Commentary Magazine


Topic: Joshua Muravchik

Support for Terrorism Falls…but More Slowly Than During the Bush Years

In his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Joshua Muravchik points out that public support for terrorism is still dropping in Islamic countries, but more slowly than it did during the Bush years.

Using the results from the most recent Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, Muravchik focuses on attitudes toward terrorism in several Muslim countries. The results are mildly encouraging for America, he writes, but not necessarily for Mr. Obama and his outreach efforts.

In summarizing the data, Muravchik writes:

The survey gauges attitudes toward three crucial terrorism-related subjects: al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and suicide bombings. The good news is that the proportion of pro-terror opinion continues to decline. The bad news is that the minority holding such views remains considerable.

For example, 20% of Egyptians, 23% of Indonesians and 34% of Jordanians say they hold favorable views of al Qaeda. Asked whether they have confidence that bin Laden will “do the right thing regarding world affairs,” 19% of Egyptians, 25% of Indonesians and 14% of Jordanians responded positively. On the question of suicide bombing, 20% of Egyptians, 20% of Jordanians and 15% of Indonesians said it is “often” or “sometimes” justified (as opposed to “rarely” or “never”).

These results seem to reflect well on Mr. Obama’s engagement project, according to Muravchik, since a few years ago, these measures of support for terrorism were much higher. But he adds that the Pew report also offers a time-sequence chart, dating back to 2003, of answers to the question about bin Laden. And it shows

an encouraging decrease in support for terrorism—but the largest drop came when George W. Bush was president. The sharpest decrease in terror support in Indonesia, Turkey and Lebanon came between 2003 and 2005; in Jordan, between 2005 and 2006; and in Nigeria and Egypt between 2006 and 2007.

Only in Pakistan was the largest drop between 2008 and 2009—but the poll was taken in April 2009, so Mr. Bush was in office more than Mr. Obama during that one-year interval. From 2009 to 2010, the one full-year interval of Mr. Obama’s presidency for which Pew offers data, the decline was negligible everywhere except in Jordan, where the drop-off was smaller than it was from 2005 to 2006. [emphasis added]

In exploring the reasons for this, Muravchik concludes that “the data are too slender to sustain the claim that Mr. Bush’s policies succeeded in turning much of the Muslim world against terrorism. But they are substantial enough to inform our understanding that Mr. Obama’s approach has achieved little in this regard.”

My own hunch is, as Muravchik suggests, that the actions of al-Qaeda may be the crucial variable. As its savagery became more and more apparent in Iraq and elsewhere, large portions of the Islamic world turned against it and militant Islam more broadly.

But of course, Mr. Obama’s promise to transform the attitudes of the world didn’t take any of this into account. Through the force of his personality and charm, the wisdom of his policies, and his worldwide apology tours, Obama was going to win over the Muslim world in a way that was inescapable and unprecedented. The president’s speech in Cairo, you may recall, was going to be a tipping point in how the Muslim world viewed us and terrorism.

But like so many other hopes and dreams set forth by Mr. Obama, it hasn’t turned out that way. Not by a long shot.

In his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Joshua Muravchik points out that public support for terrorism is still dropping in Islamic countries, but more slowly than it did during the Bush years.

Using the results from the most recent Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, Muravchik focuses on attitudes toward terrorism in several Muslim countries. The results are mildly encouraging for America, he writes, but not necessarily for Mr. Obama and his outreach efforts.

In summarizing the data, Muravchik writes:

The survey gauges attitudes toward three crucial terrorism-related subjects: al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and suicide bombings. The good news is that the proportion of pro-terror opinion continues to decline. The bad news is that the minority holding such views remains considerable.

For example, 20% of Egyptians, 23% of Indonesians and 34% of Jordanians say they hold favorable views of al Qaeda. Asked whether they have confidence that bin Laden will “do the right thing regarding world affairs,” 19% of Egyptians, 25% of Indonesians and 14% of Jordanians responded positively. On the question of suicide bombing, 20% of Egyptians, 20% of Jordanians and 15% of Indonesians said it is “often” or “sometimes” justified (as opposed to “rarely” or “never”).

These results seem to reflect well on Mr. Obama’s engagement project, according to Muravchik, since a few years ago, these measures of support for terrorism were much higher. But he adds that the Pew report also offers a time-sequence chart, dating back to 2003, of answers to the question about bin Laden. And it shows

an encouraging decrease in support for terrorism—but the largest drop came when George W. Bush was president. The sharpest decrease in terror support in Indonesia, Turkey and Lebanon came between 2003 and 2005; in Jordan, between 2005 and 2006; and in Nigeria and Egypt between 2006 and 2007.

Only in Pakistan was the largest drop between 2008 and 2009—but the poll was taken in April 2009, so Mr. Bush was in office more than Mr. Obama during that one-year interval. From 2009 to 2010, the one full-year interval of Mr. Obama’s presidency for which Pew offers data, the decline was negligible everywhere except in Jordan, where the drop-off was smaller than it was from 2005 to 2006. [emphasis added]

In exploring the reasons for this, Muravchik concludes that “the data are too slender to sustain the claim that Mr. Bush’s policies succeeded in turning much of the Muslim world against terrorism. But they are substantial enough to inform our understanding that Mr. Obama’s approach has achieved little in this regard.”

My own hunch is, as Muravchik suggests, that the actions of al-Qaeda may be the crucial variable. As its savagery became more and more apparent in Iraq and elsewhere, large portions of the Islamic world turned against it and militant Islam more broadly.

But of course, Mr. Obama’s promise to transform the attitudes of the world didn’t take any of this into account. Through the force of his personality and charm, the wisdom of his policies, and his worldwide apology tours, Obama was going to win over the Muslim world in a way that was inescapable and unprecedented. The president’s speech in Cairo, you may recall, was going to be a tipping point in how the Muslim world viewed us and terrorism.

But like so many other hopes and dreams set forth by Mr. Obama, it hasn’t turned out that way. Not by a long shot.

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Blocking Ricciardone

So the Wall Street Journal editorial page thinks Senator Brownback is wrong to put a hold on the nomination of Frank Ricciardone as ambassador to Turkey, issuing an editorial averring that while “the Senator is free to criticize and oppose this nomination … Mr. Ricciardone deserves an up-or-down vote on the floor.” The editorial goes on to claim that Mr. Brownback’s hold on Mr. Ricciardone may “make Mr. Brownback feel good, but it undermines the executive’s ability to function and American foreign policy.”

Well, in this fight, sign me up with Senator Brownback. To begin with, the idea that American foreign policy is somehow undermined by the lack of an ambassador in Ankara is quaint. If America needs to communicate with the Turks, there are plenty of avenues, from phone calls to e-mail to the dozens of other American government officials based in Turkey.

But beyond that, if Mr. Ricciardone isn’t a nominee worth using every parliamentary procedure available under the rules to block, who is? This blog understands this perhaps better than any other forum; it was at CONTENTIONS that Joshua Muravchik posted, back in May 2007, a report of Mr. Ricciardone’s preposterous claim, as American ambassador in Cairo, that “[h]ere in Egypt as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech.”

