Commentary Magazine


Topic: Western Europe

Flotsam and Jetsam

What happens when the Democratic majority ends: “President Obama on Monday proposed a two-year freeze on federal pay, saying federal workers must sacrifice to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. … Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) had called for a freeze on federal pay this month and also had said the average federal worker makes twice the pay of the average private sector worker.”

Jackson Diehl reminds us to stop holding out hope that small-bore covert actions will defang the mullahs. “Covert action, in short, is not likely to be the silver bullet that stops Iran’s nuclear program. That’s true of 21st-century devices like Stuxnet — and it will likely apply to the old-fashioned and ruthless attacks on Iranian scientists.” Still, it helps slow the clock.

Obama’s foreign policy aura is over. Walter Russell Mead writes: “Our propensity to elect charismatic but inexperienced leaders repeatedly lands us in trouble. We remain steadfastly blind to the deterioration of our long-term fiscal position as we pile unfunded entitlements on top of each other in a surefire recipe for national disaster. We lurch from one ineffective foreign policy to another, while the public consensus that has underwritten America’s world role since the 1940s continues to decay. Our elite seems at times literally hellbent on throwing away the cultural capital and that has kept this nation great and free for so many generations.” Ouch.

Is the era of slam-dunk Democratic victories coming to a close in New Jersey? “With one more national election behind him, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez now faces one ahead — his own. And according to the most recent statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, 31% of his New Jersey constituency have a favorable opinion of him and 25% have an unfavorable opinion. Another 44% either are unsure (29%) or haven’t heard of him at all (15%). ‘Those are fairly anemic numbers for an energetic guy who has already served five years,’ said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll.”

Michael Steele’s finished as Republican National Committee chair — the only issue is which of the competent, low-key contenders will win it.

Are the Dems kaput in the South? “After suffering a historic rout — in which nearly every white Deep South Democrat in the U.S. House was defeated and Republicans took over or gained seats in legislatures across the region — the party’s ranks in Dixie have thinned even further.” I’d be cautious — the GOP was “dead” in New England and the Midwest two years ago.

Rep. Mike Pence is going to halt the speculation as to whether he’ll run for president. Speeches like this tell us he certainly is: “I choose the West. I choose limited government and freedom. I choose the free market, personal responsibility and equality of opportunity. I choose fiscal restraint, sound money, a flat tax, regulatory reform, American energy, expanded trade and a return to traditional values. In a word, I choose a boundless American future built on the timeless ideals of the American people. I believe the American people are ready for this choice and await men and women who will lead us back to that future, back to the West, back to American exceptionalism. Here’s to that future. Our best days are yet to come.” That’s a presidential candidate talking.

Bret Stephens suggests that the WikiLeak documents may bring down the curtain on silly leftist foreign policy ideas. “Are Israeli Likudniks and their neocon friends (present company included) the dark matter pushing the U.S. toward war with Iran? Well, no: Arab Likudniks turn out to be even more vocal on that score. Can Syria be detached from Iran’s orbit? ‘I think not,’ says Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. … Has the administration succeeded in pressing the reset button with Russia? Hard to credit, given Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s description of the Putin-Medvedev regime as one from which ‘there has been little real change.’ Is the threat of an Iranian missile strike—and therefore of the need for missile defense—exaggerated? Not since we learned that North Korea had shipped missiles to Tehran that can carry nuclear warheads as far as Western Europe and Moscow.” But the administration knew all this — the only difference is now we do.

What happens when the Democratic majority ends: “President Obama on Monday proposed a two-year freeze on federal pay, saying federal workers must sacrifice to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. … Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) had called for a freeze on federal pay this month and also had said the average federal worker makes twice the pay of the average private sector worker.”

Jackson Diehl reminds us to stop holding out hope that small-bore covert actions will defang the mullahs. “Covert action, in short, is not likely to be the silver bullet that stops Iran’s nuclear program. That’s true of 21st-century devices like Stuxnet — and it will likely apply to the old-fashioned and ruthless attacks on Iranian scientists.” Still, it helps slow the clock.

Obama’s foreign policy aura is over. Walter Russell Mead writes: “Our propensity to elect charismatic but inexperienced leaders repeatedly lands us in trouble. We remain steadfastly blind to the deterioration of our long-term fiscal position as we pile unfunded entitlements on top of each other in a surefire recipe for national disaster. We lurch from one ineffective foreign policy to another, while the public consensus that has underwritten America’s world role since the 1940s continues to decay. Our elite seems at times literally hellbent on throwing away the cultural capital and that has kept this nation great and free for so many generations.” Ouch.

Is the era of slam-dunk Democratic victories coming to a close in New Jersey? “With one more national election behind him, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez now faces one ahead — his own. And according to the most recent statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, 31% of his New Jersey constituency have a favorable opinion of him and 25% have an unfavorable opinion. Another 44% either are unsure (29%) or haven’t heard of him at all (15%). ‘Those are fairly anemic numbers for an energetic guy who has already served five years,’ said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll.”

Michael Steele’s finished as Republican National Committee chair — the only issue is which of the competent, low-key contenders will win it.

Are the Dems kaput in the South? “After suffering a historic rout — in which nearly every white Deep South Democrat in the U.S. House was defeated and Republicans took over or gained seats in legislatures across the region — the party’s ranks in Dixie have thinned even further.” I’d be cautious — the GOP was “dead” in New England and the Midwest two years ago.

Rep. Mike Pence is going to halt the speculation as to whether he’ll run for president. Speeches like this tell us he certainly is: “I choose the West. I choose limited government and freedom. I choose the free market, personal responsibility and equality of opportunity. I choose fiscal restraint, sound money, a flat tax, regulatory reform, American energy, expanded trade and a return to traditional values. In a word, I choose a boundless American future built on the timeless ideals of the American people. I believe the American people are ready for this choice and await men and women who will lead us back to that future, back to the West, back to American exceptionalism. Here’s to that future. Our best days are yet to come.” That’s a presidential candidate talking.

Bret Stephens suggests that the WikiLeak documents may bring down the curtain on silly leftist foreign policy ideas. “Are Israeli Likudniks and their neocon friends (present company included) the dark matter pushing the U.S. toward war with Iran? Well, no: Arab Likudniks turn out to be even more vocal on that score. Can Syria be detached from Iran’s orbit? ‘I think not,’ says Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. … Has the administration succeeded in pressing the reset button with Russia? Hard to credit, given Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s description of the Putin-Medvedev regime as one from which ‘there has been little real change.’ Is the threat of an Iranian missile strike—and therefore of the need for missile defense—exaggerated? Not since we learned that North Korea had shipped missiles to Tehran that can carry nuclear warheads as far as Western Europe and Moscow.” But the administration knew all this — the only difference is now we do.

Read Less

Explaining Foreign Policy Failures

Jackson Diehl thinks Obama’s foreign policy is badly out of date. Obama is frantic to conclude an old-style nuclear arms treaty while the “threat of nuclear weapons now comes from rogue states such as North Korea, Iran and Syria, and maybe from terrorist organizations.” He’s obsessed over Israeli settlements, which leads to bizarre dealmaking efforts (“a campaign that even Palestinian and Arab leaders have watched with bafflement”), while the real threat to peace and stability in the region is the rise of the Iranian axis and a nuclear-armed, revolutionary Islamic state.

Why is Obama fixated on issues that were in vogue when he was a college student and oblivious or disinterested in the world as we find it in 2010? One can argue that this is simply a function of leftist ideology — a worldview frozen in time and sealed off from reality. In that conception, our enemies are misunderstood, America’s problems are largely of its own making, and we’d be better off re-creating the U.S. in the image of Western Europe than in pushing despotic regimes to democratize.

Then there is the rudderless-ship explanation. As Diehl observes: “this administration is notable for its lack of grand strategy — or strategists. Its top foreign-policy makers are a former senator, a Washington lawyer and a former Senate staffer. There is no Henry Kissinger, no Zbigniew Brzezinski, no Condoleezza Rice; no foreign policy scholar.” We’ve seen the same in the economic realm — there is no one who understands free markets, has experience as an entrepreneur, or questions the class warfare, anti-business stance that has characterized the first two years of Obama’s term. In short, the administration is in over its head in a very complex and dangerous world.

And then there is the possibility that there is a method, however inept, to the Obama foreign policy approach. It is the path of least resistance. We want to make progress with the Russians, so we  give them what they want. The Palestinians harp on settlements, so we become their agent. Iran isn’t amenable to sanctions or engagement, but we’d better make sure no one gets the idea that we are headed for a military confrontation. The Chinese don’t want to talk about human rights, so we don’t. It’s always easier to beat up on small allies than to stand up to intransigent bullies.

None of these explanations is entirely satisfying or mutually exclusive. Obama’s foreign policy is made all the more curious by the fact that sometimes he gets it right. Obama, however reluctantly, has followed the Bush approach in Iraq and attempted to duplicate it in Afghanistan. In these areas he’s departed from the leftist playbook and to a large extent followed the advice of the one truly expert national security guru he has: Gen. David Petraeus. So go figure.

Perhaps it comes down to this: only when faced with the prospect of a massive loss of American credibility (e.g., a defeat in Afghanistan), a severe domestic backlash (American Jews’ falling out with him), or resolute opposition (from Israel on Jerusalem) does Obama do what is smart and productive for American interests. In other words, only when exhausting all other opportunities and trying every which way to force his ideologically driven preferences does he stumble upon a reasonable outcome. This, if true, contains a powerful lesson for Israel, for Obama’s domestic critics, and for our other allies: hang tough, be clear about the Obama administration’s errors, and don’t blink. Chances are, he will instead.

Jackson Diehl thinks Obama’s foreign policy is badly out of date. Obama is frantic to conclude an old-style nuclear arms treaty while the “threat of nuclear weapons now comes from rogue states such as North Korea, Iran and Syria, and maybe from terrorist organizations.” He’s obsessed over Israeli settlements, which leads to bizarre dealmaking efforts (“a campaign that even Palestinian and Arab leaders have watched with bafflement”), while the real threat to peace and stability in the region is the rise of the Iranian axis and a nuclear-armed, revolutionary Islamic state.

Why is Obama fixated on issues that were in vogue when he was a college student and oblivious or disinterested in the world as we find it in 2010? One can argue that this is simply a function of leftist ideology — a worldview frozen in time and sealed off from reality. In that conception, our enemies are misunderstood, America’s problems are largely of its own making, and we’d be better off re-creating the U.S. in the image of Western Europe than in pushing despotic regimes to democratize.

Then there is the rudderless-ship explanation. As Diehl observes: “this administration is notable for its lack of grand strategy — or strategists. Its top foreign-policy makers are a former senator, a Washington lawyer and a former Senate staffer. There is no Henry Kissinger, no Zbigniew Brzezinski, no Condoleezza Rice; no foreign policy scholar.” We’ve seen the same in the economic realm — there is no one who understands free markets, has experience as an entrepreneur, or questions the class warfare, anti-business stance that has characterized the first two years of Obama’s term. In short, the administration is in over its head in a very complex and dangerous world.

And then there is the possibility that there is a method, however inept, to the Obama foreign policy approach. It is the path of least resistance. We want to make progress with the Russians, so we  give them what they want. The Palestinians harp on settlements, so we become their agent. Iran isn’t amenable to sanctions or engagement, but we’d better make sure no one gets the idea that we are headed for a military confrontation. The Chinese don’t want to talk about human rights, so we don’t. It’s always easier to beat up on small allies than to stand up to intransigent bullies.

None of these explanations is entirely satisfying or mutually exclusive. Obama’s foreign policy is made all the more curious by the fact that sometimes he gets it right. Obama, however reluctantly, has followed the Bush approach in Iraq and attempted to duplicate it in Afghanistan. In these areas he’s departed from the leftist playbook and to a large extent followed the advice of the one truly expert national security guru he has: Gen. David Petraeus. So go figure.

Perhaps it comes down to this: only when faced with the prospect of a massive loss of American credibility (e.g., a defeat in Afghanistan), a severe domestic backlash (American Jews’ falling out with him), or resolute opposition (from Israel on Jerusalem) does Obama do what is smart and productive for American interests. In other words, only when exhausting all other opportunities and trying every which way to force his ideologically driven preferences does he stumble upon a reasonable outcome. This, if true, contains a powerful lesson for Israel, for Obama’s domestic critics, and for our other allies: hang tough, be clear about the Obama administration’s errors, and don’t blink. Chances are, he will instead.

Read Less

The Muslim Brotherhood Takes Off Its Mask

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was never a “moderate” organization. I briefly interviewed their spokesman many years ago, and it could not have been more obvious that I was dealing with a dissembler. I know moderate Muslims when I see them, and these guys aren’t even in the same time zone.

