Saturday, May 24, 2008
Robert Kennedy in the wake of his brother's assassination was devastated with grief--grief compounded, as we now know, by guilt over the possibility that the assassination might have had something to do with his own crusades either against Castro or against organized crime. (The Road to Dallas shows that those concerns were well founded indeed.) That was understandable enough. Less understandable or forgivable, however, was his attitude toward the new President. He and Lyndon Johnson had always hated each other, and it was his cooler, more logical older brother Jack who had understood in 1960 that Johnson's presence on the ticket might spell the difference between victory and defeat in the election, as indeed it probably did. That only made RFK, who had run his brother's campaign, only that much more resentful. Now his brother was dead, killed in Johnson's own state, and his own power base was gone. As Arthur Schlesinger's journal revealed years ago, he simply could not accept this. He wanted to keep the Kennedy influence as strong as possible within the Johnson Administration. He actually sent family friend Bill Walton to Moscow to talk to his own former Soviet contact, Georgi Bolshakov, and tell him that although Johnson would probably fail to continue the positive trend in Soviet-American relations, RFK would probably return to the White House in 1968. He apparently allowed a family friend, Paul Corbin, to start a write-in campaign on his behalf in the 1964 New Hampshire primary, incurring LBJ's justified wrath. He resented those like McGeorge Bundy who went to work for LBJ as loyally as they had for Kennedy (even though no staffer, as I found out in American Tragedy, was more affected by Kennedy's death than Bundy.) And privately he insisted that Johnson both needed him to win and owed him the nomination. In researching that book I listened to every available LBJ phone conversation from November 1963 through July 1964, and I recall only one conversation with RFK. Kennedy's voice was as cold as ice.
Whatever one's opinion of Lyndon Johnson--and to me his Presidency will always be one more piece of evidence that the Vice-Presidency is the weak spot of the American Constitution, despite some great achievements--one cannot help but sympathize with his anger and respect his calculations. Although RFK still referred to him as "Johnson" and to his late brother as "the President," Bundy was right. The United States has only one President at a time. To have chosen Robert Kennedy would have divided the loyalties of all the key cabinet members, such as Robert McNamara, whom Johnson had decided to keep. It would have given the whole enormous Kennedy entourage access the deepest councils of the Adminstration, and made RFK the automatic heir apparent whenver LBJ should step down. It was a choice that he simply could not make, and in July, he publicly pulled the plug by announcing, after a private meeting with RFK, that no cabinet member would be chosen as Vice President.
Exactly the same calculations apply this year for Barack Obama. In choosing Hillary he would be holding out his hand not only to her, but also to all the Clinton veterans and acolytes who counted on her to return them to power as well. He would not, to put it bluntly, be master in his own Administration. He would be much better advised to choose one of the Governors who supported her, like Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania--or perhaps one of his other defeated rivals like Chris Dodd or Joe Biden (John Edwards, in my opinion, has had his chance.) He might well offer Clinton the next opening on the Supreme Court, a post in which I think she would do well. But the chance that she could be Vice President is nil, all the more so after her appalling remark.
I must say, too, that this election has odd echoes of 1968, this time with Hillary Clinton in the role of Hubert Humphrey and Barack Obama as a combination of Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy. It was one of the ironies of that campaign that Hubert Humphrey, the one-time radical firebrand judged too liberal to be nominated, had by the spring of 1968 become the candidate of the establishment, and even of the South. Indeed, in those days--when primaries still chose only a minority of delegates--most observers gave RFK little chance of overcoming this advantage. In the same way, Hillary Clinton, a symbol in the 1990s of left-wing liberalism, has sustained her campaign thanks to the support of socially conservative working-class voters, southern whites, foreign policy conservatives, and, above all, the elderly, while Obama runs strongest among the educated elite and, above all, among younger voters.
And last but not least, Hillary with respect to Michigan and Florida is trying to pull the same kind of disgraceful trick that Humphrey tried against George McGovern in 1972, when he argued that California's traditional winner-take-all rules should be scrapped in mid-election. I had the opportunity to ask George McGovern about that a little over a year ago, and he replied, not unkindly, "Well, Hubert had always been desperate to be President. That was his last chance."
