Commentary Magazine


Topic: Romania

Religious Intolerance in the Middle East: Where Should We Focus?

In the Washington Post‘s On Faith blog, Menachem Rosensaft looks at Morocco’s expulsion of  Christian missionaries who were accused of proselytizing at a Moroccan orphanage earlier this year. As Rosensaft explains:

A group of Republican members of Congress have taken up the cause of the expelled Christian missionaries, which is, of course, their right. Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Anh Cao (R-La.) recently convened a [briefing] at which they urged Morocco to allow the deportees to return.

At the [briefing], some of the rhetoric turned ugly. Rep. Wolf called for the suspension of U.S. foreign aid to Morocco and compared the Moroccan government to the repressive Ceaucescu regime in Romania during the 1980’s. Rep. Pitts went further and likened the measures taken by the Moroccan authorities to “some of the tactics used by the Nazis.”

Rosensaft provides some much-needed perspective on the incident. Morocco, as he observes, is the least of our concerns when it comes to suppression of religious freedom in the Middle East:

The Kingdom of Morocco is a Muslim nation where Jews and Christian are able to practice their religions openly. Synagogues and churches stand alongside mosques, and the Moroccan government is a rare beacon of tolerance in an otherwise mostly religiously xenophobic Muslim world. Both King Muhammed VI and his late father, King Hassan, have publicly placed the Moroccan Jewish community under royal protection. As Rabbi Marc Schneier, vice president of the World Jewish Congress, reminds us, “during World War II, when Morocco was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco .” Moroccan law simultaneously guarantees freedom of religion and criminalizes proselytization. Morocco has also been a stalwart ally of the United States and the West.

Rosensaft notes that an anti-proselytizing law, common throughout the Middle East, is what is at issue and what was the basis for the missionaries’ expulsion. Rosensaft concludes:

Non-Muslims enjoy far greater freedom of religion in Morocco than in most other Muslim countries, and Americans who go there are fully aware that proselytizing is prohibited. There are no allegations that the Americans involved were tortured or physically mistreated. They were simply expelled from Morocco for refusing to abide by its laws.

Rosensaft is not alone in raising a cautionary flag. The World Jewish Congress last week wrote to the House Foreign Affairs Committee members and co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Reps. Wolf and James McGovern. The letter included this:

As Chairman of the World Jewish Congress United States, I have met with Moroccan leaders on several occasions to discuss our shared commitment in building ties of communication, reconciliation and cooperation between the Muslim and Jewish communities. I am aware first hand that the Kingdom of Morocco is determined to strengthen interfaith relations. As has historically been the case, Morocco’s leaders continue to promote dialogue based on tolerant speech, good intention and honored objectives.

Morocco in the Middle East is a paradigm of religious freedom and tolerance. The Jewish community of present-day Morocco dates back more than 2,000 years. During World War II, when France was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco. There are centuries old synagogues, old-age homes, and kosher restaurants throughout Morocco that are well kept by Muslims. And, there are close ties between Morocco and the State of Israel.

Raphael Benchimol, the rabbi of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation, also wrote to Wolf this month, urging him to consider Morocco’s record on religious tolerance. He included this account of a synagogue trip this February:

We visited the sites of Moroccan synagogues, places of historic and religious importance to the Moroccan Jewish community, and the final resting places of many of the righteous Moroccan rabbis and sages who have rested in Morocco, in harmony, for thousands of years. Never once during our stay did I see any lack of religious tolerance or freedom. Never once did I sense the “precarious” situation you describe vis-à-vis our religion. To the contrary, I always felt safe and secure to pray and visit any of the Jewish sites without any fear whatsoever. The Muslim citizens of each of the cities we visited were polite, courteous and respectful of our religious tour. Indeed, I observed how many of the locals have a deep reverence for our holy sites. …

To give you an idea of how important the Jewish “minority religion” is to the King and to the Moroccan government, this past May we hosted a special event at our synagogue where several representatives of the Moroccan government, including Ambassador Mekouar, were present. Serge Berdugo, a Jewish Ambassador of the King of Morocco, beautifully presented to our congregants “His Majesty’s gracious and holy plan to identify, refurbish and protect all the Jewish cemeteries and mausoleums in Morocco.” The Ambassador also proudly announced that “as Commander of the faithful, His Majesty safeguards the sacred values of His subjects, Jew and Muslims alike.” This positive message as well as the gracious offer of the King was received with deep gratitude and sheer excitement by the entire congregation.

There is a disturbing pattern of religious oppression and intolerance in Muslim countries — but not in Morocco. The unfortunate situation at the Christian orphanage (how many of those exist in Muslim countries?) should not obscure this. As a savvy analyst explains, “They should never have let evangelicals run orphanages; that was the mistake. When a kid has no home to return to, the religious influence of those acting in loco parentis is inevitable.” But that is a discrete issue, and resolvable by the Moroccan government. It would seem that the best use of the time and focus of Congress — which is at least making a good effort to pick up the slack from an administration utterly indifferent to the issue of religious freedom — would be to focus on the worst actors in the Muslim World, not the best.

In the Washington Post‘s On Faith blog, Menachem Rosensaft looks at Morocco’s expulsion of  Christian missionaries who were accused of proselytizing at a Moroccan orphanage earlier this year. As Rosensaft explains:

A group of Republican members of Congress have taken up the cause of the expelled Christian missionaries, which is, of course, their right. Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Anh Cao (R-La.) recently convened a [briefing] at which they urged Morocco to allow the deportees to return.

At the [briefing], some of the rhetoric turned ugly. Rep. Wolf called for the suspension of U.S. foreign aid to Morocco and compared the Moroccan government to the repressive Ceaucescu regime in Romania during the 1980’s. Rep. Pitts went further and likened the measures taken by the Moroccan authorities to “some of the tactics used by the Nazis.”

Rosensaft provides some much-needed perspective on the incident. Morocco, as he observes, is the least of our concerns when it comes to suppression of religious freedom in the Middle East:

The Kingdom of Morocco is a Muslim nation where Jews and Christian are able to practice their religions openly. Synagogues and churches stand alongside mosques, and the Moroccan government is a rare beacon of tolerance in an otherwise mostly religiously xenophobic Muslim world. Both King Muhammed VI and his late father, King Hassan, have publicly placed the Moroccan Jewish community under royal protection. As Rabbi Marc Schneier, vice president of the World Jewish Congress, reminds us, “during World War II, when Morocco was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco .” Moroccan law simultaneously guarantees freedom of religion and criminalizes proselytization. Morocco has also been a stalwart ally of the United States and the West.

Rosensaft notes that an anti-proselytizing law, common throughout the Middle East, is what is at issue and what was the basis for the missionaries’ expulsion. Rosensaft concludes:

Non-Muslims enjoy far greater freedom of religion in Morocco than in most other Muslim countries, and Americans who go there are fully aware that proselytizing is prohibited. There are no allegations that the Americans involved were tortured or physically mistreated. They were simply expelled from Morocco for refusing to abide by its laws.

Rosensaft is not alone in raising a cautionary flag. The World Jewish Congress last week wrote to the House Foreign Affairs Committee members and co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Reps. Wolf and James McGovern. The letter included this:

As Chairman of the World Jewish Congress United States, I have met with Moroccan leaders on several occasions to discuss our shared commitment in building ties of communication, reconciliation and cooperation between the Muslim and Jewish communities. I am aware first hand that the Kingdom of Morocco is determined to strengthen interfaith relations. As has historically been the case, Morocco’s leaders continue to promote dialogue based on tolerant speech, good intention and honored objectives.

