Commentary Magazine


Topic: Switzerland

EU Shows Contempt for National Sovereignty, Democracy

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, and so you might have thought that the outcome of a Swiss referendum would be none of Brussels’s business. Not so: the EU’s contempt for national sovereignty and the democratic process of individual states extends even to countries not locked into its project for a federalized Europe. Referendums usually turn out to be trouble for the EU; whenever the electorate of individual member states are given a say on adopting such things as the single currency or a treaty appropriating yet more powers from national parliaments to EU bureaucrats, they have a tiresome tendency of saying “no,” or “non” or “nee.” In which case the practice is usually to wait a few months before holding the referendum again and telling the voters to come back with the correct answer this time. For that reason, the people of Europe aren’t often asked their opinion on these matters.   

One aspect of the EU project that most Europeans seem to wish to give a resounding “no” to is the policy of open-border immigration. This is what the Swiss have voted against. Not that they want to have immigration stopped, but simply that they want to see it curbed and regulated in the coming years, as opposed to maintaining the current EU program of unrestricted immigration between European states. The problem here is that Switzerland has a number of trading agreements with the European Union, the price of which has been accepting Brussels’s enthusiasm for mass immigration.

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Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, and so you might have thought that the outcome of a Swiss referendum would be none of Brussels’s business. Not so: the EU’s contempt for national sovereignty and the democratic process of individual states extends even to countries not locked into its project for a federalized Europe. Referendums usually turn out to be trouble for the EU; whenever the electorate of individual member states are given a say on adopting such things as the single currency or a treaty appropriating yet more powers from national parliaments to EU bureaucrats, they have a tiresome tendency of saying “no,” or “non” or “nee.” In which case the practice is usually to wait a few months before holding the referendum again and telling the voters to come back with the correct answer this time. For that reason, the people of Europe aren’t often asked their opinion on these matters.   

One aspect of the EU project that most Europeans seem to wish to give a resounding “no” to is the policy of open-border immigration. This is what the Swiss have voted against. Not that they want to have immigration stopped, but simply that they want to see it curbed and regulated in the coming years, as opposed to maintaining the current EU program of unrestricted immigration between European states. The problem here is that Switzerland has a number of trading agreements with the European Union, the price of which has been accepting Brussels’s enthusiasm for mass immigration.

As punishment for daring to express an opinion out of line with reigning federalist doctrine, Eurocrats have been threatening all kinds of retaliation. Most prominently, the president of the European Parliament, Martin Shulz, has warned that Switzerland’s economic ties with the EU could be jeopardized if it decides to implement the will of its voters. Part of the reaction is no doubt out of fear that the Swiss vote could exacerbate existing sentiments in other European countries who would like a pause in the policy of unrestricted immigration. In Britain in particular, public pressure led government ministers to broach the idea of setting a cap on the number immigrants who could come to Britain–or at least claim welfare there–when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU at the beginning of this year. Naturally, no such allowance was permitted by Brussels, which is curious, given that when Poland joined in 2004, Germany (usually such a staunch advocate of having a maximalist European superstate) defended its national interest and had immigration from Poland restricted.

The Swiss vote touches on two particularly sensitive issues for European federalists. First is the ardent belief in the abolition of nation-states through open-border policies, which by promoting mass migration ultimately deconstruct any sense of distinctive national identity between member countries. Second, and attached to this first program, comes the deep dislike of the democratic process for Europe in general and nation-states in particular. Democracy at the national level reinforces the idea that the elected parliaments of individual countries have a legitimate right to govern and claim sovereignty. More broadly, Eurocrats have a latent distrust of populism. They believe that they have divined the correct path for Europe’s shining future, a future that cannot be put at risk by the prejudices, petty interests, and backwardness of the public.

Switzerland’s citizens may think they know what immigration policy is best for their country. They’re wrong. This is another matter Brussels thinks it can decide for them.  

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Swiss Circumcision Decision an Ominous Portent for Euro Jews

Last week, Germany’s parliament acted expeditiously to squelch the attempt of a Cologne judge to ban circumcision. A cross-party motion promoted by Chancellor Angela Merkel passed by the lower house urged the government to present a bill in the fall that would specifically protect the right of circumcision. This both reassured the Jewish and Muslim communities as well as prevented Germany from being seen as, in Merkel’s words, a “laughingstock” for seeking to render illegal a key Jewish religious ritual only a generation after the Holocaust.

But Germany’s efforts may not be enough to halt the momentum of those seeking to infringe upon religious liberty. As Haaretz reports, two Swiss hospitals have just announced they will stop performing circumcisions. This illustrates that the movement to ban circumcision, fueled as it is by the rising tide of European anti-Semitism, is still gaining ground.

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Last week, Germany’s parliament acted expeditiously to squelch the attempt of a Cologne judge to ban circumcision. A cross-party motion promoted by Chancellor Angela Merkel passed by the lower house urged the government to present a bill in the fall that would specifically protect the right of circumcision. This both reassured the Jewish and Muslim communities as well as prevented Germany from being seen as, in Merkel’s words, a “laughingstock” for seeking to render illegal a key Jewish religious ritual only a generation after the Holocaust.

But Germany’s efforts may not be enough to halt the momentum of those seeking to infringe upon religious liberty. As Haaretz reports, two Swiss hospitals have just announced they will stop performing circumcisions. This illustrates that the movement to ban circumcision, fueled as it is by the rising tide of European anti-Semitism, is still gaining ground.

Even if Merkel follows up on her pledge to ensure that circumcision is protected in Germany, the problem is that the Cologne ruling granted a veneer of respectability to its opponents. Whereas in the past those railing against Jewish practices were largely marginal, the court victory legitimized their campaign to drive one of the key principles of Judaism — the Abrahamic covenant that circumcision symbolizes —underground. As with other expressions of Jew-hatred in the current atmosphere in which Israel and its supporters are demonized, it is now possible to be more open with contempt for Judaism and to advocate measures that might have been unthinkable not that long ago.

Moreover, the court placed a doubt in the minds of doctors and others in the medical profession that they would be exposed to penalties for performing the procedure. After the Cologne ruling, the German Medical Association advised doctors to stop their participation in circumcision.

It bears remembering that, as COMMENTARY contributor Ruth Wisse once wrote, anti-Semitism is the most successful ideology of the 20th century. It helped inform Fascism, Nazism and Communism and today is a useful tool for Islamists and their European leftist allies. The campaign against circumcision, like the even more successful European efforts to ban kosher slaughter, is driven in no small measure by a desire to drive Jews out of the continent. That it is harming Muslims as much as Jews is an irony that ought not to prevent joint efforts by the two communities to combat this noxious proposal.

But taken in the context of a noticeable increase in violence against Jews in the aftermath of the shootings in Toulouse this past spring, the circumcision bans are an indication that the future of European Jewry is by no means assured.

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Is It 1848 in the Arab World?

The riots that toppled Tunisia’s strong man on January 14 spread on Tuesday to Egypt, which is in its third day of rioting. Today riots have broken out in Yemen. Where next? Could the rioting spread to non-Arab parts of the Middle East, such as Iran and/or Pakistan?

John Kenneth Galbraith wrote that “all successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door.” The regimes that appear strong, with massive security forces, are suddenly revealed to be hollow. This is what happened in Tunisia. Ben Ali, in power since 1987, fled to Saudi Arabia after riots started when a fruit vendor immolated himself after his wares were seized by a government agent because he lacked a license to peddle fruit. It has been, on the scale of things, a relatively bloodless revolution, at least so far.

Egypt, of course, is a much larger country, with a population of 83 million, while Tunisia has only a little over 10 million. And Egypt is among the most densely populated countries on earth when you take into account the fact that more than 90 percent of it is essentially uninhabited desert. A popular revolt there could get very messy indeed.

It is all reminiscent of Europe in 1848, when a revolution in France that toppled the regime of King Louis-Philippe spread like a wildfire to Germany, Denmark, Italy, Prussia, and the Hapsburg Empire. Even Switzerland had a brief civil war. King William II of the Netherlands, afraid for his own throne, ordered changes in the constitution that resulted in a constitutional monarchy. The Chartist movement in Britain had a meeting on Kensington Common that numbered perhaps 150,000 people. They presented a mammoth petition to Parliament, but the meeting remained peaceful.

While many regimes survived and were able to reassert autocratic power before long (France’s Second Republic lasted only four years before its president, Louis Napoleon, converted it into the Second Empire, with himself as Napoleon III), the pace of political change in Europe accelerated markedly after 1848, as the Industrial Revolution continued. (The phrase Industrial Revolution was, in fact, coined in 1848.)

Will 2011 prove to be the 1848 of the Middle East? If the doors are rotten enough, it will.

The riots that toppled Tunisia’s strong man on January 14 spread on Tuesday to Egypt, which is in its third day of rioting. Today riots have broken out in Yemen. Where next? Could the rioting spread to non-Arab parts of the Middle East, such as Iran and/or Pakistan?

John Kenneth Galbraith wrote that “all successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door.” The regimes that appear strong, with massive security forces, are suddenly revealed to be hollow. This is what happened in Tunisia. Ben Ali, in power since 1987, fled to Saudi Arabia after riots started when a fruit vendor immolated himself after his wares were seized by a government agent because he lacked a license to peddle fruit. It has been, on the scale of things, a relatively bloodless revolution, at least so far.

Egypt, of course, is a much larger country, with a population of 83 million, while Tunisia has only a little over 10 million. And Egypt is among the most densely populated countries on earth when you take into account the fact that more than 90 percent of it is essentially uninhabited desert. A popular revolt there could get very messy indeed.

It is all reminiscent of Europe in 1848, when a revolution in France that toppled the regime of King Louis-Philippe spread like a wildfire to Germany, Denmark, Italy, Prussia, and the Hapsburg Empire. Even Switzerland had a brief civil war. King William II of the Netherlands, afraid for his own throne, ordered changes in the constitution that resulted in a constitutional monarchy. The Chartist movement in Britain had a meeting on Kensington Common that numbered perhaps 150,000 people. They presented a mammoth petition to Parliament, but the meeting remained peaceful.

While many regimes survived and were able to reassert autocratic power before long (France’s Second Republic lasted only four years before its president, Louis Napoleon, converted it into the Second Empire, with himself as Napoleon III), the pace of political change in Europe accelerated markedly after 1848, as the Industrial Revolution continued. (The phrase Industrial Revolution was, in fact, coined in 1848.)

Will 2011 prove to be the 1848 of the Middle East? If the doors are rotten enough, it will.

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The Beginning of the End of Swiss ‘Active Neutrality’?