That post prompted a memorable New York Sun editorial headlined “Recall Ricciardone,” reporting:

In the same television interview, Mr. Ricciardone was asked how he could watch the execution of Saddam Hussein. He replied, “Personally, I’m against execution in principle. My personal reaction is that it is abominable.” It was a strange reply, since the ambassador hadn’t been asked for his personal views of the death penalty.

The interviewer also asked whether the ambassador had heard the Egyptian song “I hate Israel,” whose lyric include “I love Yasser Arafat” and “I hate Ehud Barak.” The ambassador’s response, according to the transcript on the embassy’s Web site, was “Yes. I also watched his latest movie on a web site.” He went on to say, according to the transcript, “It is sort of interesting. I enjoyed it.”

An earlier Sun editorial, in 2004, “Ricciardone’s Return,” described the diplomat’s clumsy and counterproductive performance on the Iraq front.

Anyway, I share the concern of the folks at the Journal about undermining American foreign policy. I just think that confirming Mr. Ricciardone is way more likely to undermine American foreign policy than Mr. Brownback’s hold on him will.

So the Wall Street Journal editorial page thinks Senator Brownback is wrong to put a hold on the nomination of Frank Ricciardone as ambassador to Turkey, issuing an editorial averring that while “the Senator is free to criticize and oppose this nomination … Mr. Ricciardone deserves an up-or-down vote on the floor.” The editorial goes on to claim that Mr. Brownback’s hold on Mr. Ricciardone may “make Mr. Brownback feel good, but it undermines the executive’s ability to function and American foreign policy.”

Well, in this fight, sign me up with Senator Brownback. To begin with, the idea that American foreign policy is somehow undermined by the lack of an ambassador in Ankara is quaint. If America needs to communicate with the Turks, there are plenty of avenues, from phone calls to e-mail to the dozens of other American government officials based in Turkey.

But beyond that, if Mr. Ricciardone isn’t a nominee worth using every parliamentary procedure available under the rules to block, who is? This blog understands this perhaps better than any other forum; it was at CONTENTIONS that Joshua Muravchik posted, back in May 2007, a report of Mr. Ricciardone’s preposterous claim, as American ambassador in Cairo, that “[h]ere in Egypt as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech.”

That post prompted a memorable New York Sun editorial headlined “Recall Ricciardone,” reporting:

In the same television interview, Mr. Ricciardone was asked how he could watch the execution of Saddam Hussein. He replied, “Personally, I’m against execution in principle. My personal reaction is that it is abominable.” It was a strange reply, since the ambassador hadn’t been asked for his personal views of the death penalty.

The interviewer also asked whether the ambassador had heard the Egyptian song “I hate Israel,” whose lyric include “I love Yasser Arafat” and “I hate Ehud Barak.” The ambassador’s response, according to the transcript on the embassy’s Web site, was “Yes. I also watched his latest movie on a web site.” He went on to say, according to the transcript, “It is sort of interesting. I enjoyed it.”

An earlier Sun editorial, in 2004, “Ricciardone’s Return,” described the diplomat’s clumsy and counterproductive performance on the Iraq front.

Anyway, I share the concern of the folks at the Journal about undermining American foreign policy. I just think that confirming Mr. Ricciardone is way more likely to undermine American foreign policy than Mr. Brownback’s hold on him will.

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Going Far Beyond Goldstone

Is there anything left to be said about the notorious Goldstone Report, which has now been decisively discredited by Alan Dershowitz, Moshe Halbertal, Joshua Muravchik, and Richard Landes, among others, extensively contradicted by three lengthy reports prepared by Israel itself — before, during, and after the issuance of the report — and dramatically refuted by Dore Gold in direct debate with Goldstone himself?

The answer is yes — in the form of Peter Berkowitz’s superb article in the August issue of the Hoover Institution’s Policy Review, entitled “The Goldstone Report and International Law,” a study of the politicizing of international law. It concisely summarizes the “stunning defects” in the Goldstone Report and then discusses a “deeper issue” — a larger and more fundamental problem that “cannot be resolved [simply] by showing that the Goldstone’s findings of fact about the Gaza operation are severely biased, or by demonstrating that the report misapplied or misunderstood the test for determining whether Israel exercised force in a proportional manner.”

All three of Israel’s reports, totaling 554 pages, received almost no attention in the press, from international human rights organizations, from the Human Rights Council, or from the General Assembly, nor from Goldstone or his supporters, who have not only largely ignored them but also failed to respond to the other critical studies listed above. In Berkowitz’s analysis, the reason goes far beyond the defects of a single report; it reflects a cynical attempt by a transnational elite and international bodies dominated by authoritarian states to revise traditional standards of international law to punish their enemies — who are not limited to Israel — with potential consequences for the common struggle against transnational Islamic terrorism.

It is a convincing study, one that not only demonstrates the travesty of the HRC but that of Barack Obama’s decision to join it (and remain a member long after it has become obvious that U.S. participation has legitimized rather than moderated it). Worth reading in its entirety.

Is there anything left to be said about the notorious Goldstone Report, which has now been decisively discredited by Alan Dershowitz, Moshe Halbertal, Joshua Muravchik, and Richard Landes, among others, extensively contradicted by three lengthy reports prepared by Israel itself — before, during, and after the issuance of the report — and dramatically refuted by Dore Gold in direct debate with Goldstone himself?

The answer is yes — in the form of Peter Berkowitz’s superb article in the August issue of the Hoover Institution’s Policy Review, entitled “The Goldstone Report and International Law,” a study of the politicizing of international law. It concisely summarizes the “stunning defects” in the Goldstone Report and then discusses a “deeper issue” — a larger and more fundamental problem that “cannot be resolved [simply] by showing that the Goldstone’s findings of fact about the Gaza operation are severely biased, or by demonstrating that the report misapplied or misunderstood the test for determining whether Israel exercised force in a proportional manner.”

All three of Israel’s reports, totaling 554 pages, received almost no attention in the press, from international human rights organizations, from the Human Rights Council, or from the General Assembly, nor from Goldstone or his supporters, who have not only largely ignored them but also failed to respond to the other critical studies listed above. In Berkowitz’s analysis, the reason goes far beyond the defects of a single report; it reflects a cynical attempt by a transnational elite and international bodies dominated by authoritarian states to revise traditional standards of international law to punish their enemies — who are not limited to Israel — with potential consequences for the common struggle against transnational Islamic terrorism.

It is a convincing study, one that not only demonstrates the travesty of the HRC but that of Barack Obama’s decision to join it (and remain a member long after it has become obvious that U.S. participation has legitimized rather than moderated it). Worth reading in its entirety.

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More on Diana West

On Friday, I criticized Diana West’s defense of the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Baghdad. Over the weekend, Diana fired back at me on her blog. She begins:

Alas. Contentions, the blog of Commentary magazine, has a problem with this week’s column. Abe Greenwald writes:

Over on her blog, Diana West gets a little hysterical about the fallout over the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Bagdhad.

Nice, ad hominem opener.

She objects to the reprimand the soldier received and the general air of apology from the U.S.

