Commentary Magazine


Topic: Lieutenant

Flotsam and Jetsam

Cleaning up Undersecretary Michele Flournoy’s mess (“Military force is an option of last resort. It’s off the table for now”), a Pentagon spokesman: “We are not taking any options off the table as we pursue the pressure and engagement tracks. … The president always has at his disposal a full array of options, including use of the military … It is clearly not our preferred course of action but it has never been, nor is it now, off the table.” Never underestimate how incompetent this crew is.

Is the Goldman Sachs case a big mess? “The testimony of a former Paulson & Co official could undercut the Securities and Exchange Commission’s fraud case against Goldman Sachs, CNBC has learned. The former Paulson lieutenant, Paolo Pellegrini, testified that he told ACA Management, the main investor in a Goldman mortgage-securities transaction, that Paulson intended to bet against—or short—the portfolio of mortgages ACA was assembling. If true, the testimony would contradict the SEC’s claim that ACA did not know Paulson was hoping the mortgage securities would fail and weaken charges that Goldman misled investors by not informing ACA of Paulson’s position.”

Did the White House mess with the SEC? “President Barack Obama is brushing off suggestions that the White House influenced the timing of fraud charges against Goldman Sachs. In an interview set to air Wednesday on CNBC, Obama said the White House had nothing to do with the Securities and Exchange Commission’s decision to file fraud charges Friday against Goldman Sachs.” It was just a grand coincidence, I suppose.

Too messy for Blanche Lincoln: “Sen. Blanche Lincoln, under fire for keeping a $4,500 contribution from Goldman Sachs’s political action committee, has canceled a fundraising lunch with Goldman executives that was scheduled for Monday and would have netted many times that amount for the Arkansas Senator’s reelection campaign.”

Lots of people think the country is a mess: “Sixty-one percent (61%) of all voters now say the nation is heading down the wrong track, down slightly from last week but just one point above the lowest level of pessimism measured since last October.”

Robert Gates is in charge of keeping the messes to a minimum: “That new administration’s rapidly getting old, but Gates continues to serve, struggling to limit the damage done to our national defense. Recently, he fought to keep our new nuclear-giveaway treaty with Russia within tolerable bounds. That treaty’s bad — but without Gates it would have been worse. Now we know that he was also pushing on Iran. Last week, somebody (not Gates) leaked a January memo the SecDef sent to the White House. The message? We need to prepare for all contingencies regarding Iran. Now.”

The ongoing Massa ethics mess: “The top members on the House ethics committee interviewed Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Wednesday afternoon – just hours after the ethics panel created a special subcommittee to investigate sexual harassment allegations surrounding former Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.).”

That mess widens: “The FBI is investigating the case of former Rep. Eric Massa, accused by his onetime male staff members of sexual harassment.”

Cleaning up Undersecretary Michele Flournoy’s mess (“Military force is an option of last resort. It’s off the table for now”), a Pentagon spokesman: “We are not taking any options off the table as we pursue the pressure and engagement tracks. … The president always has at his disposal a full array of options, including use of the military … It is clearly not our preferred course of action but it has never been, nor is it now, off the table.” Never underestimate how incompetent this crew is.

Is the Goldman Sachs case a big mess? “The testimony of a former Paulson & Co official could undercut the Securities and Exchange Commission’s fraud case against Goldman Sachs, CNBC has learned. The former Paulson lieutenant, Paolo Pellegrini, testified that he told ACA Management, the main investor in a Goldman mortgage-securities transaction, that Paulson intended to bet against—or short—the portfolio of mortgages ACA was assembling. If true, the testimony would contradict the SEC’s claim that ACA did not know Paulson was hoping the mortgage securities would fail and weaken charges that Goldman misled investors by not informing ACA of Paulson’s position.”

Did the White House mess with the SEC? “President Barack Obama is brushing off suggestions that the White House influenced the timing of fraud charges against Goldman Sachs. In an interview set to air Wednesday on CNBC, Obama said the White House had nothing to do with the Securities and Exchange Commission’s decision to file fraud charges Friday against Goldman Sachs.” It was just a grand coincidence, I suppose.

Too messy for Blanche Lincoln: “Sen. Blanche Lincoln, under fire for keeping a $4,500 contribution from Goldman Sachs’s political action committee, has canceled a fundraising lunch with Goldman executives that was scheduled for Monday and would have netted many times that amount for the Arkansas Senator’s reelection campaign.”

Lots of people think the country is a mess: “Sixty-one percent (61%) of all voters now say the nation is heading down the wrong track, down slightly from last week but just one point above the lowest level of pessimism measured since last October.”

