Commentary Magazine


Topic: the London Times

Riyadh Votes No-Confidence in Iran Sanctions

The report that Saudi Arabia has agreed to let Israeli jets transit its airspace to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities indeed shows, as Jennifer noted, that progress in the “peace process” is not necessary to secure Israeli-Arab cooperation on a grave mutual threat. But it also constitutes a vote of no-confidence — by both Saudi Arabia and at least someone in the U.S. administration — in the anti-Iran sanctions that the UN Security Council approved last week.

At a time when the Muslim world is still seething over Israel’s botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, nothing could be more embarrassing for Saudi Arabia than a report that it is cooperating with the hated Zionist entity in planning an attack on another Muslim country. Under these circumstances, only one thing could motivate a Saudi official to actually confirm this cooperation to the London Times: sheer terror.

And the report’s timing — just days after U.S. President Barack Obama proclaimed the new round of toothless sanctions a great achievement, even as he openly acknowledged that they will not stop Iran’s nuclear program — makes the source of this terror clear: Saudi Arabia is now convinced that the West, in general, and Americans, in particular, will do nothing substantive to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Saudi Arabia has thus concluded that the only hope of making Tehran rethink the program’s wisdom is a credible threat of force. By agreeing to let Israeli jets transit its airspace, thus shortening the distance they would have to fly, Riyadh has greatly increased the credibility of this threat by making an Israeli strike more feasible.

The same logic applies to the U.S. The Obama administration has repeatedly and publicly trumpeted its efforts to thwart an Israeli strike; indeed, the Times reported that Washington still refuses to let Israeli jets transit Iraqi airspace, which the U.S. controls. Moreover, Obama continues to invest great efforts in outreach to the Muslim world. That a U.S. “defense source” confirmed this story to the Times and even asserted that the deal was concocted “with the agreement of the [U.S.] State Department” is deeply embarrassing to the administration, depicting it as downright hypocritical: publicly voicing full-throated opposition to an Israeli raid even as it secretly brokers a deal with Riyadh to facilitate such a raid.

And here, too, the motive is clear: at least someone in the administration has concluded that truly painful sanctions — the kind that might actually affect Tehran’s behavior — are never going to be enacted, so the only hope is a credible threat of military force.

It is, of course, encouraging to learn that both Riyadh and at least some parts of Washington still have a grasp of reality. Yet given the almost unanimous agreement among Western leaders that a military strike on Iran would be disastrous, it is deeply discouraging that they nevertheless remain incapable of mustering the will to enact the kind of sanctions that are the only alternative to such a strike — other than a nuclear Iran.

The report that Saudi Arabia has agreed to let Israeli jets transit its airspace to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities indeed shows, as Jennifer noted, that progress in the “peace process” is not necessary to secure Israeli-Arab cooperation on a grave mutual threat. But it also constitutes a vote of no-confidence — by both Saudi Arabia and at least someone in the U.S. administration — in the anti-Iran sanctions that the UN Security Council approved last week.

At a time when the Muslim world is still seething over Israel’s botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, nothing could be more embarrassing for Saudi Arabia than a report that it is cooperating with the hated Zionist entity in planning an attack on another Muslim country. Under these circumstances, only one thing could motivate a Saudi official to actually confirm this cooperation to the London Times: sheer terror.

And the report’s timing — just days after U.S. President Barack Obama proclaimed the new round of toothless sanctions a great achievement, even as he openly acknowledged that they will not stop Iran’s nuclear program — makes the source of this terror clear: Saudi Arabia is now convinced that the West, in general, and Americans, in particular, will do nothing substantive to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Saudi Arabia has thus concluded that the only hope of making Tehran rethink the program’s wisdom is a credible threat of force. By agreeing to let Israeli jets transit its airspace, thus shortening the distance they would have to fly, Riyadh has greatly increased the credibility of this threat by making an Israeli strike more feasible.

The same logic applies to the U.S. The Obama administration has repeatedly and publicly trumpeted its efforts to thwart an Israeli strike; indeed, the Times reported that Washington still refuses to let Israeli jets transit Iraqi airspace, which the U.S. controls. Moreover, Obama continues to invest great efforts in outreach to the Muslim world. That a U.S. “defense source” confirmed this story to the Times and even asserted that the deal was concocted “with the agreement of the [U.S.] State Department” is deeply embarrassing to the administration, depicting it as downright hypocritical: publicly voicing full-throated opposition to an Israeli raid even as it secretly brokers a deal with Riyadh to facilitate such a raid.

