Commentary Magazine


Topic: senior editor

Defining Recovery Down

What are we to make of the most recent jobs report, which shows that (a) unemployment increased from 9.5 percent to 9.6 percent and (b) nonfarm payrolls fell by 54,000 last month? If you’re White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, you tweet, “Don’t be fooled — the economy added 67,000 private sector jobs, 8th straight month of added private sector jobs, job loss came in Census work.” Picking up on this, David Mark, Politico’s senior editor, writes this:

At the White House Friday morning President Obama praised the private sector addition of 67,000 jobs in August, the eighth straight month of job growth. “That’s positive news, and it reflects the steps we’ve already taken to break the back of this recession. But it’s not good enough,” the president said. And Christina Romer, outgoing chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors, said the jobs figures were “better than expected.” Do they have a point about a slowly-but-surely improving jobs situation?

The answer is “no.” To understand why, it might be helpful to put things in a wider perspective. Read More

What are we to make of the most recent jobs report, which shows that (a) unemployment increased from 9.5 percent to 9.6 percent and (b) nonfarm payrolls fell by 54,000 last month? If you’re White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, you tweet, “Don’t be fooled — the economy added 67,000 private sector jobs, 8th straight month of added private sector jobs, job loss came in Census work.” Picking up on this, David Mark, Politico’s senior editor, writes this:

At the White House Friday morning President Obama praised the private sector addition of 67,000 jobs in August, the eighth straight month of job growth. “That’s positive news, and it reflects the steps we’ve already taken to break the back of this recession. But it’s not good enough,” the president said. And Christina Romer, outgoing chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors, said the jobs figures were “better than expected.” Do they have a point about a slowly-but-surely improving jobs situation?

The answer is “no.” To understand why, it might be helpful to put things in a wider perspective.

For one thing, the so-called underemployment rate, which includes workers who are working part-time but who want full-time work, increased from 16.5 percent to 16.7 percent. During our supposed “Recovery Summer,” we have lost 283,000 jobs (54,000 in June, 171,000 in July, and 54,000 in August). And for August, the employment-population ratio — the percentage of Americans with jobs — was 58.5 percent. We haven’t seen figures this low in nearly three decades. As Henry Olson of the American Enterprise Institute points out, “Since the start of this summer, nearly 400,000 Americans have entered the labor force, but only 130,000 have found jobs. … America’s adult population has risen by 2 million people since [August 2009], but the number of adults with jobs has dropped by 180,000. The unemployment rate declined slightly despite these numbers, from 9.7 percent to 9.6 percent, because over 2.3 million people have left the labor force entirely, so discouraged they are no longer even looking for work. ”

Keep in mind that all this is occurring during a period when job growth should be considerably higher, at least based on past post-recession recoveries. Former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers Michael Boskin points out that “compared to the 6.2% first-year Ford recovery and 7.7% Reagan recovery, the Obama recovery at 3% is less than half speed.” Bear in mind, too, that today’s jobs report comes a week after the GDP for the second quarter was revised downward, from 2.4 percent to 1.6 percent. Economists generally agree that the economy needs to grow 2.5 percent to keep unemployment from going up, and a good deal better than that to begin to bring it substantially down.

What all this means, I think, is that we’re not in a recovery at all, at least not in any meaningful sense. And those who insist otherwise are (to amend a phrase from Daniel Patrick Moynihan) Defining Recovery Down.

The most recent GDP figures also have harmful fiscal ramifications. For example, estimates for the deficit this year (more than $1.3 trillion) are based on both the Congressional Budget Office’s and the Obama administration’s assumption of roughly 3 percent growth. If growth is well below that, government revenues are going to be lower than estimated. And so this year’s deficit and net increase in the debt are going to be worse than even the (already quite troubling) projections. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve has very few, if any, arrows left in its quiver. It has done just about all that can be done.

The narrative the Obama administration is trying to sell is that we were on the edge of another Great Depression but avoided it and are now, in the president’s oft-repeated phrase, “moving in the right direction.” If we persist in following Obama’s policies on spending, taxes, and regulations, Obama assures us, we will build on this recovery and turn a sluggish one into a strong one. At the end of Obamaism lies the land of milk and honey.