Robert Gates is in charge of keeping the messes to a minimum: “That new administration’s rapidly getting old, but Gates continues to serve, struggling to limit the damage done to our national defense. Recently, he fought to keep our new nuclear-giveaway treaty with Russia within tolerable bounds. That treaty’s bad — but without Gates it would have been worse. Now we know that he was also pushing on Iran. Last week, somebody (not Gates) leaked a January memo the SecDef sent to the White House. The message? We need to prepare for all contingencies regarding Iran. Now.”

The ongoing Massa ethics mess: “The top members on the House ethics committee interviewed Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Wednesday afternoon – just hours after the ethics panel created a special subcommittee to investigate sexual harassment allegations surrounding former Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.).”

That mess widens: “The FBI is investigating the case of former Rep. Eric Massa, accused by his onetime male staff members of sexual harassment.”

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From Middle East Journal: Builders of Nations

“This is my hardest deployment,” Marine Sergeant Cooley said as he unfastened his helmet and tossed it onto his bed. “We weren’t trained for this kind of thing.” He’s been shot at with bullets and mortars, and he’s endured IED attacks on his Humvee, but post-war Fallujah is more difficult and more stressful than combat. He isn’t unusual for saying so. Many Marines I spoke to in and around the Fallujah area said something similar.

“We’re trained as infantrymen,” Captain Stewart Glenn said. “But here we are doing civil administration and trying to get the milk factory up and running.”

“We make up all this stuff as we go,” Lieutenant Mike Barefoot added.

While most Americans go to school, work traditional day jobs, and raise their families, young American men and women like these are deployed to Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan where they work seven days a week rebuilding societies torn to pieces by fascism, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and war. It is not what they signed up to do. Some may have geeked out on nation-building video games like Civilization, but none of the enlisted men picked up any of these skills in boot camp.

Officers pick up some basic relevant skills, though, as well as a more complete education. Lieutenant Nathan Bibler runs a Joint Security Station in the slums of Fallujah and works with local authorities every day.

He has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. “In a lot of ways it helps me analyze and interpret,” he said. What helps more than anything, though, is a training program Marine officers go through in 29 Palms, California, before they’re deployed.

“We were living in a town they built out in the desert with Iraqis.”

“Really,” I said. “Iraqi-Americans?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t know if they were all U.S. citizens, but Iraqis who were already in the U.S. We were living in this town that they built. We lived in the town with the Iraqi Police right next door. Actually they lived with us part of the time.”

Enlisted men don’t go through role playing training in 29 Palms, but every officer who mentioned it to me said those exercises were eerily effective, that actors from Iraq hired to play Iraqis in Iraq during counter-terrorist warfare turned out to be surprisingly like real Iraqis in a real counter-terrorist war.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

“This is my hardest deployment,” Marine Sergeant Cooley said as he unfastened his helmet and tossed it onto his bed. “We weren’t trained for this kind of thing.” He’s been shot at with bullets and mortars, and he’s endured IED attacks on his Humvee, but post-war Fallujah is more difficult and more stressful than combat. He isn’t unusual for saying so. Many Marines I spoke to in and around the Fallujah area said something similar.

“We’re trained as infantrymen,” Captain Stewart Glenn said. “But here we are doing civil administration and trying to get the milk factory up and running.”

“We make up all this stuff as we go,” Lieutenant Mike Barefoot added.

While most Americans go to school, work traditional day jobs, and raise their families, young American men and women like these are deployed to Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan where they work seven days a week rebuilding societies torn to pieces by fascism, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and war. It is not what they signed up to do. Some may have geeked out on nation-building video games like Civilization, but none of the enlisted men picked up any of these skills in boot camp.

Officers pick up some basic relevant skills, though, as well as a more complete education. Lieutenant Nathan Bibler runs a Joint Security Station in the slums of Fallujah and works with local authorities every day.

He has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. “In a lot of ways it helps me analyze and interpret,” he said. What helps more than anything, though, is a training program Marine officers go through in 29 Palms, California, before they’re deployed.

“We were living in a town they built out in the desert with Iraqis.”

“Really,” I said. “Iraqi-Americans?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t know if they were all U.S. citizens, but Iraqis who were already in the U.S. We were living in this town that they built. We lived in the town with the Iraqi Police right next door. Actually they lived with us part of the time.”

Enlisted men don’t go through role playing training in 29 Palms, but every officer who mentioned it to me said those exercises were eerily effective, that actors from Iraq hired to play Iraqis in Iraq during counter-terrorist warfare turned out to be surprisingly like real Iraqis in a real counter-terrorist war.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

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From Middle East Journal: The Liberation of Karmah, Part II

This is the second in a two-part series. Read Part I here.