Which included, just to refresh, a deferential public apology from Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond during which another US officer presented the assembled locals (likely insurgents, not long ago) with a brand new Koran after kissing it. Abe then quotes briefly from my column:

“Let’s play around some more with the story. Imagine if, during the Allied occupation of post-Nazi Germany, a GI had been discovered using “Mein Kampf” for target practice. Would Gen. George S. Patton have kissed a new copy of the Nazi bible as he presented it to a cadre of former Nazis?”

And then he writes:

That won’t do, Diana.

What won’t “do,” Abe–comparing Gen. Patton and “Mein Kampf” with Gen. Hammond and the Koran? Why not?”

Critics like to say that for neoconservatives it’s always 1938. So I take particular relish in pointing out to Diana that the 1938 framework in which she’s placed the war on terror is a functional nonstarter.

Yes, there are many nasty injunctions in the Qur’an. Yes, there are calls to anti-Semitism and supremacy. But Diana’s line of argument–that the West is up against nothing less than the Qur’an itself–is inevitably countered by one of two points. First, there are nasty parts in the foundational works of other major religions. Second, there are Qur’anic passages promoting humanity and understanding. This is rebutted in turn: “But there are more nasty bits in the Qur’an than in other holy books.” And once you’ve reached that less-than-stellar point, your crusade has lost a good deal of its moral clarity. If you’re going to wage wholesale war on an entire religion, you’ll need more than a tabulation showing that the religion’s core text is, on balance, nastier than the next.

Why are the Iraqi Kurds such reliable American allies? Why, last week, did a Turkish Muslim sit down with me for a glass of wine? After all, they read the same Qu’ran bearing the same proclamations about infidels and the same prohibition on alcohol. Religion is personal, fluid, mysterious. Yes, I know: the Qur’an is supposedly the direct word of God and therefore not open to interpretation. But in reality, it is interpreted and reinterpreted constantly. In various times and various locales, Muslims have given different parts of Qur’anic text different weight. Because of the U.S.’s indefatigable efforts on both the military and diplomatic fronts, we are currently witnessing the rejection of jihad among the Sunni and Shia of Iraq. Nothing spurs religious dynamism like major shifts in the political landscape. I have a hard time seeing how the unapologetic desecration of the Qur’an puts America on a better footing in the war on terror.

Diana goes on:

“I’m not sure whether Abe disputes my argument, but he certainly thinks it shouldn’t be made. Here’s why he says “that won’t do”:

While the Qur’an is sacred to our enemies in Iraq, it is also sacred to our allies in that country. Moreover, it is sacred to the millions of Muslims who are citizens of the United States, to say nothing of the thousands who serve in uniform.

Notice that this fact is given as a rationale for silence, not as a cause for concern.

Not silence, merely restraint from vandalism. Bluster about shooting up a Qur’an is no substitute for beneficial inquiry into the relationship between moderate and radical Islam. I’m proud to note that COMMENTARY does not shy away from exploring such questions at length. I refer Diana to “In Search of Moderate Muslims” by Joshua Muravchik and Charles P. Szrom in the February 2008 issue, and to these dissenting letters from Stephen Schwartz and COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Pipes.

I understand Diana’s concerns and I share some of them. But all in all it’s a good thing that the U.S. is not in the habit of waging war on religions. Such undertakings would contradict the noblest intentions of our Constitution. And on a purely strategic level, doing battle with Islam itself would surely lose us our most important allies. I always enjoy fielding the anti-war charge that America is trying to oppress Muslims worldwide: there’s not a shred of evidence to support it. And forfeiting that assurance would be the same thing as giving up the fight.

On Friday, I criticized Diana West’s defense of the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Baghdad. Over the weekend, Diana fired back at me on her blog. She begins:

Alas. Contentions, the blog of Commentary magazine, has a problem with this week’s column. Abe Greenwald writes:

Over on her blog, Diana West gets a little hysterical about the fallout over the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Bagdhad.

Nice, ad hominem opener.

She objects to the reprimand the soldier received and the general air of apology from the U.S.

Which included, just to refresh, a deferential public apology from Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond during which another US officer presented the assembled locals (likely insurgents, not long ago) with a brand new Koran after kissing it. Abe then quotes briefly from my column:

“Let’s play around some more with the story. Imagine if, during the Allied occupation of post-Nazi Germany, a GI had been discovered using “Mein Kampf” for target practice. Would Gen. George S. Patton have kissed a new copy of the Nazi bible as he presented it to a cadre of former Nazis?”

And then he writes:

That won’t do, Diana.

What won’t “do,” Abe–comparing Gen. Patton and “Mein Kampf” with Gen. Hammond and the Koran? Why not?”

Critics like to say that for neoconservatives it’s always 1938. So I take particular relish in pointing out to Diana that the 1938 framework in which she’s placed the war on terror is a functional nonstarter.

Yes, there are many nasty injunctions in the Qur’an. Yes, there are calls to anti-Semitism and supremacy. But Diana’s line of argument–that the West is up against nothing less than the Qur’an itself–is inevitably countered by one of two points. First, there are nasty parts in the foundational works of other major religions. Second, there are Qur’anic passages promoting humanity and understanding. This is rebutted in turn: “But there are more nasty bits in the Qur’an than in other holy books.” And once you’ve reached that less-than-stellar point, your crusade has lost a good deal of its moral clarity. If you’re going to wage wholesale war on an entire religion, you’ll need more than a tabulation showing that the religion’s core text is, on balance, nastier than the next.

Why are the Iraqi Kurds such reliable American allies? Why, last week, did a Turkish Muslim sit down with me for a glass of wine? After all, they read the same Qu’ran bearing the same proclamations about infidels and the same prohibition on alcohol. Religion is personal, fluid, mysterious. Yes, I know: the Qur’an is supposedly the direct word of God and therefore not open to interpretation. But in reality, it is interpreted and reinterpreted constantly. In various times and various locales, Muslims have given different parts of Qur’anic text different weight. Because of the U.S.’s indefatigable efforts on both the military and diplomatic fronts, we are currently witnessing the rejection of jihad among the Sunni and Shia of Iraq. Nothing spurs religious dynamism like major shifts in the political landscape. I have a hard time seeing how the unapologetic desecration of the Qur’an puts America on a better footing in the war on terror.

Diana goes on:

“I’m not sure whether Abe disputes my argument, but he certainly thinks it shouldn’t be made. Here’s why he says “that won’t do”:

While the Qur’an is sacred to our enemies in Iraq, it is also sacred to our allies in that country. Moreover, it is sacred to the millions of Muslims who are citizens of the United States, to say nothing of the thousands who serve in uniform.

Notice that this fact is given as a rationale for silence, not as a cause for concern.

Not silence, merely restraint from vandalism. Bluster about shooting up a Qur’an is no substitute for beneficial inquiry into the relationship between moderate and radical Islam. I’m proud to note that COMMENTARY does not shy away from exploring such questions at length. I refer Diana to “In Search of Moderate Muslims” by Joshua Muravchik and Charles P. Szrom in the February 2008 issue, and to these dissenting letters from Stephen Schwartz and COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Pipes.

I understand Diana’s concerns and I share some of them. But all in all it’s a good thing that the U.S. is not in the habit of waging war on religions. Such undertakings would contradict the noblest intentions of our Constitution. And on a purely strategic level, doing battle with Islam itself would surely lose us our most important allies. I always enjoy fielding the anti-war charge that America is trying to oppress Muslims worldwide: there’s not a shred of evidence to support it. And forfeiting that assurance would be the same thing as giving up the fight.

