Monday, November 29, 2010

SEPTEMBER 1, 1939 Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
'I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,
'And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Faux Journalism: By Any Other Name an Ad Hominem Attack of Bill Kristol,

Bill Kristol's Think Tank Fetish

The political operative has a talent for pseudo-intellectual hackery.

Jason Zengerle

November 29, 2010//TNR

Earlier this month, a new conservative economic think tank called e21 sent a letter to Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke. The missive bore a heavy gloss of intellectualism. Its topic was the Fed’s “large-scale asset purchase plan (so-called ‘quantitative easing’),” and it carried the signatures of numerous academics and professional economists, all of whom listed their various books (The Ascent of Money), past governmental jobs (Chairman, President’s Council of Economic Advisors; Director, Congressional Budget Office), and current institutional affiliations (Harvard, Stanford, Columbia). The worthies were writing Bernanke with a specific and technical request: to abandon the Fed’s plan to buy $600 billion in additional U.S. Treasury bonds because, they argued, the “purchases risk currency debasement and inflation, and we do not think they will achieve the Fed’s objective of promoting employment.”

But, for all its intellectual and technocratic pretenses, the letter was really a political attack ad. It was written in consultation with Republican politicians, and e21 paid to have it run in both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. As the Journal reported in a separate news article, the letter was the first salvo in what a “tea-party-infused Republican party” hopes will be an anti-Fed campaign that it can wage in Congress and, possibly, against Barack Obama when he runs for reelection in 2012. Indeed, e21—the think tank that describes itself as a “nonpartisan organization dedicated to economic research and innovative public policies for the 21st century” —turns out to be nothing more than a political pressure group.

Which isn’t a surprise when you consider the man behind e21: Bill Kristol. Kristol has been hailed—and castigated—for numerous deeds over the years, from killing Hillary Clinton’s health care reform effort to pushing us into war in Iraq. He may in fact be the most talented political operative of his generation. But even more impressive than his accomplishments have been his methods, as he has developed a singular talent: cooking up conservative think tanks that churn out pseudo-intellectual arguments to serve the GOP’s immediate political interests.

Kristol debuted this talent back in 1993. He was coming off an impressive run as a valuable apparatchik in successive Republic administrations—first serving as chief of staff to Education Secretary William Bennett during the Reagan years and then as chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle —when he found his party, and himself, out of power. At this point, most Republican operatives became lobbyists or opened their own political consulting shops, but Kristol took a different path. He started a D.C.-based conservative think tank called the Project for the Republican Future . But, instead of using it to cook up policy ideas, he employed it to rally opposition among congressional Republicans to the Clinton administration—specifically on health care reform.

In a series of memos to “REPUBLICAN LEADERS,” Kristol, under the Project for the Republican Future’s letterhead, advised them to ignore any instincts to negotiate a “‘least bad’ compromise” with Clinton on health care and, instead, commit to “killing” any Democratic-backed plan “sight unseen.” To be sure, Kristol’s memos included trumped-up policy justifications for this tactic of outright opposition, namely that Clinton’s plan, in any form, would impose so much regulation it would destroy the country’s health care system. But Kristol’s most convincing argument was a purely political one: that “rejection by Congress and the public would be a monumental setback for the president, and an incontestable piece of evidence that Democratic welfare-state liberalism remains firmly in retreat.”

Congressional Republicans followed Kristol’s advice to the letter—then-Senate minority leader Bob Dole even cribbed Kristol’s line that “there is no health care crisis” in response to Clinton’s 1994 State of the Union address —and dealt Clinton the “monumental setback” Kristol had predicted. So much so that the GOP took back the House and the Senate in the 1994 mid-terms. A year later, with a Republican future seemingly secured, Kristol shuttered his first think tank.
But then, in 1996, Clinton won a second term and pushed back the dawning of that glorious Republican future. In response, Kristol founded another think tank, this one devoted to foreign policy.

He called it the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). The group was devoted to a “Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity” —in the form of hefty defense budgets and a willingness to intervene in foreign hotspots —and found its purpose in attacking Clinton for being feckless and weak, especially on Iraq. PNAC was an early advocate of “regime change” in Iraq and continually faulted Clinton for being insufficiently dedicated to that cause, even after he signed the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. Perhaps because Kristol’s preferred Republican presidential candidate in 2000, John McCain, didn’t get his party’s nomination, Kristol kept PNAC running even after George W. Bush won the White House. In 2001, after the September 11 attacks, PNAC began urging President Bush to use the events as an occasion to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and, over the next 18 months, Kristol and other PNAC members provided the intellectual framework for the Iraq war.

Of course, a costly debacle like Iraq should have spelled an end to Kristol’s foreign policy influence. But it only spelled an end to PNAC, which had become an object of almost universal derision (and some obsessive conspiracy-mongering) on both the left and right. The think tank closed up shop in 2006.

Undeterred by the Iraq embarrassment, Kristol and some of his PNAC compatriots started yet another think tank in 2009. This one, called the Foreign Policy Initiative, serves to promote “robust support for America’s democratic allies and opposition to rogue regimes that threaten American interests” —which, in the age of Obama, would presumably translate into assailing a Democratic president for being weak in the war on terror. But Obama, by doubling down in Afghanistan and continuing much of the Bush administration’s foreign policies, has given Kristol and his think tank few opportunities to assail the new administration.

Rather, as the country struggles to emerge from a great recession, Obama is most vulnerable on domestic policy, namely his handling of the economy. Hence Kristol’s creation in 2009 of e21, which, as evidenced by its Bernanke letter, is already seizing on this opportunity. Indeed, critiques of “quantitative easing” are now appearing everywhere Republicans gather, from the halls of Congress to Sarah Palin’s Facebook page.

Kristol’s fondness for think tanks may be psychological. As the son of one of modern conservatism’s most prominent intellectuals, Irving Kristol, it’s possible he felt a career as a straight political operative—coordinating media buys, instructing field directors, and subsisting on a diet of jelly donuts in a campaign war room—was beneath him. Thanks to his think tankery, plus his editorship of The Weekly Standard—a conservative magazine that, unlike its counterpart National Review, is more partisan than ideological—Bill Kristol has been able to cultivate a professorial air. This has helped him secure platforms not just on Fox News, where he’s a paid contributor, but in more rarefied settings, too: Kristol is one of the few political hacks who’s been invited to serve as a lecturer in public policy at Harvard and to pen a column for The New York Times. His intellectual pretenses have served him well.

But they’ve also served his causes well. Kristol is not the first person to recognize the political power of think tanks; long before him, conservatives were putting organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) to good use in Washington and across the country. But those think tanks actually produce ideas. Kristol’s think tanks produce strategy memos and press releases. And yet, because his groups present themselves as think tanks in the traditional sense, their output carries a certain gravitas. This cover of intellectual seriousness is what allows them to avoid being spotted for what they almost always are: engines of pure partisan hackery.

Kristol’s think tanks are also different in another crucial way: While stalwarts like AEI and Heritage are now in their seventh and fourth decades, respectively, Kristol’s think tanks are decidedly ephemeral, existing only as long as they are tactically useful to the GOP. Which is why, despite e21’s name, it’s hard to imagine it lasting well into the century.

After all, before too long, the GOP will need some other kind of pseudo-intellectual cover. And Bill Kristol will have founded yet another think tank to provide it.


Where is there any substantive encounter with even one of Kristol's ideas? If there is even one such encounter, I've missed it. This piece is a fine example of received wisdom, entirely self-satisfied with its own premises and assumptions, unwilling to put anything on the line, unwilling to argue anything out. It's, I think, name- calling and cowardly.

Review of Lion's Honey By David Grossman

Lion's Honey: The Myth of Samson by David Grossman

By Three Monkeys

Thus far the Myths series published by, amongst others, Canongate has presented mythical stories retold by famous contemporary writers - Margaret Atwood's compelling retelling of Ulysses (The Penelopiad), Jeanette Winterson's version of the Hercules myth (The Weight), and so on. Into this mix comes prize-winning Israeli author David Grossman's Lion's Honey, with two important differences. First, it tells the story of Samson, whom many Israeli's (not to mention Christian fundamentalists) today will see as anything but a mythic character - Grossman tells how a monument sprang up in the 1990's at Samson's supposed burial spot, which now plays host to repentant crowds of Hasidic jews; secondly it is not a retelling, but rather an almost kabbalistic re-examination of the text.

It is a brave and timely book, as one would perhaps expect from Grossman, examining the original text and analysing Samson's character in today's language and context.

Alaistar Blanchard, in his insightful and entertaining study on Hercules (Hercules: A heroic life), points out one of the most interesting things about Myths - that they are constantly adapted and smoothed over by society's needs. The Hercules we have today is either a circus-clad-muscle-man or a character fit for a Disney epic.