This is wishful thinking. The economy right now is sick and, in some important respects, getting sicker. And the president is pursuing policies that are not only not helping; they are downright counterproductive.

Robert Gibbs can tweet away, but he cannot tweet away reality.

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Big Questions About Being a Parent

Coincident with the arrival of my third child, I am astonished to see, once again, the topic of just how horribly awful it is to be a parent popping up again in the navel-gazer media — New York magazine and the like. The self-righteously straight-talking journalism that reveals the ways in which having children don’t make an upper-middle-class Brooklynite “happy” tends to be far more revelatory about the conflicts between the present-day obsession with the narrowest aspect of self-fulfillment than it does about the nature of being a mother or a father and how being one not only changes you but fulfills the most basic hunger/obligation of any earthly creature — to keep life itself alive.

The most affecting riposte to this sort of talk I’ve read recently comes from my old friend Rod Dreher, with whom I have many disagreements ideologically but few on the most fundamental matters. Dreher is now editing a truly wonderful new website at the John Templeton Foundation called Big Questions Online under the supervision of Gary Rosen, who was a senior editor at COMMENTARY for more than a decade. It’s worth taking half an hour this weekend to look around Big Questions and see the way its writers are grappling with fundamental issues of reason and faith, science and religion — the very subjects about which the Templeton Foundation has distinguished itself through its support and consideration over the years.

Coincident with the arrival of my third child, I am astonished to see, once again, the topic of just how horribly awful it is to be a parent popping up again in the navel-gazer media — New York magazine and the like. The self-righteously straight-talking journalism that reveals the ways in which having children don’t make an upper-middle-class Brooklynite “happy” tends to be far more revelatory about the conflicts between the present-day obsession with the narrowest aspect of self-fulfillment than it does about the nature of being a mother or a father and how being one not only changes you but fulfills the most basic hunger/obligation of any earthly creature — to keep life itself alive.

The most affecting riposte to this sort of talk I’ve read recently comes from my old friend Rod Dreher, with whom I have many disagreements ideologically but few on the most fundamental matters. Dreher is now editing a truly wonderful new website at the John Templeton Foundation called Big Questions Online under the supervision of Gary Rosen, who was a senior editor at COMMENTARY for more than a decade. It’s worth taking half an hour this weekend to look around Big Questions and see the way its writers are grappling with fundamental issues of reason and faith, science and religion — the very subjects about which the Templeton Foundation has distinguished itself through its support and consideration over the years.

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Why Can’t Obama Be More Like Bush

Over at Politico.com, senior editor David Mark poses this question: “Why can’t Democrats on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue act as cohesively as the Bush White House did with Republican congressional majorities most of its first six years in office?”

It’s a fair question, actually. And since President Obama is so eager to compare himself to President Bush, it’s perhaps worth pointing out — as a reference point — that in Bush’s first midterm election, Republicans regained their majority in the Senate and added six seats in the House. It was only the second election in American history in which a president’s party gained seats in both the House and Senate in the first midterm election (the only other time was in 1934, when FDR Democrats gained seats in both chambers).

We’ll see how Obama does in comparison to Bush on this score. I suspect not well.

Over at Politico.com, senior editor David Mark poses this question: “Why can’t Democrats on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue act as cohesively as the Bush White House did with Republican congressional majorities most of its first six years in office?”

It’s a fair question, actually. And since President Obama is so eager to compare himself to President Bush, it’s perhaps worth pointing out — as a reference point — that in Bush’s first midterm election, Republicans regained their majority in the Senate and added six seats in the House. It was only the second election in American history in which a president’s party gained seats in both the House and Senate in the first midterm election (the only other time was in 1934, when FDR Democrats gained seats in both chambers).

We’ll see how Obama does in comparison to Bush on this score. I suspect not well.

