Commentary Magazine


Topic: the Los Angeles Times

Why WWII Matters

Matthew Yglesias asks “Do we really need a Richard Cohen column about how World War II was, in fact, a good war? Surely there’s some more pressing topic that the precious Washington Post op-ed page real estate could be devoted to.”

It would indeed be nice if, over half a century later, we did not require Washington Post columnists to remind us that “World War II was, in fact, a good war.” But recently a major American novelist undertook a history of World War II aimed at convincing us, in the words of the New York Sun’s Adam Kirsch,

that the Holocaust was, at least in part, Hitler’s response to British aggression, and that the only people who demonstrated true wisdom in the run-up to the war were American and British pacifists, who refused to take up arms no matter how pressing the need.

Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke (which Yglesias does not bother to mention in attacking the decision to publish Cohen’s piece) was not published by the sort of press that puts out tracts by Lyndon LaRouche or Lew Rockwell, but by Simon and Schuster. The book has received favorable notices in both the Los Angeles Times and New York magazine. It enjoyed, in other words, the blessing of American literary culture. Yglesias has an award for political non-conformism named after him. You’d think he’d be more skeptical of thinkers like Baker and the political sophism they practice, whatever sympathies he may share with them.

David Pryce-Jones’s review of Human Smoke, published in COMMENTARY last month, shows why Baker, with his outrageous moral equivalency, is what George Orwell would call “objectively pro-fascist.”Pryce-Jones writes:

For Baker, Churchill and Roosevelt were just as bad then as Bush is now: foolish, small-minded cowards who ordered the bombing of innocent civilians from the air and so participated in a process of reciprocal killing, both blind and, worse, needless.

Leon Wieseltier’s review of Baker’s 2004 novel Checkpoint (about assassinating President Bush), memorably began “This scummy little book . . .” Judgments about Baker’s latest effort should be no more charitable, and should find their way into even Yglesias’s discussions of the Second World War.

Matthew Yglesias asks “Do we really need a Richard Cohen column about how World War II was, in fact, a good war? Surely there’s some more pressing topic that the precious Washington Post op-ed page real estate could be devoted to.”

It would indeed be nice if, over half a century later, we did not require Washington Post columnists to remind us that “World War II was, in fact, a good war.” But recently a major American novelist undertook a history of World War II aimed at convincing us, in the words of the New York Sun’s Adam Kirsch,

that the Holocaust was, at least in part, Hitler’s response to British aggression, and that the only people who demonstrated true wisdom in the run-up to the war were American and British pacifists, who refused to take up arms no matter how pressing the need.

Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke (which Yglesias does not bother to mention in attacking the decision to publish Cohen’s piece) was not published by the sort of press that puts out tracts by Lyndon LaRouche or Lew Rockwell, but by Simon and Schuster. The book has received favorable notices in both the Los Angeles Times and New York magazine. It enjoyed, in other words, the blessing of American literary culture. Yglesias has an award for political non-conformism named after him. You’d think he’d be more skeptical of thinkers like Baker and the political sophism they practice, whatever sympathies he may share with them.

David Pryce-Jones’s review of Human Smoke, published in COMMENTARY last month, shows why Baker, with his outrageous moral equivalency, is what George Orwell would call “objectively pro-fascist.”Pryce-Jones writes:

For Baker, Churchill and Roosevelt were just as bad then as Bush is now: foolish, small-minded cowards who ordered the bombing of innocent civilians from the air and so participated in a process of reciprocal killing, both blind and, worse, needless.

Leon Wieseltier’s review of Baker’s 2004 novel Checkpoint (about assassinating President Bush), memorably began “This scummy little book . . .” Judgments about Baker’s latest effort should be no more charitable, and should find their way into even Yglesias’s discussions of the Second World War.

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Upping the Ante

Today Israeli military intelligence reported that the “Grad” missiles that hit the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon over the weekend was confirmed to have been of Iranian origin. The missile made a direct hit on an apartment building in a city that had, until recently, been thought outside the range of Hamas fire. A sixth-floor apartment was completely destroyed.

A few notes:

1. Hamas is an Iranian satellite. People love to confuse this point, mainly because Hamas is made up of Sunni Islamists hell-bent on destroying Israel, rather than Shi’ite Islamists hell-bent on destroying Israel. Yet for all intents and purposes, Hamas is doing whatever it can to replicate the successes of Hizballah by creating a state-within-a-state (or, to be more precise, a state-within-a-not-quite-state) armed and supported by Iran.

2. Hamas has weapons. We don’t know how those Grads got there, but it stands to reason that the ripped-open Egyptian border of a few weeks ago may have helped.

3. It is unclear what kind of fire Israel has to come under before international opinion graces Israel the right to retaliate. Granted, Hamas has less sympathy than did Yasser Arafat when he was running Gaza. But worldwide condemnations of the kind we’ve seen this week, from the EU and UNSC, do little service to democratic states struggling against terror. Nor does equally condemning Israel and Hamas help much. That is, after all, what terrorists thrive on–the presumption of equivalence.

For an interesting take on the Israeli perspective of all this, read my friend Yossi Klein Halevi’s piece in the Los Angeles Times. He writes of an emerging conflict in which Israelis feel much less guilty about the plight of Palestinians than they used to:

Gaza’s people are being held hostage to a political fantasy. And the international community is abetting the tragedy. The U.N. actually considers Palestinians to be permanent refugees, to be protected in squalid but subsidized camps even though they live in their own homeland of Gaza, under their own government.

So long as Gaza refuses to heal itself, Israelis will rightly suspect that the Palestinian goal remains Israel’s destruction. Not even a full withdrawal from the West Bank, they fear, will end the war, any more than the pullout from Gaza stopped the rockets. Israel’s crime isn’t occupying but existing.

And so we move toward the next terrible round of conflict. This time, though, for all our anguish, we will feel a lot less remorse. Because even guilty Israelis realize that, until our neighbors care more about building their state than undermining ours, the misery of Gaza will persist.

Read the whole thing.

Today Israeli military intelligence reported that the “Grad” missiles that hit the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon over the weekend was confirmed to have been of Iranian origin. The missile made a direct hit on an apartment building in a city that had, until recently, been thought outside the range of Hamas fire. A sixth-floor apartment was completely destroyed.

A few notes:

1. Hamas is an Iranian satellite. People love to confuse this point, mainly because Hamas is made up of Sunni Islamists hell-bent on destroying Israel, rather than Shi’ite Islamists hell-bent on destroying Israel. Yet for all intents and purposes, Hamas is doing whatever it can to replicate the successes of Hizballah by creating a state-within-a-state (or, to be more precise, a state-within-a-not-quite-state) armed and supported by Iran.

2. Hamas has weapons. We don’t know how those Grads got there, but it stands to reason that the ripped-open Egyptian border of a few weeks ago may have helped.

3. It is unclear what kind of fire Israel has to come under before international opinion graces Israel the right to retaliate. Granted, Hamas has less sympathy than did Yasser Arafat when he was running Gaza. But worldwide condemnations of the kind we’ve seen this week, from the EU and UNSC, do little service to democratic states struggling against terror. Nor does equally condemning Israel and Hamas help much. That is, after all, what terrorists thrive on–the presumption of equivalence.