No mention is made of Hercules the thug, drunkard, and, crucially, wife-murderer nowadays. The similarities here with Samson go beyond the muscles. It could be contended that the single most vivid image that remains in Western culture of Samson is that of him asleep, prone to the emasculation to be wrought upon him by Delilah ("Thousands of years later it is possible to imagine her shifting expression as she performs the deed, with an erotic touch on one hand and overtones of castration on the other, and perhaps the thin smile of a woman whose charms have not failed her" {Lion's Honey - Pg 134-135]). Excised from the record are Samson's bouts of smiting, whoring, and ultra-violence. Not so for Grossman, who with a sympathetic but critical eye frames Samson against his deeds and destiny.

Indicative of Grossman's approach is the title - Lion's Honey. It comes from an episode in Samson's story that is enigmatic and oft forgotten. On his way to woo his first Philistine wife (did we say woo? It should of course be , with biblical precision, 'get'), he encounters a lion which he smites with his bare hands. Returning from his trip he goes out of his way to find the lion's corpse, only to find in the skeleton of the beast bees and honey. This event becomes a riddle with which he will torment his Philistine wedding guests, and a precursor to wholescale slaughter. Grossman, though, with a novelist's eye, sees much in Samson's return to the slain Lion:

"And if it seems peculiar, at this stage of the story, to describe Samson as an artist, it is from this moment onward, from his encounter with the lion's honey, that he will display a clear tendency to mould reality - whatever reality he may come in contact with - and stamp it with his own unique signature, and, one might add, his style" [Lion's Honey pg 56]

Grossman's book, helpfully, starts with the actual story of Samson, from the book of Judges (13-16), reminding the reader of the remarkably eliptical style of storytelling contained in the bible. Scarcely a line passes that does not drive the narrative onwards, and at the same time pose a multitude of questions. It is in these gaps that Grossman is particularly good. For example, he examines at length the annunciation scenes for Samson's birth, and like a forensic scientist starts to construct what Manoah's wife (Samson's Mother, who is without name in the text) must have felt knowing that her long-waited-for son is to be not just her son, but also a national figure preordained:

"For another recognition, painful and still repressed, is beginning to gnaw at her: she has not conceived her own private , intimate child, but rather some 'national figure', a Nazirite of God and the redeemer of Israel. And his uniqueness is not something that will develop slowly, over the years, so that the two can grow comfortably together into their roles - to be a saviour's mother is also a position of responsibility - but instead this is happening now, suddenly, already, in a fixed and inexorable manner".[Lion's Honey pg 14]

This , perhaps, suggests a tedious nit-picking, an academic pondering of each word, but Grossman is a story teller, and as such he's interested in the characters of the story, and in bringing them to life, He does this not just by questioning their every action and motive, but also by dragging them into the present. Again taking the example of Manoah's wife, Grossman compares her to Andrei Sakharov's mother, who commented "Sometimes I feel like a chicken who has given birth to an eagle".

Enough of Manoah's wife, though, as the character Grossman is most interested in is Samson - a figure who, for him, has more than a little to teach modern day Israel: "Yet there is a certain problematic quality to Israeli sovereignty that is also embodied in Samson's relationship to his own power. As in the case of Samson, it sometimes seems that Israel's considerable military might is an asset that becomes a liability"[pg 88].

Grossman's Samson is many things - a lonely figure who constantly and tragically seeks the company of those not of his own tribe (this need to mix and assimilate with gentiles is, for Grossman, a truly 'Jewish' quality); an artist whose constant acts of violence are characterised by a certain style, for example when he catches three hundred foxes, ties them tail to tail, and sends them burning through the Philistine's fields; and most controversially of all, one of History's first and most famous suicide-killers - "there is no escaping the thought that Samson was, in a sense, the first suicide-killer; and although the circumstances of his deed were different from those familiar to us from the daily reality of the streets of Israel, it may be that the act itself established in human consciousness a mode of murder and revenge directed at innocent victims which has been perfected in recent years"[pg 143].

Lion's Honey is a slim volume, accompanied by footnotes and sources that interested readers can pursue. It's a thought-provoking read, that manages to create a flesh and bone (and warts) portrait of one of history's great mythical figures. Grossman's reasons for being interested in Samson are perhaps the most eloquent recommendation for this splendid book:

"Yet beyond the wild impulsiveness, the chaos, the din, we can make out a life story that is, at bottom, the tortured journey of a single, lonely, and turbulent soul who never found, anywhere, a true home in the world, whose very body was a harsh place of exile. For me, this discovery, this recognition, is the point at which the myth - for all its grand images, its larger-than-life adventures - slips silently into the day-to-day existence of each of us, into our most private moments, our buried secrets."[Pg2-3]

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Triumphant Return of Hayek

Ruchir Sharma//November 28, 2010/Newsweek

Last year the consensus opinion was that we are all Keynesians now. Virtually everyone in the commentariat believed that John Maynard Keynes’s solution for the Great Depression—heavy government spending to resuscitate the economy—was also the answer to today’s global downturn. The first cracks in the consensus appeared with the outbreak of the fiscal crisis in Greece earlier this year. Across the developed world, critics began to argue that government spending had reached the point of diminishing returns, and was producing an anemic recovery that mainly benefited special-interest groups. And the electorate listened. From Europe to the United States, as voters started to reward candidates focused on fiscal discipline and less government intervention, Keynesianism quickly fell out of favor.

One key exception was U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke. Dissatisfied with the gradual recovery and a high unemployment rate, he let it be known that he thought more stimulus was in order, and realizing that was not in the congressional cards, he decided to take monetary activism to a new level by offering an open-ended commitment to pump as much money into the system as required to meet the Fed’s dual mandate of maximum employment and price stability. This is the first time a Fed chairman has explicitly stated that monetary policy can turbocharge an economic recovery. Bernanke says he is doing everything Milton Friedman would have had the Fed do. Friedman, the father of monetarism, argued that the Great Depression was largely the result of a major contraction in money supply, and that such a severe economic outcome could have been avoided had the Fed held the money supply stable.

The public doesn’t buy it. There’s a growing backlash against the Fed’s monetary activism, for two reasons. It is increasingly clear that the Fed can print all the money it wants to but has no control over where it ends up. Ever since the Fed stepped up talk of quantitative easing this summer, the prospect of easy money has driven up prices of commodities and emerging-market stocks, and Wall Street is abuzz with talk of the “next bubble.” Second, monetary activism suffers from the same fundamental flaw as Keynesianism, in that it protects inefficient players instead of injecting renewed vigor into the economy. In a telling statement of the Fed’s thinking, New York Fed member Brian Slack recently said that, with luck, quantitative easing will work by keeping “asset prices higher than they should be,” as that adds to household wealth. This is why stimulus can be so unpopular: it often benefits the rich (who own a disproportionate share of inflating assets such as stocks) at the cost of the poor (who are hurt most by the related rise in food and energy prices).

In a sign of the times, some of the most popular videos on YouTube this year are satires on economic policy; the latest lampoons the Fed amid a growing feeling that policymakers are committing what economist Friedrich Hayek called the “fatal conceit” in micromanaging the economic cycle. Hayek hated policy intervention of any kind. Keynes, Friedman, and Hayek were leading lights of the three most influential schools of economic thought of the last century. Hayek was associated with the Austrian school, ascendant in the 19th and early 20th centuries, which argued that the private sector should be left free to carry out the task of any readjustment in a downturn. Faith in the market’s purging power served the U.S. well in the 19th century, when the economy emerged stronger after each recession, but was taken too far in the policy mix of tight money and high taxes that led to the Great Depression and the rise of the Keynesians.

Keynesianism and monetarism are now suffering a similar distortion. Keynes would probably never have supported big government deficits during boom times, such as those that led to our current debt crisis. Likewise, Friedman would probably not have backed the new Fed use of monetary policy as a tool to engineer expansion rather than merely cushion the pain in a downturn.

The systematic perversion of Keynes’s and Friedman’s thought is now resulting in a fall in their fortunes, leaving Hayek triumphant, once again.

Carter on North Korea, Reminding Us Why His Was a Failed Presidency Ushering in a Period of Republican Presidential Domination

North Korea's consistent message to the U.S.

November 24, 2010//WaPo

No one can completely understand the motivations of the North Koreans, but it is entirely possible that their recent revelation of their uranium enrichment centrifuges and Pyongyang's shelling of a South Korean island Tuesday are designed to remind the world that they deserve respect in negotiations that will shape their future. Ultimately, the choice for the United States may be between diplomatic niceties and avoiding a catastrophic confrontation.

Dealing effectively with North Korea has long challenged the United States. We know that the state religion of this secretive society is "juche," which means self-reliance and avoidance of domination by others. The North's technological capabilities under conditions of severe sanctions and national poverty are surprising. Efforts to display its military capability through the shelling of Yeongpyeong and weapons tests provoke anger and a desire for retaliation. Meanwhile, our close diplomatic and military ties with South Korea make us compliant with its leaders' policies.