KARMAH, IRAQ — The small city of Karmah sits between Fallujah and Baghdad, two Iraqi cities that have suffered more insurgent and terrorist violence than most. Karmah, however, was more hard-hit than either. It’s right on the bleeding edge of Anbar Province where the outskirts of Baghdad taper away. Unlike Fallujah, it has no hard perimeter to defend, nor was it considered a top priority for counterinsurgency operations. Surge forces in Baghdad drove Al Qaeda in Iraq members out of the capital’s neighborhoods and straight into Karmah during most of 2007.

Al Qaeda in Iraq did in Karmah what they have done everywhere else – intimidated and murdered civilians into submission. They decapitated police officers and placed severed heads all over the city. They destroyed the homes of anyone who opposed them. The message was clear: This is what will happen to you if you work with the Americans.

The story in Karmah should be familiar by now. Iraqis said no. We will work with the Americans and drive you out of our country. So many Stateside Americans still wonder aloud why mainstream Muslims refuse to stand up to terrorists, so apparently the story in Karmah – which is hardly unique to Karmah – isn’t familiar enough.

I joined Lieutenant Jasey Alleman on a foot patrol in the city at dawn when the air was still cold and the sun cast long shadows.

Fewer Iraqis were out on the street. Many were still sleeping or cooking breakfast at home. Most stores were open, though, and the lieutenant ducked into a hardware store and bought several cans of blue spray paint. I didn’t ask what they were for because I assumed I’d find out.

Even this city, of all cities, has gone quiet. Saturation patrolling by Marines who live embedded in the community’s neighborhoods stanched the terrorist outflow from Baghdad and purged the local insurgency’s remnants. The main market area downtown was recently re-opened to much ceremony and fanfare. Marine veterans who had served in Karmah before can hardly believe their own eyes – a year ago Karmah was thought to be as dark as Mordor.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

This is the second in a two-part series. Read Part I here.

KARMAH, IRAQ — The small city of Karmah sits between Fallujah and Baghdad, two Iraqi cities that have suffered more insurgent and terrorist violence than most. Karmah, however, was more hard-hit than either. It’s right on the bleeding edge of Anbar Province where the outskirts of Baghdad taper away. Unlike Fallujah, it has no hard perimeter to defend, nor was it considered a top priority for counterinsurgency operations. Surge forces in Baghdad drove Al Qaeda in Iraq members out of the capital’s neighborhoods and straight into Karmah during most of 2007.

Al Qaeda in Iraq did in Karmah what they have done everywhere else – intimidated and murdered civilians into submission. They decapitated police officers and placed severed heads all over the city. They destroyed the homes of anyone who opposed them. The message was clear: This is what will happen to you if you work with the Americans.

The story in Karmah should be familiar by now. Iraqis said no. We will work with the Americans and drive you out of our country. So many Stateside Americans still wonder aloud why mainstream Muslims refuse to stand up to terrorists, so apparently the story in Karmah – which is hardly unique to Karmah – isn’t familiar enough.

I joined Lieutenant Jasey Alleman on a foot patrol in the city at dawn when the air was still cold and the sun cast long shadows.

Fewer Iraqis were out on the street. Many were still sleeping or cooking breakfast at home. Most stores were open, though, and the lieutenant ducked into a hardware store and bought several cans of blue spray paint. I didn’t ask what they were for because I assumed I’d find out.

Even this city, of all cities, has gone quiet. Saturation patrolling by Marines who live embedded in the community’s neighborhoods stanched the terrorist outflow from Baghdad and purged the local insurgency’s remnants. The main market area downtown was recently re-opened to much ceremony and fanfare. Marine veterans who had served in Karmah before can hardly believe their own eyes – a year ago Karmah was thought to be as dark as Mordor.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

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From Middle East Journal: The Liberation of Karmah, Part I

KARMAH, IRAQ – Just beyond the outskirts of Fallujah lies the terror-wracked city of Karmah. While you may not have heard of this small city of 35,000 people, American soldiers and Marines who served in Anbar Province know it as a terrifying place of oppression, death, and destruction. “It was much worse than Fallujah” said more than a dozen Marines who were themselves based in Fallujah.

“Karmah was so important to the insurgency because we’ve got Baghdad right there,” Lieutenant Andrew Macak told me. “This is part of the periphery of Baghdad. At the same time, it is part of the periphery of Fallujah.”

Lieutenant Macak is not a veteran of Karmah, but Sergeant Jason Howell is. He was deployed in the city from March through October in 2006. “People weren’t out in the streets,” he said. “They were very reserved. They were afraid to talk to us. They had the feeling that, especially in the smaller towns, they were constantly being watched. They were in real jeopardy if they interacted with coalition forces and, especially, the Iraqi Police.”

