Commentary Magazine


Topic: Winston Churchill

To Be Shot at Without Result

At the end of 2009 many conservatives will have renewed appreciation for Winston Churchill’s admonition: “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.” Conservatives and their fellow citizens were not generally (unless engaged on the battlefield) shot at, but they were bombarded with an avalanche of leftist policy proposals. And yet, as Bill Kristol observes: “The Obama administration (so far) hasn’t succeeded in doing too much damage to the American economy. Major parts of American society and the American polity are resisting the allure of a slide into European decadence. The climate change fear-mongers are increasingly discredited, and Copenhagen was a farce.”

In short, the Obama team didn’t succeed to the degree many of us anticipated and feared it would in refashioning domestic policy and achieving its free-market-killing initiatives. Card check is off the table. Cap-and-trade has been postponed. The stimulus bill did not endear the country to the wonders of big government. The health-care bill is not yet law, but is grossly unpopular. It is worth asking: why? Why did the most heralded politician to assume the White House in a generation, in the midst of a collapse of the private sector, and with huge Democratic majorities in the House and Senate not do any better (or do more damage, depending on your perspective)?

The answers are three-fold, I think. First, this president showed no inclination or talent to engage in the nitty-gritty business of lawmaking. He did not set forth his own specific proposals on key agenda items, set a deadline, or whip Congress into line. He preferred endless speeches, innumerable TV talk-show appearances, and campaign-style events, none of which solved the hard questions as to what it is that key legislation should contain. And then Congress did what it does best — squabble, debate, reach gridlock, churn out pork-a-thon legislation in lieu of serious policy prescriptions, and show themselves to be obsessed with shielding their own constituents from measures they would willingly foist on others. The result was low output and an absence of thoughtful or innovative policy. And most glaringly, on his most important agenda item, Obama did not make substantive arguments nor focus on a coherent legislative health-care scheme that was designed to fulfill his objectives.

Second, the Obami ran Left, even beyond the tolerance of their own party. Democratic senators have held up cap-and-trade, not the Republicans. The Democrats can’t find 60 votes in the Senate to take away the right to secret ballot in union elections. Again, the liberal aspirations of special interest groups don’t match the political composition of those in office, even after an election that delivered across-the-board Democratic victories.

And finally, Obama himself did not inspire or persuade the public in the way his followers imagined he would. His campaign rhetoric wore thin, never rising above the level of platitudes. And when that rhetoric didn’t persuade, the president diminished himself and the power of the bully pulpit by inveighing against opponents, picking fights with talk-show hosts and news networks, and condescending the public (e.g., red pill/blue bill health-care hooey, Gatesgate’s “teachable moment,” etc.). In short, he didn’t lead.

This year ends with a sigh of relief from conservatives on the domestic front. Their work in opposing liberal Democratic policies is not, however, over. The health-care bill looms on the horizon and the Democrats will take a second pass at a number of their policy proposals. But there is a certain exhilaration in surviving the initial (and certainly the strongest barrage) of one’s political enemies. And for conservatives, finding that the American people are increasingly rallying to their side in the political debate is particularly gratifying.

At the end of 2009 many conservatives will have renewed appreciation for Winston Churchill’s admonition: “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.” Conservatives and their fellow citizens were not generally (unless engaged on the battlefield) shot at, but they were bombarded with an avalanche of leftist policy proposals. And yet, as Bill Kristol observes: “The Obama administration (so far) hasn’t succeeded in doing too much damage to the American economy. Major parts of American society and the American polity are resisting the allure of a slide into European decadence. The climate change fear-mongers are increasingly discredited, and Copenhagen was a farce.”

In short, the Obama team didn’t succeed to the degree many of us anticipated and feared it would in refashioning domestic policy and achieving its free-market-killing initiatives. Card check is off the table. Cap-and-trade has been postponed. The stimulus bill did not endear the country to the wonders of big government. The health-care bill is not yet law, but is grossly unpopular. It is worth asking: why? Why did the most heralded politician to assume the White House in a generation, in the midst of a collapse of the private sector, and with huge Democratic majorities in the House and Senate not do any better (or do more damage, depending on your perspective)?

The answers are three-fold, I think. First, this president showed no inclination or talent to engage in the nitty-gritty business of lawmaking. He did not set forth his own specific proposals on key agenda items, set a deadline, or whip Congress into line. He preferred endless speeches, innumerable TV talk-show appearances, and campaign-style events, none of which solved the hard questions as to what it is that key legislation should contain. And then Congress did what it does best — squabble, debate, reach gridlock, churn out pork-a-thon legislation in lieu of serious policy prescriptions, and show themselves to be obsessed with shielding their own constituents from measures they would willingly foist on others. The result was low output and an absence of thoughtful or innovative policy. And most glaringly, on his most important agenda item, Obama did not make substantive arguments nor focus on a coherent legislative health-care scheme that was designed to fulfill his objectives.

Second, the Obami ran Left, even beyond the tolerance of their own party. Democratic senators have held up cap-and-trade, not the Republicans. The Democrats can’t find 60 votes in the Senate to take away the right to secret ballot in union elections. Again, the liberal aspirations of special interest groups don’t match the political composition of those in office, even after an election that delivered across-the-board Democratic victories.

And finally, Obama himself did not inspire or persuade the public in the way his followers imagined he would. His campaign rhetoric wore thin, never rising above the level of platitudes. And when that rhetoric didn’t persuade, the president diminished himself and the power of the bully pulpit by inveighing against opponents, picking fights with talk-show hosts and news networks, and condescending the public (e.g., red pill/blue bill health-care hooey, Gatesgate’s “teachable moment,” etc.). In short, he didn’t lead.

This year ends with a sigh of relief from conservatives on the domestic front. Their work in opposing liberal Democratic policies is not, however, over. The health-care bill looms on the horizon and the Democrats will take a second pass at a number of their policy proposals. But there is a certain exhilaration in surviving the initial (and certainly the strongest barrage) of one’s political enemies. And for conservatives, finding that the American people are increasingly rallying to their side in the political debate is particularly gratifying.

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Andrew Roberts: On Iran, Israel Must Emulate Nelson and Churchill

Over at Melanie Phillips’s Spectator blog, she reprints in its entirety the speech delivered by the great British historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to the Anglo-Israel Association earlier this week.

Roberts’s brilliant speech makes for important reading and not just for students of the often difficult relationship between Britain and Israel, which he reviews in some detail, from the hopeful beginning of the Balfour Declaration to the infamy of Britain’s 1939 White Paper, which locked the gates of Palestine just as Hitler’s death machine was warming up in Europe. Add to this Britain’s futile effort to prevent the Jewish state from being born after World War II and the consistent record of bias against Israel on the part of London’s Foreign Office since 1948. While Roberts notes that Margaret Thatcher was the most philo-Semitic prime minister since Winston Churchill, he acknowledges that even the Iron Lady was stymied by the Foreign Office in her efforts to promote a better relationship with Israel.

What is his explanation for this record? He puts it down, in part, to:

The FO assumption that Britain’s relations with Israel ought constantly to be subordinated to her relations with other Middle Eastern states, especially the oil-rich ones, however badly those states behave in terms of human rights abuses, the persecution of Christians, the oppression of women, medieval practices of punishment, and so on. It seems to me that there is an implicit racism going on here. Jews are expected to behave better, goes the FO thinking, because they are like us. Arabs must not be chastised because they are not. So in warfare, we constantly expect Israel to behave far better than her neighbours, and chastise her quite hypocritically when occasionally under the exigencies of national struggle, she cannot. The problem crosses political parties today, just as it always has. [Conservative Party foreign policy spokesman] William Hague called for Israel to adopt a proportionate response in its struggle with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2007, as though proportionate responses ever won any victories against fascists. In the Second World War, the Luftwaffe killed 50,000 Britons in the Blitz, and the Allied response was to kill 600,000 Germans—twelve times the number and hardly a proportionate response, but one that contributed mightily to victory. Who are we therefore to lecture the Israelis on how proportionate their responses should be?

Roberts also notes that a prominent former British diplomat criticized the composition of the panel analyzing Britain’s entry into the Iraq war because two of its members, Martin Gilbert and Lawrence Freedman, are both Jewish and known supporters of Zionism. As Roberts put it, “If that’s the way that FO Arabists are prepared to express themselves in public, can you imagine the way that they refer to such people as Professors Gilbert and Freedman in private?”

Speaking of the Jewish state’s dilemma in facing a nuclear Iran and expressing no confidence in America’s ability or desire to prevent Ahmadinejad from obtaining a Bomb, Roberts concludes by exhorting the Israelis to follow the example of two famous Britons who boldly acted to stop a threat to their country:

None of us can pretend to know what lies ahead for Israel, but if she decides pre-emptively to strike against such a threat—in the same way that Nelson pre-emptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill pre-emptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran—then she can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office. She should ignore such criticism, because for all the fine work done by this Association over the past six decades – work that’s clearly needed as much now as ever before – Britain has only ever really been at best a fairweather friend to Israel. Although History does not repeat itself, its cadences do occasionally rhyme, and if the witness of History is testament to anything it is testament to this: That in her hopes of averting the threat of a Second Holocaust, only Israel can be relied upon to act decisively in the best interests of the Jews.

Over at Melanie Phillips’s Spectator blog, she reprints in its entirety the speech delivered by the great British historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to the Anglo-Israel Association earlier this week.

Roberts’s brilliant speech makes for important reading and not just for students of the often difficult relationship between Britain and Israel, which he reviews in some detail, from the hopeful beginning of the Balfour Declaration to the infamy of Britain’s 1939 White Paper, which locked the gates of Palestine just as Hitler’s death machine was warming up in Europe. Add to this Britain’s futile effort to prevent the Jewish state from being born after World War II and the consistent record of bias against Israel on the part of London’s Foreign Office since 1948. While Roberts notes that Margaret Thatcher was the most philo-Semitic prime minister since Winston Churchill, he acknowledges that even the Iron Lady was stymied by the Foreign Office in her efforts to promote a better relationship with Israel.