Since the introduction of global sanctions against Iran last year, encompassing 33 countries, Switzerland has defied the West, including the Obama administration and the EU, by touting its “active neutrality” position, whatever that means.

Today, however, the Swiss government relented and announced that it will fall into line with EU sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector.

WikiLeaks cables have documented the tensions between the U.S. government and the Swiss government over the latter’s overly cordial relations with Iran. Yet WikiLeaks did not ambush any of the seasoned observers of Swiss-U.S. and Swiss-Israeli relations. The Swiss Foreign Ministry has gone to great lengths to maximize their gas and other economic deals with the mullah regime. One need only recall Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Swiss foreign minister who in 2008 enthusiastically embraced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

The purpose of her Tehran visit was to sign off on the estimated 18-22 billion euro EGL gas deal with the National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC). The gas revenues from the deal with NIGEC, whose parent company, National Iranian Gas Company, was placed on Britain’s Proliferation Concerns List in February 2009, would end up funding Iran’s nuclear-weapons program as well as its wholly owned subsidiaries, Hamas and Hezbollah.

EGL is a Swiss state-owned gas giant, and the Bush administration and Israel protested vehemently and publicly against the deal back in 2008. WikiLeaks simply reiterated the U.S. anger that was already out there. Israel summoned the new Swiss ambassador at the time to bitterly complain about the Swiss jeopardizing the security of the Mideast region.

Calmy-Rey, a leader of the Social Democratic Party, has a troubling record on Iran. In 2006, while meeting with an Iranian delegation on the nuclear crisis, she proposed seminars on different perspectives of the Holocaust. That helps to explain why Roger Köppel, the owner and editor-in-chief of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, wrote a Wall Street Journal Europe piece entitled, “Somebody Stop Calmy-Rey.”

Roger Köppel neatly captured the alliance of the loony Swiss left and fanatical Iranian Holocaust deniers. “One must understand the enormity of this: Ms. Calmy-Rey suggested a debate in Switzerland with Iranian Holocaust deniers on whether the murder of 6 million Jews actually happened. Fortunately, nothing came of this idea. It would not only have been outrageous, but also illegal, since genocide denial is a crime in Switzerland.”

While the statement that Switzerland’s “active neutrality” on the Iranian nuclear threat is welcome, the true test of its intentions will be the termination of the EGL-Iran gas deal.

Since the introduction of global sanctions against Iran last year, encompassing 33 countries, Switzerland has defied the West, including the Obama administration and the EU, by touting its “active neutrality” position, whatever that means.

Today, however, the Swiss government relented and announced that it will fall into line with EU sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector.

WikiLeaks cables have documented the tensions between the U.S. government and the Swiss government over the latter’s overly cordial relations with Iran. Yet WikiLeaks did not ambush any of the seasoned observers of Swiss-U.S. and Swiss-Israeli relations. The Swiss Foreign Ministry has gone to great lengths to maximize their gas and other economic deals with the mullah regime. One need only recall Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Swiss foreign minister who in 2008 enthusiastically embraced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

The purpose of her Tehran visit was to sign off on the estimated 18-22 billion euro EGL gas deal with the National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC). The gas revenues from the deal with NIGEC, whose parent company, National Iranian Gas Company, was placed on Britain’s Proliferation Concerns List in February 2009, would end up funding Iran’s nuclear-weapons program as well as its wholly owned subsidiaries, Hamas and Hezbollah.

EGL is a Swiss state-owned gas giant, and the Bush administration and Israel protested vehemently and publicly against the deal back in 2008. WikiLeaks simply reiterated the U.S. anger that was already out there. Israel summoned the new Swiss ambassador at the time to bitterly complain about the Swiss jeopardizing the security of the Mideast region.

Calmy-Rey, a leader of the Social Democratic Party, has a troubling record on Iran. In 2006, while meeting with an Iranian delegation on the nuclear crisis, she proposed seminars on different perspectives of the Holocaust. That helps to explain why Roger Köppel, the owner and editor-in-chief of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, wrote a Wall Street Journal Europe piece entitled, “Somebody Stop Calmy-Rey.”

Roger Köppel neatly captured the alliance of the loony Swiss left and fanatical Iranian Holocaust deniers. “One must understand the enormity of this: Ms. Calmy-Rey suggested a debate in Switzerland with Iranian Holocaust deniers on whether the murder of 6 million Jews actually happened. Fortunately, nothing came of this idea. It would not only have been outrageous, but also illegal, since genocide denial is a crime in Switzerland.”

While the statement that Switzerland’s “active neutrality” on the Iranian nuclear threat is welcome, the true test of its intentions will be the termination of the EGL-Iran gas deal.

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“If It’s Freedom We Hate, Why Didn’t We Attack Sweden?”

That was the question posed by Osama bin Laden in a 2006 speech, in which he blamed the 9/11 attacks on U.S. “imperialist” foreign policy. Apparently, this statement seemed like watertight logic to a certain species of non-interventionists, who immediately began quoting the terror leader as if he was a dependable, trustworthy source.

“Why is America the target of terrorists and suicide bombers?” asked Philip Giraldi at CPAC just last February. “Surely not because it has freedoms that some view negatively. As Usama bin Laden put it, in possibly the only known joke made by a terrorist, if freedoms were the issue, al-Qaeda would be attacking Sweden.”

Of course, in light of some recent events in Stockholm, I think we can now safely assume that terrorists fall into the anti-freedom camp. As Elliot Jager notes at Jewish Ideas Daily, even the Swedish foreign policy praised by so many non-interventionists wasn’t enough to protect the country from getting targeted by radical Islamists:

Given Sweden’s lusty embrace of multiculturalism and an immigration policy that many observers regard as suicidal; its diplomatic predisposition to the Palestinian cause; and its tepid response to violent Muslim anti-Semitism, what could it possibly have done to deserve an Islamist suicide bombing? In his recording, al-Abdaly, for one, named the ongoing war in Afghanistan and a 2007 cartoon depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad as a dog. But is this credible? Sweden has a mere 500 soldiers in northern Afghanistan, where they are involved mostly in reconstruction work and social services like training midwives. As for the allegedly offensive cartoons, they appeared in a regional newspaper and were intended only as a protest against the widespread media self-censorship that followed in the wake of the 2005 Muhammad cartoons published in Denmark.

And the Stockholm attack is only the latest in a string of international terrorist acts and plots that have helped discredit the “blowback” theory. Nearly every country that non-interventionists have claimed was “safe” from terrorism has been forced to fight Islamic terrorists on its own soil in recent years.

“A growing number of Americans are concluding that the threat we now face comes more as a consequence of our foreign policy than because the bad guys envy our freedoms and prosperity,” said Rep. Ron Paul on the floor of the House in 2002. “How many terrorist attacks have been directed toward Switzerland, Australia, Canada, or Sweden? They too are rich and free, and would be easy targets, but the Islamic fundamentalists see no purpose in doing so.”

Let’s look back on that statement knowing what we know today. Have Islamic terrorists targeted Switzerland? Yes. Australia? Several times. Canada? Definitely. Sweden? Of course.

So to say that the U.S. would be safe from terrorism by adapting a non-interventionist foreign policy simply ignores the reality on the ground. Enemies who will gladly kill us over a petty cartoon in a small-circulation newspaper certainly don’t need to use foreign policy as a justification to fly planes into our buildings.

That was the question posed by Osama bin Laden in a 2006 speech, in which he blamed the 9/11 attacks on U.S. “imperialist” foreign policy. Apparently, this statement seemed like watertight logic to a certain species of non-interventionists, who immediately began quoting the terror leader as if he was a dependable, trustworthy source.

“Why is America the target of terrorists and suicide bombers?” asked Philip Giraldi at CPAC just last February. “Surely not because it has freedoms that some view negatively. As Usama bin Laden put it, in possibly the only known joke made by a terrorist, if freedoms were the issue, al-Qaeda would be attacking Sweden.”

Of course, in light of some recent events in Stockholm, I think we can now safely assume that terrorists fall into the anti-freedom camp. As Elliot Jager notes at Jewish Ideas Daily, even the Swedish foreign policy praised by so many non-interventionists wasn’t enough to protect the country from getting targeted by radical Islamists:

Given Sweden’s lusty embrace of multiculturalism and an immigration policy that many observers regard as suicidal; its diplomatic predisposition to the Palestinian cause; and its tepid response to violent Muslim anti-Semitism, what could it possibly have done to deserve an Islamist suicide bombing? In his recording, al-Abdaly, for one, named the ongoing war in Afghanistan and a 2007 cartoon depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad as a dog. But is this credible? Sweden has a mere 500 soldiers in northern Afghanistan, where they are involved mostly in reconstruction work and social services like training midwives. As for the allegedly offensive cartoons, they appeared in a regional newspaper and were intended only as a protest against the widespread media self-censorship that followed in the wake of the 2005 Muhammad cartoons published in Denmark.

And the Stockholm attack is only the latest in a string of international terrorist acts and plots that have helped discredit the “blowback” theory. Nearly every country that non-interventionists have claimed was “safe” from terrorism has been forced to fight Islamic terrorists on its own soil in recent years.

“A growing number of Americans are concluding that the threat we now face comes more as a consequence of our foreign policy than because the bad guys envy our freedoms and prosperity,” said Rep. Ron Paul on the floor of the House in 2002. “How many terrorist attacks have been directed toward Switzerland, Australia, Canada, or Sweden? They too are rich and free, and would be easy targets, but the Islamic fundamentalists see no purpose in doing so.”

Let’s look back on that statement knowing what we know today. Have Islamic terrorists targeted Switzerland? Yes. Australia? Several times. Canada? Definitely. Sweden? Of course.

So to say that the U.S. would be safe from terrorism by adapting a non-interventionist foreign policy simply ignores the reality on the ground. Enemies who will gladly kill us over a petty cartoon in a small-circulation newspaper certainly don’t need to use foreign policy as a justification to fly planes into our buildings.

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Erdogan Threatens to Sue U.S. Diplomats Over WikiLeaks

The WikiLeaks circus has sparked an unexpected sideshow in Turkey, where Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan is livid over leaked cables that highlight his allegedly crooked financial dealings. In the 2004 documents, U.S. diplomats relayed claims that the premier held eight Swiss bank accounts and accepted bribes.

In response to these revelations, Erdogan has announced he will sue the U.S. diplomats for libel:

The Turkish Premier adversely responded to American diplomats’ claims that he has eight accounts at Swiss banks. Erdogan stated that he has not a single cent at Swiss banks and urged the U.S. authorities to hold the diplomats responsible and suggest Turkey’s ruling party intends to sue them.

