The death of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is the final curtain on a long sad drama that began in 2005 when he was felled by a massive stroke. He was a legendary warrior for Israel against its enemies and a genius of tactics and strategy. Arguably it took eight years in a coma to wring the vitality from him. He was a giant and an exemplar for those who believe, as I do, that the Jewish state is a benign democratic outpost of civilization in the Middle East. For all those who think that area of the world would be at peace were it not for Israel, let them explain why practically all of Israel’s neighbors are in internecine conflict there today and only Israel is at peace and prospering. Its peace and prosperity comes in large part from the contributions of Ariel Sharon.
Perhaps it had to be this way. Only Nixon could go to China, and only Rodman could go to North Korea. The weirdest man for the weirdest country, right?
I am nothing if not a child of the ‘90s, so I vaguely remember Rodman’s time in the NBA, especially his stint in Chicago: the successive rebounding titles, the freakish 72-10 regular season record in ’95-6, the pink hair and piercings. I also remember that on the playground and in gym class whenever someone did something unsportsmanlike — threw a dodge ball at somebody’s back or kicked a soccer ball too hard in the direction of a girl — we would all say, “Don’t be queer like Rodman.” We had no idea what it meant to be queer, but we knew that it had something to do with a man posing in a bridal gown and that it was, distinctly, a Bad Thing.
I wonder whether others my age remember this once-popular insult. It definitely wasn’t indigenous to my elementary school, as I discovered when I heard one of my older cousins employ it (“Pokémon? That game’s queerer than Rodman”). Just a piece of lore for the benefit of oral historians.
Last night, I thought perhaps we were making too much of former defense secretary Robert Gates’s criticisms of the Obama administration. Today, after reading the adaptation of his book published in the Wall Street Journal, I’ve changed my mind. The essay, fittingly titled “The Quiet Fury of Robert Gates,” scorches nearly everything in Washington, with particular fire reserved for the Obama administration.
On Obama and Afghanistan:
I witnessed a good deal of wishful thinking in the Obama administration about how much improvement we might see with enough dialogue with Pakistan and enough civilian assistance to the Afghan government and people. When real improvements in those areas failed to materialize, too many people—especially in the White House—concluded that the president's entire strategy, including the military component, was a failure and became eager to reverse course.
On Obama in comparison to Bush:
Happy New Year's Eve, everybody! As many of us will be raising a toast to 2013 tonight, I found this story about boozy diplomacy especially apt for today.
The article, titled "The Vodka Effect," traces the history of vodka in Russia in light of the recent dismissal of Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Carey for drunken antics. I always appreciate a drinking story, especially from world leaders:
Still, with apologies to Gawker and the New York Post, this was hardly the most epic Russian bender by a public official ever. In historical perspective, it was downright tame. In the process of researching my new book Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State, I’ve come across dozens of accounts of drunken state banquets spanning Russia’s imperial, Soviet and post-independence past—both by Russians accustomed to such traditions, and foreigners shocked and appalled by them.
A second marriage, it is said, is the triumph of hope over experience. So is a European Union debate over defense. It is Kabuki theater, an enthralling show without practical impact. The Europeans recently issued new promises to do more than free ride on the U.S. However, if they really want to make a difference, they must devote real resources to their militaries and to take real risks in deploying their forces — which no one expects.
In late December European leaders assembled in Brussels for the latest European Council meeting. (Don’t worry if you’re confused: there’s also a commission and parliament; they all do very important things, even though it’s hard to figure out what!) It was the first Council meeting in eight years focused on defense since the Europeans have no one to defend against. It’s been five years since the body offered more than a pro forma mention of the issue.
Vladimir Putin is betting big in Ukraine. For weeks now, Russia’s wily president has worked feverishly behind the scenes to derail the former Soviet satellite’s tenuous pro-Western trajectory.
Until late last month, Kyiv had been on track to sign an “association agreement” with the European Union, thereby aligning its trade policies with those of countries in Europe. But Russian bullying (in the form of political strong-arm tactics and outright economic blackmail), caused the country’s pro-Kremlin president, Viktor Yanukovych, to abandon those plans in favor of economic partnership with Moscow. The decision generated a groundswell of popular opposition, with hundreds of thousands of protesters rallying in Kyiv’s Maidan Square.
Writing for (believe it or not) the Aspen Times, my friend Melanie Sturm offers an excellent summary of the danger posed by the Obama administration's ill-conceived charm offensive with Iran:
Western countries’ military role in Africa has become essential in peacekeeping. This past month the French sent 1,000 rapid deployment troops to the Central African Republic, and then followed up with another 600. The French government is trying to avoid committing large numbers of soldiers to countering local sectarian conflicts. Make no mistake, this is clearly more of a political than military decision, though last year they had to rush aid to Northern Mali to retake Timbuktu from a large well-organized jihadist terrorist group.
Paris knows full well that political life in many of its former African colonies is a matter of just waiting for the next coup, rebellion, or terrorist attack. Long ago they were aware that in spite of extensive and continuing programs aimed at instilling a French sense of democracy, the indigenous cultures of physical intimidation and political chicanery would predominate. The best the President’s Office at the Elysée could expect would be an intelligent and strong leader who looked to his earlier mentor and sovereign on key issues. Of course that is the dream of all former colonial nations.
Former defense secretary Robert Gates is not memorable for much, but his condemnation of “next war-itis” is worth remembering—but only because of its unfortunate revival by Washington Post writer Tom Ricks.
In a 2008 speech, Gates said, “I have noticed too much of a tendency towards what might be called Next-War-itis — the propensity of much of the defense establishment to be in favor of what might be needed in a future conflict," Gates said. And in a world of limited resources, he continued, the Pentagon must concentrate on building a military that can defeat the current enemies: smaller terrorist groups and militias waging irregular warfare.
That is so wrong on so many levels—e.g., it assumes we’ll never have to fight another conventional war—it’s hard to believe it ever came out of a defense secretary. (A former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs once told me in confidence that when Gates said it, he shook his head in disbelief.)
When he was elected president of South Africa in 1994, Nelson Mandela’s country was a sizzling stovetop of grievances and ideologies, a place where the vestiges of Apartheid mixed with newer black nationalist and Marxist resentments. The pressures Mandela faced were enormous.
One of them was to follow the example of Robert Mugabe, president of nearby Zimbabwe. A gapingly disproportionate amount of land in both Zimbabwe and South Africa was owned by the white minority. Mugabe was in the process of implementing a sweeping, coercive land reform plan that would redistribute land en masse, and without compensation, from whites to black farmers. This ultimately hyper-inflated his currency and annihilated the Rhodesian economy.