For an interesting take on the Israeli perspective of all this, read my friend Yossi Klein Halevi’s piece in the Los Angeles Times. He writes of an emerging conflict in which Israelis feel much less guilty about the plight of Palestinians than they used to:

Gaza’s people are being held hostage to a political fantasy. And the international community is abetting the tragedy. The U.N. actually considers Palestinians to be permanent refugees, to be protected in squalid but subsidized camps even though they live in their own homeland of Gaza, under their own government.

So long as Gaza refuses to heal itself, Israelis will rightly suspect that the Palestinian goal remains Israel’s destruction. Not even a full withdrawal from the West Bank, they fear, will end the war, any more than the pullout from Gaza stopped the rockets. Israel’s crime isn’t occupying but existing.

And so we move toward the next terrible round of conflict. This time, though, for all our anguish, we will feel a lot less remorse. Because even guilty Israelis realize that, until our neighbors care more about building their state than undermining ours, the misery of Gaza will persist.

Read the whole thing.

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Anderson Cooper, the Moderator…

…originally said there would be no rules during the debate. Then, when Ron Paul wanted to address a different topic, Anderson Cooper cut him off and handed the mic to Janet Hook of the Los Angeles Times so she could ask a schoolmarmish question. Bad conduct.

…originally said there would be no rules during the debate. Then, when Ron Paul wanted to address a different topic, Anderson Cooper cut him off and handed the mic to Janet Hook of the Los Angeles Times so she could ask a schoolmarmish question. Bad conduct.

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It’s Not Unfortunate, It’s Natural

As we noted yesterday, the January 1 deadline for North Korea to turn in a complete accounting of its nuclear-weapons program, as it agreed to do last February, has come and gone without any sign that this homework assignment will ever be turned in.

The “silence has generated unease, even embarrassment, among North Korea’s counterparts in the six-party talks hosted by China,” reports the Economist. But the Chinese were not among those embarrassed. They described the delay simply as “natural.”

The Bush administration, on the other hand, reacted more belligerently, calling the North Korean misbehavior “unfortunate.” But such a harsh word is now generating repercussions.

Today, North Korea’s main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun announced that the North will “continue to harden its war deterrent further in response to the U.S. stepping up its nuclear war moves.” The Los Angeles Times explains that North Korean talk about bolstering its nuclear deterrent “usually means it thinks international powers are not treating it properly.” In Korean culture, showing respect is critical. Obviously, the State Department should have been more deferential.

To revive the talks, which have been generating so many valuable broken promises, the United States should now reverse course, publicly declare that the word “unfortunate” was unfortunate, and join the Chinese in calling the North Korean delay “natural.”

As we noted yesterday, the January 1 deadline for North Korea to turn in a complete accounting of its nuclear-weapons program, as it agreed to do last February, has come and gone without any sign that this homework assignment will ever be turned in.

The “silence has generated unease, even embarrassment, among North Korea’s counterparts in the six-party talks hosted by China,” reports the Economist. But the Chinese were not among those embarrassed. They described the delay simply as “natural.”

The Bush administration, on the other hand, reacted more belligerently, calling the North Korean misbehavior “unfortunate.” But such a harsh word is now generating repercussions.

Today, North Korea’s main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun announced that the North will “continue to harden its war deterrent further in response to the U.S. stepping up its nuclear war moves.” The Los Angeles Times explains that North Korean talk about bolstering its nuclear deterrent “usually means it thinks international powers are not treating it properly.” In Korean culture, showing respect is critical. Obviously, the State Department should have been more deferential.

To revive the talks, which have been generating so many valuable broken promises, the United States should now reverse course, publicly declare that the word “unfortunate” was unfortunate, and join the Chinese in calling the North Korean delay “natural.”

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“Arab Street,” U.S.A.

An article in today’s Los Angeles Times reports new, sordid details in the investigation of Nada Nadim Prouty, a Lebanese woman—an illegal immigrant—who was nevertheless employed by the FBI and CIA(!), and is accused of stealing top-secret documents for Hizballah. Her brother-in-law, the paper reports, is a “suspected major fund-raiser” for Hizballah.

If that’s not shocking enough, the penultimate paragraph in the L.A. Times article contains very worrisome information, presumably placed in the article as background. “Hizballah is popular with many Lebanese Americans because of its humanitarian efforts and Middle East political activities.”

I thought the bit about Hizballah’s popularity was hyperbole, and I tried to find polling data that might back the statement up one way or another. Instead, I found this NPR story from last year. In the summer of 2006, it turns out, 15,000 Arab-Americans in Dearborn, Michigan, held a demonstration to declare their loyalties. When the crowd cheered “Who is your army?” The response was “Hizballah!” The editor of America’s largest Arab newspaper, the Arab-American News, chimed in that “the terrorist here is the Bush administration.” At the rally, swastikas were imprinted onto Israeli flags.

The second half of the sentence in the Los Angeles Times piece is terrifying for a different reason: its attempt at “objectivity.” Hizballah’s “political activities”? The old saying is that “war is politics by other means.” For Hizballah, an organization responsible for as many terror attacks against Americans as al Qaeda, terror is not simply “political activities” as other means, it is their only politics and their only means.

An article in today’s Los Angeles Times reports new, sordid details in the investigation of Nada Nadim Prouty, a Lebanese woman—an illegal immigrant—who was nevertheless employed by the FBI and CIA(!), and is accused of stealing top-secret documents for Hizballah. Her brother-in-law, the paper reports, is a “suspected major fund-raiser” for Hizballah.

If that’s not shocking enough, the penultimate paragraph in the L.A. Times article contains very worrisome information, presumably placed in the article as background. “Hizballah is popular with many Lebanese Americans because of its humanitarian efforts and Middle East political activities.”

I thought the bit about Hizballah’s popularity was hyperbole, and I tried to find polling data that might back the statement up one way or another. Instead, I found this NPR story from last year. In the summer of 2006, it turns out, 15,000 Arab-Americans in Dearborn, Michigan, held a demonstration to declare their loyalties. When the crowd cheered “Who is your army?” The response was “Hizballah!” The editor of America’s largest Arab newspaper, the Arab-American News, chimed in that “the terrorist here is the Bush administration.” At the rally, swastikas were imprinted onto Israeli flags.

The second half of the sentence in the Los Angeles Times piece is terrifying for a different reason: its attempt at “objectivity.” Hizballah’s “political activities”? The old saying is that “war is politics by other means.” For Hizballah, an organization responsible for as many terror attacks against Americans as al Qaeda, terror is not simply “political activities” as other means, it is their only politics and their only means.

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Defeat for Chavez

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez–who called George Bush the devil and noted that the day after the American President addressed the United Nations “it smells of sulfur still today”–has suffered a stunning defeat. Yesterday Venezuelans voted to reject a referendum that would overhaul the constitution and expedite Chavez’s plan to transform Venezuela into a socialist regime. Under Chavez’s leadership, the country has turned away from the United States, once a staunch ally.

