Commentary Magazine


Topic: Prince

A New York Times Embarrassment That’s Not on the Front Page

One of the movie critics of the New York Times is named Manohla Dargis. She is … well, let’s just say she is already responsible for the most pretentious movie review ever published in a mainstream forum, and that’s saying a lot. But that was three years ago. What has she done for us lately? Today, she reviews the new Disney cartoon called The Princess and the Frog, and while I can’t say Dargis has outdone herself, she has set a 21st century standard for political correctness that will be hard to top.

I’ve seen The Princess and the Frog; it’s a wondrous piece of work (my review of it will appear in the Weekly Standard next week and on its website beginning on Saturday). Dargis doesn’t agree, which is her prerogative. (My wife didn’t either, by the way.) But note how she begins her review (Dargis, not my wife):

It’s not easy being green, the heroine of “The Princess and the Frog” discovers. But to judge from how this polished, hand-drawn movie addresses, or rather strenuously avoids, race, it is a lot more difficult to be black, particularly in a Disney animated feature. If you haven’t heard: Disney, the company that immortalized pale pretties like Snow White and the zip-a-dee-doo-dah of plantation living in “Song of the South,” has made a fairy tale about a black heroine, a character whose shoulders and story prove far too slight for all the hopes already weighing her down.

Are you getting this? Disney’s new cartoon “strenuously avoids race.” This is a bouncy fairy tale for children, with the first black heroine in the history of animated film — an admirable, hard-working girl, a kind of self-imposed Cinderella who needs to learn to cut a rug a little. Moreover, the heroine has her problems with race, thank you very much; two white bankers patronize her and tell her that a person of “her background” shouldn’t aim so high. This is exactly how a film of this sort should introduce these questions, with subtlety and tact, in a way that will allow children to ask questions rather than drilling the answers into them in a way that kills the magic of the story.

Has Dargis ever actually met a child?

It is, for Dargis, an especial shame, this refusal in a New Orleans version of “The Frog Prince” not to engage on the subject of race as she would wish the matter engaged, considering that Disney made Song of the South 63 years ago, in 1946, when the people who now run Disney were — how should I put this — not yet women’s rights to choose in their mother’s wombs.

The movie is not only improperly Dargisian on race, but also on feminist matters. “The prince, disappointingly if not surprisingly, becomes not only [the girl's] salvation but also that of the movie…” This is actually an inaccurate depiction of the movie’s plot and the impression it leaves on the viewer, but never mind that. The film is a fairy tale about a girl, a prince, a kiss, and a frog. The reward for the girl in all such stories is the ascent to royalty, and in this movie, that reward is more cleverly rendered than in any previous Disney film.

It’s a princess movie. Has Dargis never met a little girl?

And is there no such thing as an editor at the New York Times who might read such an offering and respond with a simple, declarative, and profound three-word riposte: “Lighten up, Francis”? I bet it’s one fun Thanksgiving meal over at the Dargises. Somehow, I doubt there’s turkey.

One of the movie critics of the New York Times is named Manohla Dargis. She is … well, let’s just say she is already responsible for the most pretentious movie review ever published in a mainstream forum, and that’s saying a lot. But that was three years ago. What has she done for us lately? Today, she reviews the new Disney cartoon called The Princess and the Frog, and while I can’t say Dargis has outdone herself, she has set a 21st century standard for political correctness that will be hard to top.

I’ve seen The Princess and the Frog; it’s a wondrous piece of work (my review of it will appear in the Weekly Standard next week and on its website beginning on Saturday). Dargis doesn’t agree, which is her prerogative. (My wife didn’t either, by the way.) But note how she begins her review (Dargis, not my wife):

It’s not easy being green, the heroine of “The Princess and the Frog” discovers. But to judge from how this polished, hand-drawn movie addresses, or rather strenuously avoids, race, it is a lot more difficult to be black, particularly in a Disney animated feature. If you haven’t heard: Disney, the company that immortalized pale pretties like Snow White and the zip-a-dee-doo-dah of plantation living in “Song of the South,” has made a fairy tale about a black heroine, a character whose shoulders and story prove far too slight for all the hopes already weighing her down.

Are you getting this? Disney’s new cartoon “strenuously avoids race.” This is a bouncy fairy tale for children, with the first black heroine in the history of animated film — an admirable, hard-working girl, a kind of self-imposed Cinderella who needs to learn to cut a rug a little. Moreover, the heroine has her problems with race, thank you very much; two white bankers patronize her and tell her that a person of “her background” shouldn’t aim so high. This is exactly how a film of this sort should introduce these questions, with subtlety and tact, in a way that will allow children to ask questions rather than drilling the answers into them in a way that kills the magic of the story.

Has Dargis ever actually met a child?

It is, for Dargis, an especial shame, this refusal in a New Orleans version of “The Frog Prince” not to engage on the subject of race as she would wish the matter engaged, considering that Disney made Song of the South 63 years ago, in 1946, when the people who now run Disney were — how should I put this — not yet women’s rights to choose in their mother’s wombs.

The movie is not only improperly Dargisian on race, but also on feminist matters. “The prince, disappointingly if not surprisingly, becomes not only [the girl's] salvation but also that of the movie…” This is actually an inaccurate depiction of the movie’s plot and the impression it leaves on the viewer, but never mind that. The film is a fairy tale about a girl, a prince, a kiss, and a frog. The reward for the girl in all such stories is the ascent to royalty, and in this movie, that reward is more cleverly rendered than in any previous Disney film.

It’s a princess movie. Has Dargis never met a little girl?

And is there no such thing as an editor at the New York Times who might read such an offering and respond with a simple, declarative, and profound three-word riposte: “Lighten up, Francis”? I bet it’s one fun Thanksgiving meal over at the Dargises. Somehow, I doubt there’s turkey.

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Cambridge University of Saud

England’s Cambridge University and Edinburgh University have accepted a £16 million endowment from Saudi Prince Al-Walid to create Islamic study centers that “aim to carry out research and public engagements designed to increase understanding between the Muslim world and the West.”

What exactly does “understanding” mean? A month after 9/11, when the same Prince Al-Walid tried to purchase New York City’s “understanding” for $10 million, he said it meant the attacks were to cause the United States to “re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stand toward the Palestinian cause.” Then Mayor Rudy Giuliani made himself understood by rejecting the “re-examination,” the “balance,”and the check.

No such luck in England. And now two of the West’s finest universities have been bankrolled in the “understanding” racket.

But perhaps we shouldn’t worry, after all. In Al-Walid’s 2001 check memo to the U.S., he called for Israel to withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank. It’s been almost three years since Israel has withdrawn from Gaza and two years since Kadima–the Israeli political party founded on the very basis of giving land to Palestinians–became the largest party in the Knesset. With that out of the way, maybe Al-Walid just wants the West to “understand” why teenage Muslim girls go missing from Bradford, England, or what it is that offends British Muslim pupils about their teachers assertion that the Holocaust happened, or why British Muslim clerics say “We have to rule ourselves and we have to rule the others.” You know, Islam/West “understanding” stuff.

England’s Cambridge University and Edinburgh University have accepted a £16 million endowment from Saudi Prince Al-Walid to create Islamic study centers that “aim to carry out research and public engagements designed to increase understanding between the Muslim world and the West.”

What exactly does “understanding” mean? A month after 9/11, when the same Prince Al-Walid tried to purchase New York City’s “understanding” for $10 million, he said it meant the attacks were to cause the United States to “re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stand toward the Palestinian cause.” Then Mayor Rudy Giuliani made himself understood by rejecting the “re-examination,” the “balance,”and the check.

No such luck in England. And now two of the West’s finest universities have been bankrolled in the “understanding” racket.

But perhaps we shouldn’t worry, after all. In Al-Walid’s 2001 check memo to the U.S., he called for Israel to withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank. It’s been almost three years since Israel has withdrawn from Gaza and two years since Kadima–the Israeli political party founded on the very basis of giving land to Palestinians–became the largest party in the Knesset. With that out of the way, maybe Al-Walid just wants the West to “understand” why teenage Muslim girls go missing from Bradford, England, or what it is that offends British Muslim pupils about their teachers assertion that the Holocaust happened, or why British Muslim clerics say “We have to rule ourselves and we have to rule the others.” You know, Islam/West “understanding” stuff.

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Saint Jimmy, Virulent Realist

Jimmy Carter’s disastrous trip to the Middle East — which was really just what the Democrats needed right now — is an object lesson in American foreign-policy myopia. When Carter, shockingly, said that in speaking to dictators, he was speaking “to all the people” under the dictator’s thumb, he revealed something important about himself. Far from being the idealist of legend, he is actually nothing more than an old-style, unreconstructed “realist.”

Carter is forever attempting to cut deals with dictators — as he did in 1994 when he claimed to have solved the North Korean nuclear problem in a one-on-one with Kim Il Sung. He has no choice, really. If you’re an American eminence who wants to make headlines by cutting deals on a foreign trip, you can only do so with a tyranny, because representative governments don’t move quickly enough.

Here’s the thing about dictators: They are very easy to deal with. If you ask them to do something for you, and they agree, it gets done. They don’t have bothersome parliaments or independent courts or restive populaces to hinder their actions. And it is in part for this reason that realists have long looked suspiciously on democratizing as foreign policy. It isn’t just that they are dubious about the capacity of such societies to liberalize; it is also that for the United States, a tyranny may simply be a more practical partner.