Morocco in the Middle East is a paradigm of religious freedom and tolerance. The Jewish community of present-day Morocco dates back more than 2,000 years. During World War II, when France was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco. There are centuries old synagogues, old-age homes, and kosher restaurants throughout Morocco that are well kept by Muslims. And, there are close ties between Morocco and the State of Israel.

Raphael Benchimol, the rabbi of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation, also wrote to Wolf this month, urging him to consider Morocco’s record on religious tolerance. He included this account of a synagogue trip this February:

We visited the sites of Moroccan synagogues, places of historic and religious importance to the Moroccan Jewish community, and the final resting places of many of the righteous Moroccan rabbis and sages who have rested in Morocco, in harmony, for thousands of years. Never once during our stay did I see any lack of religious tolerance or freedom. Never once did I sense the “precarious” situation you describe vis-à-vis our religion. To the contrary, I always felt safe and secure to pray and visit any of the Jewish sites without any fear whatsoever. The Muslim citizens of each of the cities we visited were polite, courteous and respectful of our religious tour. Indeed, I observed how many of the locals have a deep reverence for our holy sites. …

To give you an idea of how important the Jewish “minority religion” is to the King and to the Moroccan government, this past May we hosted a special event at our synagogue where several representatives of the Moroccan government, including Ambassador Mekouar, were present. Serge Berdugo, a Jewish Ambassador of the King of Morocco, beautifully presented to our congregants “His Majesty’s gracious and holy plan to identify, refurbish and protect all the Jewish cemeteries and mausoleums in Morocco.” The Ambassador also proudly announced that “as Commander of the faithful, His Majesty safeguards the sacred values of His subjects, Jew and Muslims alike.” This positive message as well as the gracious offer of the King was received with deep gratitude and sheer excitement by the entire congregation.

There is a disturbing pattern of religious oppression and intolerance in Muslim countries — but not in Morocco. The unfortunate situation at the Christian orphanage (how many of those exist in Muslim countries?) should not obscure this. As a savvy analyst explains, “They should never have let evangelicals run orphanages; that was the mistake. When a kid has no home to return to, the religious influence of those acting in loco parentis is inevitable.” But that is a discrete issue, and resolvable by the Moroccan government. It would seem that the best use of the time and focus of Congress — which is at least making a good effort to pick up the slack from an administration utterly indifferent to the issue of religious freedom — would be to focus on the worst actors in the Muslim World, not the best.

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Peace in Our Time: Hope as a Method

Laura Rozen has a piece in Politico today on Russia’s heel-dragging approach to the “New START” arms-control talks. “Sources in and out of the [Obama] administration are saying Russia may not feel it needs to sign a new agreement soon,” she reports. “And perhaps not in time for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference that the Obama administration is hosting in New York in May.” Predictably, her analysis focuses on Russian domestic politics (“haggling, fighting internally”) and the Russians’ persistent objections to U.S. missile-defense proposals. Obama hasn’t succeeded in satisfying Moscow’s skepticism about the latter; shifting our concept from silo-based interceptors in Poland to road-mobile launchers in Romania has failed to change Russian minds.

But considering only these factors is like trying to account for the rain without looking up at the sky. What’s driving Russia’s lack of urgency about a new arms-control treaty is Obama’s determination to reduce our nuclear arsenal unilaterally. The Russians have no reason to sweat out a treaty agreement that’s binding on them if they’re going to get effective U.S. commitments without one.

The policy reportedly emerging from Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), outlined in a New York Times article this weekend, appears full of reasons for Russia to hang back on New START. Obama’s intention to halve the existing inventory of about 5,400 nuclear warheads goes well beyond the mutual reduction goal of the Bush-Putin SORT Treaty of 2002, which envisioned 4,600 warheads for the U.S. by 2012. Obama has also cut funding to the Pentagon’s development program for a low-yield nuclear weapon to attack hardened and deeply-buried targets, and he reportedly will scrap the development altogether with implementation of his NPR. This, of course, is the kind of weapon needed to deal effectively with suspect underground facilities in Iran and North Korea.

Moreover, key Congressional Democrats are demanding NPR language that would explicitly commit the U.S. to using our nuclear arsenal solely for the deterrence of nuclear strikes – a short-sighted posture that could not be reversed in the future without precipitating political crises. The Pentagon prefers a more ambiguous formulation, and the outcome of this policy debate is uncertain. But the unprecedented political momentum of the Capitol Hill “deterrence-only” advocates will have the attention of foreign observers from Moscow to Beijing to Tehran.

Obama’s express hope is to set an example for the world with these unilateral reductions and renunciations. By making them, however, he thoroughly undermines the New START negotiations. Cuts of this magnitude would require the Russians to rethink their own policy in order to match them. But with Obama proposing to make the cuts unilaterally, Russia has no incentive to pay the cost of participating. The only bargaining chip left for leveraging Russian concessions is our missile-defense program.

George W. Bush achieved major reductions in our nuclear arsenal; it’s clearly possible to do so while also retaining a viable negotiating position with Moscow. Obama’s approach to nuclear disarmament, on the other hand, is a particularly dangerous form of unilateralism. His concrete achievements so far are conceding Russia’s objections to the silo-based missile defense in Europe and letting the original START Treaty lapse in December 2009, which leaves the U.S. and Russia with no on-site verification measures to monitor subsequent developments in our nuclear programs. The tether of START’s verification and mutual-reduction principles has been cut. In one year, Obama has relinquished the bases for nuclear stability and American security that his predecessors fought for more than 40 years to establish. What we and Obama are counting on now is hope.

Laura Rozen has a piece in Politico today on Russia’s heel-dragging approach to the “New START” arms-control talks. “Sources in and out of the [Obama] administration are saying Russia may not feel it needs to sign a new agreement soon,” she reports. “And perhaps not in time for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference that the Obama administration is hosting in New York in May.” Predictably, her analysis focuses on Russian domestic politics (“haggling, fighting internally”) and the Russians’ persistent objections to U.S. missile-defense proposals. Obama hasn’t succeeded in satisfying Moscow’s skepticism about the latter; shifting our concept from silo-based interceptors in Poland to road-mobile launchers in Romania has failed to change Russian minds.

But considering only these factors is like trying to account for the rain without looking up at the sky. What’s driving Russia’s lack of urgency about a new arms-control treaty is Obama’s determination to reduce our nuclear arsenal unilaterally. The Russians have no reason to sweat out a treaty agreement that’s binding on them if they’re going to get effective U.S. commitments without one.

The policy reportedly emerging from Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), outlined in a New York Times article this weekend, appears full of reasons for Russia to hang back on New START. Obama’s intention to halve the existing inventory of about 5,400 nuclear warheads goes well beyond the mutual reduction goal of the Bush-Putin SORT Treaty of 2002, which envisioned 4,600 warheads for the U.S. by 2012. Obama has also cut funding to the Pentagon’s development program for a low-yield nuclear weapon to attack hardened and deeply-buried targets, and he reportedly will scrap the development altogether with implementation of his NPR. This, of course, is the kind of weapon needed to deal effectively with suspect underground facilities in Iran and North Korea.