What is his explanation for this record? He puts it down, in part, to:

The FO assumption that Britain’s relations with Israel ought constantly to be subordinated to her relations with other Middle Eastern states, especially the oil-rich ones, however badly those states behave in terms of human rights abuses, the persecution of Christians, the oppression of women, medieval practices of punishment, and so on. It seems to me that there is an implicit racism going on here. Jews are expected to behave better, goes the FO thinking, because they are like us. Arabs must not be chastised because they are not. So in warfare, we constantly expect Israel to behave far better than her neighbours, and chastise her quite hypocritically when occasionally under the exigencies of national struggle, she cannot. The problem crosses political parties today, just as it always has. [Conservative Party foreign policy spokesman] William Hague called for Israel to adopt a proportionate response in its struggle with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2007, as though proportionate responses ever won any victories against fascists. In the Second World War, the Luftwaffe killed 50,000 Britons in the Blitz, and the Allied response was to kill 600,000 Germans—twelve times the number and hardly a proportionate response, but one that contributed mightily to victory. Who are we therefore to lecture the Israelis on how proportionate their responses should be?

Roberts also notes that a prominent former British diplomat criticized the composition of the panel analyzing Britain’s entry into the Iraq war because two of its members, Martin Gilbert and Lawrence Freedman, are both Jewish and known supporters of Zionism. As Roberts put it, “If that’s the way that FO Arabists are prepared to express themselves in public, can you imagine the way that they refer to such people as Professors Gilbert and Freedman in private?”

Speaking of the Jewish state’s dilemma in facing a nuclear Iran and expressing no confidence in America’s ability or desire to prevent Ahmadinejad from obtaining a Bomb, Roberts concludes by exhorting the Israelis to follow the example of two famous Britons who boldly acted to stop a threat to their country:

None of us can pretend to know what lies ahead for Israel, but if she decides pre-emptively to strike against such a threat—in the same way that Nelson pre-emptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill pre-emptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran—then she can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office. She should ignore such criticism, because for all the fine work done by this Association over the past six decades – work that’s clearly needed as much now as ever before – Britain has only ever really been at best a fairweather friend to Israel. Although History does not repeat itself, its cadences do occasionally rhyme, and if the witness of History is testament to anything it is testament to this: That in her hopes of averting the threat of a Second Holocaust, only Israel can be relied upon to act decisively in the best interests of the Jews.

Read Less

Why Is Obama So Disrespectful of Britain?

The Daily Mail today points out (h/t Instapundit) that Barack Obama, as candidate and president, has not said a single word in a speech regarding the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. That overstates the case a bit, as he did, at least once, use the phrase at a press conference with Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he visited Britain in April.

But the Daily Mail is right in general. Obama has been minimal, to say the least, in his treatment of Great Britain. In his speech at West Point last week, he did not mention Britain. This despite the fact that the British have been our staunchest ally in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where the British now have 10,000 soldiers and have suffered 237 killed, more than a hundred this year alone. That’s 15 percent of all deaths in Afghanistan and 25 percent of the number of soldiers the United States has lost there. In other words, Britain has lost more soldiers in Afghanistan, relative to its population, than has the United States. And its contribution to the war effort has been every bit as large relative to its economy.

Obama has not only mostly ignored our British ally, he has positively insulted them.  Hardly had he moved into the Oval Office when he ordered that a bronze bust of Winston Churchill be returned to the British embassy. It had been given to the White House, in a symbolic gesture of solidarity, shortly after 9/11 .

When Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited the White House in March, he was denied a joint press conference and a formal dinner, as is standard when world leaders have talks with the president. Brown gave the president a pen holder made from the timbers of HMS Gannet, which had played an active part in suppressing the slave trade in the early 19th century. He also gave him the commissioning papers of HMS Resolute, which had been trapped in arctic ice, abandoned, found by an American whaling vessel, purchased by Congress, and presented to Queen Victoria as a gesture of friendship. In 1880, after the Resolute was broken up, the Queen ordered two magnificent desks made from her timbers. One is in Buckingham Palace. The other was presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes and has been used by almost every president since, including Barack Obama.

Obama gave Brown, not a movie buff, a bunch of classic American films on DVDs that won’t even play on British DVD players.

Although Obama bowed deeply to the King of Saudi Arabia and the Emperor of Japan, when he met Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in April, a hand shake was deemed sufficient.

When Brown came to the United States for the UN General Assembly meeting and the G20 summit in September, Obama refused repeated requests by the British Foreign Office to meet privately with Brown, although he found time to meet with the presidents of Russia and China, and the Japanese prime minister.

Why is the Obama White House treating the British this way? What has it got to gain from deliberate rudeness, such as returning the gift of a bust of the man who in 1940 saved the world — including the United States — from “a new Dark Age, made more sinister and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science”?

Why treat Gordon Brown as though he headed the government of a banana republic rather than the world’s sixth-largest economy and one of the few friendly countries on earth with serious military capabilities?

Like so much of this administration, it seems just gratuitous arrogance.

The Daily Mail today points out (h/t Instapundit) that Barack Obama, as candidate and president, has not said a single word in a speech regarding the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. That overstates the case a bit, as he did, at least once, use the phrase at a press conference with Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he visited Britain in April.

But the Daily Mail is right in general. Obama has been minimal, to say the least, in his treatment of Great Britain. In his speech at West Point last week, he did not mention Britain. This despite the fact that the British have been our staunchest ally in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where the British now have 10,000 soldiers and have suffered 237 killed, more than a hundred this year alone. That’s 15 percent of all deaths in Afghanistan and 25 percent of the number of soldiers the United States has lost there. In other words, Britain has lost more soldiers in Afghanistan, relative to its population, than has the United States. And its contribution to the war effort has been every bit as large relative to its economy.

Obama has not only mostly ignored our British ally, he has positively insulted them.  Hardly had he moved into the Oval Office when he ordered that a bronze bust of Winston Churchill be returned to the British embassy. It had been given to the White House, in a symbolic gesture of solidarity, shortly after 9/11 .

When Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited the White House in March, he was denied a joint press conference and a formal dinner, as is standard when world leaders have talks with the president. Brown gave the president a pen holder made from the timbers of HMS Gannet, which had played an active part in suppressing the slave trade in the early 19th century. He also gave him the commissioning papers of HMS Resolute, which had been trapped in arctic ice, abandoned, found by an American whaling vessel, purchased by Congress, and presented to Queen Victoria as a gesture of friendship. In 1880, after the Resolute was broken up, the Queen ordered two magnificent desks made from her timbers. One is in Buckingham Palace. The other was presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes and has been used by almost every president since, including Barack Obama.

Obama gave Brown, not a movie buff, a bunch of classic American films on DVDs that won’t even play on British DVD players.

Although Obama bowed deeply to the King of Saudi Arabia and the Emperor of Japan, when he met Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in April, a hand shake was deemed sufficient.

When Brown came to the United States for the UN General Assembly meeting and the G20 summit in September, Obama refused repeated requests by the British Foreign Office to meet privately with Brown, although he found time to meet with the presidents of Russia and China, and the Japanese prime minister.

Why is the Obama White House treating the British this way? What has it got to gain from deliberate rudeness, such as returning the gift of a bust of the man who in 1940 saved the world — including the United States — from “a new Dark Age, made more sinister and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science”?

Why treat Gordon Brown as though he headed the government of a banana republic rather than the world’s sixth-largest economy and one of the few friendly countries on earth with serious military capabilities?

Like so much of this administration, it seems just gratuitous arrogance.

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RE: Blame America First

Jonathan Tobin does a fantastic job of dissecting James Bradley’s ludicrous attempt to blame Theodore Roosevelt, of all people, for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I had read Bradley’s New York Times op-ed and thought of responding as well, but held off because, frankly, I was so baffled by the author’s convoluted reasoning. Not the least of Tobin’s services is to lay out Bradley’s argument more clearly than Bradley himself does, before going on to show why the argument holds no water. I have only a few points to add.

If I understand correctly (and I admit to not having read the book in question, The Imperial Cruise), Bradley wants to blame TR for holding racist, imperialist views — for being a staunch supporter of our acquisition of Asian colonies, namely Hawaii and the Philippines. Since those territories were subsequently attacked by Japan, presumably Bradley thinks acquiring them in the first place was a bad idea, that they were somehow an affront to Japan’s desire to exercise hegemony in the Pacific. A more logical conclusion to draw would be that those territories should have been more strongly defended in the 1930s so as to dissuade Japanese aggression.

But then Bradley heads off in a different and somewhat self-contradictory direction in his Times article, blaming Roosevelt for implicitly ceding Korea to Japan’s sphere of influence in 1905 after the Russo-Japanese War. TR certainly was misguided in thinking that Japan could be a liberal, responsible stakeholder in the international system, as Britain and the U.S. were, but it is hard to know what he could have done differently. Does Bradley think that Roosevelt should have gone to war in 1905 to champion Korean independence? In fact, if Roosevelt had done more to oppose Japanese imperialism, Bradley could simply bash him for his racist lack of sympathy for the Empire of Japan. In Bradley’s worldview, TR must be guilty of either stirring up the Japanese or appeasing them — maybe both. His argument is the height of unfairness.

Actually if he is looking for unfair scapegoats for the events of December 7, 1941 — and his father’s subsequent rendezvous with destiny on Iwo Jima — he would be better advised to skip TR and go straight for Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill? Yup. As I noted in my book War Made New, Japanese naval aviation got its start in 1920, when Britain sent an advisory mission to Japan, “complete with over 100 demonstration aircraft in a bid to boost the British aviation industry.” I went on to write:

British pilots formed the first faculty of the newly established Japanese naval aviation school at Lake Kasumigaura. British naval architects helped Japan complete its first aircraft carrier, the Hosho, in 1922. British aircraft designers helped Mitsubishi design its initial carrier aircraft. Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for both War and Air, was confident Britain and Japan would never go to war—“I do not believe there is the slightest chance of it in our lifetime,” he exclaimed in 1924. So what was the harm?

There you have it: Winston Churchill was responsible for the raid on Pearl Harbor.

Simply to lay out this line of reasoning is to show, of course, how absurd it is — only slightly less absurd than Bradley’s attempts to blame Theodore Roosevelt for events that occurred 22 years after his death. Let’s place blame where it really belongs: in the ruling circles of the Japanese Empire, where the decision to fight America was made. And if we want to find culprits on the American side, look at the “America Firsters” and other isolationists who made it impossible to undertake the kind of American military buildup prior to December 7 that might have deterred Japanese aggression.

Jonathan Tobin does a fantastic job of dissecting James Bradley’s ludicrous attempt to blame Theodore Roosevelt, of all people, for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I had read Bradley’s New York Times op-ed and thought of responding as well, but held off because, frankly, I was so baffled by the author’s convoluted reasoning. Not the least of Tobin’s services is to lay out Bradley’s argument more clearly than Bradley himself does, before going on to show why the argument holds no water. I have only a few points to add.