Lieutenant Macak arrived in Karmah in the middle of July 2007 when the city was still a war zone. “It was moving in the right direction, but it was still active,” he said. “2/5 [Second Battalion, Fifth Regiment], who we relieved, was part of the surge effort. Karmah was still a very dangerous place. The lollipop over here was a big deal.”

“You mean the traffic circle?” I said. The Marines refer to a large traffic circle down the street from the police station at the entrance to the market as the “lollipop.”

“Yeah,” he said. “It was basically IED Alley. The whole road out here in front of the station was just covered in IEDs. No one even went down the roads leading to the north of here. It was an insurgent stronghold. Before 2/5 came in there weren’t many patrols. They didn’t do a whole lot. The Iraqi Police didn’t have any confidence. Their numbers weren’t big and there wasn’t a whole lot of organization. 2/5 came in and started patrolling, started doing what Marines do. They identified local leaders and started engaging them. Sheikh Mishan came back at about the same time from Syria.”

Sheikh Mishan Abbas, like many other sheikhs in Anbar Province, fled to Syria shortly after the U.S. invaded.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

KARMAH, IRAQ – Just beyond the outskirts of Fallujah lies the terror-wracked city of Karmah. While you may not have heard of this small city of 35,000 people, American soldiers and Marines who served in Anbar Province know it as a terrifying place of oppression, death, and destruction. “It was much worse than Fallujah” said more than a dozen Marines who were themselves based in Fallujah.

“Karmah was so important to the insurgency because we’ve got Baghdad right there,” Lieutenant Andrew Macak told me. “This is part of the periphery of Baghdad. At the same time, it is part of the periphery of Fallujah.”

Lieutenant Macak is not a veteran of Karmah, but Sergeant Jason Howell is. He was deployed in the city from March through October in 2006. “People weren’t out in the streets,” he said. “They were very reserved. They were afraid to talk to us. They had the feeling that, especially in the smaller towns, they were constantly being watched. They were in real jeopardy if they interacted with coalition forces and, especially, the Iraqi Police.”

Lieutenant Macak arrived in Karmah in the middle of July 2007 when the city was still a war zone. “It was moving in the right direction, but it was still active,” he said. “2/5 [Second Battalion, Fifth Regiment], who we relieved, was part of the surge effort. Karmah was still a very dangerous place. The lollipop over here was a big deal.”

“You mean the traffic circle?” I said. The Marines refer to a large traffic circle down the street from the police station at the entrance to the market as the “lollipop.”

“Yeah,” he said. “It was basically IED Alley. The whole road out here in front of the station was just covered in IEDs. No one even went down the roads leading to the north of here. It was an insurgent stronghold. Before 2/5 came in there weren’t many patrols. They didn’t do a whole lot. The Iraqi Police didn’t have any confidence. Their numbers weren’t big and there wasn’t a whole lot of organization. 2/5 came in and started patrolling, started doing what Marines do. They identified local leaders and started engaging them. Sheikh Mishan came back at about the same time from Syria.”

Sheikh Mishan Abbas, like many other sheikhs in Anbar Province, fled to Syria shortly after the U.S. invaded.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

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The Final Mission, Part III

ANBAR PROVINCE, IRAQ – The United States plans to hand Anbar Province over to the Iraqis next month if nothing catastrophic erupts between now and then. The Marines will stick around a while longer, though, and complete their crucial last mission – training the Iraqi Police to replace them.

The local police force would collapse in short order without American financial and logistics support. “The biggest problem they have is supply,” Corporal Hayes said to me in Fallujah. “They’re always running out of gas and running out of bullets. How are they supposed to police this city with no gas and no bullets?”

What they need more than anything else, though, in the long run anyway, is an infusion of moderate politics. Fallujah is in the heartland of the Sunni Triangle. The city was ferociously Baathist during the rule of Saddam Hussein. It is surly and reactionary even today. Even by Iraqi standards. Even after vanquishing the insurgency. Fallujans may never be transformed into Jeffersonian liberal democrats, but young men from New York, California, and Texas are taking the Iraqis by the hand and gently repairing their political culture.

I accompanied Lieutenant Andrew Macak and Lieutenant Eric Montgomery to an ethics class they taught to members of the Anbar Provincial Security Forces (PSF). PSF members are police officers who operate at the provincial level rather than the city level, much like state police in the U.S. The class was held at a station in Karmah, a small city wedged between Fallujah and Baghdad. Coursework included the ethical responsibilities of police officers, the importance of human rights, and the permissible rules of engagement in counterinsurgency operations. The material was the same as that taught by Marines everywhere in Al Anbar – in Fallujah, Ramadi, Hit, and Haditha.