At its sitting the JDP Executive Board, following Recep Erdogan’s instruction, decided file suits against American diplomats and claim financial compensations from them for insulting Turkish officials. Specifically, the party plans to sue former US Ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman, who, in one of his messages, claimed Erdogan had bank accounts in Switzerland, Hurriyet reported on Thursday.

Erdogan has doubled down on his denial, saying that he will resign from office if the allegations are proved accurate. And it looks like his opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, is also on board with the litigation:

“If there is something incorrect in the allegations, then you can prove its falsity and the debate will come to an end. Moreover, you can take legal measures against those who made up false claims. It is so simple,” Republican People’s Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said Thursday in the northwestern province of Bursa. “Instead of attacking us, [Erdogan] should sue the United States. We will lend our support if he does so. …

While a legal fight would certainly be an entertaining spectacle, it sounds like the Turkish government still has some logistics to work out before they can head to court:

Sabah reports that Ankara is considering a number of options. Claims may be lodged with local courts in the U.S. as well as with the World Court in the Hague.

And just in case the legal route proves ineffective for Erdogan, his government is already getting a head start at blaming the whole predicament on the Jews.

The WikiLeaks circus has sparked an unexpected sideshow in Turkey, where Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan is livid over leaked cables that highlight his allegedly crooked financial dealings. In the 2004 documents, U.S. diplomats relayed claims that the premier held eight Swiss bank accounts and accepted bribes.

In response to these revelations, Erdogan has announced he will sue the U.S. diplomats for libel:

The Turkish Premier adversely responded to American diplomats’ claims that he has eight accounts at Swiss banks. Erdogan stated that he has not a single cent at Swiss banks and urged the U.S. authorities to hold the diplomats responsible and suggest Turkey’s ruling party intends to sue them.

At its sitting the JDP Executive Board, following Recep Erdogan’s instruction, decided file suits against American diplomats and claim financial compensations from them for insulting Turkish officials. Specifically, the party plans to sue former US Ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman, who, in one of his messages, claimed Erdogan had bank accounts in Switzerland, Hurriyet reported on Thursday.

Erdogan has doubled down on his denial, saying that he will resign from office if the allegations are proved accurate. And it looks like his opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, is also on board with the litigation:

“If there is something incorrect in the allegations, then you can prove its falsity and the debate will come to an end. Moreover, you can take legal measures against those who made up false claims. It is so simple,” Republican People’s Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said Thursday in the northwestern province of Bursa. “Instead of attacking us, [Erdogan] should sue the United States. We will lend our support if he does so. …

While a legal fight would certainly be an entertaining spectacle, it sounds like the Turkish government still has some logistics to work out before they can head to court:

Sabah reports that Ankara is considering a number of options. Claims may be lodged with local courts in the U.S. as well as with the World Court in the Hague.

And just in case the legal route proves ineffective for Erdogan, his government is already getting a head start at blaming the whole predicament on the Jews.

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The Other Dowd

OK, it’s lazy to let a relative write your column. But we should go easy on Maureen, for her brother Kevin is plainly the political maven in the Dowd family, being the sibling who apparently observes America not merely from Manhattan taxi cabs. A  sample of the column she subcontracted to him:

On Nov. 2, voters across every spectrum loudly stated their preference for a return to American exceptionalism, self-reliance, limited government and personal freedoms. … It is probably a product of the revisionist history we now teach in our schools that the Tea Party, a replica of the beginnings of the American Revolution, was marginalized and mocked as a lunatic fringe group by a dismissive news media.

That same media is becoming increasingly aware that its creation is in over his head. He seems unaware of, or ambivalent about, the results of his actions. The last three weeks of the campaign were particularly unseemly. The vision of the President of the United States, one who spoke of civility and hope and change, exposed as just another Chicago pol, viciously and personally attacking his opponents, was undignified.

When my children were small, I used to take them to visit my mother. One of her favorite lines if they complained was, “Do you want some cheese with that whine?” We may have to call Switzerland to get enough cheese for the presidential whines. Read More

OK, it’s lazy to let a relative write your column. But we should go easy on Maureen, for her brother Kevin is plainly the political maven in the Dowd family, being the sibling who apparently observes America not merely from Manhattan taxi cabs. A  sample of the column she subcontracted to him:

On Nov. 2, voters across every spectrum loudly stated their preference for a return to American exceptionalism, self-reliance, limited government and personal freedoms. … It is probably a product of the revisionist history we now teach in our schools that the Tea Party, a replica of the beginnings of the American Revolution, was marginalized and mocked as a lunatic fringe group by a dismissive news media.

That same media is becoming increasingly aware that its creation is in over his head. He seems unaware of, or ambivalent about, the results of his actions. The last three weeks of the campaign were particularly unseemly. The vision of the President of the United States, one who spoke of civility and hope and change, exposed as just another Chicago pol, viciously and personally attacking his opponents, was undignified.

When my children were small, I used to take them to visit my mother. One of her favorite lines if they complained was, “Do you want some cheese with that whine?” We may have to call Switzerland to get enough cheese for the presidential whines.

What is interesting — aside from the usual nature/nurture debate it might provoke — is how much closer the mainstream-media narrative is to the Kevin narrative. What Kevin and many others on the right have observed for two years — an excess of dangerous presidential hubris, a tone-deaf White House, a vibrant Tea Party movement, liberal overreach — is only now becoming part of the mainstream conventional wisdom. Or as Noemie Emery points out, even Esquire concedes that The One’s “aura” has dimmed. Sounding rather Kevin-esque, the style-is-everything crowd finds Obama suddenly a disappointment:

President Obama, after all, was elected by virtue of his personality, which provided not only contrast but novelty, and was grounded in his near-perfect pitch when addressing audiences large and small. Sure, he was cool and cerebral, but he was also confident, almost cocky, because he had the power to summon inspiring rhetoric on command, which meant that he had the power to summon us on command. …

Now his gift has all but deserted him, and all that prevents the story from becoming tragic is his own apparent refusal to be affected by it. … Of course, Obama has never turned his back on us, but so many Americans have turned their backs on him that it amounts to The Anointed One, as he is sometimes referred, being stripped of something that can never return: his anointment. And without it — without his air of destiny, without the idea of Obama augmenting his actuality — the rooms he used to occupy so effortlessly have changed dimensions on him, until at times he might as well be speaking from the bottom of a well.

What Kevin observes with glee (the downsizing of The Ego), many in the national press corps now treat as fact and the left views with exasperation. Conservatives who cringed and gritted through more than one painful George W. Bush press conference can relate to how the left feels watching Obama as sulker in chief (“the press conference was so painfully incommensurate to its historical moment that one had to wonder if he knew it — if he knew that even on this observance of loss he was losing his audience”).

So you now have columns by liberals that sound identical to those written by conservatives. Take a guess as to the author of this one, who frets about “the shellackee in chief” and Nancy Pelosi’s reaction to the election:

Their instincts have tended more toward blaming the dogs for not understanding how good the food is for them, not accepting that it’s time to tweak the recipe.

The president’s self-diagnosis in his post-election news conference was dominated by the assessment that voters had simply failed to grasp — and that his failure lay chiefly in explaining clearly enough — why the administration took the steps it did.

That’s Ruth Marcus, but it could easily have been Ross Douthat or Rich Lowry — or any of us here at CONTENTIONS.

There is something rather unifying — like when the whole country watched the final M*A*S*H episode — about the emerging consensus. True, the left considers the cause of the shellacking to be insufficient liberalism, while the right views that explanation as daft. The “why” may be hotly disputed, but at least we’ve got some agreement on what is going on. On that score, there’s no denying that Obama is a unifier not a divider.

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The War Against Extremism

News travels slowly when you’re on vacation, especially when you’re on vacation in the French countryside, so I have only now read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Wall Street Journal op-ed from a couple of days ago updating Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis. While Huntington identified nine “civilizations” that are supposedly in conflict (“Western,” “Latin American,” “African,” “Islamic,” “Sinic,” “Hindu,” “Orthodox,” “Buddhist,”  “Japanese”), Hirsi Ali not surprisingly focuses on one such “civilization” — the Islamic one. She sees recent controversies involving Muslims providing confirmation of this thesis, including “the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, the eviction of American missionaries from Morocco earlier this year, the minaret ban in Switzerland last year, and the recent burka ban in France.” So, too, in her view the increasingly anti-Western orientation of Turkey provides evidence that all Muslim countries are destined to be opposed to all Western countries.

She sets up the “clash of civilizations” thesis against a straw man she labels the “One World” thesis, which she attributes to Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” writings and to an “equivalent neoconservative rosy scenario” of “a ‘unipolar’ world of unrivalled American hegemony.” This is a trope beloved of college poli-sci classes — to juxtapose Huntington vs. Fukuyama — and it makes for good debate, but the reality is that it’s hard to think of many people who take seriously Fukuyama’s thesis — and certainly not among “neoconservatives,” who since the end of the Cold War have been warning about new threats (such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Islamist terrorism) that are potent challenges to American power.

The Huntington thesis, I might add, is equally hard to take seriously because it presents such a cartoonish view of the world. Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute (where Hirsi Ali also works) points out one such problem: “China is not a civilization. It’s a nation governed by one party for 60 years and whose one-time dominant ethical regime was Confucian. But also part of this Confucian world were South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan—each now firmly part of the liberal and democratic West. Our problem with China is not one of civilization but the fact that it’s ruled by an increasingly nationalistic and ambitious despotic elite.”

The same might be said about each of the “civilizations” identified by Huntington and now endorsed by Hirsi Ali: they seem uniform only if viewed from a distance of 20,000 feet. Up close, all sorts of differences emerge that stymie most attempts at generalization. France and the United States, for instance, are both part of “Western” civilization, but (as I have been discovering in the past week) they are very different culturally and, not surprisingly, they have very different outlooks on the world. (Indeed some commentators posit an “Anglosphere” pitting English-speaking countries against other “Western” nations.) So too with, say, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Malaysia. All are, according to Hirsi Ali, part of an “Islamic civilization,” yet anyone who has ever visited those countries knows that, notwithstanding a common religion, their differences are vast.

Lee Smith confirms the point in a typically smart essay on sharia law: “Because there is no way to approach what is ostensibly divine except through human agency, sharia as such does not exist except as interpreted by human beings over the long course of Islamic history. The word ‘sharia’ necessarily means many things to many people.”

Indeed, as many people have noted, the War on Terror is not a reflection of an Islam vs. the West clash; it is part of a clash within Islam pitting fanatical Islamists against the vast majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. What is striking to me, looking back on several decades of such strife, is not how successful the Islamists have been but how unsuccessful.