Recently, though, for reasons I’m not quite sure about yet, they decided to stop playing the game, and we can thank Barry Rubin for paying particularly close attention to this development.

In calling for jihad against America, the West and Israel in terms virtually identical with Osama bin Laden’s rhetoric, the leader of Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood uttered one sentence that explains the contemporary Middle East.

Here it is: “The improvement and change that the [Muslim] nation seeks can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as its enemies pursue life.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is not a militia. It can’t seize the capital, and it can’t take on the army. It doesn’t control a state within a state, as Hamas and Hezbollah do. It can’t start a war with another country or draw in foreign powers. It can’t win an election, because Hosni Mubarak’s regime rigs the system. It does, however, have an enormous amount of clout on the streets.

I’ve been to more than a dozen Muslim countries and seen for myself how extraordinarily diverse they are. Some are as secular and irreligious as the nations of Western Europe. Egypt, though, is by far the most politically Islamicized place I’ve ever seen. And by that I don’t mean that Egyptians are more likely to pray and go to the mosque than people in other countries. The Kurds of Iraq are by and large conservative Muslims, but political Islamism barely registers there and is held in contempt by the majority.

In Egypt, it’s different, and you can see it and feel it in Cairo. The liberal and moderate Egyptians I spoke to were keenly aware that they’re part of a small minority that has no political future right now.

One reason for this is that Egypt’s current secular government — which is a less-ideological continuation of the Arab Nationalist regime founded by Gamal Abdel Nasser and his Free Officer’s Movement — has failed Egypt spectacularly in almost every possible way. Egypt’s experience with secular modernity has been a miserable one, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s slogan, “Islam is the solution,” sounds plausible to millions of people.

That isn’t the only reason, of course. Albanians fared far worse under the secular Communist regime of Enver Hoxha — which was similar in a lot ways to Kim Il-Sung’s in North Korea — yet Islamism never caught on there. No single explanation will suffice in Egypt or anywhere else.

Still, Mubarak’s ideology and government is rejected by a huge number of Egyptians for many of the same reasons the Shah’s regime in Iran was in the late 1970s. The Muslim Brotherhood will be a likely replacement if Mubarak’s government implodes or is overthrown. Given that the Brotherhood is becoming more extreme rather than less, the West may want to brace itself.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was never a “moderate” organization. I briefly interviewed their spokesman many years ago, and it could not have been more obvious that I was dealing with a dissembler. I know moderate Muslims when I see them, and these guys aren’t even in the same time zone.

Recently, though, for reasons I’m not quite sure about yet, they decided to stop playing the game, and we can thank Barry Rubin for paying particularly close attention to this development.

In calling for jihad against America, the West and Israel in terms virtually identical with Osama bin Laden’s rhetoric, the leader of Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood uttered one sentence that explains the contemporary Middle East.

Here it is: “The improvement and change that the [Muslim] nation seeks can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as its enemies pursue life.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is not a militia. It can’t seize the capital, and it can’t take on the army. It doesn’t control a state within a state, as Hamas and Hezbollah do. It can’t start a war with another country or draw in foreign powers. It can’t win an election, because Hosni Mubarak’s regime rigs the system. It does, however, have an enormous amount of clout on the streets.

I’ve been to more than a dozen Muslim countries and seen for myself how extraordinarily diverse they are. Some are as secular and irreligious as the nations of Western Europe. Egypt, though, is by far the most politically Islamicized place I’ve ever seen. And by that I don’t mean that Egyptians are more likely to pray and go to the mosque than people in other countries. The Kurds of Iraq are by and large conservative Muslims, but political Islamism barely registers there and is held in contempt by the majority.

In Egypt, it’s different, and you can see it and feel it in Cairo. The liberal and moderate Egyptians I spoke to were keenly aware that they’re part of a small minority that has no political future right now.

One reason for this is that Egypt’s current secular government — which is a less-ideological continuation of the Arab Nationalist regime founded by Gamal Abdel Nasser and his Free Officer’s Movement — has failed Egypt spectacularly in almost every possible way. Egypt’s experience with secular modernity has been a miserable one, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s slogan, “Islam is the solution,” sounds plausible to millions of people.

That isn’t the only reason, of course. Albanians fared far worse under the secular Communist regime of Enver Hoxha — which was similar in a lot ways to Kim Il-Sung’s in North Korea — yet Islamism never caught on there. No single explanation will suffice in Egypt or anywhere else.

Still, Mubarak’s ideology and government is rejected by a huge number of Egyptians for many of the same reasons the Shah’s regime in Iran was in the late 1970s. The Muslim Brotherhood will be a likely replacement if Mubarak’s government implodes or is overthrown. Given that the Brotherhood is becoming more extreme rather than less, the West may want to brace itself.

Read Less

Low-Level Urban Terrorism: The Next Big Thing for Al-Qaeda?

Terrorism analysts Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson had an intriguing op-ed in the Washington Post on Sunday suggesting that al-Qaeda is moving away from trying to stage 9/11-style spectacular attacks and toward low-level urban terrorism. That, they argue, is the import of the warning from Washington and our allies that terror attacks may be imminent in Western Europe. There is little doubt that such operations have the capability to terrorize and paralyze. Witness the Mumbai attack in 2008, which they cite — or, for that matter, the Beltway sniper attacks in 2002, which they don’t mention.

Still. it’s quite a stretch to invoke comparisons with “Belfast or Beirut in the 1970s and 1980s.” Beirut was the scene of all-out warfare that included the use of artillery and other heavy weapons, pitting against each other primarily Muslim vs. Christian militias, who between them claimed to speak for most of the Lebanese population. Belfast was the scene of persistent terrorism carried out by the Provisional IRA, which claimed to represent the Catholic population of Northern Ireland (44 percent of the total). Whether or not the Lebanese militias or the IRA really spoke for most of their co-religionists, there is little doubt that they had a high level of support within their communities. Can the same be said about al-Qaeda and associated jihadist movements?

They probably enjoyed the greatest support in Muslim countries. Most of those countries are, however, dictatorships with effective security forces. They are unpromising terrain for urban warfare, as jihadists have learned in Syria, Egypt, and Algeria, among others. Western Europe and North America are more lightly policed and have Muslim communities where al-Qaeda can expect to draw some support — more in Europe than in the United States, but still a lot less than the support enjoyed by the IRA, Hezbollah, or other groups that have waged effective urban warfare. Al-Qaeda certainly has the capability to pull off isolated acts of terror along the lines of the London Underground bombing or the Mumbai attacks. But I very much doubt they have the capacity to stage such attacks in the West day after day as al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Jaish-al-Mahdi did in Iraq after 2003.

We should certainly take prudent precautions against such assaults, but we should also keep some perspective. It is still “spectacular” attacks that we need fear the most — and especially the prospect of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons, which, as President Obama accurately observed, would be a “game-changer.”

Terrorism analysts Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson had an intriguing op-ed in the Washington Post on Sunday suggesting that al-Qaeda is moving away from trying to stage 9/11-style spectacular attacks and toward low-level urban terrorism. That, they argue, is the import of the warning from Washington and our allies that terror attacks may be imminent in Western Europe. There is little doubt that such operations have the capability to terrorize and paralyze. Witness the Mumbai attack in 2008, which they cite — or, for that matter, the Beltway sniper attacks in 2002, which they don’t mention.

Still. it’s quite a stretch to invoke comparisons with “Belfast or Beirut in the 1970s and 1980s.” Beirut was the scene of all-out warfare that included the use of artillery and other heavy weapons, pitting against each other primarily Muslim vs. Christian militias, who between them claimed to speak for most of the Lebanese population. Belfast was the scene of persistent terrorism carried out by the Provisional IRA, which claimed to represent the Catholic population of Northern Ireland (44 percent of the total). Whether or not the Lebanese militias or the IRA really spoke for most of their co-religionists, there is little doubt that they had a high level of support within their communities. Can the same be said about al-Qaeda and associated jihadist movements?

They probably enjoyed the greatest support in Muslim countries. Most of those countries are, however, dictatorships with effective security forces. They are unpromising terrain for urban warfare, as jihadists have learned in Syria, Egypt, and Algeria, among others. Western Europe and North America are more lightly policed and have Muslim communities where al-Qaeda can expect to draw some support — more in Europe than in the United States, but still a lot less than the support enjoyed by the IRA, Hezbollah, or other groups that have waged effective urban warfare. Al-Qaeda certainly has the capability to pull off isolated acts of terror along the lines of the London Underground bombing or the Mumbai attacks. But I very much doubt they have the capacity to stage such attacks in the West day after day as al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Jaish-al-Mahdi did in Iraq after 2003.

We should certainly take prudent precautions against such assaults, but we should also keep some perspective. It is still “spectacular” attacks that we need fear the most — and especially the prospect of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons, which, as President Obama accurately observed, would be a “game-changer.”

Read Less

Debating the DREAM Act (UPDATED)

The Defense Authorization Act, which is soon to come for a vote in the Senate, has a controversial provision added to it repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Whatever one thinks of the hot-button issue of gays in the military (personally, as I’ve written before, I believe that it is inevitable that gay service people will be allowed to serve openly), there should be much more agreement on another provision added to the bill: the DREAM Act. A good summary can be found in this Wall Street Journal article of how this provision would speed citizenship for those who arrived in the U.S. by the age of 15 if they attend college or serve in the armed forces for two years. This would open up a new avenue for service for those like David Cho, “an honor student and leader of the UCLA marching band,” who “plans to join the U.S. Air Force after he graduates in the spring — if Congress lets him.” Why it makes sense to turn away those like Cho who want to wear our nation’s uniform is beyond me. According to the Journal:

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) believes passage of the Dream Act would entice more people to sneak into the U.S. “When you take a policy that says you are going to reward people who have entered our country illegally with a guaranteed pathway to citizenship, and with billions of dollars in financial aid or benefits they would not otherwise be entitled to, what message are we sending?” Sen. Sessions said.

Count me as skeptical that the prospect of attending college or serving in our armed forces will really draw more undocumented immigrants to our shores. (Plenty are coming already simply in the hope of picking lettuce or working in construction.) But if it does, so what? Aren’t these precisely the kind of productive, highly motivated individuals that we want to see in this country?

Our ability to attract and integrate immigrants gives us a key long-term advantage over more homogenous societies such as Japan, China, and Western Europe. Immigrants are already serving proudly in the U.S. armed forces — as they have since the beginning of the Republic. It makes perfect sense to continue to make use of these dedicated volunteers, especially because of the valuable cultural and linguistic knowledge they can bring to our armed forces, which find themselves in need of such skills to wage a global counterinsurgency. In the process, we can use our armed forces and our universities as they have long been used — to integrate newcomers into the mainstream of American society. If we don’t, we risk expanding the underclass of undocumented immigrants who turn to illicit activities because legal work and education are closed to them.

ADDENDUM: One of the leading legal experts on the DREAM Act e-mails me that Senator Sessions’s objection is even less to the point than I realized: “The DREAM Act doesn’t cover anyone who enters the U.S. illegally today. It has a cut-off date, so the objection that it will ‘encourage illegal immigration’ seems just a little bit ‘off.’ ”

The Defense Authorization Act, which is soon to come for a vote in the Senate, has a controversial provision added to it repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Whatever one thinks of the hot-button issue of gays in the military (personally, as I’ve written before, I believe that it is inevitable that gay service people will be allowed to serve openly), there should be much more agreement on another provision added to the bill: the DREAM Act. A good summary can be found in this Wall Street Journal article of how this provision would speed citizenship for those who arrived in the U.S. by the age of 15 if they attend college or serve in the armed forces for two years. This would open up a new avenue for service for those like David Cho, “an honor student and leader of the UCLA marching band,” who “plans to join the U.S. Air Force after he graduates in the spring — if Congress lets him.” Why it makes sense to turn away those like Cho who want to wear our nation’s uniform is beyond me. According to the Journal:

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) believes passage of the Dream Act would entice more people to sneak into the U.S. “When you take a policy that says you are going to reward people who have entered our country illegally with a guaranteed pathway to citizenship, and with billions of dollars in financial aid or benefits they would not otherwise be entitled to, what message are we sending?” Sen. Sessions said.

Count me as skeptical that the prospect of attending college or serving in our armed forces will really draw more undocumented immigrants to our shores. (Plenty are coming already simply in the hope of picking lettuce or working in construction.) But if it does, so what? Aren’t these precisely the kind of productive, highly motivated individuals that we want to see in this country?