Obama had a few bad weeks in April, but he has obviously rallied now, showing a critical characteristic of leadership--the ability to remain calm under pressure. My birthday is exactly two weeks away, and I am hoping that Hillary will give me a real present by stepping out before then. I don't see how she can possibly last out next month. The latter stages of her candidacy have been embarrassing, but that in turn rebounds to Obama's advantage. I recently had an interesting argument with a foreign student at the War College who could not believe that he could be elected. It aroused my patriotism, and I am looking forward to reminding this gentleman of that argument in November.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
McCain's Silent generation--which grew up in the shadow of the great events of the Second World War and has distinguished itself by empathy--has always excelled at reconciling competing viewpoints. That is why it ruled Congress in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and that is why most of its Congressional representatives fled Congress in droves after the Boomer takeover of the House in 1994--even though the Democratic Congressional leadership is still Silent. McCain has a reputation as a maverick, which helps excuse some of his shifts. As even the very admiring author of today's piece, Matt Bai, acknowledges, McCain has been willing to do almost anything to win votes at critical moments in his career, such as defending the Confederate flag in South Carolina in 2000. He has also been accommodating to powerful economic figures during his Congressional career--not that there is anything very unusual about that. What is remarkable is how the article--and the candidate--manage to put a particular spin on one of the critical facts of this election--McCain's adoption of a neoconservative foreign policy--and to ignore most of what that means.
The Bai article suggests that McCain is motivated essentially by two things: a belief in America's humanitarian mission around the world, and a desire to refight (this time successfully) the Vietnam War in Iraq. McCain apparently believes that the United States has an obligation to promote its political values abroad whenever it can do so successfully. He also has come to believe that we might have won the Vietnam War, had General Creighton Abrams' counterinsurgency strategy been adopted earlier, and that General Petraeus has essentially played the role that Abrams played and should continue to do so. My self-appointed task this morning is to examine those assumptions.
I myself remain profoundly skeptical about American attempts to promote democracy by force, but as Bai seems to realize, McCain is not applying his doctrine with any consistency. He admits that while "troubled" by Darfur, he does not see how we could intervene to stop genocide there, and he also does not believe that we could do much for Myanmar. (Oddly, he also says that he became more interventionist because of events in Rwanda--but that crisis is over.) McCain still defends the attack on Iraq based upon the supposed presence of weapons of mass destruction, but he also claims that we can create democracy there now, and should. I would suggest that nothing has happened to suggest that a united, democratic Iraq is any more likely than it ever was. In addition, with two million Iraqis gone into foreign countries, the same number displaced, and tens or hundreds of thousands dead since the American invasion, it is hard to see how anyone in ten or twenty years is going to regard the American decision as a beneficial one on humanitarian grounds.
What shocked me about this part of the article was a complete failure to ask McCain about the two other factors that made Saddam Hussein more of a target than the rulers of Myanmar--oil, of course, and Saddam's unrelenting opposition to Israel. The article mentions that McCain struck up an alliance with Bill Kristol and other neocons in the 1990s (although it does not mention that in 2000, Kristol preferred him to George Bush), but neither oil or Israel ever comes up--Israel is not even mentioned. Bai mentioned McCain's advocacy of military action once, but he didn't ask him about it. To judge from the article, McCain, if elected, would carry on the war in Iraq simply for the benefit to the Iraqi people and to show that the United States could do the job. Interestingly enough, McCain himself does mention the word "neocon," but he does so sneeringly. This actually has become neocon standard operating procedure--now that neoconservatives have given American foreign policy a new and disastrous thrust, they deny that there is such a movement. (Some also like to make the disgraceful accusation that the word has become a synonym for "Jew." In fact, although many neoconservatives are Jewish, most Jews are still liberal Democrats.) In fact, the neoconservatives are the only leg of the conservative Republican triad (the others being economic and social conservatives) with whom McCain is totally in sync. One might call his campaign, in foreign policy, neoconservatism with a human face.
