Saturday, September 19, 2009
Moscow has concluded that a nuclear Iran is in its national interest — especially if the remorseless nuclearization process itself is seen as a testament to Western weakness. Even if the Israelis are driven to bomb the thing to smithereens circa next spring, that too would only emphasize, by implicit comparison, American and European pusillanimity.
Do the Chinese care what we think of their general secretary or premier, the Germans what we think of their chancellor? We know China isn’t especially interested in what foreigners think of their activities in Sudan. Many countries do business in Cuba without caring what Americans think. I don’t think they should care. I just wonder why I should care what they think of us, beyond knowing that we mean what we say (honoring commitments and when necessary backing up threats with action).Leaders and nations rarely if ever behave philanthropically. And indeed according to the New York Times, here's the scorecard so far:
European allies still refuse to send significantly more troops to Afghanistan. The Saudis basically ignored Mr. Obama’s request for concessions to Israel, while Israel rebuffed his demand to stop settlement expansion. North Korea defied him by testing a nuclear weapon. Japan elected a party less friendly to the United States. Cuba has done little to liberalize in response to modest relaxation of sanctions. India and China are resisting a climate change deal. And Russia rejected new sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program even as Mr. Obama heads into talks with Tehran.
Friday, September 18, 2009
In this readable history, the authors tell many intriguing tales, including the neocon incubator that was Scoop Jackson’s senate office; the military spying on Nixon’s National Security Council; Haig’s maneuverings during Nixon’s final days; the rise of Cheney and Rumsfeld under Ford and their denouement under Bush II; the neocons' shameless readopting of Reagan after his accords with Gorbachev proved successful; the controversial decision to leave Saddam Hussein in power after the Gulf War; and the continuing and curious role of reporter Bob Woodward in the neocon story. A well-reported, fast-paced history lesson on the eternal conflict between ideologues and policymakers and the hubris that always accompanies success.
Before he answers the first question, Ahmadinejad prays for the return of the hidden 12th imam, which, in the light of his previously reported expectation that this moment would occur in his lifetime, sounded like an invocation of the end times. Not an encouraging start. He then says grandiosely that Iran's decision to participate in talks with the Security Council powers had actually inaugurated a new dispensation. "The movement around the world," he says, "is moving in the direction of our ideals." So right off the bat you're dealing with a fellow with a healthy self-image who seems to imagine himself as a character in an Islamic Left Behind, which is the essence, of course, of U.S. and Israeli concerns about a nuclear-armed Iran.
Curry spends several minutes trying to get Ahmadinejad to say that Iran would never under any circumstances develop nuclear weapons, as though Iran's weapons program were not already well underway. You get the feeling she thinks that his refusal to make a blanket disavowal will be deemed significant in Jerusalem and Washington. Actually, a leader, whether governed by reason or not, should never answer such an open-ended hypothetical question. Although Curry presses him pretty effectively on nukes and the possibility of Iran provoking an Middle East arms race, if a yes or no answer was so important to her, she might have said bluntly, "Are you developing a nuke right now?"
She asked him twice if he'd stolen the recent election. A clear "no" again evaded him. Given the mortal risks Iranians are taking to challenge the results, his stonewalling and ritualistic denunciations of British and U.S. devils were sickening. When he asked if Obama had stolen the 2008 election, Curry didn't say anything. Perhaps she shook her head; the editor didn't cut to her at that point. I wish she had said, "President Obama didn't steal his election, and the whole world knows it. But the world thinks you stole yours." Curry's best moment: "The question has to be asked: Where was your compassion for your people?"
This was no Dan Rather-Saddam Hussein lapdog interview. A tough reporter with a relentlessly gracious mien, Curry was rarely derailed. But I wish that in 63 minutes she had found time to confront Ahmadinejad about denying the Holocaust and about his anti-Semitism. Israel, he said, is an "illegal, murderous regime [which is] being influenced by parties which are in Europe and in the U.S. in political corners." Isn't there something in Mein Kampf about rats scurrying in corners? For more on the whole range of durable vermin metaphors, see the first scene of "Inglorious Basterds." These Jews and Jew-lovers, Ahmadinejad implied, are "connected with the arms-industrial complex" and "certain U.S. capitalists... certain officials." (One can't tell whether the unmistakable "I'm talking about Jews" emphasis was added by the translator.) Another golden oldie: As for the "Zionists which are lobbying inside the U.S....If conflict continues, their pockets will be lined." Does anyone seriously wonder why his having a nuclear weapon is an impossible scenario for Israel?
As for whether Ahmadinejad plans to use his bomb to ignite Armageddon, he strictly ruled that out. He denies ever having said that the 12th imam would return in his lifetime; more lies by his international enemies. Besides, he added, all that will happen whenever the imam arrives is that peace and tranquility will reign -- which made me wonder about his opening claim that he had personally inaugurated a new global movement toward peace and disarmament just by planning to sit down with the great powers.