Our ability to attract and integrate immigrants gives us a key long-term advantage over more homogenous societies such as Japan, China, and Western Europe. Immigrants are already serving proudly in the U.S. armed forces — as they have since the beginning of the Republic. It makes perfect sense to continue to make use of these dedicated volunteers, especially because of the valuable cultural and linguistic knowledge they can bring to our armed forces, which find themselves in need of such skills to wage a global counterinsurgency. In the process, we can use our armed forces and our universities as they have long been used — to integrate newcomers into the mainstream of American society. If we don’t, we risk expanding the underclass of undocumented immigrants who turn to illicit activities because legal work and education are closed to them.

ADDENDUM: One of the leading legal experts on the DREAM Act e-mails me that Senator Sessions’s objection is even less to the point than I realized: “The DREAM Act doesn’t cover anyone who enters the U.S. illegally today. It has a cut-off date, so the objection that it will ‘encourage illegal immigration’ seems just a little bit ‘off.’ ”

Read Less

Dismantling Our NATO-Linked Infrastructure

The recent cost-cutting proposal to eliminate Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) is followed by a report this week according to which the U.S. Second Fleet staff and headquarters are on the chopping block. Second Fleet operates out of Norfolk, Virginia and exercises command and control of U.S. naval operations in the North Atlantic. During the Cold War its level of operational tasking was staggering; in 2010, its main focus shifted to fleet training. Its maritime cognizance of Latin America and the Caribbean was transferred to the resurrected Fourth Fleet in 2008. Meanwhile, Second Fleet has been used since 9/11 to command homeland-defense activities off the East coast. Its Pacific counterpart, Third Fleet in San Diego, performs similar functions on the West coast.

Like JFCOM, however, Second Fleet has a unique role in our obligations with NATO, one that confers on it the densely packed title “Combined Joint Operations from the Sea Centre of Excellence.” Wearing this hat, Second Fleet labors to improve Alliance interoperability and doctrine in naval and expeditionary operations. It performs as a naval arm of the Allied mission to which JFCOM contributes through its liaison with the Norfolk-based NATO command, Allied Command Transformation (ACT).

It may be considered a sign of sclerosis in an alliance — possibly even of senility — when the tasks assigned to its agencies can no longer be conveyed in sensible language. NATO has big plans for ACT, however, and expressed strong endorsement of its mission in May of this year. That alone ought to warrant more careful reflection over eliminating JFCOM and Second Fleet. But the proposal to gut the U.S. Navy’s command infrastructure in the Atlantic carries existential implications for our core alliance with Western Europe. The fresh perspective needed here is strategic, not budgetary.

In terms of military planning, getting rid of Second Fleet means no longer seeing the Atlantic as a threat axis or potential maritime battle space for which dedicated tactical preparation is required. Other commands can take over some of the grab-bag of functions Second Fleet has been assigned in recent years, but a numbered fleet is uniquely organized for an integrated approach to naval warfare.

Dispensing with Second Fleet appears out of step with Russian developments since 2007, when Vladimir Putin declared that he would resume the Soviet-era posture of forward operation and surveillance. Today, Russian bombers again operate close to North America and Western Europe. Russian submarines ply the Arctic, where Moscow’s claims of mineral rights conflict with those of NATO allies America, Canada, Norway, and Denmark. A year ago, the Russian navy announced its resumption of a submarine presence off the U.S. East coast, deploying its most modern submarines equipped with long-range, land-attack cruise missiles. An ambitious naval building program makes it clear that Russian leaders want to reestablish their maritime profile in multiple directions.

Under President Obama, however, the U.S. military is becoming less organized in secure the East coast and the Atlantic. The shift is not yet comprehensive, by any means, but the proposals to eliminate JFCOM and Second Fleet make it a trend. Obama’s decision last fall to abandon Bush’s missile-defense plan in Europe will leave the Eastern half of North America vulnerable — in a way the Western half is not — to ICBMs from the Eastern hemisphere. Now Obama’s Defense Department seems to be playing down the importance of training and developing joint naval tactics with NATO, at the same time it proposes to eliminate, in the Atlantic, the unique military role of the numbered fleet.

Neither alliances nor security conditions maintain themselves. It may be true that Second Fleet has been organized out of a job over the past decade, but it’s not clear that today’s geopolitical reality validates the decisions behind that transformation. An insecure Atlantic has never been a harbinger of peace. We may well come to regret having been so shortsighted — and sooner than we think.

The recent cost-cutting proposal to eliminate Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) is followed by a report this week according to which the U.S. Second Fleet staff and headquarters are on the chopping block. Second Fleet operates out of Norfolk, Virginia and exercises command and control of U.S. naval operations in the North Atlantic. During the Cold War its level of operational tasking was staggering; in 2010, its main focus shifted to fleet training. Its maritime cognizance of Latin America and the Caribbean was transferred to the resurrected Fourth Fleet in 2008. Meanwhile, Second Fleet has been used since 9/11 to command homeland-defense activities off the East coast. Its Pacific counterpart, Third Fleet in San Diego, performs similar functions on the West coast.

Like JFCOM, however, Second Fleet has a unique role in our obligations with NATO, one that confers on it the densely packed title “Combined Joint Operations from the Sea Centre of Excellence.” Wearing this hat, Second Fleet labors to improve Alliance interoperability and doctrine in naval and expeditionary operations. It performs as a naval arm of the Allied mission to which JFCOM contributes through its liaison with the Norfolk-based NATO command, Allied Command Transformation (ACT).

It may be considered a sign of sclerosis in an alliance — possibly even of senility — when the tasks assigned to its agencies can no longer be conveyed in sensible language. NATO has big plans for ACT, however, and expressed strong endorsement of its mission in May of this year. That alone ought to warrant more careful reflection over eliminating JFCOM and Second Fleet. But the proposal to gut the U.S. Navy’s command infrastructure in the Atlantic carries existential implications for our core alliance with Western Europe. The fresh perspective needed here is strategic, not budgetary.

In terms of military planning, getting rid of Second Fleet means no longer seeing the Atlantic as a threat axis or potential maritime battle space for which dedicated tactical preparation is required. Other commands can take over some of the grab-bag of functions Second Fleet has been assigned in recent years, but a numbered fleet is uniquely organized for an integrated approach to naval warfare.

Dispensing with Second Fleet appears out of step with Russian developments since 2007, when Vladimir Putin declared that he would resume the Soviet-era posture of forward operation and surveillance. Today, Russian bombers again operate close to North America and Western Europe. Russian submarines ply the Arctic, where Moscow’s claims of mineral rights conflict with those of NATO allies America, Canada, Norway, and Denmark. A year ago, the Russian navy announced its resumption of a submarine presence off the U.S. East coast, deploying its most modern submarines equipped with long-range, land-attack cruise missiles. An ambitious naval building program makes it clear that Russian leaders want to reestablish their maritime profile in multiple directions.

Under President Obama, however, the U.S. military is becoming less organized in secure the East coast and the Atlantic. The shift is not yet comprehensive, by any means, but the proposals to eliminate JFCOM and Second Fleet make it a trend. Obama’s decision last fall to abandon Bush’s missile-defense plan in Europe will leave the Eastern half of North America vulnerable — in a way the Western half is not — to ICBMs from the Eastern hemisphere. Now Obama’s Defense Department seems to be playing down the importance of training and developing joint naval tactics with NATO, at the same time it proposes to eliminate, in the Atlantic, the unique military role of the numbered fleet.

Neither alliances nor security conditions maintain themselves. It may be true that Second Fleet has been organized out of a job over the past decade, but it’s not clear that today’s geopolitical reality validates the decisions behind that transformation. An insecure Atlantic has never been a harbinger of peace. We may well come to regret having been so shortsighted — and sooner than we think.

Read Less

Upgrade What?

The headline reads, “US Upgrades PA Diplomatic Recognition“:

The US State Department announced that the diplomatic recognition of the Palestinian Authority in the US will be upgraded to the status of “delegation general” Israel Radio reported Friday.

This will allow the Palestinian envoys in Washington to display the Palestinian flag and provide social benefits for their employees.

Palestinian representative to the US in Washington Maen Areikat said that the step equates Palestinian diplomatic status in the US to that of Canada and many other countries in western Europe.

Officials in Jerusalem have not responded officially to the US decision. Senior officials at the Prime Minister’s Office said that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was aware of the decision in advance and that the move was apparently intended to strengthen Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

For those who think this is a fruitless exercise and inapt timing (given Abbas’s recent indifference to halting incitement), this news is not welcome. (“Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem have expressed some disappointment that the US government has not emphasized the end of Palestinian incitement towards Israel.”) A knowledgable Israel hand e-mails:

The news stories that say the United States has upgraded the Palestinian Authority office in Washington are wrong, for there is no PA office.  There is a PLO office, one that requires a waiver twice each year to exist because of the PLO’s past links to terrorism.  The PLO is, according to the United Nations, the “sole legitimate voice of the Palestinian people,” but everyone knows that’s false; the PLO represents the ghost of Yasser Arafat, plus a whole bunch of his cronies. It would be far better to end the farce of having a PLO office — after all, who elected them? — and to try to establish a PA office, for any current and future Palestinian political development will take place through the PA.

But a peace deal and a PA government won’t be happening anytime soon unless Abbas and other Palestinian leaders stop inciting violence, give up the dream of a one-state solution (i.e., a demographic swamping of the Jewish state), and build some civil institutions capable of managing the Palestinians’ own affairs. Then maybe we can have a peace deal and can talk about flags.

The headline reads, “US Upgrades PA Diplomatic Recognition“:

The US State Department announced that the diplomatic recognition of the Palestinian Authority in the US will be upgraded to the status of “delegation general” Israel Radio reported Friday.

This will allow the Palestinian envoys in Washington to display the Palestinian flag and provide social benefits for their employees.

Palestinian representative to the US in Washington Maen Areikat said that the step equates Palestinian diplomatic status in the US to that of Canada and many other countries in western Europe.

Officials in Jerusalem have not responded officially to the US decision. Senior officials at the Prime Minister’s Office said that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was aware of the decision in advance and that the move was apparently intended to strengthen Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

For those who think this is a fruitless exercise and inapt timing (given Abbas’s recent indifference to halting incitement), this news is not welcome. (“Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem have expressed some disappointment that the US government has not emphasized the end of Palestinian incitement towards Israel.”) A knowledgable Israel hand e-mails:

The news stories that say the United States has upgraded the Palestinian Authority office in Washington are wrong, for there is no PA office.  There is a PLO office, one that requires a waiver twice each year to exist because of the PLO’s past links to terrorism.  The PLO is, according to the United Nations, the “sole legitimate voice of the Palestinian people,” but everyone knows that’s false; the PLO represents the ghost of Yasser Arafat, plus a whole bunch of his cronies. It would be far better to end the farce of having a PLO office — after all, who elected them? — and to try to establish a PA office, for any current and future Palestinian political development will take place through the PA.

But a peace deal and a PA government won’t be happening anytime soon unless Abbas and other Palestinian leaders stop inciting violence, give up the dream of a one-state solution (i.e., a demographic swamping of the Jewish state), and build some civil institutions capable of managing the Palestinians’ own affairs. Then maybe we can have a peace deal and can talk about flags.

Read Less

The World Cup and American Exceptionalism

Jonathan, it took me a while to read your response to my response to your response — I am watching football!

Far from me the thought that a game of football is anything more than a game of football.

For those who like football, the World Cup is the most epic tournament of all — the concentration of talent on the pitch and intensity of the emotions around the pitch is unprecedented. You either like it or not, of course, but to question the wisdom of club team versus national team is besides the point. It’s been like that since 1930, and nobody wants to change it, because it is simply an exciting spectacle that hundreds of millions of people around the world wait for and watch religiously every four years.

America has not been privy to this extravagance for a long time — but look at the U.S. team. Before the World Cup came to the United States, the U.S. only moonlighted with semi-professional teams that would suffer basketball-score defeats. Since then, the American team has been steadily rising. It now plays in the big league. It is a remarkable accomplishment.

Are there political implications to the game? There should be none, whatsoever — although there was a war once because of a match. But the fans — and their passions — attest to a deep-seated sentiment of national pride, which in turn explains the popularity of the World Cup contest. The way that victory and defeat is taken is another testament to the power of nationalist feelings and patriotic pride — and all the better that it is expressed through peaceful enthusiasm and playful banter against adversaries, especially the old ones.

The interesting point is another one, and has little to do with the use of the flag by governments. If tyrannies ever tried to exploit the game for their own aggrandizement, they did not accomplish much. In recent decades, the only country I can think of that won a World Cup and was a dictatorship was Argentina in 1978 (Maggie Thatcher took care of them, eventually). And Communism never produced a winner — ideology always stands in the way of complex game strategies, bouts of individual creativeness, and the need to adjust quickly.