“We’re teaching them about the Law of Armed Conflict,” Lieutenant Montgomery said. “If they become a police state, people are not going to support them.”

Post-Saddam Iraq is not a police state. Even so, while it’s orders of magnitude more moderate and humane than the genocidal and fascistic regime it replaced, many individuals in the government and police departments have rough authoritarian habits that are rooted in Arab culture itself as much as they are legacies from the previous era.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com

ANBAR PROVINCE, IRAQ – The United States plans to hand Anbar Province over to the Iraqis next month if nothing catastrophic erupts between now and then. The Marines will stick around a while longer, though, and complete their crucial last mission – training the Iraqi Police to replace them.

The local police force would collapse in short order without American financial and logistics support. “The biggest problem they have is supply,” Corporal Hayes said to me in Fallujah. “They’re always running out of gas and running out of bullets. How are they supposed to police this city with no gas and no bullets?”

What they need more than anything else, though, in the long run anyway, is an infusion of moderate politics. Fallujah is in the heartland of the Sunni Triangle. The city was ferociously Baathist during the rule of Saddam Hussein. It is surly and reactionary even today. Even by Iraqi standards. Even after vanquishing the insurgency. Fallujans may never be transformed into Jeffersonian liberal democrats, but young men from New York, California, and Texas are taking the Iraqis by the hand and gently repairing their political culture.

I accompanied Lieutenant Andrew Macak and Lieutenant Eric Montgomery to an ethics class they taught to members of the Anbar Provincial Security Forces (PSF). PSF members are police officers who operate at the provincial level rather than the city level, much like state police in the U.S. The class was held at a station in Karmah, a small city wedged between Fallujah and Baghdad. Coursework included the ethical responsibilities of police officers, the importance of human rights, and the permissible rules of engagement in counterinsurgency operations. The material was the same as that taught by Marines everywhere in Al Anbar – in Fallujah, Ramadi, Hit, and Haditha.

“We’re teaching them about the Law of Armed Conflict,” Lieutenant Montgomery said. “If they become a police state, people are not going to support them.”

Post-Saddam Iraq is not a police state. Even so, while it’s orders of magnitude more moderate and humane than the genocidal and fascistic regime it replaced, many individuals in the government and police departments have rough authoritarian habits that are rooted in Arab culture itself as much as they are legacies from the previous era.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com

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Maestros Debunked

If you talk to orchestral musicians, inevitably the conversation turns to complaints, sometimes of intense vehemence, about conductors. Indiana University Press has just given us, in The Right Place, The Right Time!: Tales of Chicago Symphony Days by distinguished flutist Donald Peck, one of the most candid examples in print of this phenomenon.

For over 40 years, Peck was principal flutist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where he played under four music directors and made 300 records with the group. Highlights included recordings of Richard Strauss with the fiery conductor Fritz Reiner (1888–1963), the orchestra’s music director from 1953 to 1962. Peck reports that after recording Strauss’s tone poem Don Juan in a single take, “Reiner sat on the podium looking completely fulfilled.” Peck also lauds the “symbiotic relationship” between the CSO and its director from 1969 to 1991, the Hungarian-born Georg Solti, despite Solti’s rehearsal habit of addressing the orchestra in garbled English: “I need a few help,” “I will faster as I was,” and “Softer your noise passion.”

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If you talk to orchestral musicians, inevitably the conversation turns to complaints, sometimes of intense vehemence, about conductors. Indiana University Press has just given us, in The Right Place, The Right Time!: Tales of Chicago Symphony Days by distinguished flutist Donald Peck, one of the most candid examples in print of this phenomenon.

For over 40 years, Peck was principal flutist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where he played under four music directors and made 300 records with the group. Highlights included recordings of Richard Strauss with the fiery conductor Fritz Reiner (1888–1963), the orchestra’s music director from 1953 to 1962. Peck reports that after recording Strauss’s tone poem Don Juan in a single take, “Reiner sat on the podium looking completely fulfilled.” Peck also lauds the “symbiotic relationship” between the CSO and its director from 1969 to 1991, the Hungarian-born Georg Solti, despite Solti’s rehearsal habit of addressing the orchestra in garbled English: “I need a few help,” “I will faster as I was,” and “Softer your noise passion.”

