Commentary Magazine


Topic: specialist

There Is a Moral Void in the Oval Office

It struck me in observing the FPI conference yesterday and in reading Eli Lake’s piece on Russian democracy activist Boris Nemtsov, the former Russian deputy prime minister, that there is a a growing realization by those who are and should be friends of America that the U.S. is AWOL when it comes to leading the West and the values the West stands for.

At yesterday’s session, former Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar reminded the audience that America is the “indispensable” nation and bemoaned the president’s decided lack of attention to Europe. (The U.S. is not looking at Europe,” he remarked.) When asked about his concerns regarding the Obama administration, he bluntly responded,

As you know, I am not a supporter of President Obama. … This is the first time the Europeans feel that for the American President, especially after the First and Second World War, Europe is not a priority. It is not an important part of the solution. … A lot of Europeans think Mr. Obama is not an American president. Now, he’s living in a moment of confusion, and disagrees in economic terms. … Politically, leadership is in my opinion weak. Economically, it is a very serious problem. I consider that the current economic American policy is a huge mistake, and in terms of security, it depends.

To send the message that the power, the force, in the sense of the United States, the presence of the United States is necessary to maintain. I hear every day organize and pull out the 19 troops, and another day, no. What is the policy of the United States. It is not possible if you want to maintain the capacity to be the leader in the world.

After his public remarks, I asked Aznar, who is a founder of the Friends of Israel Initiative, whether Israel delegitimizers have been inspired by Obama’s public animus to the Jewish state. He replied that when there is an opportunity, Israel’s delegitimizers grab it. (He also contends that things are better now between the U.S. and Israel, reflecting some observers’ misperception, I would argue, that the absence of public shouting matches denotes a more productive relationship.)

Eli’s piece provides more support for the unfortunate conclusion that Obama’s disinterest in human rights and yearning to remove conflicts with rivals and foes (even at the price of sacrificing our own interests) is leaving our friends bewildered. He explains with regard to Nemtsov :

“Russians do not know what Obama thinks about human rights and democracy,” he told a conference held by the Foreign Policy Initiative.

The criticism from Mr. Nemtsov highlights the Obama administration’s approach to improving relations with Russia that critics say has neglected past U.S. priorities for Russia, such as advancing democracy and the rule of law. Instead, the administration has sought to win Russian cooperation with U.S. goals at the United Nations, to sanction Iran and to win cooperation for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

Here’s the stunner, conveyed by Eli:

In the meeting, Mr. Nemtsov presented Mr. Obama with a copy of a 2005 Senate resolution co-sponsored by then-Sen. Obama condemning the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian oligarch who was detained in 2005 on charges widely considered to be political retaliation from Mr. Putin, who was then Russia’s president.

Mr. Nemtsov said the president’s face had no expression when presented with the old resolution. He only said, “I know.”

“I was disappointed,” Mr. Nemtsov said of the encounter with Mr. Obama over Mr. Khodorkovsky. “I talked with [White House Russia specialist] Michael McFaul about that. He had a clear position about this case; he agreed with me. I don’t think Obama had a clear position. If Obama had this position, I am sure he would have responded.”

Think about that. The leader of the Free World is presented with information about one of the most highly publicized Russian human-rights violations and expresses no emotion or even interest in it. Can you image any other U.S. president reacting in this way?

In sum, the concern that Aznar and Nemstov expresses is one that conservatives have raised for some time: Obama’s lack of resolve and reticence on human rights is leaving allies in the lurch and making the world a more dangerous place. Obama, who is quite enamored of European opinion, would do well to listen to what some of its best representatives are saying.

It struck me in observing the FPI conference yesterday and in reading Eli Lake’s piece on Russian democracy activist Boris Nemtsov, the former Russian deputy prime minister, that there is a a growing realization by those who are and should be friends of America that the U.S. is AWOL when it comes to leading the West and the values the West stands for.

At yesterday’s session, former Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar reminded the audience that America is the “indispensable” nation and bemoaned the president’s decided lack of attention to Europe. (The U.S. is not looking at Europe,” he remarked.) When asked about his concerns regarding the Obama administration, he bluntly responded,

As you know, I am not a supporter of President Obama. … This is the first time the Europeans feel that for the American President, especially after the First and Second World War, Europe is not a priority. It is not an important part of the solution. … A lot of Europeans think Mr. Obama is not an American president. Now, he’s living in a moment of confusion, and disagrees in economic terms. … Politically, leadership is in my opinion weak. Economically, it is a very serious problem. I consider that the current economic American policy is a huge mistake, and in terms of security, it depends.

To send the message that the power, the force, in the sense of the United States, the presence of the United States is necessary to maintain. I hear every day organize and pull out the 19 troops, and another day, no. What is the policy of the United States. It is not possible if you want to maintain the capacity to be the leader in the world.

After his public remarks, I asked Aznar, who is a founder of the Friends of Israel Initiative, whether Israel delegitimizers have been inspired by Obama’s public animus to the Jewish state. He replied that when there is an opportunity, Israel’s delegitimizers grab it. (He also contends that things are better now between the U.S. and Israel, reflecting some observers’ misperception, I would argue, that the absence of public shouting matches denotes a more productive relationship.)

Eli’s piece provides more support for the unfortunate conclusion that Obama’s disinterest in human rights and yearning to remove conflicts with rivals and foes (even at the price of sacrificing our own interests) is leaving our friends bewildered. He explains with regard to Nemtsov :

“Russians do not know what Obama thinks about human rights and democracy,” he told a conference held by the Foreign Policy Initiative.