The interesting point is that it is often in those enlightened societies that reject patriotism as outdated and pernicious on philosophical grounds — Western Europe being a primary location, the newsroom of NPR a secondary one — that the World Cup unleashes patriotism in a way that no other sport competition in the world ever does, not even the Olympics. This raises an interesting question, first and foremost for those left-wing promoters of flower power who think nationalism is both pernicious and on the wane. The World Cup awakens the sentiment where leftists think there is none left (or there should not be, i.e., even in their own newsroom). And that, to me, is a good thing — it highlights the fallacy of the post-national, postmodern worldview, especially because all it takes is 22 men in shorts chasing a football to demonstrate this fine point of political philosophy.

As for the U.S., my point is even less ambitious. To see it join the big league as a serious contender to me is refreshing not because a victory for the United States (unlikely this time, by the way) would bring pride and prestige to democracy, or because of what it may or may not demonstrate about American nationalism or America’s sudden abandonment of its exceptionalism. In fact, I think it proves American exceptionalism. Given how late America comes to football and how quickly it rises from obscurity to success, it would be yet another sign of certain characteristics that make America so unique. It would prove how fast and successful America is in mastering all things foreign and seamlessly integrating them in its own unique national fabric; it would offer yet another proof of immigrants becoming the standard bearers of American patriotism — just look at who plays for the national team and you’ll see my point; and of sport being a ticket for them into the pantheon of all American heroes.

All in all a good thing — and one that a club-team international competition with the LA Galaxy beating the Muloudia Club d’Alger is not likely to engender.

Jonathan, it took me a while to read your response to my response to your response — I am watching football!

Far from me the thought that a game of football is anything more than a game of football.

For those who like football, the World Cup is the most epic tournament of all — the concentration of talent on the pitch and intensity of the emotions around the pitch is unprecedented. You either like it or not, of course, but to question the wisdom of club team versus national team is besides the point. It’s been like that since 1930, and nobody wants to change it, because it is simply an exciting spectacle that hundreds of millions of people around the world wait for and watch religiously every four years.

America has not been privy to this extravagance for a long time — but look at the U.S. team. Before the World Cup came to the United States, the U.S. only moonlighted with semi-professional teams that would suffer basketball-score defeats. Since then, the American team has been steadily rising. It now plays in the big league. It is a remarkable accomplishment.

Are there political implications to the game? There should be none, whatsoever — although there was a war once because of a match. But the fans — and their passions — attest to a deep-seated sentiment of national pride, which in turn explains the popularity of the World Cup contest. The way that victory and defeat is taken is another testament to the power of nationalist feelings and patriotic pride — and all the better that it is expressed through peaceful enthusiasm and playful banter against adversaries, especially the old ones.

The interesting point is another one, and has little to do with the use of the flag by governments. If tyrannies ever tried to exploit the game for their own aggrandizement, they did not accomplish much. In recent decades, the only country I can think of that won a World Cup and was a dictatorship was Argentina in 1978 (Maggie Thatcher took care of them, eventually). And Communism never produced a winner — ideology always stands in the way of complex game strategies, bouts of individual creativeness, and the need to adjust quickly.

The interesting point is that it is often in those enlightened societies that reject patriotism as outdated and pernicious on philosophical grounds — Western Europe being a primary location, the newsroom of NPR a secondary one — that the World Cup unleashes patriotism in a way that no other sport competition in the world ever does, not even the Olympics. This raises an interesting question, first and foremost for those left-wing promoters of flower power who think nationalism is both pernicious and on the wane. The World Cup awakens the sentiment where leftists think there is none left (or there should not be, i.e., even in their own newsroom). And that, to me, is a good thing — it highlights the fallacy of the post-national, postmodern worldview, especially because all it takes is 22 men in shorts chasing a football to demonstrate this fine point of political philosophy.

As for the U.S., my point is even less ambitious. To see it join the big league as a serious contender to me is refreshing not because a victory for the United States (unlikely this time, by the way) would bring pride and prestige to democracy, or because of what it may or may not demonstrate about American nationalism or America’s sudden abandonment of its exceptionalism. In fact, I think it proves American exceptionalism. Given how late America comes to football and how quickly it rises from obscurity to success, it would be yet another sign of certain characteristics that make America so unique. It would prove how fast and successful America is in mastering all things foreign and seamlessly integrating them in its own unique national fabric; it would offer yet another proof of immigrants becoming the standard bearers of American patriotism — just look at who plays for the national team and you’ll see my point; and of sport being a ticket for them into the pantheon of all American heroes.

All in all a good thing — and one that a club-team international competition with the LA Galaxy beating the Muloudia Club d’Alger is not likely to engender.

Read Less

What Real Threats Look Like

There is a set of realities identified by the American left as threats to national, if not global, security. These include things like the U.S.’s own nuclear arsenal, the stationing abroad of some 370,000 American troops, Israel’s capable defenses, and warm weather. To call these phenomena threats is no mere act of speculation. It is a bold inversion of the truth.

Few policies boast a perfect record of 50-plus years, but U.S. nuclear deterrence has the right to do so. The American arsenal kept Russia from invading Western Europe throughout the entirety of the Cold War. Similarly, U.S. military bases, whether established in postwar Germany and Japan or set up 50 years later in the Balkans, have underwritten long-term stability in every hemisphere.

The left has ignored entirely the debt owed to Israel’s military. In 1981, the Israeli Airforce’s Operation Babylon took out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Osirak, robbing the world’s most dangerous leader of his own deterrence capabilities. This is to say nothing of Israel’s attack on other dangerous weapons programs and of the Jewish state’s perpetual battle to defeat Islamist terrorism the world over.

As for the deadly threat of high temperatures, a 2007 study reported: “From 1979 to 1997, extreme cold killed roughly twice as many Americans as heat waves, according to Indur Goklany of the U.S. Department of the Interior.”

It is remarkable how fast these boutique “threats” fall by the wayside when the genuine article appears. Today, the AP reports, “The Dow Jones industrials plunged below 10,000 Tuesday after traders dumped stocks on worries about the global economy and tensions between North and South Korea.” Funny, you never read about a stock-market nosedive in response to a balmy June, the ongoing maintenance of American nuclear weapons, an Israeli response to Hamas, or the construction of a distant American military base.

The world sets itself on edge like this only when an unmistakable, demonstrable threat to peace emerges. We now see one in the increasing bellicosity of Kim Jong-il’s regime.

And speaking of those dangerous American military bases abroad, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak doesn’t seem to be too offended by President Obama’s declaration that “the Republic of Korea can continue to count on the full support of the United States.” When Seoul turns down that support, we can start worrying about the left’s critical-threat list. Until then, the world has some actual problems to deal with, thanks very much.

There is a set of realities identified by the American left as threats to national, if not global, security. These include things like the U.S.’s own nuclear arsenal, the stationing abroad of some 370,000 American troops, Israel’s capable defenses, and warm weather. To call these phenomena threats is no mere act of speculation. It is a bold inversion of the truth.

Few policies boast a perfect record of 50-plus years, but U.S. nuclear deterrence has the right to do so. The American arsenal kept Russia from invading Western Europe throughout the entirety of the Cold War. Similarly, U.S. military bases, whether established in postwar Germany and Japan or set up 50 years later in the Balkans, have underwritten long-term stability in every hemisphere.

The left has ignored entirely the debt owed to Israel’s military. In 1981, the Israeli Airforce’s Operation Babylon took out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Osirak, robbing the world’s most dangerous leader of his own deterrence capabilities. This is to say nothing of Israel’s attack on other dangerous weapons programs and of the Jewish state’s perpetual battle to defeat Islamist terrorism the world over.

As for the deadly threat of high temperatures, a 2007 study reported: “From 1979 to 1997, extreme cold killed roughly twice as many Americans as heat waves, according to Indur Goklany of the U.S. Department of the Interior.”

It is remarkable how fast these boutique “threats” fall by the wayside when the genuine article appears. Today, the AP reports, “The Dow Jones industrials plunged below 10,000 Tuesday after traders dumped stocks on worries about the global economy and tensions between North and South Korea.” Funny, you never read about a stock-market nosedive in response to a balmy June, the ongoing maintenance of American nuclear weapons, an Israeli response to Hamas, or the construction of a distant American military base.

The world sets itself on edge like this only when an unmistakable, demonstrable threat to peace emerges. We now see one in the increasing bellicosity of Kim Jong-il’s regime.

And speaking of those dangerous American military bases abroad, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak doesn’t seem to be too offended by President Obama’s declaration that “the Republic of Korea can continue to count on the full support of the United States.” When Seoul turns down that support, we can start worrying about the left’s critical-threat list. Until then, the world has some actual problems to deal with, thanks very much.

Read Less

More Peace in Our Time

Another year brings another wintertime oil dispute between Russia and an Eastern European client. In January 2009 it was Ukraine; this year it’s Belarus. Although oil has surged to more than $80 a barrel since the threats and counter-threats began on December 31, Russia is reassuring European customers that the dispute won’t affect their access to refined petroleum. Other concerns, however, are likely to surpass this one in the capitals of Western Europe if Russia’s career of subjugating Belarus continues at its current pace.

Alexander Lukashenko’s government in Minsk was a holdout last year against inclusion in Moscow’s Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), incurring painful Russian sanctions on its dairy industry with its determined resistance. But after Russia put thousands of troops in Belarus in September, for its largest military exercise since the end of the Cold War, Lukashenko changed his mind and joined the CSTO. He then committed Belarus to participation in the CSTO’s Rapid Reaction Force (CRRF), announced by Dmitry Medvedev in February 2009, as an armed counterweight to NATO. Democracy groups in Belarus oppose all these developments, taking as a given that the CRRF will be used to suppress dissent in CSTO nations. (The Belarusian KGB will, predictably, be an element of the CRRF.)

In another wearisome echo of the region’s perennial dynamics, tiny Lithuania could be effectively crippled by the current oil dispute. Lithuania closed its last 1980s-era nuclear plant on December 31 as a price of admission to the EU,and now relies for electric-power generation on Russian oil from Belarus. Foreseeing this vulnerability, Nicolas Sarkozy gamely brought up the EU’s concern about it with Medvedev in late 2008, a venture in mediation that Medvedev summarily rebuffed.

In Belarus’s eyes, however, EU leaders have done even less than that to bolster Minsk’s independence from Moscow. Granted, the EU adopted its “Eastern Partnership” initiative in May 2009, with Belarus as one of the six former-Soviet targets. But this hasn’t produced any effective EU communication on the topics of Minsk joining the CSTO in November, or Russia’s fraternal determination to form a customs union with Belarus. With both developments having substantial implications for the Partnership’s objectives – vague and underfunded though they may be – the EU’s silence on them has been more informative than its abstract policy proclamations.

I agree with Max Boot that our European allies are more resilient and resourceful than their reputation with some American pundits would indicate. But their stately-paced, ineffective responses to events in Eastern Europe suggest that they are as subject as anyone to a dangerous, bureaucratized complacency. Only one force – American military might – has ever kept Europe in stasis during periods of geopolitical perturbation like the current Russian campaign. Perhaps the unity of the EU’s major nations will survive an accelerated Russian campaign, even without the context of U.S. dominance. But we have no historical justification for believing that it will. The EU has a number of tests facing it; Russia’s peculiar concept of power and security may well be the biggest one.

Another year brings another wintertime oil dispute between Russia and an Eastern European client. In January 2009 it was Ukraine; this year it’s Belarus. Although oil has surged to more than $80 a barrel since the threats and counter-threats began on December 31, Russia is reassuring European customers that the dispute won’t affect their access to refined petroleum. Other concerns, however, are likely to surpass this one in the capitals of Western Europe if Russia’s career of subjugating Belarus continues at its current pace.

Alexander Lukashenko’s government in Minsk was a holdout last year against inclusion in Moscow’s Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), incurring painful Russian sanctions on its dairy industry with its determined resistance. But after Russia put thousands of troops in Belarus in September, for its largest military exercise since the end of the Cold War, Lukashenko changed his mind and joined the CSTO. He then committed Belarus to participation in the CSTO’s Rapid Reaction Force (CRRF), announced by Dmitry Medvedev in February 2009, as an armed counterweight to NATO. Democracy groups in Belarus oppose all these developments, taking as a given that the CRRF will be used to suppress dissent in CSTO nations. (The Belarusian KGB will, predictably, be an element of the CRRF.)

In another wearisome echo of the region’s perennial dynamics, tiny Lithuania could be effectively crippled by the current oil dispute. Lithuania closed its last 1980s-era nuclear plant on December 31 as a price of admission to the EU,and now relies for electric-power generation on Russian oil from Belarus. Foreseeing this vulnerability, Nicolas Sarkozy gamely brought up the EU’s concern about it with Medvedev in late 2008, a venture in mediation that Medvedev summarily rebuffed.