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CNN Editor Mourns and Respects a Promoter of “Resistance” and Terror

Daniel Halper at the Weekly Standard found a doozy of a Twitter post on the Fourth of July by Octavia Nasr, CNN’s senior editor of Mideast Affairs. “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah,” she wrote. “One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

I know enough about Fadlallah, who died at the age of 74 in a Beirut hospital over the weekend, that I can interpret her Twitter post charitably. While once known as the “spiritual leader” of Hezbollah, Fadlallah later moved above and beyond the Party of God and even criticized it once in a while. He supported the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and its leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, but he also criticized Khomeini’s regime of Velayat-e faqih — rule by Islamic jurists — and declared it an inappropriate political system for Lebanon. He supported women’s rights, dismissed their unequal treatment as “backward,” and issued a fatwa condemning “honor” killings.

Most Americans don’t know this about Fadlallah, or have even heard of him. Octavia Nasr surely does, though. It’s common knowledge in Lebanon. She lives in Atlanta, but she was born in Beirut, and covers the Middle East for a living. More likely than not, some or all of the above is what she had in mind when she posted her comment on Twitter.

Still, she’s talking about a man who issued theological justifications for suicide bombings. He threw his support behind hostage-taking in Lebanon during the 1980s and the truck bombings in Beirut that killed more American servicemen than any single attack since World War II. Nasr didn’t mention any of that. It doesn’t even look like she factored it in.

Twitter has a strict limit of 140 characters per “tweet.” It’s hardly the place for a nuanced exposé of a complicated man. There simply isn’t room to write more than one or two sentences at a time. Even so, I suspect the average American consumer of news would find it alarming that a senior editor of Mideast Affairs respects and mourns the loss of a man who supported the kidnapping, murder, and truck bombings of hundreds of her adopted countrymen — and that she said so on the Fourth of July — even if she mourns and respects him for entirely different reasons and does so despite, not because of, his positions on “resistance” and terrorism.

She owes her audience — and perhaps also her employers — a candid explanation at least.

Daniel Halper at the Weekly Standard found a doozy of a Twitter post on the Fourth of July by Octavia Nasr, CNN’s senior editor of Mideast Affairs. “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah,” she wrote. “One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

I know enough about Fadlallah, who died at the age of 74 in a Beirut hospital over the weekend, that I can interpret her Twitter post charitably. While once known as the “spiritual leader” of Hezbollah, Fadlallah later moved above and beyond the Party of God and even criticized it once in a while. He supported the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and its leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, but he also criticized Khomeini’s regime of Velayat-e faqih — rule by Islamic jurists — and declared it an inappropriate political system for Lebanon. He supported women’s rights, dismissed their unequal treatment as “backward,” and issued a fatwa condemning “honor” killings.

Most Americans don’t know this about Fadlallah, or have even heard of him. Octavia Nasr surely does, though. It’s common knowledge in Lebanon. She lives in Atlanta, but she was born in Beirut, and covers the Middle East for a living. More likely than not, some or all of the above is what she had in mind when she posted her comment on Twitter.

Still, she’s talking about a man who issued theological justifications for suicide bombings. He threw his support behind hostage-taking in Lebanon during the 1980s and the truck bombings in Beirut that killed more American servicemen than any single attack since World War II. Nasr didn’t mention any of that. It doesn’t even look like she factored it in.

Twitter has a strict limit of 140 characters per “tweet.” It’s hardly the place for a nuanced exposé of a complicated man. There simply isn’t room to write more than one or two sentences at a time. Even so, I suspect the average American consumer of news would find it alarming that a senior editor of Mideast Affairs respects and mourns the loss of a man who supported the kidnapping, murder, and truck bombings of hundreds of her adopted countrymen — and that she said so on the Fourth of July — even if she mourns and respects him for entirely different reasons and does so despite, not because of, his positions on “resistance” and terrorism.

She owes her audience — and perhaps also her employers — a candid explanation at least.

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The Real Death Panel

Politico’s headline reads “Mammograms as political weapon.” A more accurate headline might have been “Mammogram Advisers Become ObamaCare Death Panel.” It was the pronouncement of that panel — which contained not a single oncologist or radiologist — that provided Americans with a vivid example of what happens when bureaucrats are given authority to insert themselves into health-care decisions previously made on a case-by-case basis by doctors. It has become a “weapon” only in the sense that facts are powerful things, still, in politics. The report explains:

“It resonates with 52 percent of the electorate,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor for the Cook Political Report. “You can get yourself in a good bit of trouble being on the wrong side of the issue.” … “There’s sort of a ‘What?’ factor,” said Michael Dimock, a pollster for the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. [T]his struck so many as pulling the rug under people.”