If I understand correctly (and I admit to not having read the book in question, The Imperial Cruise), Bradley wants to blame TR for holding racist, imperialist views — for being a staunch supporter of our acquisition of Asian colonies, namely Hawaii and the Philippines. Since those territories were subsequently attacked by Japan, presumably Bradley thinks acquiring them in the first place was a bad idea, that they were somehow an affront to Japan’s desire to exercise hegemony in the Pacific. A more logical conclusion to draw would be that those territories should have been more strongly defended in the 1930s so as to dissuade Japanese aggression.

But then Bradley heads off in a different and somewhat self-contradictory direction in his Times article, blaming Roosevelt for implicitly ceding Korea to Japan’s sphere of influence in 1905 after the Russo-Japanese War. TR certainly was misguided in thinking that Japan could be a liberal, responsible stakeholder in the international system, as Britain and the U.S. were, but it is hard to know what he could have done differently. Does Bradley think that Roosevelt should have gone to war in 1905 to champion Korean independence? In fact, if Roosevelt had done more to oppose Japanese imperialism, Bradley could simply bash him for his racist lack of sympathy for the Empire of Japan. In Bradley’s worldview, TR must be guilty of either stirring up the Japanese or appeasing them — maybe both. His argument is the height of unfairness.

Actually if he is looking for unfair scapegoats for the events of December 7, 1941 — and his father’s subsequent rendezvous with destiny on Iwo Jima — he would be better advised to skip TR and go straight for Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill? Yup. As I noted in my book War Made New, Japanese naval aviation got its start in 1920, when Britain sent an advisory mission to Japan, “complete with over 100 demonstration aircraft in a bid to boost the British aviation industry.” I went on to write:

British pilots formed the first faculty of the newly established Japanese naval aviation school at Lake Kasumigaura. British naval architects helped Japan complete its first aircraft carrier, the Hosho, in 1922. British aircraft designers helped Mitsubishi design its initial carrier aircraft. Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for both War and Air, was confident Britain and Japan would never go to war—“I do not believe there is the slightest chance of it in our lifetime,” he exclaimed in 1924. So what was the harm?

There you have it: Winston Churchill was responsible for the raid on Pearl Harbor.

Simply to lay out this line of reasoning is to show, of course, how absurd it is — only slightly less absurd than Bradley’s attempts to blame Theodore Roosevelt for events that occurred 22 years after his death. Let’s place blame where it really belongs: in the ruling circles of the Japanese Empire, where the decision to fight America was made. And if we want to find culprits on the American side, look at the “America Firsters” and other isolationists who made it impossible to undertake the kind of American military buildup prior to December 7 that might have deterred Japanese aggression.

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Palestine, Jordan, and the Hijacking of History

Thirty years ago this month, the journalist Sidney Zion wrote an article for New York magazine titled “The Palestine Problem: It’s All in A Name,” which he would update in 2003 for The Jewish Press. Zion essentially supported the right-wing Zionist argument against the historicity of the Kingdom of Jordan, while upending the right-wing Zionist argument against the historicity of a Palestinian people.

Not that the latter was necessarily an exclusively right-wing conceit — Labor party icon Golda Meir, for example, insisted publicly on more than one occasion that “There are no Palestinians, there are only Jordanians.”

“Of course,” wrote Zion, “she was wrong. In fact, there are no Jordanians, only Palestinians.”

Zion’s contention was that by pushing the idea that there was no such thing as a Palestinian Arab and acquiescing in the myth that Jordan is “an immutable entity, as distinct from Palestine as are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq,” Israeli leaders had helped obscure the empirical truths that Jordan was the artificial nation and “Jordanian” the artificial nationality. And their doing so lent important credence to the misperception, by now almost universally accepted, that Israel sits on the entirety of what was once Palestine.

The reality, Zion noted, was that “what began in 1920 as a mandate to turn Palestine into a Jewish homeland turned into a reverse Balfour Declaration, creating an Arab nation in four-fifths of Palestine and leaving the Jews to fight for statehood against the Arabs on the West Bank.”

Writing about Jordan in a 1981 New York Times op-ed column, Zion encapsulated in one paragraph the real history of Jordan and the repercussions of that history having disappeared down the memory hole:

I know people who think it’s two thousand years old. But Jordan was only the name of a river until 1922, when Winston Churchill, then colonial secretary, turned its East Bank into the Emirate of Transjordan – created an emirate out of the British Mandate territory of Palestine. Transjordan was 80 percent of the land mass of Palestine. Transjordan is Palestine. In 1946, by British fiat, [then-King] Hussein’s grandfather, Abdullah, became King of Transjordan. In 1948, Abdullah changed the name of his country to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Presto! The Ancient Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. So what? So everything. What was in every respect Palestine became a refugee camp for Palestinian Arabs, a host country for those “driven out” by the Jews. And so it is viewed today. The Hussein family, brought out of Arabia by Churchill, are the only true non-Palestinians living in Jordan today. Yet the world sees Palestine as wherever the Jews live.

Would history have turned out differently had Israel and its supporters, loudly and consistently, focused on the fact that the real “theft of Palestine” had been pulled off by the British for the sake of an Arab client and that almost without exception “Jordanians” are in fact Palestinians?

In his 1978 New York article, Zion felt that it indeed would make at least some difference “if the world were to understand that Israel now occupies only 20 percent of Palestine” and that “if it becomes clear that the Arab refugees and their children who crossed over to Jordan in 1948 did not enter a ‘host country’ but rather the Arab part of their own country . . . ”

Zion may have had some basis for hope 30 years ago, when Israel was but three decades old and not quite yet the international outcast it has since become. But now that Israel is twice as old as it was in 1978 and the world – including an appreciable number of Jews – has largely come to view the Arab-Israeli conflict through the prism of Israel’s enemies, such conjecture seems like nothing more than a sad joke.

It’s a story of missed opportunities, and of how a people lauded for their smarts permitted their history and patrimony to be hijacked while barely putting up a fight.

Thirty years ago this month, the journalist Sidney Zion wrote an article for New York magazine titled “The Palestine Problem: It’s All in A Name,” which he would update in 2003 for The Jewish Press. Zion essentially supported the right-wing Zionist argument against the historicity of the Kingdom of Jordan, while upending the right-wing Zionist argument against the historicity of a Palestinian people.

Not that the latter was necessarily an exclusively right-wing conceit — Labor party icon Golda Meir, for example, insisted publicly on more than one occasion that “There are no Palestinians, there are only Jordanians.”

“Of course,” wrote Zion, “she was wrong. In fact, there are no Jordanians, only Palestinians.”

Zion’s contention was that by pushing the idea that there was no such thing as a Palestinian Arab and acquiescing in the myth that Jordan is “an immutable entity, as distinct from Palestine as are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq,” Israeli leaders had helped obscure the empirical truths that Jordan was the artificial nation and “Jordanian” the artificial nationality. And their doing so lent important credence to the misperception, by now almost universally accepted, that Israel sits on the entirety of what was once Palestine.

The reality, Zion noted, was that “what began in 1920 as a mandate to turn Palestine into a Jewish homeland turned into a reverse Balfour Declaration, creating an Arab nation in four-fifths of Palestine and leaving the Jews to fight for statehood against the Arabs on the West Bank.”

Writing about Jordan in a 1981 New York Times op-ed column, Zion encapsulated in one paragraph the real history of Jordan and the repercussions of that history having disappeared down the memory hole:

I know people who think it’s two thousand years old. But Jordan was only the name of a river until 1922, when Winston Churchill, then colonial secretary, turned its East Bank into the Emirate of Transjordan – created an emirate out of the British Mandate territory of Palestine. Transjordan was 80 percent of the land mass of Palestine. Transjordan is Palestine. In 1946, by British fiat, [then-King] Hussein’s grandfather, Abdullah, became King of Transjordan. In 1948, Abdullah changed the name of his country to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Presto! The Ancient Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. So what? So everything. What was in every respect Palestine became a refugee camp for Palestinian Arabs, a host country for those “driven out” by the Jews. And so it is viewed today. The Hussein family, brought out of Arabia by Churchill, are the only true non-Palestinians living in Jordan today. Yet the world sees Palestine as wherever the Jews live.

Would history have turned out differently had Israel and its supporters, loudly and consistently, focused on the fact that the real “theft of Palestine” had been pulled off by the British for the sake of an Arab client and that almost without exception “Jordanians” are in fact Palestinians?

In his 1978 New York article, Zion felt that it indeed would make at least some difference “if the world were to understand that Israel now occupies only 20 percent of Palestine” and that “if it becomes clear that the Arab refugees and their children who crossed over to Jordan in 1948 did not enter a ‘host country’ but rather the Arab part of their own country . . . ”

Zion may have had some basis for hope 30 years ago, when Israel was but three decades old and not quite yet the international outcast it has since become. But now that Israel is twice as old as it was in 1978 and the world – including an appreciable number of Jews – has largely come to view the Arab-Israeli conflict through the prism of Israel’s enemies, such conjecture seems like nothing more than a sad joke.

It’s a story of missed opportunities, and of how a people lauded for their smarts permitted their history and patrimony to be hijacked while barely putting up a fight.

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McCain in The (Cosmic) Arena

John McCain’s new “Man in the Arena” ad seeks to place him alongside Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt as a brave defender of honorable principles, a man not content with pointing out problems from the sidelines. There are Churchill quotes and TR quotes interspersed with the words of McCain himself. The fact that the candidate doesn’t seem absolutely ridiculous inserting himself in such company says, I think, quite a lot.

What does strike me as odd is the cosmic imagery that pops up: supernovae and the black reaches of outer space. It’s one thing to try and elevate yourself to the level of an historical figure, but quite another to connect your cause to the basic, primal mysteries of existence. It’s hard to interpret the intended message without getting into very heady stuff. Is he making the claim that honor and courage are constitutive physical laws of the universe? Or is he trying to go phenomenon-to-phenomenon with Obama?

Karol Sheinin thinks he smiles too much throughout. But I say McCain can come off as a cranky warrior and could stand a touch of light-heartedness.

John McCain’s new “Man in the Arena” ad seeks to place him alongside Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt as a brave defender of honorable principles, a man not content with pointing out problems from the sidelines. There are Churchill quotes and TR quotes interspersed with the words of McCain himself. The fact that the candidate doesn’t seem absolutely ridiculous inserting himself in such company says, I think, quite a lot.