In Belarus’s eyes, however, EU leaders have done even less than that to bolster Minsk’s independence from Moscow. Granted, the EU adopted its “Eastern Partnership” initiative in May 2009, with Belarus as one of the six former-Soviet targets. But this hasn’t produced any effective EU communication on the topics of Minsk joining the CSTO in November, or Russia’s fraternal determination to form a customs union with Belarus. With both developments having substantial implications for the Partnership’s objectives – vague and underfunded though they may be – the EU’s silence on them has been more informative than its abstract policy proclamations.

I agree with Max Boot that our European allies are more resilient and resourceful than their reputation with some American pundits would indicate. But their stately-paced, ineffective responses to events in Eastern Europe suggest that they are as subject as anyone to a dangerous, bureaucratized complacency. Only one force – American military might – has ever kept Europe in stasis during periods of geopolitical perturbation like the current Russian campaign. Perhaps the unity of the EU’s major nations will survive an accelerated Russian campaign, even without the context of U.S. dominance. But we have no historical justification for believing that it will. The EU has a number of tests facing it; Russia’s peculiar concept of power and security may well be the biggest one.

Read Less

“Eurabia” Debunked

Is Europe committing demographic and cultural suicide? Is the continent turning into “Eurabia” — a land populated primarily by Muslims? That is the case made in a series of popular books by the likes of Bernard Lewis, Mark Steyn, Tony Blankley, and Oriana Fallaci. Personally I’m skeptical. For much the same reason that I was skeptical about the prospects of a Y2K or avian-flu catastrophe: disasters that are so widely predicted seldom occur because corrective action can usually be taken in time. Justin Vaisse of the Brookings Institution, formerly a French Foreign Ministry staffer, suggests some other reasons for skepticism in this Foreign Policy article.

He points out that, while there are currently 18 million Muslims in Western Europe, or 4.5% of the population, and there will be increases in the future, “it’s hard to imagine that Europe will even reach the 10 percent mark (except in some countries or cities).” Why not? Because “fertility rates among Muslims are sharply declining as children of immigrants gradually conform to prevailing social and economic norms. Nor is immigration still a major source of newly minted European Muslims. Only about 500,000 people a year come legally to Europe from Muslim-majority countries, with an even smaller number coming illegally — meaning that the annual influx is a fraction of a percent of the European population.”

Moreover, he writes, fertility rates are actually rising in European countries: “In 2008, fertility rates in France and Ireland were more than two children per woman, close to the U.S. (and replacement) level; in Britain and Sweden they were above 1.9. And though in the 1990s European countries set an all-time record for low fertility rates, figures are now rising in all EU states except Germany.” And, no, those increasing fertility figures are not due to Muslims alone. Although Muslim migrant women have a lot of children, overall they “have a negligible impact on overall fertility rates, adding a maximum of 0.1 to any country’s average.”

Vaisse adds another reason we shouldn’t worry. He cites polling data to show that “to large majorities of Europe’s Muslims, Islam is neither an exclusive identity nor a marching order. Recent poll data from Gallup show that most European Muslims happily combine their national and religious identities, and a 2009 Harvard University working paper by Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris demonstrates that in the long term, the basic cultural values of Muslim migrants evolve to conform to the predominant culture of the European society in which they live.”

I would add another point: that continental societies have more resiliency than it may appear on the surface to Americans who caricature Europeans as effete surrender monkeys. While most European nations are not willing to engage in vigorous military action overseas (France and Britain are partial exceptions) they have shown far more ruthlessness in policing their own borders. France, in particular, as this AEI study notes, has been extremely aggressive in going after Islamist terror cells, giving their law enforcement and judicial authorities more power than in the U.S. Islamist excesses such as the killing of Theo van Gogh or the attempted murder of the Muhammad cartoonist are triggering a backlash. Europe, I predict, will not be subsumed into the umma as so many alarmists claim, based on worst-case projections.

Is Europe committing demographic and cultural suicide? Is the continent turning into “Eurabia” — a land populated primarily by Muslims? That is the case made in a series of popular books by the likes of Bernard Lewis, Mark Steyn, Tony Blankley, and Oriana Fallaci. Personally I’m skeptical. For much the same reason that I was skeptical about the prospects of a Y2K or avian-flu catastrophe: disasters that are so widely predicted seldom occur because corrective action can usually be taken in time. Justin Vaisse of the Brookings Institution, formerly a French Foreign Ministry staffer, suggests some other reasons for skepticism in this Foreign Policy article.

He points out that, while there are currently 18 million Muslims in Western Europe, or 4.5% of the population, and there will be increases in the future, “it’s hard to imagine that Europe will even reach the 10 percent mark (except in some countries or cities).” Why not? Because “fertility rates among Muslims are sharply declining as children of immigrants gradually conform to prevailing social and economic norms. Nor is immigration still a major source of newly minted European Muslims. Only about 500,000 people a year come legally to Europe from Muslim-majority countries, with an even smaller number coming illegally — meaning that the annual influx is a fraction of a percent of the European population.”

Moreover, he writes, fertility rates are actually rising in European countries: “In 2008, fertility rates in France and Ireland were more than two children per woman, close to the U.S. (and replacement) level; in Britain and Sweden they were above 1.9. And though in the 1990s European countries set an all-time record for low fertility rates, figures are now rising in all EU states except Germany.” And, no, those increasing fertility figures are not due to Muslims alone. Although Muslim migrant women have a lot of children, overall they “have a negligible impact on overall fertility rates, adding a maximum of 0.1 to any country’s average.”

Vaisse adds another reason we shouldn’t worry. He cites polling data to show that “to large majorities of Europe’s Muslims, Islam is neither an exclusive identity nor a marching order. Recent poll data from Gallup show that most European Muslims happily combine their national and religious identities, and a 2009 Harvard University working paper by Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris demonstrates that in the long term, the basic cultural values of Muslim migrants evolve to conform to the predominant culture of the European society in which they live.”

I would add another point: that continental societies have more resiliency than it may appear on the surface to Americans who caricature Europeans as effete surrender monkeys. While most European nations are not willing to engage in vigorous military action overseas (France and Britain are partial exceptions) they have shown far more ruthlessness in policing their own borders. France, in particular, as this AEI study notes, has been extremely aggressive in going after Islamist terror cells, giving their law enforcement and judicial authorities more power than in the U.S. Islamist excesses such as the killing of Theo van Gogh or the attempted murder of the Muhammad cartoonist are triggering a backlash. Europe, I predict, will not be subsumed into the umma as so many alarmists claim, based on worst-case projections.

Read Less

Prosecuting Pirates

It’s nice to read in the Wall Street Journal that more shipping companies are embarking armed security guards to protect their ships off the coast of Somalia. That will certainly strike a blow against the pirates who had another record year in 2009. But the Journal also notes that “the majority of the international maritime community resists using lethal force because it ‘poses incredible logistical challenges, potentially violates many national and international laws, and is contrary to maritime conventions,’ says James Christodoulou, chief executive of Industrial Shipping Enterprises Corp.”

It is incumbent upon shipping companies to do more to protect their vessels. But it is also incumbent upon the world’s leading state to do more to safeguard maritime commerce. All the warships cruising off the coast of East Africa can accomplish little as long as they lack the legal authority to treat pirates as combatants rather than as potential criminal suspects. This is yet another instance where the Obama administration (like the Bush administration before it) insists on using normal legal safeguards in a situation where they don’t apply. That makes it impossible for our naval ships to blow pirates out of the water or bombard their lairs on land. Even when caught, most pirates are released because there is no desire to try them in our courts — or those of Western Europe. This would be another excellent use for the terrorist tribunals set up by Congress because pirates are, after all, another species of international rogue. Their activities are, in fact, often indistinguishable from those of terrorists, who also use criminal schemes to finance their operations. But what chance is there that we will get tough with Somalian buccaneers if we are extending the full panoply of constitutional rights even to the likes of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad?

It’s nice to read in the Wall Street Journal that more shipping companies are embarking armed security guards to protect their ships off the coast of Somalia. That will certainly strike a blow against the pirates who had another record year in 2009. But the Journal also notes that “the majority of the international maritime community resists using lethal force because it ‘poses incredible logistical challenges, potentially violates many national and international laws, and is contrary to maritime conventions,’ says James Christodoulou, chief executive of Industrial Shipping Enterprises Corp.”

It is incumbent upon shipping companies to do more to protect their vessels. But it is also incumbent upon the world’s leading state to do more to safeguard maritime commerce. All the warships cruising off the coast of East Africa can accomplish little as long as they lack the legal authority to treat pirates as combatants rather than as potential criminal suspects. This is yet another instance where the Obama administration (like the Bush administration before it) insists on using normal legal safeguards in a situation where they don’t apply. That makes it impossible for our naval ships to blow pirates out of the water or bombard their lairs on land. Even when caught, most pirates are released because there is no desire to try them in our courts — or those of Western Europe. This would be another excellent use for the terrorist tribunals set up by Congress because pirates are, after all, another species of international rogue. Their activities are, in fact, often indistinguishable from those of terrorists, who also use criminal schemes to finance their operations. But what chance is there that we will get tough with Somalian buccaneers if we are extending the full panoply of constitutional rights even to the likes of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad?

Read Less

Yemen — the New “Good War”?

Yemen’s importance as a terrorist base appears to be growing. It is the place where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the Nigerian airline bomber) was radicalized and where Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s spiritual guide, Anwar al-‘Awlaki, lives. This chilling warning reads entirely plausible: “Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, charged with the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253, told FBI agents there were more just like him in Yemen who would strike soon.”

No doubt this will cause the usual chorus to chant that Afghanistan is the “wrong war” (remember when Iraq was the “wrong war” and Afghanistan was the “right one”?) and that we should really be focused on Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia–all those countries where we don’t currently have ground troops. This critique has a certain plausibility but it is not clear what its implications are. Those who make these arguments are not advocating that we invade Yemen, Pakistan, or Somalia. So what, precisely, do they want us to do? Pretty much what we’re already doing: providing aid to the governments in question in fighting the jihadists while also conducting a few covert strikes of our own.

The question is whether drawing down in Afghanistan would make it easier or harder to prosecute the war on terrorism on other fronts. On the plus side, there is no denying that certain ISR assets (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) are tied up in Afghanistan (and Iraq) that could be useful elsewhere–although there are sharp limitations to how much intelligence gathering we can do over the sovereign territory of other states. But this marginal advantage is more than counterbalanced by the larger consequences of defeat in Afghanistan, which would have devastating implications not only for the poor people of Afghanistan but also for the wide struggle against violent extremism.

Having (in their own minds at least) already defeated one superpower in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and his confederates would be immeasurably boosted if they were able to claim that they had then defeated the sole remaining superpower too. Such a victory for the jihadists would undoubtedly help recruiting all over the world and make states like Pakistan and Yemen even less likely to cooperate with the United States because they would be in mortal fear of al Qaeda and other radical jihadists. A defeat for the Taliban in Afghanistan would by no means make the wider terrorist threat disappear but it would certainly decrease its magnitude. Assuming that the Karzai government can stabilize its control over Afghanistan, this will deny the terrorists a huge staging ground for attacks elsewhere. In the process of defeating the terrorists, we will also wind up killing or incarcerating a lot of them. It’s true that terrorists are replaceable, but still it will be a setback for them to lose so many hardened operatives–and not only in Afghanistan. One of the key advantages gained by our presence in Afghanistan is that it makes it easier to target terrorist lairs in Pakistan. If we scuttle out of Afghanistan, it is doubtful that the government of Pakistan will extend the same kind of anti-terrorist cooperation we receive today.

We cannot ignore the terrorist threat emanating from Yemen or other states but nor should we use this undoubted danger as an excuse to lose the war of the moment–the one NATO troops are fighting in Afghanistan. Winning the “war on terror” will require prevailing on multiple battlefields–Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, and a host of other countries, including, for that matter, Western Europe and the United States. The methods and techniques we will use in each place have to be tailored to the individual circumstances. Few countries will require the kind of massive troop presence needed in Afghanistan or Iraq. In most places we will fight on a lesser scale, using Special Forces and security assistance programs. But because a lower-profile presence may work elsewhere doesn’t mean that it will work in Afghanistan–or would have worked in Iraq. We know this because the Bush administration already tried the small-footprint strategy in Afghanistan. It is this strategy that allowed the Taliban to recover so much ground lost after 9/11–territory that can only be retaken by an influx of additional Western troops. There is no reason why we can’t fight and prevail in Afghanistan even as we are fighting in different ways in different countries.

