Commentary Magazine


Topic: Munich

Olympics and the International Community

From the moment the International Olympic Committee (IOC) turned down the request to commemorate the deaths of Israeli Olympians killed in Munich forty years ago the tone was set for how the games would portray the international community. The Olympics are meant to spotlight sportsmanship and patriotism, but have given the games and many of their participants black eyes on the world stage.

The anti-Semitism exhibited by the opponents of the Munich moment of silence weren’t the only instances we’ve seen so far. Members of the Lebanese judo team refused to practice next to Israelis. Commentators on Al-Jazeera derided Israel as the Israeli delegation entered the stadium during the Opening Ceremonies. The Palestinian Olympic chief applauded the IOC’s decision to forgo a moment of silence for the Munich 11. Israeli swimmers were left without a security detail at a training camp outside of London, even in the wake of the Burgas terror attack. The London Olympics’ website couldn’t quite understand where the city of Jerusalem lies, first awarding it to “Palestine” as its capital, leaving Israel without a seat of power. The list of offenses against the Jewish state unfortunately goes on, and equally unfortunate, given how much time is left in the Olympics, there will no doubt be more to follow.

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From the moment the International Olympic Committee (IOC) turned down the request to commemorate the deaths of Israeli Olympians killed in Munich forty years ago the tone was set for how the games would portray the international community. The Olympics are meant to spotlight sportsmanship and patriotism, but have given the games and many of their participants black eyes on the world stage.

The anti-Semitism exhibited by the opponents of the Munich moment of silence weren’t the only instances we’ve seen so far. Members of the Lebanese judo team refused to practice next to Israelis. Commentators on Al-Jazeera derided Israel as the Israeli delegation entered the stadium during the Opening Ceremonies. The Palestinian Olympic chief applauded the IOC’s decision to forgo a moment of silence for the Munich 11. Israeli swimmers were left without a security detail at a training camp outside of London, even in the wake of the Burgas terror attack. The London Olympics’ website couldn’t quite understand where the city of Jerusalem lies, first awarding it to “Palestine” as its capital, leaving Israel without a seat of power. The list of offenses against the Jewish state unfortunately goes on, and equally unfortunate, given how much time is left in the Olympics, there will no doubt be more to follow.

The embarrassments don’t end there, however. Stories about the cruelty of the Chinese government in their pursuit of gold have circulated the internet along with heartbreaking photos of crying children, removed from their families and forced into grueling training. CNN published an opinion piece today about the story behind the Saudi women’s Olympic squad, showcasing the backwards cultural impediments to female athletes in the Middle Eastern nation. Stories have emerged about doping, thrown badminton games, fencing controversies and unfair judging for gymnastics competitions as well.

Can someone please remind me: What’s the point of the Olympics? What was once billed as a rare opportunity to put ethnic controversies and rivalries aside for the sake of “the game” has warped into exactly what the “international community” has become: a body of nations plagued by mainstream anti-Semitism, led by totalitarians, perpetuating everything they claim to be working to combat.

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Georgian Prime Minister: New START Will Help Make Russia ‘More Civilized’

As President Obama prepared to sign the final paperwork for New START today,  Georgian Prime Minister Nikoloz Gilauri publicly praised the treaty and the U.S.-Russia reset at a breakfast with reporters.

“Whatever makes Russia more civilized, we’ll be happy to see,” said Gilauri. “And I think this move by President Obama was to make Russia more civilized.”

The prime minister also seemed satisfied with the small victories Georgia has achieved so far. For example, he noted that, despite the reset, President Obama has voiced his disapproval of the Russian occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

“The whole world right now admits that the Russian forces in Georgia are occupying forces,” he said. “And occupation cannot last long.”

Some foreign-policy experts have been critical of the U.S.’s position on Russia’s occupation of Georgia, saying that the Obama administration has offered lip service and little else.

“Beyond symbolism and semantics … the change does not seem to reflect any pro-active U.S. policy to reverse Russia’s conquests,” Jamestown Foundation senior fellow Vladimir Socor wrote in the Eurasia Daily Monitor last summer, in reference to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of the term “occupation” to describe the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

But Georgia’s praise of New START and the reset shows that the country is eager to do what it can to prove itself a reliable ally of the U.S. — in contrast to its unpredictable neighbor.

“We feel like the leaders of democracy and western values in that part of the world,” said Gilauri.

New START is expected to take effect on Feb. 5, when Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov exchange ratification documents at a security conference in Munich.

As President Obama prepared to sign the final paperwork for New START today,  Georgian Prime Minister Nikoloz Gilauri publicly praised the treaty and the U.S.-Russia reset at a breakfast with reporters.

“Whatever makes Russia more civilized, we’ll be happy to see,” said Gilauri. “And I think this move by President Obama was to make Russia more civilized.”

The prime minister also seemed satisfied with the small victories Georgia has achieved so far. For example, he noted that, despite the reset, President Obama has voiced his disapproval of the Russian occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

“The whole world right now admits that the Russian forces in Georgia are occupying forces,” he said. “And occupation cannot last long.”

Some foreign-policy experts have been critical of the U.S.’s position on Russia’s occupation of Georgia, saying that the Obama administration has offered lip service and little else.

“Beyond symbolism and semantics … the change does not seem to reflect any pro-active U.S. policy to reverse Russia’s conquests,” Jamestown Foundation senior fellow Vladimir Socor wrote in the Eurasia Daily Monitor last summer, in reference to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of the term “occupation” to describe the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

But Georgia’s praise of New START and the reset shows that the country is eager to do what it can to prove itself a reliable ally of the U.S. — in contrast to its unpredictable neighbor.

“We feel like the leaders of democracy and western values in that part of the world,” said Gilauri.

New START is expected to take effect on Feb. 5, when Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov exchange ratification documents at a security conference in Munich.

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Clinton, Jordanian FM: No. 1 Priority Is Israeli/Palestinian Peace Process

Tunisia’s transition government is creating black lists of long-serving officials to be expelled from the government, which covers most of the people who have experience governing. Egypt is literally on fire, Yemen is about to follow, and Jordan is on deck. The nightmare land-for-peace scenario — where Israel cedes strategic depth to a stable government only to see it fall to radicals who abandon previous agreements — is roughly at 50/50 right now, with only an unstable Egyptian government standing in the way.

Under normal thinking, the uncertainty over land-for-peace would cause a rethinking of land-for-peace, and violent riots would engender a focus on things that aren’t violent riots. But dogma is dogma:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that peace in the Middle East remained the top US priority, despite unrest in the region and a leak of alleged Palestinian negotiation documents. Clinton confirmed she would head next week to Munich for talks of the “Quartet” of Middle East mediators and said she spoke at length about the conflict with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh of Jordan, a close US partner. “For both our nations, permanent peace in the Middle East remains our number one priority,” Clinton told a joint news conference with Judeh. … “Such an agreement, Jordan and the United States believe, will not only bring peace and prosperity to those who are directly affected, but it will be a major step toward a world free of extremism,” she said. [emphasis added]

Good to see that the Jordanians are keeping their eyes on the ball, too, despite already facing tribal pressure and now being subject to the same economic-Islamist alliance sweeping the rest of the Middle East. Given the Palestinian Authority’s precarious weakness, it’s not unlikely that a West Bank state would quickly become radicalized, with the instability spilling across the Jordan River and all the way into Amman. Though, in fairness, under this scenario, their declared “number one priority” would have been solved, and Israel would be out of the West Bank, such that they’d finally be able to focus on less-critical issues like the Jordanian kingdom not getting overthrown.