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Whose New Gilded Age?

The New York Times recently ran a lead Sunday Magazine article on the “The New Gilded Age.” The article tastefully failed to note that most of the monied people discussed were Democrats. It’s further evidence, I’d say, that liberal Democrats are having a hard time owning up to the nature of their party. In his new book The Squandering of America (reviewed in the November issue of COMMENTARY), liberal economist Robert Kuttner describes his dismay at discovering that the liberal wing of the Democratic Party has gone upscale. “I have attended Democratic fund-raising events in the Park Avenue homes of investment bankers,” he writes, “where there was plenty of enthusiasm for human rights, morning-after pills, and climate change, but nary a word about financial regulation or social investment.” Kuttner’s ideological soulmate, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, lodges a similar complaint about the Democrats’ refusal to close “the hedge fund tax loophole—which allows executives at private equity firms and hedge funds to pay a tax rate of only 15 percent on most of their income.” The Democrats, he concludes are “wobbled by wealth.”

What’s striking about their complaints is that none of this is new. Writing in COMMENTARY in 1972, Joshua Muravchik and the late Penn Kemble noted that “The purpose of the McGovern quotas (for the delegations to the Democratic National Convention) was not to make the convention more representative of the Democratic electorate as a whole, but to favor the affluent liberals within the party and to diminish the influence of its lower-middle and working-class constituents.” The McGovernites succeeded and the Democrats became far more of an upper-middle-class party.

And they’ve only become more of one since then. Michael Franc of the Heritage Foundation, writing yesterday in the Financial Times, notes that “Democrats now control the majority of the nation’s wealthiest congressional jurisdictions. More than half of the wealthiest households are concentrated in the eighteen states where Democrats control both Senate seats.” This pattern holds in the House as well. Iowa’s three richest districts are represented by Democrats, the two poorest by Republicans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi represents a San Francisco district containing more than six times as many high-end households as her Republic counterpart, John Boehner. Nor is this just a matter of wealth. Democrats, notes economist Joel Kotkin, predominate in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, where income inequality is the most pronounced in the nation.
“The demographic reality is that, in America,” says Franc, the Democratic Party is the new “party of the rich.” The question for 2008 is whether that economic reality will enter into the political debate.

The New York Times recently ran a lead Sunday Magazine article on the “The New Gilded Age.” The article tastefully failed to note that most of the monied people discussed were Democrats. It’s further evidence, I’d say, that liberal Democrats are having a hard time owning up to the nature of their party. In his new book The Squandering of America (reviewed in the November issue of COMMENTARY), liberal economist Robert Kuttner describes his dismay at discovering that the liberal wing of the Democratic Party has gone upscale. “I have attended Democratic fund-raising events in the Park Avenue homes of investment bankers,” he writes, “where there was plenty of enthusiasm for human rights, morning-after pills, and climate change, but nary a word about financial regulation or social investment.” Kuttner’s ideological soulmate, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, lodges a similar complaint about the Democrats’ refusal to close “the hedge fund tax loophole—which allows executives at private equity firms and hedge funds to pay a tax rate of only 15 percent on most of their income.” The Democrats, he concludes are “wobbled by wealth.”

What’s striking about their complaints is that none of this is new. Writing in COMMENTARY in 1972, Joshua Muravchik and the late Penn Kemble noted that “The purpose of the McGovern quotas (for the delegations to the Democratic National Convention) was not to make the convention more representative of the Democratic electorate as a whole, but to favor the affluent liberals within the party and to diminish the influence of its lower-middle and working-class constituents.” The McGovernites succeeded and the Democrats became far more of an upper-middle-class party.

And they’ve only become more of one since then. Michael Franc of the Heritage Foundation, writing yesterday in the Financial Times, notes that “Democrats now control the majority of the nation’s wealthiest congressional jurisdictions. More than half of the wealthiest households are concentrated in the eighteen states where Democrats control both Senate seats.” This pattern holds in the House as well. Iowa’s three richest districts are represented by Democrats, the two poorest by Republicans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi represents a San Francisco district containing more than six times as many high-end households as her Republic counterpart, John Boehner. Nor is this just a matter of wealth. Democrats, notes economist Joel Kotkin, predominate in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, where income inequality is the most pronounced in the nation.
“The demographic reality is that, in America,” says Franc, the Democratic Party is the new “party of the rich.” The question for 2008 is whether that economic reality will enter into the political debate.

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Jimmy Carter’s Good Deeds

Is Jimmy Carter a saint? As James Kirchick has argued, the former President does deserve applause for the courage he displayed last week in the Sudan. He may be our worst ex-President ever, as Joshua Muravchik has irrefutably demonstrated, but it does not follow that every single thing he does today is bad.

The same thing can be said of his presidency. Reviewing Carter’s book, Living Faith, in the Wall Street Journal in 1996, I made the case that he was one of the worst Presidents of the 20th century. Carter read my review and took umbrage. The Cleveland Plain Dealer quoted him saying about me: “The guy, and I don’t know him, was vituperative about everything. He even condemned the poem I wrote about Rosalynn, which is one of the most popular parts of the book.”

Carter did, and does, have many appalling defects–the least of them his execrable poetry. But let’s give him his due. Even a terrible leader sometimes does some good things. Let me recall a tiny and ancient sliver of the past.

In June 1978, Carter appointed the former Representative Bella Abzug, then at the nadir of her own political career, to head his 40-member National Advisory Committee for Women. He and his staff probably had no idea of her Stalinist past–and if they did have an idea, given Carter’s stated desire to rid Americans of their “inordinate fear of Communism,” they probably would not have cared.

bellaandcarter.jpg

But if Carter was indifferent to Abzug’s lifetime membership in the Vladimir Ilich Lenin wing of the Democratic party, he still might have paid attention, if only out of self-interest, to the fact that she was a loud-mouth and a bully. Almost immediately on her appointment as “chairperson,” Abzug characteristically displayed her gratitude to her patron and rescuer by biting the hand that fed her.

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Is Jimmy Carter a saint? As James Kirchick has argued, the former President does deserve applause for the courage he displayed last week in the Sudan. He may be our worst ex-President ever, as Joshua Muravchik has irrefutably demonstrated, but it does not follow that every single thing he does today is bad.

The same thing can be said of his presidency. Reviewing Carter’s book, Living Faith, in the Wall Street Journal in 1996, I made the case that he was one of the worst Presidents of the 20th century. Carter read my review and took umbrage. The Cleveland Plain Dealer quoted him saying about me: “The guy, and I don’t know him, was vituperative about everything. He even condemned the poem I wrote about Rosalynn, which is one of the most popular parts of the book.”

Carter did, and does, have many appalling defects–the least of them his execrable poetry. But let’s give him his due. Even a terrible leader sometimes does some good things. Let me recall a tiny and ancient sliver of the past.