Which states have succumbed to Islamism? Iran since 1979. Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. That’s about it. To be sure, there are powerful Islamist movements elsewhere, and one such group may be close to taking over Somalia. Other Islamists have effectively taken over part of Pakistan’s tribal areas, southern Lebanon, and Gaza, and are trying to undermine many other governments — but so far with little success. In other words, the Islamic world, while expressing some sympathy with some of the views of the extremists, has proved remarkably resistant to actually letting the fanatics take control. Al-Qaeda has not been able to topple a single government.

This provides cause for hope and an obvious strategy for the U.S. and its allies to pursue: we must buttress the forces of moderation in the Islamic world against those of the extremists. And that is precisely what we are doing in countless countries ranging from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Djibouti. That strategy is much more likely to pay long-term dividends than are crude fulminations against “Islamic civilization,” which is precisely what Osama bin Laden & Co. long to hear.

News travels slowly when you’re on vacation, especially when you’re on vacation in the French countryside, so I have only now read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Wall Street Journal op-ed from a couple of days ago updating Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis. While Huntington identified nine “civilizations” that are supposedly in conflict (“Western,” “Latin American,” “African,” “Islamic,” “Sinic,” “Hindu,” “Orthodox,” “Buddhist,”  “Japanese”), Hirsi Ali not surprisingly focuses on one such “civilization” — the Islamic one. She sees recent controversies involving Muslims providing confirmation of this thesis, including “the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, the eviction of American missionaries from Morocco earlier this year, the minaret ban in Switzerland last year, and the recent burka ban in France.” So, too, in her view the increasingly anti-Western orientation of Turkey provides evidence that all Muslim countries are destined to be opposed to all Western countries.

She sets up the “clash of civilizations” thesis against a straw man she labels the “One World” thesis, which she attributes to Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” writings and to an “equivalent neoconservative rosy scenario” of “a ‘unipolar’ world of unrivalled American hegemony.” This is a trope beloved of college poli-sci classes — to juxtapose Huntington vs. Fukuyama — and it makes for good debate, but the reality is that it’s hard to think of many people who take seriously Fukuyama’s thesis — and certainly not among “neoconservatives,” who since the end of the Cold War have been warning about new threats (such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Islamist terrorism) that are potent challenges to American power.

The Huntington thesis, I might add, is equally hard to take seriously because it presents such a cartoonish view of the world. Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute (where Hirsi Ali also works) points out one such problem: “China is not a civilization. It’s a nation governed by one party for 60 years and whose one-time dominant ethical regime was Confucian. But also part of this Confucian world were South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan—each now firmly part of the liberal and democratic West. Our problem with China is not one of civilization but the fact that it’s ruled by an increasingly nationalistic and ambitious despotic elite.”

The same might be said about each of the “civilizations” identified by Huntington and now endorsed by Hirsi Ali: they seem uniform only if viewed from a distance of 20,000 feet. Up close, all sorts of differences emerge that stymie most attempts at generalization. France and the United States, for instance, are both part of “Western” civilization, but (as I have been discovering in the past week) they are very different culturally and, not surprisingly, they have very different outlooks on the world. (Indeed some commentators posit an “Anglosphere” pitting English-speaking countries against other “Western” nations.) So too with, say, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Malaysia. All are, according to Hirsi Ali, part of an “Islamic civilization,” yet anyone who has ever visited those countries knows that, notwithstanding a common religion, their differences are vast.

Lee Smith confirms the point in a typically smart essay on sharia law: “Because there is no way to approach what is ostensibly divine except through human agency, sharia as such does not exist except as interpreted by human beings over the long course of Islamic history. The word ‘sharia’ necessarily means many things to many people.”

Indeed, as many people have noted, the War on Terror is not a reflection of an Islam vs. the West clash; it is part of a clash within Islam pitting fanatical Islamists against the vast majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. What is striking to me, looking back on several decades of such strife, is not how successful the Islamists have been but how unsuccessful.

Which states have succumbed to Islamism? Iran since 1979. Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. That’s about it. To be sure, there are powerful Islamist movements elsewhere, and one such group may be close to taking over Somalia. Other Islamists have effectively taken over part of Pakistan’s tribal areas, southern Lebanon, and Gaza, and are trying to undermine many other governments — but so far with little success. In other words, the Islamic world, while expressing some sympathy with some of the views of the extremists, has proved remarkably resistant to actually letting the fanatics take control. Al-Qaeda has not been able to topple a single government.

This provides cause for hope and an obvious strategy for the U.S. and its allies to pursue: we must buttress the forces of moderation in the Islamic world against those of the extremists. And that is precisely what we are doing in countless countries ranging from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Djibouti. That strategy is much more likely to pay long-term dividends than are crude fulminations against “Islamic civilization,” which is precisely what Osama bin Laden & Co. long to hear.

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Hollywood Celebrates

Will there be fireworks at the Hollywood Bowl? A fantastic bash in his honor, albeit with the guest of honor absent? Yes, from coast to coast, the moral zombies who populate the big and small screen are no doubt jumping for joy that Roman Polanski will not be extradited to stand trial for his rape of a 13-year old child. As a colleague pointed out, really, the man has suffered enough. (“The 77-year-old Oscar-winning filmmaker was first imprisoned and then confined to his ski chalet in the Alpine resort of Gastaad with an electronic foot bracelet.”) The Swiss judiciary seems to have aced out the Nobelians as the best exemplar of the debasement of European society, as we are reminded that “the decision constituted a victory not only for Polanski but also for a broad array of European intellectual and political figures who had come to his defense with petitions and statements of outrage denouncing the effort to continue prosecution after so many years.”

The Swiss Ministry of Justice claims that the verdict is not a statement about Polanski’s guilt or innocence:

The Swiss Justice Ministry said in a statement that the decision reflected doubts over the legal strength of the U.S. extradition request, in particular concerning negotiations between Los Angeles prosecutors and Polanski’s U.S. lawyers at the time. …

Switzerland blamed U.S. authorities for failing to provide confidential testimony about Polanski’s sentencing procedure in 1977-1978. The Swiss government said it had sought confidential testimony given on Jan. 26 by Roger Gunson, the Los Angeles attorney in charge of the original prosecution against Polanski.

Actually, it’s not a statement about Polanski at all. It is, however, a vivid reflection of the mindset of today’s elites (both in Europe and America). If you smoke or drive an SUV, you’re a social pariah. But if you’re an aging millionaire who drugged a 13-year-old child before raping her, why, you needn’t fear that you’ll lose their admiration or support. To the contrary, a special Oscar may await!

Will there be fireworks at the Hollywood Bowl? A fantastic bash in his honor, albeit with the guest of honor absent? Yes, from coast to coast, the moral zombies who populate the big and small screen are no doubt jumping for joy that Roman Polanski will not be extradited to stand trial for his rape of a 13-year old child. As a colleague pointed out, really, the man has suffered enough. (“The 77-year-old Oscar-winning filmmaker was first imprisoned and then confined to his ski chalet in the Alpine resort of Gastaad with an electronic foot bracelet.”) The Swiss judiciary seems to have aced out the Nobelians as the best exemplar of the debasement of European society, as we are reminded that “the decision constituted a victory not only for Polanski but also for a broad array of European intellectual and political figures who had come to his defense with petitions and statements of outrage denouncing the effort to continue prosecution after so many years.”

The Swiss Ministry of Justice claims that the verdict is not a statement about Polanski’s guilt or innocence:

The Swiss Justice Ministry said in a statement that the decision reflected doubts over the legal strength of the U.S. extradition request, in particular concerning negotiations between Los Angeles prosecutors and Polanski’s U.S. lawyers at the time. …

Switzerland blamed U.S. authorities for failing to provide confidential testimony about Polanski’s sentencing procedure in 1977-1978. The Swiss government said it had sought confidential testimony given on Jan. 26 by Roger Gunson, the Los Angeles attorney in charge of the original prosecution against Polanski.

Actually, it’s not a statement about Polanski at all. It is, however, a vivid reflection of the mindset of today’s elites (both in Europe and America). If you smoke or drive an SUV, you’re a social pariah. But if you’re an aging millionaire who drugged a 13-year-old child before raping her, why, you needn’t fear that you’ll lose their admiration or support. To the contrary, a special Oscar may await!

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Busted Tribute

Bedford, Virginia’s D-Day memorial has just been embellished. Among emotionally evocative statues of soldiers dying on the beaches of Normandy accompanied by heroic images of their leaders now stands … Joseph Stalin.

At the beginning of June, his visage was added to memorialize “the tens of millions who died under Stalin’s rule and in tribute to all whose valor, fidelity, and sacrifice denied him and his successors victory in the Cold War,” as the plaque explains. The only problem is that the statue commemorates the man, not the men who he killed. While the supervisors of the memorial condemned the statue, the artist, Richard Pumphrey, who remains in Switzerland, was not “concerned” that it might be controversial.

Regardless of what the artist may say, there are artistic conventions. A bust of Stalin commemorates Stalin, not his victims. It is the wrong image in the wrong place.

Bedford, Virginia’s D-Day memorial has just been embellished. Among emotionally evocative statues of soldiers dying on the beaches of Normandy accompanied by heroic images of their leaders now stands … Joseph Stalin.

At the beginning of June, his visage was added to memorialize “the tens of millions who died under Stalin’s rule and in tribute to all whose valor, fidelity, and sacrifice denied him and his successors victory in the Cold War,” as the plaque explains. The only problem is that the statue commemorates the man, not the men who he killed. While the supervisors of the memorial condemned the statue, the artist, Richard Pumphrey, who remains in Switzerland, was not “concerned” that it might be controversial.

Regardless of what the artist may say, there are artistic conventions. A bust of Stalin commemorates Stalin, not his victims. It is the wrong image in the wrong place.

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No. Not That.

There are times when I am deeply grateful that CONTENTIONS stopped hosting comments. I do not think I could handle the people who would respond to this post. Because inevitably there will be some who insist that something can be art when it is simply horrible. Let them take their comments elsewhere!

I am speaking, of course, about a monstrosity that has appeared in Copenhagen. A model of the entrance to Auschwitz, complete with a little train car, made out of gold — gold taken from the teeth of Holocaust victims. See for yourself. Maybe someone will say it is a hoax and relieve us of the notion.

I do not know what the artist thinks about Nazism, about Judaism, about anti-Semitism, about violence, or about art. I do not care. According to Haaretz‘s captions, he put a Rolex watch in the tower, to hint at Switzerland’s complicity. I just don’t care. To me this is worse than political art, worse than feces-laden art, worse than almost anything called art. If art is meant to be a human thing, what can we say to an artist who does not seem to realize that we still count among the living the victims who passed through those gates? That every gram of gold that he touched may yet belong to someone? That it was extracted not with novocaine in a benevolent dentist’s office, but there, and then, and in that way?

