Commentary Magazine


Topic: the Daily Telegraph

Where Oh Where Is Hillary?

Nile Gardiner at the Daily Telegraph writes: “The White House should send a search party to track down Hillary Clinton. America’s foreign policy chief has been missing from the world stage for several days, and has become as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel at the height of the French Revolution.”

Come to think of it, we haven’t seen or heard from her since the Flight 253 bombing attack. Nada on the issue of the State Department’s own role in the security debacle that allowed the Christmas Day bomber to get onto the plane. (As Elliott Abrams noted, “His multiple-entry visa to the U.S. was not canceled by State, not even after his own father alerted U.S. Embassy officials in Nigeria of the danger he might present.”) And not a peep on Iran. The “Where in the World is the Secretary” locator (I am not making this up) on the State Department website puts her in the environs of Washington D.C.

Maybe she is hiding at home, assuming, correctly, that anyone who shows up on camera (e.g., Janet Napolitano, the president) gets savaged. Maybe she is the fall-gal when we get the “how we messed up” report. (Prediction: It won’t say that treating terrorists like criminal defendants or releasing terrorists to Yemen is a problem.) Or perhaps she is studying up on the 2010 senate and gubernatorial races. There must be a race in some state she could run in and win, right? After all, she is the most admired woman in America (well, she’s in a statistical tie with Sarah Palin). She might not stay that way if she hangs out with the Obami much longer.

Nile Gardiner at the Daily Telegraph writes: “The White House should send a search party to track down Hillary Clinton. America’s foreign policy chief has been missing from the world stage for several days, and has become as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel at the height of the French Revolution.”

Come to think of it, we haven’t seen or heard from her since the Flight 253 bombing attack. Nada on the issue of the State Department’s own role in the security debacle that allowed the Christmas Day bomber to get onto the plane. (As Elliott Abrams noted, “His multiple-entry visa to the U.S. was not canceled by State, not even after his own father alerted U.S. Embassy officials in Nigeria of the danger he might present.”) And not a peep on Iran. The “Where in the World is the Secretary” locator (I am not making this up) on the State Department website puts her in the environs of Washington D.C.

Maybe she is hiding at home, assuming, correctly, that anyone who shows up on camera (e.g., Janet Napolitano, the president) gets savaged. Maybe she is the fall-gal when we get the “how we messed up” report. (Prediction: It won’t say that treating terrorists like criminal defendants or releasing terrorists to Yemen is a problem.) Or perhaps she is studying up on the 2010 senate and gubernatorial races. There must be a race in some state she could run in and win, right? After all, she is the most admired woman in America (well, she’s in a statistical tie with Sarah Palin). She might not stay that way if she hangs out with the Obami much longer.

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The Unmasking of Barack Obama

The overseas reviews for President Obama’s foreign policy are starting to pour in — and they’re not favorable. Bob Ainsworth, the British defense secretary, has blamed Obama for the decline in British public support for the war in Afghanistan. According to the Telegraph:

Mr. Ainsworth took the unprecedented step of publicly criticizing the U.S. President and his delays in sending more troops to bolster the mission against the Taliban. A “period of hiatus” in Washington — and a lack of clear direction — had made it harder for ministers to persuade the British public to go on backing the Afghan mission in the face of a rising death toll, he said. Senior British Government sources have become increasingly frustrated with Mr. Obama’s “dithering” on Afghanistan, the Daily Telegraph disclosed earlier this month, with several former British defense chiefs echoing the concerns.

The President is “Obama the Impotent,” according to Steven Hill of the Guardian. The Economist calls Obama the “Pacific (and pussyfooting) president.” The Financial Times refers to “relations between the U.S. and Europe, which started the year of talks as allies, near breakdown.” The German magazine Der Spiegel accuses the president of being “dishonest with Europe” on the subject of climate change. Another withering piece in Der Spiegel, titled “Obama’s Nice Guy Act Gets Him Nowhere on the World Stage,” lists the instances in which Obama is being rolled. The Jerusalem Post puts it this way: “Everybody is saying no to the American president these days. And it’s not just that they’re saying no, it’s also the way they’re saying no.” “He talks too much,” a Saudi academic who had once been smitten with Barack Obama tells the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami. The Saudi “has wearied of Mr. Obama and now does not bother with the Obama oratory,” according to Ajami. But “he is hardly alone, this academic. In the endless chatter of this region, and in the commentaries offered by the press, the theme is one of disappointment. In the Arab-Islamic world, Barack Obama has come down to earth.”