The referendum Venezuelans voted down contained 69 proposed changes to the constitution. Such changes called for eliminating presidential term limits, increasing the authority of the President, and designating more property as communal. Not surprisingly, Chavez enjoyed large support from poorer communities, though the New York Times reports that some voting centers in lower income areas had no lines. According to the Times, “’I’m impressed by the lack of voters,’ said Ninoska González, 37, who sells cigarettes on the street. ‘This was full last year.’”

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times notes that students were essential to Chavez’s opposition. The Venezuelan leader regards this opposition as “‘daddy’s little children,’ ‘fascists,’ and ‘the children of the rich,’ who he says are taking orders from the U.S. government.”

This moment is a good one for U.S.-Venezuelan relations, though it’s not exactly time to celebrate. As indicated by Chavez’s olfactory hallucination around our President, reason seems not to hamper the Venezuelan leader. One can only speculate as to what forms his response to today’s defeat will take.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez–who called George Bush the devil and noted that the day after the American President addressed the United Nations “it smells of sulfur still today”–has suffered a stunning defeat. Yesterday Venezuelans voted to reject a referendum that would overhaul the constitution and expedite Chavez’s plan to transform Venezuela into a socialist regime. Under Chavez’s leadership, the country has turned away from the United States, once a staunch ally.

The referendum Venezuelans voted down contained 69 proposed changes to the constitution. Such changes called for eliminating presidential term limits, increasing the authority of the President, and designating more property as communal. Not surprisingly, Chavez enjoyed large support from poorer communities, though the New York Times reports that some voting centers in lower income areas had no lines. According to the Times, “’I’m impressed by the lack of voters,’ said Ninoska González, 37, who sells cigarettes on the street. ‘This was full last year.’”

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times notes that students were essential to Chavez’s opposition. The Venezuelan leader regards this opposition as “‘daddy’s little children,’ ‘fascists,’ and ‘the children of the rich,’ who he says are taking orders from the U.S. government.”

This moment is a good one for U.S.-Venezuelan relations, though it’s not exactly time to celebrate. As indicated by Chavez’s olfactory hallucination around our President, reason seems not to hamper the Venezuelan leader. One can only speculate as to what forms his response to today’s defeat will take.

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The Seventh-Best World War II Novel

Roger Kimball, one of our finest critics, has delivered a devastating dissection of Norman Mailer’s overrated career, which consisted of political posturing and juvenile behavior interspersed with the production of mediocre novels—at best. (Kimball’s critique may be found here.)

I have very little to add beyond a few thoughts on the book that launched Mailer’s career—The Naked and the Dead, written in 1948 when its author was a 25-year-old unknown. Kimball is dead right when he describes this work as “pretentious,” not particularly “well-crafted,” and lacking in narrative “momentum.” Kimball writes, “Its heavy-handed psychologizing and use of four-letter words were thought smart in 1948; most contemporary readers will find them quaint if not downright embarrassing.” That was certainly my reaction upon reading The Naked and the Dead years ago. What was all the fuss about, I wondered? (I recently had a similar feeling on reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.)

Yet The Naked and the Dead continues to win gushing praise. David Ulin in the Los Angeles Times writes that it “ is considered by many the greatest American war novel ever written.”

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Roger Kimball, one of our finest critics, has delivered a devastating dissection of Norman Mailer’s overrated career, which consisted of political posturing and juvenile behavior interspersed with the production of mediocre novels—at best. (Kimball’s critique may be found here.)

I have very little to add beyond a few thoughts on the book that launched Mailer’s career—The Naked and the Dead, written in 1948 when its author was a 25-year-old unknown. Kimball is dead right when he describes this work as “pretentious,” not particularly “well-crafted,” and lacking in narrative “momentum.” Kimball writes, “Its heavy-handed psychologizing and use of four-letter words were thought smart in 1948; most contemporary readers will find them quaint if not downright embarrassing.” That was certainly my reaction upon reading The Naked and the Dead years ago. What was all the fuss about, I wondered? (I recently had a similar feeling on reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.)

Yet The Naked and the Dead continues to win gushing praise. David Ulin in the Los Angeles Times writes that it “ is considered by many the greatest American war novel ever written.”

Really? It’s better than Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage (the greatest novel of the Civil War), Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms (the greatest American novel of World War I), or James Webb’s Fields of Fire (the greatest novel of the Vietnam War)? I think not.

It’s not even the best American novel of World War II. Not by a long shot. A number of books are actually much better, starting with, in no particular order, James Gould Cozzens’s Guard of Honor, James Jones’s From Here to Eternity and The Thin Red Line, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny. I even prefer John Hersey’s slight work, A Bell for Adano, which is more like a long short story than a full-blown novel.

Let’s see. By my count that would make The Naked and the Dead at most the seventh-best novel written by an American about World War II, to say nothing of all American war novels. Of course the best novel about WWII wasn’t penned by an American. It was the three-volume Sword of Honour trilogy by Evelyn Waugh, whose biting wit, compelling plotting, vivid irony, and sparkling writing puts the puerile efforts of Norman Mailer to shame.

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Some Advice for Would-Be Martyrs

If you are an aspiring Muslim suicide bomber living in Europe, what is the best way to die?

One path is to travel to Iraq and set off a bomb in, say, a marketplace. But you might end up killing only a handful of people, all of them fellow Muslims–and having little impact on the course of world events.

Another path is to travel to Pakistan and prepare there for a “martyrdom operation” in Europe or the U.S. that might end up killing many more people, all of them likely to be infidels. This choice has the added bonus–if it is a bonus–of keeping you alive a bit longer.

It seems that the second option is becoming more attractive. The Los Angeles Times reports that “a dangerous new pattern” is emerging: “an increasing number of militants from mainland Europe are traveling to Pakistan to train and to plot attacks on the West.”

The shift is indeed dangerous, but is it bad news or good news, or mixed? Among other things, it may be yet another piece of evidence that the “surge” in Iraq is working and it is becoming a less hospitable place for foreign terrorists who want to blow themselves up.

If you are an aspiring Muslim suicide bomber living in Europe, what is the best way to die?

One path is to travel to Iraq and set off a bomb in, say, a marketplace. But you might end up killing only a handful of people, all of them fellow Muslims–and having little impact on the course of world events.

Another path is to travel to Pakistan and prepare there for a “martyrdom operation” in Europe or the U.S. that might end up killing many more people, all of them likely to be infidels. This choice has the added bonus–if it is a bonus–of keeping you alive a bit longer.

It seems that the second option is becoming more attractive. The Los Angeles Times reports that “a dangerous new pattern” is emerging: “an increasing number of militants from mainland Europe are traveling to Pakistan to train and to plot attacks on the West.”

The shift is indeed dangerous, but is it bad news or good news, or mixed? Among other things, it may be yet another piece of evidence that the “surge” in Iraq is working and it is becoming a less hospitable place for foreign terrorists who want to blow themselves up.