As for the Vietnam analogy, while Abrams has become the conservative hero and the man who won the war, his role and the reasons for his success have been misunderstood. Lewis Sorley, whose admiring biography of Abrams did much to get this idea going, has now also published the transcripts of Abrams's staff conferences in Saigon. While they do show that Abrams valued population security over body counts, they also show him doing so quite tentatively, and actually declining to order his division commanders to undertake a new approach. He was not about to repudiate the approach of his predecessor Westmoreland, who was now the Army Chief of Staff. More importantly, the gains he made in pacification in 1970-71 owed a great deal to the withdrawal of most of the North Vietnamese Army after the eighteen months of heaviest fighting from January 1968 to mid-1969--the fighting that persuaded President Nixon to begin troop withdrawals. When the North Vietnamese returned in force in early 1972, many of those gains were lost, and the Saigon government never managed to regain much of the disputed territory. Abrams improved population security by stationing more American forces in the countryside, but as one regional study in particular has shown, he could not convince much of the population that the Saigon government would ever be stronger than the Viet Cong. After the American withdrawal, the Vietcong managed so effectively to weaken the Saigon government that it could not offer much real resistance when the North attacked again in 1975.
The same question--whether there is a real political basis for our goal of a united Iraq--still hangs over us there. And McCain, in one key stance, seems to understand that there probably is not, and that that is the reason that American forces will be needed indefinitely. McCain, as Bai explains, opposes the new GI Bill for Iraqi veterans now before Congress because he wants to spend more money to encourage soldiers to stay in the military, not to encourage them to sign up for a tour and leave. This suggests to me that he is committed to indefinite American presence in Iraq to assure our interests there. Another plank of his platform--a League of Democracies outside the UN--is another fanciful conservative project at the moment. Essentially it looks like a return to the cooperative imperialism of the late nineteenth century, in which the European powers parcelled out the task of looking after troublesome, poorer parts of the world. The problem now is that only the United States among the advanced industrial nations believes that the long-term presence of western troops in third world (and especially Muslim nations) can do any good.
John McCain has impressed many people as a decent, engaging man, who has overcome tremendous hardship. Unfortunately, if he is elected this fall, it will probably be largely as a result of continuing social and racial prejudices within the United States. (Those will not be all is voters, but they will have been the swing voters.) And if he is, he will continue essentially the same disastrous foreign policies of the last eight years. That, and that alone, should be reason enough not to vote for him. Unfortunately, it is no longer clear just how much of a foreign policy alternative Barack Obama will be willing to offer. It is also possible--indeed, even probable--that the Bush Administration will attempt to skew the debate still further by starting a new war with Iran.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
The most fundamental conflict in western civilization, in my opinion, is probably between reason and emotion. A year or two ago I purchased a most interesting-looking book, The Closing of the Western Mind by Charles Freeman, dealing with the gradual erosion of reason and the triumph of Christian faith between the fourth century B. C. and the seventh century A. D. I have not yet found time to read it (and hope that this post may indeed encourage me to do so in order to give you all a report), but the very title raises the issue of whether this could happen again—not a frivolous question in an era in which faith is rivaling reason in struggles to establish an orthodox view of how and when the human race came into being. In fact, surveying the last few centuries, I suspect that the empire of reason has passed its peak. On the other hand, that may not be altogether a bad thing either. Human beings may have some capacity for rational thought, but they cannot rid themselves of their feelings, and attempts to proclaim the supremacy of reason in human affairs have repeatedly led to disaster. What we need is that precious and most elusive of modern outcomes, an equilibrium—and it must be found fairly soon.