Usually the diplomatic obsession with Israel — irrational and incoherent as it is — at least has the quality of being interesting. Foreign-policy experts have to invent elaborate geopolitical and geo-cultural theories like linkage. Then, because those theories are wrong, they have to come up with creative epistemic and rhetorical ways of justifying them — insider access to Muslim diplomats, movement detectable only to experts, critical distinctions between public and private spheres in the Arab world, etc. It’s like reading about all the brilliant people who tried to save the medieval church’s Earth-centered solar system by sticking epicycles everywhere. Sure, it’s a last-ditch effort to save a fundamentally incorrect theory, one being propped up in the interests of ideology — but at least it’s interesting.

This, in sharp contrast, is just silly. And while I hope and think that the secretary of state was just mouthing the usual ritualistic incantations, the fact that she felt the need to do so shows how far removed from reality Middle East diplomacy has gotten.

Tunisia’s transition government is creating black lists of long-serving officials to be expelled from the government, which covers most of the people who have experience governing. Egypt is literally on fire, Yemen is about to follow, and Jordan is on deck. The nightmare land-for-peace scenario — where Israel cedes strategic depth to a stable government only to see it fall to radicals who abandon previous agreements — is roughly at 50/50 right now, with only an unstable Egyptian government standing in the way.

Under normal thinking, the uncertainty over land-for-peace would cause a rethinking of land-for-peace, and violent riots would engender a focus on things that aren’t violent riots. But dogma is dogma:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that peace in the Middle East remained the top US priority, despite unrest in the region and a leak of alleged Palestinian negotiation documents. Clinton confirmed she would head next week to Munich for talks of the “Quartet” of Middle East mediators and said she spoke at length about the conflict with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh of Jordan, a close US partner. “For both our nations, permanent peace in the Middle East remains our number one priority,” Clinton told a joint news conference with Judeh. … “Such an agreement, Jordan and the United States believe, will not only bring peace and prosperity to those who are directly affected, but it will be a major step toward a world free of extremism,” she said. [emphasis added]

Good to see that the Jordanians are keeping their eyes on the ball, too, despite already facing tribal pressure and now being subject to the same economic-Islamist alliance sweeping the rest of the Middle East. Given the Palestinian Authority’s precarious weakness, it’s not unlikely that a West Bank state would quickly become radicalized, with the instability spilling across the Jordan River and all the way into Amman. Though, in fairness, under this scenario, their declared “number one priority” would have been solved, and Israel would be out of the West Bank, such that they’d finally be able to focus on less-critical issues like the Jordanian kingdom not getting overthrown.

Usually the diplomatic obsession with Israel — irrational and incoherent as it is — at least has the quality of being interesting. Foreign-policy experts have to invent elaborate geopolitical and geo-cultural theories like linkage. Then, because those theories are wrong, they have to come up with creative epistemic and rhetorical ways of justifying them — insider access to Muslim diplomats, movement detectable only to experts, critical distinctions between public and private spheres in the Arab world, etc. It’s like reading about all the brilliant people who tried to save the medieval church’s Earth-centered solar system by sticking epicycles everywhere. Sure, it’s a last-ditch effort to save a fundamentally incorrect theory, one being propped up in the interests of ideology — but at least it’s interesting.

This, in sharp contrast, is just silly. And while I hope and think that the secretary of state was just mouthing the usual ritualistic incantations, the fact that she felt the need to do so shows how far removed from reality Middle East diplomacy has gotten.

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A Libel

A Canadian journalist named Jeet Heer has called out our Jennifer Rubin out today over an item she wrote yesterday quoting an elderly attendee at AIPAC who said she heard echoes in the present moment of the nightmarish Jewish past:

An elderly couple from Florida were agitated by recent events. The wife explained she that had fled Nazi Germany as a child for Shanghai. “There are parallels,” she said. “This is depressing. It’s scary.” She said that she had argued with her liberal friends during the campaign about Obama’s associations with anti-Israel figures. “My mother always said where there is smoke, there is fire,” she explained, then added wearily, “They didn’t listen.”

Heer’s accusation is that Obama is here being compared to Hitler, that the idea being expressed is that “there are ‘parallels’ between the Führer and Obama.” That characterization of Jennifer Rubin’s item is preposterous, offensive, and a patently deliberate misreading. The fear being expressed these days is toward Iran as the potential second coming of Jewish genocide, not toward Obama. The parallel being drawn here is to the Western powers at Munich and their refusal to look clearly at the evidence of Hitler’s intentions, not to Hitler. Obama’s past association with anti-Israel figures like Rashid Khalidi and Jeremiah Wright heralded the lack of sympathy toward Israel that he has shown as president, and the way his lack of sympathy provides him with a convenient emotional way of refusing to confront the Iranian nuclear threat as it should be confronted — just as the Western powers seemed in the years before the outbreak of the Second World War to have a deficit of concern about the increasingly perilous position in which the Jews of Germany and Austria were finding themselves.

It is especially galling to see Jeet Heer, a foul anti-Israel polemicist of uncommonly repellent vintage, going on about this when, in his own writings, time and again, he expresses the sorts of thoughts designed to fog the minds of policymakers who should be grappling every moment with the overwhelming nature of the existential threat to Israel and the Jewish people, not to mention to the wider Middle East and the planet as a whole.

A Canadian journalist named Jeet Heer has called out our Jennifer Rubin out today over an item she wrote yesterday quoting an elderly attendee at AIPAC who said she heard echoes in the present moment of the nightmarish Jewish past:

An elderly couple from Florida were agitated by recent events. The wife explained she that had fled Nazi Germany as a child for Shanghai. “There are parallels,” she said. “This is depressing. It’s scary.” She said that she had argued with her liberal friends during the campaign about Obama’s associations with anti-Israel figures. “My mother always said where there is smoke, there is fire,” she explained, then added wearily, “They didn’t listen.”

Heer’s accusation is that Obama is here being compared to Hitler, that the idea being expressed is that “there are ‘parallels’ between the Führer and Obama.” That characterization of Jennifer Rubin’s item is preposterous, offensive, and a patently deliberate misreading. The fear being expressed these days is toward Iran as the potential second coming of Jewish genocide, not toward Obama. The parallel being drawn here is to the Western powers at Munich and their refusal to look clearly at the evidence of Hitler’s intentions, not to Hitler. Obama’s past association with anti-Israel figures like Rashid Khalidi and Jeremiah Wright heralded the lack of sympathy toward Israel that he has shown as president, and the way his lack of sympathy provides him with a convenient emotional way of refusing to confront the Iranian nuclear threat as it should be confronted — just as the Western powers seemed in the years before the outbreak of the Second World War to have a deficit of concern about the increasingly perilous position in which the Jews of Germany and Austria were finding themselves.