Do not get me wrong. I do not believe the Holocaust is a “sacred” thing, that it is a black hole, an ultimate or absolute that cannot be compared with anything else, or that Jewish or Western identity should be built around it. The crime of this artist is not sacrilege but something else for which I do not have adequate words. Artistic inhumanity, perhaps. I just cannot understand what he is thinking, what the curators are thinking, what the backers for the gallery are thinking. And please, do not explain it to me.

There are times when I am deeply grateful that CONTENTIONS stopped hosting comments. I do not think I could handle the people who would respond to this post. Because inevitably there will be some who insist that something can be art when it is simply horrible. Let them take their comments elsewhere!

I am speaking, of course, about a monstrosity that has appeared in Copenhagen. A model of the entrance to Auschwitz, complete with a little train car, made out of gold — gold taken from the teeth of Holocaust victims. See for yourself. Maybe someone will say it is a hoax and relieve us of the notion.

I do not know what the artist thinks about Nazism, about Judaism, about anti-Semitism, about violence, or about art. I do not care. According to Haaretz‘s captions, he put a Rolex watch in the tower, to hint at Switzerland’s complicity. I just don’t care. To me this is worse than political art, worse than feces-laden art, worse than almost anything called art. If art is meant to be a human thing, what can we say to an artist who does not seem to realize that we still count among the living the victims who passed through those gates? That every gram of gold that he touched may yet belong to someone? That it was extracted not with novocaine in a benevolent dentist’s office, but there, and then, and in that way?

Do not get me wrong. I do not believe the Holocaust is a “sacred” thing, that it is a black hole, an ultimate or absolute that cannot be compared with anything else, or that Jewish or Western identity should be built around it. The crime of this artist is not sacrilege but something else for which I do not have adequate words. Artistic inhumanity, perhaps. I just cannot understand what he is thinking, what the curators are thinking, what the backers for the gallery are thinking. And please, do not explain it to me.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

It seems that some human rights organization (or perhaps our secretary of state of 19-million-glass-ceiling-cracks fame) should care about all this: “Who, exactly, is it the misogyny-frenzied brutes in charge of administering ‘justice’ to the Saudi distaff side are protecting — and from what? When they condemn a woman who’s been gang-raped to 200 lashes for ‘having sex outside marriage,’ or give a destitute 75-year-old widow 40 lashes for engaging in ‘prohibited mingling’ by receiving charity from two young male relatives, or, in the most recent (known) instance, sentence a 13-year-old girl to 90 lashes — to be delivered in front of her classmates — for bringing a cell phone to school — what do they believe they are doing?”

Meanwhile, Cliff May reminds us that “in a growing number of Muslim-majority countries, a war is being waged against non-Muslim minorities. Where non-Muslim minorities already have been ‘cleansed’ — as in Afghanistan and Iraq — the attacks are against their memory. Ethnic minorities also are being targeted: The genocidal conflict against the black Muslims of Darfur is only the most infamous example. … In response to all this, Western journalists, academics, diplomats, and politicians mainly avert their eyes and hold their tongues. They pretend there are no stories to be written, no social pathologies to be documented, no actions to be taken. They focus instead on Switzerland’s vote against minarets and anything Israel might be doing to prevent terrorists from claiming additional victims.”

Marc Thiessen dismantles Christiane Amanpour and her misrepresentations of waterboarding. Notice that when an informed conservative goes up against a liberal on terrorism issues (e.g., Cliff May vs. Jon Stewart, John Yoo vs. Jon Stewart), the liberal is never quite prepared. Almost like they all live in an echo chamber, with no one to challenge their firmly held and factually unsupported views.

Stuart Rothenberg moves the Arkansas Senate seat to “leans takeover”: “Multiple independent polls now show Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) losing or running even in ballot tests against any number of lower-tier GOP challengers.”

As if Arlen Specter didn’t have enough problems (including picking the exact wrong year to switch parties): “The deeply odd couple of Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Penn.) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) appeared together on a Philly radio station yesterday — and things got ugly in short order.” Specter, it seems, told Bachmann to “act like a lady.”

And Specter certainly does have problems: “Republican Pat Toomey now leads incumbent Senator Arlen Specter 49% to 40% in Pennsylvania’s race for the U.S. Senate. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Pennsylvania voters also finds Toomey with a 43% to 35% lead over Democratic challenger Joe Sestak.” As goes Massachusetts, so goes Pennsylvania?

Quin Hillyer writes a smart column: you don’t win upset political races unless you compete. “Too many professional pols and pollsters, consultants and consiglieres, allow their assessment of political potential to be hamstrung by conventional wisdom and by past results. Especially on the right of center, the political class in Washington consistently underestimates what can be achieved by solid principles well communicated. Washington Republicans especially act too often as if they expect to lose and are resigned to losing, just a little more slowly.”

It seems that some human rights organization (or perhaps our secretary of state of 19-million-glass-ceiling-cracks fame) should care about all this: “Who, exactly, is it the misogyny-frenzied brutes in charge of administering ‘justice’ to the Saudi distaff side are protecting — and from what? When they condemn a woman who’s been gang-raped to 200 lashes for ‘having sex outside marriage,’ or give a destitute 75-year-old widow 40 lashes for engaging in ‘prohibited mingling’ by receiving charity from two young male relatives, or, in the most recent (known) instance, sentence a 13-year-old girl to 90 lashes — to be delivered in front of her classmates — for bringing a cell phone to school — what do they believe they are doing?”

Meanwhile, Cliff May reminds us that “in a growing number of Muslim-majority countries, a war is being waged against non-Muslim minorities. Where non-Muslim minorities already have been ‘cleansed’ — as in Afghanistan and Iraq — the attacks are against their memory. Ethnic minorities also are being targeted: The genocidal conflict against the black Muslims of Darfur is only the most infamous example. … In response to all this, Western journalists, academics, diplomats, and politicians mainly avert their eyes and hold their tongues. They pretend there are no stories to be written, no social pathologies to be documented, no actions to be taken. They focus instead on Switzerland’s vote against minarets and anything Israel might be doing to prevent terrorists from claiming additional victims.”

Marc Thiessen dismantles Christiane Amanpour and her misrepresentations of waterboarding. Notice that when an informed conservative goes up against a liberal on terrorism issues (e.g., Cliff May vs. Jon Stewart, John Yoo vs. Jon Stewart), the liberal is never quite prepared. Almost like they all live in an echo chamber, with no one to challenge their firmly held and factually unsupported views.

Stuart Rothenberg moves the Arkansas Senate seat to “leans takeover”: “Multiple independent polls now show Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) losing or running even in ballot tests against any number of lower-tier GOP challengers.”

As if Arlen Specter didn’t have enough problems (including picking the exact wrong year to switch parties): “The deeply odd couple of Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Penn.) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) appeared together on a Philly radio station yesterday — and things got ugly in short order.” Specter, it seems, told Bachmann to “act like a lady.”

And Specter certainly does have problems: “Republican Pat Toomey now leads incumbent Senator Arlen Specter 49% to 40% in Pennsylvania’s race for the U.S. Senate. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Pennsylvania voters also finds Toomey with a 43% to 35% lead over Democratic challenger Joe Sestak.” As goes Massachusetts, so goes Pennsylvania?

Quin Hillyer writes a smart column: you don’t win upset political races unless you compete. “Too many professional pols and pollsters, consultants and consiglieres, allow their assessment of political potential to be hamstrung by conventional wisdom and by past results. Especially on the right of center, the political class in Washington consistently underestimates what can be achieved by solid principles well communicated. Washington Republicans especially act too often as if they expect to lose and are resigned to losing, just a little more slowly.”

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Europe and The Swiss

My seatmate at the Commentary Fund dinner, Max Boot, has already commented on some of the historical deficiencies and contemporary dilemmas inherent in the argument that Europe can safely play the role of “giant Switzerland”, as Gideon Rachman has described it in the Financial Times. Of course, Rachman is revisiting Robert Kagan’s “Mars and Venus” thesis about the U.S. and Europe: the Europeans are unassertive (appeasing, even) because they are weak, and they are weak because they delegitimized the use of force after 1945 and have been protected by the U.S. since then.

But, pace Max, today’s problem is not that the U.S.’s share of the burden of defending the Free World is “huge.” A hundred years from now, historians will not be amazed that the U.S. fought two wars while spending 5% of its GNP on defense: rather, they will be amazed that the world’s sole superpower was able to get away with spending ONLY 5% of its GNP on defense while fighting those wars and simultaneously doing much of the heavy lifting for the world’s other democracies. Clearly, some level of defense spending is too much, but there is no good reason to think that we are close to it. The problem in the U.S. today lies not in our inherent capacity, but in our willingness to draw upon it to any great extent.

And that is the real problem with Europe being Switzerland: the US will not forever be willing to defend those who do not defend themselves. European weakness cannot be supplemented indefinitely by American strength, not because we are not strong enough, but because we will become disgusted by the job. This was precisely the argument that European leaders in the early 1980’s drew on to make the case for deploying the Pershing II missiles in Europe: if the European allies did not make a public, visible commitment of their willingness to make a few sacrifices in the cause of their own defense, the U.S. would lose patience with their selfishness.

So far, the U.S. has stayed engaged. Though the Balkan Wars of the 1990’s, to which Rachman alludes in a carefree way, suggest what might happen if Europe faced a threat–deriving, maybe, from North Africa–that did not appear to pose any direct challenge to immediate U.S. interests. But if the instincts of weakness are now deeply ingrained in Europe, the tradition of isolationism is even stronger in the U.S. As Daniel Halper has pointed out, our allies are already taking alarm at Barack Obama’s neo-protectionism. The very last thing our friends should want to do is to give us a reason to indulge our worser instincts.

Rachman sheds some depressing light on how this dynamic will play out: he alludes to the wars “the U.S. has launched” in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and claims that the far-too-limited European involvement in Afghanistan “actually increases the terrorist threat to Europe.” Apart from all its other justifications, the current war in Afghanistan is, simply put, the most legally correct war in human history: it flows directly from NATO’s invocation of Article 5 after the terrorist attacks of September 11, and from many UN Security Council resolutions.