Indeed he has — and only Obama and his increasingly clueless administration seem unaware of this. Read More

The overseas reviews for President Obama’s foreign policy are starting to pour in — and they’re not favorable. Bob Ainsworth, the British defense secretary, has blamed Obama for the decline in British public support for the war in Afghanistan. According to the Telegraph:

Mr. Ainsworth took the unprecedented step of publicly criticizing the U.S. President and his delays in sending more troops to bolster the mission against the Taliban. A “period of hiatus” in Washington — and a lack of clear direction — had made it harder for ministers to persuade the British public to go on backing the Afghan mission in the face of a rising death toll, he said. Senior British Government sources have become increasingly frustrated with Mr. Obama’s “dithering” on Afghanistan, the Daily Telegraph disclosed earlier this month, with several former British defense chiefs echoing the concerns.

The President is “Obama the Impotent,” according to Steven Hill of the Guardian. The Economist calls Obama the “Pacific (and pussyfooting) president.” The Financial Times refers to “relations between the U.S. and Europe, which started the year of talks as allies, near breakdown.” The German magazine Der Spiegel accuses the president of being “dishonest with Europe” on the subject of climate change. Another withering piece in Der Spiegel, titled “Obama’s Nice Guy Act Gets Him Nowhere on the World Stage,” lists the instances in which Obama is being rolled. The Jerusalem Post puts it this way: “Everybody is saying no to the American president these days. And it’s not just that they’re saying no, it’s also the way they’re saying no.” “He talks too much,” a Saudi academic who had once been smitten with Barack Obama tells the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami. The Saudi “has wearied of Mr. Obama and now does not bother with the Obama oratory,” according to Ajami. But “he is hardly alone, this academic. In the endless chatter of this region, and in the commentaries offered by the press, the theme is one of disappointment. In the Arab-Islamic world, Barack Obama has come down to earth.”

Indeed he has — and only Obama and his increasingly clueless administration seem unaware of this.

On almost every front, progress is nonexistent. In many instances, things are getting worse rather than better. The enormous goodwill that Obama’s election was met with hasn’t been leveraged into anything useful and tangible. Rather, our allies are now questioning America’s will, while our adversaries are becoming increasingly emboldened. The United States looks weak and uncertain. It’s “amateur hour at the White House,” according to Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former official in the Carter administration. “Not only are things not getting fixed, they may be getting more broken,” according to Michael Hirsh at Newsweek. When even such strong Obama supporters as Gelb and Hirsh reach these conclusions, you know things must be unraveling.

It’s no mystery as to why. President Obama’s approach to international relations is simplistic and misguided. It is premised on the belief that American concessions to our adversaries will beget goodwill and concessions in return; that American self-abasement is justified; that the American decline is inevitable (and in some respects welcome); and that diplomacy and multilateralism are ends rather than means to an end.

Right now the overwhelming issue on the public’s mind is the economy, where Obama is also having serious problems. But national-security issues matter a great deal, and they remain the unique responsibility of the president. With every passing month, Barack Obama looks more and more like his Democratic predecessor Jimmy Carter: irresolute, unsteady, and overmatched. The president and members of his own party will find out soon enough, though, that Obama the Impotent isn’t what they had in mind when they elected him. We are witnessing the unmasking, and perhaps the unmaking, of Barack Obama.

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Brown Comes A Cropper

On Friday, the Daily Telegraph reported results “among the most devastating for any government in the history of opinion polling”: the proportion of voters satisfied with Gordon Brown as prime minister has fallen to 23 percent. As the New York Times put it yesterday, this is a complete “reversal of fortune” from Brown’s summer dominance. His only consolation is that he has time to recover before he has to call an election in May 2010.

We have seen this movie before. In April 1955, Anthony Eden, the prime minister in waiting since 1951, took over Number 10 from Winston Churchill. Eden won a general election in May 1955, but by January 1957, destroyed by the Suez Crisis, he was out of office, replaced by Harold Macmillan.

Brown’s error was to fail to do the one thing Eden did right: hold (and win) an election soon after coming to power. Tony Blair tripped Brown up by leaving in June: Brown could not have gone to the polls until early October. But Brown made matters worse first by dithering, and then by announcing on October 6 that he had decided against calling an
election. By late September, the Tories were making up ground; since then, they have sprinted ahead.

The parallel is not just between Eden and Brown. The Marquess of Salisbury was followed in 1902 by Arthur Balfour, who lasted only three years. Stanley Baldwin was replaced by Neville Chamberlain in 1937, who left in May 1940. Winston Churchill was followed by Eden, gone in 1957. Harold Macmillan’s successor was Alec Douglas-Home, who survived only a year. Harold Wilson made room in 1976 for James Callaghan, who lost to Thatcher in 1979. Margaret Thatcher dominated the 1980’s, but her heir John Major, though he won victory against the odds in 1992, was routed by Blair in 1997. And now Blair’s heir has run onto the rocks six months after ousting his former leader.

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On Friday, the Daily Telegraph reported results “among the most devastating for any government in the history of opinion polling”: the proportion of voters satisfied with Gordon Brown as prime minister has fallen to 23 percent. As the New York Times put it yesterday, this is a complete “reversal of fortune” from Brown’s summer dominance. His only consolation is that he has time to recover before he has to call an election in May 2010.