In June 1978, Carter appointed the former Representative Bella Abzug, then at the nadir of her own political career, to head his 40-member National Advisory Committee for Women. He and his staff probably had no idea of her Stalinist past–and if they did have an idea, given Carter’s stated desire to rid Americans of their “inordinate fear of Communism,” they probably would not have cared.

bellaandcarter.jpg

But if Carter was indifferent to Abzug’s lifetime membership in the Vladimir Ilich Lenin wing of the Democratic party, he still might have paid attention, if only out of self-interest, to the fact that she was a loud-mouth and a bully. Almost immediately on her appointment as “chairperson,” Abzug characteristically displayed her gratitude to her patron and rescuer by biting the hand that fed her.

The day before a scheduled meeting with Carter in January 1979, the women’s committee prepared a press release blasting the White House for increasing unemployment, curtailing social programs, and funding “military extravagance.” At the meeting itself, Abzug wagged her finger at the President, haranguing him about the critical role of the committee that he himself had created and was now, allegedly, neglecting.

Was what happened next a profile of presidential courage or of presidential rage? Whatever the answer, it was certainly not a case of lust in his heart; it took no more than minutes after the meeting concluded for Carter to fire Abzug. Never mind that she was occupying a volunteer position; she and her big hats went out the White House door never to return.

Jimmy Carter was indeed among the very worst Presidents of the 20th century. It is not an accident that even the few minor good things he ever did consisted of nothing more than undoing some of the many bad things he also did.

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Fidel’s Favorite

Fidel Castro, who has long been too ill to appear in public, apparently is healthy enough to share his thoughts with us. His most recent contribution to the global political dialogue came yesterday in an editorial in Granma, the Cuban Communist Party’s mouthpiece. He grabbed headlines in America by handicapping its 2008 presidential election—he thinks Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are “seemingly invincible.” But Fidel’s most interesting thoughts are his evaluations of past American presidents.

Castro’s favorite? That would be “James Carter,” as Cuba’s ailing revolutionary calls him. El Maximo Lider gives a number of reasons why he chose the Georgia Democrat. He notes that Carter “was not an accomplice to the brutal terrorism against Cuba” and that he promoted a maritime agreement with Cuba. Yet he did not mention the most important reason. Castro is most likely so fond of the 39th President because he delegitimized the American embargo of Cuba—but he did not end it.

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Fidel Castro, who has long been too ill to appear in public, apparently is healthy enough to share his thoughts with us. His most recent contribution to the global political dialogue came yesterday in an editorial in Granma, the Cuban Communist Party’s mouthpiece. He grabbed headlines in America by handicapping its 2008 presidential election—he thinks Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are “seemingly invincible.” But Fidel’s most interesting thoughts are his evaluations of past American presidents.

Castro’s favorite? That would be “James Carter,” as Cuba’s ailing revolutionary calls him. El Maximo Lider gives a number of reasons why he chose the Georgia Democrat. He notes that Carter “was not an accomplice to the brutal terrorism against Cuba” and that he promoted a maritime agreement with Cuba. Yet he did not mention the most important reason. Castro is most likely so fond of the 39th President because he delegitimized the American embargo of Cuba—but he did not end it.

For Castro, that would be the Daily Double. He has made a career of blaming the embargo for Cuba’s ills, but has always acted up whenever it looked as if Congress actually might get rid of it. Carter is not only our worst ex-president, as Joshua Muravchik has labeled him, he is possibly (in competition with James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson) our worst serving leader as well. But as wrong-headed as he has been on most everything, Carter understands something that has somehow eluded recent commanders-in-chief: the embargo in its present form serves Castro’s interests more than it does ours.

Today, Castro is viewed more as a pest than a threat. Yet despite his illness he is providing inspiration to a whole new generation of leftists in Latin America, from Hugo Chavez to Evo Morales to Daniel Ortega. So, now is an excellent time for Washington to summon the political will and do something effective: either tighten the embargo or get rid of it entirely. We are reaching the point at which, if we fail to take decisive action, we may soon look south and find a new Red Sea.

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Weekend Reading

Last night, House Republicans walked out of a vote, the results of which they claimed to be in dispute. Partisan politics, and the clashing ideas that animate it, occupy a huge amount of media attention (almost as much as is devoted to the war in Iraq). COMMENTARY is a veteran observer of interparty conflict and of the ideologies at issue in those conflicts. For this weekend’s reading, we offer some of our keenest pieces on the American political divide.

Is Conservatism Finished?
Wilfred M. McClay—January 2007

How Divided Are We?
James Q. Wilson—February 2006

Why the Democrats Keep Losing
Joshua Muravchik—January 2005

Back to Politics as Usual?
Daniel Casse—March 2002

Republican Nation, Democratic Nation?
Terry Teachout—January 2001

Last night, House Republicans walked out of a vote, the results of which they claimed to be in dispute. Partisan politics, and the clashing ideas that animate it, occupy a huge amount of media attention (almost as much as is devoted to the war in Iraq). COMMENTARY is a veteran observer of interparty conflict and of the ideologies at issue in those conflicts. For this weekend’s reading, we offer some of our keenest pieces on the American political divide.

Is Conservatism Finished?
Wilfred M. McClay—January 2007

How Divided Are We?
James Q. Wilson—February 2006

Why the Democrats Keep Losing
Joshua Muravchik—January 2005

Back to Politics as Usual?
Daniel Casse—March 2002

Republican Nation, Democratic Nation?
Terry Teachout—January 2001

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Weekend Reading

This week the United States is engaging in its first direct talks with North Korea in over five years—apparently, according to the New York Times, to “persuade” the North Koreans to fulfill their part of February’s “initial actions.” This plainly dubious agreement was exposed at the time on contentions by both Max Boot and Joshua Muravchik, and yesterday by Gordon Chang.

According to the Times, The State Department says that the direct talks are meant only to “speed up” the inception of multilateral talks. But is it a surprise that the North Korean government must be “persuaded” actually to abide by its commitments?

North Korea has been a large subject for COMMENTARY. For this weekend’s reading we offer a few of our best recent articles on the topic.

A Korean Solution?
Arthur Waldron – June 2005

Our Game with North Korea
Arthur Waldron – February 2004

Facing up to North Korea
Joshua Muravchik – March 2003

This week the United States is engaging in its first direct talks with North Korea in over five years—apparently, according to the New York Times, to “persuade” the North Koreans to fulfill their part of February’s “initial actions.” This plainly dubious agreement was exposed at the time on contentions by both Max Boot and Joshua Muravchik, and yesterday by Gordon Chang.

According to the Times, The State Department says that the direct talks are meant only to “speed up” the inception of multilateral talks. But is it a surprise that the North Korean government must be “persuaded” actually to abide by its commitments?

North Korea has been a large subject for COMMENTARY. For this weekend’s reading we offer a few of our best recent articles on the topic.

A Korean Solution?
Arthur Waldron – June 2005

Our Game with North Korea
Arthur Waldron – February 2004

Facing up to North Korea
Joshua Muravchik – March 2003

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Lieberman’s Vision

It seems to be about 40 years too late for Joseph Lieberman to run for President as a Democrat, the 1960′s being the last time that hawks were dominant within the party’s ranks. But there is time yet for him to become Vice President or Secretary of State under a Republican President. (One or the other would seem a sure thing if his good friend John McCain wins the White House.) He certainly deserves nothing less for his consistent willingness to say and do the right thing on national security matters, regardless of which way the political winds are blowing.