If fulfilling those obligations encourages terrorism in Europe, then that is just too bad for Europe. But it is the idea that Afghanistan is a “war of choice”–a bad choice, it is of course implied–that is truly damaging. Rachman is part of the slow, steady drizzle that has caused the NATO force in Afghanistan to be caveat-ed into ineffectiveness, and will soon, in European eyes, deprive the war against the Taliban of its last shred of legitimacy. And if Europe is not willing to stick with the fight against them, then only the Swiss should be insulted by Rachman’s comparison.

My seatmate at the Commentary Fund dinner, Max Boot, has already commented on some of the historical deficiencies and contemporary dilemmas inherent in the argument that Europe can safely play the role of “giant Switzerland”, as Gideon Rachman has described it in the Financial Times. Of course, Rachman is revisiting Robert Kagan’s “Mars and Venus” thesis about the U.S. and Europe: the Europeans are unassertive (appeasing, even) because they are weak, and they are weak because they delegitimized the use of force after 1945 and have been protected by the U.S. since then.

But, pace Max, today’s problem is not that the U.S.’s share of the burden of defending the Free World is “huge.” A hundred years from now, historians will not be amazed that the U.S. fought two wars while spending 5% of its GNP on defense: rather, they will be amazed that the world’s sole superpower was able to get away with spending ONLY 5% of its GNP on defense while fighting those wars and simultaneously doing much of the heavy lifting for the world’s other democracies. Clearly, some level of defense spending is too much, but there is no good reason to think that we are close to it. The problem in the U.S. today lies not in our inherent capacity, but in our willingness to draw upon it to any great extent.

And that is the real problem with Europe being Switzerland: the US will not forever be willing to defend those who do not defend themselves. European weakness cannot be supplemented indefinitely by American strength, not because we are not strong enough, but because we will become disgusted by the job. This was precisely the argument that European leaders in the early 1980’s drew on to make the case for deploying the Pershing II missiles in Europe: if the European allies did not make a public, visible commitment of their willingness to make a few sacrifices in the cause of their own defense, the U.S. would lose patience with their selfishness.

So far, the U.S. has stayed engaged. Though the Balkan Wars of the 1990’s, to which Rachman alludes in a carefree way, suggest what might happen if Europe faced a threat–deriving, maybe, from North Africa–that did not appear to pose any direct challenge to immediate U.S. interests. But if the instincts of weakness are now deeply ingrained in Europe, the tradition of isolationism is even stronger in the U.S. As Daniel Halper has pointed out, our allies are already taking alarm at Barack Obama’s neo-protectionism. The very last thing our friends should want to do is to give us a reason to indulge our worser instincts.

Rachman sheds some depressing light on how this dynamic will play out: he alludes to the wars “the U.S. has launched” in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and claims that the far-too-limited European involvement in Afghanistan “actually increases the terrorist threat to Europe.” Apart from all its other justifications, the current war in Afghanistan is, simply put, the most legally correct war in human history: it flows directly from NATO’s invocation of Article 5 after the terrorist attacks of September 11, and from many UN Security Council resolutions.

If fulfilling those obligations encourages terrorism in Europe, then that is just too bad for Europe. But it is the idea that Afghanistan is a “war of choice”–a bad choice, it is of course implied–that is truly damaging. Rachman is part of the slow, steady drizzle that has caused the NATO force in Afghanistan to be caveat-ed into ineffectiveness, and will soon, in European eyes, deprive the war against the Taliban of its last shred of legitimacy. And if Europe is not willing to stick with the fight against them, then only the Swiss should be insulted by Rachman’s comparison.

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One Big Switzerland

Gideon Rachman has a bracing column in the Financial Times in which he says that Europe has become largely irrelevant in world affairs and that’s not a bad thing. His model is Switzerland, which has prospered for centuries by standing on the sidelines of world affairs. “Europe has become a giant Switzerland,” he writes approvingly.

That’s very nice for Europe (at least for the time being), but there are a few problems with this irresponsible posture (literally irresponsible–i.e., not taking responsibility for global security) which Rachman ignores. Neutral nations may prosper but there’s a price to be paid. During World War II, when it was surrounded by Axis states, Switzerland kept itself from being occupied by two expedients.

First it created a very robust defense of the kind that Europe now lacks. The Encyclopedia Britannica notes that “it eventually mobilized 850,000 people out of a total population of 4,000,000.” Second, and less to its credit (so to speak), Switzerland agreed to provide financing and all sorts of vital supplies to the Germans. The Swiss central bank even bought gold the Nazis had looted from occupied countries right up until the end of the war. As Britannica notes, “Germany used this money–its only remaining convertible currency–to purchase missing raw materials from abroad.”

If I may use the word of the moment without fear of contradiction from some Swiss Barack Obama, I would say that Switzerland was guilty of appeasing the most heinous regime in history. Of course, it’s hard to judge Switzerland too harshly. It was, after all, a small nation and had to make some repugnant compromises to survive.

But Europe as a whole is considerably larger and theoretically more powerful. Switzerland is a country of 7.5 million people with a GDP of $413 billion. That makes it considerably smaller than California. The European Union, by contrast, has more people (491 million) and a bigger GDP ($16.3 trillion) than the United States. (All statistics are from the CIA World Factbook).

The United States, as the leader of what used to be called the Free World, can afford to have Switzerland sit on the sidelines. It’s far from clear that we can afford to have the EU sit there too. At least not without imposing on us a huge defense burden that we are having difficulty meeting in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan where–whether the Europeans like it or not–we are fighting as much to safeguard them as ourselves.

It would not only be nice if Europeans chipped in to bear more of the burden of collective self-defense, it may well become essential. Or else the Europeans may one day wake up and find themselves in the unenviable position of tiny Switzerland, having to make dubious compromises with repugnant regimes. Of course, if you look at European relations with Russia, Iran, Syria, and other states (the latest example being French talks with Hamas), you could argue that that day has already dawned.

Gideon Rachman has a bracing column in the Financial Times in which he says that Europe has become largely irrelevant in world affairs and that’s not a bad thing. His model is Switzerland, which has prospered for centuries by standing on the sidelines of world affairs. “Europe has become a giant Switzerland,” he writes approvingly.

That’s very nice for Europe (at least for the time being), but there are a few problems with this irresponsible posture (literally irresponsible–i.e., not taking responsibility for global security) which Rachman ignores. Neutral nations may prosper but there’s a price to be paid. During World War II, when it was surrounded by Axis states, Switzerland kept itself from being occupied by two expedients.

First it created a very robust defense of the kind that Europe now lacks. The Encyclopedia Britannica notes that “it eventually mobilized 850,000 people out of a total population of 4,000,000.” Second, and less to its credit (so to speak), Switzerland agreed to provide financing and all sorts of vital supplies to the Germans. The Swiss central bank even bought gold the Nazis had looted from occupied countries right up until the end of the war. As Britannica notes, “Germany used this money–its only remaining convertible currency–to purchase missing raw materials from abroad.”

If I may use the word of the moment without fear of contradiction from some Swiss Barack Obama, I would say that Switzerland was guilty of appeasing the most heinous regime in history. Of course, it’s hard to judge Switzerland too harshly. It was, after all, a small nation and had to make some repugnant compromises to survive.

But Europe as a whole is considerably larger and theoretically more powerful. Switzerland is a country of 7.5 million people with a GDP of $413 billion. That makes it considerably smaller than California. The European Union, by contrast, has more people (491 million) and a bigger GDP ($16.3 trillion) than the United States. (All statistics are from the CIA World Factbook).

The United States, as the leader of what used to be called the Free World, can afford to have Switzerland sit on the sidelines. It’s far from clear that we can afford to have the EU sit there too. At least not without imposing on us a huge defense burden that we are having difficulty meeting in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan where–whether the Europeans like it or not–we are fighting as much to safeguard them as ourselves.

It would not only be nice if Europeans chipped in to bear more of the burden of collective self-defense, it may well become essential. Or else the Europeans may one day wake up and find themselves in the unenviable position of tiny Switzerland, having to make dubious compromises with repugnant regimes. Of course, if you look at European relations with Russia, Iran, Syria, and other states (the latest example being French talks with Hamas), you could argue that that day has already dawned.

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Come Home, Micheline

In a hilarious column published today in the Wall Street Journal Europe, Swiss columnist Roger Koppel prays for someone to stop Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, from continuing her reckless foreign policy. The latest stunt of was, readers may recall, going to Tehran to witness–while wrapped in a white veil–the the signing of a massive gas deal between Iran and the Swiss energy company EGL.

Despite Calmy-Rey’s protestations about her stance for human rights while on this trip, Koppel surmises that “the prevailing impression was that she let herself be manipulated as a useful idiot by a brutal regime.” Given her record–signing the gas deal with Iran, supporting Qaddafi fan and radical anti-capitalist Jean Ziegler as a rapporteur for the Human Rights’ Council, having Switzerland stand as the only Western country to condemn Israel in a recent, biased HRC resolution–doesn’t calling her useful give her too much credit?

In a hilarious column published today in the Wall Street Journal Europe, Swiss columnist Roger Koppel prays for someone to stop Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, from continuing her reckless foreign policy. The latest stunt of was, readers may recall, going to Tehran to witness–while wrapped in a white veil–the the signing of a massive gas deal between Iran and the Swiss energy company EGL.

Despite Calmy-Rey’s protestations about her stance for human rights while on this trip, Koppel surmises that “the prevailing impression was that she let herself be manipulated as a useful idiot by a brutal regime.” Given her record–signing the gas deal with Iran, supporting Qaddafi fan and radical anti-capitalist Jean Ziegler as a rapporteur for the Human Rights’ Council, having Switzerland stand as the only Western country to condemn Israel in a recent, biased HRC resolution–doesn’t calling her useful give her too much credit?

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The (Financial) Hammer Comes Down

While Swiss energy company EGL–backed by its government–is busy signing unprecedented gas deals with Iran, the U.S. government is trying to increase economic pressure on Tehran’s business partners by making financial transactions with Iran harder and more expensive. First, the U.S. sanctioned Future Bank in Bahrain for its links to Iran’s Bank Melli, Iran’s leading commercial bank. Then it issued an advisory about 49 banks linked to Iran and their deceptive financial practices. Now, the U.S. has demanded that the Swiss government fully disclose the contract that EGL signed with Tehran.

It is too early to tell whether Switzerland will satisfy Washington’s curiosity. After all, judging by the enduring secrecy of its banking system, one can say transparency is not Switzerland’s greatest strength. Regardless, the U.S. administration should look into more robust ways to “encourage” recalcitrant European governments and companies to comply more with the spirit, to say nothing of the letter, of the developing UN sanctions regime against Iran. Europeans, after all, are all about solving the nuclear standoff with Iran through non-military means.