Yemen’s importance as a terrorist base appears to be growing. It is the place where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the Nigerian airline bomber) was radicalized and where Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s spiritual guide, Anwar al-‘Awlaki, lives. This chilling warning reads entirely plausible: “Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, charged with the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253, told FBI agents there were more just like him in Yemen who would strike soon.”

No doubt this will cause the usual chorus to chant that Afghanistan is the “wrong war” (remember when Iraq was the “wrong war” and Afghanistan was the “right one”?) and that we should really be focused on Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia–all those countries where we don’t currently have ground troops. This critique has a certain plausibility but it is not clear what its implications are. Those who make these arguments are not advocating that we invade Yemen, Pakistan, or Somalia. So what, precisely, do they want us to do? Pretty much what we’re already doing: providing aid to the governments in question in fighting the jihadists while also conducting a few covert strikes of our own.

The question is whether drawing down in Afghanistan would make it easier or harder to prosecute the war on terrorism on other fronts. On the plus side, there is no denying that certain ISR assets (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) are tied up in Afghanistan (and Iraq) that could be useful elsewhere–although there are sharp limitations to how much intelligence gathering we can do over the sovereign territory of other states. But this marginal advantage is more than counterbalanced by the larger consequences of defeat in Afghanistan, which would have devastating implications not only for the poor people of Afghanistan but also for the wide struggle against violent extremism.

Having (in their own minds at least) already defeated one superpower in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and his confederates would be immeasurably boosted if they were able to claim that they had then defeated the sole remaining superpower too. Such a victory for the jihadists would undoubtedly help recruiting all over the world and make states like Pakistan and Yemen even less likely to cooperate with the United States because they would be in mortal fear of al Qaeda and other radical jihadists. A defeat for the Taliban in Afghanistan would by no means make the wider terrorist threat disappear but it would certainly decrease its magnitude. Assuming that the Karzai government can stabilize its control over Afghanistan, this will deny the terrorists a huge staging ground for attacks elsewhere. In the process of defeating the terrorists, we will also wind up killing or incarcerating a lot of them. It’s true that terrorists are replaceable, but still it will be a setback for them to lose so many hardened operatives–and not only in Afghanistan. One of the key advantages gained by our presence in Afghanistan is that it makes it easier to target terrorist lairs in Pakistan. If we scuttle out of Afghanistan, it is doubtful that the government of Pakistan will extend the same kind of anti-terrorist cooperation we receive today.

We cannot ignore the terrorist threat emanating from Yemen or other states but nor should we use this undoubted danger as an excuse to lose the war of the moment–the one NATO troops are fighting in Afghanistan. Winning the “war on terror” will require prevailing on multiple battlefields–Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, and a host of other countries, including, for that matter, Western Europe and the United States. The methods and techniques we will use in each place have to be tailored to the individual circumstances. Few countries will require the kind of massive troop presence needed in Afghanistan or Iraq. In most places we will fight on a lesser scale, using Special Forces and security assistance programs. But because a lower-profile presence may work elsewhere doesn’t mean that it will work in Afghanistan–or would have worked in Iraq. We know this because the Bush administration already tried the small-footprint strategy in Afghanistan. It is this strategy that allowed the Taliban to recover so much ground lost after 9/11–territory that can only be retaken by an influx of additional Western troops. There is no reason why we can’t fight and prevail in Afghanistan even as we are fighting in different ways in different countries.

Read Less

The Best Available Defense of Obama’s Foreign Policy

I got a call the other day from a reporter from the New York Times Magazine doing a retrospective article on the first year of Obama’s foreign policy. He wanted to know what fruit the president’s attempts at “outreach” had borne. My instinctive reaction was: Obama’s stress on diplomacy has not produced any payoff yet. If anything, it has reduced American standing in the world by alarming our friends (notably Eastern Europe and Israel) and earning the scorn of our enemies (North Korea, Iran, and others). There seems to be bipartisan agreement that some of the president’s policies — e.g., on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — have been disastrous. To the extent that he has done things right, it is largely a matter of continuing and expanding on the previous president’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This was greeted with a slightly incredulous noise by my interlocutor. Clearly he was skeptical, as you would expect a writer for the Times to be. So I asked him whether anyone has a contrary viewpoint. Are there serious analysts who can point to a substantive payoff from the president’s policies? He referred me to this essay by Jessica Matthews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Having read it, I am wondering if this is the best that the president’s supporters can muster on his behalf.

Matthews writes: “From his campaign address in Berlin to the path-breaking nuclear policy speech in Prague to the high risk venture in Cairo and the Nowruz message to Iran, the President succeeded in a remarkably short time in turning from dark to light how the world sees the United States.” There is some support for this impression from the Pew poll, which did find Obama’s ascent in improving opinions of the United States in Western Europe and some other places (there was a big bump in Indonesia where Obama spent part of this childhood). But it also found a small slippage in support for the U.S. in Israel, Poland, Pakistan, and Russia, while the gains in the Palestinian territory (up to 15% percent approval from 13 percent in 2007), Turkey (14 percent, up from 12 percent in 2008), Egypt (27 percent, up from 22 percent), and Jordan (25 percent, up from 19 percent) are small and still leave the U.S. mired in deep unpopularity.

The larger question is how Obama can translate greater popularity into greater achievements in safeguarding American security. Matthews thinks he has already done it, but she has to really stretch to make her case. She claims, for instance, that Obama deserves credit for the “establishment of the G-20 as a badly needed new instrument for such cooperation, bringing to the table economic powerhouses excluded from the G-8.” And what exactly will those “economic powerhouses” accomplish, other than holding fabulous meetings? That is unclear.

She also claims that Obama has established a “working relationship” with Russia but has to admit “it remains to be seen how the U.S.-Russia relationship will evolve—especially whether Moscow will do what it must do vis-à-vis Iran to retain credibility as a responsible international actor.” In fact, so far, Russia hasn’t given much reason to think it will be willing to crack down on the Iranian nuclear program. It may agree to a new START treaty, but so what? Reducing nuclear arms is more in the Russian interest than in ours because they can’t afford to maintain their arsenal.

Matthews claims that Obama “has also gone a long way toward reversing the world’s view of whether Washington or Tehran has the better argument in its favor on the crucial nuclear issue,” but there was never much question that most other nations — especially in Europe and the Middle East — sided with Washington’s concerns. The question has always been what they are prepared to do about it. Are they prepared to sacrifice economic self-interest to impose really tough sanctions on Iran? So far there has been no real movement in this direction, while the Iranian nuclear program has been going full-speed ahead.

I am by no means suggesting that the Obama foreign policy is already a failure. It is too early to tell. But certainly it has been hard to point to any substantive achievements of his first year in office. His efforts to reach out to Iran and North Korea, while ignoring their egregious human-rights violations, have been met with humiliating rejection. His Oslo speech suggested that he may be getting a little more tough-minded, as did his decision to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. Perhaps the second year will be better than his first — but that’s a low hurdle to get over.

I got a call the other day from a reporter from the New York Times Magazine doing a retrospective article on the first year of Obama’s foreign policy. He wanted to know what fruit the president’s attempts at “outreach” had borne. My instinctive reaction was: Obama’s stress on diplomacy has not produced any payoff yet. If anything, it has reduced American standing in the world by alarming our friends (notably Eastern Europe and Israel) and earning the scorn of our enemies (North Korea, Iran, and others). There seems to be bipartisan agreement that some of the president’s policies — e.g., on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — have been disastrous. To the extent that he has done things right, it is largely a matter of continuing and expanding on the previous president’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This was greeted with a slightly incredulous noise by my interlocutor. Clearly he was skeptical, as you would expect a writer for the Times to be. So I asked him whether anyone has a contrary viewpoint. Are there serious analysts who can point to a substantive payoff from the president’s policies? He referred me to this essay by Jessica Matthews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Having read it, I am wondering if this is the best that the president’s supporters can muster on his behalf.

Matthews writes: “From his campaign address in Berlin to the path-breaking nuclear policy speech in Prague to the high risk venture in Cairo and the Nowruz message to Iran, the President succeeded in a remarkably short time in turning from dark to light how the world sees the United States.” There is some support for this impression from the Pew poll, which did find Obama’s ascent in improving opinions of the United States in Western Europe and some other places (there was a big bump in Indonesia where Obama spent part of this childhood). But it also found a small slippage in support for the U.S. in Israel, Poland, Pakistan, and Russia, while the gains in the Palestinian territory (up to 15% percent approval from 13 percent in 2007), Turkey (14 percent, up from 12 percent in 2008), Egypt (27 percent, up from 22 percent), and Jordan (25 percent, up from 19 percent) are small and still leave the U.S. mired in deep unpopularity.

The larger question is how Obama can translate greater popularity into greater achievements in safeguarding American security. Matthews thinks he has already done it, but she has to really stretch to make her case. She claims, for instance, that Obama deserves credit for the “establishment of the G-20 as a badly needed new instrument for such cooperation, bringing to the table economic powerhouses excluded from the G-8.” And what exactly will those “economic powerhouses” accomplish, other than holding fabulous meetings? That is unclear.

She also claims that Obama has established a “working relationship” with Russia but has to admit “it remains to be seen how the U.S.-Russia relationship will evolve—especially whether Moscow will do what it must do vis-à-vis Iran to retain credibility as a responsible international actor.” In fact, so far, Russia hasn’t given much reason to think it will be willing to crack down on the Iranian nuclear program. It may agree to a new START treaty, but so what? Reducing nuclear arms is more in the Russian interest than in ours because they can’t afford to maintain their arsenal.

Matthews claims that Obama “has also gone a long way toward reversing the world’s view of whether Washington or Tehran has the better argument in its favor on the crucial nuclear issue,” but there was never much question that most other nations — especially in Europe and the Middle East — sided with Washington’s concerns. The question has always been what they are prepared to do about it. Are they prepared to sacrifice economic self-interest to impose really tough sanctions on Iran? So far there has been no real movement in this direction, while the Iranian nuclear program has been going full-speed ahead.

I am by no means suggesting that the Obama foreign policy is already a failure. It is too early to tell. But certainly it has been hard to point to any substantive achievements of his first year in office. His efforts to reach out to Iran and North Korea, while ignoring their egregious human-rights violations, have been met with humiliating rejection. His Oslo speech suggested that he may be getting a little more tough-minded, as did his decision to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. Perhaps the second year will be better than his first — but that’s a low hurdle to get over.

Read Less

Stand with STANDPOINT

Standpoint Magazine has just been launched in the UK. This new monthly, edited by veteran COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Johnson, is in line with many other efforts on the Continent to stem the tide of anti-American, anti-Israel, and anti-Western sentiment that runs across public and academic discourse in much of Western Europe. I have a column on European attitudes to Israel–a mixed baggage, to say the least! I hope CONTENTIONS readers will visit the new magazine’s webpage and help this worthy effort become established and successful.

Standpoint Magazine has just been launched in the UK. This new monthly, edited by veteran COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Johnson, is in line with many other efforts on the Continent to stem the tide of anti-American, anti-Israel, and anti-Western sentiment that runs across public and academic discourse in much of Western Europe. I have a column on European attitudes to Israel–a mixed baggage, to say the least! I hope CONTENTIONS readers will visit the new magazine’s webpage and help this worthy effort become established and successful.

Read Less

Pipes Sees Hope in Europe

COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Pipes has a piece in today’s Philadelphia Bulletin, in which he asserts that Western Europe is beginning to show promising signs of fighting off the spread of radical Islam on the continent.

Indeed, Europeans are visibly showing signs of impatience with creeping Sharia. The legislation in France that prohibits hijabs from public school classrooms signals the reluctance to accept Islamic ways, as are related efforts to ban burqas, mosques, and minarets. Throughout Western Europe, anti-immigrant parties are generally increasing in popularity.

There’s no question that Nicolas Sarkozy represents a new level of French courage in the face of Islamification. But he’s one man and these prohibitions on hijabs and similar measures seem never to be settled. There’s always some accusation of Islamophobia followed by a call for liberté and then a new round of legal wrangling. At this moment, Turkey (an EU hopeful) is practically on the verge of collapse over the question of whether or not to lift a ban on headscarves.

Furthermore, the anti-immigrant parties that pop up across Western Europe tend to be fascistic in nature. In Holland, where there are respectable anti-Islamist parties, young politicians often can’t afford the security required to stand for election or are simply not inclined to risk their lives.

Pipes is heartened by Pope Benedict XVI’s high-profile conversion of journalist Magdi Allam and by the release of Dutch politician Geert Wilders’ film “Fitna,” which unapologetically connects Qur’anic verse to images of Islamic terrorism. However, he doesn’t see the fact that there was no widespread violent response as promising.