It is especially galling to see Jeet Heer, a foul anti-Israel polemicist of uncommonly repellent vintage, going on about this when, in his own writings, time and again, he expresses the sorts of thoughts designed to fog the minds of policymakers who should be grappling every moment with the overwhelming nature of the existential threat to Israel and the Jewish people, not to mention to the wider Middle East and the planet as a whole.

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Assassination, Spielberg-Style

I have no idea whether these details, reported in Haaretz, about the assassination last month in Dubai of Hamas honcho Mahmoud al-Mabhouh are accurate, but they certainly sound plausible. Citing a Paris-based intelligence journal, Haaretz reports:

One of the female agents dressed herself in the uniform of a reception clerk at Al Bustan Rotana, the hotel where Mabhouh was staying, and then knocked on his door.

When he opened it her fellow operatives rushed him and stunned him with an electric device, the journal said, then they injected poison into his veins, in order to disguise the cause of death.

All 10 agents carried European passports, the journal said.

Sounds like something out of Munich, the 2005 Steven Spielberg movie that presented a fictionalized account of how Israeli agents hunted down and killed members of the Black September organization responsible for the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Spielberg put a spin of moral equivalence on the operation, with Mossad agents worrying that they were becoming as bad as the Palestinian terrorists. That’s ridiculous. Members of terrorist organizations are legitimate targets for elimination — whether they are killed by Predators over Pakistan or by hit teams in Dubai. If Mossad was indeed responsible for Mabhouh’s demise, it deserves the thanks of all civilized countries. Such targeted killings won’t eliminate the threat from Hamas, but they will certainly help to diminish, at least in the short-term, that odious organization’s capacities for mayhem.

I have no idea whether these details, reported in Haaretz, about the assassination last month in Dubai of Hamas honcho Mahmoud al-Mabhouh are accurate, but they certainly sound plausible. Citing a Paris-based intelligence journal, Haaretz reports:

One of the female agents dressed herself in the uniform of a reception clerk at Al Bustan Rotana, the hotel where Mabhouh was staying, and then knocked on his door.

When he opened it her fellow operatives rushed him and stunned him with an electric device, the journal said, then they injected poison into his veins, in order to disguise the cause of death.

All 10 agents carried European passports, the journal said.

Sounds like something out of Munich, the 2005 Steven Spielberg movie that presented a fictionalized account of how Israeli agents hunted down and killed members of the Black September organization responsible for the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Spielberg put a spin of moral equivalence on the operation, with Mossad agents worrying that they were becoming as bad as the Palestinian terrorists. That’s ridiculous. Members of terrorist organizations are legitimate targets for elimination — whether they are killed by Predators over Pakistan or by hit teams in Dubai. If Mossad was indeed responsible for Mabhouh’s demise, it deserves the thanks of all civilized countries. Such targeted killings won’t eliminate the threat from Hamas, but they will certainly help to diminish, at least in the short-term, that odious organization’s capacities for mayhem.

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Wanted: Realism in Nuclear-Arms Policy

Ross Douthat sounds like former UN Ambassador John Bolton in calling out the Obami’s silly, dangerous notion of a nuclear arms-free world. Douthat rightly observes that the premise of denuclearization is flawed:

The American nuclear arsenal doesn’t encourage local arms races; it forestalls them. Remove our nuclear umbrella from the North Pacific, and South Korea and Japan would feel compelled to go nuclear in a hurry. If Iran gets the bomb, the protections afforded by American missiles may be the only way to prevent nuclearization in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. (In the panel immediately following the “Is Zero Possible?” colloquy [at the weekend Munich Security Conference], the Turkish foreign minister declared that his country has no need of nuclear arms — because, he quickly added, “we are part of the NATO umbrella, so that is sufficient.”)

As Douthat notes, ambitious states want nuclear arms for reasons other than direct competition with the U.S. In the case of Iran, the object is regional hegemony and the ability to threaten the annihilation of the Jewish state.

So why do the Obami persist in this dangerous fiction that unarming ourselves will prevent rogue states from going nuclear? Largely, this is the same nuclear-freeze fetish from the Cold War, throughout which liberals, who refused to discern the moral and political difference between the Soviet bloc and the West, sought to identify the weapons as the source of evil and danger. (It is no coincidence that Obama was a big nuclear freeze fan in his college days.) Refusing to hold rogue sates responsible or candidly recognize that all nations are not “equal,” the Left avoids the messy business of discerning our foes’ motives and intentions and holding them, rather than the U.S. or inanimate objects, responsible for dangers in the world.

But part of the issue here is denial and avoidance. As Douthat notes:

The Munich nuclear-abolition panel took place just 24 hours before Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ordered his scientists to forge ahead with uranium enrichment. Faced with yet another round of Iranian brinkmanship, you can understand why Western leaders might prefer to talk about a world without nuclear weapons. By making the issue bigger, more long-term and more theoretical, they can almost make it seem to go away.

Regardless of where the infatuation with eliminating nuclear weapons originated, it is clear that it is not born of “realism” — that is, an appreciation for how the world works and the motives and nature of our foes and competitors. Hillary Clinton tells us ideology is “so yesterday.” But what could be more “yesterday” than dredging up the nuclear-freeze vision of the 1980s — which, if Obama had been paying attention, was discredited when, in the face of the buildup of American military strength, the Soviet Union collapsed.

As Douthat notes: “When it comes to containing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, the existing American arsenal simply isn’t part of the problem. And if Iran does acquire the bomb, our nuclear deterrent will quickly become an important part of the solution.” But our own nuclear arsenal does give Obama something to talk about when he’s doing nothing to prevent the Iranians from acquiring one of their own.

Ross Douthat sounds like former UN Ambassador John Bolton in calling out the Obami’s silly, dangerous notion of a nuclear arms-free world. Douthat rightly observes that the premise of denuclearization is flawed:

The American nuclear arsenal doesn’t encourage local arms races; it forestalls them. Remove our nuclear umbrella from the North Pacific, and South Korea and Japan would feel compelled to go nuclear in a hurry. If Iran gets the bomb, the protections afforded by American missiles may be the only way to prevent nuclearization in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. (In the panel immediately following the “Is Zero Possible?” colloquy [at the weekend Munich Security Conference], the Turkish foreign minister declared that his country has no need of nuclear arms — because, he quickly added, “we are part of the NATO umbrella, so that is sufficient.”)

As Douthat notes, ambitious states want nuclear arms for reasons other than direct competition with the U.S. In the case of Iran, the object is regional hegemony and the ability to threaten the annihilation of the Jewish state.