Perhaps he really does think he's the agent of the divine. And yet don't all people of faith think that way? When Curry asked about his personal conversations with the still-hidden imam, he turned the tables:
"[I]t's roughly the same as the relationship which exists between Christians and Christ. They speak with Jesus Christ, and they are sure that Christ hears them and responds...I hope so. One of my prayers is that the international community, acting as one, will encircle and deter Iran until it has the leadership it deserves (and perhaps elected in June).
The former head of the United States delegation to the United States will replace Senator Robert J. Dole...UN, U.S., whatever. We concluded:
Mr. Bush has two sons: Jeb, who graduated from PA in 1971, and Marvin, who is presently enrolled as a junior here.Two out of three ain't bad.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
An Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity following diplomatic protocol said the goal was a “package deal” involving confidence-building measures from all involved parties, including moderate Arab states.
In return for an Israeli settlement building freeze, Mr. Mitchell is trying to get Arab nations to offer gestures like reopening Israeli trade offices in several countries and allowing Israeli planes to use their airspace.Israeli flexibility — on how long a building freeze would last, for example — may depend on what Mr. Mitchell can deliver, officials said.
Former officials who served under President George W. Bush have been quick to recall this week that protesters frequently compared him to Hitler and that the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, called him a “loser” and a “liar.”
In an interview Wednesday shortly after meeting privately with Mr. Obama in the Oval Office, Colin L. Powell, secretary of state under Mr. Bush, said: “You can find pictures where Bush was called all kinds of names, with all sorts of banners being held up and burned in effigy. I’ve seen it in every presidency.”
Mr. Powell said he believed that Mr. Obama might be facing even more apparent hostility but that the blame lay not necessarily in racial bias, but instead with the partisan culture of the Internet and cable news and the way they amplify the more extreme voices.“The issue there is not race, it’s civility,” Mr. Powell said. “This is not to say that we are suddenly racially pure, but constantly talking about it and reducing everything to black versus white is not helpful to the cause of restoring civility to our public dialogue.”
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Today Susan and two of her children, Brittany and Matthew, presided in the rolling hills of Irvine Park as the Shadyside Interfaith Chapel was dedicated in Ed's memory. About 100 friends of the Gotschalls and the Boy Scouts had gathered at sunset on a cool evening to watch. The Scouts provided the honor guard, and after the ceremony, Susan provided s'mores. Susan told me that Ed's 85-year-old mother still lives in Shadyside and is as proud as can be.
"I need to see contriteness, and there was almost none....I am very disturbed by these offenses," Guilford said. "Someone very high in law enforcement stated that he devised and executed a scheme to defraud the citizens of Orange County of honest services. . . . There has to be a deterrent against this type of conduct. . . . The actions of Mr. Jaramillo cause me shame on behalf of Orange County. The sheriff's department has lost credibility with other law-enforcement agencies and perhaps with juries sitting in that box."
Guilford then said Jaramillo "and his partner in crime," Carona, have done "incalculable" damage to the OCSD.
[T]orture has no defense whatsoever in Christian morality. There are no circumstances in which it can be justified, let alone integrated as a formal program within a democratic government. The Catholic catechism states, “Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions… is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.” Dignity is the critical word there. Even evil men are human and redeemable. Our faith demands that, even in legitimate punishment or interrogation, the dignity of prisoners must be respected. Our faith teaches that each of us—even Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—is made in the image of God. To violate that imago Dei by stripping and freezing him, by slamming him against a wall, or strapping him to a board to nearly drown him again and again and again, to bombard him with noise and light until he loses his mind, to reduce a human being to a mental and spiritual shell—nothing can justify this for a Christian. Nothing. To wield that power is to wield evil. And such evil is almost always committed by those who believe they are pursuing good.
Monday, September 14, 2009
For the record, Wilson's premise is itself untrue: The framers of the health care bill did all they could to make sure it wouldn't help illegal immigrants. Yes, a few might slip through the cracks and--horrors!-- get assistance. But the health reformers wrote language as tough as it could be to make sure this wouldn't happen, short of creating provisions so draconian that some who are here legally would also be denied coverage.
And in the desert, sentinel trees, living rocks, and silence, although sometimes you think you hear Gram Parsons' voice on the wind. Ohio-born writer and essayist Deanne Stillman has written several books and essays about Joshua Tree and its denizens. Her latest book is Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West (June 2008). You can visit her website and read the first chapter here. Before I left the Nixon Library in February, we corresponded about the possibility of her giving a talk in Yorba Linda -- especially since, as it turns out, President Nixon signed the Wild Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, which Stillman features in her book.