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Men in Black

The assault on Blackwater in particular and on the private military industry in general continues unabated, largely because leftists are eager to “prove” that the Bush administration, in cahoots with out-of-control mercenaries, is raping Iraq. For examples, see these typically simplistic columns by Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman, which essentially parrot the one-sided brief against Blackwater prepared by Rep. Henry Waxman’s Democratic staffers.

The fact that Blackwater’s founder, Erik Prince, happens to be a conservative who has donated to Republican candidates and is part of a wealthy Republican family in Michigan makes his company a particularly attractive target. In reality, as viewers of Tuesday’s hearings before Waxman’s committee could see, Prince does not easily conform to the image of a greedy and corrupt capitalist. With his blond crewcut and ramrod posture, he is about as all-American as you can get, and, though he came from a background of privilege, he volunteered to serve as a Navy SEAL officer—one of the most dangerous and demanding assignments in the entire armed forces.

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The assault on Blackwater in particular and on the private military industry in general continues unabated, largely because leftists are eager to “prove” that the Bush administration, in cahoots with out-of-control mercenaries, is raping Iraq. For examples, see these typically simplistic columns by Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman, which essentially parrot the one-sided brief against Blackwater prepared by Rep. Henry Waxman’s Democratic staffers.

The fact that Blackwater’s founder, Erik Prince, happens to be a conservative who has donated to Republican candidates and is part of a wealthy Republican family in Michigan makes his company a particularly attractive target. In reality, as viewers of Tuesday’s hearings before Waxman’s committee could see, Prince does not easily conform to the image of a greedy and corrupt capitalist. With his blond crewcut and ramrod posture, he is about as all-American as you can get, and, though he came from a background of privilege, he volunteered to serve as a Navy SEAL officer—one of the most dangerous and demanding assignments in the entire armed forces.

Nor do most of Prince’s employees conform to the stereotype of drunken gunslingers shooting up a town for fun. Most are straight arrows like him with extensive experience in military Special Operations or big-city police SWAT teams. That is not to say that some of them don’t make mistakes or misbehave. But so do some soldiers. The attempts to demonize an entire industry based on the misbehavior of a few are akin to attempts by some to demonize the entire American armed forces based on what happened at Abu Ghraib.

In the Los Angeles Times this morning, I try to put the promise and problems of the private military industry into perspective. One of the points I make is that if we can impose more accountability and oversight on security contractors, we can make more extensive use of them in certain situations where we are not willing to commit our armed forces.

One example I mention is Darfur. Another example is provided in the newest issue (not yet online) of the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s journal Orbis, which contains an essay called “Blackwaters for the Blue Waters: The Promise of Private Naval Companies.” The author, Claude Berube, a professor at the Naval Academy, suggests reviving the ancient practice (explicitly recognized in the Constitution) of issuing “letters of marquee” to “privateers,” who would supplement the efforts of our navy in combating drug smugglers, terrorists, and pirates on the high seas. This seems to me a compelling idea. Our navy now has fewer than 300 ships and every single additional ship will cost billions of dollars. Employing private companies at sea could be a cost-effective alternative.

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Hamas, Three Months After

It has been three months since Hamas took power in Gaza, and what a short, strange trip it’s been. In the beginning, Hamas spokesmen assuaged the consciences of credulous op-ed page editors everywhere with submissions that promised an enlightened, progressive Islamist government. One spokesman wrote in the New York Times that “Our sole focus is Palestinian rights and good governance.” He also said in a Washington Post op-ed that Hamas’s ambitions in Gaza are actually western ambitions: “self-determination, modernity . . . and freedom for civil society to evolve.” Another wrote, in the Los Angeles Times, that “Gaza will be calm and under the rule of law—a place where all journalists, foreigners, and guests of the Palestinian people will be treated with dignity.” (At the time he offered no word on how many yoga studios and organic food stands would be opened.)

The English-language spokesmen for Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups have long since mastered the democratic political lexicon, and the number of westerners eager to be taken in by such clichés has always been high. But now that Hamas has been in power for a quarter-year, it has an actual political track record to observe. And this record shows that Hamas, in defiance of the fervent wishes and predictions of its western apologists, has behaved exactly as many of us predicted at the beginning of the summer: In ideology, ambition, and style of governance, Hamas has come to resemble most closely its major regional patron, Iran.

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It has been three months since Hamas took power in Gaza, and what a short, strange trip it’s been. In the beginning, Hamas spokesmen assuaged the consciences of credulous op-ed page editors everywhere with submissions that promised an enlightened, progressive Islamist government. One spokesman wrote in the New York Times that “Our sole focus is Palestinian rights and good governance.” He also said in a Washington Post op-ed that Hamas’s ambitions in Gaza are actually western ambitions: “self-determination, modernity . . . and freedom for civil society to evolve.” Another wrote, in the Los Angeles Times, that “Gaza will be calm and under the rule of law—a place where all journalists, foreigners, and guests of the Palestinian people will be treated with dignity.” (At the time he offered no word on how many yoga studios and organic food stands would be opened.)

The English-language spokesmen for Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups have long since mastered the democratic political lexicon, and the number of westerners eager to be taken in by such clichés has always been high. But now that Hamas has been in power for a quarter-year, it has an actual political track record to observe. And this record shows that Hamas, in defiance of the fervent wishes and predictions of its western apologists, has behaved exactly as many of us predicted at the beginning of the summer: In ideology, ambition, and style of governance, Hamas has come to resemble most closely its major regional patron, Iran.

The new climate in Gaza is fearsome. Hamas has banned unapproved public gatherings, routinely beaten political opponents, intimidated journalists, and imposed a de facto regime of shari’a law. The internal purge continues, with regular death threats against Fatah loyalists and in many cases the firings of Fatah-associated doctors and other professionals. The only parts of the Gaza economy that still have a pulse are those bankrolled by foreign aid. In a long report in yesterday’s Washington Post, Scott Wilson gives readers a taste of the new Gaza:

After Friday prayers in recent weeks, Fatah supporters have marched through Gaza’s streets in protest against the Hamas administration. “Shia! Shia!” the demonstrators shouted, an insulting reference to the Sunni Muslim movement’s inflexible Islamic character and financial support from the Shiite government of Iran.

Their numbers have swelled into the thousands, and Hamas’s patience appears exhausted. The Palestinian Scholars League, an Islamic council dominated by Hamas clerics, issued a fatwa early this month prohibiting outdoor prayer.

The past three months have also been a test of the theory that power would moderate Hamas. After Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006, many people—including President Bush—predicted that a certain pragmatism finally would be forced on the Islamist group, and that it would be compelled to shift its focus from terrorism to the humdrum of daily governance.

But the decline of Gaza has not given Hamas’s leaders a moment’s pause in their pursuit of an external war against Israel and an internal war against Fatah. Rockets are fired from Gaza on a daily basis, and attempted infiltrations of Israel, many of them for the purpose of abducting another IDF soldier, are a regular occurrence. In many ways Hamas has been emboldened by the continued arrival, regardless of its terror war, of foreign aid money and water and electricity from Israel. Hamas, in other words, has been given the ability to run a consequence-free jihad.