Less amusing was the CSO’s relationship with star conductors like Christoph Eschenbach, whose “stick technique was not good” and his interpretations “very mannered and fussy, with tempos getting slower with each performance,” according to Peck. George Szell, a legend in Cleveland, was dismissed by the CSO players as “too much of a pedant” who “made mistakes on the podium,” resulting in performances which were “rife with conductorial errors.” The noted Swiss maestro Günter Wand (1912-2002) was found guilty of “rude behavior” as well as being “studied, technical, and uninspired.” The Austrian Michael Gielen (b. 1927) was seen by the CSO as “too technical, with no music.” Others, like the Russian-born Yakov Kreizberg and Italian Fernando Previtali “seemed egocentric, with no real musical ideas.”

Given the potential hostility between conductor and musicians, examples of ideal cooperation are to be treasured all the more. Peck rightly praises Claudio Abbado’s CSO recording of Bartók Piano Concertos with soloist Maurizio Pollini on Deutsche Grammophon for being “bright and exciting but in a civil way.” Likewise, Abbado’s performance with the CSO of Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé Suite, also on DG, is indeed delectable. Peck also devotes fond word to conductors Pierre Monteux and Leopold Stokowski, whose televised 1960’s CSO performances are must-see viewing on DVD from Video Artists International. Peck also correctly praises the CSO’s Brahms Fourth Symphony on EMI, led by Carlo Maria Giulini, capturing that conductor’s “deep maroon orchestra tone and tragic inner feeling.”

With performances of this magnificence, musicians can afford to be harshly discriminating about conductors, especially when their own artistry is as exemplary as Peck’s, as heard, for example, on a Bach CD from RCA alongside his longtime colleague Samuel Magad, the CSO’s legendary former concertmaster. The Right Place, The Right Time!: Tales of Chicago Symphony Days implies that the next time a concert by a top-flight orchestra disappoints us, we should blame the conductor, not the musicians.

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Stolen by Stalin

A new chapter is about to begin in the story of art looting during World War II. Up until now, attention has centered on the Nazis’ systematic, pitiless theft of art treasures from occupied countries and from Jews destined for extermination camps. The return of this art to its rightful owners is no simple matter, especially where entire families have vanished; not until last year, for example, did the Belvedere in Vienna return to Maria Altmann the five Gustav Klimt paintings that had been extorted from her uncle in 1938. (The most ravishing of these, the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, subsequently was sold to Ronald S. Lauder, the cosmetics tycoon, for $135 million.) The critical success of the 2006 documentary The Rape of Europa, which looked both at art theft and recovery efforts, shows that public interest remains strong.

Less well-known is that, at the close of the war, Germany’s art treasures were plundered just as ruthlessly and (perhaps) just as systematically. On the part of the western allies, this consisted of individual thievery, such as the American army lieutenant who stole $200 million worth of art treasures from the cathedral of Quedlinburg. On the part of the Soviet Union, however, art plunder was conducted as a matter of state policy, and viewed as the legitimate spoils of war. Some 180,000 items were lost, chiefly to the Soviet Union, and now Germany has at last begun to ask, quietly and discreetly, for the return of that art.

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A new chapter is about to begin in the story of art looting during World War II. Up until now, attention has centered on the Nazis’ systematic, pitiless theft of art treasures from occupied countries and from Jews destined for extermination camps. The return of this art to its rightful owners is no simple matter, especially where entire families have vanished; not until last year, for example, did the Belvedere in Vienna return to Maria Altmann the five Gustav Klimt paintings that had been extorted from her uncle in 1938. (The most ravishing of these, the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, subsequently was sold to Ronald S. Lauder, the cosmetics tycoon, for $135 million.) The critical success of the 2006 documentary The Rape of Europa, which looked both at art theft and recovery efforts, shows that public interest remains strong.

Less well-known is that, at the close of the war, Germany’s art treasures were plundered just as ruthlessly and (perhaps) just as systematically. On the part of the western allies, this consisted of individual thievery, such as the American army lieutenant who stole $200 million worth of art treasures from the cathedral of Quedlinburg. On the part of the Soviet Union, however, art plunder was conducted as a matter of state policy, and viewed as the legitimate spoils of war. Some 180,000 items were lost, chiefly to the Soviet Union, and now Germany has at last begun to ask, quietly and discreetly, for the return of that art.

The key player is the SPK, or Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz). The SPK is the steward for the art and culture for the former state of Prussia, from which the lion’s share of the missing art was taken. Since official requests for the return of the art have been fruitless, the SPK has sought to appeal to the Russian public directly. It is publishing six catalogues of the missing art, hoping to call attention to the missing work, and perhaps to prompt owners of individual items to come forward. The first catalogue is devoted to sculpture and lists 1,611 items—which, if recovered, “would represent one of the most important sculptural collections of Europe.”