The North has threatened armed conflict before.

Nearly eight years ago, I wrote on this page about how in June 1994 President Kim Il Sung expelled International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors and proclaimed that spent fuel rods could be reprocessed into plutonium. Kim threatened to destroy Seoul if increasingly severe sanctions were imposed on his nation.

Desiring to resolve the crisis through direct talks with the United States, Kim invited me to Pyongyang to discuss the outstanding issues. With approval from President Bill Clinton, I went, and reported the positive results of these one-on-one discussions to the White House. Direct negotiations ensued in Geneva between a U.S. special envoy and a North Korean delegation, resulting in an "agreed framework" that stopped North Korea's fuel-cell reprocessing and restored IAEA inspection for eight years.

With evidence that Pyongyang was acquiring enriched uranium in violation of the agreed framework, President George W. Bush - who had already declared North Korea part of an "axis of evil" and a potential target - made discussions with North Korea contingent on its complete rejection of a nuclear explosives program and terminated monthly shipments of fuel oil. Subsequently, North Korea expelled nuclear inspectors and resumed reprocessing its fuel rods. It has acquired enough plutonium for perhaps seven nuclear weapons.

Sporadic negotiations over the next few years among North Korea, the United States, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia (the six parties) produced, in September 2005, an agreement that reaffirmed the basic premises of the 1994 accord. Its text included denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, a pledge of non-aggression by the United States and steps to evolve a permanent peace agreement to replace the U.S.-North Korean-Chinese cease-fire that has been in effect since July 1953.

Unfortunately, no substantive progress has been made since 2005, and the overall situation has been clouded by North Korea's development and testing of nuclear devices and medium- and long-range missiles, and military encounters with South Korea.

North Korea insists on direct talks with the United States. Leaders in Pyongyang consider South Korea's armed forces to be controlled from Washington and maintain that South Korea was not party to the 1953 cease-fire. Since the Clinton administration, our country has negotiated through the six-party approach, largely avoiding substantive bilateral discussions, which would have excluded South Korea.

This past July I was invited to return to Pyongyang to secure the release of an American, Aijalon Gomes, with the proviso that my visit would last long enough for substantive talks with top North Korean officials. They spelled out in detail their desire to develop a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and a permanent cease-fire, based on the 1994 agreements and the terms adopted by the six powers in September 2005. With no authority to mediate any disputes, I relayed this message to the State Department and White House. Chinese leaders indicated support of this bilateral discussion.

North Korean officials have given the same message to other recent American visitors and have permitted access by nuclear experts to an advanced facility for purifying uranium. The same officials had made it clear to me that this array of centrifuges would be "on the table" for discussions with the United States, although uranium purification - a very slow process - was not covered in the 1994 agreements.

Pyongyang has sent a consistent message that during direct talks with the United States, it is ready to conclude an agreement to end its nuclear programs, put them all under IAEA inspection and conclude a permanent peace treaty to replace the "temporary" cease-fire of 1953. We should consider responding to this offer. The unfortunate alternative is for North Koreans to take whatever actions they consider necessary to defend themselves from what they claim to fear most: a military attack supported by the United States, along with efforts to change the political regime.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mr. Mubarak vs. Mr. Obama

Saturday, November 27, 2010//WaPo Editorial

EGYPT'S PARLIAMENTARY election is on Sunday, but already the principal result is known: a step away from political liberalization and genuine democracy. In the weeks before the vote, more than 1,000 political activists have been rounded up by security forces, and many have been abused. Opposition media commentators have been forced off the air, television channels closed and restrictions placed on text messaging. Meanwhile, the government has issued strident statements rejecting the Obama administration's calls for international observers and severely limited the access of domestic monitoring groups.

None of this is particularly surprising, given the apparent determination of 82-year-old President Hosni Mubarak to preserve his autocracy through next year's presidential election and pave the way for his son Gamal to succeed him. But it is of great importance to the United States and its interests in the Middle East. The attempted perpetuation of a Mubarak dynasty risks leaving a key U.S. ally with an illegitimate government that would be vulnerable to nationalist or Islamist opponents. Mr. Mubarak's rude dismissal of what have been gentle U.S. calls for change is making the Obama administration look weak in a region that can be quick to act on such perceptions.

That's why what will matter most is not the results of the vote but how President Obama responds to them. The president and his secretary of state have brought up democracy and human rights in private conversations with Egyptian leaders but shied away from them in public. They have failed to make any connection between Mr. Mubarak's domestic repression and the more than $1 billion in U.S. aid Egypt receives every year, much of it directed to the military. They have not supported efforts in Congress to pass legislation or even nonbinding resolutions linking bilateral relations to political reform.

This week would be an ideal moment to begin changing those policies. Mr. Obama should let Egyptians - and Arabs around the Middle East - know what he thinks about an election in which peaceful opponents are banned or beaten, votes are stolen and observers excluded.

He should end the State Department's practice of allowing Egypt to exercise a veto over which civil society groups receive U.S. aid, and he should encourage Congress to link military funds to human rights, as it has for several democracies that are U.S. allies. Most of all, Mr. Obama should make it clear that he will not be dismissed or pushed around by Arab strongmen. If Mr. Mubarak gets away with it, others will be quick to follow his example.


If anyone thinks Obama will do more than make ineffectual gestures for liberty, civil and human rights in Egypt, such as by linking them to Foreign Aid, I'll get out my list of bridges and Florida swamp land to offer for sale.

Friday, November 26, 2010

On Sarah Palin's Going Rogue, Timely Then, Timely Now

North Star

Populism, politics, and the power of Sarah Palin.

Sam Tanenhaus//New Yorker//December 7, 2009

The last time a political memoir aroused as much interest as Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue: An American Life” (Harper; $28.99) was probably in 1995, when Colin Powell’s autobiography, “My American Journey,” came out. Like Palin’s bus tour through two dozen states (from Pennsylvania to New Mexico), Powell’s twenty-three-city campaign began amid speculation, teasingly encouraged by Powell himself, that it might be a reconnaissance mission for a Presidential run, though of a more Olympian sort. “His book tour has the air of a political campaign,” the Times reported. “Not the flesh-pressing campaign of a hungry primary candidate, but rather the roped-off, walkie-talkie-directed campaign of a sitting President.”

Trailed by a security detail, Powell gave a cursory news conference at each stop, fending off the more penetrating questions and aiming barbs at the crowded field of Republican hopefuls—who included Bob Dole, Phil Gramm, Lamar Alexander, and Pete Wilson. Not one fired back. “He’s probably the most popular person in America right now,” one of Gramm’s advisers explained. “Everybody admires him.” When, at last, Powell declared that he would not seek the nomination, many were relieved (including Powell’s wife, Alma, who had feared an assassination attempt).

Powell’s stately procession appears, in retrospect, to have been the last gasp of a bygone politics. He was perhaps the one remaining figure in American politics who could plausibly present himself as a hero in the classic sense—honored not only for his military record but also for his aura of remoteness. Yet the media looked very different then, too. In 1995, cable news remained the bland civic pasture of CNN and C-SPAN; Fox News and MSNBC were not founded until the following year. Rush Limbaugh was a bumptious presence—an honorary member of the Republican caucus that he had helped exhort to victory in the 1994 elections. But other noisemakers had yet to catch up. Bill O’Reilly was between jobs, having left the tabloid-gossip program “Inside Edition.” Lou Dobbs was still a business specialist, and not the ringmaster of anti-immigration furor and the “birther” controversy. And no one had ever viewed a YouTube clip.

The worlds of media and politics have been steadily merging, and today they seem all but interchangeable. When Anita Dunn, until recently the White House communications director, labelled Fox News “the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party,’’ she got the power dynamic backward. As the Republican Party, leaderless and rudderless, struggles to build a new identity based on more than lockstep obstructionism, people like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity have claimed the role of ideological enforcers, turning up the heat on some suspected moderates, such as Governor Charlie Crist, of Florida, and extracting pledges from others.

Internal convulsion is an essential rite of the modern Republican Party, dating back to 1964, when grassroots activists, rallying behind the Presidential candidacy of Barry Goldwater, routed the Party’s East Coast leadership and realigned the Party along the Sun Belt axis. It happened again in 1976, when Ronald Reagan battled the incumbent Gerald Ford all the way to the National Convention; and in 1992, when Pat Buchanan harried George H. W. Bush during the primaries and then, in a televised address at the Convention, in Houston, thundered, “There is a religious war going on in this country.”