I have no doubt that the reason American presidents have spent decades speaking very softly and in kindly terms about Saudi Arabia is that all they have to do is place a phone call to the right person (who was, for decades, Prince Bandar) and they can get something out of the call — something important and useful and entirely clandestine that they believe is in the American national interest. America’s delicacy in dealing with Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf over the past six or seven years is doubtless due to the same sort of thing — Condi or Colin calls, Pervez responds.

Those who believe this kind of relationship is the most and the best Americans can expect from a difficult world usually think of themselves as hardened by experience — serious, appropriately cynical, tough, and without illusion.

We don’t usually think of Carter as a “realist,” in part because he is given to preening moralizing and in part because he is falsely given credit for putting human rights at the center of his foreign policy during his presidency. (I say “falsely” because his administration’s efforts in this regard with the Soviet Union were intended entirely as window-dressing for some very questionable bilateral negotiations; it was Soviet and Eastern European dissidents themselves who figured out how to use the human-rights language in some of these negotiations as a weapon against those awful regimes, a brilliant twist that neither the Soviets nor the Carterites ever anticipated.)

But a realist he is, of a particularly disagreeable sort. A cynic doesn’t usually expect, demand, and need the world to think of him as a saint.

Jimmy Carter’s disastrous trip to the Middle East — which was really just what the Democrats needed right now — is an object lesson in American foreign-policy myopia. When Carter, shockingly, said that in speaking to dictators, he was speaking “to all the people” under the dictator’s thumb, he revealed something important about himself. Far from being the idealist of legend, he is actually nothing more than an old-style, unreconstructed “realist.”

Carter is forever attempting to cut deals with dictators — as he did in 1994 when he claimed to have solved the North Korean nuclear problem in a one-on-one with Kim Il Sung. He has no choice, really. If you’re an American eminence who wants to make headlines by cutting deals on a foreign trip, you can only do so with a tyranny, because representative governments don’t move quickly enough.

Here’s the thing about dictators: They are very easy to deal with. If you ask them to do something for you, and they agree, it gets done. They don’t have bothersome parliaments or independent courts or restive populaces to hinder their actions. And it is in part for this reason that realists have long looked suspiciously on democratizing as foreign policy. It isn’t just that they are dubious about the capacity of such societies to liberalize; it is also that for the United States, a tyranny may simply be a more practical partner.

I have no doubt that the reason American presidents have spent decades speaking very softly and in kindly terms about Saudi Arabia is that all they have to do is place a phone call to the right person (who was, for decades, Prince Bandar) and they can get something out of the call — something important and useful and entirely clandestine that they believe is in the American national interest. America’s delicacy in dealing with Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf over the past six or seven years is doubtless due to the same sort of thing — Condi or Colin calls, Pervez responds.

Those who believe this kind of relationship is the most and the best Americans can expect from a difficult world usually think of themselves as hardened by experience — serious, appropriately cynical, tough, and without illusion.

We don’t usually think of Carter as a “realist,” in part because he is given to preening moralizing and in part because he is falsely given credit for putting human rights at the center of his foreign policy during his presidency. (I say “falsely” because his administration’s efforts in this regard with the Soviet Union were intended entirely as window-dressing for some very questionable bilateral negotiations; it was Soviet and Eastern European dissidents themselves who figured out how to use the human-rights language in some of these negotiations as a weapon against those awful regimes, a brilliant twist that neither the Soviets nor the Carterites ever anticipated.)

But a realist he is, of a particularly disagreeable sort. A cynic doesn’t usually expect, demand, and need the world to think of him as a saint.

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Thanks, Harry

Since the end of the Vietnam War, America has allowed herself to celebrate as war heroes only those men and women who were injured or killed in action. The victorious battle hero has vanished from public consciousness. This is a big problem. As Navy SEAL Captain Roger Lee Crossland put it in an excellent 2004 piece:

We help our enemies by default, by allowing lesser images to be presented as substitutes. Everyone knows the name Jessica Lynch. She wore her country’s uniform, went willingly to her duty in Iraq, and suffered grievous injuries, but does she qualify to be known first among those who served in this war? We have brushed aside battlefield resolution and action—which should be foremost—and allowed the image of victimization and suffering to take its place.

With this in mind, it’s worth paying tribute to Prince Harry and his service with the coalition forces in Afghanistan. The young man (who hardly fits the anti-war crowd’s cartoon of an uneducated and destitute victim with his back to the wall) volunteered to place his gut in the dirt and take up arms against the scourge of the planet. The Daily Mail reports that Harry killed 30 Taliban. Can we take a moment to applaud this? Can we applaud a selfless act of heroic determination in this country? And could we please do it more often for the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces? Strangely, we’re at a point where warriors aren’t to be celebrated for protecting civilians. Captain Crossland has some insight on this:

Heroism, by definition, implies a superior quality for a moment in time. A hero, therefore, is a superior individual by virtue of superior conduct, and the politically correct will not countenance that. No one is superior to anyone else, nothing is better than anything else, no cause is greater than any other. The United States is not exceptional, nor are U.S. causes. Victims, on the other hand, are perfectly politically correct.

Harry is incalculably better than the thugs he disposed of in Afghanistan. The very least we can do is to acknowledge this. The preservation of our of our own moral and cultural frameworks depends on the decisive and unapologetic action of people such as him. Thanks, Harry!

Since the end of the Vietnam War, America has allowed herself to celebrate as war heroes only those men and women who were injured or killed in action. The victorious battle hero has vanished from public consciousness. This is a big problem. As Navy SEAL Captain Roger Lee Crossland put it in an excellent 2004 piece:

We help our enemies by default, by allowing lesser images to be presented as substitutes. Everyone knows the name Jessica Lynch. She wore her country’s uniform, went willingly to her duty in Iraq, and suffered grievous injuries, but does she qualify to be known first among those who served in this war? We have brushed aside battlefield resolution and action—which should be foremost—and allowed the image of victimization and suffering to take its place.

With this in mind, it’s worth paying tribute to Prince Harry and his service with the coalition forces in Afghanistan. The young man (who hardly fits the anti-war crowd’s cartoon of an uneducated and destitute victim with his back to the wall) volunteered to place his gut in the dirt and take up arms against the scourge of the planet. The Daily Mail reports that Harry killed 30 Taliban. Can we take a moment to applaud this? Can we applaud a selfless act of heroic determination in this country? And could we please do it more often for the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces? Strangely, we’re at a point where warriors aren’t to be celebrated for protecting civilians. Captain Crossland has some insight on this:

Heroism, by definition, implies a superior quality for a moment in time. A hero, therefore, is a superior individual by virtue of superior conduct, and the politically correct will not countenance that. No one is superior to anyone else, nothing is better than anything else, no cause is greater than any other. The United States is not exceptional, nor are U.S. causes. Victims, on the other hand, are perfectly politically correct.

Harry is incalculably better than the thugs he disposed of in Afghanistan. The very least we can do is to acknowledge this. The preservation of our of our own moral and cultural frameworks depends on the decisive and unapologetic action of people such as him. Thanks, Harry!

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The Ambivalent Candidate

The amazing implosion of Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign will be analyzed and argued about for years to come. My own take, hardly original and admittedly based on nothing more than informed speculation, is that he simply was ambivalent about the whole enterprise to begin with.

Anyone who witnessed Rudy’s unforgettable eight-year turn as mayor of New York knows that when Rudy really wants something, he’s tenacious and single-minded about getting it. He’ll fight anyone and anything standing in his way, conventional wisdom and political nicety be damned.

And that’s exactly the Rudy we didn’t see in this campaign, from his surprisingly languid acknowledgment to Larry King in Feb. 2007 that yes, he was in the race, to his strangely subdued performance in what turned out to have been his last presidential debate in Florida last week.

It’s been suggested, by some who harbored a certain level of skepticism about the depth of Rudy’s commitment to a presidential run, that perhaps Rudy thought a tentative campaign, particularly in a year that looked, at least early on, like a washout for the GOP, would raise his profile to an even higher degree and be beneficial for business – i.e., for Giuliani Partners and his already astronomical speaking fees.

Perhaps there’s some truth to that, but lacking access to the inner workings of his psyche, I can only go back to my earlier suggestion about ambivalence. Part of him liked the idea of being president, of attempting to replicate his success in New York on a national level, but another part of him wasn’t so sure. If the presidency were handed to him, yes — but the gritty day-to-day work of campaigning for office had never been his strong suit.

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The amazing implosion of Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign will be analyzed and argued about for years to come. My own take, hardly original and admittedly based on nothing more than informed speculation, is that he simply was ambivalent about the whole enterprise to begin with.

Anyone who witnessed Rudy’s unforgettable eight-year turn as mayor of New York knows that when Rudy really wants something, he’s tenacious and single-minded about getting it. He’ll fight anyone and anything standing in his way, conventional wisdom and political nicety be damned.

And that’s exactly the Rudy we didn’t see in this campaign, from his surprisingly languid acknowledgment to Larry King in Feb. 2007 that yes, he was in the race, to his strangely subdued performance in what turned out to have been his last presidential debate in Florida last week.