The only good news to come out of all this is that at least for now, the movement to “engage” Hamas—most popular in Britain and Europe—has fallen into dormancy. Such calls might be revived as planning for the Bush administration’s regional conference intensifies, but the Hamas leadership may yet prove to be so ideologically stubborn and politically obtuse that even people like Daniel Levy and Colin Powell will not be able to help.

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Why Musharraf?

The alleged terrorist plot uncovered in Germany has an interesting connection to another country: two of the suspects, both German converts to Islam, were said to have gone to Pakistan for training. This merely confirms what we already know—that, as the National Intelligence Estimate released in July put it, al Qaeda has found “a safe haven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas.”

And that raises an interesting question: Why is the Bush administration so attached to Pervez Musharraf, the dictator of Pakistan who is supposed to be fighting terrorism, but is in fact allowing his country to become one of the top terrorist havens in the world?

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The alleged terrorist plot uncovered in Germany has an interesting connection to another country: two of the suspects, both German converts to Islam, were said to have gone to Pakistan for training. This merely confirms what we already know—that, as the National Intelligence Estimate released in July put it, al Qaeda has found “a safe haven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas.”

And that raises an interesting question: Why is the Bush administration so attached to Pervez Musharraf, the dictator of Pakistan who is supposed to be fighting terrorism, but is in fact allowing his country to become one of the top terrorist havens in the world?

Rajan Menon, a smart political scientist, has an interesting article on this topic in the Los Angeles Times. He writes:

The Bush administration’s problem in Pakistan is that it has had a Musharraf policy but not one that engages the interests and aspirations of Pakistan’s citizenry. Pakistanis may have welcomed Musharraf in 1999 when, as army chief, he overthrew the inept and corrupt government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but that enthusiasm has evaporated.

Menon goes on to suggest that it is a mistake for the Bush administration to try to keep Musharraf in power by helping to broker a power-sharing deal with opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. No government will be seen as legitimate, Menon argues, if it is viewed as having been installed at American instigation. “The administration’s best course of action in Pakistan is inaction,” Menon counsels. “Let Pakistanis find a solution to their crisis. Any made-in-America remedy will not only fail to make matters better, it will make them worse.”

There’s a lot to be said for that argument, though the U.S. can’t be totally hands-off about a country that has turned into a major terrorist refuge. But certainly we should take Menon’s advice to stop propping up Musharraf and to start supporting free and fair elections. Though most Pakistanis are suspicious of the United States, they are also hostile to Islamic extremists. As Menon rightly notes, “The vast majority do not support the agenda of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their local acolytes, and have never voted for the Islamist political parties in overwhelming numbers.”

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Paying Attention to Arthur Miller

Last week, the New York Times ran a piece gathering the reactions to Vanity Fair‘s exposé of Arthur Miller’s non-relationship with his Down’s syndrome-afflicted son, Daniel. They quoted my original post about Miller on contentions, along with the words of several of Miller’s contemporaries, most of whom, it appeared, were not willing to talk.

Edward Albee, for instance, author of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and a contemporary of Miller’s, refused to comment. The strongest apologia, if it can be called that, came from “veteran Broadway producer Emanuel Azenberg,” who said, “Arthur Miller will be remembered for ‘Death of a Salesman,’ ‘The Crucible’ and ‘All My Sons.’ All the rest is talk.”

Morris Dickstein, an English professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, told the Times, “How do we know what we would have done? The birth of a child with Down’s syndrome can be a tremendous trauma, to say nothing of a strain on a marriage.” Yet the original Vanity Fair article reported that Miller’s wife, Inge Morath, tried to convince her husband to let her bring their son home, a plea he refused. She visited their child nearly every weekend. The Los Angeles Times‘s obituary of Miller reported that he “apparently never visited [Daniel].” Putting one’s disabled child in an institution is one thing. Acting as if he didn’t exist is another. And the behavior of “this hero of the left” and “champion of the downtrodden” (as the Times describes Miller), ought to convince even his greatest fans that hectoring lip service in the cause of social justice does not prevent one from being a loathsome human being.

Last week, the New York Times ran a piece gathering the reactions to Vanity Fair‘s exposé of Arthur Miller’s non-relationship with his Down’s syndrome-afflicted son, Daniel. They quoted my original post about Miller on contentions, along with the words of several of Miller’s contemporaries, most of whom, it appeared, were not willing to talk.

Edward Albee, for instance, author of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and a contemporary of Miller’s, refused to comment. The strongest apologia, if it can be called that, came from “veteran Broadway producer Emanuel Azenberg,” who said, “Arthur Miller will be remembered for ‘Death of a Salesman,’ ‘The Crucible’ and ‘All My Sons.’ All the rest is talk.”

Morris Dickstein, an English professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, told the Times, “How do we know what we would have done? The birth of a child with Down’s syndrome can be a tremendous trauma, to say nothing of a strain on a marriage.” Yet the original Vanity Fair article reported that Miller’s wife, Inge Morath, tried to convince her husband to let her bring their son home, a plea he refused. She visited their child nearly every weekend. The Los Angeles Times‘s obituary of Miller reported that he “apparently never visited [Daniel].” Putting one’s disabled child in an institution is one thing. Acting as if he didn’t exist is another. And the behavior of “this hero of the left” and “champion of the downtrodden” (as the Times describes Miller), ought to convince even his greatest fans that hectoring lip service in the cause of social justice does not prevent one from being a loathsome human being.

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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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Calm Kadhimiya

If you want an illustration of the old adage that “good news is no news,” simply try to find stories about the pilgrimage by tens of thousands of Shiites to the Kadhimiya shrine in northwest Baghdad on Thursday. There were a few accounts—see, for instance, this New York Times article and this from the Los Angeles Times—but they were buried deep inside the newspapers.

What happened on Thursday was pretty remarkable: nothing. At least nothing terribly violent. Last year at least twenty pilgrims were killed by sniper and mortar attacks. In 2005, 1,000 pilgrims died on a bridge after rumors of a suicide bomber caused mass hysteria. This year, the death toll was two—and they died not as a result of an insurgent attack, but in a crush to get onto a train. A sniper did open fire at the procession from a Sunni neighborhood, but he was gunned down by Iraqi security forces without any of the pilgrims being killed.

The success of the march cannot be ascribed entirely to American and Iraqi security forces lining the parade route. Moqtada al-Sadr’s Jaish al-Mahdi militia also played a role in protecting the Shiite pilgrims. And it didn’t hurt that Sunnis effectively have been pushed out (or cleansed) from Kadhimiya, thereby creating a more secure environment for the Shiites. Nevertheless, the peaceful pilgrimage was a heartening sign of how, at long last, a modicum of security is coming to Baghdad.

If you want an illustration of the old adage that “good news is no news,” simply try to find stories about the pilgrimage by tens of thousands of Shiites to the Kadhimiya shrine in northwest Baghdad on Thursday. There were a few accounts—see, for instance, this New York Times article and this from the Los Angeles Times—but they were buried deep inside the newspapers.