More precisely, it showed people just how the rug is going to get pulled out from many of us once we set in place a government-centric system administered by “effectiveness research” proponents — panels of gurus who turn out to be not really expert in the field but who operate under huge pressure to shave costs by chiseling on care.

The report bends over backward to paint this as some sort of bipartisan problem, as if Republicans are pushing for panels of bureaucrats to run health care. Politico intones that in Virginia, Creigh Deeds “ripped into his opponent for supposedly supporting a policy that would have let the state’s employers drop breast cancer screenings from health plans.” That would be the guy who lost by 20 points. And yes, Jon Corzine tried to use the issue, suggesting that Chris Christie wanted to limit mammograms too. Corzine lost.

What actually happened is that people got a taste of ObamaCare. It’s sent Democrats into a defensive crouch and emboldened Republicans to attack ObamaCare as a threat to Americans’ health. Both Carly Fiorina, who’s running for the Senate in California, and Mark Kirk of Illinois have had an overwhelming response by tying the mammogram-guideline backlash to the larger issue of ObamaCare. (A Kirk message explained, “This Task Force features prominently in the health care legislation being considered by the Senate, and its recommendations will carry tremendous weight under any government takeover of healthcare.”)

In a sense, the mammogram advisers did us all a favor. They reminded us of just how dangerous it can be to turn over your health care to the government.

Politico’s headline reads “Mammograms as political weapon.” A more accurate headline might have been “Mammogram Advisers Become ObamaCare Death Panel.” It was the pronouncement of that panel — which contained not a single oncologist or radiologist — that provided Americans with a vivid example of what happens when bureaucrats are given authority to insert themselves into health-care decisions previously made on a case-by-case basis by doctors. It has become a “weapon” only in the sense that facts are powerful things, still, in politics. The report explains:

“It resonates with 52 percent of the electorate,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor for the Cook Political Report. “You can get yourself in a good bit of trouble being on the wrong side of the issue.” … “There’s sort of a ‘What?’ factor,” said Michael Dimock, a pollster for the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. [T]his struck so many as pulling the rug under people.”

More precisely, it showed people just how the rug is going to get pulled out from many of us once we set in place a government-centric system administered by “effectiveness research” proponents — panels of gurus who turn out to be not really expert in the field but who operate under huge pressure to shave costs by chiseling on care.

The report bends over backward to paint this as some sort of bipartisan problem, as if Republicans are pushing for panels of bureaucrats to run health care. Politico intones that in Virginia, Creigh Deeds “ripped into his opponent for supposedly supporting a policy that would have let the state’s employers drop breast cancer screenings from health plans.” That would be the guy who lost by 20 points. And yes, Jon Corzine tried to use the issue, suggesting that Chris Christie wanted to limit mammograms too. Corzine lost.

What actually happened is that people got a taste of ObamaCare. It’s sent Democrats into a defensive crouch and emboldened Republicans to attack ObamaCare as a threat to Americans’ health. Both Carly Fiorina, who’s running for the Senate in California, and Mark Kirk of Illinois have had an overwhelming response by tying the mammogram-guideline backlash to the larger issue of ObamaCare. (A Kirk message explained, “This Task Force features prominently in the health care legislation being considered by the Senate, and its recommendations will carry tremendous weight under any government takeover of healthcare.”)

In a sense, the mammogram advisers did us all a favor. They reminded us of just how dangerous it can be to turn over your health care to the government.

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Another Obama Aide Blames Israel First

Over at Connecting the Dots, Commentary’s senior editor Gabe Schoenfeld offers a telling account of how Barack Obama’s senior aide on nuclear proliferation initially denounced reports about North Korea’s efforts to help Syria build a reactor as “nonsense” whose purpose was partly to scuttle Israeli negotiations with Syria. Today that evidence was shown to Congress, and is, it is said, incontrovertible.