He has, most notably, remained a stalwart supporter of the war effort in Iraq in the face of its increasing unpopularity among the public at large and among almost all of his Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill. (Joshua Muravchik has already reported on the great speech Lieberman gave in Prague laying out the stakes in Iraq and the broader Middle East.) Not only does Lieberman want to take the war to the jihadists in Iraq, but he is also breaking the great taboo in Washington by proposing to take the war to their sponsors in Iran.

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It seems to be about 40 years too late for Joseph Lieberman to run for President as a Democrat, the 1960′s being the last time that hawks were dominant within the party’s ranks. But there is time yet for him to become Vice President or Secretary of State under a Republican President. (One or the other would seem a sure thing if his good friend John McCain wins the White House.) He certainly deserves nothing less for his consistent willingness to say and do the right thing on national security matters, regardless of which way the political winds are blowing.

He has, most notably, remained a stalwart supporter of the war effort in Iraq in the face of its increasing unpopularity among the public at large and among almost all of his Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill. (Joshua Muravchik has already reported on the great speech Lieberman gave in Prague laying out the stakes in Iraq and the broader Middle East.) Not only does Lieberman want to take the war to the jihadists in Iraq, but he is also breaking the great taboo in Washington by proposing to take the war to their sponsors in Iran.

The consensus view in the capital seems to be that while Iran makes war by proxy on the U.S., we are supposed to make nice with Iran. That was the recommendation of the Iraq Study Group. But Iran continues to flaunt the can’t-we-all-get-along approach through shipping potent mines and rockets to anti-American fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan, refusing to end its nuclear-weapons program, and its recent seizure of innocent Iranian-Americans as purported spies, among other offenses. The Bush administration reacts largely with rhetorical bluster, backed up by some sanctions and the movement of aircraft carriers into the Persian Gulf.

Lieberman quite rightly points out that our pressure has been insufficient to make Iran change its behavior and that stronger medicine may be in order. On CBS’s Face the Nation this past Sunday, he declared:

I think we’ve got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq. And to me that would include a strike into—over the border into Iran where I—we have good evidence that they have a base at which they are training these people coming back into Iraq to kill our soldiers. . . . They can’t believe that they have immunity for training and equipping people to come in and kill Americans. It’s just—we cannot let them get away with it. If we do, they’ll take that as a sign of weakness on our part, and we will pay for it in Iraq and throughout the region, and ultimately right here at home.

This has earned Lieberman yet more rebukes, such as this bombastic article in the New York Observer, entitled “Lieberman’s Iranian War Fantasy.” In prose that almost parodies State Department thinking, the author, Niall Stanage, concludes: “Dialogue and diplomacy do not make for especially magnetic rallying calls. But they are a much more sensible idea than the dangerous chimera of a short sharp shock to Iran proposed by Mr. Lieberman.”

Stanage is right that the idea of using force against Iran—given its potentially serious repercussions—needs more careful study. But it is his own call for “dialogue and diplomacy” with mullahs who plainly reject both that is the “fantasy” here. Lieberman is willing to face up to the unpleasant reality of the Middle East today, while most of Washington prefers to look the other way as Iran makes war on us.

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Who Are the True Jihadists?

The exact meaning of jihad is not a new question. It came up, unsurprisingly, at the Conference on Democracy and Security organized by Natan Sharansky, Václav Havel, and José Maria Aznar in Prague last week (about which Joshua Muravchik has been blogging).

Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, was in the middle of a rousing speech about the mystique of democracy. He warned of the danger to democracies posed by jihadists, who abuse its freedoms to subvert democratic institutions. Up rose Sami Angawi, director general of the Amar Center in Saudi Arabia, to protest: “I am a jihadist!” Angawi explained how, as a Muslim, he saw his struggle for freedom, democracy, and human rights in Saudi Arabia as a jihad.

I listened to Angawi develop his point: that jihad is too important a concept for it to be the exclusive property of Islamists, and that it needs to be recaptured and decontaminated by moderate and secular Muslims. I felt real sympathy for Angawi—and not only because he stopped me from walking in front of a Prague streetcar. But there is, depite the best efforts of reformers like Angawi, little likelihood that jihad will lose its ominous connotations for non-Muslims any time soon.

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The exact meaning of jihad is not a new question. It came up, unsurprisingly, at the Conference on Democracy and Security organized by Natan Sharansky, Václav Havel, and José Maria Aznar in Prague last week (about which Joshua Muravchik has been blogging).

Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, was in the middle of a rousing speech about the mystique of democracy. He warned of the danger to democracies posed by jihadists, who abuse its freedoms to subvert democratic institutions. Up rose Sami Angawi, director general of the Amar Center in Saudi Arabia, to protest: “I am a jihadist!” Angawi explained how, as a Muslim, he saw his struggle for freedom, democracy, and human rights in Saudi Arabia as a jihad.

I listened to Angawi develop his point: that jihad is too important a concept for it to be the exclusive property of Islamists, and that it needs to be recaptured and decontaminated by moderate and secular Muslims. I felt real sympathy for Angawi—and not only because he stopped me from walking in front of a Prague streetcar. But there is, depite the best efforts of reformers like Angawi, little likelihood that jihad will lose its ominous connotations for non-Muslims any time soon.

The concept is freighted with memories that go back 1,400 years, to the earliest days of Islam. Whether moderate Muslims like it or not, jihad has a history that extends from Muhammad’s farewell address in 632 (“I was ordered to fight all men until they say ‘There is no god but Allah’”) to Osama bin Laden’s deliberate echo of his words in November 2001. The proclamations of jihad against the West that we have witnessed since the Islamic revolution in Iran are not very different from those of Muslim conquerors throughout history (several of whom came close to fulfilling those proclamations).

Nor, it should be noted, does the fact that some of the Islamic warriors of the past were admired for their chivalry (rather than abhorred for their cruelty, as the Islamists of today are) mean that their concept of jihad was any less warlike and apocalyptic. In 1189, Saladin, the great antagonist of Richard Coeur de Lion, threatened to pursue his jihad across the sea to Europe “until there remains no-one on the face of the earth who does not acknowledge Allah.”

Ignác Goldziher, the Hungarian Jew who pioneered modern Islamic scholarship, began in the late 19th century the long effort by Western orientalists to reinterpret the meaning of jihad—an effort ongoing more or less ever since. But the paucity and insularity of Islamic hermeneutics means that no new interpretation of jihad is likely to gain acceptance in the dominant theological schools of Cairo and Mecca. The Wahhabi interpretation of jihad, which deliberately overlooks the prophetic injunction to practice “greater jihad” (peaceful struggle) as well as “lesser jihad” (war against the infidel), is hugely dominant among them, and will remain so. For these scholars, marooned in the 7th century, war against the infidel is not only legitimate, but laudable and even obligatory—however unholy such war may be in the eyes of more moderate Muslims.

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Weekend Reading

On the eve of the first round of balloting in what promises to be a momentous presidential election in France, we offer a handful of articles from the past fifteen years on European politics and political passions. And be sure to visit COMMENTARY for an advance look at Michel Gurfinkiel’s “Can France Be Saved?“—an important article from next month’s issue.