A similar revolt is under way today, though as yet no insurgent tribune has emerged—except, possibly, Sarah Palin. Polls taken last November showed that she had alienated centrists, and a majority of people still eye her with mistrust. But this is beside the point. Populists, from William Jennings Bryan and Huey Long through Joseph McCarthy and George Wallace, have always been divisive and polarizing. Their job is not to win national elections but to carry the torch and inspire the faithful, and this Palin seems poised to do. That she is the first woman to generate populist fervor on such a scale enhances her appeal—and makes her, potentially, a figure of historic consequence.

Palin has yet to declare her intentions, or even to say whether she envisions a future in elective politics. But this, too, only heightens the drama, as she flexes her iron grip on the daily news cycle, down to its hourly epicycles. (At one point, four stories about her appeared simultaneously on Politico, the insiders’ daybook of Beltway chatter.) Palin’s national career, which began in August, 2008, with her surprise selection as John McCain’s running mate, has a permanent air of improvisation and experiment—for instance, the notorious “death panel” comment that threw the entire health-care debate into turmoil last summer, after she posted it online. (Her Facebook fan page now claims a million-plus “supporters.”)

She has plunged with equal fervor into tabloid-ready conflict, trading insults with David Letterman and feuding with Levi Johnston, the father of her grandchild, who was preparing himself for a nude spread in Playgirl just as Palin was about to begin her book tour. Even before the book was published, its score-settling account of the disastrous 2008 campaign had elicited ferocious rebuttals from, among others, McCain’s top strategist, Steve Schmidt, whom Palin accuses of having “put into motion a plan to destroy my reputation.” (He replied that her account is “all fiction.”)

An ordinary politician would be reeling. But Palin understands more than anyone how interpenetrated the realms of politics and media have become. Her operating principle seems to be an observation made by Richard Hofstadter in 1954 that “the growth of the mass media of communication and their use in politics have brought politics closer to the people than ever before and have made politics a form of entertainment.”

The message has not been lost on Palin’s principal Republican rivals, the three other private citizens being mentioned as serious prospects for 2012: Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and Mitt Romney. Gingrich—the Republican Party’s putative sage, who in August offered advice to Palin (first, write a book; second, get a regular TV gig)—is now in the midst of his own tour, in support of his book “To Try Men’s Souls: A Novel of George Washington and the Fight for American Freedom,” co-written with the military historian William R. Forstchen. (Sample lines: “One hell of a cause I belong to, he thought. Damn, why does it always seem to rain on armies in retreat?”)

As of late November, it was marooned at the bottom of the Times’ extended best-seller list. Huckabee already has his own Fox talk show and a new book, “A Simple Christmas: Twelve Stories That Celebrate the Holiday Spirit.” (“Joseph was Mary’s boyfriend. There was nothing unusual about a teen-ager having a boyfriend, but Mary also had a secret: She had a baby inside her, and she wouldn’t be able to hide it much longer.”) By normal—that is, non-Palin—standards, it has sold extremely well, thanks both to the author’s own book tour and to his Web site. Only Romney lags behind. His book, “No Apology,” won’t be out until March, though the stops on his tour were announced last week by his publisher.

All three are crowded near Palin in recent polls, but none have anything like Palin’s star wattage. It is the one point on which admirers and detractors can agree. From the left: “Palin is a bona fide celebrity,” note the editors of “Going Rouge,” a new anthology of anti-Palin prose, most of it published during the campaign but repackaged to capitalize on the release of Palin’s own book. “She transcends politics.” From the right: “On the campaign trail she discovered a power greater than public office: the power of celebrity,” writes Matthew Continetti, an editor at The Weekly Standard and the author of “The Persecution of Sarah Palin,” a book that combines besotted advocacy with an assault on the liberal media that “tried to bring down a rising star.”

“Greater than public office”: this phrase distills an emerging doctrine on the right, as its long-standing distrust of federal bureaucrats and costly programs careers off into full-scale repudiation of governance itself. On this matter, too, Palin has outdone the field, with her surprise announcement, over the Fourth of July weekend, that she was quitting her job as governor of Alaska in order to pursue “positive change outside government.”

Some assumed that she had wilted under the mounting pressure of legal fees, the result of a barrage of ethics complaints, many of them filed by adversaries with long-simmering grievances. Others suspected that she was bored: after nine weeks of national electioneering—of TV cameras and photo shoots, of adoring crowds numbering in the tens of thousands—Juneau, Alaska, seemed a comedown, with its tiny government (forty members in the House of Representatives, twenty in the Senate), which convenes only ninety days a year. In her memoir, Palin adds another factor: noxious heckling from left-wing bloggers intent on proving that she is not the birth mother of her infant, Trig, who was born with Down syndrome. One way or another, it was all too much, and her only good option was to resign. “I knew we had just done the right thing for Alaska,” she writes, in the first person plural that she favors when discussing her “team.” “We were now going to get to fight for what is right for our state and our country.”

The fascination with Palin owes something to the way that her cultish aura mirrors, or refracts, the aura that surrounds Barack Obama, the other political figure who comfortably inhabits the nexus of politics and celebrity. It has become fashionable to ridicule Palin as a tabloid creature, but it was not so long ago that Obama was being depicted as the chum of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Even now, the nimbus of celebrity clings to him, often with deflationary effect—for instance, during his recent visit to China, when at times he seemed less the leader of a major diplomatic mission than an attractive student ambassador, genially exporting good will and posing for photographs. When CNN intercut its evening coverage of Obama’s trip with Palin’s first bookstore appearance, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the two mise en scènes seemed eerily equivalent.

For the moment, Obama and Palin divide the electorate, and are bound by a strange symmetry: born in the nineteen-sixties, the only candidates from outside the Lower 48 ever to grace national tickets, and the beneficiaries of powerful social movements that they were too young to have participated in (civil rights in Obama’s case, women’s liberation in Palin’s). Just as Obama, with his “post-racial” affect and his Ivy League pedigree, made an older African-American political figure like Jesse Jackson seem the relic of a vanished era, so Palin—with her lustrous mane and form-fitting skirts, her coddling of her infant son in the full glare of TV cameras—presented a new model of the spontaneous woman politician, free of the over managed self-discipline that constrains Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi.

What Palin doesn’t have is a serious program. Her book offers only the conservative dogmas of the moment—the sins of big government, the glories of the free market, the greatness of America. This isn’t altogether surprising. Obama—himself no stranger to the political uses of the book tour—was also accused of being stronger on rhetoric than on policy detail, not least by Hillary Clinton during the primaries. Almost a year into his Presidency, we now see his intentions more clearly. He means to usher in the third phase of liberal reform that began with the New Deal and continued with the New Frontier–Great Society initiatives. But these ambitions were given shape by the conditions he inherited upon taking office, and could be glimpsed only tenuously from his apprenticeship as a state legislator and then a U.S. senator.

Palin’s career—a total of some seventeen years in Alaska politics—offers few definitive clues, either, though the record looks better than some may suppose. In “Sarah from Alaska” (PublicAffairs; $26.95), Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe, who covered Palin’s Vice-Presidential campaign for CBS and Fox News, respectively, give a balanced and well-reported, if not especially searching, account of Palin’s career. They praise her for building bipartisan coalitions and for being a genuine ethics reformer at a time when the state was being mismanaged by an entrenched club of men, many of them Republicans, including the longtime U.S. senator Ted Stevens.

Appointed to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, a regulatory agency, she reported the infractions of Randy Ruedrich*, a colleague on the commission who was also the chairman of the state Republican Party, when she discovered that he was “conducting political business from his state computer and leaking confidential information to a company he had been tasked to regulate.” Palin’s crusading played well with the Alaska press, and, as governor, she appointed seven reporters to her administration. Beyond this, the record is blurred. The natural-gas pipeline that she claimed as her signal accomplishment is “still theoretical,” Conroy and Walshe report, and “figures to be either her crowning achievement or her most embarrassing failure.” But there is no denying her popularity in the summer of 2008, when her eighty-per-cent approval ratings made her a tempting choice during John McCain’s search for a running mate.

Her rise was helped along, naturally, by opportunism and persistent self-aggrandizement—familiar traits, but in Palin’s case magnified, or melodramatized, to an unusual degree. Whenever “Going Rogue,” which Palin wrote with the help of the Christian journalist Lynn Vincent, leaves the subject of family joys (“Every child is created special, with awesome purpose and amazing potential”), the beauties of the Alaska landscape (“Autumn in Alaska shimmers in white and gold”), or the utility of prayer (“As the months went on, Todd’s prayer was answered by an offer for a permanent position with BP”) and turns to politics, it becomes a narrative of almost continual embattlement.