It is understandable that it has taken so long for Germany to assert its claim to its lost art. Until 1990, there was no unified German state to make a claim, nor was the German Democratic Republic in a position to make demands of the Soviet Union. Moreover, there was a widespread feeling that these cultural losses were justifiable reparations for the unimaginable barbarity of the war Germany had launched. To demand the missing art would have been out of keeping with the self-abnegating sensibility of postwar Germany.

But recently, a different historical perspective has emerged. The unofficial taboo against dwelling on the sufferings of the German people during the war gradually lifted, and on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, the German media gave extraordinary coverage to the suffering of the German refugees from the east. Such an elegiac sensibility is not all that different from that in the United States, where World War II is now receding from living memory into history. In Germany, however, this new cultural assertiveness seems a sign that the upcoming generation will not be restrained by the war guilt that has played a major role in European affairs for the past half century.

It is particularly ironic that stolen Prussian art should again incite brooding over German nationhood. Much of this same art was already looted once before, under Napoleon, who shipped it westward rather than eastward. Although Napoleon seized merely the private collection of the Prussian king, that art was transformed, by the ensuing swell of German patriotism, into national cultural patrimony. Berlin’s Altes Museum was built to house the collection, which became the basis of one of the world’s first public art museums. One can admire the scrupulous and poignant inventory of lost art treasures that the SPK has now compiled, even while recognizing that some of its distant political ramifications are unsettling, or even incendiary.

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Was Kurt Waldheim Human?

Kurt Waldheim, the former Secretary General of the United Nations and president of Austria, has died at the age of eighty-eight. What will be history’s verdict?

The Washington Post’s obituary offers a good summary of the facts leading to his being placed on a watch list of “prohibited persons” that barred him from entry into the United States. Although his participation in Nazi war crimes was never proved in a court of law, it was enough that he had repeatedly lied about his military service during World War II, striving especially to conceal his role as a lieutenant in the Wehrmacht from 1942 through 1945 in a unit that had butchered Yugoslav partisans. Later disclosures in the mid-1980’s, reports the Post, “included a secret 1948 finding by the UN War Crimes Commission that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute Waldheim for ‘murder’ and ‘putting hostages to death.’”

Despite his sinister past, Waldheim did have his admirers. One of them, remarkably enough, was the writer Gitta Sereny, whose anti-Nazi credentials, as a member of the French resistance and as a historian, are not in doubt. When she interviewed Waldheim in the late 1980’s about his activities in the Balkans, he explained to her that it was “a ‘savage war,’ like ‘Vietnam, and now the West Bank,’ where the Israelis ‘are breaking people’s bones.’”

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Kurt Waldheim, the former Secretary General of the United Nations and president of Austria, has died at the age of eighty-eight. What will be history’s verdict?

The Washington Post’s obituary offers a good summary of the facts leading to his being placed on a watch list of “prohibited persons” that barred him from entry into the United States. Although his participation in Nazi war crimes was never proved in a court of law, it was enough that he had repeatedly lied about his military service during World War II, striving especially to conceal his role as a lieutenant in the Wehrmacht from 1942 through 1945 in a unit that had butchered Yugoslav partisans. Later disclosures in the mid-1980’s, reports the Post, “included a secret 1948 finding by the UN War Crimes Commission that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute Waldheim for ‘murder’ and ‘putting hostages to death.’”

Despite his sinister past, Waldheim did have his admirers. One of them, remarkably enough, was the writer Gitta Sereny, whose anti-Nazi credentials, as a member of the French resistance and as a historian, are not in doubt. When she interviewed Waldheim in the late 1980’s about his activities in the Balkans, he explained to her that it was “a ‘savage war,’ like ‘Vietnam, and now the West Bank,’ where the Israelis ‘are breaking people’s bones.’”

Sereny, despite all her talents as a writer and as investigator into the history of Nazi evil, raised only the barest challenge to her interlocutor’s likening of the Nazis to the Americans and the Israelis. She then went on to judge Waldheim a “fundamentally decent man.”

It was this, among other things, that led me to conclude in a review of her book, The Healing Wound, in the New York Times, that she was “incapable of. . . grasping, after a lifetime of studying it, the radical nature of Nazi evil.”

My appraisal of her then drew a letter to the editor defending Sereny. I still remember it today for its timeless encapsulation of a certain extreme but all-too-popular moral inversion: “It is precisely by rejecting the atavistic, thought-foreclosing notion of evil, and instead insisting on the complex humanity of her subjects,” wrote an indignant reader, “that Sereny has made fascism at all comprehensible to us. The enemy is human: that is a lesson today’s policymakers would do well to learn.”