We have seen this movie before. In April 1955, Anthony Eden, the prime minister in waiting since 1951, took over Number 10 from Winston Churchill. Eden won a general election in May 1955, but by January 1957, destroyed by the Suez Crisis, he was out of office, replaced by Harold Macmillan.

Brown’s error was to fail to do the one thing Eden did right: hold (and win) an election soon after coming to power. Tony Blair tripped Brown up by leaving in June: Brown could not have gone to the polls until early October. But Brown made matters worse first by dithering, and then by announcing on October 6 that he had decided against calling an
election. By late September, the Tories were making up ground; since then, they have sprinted ahead.

The parallel is not just between Eden and Brown. The Marquess of Salisbury was followed in 1902 by Arthur Balfour, who lasted only three years. Stanley Baldwin was replaced by Neville Chamberlain in 1937, who left in May 1940. Winston Churchill was followed by Eden, gone in 1957. Harold Macmillan’s successor was Alec Douglas-Home, who survived only a year. Harold Wilson made room in 1976 for James Callaghan, who lost to Thatcher in 1979. Margaret Thatcher dominated the 1980’s, but her heir John Major, though he won victory against the odds in 1992, was routed by Blair in 1997. And now Blair’s heir has run onto the rocks six months after ousting his former leader.

Historian David Cannadine has described this pattern in twentieth-century British history as “the village fiddler after Paganini”: a dominant leader followed by a supposedly heavyweight successor who immediately comes a cropper. Why? Bad luck is a political reality, and the Prime Ministerial successors, taken as a group, may simply have been less talented than their predecessors.

But fundamentally, the pattern exists because in parliamentary systems a government can fall with a single vote. Therefore, as Churchill put it, “the loyalties which centre upon number one are enormous. If he trips he must be sustained.” But though a British party will manifest intense loyalty to the leader that puts it into power, it never feels as strongly about his successor.

Occasionally, as in 1957, a party can discard the successor and rally around a new leader: Brown may be forced to make way for a new Labour leader at a time not of his choosing. But such successes are rare. The odds are that Brown, having turned down, will keep going that way and ride his party to defeat.

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Ian Smith

There’s a telling sentence towards the end of the Daily Telegraph’s story about Ian Smith, the last white prime minister of Rhodesia, who died Tuesday at the age of 88:

But Mr. Mugabe treated Smith with great magnanimity, allowing him to stay in Parliament until 1987 and keep his farm.

What magnanimity (though, at least in comparison to the treatment meted out to most of the country’s whites over time, Mugabe’s disregard of Smith was indeed exceptional). The circumstances of Smith’s removal from parliament were just a minor blip in Mugabe’s descent into full-bore totalitarianism: Mugabe suspended him in 1987 for publicly stating that sanctions against neighboring South Africa would help that country become more economically independent.

Smith was not a great man; indeed, his intransigence—which led to Rhodesia’s 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI)—and refusal to allow even the most basic of democratic rights for blacks, prolonged Rhodesia’s internal political crises, worsened racial relations, and generally created the conditions in which a man like Robert Mugabe could later rise to power. Contrary to what some of Smith’s latter-day apologists might today claim, the roots of totalitarian rule existed in Zimbabwe long before Mugabe: detention without trial, press censorship, the frittering away of the rule of law—none of these things were suddenly or even gradually introduced into Zimbabwean life during the Mugabe years. They were planted by Ian Smith and his crypto-fascist Rhodesian Front party.

Yet as much as Smith was a white supremacist, Mugabe has been a black—and tribal—one to boot. The sad fact is that Rhodesia’s authoritarianism was preferable to Zimbabwe’s totalitarianism, and no knowledgeable observer of Zimbabwe can conclude otherwise. (And Smith, at least over time, was probably right in his boasts–made frequently before his death–that he was ultimately more popular amongst Zimbabwean blacks than Mugabe.) This is not an expression of nostalgia for Rhodesia’s colonial past, but merely an acknowledgment that the sort of diplomacy which allowed a man, openly preaching his desire for continued violence and one-party rule, to take control was ultimately a failure. (And that the story’s lessons can be applied to similar situations—for instance, whether or not to engage with Hamas diplomatically.) But Ian Smith, given his own culpability in violently delaying democracy—and certainly in light of what Mugabe has done to most of his other political foes—sure got off easy.

There’s a telling sentence towards the end of the Daily Telegraph’s story about Ian Smith, the last white prime minister of Rhodesia, who died Tuesday at the age of 88:

But Mr. Mugabe treated Smith with great magnanimity, allowing him to stay in Parliament until 1987 and keep his farm.

What magnanimity (though, at least in comparison to the treatment meted out to most of the country’s whites over time, Mugabe’s disregard of Smith was indeed exceptional). The circumstances of Smith’s removal from parliament were just a minor blip in Mugabe’s descent into full-bore totalitarianism: Mugabe suspended him in 1987 for publicly stating that sanctions against neighboring South Africa would help that country become more economically independent.