And here, too, the motive is clear: at least someone in the administration has concluded that truly painful sanctions — the kind that might actually affect Tehran’s behavior — are never going to be enacted, so the only hope is a credible threat of military force.

It is, of course, encouraging to learn that both Riyadh and at least some parts of Washington still have a grasp of reality. Yet given the almost unanimous agreement among Western leaders that a military strike on Iran would be disastrous, it is deeply discouraging that they nevertheless remain incapable of mustering the will to enact the kind of sanctions that are the only alternative to such a strike — other than a nuclear Iran.

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Britain’s Pirate Problems

The London Times reports that the Royal Navy has been ordered by the Foreign Office not to detain pirates because doing so “may breach their human rights.” The problem, you see, is that many of these pirates operate off Somalia, and the Somalian punishment for piracy, under sharia, is the removal of heads, arms, or other appendages. Such punishment would not only be inhumane–it would potentially entitle the pirates to asylum in Britain.

Gilbert and Sullivan could hardly have done it better: poor Frederick, the Dudley Do-Right hero of Pirates of Penzance, wriggles out of his indenture to the Pirate King by aiding (however ineffectively) in his capture. The Foreign Office can’t even manage this: in response to Conservative criticism, the best Britain’s diplomats could come up with was the claim that “There are issues about human rights . . . . The main thing is to ensure any incident is resolved peacefully.” (No wonder the Iranians found it so easy to knock off the Royal Navy last year.)

The Foreign Office’s grasp of law is as feeble as its morality. Piracy is a universal crime: indeed, it is the first universal crime, older even than slave-trading. All states have a duty to punish it as harshly as their law allows. This obligation is included in many relevant international conventions, including the 1958 Geneva Convention on the High Seas, to which Britain has been party since 1960, and the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, to which Britain acceded in 1997 by act of the Labour Government.

The Foreign Office’s delusion has two parts. One is a simple error: that pirates captured on the high seas have to be returned to the nearest country for trial. The second fallacy flows from the first. It’s more subtle, but it’s typical and pathetic: that international law descended from on high, and we have to obey all of it to the letter even if the other guy–Somalia, in this case–is unwilling or unable to live up to its commitments. Nonsense: “international law” is a fancy phrase for treaties between states, or for treaties that establish institutions that arbitrate between states. If Somalia cannot control its own waters–never mind the high seas–we are released from any obligation to do anything with them.

Britain–and all the other nations participating in the various anti-piracy patrols around the world–should exercise a healthy unilateralism. A blanket declaration that all pirates will be pursued, shot if they fail to surrender, and held over for trial if they are captured would do lot of good. Putting that policy visibly into practice would do even more. And no, I don’t rule out returning pirates to Somalia for trial: I’m not a fan of sharia, but in this case, it may just have found punishments that fit the crime.

The London Times reports that the Royal Navy has been ordered by the Foreign Office not to detain pirates because doing so “may breach their human rights.” The problem, you see, is that many of these pirates operate off Somalia, and the Somalian punishment for piracy, under sharia, is the removal of heads, arms, or other appendages. Such punishment would not only be inhumane–it would potentially entitle the pirates to asylum in Britain.

Gilbert and Sullivan could hardly have done it better: poor Frederick, the Dudley Do-Right hero of Pirates of Penzance, wriggles out of his indenture to the Pirate King by aiding (however ineffectively) in his capture. The Foreign Office can’t even manage this: in response to Conservative criticism, the best Britain’s diplomats could come up with was the claim that “There are issues about human rights . . . . The main thing is to ensure any incident is resolved peacefully.” (No wonder the Iranians found it so easy to knock off the Royal Navy last year.)

The Foreign Office’s grasp of law is as feeble as its morality. Piracy is a universal crime: indeed, it is the first universal crime, older even than slave-trading. All states have a duty to punish it as harshly as their law allows. This obligation is included in many relevant international conventions, including the 1958 Geneva Convention on the High Seas, to which Britain has been party since 1960, and the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, to which Britain acceded in 1997 by act of the Labour Government.

The Foreign Office’s delusion has two parts. One is a simple error: that pirates captured on the high seas have to be returned to the nearest country for trial. The second fallacy flows from the first. It’s more subtle, but it’s typical and pathetic: that international law descended from on high, and we have to obey all of it to the letter even if the other guy–Somalia, in this case–is unwilling or unable to live up to its commitments. Nonsense: “international law” is a fancy phrase for treaties between states, or for treaties that establish institutions that arbitrate between states. If Somalia cannot control its own waters–never mind the high seas–we are released from any obligation to do anything with them.