What does strike me as odd is the cosmic imagery that pops up: supernovae and the black reaches of outer space. It’s one thing to try and elevate yourself to the level of an historical figure, but quite another to connect your cause to the basic, primal mysteries of existence. It’s hard to interpret the intended message without getting into very heady stuff. Is he making the claim that honor and courage are constitutive physical laws of the universe? Or is he trying to go phenomenon-to-phenomenon with Obama?

Karol Sheinin thinks he smiles too much throughout. But I say McCain can come off as a cranky warrior and could stand a touch of light-heartedness.

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The Red Ken and Georgeous George Show

While most political commentators are sitting on the edge of their seats watching the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries, the race which has me hooked is the one for Mayor of London. There, the Conservative Boris Johnson, perhaps the most entertaining man in Anglo-American politics, is battling against incumbent Ken Livingstone, one of its most insipid. Though he is running as Labour’s candidate, Livingstone, according to the left-of-center columnist Nick Cohen, “has never moved away from the grimy conspirators of the totalitarian left, who have always despised the democratic traditions of the Labour movement.”

As if to illustrate the point that Livingstone attracts the most unsavory elements in British politics (much like Ron Paul does in the United States), Livingstone has just picked up the coveted endorsement of George Galloway, arguably the most loathsome elected official in the Western world (hat tip: Oliver Kamm). Galloway was compelled to announce his support for the London Mayor in response to a television documentary that aired earlier this month showing Livingstone imbibing whiskey on the job. (Responding to the allegations, Livingstone said that alcohol had not impaired Winston Churchill and that the whiskey helps his bronchitis). In a piece for the Guardian website, Galloway defends his leftist comrade from a slew of latter-day “Whittaker Chambers,” “the former communist turned apostate who ‘revealed’ that celebrated senior US state department official Alger Hiss was a red under the White House bed.”

In last week’s Guardian, that paper’s former comment editor Seumas Milne, portrayed London’s mayoral election as nothing less than a battle of good against evil. “A defeat for Livingstone would not just be a blow to the broadly defined left, working-class Londoners, women, ethnic minorities and greens,” he intoned. “It would represent a wider defeat for progressive politics, in Britain and beyond.” This would be the case were one’s definition of “progressive” to include the sort of violent and illiberal reactionaries whom Livingstone embraces and with whom Milne is a thinly disguised fellow traveler. A defeat for this sect of the all-too “broadly defined left” would be a victory for real liberals, in Britain and beyond.

While most political commentators are sitting on the edge of their seats watching the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries, the race which has me hooked is the one for Mayor of London. There, the Conservative Boris Johnson, perhaps the most entertaining man in Anglo-American politics, is battling against incumbent Ken Livingstone, one of its most insipid. Though he is running as Labour’s candidate, Livingstone, according to the left-of-center columnist Nick Cohen, “has never moved away from the grimy conspirators of the totalitarian left, who have always despised the democratic traditions of the Labour movement.”

As if to illustrate the point that Livingstone attracts the most unsavory elements in British politics (much like Ron Paul does in the United States), Livingstone has just picked up the coveted endorsement of George Galloway, arguably the most loathsome elected official in the Western world (hat tip: Oliver Kamm). Galloway was compelled to announce his support for the London Mayor in response to a television documentary that aired earlier this month showing Livingstone imbibing whiskey on the job. (Responding to the allegations, Livingstone said that alcohol had not impaired Winston Churchill and that the whiskey helps his bronchitis). In a piece for the Guardian website, Galloway defends his leftist comrade from a slew of latter-day “Whittaker Chambers,” “the former communist turned apostate who ‘revealed’ that celebrated senior US state department official Alger Hiss was a red under the White House bed.”

In last week’s Guardian, that paper’s former comment editor Seumas Milne, portrayed London’s mayoral election as nothing less than a battle of good against evil. “A defeat for Livingstone would not just be a blow to the broadly defined left, working-class Londoners, women, ethnic minorities and greens,” he intoned. “It would represent a wider defeat for progressive politics, in Britain and beyond.” This would be the case were one’s definition of “progressive” to include the sort of violent and illiberal reactionaries whom Livingstone embraces and with whom Milne is a thinly disguised fellow traveler. A defeat for this sect of the all-too “broadly defined left” would be a victory for real liberals, in Britain and beyond.

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Brown Comes A Cropper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sharif’s Return

The differences are greater than the similarities, but somehow the Saudi decision to send exiled politician Nawaz Sharif back to Pakistan on an airplane belonging to King Abdullah reminds me of the Germans’ decision to transport V.I. Lenin from his exile in Switzerland back to Russia in a sealed railway car in 1917. Winston Churchill famously wrote of the Germans: “It was with a sense of awe that they turned upon Russia the most grisly of all weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus into Russia.”

The German hope that Lenin would launch a revolution that would undermine the czarist regime fighting Germany was fully realized. But, while the short-term consequences were extremely favorable to Germany (the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, concluded by the new Bolshevik regime, took Russia out of the war and granted Germany huge territorial concessions), in the long term, the German move backfired. The Communist regime proved to be a more formidable and ruthless adversary to Germany than its czarist predecessor had been. By 1945 Russian soldiers were wandering through the ruins of Berlin, thanks to an offensive overseen by Lenin’s successor.

Will the Saudi move to send Sharif to Pakistan backfire as badly? Probably not. But it could still have negative repercussions.

The Saudis are more comfortable with Nawaz Sharif, an Islamic conservative who tried to impose sharia law during his tenure as prime minister in the 1990’s, than with Benazir Bhutto, a liberal, pro-Western woman. From the Saudi perspective, a woman shouldn’t be driving a car, much less running a country, especially not an Islamic country. No doubt the Saudis were alarmed by the sight of Bhutto returning to Pakistan with American help, and they wanted to get “their” candidate back into the political arena. Significantly, Sharif had spent the past eight years living on Saudi soil, while Bhutto spent her wilderness years in the freer air of Dubai and London.

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The differences are greater than the similarities, but somehow the Saudi decision to send exiled politician Nawaz Sharif back to Pakistan on an airplane belonging to King Abdullah reminds me of the Germans’ decision to transport V.I. Lenin from his exile in Switzerland back to Russia in a sealed railway car in 1917. Winston Churchill famously wrote of the Germans: “It was with a sense of awe that they turned upon Russia the most grisly of all weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus into Russia.”

The German hope that Lenin would launch a revolution that would undermine the czarist regime fighting Germany was fully realized. But, while the short-term consequences were extremely favorable to Germany (the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, concluded by the new Bolshevik regime, took Russia out of the war and granted Germany huge territorial concessions), in the long term, the German move backfired. The Communist regime proved to be a more formidable and ruthless adversary to Germany than its czarist predecessor had been. By 1945 Russian soldiers were wandering through the ruins of Berlin, thanks to an offensive overseen by Lenin’s successor.

Will the Saudi move to send Sharif to Pakistan backfire as badly? Probably not. But it could still have negative repercussions.

The Saudis are more comfortable with Nawaz Sharif, an Islamic conservative who tried to impose sharia law during his tenure as prime minister in the 1990’s, than with Benazir Bhutto, a liberal, pro-Western woman. From the Saudi perspective, a woman shouldn’t be driving a car, much less running a country, especially not an Islamic country. No doubt the Saudis were alarmed by the sight of Bhutto returning to Pakistan with American help, and they wanted to get “their” candidate back into the political arena. Significantly, Sharif had spent the past eight years living on Saudi soil, while Bhutto spent her wilderness years in the freer air of Dubai and London.

The Saudis are understandably determined to preserve their long-standing links with Pakistan. The ties are long and deep: the Saudis and Pakistanis worked closely together in the 1980’s, for example, to support the mujahideen fighting the Red Army in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis provided bases, training, and handlers; the Saudis (along with the Americans) provided the cash.

There are even unproven suspicions (denied vehemently by both sides) that the links may include Saudi financial contributions for the development of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, in return perhaps for an understanding that Pakistani nuclear technology will be made available to the Saudis should they ever need it. That possibility is no longer so far-fetched: If Iran develops its own nuclear bomb, Saudi Arabia may well feel compelled to match the “Persians.”

That could set off a destabilizing Middle Eastern arms race and raise the odds that a nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of jihadist terrorists. But from the Saudi perspective, going nuclear could be a necessary step toward preserving their security and prestige. If so, it would be helpful to the Saudis to have in Pakistan a leader who would offer Riyadh all the cooperation it needs. And Sharif fits the bill better than Bhutto.

But the Saudis had better be careful what they wish for. If Sharif is less dogged than, say, Bhutto would be in cracking down on jihadists, the results could come back to haunt the Saudis. Pakistan, after all, has become a haven of al Qaeda extremists who hate the Saudi regime at least as much as they hate America and Israel. It is in the Saudis’ interests to have the Pakistan government defeat the jihadists—something that Pervez Musharraf has not been willing or able to do and that Sharif may or may not be willing to do either, but that Bhutto has promised to do. Of course the ability of any of these leaders to stop the growth of Islamic radicalism may be limited because of the unwillingness or inability of many in the Pakistani security forces to fight especially hard against their Muslim “brothers.” But it would certainly be helpful to have a leader who appears more emotionally committed to the fight than Musharraf has been or than Sharif may be.

There is nothing wrong with allowing Sharif to compete in free elections; they would not have any credibility if he were barred. But one wonders how much covert support the Saudis may be providing him beyond simply his plush ticket back.

The Saudis had better be careful not to compromise their long-term interests in return for short-term gain—a mistake they last made in the 1990’s when, working hand-in-glove with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, they funded the most radical mujahideen groups fighting in Afghanistan. Many of those Afghan veterans then journeyed back to Saudi Arabia and formed the nucleus of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist group that Saudi security forces have been battling for the last several years.

Saudi Arabia has already imported one plague bacillus; it should be wary of a re-infection.

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Pundit Accountability

In his column last week in Time, the political columnist Joe Klein continued to offer withering criticisms against views he once held.

To set the stage: a few weeks ago Klein wrote that the Iraq war was “the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President.” What he didn’t tell us in his blog posting is that on February 22, 2003—before Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced—Klein told Tim Russert (on Russert’s CNBC program) that he thought the Iraq war was probably the right decision and proceeded to explain why. (My comments on Klein’s flip can be found here.)

This time Joe, in a column devoted mostly to Democrats, cannot resist a dig at George W. Bush, “whose naïve support for democracy in countries that aren’t ready for it has destabilized the Middle East.”