Smith was not a great man; indeed, his intransigence—which led to Rhodesia’s 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI)—and refusal to allow even the most basic of democratic rights for blacks, prolonged Rhodesia’s internal political crises, worsened racial relations, and generally created the conditions in which a man like Robert Mugabe could later rise to power. Contrary to what some of Smith’s latter-day apologists might today claim, the roots of totalitarian rule existed in Zimbabwe long before Mugabe: detention without trial, press censorship, the frittering away of the rule of law—none of these things were suddenly or even gradually introduced into Zimbabwean life during the Mugabe years. They were planted by Ian Smith and his crypto-fascist Rhodesian Front party.

Yet as much as Smith was a white supremacist, Mugabe has been a black—and tribal—one to boot. The sad fact is that Rhodesia’s authoritarianism was preferable to Zimbabwe’s totalitarianism, and no knowledgeable observer of Zimbabwe can conclude otherwise. (And Smith, at least over time, was probably right in his boasts–made frequently before his death–that he was ultimately more popular amongst Zimbabwean blacks than Mugabe.) This is not an expression of nostalgia for Rhodesia’s colonial past, but merely an acknowledgment that the sort of diplomacy which allowed a man, openly preaching his desire for continued violence and one-party rule, to take control was ultimately a failure. (And that the story’s lessons can be applied to similar situations—for instance, whether or not to engage with Hamas diplomatically.) But Ian Smith, given his own culpability in violently delaying democracy—and certainly in light of what Mugabe has done to most of his other political foes—sure got off easy.

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Really Terrible Music

The whimsical Scottish novelist Alexander McCall Smith, author of the popular No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series of mysteries, as well as academic works on his research specialty of medical law, has an unexpected new hit on his hands. As McCall Smith told the Daily Telegraph, he and his wife founded the Edinburgh-based Really Terrible Orchestra (RTO) for self-confessedly poor amateur players, as a fun form of musical therapy. A mainstay since 1995 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the RTO sold out its London debut on November 3, and doubtless will soon make its New York debut.

Manhattan audiences are always eager to witness a musical car wreck, and the RTO guarantees just that, as McCall Smith, the orchestra’s bassoonist, explains: “Various sections of the orchestra stop playing if the music becomes a little bit too complex. There are all sorts of things that can go wrong and occasionally our conductor has to stop us and take us back to the beginning again and the audience absolutely loves that.” The subject of a 2005 short documentary, the RTO has even released CD’s, featuring mangled versions of pop songs like King of the Road and Yellow Submarine.

Although crowds will flock to see ineptitude on display, as fans of the 1962 New York Mets proved, the RTO’s stance of proudly self-proclaimed incapacity is an innovation. A detailed new documentary from VAI, Florence Foster Jenkins: A World of Her Own tells everything one would ever want to know about the excruciatingly bad coloratura soprano, who drew crowds to recital in the 1940’s.

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The whimsical Scottish novelist Alexander McCall Smith, author of the popular No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series of mysteries, as well as academic works on his research specialty of medical law, has an unexpected new hit on his hands. As McCall Smith told the Daily Telegraph, he and his wife founded the Edinburgh-based Really Terrible Orchestra (RTO) for self-confessedly poor amateur players, as a fun form of musical therapy. A mainstay since 1995 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the RTO sold out its London debut on November 3, and doubtless will soon make its New York debut.

Manhattan audiences are always eager to witness a musical car wreck, and the RTO guarantees just that, as McCall Smith, the orchestra’s bassoonist, explains: “Various sections of the orchestra stop playing if the music becomes a little bit too complex. There are all sorts of things that can go wrong and occasionally our conductor has to stop us and take us back to the beginning again and the audience absolutely loves that.” The subject of a 2005 short documentary, the RTO has even released CD’s, featuring mangled versions of pop songs like King of the Road and Yellow Submarine.

Although crowds will flock to see ineptitude on display, as fans of the 1962 New York Mets proved, the RTO’s stance of proudly self-proclaimed incapacity is an innovation. A detailed new documentary from VAI, Florence Foster Jenkins: A World of Her Own tells everything one would ever want to know about the excruciatingly bad coloratura soprano, who drew crowds to recital in the 1940’s.

The self-delusion of Jenkins (1868–1944) inspired a number of recent plays, like Stephen Temperley’s 2005 Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins, as well as a ballet choreographed by Ohad Naharin of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company to Jenkins’s caterwauling of an aria from Strauss’s Die Fledermaus. These works mix the pathos of failed aspirations with laughs at punctured pretensions. Yet many who laugh at Jenkins’s recordings are motivated by plain old cattiness, as the arch notes to VAI’s The Muse Surmounted—Florence Foster Jenkins and Eleven Rivals show, ridiculing elderly women who were unfortunate enough to preserve their singing on tape for derision by later generations. This mean-spiritedness happily is absent from McCall Smith’s venture, yet the RTO on display is still uncomfortably close to audience fascination with past spectacles, like the Australian pianist David Helfgott, whose life inspired the 1996 film Shine. Helfgott’s celebrity led for a time to a spate of unlistenable Helfgott concerts and even CD’s.