It should be clear then, to them as it is to the U.S., that short of military action the only thing that stands between Iran and a nuclear bomb is robust economic pressure–mainly from Iran’s commercial partners in Europe. As for the Swiss, their protestations of innocence and UN sanctions compliance are a little odd. But then again, they hang together with Switzerland’s other recent diplomatic activity.

While Swiss energy company EGL–backed by its government–is busy signing unprecedented gas deals with Iran, the U.S. government is trying to increase economic pressure on Tehran’s business partners by making financial transactions with Iran harder and more expensive. First, the U.S. sanctioned Future Bank in Bahrain for its links to Iran’s Bank Melli, Iran’s leading commercial bank. Then it issued an advisory about 49 banks linked to Iran and their deceptive financial practices. Now, the U.S. has demanded that the Swiss government fully disclose the contract that EGL signed with Tehran.

It is too early to tell whether Switzerland will satisfy Washington’s curiosity. After all, judging by the enduring secrecy of its banking system, one can say transparency is not Switzerland’s greatest strength. Regardless, the U.S. administration should look into more robust ways to “encourage” recalcitrant European governments and companies to comply more with the spirit, to say nothing of the letter, of the developing UN sanctions regime against Iran. Europeans, after all, are all about solving the nuclear standoff with Iran through non-military means.

It should be clear then, to them as it is to the U.S., that short of military action the only thing that stands between Iran and a nuclear bomb is robust economic pressure–mainly from Iran’s commercial partners in Europe. As for the Swiss, their protestations of innocence and UN sanctions compliance are a little odd. But then again, they hang together with Switzerland’s other recent diplomatic activity.

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Europe’s Energy Submission

The energy deal that Swiss energy utility company EGL signed with Iran last week has triggered criticism both inside and outside the Alpine nation. Outside Switzerland, the most forceful complaints came from the U.S. and Israel–coming as it did barely two weeks after UN Security Council Resolution 1803 was passed, it clearly sent the wrong signal to Tehran. Europeans are not giving due weight to the strategic worries behind the new round of sanctions and prefer to increase their dependence on Iranian energy than add pressure on Tehran.

Inside Switzerland, though, the criticism focused more on the outfit chosen for the occasion by Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, who was in Tehran to witness the signature alongside her Iranian counterpart, Manuchehr Mottaki. Swiss politicians were outraged by the fact that Calmy-Rey –a longtime advocate of women’s rights–chose to wear a veil and appear “submissive.” Many of her crticis later recognized she had no choice. This brings up a further question, though: why is submissiveness necessary to deal with Iran?

A look at European energy options might offer an answer: Europe’s main natural gas suppliers is Russia. Tehran, with its readiness to welcome foreign energy companies for joint ventures, is an ideal alternative. It sits on the second-biggest known reserves of natural gas in the world and, unlike other Middle Eastern countries, is willing to share profits in exchange for the technology and investments needed to develop its vastly undertapped resources.

Of course, the trade-off–quite apart from the obvious implications for the sanctions’ regime and the ability of the West to put pressure on Iran– is that Iran’s regime benefits from access to Western technology. But it may be recalled that earlier this year Turkmenistan shut off its gas supply to Tehran–a move that caused severe gas shortages inside Iran in the middle of an unusually harsh winter. Iran, in other words, despite its giant gas fields, is a net importer of gas and is thus vulnerable to external pressure. Selling Iran technology and joining its national gas and oil companies to develop its energy resources will help Iran become a net exporter and will make its regime’s economic and political fortune. Deals like the one signed by EGL, in other words, prolong this regime’s shelf life and all that comes with it, nuclear ambitions included.

Europe’s economic engagement with Iran, especially in light of Russia’s stricter oil policies, makes sense. Except for Iran’s nuclear program and the spoiling role it plays in just about every crisis Europe wishes to solve in the Middle East. The answer to the above dilemma is long term and demands. For the time being, European temptation by Iranian oil must be understood within this context: Europe is not yet in a strong enough position to forego such deals. In this sense, Swiss politicians were right to call Calmy-Rey’s choice of the veil submissive. Submissiveness might be the only option Europe has in this situation, unless Iran’s behavior–and its regime–can be changed.

The energy deal that Swiss energy utility company EGL signed with Iran last week has triggered criticism both inside and outside the Alpine nation. Outside Switzerland, the most forceful complaints came from the U.S. and Israel–coming as it did barely two weeks after UN Security Council Resolution 1803 was passed, it clearly sent the wrong signal to Tehran. Europeans are not giving due weight to the strategic worries behind the new round of sanctions and prefer to increase their dependence on Iranian energy than add pressure on Tehran.

Inside Switzerland, though, the criticism focused more on the outfit chosen for the occasion by Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, who was in Tehran to witness the signature alongside her Iranian counterpart, Manuchehr Mottaki. Swiss politicians were outraged by the fact that Calmy-Rey –a longtime advocate of women’s rights–chose to wear a veil and appear “submissive.” Many of her crticis later recognized she had no choice. This brings up a further question, though: why is submissiveness necessary to deal with Iran?

A look at European energy options might offer an answer: Europe’s main natural gas suppliers is Russia. Tehran, with its readiness to welcome foreign energy companies for joint ventures, is an ideal alternative. It sits on the second-biggest known reserves of natural gas in the world and, unlike other Middle Eastern countries, is willing to share profits in exchange for the technology and investments needed to develop its vastly undertapped resources.

Of course, the trade-off–quite apart from the obvious implications for the sanctions’ regime and the ability of the West to put pressure on Iran– is that Iran’s regime benefits from access to Western technology. But it may be recalled that earlier this year Turkmenistan shut off its gas supply to Tehran–a move that caused severe gas shortages inside Iran in the middle of an unusually harsh winter. Iran, in other words, despite its giant gas fields, is a net importer of gas and is thus vulnerable to external pressure. Selling Iran technology and joining its national gas and oil companies to develop its energy resources will help Iran become a net exporter and will make its regime’s economic and political fortune. Deals like the one signed by EGL, in other words, prolong this regime’s shelf life and all that comes with it, nuclear ambitions included.

Europe’s economic engagement with Iran, especially in light of Russia’s stricter oil policies, makes sense. Except for Iran’s nuclear program and the spoiling role it plays in just about every crisis Europe wishes to solve in the Middle East. The answer to the above dilemma is long term and demands. For the time being, European temptation by Iranian oil must be understood within this context: Europe is not yet in a strong enough position to forego such deals. In this sense, Swiss politicians were right to call Calmy-Rey’s choice of the veil submissive. Submissiveness might be the only option Europe has in this situation, unless Iran’s behavior–and its regime–can be changed.

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Tehran’s Big Deal

Swiss energy giant EGL just disclosed what is perhaps the biggest energy contract with Iran in recent history–between 28 and 42 billion dollars, according to its spokesman, who insisted that the exact figure not be revealed. Swiss foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey visited Tehran to crown the deal. Calmy-Rey–photographed wearing a veil alongside her male Iranian counterparts–praised Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA and generally speaking scored a great own goal for the international community’s efforts to push Iran into compliance with UN Security Council resolutions 1696, 1737, 1747 and 1803.

Faced with international criticism, Calmy-Rey was adamant that Switzerland was not violating any law. True–but what kind of signal does a Western foreign minister send by going to Iran to bless a business deal two weeks after the UN adopted a sanctions resolution? Switzerland has slapped the world in the face. Europe, apparently, should not shy away from Iranian markets. Business, after all, is business.

The next weeks and months will tell whether European business will follow suit or if this is a lamentable one-off. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana-a nuclear physicist by training and the man officially appointed by the UN Security Council to negotiate with Iran-defined Iran’s nuclear program as a “strategic threat” to Europe on Sunday during a conversation with David Ignatius at the Brussels Forum. Asked by Steve Erlanger of the New York Times whether George W. Bush’s description of a nuclear Iran as “intolerable” was shared in Europe, Solana laconically and bluntly responded “Yes!” Barely a day later, Calmy-Rey was in Tehran, dressed so as not to offend her hosts, to sign a giant deal. Clearly, Switzerland begs to differ. And if the Swiss view were to take hold again in Europe (Europe remains Iran’s biggest trade partner, let’s not forget), it would not be long before that threat either materializes thanks to European technological sales and funds–or before someone acts upon the operational consequences of the world “intolerable.”

Swiss energy giant EGL just disclosed what is perhaps the biggest energy contract with Iran in recent history–between 28 and 42 billion dollars, according to its spokesman, who insisted that the exact figure not be revealed. Swiss foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey visited Tehran to crown the deal. Calmy-Rey–photographed wearing a veil alongside her male Iranian counterparts–praised Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA and generally speaking scored a great own goal for the international community’s efforts to push Iran into compliance with UN Security Council resolutions 1696, 1737, 1747 and 1803.

Faced with international criticism, Calmy-Rey was adamant that Switzerland was not violating any law. True–but what kind of signal does a Western foreign minister send by going to Iran to bless a business deal two weeks after the UN adopted a sanctions resolution? Switzerland has slapped the world in the face. Europe, apparently, should not shy away from Iranian markets. Business, after all, is business.

The next weeks and months will tell whether European business will follow suit or if this is a lamentable one-off. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana-a nuclear physicist by training and the man officially appointed by the UN Security Council to negotiate with Iran-defined Iran’s nuclear program as a “strategic threat” to Europe on Sunday during a conversation with David Ignatius at the Brussels Forum. Asked by Steve Erlanger of the New York Times whether George W. Bush’s description of a nuclear Iran as “intolerable” was shared in Europe, Solana laconically and bluntly responded “Yes!” Barely a day later, Calmy-Rey was in Tehran, dressed so as not to offend her hosts, to sign a giant deal. Clearly, Switzerland begs to differ. And if the Swiss view were to take hold again in Europe (Europe remains Iran’s biggest trade partner, let’s not forget), it would not be long before that threat either materializes thanks to European technological sales and funds–or before someone acts upon the operational consequences of the world “intolerable.”

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Nepotism is Good

Back in 1992, with a group of other Americans scholars, I had a lovely visit to North Korea to talk about world politics with our counterparts at a Pyongyang think tank. Kim Il Sung, the legendary “Great Leader” was running the show back then, and it was already obvious that his son, Kim Jong Il — known then as the “Dear Leader” — was the heir apparent.

I pressed our hosts about the succession issue, and how the dynastic principle could fit within the Marxist-Juche framework, the official ideology instilled in every North Korean man, woman, and child at birth. Their replies — each of the scholars said exactly the same thing in exactly the same words — made it very clear that their brand of Marxism was exceptionally supple; it could explain and glorify anything and everything that Kim Il Sung ever decreed or did.