Over at Connecting the Dots, Commentary’s senior editor Gabe Schoenfeld offers a telling account of how Barack Obama’s senior aide on nuclear proliferation initially denounced reports about North Korea’s efforts to help Syria build a reactor as “nonsense” whose purpose was partly to scuttle Israeli negotiations with Syria. Today that evidence was shown to Congress, and is, it is said, incontrovertible.

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The Reluctant Communist

Can a deserter, a seeming traitor and a star in a propaganda film produced by a Communist dictatorship also be, in the end, an American patriot? That is one of the questions posed by the life of Charles Robert Jenkins, the author of The Reluctant Communist. This extraordinary book is now available for sale on Amazon and elsewhere. It is one of the most important documents to come out of North Korea ever. I review it in today’s Wall Street Journal.  The review can be found on their site, or you can click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below to read it here.

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Can a deserter, a seeming traitor and a star in a propaganda film produced by a Communist dictatorship also be, in the end, an American patriot? That is one of the questions posed by the life of Charles Robert Jenkins, the author of The Reluctant Communist. This extraordinary book is now available for sale on Amazon and elsewhere. It is one of the most important documents to come out of North Korea ever. I review it in today’s Wall Street Journal.  The review can be found on their site, or you can click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below to read it here.

The Reluctant Communist

By Charles Robert Jenkins, with Jim Frederick

University of California, 192 pages, $24.95

Can a deserter, a seeming traitor and a star in a propaganda film produced by a Communist dictatorship also be, in the end, an American patriot? That is one of the questions posed by the life of Charles Robert Jenkins, the author of The Reluctant Communist.

Uneducated, dirt poor, from rural North Carolina, Mr. Jenkins joined the U.S. Army in 1958 and rose to the rank of sergeant within three years. He was soon sent to South Korea, where he was assigned to patrols along the demilitarized zone and regularly came under hostile fire. Depressed and drinking heavily, he started searching for a way home. The scheme he cooked up: Cross into North Korea, get handed over to the Russians and then repatriated to the U.S. At most he would face the sanction of a court-martial.

But there was a hitch. “I did not understand,” Mr. Jenkins writes, “that the country I was seeking temporary refuge in was literally a giant, demented prison; once someone goes there, they almost never get out.” Mr. Jenkins was to spend the next four decades in North Korea. His memoir, written with the help of Jim Frederick, a Time magazine senior editor, is the story of his life in that bizarre and barbaric land.

After his capture, Mr. Jenkins recounts, he was subjected to a none-too-gentle period of interrogation and then brought together with three other Americans who had done the same thing, “all young dumb soldiers from poor backgrounds” like himself whose misbegotten actions turned them into North Korea’s “cold-war trophies.” Their lives were privileged compared with those of ordinary North Koreans, but the physical hardship was extreme: scarce, rotten food, lack of heat and indoor plumbing (not to mention privacy), insect and rat infestation.

But the mental strain was far worse. Complete isolation from the familiar world was a mere backdrop to the ordeal inflicted by an endless procession of Communist Party minders, who monitored Mr. Jenkins’s every move and who strove, by means of compulsory self-criticism sessions and beatings, to inculcate in him the “correct ideology.”

Under threat of transfer to a prison colony and almost certain death, Mr. Jenkins was routinely assigned to socialist toil. Sometimes it was weaving fishing nets, sometimes teaching English to North Korean military personnel. Sometimes it was acting in North Korean films, including one celebrating the North Korean capture of the USS Pueblo in 1968. (Mr. Jenkins played the captain of a U.S. aircraft carrier.) With characteristic inefficiency, the North Koreans shot the scenes in the order in which they would appear in the film, breaking down the sets each time and then rebuilding them when needed.

Thanks to Kim Il Sung’s “glorious benevolence,” as the North Koreans called it, Mr. Jenkins and his American comrades were eventually provided with female personal “cooks.” They were expected to serve the state as another set of watching eyes and, as it happened, as “unofficial wives” — potential consorts. The first words that Mr. Jenkins’s own cook said to him were: “I am not cooking for an American dog.” Relations between them, he observes, “went down from there.”