It’s been suggested, by some who harbored a certain level of skepticism about the depth of Rudy’s commitment to a presidential run, that perhaps Rudy thought a tentative campaign, particularly in a year that looked, at least early on, like a washout for the GOP, would raise his profile to an even higher degree and be beneficial for business – i.e., for Giuliani Partners and his already astronomical speaking fees.

Perhaps there’s some truth to that, but lacking access to the inner workings of his psyche, I can only go back to my earlier suggestion about ambivalence. Part of him liked the idea of being president, of attempting to replicate his success in New York on a national level, but another part of him wasn’t so sure. If the presidency were handed to him, yes — but the gritty day-to-day work of campaigning for office had never been his strong suit.

That much was obvious from his first, mistake-prone and unsuccessful run for mayor in 1989 as well as his victorious second effort in 1993. Andrew Kirtzman, in his highly readable and balanced book Rudy Giuliani: Emperor of the City, described candidate Giuliani on the campaign trail in 1993:

Other politicians could lose themselves in the moment when working a crowd, but Giuliani never lost the look in his eye that said all this was a just a means to an end. . . . When he spoke before a crowd he didn’t romance them or flatter them or try to seduce them. Rather, he argued his case; a lawyer making his final summation. He was all prose and no poetry.

In 1997, Rudy could have shut himself up inside Gracie Mansion and still won reelection, such was his record of accomplishment in his first term of office and the mediocre opposition he faced in Manhattan borough president Ruth Messinger. So 1997 offered no real test of his campaigning skills.

But, certainly in retrospect, his short-lived run for U.S. Senate in 2000 was in many ways a precursor to his near-somnolent presidential bid seven years later. Kirtzman titles the chapter in his book about that campaign “The Reluctant Candidate” and describes the tenor of the campaign in the late winter and early spring of 2000 – before Rudy’s health and marital issues took him out of the running:

. . .Giuliani had barely deigned to mount a campaign. While [Hillary] Clinton was well on her way to visiting all sixty-two of New York State’s counties, he’d hardly traveled outside the city. While she was honing her message, he’d barely issued a position paper. Inside his camp, meetings weren’t being held, polls weren’t being taken. . . .

The mayor acted as though he were entitled to the Senate seat, and he didn’t seem to want it all that much. [Emphasis added]

In The Prince of the City, his fine study of the Giuliani mayoralty, unabashed Rudy admirer Fred Siegel wrote of the widespread surprise at “Giuliani’s lukewarm approach to a Senate race that had much of the country abuzz.”

Giuliani, wrote Siegel, “seemed to want the job but only if it meant he didn’t have to miss too many Yankee games or campaign too often in the frigid areas of upstate.”

Sound familiar?

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Richard Darman, R.I.P.

Richard Darman, who died today at the age of 64, will be remembered by many Reagan Republicans as the man who persuaded George H.W. Bush to abandon his no new taxes pledge in 1990, thereby possibly dooming his reelection bid in 1992. But the truth is more complicated. Darman willingly played the White House bogeyman that Jack Kemp and Newt Gingrich could assault, providing some cover for the president. Yet Bush 41 didn’t really need to be torn away from his tax pledge. He never had any ideological affilation with the anti-tax movement. He placed a far higher value on getting along with Congress. Darman simply provided a pseudo-sophisticated reason for doing it.

Darman thought he was a deep thinker about government and policy. Actually, he was a very smart but conventional thinker who reflected the temper of this times. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, everyone in official Washington thought that the budget deficit was the greatest domestic problem facing the country. In such an environment, Darman became Machiavelli, whispering in the Prince’s ear. Darman saw all government through the lens of the annual budget process. He was interested in ideas only to the extent that they fit or did not fit within his budget scenarios.

There was some benefit to this view. Although his critics never admit it, the budget deal that Bush brokered with George Mitchell created a new way of categorizing spending in tight silos. Before this, Democratic flamethrowers would give speeches about cutting the defense budget in order to fund homelessness. Darman put a stop to all that, forcing questions about defense spending to remain within the confines of the defense budget. If less money were spent at the Pentagon, you could couldn’t shift the savings over to HHS.

This change may have been a more significant contribution to Washington politics if the entire budget debate hadn’t become obsolete so quickly. Within four years of Darman’s departure from the White House, the federal budget was balanced, largely due to huge inflows to the Treasury from the burgeoning 1990s economy. All the budget negotiations, the posturing, the background quotes to reporters, that were Darman’s life blood became arcane history. Even the arguments made by supply siders that the 1990 tax increase would be ruinous to economic growth were washed away by the gush of Silicon Valley stock options.

That said, Darman was a breathtaking political animal. I worked in the first Bush White House, and it was remarkable how much of the entire government he controlled. No policy discussion in any department or agency could have any legitimacy until Darman or his staff approved it. “How are you going to pay for it” dominated every policy discussion. At White House staff meetings, a single dismissive comment by Darman would doom any upbeat discussion.

Despite the claim that he cut his own hair — terribly — Darman was at the top rung of the Washington social circle. Many will remember that, in the late 1980s, Sondra Gottlieb, the popular wife of the Canadian Ambassador and something of the doyenne on Embassy Row, caused a stir when she slapped an employee in public before a black tie event. Why the slap? Because her aide had just told her: “Richard Darman can’t come this evening.”

Richard Darman, who died today at the age of 64, will be remembered by many Reagan Republicans as the man who persuaded George H.W. Bush to abandon his no new taxes pledge in 1990, thereby possibly dooming his reelection bid in 1992. But the truth is more complicated. Darman willingly played the White House bogeyman that Jack Kemp and Newt Gingrich could assault, providing some cover for the president. Yet Bush 41 didn’t really need to be torn away from his tax pledge. He never had any ideological affilation with the anti-tax movement. He placed a far higher value on getting along with Congress. Darman simply provided a pseudo-sophisticated reason for doing it.

Darman thought he was a deep thinker about government and policy. Actually, he was a very smart but conventional thinker who reflected the temper of this times. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, everyone in official Washington thought that the budget deficit was the greatest domestic problem facing the country. In such an environment, Darman became Machiavelli, whispering in the Prince’s ear. Darman saw all government through the lens of the annual budget process. He was interested in ideas only to the extent that they fit or did not fit within his budget scenarios.

There was some benefit to this view. Although his critics never admit it, the budget deal that Bush brokered with George Mitchell created a new way of categorizing spending in tight silos. Before this, Democratic flamethrowers would give speeches about cutting the defense budget in order to fund homelessness. Darman put a stop to all that, forcing questions about defense spending to remain within the confines of the defense budget. If less money were spent at the Pentagon, you could couldn’t shift the savings over to HHS.

This change may have been a more significant contribution to Washington politics if the entire budget debate hadn’t become obsolete so quickly. Within four years of Darman’s departure from the White House, the federal budget was balanced, largely due to huge inflows to the Treasury from the burgeoning 1990s economy. All the budget negotiations, the posturing, the background quotes to reporters, that were Darman’s life blood became arcane history. Even the arguments made by supply siders that the 1990 tax increase would be ruinous to economic growth were washed away by the gush of Silicon Valley stock options.

That said, Darman was a breathtaking political animal. I worked in the first Bush White House, and it was remarkable how much of the entire government he controlled. No policy discussion in any department or agency could have any legitimacy until Darman or his staff approved it. “How are you going to pay for it” dominated every policy discussion. At White House staff meetings, a single dismissive comment by Darman would doom any upbeat discussion.

Despite the claim that he cut his own hair — terribly — Darman was at the top rung of the Washington social circle. Many will remember that, in the late 1980s, Sondra Gottlieb, the popular wife of the Canadian Ambassador and something of the doyenne on Embassy Row, caused a stir when she slapped an employee in public before a black tie event. Why the slap? Because her aide had just told her: “Richard Darman can’t come this evening.”

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A Jewish “Prince of Darkness”

Prince of Darkness is the title of a new book about Richard Perle by a journalist named Alan Weisman. It has a chapter entitled “Perle and the Jews,” which begins with a discussion of how two scholars, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, have raised a topic, the influence of American Jews on American politics, that has “long been out of bounds in American political discussion.” For their pains, writes Weisman, the two academics have been branded as “anti-Semites” and their work labeled as “a modern equivalent of Mein Kampf.”

Despite being tarred in this way by their critics, the debate Walt and Mearsheimer have opened up helps to explain the fact that while “Jews make up only 2 percent of the American electorate, . . . Israel takes in by far more U.S. aid than any other country in the world.” Given that the Israel lobby focuses so heavily on the Middle East, its conduct inevitably raises “questions about true allegiances and loyalties, . . . [and] suspicions of darker activity such as espionage.”

All this is relevant for a discussion of Perle, writes Weisman, “because he is a Jew, albeit nominally, and because he is clearly a man of influence.” Indeed, Perle’s background has made him a symbol to many “of unchecked and unwarranted Jewish meddling in U.S. foreign policy.”

Among other things, Perle signed his name to a report about Israeli strategy, A Clean Break: A New Strategy for the Realm, which “was a blueprint for Israeli dominance in the [Middle East], a paean to Zionist aspirations, and biblical claims of divinely ordained destiny.” The appearance of this document in 1996 was “a Jew-hater’s delight, a gift that kept on giving, and lit up like a menorah on the radar screen of the millions who believe Israelis and American Jews run the world, economically, politically, and militarily.”

