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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”