So why do the Obami persist in this dangerous fiction that unarming ourselves will prevent rogue states from going nuclear? Largely, this is the same nuclear-freeze fetish from the Cold War, throughout which liberals, who refused to discern the moral and political difference between the Soviet bloc and the West, sought to identify the weapons as the source of evil and danger. (It is no coincidence that Obama was a big nuclear freeze fan in his college days.) Refusing to hold rogue sates responsible or candidly recognize that all nations are not “equal,” the Left avoids the messy business of discerning our foes’ motives and intentions and holding them, rather than the U.S. or inanimate objects, responsible for dangers in the world.

But part of the issue here is denial and avoidance. As Douthat notes:

The Munich nuclear-abolition panel took place just 24 hours before Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ordered his scientists to forge ahead with uranium enrichment. Faced with yet another round of Iranian brinkmanship, you can understand why Western leaders might prefer to talk about a world without nuclear weapons. By making the issue bigger, more long-term and more theoretical, they can almost make it seem to go away.

Regardless of where the infatuation with eliminating nuclear weapons originated, it is clear that it is not born of “realism” — that is, an appreciation for how the world works and the motives and nature of our foes and competitors. Hillary Clinton tells us ideology is “so yesterday.” But what could be more “yesterday” than dredging up the nuclear-freeze vision of the 1980s — which, if Obama had been paying attention, was discredited when, in the face of the buildup of American military strength, the Soviet Union collapsed.

As Douthat notes: “When it comes to containing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, the existing American arsenal simply isn’t part of the problem. And if Iran does acquire the bomb, our nuclear deterrent will quickly become an important part of the solution.” But our own nuclear arsenal does give Obama something to talk about when he’s doing nothing to prevent the Iranians from acquiring one of their own.

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Havel Unplugged

Vaclav Havel, in a intriguing interview, explains why “small compromises” on human rights have a dangerously cumulative effect:

We know this from our modern history. When [French Prime Minister Edouard] Daladier returned from the [1938] Munich conference, the whole nation was applauding him for saving the peace. He made a miniscule compromise in the interest of peace. But it was the beginning of a chain of evil that subsequently brought about many millions of deaths. We can’t just say, “This is just a small compromise that can be overlooked. First we will go to China and then perhaps talk with the Dalai Lama.” It all looks practical, pragmatic, logical, but it is necessary to think about whether it is not the first small compromise that can be the beginning of that long chain that is no good. In this case perhaps it will not be, but it was the first thing that came to my mind.

Havel then shares an anecdote that comes at a timely juncture. At West Point and again in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Obama waxed lyrical about human rights. But in practice he has consistently shoved human rights off his agenda, going as far as defunding Iranian democracy protesters and objecting to support for new media for Iranian dissidents. This as he engages despotic regimes without any sign of progress in their treatment of their own people. Havel argues, “Politics, it means, every day making some compromises, and to choose between one evil and another evil, and to decide which is bigger and which is smaller.” He recounts:

Two days after I was elected president, I invited the Dalai Lama to visit. I was the first head of the state who invited him in this way, directly. And everybody was saying that it was a terribly dangerous act and issued their disapproving statements and expressions. But it was a ritual matter. Later, the Chinese deputy prime minister and the foreign minister came for a visit and brought me a pile of books about the Dalai Lama and some governmental documents about what good care they have taken of Tibet, and so on. They were propagandist, fabricated books, but he felt the need to explain something to me.

I had a press conference with this minister of foreign affairs. And he said, “It was wonderful, meeting, because we were speaking openly. Mr. Havel gave me his opinion, and I explained the opinion of our government. I gave him this book, and he thanked me for it.”

This was unbelievable! Why did they feel the need to explain their point of view to the leader of such a small nation? Because they respect it when someone is standing his ground, when someone is not afraid of them. When someone soils his pants prematurely, then they do not respect you more for it.

Well, that’s one way of putting it. The question is an apt one for the Obami: what have they gained from pushing human rights off the agenda and what evidence do we have that this has produced benefits for America or for those living under the boot of thugocracies? It seems we might earn respect — restore America’s standing in the world, as the Obami like to say — by standing up to Iran, China, Russia, and the rest rather than saving pretty words for West Point cadets and Norwegian elites who are less in need of a lecture than the despots to whom Obama has strained to ingratiate himself.

Vaclav Havel, in a intriguing interview, explains why “small compromises” on human rights have a dangerously cumulative effect:

We know this from our modern history. When [French Prime Minister Edouard] Daladier returned from the [1938] Munich conference, the whole nation was applauding him for saving the peace. He made a miniscule compromise in the interest of peace. But it was the beginning of a chain of evil that subsequently brought about many millions of deaths. We can’t just say, “This is just a small compromise that can be overlooked. First we will go to China and then perhaps talk with the Dalai Lama.” It all looks practical, pragmatic, logical, but it is necessary to think about whether it is not the first small compromise that can be the beginning of that long chain that is no good. In this case perhaps it will not be, but it was the first thing that came to my mind.

Havel then shares an anecdote that comes at a timely juncture. At West Point and again in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Obama waxed lyrical about human rights. But in practice he has consistently shoved human rights off his agenda, going as far as defunding Iranian democracy protesters and objecting to support for new media for Iranian dissidents. This as he engages despotic regimes without any sign of progress in their treatment of their own people. Havel argues, “Politics, it means, every day making some compromises, and to choose between one evil and another evil, and to decide which is bigger and which is smaller.” He recounts:

Two days after I was elected president, I invited the Dalai Lama to visit. I was the first head of the state who invited him in this way, directly. And everybody was saying that it was a terribly dangerous act and issued their disapproving statements and expressions. But it was a ritual matter. Later, the Chinese deputy prime minister and the foreign minister came for a visit and brought me a pile of books about the Dalai Lama and some governmental documents about what good care they have taken of Tibet, and so on. They were propagandist, fabricated books, but he felt the need to explain something to me.

I had a press conference with this minister of foreign affairs. And he said, “It was wonderful, meeting, because we were speaking openly. Mr. Havel gave me his opinion, and I explained the opinion of our government. I gave him this book, and he thanked me for it.”

This was unbelievable! Why did they feel the need to explain their point of view to the leader of such a small nation? Because they respect it when someone is standing his ground, when someone is not afraid of them. When someone soils his pants prematurely, then they do not respect you more for it.

Well, that’s one way of putting it. The question is an apt one for the Obami: what have they gained from pushing human rights off the agenda and what evidence do we have that this has produced benefits for America or for those living under the boot of thugocracies? It seems we might earn respect — restore America’s standing in the world, as the Obami like to say — by standing up to Iran, China, Russia, and the rest rather than saving pretty words for West Point cadets and Norwegian elites who are less in need of a lecture than the despots to whom Obama has strained to ingratiate himself.

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Iran Speeds Up

Iran has announced its intention to build 10 new nuclear-enrichment sites. What? How could this be? Surely the international community’s outrage at Iran’s deception, which then led last week to a really strong letter to the editor — excuse me, scolding from the International Atomic Weapons Agency — was going to teach the Persians a thing or two!