Moreover, key Congressional Democrats are demanding NPR language that would explicitly commit the U.S. to using our nuclear arsenal solely for the deterrence of nuclear strikes – a short-sighted posture that could not be reversed in the future without precipitating political crises. The Pentagon prefers a more ambiguous formulation, and the outcome of this policy debate is uncertain. But the unprecedented political momentum of the Capitol Hill “deterrence-only” advocates will have the attention of foreign observers from Moscow to Beijing to Tehran.

Obama’s express hope is to set an example for the world with these unilateral reductions and renunciations. By making them, however, he thoroughly undermines the New START negotiations. Cuts of this magnitude would require the Russians to rethink their own policy in order to match them. But with Obama proposing to make the cuts unilaterally, Russia has no incentive to pay the cost of participating. The only bargaining chip left for leveraging Russian concessions is our missile-defense program.

George W. Bush achieved major reductions in our nuclear arsenal; it’s clearly possible to do so while also retaining a viable negotiating position with Moscow. Obama’s approach to nuclear disarmament, on the other hand, is a particularly dangerous form of unilateralism. His concrete achievements so far are conceding Russia’s objections to the silo-based missile defense in Europe and letting the original START Treaty lapse in December 2009, which leaves the U.S. and Russia with no on-site verification measures to monitor subsequent developments in our nuclear programs. The tether of START’s verification and mutual-reduction principles has been cut. In one year, Obama has relinquished the bases for nuclear stability and American security that his predecessors fought for more than 40 years to establish. What we and Obama are counting on now is hope.

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British Corruption

Britain has fallen a notch in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruptions Perceptions Index. It now ranks 17th out of the 180 countries surveyed. Transparency said that the decline “reflects the damage to its international standing caused by the MPs’ expenses scandal and the weakness of its efforts to prosecute foreign bribery.”

The second item, the “foreign bribery” problem, relates to the long-running saga of allegations against BAE and arms sales to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Tanzania. I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of these allegations, which shed revealing light on the hypocrisy of the UK’s support for the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, but they are old news. It’s probable that Britain’s decline was driven by the expenses scandal. Read More

Britain has fallen a notch in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruptions Perceptions Index. It now ranks 17th out of the 180 countries surveyed. Transparency said that the decline “reflects the damage to its international standing caused by the MPs’ expenses scandal and the weakness of its efforts to prosecute foreign bribery.”

The second item, the “foreign bribery” problem, relates to the long-running saga of allegations against BAE and arms sales to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Tanzania. I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of these allegations, which shed revealing light on the hypocrisy of the UK’s support for the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, but they are old news. It’s probable that Britain’s decline was driven by the expenses scandal.

The impact of that scandal is an illustration of John Hay’s remark that “it is curious how a concise impropriety hits the public.” But it is also small beer: New Labour has brought Britain many “improprieties” that were a good deal worse but that failed to catch Transparency’s eye. There was the 2005-07 “cash for peerages” controversy, in which it was alleged that the Labour party was selling seats in the House of Lords in exchange for donations. There was — indeed, there is — the scandal of Labour’s immigration policy, which a former Labour speechwriter confessed last month deliberately sought to deceive Parliament, the public, and its own supporters.

There is the ongoing refusal of ministers to treat Parliament with any seriousness, as witnessed by the relentless leaking of government proposals in advance of the Queen’s Speech, a formerly great occasion of state. And, above all, there is the fact that more than 90 percent of all British law is now made by the EU. Compared to this, the expenses scandal is nothing: if the MPs can’t make law for their own constituents, the money they pocket on the side by fiddling second mortgages and buying expensive wallpaper is hardly the most vital national issue. Not all government corruption is financial, and the nonmonetary kinds are by far the most vicious.

But the expenses scandal is an attention grabber nonetheless. It is a very British saga — only in the UK, and a few other countries, would the public be exercised by this kind of corruption. In too many countries, it’s taken for granted that public service is an opportunity for personal enrichment. It goes to show that, though the standards have been traduced, the British public’s view of what is right in political life still stems from the Victorian era. And in my eyes, there is no higher praise than that.

It is of course true that that era was not free from corruption. If you’re a fan of old political scandals, I recommend G.R. Searle’s superb study of “Corruption in British Politics, 1895-1930,” which proves that this century was not the first time the House of Lords has been for sale. But that era nonetheless created standards that, even if they were in part aspirational, are of real value. MPs are not supposed to seek their private good. The British armed forces are not supposed to have their budget cut in the face of the enemy. Brussels is not supposed to make British law. Yet all these things happen openly and repeatedly.

Part of the sour tone of British politics today is obviously the result of the recession. But it is more than that: it is the result of the grating divergence between basic political ideals and obvious political realities in Britain. And given how influential those ideals have been around the world, and the high expectations that people abroad still have of Britain, it is not surprising that Britain has been punished by the Transparency survey.

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The Scandal Lobby

It’s nice to have friends in high places. It’s not so nice to see those friends unfairly pilloried by journalists intent on collecting another scalp.

First it was Obama adviser Samantha Power, who was accused by some on the right of being anti-Israel on the basis of evidence that was, to put it charitably, ambiguous. Now it’s John McCain’s chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, who is being labeled as-gasp-a lobbyist. This heinous charge has been hauled out in the New York Times, USA Today, and now the Wall Street Journal.

There is a difference, of course: While Power is not really anti-Israel, Scheunemann really has been a lobbyist. The question is: What’s wrong with that?

All of the reporters who have written about the issue try to insinuate that something nefarious is going on without actually coming out and saying what it is. Today’s Wall Street Journal article by Mary Jacoby is a classic in the genre known in Washington as “appearance of a conflict of interest”-i.e., not an actual conflict but something that can be made to look that way through selective juxtaposition of acts.

Thus Jacoby notes that Randy has lobbied on behalf of Romania, Latvia, Georgia, and Macedonia while those countries were seeking admission to NATO. She then notes that McCain has been in favor of admitting all those countries to NATO. The inference readers are supposed to draw is that there is something untoward going on here. Only in the final line of the article do we get the evidence that dispels these insinuations:

“Sen. McCain’s been for NATO enlargement since the mid-1990s,” said Mr. Rogers, the McCain spokesman. “His record speaks for itself.”

In other words, McCain (whose campaign I advise on foreign policy issues) was in favor of NATO expansion long before Randy was lobbying on those issues. Anyone who knows either McCain or Scheunemann would laugh at the notion that their support for the embattled democracies of Eastern and Southern Europe is the result of payoffs from those countries.

Randy represents those emerging democracies because he believes in expanding freedom-something that he has pushed for in other contexts without earning any money for it. He was, for instance, one of the founders of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Randy has been pushing for NATO expansion since the mid-1990s when he was not a lobbyist at all but Senator Bob Dole’s chief foreign policy adviser.

Unlike some other lobbyists, he doesn’t represent dictatorial or anti-American regimes. And he is so dedicated to McCain that he spent the period between June of 2007 and March of 2008 working as his chief foreign policy adviser for free. Now he has given up his lobbying income to work on the campaign for a fraction of what he was earning.