Classical music may not be in its death throes, as some critics adamantly claim, but it surely does not need concerts and CD’s from the orchestral equivalent of the American Idol auditioner William Hung, who himself has launched a performing and recording career. Performers should not be encouraged to believe that the more objectionable they sound, the more the world will approve of them.

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A Coup for the Clark

The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts pulled off an audacious feat of showmanship last Friday. As it announced its acquisition of the Manton collection of British art, it simultaneously unveiled that collection in a surprise exhibition, startling even the institute’s own employees (they had assumed that the closed galleries were being prepared for this summer’s Monet exhibition). One can pardon the Clark’s showmanship; the Manton bequest is truly remarkable. It comprises over two hundred paintings and drawings by the luminaries of early 19th-century English painting, with particular emphasis on the work of Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable, and the incomparable J.M.W. Turner. Moreover, it comes with an endowment of $50 million, a bequest of extraordinary generosity.

The collection was assembled by the reclusive Edwin A.G. Manton (1909-2005), the longtime president and chairman of the American International Group (AIG). Though the British-born Manton (born, in fact, only a few miles from Constable’s own Suffolk birthplace) took up residence in America in 1933, he remained deeply appreciative of the English landscape and began collecting paintings in the 1940’s. He was a great supporter of London’s Tate Museum, for which he was knighted in 1994, although his gifts were invariably anonymous. According to the Daily Telegraph, his reasons for anonymity were strictly pragmatic: “I made my gifts anonymously to protect myself from people importuning me. It was not a noble feeling. I was simply protecting my purse.”

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The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts pulled off an audacious feat of showmanship last Friday. As it announced its acquisition of the Manton collection of British art, it simultaneously unveiled that collection in a surprise exhibition, startling even the institute’s own employees (they had assumed that the closed galleries were being prepared for this summer’s Monet exhibition). One can pardon the Clark’s showmanship; the Manton bequest is truly remarkable. It comprises over two hundred paintings and drawings by the luminaries of early 19th-century English painting, with particular emphasis on the work of Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable, and the incomparable J.M.W. Turner. Moreover, it comes with an endowment of $50 million, a bequest of extraordinary generosity.

The collection was assembled by the reclusive Edwin A.G. Manton (1909-2005), the longtime president and chairman of the American International Group (AIG). Though the British-born Manton (born, in fact, only a few miles from Constable’s own Suffolk birthplace) took up residence in America in 1933, he remained deeply appreciative of the English landscape and began collecting paintings in the 1940’s. He was a great supporter of London’s Tate Museum, for which he was knighted in 1994, although his gifts were invariably anonymous. According to the Daily Telegraph, his reasons for anonymity were strictly pragmatic: “I made my gifts anonymously to protect myself from people importuning me. It was not a noble feeling. I was simply protecting my purse.”

It is known that the Tate hoped to receive Manton’s collection and that Yale University courted his heirs as well. But it makes sense that Diana Morton, Manton’s daughter and head of the Manton Foundation, would in the end choose the Clark, a much smaller institution where the gift would be that much more prominent. In acknowledgment, the Clark is renaming its library and study center after Manton and his wife.

The current exhibition shows roughly a quarter of the collection and eminently deserves a visit. Here are England’s three greatest landscape painters, represented by works spanning their careers, and hung without the sort of didactic program that forecloses on happy, accidental comparisons. The highlight is easily Turner’s Off Ramsgate (1840), a hazy coastal reverie from the crescendo of his career (although I kept returning to his brooding image of the Prussian fortress of Ehrenbreitstein, looming over the Rhine and Mosel rivers). Gainsborough’s landscapes are not as celebrated as his splendid portraits (several of which the Clark already has), but they are enchanting in their own right, their 18th-century picturesque sensibility contrasting palpably with the romantic turbulence in Constable’s work. Today’s art world offers few occasions for unqualified celebration; this is one of them. (And should a viewer prefer his encounters with art to be of the more troubled sort, he can still forge on to the tarp-covered vestiges of Christoph Büchel’s abortive exhibition at MASS MoCA.)

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No Pomp, Little Circumstance

One way to judge countries is by the way they treat their great musicians. Shockingly, England has dealt a public blow to its national composer, Sir Edward Elgar (1857—1934) on his 150th birthday. Elgar wrote such masterpieces as Enigma Variations and the Pomp and Circumstance marches, one of which provided the music for the popular hymn Land of Hope and Glory.