It’s the outsider against the insiders, the innocent circled by wolves, whether in the Alaska Republican Party, in the “professional political caste” that stifled and, finally, betrayed her during the 2008 campaign, or in “the liberal media.” In almost every case, Palin’s own part in these conflicts is scrubbed free of complicating detail, lest it add darkening shadows to her pastel self-depiction. Even her campaign for mayor of Wasilla, in 1996, is cast as a homely contest between her vision of smaller government against the incumbent Republican’s preference “for more government control.” In fact, Palin won by attacking her opponent over “values,” in mimicry of the campaigns that social conservatives were leading in the Lower 48. Her “genius was to transform a sleepy municipal election into a philosophical grudge match,” Matthew Continetti writes, one that was “fought over three issues—guns, spending, and abortion.”

This aspect of the campaign is well known and, in any case, shouldn’t hurt her with her base. Why airbrush it? Perhaps because Palin has taken the measure of her readers and their expectations. It is one thing to commit casual ideological libel against Obama, as Palin does when she intimates that his “past comments and associations with anti-capitalist radicals would influence his economic policy,” thus implying that the true authors of the stimulus were Saul Alinsky and Bill Ayers, rather than the Wall Street-friendly economists Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner. But it is quite another thing to own up to an episode of election hardball in her home town—ruthlessness on a level more likely to affront the “ordinary” people on whom she holds a special claim, particularly those captivated by her image as salt-of-the-earth supermom.

She is equally circumspect on the issue of ethnicity, pointing out that Todd, whom she met in high school, is “part Yupik Eskimo” and opened her to the “social diversity” of Alaska. (Wasilla is more than eighty per cent white.)Palin, though notoriously ill-travelled outside the United States, did journey far to the first of the four colleges she attended, in Hawaii.

She and a friend who went with her lasted only one semester. “Hawaii was a little too perfect,” Palin writes. “Perpetual sunshine isn’t necessarily conducive to serious academics for eighteen-year-old Alaska girls.” Perhaps not. But Palin’s father, Chuck Heath, gave a different account to Conroy and Walshe. According to him, the presence of so many Asians and Pacific Islanders made her uncomfortable: “They were a minority type thing and it wasn’t glamorous, so she came home.” In any case, Palin reports that she much preferred her last stop, the University of Idaho, “because it was much like Alaska yet still ‘Outside.’ ”

Palin’s discomfort is easy to understand. Race is often the subtext of populist campaigns; their most potent appeal is to whites who are feeling under siege by changing economic and cultural conditions. Palin’s strength with this constituency can only have grown since the last election. It’s the reason that her bus tour is passing through the small cities and towns (Fort Wayne, Indiana; Washington, Pennsylvania) where the 2008 election might have been won. Already, she has drawn thousands of fans, some pitching tents overnight in the hope of receiving an autographed book.

She is avoiding major cities in the Northeast and on the West Coast, a pointed assertion of her contempt for metropolitan élites. When McCain asked if Palin’s husband was prepared for the rigors of a national campaign, Palin assured him that he was, and also that they were the couple for the job: “We felt our very normalcy, our status as ordinary Americans, could be a much needed fresh breeze blowing into Washington, D.C.”

To an extent unmatched by any recent major political figure, she offers the erasure of any distinction—in skill, experience, intellect—between the governing and the governed. As one supporter told Conroy and Walshe, “If she can run a home, she can run the government.” Palin agrees: “There’s no better training ground for politics than motherhood.” Describing the responsibilities of managing Alaska’s budget, she makes the same argument in fancier language: “Lessons learned on the micro level still apply to the macro. Just as my family couldn’t fund every item on our wish list, and had to live within our means as well as save for the future, I felt we needed to do that for the state.” Her insistent ordinariness is an expression not of humility but of egotism, the certitude that simply being herself, in whatever unfinished condition, will always be good enough.

In her speech at the Republican Convention, Palin cited the example of Harry Truman, “a young farmer and haberdasher from Missouri” who “followed an unlikely path to the Vice-Presidency.” But Truman’s early years were spent in preparation for some future exemplary role, and for the historical destiny that he hoped, against all odds, he might someday fulfill. He regarded his ordinariness as something to be overcome, not celebrated.

Though often derided in his day as a “little man,” he closely studied the lives of the greats, with special emphasis on antiquity—Hannibal, Cincinnatus, Scipio, Cyrus the Great—and consciously patterned himself after them. “Reading history, to me, was far more than a romantic adventure,” he said. “It was solid instruction and wise teaching which I somehow felt that I wanted and needed.” As President, he formed a strong bond with his Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, a product of Yale and Harvard, and a bugbear of Joseph McCarthy and his congressional allies, whom Acheson described as “political primitives.”

The appetite for betterment that drove Truman is strangely absent in Palin. Though she says that she was a voracious reader in childhood, she nowhere indicates what she learned about politics or governance from books, from the college courses she took, or even from more experienced officeholders in Alaska. She (or her collaborator) sprinkles nuggets from Plato and Pascal, but is more convincing when she cites a motivational maxim from “author and former football coach Lou Holtz.”

When the call came from John McCain to discuss her possible place on the ticket, Palin, in her favored idiom, didn’t blink. It was confirmation of her self-assessment. “I certainly didn’t think, Well, of course this would happen. But neither did I think, What an astonishing idea. It seemed more comfortable than that, like a natural progression.” It may have seemed less natural to advisers who, prepping her for interviews and debates, were startled by the gaping holes in her knowledge. When Fred Barnes, the Weekly Standard editor and writer, asked Palin who her favorite thinker was, she replied, “You.” Barnes has observed that Palin’s “Republican heroes, besides McCain, come to a grand total of two, Reagan and Lincoln.”

“Going Rogue” does indeed invoke Reagan, as so many conservative memoirs and manifestos do, although Palin’s discussion of one of his cherished principles, “Get federal spending under control,” omits the fact that Reagan himself violated it. (During his Presidency, federal spending exceeded all previous levels in the postwar era; not a single major program was eliminated.) Nonetheless, Reagan the candidate personified the ideal of the citizen politician, so important to the rise of modern conservatism, and Palin is right to draw on his example.

What she ignores, though, is the fact that Reagan, like Truman, immersed himself in solitary preparation. A consultant to Reagan’s first political campaign, in 1966, when he ran for governor of California, reported that “his library is stacked with books on political philosophy.” The radio scripts that he wrote and read in the nineteen-seventies, at a rate of five a week, were models of concise argument, as were his letters to contemporaries like William F. Buckley, Jr. But then Reagan, again like Truman, aspired to the heroic ideal. Despite his Hollywood past—or perhaps to atone for it—he cultivated an air of almost imperial remoteness. “What stayed with me,” Colin Powell writes in “My American Journey” of his first meeting with Reagan, “was the paradox of warmth and detachment Reagan seemed to generate simultaneously, as if there could be such a thing as impersonal intimacy.”

This is just one of the many vivid impressions of the mighty recorded in Powell’s book, the engrossing story of the path that led him from a South Bronx tenement to the inner sanctums of institutional power. Every page is informed by an acute sense of his multiple identities, which situated him at once within and apart from the worlds he inhabited. It’s significant that he titled his memoir a “journey,” while Palin has called hers a “life.” She certainly accumulated mileage: the distance between Wasilla and Juneau is five hundred and sixty-five miles. But the sense of moral or intellectual progress is altogether absent. In this, Palin embodies the curiously arrested condition of the movement she evidently seeks to lead.

Conservatives, who used to denounce “identity politics,” have fashioned their own version of it, anchored in the culture wars, with its parallel conflicts of background and class. Palin incarnates the latest version, which is a politics not of “special interests” but of the singular self. In “The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America” (1961), Daniel Boorstin distinguishes between heroes, whose higher example can “fill us with purpose, ” and celebrities—each his own fleeting “human pseudo-event”—who “are nothing but ourselves seen in a magnifying mirror.” But what about the ambitions or hopes of celebrities themselves? What is it that they really want? Sarah Palin’s uncertain future raises this question.

To judge from her book, the most exciting time in her life was the election of 2008, when she was embraced by the army of “everyday, hardworking Americans,” the “everyday folks,” and “thousands of regular Americans coming out with their signs” who mobbed her tumultuous rallies, thrilling to her odes to the “true America.” She gave them a “magnifying mirror.” They reflected her own image back to her. This adoration is kept alive today by the excited autograph-seekers in Grand Rapids and Fort Wayne, in the audience that gave Oprah Winfrey her best ratings in two years, and in the various advocacy groups that have sprung up to promote Palin for the Presidency: Conservatives 4 Palin, Team Sarah, Vets 4 Sarah, 2012 Draft Sarah Committee, Sarah Palin Radio, SarahPAC. The true meaning of Palinism is Sarah Palin—nothing more and nothing less. She is a party unto herself.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Stephen F. Hayes: Eloquent and Balanced on North Korea's 60 Year Tradition of Intransigeance

The Sixty Years War

November 24, 2010

Weekly Standard

On November 12, North Korean scientists took Stanford professor Siegfried Hecker and two colleagues to the Yongbyon nuclear complex. The North Koreans led the Americans to a building that Hecker, former head of the Los Alamos nuclear laboratories, had visited in February 2008. The structure had been transformed into a “stunning” uranium enrichment facility, Hecker would later write.