Britain–and all the other nations participating in the various anti-piracy patrols around the world–should exercise a healthy unilateralism. A blanket declaration that all pirates will be pursued, shot if they fail to surrender, and held over for trial if they are captured would do lot of good. Putting that policy visibly into practice would do even more. And no, I don’t rule out returning pirates to Somalia for trial: I’m not a fan of sharia, but in this case, it may just have found punishments that fit the crime.

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Mind the Gap

According to the London Times, “Shibboleth,” the Tate Modern’s new installation, has already claimed its first victims. Last week, three visitors fell into the work, a 548-foot-long crack that runs through the floor of the former power plant like an earthquake fissure. Since the visitors were not injured (unlike a young lawyer who fell to his death at the Tate earlier this year), the British press treated the incident light-heartedly. “Mind the gap,” joked the Guardian, invoking the loudspeaker warning at London underground stops. But if the press has been light-hearted, “Shibboleth” is anything but.

“Shibboleth” is the creation of Doris Salcedo, who was born in Colombia and studied at New York University, and whose work invariably is political. She first won international attention five years ago, when she encrusted Bogota’s Palace of Justice with a mantle of wooden chairs, her memorial to the violent coup attempt of 1985. Her new work aspires to more universal symbolism. As the Tate proclaims, it depicts the

long legacy of racism and colonialism that underlies the modern world. A ‘shibboleth’ is a custom, phrase, or use of language that acts as a test of belonging to a particular social group or class. By definition, it is used to exclude those deemed unsuitable to join this group.

It is hardly novel for an artist to mutilate, disfigure, or otherwise violate an object in order to represent violence; on the contrary, one might call it art school vernacular. It is the atrophied symbolism of the political poster, the absolute literalism of graphic art, rather than the imaginative language of allegory. But what is novel about Salcedo’s project is that the artist was able to persuade one of Britain’s most prestigious art institutions to mutilate itself, as it were, and at considerable expense.

Of course it is possible, as the Independent points out, to enjoy the spectacle without subscribing to its ponderous theoretical program. Perhaps this is why the British press has been generally respectful about the exhibition (apart from waggish comments about “Doris’s crack”). Only the Times brought a refreshing skepticism to the spacious claims made on behalf of Shibboleth. Its review concludes with this gem of British dryness:

According to Salcedo, the fissure is “bottomless . . . as deep as humanity.” However, it appears to be around three feet at its deepest point.

When artists practice such blatant literalism as Salcedo does, they can hardly blame their critics for doing the same.

According to the London Times, “Shibboleth,” the Tate Modern’s new installation, has already claimed its first victims. Last week, three visitors fell into the work, a 548-foot-long crack that runs through the floor of the former power plant like an earthquake fissure. Since the visitors were not injured (unlike a young lawyer who fell to his death at the Tate earlier this year), the British press treated the incident light-heartedly. “Mind the gap,” joked the Guardian, invoking the loudspeaker warning at London underground stops. But if the press has been light-hearted, “Shibboleth” is anything but.

“Shibboleth” is the creation of Doris Salcedo, who was born in Colombia and studied at New York University, and whose work invariably is political. She first won international attention five years ago, when she encrusted Bogota’s Palace of Justice with a mantle of wooden chairs, her memorial to the violent coup attempt of 1985. Her new work aspires to more universal symbolism. As the Tate proclaims, it depicts the

long legacy of racism and colonialism that underlies the modern world. A ‘shibboleth’ is a custom, phrase, or use of language that acts as a test of belonging to a particular social group or class. By definition, it is used to exclude those deemed unsuitable to join this group.

It is hardly novel for an artist to mutilate, disfigure, or otherwise violate an object in order to represent violence; on the contrary, one might call it art school vernacular. It is the atrophied symbolism of the political poster, the absolute literalism of graphic art, rather than the imaginative language of allegory. But what is novel about Salcedo’s project is that the artist was able to persuade one of Britain’s most prestigious art institutions to mutilate itself, as it were, and at considerable expense.

Of course it is possible, as the Independent points out, to enjoy the spectacle without subscribing to its ponderous theoretical program. Perhaps this is why the British press has been generally respectful about the exhibition (apart from waggish comments about “Doris’s crack”). Only the Times brought a refreshing skepticism to the spacious claims made on behalf of Shibboleth. Its review concludes with this gem of British dryness:

According to Salcedo, the fissure is “bottomless . . . as deep as humanity.” However, it appears to be around three feet at its deepest point.