It would seem logical to assume the purpose of these multiple sites is to make a successful military strike to downgrade or destroy Iran’s nuclear-bomb-making capacity difficult to the point of impossibility. It would be hard enough for Israel or the United States to stage a complex series of simultaneous surprise aerial bombings against four locations; from four to 14 would certainly be beyond Israel’s capacity and would significantly strain our own.

Remember when everybody was saying, including in the Democratic primary for president, that it would be unacceptable for Iran to get the bomb? Remember when President Bush said those who allowed Iran to get the bomb would enjoy the same reputation in the annals of history as the Western leaders at Munich?

Iran has announced its intention to build 10 new nuclear-enrichment sites. What? How could this be? Surely the international community’s outrage at Iran’s deception, which then led last week to a really strong letter to the editor — excuse me, scolding from the International Atomic Weapons Agency — was going to teach the Persians a thing or two!

It would seem logical to assume the purpose of these multiple sites is to make a successful military strike to downgrade or destroy Iran’s nuclear-bomb-making capacity difficult to the point of impossibility. It would be hard enough for Israel or the United States to stage a complex series of simultaneous surprise aerial bombings against four locations; from four to 14 would certainly be beyond Israel’s capacity and would significantly strain our own.

Remember when everybody was saying, including in the Democratic primary for president, that it would be unacceptable for Iran to get the bomb? Remember when President Bush said those who allowed Iran to get the bomb would enjoy the same reputation in the annals of history as the Western leaders at Munich?

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Jaw, Jaw

In the March issue of Commentary, Nathan Thrall wrote a splendid review of Treacherous Alliance by Trita Parsi, an absurdly over-praised book that purports to explain the “secret dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States” but which actually only succeeds in trying to explain away various excrescences on the face of the Islamic Republic of Iran.   

Thrall is back in today’s New York Times with an equally splendid op-ed (coauthored with Jesse James Wilkins) that explains, by means of a vivid historical example, exactly what is wrong with the idea of negotiating with ones enemies without preconditions–precisely the kind of negotiations that Barack Obama has promised to hold with the leaders of Iran.

Kennedy’s one presidential meeting with Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier, suggests that there are legitimate reasons to fear negotiating with one’s adversaries. Although Kennedy was keenly aware of some of the risks of such meetings – his Harvard thesis was titled “Appeasement at Munich” – he embarked on a summit meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna in June 1961, a move that would be recorded as one of the more self-destructive American actions of the cold war, and one that contributed to the most dangerous crisis of the nuclear age.

What happened in that summit? The title of Thrall and Wilkins’ piece, Kennedy Talked, Khrushchev Triumphed, says it all.

In the March issue of Commentary, Nathan Thrall wrote a splendid review of Treacherous Alliance by Trita Parsi, an absurdly over-praised book that purports to explain the “secret dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States” but which actually only succeeds in trying to explain away various excrescences on the face of the Islamic Republic of Iran.   

Thrall is back in today’s New York Times with an equally splendid op-ed (coauthored with Jesse James Wilkins) that explains, by means of a vivid historical example, exactly what is wrong with the idea of negotiating with ones enemies without preconditions–precisely the kind of negotiations that Barack Obama has promised to hold with the leaders of Iran.

Kennedy’s one presidential meeting with Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier, suggests that there are legitimate reasons to fear negotiating with one’s adversaries. Although Kennedy was keenly aware of some of the risks of such meetings – his Harvard thesis was titled “Appeasement at Munich” – he embarked on a summit meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna in June 1961, a move that would be recorded as one of the more self-destructive American actions of the cold war, and one that contributed to the most dangerous crisis of the nuclear age.

What happened in that summit? The title of Thrall and Wilkins’ piece, Kennedy Talked, Khrushchev Triumphed, says it all.

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“Hollywood’s Favorite Flavor of Jew: The Eternal Victim”

In the New York Post, Kyle Smith (who also writes for CONTENTIONS) has written a provocative and original column about the degeneration in Hollywood’s treatment of Jews and Israel from the “Epic Jew” played by Paul Newman in Exodus in 1960 to the soul-haunted assassins of the Steven Spielberg travesty Munich: “When Israel is mentioned in American movies, you can barely hear the word above the sound of hand-wringing.”

It has literally been decades since a heroic Israeli appeared on screen, and, Smith writes, “At this point, there is so much pent-up demand for another Paul Newman/Kirk Douglas Epic Jew that eager viewers are willing to watch ‘Munich’ as a full-on action movie and fast-forward through the parts where Eric Bana cries and whines.”

He concludes, writing about Hollywood filmmakers:

Their pride in Israel is negated by their knee-jerk distaste for overdogs. Hollywood is the only place where billionaires fancy themselves outcasts fighting the system. Israel, for all its enemies, is a success story, but a complicated one. If the situation there were reversed – with the Palestinians in charge and the Israelis throwing rocks and submitting to checkpoints – there would be a Hollywood movie about it every other year.

Read the whole thing.

In the New York Post, Kyle Smith (who also writes for CONTENTIONS) has written a provocative and original column about the degeneration in Hollywood’s treatment of Jews and Israel from the “Epic Jew” played by Paul Newman in Exodus in 1960 to the soul-haunted assassins of the Steven Spielberg travesty Munich: “When Israel is mentioned in American movies, you can barely hear the word above the sound of hand-wringing.”

It has literally been decades since a heroic Israeli appeared on screen, and, Smith writes, “At this point, there is so much pent-up demand for another Paul Newman/Kirk Douglas Epic Jew that eager viewers are willing to watch ‘Munich’ as a full-on action movie and fast-forward through the parts where Eric Bana cries and whines.”

He concludes, writing about Hollywood filmmakers:

Their pride in Israel is negated by their knee-jerk distaste for overdogs. Hollywood is the only place where billionaires fancy themselves outcasts fighting the system. Israel, for all its enemies, is a success story, but a complicated one. If the situation there were reversed – with the Palestinians in charge and the Israelis throwing rocks and submitting to checkpoints – there would be a Hollywood movie about it every other year.

Read the whole thing.

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Two Windows Are Closing At Once

As Norman Podhoretz has pointed out in a series of courageous and cogently argued articles (click here and here) making the case for an American strike on Iran’s nuclear program, President Bush seemingly locked himself into such an action when he said, in Podhoretz’s paraphrase,

that if we permit Iran to build a nuclear arsenal, people 50 years from now will look back and wonder how we of this generation could have allowed such a thing to happen, and they will rightly judge us as harshly as we today judge the British and the French for what they did and what they failed to do at Munich in 1938.

But with less than a year left in his term, there are no indications that Bush intends to follow through. If he doesn’t, Israel may have to go it alone.

The venomous anti-Israel rhetoric spewing from Tehran is becoming increasingly bellicose. Iran is said to be supplying the Grad missiles used by Hamas in Gaza to strike the Israeli city of Ashkelon. Iran’s nuclear program, despite the trickily worded U.S. National Intelligence Estimate issued late last year, is continuing apace. With all these ominous trends in place, the pressure on Israel to employ military measures to ward off the Iranian nuclear menace will only grow.