The criticism from Mr. Nemtsov highlights the Obama administration’s approach to improving relations with Russia that critics say has neglected past U.S. priorities for Russia, such as advancing democracy and the rule of law. Instead, the administration has sought to win Russian cooperation with U.S. goals at the United Nations, to sanction Iran and to win cooperation for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

Here’s the stunner, conveyed by Eli:

In the meeting, Mr. Nemtsov presented Mr. Obama with a copy of a 2005 Senate resolution co-sponsored by then-Sen. Obama condemning the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian oligarch who was detained in 2005 on charges widely considered to be political retaliation from Mr. Putin, who was then Russia’s president.

Mr. Nemtsov said the president’s face had no expression when presented with the old resolution. He only said, “I know.”

“I was disappointed,” Mr. Nemtsov said of the encounter with Mr. Obama over Mr. Khodorkovsky. “I talked with [White House Russia specialist] Michael McFaul about that. He had a clear position about this case; he agreed with me. I don’t think Obama had a clear position. If Obama had this position, I am sure he would have responded.”

Think about that. The leader of the Free World is presented with information about one of the most highly publicized Russian human-rights violations and expresses no emotion or even interest in it. Can you image any other U.S. president reacting in this way?

In sum, the concern that Aznar and Nemstov expresses is one that conservatives have raised for some time: Obama’s lack of resolve and reticence on human rights is leaving allies in the lurch and making the world a more dangerous place. Obama, who is quite enamored of European opinion, would do well to listen to what some of its best representatives are saying.

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Leading Palestinian Activist: Iran Perpetuates Palestinian Suffering

A remarkable conference took place in Jerusalem last week on “The Danger of a Nuclear, Genocidal and Rights-Violating Iran; the Responsibility to Prevent.” Its purpose was to present a report of that name, signed by 100 international scholars, jurists, and government officials, whose content would presumably be familiar to anyone who has followed events in Iran over the past few years. What made it remarkable was the identity of one of the three presenters.

The other two were unsurprising: Irwin Cotler, the former Canadian justice minister who has campaigned for years to get Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad indicted for incitement to genocide in an international court, and Amnon Rubinstein, a former Knesset member and minister from Israel’s far-left Meretz Party who, unlike most of his colleagues, recognizes the threat posed by the current delegitimization campaign against Israel and has devoted himself since retirement to defending his country’s good name.

But the third was a shocker: Bassem Eid, a West Bank Palestinian who made his name documenting alleged Israeli abuses of Palestinians as chief researcher for B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

Eid has always been an anomaly among the so-called human rights community, in that he objects to abuse regardless of who commits it. That’s what precipitated his break with B’Tselem: after the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994, he wanted B’Tselem to start documenting PA abuses of Palestinian rights as well as Israeli ones. When B’Tselem refused, saying it had no interest in abused Palestinians unless Israel was the alleged perpetrator, Eid left to found his own organization, the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group.

Still, most human rights activists focus on a particular area; it’s unusual to see a specialist in Palestinian rights throwing his weight behind a report focused on two issues seemingly unrelated to his chief concern: Iran’s genocidal threats against Israel, and its massive abuse of its own people, including “reports of torture, an assault on women’s rights, oppression of minorities such as the Baha’is and Kurds; murder of political dissidents; the denial of gay rights and what Cotler described as ‘the wanton imposition of the death penalty, including the execution of more juveniles than any other country in the world.’”

But as Eid explained, it really isn’t so far afield — because by propping up the Hamas regime in Gaza, Iran is also responsible for massive Palestinian suffering. That suffering, he noted, has been thrown into sharp relief in recent years by the contrast between Gaza’s decline and the West Bank’s impressive development.

So if the world cares about Palestinian suffering as much as it says it does, shouldn’t it also care about Iran’s perpetuation of it? Eid certainly won’t be surprised if the answer is no; after founding PHRMG in 1996, he complained bitterly that the same journalists who flocked to hear his reports on alleged Israeli abuse of Palestinians gave him the cold shoulder when he tried to tell them about PA abuse. But he keeps on trying — eternally hoping that someday, the answer will be yes.

A remarkable conference took place in Jerusalem last week on “The Danger of a Nuclear, Genocidal and Rights-Violating Iran; the Responsibility to Prevent.” Its purpose was to present a report of that name, signed by 100 international scholars, jurists, and government officials, whose content would presumably be familiar to anyone who has followed events in Iran over the past few years. What made it remarkable was the identity of one of the three presenters.

The other two were unsurprising: Irwin Cotler, the former Canadian justice minister who has campaigned for years to get Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad indicted for incitement to genocide in an international court, and Amnon Rubinstein, a former Knesset member and minister from Israel’s far-left Meretz Party who, unlike most of his colleagues, recognizes the threat posed by the current delegitimization campaign against Israel and has devoted himself since retirement to defending his country’s good name.

But the third was a shocker: Bassem Eid, a West Bank Palestinian who made his name documenting alleged Israeli abuses of Palestinians as chief researcher for B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

Eid has always been an anomaly among the so-called human rights community, in that he objects to abuse regardless of who commits it. That’s what precipitated his break with B’Tselem: after the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994, he wanted B’Tselem to start documenting PA abuses of Palestinian rights as well as Israeli ones. When B’Tselem refused, saying it had no interest in abused Palestinians unless Israel was the alleged perpetrator, Eid left to found his own organization, the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group.

Still, most human rights activists focus on a particular area; it’s unusual to see a specialist in Palestinian rights throwing his weight behind a report focused on two issues seemingly unrelated to his chief concern: Iran’s genocidal threats against Israel, and its massive abuse of its own people, including “reports of torture, an assault on women’s rights, oppression of minorities such as the Baha’is and Kurds; murder of political dissidents; the denial of gay rights and what Cotler described as ‘the wanton imposition of the death penalty, including the execution of more juveniles than any other country in the world.’”