What happened on Thursday was pretty remarkable: nothing. At least nothing terribly violent. Last year at least twenty pilgrims were killed by sniper and mortar attacks. In 2005, 1,000 pilgrims died on a bridge after rumors of a suicide bomber caused mass hysteria. This year, the death toll was two—and they died not as a result of an insurgent attack, but in a crush to get onto a train. A sniper did open fire at the procession from a Sunni neighborhood, but he was gunned down by Iraqi security forces without any of the pilgrims being killed.

The success of the march cannot be ascribed entirely to American and Iraqi security forces lining the parade route. Moqtada al-Sadr’s Jaish al-Mahdi militia also played a role in protecting the Shiite pilgrims. And it didn’t hurt that Sunnis effectively have been pushed out (or cleansed) from Kadhimiya, thereby creating a more secure environment for the Shiites. Nevertheless, the peaceful pilgrimage was a heartening sign of how, at long last, a modicum of security is coming to Baghdad.

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Tipping Off the Enemy

Did a 2002 story in the Los Angeles Times contribute to Iran’s detention of four Americans as spies? I raised that question in two previous postings here and here, taking the newspaper to task for endangering fellow citizens and jeopardizing an ongoing intelligence operation against a critical target.

Based on what we know so far, it is not yet possible to posit a definitive link between the story and the arrests. There is more digging to be done. I have not yet been able to check the Iranian press for references to the Los Angeles Times story when it first came out; how it was treated might shed light on current developments. When and if the ayatollahs are toppled from power, there will also be archives to scour—but that could be a long-time coming.

Meanwhile, how has the Los Angeles Times responded?

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Did a 2002 story in the Los Angeles Times contribute to Iran’s detention of four Americans as spies? I raised that question in two previous postings here and here, taking the newspaper to task for endangering fellow citizens and jeopardizing an ongoing intelligence operation against a critical target.

Based on what we know so far, it is not yet possible to posit a definitive link between the story and the arrests. There is more digging to be done. I have not yet been able to check the Iranian press for references to the Los Angeles Times story when it first came out; how it was treated might shed light on current developments. When and if the ayatollahs are toppled from power, there will also be archives to scour—but that could be a long-time coming.

Meanwhile, how has the Los Angeles Times responded?

A different editorial team was in place back then. And the current one may or may not accept the merits of my argument. Perhaps the editors would handle such a story quite differently today, or perhaps not; they have not said a word. But, to their credit, they have done something else.

The impressive thing about this newspaper, in contrast to, say, the New York Times, is that they are open to airing criticism from outsiders. Today, they’ve run an op-ed in which I lay out the facts of the case as best we know them.

To subscribe to the Los Angeles Times, click here.

To cancel a subscription to the New York Times, call 1-800-NYTIMES.

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The Ayatollahs, the CIA, and the LA Times Leak: Part II

Yesterday, I asked whether a leak published on the front page of the Los Angeles Times in 2002 might have had something to do with the recent arrests in Tehran of four Iranian-Americans on espionage charges. What direct evidence can I adduce on this score?

The answer is: none. The evidence is all circumstantial and indirect. But it is highly suggestive nonetheless.

To begin with, Iran has a significant diplomatic and intelligence presence in the United States. The same LA Times piece revealing the CIA program to recruit Iranian émigrés reported that Iranian intelligence was not only active here but that it paid careful attention to the émigré community. The LA Times story was thus, to a near certainty, picked up by Iranian officials; and it is inconceivable that a report detailing a CIA operation with such specificity would not then have been given wide notice inside the Iranian foreign-policy and intelligence establishment.

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Yesterday, I asked whether a leak published on the front page of the Los Angeles Times in 2002 might have had something to do with the recent arrests in Tehran of four Iranian-Americans on espionage charges. What direct evidence can I adduce on this score?

The answer is: none. The evidence is all circumstantial and indirect. But it is highly suggestive nonetheless.

To begin with, Iran has a significant diplomatic and intelligence presence in the United States. The same LA Times piece revealing the CIA program to recruit Iranian émigrés reported that Iranian intelligence was not only active here but that it paid careful attention to the émigré community. The LA Times story was thus, to a near certainty, picked up by Iranian officials; and it is inconceivable that a report detailing a CIA operation with such specificity would not then have been given wide notice inside the Iranian foreign-policy and intelligence establishment.

The Iranian Islamic regime, it is important to bear in mind, has a peculiar relationship to the CIA. One of its founding myths is that the American spy agency was a major force propping up the old regime. After the Shah’s fall, the Islamic revolutionaries were quick to find the hidden hand of the CIA everywhere, and held it responsible for every conceivable ill that befell Iran, from failed crops to the war with Iraq.

The irony, of course, is that the CIA presence in Iran at the time of the revolution was virtually non-existent, and the U.S. government had only the dimmest understanding of the society, including especially the Islamic opposition. It is widely believed that in the intervening years the agency has not succeeded in penetrating the Iranian government. Apart from what can be gleaned from reading Iranian newspapers, the CIA’s picture of the internal political situation is said to be close to blank.

But reality, at least with regard to the condition of American intelligence services, has never exactly been a strong suit of Iran’s theocrats. The arrest of four Iranian-Americans on trumped up charges of espionage is testimony to the ease with which their fantasies merge with their extortionate, hostage-seizing brand of realpolitik.

The two most significant questions that arise from this leak episode concern not them but us. The first concerns the sources in and around the CIA who disclosed the classified Iranian-émigré recruitment program to the LA Times. What could have possibly motivated them? The second concerns the editors of the LA Times. By putting out a story that would inevitably endanger an entire class of Americans already under intense suspicion in the eyes of the ayatollahs, were they subordinating their civic obligations to their journalistic ambitions?

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The Price of One Leak

Leaks of vital U.S. intelligence secrets can get Americans killed. They can also place Americans in a great deal of danger.

As of yesterday, Iran has seized four Iranian-Americans and charged them with spying. They are Haleh Esfandiari of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban-planning consultant associated with George Soros’s Open Society Institute; Parnaz Azima, a journalist who works for the American-financed Radio Farda; and Ali Shakeri, a “peace activist” from the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, Irvine. In addition, Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who is reported to have traveled to Iran on private business, has been missing since March.

Do these developments have anything to do with a 2002 leak about a highly classified U.S. intelligence program?

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Leaks of vital U.S. intelligence secrets can get Americans killed. They can also place Americans in a great deal of danger.

As of yesterday, Iran has seized four Iranian-Americans and charged them with spying. They are Haleh Esfandiari of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban-planning consultant associated with George Soros’s Open Society Institute; Parnaz Azima, a journalist who works for the American-financed Radio Farda; and Ali Shakeri, a “peace activist” from the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, Irvine. In addition, Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who is reported to have traveled to Iran on private business, has been missing since March.

Do these developments have anything to do with a 2002 leak about a highly classified U.S. intelligence program?

On January 15, 2002, under the headline “CIA Looks to Los Angeles for Would-Be Iranian Spies,” the Los Angeles Times disclosed on its front page that the CIA was recruiting Iranian-Americans in southern California, home to the largest concentration of Iranian émigrés in the United States. According to the paper, the agency was “offering cash for useful information” to Iranian-Americans who “have business connections [in Iran] or relatives in [a] position to provide valuable information from inside the largely impenetrable republic.” The article went on to give more details:

Former CIA officers said the agency is combing this community for “access agents,” those who may not have direct knowledge of events in Iran but can get information through connections. . . .