What is the likely timing of an Israeli strike? One new factor in the equation is the Russian supply of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) to Iran, rumored about for months and now evidently moving forward. Tucked away in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last Wednesday was a single sentence from General Michael Maples, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.  Iran, stated Maples, “is close to acquiring long-range SA-20 SAMs.”

The SA-20 is an advanced air-defense system with a radius of up to 250 miles. Although it presumably can be defeated by electronic measures of the kind at which Israel excels, its deployment would nonetheless seriously complicate the planning and execution of an Israeli attack. Given the risks of such an operation even without having to overcome the SA-20, Israel would presumably have a strong incentive to act before the new Russian system becomes operational.

Some reports are now placing the date for the SA-20 deployment as early as December. Of course, it would take time for the Iranian military to learn to operate the system even half-way effectively. But once the surface-to-air missiles are pointing toward the sky, the clock on that process would be ticking, just as it is ticking on Iran’s nuclear bomb program. Two windows would be closing at once.

Last week, Iran’s president called Israel a “a dirty microbe.” The intentions communicated by this Nazi-style metaphor are all too clear. But Israel is not about to let itself be exterminated. Barring a sudden change of course by Iran, the Middle East is heading for another major war.

As Norman Podhoretz has pointed out in a series of courageous and cogently argued articles (click here and here) making the case for an American strike on Iran’s nuclear program, President Bush seemingly locked himself into such an action when he said, in Podhoretz’s paraphrase,

that if we permit Iran to build a nuclear arsenal, people 50 years from now will look back and wonder how we of this generation could have allowed such a thing to happen, and they will rightly judge us as harshly as we today judge the British and the French for what they did and what they failed to do at Munich in 1938.

But with less than a year left in his term, there are no indications that Bush intends to follow through. If he doesn’t, Israel may have to go it alone.

The venomous anti-Israel rhetoric spewing from Tehran is becoming increasingly bellicose. Iran is said to be supplying the Grad missiles used by Hamas in Gaza to strike the Israeli city of Ashkelon. Iran’s nuclear program, despite the trickily worded U.S. National Intelligence Estimate issued late last year, is continuing apace. With all these ominous trends in place, the pressure on Israel to employ military measures to ward off the Iranian nuclear menace will only grow.

What is the likely timing of an Israeli strike? One new factor in the equation is the Russian supply of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) to Iran, rumored about for months and now evidently moving forward. Tucked away in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last Wednesday was a single sentence from General Michael Maples, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.  Iran, stated Maples, “is close to acquiring long-range SA-20 SAMs.”

The SA-20 is an advanced air-defense system with a radius of up to 250 miles. Although it presumably can be defeated by electronic measures of the kind at which Israel excels, its deployment would nonetheless seriously complicate the planning and execution of an Israeli attack. Given the risks of such an operation even without having to overcome the SA-20, Israel would presumably have a strong incentive to act before the new Russian system becomes operational.

Some reports are now placing the date for the SA-20 deployment as early as December. Of course, it would take time for the Iranian military to learn to operate the system even half-way effectively. But once the surface-to-air missiles are pointing toward the sky, the clock on that process would be ticking, just as it is ticking on Iran’s nuclear bomb program. Two windows would be closing at once.

Last week, Iran’s president called Israel a “a dirty microbe.” The intentions communicated by this Nazi-style metaphor are all too clear. But Israel is not about to let itself be exterminated. Barring a sudden change of course by Iran, the Middle East is heading for another major war.

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Abbie Hoffman and the Temple of Doom

Steven Spielberg was planning to direct a movie about the crazy trial of the Chicago Seven from a script by Aaron Sorkin. He had cast Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman. Now the most successful director in the history of the world has decided, as they used to say in Variety, to “ankle” the project. Maybe he looked at those box-office receipts from the Iraq War movies, not to mention the receipts from his own moral-equivalence-fest Munich, and decided to take a pass. Next up for Spielberg, interestingly enough, is a biographical picture not about a con-man-reprobate-crook like Abbie Hoffman but rather…Abraham Lincoln. Scripted by Tony Kushner.

Steven Spielberg was planning to direct a movie about the crazy trial of the Chicago Seven from a script by Aaron Sorkin. He had cast Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman. Now the most successful director in the history of the world has decided, as they used to say in Variety, to “ankle” the project. Maybe he looked at those box-office receipts from the Iraq War movies, not to mention the receipts from his own moral-equivalence-fest Munich, and decided to take a pass. Next up for Spielberg, interestingly enough, is a biographical picture not about a con-man-reprobate-crook like Abbie Hoffman but rather…Abraham Lincoln. Scripted by Tony Kushner.

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Fascism Old and New

As the jury and contestants entered the second round of Stuttgart’s triennial classical song competition last week, organized by the Internationale Hugo Wolf Akademie, idealistic young singers and pianists performed lieder by Robert Schumann and Wolf, often alluding optimistically to a better world. A brief break offered time for a stroll through one of Stuttgart’s parks, where high school girls jogged dispiritedly, sidestepping piles of horse dung. I walked to the Hegel-Haus, the birthplace of the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel. On display in the charmingly spare little house were letters from Hegel’s friends, stressing the importance of freedom: “Vive la liberté” writes one, while another quotes Klopstock, an 18th century German poet who cheered the American Revolution.

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As the jury and contestants entered the second round of Stuttgart’s triennial classical song competition last week, organized by the Internationale Hugo Wolf Akademie, idealistic young singers and pianists performed lieder by Robert Schumann and Wolf, often alluding optimistically to a better world. A brief break offered time for a stroll through one of Stuttgart’s parks, where high school girls jogged dispiritedly, sidestepping piles of horse dung. I walked to the Hegel-Haus, the birthplace of the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel. On display in the charmingly spare little house were letters from Hegel’s friends, stressing the importance of freedom: “Vive la liberté” writes one, while another quotes Klopstock, an 18th century German poet who cheered the American Revolution.

Such echoes of the so-called German Idealism movement are all the more timely as the current talk of the town is about Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne, who on September 14th made a speech at the opening of a new art museum in which he stated: “Wherever culture is separated from the worship of God, cult atrophies into ritualism and art becomes degenerate.” The word “degenerate” inevitably hearkens back to Nazi-era jargon, as local newspapers were quick to point out; the Nazi’s notorious 1937 Munich “Degenerate Art” exhibit was intended to ridicule modernist paintings. Meisner’s statement was followed by a backlash of articles defending the Cardinal from “Meisner-Bashing” by the so-called “word-police” This vehement support was to be expected, since Meisner controls a vast empire of real estate and church-owned media, stoked by the highest annual donation rate in Germany, estimated at around 680 million euros per annum. In 2005, Meisner asserted that women who have an abortion are comparable to mass killers like Hitler and Stalin. Stephan Kramer, General Secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, noted that Meisner repeatedly “misuses language as a taboo-breaker. If that sets an example, we should not be surprised if Nazi beliefs become respectable again.”