The Jewish interest that makes Podhoretz most desperate for a Jewish defection to the Republicans is Israel. While the abandonment of Israel by an American government seems to me unimaginable, and not only for reasons of politics, Podhoretz is not mistaken when he declares that the enthusiasm for Israel among conservatives is real and new and deep. He is also correct that what sympathy there is for the Palestinians in American politics is to be found largely among Democrats. The problem is that he cannot suppose that sympathy for the Palestinians may coexist with sympathy, and even love, for Israel.And now, the Episcopalian crack:
If you think that the survival of Israel requires the establishment of Palestine, because the absorption of millions of Palestinians into Israel, in an annexation or an occupation, will destroy the Jewish character or the democratic character of the state, then Podhoretz’s scorn for the peace process will not suffice as an account of Israel’s situation. If you think that the establishment of Palestine threatens the survival of Israel, because the Palestinians desire only the abolition of the Jewish state and will never be satisfied with a territorial compromise, then Podhoretz’s suspicion of any American president who does not merely comply with the demands of the Israeli government will strike you as the apotheosis of fidelity. What counts is your analysis of the problem — of security and morality, of Israelis and Palestinians. Podhoretz does not provide an analysis; he assumes one, doctrinally. He is justified in his view that the left, or a lot of it, now regards Israel coldly. Indeed, it is in many quarters cruelly engaged in the revival of the “one-state solution,” which for demographic reasons is nothing other than Greater Palestine. But the intellectual confrontation with these poisons has frequently been the work of liberals. After all, you cannot denounce a one-state solution unless you believe in a two-state solution.
Podhoretz’s book was conceived as the solution to the puzzle that Milton Himmelfarb wittily formulated many years ago: “Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.” I have never understood the reputation of this joke. Why should Jews vote like Episcopalians? We are not Episcopalians. The implication of the joke is that political affiliation should be determined by social position, by levels of affluence. In living rich but voting poor, the Jews of America have failed to demonstrate class solidarity. Never mind that parties of the right in many Western countries have always counted on the poor to make the same betrayal, and support causes and candidates that will do nothing to relieve their economic hardship but will exhilarate them culturally or religiously or nationally.Wieseltier may not realize that the Episcopal Church's recent troubles (or glory, or some combination of the two) is that many of its members sometimes act politically and speak prophetically against the interests of the class that dominated it back in the days when the denomination was described as the Republican Party at prayer. Concluding, he reminds us that faith often lies behind a person or group's decision to dwell on the interests of others as well as one's own (in Christian parlance, loving thy neighbor as thyself and remembering that the first shall be last and the last, first):
It is not a delusion, not a treason, to vote against your own economic interest. It is a recognition of the multiplicity of interests, the many purposes, that make up a citizen’s life. When, in the Torah of Judaism, Moses commands the Jews to perform acts of social welfare, he sometimes adds the admonition that they were themselves strangers and slaves. The purpose of this refreshment of their memory is plain. The fact that we are no longer strangers and slaves is not all we need to know. We may not regard the world solely from the standpoint of our own prosperity, our own safety, our own contentment. We are proven by the other, not by the same. The question of whether liberalism or conservatism does more for the helpless and the downtrodden, for the ones who are not like us, will be endlessly debated, and it is not a Jewish debate; but if the answer is liberalism, then the political history of American Jewry is neither a mystery nor a scandal.Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan
The Who, performing in 1967. In a four-piece the singer and guitarist usually get most of the attention, but the editor and producer of this video couldn't keep their eyes off the greatest drummer (and one of the most subtle and intuitive musicians) in rock and roll history, Keith Moon.
Hat tip to Paul Arndt
This "Asia Times" article is a good primer on the current situation. Though still hopeful that his outreach to Iran will work, Obama is being pressured by Israel as well as U.S. politicians and organizations to step up sanctions against Tehran. So far Iran's trading partners and friendly rivals in Moscow have made a united front impossible. More about Russia's unhelpful current opposition to sanctions is here.
Some experts believe that Iran could be ready to make a nuclear device by the end of next year. The slide show quotes former Reagan defense official and Iraq war promoter Richard Perle as acknowledging that means other than war might have been just as effective against Saddam Hussein. If so, there would have needed to be a consensus in the international community that his tyranny had become intolerable. The same may also be true to avoid a military conflict with Iran. If Obama doesn't want to have a war, he'll have to be a relentlessly effective diplomat. To really be that, of course, he has to be willing to have a war if necessary (or at least able to convince others that he is).
Sunday, September 13, 2009
The power of Rep. Wilson's example spreads to the entertainment industry. When Beyonce, on whose behalf West interceded, won Video of the Year, she graciously called Taylor Swift back to the stage to give the speech he had interrupted when she won Best Female Video. Speaker Pelosi has demanded that he apologize on the floor of the House.
[A]mong the younger generation there seems to be a greater willingness both to be openly religious and to be modern and educated at same times. I think maybe this is not just a search for greater spiritual anchor, but also I think it’s greater self-confidence.Under the authoritarian regime that was replaced by a vigorous democracy a decade ago, religious expression was tolerated without being encouraged. So people may just be reclaiming an aspect of their culture that had been lost to some of them, or at least marginalized. Interesting that young people are leading the way. One discouraging datum from this report: 14% of Indonesia's people must get by on less than $1 a day. And some Indonesians are definitely under the impression that Islam is greener on the other side of the world. One smiling man in the street wanted to give paradises such as Iran and Afghanistan a hand:
From what I understand about Islamic states, the people live in prosperity, and the law is enforced very strictly. Those who steal, those who are corrupt, they cut off their hand, rather than here, where people who can bribe judges and police get away with things.
Hat tip to Mike Cheever