Yes, Waldheim, was human. But he was also evil, and it is evil not to judge him so.

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Troubles in Tarmiyah

Greg Jaffe, the Wall Street Journal’s ace defense correspondent, had another one of his riveting articles on the front page Thursday: “At Lonely Iraq Outpost, GI’s Stay as Hope Fades.” It tells the story of a small group of soldiers manning a lonely outpost in the town of Tarmiyah in Salahuddin province about 30 miles north of Baghdad.

This town of 30,000 had been relatively stable until last year. But in summer 2006, an Iraqi army battalion stationed there was pulled away to police Baghdad, and the Shiite campaign of ethnic cleansing in the capital pushed some 6,000 to 10,000 angry Sunnis northward. Tarmiyah became an al-Qaeda stronghold, where even the local police chief feared to walk the streets.

The 50 U.S. soldiers stationed there feel under siege, and for good reason. Writes Jaffe: “In mid-February a massive truck bomb sheared off the front of the soldiers’ base in Tarmiyah, sending concrete and glass flying through the air like daggers. The soldiers at the small outpost spent the next four hours fighting for their lives against a force of 70 to 80 insurgents.”

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Greg Jaffe, the Wall Street Journal’s ace defense correspondent, had another one of his riveting articles on the front page Thursday: “At Lonely Iraq Outpost, GI’s Stay as Hope Fades.” It tells the story of a small group of soldiers manning a lonely outpost in the town of Tarmiyah in Salahuddin province about 30 miles north of Baghdad.

This town of 30,000 had been relatively stable until last year. But in summer 2006, an Iraqi army battalion stationed there was pulled away to police Baghdad, and the Shiite campaign of ethnic cleansing in the capital pushed some 6,000 to 10,000 angry Sunnis northward. Tarmiyah became an al-Qaeda stronghold, where even the local police chief feared to walk the streets.

The 50 U.S. soldiers stationed there feel under siege, and for good reason. Writes Jaffe: “In mid-February a massive truck bomb sheared off the front of the soldiers’ base in Tarmiyah, sending concrete and glass flying through the air like daggers. The soldiers at the small outpost spent the next four hours fighting for their lives against a force of 70 to 80 insurgents.”

The story of the attack is as harrowing as its aftermath is inspiring. Most of the soldiers wounded in the attack—including a sergeant whose “back and neck were peppered with glass” and a lieutenant who has become “virtually deaf in one and ear and seems to have limited hearing in the other one”—volunteered to return to Tarmiyah. One sergeant explained his decision as follows: “I have a strong bond with this platoon. I don’t want to leave.” That’s typical of soldiers in this or any other war—they fight for their buddies more than for any lofty ideals.

Yet, while the story provides plenty of cause to celebrate the soldiers’ valor and dedication, it might, on the surface, also provide more fodder for those who question what good our troops are doing in Iraq. Many of the soldiers quoted in the article wonder, understandably, if they’re having any impact. It’s easy to imagine that many readers of Jaffe’s article would also wonder what the point of the Baghdad security plan is if it simply pushes insurgents a few miles away. The experience of Tarmiyah would seem to support Senator Joe Biden’s balloon metaphor: “Essentially, when we squeeze the water balloon in one place, it bulges somewhere else.”

Actually, the right metaphor here is not the bulging balloon but the spreading oil spot. That’s the classic counter-insurgency strategy, invented by French generals in the 19th century, which holds that it is best to expand one’s sphere of control slowly rather than trying to pacify an entire country at once. Concentrate your forces at first in a few areas, clear them out; once they are secure, move on to the surrounding areas. That’s not a strategy we’ve followed in Iraq until now. Instead of trying to achieve critical mass in a few places, we’ve spread an inadequate number of troops thinly across many provinces, making it hard to achieve much stability anywhere.

The new Baghdad security plan represents a change of strategy. Under it, we will put more troops into the capital in the hope of pacifying it. Some of the newly deployed troops are being diverted to the areas around the capital—the “Baghdad belt”—but not in the hope of pacifying them. They are on an “economy of force” mission to disrupt insurgent strongholds and make it more difficult to carry out spectacular terrorist attacks in Baghdad.

That’s what the troops in Tarmiyah are up to. It can be frustrating to the soldiers involved, but it’s the right strategy, given our limited resources. If General David Petraeus and Lieutenant General Ray Odierno send too many reinforcements to places like Tarmiyah, we will have no hope of achieving critical mass where it counts—Baghdad. If we ever succeed in calming the capital, then we can worry about the hinterlands.

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