Meanwhile, in between sessions of idealistic song, equal concern is devoted to the Swiss national elections scheduled for October 21, where the front-runner is a billionaire named Christoph Blocher, Switzerland’s current Justice Minister. Blocher’s campaign, featuring a poster of a black sheep kicked off the Swiss flag by three white sheep under the caption: “For More Security,” has been called fascist, racist, and perhaps worst of all, “un-Swiss.” Blocher’s wealth has also bought him a TV program during which servile interviewers, likened to East German broadcasters in the old Communist days, ask him adoring questions. While Europe ponders these reminders of oppression old and new, it is particularly useful to focus on the optimistic message of an international gathering like the Wolf Akademie’s lieder contest, where the sheep are dismissed only if they hit wrong notes, not if the color of their wool offends.

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Hitler at Columbia

How many American soldiers perished because the bomb built by Georg Elser to kill Adolf Hitler in a beer hall in Munich in November 1939 failed to go off on time and the dictator lived to prosecute the war he had launched two months earlier? 

The number is known to precision: 292,131, including 31,215 from the state of New York, where Columbia University is located. The total number of casualties in that war–U.S. and foreign, Axis and Allied, military and civilian alike–is considerably higher: perhaps as many as 72 million.

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How many American soldiers perished because the bomb built by Georg Elser to kill Adolf Hitler in a beer hall in Munich in November 1939 failed to go off on time and the dictator lived to prosecute the war he had launched two months earlier? 

The number is known to precision: 292,131, including 31,215 from the state of New York, where Columbia University is located. The total number of casualties in that war–U.S. and foreign, Axis and Allied, military and civilian alike–is considerably higher: perhaps as many as 72 million.

As I noted recently in the Weekly Standard, Elser, who was apprehended by the German border police, handed over to the Gestapo, and subsequently executed, explained his action this way: “I wanted through my deed to prevent even greater bloodshed.”

John Coatsworth, the dean who invited the nuclear-bomb-seeking Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia today, would have had a different approach. As he told Fox News on Saturday, he would have extended an invitation to Hitler: “If he were willing to engage in a debate and a discussion, to be challenged by Columbia students and faculty, we would certainly invite him.”

Coatsworth’s name will not make it into the standard histories as Elser’s has. But it deserves to be recorded for posterity. The university’s invitation to the genocidal aspirant Ahmadinejad is repugnant on many grounds. The outrage committed by Dean Coatsworth upon the dead of World War II–and, along the way, upon the memory of Georg Elser, who readily sacrificed his own life for the peace of the world–staggers the imagination. 

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Mattel in Hell

On Friday, the world’s largest toymaker humbled itself before the world’s most populous communist state, a move that Kitty Pilgrim called “an unbelievable act of appeasement.” While Thomas Debrowski’s apology to Beijing may not have the same significance as Neville Chamberlain’s deal in Munich, the CNN anchor certainly had a point.

“Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people and all of our customers who received the toys,” said Debrowski, Mattel’s executive vice president for worldwide operations, to Li Changjiang, the head of China’s product-safety agency. The California-based toymaker can’t be sorry enough when it comes to consumers, but the kowtow to Li and the Chinese people was a bit much. “It’s like a bank robber apologizing to his accomplice,” noted Senator Charles Schumer.

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On Friday, the world’s largest toymaker humbled itself before the world’s most populous communist state, a move that Kitty Pilgrim called “an unbelievable act of appeasement.” While Thomas Debrowski’s apology to Beijing may not have the same significance as Neville Chamberlain’s deal in Munich, the CNN anchor certainly had a point.

“Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people and all of our customers who received the toys,” said Debrowski, Mattel’s executive vice president for worldwide operations, to Li Changjiang, the head of China’s product-safety agency. The California-based toymaker can’t be sorry enough when it comes to consumers, but the kowtow to Li and the Chinese people was a bit much. “It’s like a bank robber apologizing to his accomplice,” noted Senator Charles Schumer.

It’s hard to create sympathy for a company that has just had to recall 19.6 million defective products intended for children, but the Chinese have done just that. For one thing, it was clear that Beijing was determined to humiliate Mattel. Debrowski was scheduled to meet with Li, but the Beijing official at the last moment said he would not get together unless reporters were present. Li, from his overstuffed chair, then administered a finger-wagging lecture to the obviously uncomfortable Debrowski as cameras rolled.

So the real story is not Mattel. It is China. China’s officials know they cannot solve the structural problems of Chinese manufacturing within the context of their one-party system, in which corruption runs rampant and central authorities have little control over local officials. Therefore, they are choosing to deal with a public relations nightmare by going on the attack against foreigners. Li Changjiang was angry because Mattel’s public comments in the United States did not always note that recalls involved products with defective designs—improperly secured magnets—when it talked about products with excessive levels of lead paint.

Yet Li’s tirade went well beyond this omission. He told Mattel in public that its stringent recall policy was “unacceptable.” Beijing may have the right to adopt whatever standards it wants for its own citizens, but it has no place telling American companies—and by implication the American government—what rules to apply to protect American consumers. Now that Chinese officials have used a public forum to try to dictate Washington’s products-safety policy, it is the responsibility of the Bush administration to demand publicly that China stop its interference in our efforts to look after the well-being of our own children.

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Weekend Reading

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

The Movie Camera and the American
Robert Warshow – March 1952

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

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

Woody Allen on the American Character
Richard Grenier — November 1983

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

Journalism, Hollywood-Style
Terry Teachout – December 2005

Spielberg’s “Munich”
Gabriel Schoenfeld – February 2006

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

The Movie Camera and the American
Robert Warshow – March 1952

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

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

Woody Allen on the American Character
Richard Grenier — November 1983

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

Journalism, Hollywood-Style
Terry Teachout – December 2005

Spielberg’s “Munich”
Gabriel Schoenfeld – February 2006

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How Bad is Robert Gates?

America’s twenty-second Secretary of Defense came to prominence in the world of intelligence, having risen up through the ranks of the analytical division of the CIA. To anyone familiar with the intractable problems besetting that side of that agency, this was a background that at the very minimum raised questions about whether Gates would be a yes-man, a timid bureaucrat, or an empty suit.

But back in mid-February, Max Boot gave Gates a favorable review here, citing his handling of himself at a gathering of defense officials in Munich. We’ve now had another month of our new SecDef. It is time to ask again: how is he shaping up?

The war is issue number one. Prior to getting his job, Gates served on the Iraq Study Group led by James Baker, which counseled begging Iran and Syria for assistance—“dialogue” was the code word for this used in the report—in extricating ourselves from the conflict and abandoning Iraq to the wolves: the U.S. “must adjust its role in Iraq to encourage the Iraqi people to take control of their own destiny.”

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America’s twenty-second Secretary of Defense came to prominence in the world of intelligence, having risen up through the ranks of the analytical division of the CIA. To anyone familiar with the intractable problems besetting that side of that agency, this was a background that at the very minimum raised questions about whether Gates would be a yes-man, a timid bureaucrat, or an empty suit.

But back in mid-February, Max Boot gave Gates a favorable review here, citing his handling of himself at a gathering of defense officials in Munich. We’ve now had another month of our new SecDef. It is time to ask again: how is he shaping up?