But as Eid explained, it really isn’t so far afield — because by propping up the Hamas regime in Gaza, Iran is also responsible for massive Palestinian suffering. That suffering, he noted, has been thrown into sharp relief in recent years by the contrast between Gaza’s decline and the West Bank’s impressive development.

So if the world cares about Palestinian suffering as much as it says it does, shouldn’t it also care about Iran’s perpetuation of it? Eid certainly won’t be surprised if the answer is no; after founding PHRMG in 1996, he complained bitterly that the same journalists who flocked to hear his reports on alleged Israeli abuse of Palestinians gave him the cold shoulder when he tried to tell them about PA abuse. But he keeps on trying — eternally hoping that someday, the answer will be yes.

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Does the Left Have the Nerve to Run Against Israel?

It’s no surprise that the likes of M.J. Rosenberg, whose hatred of Israel and venom for its defenders is practically unmatched, is screeching that the Emergency Committee for Israel has accused Joe Sestak of being “un-American.” He’s not paying attention — Sestak is being accused of being anti-Israel. A specialist in dual-loyalty charges like Rosenberg should know the difference. And I can’t begin to figure out his bizarre assertion that those who care about Iran going nuclear shouldn’t bother with “local Pennsylvania politics.” It is the U.S. Senate we’re talking about, right? Mr. Rosenberg, not only your animus but also your panic is showing.

But it’s worth trudging through that hooey to get to this comment from a Rosenberg reader:

As a Democrat I hope Sestak wins, but I find it interesting that far from defending his position on the letter about the Gaza blockade, he will now bend over backward to make sure people in Pennsylvania know how much he disagrees with you, Mr. Rosenberg, on what needs to be done with Israel. For the next six years Joe Sestak will say everything and do everything that AIPAC wants and to that I say: AMEN!

Well, this is the rub, isn’t it? Sestak signed the Gaza 54 letter, but now that he’s in a Senate race, he has signed on with a majority of his House colleagues in a letter supporting Israel on the flotilla and implicitly criticizing the administration. Did he have a change of heart, or does he merely lack the nerve to be as forthright about his views with the Pennsylvania electorate as he was with his J Street backers?

And what of the anti-Israel left? Aren’t they just a bit peeved that first Obama and now Sestak has dropped the Israel-bashing? You would think that they, too, would have the power of their convictions. Why do they prefer to fuzz up the differences between Sestak and his opponent on Israel? Wonder if it has anything to do with the political toxicity of their anti-Israel stance. But Rosenberg’s reader has one thing wrong: Sestak isn’t likely to get elected by conning the voters that he is AIPAC’s best friend. J Street — and ECI — will make that very hard.

It’s no surprise that the likes of M.J. Rosenberg, whose hatred of Israel and venom for its defenders is practically unmatched, is screeching that the Emergency Committee for Israel has accused Joe Sestak of being “un-American.” He’s not paying attention — Sestak is being accused of being anti-Israel. A specialist in dual-loyalty charges like Rosenberg should know the difference. And I can’t begin to figure out his bizarre assertion that those who care about Iran going nuclear shouldn’t bother with “local Pennsylvania politics.” It is the U.S. Senate we’re talking about, right? Mr. Rosenberg, not only your animus but also your panic is showing.

But it’s worth trudging through that hooey to get to this comment from a Rosenberg reader:

As a Democrat I hope Sestak wins, but I find it interesting that far from defending his position on the letter about the Gaza blockade, he will now bend over backward to make sure people in Pennsylvania know how much he disagrees with you, Mr. Rosenberg, on what needs to be done with Israel. For the next six years Joe Sestak will say everything and do everything that AIPAC wants and to that I say: AMEN!

Well, this is the rub, isn’t it? Sestak signed the Gaza 54 letter, but now that he’s in a Senate race, he has signed on with a majority of his House colleagues in a letter supporting Israel on the flotilla and implicitly criticizing the administration. Did he have a change of heart, or does he merely lack the nerve to be as forthright about his views with the Pennsylvania electorate as he was with his J Street backers?

And what of the anti-Israel left? Aren’t they just a bit peeved that first Obama and now Sestak has dropped the Israel-bashing? You would think that they, too, would have the power of their convictions. Why do they prefer to fuzz up the differences between Sestak and his opponent on Israel? Wonder if it has anything to do with the political toxicity of their anti-Israel stance. But Rosenberg’s reader has one thing wrong: Sestak isn’t likely to get elected by conning the voters that he is AIPAC’s best friend. J Street — and ECI — will make that very hard.

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Another About-Face?

In a remarkable and entirely welcome reversal, the Eric Holder Justice Department has retreated in its effort to pursue ethics charges against Bush administration lawyers who authored memos on enhanced interrogation. Newsweek reports on the internal probe by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR):

While the probe is sharply critical of the legal reasoning used to justify waterboarding and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques, NEWSWEEK has learned that a senior Justice official who did the final review of the report softened an earlier OPR finding. Previously, the report concluded that two key authors—Jay Bybee, now a federal appellate court judge, and John Yoo, now a law professor—violated their professional obligations as lawyers when they crafted a crucial 2002 memo approving the use of harsh tactics, say two Justice sources who asked for anonymity discussing an internal matter. But the reviewer, career veteran David Margolis, downgraded that assessment to say they showed “poor judgment,” say the sources.

A draft report prepared in the waning days of the Bush administration by OPR was roundly criticized by departing Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy Mark Filip. As I reported previously:

One former Justice official with knowledge of the matter says, “It is safe to say they had a number of concerns about the draft report both as to the timing and the substance” of the work by OPR. There is, this official reports, “institutional unease by senior career people” at Justice that good faith legal work may place attorneys in peril. “The department won’t be able to attract the best and the brightest. You really want lawyers who will give candid legal advice.”