Kim Il Sung managed to transfer power to his son upon his death in 1994. But how will Kim Jong Il, at age 66, fare?

USA Today has a highly informative story today, introducing us to the cast of characters “in North Korea’s ‘My Three Sons.’” Unless the regime collapses, one of them is likely to assume power at some point in the next decade or so.

Kim Jong Nam, 36 is Kim Jong Il’s eldest son. According to USA Today, this “would seem to give him an edge in a Confucian society that values seniority. But his pedigree is tainted by illegitimacy. His mother was Song Hye Rim, an actress who had a lengthy relationship with Kim Jong Il but never married him.” What’s more, Jong Nam is obese and unruly. In 2001, he was apprehended attempting to enter Japan with a fraudulent Chinese passport — under the Chinese name Pang Xiong, or “Fat Bear” — with the intention of visiting Tokyo’s Disneyland.  

Kim Jong Chul, 26. would seem to be the front runner. A cult of personality has already developed around his mother, one of several of Kim Jong Il’s wives. USA Today reports that Jong Chul has been educated in Switzerland and was seen attending an Eric Clapton concert in Germany last year. Has his exposure to the West made him soft? Let us hope so. 

Kim Jong Woon, 23 or 24,  may be young, but evidently he is also ambitious. South Korean media reports say that his mother has “ordered high-ranking North Korean officials to start calling him ‘the Morning Star General’ in an apparent bid to put him in the succession race.”

When are the fireworks likely to start? Life expectancy in North Korea is reported to be 72, which seems far too high, given the famines and other afflictions that have descended on the country in recent years. Of course, Kim Jong Il is well fed and well-tended to, so the average North Korean figure is irrelevant as far as he is concerned. But even if his personal life-expectancy is more like the South Korean average of 78, the succession issue will inevitably be upon him before too long.

Succession is a always a weak link of dictatorships, especially Marxists dictatorships. The classic study of the problem is Myron Rush’s Political Succession in the USSR. In North Korea’s case, the risks of running such an absolute Marxist monarchy would seem to be great. But so undoubtedly are the perquisites. If Kim Jong Nam gets the slot, he wouldn’t have to travel incognito to Disneyland; he could make an official visit, or better yet, build his own.

 

Back in 1992, with a group of other Americans scholars, I had a lovely visit to North Korea to talk about world politics with our counterparts at a Pyongyang think tank. Kim Il Sung, the legendary “Great Leader” was running the show back then, and it was already obvious that his son, Kim Jong Il — known then as the “Dear Leader” — was the heir apparent.

I pressed our hosts about the succession issue, and how the dynastic principle could fit within the Marxist-Juche framework, the official ideology instilled in every North Korean man, woman, and child at birth. Their replies — each of the scholars said exactly the same thing in exactly the same words — made it very clear that their brand of Marxism was exceptionally supple; it could explain and glorify anything and everything that Kim Il Sung ever decreed or did.

Kim Il Sung managed to transfer power to his son upon his death in 1994. But how will Kim Jong Il, at age 66, fare?

USA Today has a highly informative story today, introducing us to the cast of characters “in North Korea’s ‘My Three Sons.’” Unless the regime collapses, one of them is likely to assume power at some point in the next decade or so.

Kim Jong Nam, 36 is Kim Jong Il’s eldest son. According to USA Today, this “would seem to give him an edge in a Confucian society that values seniority. But his pedigree is tainted by illegitimacy. His mother was Song Hye Rim, an actress who had a lengthy relationship with Kim Jong Il but never married him.” What’s more, Jong Nam is obese and unruly. In 2001, he was apprehended attempting to enter Japan with a fraudulent Chinese passport — under the Chinese name Pang Xiong, or “Fat Bear” — with the intention of visiting Tokyo’s Disneyland.  

Kim Jong Chul, 26. would seem to be the front runner. A cult of personality has already developed around his mother, one of several of Kim Jong Il’s wives. USA Today reports that Jong Chul has been educated in Switzerland and was seen attending an Eric Clapton concert in Germany last year. Has his exposure to the West made him soft? Let us hope so. 

Kim Jong Woon, 23 or 24,  may be young, but evidently he is also ambitious. South Korean media reports say that his mother has “ordered high-ranking North Korean officials to start calling him ‘the Morning Star General’ in an apparent bid to put him in the succession race.”

When are the fireworks likely to start? Life expectancy in North Korea is reported to be 72, which seems far too high, given the famines and other afflictions that have descended on the country in recent years. Of course, Kim Jong Il is well fed and well-tended to, so the average North Korean figure is irrelevant as far as he is concerned. But even if his personal life-expectancy is more like the South Korean average of 78, the succession issue will inevitably be upon him before too long.

Succession is a always a weak link of dictatorships, especially Marxists dictatorships. The classic study of the problem is Myron Rush’s Political Succession in the USSR. In North Korea’s case, the risks of running such an absolute Marxist monarchy would seem to be great. But so undoubtedly are the perquisites. If Kim Jong Nam gets the slot, he wouldn’t have to travel incognito to Disneyland; he could make an official visit, or better yet, build his own.

 

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Sharif’s Return

The differences are greater than the similarities, but somehow the Saudi decision to send exiled politician Nawaz Sharif back to Pakistan on an airplane belonging to King Abdullah reminds me of the Germans’ decision to transport V.I. Lenin from his exile in Switzerland back to Russia in a sealed railway car in 1917. Winston Churchill famously wrote of the Germans: “It was with a sense of awe that they turned upon Russia the most grisly of all weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus into Russia.”

The German hope that Lenin would launch a revolution that would undermine the czarist regime fighting Germany was fully realized. But, while the short-term consequences were extremely favorable to Germany (the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, concluded by the new Bolshevik regime, took Russia out of the war and granted Germany huge territorial concessions), in the long term, the German move backfired. The Communist regime proved to be a more formidable and ruthless adversary to Germany than its czarist predecessor had been. By 1945 Russian soldiers were wandering through the ruins of Berlin, thanks to an offensive overseen by Lenin’s successor.

Will the Saudi move to send Sharif to Pakistan backfire as badly? Probably not. But it could still have negative repercussions.

The Saudis are more comfortable with Nawaz Sharif, an Islamic conservative who tried to impose sharia law during his tenure as prime minister in the 1990’s, than with Benazir Bhutto, a liberal, pro-Western woman. From the Saudi perspective, a woman shouldn’t be driving a car, much less running a country, especially not an Islamic country. No doubt the Saudis were alarmed by the sight of Bhutto returning to Pakistan with American help, and they wanted to get “their” candidate back into the political arena. Significantly, Sharif had spent the past eight years living on Saudi soil, while Bhutto spent her wilderness years in the freer air of Dubai and London.

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The differences are greater than the similarities, but somehow the Saudi decision to send exiled politician Nawaz Sharif back to Pakistan on an airplane belonging to King Abdullah reminds me of the Germans’ decision to transport V.I. Lenin from his exile in Switzerland back to Russia in a sealed railway car in 1917. Winston Churchill famously wrote of the Germans: “It was with a sense of awe that they turned upon Russia the most grisly of all weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus into Russia.”

The German hope that Lenin would launch a revolution that would undermine the czarist regime fighting Germany was fully realized. But, while the short-term consequences were extremely favorable to Germany (the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, concluded by the new Bolshevik regime, took Russia out of the war and granted Germany huge territorial concessions), in the long term, the German move backfired. The Communist regime proved to be a more formidable and ruthless adversary to Germany than its czarist predecessor had been. By 1945 Russian soldiers were wandering through the ruins of Berlin, thanks to an offensive overseen by Lenin’s successor.

Will the Saudi move to send Sharif to Pakistan backfire as badly? Probably not. But it could still have negative repercussions.

The Saudis are more comfortable with Nawaz Sharif, an Islamic conservative who tried to impose sharia law during his tenure as prime minister in the 1990’s, than with Benazir Bhutto, a liberal, pro-Western woman. From the Saudi perspective, a woman shouldn’t be driving a car, much less running a country, especially not an Islamic country. No doubt the Saudis were alarmed by the sight of Bhutto returning to Pakistan with American help, and they wanted to get “their” candidate back into the political arena. Significantly, Sharif had spent the past eight years living on Saudi soil, while Bhutto spent her wilderness years in the freer air of Dubai and London.

The Saudis are understandably determined to preserve their long-standing links with Pakistan. The ties are long and deep: the Saudis and Pakistanis worked closely together in the 1980’s, for example, to support the mujahideen fighting the Red Army in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis provided bases, training, and handlers; the Saudis (along with the Americans) provided the cash.

There are even unproven suspicions (denied vehemently by both sides) that the links may include Saudi financial contributions for the development of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, in return perhaps for an understanding that Pakistani nuclear technology will be made available to the Saudis should they ever need it. That possibility is no longer so far-fetched: If Iran develops its own nuclear bomb, Saudi Arabia may well feel compelled to match the “Persians.”

That could set off a destabilizing Middle Eastern arms race and raise the odds that a nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of jihadist terrorists. But from the Saudi perspective, going nuclear could be a necessary step toward preserving their security and prestige. If so, it would be helpful to the Saudis to have in Pakistan a leader who would offer Riyadh all the cooperation it needs. And Sharif fits the bill better than Bhutto.

But the Saudis had better be careful what they wish for. If Sharif is less dogged than, say, Bhutto would be in cracking down on jihadists, the results could come back to haunt the Saudis. Pakistan, after all, has become a haven of al Qaeda extremists who hate the Saudi regime at least as much as they hate America and Israel. It is in the Saudis’ interests to have the Pakistan government defeat the jihadists—something that Pervez Musharraf has not been willing or able to do and that Sharif may or may not be willing to do either, but that Bhutto has promised to do. Of course the ability of any of these leaders to stop the growth of Islamic radicalism may be limited because of the unwillingness or inability of many in the Pakistani security forces to fight especially hard against their Muslim “brothers.” But it would certainly be helpful to have a leader who appears more emotionally committed to the fight than Musharraf has been or than Sharif may be.

There is nothing wrong with allowing Sharif to compete in free elections; they would not have any credibility if he were barred. But one wonders how much covert support the Saudis may be providing him beyond simply his plush ticket back.

The Saudis had better be careful not to compromise their long-term interests in return for short-term gain—a mistake they last made in the 1990’s when, working hand-in-glove with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, they funded the most radical mujahideen groups fighting in Afghanistan. Many of those Afghan veterans then journeyed back to Saudi Arabia and formed the nucleus of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist group that Saudi security forces have been battling for the last several years.

Saudi Arabia has already imported one plague bacillus; it should be wary of a re-infection.

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