The war is issue number one. Prior to getting his job, Gates served on the Iraq Study Group led by James Baker, which counseled begging Iran and Syria for assistance—“dialogue” was the code word for this used in the report—in extricating ourselves from the conflict and abandoning Iraq to the wolves: the U.S. “must adjust its role in Iraq to encourage the Iraqi people to take control of their own destiny.”

But Gates was on CBS’s Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer yesterday and made a convincing case for national patience with another direction entirely—the current troop surge:

The way I would characterize it is so far, so good. It’s very early. General Petraeus, the commander out there, has said that it’ll probably be summer before we know whether we’re being successful or not. But I would say that the Iraqis are meeting the commitments that they have made to us. They have made the appointments, the troops that they have promised are showing up, they are allowing operations in all neighborhoods, there is very little political interference with military operations. So here, at the very beginning, the commitments that have been made seem to be being kept.

On Face the Nation, Gates was also exceptionally deft in disarming Democratic calls for withdrawal, as called for in a bill before the House of Representatives. His posture here was disarmingly respectful—even as it threw a punch.

I believe everybody involved in this debate is patriotic and looking for the best thing for America. I think most people agree that, across the political spectrum, that leaving Iraq in chaos would be a mistake, a disaster for the United States, and so we’re all wrestling with what’s the best way to bring about a result that serves the long-term interests, not only of the Iraqi people but of the United States. . . . With respect to the specific bill in the House, the concern I have is that if you have specific deadlines and very strict conditions, it makes it difficult, if not impossible, for our commanders to achieve—to achieve their objectives. And frankly, as I read it, the House bill is more about withdrawal, regardless of the circumstances on the ground.

Then there was a side issue that, to judge by the intensity of Schieffer’s questioning, was to CBS not a side issue at all. Last week, General Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said that homosexual acts are immoral. Gates was pressed hard about this by Schieffer: “a lot of gay people are saying that that is a slur on thousands of people who are serving in the military right now”; and shouldn’t the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy be revised?

Gates got a bit testy answering this, but acquitted himself well:

Look, I’ve got a war in Iraq, a war in Afghanistan, challenges in Iran and North Korea and elsewhere, global war on terror, three budget bills totaling $715 billion. I think I’ve got quite a lot on my plate.

What Gates said about progress in the war on Iraq can be said about him: “So far, so good. It’s very early.”

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Gates in Munich

I haven’t formed much of an opinion, one way or the other, of our new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. But I came away favorably impressed with his performance Sunday at the 43rd annual Munich Conference on Security, which I attended as part of the American delegation.

When Donald Rumsfeld was in charge of the Pentagon, his appearances at this yearly confab of trans-Atlantic movers and shakers inevitably sparked fireworks—most famously in 2003 when he made the case for war with Iraq and Joschka Fischer, then Germany’s foreign minister*, broke into English to reply, “Excuse me, I am not convinced.” Rumsfeld grated on European sensibilities. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but too often his rhetorical style could distract from the serious issues of the day. The best-known example was his 2003 comment dismissing the views of France and Germany as those of “Old Europe”—as opposed to the “New Europe” further to the east, which was more pro-American. Fairly or not, that sent the representatives of “Old Europe” through the roof.

Gates marked a break with his predecessor in his speech on Sunday, when he dismissed a long litany of “characterizations” that “belong in the past:” “The free world versus those behind the Iron Curtain. North versus South. East versus West, and I am told that some have even spoken in terms of ‘Old Europe’ versus ‘new.’” The crowd ate it up.

Gates’s deft touch was also on display when he refused to rise to the bait offered by the star speaker of the conference, Vladimir Putin. The Russian president—I am tempted to be more accurate and call him the Russian dictator—gave a jarringly bellicose address in which he railed against the United States for supposedly “illegal” and “unilateral” actions that were plunging the world into the “abyss of perpetual conflict.” Instead of matching Putin’s angry rhetoric with some of his own, Gates simply said, “As an old cold warrior, one of yesterday’s speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time. Almost.”

Thus Gates avoided making news—a trick Rumsfeld never mastered—and kept the focus where it belonged, on Putin’s remarks, which alarmed many of the Europeans in the room. The Secretary of Defense also showed an unexpected flair for humor, joking, for example, about how he had given up his old habit of “blunt speaking” because as president of Texas A&M he had been sent to “reeducation camp” in order to learn how to deal with the faculty.

It was a good start. Of course, in the long run, Gates will be judged not by how well he deals with conference delegates but by how well he deals with America’s enemies. And, unfortunately, winning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will prove a lot harder than winning over the crowd in Munich’s Bayerischer Hof hotel.

* The post originally described Fischer as defense minister.

I haven’t formed much of an opinion, one way or the other, of our new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. But I came away favorably impressed with his performance Sunday at the 43rd annual Munich Conference on Security, which I attended as part of the American delegation.

When Donald Rumsfeld was in charge of the Pentagon, his appearances at this yearly confab of trans-Atlantic movers and shakers inevitably sparked fireworks—most famously in 2003 when he made the case for war with Iraq and Joschka Fischer, then Germany’s foreign minister*, broke into English to reply, “Excuse me, I am not convinced.” Rumsfeld grated on European sensibilities. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but too often his rhetorical style could distract from the serious issues of the day. The best-known example was his 2003 comment dismissing the views of France and Germany as those of “Old Europe”—as opposed to the “New Europe” further to the east, which was more pro-American. Fairly or not, that sent the representatives of “Old Europe” through the roof.

Gates marked a break with his predecessor in his speech on Sunday, when he dismissed a long litany of “characterizations” that “belong in the past:” “The free world versus those behind the Iron Curtain. North versus South. East versus West, and I am told that some have even spoken in terms of ‘Old Europe’ versus ‘new.’” The crowd ate it up.

Gates’s deft touch was also on display when he refused to rise to the bait offered by the star speaker of the conference, Vladimir Putin. The Russian president—I am tempted to be more accurate and call him the Russian dictator—gave a jarringly bellicose address in which he railed against the United States for supposedly “illegal” and “unilateral” actions that were plunging the world into the “abyss of perpetual conflict.” Instead of matching Putin’s angry rhetoric with some of his own, Gates simply said, “As an old cold warrior, one of yesterday’s speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time. Almost.”

Thus Gates avoided making news—a trick Rumsfeld never mastered—and kept the focus where it belonged, on Putin’s remarks, which alarmed many of the Europeans in the room. The Secretary of Defense also showed an unexpected flair for humor, joking, for example, about how he had given up his old habit of “blunt speaking” because as president of Texas A&M he had been sent to “reeducation camp” in order to learn how to deal with the faculty.

It was a good start. Of course, in the long run, Gates will be judged not by how well he deals with conference delegates but by how well he deals with America’s enemies. And, unfortunately, winning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will prove a lot harder than winning over the crowd in Munich’s Bayerischer Hof hotel.

* The post originally described Fischer as defense minister.

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