Again: What is it exactly that he has done wrong? USA Today writes:

While not illegal or a breach of Senate ethics rules, Scheunemann’s lobbying of McCain’s staff as he was advising the campaign comes to light a week after McCain announced a new policy to avoid such conflicts. The new conflict-of-interest policy prohibits campaign workers from being registered lobbyists or foreign agents and bans part-time volunteers from policy discussions on issues involving their clients. Campaign spokesman Jill Hazelbaker said the ethics policy is not retroactive.

So what Randy has done is not illegal. It’s also not unethical under Senate ethics rules or the more stringent ethics rules of the McCain campaign. Now that the candidate has banned lobbyists from the campaign, Scheunemann has stopped lobbying. Which suggests that there is no story here.

Or perhaps that the real story is that reporters are so desperate to bring McCain down a notch that they will try to concoct nonexistent scandals about his aides. The fact that, outside of Mickey Kaus’s blog, there is a notable lack of outrage over Senator Obama picking a major lobbyist to lead his vice presidential search effort only makes the artificiality of this non-scandal all the more apparent.

It’s nice to have friends in high places. It’s not so nice to see those friends unfairly pilloried by journalists intent on collecting another scalp.

First it was Obama adviser Samantha Power, who was accused by some on the right of being anti-Israel on the basis of evidence that was, to put it charitably, ambiguous. Now it’s John McCain’s chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, who is being labeled as-gasp-a lobbyist. This heinous charge has been hauled out in the New York Times, USA Today, and now the Wall Street Journal.

There is a difference, of course: While Power is not really anti-Israel, Scheunemann really has been a lobbyist. The question is: What’s wrong with that?

All of the reporters who have written about the issue try to insinuate that something nefarious is going on without actually coming out and saying what it is. Today’s Wall Street Journal article by Mary Jacoby is a classic in the genre known in Washington as “appearance of a conflict of interest”-i.e., not an actual conflict but something that can be made to look that way through selective juxtaposition of acts.

Thus Jacoby notes that Randy has lobbied on behalf of Romania, Latvia, Georgia, and Macedonia while those countries were seeking admission to NATO. She then notes that McCain has been in favor of admitting all those countries to NATO. The inference readers are supposed to draw is that there is something untoward going on here. Only in the final line of the article do we get the evidence that dispels these insinuations:

“Sen. McCain’s been for NATO enlargement since the mid-1990s,” said Mr. Rogers, the McCain spokesman. “His record speaks for itself.”

In other words, McCain (whose campaign I advise on foreign policy issues) was in favor of NATO expansion long before Randy was lobbying on those issues. Anyone who knows either McCain or Scheunemann would laugh at the notion that their support for the embattled democracies of Eastern and Southern Europe is the result of payoffs from those countries.

Randy represents those emerging democracies because he believes in expanding freedom-something that he has pushed for in other contexts without earning any money for it. He was, for instance, one of the founders of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Randy has been pushing for NATO expansion since the mid-1990s when he was not a lobbyist at all but Senator Bob Dole’s chief foreign policy adviser.

Unlike some other lobbyists, he doesn’t represent dictatorial or anti-American regimes. And he is so dedicated to McCain that he spent the period between June of 2007 and March of 2008 working as his chief foreign policy adviser for free. Now he has given up his lobbying income to work on the campaign for a fraction of what he was earning.

Again: What is it exactly that he has done wrong? USA Today writes:

While not illegal or a breach of Senate ethics rules, Scheunemann’s lobbying of McCain’s staff as he was advising the campaign comes to light a week after McCain announced a new policy to avoid such conflicts. The new conflict-of-interest policy prohibits campaign workers from being registered lobbyists or foreign agents and bans part-time volunteers from policy discussions on issues involving their clients. Campaign spokesman Jill Hazelbaker said the ethics policy is not retroactive.

So what Randy has done is not illegal. It’s also not unethical under Senate ethics rules or the more stringent ethics rules of the McCain campaign. Now that the candidate has banned lobbyists from the campaign, Scheunemann has stopped lobbying. Which suggests that there is no story here.

Or perhaps that the real story is that reporters are so desperate to bring McCain down a notch that they will try to concoct nonexistent scandals about his aides. The fact that, outside of Mickey Kaus’s blog, there is a notable lack of outrage over Senator Obama picking a major lobbyist to lead his vice presidential search effort only makes the artificiality of this non-scandal all the more apparent.

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The View from the Continent

Last week I was in London attending a Global Leadership Forum, sponsored by the Royal United Services Institute, the Princeton Project on National Security, Newsweek International, and Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP. The attendees–from both the United States and Europe–included academics, scholars, journalists, diplomatic advisers and others who inhabit the foreign policy world. The event was well-organized, the conversations wide-ranging, and there was a genuine effort to hear from a diversity of voices (hence my invitation). But there is no question that the dominant outlook of most of those in attendance was left-leaning, which itself made the trip illuminating.

I came away from the gathering (portions of which I missed) with several broad impressions. One was that multilateralism has become virtually an end in itself. What matters to many Europeans and liberal-leaning Americans is the process rather than the results. What almost never gets discussed is what happens when one’s desire for multilateralism collides with achieving a worthy end (for example, trying to stop genocide in Darfur or prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb). The child-like faith in multilateralism as the solution to all that ails the world would be touchingly innocent if it weren’t so terribly dangerous.

There were the predictable assertions made about how the United States, under George W. Bush, was “unilateralist” and that, in the words of one former Clinton Administration official, “multilateralism was a dirty word” in the Bush Administration. This charge is simplistic and demonstrably untrue–and one could cite as evidence everything from the lead up to the Iraq war (in which the United States went to the UN not once but twice, and gained unanimous approval of Resolution 1441); the war itself (which included support from the governments of Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, Norway, El Salvador and many other nations); the E3; the Quartet; the Six Party Talks; the Proliferation Security Initiative; a slew of free trade agreements; and more. In fact the Bush Administration was criticized by Democrats for being too multilateralist in their dealings with North Korea; it was said by John Kerry, among other liberals, that we should engage in bilateral talks with North Korea rather than rely on the Six Party Talks.

Another impression I had was that many (if not most) Europeans and American foreign policy experts are caught in a time warp, acting as if we are still in 2006. They simply want to wash their hands of Iraq. They hate the war, are seemingly impervious to the security and political progress we have seen in Iraq since last summer, and they want the next Administration to downplay Iraq as an issue, which they believe has “obsessed” the Bush presidency. What they don’t seem to understand is that ending U.S. involvement in the war won’t end the war. In fact, if Obama or Clinton follow up on their stated commitments, it is likely to trigger mass death and possibly genocide, revitalize al Qaeda, strengthen Iran, and further destabilize the region. The irony would be that the plans laid out by Democrats, if followed, would increase, not decrease, Iraq’s dominance of American foreign policy. An Iraq that is cracking up and caught in a death spiral is not something that even a President Obama or Clinton could ignore.

The third impression I came away with is the widespread view in Europe, as well as among some Americans, that the U.S. has suffered a huge, almost incalculable, loss of “moral authority” (its worth recalling that we heard much the same thing during the Reagan years). The evidence cited is always the same: Guantanamo Bay, rendition and secret prisons, and waterboarding. They are invoked like an incantation. The effect of this is that you would think that the United States is among the leading violators of human rights in the world.