How to Wreck NATO
Joshua Muravchik—April 1999

Is Europe a Threat?
Irwin M. Stelzer—October 2001

Betrayed by Europe: An Expatriate’s Lament
Nidra Poller—March 2004

The Islamization of Europe?
David Pryce-Jones—December 2004

Europe’s No
Michel Gurfinkiel—July/August 2005

On the eve of the first round of balloting in what promises to be a momentous presidential election in France, we offer a handful of articles from the past fifteen years on European politics and political passions. And be sure to visit COMMENTARY for an advance look at Michel Gurfinkiel’s “Can France Be Saved?“—an important article from next month’s issue.

How to Wreck NATO
Joshua Muravchik—April 1999

Is Europe a Threat?
Irwin M. Stelzer—October 2001

Betrayed by Europe: An Expatriate’s Lament
Nidra Poller—March 2004

The Islamization of Europe?
David Pryce-Jones—December 2004

Europe’s No
Michel Gurfinkiel—July/August 2005

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Tiramisu, Andrew?

Joshua Muravchik wrote what I thought was a sharp and sensible item about Zbigniew Brzezinski here yesterday. Others disagree. Andrew Sullivan called Josh’s posting a “brutal, personal attack.” Andrew then proceeded to note that he is still waiting “for one leading neocon to examine some of the premises that led us into what is clearly a bloody and endless trap in Iraq.”

To paraphrase Josh, this is rich. Actually, it is not just rich, it is a parfait on top of tiramisu.

Leading neoconservatives have been examining the premises which led us to topple Saddam Hussein longer than Andrew has been lambasting conservatives—and avidly flagellating himself—for supporting the war.

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Joshua Muravchik wrote what I thought was a sharp and sensible item about Zbigniew Brzezinski here yesterday. Others disagree. Andrew Sullivan called Josh’s posting a “brutal, personal attack.” Andrew then proceeded to note that he is still waiting “for one leading neocon to examine some of the premises that led us into what is clearly a bloody and endless trap in Iraq.”

To paraphrase Josh, this is rich. Actually, it is not just rich, it is a parfait on top of tiramisu.

Leading neoconservatives have been examining the premises which led us to topple Saddam Hussein longer than Andrew has been lambasting conservatives—and avidly flagellating himself—for supporting the war.

One highly pertinent examination was Norman Podhoretz’s essay “Who Is Lying About Iraq?

As Podhoretz noted there, first and foremost among the reasons we went to war was the widely shared belief that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. Podhoretz noted that in judging Iraq’s progress toward the acquisition of such weapons, Bush’s CIA director George Tenet

had the backing of all fifteen agencies involved in gathering intelligence for the United States. In the National Intelligence Estimate of 2002, where their collective views were summarized, one of the conclusions offered with “high confidence” was that “Iraq is continuing, and in some areas expanding its chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile programs contrary to UN resolutions.” The intelligence agencies of Britain, Germany, Russia, China, Israel, and—yes—France all agreed with this judgment.

So did Andrew Sullivan. Here is one sample of what he was saying before the war was under way: “The question with Iraq is simple,” Andrew wrote on October 20, 2002:

in trying to stop Saddam getting a nuke, do we follow the same policies as Clinton and Carter in 1994 with North Korea, or do we try something else? Amazingly, large swathes of apparently intelligent people seem to think we should try the Carter/Clinton approach to Iraq. My view is simple: if we do not disarm Saddam now, we never will. And if we don’t, a full-scale nuclear, biological and chemical war is inevitable in the Middle East; and that war, with the help of terror groups like al Qaeda, will soon come to LA and New York and London and Washington. So the choice is a dangerous war now; or a much more destructive war later. I know democracies don’t like to hear these as the two options; democracies rightly, understandably hate to go to war. But these choices, in my view, are the only ones we actually have. So what’s it gonna be? Or do we still want to change the subject?

After we were already in the war and had toppled Saddam Hussein, and doubts began to arise about whether Iraq did in fact have weapons of mass destruction, Andrew continued his defense of the enterprise. On October 3, 2003, in the Washington Times, he wrote:

Today’s ubiquitous second-guessers would have us believe that there was an easy alternative to confronting Saddam earlier this year, and deposing him. But there were no good options—and none better than the difficult decision to go to war. President Bush should, in my view, say something similar at some point. I know that any concession with regard to prewar intelligence can lead to the anti-war hysterics piling on and the Democratic opportunists playing clairvoyants. But the point of concession is to say that he took the right decision—even if the intelligence turned out to be flawed—and may have to make a similar decision again. The threat has not gone away.

And a week later, also in the Washington Times, Andrew continued in the same vein, while adding some additional reasons we were still right to go to war:

The casus belli was not proof of Saddam’s existing weapons, but proof of his refusal to cooperate fully with U.N. inspectors or account fully for his WMD research. Nothing we have discovered after the war has debunked or undermined any of these reasons. And the moral reason for getting rid of an unconscionably evil regime has actually gotten stronger now that we see the full extent of his terror-state.

And by late January, 2004, when it was becoming clearer that Saddam did not have the arsenal of weapons of mass destruction all had feared, Andrew continued to remain on board, writing in the Washington Times yet again:

I still believe in the need to take out WMD threats before they take us out. And I don’t buy the argument that you have to have proof of actual ready-to-go weapons in order to take action. All you really need is componentry. And the preliminary Kay report convinced me—and still convinces me—that the war was worthwhile, that Saddam Hussein had been lying, that he couldn’t be trusted, that we had no viable future alternative to war [sanctions were becoming grotesquely immoral and porous] and that the future threat was absolutely real. But—and it’s a big but—we made the case on the existence of actual, operational WMD and stockpiles of the same. We did so publicly, openly, clearly to as big a global audience as we could find. We said: Trust us. We know. But we didn’t. I cannot see how a single ally will support us in future similar circumstances because of that. Certainly, Britain won’t be able to. And I think a large swathe of American public opinion will be more skeptical than ever. It’s not exactly a case of crying wolf. The wolf was there all right. It’s a function of exaggerating a threat. I believe it was an honest mistake.

In April 2004, around the time the Abu-Ghraib story broke, Andrew Sullivan came to have great misgivings about the way the Bush administration was handling the war. He’s been a shrill critic ever since and has expressed his “shame and sorrow” for his initial support of the war.

Some of his criticisms are legitimate. Many of them, expressed in lacerating—sometimes self-lacerating—tones, are not. But when it comes to the basic decision to go to war, Andrew has disavowed his initial position for reasons that hindsight, and only hindsight, can provide.

Given what we knew at the time, going to war was a necessary move. A legitimate debate can be held now about the mistakes made along the way, about the path forward, or about whether and how to exit. But in conducting that debate, let us not erase the past. By all means let us examine the premises that led us into this war. And let us examine exactly who shared those premises and why.

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Weekend Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Weekend Reading

The recent dust-up between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has reminded some observers of what Clinton-style politics can look like in action. If, as former U.S. Treasury Secretary John Sherman once observed, the past is the best prophet of the future, it’s distinctly probable that American political discourse will remain quite lively for some time now, and possibly even after George W. Bush’s second term ends. For your weekend reading, contentions would like to offer a selection of incisive articles from COMMENTARY taking a hard look at the Clinton administration and the years of ease at home and swiftly growing unease abroad over which Bill Clinton presided. Enjoy.