Yet during the “Arab Spring”—meaning the early months of 2005—Klein held a different view. In the February 6, 2005 issue of Time, Klein wrote this:

Yes, disentanglement will be difficult. And, yes, we shouldn’t “overhype” the [Iraq] election, as John Kerry clumsily suggested. But this is not a moment for caveats. It is a moment for solemn appreciation of the Iraqi achievement—however it may turn out—and for hope…. This was a symptom of a larger disease: most Democrats seemed as reluctant as Kerry to express the slightest hint of optimism about the elections.

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In his column last week in Time, the political columnist Joe Klein continued to offer withering criticisms against views he once held.

To set the stage: a few weeks ago Klein wrote that the Iraq war was “the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President.” What he didn’t tell us in his blog posting is that on February 22, 2003—before Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced—Klein told Tim Russert (on Russert’s CNBC program) that he thought the Iraq war was probably the right decision and proceeded to explain why. (My comments on Klein’s flip can be found here.)

This time Joe, in a column devoted mostly to Democrats, cannot resist a dig at George W. Bush, “whose naïve support for democracy in countries that aren’t ready for it has destabilized the Middle East.”

Yet during the “Arab Spring”—meaning the early months of 2005—Klein held a different view. In the February 6, 2005 issue of Time, Klein wrote this:

Yes, disentanglement will be difficult. And, yes, we shouldn’t “overhype” the [Iraq] election, as John Kerry clumsily suggested. But this is not a moment for caveats. It is a moment for solemn appreciation of the Iraqi achievement—however it may turn out—and for hope…. This was a symptom of a larger disease: most Democrats seemed as reluctant as Kerry to express the slightest hint of optimism about the elections.

Two weeks later, Klein wrote this:

And yet, for the moment, Bush’s instincts—his supporters would argue these are bedrock values—seem to be paying off. The President’s attention span may be haphazard, but the immediate satisfactions are difficult to dispute. Saddam Hussein? Evildoer. Take him out. But wait, no WMD? No post-invasion planning? Deaths and chaos? Awful, but…. Freedom! Look at those Shiites vote! And now, after all that rapid-eye movement, who can say the Shiites and the Kurds won’t create a government with a loyal Shiite-Kurd security force? And who can say the Sunni rebels won’t—with some creative dealmaking—eventually acquiesce? The foreign-policy priesthood may be appalled by all the unexpected consequences, but there has been stunned silence in the non-neocon think tanks since the Iraqi elections.

And several weeks later he wrote this:

Under the enlightened leadership of Grand Ayatullah Ali Husaini Sistani, the Shiite majority has played the democracy game with gusto. It has acknowledged the importance of Kurdish and Sunni minority rights and seems unlikely to demand the constitutional imposition of strict Islamic law. Most important, it has resisted the temptation to retaliate against the outrageous violence of Sunni extremists, especially against Shiite mosques…. If the President turns out to be right—and let’s hope he is—a century’s worth of woolly-headed liberal dreamers will be vindicated. And he will surely deserve that woolliest of all peace prizes, the Nobel.

From support for the Iraq war to calling it the “stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President;” from possible vindication and a Nobel Peace Prize for George W. Bush to his “naïve support for democracy in countries that aren’t ready for it;” these are head-snapping turnabouts.

In his preface to The Gathering Storm, Winston Churchill wrote, “I have adhered to my rule of never criticizing any measure of war or policy after the event unless I had before expressed publicly or formally my opinion or warning about it.”

Many columnists and commentators suffer from the opposite syndrome—though Klein more so than most. They write with passionate conviction and certitude at The Moment—even when what they believe at that moment is significantly different than, or even the opposite of, what they once said and believed. They are, to amend an observation Michael Kelly made about Bill Clinton, “the existential pundits, living with absolute sincerity in the passing moment.”

Politics has accountability in the form of elections. Punditry, it sometimes seems, is an accountability-free zone.

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“Churchillian” Statesmanship

The Washington, D.C.-based Churchill Centre has just awarded the first Winston Churchill Award for Statesmanship to James A. Baker and Lee Hamilton.

This is the same James A. Baker who, as Secretary of State, when asked what the U.S. would do about aggression, ethnic cleansing, and mass murder in Bosnia-Herzegovina, replied: “We have no dog in that fight.” It is hard to say which was more Churchillian, the sentiment or the eloquence.

By this standard, Hamilton, former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was even more Churchillian. His reaction to the Bosnia debacle was described thus by Congressional Quarterly:

Hamilton was a well-modulated voice for cautious diplomacy…. Early in the Clinton administration, he agreed to a strategy under which Bosnia’s factions would agree to a partition of the republic…. But when Bosnia’s militarily dominant Serbs resisted, putting pressure on Clinton for U.S. military action…Hamilton suggested more time was needed to allow diplomacy and economic sanctions to work. To Hamilton’s many admirers, his caution as a foreign policy-maker is an aid in deterring the nation from rushing into foreign policy mistakes.

Other equally Churchillian moments in Hamilton’s legislative career include leading the opposition to military action against Iraq when it occupied Kuwait in 1990; opposition to aid to the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980’s as well as to the besieged anti-Communist government in neighboring El Salvador; votes against a raft of weapons systems from the B-1 bomber to missile defense; and championing of the nuclear freeze.

Of course, the Churchill Centre was not honoring this pair for their past records but rather, as it explained, for their leadership of “the Iraq Study group, which resulted in critical policy recommendations.” The essence of those recommendations was to abandon hope of victory, begin to withdraw our soldiers, and cushion our defeat by appealing for help to the government of Iran (whose official slogan is “death to America”).

There’s a solution that would have done Churchill proud.

If you find the Baker-Hamilton legacy incongruent with that of Churchill, the Churchill Centre is out to reshape your memory of him, much as various academics lately have redefined Ronald Reagan as a liberal or moderate in noble contrast to the odious conservative, George W. Bush. The Centre explains: “The political precept that won Churchill respect from all sides was his belief that in difficult times the best results follow when people of differing beliefs and backgrounds come together, the greatest example of which was the ‘Grand Alliance’ of World War II.” In other words, Churchill’s great feat was not his resistance to Hitler but his embrace of Stalin.

Next, perhaps, the Centre will create a Churchill Award for Appeasement.

The Washington, D.C.-based Churchill Centre has just awarded the first Winston Churchill Award for Statesmanship to James A. Baker and Lee Hamilton.

This is the same James A. Baker who, as Secretary of State, when asked what the U.S. would do about aggression, ethnic cleansing, and mass murder in Bosnia-Herzegovina, replied: “We have no dog in that fight.” It is hard to say which was more Churchillian, the sentiment or the eloquence.

By this standard, Hamilton, former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was even more Churchillian. His reaction to the Bosnia debacle was described thus by Congressional Quarterly:

Hamilton was a well-modulated voice for cautious diplomacy…. Early in the Clinton administration, he agreed to a strategy under which Bosnia’s factions would agree to a partition of the republic…. But when Bosnia’s militarily dominant Serbs resisted, putting pressure on Clinton for U.S. military action…Hamilton suggested more time was needed to allow diplomacy and economic sanctions to work. To Hamilton’s many admirers, his caution as a foreign policy-maker is an aid in deterring the nation from rushing into foreign policy mistakes.

Other equally Churchillian moments in Hamilton’s legislative career include leading the opposition to military action against Iraq when it occupied Kuwait in 1990; opposition to aid to the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980’s as well as to the besieged anti-Communist government in neighboring El Salvador; votes against a raft of weapons systems from the B-1 bomber to missile defense; and championing of the nuclear freeze.

Of course, the Churchill Centre was not honoring this pair for their past records but rather, as it explained, for their leadership of “the Iraq Study group, which resulted in critical policy recommendations.” The essence of those recommendations was to abandon hope of victory, begin to withdraw our soldiers, and cushion our defeat by appealing for help to the government of Iran (whose official slogan is “death to America”).

There’s a solution that would have done Churchill proud.

If you find the Baker-Hamilton legacy incongruent with that of Churchill, the Churchill Centre is out to reshape your memory of him, much as various academics lately have redefined Ronald Reagan as a liberal or moderate in noble contrast to the odious conservative, George W. Bush. The Centre explains: “The political precept that won Churchill respect from all sides was his belief that in difficult times the best results follow when people of differing beliefs and backgrounds come together, the greatest example of which was the ‘Grand Alliance’ of World War II.” In other words, Churchill’s great feat was not his resistance to Hitler but his embrace of Stalin.

Next, perhaps, the Centre will create a Churchill Award for Appeasement.

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Nazi Mitfords

On November 6, the New York Public Library’s “Conservators Evening” for annual contributors of $1,500 will honor Charlotte Mosley, editor of the new Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters from HarperCollins. By far the most gifted of these siblings was Nancy Mitford (1904-1973), who produced droll, perceptive histories of France like The Sun King, Madame de Pompadour, and Voltaire in Love, as well as translations of the 17th century French novel La Princesse de Clèves and the modern stage comedy by André Roussin, La Petite Hutte.

Ever gracious to literary colleagues, Nancy Mitford also contributed an affectionate preface to Lucy Norton’s worthy translation of excerpts from Saint-Simon. Nancy’s sister Jessica Mitford, (1917–1996), by contrast, produced a now-outdated critique of undertakers, The American Way of Death, (1963) as well as a vast amount of now-faded radical polemics. The rest of the Mitford sisters achieved even less. Two were rabid adorers of Hitler, Unity Mitford (1914-1948) and Diana Mitford (1910–2003), the latter of whom was the worshipful wife of Oswald Mosley (1896–1980), the rabidly anti-Semitic founder of the British Union of Fascists.

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On November 6, the New York Public Library’s “Conservators Evening” for annual contributors of $1,500 will honor Charlotte Mosley, editor of the new Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters from HarperCollins. By far the most gifted of these siblings was Nancy Mitford (1904-1973), who produced droll, perceptive histories of France like The Sun King, Madame de Pompadour, and Voltaire in Love, as well as translations of the 17th century French novel La Princesse de Clèves and the modern stage comedy by André Roussin, La Petite Hutte.

Ever gracious to literary colleagues, Nancy Mitford also contributed an affectionate preface to Lucy Norton’s worthy translation of excerpts from Saint-Simon. Nancy’s sister Jessica Mitford, (1917–1996), by contrast, produced a now-outdated critique of undertakers, The American Way of Death, (1963) as well as a vast amount of now-faded radical polemics. The rest of the Mitford sisters achieved even less. Two were rabid adorers of Hitler, Unity Mitford (1914-1948) and Diana Mitford (1910–2003), the latter of whom was the worshipful wife of Oswald Mosley (1896–1980), the rabidly anti-Semitic founder of the British Union of Fascists.