Personally I cannot help but regret the disfavor into which rational, empirical inquiry has fallen, especially in western university life. The great historians of the nineteenth and twentieth century showed what could be done by accumulating facts and stating them, as Henry Adams put it, in their sequence, and they built monuments of knowledge, some of which, like Albertini’s The Origins of the War of 1914, Nevins’ Ordeal of the Union, or Adams’ own History of the United States under the Administrations Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, qualify as works of art. As I have discovered myself, the combination of the word processor, the spreadsheet, and the web—which is gradually creating on-line archives—has potentially made the production of such works much easier—but meanwhile, during the last forty years the tradition of producing them in American universities has died. History and literary criticism (always a more chancy business) have become three parts ideology and perhaps one part research, and contemporary universities are producing less and less that is likely to stand the test of time, much less interest the general public. Eventually I believe that the earlier tradition will revive, but I cannot predict when or how.
Ironically, however, two other important disciplines—economics and political science—are suffering from an excessively rationalistic approach. Rational economic models based upon the beneficence of free markets began to dominate as soon as the economists who remembered the Great Depression had begun to retire, despite ample evidence that, as John Kenneth Galbraith repeatedly argued, one could predict far more by making irrationality axiomatic. This has had far more important practical effects than the decline of history. The rebirth of the free-market ideology has contributed enormously to the erosion of New Deal regulations, leading in the last thirty years to the rise of a completely unregulated alternative banking system that has been free to repeat the mistakes of the 1920s. The results of that are now all around us.
Perhaps the real problem is this: that the idea of rationality in public life has for three centuries been intermittently connected to the idea of perfectability. Reason, Marx argued prophetically (in every sense), could not only understand the world, but change it, designing and constructing social utopias as easily as model cities or suspension bridges. The results of such projects included both Communism and National Socialism, both of which justified their worst excesses on wholly rational grounds. And there lies the rub—the guise of reason became the excuse for the free exercise of the basest emotions. The European wars of the first half of the twentieth century, I argued in Politics and War, were based upon two simple principles: that countries should be made up of a single ethnic group, and that industrial powers needed empires with which to trade. Neither project made much sense, but tens of millions of Europeans died in attempts to achieve them.
The revival of emotion over the last forty years has had very good effects for individuals. The Boomers of the 1960s, for all their excesses, were re-asserting the right to their own feelings after childhoods of an almost bloodless perfection designed to create new adults in their parents’ image. Unfortunately they challenged everything their parents had done—not only their elders’ repression of their own feelings, which had done enormous harm to everyone involved, but also their substantial political achievements. It is a great thing to recognize how many people need far more emotionally than their parents could give them, and a great deal of denial about family, abuse, and sexual issues has been eroded over the last few decades. Freedom is not, as Orwell put it, simply the freedom to say that 2 + 2 = 4, it is also the freedom to acknowledge and express one’s own feelings. (Oddly, although Winston Smith and especially Julia realize that in 1984, Orwell never got across that last frontier himself. Although he expressed himself bluntly about the couple who ran the school to which he was exiled at the age of 8 in the essay, “Such, Such were the Joys,” , he was too much an Edwardian ever to write anything significant about his own parents at all. Perhaps that barrier stood in the way of overcoming his own self-hate and self-destructive behavior, even though one can easily find that lesson in his books.)
But that, perhaps, is the problem: the best thinking of the last forty years has dealt with individual problems, the worst about broader social and economic issues. Perhaps that is why we are so obsessed with the private lives of politicians and public servants—we no longer pay enough attention to what they are actually supposed to be doing for a living. Because we haven’t paid enough attention to domestic and foreign problems, they have now become inescapable. Abroad a large and critical region is drifting into unfriendly hands, and our military resources are utterly inadequate to do much about it. At home we face once again the need to discipline the market and insure more Americans a decent life. Emotion—the feeling that a certain degree of inequality must in and of itself be unjust, and that society owes us all a chance—can provide the necessary support for new measures, but it cannot decide what they should be. Here the past can be a guide to the present. We shall never create a perfect economic order, but we have proven that we can create a better one. (I do hope that Barack Obama starts to point out, as Hillary Clinton has been doing, that our economy thrived in the 1950s and early 1960s with marginal income tax rates of 90%.) But we need both to give up the idea of perfectability—whether through a totalitarian state or an unbridled free market—and to acknowledge that both reason and emotion must play a role in everything we do. That remains the eternal and most difficult human predicament, both individually and for us all as a whole. Its solution has never been more than intermittent and temporary, but it is a problem from which there is no escape.