One of North Korea’s cruelest policies was to intersect bittersweetly with Mr. Jenkins’s life. Beginning sometime in the mid-1970s, the regime began kidnapping young Japanese women, some as young as 13, snatching them off streets near beaches in Japan and conveying them to North Korea to fulfill various tasks for its intelligence service. One such young woman was Hitomi Soga, seized along with her mother, stuffed into a black sack, taken by submarine to North Korea and, after a suitable “adjustment period,” delivered to Mr. Jenkins’s home and made to live with him, presumably to bolster the morale of a cold-war trophy.

Mr. Jenkins’s minders, he says, encouraged him to rape her. Instead he treated her with kindness and respect. Before long, the two fell in love, a bond apparently made all the stronger by the suffering both had endured at the hands of their common tormentors. Marriage followed, along with three children, one of whom died at birth. The whereabouts of Hitomi’s mother remain unknown to this day.

In 2002, North Korea unexpectedly acknowledged its kidnapping program and Hitomi was repatriated to Japan. Mr. Jenkins and the couple’s two daughters followed 18 months later. At that point, he turned himself in to American authorities in Tokyo, becoming the longest-missing U.S. deserter ever to report again for duty. The U.S. Army sentenced him, humanely, to 30 days in the brig. “Going AWOL to avoid combat is a serious crime,” Mr. Jenkins writes, “and abandoning troops under your command is one of the worst things a military man can do. . . . I am sorry for that, and I have spent my life having to live with my conscience and the consequence of my actions on that day.”

However we judge Mr. Jenkins’s actions so many years ago, “The Reluctant Communist” is itself an act of redemption. This extraordinary book opens a window on a world of fathomless evil, and it tells a heartbreaking story — of a life lived in adversity and conducted with a mixture of fortitude, resignation, tenderness and regret. Clearly Charles Robert Jenkins emerged from his years of ordeal with his Americanness intact. True patriotism can come in many forms.

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Une puissance juive?

I was skeptical, at first, on the question of whether the Sarkozy administration would end up doing much to change the nearly 200-year French ambition of being Europe’s staunchest advocate for Muslim interests in the Middle East (a self-styled puissance musulmane, or Muslim power). Except for the fortuitous few years of Pierre Etienne-Gilbert’s ambassadorship to Israel (1953-1959), France has always hewed to a policy of conspicuous favoritism toward the Arab world at the expense of Jewish interests and Israel (see National Review senior editor David Pryce-Jones’s terrific book Betrayal: France, the Arabs, and the Jews).

Amidst France’s embargo of arms shipments to Israel in the run-up to the Six Day War, Charles De Gaulle told British Prime Minister Harold Wilson that from then on France would “be the only Western power to have any influence with the Arab governments.” Everyone knows about Jacques Chirac’s love affair with Saddam Hussein, but fewer know that when Hussein expelled Ayatollah Khomeini from Najaf in 1977, France set up Khomeini in a swank Paris compound, complete with international communications equipment that he used to foment the Iranian Revolution. When the Shah fled in 1979, Khomeini arrived in Tehran via a chartered Air France jet.

So it is deeply satisfying to see Sarkozy today taking such a strong public stance against the nuclear ambitions of an Iranian regime that his own country had an important hand in bringing to power. The Jerusalem Post has this report on Ehud Olmert’s visit to Paris this week:

Olmert reported that French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s position regarding Iran’s nuclear program was “identical” to his own. Sarkozy reportedly also told Olmert, regarding the Palestinian demand of a “right of return,” that they cannot demand a state of their own and “part of your country too.” Finally, Sarkozy said that “Israel’s establishment is a miracle and may have been the central event of the 20th century.”

These are really quite astonishing quotes, when you consider that Francois Mitterand’s foreign minister said not very long ago that “my condemnation of Zionism is absolute.” If Sarkozy keeps this up, he’ll find that, after centuries of trying, France will finally have some genuine influence in the Middle East.