Although Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters is being marketed by its publisher as a glamorous item penned by the “great wits and beauties of their age,” there is nothing either witty or beautiful about Diana’s and Unity’s ardent crushes on Hitler, with whom they socialized regularly in the 1930’s. In 1937 Unity tells Diana, “Nazism is my life,” while Diana replies, “I thirst for only a glimpse of” Hitler, and in 1938 informs Unity: “The Fuehrer is the kindest man in the world, isn’t he?”

Readers who dissent from this view will find astonishingly adamant defenses here of Diana by the editor Charlotte Mosley, her daughter-in-law. Charlotte is the wife of Diana’s son Oswald Alexander Mosley (born 1938), and as editor of previous collections of Nancy’s letters, Ms. Mosley repeatedly defended her mother-in-law, despite Diana’s being an unrepentant Nazi to her dying day. Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters amps up this unapologetic stance, accusing Nancy of “disloyalty” and “betrayal” because during World War II, she sensibly told friends in the British government of her concern that Diana was an “extremely dangerous person.” Moreover, Nancy pointed out that another sister, Pamela, was “anti-Semitic, anti-democratic, and defeatist.” Rather than applauding Nancy’s good sense and courage, Ms. Mosley equates Nancy’s passion for a French Gaullist officer to Diana’s and Unity’s doting on Hitler, writing that Nancy “became as indiscriminately pro-French as Unity had been pro-German.”

Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters mashes the sisters into a conglomerate, describing them as knowing “Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, and Hitler; [they] were friends of Lytton Strachey, Evelyn Waugh, and Maya Angelou.” This conjures up confused images of Hitler socializing with Maya Angelou. Historical mish-mash is a bad approach for a book dealing with six sisters of whom only one, Nancy, produced work that is as fresh today as when she wrote it.

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The Land of the Eunuchs

In Thursday morning’s Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash appealed for European solidarity with Britain in the face of the Iranian seizure of fifteen British naval personnel. “Fourteen European men and one European woman have been held at an undisclosed location for nearly a week, interrogated, denied consular access, but shown on Iranian television, with one of them making a staged ‘confession,’ clearly under duress. So if Europe is as it claims to be, what’s it going to do about it? Where’s the solidarity? Where’s the action?” asks Garton Ash.

He notes that “the EU is by far Iran’s biggest trading partner. More than 40 percent of its imports come from, and more than a quarter of its exports go to, the EU. Remarkably, this trade has grown strongly in the last years of looming crisis.” This commerce is not purely in the private sector but is sustained by European government subsidies. “The total government underwriting commitment in 2005 was €5.8bn, more than for Russia or China,” Garton Ash reports.

Garton Ash asks whether “Britain’s European friends—and Germany, France, and Italy in particular—might be prevailed upon to convey to Iran, perhaps privately in the first instance, the possibility that such export credit guarantees would be temporarily suspended until the kidnapped Europeans are freed.”

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In Thursday morning’s Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash appealed for European solidarity with Britain in the face of the Iranian seizure of fifteen British naval personnel. “Fourteen European men and one European woman have been held at an undisclosed location for nearly a week, interrogated, denied consular access, but shown on Iranian television, with one of them making a staged ‘confession,’ clearly under duress. So if Europe is as it claims to be, what’s it going to do about it? Where’s the solidarity? Where’s the action?” asks Garton Ash.

He notes that “the EU is by far Iran’s biggest trading partner. More than 40 percent of its imports come from, and more than a quarter of its exports go to, the EU. Remarkably, this trade has grown strongly in the last years of looming crisis.” This commerce is not purely in the private sector but is sustained by European government subsidies. “The total government underwriting commitment in 2005 was €5.8bn, more than for Russia or China,” Garton Ash reports.

Garton Ash asks whether “Britain’s European friends—and Germany, France, and Italy in particular—might be prevailed upon to convey to Iran, perhaps privately in the first instance, the possibility that such export credit guarantees would be temporarily suspended until the kidnapped Europeans are freed.”

When I read this, I took pen in hand to point out the insipidness of Garton Ash’s remedy: that the words to Iran would be spoken “privately,” that they would only allude to a “possibility” of suspending credits “temporarily.” Presumably, then, when the fifteen were freed, Europe would resume subsidizing the Iranian economy while Iran went on building its nuclear bomb. In short, I thought Garton Ash rather namby-pamby.

Until, that is, I read the replies to his column posted on the Guardian’s blog. Then I saw that by contemporary European standards—or at least the standards of that part of Europe represented by the left-leaning Guardian—Garton Ash might as well be the second coming of Winston Churchill. Scores of comments are posted. Out of a randomly chosen 25, I counted one who grudgingly supported Garton Ash’s position, two who called for stronger action against Iran and 22 (i.e., 88 percent) who denounced him as a jingoist, imperialist, war-mongering puppet of Uncle Sam.

Here is a sample (not including any whose comments or screen names suggested that they might be Iranian or Middle Eastern):

“Timothy Garton Ash [is] a pompous tub-thumping twat who gets his meal-tickets from the Americans these days. . . . It ill behooves pundits like Mr. Garton Ash to bang the table about who can detain whom, when the ‘Alliance of the Willing’ is illegally holding 450+ detainees in Guantanamo Bay.”

“If the prisoners confessed to being in Iranian waters, they probably were.”

“Britain is now no better than Stalinist Russia, with regard to certain media in so far as taking the government line.”

“We have the hullabaloo about supposed mistreatment, possibe torture, etc. Complete propagandistic bullshit. Once again, no proof at all.”

“A simple apology to the Iranians (i.e., sorry fifteen sailors got lost by a kilometer) would have diffused this crisis completely in a single instant.”

It is said that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed is king. Mutatis mutandis, in the land of the eunuchs.

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The British Pat Buchanan

The battle has been joined for the soul of the British Conservative party in, of all places, that leading organ of the Left, the Guardian.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, author of The Strange Death of Tory England, a polemic against Thatcherism, and Yo, Blair!, a diatribe against Tony Blair’s alliance with George W. Bush, has published an article in that paper taking the British Conservative party to task. According to Wheatcroft, “the Tories have been infiltrated by Anglo-neoconservatives, a species easily defined. Several of the younger MP’s are fanatical adherents of the creed with its three prongs: ardent support for the Iraq war, for the U.S., and for Israel.”

Wheatcroft wheels out the old anti-Semitic canard of “dual loyalty” by suggesting that only in Britain “is there a Conservative party, and Tory press, largely in the hands of people whose basic commitment is to the national interest of another country, or countries.” He quotes one such member of Parliament, Douglas Carswell, who insists that “it is in our national interest to support Israel . . . because I believe they are a front-line ally in a war against people who wish to destroy our democratic way of life.” Wheatcroft then twists his words to ask if the Tory leader, David Cameron, shares “Carswell’s belief that the British army in Basra and Helmand is fighting on behalf of Israel.”

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The battle has been joined for the soul of the British Conservative party in, of all places, that leading organ of the Left, the Guardian.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, author of The Strange Death of Tory England, a polemic against Thatcherism, and Yo, Blair!, a diatribe against Tony Blair’s alliance with George W. Bush, has published an article in that paper taking the British Conservative party to task. According to Wheatcroft, “the Tories have been infiltrated by Anglo-neoconservatives, a species easily defined. Several of the younger MP’s are fanatical adherents of the creed with its three prongs: ardent support for the Iraq war, for the U.S., and for Israel.”

Wheatcroft wheels out the old anti-Semitic canard of “dual loyalty” by suggesting that only in Britain “is there a Conservative party, and Tory press, largely in the hands of people whose basic commitment is to the national interest of another country, or countries.” He quotes one such member of Parliament, Douglas Carswell, who insists that “it is in our national interest to support Israel . . . because I believe they are a front-line ally in a war against people who wish to destroy our democratic way of life.” Wheatcroft then twists his words to ask if the Tory leader, David Cameron, shares “Carswell’s belief that the British army in Basra and Helmand is fighting on behalf of Israel.”

Wheatcroft is equally hostile to the United States: “There was once a vigorous high Tory tradition of independence from—if not hostility to—America. It was found in the Morning Post before the war, and it continued down to Enoch Powell and Alan Clark.”

As it happens, I met both these colorful figures, who served in various Tory administrations, though never at the highest level. Powell is best remembered for his “Rivers of Blood” speech of 1968, in which he denounced mass immigration from the Commonwealth and warned of civil war. This speech was widely interpreted as racist; it permanently marginalized Powell in mainstream politics. A few years later he left the Tory party. Some people now see him as a prophet who foresaw the difficulty of integrating a large Muslim minority, but his concerns were about race rather than religion.

Powell was once asked whether he was anti-American. He replied: “Most people are. The only change is that it has become a term of abuse.” In answer to the question why, he said: “Well, I just don’t like America, or Americans. It’s like saying you like sugar in your tea. De gustibus non est disputandum.”

At least Enoch Powell was not an anti-Semite. Alan Clark, however, was not only anti-American, but an enthusiastic and unashamed admirer of Hitler, whose portrait he kept on his wall. Clark’s pro-Nazi views permeate Barbarossa, his well-known history of the German invasion of Russia, but they also shine through at several points in The Tories: Conservatives and the Nation State, 1922-1997. He hints that German-Jewish refugees hindered Anglo-German efforts to preserve peace. Of Chamberlain’s belated decision to declare war on Germany in 1939, he writes: “Not since the Angevin kings had responded to mystic revelations from the Divinity instructing them to call a crusade to arms can any group of national leaders have taken so momentous a decision on such tenuous assumptions.”

But it is when Clark comes to Rudolf Hess’s flight to Scotland that his agenda is clearly revealed. Not only is he convinced (against all the evidence) that Hess brought a genuine peace offer from Hitler, that Churchill turned down this “wasted opportunity” to save the British Empire, and that the entire British establishment then engaged in a conspiracy to cover it up right down to 1987, when Hess was “strangled in his cell.” Clark also believes that a fall in Wall Street stocks on the news of Hess’s flight holds the key: peace, he claims, would have hit profits, which were far more important to Americans (many of them Jewish) than “the certain fate of human beings.”

As for more recent episodes: Clark depicts the Falklands war as a behind-the-scenes struggle between the Reagan administration, determined to frustrate the British attempt to regain the islands, and a stubborn Mrs. Thatcher—which is more or less the opposite of the version she herself recalls. Clark gained notoriety by publishing his sensational diaries, but they merely reinforce the impression of a clever but twisted mind, a crashing snob and conspiracy theorist, who fantasized about his boss, Mrs. Thatcher, as a kind of female Hitler, describing the thrill he got from her proximity as “Führer-Kontakt”.