During one of the panel sessions I said it was fine to place on one side of the moral ledger waterboarding three leading al Qaeda figures, which I consider to be a morally complicated issue–but that it’s also worth putting on the other side of the moral ledger the fact that we liberated more than 50 million people from two of the most odious and repressive regimes in modern history. Liberation was not the only impulse that drove the two wars, but it was one of them, and a noble one at that. I borrowed a line from Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic who, while a harsh critic of the execution of the Bush Administration, has written “I find it impossible to denounce a war that led to the removal of a genocidal dictator.” That is especially true now that we have the right strategy in place, that we’re seeing progress on almost every front, and that we have a decent shot at a decent outcome in Iraq. The situation is still hugely challenging and success, if we achieve it, will be long in coming. But the collapse of will that I witnessed among some leading foreign policy voices on both sides of the Atlantic, while not surprising, was still discouraging. It is no wonder that world leaders who do not share that exhaustion are the objects of condemnation.

Last week I was in London attending a Global Leadership Forum, sponsored by the Royal United Services Institute, the Princeton Project on National Security, Newsweek International, and Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP. The attendees–from both the United States and Europe–included academics, scholars, journalists, diplomatic advisers and others who inhabit the foreign policy world. The event was well-organized, the conversations wide-ranging, and there was a genuine effort to hear from a diversity of voices (hence my invitation). But there is no question that the dominant outlook of most of those in attendance was left-leaning, which itself made the trip illuminating.

I came away from the gathering (portions of which I missed) with several broad impressions. One was that multilateralism has become virtually an end in itself. What matters to many Europeans and liberal-leaning Americans is the process rather than the results. What almost never gets discussed is what happens when one’s desire for multilateralism collides with achieving a worthy end (for example, trying to stop genocide in Darfur or prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb). The child-like faith in multilateralism as the solution to all that ails the world would be touchingly innocent if it weren’t so terribly dangerous.

There were the predictable assertions made about how the United States, under George W. Bush, was “unilateralist” and that, in the words of one former Clinton Administration official, “multilateralism was a dirty word” in the Bush Administration. This charge is simplistic and demonstrably untrue–and one could cite as evidence everything from the lead up to the Iraq war (in which the United States went to the UN not once but twice, and gained unanimous approval of Resolution 1441); the war itself (which included support from the governments of Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, Norway, El Salvador and many other nations); the E3; the Quartet; the Six Party Talks; the Proliferation Security Initiative; a slew of free trade agreements; and more. In fact the Bush Administration was criticized by Democrats for being too multilateralist in their dealings with North Korea; it was said by John Kerry, among other liberals, that we should engage in bilateral talks with North Korea rather than rely on the Six Party Talks.

Another impression I had was that many (if not most) Europeans and American foreign policy experts are caught in a time warp, acting as if we are still in 2006. They simply want to wash their hands of Iraq. They hate the war, are seemingly impervious to the security and political progress we have seen in Iraq since last summer, and they want the next Administration to downplay Iraq as an issue, which they believe has “obsessed” the Bush presidency. What they don’t seem to understand is that ending U.S. involvement in the war won’t end the war. In fact, if Obama or Clinton follow up on their stated commitments, it is likely to trigger mass death and possibly genocide, revitalize al Qaeda, strengthen Iran, and further destabilize the region. The irony would be that the plans laid out by Democrats, if followed, would increase, not decrease, Iraq’s dominance of American foreign policy. An Iraq that is cracking up and caught in a death spiral is not something that even a President Obama or Clinton could ignore.

The third impression I came away with is the widespread view in Europe, as well as among some Americans, that the U.S. has suffered a huge, almost incalculable, loss of “moral authority” (its worth recalling that we heard much the same thing during the Reagan years). The evidence cited is always the same: Guantanamo Bay, rendition and secret prisons, and waterboarding. They are invoked like an incantation. The effect of this is that you would think that the United States is among the leading violators of human rights in the world.

During one of the panel sessions I said it was fine to place on one side of the moral ledger waterboarding three leading al Qaeda figures, which I consider to be a morally complicated issue–but that it’s also worth putting on the other side of the moral ledger the fact that we liberated more than 50 million people from two of the most odious and repressive regimes in modern history. Liberation was not the only impulse that drove the two wars, but it was one of them, and a noble one at that. I borrowed a line from Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic who, while a harsh critic of the execution of the Bush Administration, has written “I find it impossible to denounce a war that led to the removal of a genocidal dictator.” That is especially true now that we have the right strategy in place, that we’re seeing progress on almost every front, and that we have a decent shot at a decent outcome in Iraq. The situation is still hugely challenging and success, if we achieve it, will be long in coming. But the collapse of will that I witnessed among some leading foreign policy voices on both sides of the Atlantic, while not surprising, was still discouraging. It is no wonder that world leaders who do not share that exhaustion are the objects of condemnation.

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Who is Thomas P. M. Barnett?

In the LA Times today, Max Boot effectively takes down the Esquire profile of Admiral William Fallon, who just resigned as head the U.S. Central Command in a spat with the Bush administration over Iran policy:

Its author, Thomas P.M. Barnett, a former professor at the Naval War College, presents a fawning portrait of the admiral — a service he previously performed for Donald Rumsfeld. But evidence of Fallon’s supposed “strategic brilliance” is notably lacking. For example, Barnett notes Fallon’s attempt to banish the phrase “the Long War” (created by his predecessor) because it “signaled a long haul that Fallon simply finds unacceptable,” without offering any hint of how Fallon intends to defeat our enemies overnight. The ideas Fallon proposes — “He wants troop levels in Iraq down now, and he wants the Afghan National Army running the show throughout most of Afghanistan by the end of this year” — would most likely result in security setbacks that would lengthen, not shorten, the struggle.

Max calls Barnett’s portrait “fawning.” Max is a master of understatement. Here are some excerpts:

The first thing you notice is the face, the second is the voice.

A tall, wiry man with thinning white hair, Fallon comes off like a loner even when he’s standing in a crowd.

Despite having an easy smile that he regularly pulls out for his many daily exercises in relationship building, Fallon’s consistent game face is a slightly pissed-off glare. It’s his default expression. Don’t fuck with me, it says. A tough Catholic boy from New Jersey, his favorite compliment is “badass.” Fallon’s got a fearsome reputation, although no one I ever talk to in the business can quite pin down why.

And in truth, Fallon’s not a screamer. Indeed, by my long observation and the accounts of a dozen people, he doesn’t raise his voice whatsoever, except when he laughs. Instead, the more serious he becomes, the quieter he gets, and his whispers sound positively menacing. Other guys can jaw-jaw all they want about the need for war-war with . . . whomever is today’s target among D.C.’s many armchair warriors. Not Fallon. Let the president pop off. Fallon won’t. No bravado here, nor sound-bite-sized threats, but rather a calm, leathery presence. Fallon is comfortable risking peace because he’s comfortable waging war.

Along with such treacle, the Esquire portrait also contains a dose of the same kind of poison pedaled by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Barnett writes that Fallon’s articulation of a soft line toward Iran amounts to “fighting words to your average neocon — not to mention your average supporter of Israel, a good many of whom in Washington seem never to have served a minute in uniform. But utter those words for print and you can easily find yourself defending your indifference to ‘nuclear holocaust.'” Thanks largely to Mearsheimer and Walt, this kind of Charles Lindbergh-Henry Ford-style discourse has seeped into the discourse of even third-rate hacks.