Connecting the Dots has some questions about Weisman’s take on these issues:

1. Who has compared Walt and Mearsheimer’s work to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, as Weisman asserts?

A search of Nexis and Google draws a blank.

2. Is Richard Perle really “a symbol of unchecked and unwarranted Jewish meddling in U.S. foreign policy”?

Undoubtedly there are some people who believe this about Perle. Weisman does not say whether he is among them. But he puts forward “evidence” that it is true. Perle’s signature on the 1996 report is his smoking gun.

3. Does anything in this report support Weisman’s characterization of it as “a blueprint for Israeli dominance in the region, a paean to Zionist aspirations, and biblical claims of divinely ordained destiny”?

4. Is there anything in this report that makes it “a Jew-hater’s delight, a gift that kept on giving . . . [one that] lit up like a menorah on the radar screen of the millions who believe Israelis and American Jews run the world, economically, politically, and militarily”?

Connecting the Dots has provided links to the report; readers can draw their own conclusions.

5. Is Richard Perle truly a Jewish “prince of darkness” and a “hidden hand guiding D.C. power players”? Or is Alan Weisman, the author of all these characterizations, trading in time-honored anti-Semitic tropes?

6. Weisman’s book was reviewed by James Traub in the New York Times. Traub’s judgment of the book and its author is: “Weisman, no ideologue himself, gives Perle his due.” What does it say about Traub and the Sunday Times Book Review that Weisman’s take on Perle as a Jewish “Prince of Darkness” goes completely undiscussed?

Prince of Darkness is the title of a new book about Richard Perle by a journalist named Alan Weisman. It has a chapter entitled “Perle and the Jews,” which begins with a discussion of how two scholars, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, have raised a topic, the influence of American Jews on American politics, that has “long been out of bounds in American political discussion.” For their pains, writes Weisman, the two academics have been branded as “anti-Semites” and their work labeled as “a modern equivalent of Mein Kampf.”

Despite being tarred in this way by their critics, the debate Walt and Mearsheimer have opened up helps to explain the fact that while “Jews make up only 2 percent of the American electorate, . . . Israel takes in by far more U.S. aid than any other country in the world.” Given that the Israel lobby focuses so heavily on the Middle East, its conduct inevitably raises “questions about true allegiances and loyalties, . . . [and] suspicions of darker activity such as espionage.”

All this is relevant for a discussion of Perle, writes Weisman, “because he is a Jew, albeit nominally, and because he is clearly a man of influence.” Indeed, Perle’s background has made him a symbol to many “of unchecked and unwarranted Jewish meddling in U.S. foreign policy.”

Among other things, Perle signed his name to a report about Israeli strategy, A Clean Break: A New Strategy for the Realm, which “was a blueprint for Israeli dominance in the [Middle East], a paean to Zionist aspirations, and biblical claims of divinely ordained destiny.” The appearance of this document in 1996 was “a Jew-hater’s delight, a gift that kept on giving, and lit up like a menorah on the radar screen of the millions who believe Israelis and American Jews run the world, economically, politically, and militarily.”

Connecting the Dots has some questions about Weisman’s take on these issues:

1. Who has compared Walt and Mearsheimer’s work to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, as Weisman asserts?

A search of Nexis and Google draws a blank.

2. Is Richard Perle really “a symbol of unchecked and unwarranted Jewish meddling in U.S. foreign policy”?

Undoubtedly there are some people who believe this about Perle. Weisman does not say whether he is among them. But he puts forward “evidence” that it is true. Perle’s signature on the 1996 report is his smoking gun.

3. Does anything in this report support Weisman’s characterization of it as “a blueprint for Israeli dominance in the region, a paean to Zionist aspirations, and biblical claims of divinely ordained destiny”?

4. Is there anything in this report that makes it “a Jew-hater’s delight, a gift that kept on giving . . . [one that] lit up like a menorah on the radar screen of the millions who believe Israelis and American Jews run the world, economically, politically, and militarily”?

Connecting the Dots has provided links to the report; readers can draw their own conclusions.

5. Is Richard Perle truly a Jewish “prince of darkness” and a “hidden hand guiding D.C. power players”? Or is Alan Weisman, the author of all these characterizations, trading in time-honored anti-Semitic tropes?

6. Weisman’s book was reviewed by James Traub in the New York Times. Traub’s judgment of the book and its author is: “Weisman, no ideologue himself, gives Perle his due.” What does it say about Traub and the Sunday Times Book Review that Weisman’s take on Perle as a Jewish “Prince of Darkness” goes completely undiscussed?

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ANNAPOLIS: Oh, How Wonderful to Have the Saudis There

One of the reasons the commentariat is growing giggly with excitement about the Annapolis peace conference taking place over the next three days is the presence of Arab nations who are sworn enemies of Israel, Saudi Arabia in particular. It will be represented by Prince Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister, who has given a somewhat revelatory interview to Time Magazine. He says he will refuse to shake Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s hand, even though he is a seeker after peace. He never says there will be peace with Israel, only “normalization,” and that this will only occur after Israel does every single thing he wants it to — and will not say there will be an exchange of ambassadors if that happens. He says that, despite the oft-stated line that a deal between Israel and the Palestinians is necessary to help create the conditions for a bulwark against Iran, “Peace with Israel has its own conditions and elements that are not connected with Iran.” And he asserts, despite the fact that Palestinians now maintain control over Gaza and most of the West Bank, that “Israelis are acquiring more land.” Truly, a partner for peace.

One of the reasons the commentariat is growing giggly with excitement about the Annapolis peace conference taking place over the next three days is the presence of Arab nations who are sworn enemies of Israel, Saudi Arabia in particular. It will be represented by Prince Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister, who has given a somewhat revelatory interview to Time Magazine. He says he will refuse to shake Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s hand, even though he is a seeker after peace. He never says there will be peace with Israel, only “normalization,” and that this will only occur after Israel does every single thing he wants it to — and will not say there will be an exchange of ambassadors if that happens. He says that, despite the oft-stated line that a deal between Israel and the Palestinians is necessary to help create the conditions for a bulwark against Iran, “Peace with Israel has its own conditions and elements that are not connected with Iran.” And he asserts, despite the fact that Palestinians now maintain control over Gaza and most of the West Bank, that “Israelis are acquiring more land.” Truly, a partner for peace.

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ANNAPOLIS: There Has to Be Something to It, Right?

Over the past few weeks, consensus has continually held that little should be expected from the Annapolis conference, which opens tomorrow. Op-ed after op-ed and poll after poll have dictated that Israeli and Palestinian leaders are too weak, if not too far apart in their positions, for any meaningful progress towards peace to take place.

Yet it’s hard to reconcile the notion that Annapolis is little more than an impressive photo op with the serious diplomatic capital that Arab states have invested in it. Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia announced that it would send Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, marking the first time that the Saudis are participating in talks with Israelis present. Representatives of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen will also participate. Indeed, the Annapolis conference has achieved such profound legitimacy that Syria—believing that it risked regional isolation by not attending—announced that it would send its deputy foreign minister.

How can we explain this broad participation in a conference doomed to failure? Below, I weigh the compelling and insufficient aspects of three possibilities that have been tossed around in recent weeks:

1. It’s all about Iran. As David Brooks argued a few weeks ago, the Israeli-Palestinian focus of this conference is a proxy for creating a regional consensus for confronting Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Compelling because of the broad (Sunni) Arab participation in the conference. King Abdullah of Jordan has warned of a “Shiite Crescent” of regional Iranian influence, running through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon (Hizballah), and the Palestinian Authority (Hamas); Sunni unity—sponsored by a U.S.-led peace effort—provides a possible diplomatic antidote. Meanwhile, Israel has embraced strong Arab participation, even though this will increase pressure for concessions. This implies that Israel’s priorities lie with countering Iran, perhaps at the expense of other cards it holds.

Insufficient because a conference that cannot actually deliver Israeli-Palestinian peace cannot create regional consensus around Israeli-Palestinian peace, which is necessary to foster and support any long-term regional strategy against Iran. Moreover, is Syria so desperate for the return of the Golan Heights that it would spurn its historic ties with Iran—particularly at the moment that Iran is most regionally ascendant?

2. It’s aimed at achieving broad consensus on Israeli-Palestinian peace to legitimize final status negotiations. The International Crisis Group, one of the few think tanks to take a mildly optimistic view of Annapolis, has argued that Annapolis should be a platform for deliberation on final status issues, with Arab engagement exchanged for Israeli concessions.

Compelling because the Bush administration emphasized the discussion of final status issues in its successful effort to lure Arab states to Annapolis. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have called for a final settlement before the expiration of Bush’s term. Furthermore, broad Arab consensus for such a settlement might undermine Hamas’s rejection of peace efforts.

Insufficient because Arab political unity has had little bearing on Arab public opinion in recent years: contrast Arab governments’ condemnation of Hizballah during the 2006 Lebanon war with the popularization that followed throughout the region of Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Moreover, public opinion has hardly constrained Hamas, which seized control in Gaza this past June with little Palestinian public support. If Hamas responds to (the highly unlikely) Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank with another takeover, as Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas recently announced, Arab unity will prove impotent once again.

3. The Bush administration is using the Annapolis conference to shore up its legacy. Numerous American dailies attribute the Bush administration’s pursuit of the Annapolis conference to the “legacy” issue, while Dov Weissglas, former senior adviser to Ariel Sharon, believes that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is “led by the desire to get a Nobel Prize.”