Just in time for Elgar’s anniversary, Her Majesty’s Exchequer has removed Elgar’s face from the British £20 note, replacing it with an image of the Scottish economist Adam Smith, while the British Arts Council refused to fund an Elgar celebration. Music critic Norman Lebrecht went a step further, declaring in the Daily Telegraph: “Elgar is not a major figure in music history, and we make a mockery of ourselves as a nation if we pretend that he is.” Whatever can the Brits find so incorrect, so objectionable, about Elgar? To some, he embodies the worst of England’s imperialist past; boozy crowds bellowing out “Land of Hope and Glory” at London events like the Last Night of the Proms causes embarrassment in the hearts of influential culture observers.

But “hope” and “glory” per se are not bad goals for a nation, and overseas music lovers need not be concerned with such internal UK squabbles. Elgar’s compositions feature an inherent stiff-upper-lip nobility behind which lurks, as his biographer Michael Kennedy wrote in the Telegraph, a “complex, hypersensitive, self-pitying, unhappy yet idealistic man, yearning for an illusory land of lost content.”

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One way to judge countries is by the way they treat their great musicians. Shockingly, England has dealt a public blow to its national composer, Sir Edward Elgar (1857—1934) on his 150th birthday. Elgar wrote such masterpieces as Enigma Variations and the Pomp and Circumstance marches, one of which provided the music for the popular hymn Land of Hope and Glory.

Just in time for Elgar’s anniversary, Her Majesty’s Exchequer has removed Elgar’s face from the British £20 note, replacing it with an image of the Scottish economist Adam Smith, while the British Arts Council refused to fund an Elgar celebration. Music critic Norman Lebrecht went a step further, declaring in the Daily Telegraph: “Elgar is not a major figure in music history, and we make a mockery of ourselves as a nation if we pretend that he is.” Whatever can the Brits find so incorrect, so objectionable, about Elgar? To some, he embodies the worst of England’s imperialist past; boozy crowds bellowing out “Land of Hope and Glory” at London events like the Last Night of the Proms causes embarrassment in the hearts of influential culture observers.

But “hope” and “glory” per se are not bad goals for a nation, and overseas music lovers need not be concerned with such internal UK squabbles. Elgar’s compositions feature an inherent stiff-upper-lip nobility behind which lurks, as his biographer Michael Kennedy wrote in the Telegraph, a “complex, hypersensitive, self-pitying, unhappy yet idealistic man, yearning for an illusory land of lost content.”

These complexities will doubtless be explored at the upcoming Bard Music Festival, “Elgar and His World,” scheduled for a series of weekends this August and October at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. The Bard festival features an uneven bunch of musicians, but fortunately it will include such accomplished chamber groups as the Daedalus Quartet and Claremont Trio, as well as the sublime solo violinist Jennifer Koh. Meanwhile, we may relish the many superb Elgar performances on CD, keeping in mind that a poorly performed CD—and there are many such of Elgar—can make any composer seem hard to listen to.

Elgar’s Cello Concerto, which the composer described as “just an old man’s darling,” was recorded with staunch restraint, flowing grace, and eloquent emotion by the cellists Pablo Casals and Paul Tortelier, both conducted by Adrian Boult for EMI Classics. Elgar’s orchestral work Enigma Variations communicates a rare personal tenderness—the variations were inspired by some of the composer’s friends—along with a sense of the passionate heights and depths of human relationships.

Enigma requires a conductor of unusual psychological nuance and direct frankness, such as Elgar himself (although his recordings were hampered by primitive sound equipment) or his friend Adrian Boult. There is also a choice of 1950’s recordings by the great French maestro Pierre Monteux with the London Symphony Orchestra in the studio; a live radio broadcast; and a surprisingly idiomatic outing with the Orchestre National de France on Music & Arts. And LSO Live recently released one of the best Enigmas ever, led by England’s current dean of conductors, Colin Davis.

Elgar also triumphed in larger-scale works like Dream of Gerontius, an oratorio set to words by Cardinal Newman about a man accepting his own mortality and the prospect of heaven. As conducted on CD by the composer Benjamin Britten with the tenor Peter Pears in the title role, or on an EMI recording with Janet Baker as the angel who guides Gerontius in his last moments of life, it is a work of brooding majesty. Achievements of this rank certainly ensure Elgar’s artistic immortality—whatever Her Majesty’s Exchequer might think.

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Bring on Bolton

Why isn’t John Bolton running for President? In contrast to a line-up of Republican candidates that seems, at least from a transatlantic perspective, somewhat lackluster, the former ambassador to the U.N. looks and sounds like a real leader. As he is not yet running for office, why doesn’t one of the candidates—Rudy Giuliani, for instance—consider him seriously as a running mate? Bolton looks like Teddy Roosevelt and talks like Ronald Reagan. What more do you want?