“What you really want is these people to get to family members still in Iran,” said a former officer familiar with the Los Angeles effort. “If family members trust each other, they’ll tell you things you can’t know otherwise, can’t get [from satellites]. If you’re really lucky, you might recruit somebody involved in the nuclear-weapons program.”

CIA officers have to disclose their identities when approaching U.S. citizens or permanent residents for information. But foreign travelers and those on temporary visas can be approached undercover.

“You can say, ‘I run a consulting firm in Los Angeles that wants to bring energy companies into Iran when it opens up,’” a former officer said. Eventually, he added, “you might get to the point where you think you can break cover,” meaning reveal CIA affiliation and simply ask the contact to spy.

A new informant might be put on the CIA payroll at $5,000 a month, the officer said. “If the spy were really good, the sky’s the limit”. . . .

The risks for informants are considerable. Foreign travelers in Iran, particularly those from the United States, are followed closely by [Iran’s] intelligence service, MOIS, former CIA officials said. Spies caught by the [Islamic] Republic face severe punishment, including execution.

What public interest was served by the publication of such a sensitive story in the Los Angeles Times, and whatever that interest was conceived to be, was it weighed against the damage that would be done, including to particular individuals? At the time, the CIA would not comment, other than to note that “disclosure of such a program ‘is not helpful to U.S. national security.’” And the revelation was promptly—and conveniently—forgotten by the rest of American press, and today it is not discussed at all.

But the leak is sure to have resonated resoundingly in the minds of the ayatollahs, who have long been obsessed with the supposedly ubiquitous threat posed by the CIA to their regime. Are four, maybe five, Americans now paying the price for our media’s reckless disregard for the imperative of secrecy in the critical realm of intelligence?

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Bush the “Madman”

Back in April 2004, Tony Blair and George Bush had a chat about the war in Iraq. In the course of it, Bush reportedly suggested bombing the Arab broadcasting station Al Jazeera, headquartered in Doha, Qatar. The White House has adamantly denied that such a proposal was ever made, calling the accusation “outlandish and inconceivable.”

But a British diplomatic communication about their conversation, marked “Secret-Personal,” evidently says otherwise—the subject may indeed have been broached, but possibly only in jest. Addressed to the British Foreign Secretary, the document began: “This letter is extremely sensitive. It must not be copied further and must be seen only by those with a need to know.”

We know about this document because a British cryptographer by the name of David Keogh, responsible for handling British diplomatic cable traffic, passed it on to an anti-war member of parliament who then disclosed its contents to the press. His objective, Keogh has frankly explained, was to intervene in America’s elections, helping John Kerry’s presidential bid by making George W. Bush appear to be a “madman.”

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Back in April 2004, Tony Blair and George Bush had a chat about the war in Iraq. In the course of it, Bush reportedly suggested bombing the Arab broadcasting station Al Jazeera, headquartered in Doha, Qatar. The White House has adamantly denied that such a proposal was ever made, calling the accusation “outlandish and inconceivable.”

But a British diplomatic communication about their conversation, marked “Secret-Personal,” evidently says otherwise—the subject may indeed have been broached, but possibly only in jest. Addressed to the British Foreign Secretary, the document began: “This letter is extremely sensitive. It must not be copied further and must be seen only by those with a need to know.”

We know about this document because a British cryptographer by the name of David Keogh, responsible for handling British diplomatic cable traffic, passed it on to an anti-war member of parliament who then disclosed its contents to the press. His objective, Keogh has frankly explained, was to intervene in America’s elections, helping John Kerry’s presidential bid by making George W. Bush appear to be a “madman.”

Such behavior is profoundly undemocratic. A civil servant in a technical position took upon himself a responsibility reserved for elected officials: namely, running British foreign policy.

Here in the United States such conduct would be called a “leak,” and the leaker would be celebrated in some quarters as a “whistleblower.” His actions would be lauded by the press, which would in turn circle the wagons to keep the whistleblower from being apprehended. Pulitzer prizes might even be won (as they were by the New York Times reporters James Risen and Eric Licthblau in the NSA terrorist surveillance case) for transmitting information from the leaker to the public about the hidden workings of government.

But T.S. Ellis, III, the federal judge who presided over the trial of the Pentagon official Lawrence Franklin for passing classified information to two employees of AIPAC, has a different view—and it is the correct one.

One can have all sorts of legitimate reservations about the Franklin and AIPAC prosecutions, and how they came about, and their highly selective nature—I have expressed my own doubts about them here and in the Los Angeles Times, and Dorothy Rabinowitz has persuasively done so in the Wall Street Journal. Nonetheless, in sentencing Franklin to more than twelve years in prison, Ellis had one very compelling point:

What this case is truly significant for is the rule of law. The law says what it says. The merits of the law really are committed to Congress. If it’s not sensible, it ought to be changed. But they’re—that’s the body that changes it. . . .

There is a law that says that if you have authorized possession of national defense information, you can’t disclose it to unauthorized people. . . .

It doesn’t matter that you think that you were really helping. That’s arrogating to yourself the decision of whether to adhere to a statute passed by Congress or not. And we can’t do that in this country. . . .

And it doesn’t matter who you disclosed it to. It doesn’t matter whether you disclose it to a newspaper. It doesn’t matter whether you disclose it to people who are fierce American patriots, or anything else. It doesn’t matter. It can’t be disclosed. That’s the rule of law.

The British courts agree. Calling David Keogh’s actions “reckless and irresponsible,” a judge on Wednesday sentenced him to six months in jail for breaching the Official Secrets Act.

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News from Ramadi

It is always tempting fate to write about a success story in Iraq: by the time your article sees print, some terrible atrocity may well have been perpetrated. Case in point: Ramadi.

Last week, I wrote in both the Weekly Standard and the Los Angeles Times about the remarkable success that U.S. forces have had recently in pacifying this one-time al-Qaeda stronghold. Sure enough, on Monday, April 23, and Tuesday, April 24, just as these articles were appearing, several car bombs went off near Ramadi.

Do these bombings call into question how much success U.S. forces have been having? I asked Colonel John Charlton, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division, with responsibility for Ramadi and the surrounding area. Below is the response he emailed back to me yesterday, which he agreed to let me share with contentions readers. (Note that the estimated toll he gives for the bombings—thirteen killed—is much lower than the death toll cited in most news accounts, such as this BBC story, which reported at least 45 dead).

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It is always tempting fate to write about a success story in Iraq: by the time your article sees print, some terrible atrocity may well have been perpetrated. Case in point: Ramadi.

Last week, I wrote in both the Weekly Standard and the Los Angeles Times about the remarkable success that U.S. forces have had recently in pacifying this one-time al-Qaeda stronghold. Sure enough, on Monday, April 23, and Tuesday, April 24, just as these articles were appearing, several car bombs went off near Ramadi.