When artists practice such blatant literalism as Salcedo does, they can hardly blame their critics for doing the same.

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Attention Must be Paid

Arthur Miller is widely reputed to be the greatest American playwright of the 20th century. And it’s true that his most famous work, Death of a Salesman, is a literary, as well as dramatic, masterpiece. But the same cannot be said of much else he wrote, certainly not The Crucible, considered Miller’s second greatest theatrical achievement (it is still widely produced by schools and professional companies across the nation). The play—which proposes an analogy between the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy hearings of the 1950′s—is fatally flawed. As Peter Mullen once wrote in the London Times, “There were no witches in Salem, Mr. Miller.”

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Arthur Miller is widely reputed to be the greatest American playwright of the 20th century. And it’s true that his most famous work, Death of a Salesman, is a literary, as well as dramatic, masterpiece. But the same cannot be said of much else he wrote, certainly not The Crucible, considered Miller’s second greatest theatrical achievement (it is still widely produced by schools and professional companies across the nation). The play—which proposes an analogy between the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy hearings of the 1950′s—is fatally flawed. As Peter Mullen once wrote in the London Times, “There were no witches in Salem, Mr. Miller.”

Miller was very much a man of the Left, and his reputation was burnished with the attributes attached to that exalted position: partiality to the great humanitarian causes of the day; a strong conscience; sympathy for the dispossessed and downtrodden. So it must have come as a great surprise to his many admirers to read Suzanna Andrews’s story about Miller in the current Vanity Fair, in which we learn of Miller’s abandonment of his son Daniel, born with Down’s syndrome. As Stephen Schwartz wrote for the Weekly Standard upon Miller’s death, “Arthur Miller’s life is the great American morality play of the 20th century.” Schwartz was more prescient than he knew; he was writing about Miller’s vindictive attitude towards his ex-wife Marilyn Monroe. But it is this new revelation that ought to damage permanently Miller’s reputation, if not as a writer, than as a humanitarian.

Miller put Daniel in an institution days after his birth, a not-uncommon practice at the time. Miller rarely, if ever, visited his son (Miller’s wife Inge Morath visited every Sunday). Nor did the playwright deign to mention Daniel in his 1987 memoir, or in any of the “scores of speeches and press interviews he gave over the years.” Daniel was shuttered away and anonymous: when Miller died in 2005, the Los Angeles Times’s obituary said that “Miller had another son, Daniel, who was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome shortly after his birth in 1962. It is not known whether he survives his father.” Daniel not only survived, he succeeded. He triumphed over the adversities of his condition and his early institutionalization, and now lives, for the most part, independently. He has competed in the Special Olympics, and is widely loved and admired by the many people who have come to know him.

“How could a man who, in the words of one close friend of Miller’s, ‘had such a great world reputation for morality and pursuing justice, do something like this?’” Andrews asks. A good question. Miller left a quarter of his estate for Daniel, but a very rich man’s leaving a quarter of his estate to one of his four children is hardly an act of moral courage.

“Attention must be paid.” This line, spoken by Linda Loman, wife of Willy Loman, the protagonist of Death of a Salesman, is one of the most famous lines in American drama. Through Linda, Miller pointed out the intrinsic value of a human life, no matter how problematic its condition. How tragic that he ignored his own admonition.

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Hitler’s Record Collection?

It is ironic that just as the death of the distinguished Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg is announced, the media here and abroad should broadcast news of the rediscovery of Hitler’s presumed “record collection.” Der Spiegel reported that the daughter of Lev Bezymensky (1920-2007), a World War II Soviet military intelligence officer, revealed some 100 records, which her father reportedly stole from the Berlin Reich chancellery in 1945, after the Red Army invasion. Readers may remember that the same Lev Bezymensky (his name transliterated as Bezymenski) authored the 1968 book The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives, in which Bezymensky claimed to have been present at Hitler’s autopsy. Bezymensky himself later admitted the claim was a lie. Toeing the line of the notorious Soviet counter-intelligence organization SMERSH, Bezymensky’s memoir of the autopsy was persuasively exposed as fraud in Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil.