But the question remains why, and why now, the department has come to its senses. Newsweek pointedly observes: “A Justice official declined to explain why David Margolis softened the original finding, but noted that he is a highly respected career lawyer who acted without input from Holder.” One can speculate that some group of career attorneys, with no love lost for the Bush administration, nevertheless found the prospect of disbarring two of their own for good-faith legal work to be a bridge too far in the partisan wars. And it may be that as the wheels come off the ideology-driven Holder-Obama approach to terrorism (e.g., widespread criticism of the handling of the Christmas Day bombing, reversal of the decision to try KSM in New York), this was one more ill-conceived crusade that the Obami did not need.

Finally, for those who like a bit of Washington intrigue, consider that the White House counsel was until recently Greg Craig, who in his pre-Obama days as an adviser to Sen. Kennedy found the Nicaraguan Sandinistas to be deserving of our support, later helped return Elian Gonzales to the clutches of Fidel Castro, and advised in some capacity Pedro Miguel González, the Panamanian terrorist the U.S. government believed to have murdered two American soldiers. (Yes, that’s a story in and of itself, one that the mainstream media found no interest in reporting.) Craig, often cited as an enthusiastic backer of the “Not Bush” anti-terror policies, is now gone, a victim of the failed attempt to close Guantanamo. Perhaps his departure has removed a powerful advocate for this sort of unseemly mischief. If so, good riddance.

Regardless of the reason, the news that Yoo and Bybee will not be hounded from their profession is positive and long overdue. (The potential loss of their professional licenses has been hanging over them for well over a year.) The notion that lawyers providing detailed legal analysis and a comprehensive review of existing law could later be strung up by state bar associations is nothing short of chilling. As I previously wrote, Ronald Rotunda, a professor of law at Chapman Law School and a specialist in ethics who was consulted by the Justice Department on the OPR’s investigation, found the entire effort to prosecute lawyers for their opinions baffling:

“I can’t imagine you would discipline someone who goes through everything methodically.” He explains, “If you don’t like the particular policies, then change the policies.” He draws an analogy with the attacks on free speech during the Vietnam war and McCarthy eras in which lawyers with particular views were demonized and threatened with loss of their professional licenses.

Well, perhaps some sanity has been restored to the Justice Department. If so, we can finally turn our attention from waging war against the prior administration to determining how to uproot the failed policies of this one. Then on to steering an approach to combating terrorism that is both effective and enjoys the support of the public.

In a remarkable and entirely welcome reversal, the Eric Holder Justice Department has retreated in its effort to pursue ethics charges against Bush administration lawyers who authored memos on enhanced interrogation. Newsweek reports on the internal probe by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR):

While the probe is sharply critical of the legal reasoning used to justify waterboarding and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques, NEWSWEEK has learned that a senior Justice official who did the final review of the report softened an earlier OPR finding. Previously, the report concluded that two key authors—Jay Bybee, now a federal appellate court judge, and John Yoo, now a law professor—violated their professional obligations as lawyers when they crafted a crucial 2002 memo approving the use of harsh tactics, say two Justice sources who asked for anonymity discussing an internal matter. But the reviewer, career veteran David Margolis, downgraded that assessment to say they showed “poor judgment,” say the sources.

A draft report prepared in the waning days of the Bush administration by OPR was roundly criticized by departing Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy Mark Filip. As I reported previously:

One former Justice official with knowledge of the matter says, “It is safe to say they had a number of concerns about the draft report both as to the timing and the substance” of the work by OPR. There is, this official reports, “institutional unease by senior career people” at Justice that good faith legal work may place attorneys in peril. “The department won’t be able to attract the best and the brightest. You really want lawyers who will give candid legal advice.”

But the question remains why, and why now, the department has come to its senses. Newsweek pointedly observes: “A Justice official declined to explain why David Margolis softened the original finding, but noted that he is a highly respected career lawyer who acted without input from Holder.” One can speculate that some group of career attorneys, with no love lost for the Bush administration, nevertheless found the prospect of disbarring two of their own for good-faith legal work to be a bridge too far in the partisan wars. And it may be that as the wheels come off the ideology-driven Holder-Obama approach to terrorism (e.g., widespread criticism of the handling of the Christmas Day bombing, reversal of the decision to try KSM in New York), this was one more ill-conceived crusade that the Obami did not need.

Finally, for those who like a bit of Washington intrigue, consider that the White House counsel was until recently Greg Craig, who in his pre-Obama days as an adviser to Sen. Kennedy found the Nicaraguan Sandinistas to be deserving of our support, later helped return Elian Gonzales to the clutches of Fidel Castro, and advised in some capacity Pedro Miguel González, the Panamanian terrorist the U.S. government believed to have murdered two American soldiers. (Yes, that’s a story in and of itself, one that the mainstream media found no interest in reporting.) Craig, often cited as an enthusiastic backer of the “Not Bush” anti-terror policies, is now gone, a victim of the failed attempt to close Guantanamo. Perhaps his departure has removed a powerful advocate for this sort of unseemly mischief. If so, good riddance.

Regardless of the reason, the news that Yoo and Bybee will not be hounded from their profession is positive and long overdue. (The potential loss of their professional licenses has been hanging over them for well over a year.) The notion that lawyers providing detailed legal analysis and a comprehensive review of existing law could later be strung up by state bar associations is nothing short of chilling. As I previously wrote, Ronald Rotunda, a professor of law at Chapman Law School and a specialist in ethics who was consulted by the Justice Department on the OPR’s investigation, found the entire effort to prosecute lawyers for their opinions baffling:

“I can’t imagine you would discipline someone who goes through everything methodically.” He explains, “If you don’t like the particular policies, then change the policies.” He draws an analogy with the attacks on free speech during the Vietnam war and McCarthy eras in which lawyers with particular views were demonized and threatened with loss of their professional licenses.