At no time, in my opinion, has the western world ever come closer to reconciling the two than in the late eighteenth century (despite the frightening emotional excesses of the French Revolution.) Our Constitution--written by men who had lived through the degradation of what they had believed to be the most perfect government ever devised, the British constitution--was specifically written to restrain emotional excess (and the events of the last eight years show how important that was.) Meanwhile, on the artistic front, who has ever combined reason (as illustrated in classical forms) and emotion (expressed through melody and harmony) better than Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann, Schubert and Chopin? That is why the Constitution and Bill of Rights still deserve the reverence they have traditionally enjoyed. In the crises of the 1860s and the 1930s our leaders repeatedly returned to the Constitution for inspiration. That will, I think, be part of the task for the next President, as well.
Sunday, May 04, 2008
Rice pushes for peace progress; Israel denies hidden agenda
By ANNE GEARAN, AP Diplomatic Writer Sun May 4, 3:10 PM ET
JERUSALEM - Facing mounting Palestinian frustration at the pace of peace talks, the United States leaned on West Bank residents and stifle an already limping economy.on Sunday to lift restrictions that chafe
President Bush leaves office next year.did not directly criticize close U.S. ally Israel, but had unusually direct remarks about the consequences of Israeli housing and roadblocks in the West Bank. Palestinian claims that Israel is deliberately expanding Jewish settlements on land the Palestinians claim for a state have dampened the high hopes for a peace deal before
Asked about settlements, Rice said she "continues to raise with the Israelis the importance of creating an atmosphere that is conducive to negotiations."
"That means doing nothing, certainly, that would suggest that there is any prejudicing of the final terms," of a deal setting up a separate Palestinian state in the West Bank, Rice continued. "The United States will consider nothing that is done to have prejudiced the final status negotiations."
Rice emphasized that a year-end goal for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is still achievable, even though both sides question whether the target is realistic.
Both sides face new obstacles unrelated to the substance of peacemaking. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has become the subject of a new police investigation, the fifth since he took office two years ago., 73, underwent an unannounced heart test last week, raising new questions about his health and the lack of a clear succession plan within the moderate West bank government he leads.
A gag order has been imposed on the Olmert case. But speaking to his Cabinet on Sunday, Olmert said the case has unleashed a wave of "malicious and wicked" rumors and pledged to push forward with his agenda.
He also confirmed reports that he would meet with Abbas on Monday. The two leaders meet regularly to assess progress.
Abbas has sounded increasingly pessimistic. He accusesof undermining talks by continuing to build Jewish settlements on lands the Palestinians claim for a future state, and refusing to remove hundreds of military checkpoints that dot the West Bank.
The Bush administration is serving as a proctor for the first direct high-level peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians since talks broke down amid violence more than seven years ago. The closed-door talks have yielded no obvious successes, although all sides say the atmosphere is good.
Rice shuttled between Israel and the West Bank, passing red-roofed Jewish settlements and illegal outposts as she went, to prod progress ahead of Bush's commemorative visit to Israel later in May. He is marking the 60th anniversary of the Jewish state, which has rankled some Palestinians who say the United States is too close to Israel to act as an honest broker. Bush will not venture next door to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as he did during his first visit to Israel as president in January.
Israel isn't trying to expand Jewish housing to effect a land grab before an eventual military withdrawal, the country's senior diplomat said.
"I can assure you Israel has no hidden agenda," Foreign Ministersaid.
Livni pointed to Israel's 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as proof that Jewish settlements "are not obstacles" if the government decides it has a larger aim of peace or political settlement with the Palestinians.
Livni is leading settlement talks for Israel. She spoke between meetings with Rice, including a joint session with the Palestinians' lead negotiator.