Compelling because the Bush administration arguably has dedicated more attention to the Middle East than any previous presidency, with few concrete successes. Democratization efforts have stalled or failed in Egypt, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority; Iraq is improving but remains unstable; Iran is ascendant; and American popularity in the Middle East is at an all time low. Israeli-Palestinian peace might provide one last chance at securing a favorable legacy in foreign affairs.

Insufficient because psychoanalysis is no substitute for policy analysis.

Over the past few weeks, consensus has continually held that little should be expected from the Annapolis conference, which opens tomorrow. Op-ed after op-ed and poll after poll have dictated that Israeli and Palestinian leaders are too weak, if not too far apart in their positions, for any meaningful progress towards peace to take place.

Yet it’s hard to reconcile the notion that Annapolis is little more than an impressive photo op with the serious diplomatic capital that Arab states have invested in it. Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia announced that it would send Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, marking the first time that the Saudis are participating in talks with Israelis present. Representatives of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen will also participate. Indeed, the Annapolis conference has achieved such profound legitimacy that Syria—believing that it risked regional isolation by not attending—announced that it would send its deputy foreign minister.

How can we explain this broad participation in a conference doomed to failure? Below, I weigh the compelling and insufficient aspects of three possibilities that have been tossed around in recent weeks:

1. It’s all about Iran. As David Brooks argued a few weeks ago, the Israeli-Palestinian focus of this conference is a proxy for creating a regional consensus for confronting Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Compelling because of the broad (Sunni) Arab participation in the conference. King Abdullah of Jordan has warned of a “Shiite Crescent” of regional Iranian influence, running through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon (Hizballah), and the Palestinian Authority (Hamas); Sunni unity—sponsored by a U.S.-led peace effort—provides a possible diplomatic antidote. Meanwhile, Israel has embraced strong Arab participation, even though this will increase pressure for concessions. This implies that Israel’s priorities lie with countering Iran, perhaps at the expense of other cards it holds.

Insufficient because a conference that cannot actually deliver Israeli-Palestinian peace cannot create regional consensus around Israeli-Palestinian peace, which is necessary to foster and support any long-term regional strategy against Iran. Moreover, is Syria so desperate for the return of the Golan Heights that it would spurn its historic ties with Iran—particularly at the moment that Iran is most regionally ascendant?

2. It’s aimed at achieving broad consensus on Israeli-Palestinian peace to legitimize final status negotiations. The International Crisis Group, one of the few think tanks to take a mildly optimistic view of Annapolis, has argued that Annapolis should be a platform for deliberation on final status issues, with Arab engagement exchanged for Israeli concessions.

Compelling because the Bush administration emphasized the discussion of final status issues in its successful effort to lure Arab states to Annapolis. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have called for a final settlement before the expiration of Bush’s term. Furthermore, broad Arab consensus for such a settlement might undermine Hamas’s rejection of peace efforts.

Insufficient because Arab political unity has had little bearing on Arab public opinion in recent years: contrast Arab governments’ condemnation of Hizballah during the 2006 Lebanon war with the popularization that followed throughout the region of Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Moreover, public opinion has hardly constrained Hamas, which seized control in Gaza this past June with little Palestinian public support. If Hamas responds to (the highly unlikely) Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank with another takeover, as Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas recently announced, Arab unity will prove impotent once again.

3. The Bush administration is using the Annapolis conference to shore up its legacy. Numerous American dailies attribute the Bush administration’s pursuit of the Annapolis conference to the “legacy” issue, while Dov Weissglas, former senior adviser to Ariel Sharon, believes that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is “led by the desire to get a Nobel Prize.”

Compelling because the Bush administration arguably has dedicated more attention to the Middle East than any previous presidency, with few concrete successes. Democratization efforts have stalled or failed in Egypt, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority; Iraq is improving but remains unstable; Iran is ascendant; and American popularity in the Middle East is at an all time low. Israeli-Palestinian peace might provide one last chance at securing a favorable legacy in foreign affairs.

Insufficient because psychoanalysis is no substitute for policy analysis.

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Five Minutes with Fred Siegel

Fred Siegel, a regular contributor to contentions and the author of Prince of the City: Giuliani, New York, and the Genius of American Life (2005), sat with us last week to discuss the Republican debates, good books, and the fortunes of the New York Yankees. You can see the interview below.

 

 

Fred Siegel, a regular contributor to contentions and the author of Prince of the City: Giuliani, New York, and the Genius of American Life (2005), sat with us last week to discuss the Republican debates, good books, and the fortunes of the New York Yankees. You can see the interview below.

 

 

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Men in Black

The assault on Blackwater in particular and on the private military industry in general continues unabated, largely because leftists are eager to “prove” that the Bush administration, in cahoots with out-of-control mercenaries, is raping Iraq. For examples, see these typically simplistic columns by Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman, which essentially parrot the one-sided brief against Blackwater prepared by Rep. Henry Waxman’s Democratic staffers.

The fact that Blackwater’s founder, Erik Prince, happens to be a conservative who has donated to Republican candidates and is part of a wealthy Republican family in Michigan makes his company a particularly attractive target. In reality, as viewers of Tuesday’s hearings before Waxman’s committee could see, Prince does not easily conform to the image of a greedy and corrupt capitalist. With his blond crewcut and ramrod posture, he is about as all-American as you can get, and, though he came from a background of privilege, he volunteered to serve as a Navy SEAL officer—one of the most dangerous and demanding assignments in the entire armed forces.

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The assault on Blackwater in particular and on the private military industry in general continues unabated, largely because leftists are eager to “prove” that the Bush administration, in cahoots with out-of-control mercenaries, is raping Iraq. For examples, see these typically simplistic columns by Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman, which essentially parrot the one-sided brief against Blackwater prepared by Rep. Henry Waxman’s Democratic staffers.

The fact that Blackwater’s founder, Erik Prince, happens to be a conservative who has donated to Republican candidates and is part of a wealthy Republican family in Michigan makes his company a particularly attractive target. In reality, as viewers of Tuesday’s hearings before Waxman’s committee could see, Prince does not easily conform to the image of a greedy and corrupt capitalist. With his blond crewcut and ramrod posture, he is about as all-American as you can get, and, though he came from a background of privilege, he volunteered to serve as a Navy SEAL officer—one of the most dangerous and demanding assignments in the entire armed forces.

Nor do most of Prince’s employees conform to the stereotype of drunken gunslingers shooting up a town for fun. Most are straight arrows like him with extensive experience in military Special Operations or big-city police SWAT teams. That is not to say that some of them don’t make mistakes or misbehave. But so do some soldiers. The attempts to demonize an entire industry based on the misbehavior of a few are akin to attempts by some to demonize the entire American armed forces based on what happened at Abu Ghraib.

In the Los Angeles Times this morning, I try to put the promise and problems of the private military industry into perspective. One of the points I make is that if we can impose more accountability and oversight on security contractors, we can make more extensive use of them in certain situations where we are not willing to commit our armed forces.

One example I mention is Darfur. Another example is provided in the newest issue (not yet online) of the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s journal Orbis, which contains an essay called “Blackwaters for the Blue Waters: The Promise of Private Naval Companies.” The author, Claude Berube, a professor at the Naval Academy, suggests reviving the ancient practice (explicitly recognized in the Constitution) of issuing “letters of marquee” to “privateers,” who would supplement the efforts of our navy in combating drug smugglers, terrorists, and pirates on the high seas. This seems to me a compelling idea. Our navy now has fewer than 300 ships and every single additional ship will cost billions of dollars. Employing private companies at sea could be a cost-effective alternative.

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Al Qaeda in . . . Mesopotamia?

In today’s New York Times we read this:

The recent drop in violence against noncombatants in Iraq occurred during a time when al Qaeda in Mesopotamia had promised to inflict more. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.

This is of course good news. And yet this paragraph highlights, as if we needed more evidence, the political bias of the editors of the Times (it is important to note that some of their reporters, like John Burns and Michael Gordon, are first-rate). Instead of referring to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) as, say, al Qaeda-Iraq—which is how our commanding general in Iraq, David Petraeus, describes it—the Times refers to the organization as al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. And this phrase is always followed up with this formulation: “Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.”

The indispensable James Taranto, who writes the daily online column “Best of the Web,” has made merciless fun of the Times for doing this (playing off the Times, he refers to AQI as “al Qaeda Which Has Nothing to Do With Iraq in Iraq Which Has Nothing to Do With al Qaeda”). At the risk of taking the editors of the Times too seriously, it’s worth considering what the Times is trying to achieve.

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In today’s New York Times we read this:

The recent drop in violence against noncombatants in Iraq occurred during a time when al Qaeda in Mesopotamia had promised to inflict more. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.

This is of course good news. And yet this paragraph highlights, as if we needed more evidence, the political bias of the editors of the Times (it is important to note that some of their reporters, like John Burns and Michael Gordon, are first-rate). Instead of referring to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) as, say, al Qaeda-Iraq—which is how our commanding general in Iraq, David Petraeus, describes it—the Times refers to the organization as al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. And this phrase is always followed up with this formulation: “Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.”