That revelation brings to an end the long-running debate inside the U.S. intelligence community over whether the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has an active uranium enrichment program. North Korea acknowledged that it had such an effort back in 2002. But the North Koreans later claimed their admission was a misunderstanding. And in the years since, the intelligence community has had little knowledge of the North Korean nuclear program—it is, after all, the most secretive project of the world’s most secretive regime. There was no fresh intelligence to cast doubt on the program’s continued existence, because there was little new information about the program at all.

This absence of evidence led to a split in the U.S. intelligence community. The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), along with analysts at the Department of Energy, voiced strong skepticism about the existence of a North Korean enrichment program. But others, most notably analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency and most of the leadership at the CIA, were convinced that enrichment work was continuing. By 2007, the consensus of the U.S. intelligence community on the existence of an enrichment program was downgraded from “high-confidence” to “mid-confidence,” and pro-engagement policymakers were comparing the worrisome intelligence on North Korea to prewar intelligence on Iraq.

Meanwhile, Bush administration policymakers eager for engagement with North Korea—led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and functionary Christopher Hill—downplayed the likelihood of DPRK enrichment efforts and mocked those who worried about them. “Some people imagine there is a building somewhere with a secret door they can open and find a group of scantily clad women enriching uranium,” Hill commented.

Well, we don’t know about the women. But just two months after Hill’s dismissive comments, the evidence of a secret enrichment program continued to build. In June 2008, North Korea presented documents to the United States that were intended to verify the DPRK’s claims regarding plutonium production. In an underappreciated irony, analysts found traces of highly enriched uranium on the 18,000 pages of materials. The CIA and DIA argued that the new evidence confirmed their suspicions. INR and DOE found reasons to doubt it.

Stephen Hadley, national security adviser under George W. Bush, mentioned the dispute in a little-noticed speech he delivered two weeks before leaving office. In his remarks, Hadley warned that North Korea would be “an early challenge” for the Obama administration. “This is especially true because some in the intelligence community have increasing concerns that North Korea has an ongoing covert uranium enrichment program.” Originally intended for use in a speech by President Bush, this carefully vetted claim, coming from the preternaturally cautious Hadley, raised eyebrows among Korea-watchers. The White House meant it as a marker—something that would provide an official, on-the-record indication of the state of intelligence on North Korea’s nuclear program.

It was also an incongruous coda to four years of failed engagement with a rogue regime. During that time, North Korea had tested a crude nuclear weapon and been caught red-handed providing assistance to Syria, a leading state sponsor of terror, in the construction of a nuclear reactor. And yet, after stern denunciations, Bush officials had continued to reward North Korea’s occasional, symbolic diplomatic gestures with bilateral meetings and relief from sanctions.
Which brings us to the current impasse. On November 23, 2010, just two days after the DPRK’s uranium enrichment program was revealed in the pages of the New York Times, North Korea launched an unprovoked, 50-minute artillery barrage on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong that killed two South Korean marines, two civilians, and injured dozens of others. The Obama administration expressed concern about the nuclear revelations and condemned the attacks. A White House official told ABC’s Jake Tapper that the administration would not be “rushing into six-party talks” with North Korea because “we see that as rewarding bad behavior.”

Not rewarding bad behavior is good. Punishing bad behavior? That’s better.

Yet the nuances of the Obama administration’s position have little to do with the severity of punishment and everything to do with the speed of capitulation. Almost as quickly as the Obama administration expressed its determination not to reward “bad behavior,” the White House announced its intention to do just that. That same day, Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, special representative for North Korea policy, said the administration would “continue our coordination of moves designed to lead eventually to the resumption of the six-party talks.” Perhaps anticipating questions about the wisdom of seeking new agreements on nuclear disarmament with a regime that has violated every other such agreement, Bosworth added: “We are very concerned as to the sincerity of the DPRK’s approach to this.”

But not concerned enough to change course. On the evening of November 23, with fires still burning on Yeonpyeong, a statement on the website of the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that the United States had agreed to seek an immediate resumption of the six-party talks. Bosworth, addressing reporters in Beijing after meeting his Chinese counterparts, said: “We agreed on the essential need for us to continue coordination and consultation on this issue, the uranium enrichment program, and of course on the subject of how .   .   . to bring about a resumption of the Six Party process.”

And so the cycle begins anew. Kim Jong Il feels neglected. He does something provocative. America and her allies offer statements of concern. Negotiations resume. The U.S. side offers generous concessions while threatening to tighten sanctions. North Korea makes promises it does not intend to keep. American diplomats celebrate their “achievement.” And, after a period of relative quiet, Kim Jong Il begins to feel neglected again and does something else provocative.
For much of the foreign policy establishment, the familiarity of this cycle provides comfort. When North Korea declares itself a nuclear power, or tests a crude nuclear weapon, or launches missiles into the Sea of Japan, or blows up a South Korean ship, or reveals to an American scientist a state-of-the-art centrifuge operation—the response is the same. It’s just Kim Jong Il being Kim Jong Il, people say.

But this is false comfort. Nineteen out of twenty times, Kim’s actions can be explained as diplomatic gamesmanship. But the consequences of being wrong that one time—the consequences of misjudging a belligerent and dying dictator with nukes—are grave.
It is up to the White House to break the cycle of futility. The Obama administration’s cool attitude toward North Korea during its first 20 months in office was a welcome change from the Bush administration’s overeager engagement. Getting serious about North Korea, however, requires dispensing with two comforting but inaccurate assumptions that have guided the diplomacy of administrations from both political parties for nearly two decades.

The first is the notion that Kim Jong Il can be talked out of pursuing nuclear weapons. The second is that China and the United States share fundamental security interests in disarming North Korea.

For years, U.S. policy on North Korea has been outsourced to China. Successive presidents have asked that Beijing use its muscle to control its combative ally. It hasn’t worked, because the Chinese believe that the status quo is preferable to escalation. The Obama administration needs to flip that equation by making the status quo less acceptable. Rather than asking China politely to do our diplomatic spadework, why not use our diplomatic and economic leverage over China to demonstrate that there are consequences for Beijing’s recalcitrance?

In the short term, we can reimpose the tough sanctions that were unwisely lifted by President Bush in the summer of 2008, and immediately return North Korea to the list of state sponsors of terror. The administration could also urge South Korea to end its participation in the Kaesong Industrial Complex—a zone of joint economic cooperation with North Korea in which South Korean companies provide capital and North Korea provides labor.

Beyond that, America can aggressively seek to interdict North Korean ships suspected of carrying illicit materials, and increase the number of regular, high-profile joint naval exercises we conduct with South Korea.

No doubt, it will be tempting for President Obama to take the easier path—to pursue meaningless nonproliferation agreements, to offer platitudes about a nuclear-free world, to restart the six-party talks and otherwise seek dialogue about disarmament with regimes committed to nuclear weapons. But as French president Nicolas Sarkozy reminded Obama at the U.N. Security Council last year:

...The people of the entire world are listening to what we’re saying, to our promises, our commitments and our speeches. But we live in a real world, not a virtual world. We say: Reductions must be made. And President Obama has even said: ‘I dream of a world without [nuclear weapons].’ Yet before our very eyes, two countries are doing the exact opposite...

And what have the repeated offers for dialogue produced? Sarkozy answered his own question.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Shakespeare's Sonnet 129

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoy’d no sooner but despised straight,
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had
Past reason hated, as a swallow’d bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.


The shameful expending of spirit in sex is the realization of lust, which till realized is perjurious, homicidal, blameworthy, savagely wild, extreme, rude, cruel, untrustworthy. Sex is enjoyed in its instant but hated (and self -hating) right after. Sex is sought past all reason and then when over irrationally despised as though it was a taken lure designed to make its taker insane. Insane when chasing it and while having it, we are wild and desperate after it, during it and in questing it. Its ecstasy proves its delight, which once proved, proves its very sadness. It promise beckons joy, finished, an unreality. The world well knows all that is maddeningly destructive about sex but doesn’t know well or how to avoid the momentary ecstatic bliss that takes all to the very hell it creates.


...Poor Will. But a great expression of how awful lust can be.


... I'm not even sure about sheer lust. It's a kind of anti's awful--before during and after--just like the bard said. I don't count one night stands as sheer lust necessarily, nor do I count really driven sex but with someone you have feelings for.


...lust (without) attraction, indeed the reverse, but persists. I suspect that in Sh's and many other cases it is ambivalence about sex itself, ie one desires but hates the fact that one does...