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It is ironic that just as the death of the distinguished Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg is announced, the media here and abroad should broadcast news of the rediscovery of Hitler’s presumed “record collection.” Der Spiegel reported that the daughter of Lev Bezymensky (1920-2007), a World War II Soviet military intelligence officer, revealed some 100 records, which her father reportedly stole from the Berlin Reich chancellery in 1945, after the Red Army invasion. Readers may remember that the same Lev Bezymensky (his name transliterated as Bezymenski) authored the 1968 book The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives, in which Bezymensky claimed to have been present at Hitler’s autopsy. Bezymensky himself later admitted the claim was a lie. Toeing the line of the notorious Soviet counter-intelligence organization SMERSH, Bezymensky’s memoir of the autopsy was persuasively exposed as fraud in Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil.

The London Times trumpeted the story about Hitler’s record collection with headlines like “Hitler’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ turn up in a dead Russian soldier’s attic” and “A cultivated taste that went for very best,” lauding the dictator’s musical acumen. This praise was based on information that the collection includes recordings by the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin singing Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, the violinist Bronislaw Huberman, a Polish Jew, playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, and pianist Artur Schnabel, an Austrian Jew, performing a Mozart sonata. These recordings are available on CD from Naxos, Pearl, and Music & Arts Records respectively; they are exceptional performances from a time when the choice of major musical repertory on disc was limited.

The London Times goes so far as to praise Hitler as a recordings connoisseur: “Hitler appeared to enjoy a good tune.” This sentiment echoes such mock kudos from Mel Brooks’s The Producers as “Hitler was a better dancer than Churchill.” Other media reports managed to find a moral to the story. A headline in the Australian proclaimed that “Hitler relaxed to music of Jews”; the article that followed suggested he was guilty of hypocrisy. The cellist Steven Isserlis claims in the Guardian that “racial rules could be stretched where the glory and comfort of supermen were concerned.”

Do we really need new reasons to despise Hitler? The hoopla surrounding this record collection rates as the most frivolous innovation in Third Reich studies since Lothar Machtan’s 2001 The Hidden Hitler claimed that Hitler was gay (an idea also advanced by The Producers). Even during the slow news days of summer, the media would do well to maintain a sense of the ridiculous, as well as a healthy suspicion of reports originating from deceased Soviet intelligence officers.

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Nicolas Sarkozy, Cherry-Picker

The buzz is growing about Nicolas Sarkozy’s attempts to woo center-left and socialist politicians. Yesterday, in the New York Times, James Kanter noted Sarkozy’s endorsement of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a socialist elder statesman, to head the International Monetary Fund:

President Nicolas Sarkozy has formally endorsed putting a prominent member of the Socialist Party opposition, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, in charge of the International Monetary Fund, in yet another sign that traditional French politics is being turned on its head.

It is seen as another potential blow for the French Socialist Party, which has already had other leading figures from its ranks cherry-picked by Mr. Sarkozy to help run his new, reformist administration. Among other things, it would possibly remove Mr. Strauss-Khan [sic], a strong centrist candidate, from the running for a party leadership position.

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The buzz is growing about Nicolas Sarkozy’s attempts to woo center-left and socialist politicians. Yesterday, in the New York Times, James Kanter noted Sarkozy’s endorsement of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a socialist elder statesman, to head the International Monetary Fund:

President Nicolas Sarkozy has formally endorsed putting a prominent member of the Socialist Party opposition, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, in charge of the International Monetary Fund, in yet another sign that traditional French politics is being turned on its head.

It is seen as another potential blow for the French Socialist Party, which has already had other leading figures from its ranks cherry-picked by Mr. Sarkozy to help run his new, reformist administration. Among other things, it would possibly remove Mr. Strauss-Khan [sic], a strong centrist candidate, from the running for a party leadership position.

Today, Charles Bremner, writing in the London Times, reveals the full extent of Sarkozy’s efforts, and of the outrage they’ve provoked among his political opponents:

Crying foul along with the Socialists, François Bayrou, the leader of the centre Democratic Movement party, said that Mr. Sarkozy was behaving “like a piranha loose in a bowl of goldfish.” Mr. Bayrou is one of the piranha’s big victims. After threatening for a time to defeat Mr. Sarkozy in the elections, he has been left with only three MP’s. The rest of his party has defected to Mr. Sarkozy’s camp, three of them as ministers.

After poaching six left-leaning MP’s as ministers Mr Sarkozy has rattled the Socialist leadership by continuing to woo party stars with job offers. The latest of these are Hubert Védrine, a former foreign minister, and Jack Lang, a popular Cabinet minister in the 1980s and 1990s. Mr. Védrine has accepted. Mr. Lang has been told that he faces expulsion if he accepts an offer to serve on a commission to propose changes to the Constitution. It has emerged that Mr. Sarkozy even telephoned Julien Dray, Ms. Royal’s campaign chief, with an offer of a place in his Cabinet.