The indispensable James Taranto, who writes the daily online column “Best of the Web,” has made merciless fun of the Times for doing this (playing off the Times, he refers to AQI as “al Qaeda Which Has Nothing to Do With Iraq in Iraq Which Has Nothing to Do With al Qaeda”). At the risk of taking the editors of the Times too seriously, it’s worth considering what the Times is trying to achieve.

In a single sentence, the Times does three things. First, it refers to Iraq as Mesopotamia, thereby using a more obscure term in an effort to disconnect al Qaeda from Iraq. Second, it goes out of its way to say that “homegrown Sunni Arab extremists” constitute the group, thereby emphasizing the indigenous rather than foreign element of al Qaeda in Iraq. And third, it attempts to put a question mark around the foreign involvement of AQI by saying that “American intelligence” has concluded it’s being run by foreigners.

The problem is that while the Times wants to separate the Iraq war from al Qaeda, al Qaeda itself does not. Osama bin Laden has declared:

The most important and serious issue today for the whole world is this Third World War, which the Crusader-Zionist coalition began against the Islamic nation. It is raging in the land of the two rivers. The world’s millstone and pillar is in Baghdad, the capital of the caliphate.

As for the homegrown aspect of AQI: it’s true (as you would expect) that many members of AQI are Iraq Sunnis—and it’s also true that our military estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of suicide attacks in Iraq are carried out by foreign-born al Qaeda terrorists brought into Iraq for a single purpose: to blow themselves up in the cause of killing innocent Iraqis, which in turn will push Iraq closer to civil war.

As for the foreign composition of AQI: it’s not incidental. Al Qaeda in Iraq was in fact (not alleged to have been) founded by foreign terrorists linked to senior al Qaeda leadership. The Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi founded AQI—and his successor (Zarqawi was killed in June 2006) is Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who is Egyptian. Zarqawi, who ran a terrorist camp in Afghanistan before the September 11 attacks, had long-standing relations with senior al Qaeda leaders and had met with bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the ideological leader of al Qaeda. In 2004, Zarqawi and his jihadist organization formally joined al Qaeda and pledged allegiance to bin Laden, promising to “follow his orders in jihad.” And bin Laden publicly declared Zarqawi the “prince of al Qaeda in Iraq” and instructed terrorists in Iraq to “listen to him and obey him.”

Clearly the Times wants to disconnect the Iraq war from al Qaeda and the wider war against Islamic jihadists. The more they can pry the two apart, the more unpopular the Iraq war will be. And the Times, if it wants anything at all, wants America’s involvement in Iraq to end, regardless of the cost, including genocide, a victory and safe haven for jihadists, a victory for Iran, and a wider regional war. And as we have seen, they will go to ridiculous ends to play their part.

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Bookshelf

• Say what you will about Robert Novak—and some contributors to COMMENTARY have said plenty—he remains one of America’s most important newspaper columnists. In addition, Novak is also one of the the last of a dying breed of opinionmongers whose columns are reported rather than merely spun out of the parchment-thin air of their prejudices (which doesn’t mean he’s not prejudiced!). Thus, The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington, despite its monstrous length and penny-plain prose style, is significant by definition, just as a candid memoir by Walter Lippmann or Drew Pearson would have been similarly significant. Henceforth anyone who writes about journalism in postwar Washington will have to cite The Prince of Darkness as a primary source, just as anyone who reads it will learn from it—though certain of its revelations are, like those of most memoirists, unintended.

One of the things that has already struck many reviewers of The Prince of Darkness is the way in which its author has coddled his resentments throughout the course of a long, busy life. It seems to me noteworthy that a man as successful as Novak should still be capable of writing with such raw resentment of having been passed over as sports editor of his college newspaper, or that he should go out of his way repeatedly to make glowering mention of his unpopularity in Washington. Some anonymous wag once called John O’Hara “the master of the fancied slight.” I doubt that many of Novak’s slights are fancied, but they give much the same impression when consumed in bulk.

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• Say what you will about Robert Novak—and some contributors to COMMENTARY have said plenty—he remains one of America’s most important newspaper columnists. In addition, Novak is also one of the the last of a dying breed of opinionmongers whose columns are reported rather than merely spun out of the parchment-thin air of their prejudices (which doesn’t mean he’s not prejudiced!). Thus, The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington, despite its monstrous length and penny-plain prose style, is significant by definition, just as a candid memoir by Walter Lippmann or Drew Pearson would have been similarly significant. Henceforth anyone who writes about journalism in postwar Washington will have to cite The Prince of Darkness as a primary source, just as anyone who reads it will learn from it—though certain of its revelations are, like those of most memoirists, unintended.

One of the things that has already struck many reviewers of The Prince of Darkness is the way in which its author has coddled his resentments throughout the course of a long, busy life. It seems to me noteworthy that a man as successful as Novak should still be capable of writing with such raw resentment of having been passed over as sports editor of his college newspaper, or that he should go out of his way repeatedly to make glowering mention of his unpopularity in Washington. Some anonymous wag once called John O’Hara “the master of the fancied slight.” I doubt that many of Novak’s slights are fancied, but they give much the same impression when consumed in bulk.

Fortunately, there are more compelling autobiographical revelations to be gleaned from The Prince of Darkness. It is hugely interesting, for instance, to read of how a youthful reading of Whittaker Chambers’s Witness turned a moderate-to-liberal Republican into the hardest of anti-Communists, or how a secular Jew should have felt moved to embrace Roman Catholicism late in life. Most interesting of all, though, is the black cynicism with which Novak writes of the politicians among whom he has moved for virtually the whole of his adult life. A few escape his contempt—he was impressed, for instance, by the depth of Ronald Reagan’s reading in the history of economics—but for the most part he views them as shallow power-seekers who use everyone around them, and are themselves used in turn.

A handful of Washington journalists have written of the inhabitants of their milieu with comparable candor, most notably Meg Greenfield in Washington, her posthumous memoir: “These are people who don’t seem to live in the world so much as to inhabit some point on graph paper, whose coordinates are (sideways) the political spectrum and (up and down) the latest overnight poll figures.” But Novak’s honesty about the mutual manipulativeness of his relationships with the politicians he has covered exceeds anything I have hitherto seen in print. Among other things, he acknowledges that he’s more likely to trash you in print if you won’t talk to him off the record:

Am I suggesting a news source could buy off Novak with a hamburger in the White House? No government official or politician can secure immunity from a reporter by helping him out. Even my most important sources—such as Mel Laird and Wilbur Mills—were not immune from an occasional dig. Still, Bob Haldeman was treated more harshly because he refused any connection with me. He made himself more of a target than he had to be by refusing to be a source.

Even more revealing is Novak’s description of his relationship with Karl Rove:

What you did not find in my columns was criticism of Karl Rove. I don’t believe I would have found much to criticize him about even if he had not been a source, but reporters—much less columnists—do not attack their sources. . . . In four decades of talking to presidential aides, I never had enjoyed such a good source inside the White House. Rove obviously thought I was useful for his purposes, too. Such symbiotic relationships, built on self-interest, are the rule in high-level Washington journalism.

Perhaps I’m not enough of a cynic to appreciate fully Novak’s point of view—I’ve spent little time in Washington and less, thank God, in the company of politicians—but even so, I find that last sentence chillingly bleak. Imagine spending a half-century working in a town where the naked pursuit of self-interest governs all your personal relationships! Seen in that lurid light, the title of The Prince of Darkness, though it is Novak’s well-known nickname, ended up putting me in mind of The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis’s fictional portrayal of the ceaseless backstabbing engaged in by Satan’s staff of tempters. Small wonder that Novak finally got religion. No doubt a day came when he looked around him and found himself echoing the terrible words of Christopher Marlowe’s Mephistophilis: “Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it.”

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“Blowback” in Lebanon?

The State Department has designated Fatah al-Islam, a self-declared al-Qaeda affiliate of Sunni Muslim extremists based in northern Lebanon, a “terrorist” group.

Back in March, the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, writing in the New Yorker, explained that this outfit, consisting of a relatively small number of fighters but heavily armed, was actually a creature of the United States. In line with a reorientation of U.S. policy to bolster Sunni Muslims in the growing contest with the Shiites of Hizballah and its controlling hands in Iran, the U.S. had covertly joined with Saudi Arabia to support the terrorists of Fatah al-Islam.

Here was Hersh in May amplifying his point on CNN:

Key player are the Saudis, of course, and [Saudi Prince] Bandar. What I was writing about was a sort of a private agreement that was made between the White House, we’re talking about [Vice-President] Dick Cheney and Elliott Abrams, who is one of the key aides in the White House, with Bandar. And the idea was to get support, covert support—money, from the Saudis to support various hard-line jihadists, Sunni groups, particularly in Lebanon, who would be seen in case of an actual confrontation with Hezbollah.

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The State Department has designated Fatah al-Islam, a self-declared al-Qaeda affiliate of Sunni Muslim extremists based in northern Lebanon, a “terrorist” group.

Back in March, the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, writing in the New Yorker, explained that this outfit, consisting of a relatively small number of fighters but heavily armed, was actually a creature of the United States. In line with a reorientation of U.S. policy to bolster Sunni Muslims in the growing contest with the Shiites of Hizballah and its controlling hands in Iran, the U.S. had covertly joined with Saudi Arabia to support the terrorists of Fatah al-Islam.