On Wednesday, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Bolton gave us a series of robust reminders of why his tenure at the U.N. was so controversial. He has no difficulty comparing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hitler in public, as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney reportedly do in private, and he thinks the present situation with Iran is analogous to that of 1936, when the appeasers in Europe and isolationists in America carried the day: “I think you’re at a Hitler marching into the Rhineland point. If you don’t stop it then, the future is in his hands, not in your hands, just as the future decisions on their nuclear program would be in Iran’s hands, not ours.”

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Why isn’t John Bolton running for President? In contrast to a line-up of Republican candidates that seems, at least from a transatlantic perspective, somewhat lackluster, the former ambassador to the U.N. looks and sounds like a real leader. As he is not yet running for office, why doesn’t one of the candidates—Rudy Giuliani, for instance—consider him seriously as a running mate? Bolton looks like Teddy Roosevelt and talks like Ronald Reagan. What more do you want?

On Wednesday, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Bolton gave us a series of robust reminders of why his tenure at the U.N. was so controversial. He has no difficulty comparing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hitler in public, as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney reportedly do in private, and he thinks the present situation with Iran is analogous to that of 1936, when the appeasers in Europe and isolationists in America carried the day: “I think you’re at a Hitler marching into the Rhineland point. If you don’t stop it then, the future is in his hands, not in your hands, just as the future decisions on their nuclear program would be in Iran’s hands, not ours.”

Bolton warns that Iran “is not going to be talked out of its nuclear program. So to stop them from doing it, we have to massively increase the pressure.” It is too late to halt the uranium enrichment program, so the priority now is to prevent industrial-scale production. He favors economic sanctions “with pain” as the next step, followed by a serious attempt to bring about regime change from within. “And if all else fails, if the choice is between a nuclear-capable Iran and the use of force, then I think we need to look at the use of force.”

He is not insouciant about the risks of air-strikes: “It’s very risky for the price of oil, risky because you could, let’s say, take out their enrichment capabilities at Natanz, and they may have enrichment capabilities elsewhere you don’t know about.” But he is clear-sighted about the much greater risk of doing nothing: “Imagine what it would be like with a nuclear Iran. Imagine the influence Iran could have over the entire region.”

He is scathing about the “doomed” European attempt to negotiate with Tehran, which Tony Blair reluctantly went along with: “Blair just didn’t focus on it as much as [former Foreign Secretary] Jack Straw did, and it was very much a Foreign Office thing because they wanted to show their European credentials, wanted to work with the Germans and the French to show ‘we’ll solve Iran in a way differently than those cowboy Americans solved Iraq.’” He accuses Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the former British ambassador in Iraq, and other Foreign Office officials of deliberately undermining Mr. Blair’s pro-American policy on a wide range of issues. But he rebuts the claim that Mr. Blair was a “poodle” of Mr. Bush: “Nobody in this administration has thought that. Nobody.”

War leaders are as rare today as they have ever been, and just as precious. I published an essay on the Iranian problem in the current issue of the New Criterion. My conclusion is as follows:

The Iranian regime has been at war with us from the moment it seized power 28 years ago. Ahmadinejad’s Iran represents a lethal combination of nuclear technology and Islamist eschatology. Détente is not an option. Ahmadinejad is not interested in peace; he longs for paradise. The duty of saving the world from the Persian peril falls to us. Leonidas, “the bravest of men,” was said to be descended from Heracles himself. Let us hope and pray that our leaders are made of the same stuff.

John Bolton, for one, most certainly is.

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Eugenics, Old and New

Two stories in the past two weeks have raised the specter of the re-emergence of eugenics. In Britain, the government has authorized fertility clinics to destroy embryos produced by IVF if they are found to carry a genetic condition called congenital fibrosis of the extramacular muscles. The condition is in no way life-threatening; in most respects, it hardly limits those living with it. The issue arose because two parents who suffer from the condition asked a fertility clinician to help them weed out embryos that share it.

The doctor who agreed to this—and received government permission to proceed—told the Daily Telegraph that he thinks the selective elimination of embryos for minor genetic conditions is perfectly appropriate:

When asked if he would screen embryos for factors like hair color, he said: “If there is a cosmetic aspect to an individual case, I would assess it on its merits. [Hair color] can be a cause of bullying, which can lead to suicide. With the agreement of the HFEA, I would do it. If a parent suffered from asthma, and it was possible to detect the genetic factor for this, I would do it. It all depends on the family’s distress.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the New York Times reported last week that in recent years roughly “90 percent of pregnant women who are given a Down syndrome diagnosis have chosen to have an abortion.”

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Two stories in the past two weeks have raised the specter of the re-emergence of eugenics. In Britain, the government has authorized fertility clinics to destroy embryos produced by IVF if they are found to carry a genetic condition called congenital fibrosis of the extramacular muscles. The condition is in no way life-threatening; in most respects, it hardly limits those living with it. The issue arose because two parents who suffer from the condition asked a fertility clinician to help them weed out embryos that share it.