Well, perhaps some sanity has been restored to the Justice Department. If so, we can finally turn our attention from waging war against the prior administration to determining how to uproot the failed policies of this one. Then on to steering an approach to combating terrorism that is both effective and enjoys the support of the public.

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Bookshelf

• One good book deserves another, and I’m sorry to say that Daniel J. Levitin, the author of This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, has not quite lived up to expectations the second time around.

This Is Your Brain on Music, which I reviewed in this space last year, is that rarity of rarities, a lively and informative book written in a clear, straightforward style by a specialist in a field notable for its technical complexity. It was and still is the best introductory discussion of the psychology of musical perception and cognition ever to see print. But Levitin, a musician and record producer turned neuroscientist, has since succumbed to the urge to simplify and theorize, and The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature (Dutton, 333 pp., $25.95), while full of good things, doesn’t add up to a persuasive whole.

Part of the problem-most of it, really-is that The World in Six Songs makes a promise that it fails to keep. “I have come to believe,” Levitin writes, “that there are basically six kinds of songs, six ways that we use music in our lives, six broad categories of music. . . . They are songs of friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, and love.” This sentence is breathtakingly broad in its implications, and the book appears at first glance to be organized in such a way as to prove the point, though no more than a moment’s thought will leave most readers suspecting that the world of music is rather more complicated than Levitin suggests. What about songs of sorrow? Or story-driven ballads whose subject matter is not romantic love? Into which of his six pigeonholes would Levitin stuff, say, Irving Berlin’s “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails,” the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer,” or Donald Fagen’s “Morph the Cat”? And his decision to disregard instrumental music is so cavalier as to require far more justification than he offers:

The evolution of mind and music is easiest to follow in music that involves lyrics, because the meaning of the musical expression is less debatable. . . . Because music wasn’t recorded until about a hundred years ago, nor even accurately notated until a few hundred years before that, the historic record of music is substantially lyrics. For these two reasons, music with lyrics will be the predominant focus of The World in Six Songs.

That near-exclusive focus, alas, negates much of the explanatory power of The World in Six Songs, for it is impossible to take seriously any account of “the impact music has had on the course of our social history” that completely ignores the culture-shaping power of abstract instrumental music.

Fortunately, a closer look at Levitin’s book reveals that its purpose is not nearly so sweeping as the title suggests. In fact, the real subject matter of The World in Six Songs turns out to be “the evolution of music and brains over tens of thousands of years and across the six inhabited continents.” According to Levitin, music is “a core element of our identity as a species, an activity that paved the way for more complex behaviors such as language, large-scale cooperative undertakings, and the passing down of important information from one generation to the next.” Thus his six categories of song turn out not to be all-encompassing, but merely to represent the principal ways in which music “influenced the eveolution of human emotion, reason, and spirit.”

That I’ll buy, necessarily conjectural though it is. What I still find hard to accept is the loose organization of The World in Six Songs, which is less a well-structured book than a bagful of factual goodies into which the reader reaches more or less blindly to see which one comes out next. To be sure, I learned a lot from The World in Six Songs, but Levitin’s style is so discursive, anecdote-driven and gratuitously autobiographical (at one point he interrupts the narrative for an eight-page account of the development of his pacifist views) that I found much of the book needlessly difficult to follow. If you read it with patience, you’ll come away knowing more than when you started, but I wouldn’t blame you for giving up well before the halfway point.

• One good book deserves another, and I’m sorry to say that Daniel J. Levitin, the author of This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, has not quite lived up to expectations the second time around.

This Is Your Brain on Music, which I reviewed in this space last year, is that rarity of rarities, a lively and informative book written in a clear, straightforward style by a specialist in a field notable for its technical complexity. It was and still is the best introductory discussion of the psychology of musical perception and cognition ever to see print. But Levitin, a musician and record producer turned neuroscientist, has since succumbed to the urge to simplify and theorize, and The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature (Dutton, 333 pp., $25.95), while full of good things, doesn’t add up to a persuasive whole.

Part of the problem-most of it, really-is that The World in Six Songs makes a promise that it fails to keep. “I have come to believe,” Levitin writes, “that there are basically six kinds of songs, six ways that we use music in our lives, six broad categories of music. . . . They are songs of friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, and love.” This sentence is breathtakingly broad in its implications, and the book appears at first glance to be organized in such a way as to prove the point, though no more than a moment’s thought will leave most readers suspecting that the world of music is rather more complicated than Levitin suggests. What about songs of sorrow? Or story-driven ballads whose subject matter is not romantic love? Into which of his six pigeonholes would Levitin stuff, say, Irving Berlin’s “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails,” the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer,” or Donald Fagen’s “Morph the Cat”? And his decision to disregard instrumental music is so cavalier as to require far more justification than he offers:

The evolution of mind and music is easiest to follow in music that involves lyrics, because the meaning of the musical expression is less debatable. . . . Because music wasn’t recorded until about a hundred years ago, nor even accurately notated until a few hundred years before that, the historic record of music is substantially lyrics. For these two reasons, music with lyrics will be the predominant focus of The World in Six Songs.

That near-exclusive focus, alas, negates much of the explanatory power of The World in Six Songs, for it is impossible to take seriously any account of “the impact music has had on the course of our social history” that completely ignores the culture-shaping power of abstract instrumental music.