Here was Hersh in May amplifying his point on CNN:

Key player are the Saudis, of course, and [Saudi Prince] Bandar. What I was writing about was a sort of a private agreement that was made between the White House, we’re talking about [Vice-President] Dick Cheney and Elliott Abrams, who is one of the key aides in the White House, with Bandar. And the idea was to get support, covert support—money, from the Saudis to support various hard-line jihadists, Sunni groups, particularly in Lebanon, who would be seen in case of an actual confrontation with Hezbollah.

If Hersh was right, and that was indeed the U.S. plan, it badly backfired. Fatah al-Islam, holed up in a Palestinian refugee camp near the city of Tripoli, was then and still is locked in combat with the Lebanese army. “Unintended consequences,” was Hersh’s explanation for the contradiction.

But Hersh is a serial confabulist. In the pages of the New Yorker, he is kept somewhat in accord with reality by the demands of fact-checkers. But off that magazine’s pages, and on the lecture circuit and TV, he feels free to say all sorts of things that do not exist in the here and now but only in the not-here and never.

Hersh thus explained, in the same CNN interview, how in this latest Lebanese case of “blowback” history is repeating itself:

If you remember, you know, we got into the war in Afghanistan with supporting Osama bin Laden, the Mujahadeen back there in the late 1980’s with Bandar, and with people like Elliott Abrams around, the idea being that the Saudis promise us they could control—they could control the jihadists.

Even when Hersh is making things up, he is nothing if not skilled at maintaining an aura of plausibility. Thus, his account of U.S. support for Osama bin Laden in the Afghan war will ring a bell of truth in many minds. But that is only because it is a myth that has been put in circulation for years thanks to people like Hersh himself. It too is false.

I do not trust everything that the former director of the CIA, George Tenet, says. As I have shown here, he is fully capable of prevaricating. But here is Tenet on this point in his memoir, At the Center of the Storm:

Internet-based conspiracy theorists keep alive the rumor that bin Laden had somehow worked for the CIA during the Afghan-Soviet war or had more informal contacts with American officials during that time. Let me state categorically that CIA had no contact with bin Laden during the Soviet’s Afghanistan misadventure.

Denials do not come any more unequivocal than that.

On the one hand, allegations can be generated at will. On the other hand, hard facts, accompanied by documents and proof, are far tougher to produce. Are we are dealing, in the case of Seymour Hersh, with an instance of asymmetrical information warfare?

Hersh’s charges raise another question seldom asked by his fellow national-security journalists in Washington: what are his sources? Or to put a follow-up question in a leading fashion, is Hersh a journalist or a propagandist or, as is becoming increasingly common in the American media, a hybrid of the two?

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COMMENTARY Onscreen: Fred Siegel

Fred Siegel discusses his book Prince of the City, New York after 9/11, campaign politics, the war on terror, and much more.

Return to COMMENTARY.

Fred Siegel discusses his book Prince of the City, New York after 9/11, campaign politics, the war on terror, and much more.

Return to COMMENTARY.

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Are You Kidding Me?

Reading Pat Buchanan’s superb appreciation of Robert Novak and his new memoir, Prince of Darkness, one is reminded of what a great writer and historian of Republican politics Buchanan can be. What a pity that, fifteen years ago, he headed off to the fever swamps of the conservative movement as he pursued a series of failed presidential runs. Although today he remains a staple of talking-head TV, his presidential campaigns, loaded with xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and protectionist messages, make him impossible to take seriously.

But I’m also reminded of something I witnessed, involving Novak, in 1996. I was in Des Moines, on the eve of the 1996 Iowa caucuses. Although there were many semi-viable Republican candidates that year, in the final few days before caucus day, the contest had suddenly become a hot three-way race among Bob Dole, Pat Buchanan, and Lamar Alexander (I was Lamar’s policy director that year). I was at a high-spirited Alexander rally that night and found myself talking with Novak and Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes. As the three of us left the rally to go to dinner, Novak, apropos of nothing, suddenly declared: “Wouldn’t it be great if Pat won this whole thing.” Fred and I chuckled at this—until suddenly there was an awkward silence. The two of us had realized that Novak was dead serious.

Reading Pat Buchanan’s superb appreciation of Robert Novak and his new memoir, Prince of Darkness, one is reminded of what a great writer and historian of Republican politics Buchanan can be. What a pity that, fifteen years ago, he headed off to the fever swamps of the conservative movement as he pursued a series of failed presidential runs. Although today he remains a staple of talking-head TV, his presidential campaigns, loaded with xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and protectionist messages, make him impossible to take seriously.

But I’m also reminded of something I witnessed, involving Novak, in 1996. I was in Des Moines, on the eve of the 1996 Iowa caucuses. Although there were many semi-viable Republican candidates that year, in the final few days before caucus day, the contest had suddenly become a hot three-way race among Bob Dole, Pat Buchanan, and Lamar Alexander (I was Lamar’s policy director that year). I was at a high-spirited Alexander rally that night and found myself talking with Novak and Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes. As the three of us left the rally to go to dinner, Novak, apropos of nothing, suddenly declared: “Wouldn’t it be great if Pat won this whole thing.” Fred and I chuckled at this—until suddenly there was an awkward silence. The two of us had realized that Novak was dead serious.

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Sins of Commission

It was announced in May that Britain’s Prince Charles has commissioned a piano concerto in memory of his late grandmother, the Queen Mother, who died in 2002 at 101. Charles had previously commissioned (also in memory of his grandmother) Reflections on a Scottish Folksong, a work for cello and orchestra by Richard Rodney Bennett, which premiered in London last year. Bennett (born 1936), a student of Pierre Boulez, is an adept composer of classical works, as a bewitching CD of his choral works on Collegium Records proves. Bennett is also a noted composer of popular scores for hit films like Murder on the Orient Express and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Unfortunately, few composers share Bennett’s range of talents. Nigel Hess, the composer chosen by Prince Charles for the forthcoming concerto, is known mostly for his work in TV and films, as composer of the theme music for such BBC-TV series as Hetty Wainthropp Investigates and the score of the film Ladies in Lavender. Prince Charles, who briefly studied the cello in his youth, is a self-proclaimed fan of classical music and opera. But he expresses his appreciation with the kind of backward-looking stance he has notoriously applied to modern architecture. In 2000, Charles appointed a young Welsh harpist, Catrin Finch, to be official harpist to HRH The Prince of Wales—an honor last granted in 1871.

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It was announced in May that Britain’s Prince Charles has commissioned a piano concerto in memory of his late grandmother, the Queen Mother, who died in 2002 at 101. Charles had previously commissioned (also in memory of his grandmother) Reflections on a Scottish Folksong, a work for cello and orchestra by Richard Rodney Bennett, which premiered in London last year. Bennett (born 1936), a student of Pierre Boulez, is an adept composer of classical works, as a bewitching CD of his choral works on Collegium Records proves. Bennett is also a noted composer of popular scores for hit films like Murder on the Orient Express and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Unfortunately, few composers share Bennett’s range of talents. Nigel Hess, the composer chosen by Prince Charles for the forthcoming concerto, is known mostly for his work in TV and films, as composer of the theme music for such BBC-TV series as Hetty Wainthropp Investigates and the score of the film Ladies in Lavender. Prince Charles, who briefly studied the cello in his youth, is a self-proclaimed fan of classical music and opera. But he expresses his appreciation with the kind of backward-looking stance he has notoriously applied to modern architecture. In 2000, Charles appointed a young Welsh harpist, Catrin Finch, to be official harpist to HRH The Prince of Wales—an honor last granted in 1871.

Musical traditions dating back to 1871 may appeal to the prince, but those of only slightly later vintage apparently do not. The late UK arts administrator John Drummond revealed in his autobiography Tainted by Experience that, after a concert performance of Alban Berg’s String Quartet, written in 1910, Charles declared: “Well, you can’t call that music.” Dealing with living composers is necessarily a challenge to anyone who still finds 1910 too avant-garde.

If Charles ever does decide to devote any time to new music, he need not look far. Two of Europe’s most exciting younger composers, Thomas Adès (born 1971) and Mark-Anthony Turnage (born 1960) are flourishing in England today. Outside the UK, the venerable French maestro Henri Dutilleux (born 1916) is still thriving, while Germany’s Wilhelm Killmayer (born 1927), Russia’s Sofia Gubaidulina (born 1931), Hungary’s György Kurtág (born 1926), Switzerland’s Heinz Holliger (born 1939), Norway’s Arne Nordheim (born 1931), Estonia’s Arvo Pärt (born 1935), and America’s Frederic Rzewski (born 1938) have all produced recent work of permanent value. To overlook composers of this stature when it is time to commission new works may be called a sin of omission. In his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas states that such sins are generally less grave than sins of commission—but he was not referring to piano concertos.

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Cry for Harry, England, and Saint George

The British Army’s decision last week not to send Prince Harry to Iraq is unfortunate on at least three counts. It is a personal blow for the prince himself, who despite his off-duty antics is by all accounts a highly professional young officer eager to share the perils faced by his comrades. It will do nothing for British morale, already damaged by the humiliation of their naval hostages by Iran. Most importantly, the decision is a propaganda coup for the Islamist terrorists. Britain’s reluctance to commit the third-in-line to its throne to battle makes the West in general look weak. In doing so it places all coalition troops at greater risk.