Bush, Clinton, and the Jews—A Debate
Daniel Pipes & Martin Peretz, October 1992

Lament of a Clinton Supporter
Joshua Muravchik, August 1993

Clintonism Abroad
Joshua Muravchik, February 1995

A Party of One: Clinton and the Democrats
Daniel Casse, July 1996

What Saddam Hussein Learned from Bill Clinton
Harvey Sicherman, December 1996

Clinton, the Country, and the Culture
January 1999

The recent dust-up between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has reminded some observers of what Clinton-style politics can look like in action. If, as former U.S. Treasury Secretary John Sherman once observed, the past is the best prophet of the future, it’s distinctly probable that American political discourse will remain quite lively for some time now, and possibly even after George W. Bush’s second term ends. For your weekend reading, contentions would like to offer a selection of incisive articles from COMMENTARY taking a hard look at the Clinton administration and the years of ease at home and swiftly growing unease abroad over which Bill Clinton presided. Enjoy.

Bush, Clinton, and the Jews—A Debate
Daniel Pipes & Martin Peretz, October 1992

Lament of a Clinton Supporter
Joshua Muravchik, August 1993

Clintonism Abroad
Joshua Muravchik, February 1995

A Party of One: Clinton and the Democrats
Daniel Casse, July 1996

What Saddam Hussein Learned from Bill Clinton
Harvey Sicherman, December 1996

Clinton, the Country, and the Culture
January 1999

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Freedom House v. Anatol Lieven

Anatol Lieven—a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation and the co-author of Ethical Realism: A Vision of America’s Role in the World—has emerged in recent years as one of the more relentless critics of democratization as a core project of U.S. foreign policy. The latest effort in his anti-democratization campaign is a January 26 column published in the Financial Times in response to Freedom House’s recently released annual index of global political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World. (contentions blogger Joshua Muravchik wrote about the Washington Post‘s own attempt to spin this report here.) Lieven levels a number of serious charges at Freedom House and democracy advocates in general. Let’s examine these charges, one by one:

1. Democracy advocates, presumably including Freedom House, have exaggerated the impact of the elections in Iraq.

In its reports and findings on Iraq, Freedom House has consistently stressed the high incidence there of violence, terrorism, and sectarian strife. Freedom House has never described Iraq as a democracy or as a free society, and the country’s rating has remained “not free” throughout the period of occupation.

2. Freedom House distorts its findings to suit the ideological leanings of the American government.

Only someone who has not read Freedom in the World carefully could come to this conclusion. The latest index suggests that, far from being on the march, freedom has entered a period of stagnation, with very little progress in recent years—a conclusion hardly in line with the ideological leanings of the Bush administration.

3. Freedom House gives the United States the highest possible freedom score while judging other countries by the degree of their alliance with America.

The United States does, indeed, receive the highest possible rating—as do practically all the countries of Western Europe. One feels almost ridiculous in pointing out that a number of these countries—for starters, France, Spain, and Germany—have had sharp differences with America over its foreign policy in recent years. At the same time, Freedom in the World gives low scores to such American allies or “partners” as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan.

4. Freedom House does not appreciate the levels of freedom in China and Russia.

China devotes billions of dollars to the political censorship of the Internet. The authorities regularly imprison journalists, human-rights lawyers, and ordinary citizens seeking redress in cases of official abuse of power. Russia is moving precipitously in the wrong direction in almost every sphere of freedom. (For a detailed look at Russia’s regression, see Leon Aron’s What Does Putin Want? in the December issue of COMMENTARY.) What, exactly, are we meant to appreciate?

5. Freedom House has a narrow and extremist definition of freedom that fails to consider political developments leading to “a real sense of individual rights and personal liberty.”

Again, had Lieven read the report more carefully, he would have learned that Freedom House stresses precisely those institutions that are the key guarantors of “individual rights and personal liberty.” The issues of concern singled out in the report include the global decline in freedom of expression and the press, the widespread failure to create the effective rule of law, and rampant corruption.

Anatol Lieven calls himself an “ethical realist.” The “realist” component of this description seems to consist in his support of “benevolent” autocrats the globe over. Where the “ethical” comes in, given his slipshod reporting of the contents of Freedom in the World, remains rather mysterious.

Anatol Lieven—a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation and the co-author of Ethical Realism: A Vision of America’s Role in the World—has emerged in recent years as one of the more relentless critics of democratization as a core project of U.S. foreign policy. The latest effort in his anti-democratization campaign is a January 26 column published in the Financial Times in response to Freedom House’s recently released annual index of global political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World. (contentions blogger Joshua Muravchik wrote about the Washington Post‘s own attempt to spin this report here.) Lieven levels a number of serious charges at Freedom House and democracy advocates in general. Let’s examine these charges, one by one:

1. Democracy advocates, presumably including Freedom House, have exaggerated the impact of the elections in Iraq.

In its reports and findings on Iraq, Freedom House has consistently stressed the high incidence there of violence, terrorism, and sectarian strife. Freedom House has never described Iraq as a democracy or as a free society, and the country’s rating has remained “not free” throughout the period of occupation.

2. Freedom House distorts its findings to suit the ideological leanings of the American government.

Only someone who has not read Freedom in the World carefully could come to this conclusion. The latest index suggests that, far from being on the march, freedom has entered a period of stagnation, with very little progress in recent years—a conclusion hardly in line with the ideological leanings of the Bush administration.

3. Freedom House gives the United States the highest possible freedom score while judging other countries by the degree of their alliance with America.

The United States does, indeed, receive the highest possible rating—as do practically all the countries of Western Europe. One feels almost ridiculous in pointing out that a number of these countries—for starters, France, Spain, and Germany—have had sharp differences with America over its foreign policy in recent years. At the same time, Freedom in the World gives low scores to such American allies or “partners” as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan.

4. Freedom House does not appreciate the levels of freedom in China and Russia.

China devotes billions of dollars to the political censorship of the Internet. The authorities regularly imprison journalists, human-rights lawyers, and ordinary citizens seeking redress in cases of official abuse of power. Russia is moving precipitously in the wrong direction in almost every sphere of freedom. (For a detailed look at Russia’s regression, see Leon Aron’s What Does Putin Want? in the December issue of COMMENTARY.) What, exactly, are we meant to appreciate?

5. Freedom House has a narrow and extremist definition of freedom that fails to consider political developments leading to “a real sense of individual rights and personal liberty.”

Again, had Lieven read the report more carefully, he would have learned that Freedom House stresses precisely those institutions that are the key guarantors of “individual rights and personal liberty.” The issues of concern singled out in the report include the global decline in freedom of expression and the press, the widespread failure to create the effective rule of law, and rampant corruption.

Anatol Lieven calls himself an “ethical realist.” The “realist” component of this description seems to consist in his support of “benevolent” autocrats the globe over. Where the “ethical” comes in, given his slipshod reporting of the contents of Freedom in the World, remains rather mysterious.

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