Fortunately, a closer look at Levitin’s book reveals that its purpose is not nearly so sweeping as the title suggests. In fact, the real subject matter of The World in Six Songs turns out to be “the evolution of music and brains over tens of thousands of years and across the six inhabited continents.” According to Levitin, music is “a core element of our identity as a species, an activity that paved the way for more complex behaviors such as language, large-scale cooperative undertakings, and the passing down of important information from one generation to the next.” Thus his six categories of song turn out not to be all-encompassing, but merely to represent the principal ways in which music “influenced the eveolution of human emotion, reason, and spirit.”

That I’ll buy, necessarily conjectural though it is. What I still find hard to accept is the loose organization of The World in Six Songs, which is less a well-structured book than a bagful of factual goodies into which the reader reaches more or less blindly to see which one comes out next. To be sure, I learned a lot from The World in Six Songs, but Levitin’s style is so discursive, anecdote-driven and gratuitously autobiographical (at one point he interrupts the narrative for an eight-page account of the development of his pacifist views) that I found much of the book needlessly difficult to follow. If you read it with patience, you’ll come away knowing more than when you started, but I wouldn’t blame you for giving up well before the halfway point.

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A Response to Andrew Sullivan

In my article “The Case for Bombing Iran” (COMMENTARY, June 2007), in my book World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, and in various public appearances (including a televised debate with Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek), I quoted the Ayatollah Khomeini as having said the following:

We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.

My source for this statement was Amir Taheri, the prolific Iranian-born journalist now living in London, who has also contributed a number of articles to COMMENTARY. Now, however, the Economist, relying on another Iranian-born writer, Shaul Bakhash of George Mason University, has alleged on its blog “Democracy in America” that Khomeini never said any such thing. “Someone,” says Mr. Bakhash, “should inform Mr. Podhoretz he is citing a non-existent statement.”

That “someone” has turned out to be Andrew Sullivan in his widely read blog, “The Daily Dish.” Linking to the Economist post, Sullivan accuses me of intellectual dishonesty for failing to admit that I have made an “error” in relying on a “bogus quotation” to bolster my argument that if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, it would not be deterred from using them by the fear of retaliation.

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In my article “The Case for Bombing Iran” (COMMENTARY, June 2007), in my book World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, and in various public appearances (including a televised debate with Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek), I quoted the Ayatollah Khomeini as having said the following:

We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.

My source for this statement was Amir Taheri, the prolific Iranian-born journalist now living in London, who has also contributed a number of articles to COMMENTARY. Now, however, the Economist, relying on another Iranian-born writer, Shaul Bakhash of George Mason University, has alleged on its blog “Democracy in America” that Khomeini never said any such thing. “Someone,” says Mr. Bakhash, “should inform Mr. Podhoretz he is citing a non-existent statement.”

That “someone” has turned out to be Andrew Sullivan in his widely read blog, “The Daily Dish.” Linking to the Economist post, Sullivan accuses me of intellectual dishonesty for failing to admit that I have made an “error” in relying on a “bogus quotation” to bolster my argument that if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, it would not be deterred from using them by the fear of retaliation.

I do not usually bother responding to Sullivan’s frequent attacks on me, which are fueled by the same shrill hysteria that, as has often been pointed out, deforms most of what he “dishes” out on a daily basis. But in this case I have decided to respond because, by linking to a sober source like the Economist, he may for a change seem credible.

The Economist concludes its piece by challenging Amir Taheri to produce “the original source for this quote.” In response to a query from me, Mr. Taheri has now met that challenge. He writes:

The quote can be found in several editions of Khomeini’s speeches and messages. Here is one edition:

Paymaha va Sokhanraniyha-yi Imam Khomeini (“Messages and Speeches of Imam Khomeini”) published by Nur Research and Publication Institute (Tehran, 1981).

The quote, along with many other passages, disappeared from several subsequent editions as the Islamic Republic tried to mobilize nationalistic feelings against Iraq, which had invaded Iran in 1980.

The practice of editing and even censoring Khomeini to suit the circumstances is widely known by Iranian scholars. This is how Professor Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, the Director of the Center for Persian Studies at the University of Maryland and a specialist in Islamic censorship, states the problem: “Khumayni’s [sic] speeches are regularly published in fresh editions wherein new selections are made, certain references deleted, and various adjustments introduced depending on the state’s current preoccupation” (Persian Studies in North America, 1994).

In any case, Mr. Taheri continues in his letter to me:

Your real argument is that Khomeini is not an Iranian nationalist but a pan-Islamist and thus would not have been affected by ordinary nationalistic considerations, including the safety of any “motherland.” This is known to Iranians as a matter of fact. Khomeini opposed the use of the words mellat (“nation”) and melli (“national”), replacing them with Ummat (“the Islamic community”) and ummati (“pertaining to the Islamic community”).

Thus, Majlis Shuray e Melli (“The National Consultative Assembly”) was renamed by Khomeini as Majlis Shuray Islami (“Islamic Consultative Assembly”). He also replaced the Iranian national insignia of Lion and Sun with a stylized calligraphy of the word Allah.

Thus, too, when he returned to Tehran after sixteen years of exile, Khomeini was asked by a French journalist, who had accompanied him on the Air France plane from Paris, what he felt. “Nothing,” the ayatollah replied. He then rejected the suggestion by his welcoming committee to kiss the soil of Iran. That would have been sherk, which means associating something with Allah, the gravest of sins in Islam.

Finally, Mr. Taheri rightly observes:

What is at issue here is the exact nature of the Khomeinist regime. Is it a nationalistic power pursuing the usual goals of nations? Or is it a messianic power with an eschatological ideology and the pretension to conquer the world on behalf of “The One and Only True Faith”?

Khomeini built a good part of his case against the Shah by claiming that the latter was trying to force Iranians to worship Iran rather than Allah. The theme remains a leitmotif of Khomeinists even today. . . . Those who try to portray this regime as just another opportunistic power with a quixotic tendency do a grave disservice to a proper understanding of the challenge that the world faces.