This relatively constrained reaction points to the fact that Muslim threats sufficed to enforce censorship. Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende denounced Fitna and, after 3.6 million visitors had viewed it on the British website LiveLeak.com, the company announced that “Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature, … Liveleak has been left with no other choice but to remove Fitna from our servers.”

It’s important that Americans get behind the efforts that Pipes commends. There’s no schadenfreude to be derived from watching Europe succumb to the forces of intimidation and moral relativism that allow for, say, the acceptance of “limited” sharia in England. We need Europe as a cultural, economic, and military ally. But I wish the European Spirit could give us a little more to rally behind than a convert and a 15-minute video.

COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Pipes has a piece in today’s Philadelphia Bulletin, in which he asserts that Western Europe is beginning to show promising signs of fighting off the spread of radical Islam on the continent.

Indeed, Europeans are visibly showing signs of impatience with creeping Sharia. The legislation in France that prohibits hijabs from public school classrooms signals the reluctance to accept Islamic ways, as are related efforts to ban burqas, mosques, and minarets. Throughout Western Europe, anti-immigrant parties are generally increasing in popularity.

There’s no question that Nicolas Sarkozy represents a new level of French courage in the face of Islamification. But he’s one man and these prohibitions on hijabs and similar measures seem never to be settled. There’s always some accusation of Islamophobia followed by a call for liberté and then a new round of legal wrangling. At this moment, Turkey (an EU hopeful) is practically on the verge of collapse over the question of whether or not to lift a ban on headscarves.

Furthermore, the anti-immigrant parties that pop up across Western Europe tend to be fascistic in nature. In Holland, where there are respectable anti-Islamist parties, young politicians often can’t afford the security required to stand for election or are simply not inclined to risk their lives.

Pipes is heartened by Pope Benedict XVI’s high-profile conversion of journalist Magdi Allam and by the release of Dutch politician Geert Wilders’ film “Fitna,” which unapologetically connects Qur’anic verse to images of Islamic terrorism. However, he doesn’t see the fact that there was no widespread violent response as promising.

This relatively constrained reaction points to the fact that Muslim threats sufficed to enforce censorship. Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende denounced Fitna and, after 3.6 million visitors had viewed it on the British website LiveLeak.com, the company announced that “Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature, … Liveleak has been left with no other choice but to remove Fitna from our servers.”

It’s important that Americans get behind the efforts that Pipes commends. There’s no schadenfreude to be derived from watching Europe succumb to the forces of intimidation and moral relativism that allow for, say, the acceptance of “limited” sharia in England. We need Europe as a cultural, economic, and military ally. But I wish the European Spirit could give us a little more to rally behind than a convert and a 15-minute video.

Read Less

Putin’s Real Record

Surprise, surprise. In an “election” with all the suspense of the Harlem Globetrotters beating the Washington Generals, Russian voters dutifully handed their presidency to Vladimir Putin’s hand-picked successor, Dmitri Medvedev, who promised to keep Czar Vladimir around as his prime minister.

There is little doubt that Putin and Medvedev are genuinely popular, if only because their critics have been denied access to the news media, parliament, and any other possible source of opposition. But does Putin have a real record of achievement to run on? He tells Russian voters all the time that he restored the country’s greatness and prosperity after the terrible times of the 1990s. But an article in the last issue of Foreign Affairs, “The Myth of the Authoritarian Model” by Michael McFaul and Kathryn Stoner-Weiss of Stanford University, shreds those claims.

The authors concede that Russia’s economy has done well in recent years:

As Putin has consolidated his authority, growth has averaged 6.7 percent — especially impressive against the backdrop of the depression in the early 1990s…. Since 2000, real disposable income has increased by more than 10 percent a year, consumer spending has skyrocketed, unemployment has fallen from 12 percent in 1999 to 6 percent in 2006, and poverty, according to one measure, has declined from 41 percent in 1999 to 14 percent in 2006. Russians are richer today than ever before.

But, they argue, most of this growth is not due to Putin’s policies. Instead it can be traced to the natural recovery from the traumas of communism combined with high oil prices. In fact, notwithstanding Russia’s mineral riches, it has not fared any better than most of its neighbors: “Between 1999 and 2006, Russia ranked ninth out of the 15 post-Soviet countries in terms of average growth. Similarly, investment in Russia, at 18 percent of GDP, although stronger today than ever before, is well below the average for democracies in the region.”

Read More

Surprise, surprise. In an “election” with all the suspense of the Harlem Globetrotters beating the Washington Generals, Russian voters dutifully handed their presidency to Vladimir Putin’s hand-picked successor, Dmitri Medvedev, who promised to keep Czar Vladimir around as his prime minister.

There is little doubt that Putin and Medvedev are genuinely popular, if only because their critics have been denied access to the news media, parliament, and any other possible source of opposition. But does Putin have a real record of achievement to run on? He tells Russian voters all the time that he restored the country’s greatness and prosperity after the terrible times of the 1990s. But an article in the last issue of Foreign Affairs, “The Myth of the Authoritarian Model” by Michael McFaul and Kathryn Stoner-Weiss of Stanford University, shreds those claims.

The authors concede that Russia’s economy has done well in recent years:

As Putin has consolidated his authority, growth has averaged 6.7 percent — especially impressive against the backdrop of the depression in the early 1990s…. Since 2000, real disposable income has increased by more than 10 percent a year, consumer spending has skyrocketed, unemployment has fallen from 12 percent in 1999 to 6 percent in 2006, and poverty, according to one measure, has declined from 41 percent in 1999 to 14 percent in 2006. Russians are richer today than ever before.

But, they argue, most of this growth is not due to Putin’s policies. Instead it can be traced to the natural recovery from the traumas of communism combined with high oil prices. In fact, notwithstanding Russia’s mineral riches, it has not fared any better than most of its neighbors: “Between 1999 and 2006, Russia ranked ninth out of the 15 post-Soviet countries in terms of average growth. Similarly, investment in Russia, at 18 percent of GDP, although stronger today than ever before, is well below the average for democracies in the region.”

Meanwhile, on a host of other measures relating to “public safety, health” and a “secure legal and property-owning environment,” Putin’s autocracy is doing no better, and in many cases worse, than the more democratic Yeltsin regime which preceded it.

McFaul and Stoner-Weiss cite a host of eye-opening statistics to make their point:

• “In the “anarchic” years of 1995-99, the average annual number of murders was 30,200; in the “orderly” years of 2000-2004, the number was 32,200.”

• “The frequency of terrorist attacks in Russia has increased under Putin. The two biggest terrorist attacks in Russia’s history — the Nord-Ost incident at a theater in Moscow in 2002, in which an estimated 300 Russians died, and the Beslan school hostage crisis, in which as many as 500 died — occurred under Putin’s autocracy, not Yeltsin’s democracy.”

• “The death rate from fires is around 40 a day in Russia, roughly ten times the average rate in western Europe.”

• “At the end of the 1990s, annual alcohol consumption per adult was 10.7 liters (compared with 8.6 liters in the United States and 9.7 in the United Kingdom); in 2004, this figure had increased to 14.5 liters. An estimated 0.9 percent of the Russian population is now infected with HIV, and rates of infection in Russia are now the highest of any country outside Africa.”

• “Life expectancy in Russia rose between 1995 and 1998. Since 1999, however, it has declined to 59 years for Russian men and 72 for Russian women.”

• “In 2006, Transparency International ranked Russia at an all-time worst of 121st out of 163 countries on corruption, putting it between the Philippines and Rwanda.

• “Russia ranked 62nd out of 125 on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index in 2006, representing a fall of nine places in a year.”

• “On the World Bank’s 2006 “ease of doing business” index, Russia ranked 96th out of 175, also an all-time worst.”

If he had not eliminated the independence of the press and made it virtually impossible for the opposition to field candidates, Putin might have been made to pay a price for some of these problems at the ballot box.

It will be interesting to see what fate will befall the Kremlin clique if oil prices fall in a big way. By then, of course, their power might be so secure that it won’t make any difference, but a collapse in oil prices would make clear for all to see what McFaul and Stoner-Weiss argue so persuasively: that autocracy in Russia isn’t really a success story.

Read Less

Britain’s Muslim Suggestion

The Guardian reports that today the British government will suggest that British universities reject demands from Muslim students seeking separate facilities for prayer and ritual washing.

How very British to make suggestions in the face of extremism. This falls under the heading of “too little, too late.” With Europe’s most anti-Western Muslim population, a hidden judiciary imposing shari’a law, and deadly homegrown jihadists, England is fractured in a way polite suggestions won’t mend. As I write this, plans are proceeding to install loudspeakers across parts of Oxford so that local residents will be subject to a thrice-daily call to prayer from the minaret of the Central Mosque.

In 1701, Daniel Defoe wrote the “The True-Born Englishman” in defense of pluralism. The poem included these lines:

Some think of England ’twas our Saviour meant,
The Gospel should to all the world be sent:
Since, when the blessed sound did hither reach,
They to all nations might be said to preach.

Defoe could not have imagined the blessed sound to be the electronic blast “Give to Muhammad his eternal rights of intercession.”

The coddling of extremists and extremist-sympathizers is only one factor in England’s increasing Islamist menace. Until western Europe, as a whole, revokes the ample benefits that allow virtually anyone to live off the state, discouraging separate washrooms at universities will remain pointless. As gracious host to thousands of jihad-trained citizens, the British government needs to adress the shadow state that’s sprung up in Muslim enclaves before they worry about university plumbing.

The Guardian reports that today the British government will suggest that British universities reject demands from Muslim students seeking separate facilities for prayer and ritual washing.

How very British to make suggestions in the face of extremism. This falls under the heading of “too little, too late.” With Europe’s most anti-Western Muslim population, a hidden judiciary imposing shari’a law, and deadly homegrown jihadists, England is fractured in a way polite suggestions won’t mend. As I write this, plans are proceeding to install loudspeakers across parts of Oxford so that local residents will be subject to a thrice-daily call to prayer from the minaret of the Central Mosque.

In 1701, Daniel Defoe wrote the “The True-Born Englishman” in defense of pluralism. The poem included these lines:

Some think of England ’twas our Saviour meant,
The Gospel should to all the world be sent:
Since, when the blessed sound did hither reach,
They to all nations might be said to preach.

Defoe could not have imagined the blessed sound to be the electronic blast “Give to Muhammad his eternal rights of intercession.”

The coddling of extremists and extremist-sympathizers is only one factor in England’s increasing Islamist menace. Until western Europe, as a whole, revokes the ample benefits that allow virtually anyone to live off the state, discouraging separate washrooms at universities will remain pointless. As gracious host to thousands of jihad-trained citizens, the British government needs to adress the shadow state that’s sprung up in Muslim enclaves before they worry about university plumbing.

Read Less

Intelligence Failure

Why do intelligence agencies get things wrong? A whole catalog of factors would have to be produced to answer this question. At the top of list is the sheer difficulty of the work. Trying to piece together information about an adversary operating in secret is an inherently difficult challenge. In the face of deception, denial, and uncertainty, it is understandable that analysts at a place like the CIA sometimes get things wrong.

But one of the more common pitfalls that intelligence analysts face is their own preconceived ideas. It is remarkable how powerful a force these can be. Perhaps this is one factor explaining the bizarre language of the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) flatly declaring that Iran had shut down its nuclear-weapons program in 2003 even as the same document presents evidence that the most critical aspects of a nuclear program–the uranium-enrichment process–is humming along at steady clip at Natanz.

If this is an instance of intelligence officers clinging desperately to their ideas in the face of evidence to the contrary, it would not be the first time in the history of the CIA. A fascinating case concerns the question of whether the USSR was supporting international terrorism in the 1970’s and 80’s.

In 1981, Secretary of State Alexander Haig publicly and controversially asserted that the USSR was behind terrorist actions around the world. It was only after this statement that he asked the intelligence community to produce an NIE assessing his claim. This, of course, was backward; public statements by high-ranking officials should follow intelligence, not the other way around.

In any event, the task of producing the estimate fell to the Soviet division of the CIA. The full story is told in Robert Gates’s indispensable 1996 memoir, From the Shadows. “The first draft by the analysts proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Haig had exaggerated the Soviet role — that the Soviet did not organize or direct international terrorism.” The NIE stated, in Gates’s summary:

that the Soviets disapproved of terrorism, discouraged the killing of innocents by groups they trained and supported, did not help free-lance third-world terrorist groups like the Abu Nidal organization, and under no circumstances did Moscow support the nihilist terrorist groups of Western Europe — the Red Brigades, the Red Army Faction [RAF], and so on. It cited Soviet public condemnations of such groups and carefully described the distinctions the Soviets made between national liberation groups or insurgencies and groups involved in out-and-out terrorism.