Védrine, you may remember, popularized the use of the term “hyperpower” in the late 1990′s to denote (and criticize) the political hegemony exercised by the United States. But if Sarkozy continues at this pace, the word may come accurately to describe his own position within the sphere of French politics. L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace!

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The Clearstream Affair

Dominique de Villepin, the former French prime minister, had some unusual visitors this week. Judges and police searched his Parisian apartment as part of their investigation into what is proving to be the biggest of the many political scandals of the Chirac era: the Clearstream affair.

According to Charles Bremner, writing today in the London Times, the investigating magistrates are close to bringing criminal charges against de Villepin. He is accused of conspiring with former President Jacques Chirac to smear Nicolas Sarkozy (then minister of the interior), thereby dashing the latter’s presidential hopes and clearing the way for de Villepin to succeed his patron, Jacques Chirac. Evidence has come to light of forged bank records purporting to prove that Sarkozy had accepted bribes in order to facilitate the sale of warships to Taiwan.

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Dominique de Villepin, the former French prime minister, had some unusual visitors this week. Judges and police searched his Parisian apartment as part of their investigation into what is proving to be the biggest of the many political scandals of the Chirac era: the Clearstream affair.

According to Charles Bremner, writing today in the London Times, the investigating magistrates are close to bringing criminal charges against de Villepin. He is accused of conspiring with former President Jacques Chirac to smear Nicolas Sarkozy (then minister of the interior), thereby dashing the latter’s presidential hopes and clearing the way for de Villepin to succeed his patron, Jacques Chirac. Evidence has come to light of forged bank records purporting to prove that Sarkozy had accepted bribes in order to facilitate the sale of warships to Taiwan.

The trail leads back via the computer files of a senior intelligence officer, General Philippe Rondot, to two conversations in May 2004 between de Villepin and a defense contractor, Jean-Louis Gregorin, who has already been charged with conspiracy. Apparently Gregorin told the general that he had “received instructions from Dominique de Villepin.” On another occasion, de Villepin “was apparently jubilant but also concerned not to have his name appear in the affair.” These notes look very much like the smoking gun that police were looking for.

They may yet catch an even bigger fish. Two weeks ago Chirac rejected a judicial summons to be interrogated about the Clearstream affair, on the grounds that he enjoys presidential immunity. But that defense may not be enough to protect him if it becomes clear that he, too, knew of and approved the plot to destroy Sarkozy’s reputation. There is no recent example of a French head of state being involved in such a serious criminal conspiracy—we have to go back to Marshal Pétain.

The leader of the Vichy regime was tried and convicted for his collaboration with the Nazis, though his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by his successor, Charles de Gaulle. It is a piquant thought that President Sarkozy, the intended victim of the Clearstream affair, might one day find himself in a similar position of having to decide whether to show mercy toward his disgraced predecessor and rival. “Sarko” is unlikely to do anything to impede the inquiry, though: he simply needs to let justice take its course.

Besides the justice dispensed by the courts, there is also poetic justice in this belated comeuppance. The Chirac-Villepin duo did more damage to France’s standing in the world than even François Mitterrand and Valery Giscard d’Estaing, by offering political and financial aid to dictators and terrorists. So it is only right that the wheels of justice (having ground exceedingly slowly while they were in power) should now have overtaken them: it looks very much as if the nemesis of Chirac and de Villepin, who did so much to undermine the rule of law, will take a legal form. They truly have been hoist by their own petard.

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Norman Podhoretz on “The Case for Bombing Iran”

Last week, contentions staff interviewed COMMENTARY’s editor-at-large Norman Podhoretz about his June 2007 article “The Case for Bombing Iran.” This critically important (and controversial) article has attracted notice from the New York Times and the London Times, as well as considerable attention in the blogosphere. Below is the full video:

Last week, contentions staff interviewed COMMENTARY’s editor-at-large Norman Podhoretz about his June 2007 article “The Case for Bombing Iran.” This critically important (and controversial) article has attracted notice from the New York Times and the London Times, as well as considerable attention in the blogosphere. Below is the full video:

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Tutoiement Partout

Tu or vous? Du or Sie? In English, the second person singular has long since ceased to be a source of political controversy—though in the days when Quakers insisted on calling their social superiors “Thee” and “Thou,” it mattered very much. In French and German, it still matters.

Newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy raised eyebrows in Berlin last week on his first official visit by presuming to tutoie Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor: “Chère Angela . . . J’ai confiance en toi.” (Dear Angela . . . I have confidence in you.) Frau Merkel, who addressed him as “Lieber Nicolas” (Dear Nicolas), responded with the formal Sie, at least in public. The French press noted the disparity and gently mocked Mr. Sarkozy—though not nearly as harshly as they did Tony Blair. Blair once dared to tutoie Jacques Chirac, who liked to stand on his dignity as a head of state, deserving deference from mere heads of government. The British prime minister was firmly put in his place. What sounded to British ears like Mr. Chirac’s pomposity was, however, approved of by the French. His Socialist predecessor François Mitterrand was once asked if he would mind if he were addressed as tu: “Si vous voulez” was his reply.

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Tu or vous? Du or Sie? In English, the second person singular has long since ceased to be a source of political controversy—though in the days when Quakers insisted on calling their social superiors “Thee” and “Thou,” it mattered very much. In French and German, it still matters.

Newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy raised eyebrows in Berlin last week on his first official visit by presuming to tutoie Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor: “Chère Angela . . . J’ai confiance en toi.” (Dear Angela . . . I have confidence in you.) Frau Merkel, who addressed him as “Lieber Nicolas” (Dear Nicolas), responded with the formal Sie, at least in public. The French press noted the disparity and gently mocked Mr. Sarkozy—though not nearly as harshly as they did Tony Blair. Blair once dared to tutoie Jacques Chirac, who liked to stand on his dignity as a head of state, deserving deference from mere heads of government. The British prime minister was firmly put in his place. What sounded to British ears like Mr. Chirac’s pomposity was, however, approved of by the French. His Socialist predecessor François Mitterrand was once asked if he would mind if he were addressed as tu: “Si vous voulez” was his reply.

But the proper use of tu and vous is complex. After the French Revolution, the distinction was abolished in the interests of egalité et fraternité. In 1793, the Directory even banned vous altogether. It did not take long, however, for the formal mode of address to make a comeback. In the sixth edition of the great dictionary of the Académie Française, published in 1835, the article on tu is quite explicit: “One does not normally use these pronouns . . . except when speaking to very inferior persons, or to those with whom one is on terms of very great familiarity.” The lexicographer notes various exceptions, including the poetic use of tu when addressing kings, princes, and even God. Foreigners, “particularly Orientals,” were sometimes made to use tu in literary texts “in order to preserve their alien character.” In all other contexts, vous is mandatory.

Now Mr. Sarkozy has decreed that French schools must insist on students saying vous to their teachers. Les profs are strongly advised to pay their older pupils the same compliment. This order represents a minor cultural counter-revolution, in line with the new president’s promise to “liquidate the legacy of May 1968, with its abandonment of moral codes.” But according to an excellent report by Charles Bremner in the London Times, the conservative French newspaper Le Figaro sees the “rampant tutoiement” as “spreading from the business world imitating the Anglo-Saxons and now invading private life.”

This is a bit rich: how often do you hear Americans or Britons say “thee” or “thou” to one another—unless they are performing Shakespeare? The truth is that the informal second person singular in English went out with the Victorians, except in poetry (and was considered old-fashioned even then). Blame for the triumph of tutoiement simply cannot be assigned to the Anglosphere. But you can’t keep the French from blaming everything they don’t like about themselves on “les Anglo-Saxons.”

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Pope Benedict, Dr. Johnson, and Hell

The Pope says that hell “really exists and is eternal, even if nobody talks about it much any more.” In a Lenten homily at a Roman parish on Monday, reports Richard Owen in the London Times, “Benedict XVI said that in the modern world many people, including some believers, had forgotten that if they failed to ‘admit blame and promise to sin no more,’ they risked ‘eternal damnation—the Inferno.’”

That the Pope believes in hell may not strike most people as surprising. But when was the last time you heard a senior Catholic churchman talk about it? The last Pope, John Paul II, was much influenced by the great Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, who was a universalist—that is to say, he believed that Christ’s salvation was universal. According to that view, if there is a hell, it is empty. In coming to this conclusion, Balthasar (whom John Paul II promoted to cardinal) was influenced by Edith Stein, the Jewish convert who became a Carmelite nun and was murdered at Auschwitz. She was later canonized by John Paul II as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Her view was that God’s love is so great that it embraces even the most obdurate sinner. As she perished in a man-made simulacrum of hell, a place of mass torment beyond anything conceived by the ancient or medieval imagination, Edith Stein’s words carry considerable weight.