I was skeptical, at first, on the question of whether the Sarkozy administration would end up doing much to change the nearly 200-year French ambition of being Europe’s staunchest advocate for Muslim interests in the Middle East (a self-styled puissance musulmane, or Muslim power). Except for the fortuitous few years of Pierre Etienne-Gilbert’s ambassadorship to Israel (1953-1959), France has always hewed to a policy of conspicuous favoritism toward the Arab world at the expense of Jewish interests and Israel (see National Review senior editor David Pryce-Jones’s terrific book Betrayal: France, the Arabs, and the Jews).

Amidst France’s embargo of arms shipments to Israel in the run-up to the Six Day War, Charles De Gaulle told British Prime Minister Harold Wilson that from then on France would “be the only Western power to have any influence with the Arab governments.” Everyone knows about Jacques Chirac’s love affair with Saddam Hussein, but fewer know that when Hussein expelled Ayatollah Khomeini from Najaf in 1977, France set up Khomeini in a swank Paris compound, complete with international communications equipment that he used to foment the Iranian Revolution. When the Shah fled in 1979, Khomeini arrived in Tehran via a chartered Air France jet.

So it is deeply satisfying to see Sarkozy today taking such a strong public stance against the nuclear ambitions of an Iranian regime that his own country had an important hand in bringing to power. The Jerusalem Post has this report on Ehud Olmert’s visit to Paris this week:

Olmert reported that French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s position regarding Iran’s nuclear program was “identical” to his own. Sarkozy reportedly also told Olmert, regarding the Palestinian demand of a “right of return,” that they cannot demand a state of their own and “part of your country too.” Finally, Sarkozy said that “Israel’s establishment is a miracle and may have been the central event of the 20th century.”

These are really quite astonishing quotes, when you consider that Francois Mitterand’s foreign minister said not very long ago that “my condemnation of Zionism is absolute.” If Sarkozy keeps this up, he’ll find that, after centuries of trying, France will finally have some genuine influence in the Middle East.

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Weekend Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Welcome, David Pryce-Jones

We’d like to welcome to contentions as a guest blogger David Pryce-Jones, senior editor at National Review. David has written about systems of belief from Nazism and Communism to Islam. Among his books are The Closed Circle and The Strange Death of the Soviety Empire. His latest book is Betrayal: France, the Arabs, and the Jews (Encounter Books). He is also the author of several novels. David brings his trademark erudition and assured voice to contentions, and we’re delighted to have him. Enjoy!

We’d like to welcome to contentions as a guest blogger David Pryce-Jones, senior editor at National Review. David has written about systems of belief from Nazism and Communism to Islam. Among his books are The Closed Circle and The Strange Death of the Soviety Empire. His latest book is Betrayal: France, the Arabs, and the Jews (Encounter Books). He is also the author of several novels. David brings his trademark erudition and assured voice to contentions, and we’re delighted to have him. Enjoy!

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Mailer’s Grotesquerie

Almost a month after Lee Siegel’s expansive, unfocused paean to Norman Mailer’s The Castle in the Forest appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Ruth Franklin, a senior editor at the New Republic, has published her own astute (and devastating) review of the novel. (It’s worth noting that Siegel, in praising Mailer as a novelist, focused for the most part on Mailer’s works of “literary non-fiction.”) Franklin’s review skirts but does not point out explicitly the novel’s Manichean theology–a vision of the positive nature of evil that has consumed Mailer from the outset of his literary career. But both pieces are worth reading, especially for the sharp relief into which Franklin’s perspicacity casts Siegel’s confused tribute. And make sure to read John Gross’s review of The Castle in the Forest in the March issue of COMMENTARY.

Almost a month after Lee Siegel’s expansive, unfocused paean to Norman Mailer’s The Castle in the Forest appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Ruth Franklin, a senior editor at the New Republic, has published her own astute (and devastating) review of the novel. (It’s worth noting that Siegel, in praising Mailer as a novelist, focused for the most part on Mailer’s works of “literary non-fiction.”) Franklin’s review skirts but does not point out explicitly the novel’s Manichean theology–a vision of the positive nature of evil that has consumed Mailer from the outset of his literary career. But both pieces are worth reading, especially for the sharp relief into which Franklin’s perspicacity casts Siegel’s confused tribute. And make sure to read John Gross’s review of The Castle in the Forest in the March issue of COMMENTARY.

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