But perhaps even more notable is Barnett’s account of Fallon’s travel to a Chinese city when he was in charge of American forces in the Pacific:

Early in his tenure at Pacific Command, Fallon let it be known that he was interested in visiting the city of Harbin in the highly controlled and isolated Heilongjiang Military District on China’s northern border with Russia. The Chinese were flabbergasted at the request, but when Fallon’s command plane took off one afternoon from Mongolia, heading for Harbin without permission, Beijing relented.

Did a U.S. military aircraft really enter Chinese airspace without permission? Under what circumstances are U.S. military aircraft ever granted permission to fly over China, let alone over a military district? What really happened here? My first bet is that either Barnett made this stuff up or he was sold a bill of goods by the man with the “calm, leathery presence.” I knew Barnett back in grad school at Harvard, and my second bet is the latter.

Barnett became famous at Harvard for another fawning article he wrote, in this case about the Romanian tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu. Describing Ceausescu as a “shrewd and farsighted politician,” Barnett noted that the Romanian leader had recently been “unanimously reelected at the recent Communist Party congress,” and his “grip on power appears firm.” Barnett’s op-ed appeared in the Christian Science Monitor on December 11, 1989. Fourteen days later, Romania was in full revolt and Ceausescu was dead — not of natural causes.

Let’s put aside Admiral Fallon’s views on Iran. If for nothing else, he deserved to be relieved of his command for collaborating with such a malign goofball in anything, let alone a campaign of insubordination.

In the LA Times today, Max Boot effectively takes down the Esquire profile of Admiral William Fallon, who just resigned as head the U.S. Central Command in a spat with the Bush administration over Iran policy:

Its author, Thomas P.M. Barnett, a former professor at the Naval War College, presents a fawning portrait of the admiral — a service he previously performed for Donald Rumsfeld. But evidence of Fallon’s supposed “strategic brilliance” is notably lacking. For example, Barnett notes Fallon’s attempt to banish the phrase “the Long War” (created by his predecessor) because it “signaled a long haul that Fallon simply finds unacceptable,” without offering any hint of how Fallon intends to defeat our enemies overnight. The ideas Fallon proposes — “He wants troop levels in Iraq down now, and he wants the Afghan National Army running the show throughout most of Afghanistan by the end of this year” — would most likely result in security setbacks that would lengthen, not shorten, the struggle.

Max calls Barnett’s portrait “fawning.” Max is a master of understatement. Here are some excerpts:

The first thing you notice is the face, the second is the voice.

A tall, wiry man with thinning white hair, Fallon comes off like a loner even when he’s standing in a crowd.

Despite having an easy smile that he regularly pulls out for his many daily exercises in relationship building, Fallon’s consistent game face is a slightly pissed-off glare. It’s his default expression. Don’t fuck with me, it says. A tough Catholic boy from New Jersey, his favorite compliment is “badass.” Fallon’s got a fearsome reputation, although no one I ever talk to in the business can quite pin down why.

And in truth, Fallon’s not a screamer. Indeed, by my long observation and the accounts of a dozen people, he doesn’t raise his voice whatsoever, except when he laughs. Instead, the more serious he becomes, the quieter he gets, and his whispers sound positively menacing. Other guys can jaw-jaw all they want about the need for war-war with . . . whomever is today’s target among D.C.’s many armchair warriors. Not Fallon. Let the president pop off. Fallon won’t. No bravado here, nor sound-bite-sized threats, but rather a calm, leathery presence. Fallon is comfortable risking peace because he’s comfortable waging war.

Along with such treacle, the Esquire portrait also contains a dose of the same kind of poison pedaled by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Barnett writes that Fallon’s articulation of a soft line toward Iran amounts to “fighting words to your average neocon — not to mention your average supporter of Israel, a good many of whom in Washington seem never to have served a minute in uniform. But utter those words for print and you can easily find yourself defending your indifference to ‘nuclear holocaust.'” Thanks largely to Mearsheimer and Walt, this kind of Charles Lindbergh-Henry Ford-style discourse has seeped into the discourse of even third-rate hacks.

But perhaps even more notable is Barnett’s account of Fallon’s travel to a Chinese city when he was in charge of American forces in the Pacific:

Early in his tenure at Pacific Command, Fallon let it be known that he was interested in visiting the city of Harbin in the highly controlled and isolated Heilongjiang Military District on China’s northern border with Russia. The Chinese were flabbergasted at the request, but when Fallon’s command plane took off one afternoon from Mongolia, heading for Harbin without permission, Beijing relented.

Did a U.S. military aircraft really enter Chinese airspace without permission? Under what circumstances are U.S. military aircraft ever granted permission to fly over China, let alone over a military district? What really happened here? My first bet is that either Barnett made this stuff up or he was sold a bill of goods by the man with the “calm, leathery presence.” I knew Barnett back in grad school at Harvard, and my second bet is the latter.

Barnett became famous at Harvard for another fawning article he wrote, in this case about the Romanian tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu. Describing Ceausescu as a “shrewd and farsighted politician,” Barnett noted that the Romanian leader had recently been “unanimously reelected at the recent Communist Party congress,” and his “grip on power appears firm.” Barnett’s op-ed appeared in the Christian Science Monitor on December 11, 1989. Fourteen days later, Romania was in full revolt and Ceausescu was dead — not of natural causes.

Let’s put aside Admiral Fallon’s views on Iran. If for nothing else, he deserved to be relieved of his command for collaborating with such a malign goofball in anything, let alone a campaign of insubordination.

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Libya’s Son

Iraqi Police Colonel Jubair Rashid Naief claims Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam (whose name means Sword of Islam) is sponsoring a terrorist group in Northern Iraq called the Seifaddin Regiment. This group is allegedly responsible for recent attacks in Mosul that killed and wounded hundreds. The U.S. military so far has no comment on the accusation one way or another. I’ve never heard of this group and am not even convinced it exists. But U.S. military officials believe 19 percent of foreign terrorists in Iraq come from Libya.

Robert H. Reid wrote in an Associated Press article that Seif al-Islam “seems an unlikely figure as a sponsor of terrorism. Touted as a reformer, the younger Gadhafi has been reaching out to the West to soften Libya’s image and return it to the international mainstream.”

Yes, Seif al-Islam is touted as a reformer – by journalists. Perhaps naïve government officials also believe Seif al-Islam is a reformer. His father has certainly been given a pass in the last couple of years even though he barely deserves it – if he deserves it at all.

I visited Libya as soon as the U.S. government lifted the travel ban, after Qaddafi supposedly gave up his weapons of mass destruction program. (Click here to see my photo gallery.) It is by far the most oppressive country I have ever been to. Freedom House ranks it the most oppressive of all Arab countries, lower than even Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Qaddafi’s government structure is modeled after Nicolae Ceauşescu’s totalitarian regime in Romania. His state ideology, the unexportable “Third Universal Theory,” is a merger of The Communist Manifesto and the Koran. His own infamous manifesto, The Green Book, is a daft and sinister pseudo-intellectual excuse for his own absolute power. Don’t be fooled by Qaddafi’s court jester antics and buffoonish charisma. He is only funny and entertaining to watch from abroad. Libya is an Orwellian God-state with only Turkmenistan and North Korea as peers.