Interesting point about the sonnet's torturing--to the sonnetteer--central paradox being rooted in complicated and intense feelings about sex as such. I don't read the poem that way, though it adds an interesting possible dimension of meaning. I read the poem as focusing on sex detached from all fondness--sheer lust--a kind of decontextualized drive and striving, where human fondness would normally provide the context. Sort of like an addiction to pornography. By the way, pornography, which is the portrayal of decontextualized sex, can by its very nature lend insight into the sonnet, I think.

When one gets to lust that is divorced from even any attraction, let alone divorced from any fondness, one is really in an intensely wierd, utterly, utterly dehumanized place.


I sure agree with the last, eloquent statement. But not the part about Sh, there is a long tradition of sex as different from (not a culmination of) love. It was a common saying that age freed one from the tyranny of sex. And on and on. But kings and their mistresses and the occasional letters that indicate a good marriage suggest that there was some sanity.


Roger, I’m a bit familiar with the Christian tradition—say, as opposed to the Hebraic—of sexual abstemiousness to the extreme of sheer revulsion by the body. And I’m a bit familiar with the poetic (and other) romanticization of love at the expense of, and in the repression and suppression of, sex and sexuality. But my wondering-out-loud point/question is my unfamiliarity with any such themes or preoccupations in Shakespeare’s poetry or plays, save to subvert them. What am I missing, if anything, in his work that goes to the deep sexual ambivalence rooted in sexual antipathy you see in his poem? Just lightly to moot the point, I’d think that presence or absence of these themes and concerns—sexual amibivalence rooted in antipathy itself rooted in Christian aversion to sex and sexuality—in his work helps inform the context for reading Sonnet 129. We seem to read it with different emphases. I only raise this because it’s fun and interesting. To me Sonnet 129 is continuous with what I remember of Troilus and Cressida.


I am a loss as to how you read the poem. It actually seems quite pagan to me, it sounds like classical philsophers who bemoan the irrationality of desire. But how exactly do you read the poem? What does itr subvert? The new tendenc to romantiize sex?


Roger, I read the poem as an anguished exploration of the drives and preoccupations of lust, and of lust as detached from any context of fondness or human relationship, the sin of lust treated psychologically and physically rather than religiously. The sonnet means not to subvert anything and I didn't mean to convey that it did. I think what I disagree with you about on it--if I have you right-- is that I don't think it is concerned with the irrationality of desire as such but rather with lust as detached, sheer sexuality, an animalism, unadorned by the human. This poet, I'd argue, has no/would have no problem by the evidence of this poem with desire enfolded into human relationship.


I agree, irrational is irrelevant.

Elzabeth Drew Takes Down Obama

From In The Bitter New Washington NYR/December 23, 2010

...If, as Peter Hart says, the voters hadn’t yet turned on Obama, he hardly helped those Democrats who were running in tight races. Numerous Democrats complained (off the record, for fear of alienating the White House) that he and his aides didn’t seem to grasp the hurt and anxiety that was troubling so much of the public.

Obama is not given to Clintonian expressions of “I feel your pain.” Once they got to the White House, Obama and his campaign team (virtually all of his top assistants) seemed to live in a hermetically sealed box—cut off from and not interested in what was going on outside, or what experienced people who tried to help them had to say. No one could dispute the fact that Obama was a good family man who dined with his wife and children each night and then turned to his briefing papers.

To the extent that the Obamas went out in Washington, it was on their “date night,” or, so far as is known, to the Georgetown apartment of their close friend Valerie Jarrett, who also works at the White House. True, the Beltway isn’t the country, but there are people here who could have helped the Obama team navigate its shark-filled waters.

Of course Obama should have gotten out of Washington more and listened to people, not just talked at them; and, as Walter Mondale said recently, he should have gotten rid of “those idiot boards”—the TelePrompters on which the great orator has been strangely dependent and which divide him from his audiences. Last year, a friend of mine was invited to a Hanukkah party that the Obamas gave for prominent Jews (a group with whom there had been tensions), and after the Obamas descended the grand stairway, they stood in the foyer briefly, the President made a few remarks and shook a few hands, and back up the stairs they went. No mingling.

In their first two years, the Obamas have seemed a bit tone-deaf: there were too many vacations while people were hurting, especially Michelle’s extravagant trip to Spain. (I’m as interested in Michelle’s clothes as the next woman but at the same time think she and her staff are too focused on her looking smashing, which she does. Her wardrobe seems quite extensive for these troubled times.)

Barack Obama’s personality has been much mulled over in the past two years, but it seems inescapable that his high self-esteem often slides over the thin line to arrogance, which trickles down (with some exceptions) to much of his staff, some of whom are downright rude to all but a chosen few. Obama has seemed uninterested in anyone but his immediate group, and three of the four members of his immediate circle—Jarrett, Robert Gibbs, David Axelrod—had had no experience in governing. The fourth, Rahm Emmanuel, expressed himself with such flippancy, arrogance, and overuse of the F-word that he offended not just members of Congress but also would-be allies of the President.

Vice President Joe Biden, who is liked on Capitol Hill, was virtually shut out of the dealings with people in Congress in the first two years—”I can handle them,” Obama told Biden—but Biden is now expected to be given a larger role as part of the White House’s new determination to “reach out.” (A few months ago highly placed members of the staff also swore they would “reach out,” but that seemed to last for just a few days.) One of the oddest aspects of Obama’s persona is that someone who seems so confident has insisted thus far in having people around him with whom he is said to be “comfortable.”

For example, Tom Donilon, his recently appointed national security adviser (a promotion from his role as deputy), is by all accounts a capable man but is no one’s idea of a serious strategic thinker. The explanation I was given for Donilon’s being given his new position was that “the President is comfortable with him.”

Just as Obama is described as pleased with himself, he has been treated with hero worship by much of his staff. After all, he had taken on the formidable Clintons, and, against the expectation of almost all the pundits and the experts, he had beaten them. Why should he listen to those who had doubted him? A common complaint about the Obama White House in the first two years has been that there were no “grown-ups” around, people who knew more about governing and who would tell Obama that he was wrong. When people tried to suggest someone who should be brought in, that person was rejected as “not one of ours.” Joe Biden is said to argue with Obama on issues, such as Afghanistan, but not to get into the management of the White House.

Those who supported Obama in 2008 expected him to be able to move public opinion, to get people to follow him. The fact that the Obama White House has been so poor at “messaging” baffles even his strongest supporters. In fact, he had no overall message. As Winston Churchill put it, there was no theme to his pudding.

When I asked a White House aide about this, he pointed to what had been billed as a “major speech on the economy,” at Georgetown University in April 2009. But the speech was utterly forgettable—and forgotten. One ally attributes this problem to the inexperience of both Obama and his top staff. An ally says, “You can’t leave a message if you don’t have a strategy and you don’t know where you’re going.” Another says, “They had something that worked in the campaign but didn’t work in the White House.”

Thus, Obama didn’t see the need to explain what he was doing. His 2010 campaign themes seemed to wander all over the place: Stanley Greenberg, a pollster and former aide to Bill Clinton, said that Obama’s oft-used theme, that we shouldn’t go back to the Bush days, actually tested negatively, because people didn’t believe that the country was making economic progress.

So Obama’s biggest failure was not to be the leader that so many expected him to be. The jubilation that surrounded his swearing-in may have gone to his head, while the celebrants overlooked that there were plenty of people out there who were not overjoyed at the advent of a black president, or even a Democrat. Obama was, apparently in his own estimation, so smart and so adored that he seems to have felt no need to explain—and explain again—to the country what he was doing and to take the country along with him. This failure to put his programs across came up a few times in the 2010 campaign.

More than once, people in town hall meetings told him that they were behind him but were having great trouble trying to defend or explain his agenda. In a backyard gathering on October 21 he made the most awkward reply of those I heard: “Our attitude was that we just had to get the policies right and we didn’t always think about making sure we got the advertising properly about what was going on.” Advertising. (When I mentioned this to a Democratic senator who was generally supportive of Obama, this ordinarily polite man responded, “Bullocks! What policies?”)

The risk-averse Obama had left it to Congress to write the big bills such as on the economic stimulus and health care (with strong participation by White House aides). But he kept up this line of defense all the way through to his pathetic press conference on the day after the election. In these comments, Obama gave away the devastating fact that he didn’t really understand the role of the president as leader. A friend of the Obama administration said to me, “Their definition of governing is passing bills.”

Someone else relatively close to the White House explained that since Obama had been so criticized for being “arrogant” and “aloof,” he had to eat large portions of humble pie. (“And I take responsibility for that,” Obama said again and again.)

We can never know if Obama’s programs would have gone down better with the public had he stood up more forthrightly to the steady attacks of the Republicans and their allies, not to mention lies. Perhaps there were other reasons, beyond the “communications” problem that the White House seems to have settled on, for the relative unpopularity of some of Obama’s policies.