Why, then, did General Sir Richard Dannatt, the chief of the British general staff, reverse his announcement only three weeks ago that the prince would be deployed? The answer is: Iran. British forces in Basra and the provinces bordering Iran lost twelve soldier in April—a higher casualty rate in proportion to their numbers (about 7,000) than those suffered by the much larger American forces. These heavier losses are attributed by the British to Iranian agents, who are supplying sophisticated weaponry and intelligence to the local insurgency. According to American Special Forces, they are doing the same for the Taliban in Afghanistan. Islamist websites have been threatening to target Prince Harry ever since his deployment was—most unwisely—made public in February. The kidnapping of three U.S. soldiers two weeks ago will have added to the credibility of these threats.

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The British Army’s decision last week not to send Prince Harry to Iraq is unfortunate on at least three counts. It is a personal blow for the prince himself, who despite his off-duty antics is by all accounts a highly professional young officer eager to share the perils faced by his comrades. It will do nothing for British morale, already damaged by the humiliation of their naval hostages by Iran. Most importantly, the decision is a propaganda coup for the Islamist terrorists. Britain’s reluctance to commit the third-in-line to its throne to battle makes the West in general look weak. In doing so it places all coalition troops at greater risk.

Why, then, did General Sir Richard Dannatt, the chief of the British general staff, reverse his announcement only three weeks ago that the prince would be deployed? The answer is: Iran. British forces in Basra and the provinces bordering Iran lost twelve soldier in April—a higher casualty rate in proportion to their numbers (about 7,000) than those suffered by the much larger American forces. These heavier losses are attributed by the British to Iranian agents, who are supplying sophisticated weaponry and intelligence to the local insurgency. According to American Special Forces, they are doing the same for the Taliban in Afghanistan. Islamist websites have been threatening to target Prince Harry ever since his deployment was—most unwisely—made public in February. The kidnapping of three U.S. soldiers two weeks ago will have added to the credibility of these threats.

In the light of new intelligence about ever-bolder Iranian activity in Iraq, General Dannatt found himself between a rock and a hard place. If he had stuck to his guns and sent Harry into action, not only the prince but those under his command would be vulnerable. Thanks to ubiquitous media coverage, which the British authorities had initially encouraged, the terrorists knew both where the prince could be found and even what type of vehicle he would use. Iran would almost certainly have put a price on his head to encourage assassins to try their luck. To kill such a high-profile “crusader” would be portrayed as a great victory by Islamists everywhere. To capture him would create the mother of all hostage crises. Militarily, Harry would be more trouble than he was worth. (Politically, too, his deployment had become a liability for the incoming administration of Gordon Brown.)

Discretion may often be the better part of valor, but this affair has been handled with indiscretion. Only a mind no longer confident of ultimate victory would have made such a hash of it. Just as the British navy mishandled the abduction of sailors and marines by the Iranians, so the British army has mishandled what ought to have been an operational decision.

And General Dannatt has a record of indiscretion. Last year he gave an interview in which he claimed that the British presence in Iraq was “exacerbating” instability. The general beat a hasty retreat, but not fast enough to dispel he impression that he was at odds with his government. Now he has again been forced to countermand his original decision. As the French military proverb has it: order, counter-order, disorder.

The vacillation over Prince Harry is all the more regrettable because British royalty has an admirable tradition of taking their places in the firing line. No British monarch has led his troops into battle since George II at Dettingen in 1743, but lesser members of the royal family have often seen combat, most recently in the Falklands war. As anyone who has seen The Queen will know, the young Princess Elizabeth served (at her own insistence) as a driver in the armed forces at the end of the Second World War. In those days, Shakespeare’s Henry V was still the model for soldiers going into battle: “Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George!” Iraq may not be Agincourt, but even modern armies need their officers to set them an example of courage. Prince Harry should not have been denied the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his forefathers.

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Bookshelf

• Biographies have an irritating way of getting written in pairs. In 2001, Steven Bach published Dazzler, the first biography of Moss Hart, who co-wrote You Can’t Take It With You and The Man Who Came to Dinner with George S. Kaufman and went on to direct My Fair Lady and write the screenplay for A Star Is Born. Bach’s book was gossipy to a fault, and he wrote it without benefit of the cooperation of Kitty Carlisle, Hart’s widow, no doubt because he was interested to the point of prurience in her husband’s sex life. As a result, he was unable to draw on Hart’s correspondence, diaries, and other published papers. Now Jared Brown has brought out Moss Hart: A Prince of the Theatre (Backstage Books, 452 pp., $27.95), a sober-sided authorized biography whose tone is accurately suggested by its subtitle. Brown tiptoes very carefully around the subject of Hart’s bisexuality, presumably so as not to give offense to Mrs. Hart, and his book, though more reliable on factual matters than Bach’s enthusiastic, slapdash clip job, is written without a trace of flair.

If you want to know all about Hart, you’ll have to read both biographies: Bach is livelier by a very wide margin, but Brown’s access to family-controlled primary source material makes his book indispensable. If, on the other hand, you merely wish to make the acquaintance of one of Broadway’s most successful commercial playwrights and directors, go straight to Act One, Hart’s anecdote-rich 1959 memoir, which is out of print but easy to find. Hart was a wonderful storyteller who had a wonderful story to tell, and though he wasn’t above fudging the facts, Act One remains one of the most engaging and instructive theatrical memoirs ever written, not least for Hart’s sweet-and-sour recollections of the horrific summer he spent working as the social director of a poverty-stricken Catskills resort.

• Kenneth Morgan’s Fritz Reiner: Maestro and Martinet (University of Illinois, 310 pp., $34.95) is the second biography of the musician-eating Hungarian conductor who moved his baton in arcs so tiny that a bass player in the Pittsburgh Symphony once set up a telescope at a rehearsal so that he could follow the beat. (This anecdote is so famous that I always assumed it to be apocryphal, but Morgan claims to have found a witness.) Like Jared Brown, Morgan is following in the footsteps of a previous biographer, Philip Hart, whose Fritz Reiner: A Biography (1994) was a good first try written by a man who had the advantage of knowing Reiner throughout his stormy tenure as the Chicago Symphony’s music director. Morgan’s book is more thorough, Hart’s more vivid, and once again you’ll have to read them both if you want to get a clear sense of what Reiner was like and why he continues to be regarded as one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century.

Incidentally, Reiner and the Chicago Symphony recorded exclusively for RCA throughout the 50′s and early 60′s, and most of their albums remain in print to this day. If you want a little background music while reading either or both of these books, I recommend their matchlessly brilliant performances of Bela Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome, and Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote, all recorded in still-gorgeous early stereo sound.

• Biographies have an irritating way of getting written in pairs. In 2001, Steven Bach published Dazzler, the first biography of Moss Hart, who co-wrote You Can’t Take It With You and The Man Who Came to Dinner with George S. Kaufman and went on to direct My Fair Lady and write the screenplay for A Star Is Born. Bach’s book was gossipy to a fault, and he wrote it without benefit of the cooperation of Kitty Carlisle, Hart’s widow, no doubt because he was interested to the point of prurience in her husband’s sex life. As a result, he was unable to draw on Hart’s correspondence, diaries, and other published papers. Now Jared Brown has brought out Moss Hart: A Prince of the Theatre (Backstage Books, 452 pp., $27.95), a sober-sided authorized biography whose tone is accurately suggested by its subtitle. Brown tiptoes very carefully around the subject of Hart’s bisexuality, presumably so as not to give offense to Mrs. Hart, and his book, though more reliable on factual matters than Bach’s enthusiastic, slapdash clip job, is written without a trace of flair.

If you want to know all about Hart, you’ll have to read both biographies: Bach is livelier by a very wide margin, but Brown’s access to family-controlled primary source material makes his book indispensable. If, on the other hand, you merely wish to make the acquaintance of one of Broadway’s most successful commercial playwrights and directors, go straight to Act One, Hart’s anecdote-rich 1959 memoir, which is out of print but easy to find. Hart was a wonderful storyteller who had a wonderful story to tell, and though he wasn’t above fudging the facts, Act One remains one of the most engaging and instructive theatrical memoirs ever written, not least for Hart’s sweet-and-sour recollections of the horrific summer he spent working as the social director of a poverty-stricken Catskills resort.

• Kenneth Morgan’s Fritz Reiner: Maestro and Martinet (University of Illinois, 310 pp., $34.95) is the second biography of the musician-eating Hungarian conductor who moved his baton in arcs so tiny that a bass player in the Pittsburgh Symphony once set up a telescope at a rehearsal so that he could follow the beat. (This anecdote is so famous that I always assumed it to be apocryphal, but Morgan claims to have found a witness.) Like Jared Brown, Morgan is following in the footsteps of a previous biographer, Philip Hart, whose Fritz Reiner: A Biography (1994) was a good first try written by a man who had the advantage of knowing Reiner throughout his stormy tenure as the Chicago Symphony’s music director. Morgan’s book is more thorough, Hart’s more vivid, and once again you’ll have to read them both if you want to get a clear sense of what Reiner was like and why he continues to be regarded as one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century.

Incidentally, Reiner and the Chicago Symphony recorded exclusively for RCA throughout the 50′s and early 60′s, and most of their albums remain in print to this day. If you want a little background music while reading either or both of these books, I recommend their matchlessly brilliant performances of Bela Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome, and Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote, all recorded in still-gorgeous early stereo sound.

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