This estimate made its way for approval to Bill Casey, Reagan’s CIA director, who found it thinly sourced, improperly framed, and tendentiously argued: it had been too “narrowly focused on whether the Soviets exercised direct operational control of terrorist groups” and in Casey’s view “‘had the air of a lawyer’s plea’ that an indictment should issue because there was not enough evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Disappointed by the quality of the NIE, Casey sent it back for redrafting, this time not by CIA’s Soviet division but by the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s intelligence arm. The document that emerged after a prolonged interagency wrangle was more nuanced than the original CIA draft. On the crucial question of whether the USSR had supported the nihilist terrorist groups it reported that the evidence was “thin and contradictory,” but also:

that some individuals in such groups had been trained by Soviet friends and allies that also provided them with weapons and safe transit. It also observed that the Soviets had often publicly condemned such groups and considered them uncontrollable adventurers whose activities on occasion undermined Soviet objectives It noted that some such nihilistic terrorists had found refuge in Eastern Europe.

How well did either estimate — the ultra-cautious CIA one, and the cautious DIA one — hold up?

A decade later, after Communism collapsed and the archives opened, the full picture became clear, and it was now obvious, writes Gates, that both CIA and DIA had been far wide of the mark:

[w]e found out that the East Europeans (especially the East Germans) indeed not only had provided sanctuary for West European “nihilist” terrorists, but had trained, armed, and funded many of them. (For example, during the late 1970’s — early 80’s, the East German Stasi (intelligence service) supplied the West German Red Army Faction with weapons, training, false documentation, and money. The training and weapons were put to use in the RAF car-bomb attack against Ramstein Air Force Base in West Germany on August 31, 1981, which injured seventeen people. The same group was also involved in the unsuccessful rocket attack against the car of General Frederick Krosen in Heidelberg in September 1981.) It was inconceivable that the Soviets, and especially the KGB, which had these governments thoroughly penetrated, did not know and allow (if not encourage) these activities to continue. . . .

We also learned in March 1985 about a Soviet effort to target U.S. servicemen in West Germany for terrorist attacks that shocked us all. According to information from Soviet sources, Soviet agents had been assigned the task of locating dead-drop sites — places for information being transmitted to and from agents — inside bars and restaurants near American military installations in West German cities. The purpose of these sites, however was not for dead drops, but for hiding explosive devices that would be set off in a way to make them look like terrorist attacks. The sites included behind vending machines, in a ventilation cavity under a sink, in a bathroom stall over the windowsill, on a wooden beam over a lavatory, under the bottom of a paper-towel dispense, and so on. CIA  checked out fourteen of these reported sits and confirmed the existence of all but one, just as reported. And every location was filled with U.S. servicemen or dependents or was known to be frequented by U.S. and NATO servicemen. We later concluded that the targeting had been done in 1983, probably in connection with the very aggressive Soviet campaign against deployment of the INF missiles.

How was all this missed? The widespread conviction within the agency that the Soviet leaders would not do such violent things led analysts to rule out the possibility. “The same analysts who complained constantly,” writes Gates, “about the lack of good human intelligence on Soviet activities in effect argued that the absence of such reporting proved their case.” In other words, systematic bias led the CIA to produce an estimate that was the diametric reversal of reality.

If that sounds familiar, it is.

Why do intelligence agencies get things wrong? A whole catalog of factors would have to be produced to answer this question. At the top of list is the sheer difficulty of the work. Trying to piece together information about an adversary operating in secret is an inherently difficult challenge. In the face of deception, denial, and uncertainty, it is understandable that analysts at a place like the CIA sometimes get things wrong.

But one of the more common pitfalls that intelligence analysts face is their own preconceived ideas. It is remarkable how powerful a force these can be. Perhaps this is one factor explaining the bizarre language of the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) flatly declaring that Iran had shut down its nuclear-weapons program in 2003 even as the same document presents evidence that the most critical aspects of a nuclear program–the uranium-enrichment process–is humming along at steady clip at Natanz.

If this is an instance of intelligence officers clinging desperately to their ideas in the face of evidence to the contrary, it would not be the first time in the history of the CIA. A fascinating case concerns the question of whether the USSR was supporting international terrorism in the 1970’s and 80’s.

In 1981, Secretary of State Alexander Haig publicly and controversially asserted that the USSR was behind terrorist actions around the world. It was only after this statement that he asked the intelligence community to produce an NIE assessing his claim. This, of course, was backward; public statements by high-ranking officials should follow intelligence, not the other way around.

In any event, the task of producing the estimate fell to the Soviet division of the CIA. The full story is told in Robert Gates’s indispensable 1996 memoir, From the Shadows. “The first draft by the analysts proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Haig had exaggerated the Soviet role — that the Soviet did not organize or direct international terrorism.” The NIE stated, in Gates’s summary:

that the Soviets disapproved of terrorism, discouraged the killing of innocents by groups they trained and supported, did not help free-lance third-world terrorist groups like the Abu Nidal organization, and under no circumstances did Moscow support the nihilist terrorist groups of Western Europe — the Red Brigades, the Red Army Faction [RAF], and so on. It cited Soviet public condemnations of such groups and carefully described the distinctions the Soviets made between national liberation groups or insurgencies and groups involved in out-and-out terrorism.

This estimate made its way for approval to Bill Casey, Reagan’s CIA director, who found it thinly sourced, improperly framed, and tendentiously argued: it had been too “narrowly focused on whether the Soviets exercised direct operational control of terrorist groups” and in Casey’s view “‘had the air of a lawyer’s plea’ that an indictment should issue because there was not enough evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Disappointed by the quality of the NIE, Casey sent it back for redrafting, this time not by CIA’s Soviet division but by the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s intelligence arm. The document that emerged after a prolonged interagency wrangle was more nuanced than the original CIA draft. On the crucial question of whether the USSR had supported the nihilist terrorist groups it reported that the evidence was “thin and contradictory,” but also:

that some individuals in such groups had been trained by Soviet friends and allies that also provided them with weapons and safe transit. It also observed that the Soviets had often publicly condemned such groups and considered them uncontrollable adventurers whose activities on occasion undermined Soviet objectives It noted that some such nihilistic terrorists had found refuge in Eastern Europe.

How well did either estimate — the ultra-cautious CIA one, and the cautious DIA one — hold up?

A decade later, after Communism collapsed and the archives opened, the full picture became clear, and it was now obvious, writes Gates, that both CIA and DIA had been far wide of the mark:

[w]e found out that the East Europeans (especially the East Germans) indeed not only had provided sanctuary for West European “nihilist” terrorists, but had trained, armed, and funded many of them. (For example, during the late 1970’s — early 80’s, the East German Stasi (intelligence service) supplied the West German Red Army Faction with weapons, training, false documentation, and money. The training and weapons were put to use in the RAF car-bomb attack against Ramstein Air Force Base in West Germany on August 31, 1981, which injured seventeen people. The same group was also involved in the unsuccessful rocket attack against the car of General Frederick Krosen in Heidelberg in September 1981.) It was inconceivable that the Soviets, and especially the KGB, which had these governments thoroughly penetrated, did not know and allow (if not encourage) these activities to continue. . . .

We also learned in March 1985 about a Soviet effort to target U.S. servicemen in West Germany for terrorist attacks that shocked us all. According to information from Soviet sources, Soviet agents had been assigned the task of locating dead-drop sites — places for information being transmitted to and from agents — inside bars and restaurants near American military installations in West German cities. The purpose of these sites, however was not for dead drops, but for hiding explosive devices that would be set off in a way to make them look like terrorist attacks. The sites included behind vending machines, in a ventilation cavity under a sink, in a bathroom stall over the windowsill, on a wooden beam over a lavatory, under the bottom of a paper-towel dispense, and so on. CIA  checked out fourteen of these reported sits and confirmed the existence of all but one, just as reported. And every location was filled with U.S. servicemen or dependents or was known to be frequented by U.S. and NATO servicemen. We later concluded that the targeting had been done in 1983, probably in connection with the very aggressive Soviet campaign against deployment of the INF missiles.

How was all this missed? The widespread conviction within the agency that the Soviet leaders would not do such violent things led analysts to rule out the possibility. “The same analysts who complained constantly,” writes Gates, “about the lack of good human intelligence on Soviet activities in effect argued that the absence of such reporting proved their case.” In other words, systematic bias led the CIA to produce an estimate that was the diametric reversal of reality.

If that sounds familiar, it is.

Read Less

The Legacy of Arthur Rubinstein

Earlier this month, The Juilliard School announced that the family of the pianist Arthur Rubinstein (1887–1982) donated 71 music manuscripts and other documents that had been seized by the Nazis from Rubinstein’s Paris apartment in 1940, and restored to his family by the German government only last year. This collection includes hand-written scores by Villa-Lobos, George Antheil, and other composers. The Dutch musicologist Willem de Vries’s 1996 study, Sonderstab Musik: Music Confiscations by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg under the Nazi Occupation of Western Europe, details how in 1940, Nazi official Alfred Rosenberg founded the “Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg” (ERR, or Operations Staff of Reich Director Rosenberg) in order to accomplish what de Vries terms the “greatest systematic theft of art and culture in history.”

Renowned German musicologists Wolfgang Boetticher and Karl Gustav Fellerer helped to identify Jewish collections to be looted in Nazi-occupied Europe, and among those plundered were world-famous artists, forced to flee to America because of their Jewish origins, like the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, and composer Darius Milhaud. Most of the collections involved are still lost, or perhaps more frustrating, in Russia, where some were shipped after 1945 as Soviet war booty. In an exceptional move, Rubinstein’s 71 items were sent back to East Berlin around 1958, as a Soviet gesture to repatriate so-called “German cultural assets.” More of Rubinstein’s property still remains in Russia, but in 2002, the Russian parliament voted to block any further such restitutions.

Read More

Earlier this month, The Juilliard School announced that the family of the pianist Arthur Rubinstein (1887–1982) donated 71 music manuscripts and other documents that had been seized by the Nazis from Rubinstein’s Paris apartment in 1940, and restored to his family by the German government only last year. This collection includes hand-written scores by Villa-Lobos, George Antheil, and other composers. The Dutch musicologist Willem de Vries’s 1996 study, Sonderstab Musik: Music Confiscations by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg under the Nazi Occupation of Western Europe, details how in 1940, Nazi official Alfred Rosenberg founded the “Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg” (ERR, or Operations Staff of Reich Director Rosenberg) in order to accomplish what de Vries terms the “greatest systematic theft of art and culture in history.”

Renowned German musicologists Wolfgang Boetticher and Karl Gustav Fellerer helped to identify Jewish collections to be looted in Nazi-occupied Europe, and among those plundered were world-famous artists, forced to flee to America because of their Jewish origins, like the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, and composer Darius Milhaud. Most of the collections involved are still lost, or perhaps more frustrating, in Russia, where some were shipped after 1945 as Soviet war booty. In an exceptional move, Rubinstein’s 71 items were sent back to East Berlin around 1958, as a Soviet gesture to repatriate so-called “German cultural assets.” More of Rubinstein’s property still remains in Russia, but in 2002, the Russian parliament voted to block any further such restitutions.

That Juilliard should have wound up with anything at all may be ascribed at least in part to Rubinstein’s amazing luck and talent for survival. Rather than feeling bitter that the majority of his collection probably never will be restituted, Rubinstein himself would doubtless have rejoiced at his family’s beneficence to Juilliard. The quintessential glass-half-full personality, Rubinstein sometimes put off some listeners with his strenuously expressed “love of life” credo (the delightful 1969 French documentary Arthur Rubinstein: L’Amour de la vie is long overdue for DVD transfer).

The French author Roland Barthes dismissed Rubinstein’s hearty sense of psychological well-being, preferring an overtly neurotic pianist like Glenn Gould, although Gould himself worshiped Arthur Rubinstein. I well recall attending Rubinstein’s Carnegie Hall farewell recital in 1976 (70 years after his New York debut in 1906) when, after a full program and three encores, in the final piece—Chopin’s Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53—descending octaves were played with such force that the balcony floor shook, as the 89-year-old pianist’s aureole of white hair glowed brightly.

A recently available DVD from Deutsche Grammophon filmed in 1975 captures Rubinstein near that time, playing concertos by Grieg, Saint-Saëns, and Chopin with verve and panache. The magnificent complete Sony/BMG Rubinstein edition on CD fortunately still is available, including live concerts with music by his friend Villa-Lobos as well as music from Spain; France; and even Norway. These lasting delights remind us of the international range of this performer, whose musical legacy triumphs over the injustices he suffered during the Nazi regime.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.