But this is not new. Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot also had their apologists who saw them as “nationalists” with “legitimate grievances.”

So much for the allegation that the Khomeini quotation is “non-existent.” But there is another quotation I have cited repeatedly in the course of showing why Iran would not be deterred by the fear of retaliation. This one is a statement by the supposedly moderate former President Rafsanjani:

If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession . . . application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.

In chiding me for using this statement as well, all the Economist can come up with is the feeble objection that “some say Rafsanjani was misleadingly quoted.” Well, some also say that it is on the basis of a mistranslation that Ahmadinejad has been quoted as calling for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” It is true that Ahmadinejad’s declaration can be translated in other ways. Yet the official Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), in its own English edition, reported that “Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday called for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map.’”

Since the case I make both in my COMMENTARY article and in my book rests on much more than the two quotations from Khomeini and Rafsanjani, it would still stand even if those quotations were in fact “bogus” or “fabricated.” But the truth is that Khomeini and Rafsanjani did say what I said they said. Not that this will silence the growing number of foreign-policy establishmentarians who—having finally recognized that Iran’s nuclear program cannot be stopped by diplomacy and sanctions, but having ruled out military force even as a last resort—are now desperately trying to persuade us that “we can live” with an Iranian bomb. God help us all if the counsels of these apologists and appeasers disguised as “realists” should in the end prevail.

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“Chunky Jello Salad”?

The plan to move the Barnes Foundation from suburban Merion to central Philadelphia took another step forward last Friday when a short list of six architects was announced. The Barnes, of course, houses the peerless collection of post-Impressionist and modernist paintings of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, which until recently was accessible only to the students of his idiosyncratic school of art. Since a controversial 2004 court decision permitted the trustees of the Barnes to relocate its collection to a site near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the foundation has been preparing to build a new museum.

According to Inga Saffron, architecture critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the short list is a fashionable roster of current celebrities: Rafael Moneo, the Spanish designer of the new Los Angeles Catholic Cathedral; Tadao Ando, the Japanese specialist in museum architecture; Thom Mayne of Morphosis, a Los Angeles firm whose work has an assertively theoretical character; and Kengo Kuma, a Japanese minimalist who works with traditional materials. The final two firms on the list, coincidentally, are the husband-and-wife teams I mentioned here last week: Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, designers of the American Folk Art Museum, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, whose Institute of Contemporary Art opened in Boston last fall.

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The plan to move the Barnes Foundation from suburban Merion to central Philadelphia took another step forward last Friday when a short list of six architects was announced. The Barnes, of course, houses the peerless collection of post-Impressionist and modernist paintings of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, which until recently was accessible only to the students of his idiosyncratic school of art. Since a controversial 2004 court decision permitted the trustees of the Barnes to relocate its collection to a site near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the foundation has been preparing to build a new museum.

According to Inga Saffron, architecture critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the short list is a fashionable roster of current celebrities: Rafael Moneo, the Spanish designer of the new Los Angeles Catholic Cathedral; Tadao Ando, the Japanese specialist in museum architecture; Thom Mayne of Morphosis, a Los Angeles firm whose work has an assertively theoretical character; and Kengo Kuma, a Japanese minimalist who works with traditional materials. The final two firms on the list, coincidentally, are the husband-and-wife teams I mentioned here last week: Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, designers of the American Folk Art Museum, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, whose Institute of Contemporary Art opened in Boston last fall.

The list is revealing. Note the conspicuous absence of such “starchitects” as Frank Gehry and Richard Meier, but also the absence of local firms and firms with no celebrity status whatsoever. None are signature architects, possessing immediately recognizable personal styles. Evidently the Barnes does want celebrity architects—but, as much as possible, pliable ones.

It remains unclear precisely what the chosen firm will do. According to the court decision, the new building must replicate exactly the layout, proportion, and materials of the original galleries, as well as Barnes’s famously eccentric hanging scheme. There is little scope for invention, other than in the way this simulacrum is to be enclosed. I spoke with Andrew Blanda, of the Philadelphia firm Sandvold/Blanda, who was interviewed for the Inquirer article. His prediction: “I’m betting that the effect will be like a chunky jello salad: blocks of galleries encased in a glassy shell of nebulous public space.” Those who dread this prospect might want to pay a visit to Paul Cret’s stately classical pavilion before it’s too late.

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Lost In Space

On January 11, China employed a medium-range ballistic missile to destroy a communications satellite 537 miles above the earth. Hans Kristensen, a specialist on space warfare at the Federation of American Scientists, called the Chinese action a “major foreign-policy blunder.” China, he wrote, “has severely weakened its own status in the push for international limitations on military space activities.”

What could the Chinese have been thinking? The New York Times editorial page had an answer (link requires subscription). Citing unnamed experts, it suggested “that China’s latest test is intended to prod the United States to join serious negotiations” to limit anti-satellite warfare.

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On January 11, China employed a medium-range ballistic missile to destroy a communications satellite 537 miles above the earth. Hans Kristensen, a specialist on space warfare at the Federation of American Scientists, called the Chinese action a “major foreign-policy blunder.” China, he wrote, “has severely weakened its own status in the push for international limitations on military space activities.”

What could the Chinese have been thinking? The New York Times editorial page had an answer (link requires subscription). Citing unnamed experts, it suggested “that China’s latest test is intended to prod the United States to join serious negotiations” to limit anti-satellite warfare.


Perhaps. But perhaps this view is nonsense. Perhaps the Chinese have very good reasons for developing an anti-satellite warfare capability, independently of whether the U.S. participates in arms-control talks or not.