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The Pope says that hell “really exists and is eternal, even if nobody talks about it much any more.” In a Lenten homily at a Roman parish on Monday, reports Richard Owen in the London Times, “Benedict XVI said that in the modern world many people, including some believers, had forgotten that if they failed to ‘admit blame and promise to sin no more,’ they risked ‘eternal damnation—the Inferno.’”

That the Pope believes in hell may not strike most people as surprising. But when was the last time you heard a senior Catholic churchman talk about it? The last Pope, John Paul II, was much influenced by the great Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, who was a universalist—that is to say, he believed that Christ’s salvation was universal. According to that view, if there is a hell, it is empty. In coming to this conclusion, Balthasar (whom John Paul II promoted to cardinal) was influenced by Edith Stein, the Jewish convert who became a Carmelite nun and was murdered at Auschwitz. She was later canonized by John Paul II as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Her view was that God’s love is so great that it embraces even the most obdurate sinner. As she perished in a man-made simulacrum of hell, a place of mass torment beyond anything conceived by the ancient or medieval imagination, Edith Stein’s words carry considerable weight.

Yet the universalism of Stein, Balthasar, and perhaps John Paul II himself has never been the authoritative doctrine of the Church. Pope Benedict adheres to the authoritative 1994 edition of the catechism, which he largely wrote as Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith and which was one of the great landmarks of John Paul II’s pontificate. The catechism is explicit: “The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. . . . The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God. . . . To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice.”

The catechism leaves open the question of who, if anybody, is damned, but it rejects Calvinist predestination, stating that “God predestines no-one to go hell” and that hell is a state of “definitive self-exclusion.” Only those who freely persist in their defiance of God’s love “to the end” will suffer damnation.

Any belief in damnation, however, is regarded by many people as morbid and hence wicked. Its public restatement as a necessary part of the true faith will arouse bitter hostility from those who see hell as a relic of the superstitious, guilt-inducing caricature of Catholicism that persists in popular imagination. Ironically, as the Church has grown reluctant to reaffirm its belief in hell, the secular culture has appropriated the idea in its gothic horror. It ignores the essence of hell—separation from God—in favor of imagery drawn from other, often pagan, underworlds.

Pope Benedict’s words put me in mind of Samuel Johnson’s celebrated conversation on the subject, reported by Boswell in his Life. It took place at Oxford on June 12, 1784, when Dr. Johnson was visiting friends at Merton College. In the course of a conversation with “the amiable Dr. Adams” about the goodness of God, Johnson admitted his terror of death and what might follow it:

. . . as I cannot be sure that I have fulfilled the conditions on which salvation is granted, I am afraid I may be one of those who shall be damned.” (looking dismally.) Dr. Adams. “What do you mean by damned!” Johnson. (passionately and loudly) “Sent to Hell, Sir, and punished everlastingly.” Dr. Adams. “I don’t believe that doctrine.” Johnson. “Hold, Sir, do you believe that some will be punished at all?” Dr. Adams. “Being excluded from Heaven will be a punishment; yet there may be no great positive suffering.” Johnson. “Well, Sir; but, if you admit any degree of punishment, there is an end of your argument for infinite goodness simply considered; for, infinite goodness would inflict no punishment whatsoever. There is no infinite goodness physically considered: morally there is.

At this point, Boswell, who rightly considered himself much more of a sinner than his older and wiser friend, intervened:

But may not a man attain to such a degree of hope as not to be uneasy from the fear of death?” Johnson. “A man may have such a degree of hope as to keep him quiet. You see I am not quiet, from the vehemence with which I talk; but I do not despair.” Mrs. Adams. “You seem, Sir, to forget the merits of our Redeemer.” Johnson. “Madam, I do not forget the merits of my Redeemer; but my Redeemer has said that he will set some on his right hand and some on his left.

Boswell tells us that Johnson was now “in gloomy agitation” and concluded the conversation abruptly. He was 75, a great age for that time.

Johnson died exactly six months later, imploring God’s forgiveness for “the multitude of my offences,” but sufficiently at peace with himself and his maker to show more concern for the salvation of his black servant, Francis, than for himself, saying: “Attend, Francis, to the salvation of your soul, which is the object of the greatest importance.” If this isn’t exactly repentance, it’s close enough.

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