Perhaps it was the policies themselves.In fact, the despised TARP program and the auto company and large bank bailouts were begun under his predecessor, something Obama could have made clearer and that George W. Bush might have had the good grace to say when his successor was being assailed for them.

Lawrence Summers, Obama’s outgoing chief economic adviser, argues that Obama’s policies weren’t more popular because people just didn’t feel their effects. As for the stimulus bill, Summers says, “Macroeconomics works with a lag time of six to eighteen months.” The stimulus program may well have been too small, but it was all that the administration could get from Congress. By most economic measures, the stimulus program added 2.5 to 3.5 percent to the Gross National Product. Some liberal economists argued that it should have been larger, but they did not have to deal with the realities that the administration faced.

The Democratic leaders had instructed the White House not to ask for even a trillion dollars, saying that their members would rebel at such a number. To get enough votes to overcome a Republican filibuster, the administration had to agree to some final cuts made by a group led by three moderates. The final amount was $787 billion, about 80 percent of what had been asked for; this is not atypical.

The infrastructure projects, which took up about a third of the stimulus bill, were expected to be delayed because of the complicated process of agency approval; but some others weren’t as “shovel ready” as they had been heralded. In October, Obama called for $50 billion more for infrastructure projects, but he didn’t make much effort to sell them, and they were met with opposition on all sides.

The public just doesn’t believe that the first stimulus program created jobs, though it did. Soon, little was heard of this proposal, but I’m told that Obama plans to offer it again in his State of the Union address and his budgets. Christina Romer, then chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, made an epic mistake by predicting early in 2009 that the stimulus program would lead to 8 percent unemployment, a pronouncement apparently pushed on her by the political aides, who wanted to drape the stimulus proposal in optimism. The Republicans feasted on her prediction while unemployment stubbornly hung on at 9.6 percent up until the election.

It’s never a good idea for government officials to offer specific predictions—whether the subject is the economy, war, or diplomacy. At the insistence of most of the administration’s economists, a sizable tax cut for the middle class in the stimulus bill was doled out in small droplets in the form of deductions in people’s paychecks—with the result that they were barely noticed.

Despite Republicans’ insistence that Obama’s health care program (or “Obamacare,” as they call it), should be repealed, exit polls showed the voters to be almost evenly divided between those who wanted it to be repealed and those who wanted it maintained or even expanded. But the Republicans are fixated on, if not repealing it—Obama will veto any such bill—then undermining it one way or another.

It can also be expected to be the subject of investigation in the next Congress. Most of its main provisions aren’t scheduled to go into effect until 2013, though small and presumably popular pieces of the health care bill have already been implemented (for example, offspring can stay on their parents’ insurance until they turn twenty-six, and children up to the age of eighteen cannot be denied coverage because of preexisting conditions). Those who thought they’d get new or improved health insurance right away were disappointed, and others were angered as insurance companies raised their rates.

Even Obama, in his press conference reacting to the election, said there are parts of the health bill that need a second look—thus, as is his wont, capitulating before the fight had begun—just as he seems to be doing in the extension of Bush’s tax cuts, which, according to a recent New York Times piece, were followed by record low economic growth, even before the crash. Another study says that tax cuts for the rich are the single worst way to create jobs...

Good Geopolitical Analysis of North Korean Belligerence

Attacks that may signal a Pyongyang implosion

Robert Kaplan

November 23 2010//Financial Times

The exchange of artillery fire between the two Koreas, which follows revelations of 2,000 North Korean centrifuges producing uranium for a new reactor, constitutes a direct challenge to US president Barack Obama’s Asia policy. The latest gust of militarism and aggression from Pyongyang also demonstrates the fragility of the current system of power relationships throughout this critical region.

Mr Obama and Hillary Clinton, his secretary of state, in repeated trips have been at pains to declare that America is now focusing on east Asia, after the distractions of Afghanistan and Iraq. But China, in declaring the South China Sea a “core interest”, and now the actions of North Korea, are challenging the US for primacy. A dominant US navy and air force will in coming years be challenged here by the rise of China’s own air and sea battle architecture.

North Korea’s aggression thus threatens not only South Korea but Japan, too. Its leadership is as much national-fascist as communist, and has manifested deep hostility to the Japanese, who occupied the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

In short, Japan is getting real-life experience of what maritime Asia would be like without unipolar America power.

Here the US administration should expect no respite from Pyongyang. The great Asian proclivity for thinking in terms of the long arc of history is absent in North Korea, the only country in east Asia whose leaders have no strategic vision for the long term. They are obsessed with short-term survival, most clearly expressed by their nuclear programme. Precisely because economic liberalisation could destabilise the fragile police state, the Kim family knows there is no way to guarantee survival except through a nuclear deterrent.

America’s fear of North Korea’s ability to proliferate – let alone to detonate – a primitive weapon in the face of an invasion is what brings Washington to the bargaining table. The North Koreans know that if Saddam Hussein had nuclear capability in 2003, he and his sons would be in power today. Consequently they have invested much in their programme. They risk relations with neighbours South Korea and China precisely because of the programme’s centrality to regime survival.

An aggressive nuclear programme coupled with military attacks on South Korea, including the sinking of a South Korean vessel by a submarine last March, are also a way for new leader Kim Jong-eun to cement his credentials. In his twenties, and with little experience, his ascension is being spurred along by his powerful uncle and aunt, Jang Song-taek and Kim Kyonghui, each with their own networks of power relationships.

This means that for the first time in its history, North Korea now has a multipolar leadership, in which power is not concentrated in the hands of one person. A regime that is illegitimate and divided best stays in power by keeping its people on a permanent war footing, which in turn encourages disparate elements of the power structure to pull in one direction.

The heightened aggression shown by North Korea therefore may be a sign that the regime is in deep trouble. A sudden implosion could unleash the mother of all humanitarian problems, with massive refugee flows toward the Chinese border and a semi-starving population of 23m becoming the ward of the international community – in effect the ward of the US, Chinese and South Korean armies. Yet while regime change in the North is welcome in the abstract, we should remember that the only thing that might be worse than a totalitarian government is no government at all: a lesson we all should have learnt from Iraq.

In any case, the relatively benign security climate governing east Asia in recent decades is starting to close. That climate was defined by unipolar American naval power and a quiescent North Korea. Both allowed economic growth across the region. With the rise of China’s military, an American military that might face cuts at home, and a less stable and more truculent North Korea, the east Asian environment can no longer be taken for granted. This will put a new burden on the militaries of all states, from Japan southward to Australia. More to the point, it will test US-China relations as never before.

Palestinians' Five "Nos"

Rick Richman

11.24.2010 - Contentions

Jeffrey Goldberg writes wistfully about the “peace process”:

...I wish the Israelis had taken serious steps to reverse the settlement process; and I wish that Hamas would go away; and I wish that the Palestinian Authority didn’t argue that the Jews have no connection to the Western Wall (talk about unhelpful!)...

There is not much one can do about Goldberg’s latter two wishes. Hamas is not going to go away (even though the Palestinian Authority promised to dismantle it as part of Phase I of the Roadmap); Hamas controls half the putative Palestinian state – and the Palestinians elected it to control their legislature. Elections that might reverse that are not going to happen any time soon, if ever.

Nor is it possible to do anything about Goldberg’s third wish. The PA’s argument that Jews have no connection to the Western Wall is not a new one; it is the argument Yasir Arafat made directly to Bill Clinton in the Oval Office on January 2, 2001, while rejecting the Clinton Parameters. Ten years of unhelpful! The PA’s Ministry of Information “study” posted on its website this week announces that “no Muslim or Arab or Palestinian had the right to give up one stone” of the Wall.

So this too is not going to change any time soon, if ever.

But at least Goldberg’s first wish came true: while Hamas was consolidating its power and the PA was asserting that there was no Jewish connection to the Western Wall, Israel took five serious steps to reverse the settlement process:

1. At Camp David in July 2000, Israel offered the PA a state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza, which would have required the dismantlement of all settlements other than those adjacent to Jerusalem and/or necessary for defensible borders.

2. In December 2000, Israel accepted the Clinton Parameters, which would have required the dismantlement of even more settlements.

3. In 2005, Israel dismantled all 21 settlements in Gaza, giving the Palestinians the opportunity to “live side by side in peace and security”™ with Israel.

4. In 2008, Israel made another offer of a state to the PA on all the West Bank (after land swaps) and Gaza, demonstrating again that it would dismantle settlements for peace.

5. In 2009, Israel declared a 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement-building to meet the Palestinian precondition to negotiations for still another offer of a state.

Five serious steps, five Palestinian rejections.

I would re-phrase Goldberg’s first wish as “I wish the PA had responded to Israel’s five serious steps regarding settlements.” But the PA is not going to respond any time soon, if ever. The problem is not the settlements, or the problem would have been solved long ago. What part of five no’s do those arguing for a sixth step not understand?