Do these bombings call into question how much success U.S. forces have been having? I asked Colonel John Charlton, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division, with responsibility for Ramadi and the surrounding area. Below is the response he emailed back to me yesterday, which he agreed to let me share with contentions readers. (Note that the estimated toll he gives for the bombings—thirteen killed—is much lower than the death toll cited in most news accounts, such as this BBC story, which reported at least 45 dead).

Max,

Sorry about the delayed response, but email went down and then I had a couple real busy days. Bottom line on last week’s VBIED [vehicle-borne improvised explosive device] attacks—

The first one targeted an IP [Iraqi Police] station. It was intercepted and destroyed prior to reaching the station but caused 5 IP WIA’s [wounded in action] and over 20 civilian WIA’s. Another VBIED attacked an IP checkpoint on the highway resulting in 13 IP KIA [killed in action] and 8 IP WIA. This VBIED was also attempting to destroy an IP station but was intercepted before it could reach its target. The casualty count was so high because the IP’s were in the process of shift change at that location.

Last week the IP’s successfully intercepted a VBIED on the highway with no civilian or IP casualties. The IP’s did the same thing yesterday with no casualties. I gave awards to last week’s heroes and will do the same for those who stopped yesterday’s VBIED attack.

The IP’s in Ramadi are constantly on guard against VBIED’s. Unfortunately, even if the VBIED fails to reach its target, they still are deadly to anyone nearby. Al Qaeda will continue to try to attack the Ramadi IP’s and civilians with these VBIED’s in order to gain headlines. They know they were defeated in Ramadi so this is their attempt to save face and strike back at the force that drove them out of town. These murderers don’t care how many civilians are killed as long as they get a headline. Unfortunately, U.S. media seems to reinforce this behavior. One thing is certain, the people of Anbar will never accept al Qaeda and the police here will continue to fight back regardless of the danger they face. These attacks only strengthen their resolve.

We are currently conducting a large operation to clear terrorists out of the Abu Bali tribal region east of Ramadi. This area developed into a terrorist safe haven after we cleared Ramadi. Using coalition forces and ISF [Iraqi Security Forces], we are doing the same, deliberate clearing methods that we used in our previous operations. We have encountered many IED’s (reminds me of [Operation] Murfreesboro [in February-March]) but have cleared the area and are building another new JSS [Joint Security Station]. Almost immediately, the local population asked to start a neighborhood watch, and now these citizens are pointing out caches and IED’s.

We also successfully cleared an area to our south called al Tash. This was another area al Qaeda moved to when we cleared the city. We started getting increased IED attacks from this area so we went and cleared this town and established a JSS. Locals there now want to join the police force, and we haven’t had a single incident down there in about 2 weeks. I think al Qaeda is beginning to get the idea that we don’t like them in the neighborhood.

We are also working very hard with local religious leaders to improve popular support and conditions here in Ramadi. I have been meeting with prominent Sunni clerics from Anbar, and we think we will be able to reopen the main mosque here in Ramadi next week (I’m sure you saw it while you were here—it’s the really big one just north of the Malaab). This will be a huge event since this mosque is the centerpiece of Islamic worship here in Ramadi and has not been in operation for years due to the fighting. We are working religious-leader engagement at every level, and it is really paying off. A couple months ago, about half the mosques in Ramadi were broadcasting anti-coalition messages. Last Friday, there wasn’t a single anti-coalition sermon, and there were even a couple mosques that broadcast a pro-coalition message—I’ve never seen that before in my three tours over here.

Have to get back to work now . . . will give you an update on our efforts to help the Iraqis rebuild in my next email. This is an important aspect of counterinsurgency that will take a little time to explain.

Take care, John.

Rock of the Marne!
John W. Charlton
COL, Infantry
Commanding
Camp Ar Ramadi, Iraq

As Colonel Charlton keeps me posted, I will pass along his updates. They are not all likely to be positive. There is a war on, after all, and the enemy remains tenacious and brutal. We mustn’t set unrealistic goals in Ramadi (or anywhere else in Iraq) and then engage in self-flagellation if we don’t achieve them. Anbar, and the rest of Iraq, will remain violent for years, probably decades, to come. The question is whether we can get that violence down to a sustainable level, a level that doesn’t threaten the functioning of Iraq’s emerging government and civil society. So far that’s just what Colonel Charlton and his men have managed to pull off in Ramadi. Even the New York Times is taking notice. But all such accomplishments are fragile.

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America’s Favorite Buildings

The architecture of California, to the chagrin of the Los Angeles Times, is uninspiring. Or so one might conclude from a poll of America’s 150 favorite buildings, put together by the American Institute of Architects to mark its 150th anniversary. It shows that the country’s most beloved buildings are overwhelmingly concentrated in the Northeast, including the Empire State Building (1), the White House (2), the U.S. Capitol (6), the Chrysler Building (9), and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (10). In fact, of the top twenty, a full sixteen are in either New York or Washington, D.C. And California’s most impressive showing is not for a building at all but for an engineering marvel, the Golden Gate Bridge (5).

Of particular distress to the Times were the lackluster ratings given those much-acclaimed Los Angeles gems, the Getty Museum (95) and the Disney Concert Hall (99). The paper offers no explanation for these low rankings, but it may be on to something. How is it that the center of the entertainment industry, which creates the imagery that comprises American popular culture, has been so lackluster in creating memorable architecture? The relative newness of the West Coast is only a partial answer, since the public clearly feels deep affection for a recent monument like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (10).

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The architecture of California, to the chagrin of the Los Angeles Times, is uninspiring. Or so one might conclude from a poll of America’s 150 favorite buildings, put together by the American Institute of Architects to mark its 150th anniversary. It shows that the country’s most beloved buildings are overwhelmingly concentrated in the Northeast, including the Empire State Building (1), the White House (2), the U.S. Capitol (6), the Chrysler Building (9), and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (10). In fact, of the top twenty, a full sixteen are in either New York or Washington, D.C. And California’s most impressive showing is not for a building at all but for an engineering marvel, the Golden Gate Bridge (5).

Of particular distress to the Times were the lackluster ratings given those much-acclaimed Los Angeles gems, the Getty Museum (95) and the Disney Concert Hall (99). The paper offers no explanation for these low rankings, but it may be on to something. How is it that the center of the entertainment industry, which creates the imagery that comprises American popular culture, has been so lackluster in creating memorable architecture? The relative newness of the West Coast is only a partial answer, since the public clearly feels deep affection for a recent monument like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (10).

In fact, what is most impressive about the poll is how impervious it is to hype and publicity. The list is heavy on public monuments, museums, and buildings of state, and in that sense is deeply conservative. Perhaps it reflects a widespread affection for America’s symbolic architecture in the wake of the destruction of the World Trade Center (19). It is difficult to imagine that a list of popular buildings compiled before 9/11 would have been so steeped in tradition.

My main quibble with the poll is different from that of the Times. How is it that Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello (27) and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater (29)—America’s two greatest houses, and two of the world’s greatest houses—are ranked below the Bellagio Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas (22)?

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