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Iraqi Police Colonel Jubair Rashid Naief claims Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam (whose name means Sword of Islam) is sponsoring a terrorist group in Northern Iraq called the Seifaddin Regiment. This group is allegedly responsible for recent attacks in Mosul that killed and wounded hundreds. The U.S. military so far has no comment on the accusation one way or another. I’ve never heard of this group and am not even convinced it exists. But U.S. military officials believe 19 percent of foreign terrorists in Iraq come from Libya.

Robert H. Reid wrote in an Associated Press article that Seif al-Islam “seems an unlikely figure as a sponsor of terrorism. Touted as a reformer, the younger Gadhafi has been reaching out to the West to soften Libya’s image and return it to the international mainstream.”

Yes, Seif al-Islam is touted as a reformer – by journalists. Perhaps naïve government officials also believe Seif al-Islam is a reformer. His father has certainly been given a pass in the last couple of years even though he barely deserves it – if he deserves it at all.

I visited Libya as soon as the U.S. government lifted the travel ban, after Qaddafi supposedly gave up his weapons of mass destruction program. (Click here to see my photo gallery.) It is by far the most oppressive country I have ever been to. Freedom House ranks it the most oppressive of all Arab countries, lower than even Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Qaddafi’s government structure is modeled after Nicolae Ceauşescu’s totalitarian regime in Romania. His state ideology, the unexportable “Third Universal Theory,” is a merger of The Communist Manifesto and the Koran. His own infamous manifesto, The Green Book, is a daft and sinister pseudo-intellectual excuse for his own absolute power. Don’t be fooled by Qaddafi’s court jester antics and buffoonish charisma. He is only funny and entertaining to watch from abroad. Libya is an Orwellian God-state with only Turkmenistan and North Korea as peers.

Of course none of this means Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam sponsors a terrorist group in Iraq. I really have no idea if that’s true or not. What I do know is that he is ideologically committed to preserving his father’s prison state system, and that he wants to export that system to as many countries as possible. Gullible diplomats and journalists may sincerely believe he’s a reformer, but a close look at his own statements proves that he’s lying when he passes himself off as moderate. And he is not even a good liar.

“My father has been promoting the idea of direct democracy in Libya for almost 26 years now,” he said to New York Times reporter Craig S. Smith in December, 2004. “It’s quite rational and logical that we have to continue in that direction.”

So much for him reforming his father’s system. He is quite up front about that part of his agenda, at least. What he’s lying about is the nature of his father’s system. Libya is no more a direct democracy than the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea is a democratic republic.

In the same New York Times interview he said “We don’t have an opposition — there is no opposition.” Only “five people,” he claimed, oppose his father’s regime, and all five live in the United States.

It’s breathtaking, really, that even a totalitarian tool like Seif al-Islam doesn’t understand real democracy well enough to know that more than five people in any country will oppose the government regardless of its system or what it does. It takes real insularity from the modern world and its ways to say something like that to a reporter with a straight face. What’s even more striking is that reporters who actually live in a democratic country could take a serious look at this kid and think he’s a straight shooter. You might as well believe Saddam Hussein won 100 percent of the vote in Iraq. At least Syria’s dictator Hafez Assad only claimed to win 99.

I suppose it’s the “direct democracy” part of Seif al-Islam’s shtick that throws people off.

Here is what his father says about democracy in The Green Book: “Political struggle that results in the victory of a candidate with, for example, 51 percent of the vote leads to a dictatorial governing body in the guise of false democracy, since 49 percent of the electorate is ruled by an instrument of government they did not vote for, but which has been imposed upon them. Such is dictatorship.” His solution to the problem of “false democracy” is his version of “direct democracy” that enshrines himself as leader of 100 percent of the people rather than a mere 51. Political parties and political opposition are banned in Libya because they would divide that 100 percent. Libyan-style direct democracy is actually fascism or something very much like it. This is what Seif al-Islam is talking about when he says “we have to continue in that direction.”

The jury is out on whether he’s sponsoring a terrorist group in Iraq. I don’t have access to Iraqi Police Colonel Naief’s intelligence reports and cannot evaluate them. But the idea isn’t that much of a stretch. The Arab world has its reformers, but Seif al-Islam isn’t one of them.

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String Quartets Abounding

The string quartet repertory is so demanding to play that fans of the genre cling to rare historical favorites on CD who manage to get it just right. Mutual dependence and independence, statements from both the individual and group that convey a balanced message are extremely difficult to achieve. Sometimes a strenuous, heavy-handed group wins critical praise, perhaps because they always sound the same, no matter what music they play. Differentiating the styles and personalities of various composers so that Ravel does not sound like Debussy, let alone Brahms, is a rare skill. Whence the deserved cult-like status of historical ensembles like the Busch Quartet; Budapest String Quartet; Flonzaley Quartet; and Calvet Quartet, who were able to enter different musical worlds adeptly.

There are a few veteran ensembles today, like the Panocha Quartet and Wihan Quartet who match this precedent with supple, fleet, yet expressive artistry, but they are scarce. Which makes it all the more surprising to see a flurry of new quartets with young performers who play exceptionally well, as if decades of coaching by older ensemble players at music conservatories worldwide finally bore fruit.

The Daedalus string quartet, formed in 2000, is named after the mythical Greek inventor who fashioned wings that allowed him to fly. Their debut CD on Bridge Records of works by Sibelius, Stravinsky, and Ravel is joyously expressive. In Greek, “Daidalos” means “cunning worker” and given the skilled efforts required for this level of mastery, one might assume other young quartets would crash and burn just as Daedalus’s son Icarus did, for flying too close to the sun. Instead they excel, like Britain’s Belcea Quartet, which, despite its English pedigree, is anchored by two fiery East European virtuosos, Romanian-born first violin Corina Belcea and Polish violist Krzysztof Chorzelski. Whether playing works by Schubert or Britten on EMI Classics, the Belceas are passionately idiomatic performers.

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The string quartet repertory is so demanding to play that fans of the genre cling to rare historical favorites on CD who manage to get it just right. Mutual dependence and independence, statements from both the individual and group that convey a balanced message are extremely difficult to achieve. Sometimes a strenuous, heavy-handed group wins critical praise, perhaps because they always sound the same, no matter what music they play. Differentiating the styles and personalities of various composers so that Ravel does not sound like Debussy, let alone Brahms, is a rare skill. Whence the deserved cult-like status of historical ensembles like the Busch Quartet; Budapest String Quartet; Flonzaley Quartet; and Calvet Quartet, who were able to enter different musical worlds adeptly.

There are a few veteran ensembles today, like the Panocha Quartet and Wihan Quartet who match this precedent with supple, fleet, yet expressive artistry, but they are scarce. Which makes it all the more surprising to see a flurry of new quartets with young performers who play exceptionally well, as if decades of coaching by older ensemble players at music conservatories worldwide finally bore fruit.

The Daedalus string quartet, formed in 2000, is named after the mythical Greek inventor who fashioned wings that allowed him to fly. Their debut CD on Bridge Records of works by Sibelius, Stravinsky, and Ravel is joyously expressive. In Greek, “Daidalos” means “cunning worker” and given the skilled efforts required for this level of mastery, one might assume other young quartets would crash and burn just as Daedalus’s son Icarus did, for flying too close to the sun. Instead they excel, like Britain’s Belcea Quartet, which, despite its English pedigree, is anchored by two fiery East European virtuosos, Romanian-born first violin Corina Belcea and Polish violist Krzysztof Chorzelski. Whether playing works by Schubert or Britten on EMI Classics, the Belceas are passionately idiomatic performers.