So much for Alan Clark and Enoch Powell as keepers of the Tory flame. But Wheatcroft also admires the Arabist tradition exemplified by the vehemently anti-Zionist Ian (now Lord) Gilmour. Then he goes further back, rejecting Charles Moore’s claim that Conservatives have usually supported Israel in the past: “That highest of high Tories, Lord Curzon, deplored the Balfour declaration. . . . In his day Curzon might have seemed the truer Tory than Balfour, and it’s only recently that his spirit has been stifled in his old party.”

So, in Wheatcroft’s mind, true Tories reject the existence of Israel. He ignores such Conservative heroes as Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, who staunchly supported both America and Israel, or in the more remote past Edmund Burke and Benjamin Disraeli. Instead, he postulates “infiltration” of the party by “zealous Anglo-neocons” who have “encircled” the Tory leader. He does not want David Cameron to become “the Hugo Chavez of Notting Hill,” he says, but to “forge a foreign policy that, unlike Blair’s, is based on the national interest of this country and not another.”

Geoffrey Wheatcroft emerges here as a British equivalent of Pat Buchanan. It is not often that such venomous resentment of the United States and Israel from the Right is brought out into the open in Britain—and no accident that it is the Guardian that offers these views a platform. To judge from the readers’ comments on the Guardian website, he has brought quite a few extreme anti-Semites out of the woodwork, too. But the tenor of Wheatcroft’s article is not untypical of the circles in which many senior Tories move. It is not only in America that paleoconservatives exist. Britain evidently has its very own Anglo-paleocons.

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France’s “Grandeur”

In announcing that he would not seek a third term as France’s president, Jacques Chirac averred that he had devoted himself to “justice, progress, peace, and the grandeur of France.” The last of these desiderata sounds to foreign ears like a confession, but it was intended as a boast, and so apparently was it taken by his countrymen. The foreign policy of no other Western state is driven by such narcissism. Others might pursue their security or prosperity or their values, but only the French still feel their heart quicken at the thought of their own grandeur.

Many other national goals can be achieved at no one’s expense. The peace, prosperity, or liberty of one nation is ordinarily a boon to the peace, prosperity, or liberty of others. But grandeur is inherently comparative or invidious. It is a zero-sum game. And the quest for it tends to make French foreign policy mischievous and unprincipled.

Chirac’s model, Charles De Gaulle, withdrew France partially from NATO and declared that France’s nuclear weapons would be directed at “all azimuths.” This “third camp” stance served the French notion of grandeur, but it put a heavier burden on the other members of the Atlantic alliance to provide for collective security without France’s full cooperation (even though France continued to benefit fully from NATO’s protection).

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In announcing that he would not seek a third term as France’s president, Jacques Chirac averred that he had devoted himself to “justice, progress, peace, and the grandeur of France.” The last of these desiderata sounds to foreign ears like a confession, but it was intended as a boast, and so apparently was it taken by his countrymen. The foreign policy of no other Western state is driven by such narcissism. Others might pursue their security or prosperity or their values, but only the French still feel their heart quicken at the thought of their own grandeur.

Many other national goals can be achieved at no one’s expense. The peace, prosperity, or liberty of one nation is ordinarily a boon to the peace, prosperity, or liberty of others. But grandeur is inherently comparative or invidious. It is a zero-sum game. And the quest for it tends to make French foreign policy mischievous and unprincipled.

Chirac’s model, Charles De Gaulle, withdrew France partially from NATO and declared that France’s nuclear weapons would be directed at “all azimuths.” This “third camp” stance served the French notion of grandeur, but it put a heavier burden on the other members of the Atlantic alliance to provide for collective security without France’s full cooperation (even though France continued to benefit fully from NATO’s protection).

Chirac’s predecessor, François Mitterrand, made a dramatic flight into Sarajevo in 1992 while it was under siege and bombardment by Serbian ethnic cleansers. But this was just theater. France’s main goal in the Bosnian crisis was not to stop the killing but to keep NATO out, so that the American role in Europe might be reduced—in the interests of French grandeur. However many Bosnians might be sacrificed on this altar was of secondary concern.

Chirac has had a better record than his predecessors, cooperating with the U.S. on Kosovo, Lebanon, and recently on Iran. But his approach to Iraq, the Israel-Arab conflict, China, and other issues has been based on the pursuit of French grandeur rather than justice, prosperity, or peace.

France’s overweening amour-propre is especially troubling because of the nation’s seat on the UN Security Council. The theory behind the UN, as explained by Secretary of State Cordell Hull when it was being founded, was that “the four major powers will . . . consider themselves morally bound not to go to war . . . and to cooperate with each other . . . in maintaining the peace.” (The four powers were the U.S., the UK, the USSR, and China. France was subsequently added as a permanent member of the Security Council at the behest of Winston Churchill, in what amounted to the UN’s first act of affirmative action.)

The key phrase in Hull’s statement is “morally bound,” suggesting action based on something other than naked self-interest. Every state will put its own security first. But some interpret this in an enlightened way, leavened by a concern for the international commonweal. The U.S and the UK do so, but two other veto-wielding members of the Security Council, Russia and China, pursue national aggrandizement, pure and simple, constrained only by prudence. And France pursues its obsession with grandeur. This is the principal reason why the world body is such a hopeless failure.

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Churchill’s Ghost(writer), Part 2

Read my first post on this subject here.

It’s only in relatively recent times that any Jew would take umbrage at a remark, such as that made in a recently discovered, unpublished article from 1937 written by Adam Diston, a ghostwriter in the employ of Winston Churchill, that “Jewish separateness” is a cause of anti-Semitism. Even a hundred years ago—let alone before that—Jews would have been the first to agree with such a diagnosis. In fact, they would have been astonished to think that anyone might disagree.

For a traditionally religious Jew, it was obvious that Jews were envied and hated because they were a people chosen by God, Who required them to be different; to rebel against this was to rebel against God Himself. To anti-traditional Jews, who sought to put an end to anti-Semitism, it was equally obvious that this could be done only by ceasing to be different, whether via religious reform and modernization, by virtue of which Jews would become just like their Gentile neighbors in all but certain ritual details; total assimilation, in which even these minor distinctions would be cast off; or Zionism, which would make Jews just like others, but with a territory and language of their own.

Each of these alternative projects, whatever its other successes, has failed to eliminate anti-Semitism and may even have exacerbated it. And so, if Jews think they have ceased to be different, yet continue to be the targets of anti-Semitism, it must be anti-Semitic to think they are different. From now on, a remark like Diston’s begins to rankle.

For most Jews, the real problem with contemporary anti-Semitism is that they no longer understand what it is about. To regain this understanding is the most important task for Jewish intellectuals of our generation.

Read my first post on this subject here.

It’s only in relatively recent times that any Jew would take umbrage at a remark, such as that made in a recently discovered, unpublished article from 1937 written by Adam Diston, a ghostwriter in the employ of Winston Churchill, that “Jewish separateness” is a cause of anti-Semitism. Even a hundred years ago—let alone before that—Jews would have been the first to agree with such a diagnosis. In fact, they would have been astonished to think that anyone might disagree.

For a traditionally religious Jew, it was obvious that Jews were envied and hated because they were a people chosen by God, Who required them to be different; to rebel against this was to rebel against God Himself. To anti-traditional Jews, who sought to put an end to anti-Semitism, it was equally obvious that this could be done only by ceasing to be different, whether via religious reform and modernization, by virtue of which Jews would become just like their Gentile neighbors in all but certain ritual details; total assimilation, in which even these minor distinctions would be cast off; or Zionism, which would make Jews just like others, but with a territory and language of their own.

Each of these alternative projects, whatever its other successes, has failed to eliminate anti-Semitism and may even have exacerbated it. And so, if Jews think they have ceased to be different, yet continue to be the targets of anti-Semitism, it must be anti-Semitic to think they are different. From now on, a remark like Diston’s begins to rankle.

For most Jews, the real problem with contemporary anti-Semitism is that they no longer understand what it is about. To regain this understanding is the most important task for Jewish intellectuals of our generation.

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Churchill’s Ghost(writer)

One can react in various ways to the unearthing by a Cambridge University researcher of a never-published 1937 article by Winston Churchill. This article, entitled “How The Jews Can Combat Persecution,” may actually have been, we are told, the work of a pro-fascist ghostwriter named Adam Marshall Diston.

One can, for instance, be disappointed to find out that Churchill used ghostwriters. Et tu, Winston?

One can accept Churchill’s use of ghostwriters but still wonder: a fascist ghostwriter? In 1937? And even if for some inexplicable reason Churchill saw nothing wrong with this, why on earth would he have asked such a person to write about the Jews?

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One can react in various ways to the unearthing by a Cambridge University researcher of a never-published 1937 article by Winston Churchill. This article, entitled “How The Jews Can Combat Persecution,” may actually have been, we are told, the work of a pro-fascist ghostwriter named Adam Marshall Diston.

One can, for instance, be disappointed to find out that Churchill used ghostwriters. Et tu, Winston?

One can accept Churchill’s use of ghostwriters but still wonder: a fascist ghostwriter? In 1937? And even if for some inexplicable reason Churchill saw nothing wrong with this, why on earth would he have asked such a person to write about the Jews?

One can reflect that if Diston really wrote the article, he made a genuine effort—knowing what Churchill’s views were—to appear even-handed. True, he attacked Jewish sweatshop owners. True, he wrote that, by being “different,” the Jews “have been partly responsible for the antagonism from which they suffer.” But he also condemned Nazi policies toward the Jews and called them “as cruel, as relentless, and as vindictive as any in [the Jews’] long history.”

One can even entertain the possibility that Diston was faithfully reflecting Churchill’s opinions. We know by now that decent men before and even after the Holocaust were capable of thinking things that we would consider anti-Semitic today. When Harry Truman, whose immediate recognition of the state of Israel in 1948 was heroic from a Jewish point of view, wrote in his diary in 1947 that Jews were “very, very selfish” and that “neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the underdog,” he was simply reflecting prejudices that many Americans of his generation took for granted—prejudices that they would have been startled to be told were prejudices.

But there is yet another way of reacting to the judgment expressed in Churchill’s article that the “separateness of the Jew[s]” is one of the causes of anti-Semitism. Perhaps the article was simply saying something self-evidently true.