The doctor who agreed to this—and received government permission to proceed—told the Daily Telegraph that he thinks the selective elimination of embryos for minor genetic conditions is perfectly appropriate:

When asked if he would screen embryos for factors like hair color, he said: “If there is a cosmetic aspect to an individual case, I would assess it on its merits. [Hair color] can be a cause of bullying, which can lead to suicide. With the agreement of the HFEA, I would do it. If a parent suffered from asthma, and it was possible to detect the genetic factor for this, I would do it. It all depends on the family’s distress.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the New York Times reported last week that in recent years roughly “90 percent of pregnant women who are given a Down syndrome diagnosis have chosen to have an abortion.”

Defenders of practices like these argue that they differ in a crucial respect from the eugenics of the early 20th century—a movement held in high repute among American progressives until the 1940’s, and which resulted in the passage of involuntary sterilization laws in more than 20 states. The difference, their argument runs, is that now such decisions are the voluntary choices of parents, not the dictates of law.

That certainly does make a difference. But the great danger of the old eugenics movement was not that it empowered government. Far more dangerous was its undermining of our belief in human equality and our regard for the weakest members of our society. Any number of American thinkers, writers, and jurists, including H.L. Mencken and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., took the insights of Darwinism to mean that, in Mencken’s words, “there must be a complete surrender to the law of natural selection,” and that society was morally obligated to rid itself of the congenitally ill and the disabled.

Such gross misuse of Darwin’s ideas does not take away from the incalculable value and importance to science of evolutionary theory. But attitudes like those of Holmes and Mencken, as the above news items suggest, are not a thing of the past. As the great British IVF pioneer Robert Edwards said in 1999:

Soon it will be a sin of parents to have a child that carries the heavy burden of genetic disease. We are entering a world where we have to consider the quality of our children.

It increasingly looks like we are indeed entering such a world. But it is not for the first time.

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Bush the Bookworm

No myth about George W. Bush has been cultivated more sedulously by his enemies than the idea that he has never read anything—that he is too ignorant to be the leader of the West. Of course, the same myth was created about Reagan, but the Teflon president had the natural ebullience to remain indifferent and undamaged in public esteem. Bush is more vulnerable.

Yet the accusation is even less warranted in his case than it was in Reagan’s. Last Wednesday the British historian Andrew Roberts was a lunch guest at the White House. The President had already read Roberts’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900—a chunky volume of over 700 pages—over Christmas, months before it was published in the United States. (It had appeared in Britain last fall.) His first instinct was to arrange to meet the author, a long-standing habit of his.

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No myth about George W. Bush has been cultivated more sedulously by his enemies than the idea that he has never read anything—that he is too ignorant to be the leader of the West. Of course, the same myth was created about Reagan, but the Teflon president had the natural ebullience to remain indifferent and undamaged in public esteem. Bush is more vulnerable.

Yet the accusation is even less warranted in his case than it was in Reagan’s. Last Wednesday the British historian Andrew Roberts was a lunch guest at the White House. The President had already read Roberts’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900—a chunky volume of over 700 pages—over Christmas, months before it was published in the United States. (It had appeared in Britain last fall.) His first instinct was to arrange to meet the author, a long-standing habit of his.

According to Roberts, he and his wife Susan “spent 45 minutes alone with the President in the Oval Office” before they were joined at lunch by Vice President Cheney and other senior officials. Then Mr. Bush proudly showed his guests the desk at which Churchill and Roosevelt were sitting when the latter broke the news of the British defeat at Tobruk—the opening scene of Roberts’s next book. In other words, the President had not only read the current book but had taken the trouble to inform himself about Roberts’s next one, too.

So how does this distinguished historian think President Bush compares to his predecessors? “He’s an amazingly well-read man, contrary to the way he’s portrayed in the media,” Roberts told the Daily Telegraph.

This chimes with the experience of my father, Paul Johnson, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Mr. Bush last December. In his eulogy, the President listed a few of my father’s many books and added, with typically self-deprecating irony, “I’ve read them all, of course.” The audience laughed, but it emerged in conversation that he actually had read some of them. Like Reagan, whose reading—including Modern Times, my father’s history of the world since 1917—encouraged him to persevere in his mission to win the cold war, George W. Bush has been strengthened by books in his determination not to give up in the war on terror.

Is it only the natural modesty of this President that leads him to wear his erudition so lightly that a cynical intelligentsia assumes that he has never opened a book? Or is it native cunning? Far better to be “misunderestimated” by your enemies than to flaunt your academic prowess and then—like the former president of France, Valery Giscard d’Estaing—find your admission to the Académie Française publicly ridiculed. The only possible motive for President Bush to read big books by historians like Andrew Roberts and Paul Johnson is that he thinks history has important lessons to teach him. Whether he draws the correct conclusions from what he reads is another matter—but he can be sure that future historians of the early 21st century will at least judge him without the insufferable condescension of his contemporaries.

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