Some other groups are already building substantial discographies, like appealing CD’s of Dvořák, Mendelssohn, and Hindemith by the Pacifica String Quartet, for the excellent small Chicago-based label Cedille. Likewise, the Borromeo Quartet has already recorded delightful interpretations of Ravel and Beethoven for the Image label. The Brentano string quartet has produced a mellifluous CD of Haydn, which is fully worthy of its eminent predecessors.

Others remain under-recorded, like the Avalon String Quartet, whose CD of Janáček and Ravel leaves the listener wanting more. Some stellar, worthy young quartets have not yet jump-started their recording careers, although their artistry can be savored from sound clips on their websites, like the superb Jupiter String Quartet and fluent Parker String Quartet, both American-trained ensembles. The aforementioned musicians offer so much warm-hearted playing that even confirmed nostalgics, ever-ready to fight over whether the Busch or Budapest Quartets played better Beethoven, may be moved to stop squabbling long enough to pay attention to some admirable new artists.

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Out of the CFE

Today, in a Soviet-era margin of 418-0, the Duma approved a law to end compliance with the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. The legislation still has to go to the upper house. If passed there—which is most likely because the Russian political system is becoming more predictable by the day—the legislation will go to the desk of President Vladimir Putin for signature. The suspension is slated to take effect on December 12. In July, Putin gave the formal 150-day notice of the suspension.

The West considers the CFE, as the pact is known, the cornerstone of security on the continent. The 1990 agreement limits the number of tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery pieces, attack helicopters, and combat aircraft between the Atlantic and the Urals. No one expects a large set-piece battle on the European plains, so Russia’s suspension is seen as a sign of unhappiness about the treaty and a gambit to gain an edge in negotiations to change its terms.

Each side has numerous complaints about the other’s fulfillment of CFE obligations. The West, for instance, is concerned about Moscow’s failure to withdraw troops from Georgia and Moldova. The Kremlin, for its part, is upset over the temporary basing of American troops in Romania and Bulgaria. In addition, each side has non-CFE complaints against the other involving security in Europe.

So it’s time for us to confront reality. Relations between the Atlantic partners and Russia are now approaching those of a failing marriage. Whether we blame the Russians or the West for the breakdown, we should recognize that broad partnership with Moscow is no longer possible (or at least not possible for the foreseeable future). We cannot continue living the one-world dream. In short, we need to begin building a new security architecture not based on cooperation with the Russians. As a first step, the first seven members of the G-8 should disinvite Moscow. After all, what is an angry mafia state doing in a group of free-market economies? Will Putin be upset? Undoubtedly. But what problems in the world is he helping to solve now?

Today, in a Soviet-era margin of 418-0, the Duma approved a law to end compliance with the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. The legislation still has to go to the upper house. If passed there—which is most likely because the Russian political system is becoming more predictable by the day—the legislation will go to the desk of President Vladimir Putin for signature. The suspension is slated to take effect on December 12. In July, Putin gave the formal 150-day notice of the suspension.

The West considers the CFE, as the pact is known, the cornerstone of security on the continent. The 1990 agreement limits the number of tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery pieces, attack helicopters, and combat aircraft between the Atlantic and the Urals. No one expects a large set-piece battle on the European plains, so Russia’s suspension is seen as a sign of unhappiness about the treaty and a gambit to gain an edge in negotiations to change its terms.

Each side has numerous complaints about the other’s fulfillment of CFE obligations. The West, for instance, is concerned about Moscow’s failure to withdraw troops from Georgia and Moldova. The Kremlin, for its part, is upset over the temporary basing of American troops in Romania and Bulgaria. In addition, each side has non-CFE complaints against the other involving security in Europe.

So it’s time for us to confront reality. Relations between the Atlantic partners and Russia are now approaching those of a failing marriage. Whether we blame the Russians or the West for the breakdown, we should recognize that broad partnership with Moscow is no longer possible (or at least not possible for the foreseeable future). We cannot continue living the one-world dream. In short, we need to begin building a new security architecture not based on cooperation with the Russians. As a first step, the first seven members of the G-8 should disinvite Moscow. After all, what is an angry mafia state doing in a group of free-market economies? Will Putin be upset? Undoubtedly. But what problems in the world is he helping to solve now?

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Art or Family?

Last week the Romanian-born soprano Angela Gheorghiu was fired from her role in Puccini’s “La Bohème” at Chicago’s Lyric Opera because, according to the Opera’s general director, she missed several essential rehearsals by leaving Chicago “without permission, a direct violation of her contract.” Gheorghiu’s excuse? She needed to be with her husband, French tenor Roberto Alagna, who is in New York singing two roles at the Met. Gheorghiu claims, “I asked Lyric Opera to let me go to New York for two days to be with him, and they said, ‘No.’ But I needed to be by Roberto’s side at this very important moment.” Gheorghiu, 42, has received much bad press for diva-ish behavior (often in articles by righteous critics who routinely display just as much diva-ish behavior as she).

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Last week the Romanian-born soprano Angela Gheorghiu was fired from her role in Puccini’s “La Bohème” at Chicago’s Lyric Opera because, according to the Opera’s general director, she missed several essential rehearsals by leaving Chicago “without permission, a direct violation of her contract.” Gheorghiu’s excuse? She needed to be with her husband, French tenor Roberto Alagna, who is in New York singing two roles at the Met. Gheorghiu claims, “I asked Lyric Opera to let me go to New York for two days to be with him, and they said, ‘No.’ But I needed to be by Roberto’s side at this very important moment.” Gheorghiu, 42, has received much bad press for diva-ish behavior (often in articles by righteous critics who routinely display just as much diva-ish behavior as she).

Gheorghiu’s understudy, Elaine Alvarez, a promising Cuban-American soprano who nevertheless lacks her predecessor’s track record, will take over the performances. Last month, the celebrated Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel suddenly withdrew from a long-prepared Covent Garden performance of Wagner’s Ring cycle in London, citing a “particularly stressful family situation.” The situation is that his six-year-old son in Wales broke a finger, which required surgery. Terfel’s wife Lesley defended her husband in the press, stating: “People expect too much of Bryn sometimes. He’s more than a singer, he’s a husband and a father, but opera companies don’t want to hear that.” The Royal Opera’s talented music director, Antonio Pappano, is reportedly “shocked” and even “incensed” by Terfel’s reaction to what may be seen by some as a common childhood boo-boo.

Time was when performing artists of the caliber of Terfel and Gheorghiu were more or less expected to deny themselves a family life, dedicating everything to their art and audience. The paradigm is the late English ballerina Alicia Markova (1910–2004) who famously renounced any private life, focusing on performing and teaching. The noted British mezzo-soprano Janet Baker has asserted that she consciously chose never to have children, because singing was “more important to her.” Are singers finally beginning to realize that striving for a happy family life may be even more humanly important than disappointing fans and enraging opera bosses? If so, they would only be following the example set by a conductor 25 years ago, when the veteran maestro Carlo Maria Giulini gave up a thriving career as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in order to care for his ailing wife in Italy, without a hint of criticism. What is good for the Italian goose is good for the Romanian (or Welsh) gander.

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