After all, Jewish looks aside—and many religiously observant Jews do make a point of looking different—who would deny that Jews often do “think differently,” have “a different tradition and background,” and “refuse to be absorbed?” Aren’t these all things that not only religious Jews, but proud secular Jews too, like to think about themselves? Aren’t these the qualities to which they attribute their survival? And if so, why should it be anti-Semitic for them to be pointed out by non-Jews?

To be continued in my next post.

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Nine Who Fled: Kati Marton’s The Great Escape

“God protect us from the enemy without and the Hungarians within.” There’s something amusing about hearing Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atom bomb, talk like this. He was referring to the construction of the hydrogen bomb, an effort he considered harmful and unnecessary, which the Hungarians in question–the physicist Edward Teller and the mathematician John von Neumann, both Jews–strongly advocated as a means of undercutting Stalinist expansion in Eastern Europe. Von Neumann had recently invented game theory, which would soon be applied to the lethal calculus known as “mutual assured destruction,” while Teller was the rumored archetype for Peter Sellers’s Dr. Strangelove.

It’s strange, in light of this anecdote, to realize that only a few books examine the preternaturally powerful impact of Hungarian Jews on the 20th century, particularly in the arts and sciences. Kati Marton’s The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World comes as a welcome entry in the field. Under the rubric of scientists, Marton examines the lives of Teller, von Neumann, Eugene Wigner*, and Leo Szilard, all of whom ushered particle physics into its eschatological own.

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“God protect us from the enemy without and the Hungarians within.” There’s something amusing about hearing Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atom bomb, talk like this. He was referring to the construction of the hydrogen bomb, an effort he considered harmful and unnecessary, which the Hungarians in question–the physicist Edward Teller and the mathematician John von Neumann, both Jews–strongly advocated as a means of undercutting Stalinist expansion in Eastern Europe. Von Neumann had recently invented game theory, which would soon be applied to the lethal calculus known as “mutual assured destruction,” while Teller was the rumored archetype for Peter Sellers’s Dr. Strangelove.

It’s strange, in light of this anecdote, to realize that only a few books examine the preternaturally powerful impact of Hungarian Jews on the 20th century, particularly in the arts and sciences. Kati Marton’s The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World comes as a welcome entry in the field. Under the rubric of scientists, Marton examines the lives of Teller, von Neumann, Eugene Wigner*, and Leo Szilard, all of whom ushered particle physics into its eschatological own.

She also devotes more than half of her book to studying Hungarian-Jewish talent in literature, film, and photography. Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon stands as the most chilling and insightful anti-Communist novel ever written. Michael Curtiz directed Casablanca, the greatest anti-fascist film ever made (in the running for greatest tout court), while British movie mogul Sir Alexander Korda (né Sandor Kellner) takes the honor for having produced the best ravaged-Europe postwar story committed to celluloid, The Third Man, which he prompted his close friend Graham Greene to script. (Korda’s other notable yachting chum was Winston Churchill.) The photographers under consideration are Andre Kertesz, the leading lensman of World War I, who mastered playful reflections and light distortions well before the Surrealists, and Robert Capa, the legendary visual chronicler of the Spanish Civil War and D-Day, who went on to co-found the still-thriving photographic cooperative Magnum Photos.

Modern life owes a great deal to these thick-accented and beguiling émigrés. But what was it that made them so special? Geography and timing, according to Marton. Her collective biography is a historical and sentimental, not to say sentimentalized, monument to the “Golden Age” of Budapest, a ghetto-less medieval city that became the cosmopolitan ground zero for European Jewish assimilation. By 1900, Jews comprised approximately one-fifth of the city’s population, as a vibrant and influential minority.

“Six hundred cafes, and among the continent’s highest concentration of theaters and cabarets, changed the rhythms of the city,” writes Marton, whose parents came of age in this milieu. “There were streets as crowded at midnight as at nine in the morning. . . . Jews—whose goal was to be Hungarian citizens of the Jewish faith—and Hungarians seemed equally invested in the dream.” So well-established and confident were Budapest’s Jews in their “Zion on the Danube” between 1870 and 1910 that the Hungarian poet Endre Ady, a Gentile, was given to proclaiming his hometown “built by the Jews for the rest of us.” There’s no small irony in the fact that the most philo-Semitic city in Mitteleuropa was also the birthplace of Theodor Herzl, who would become the prophet of Jewish relocation to the Middle East.

Or perhaps no irony at all. Budapest’s scintillating period was short-lived, and the city soon found itself located on the miserable fault-line between twin despotisms, twice. Stalin and Hitler had grim dress rehearsals in the form of Bela Kun, architect of Hungary’s Soviet Republic, and Admiral Nicholas Horthy, the right-wing dictator who emerged out of the fractured Austro-Hungarian military class and revenged himself on the Jews, whom he thought of as synonymous, more or less, with Communists. Stalin’s post-World War II anti-Semitic purges in the Warsaw Pact nations had a grim precursor in Budapest: the “heroes” of 1919 became the Laszlo Rajks of 1949. Indeed, one senses that the seedbed for the 1956 revolution was actually laid almost four decades earlier.

Koestler once remarked that the Hungarian people were the loneliest on the continent because of their linguistic and ethnic solitude. To be Jewish and Hungarian meant living in a state of double exile no matter where you washed ashore (in Koestler’s case, Berlin, Mandatory Palestine, Turkmenistan, Catalonia, and London). But even great loneliness sometimes has its rewards. It seems rather likely that because Hungarian is a language virtually impenetrable to outsiders (Edmund Wilson once made a valiant effort to learn it), its brilliant Jewish speakers proved fluent in the ways of eccentric, clubbish secrecy, a characteristic that served bon vivant aristocrats like Sir Alexander Korda as well as it did the wartime scientists at Los Alamos.

* Eugene Wigner was originally misidentified.

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By far the grandest Islamic place of worship in Britain is the London Central Mosque. At the height of the Battle of Britain in 1940, Winston Churchill offered the site of this splendid building as a gift from the British people to its Muslim citizens. For more than half a century its gleaming golden dome has nestled among the whitewashed Nash terraces in Regent’s Park, whose residents include, among others, the U.S. ambassador. Up to 5,000 people go there for Friday prayers—far more than worship at St. Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey. Many of the faithful visit the mosque’s bookshop, where they might well pick up DVD’s by those listed on the mosque’s website as its “famous visitors.”

One of these is the American Muslim preacher Sheikh Khalid Yasin, director of the Islamic teaching institute. But Sheikh Yasin is a Wahhabi extremist. His DVD’s denounce the “delusion” of equality for women and demand the death penalty for homosexuals. He accuses the World Health Organization and Christian missionaries of a “conspiracy” to create the AIDS epidemic in Africa and denies that 9/11 had anything to do with “the so-called al Qaeda.”

Another celebrity imam whose DVD’s are on sale at the mosque is Sheikh Feiz Muhammad, who preaches at the Global Islamic Youth Center in Liverpool, New South Wales. Notorious in Australia for his claim that women who are raped “have nobody to blame but themselves,” Sheikh Feiz is seen in one of his DVD’s imitating a pig: “This creature will say, ‘Oh Muslim, behind me is a Jew. Come and kill him.’ They [the Jews] will be [he makes snorting noises]. All of them. Every single one of them.”

These remarks are similar to those of a third “famous visitor,” the Egyptian Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a well-known al-Jazeera commentator: “Everything will be on our side and against Jews on [judgment day]. At that time, even the stones and the trees will speak, with or without words, and say: ‘Oh servant of Allah, oh Muslim, there’s a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’”

The former Pakistani ambassador to Great Britain, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, resigned as a trustee of the London Central Mosque in 1996 because he felt it had been taken over by Wahhabism, backed by Saudi money. But a mega-mosque for up to 70,000 worshippers to be built in the East End of London will dwarf the one in Regent’s Park. The London Markaz, funded by the Saudi-backed organization Tablighi Jamaat, will be built next to the site of the 2012 Olympics. If Wahhabi ideology has already taken over the most prestigious mosque in Britain, why is Tony Blair’s government allowing the same thing to happen again on a much bigger scale? As the largest mosque in Europe arises in London, Muslims could be forgiven for supposing that the conversion of Britain to Wahhabi Islam is only a matter of time.

By far the grandest Islamic place of worship in Britain is the London Central Mosque. At the height of the Battle of Britain in 1940, Winston Churchill offered the site of this splendid building as a gift from the British people to its Muslim citizens. For more than half a century its gleaming golden dome has nestled among the whitewashed Nash terraces in Regent’s Park, whose residents include, among others, the U.S. ambassador. Up to 5,000 people go there for Friday prayers—far more than worship at St. Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey. Many of the faithful visit the mosque’s bookshop, where they might well pick up DVD’s by those listed on the mosque’s website as its “famous visitors.”

One of these is the American Muslim preacher Sheikh Khalid Yasin, director of the Islamic teaching institute. But Sheikh Yasin is a Wahhabi extremist. His DVD’s denounce the “delusion” of equality for women and demand the death penalty for homosexuals. He accuses the World Health Organization and Christian missionaries of a “conspiracy” to create the AIDS epidemic in Africa and denies that 9/11 had anything to do with “the so-called al Qaeda.”

Another celebrity imam whose DVD’s are on sale at the mosque is Sheikh Feiz Muhammad, who preaches at the Global Islamic Youth Center in Liverpool, New South Wales. Notorious in Australia for his claim that women who are raped “have nobody to blame but themselves,” Sheikh Feiz is seen in one of his DVD’s imitating a pig: “This creature will say, ‘Oh Muslim, behind me is a Jew. Come and kill him.’ They [the Jews] will be [he makes snorting noises]. All of them. Every single one of them.”

These remarks are similar to those of a third “famous visitor,” the Egyptian Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a well-known al-Jazeera commentator: “Everything will be on our side and against Jews on [judgment day]. At that time, even the stones and the trees will speak, with or without words, and say: ‘Oh servant of Allah, oh Muslim, there’s a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’”

The former Pakistani ambassador to Great Britain, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, resigned as a trustee of the London Central Mosque in 1996 because he felt it had been taken over by Wahhabism, backed by Saudi money. But a mega-mosque for up to 70,000 worshippers to be built in the East End of London will dwarf the one in Regent’s Park. The London Markaz, funded by the Saudi-backed organization Tablighi Jamaat, will be built next to the site of the 2012 Olympics. If Wahhabi ideology has already taken over the most prestigious mosque in Britain, why is Tony Blair’s government allowing the same thing to happen again on a much bigger scale? As the largest mosque in Europe arises in London, Muslims could be forgiven for supposing that the conversion of Britain to Wahhabi Islam is only a matter of time.

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