The U.S. currently enjoys immense military superiority over China. Why would it be surprising for the Chinese military to seek a relatively low-cost way to offset American advantages? Investing in anti-satellite warfare–up until January 11, only Russia and the U.S. had workable systems in this arena–would be a quite logical direction in which to proceed.

Michael Pillsbury, a leading analyst of Chinese military affairs, has just produced a comprehensive study of what Chinese military thinkers–he cites some thirty different open-source studies–are saying about such matters.

Of the thirty Chinese proposals, one set would be particularly challenging to US military vulnerabilities in a crisis. In each of their books, Chinese Colonels Li, Jia, and Yuan all advocated covert deployment of a sophisticated anti-satellite weapon system to be used against United States in a surprise manner without warning. Even a small-scale anti-satellite attack in a crisis against 50 US satellites [assuming a mix of targeted military-reconnaissance satellites, navigation satellites, and communication satellites] could have a catastrophic effect not only on U.S. military forces, but on the US civilian economy.

A Chinese effort to acquire a “capacity to disable American intelligence, communications, and navigation satellites and to disrupt U.S. information systems, both in the region and beyond” is what Aaron Friedberg warned us about in a prescient and path-breaking article in Commentary seven years ago.

Monopoly is the American national game of strategy. It was invented in the early 1930’s and takes five minutes to master. Here are the rules.

Go is the Chinese national game of strategy. It was invented more than 2,500 years ago and takes a lifetime to master. Here are the rules.

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Trust the Experts

Judging by the number of outraged responses, I seem to have struck a nerve with my post, “Maybe Al Gore Is Right.” Many readers wrote in to question the scientific consensus once again. As I said before, I’m not a scientist, much less a specialist in the field, so I don’t feel comfortable debating the pros and cons of the IPCC report. What mystifies me is why so many other readers who also aren’t experts feel comfortable disputing the experts’ judgment.

One reader, for instance, wrote: “The problem is that those who sound the alarm about catastrophic global warming tend to make statements like . . . ‘it has been the warmest January in 60 years.’ I am sure you see the logical disconnect there, but let me be explicit; they are acknowledging that there was a warmer January just 60 or so years ago. So, what does this prove?” Suffice it to say that the scientists behind the IPCC report didn’t base their conclusions on such anecdotes. The available scientific evidence, in their view, proves a human link to global warming with 90-percent certitude.

I have no problem accepting the collective wisdom of the global scientific community over the dissent of the popular novelist Michael Crichton and a few actual scientists, many of whom lack credentials in climatology or any related discipline. (I note that Kevin Shapiro, who answered my post, is a neuroscientist and medical student.) Imagine, by way of analogy, if I had gone to twenty oncologists and they all told me that I had cancer, but a metereologist buddy looked at the test results and told me to ignore the doctors because they didn’t know what they were talking about. Would Mr. Shapiro—or Mr. Crichton—applaud me in those circumstances for adopting the minority view?

A more fruitful line of argument is to discuss the policy implications of global warming—an area where we don’t have to defer to scientists. As I mentioned, I remain skeptical of the Kyoto Protocol. I think there are better, more market-friendly approaches we should consider, such as tradeable emission credits, more nuclear energy, more research on alternatives to fossil fuels, the elimination of sugar subsidies (to make sugar-derived ethanol more affordable), and higher gasoline taxes. Such policies would be a two-fer: not only would they reduce global warming, but they would reduce our dependence on oil, which comes from such unsavory states as Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Iran. Which is why these sorts of ideas have been championed by Jim Woolsey and other conservatives, raising the possibility of a conservative/Green coalition to break our oil addiction.

Judging by the number of outraged responses, I seem to have struck a nerve with my post, “Maybe Al Gore Is Right.” Many readers wrote in to question the scientific consensus once again. As I said before, I’m not a scientist, much less a specialist in the field, so I don’t feel comfortable debating the pros and cons of the IPCC report. What mystifies me is why so many other readers who also aren’t experts feel comfortable disputing the experts’ judgment.

One reader, for instance, wrote: “The problem is that those who sound the alarm about catastrophic global warming tend to make statements like . . . ‘it has been the warmest January in 60 years.’ I am sure you see the logical disconnect there, but let me be explicit; they are acknowledging that there was a warmer January just 60 or so years ago. So, what does this prove?” Suffice it to say that the scientists behind the IPCC report didn’t base their conclusions on such anecdotes. The available scientific evidence, in their view, proves a human link to global warming with 90-percent certitude.

I have no problem accepting the collective wisdom of the global scientific community over the dissent of the popular novelist Michael Crichton and a few actual scientists, many of whom lack credentials in climatology or any related discipline. (I note that Kevin Shapiro, who answered my post, is a neuroscientist and medical student.) Imagine, by way of analogy, if I had gone to twenty oncologists and they all told me that I had cancer, but a metereologist buddy looked at the test results and told me to ignore the doctors because they didn’t know what they were talking about. Would Mr. Shapiro—or Mr. Crichton—applaud me in those circumstances for adopting the minority view?

A more fruitful line of argument is to discuss the policy implications of global warming—an area where we don’t have to defer to scientists. As I mentioned, I remain skeptical of the Kyoto Protocol. I think there are better, more market-friendly approaches we should consider, such as tradeable emission credits, more nuclear energy, more research on alternatives to fossil fuels, the elimination of sugar subsidies (to make sugar-derived ethanol more affordable), and higher gasoline taxes. Such policies would be a two-fer: not only would they reduce global warming, but they would reduce our dependence on oil, which comes from such unsavory states as Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Iran. Which is why these sorts of ideas have been championed by Jim Woolsey and other conservatives, raising the possibility of a conservative/Green coalition to break our oil addiction.

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