In the West Bank, Rice said Israeli gestures in the West Bank must have a "real effect" on the lives of people there. "We are trying to look not just at quantity, but also quality of improvements."
Israel maintains hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints throughout the West Bank, saying they are needed to protect settlements and prevent would-be attackers from crossing into Israel. The Palestinians claim the travel restrictions have stifled their economy and made free movement in an area they claim for their independent state extremely difficult.
Rice said she had discussed the lifting of Israeli roadblocks, but did not say Israel made her any new promises. When Rice visited in March, Israel promised to remove 61 roadblocks. The United Nations reported that only 44 have been dismantled, and most of them had no or little significance.
"It was the first time that I had raised this issue, and so it will be now a discussion as to how to carry out that concern, or how to address that concern," Rice said.
At the same time, she acknowledged there is a "real security dimension" for the Israelis.
There was one suicide bombing last year and there have been two suicide bombings this year so far, one in Dimona and the other a few days ago at the Kerem Shalom crossing. That's down from a high of 59 in 2002, the year Israel began building a separation barrier through the West Bank and multiplying its military checkpoints and roadblocks.And here is today's story from the Jerusalem Post, the center-right Israeli daily.
Peace process expected to freeze until PM's fate cleared
|Herb Keinon and Khaled Abu Toameh , THE JERUSALEM POST||May. 4, 2008|
There is unlikely to be any progress in Israeli-Palestinian talks until the political uncertainty created by the latest investigation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is cleared up, senior government officials said Sunday after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held talks with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
"Their head is not into it right now," one official said of Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who would take over from Olmert if he had to temporarily step down. "They have no patience for this right now."
The official said that what Israel and the Palestinian Authority had achieved in their discussions up until now was where things would likely remain until the political uncertainty in Jerusalem was lifted.
An aide to PA President Mahmoud Abbas was also skeptical about achieving a breakthrough in the wake of the new scandal, details of which are covered by a court-ordered gag order.
"Olmert is facing many problems at home," he said. "We doubt if he would be able to focus on the peace talks while he's being interrogated by the police. Obviously, he has been weakened by the latest affair."
Despite the new political uncertainty in Israel, Rice held a full day of talks Sunday in Jerusalem and Ramallah.
At a press conference with Livni after their meeting, Rice said the investigation was an "internal matter for Israel," and that she intended to continue moving forward on the Annapolis process.
Olmert, meanwhile, made his first public statement about the investigation Sunday, saying on camera before the weekly cabinet meeting that "the country has been swept with a wave of rumors regarding the investigation." Olmert said that once "matters are made clear," everything will be put into its proper proportion and context and "that this will put an end to the rumors."
Until then, Olmert told the ministers, business would proceed as usual and he would "continue to hold the meetings, carry out the responsibilities and do the things that I must."
As proof of this, Olmert mentioned that he had met with Rice Saturday night and that he was scheduled to meet her again Monday morning, followed by a lunch meeting with Abbas.
"We will continue to deal with the issues on the national agenda and see to matters of state," Olmert said.
Livni also related to the investigation during her press conference with Rice. Livni pointedly said nothing about Olmert, only that she believed in the absolute separation of powers when it came to enforcing the law.
"The only right thing to do at this stage is to let those investigating and enforcing the law do their work," she said. While saying she had "full confidence" in the country's law enforcement apparatus, she did not say anything about the prime minister.
"We are gathered here with the secretary of state within the framework of the discussions that I am holding [with the Palestinians], which is what I am dealing with and will continue to deal with in the coming days. At this stage, I have nothing to add, and it would not be right to add anything else," she said.
The Prime Minister's Office, meanwhile, canceled Yom Ha'atzmaut interviews that were scheduled for Monday with Israel Radio, Army Radio and Ynet.
The Prime Minister's Office said the interviews had been canceled because of the gag order on details of the investigation, and the inability of the PMO to expect that the media would not ask questions on the matter.
Earlier Sunday, Rice met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and then together with Barak and PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad to discuss Israel's roadblock obligations and what could be done to improve life for the Palestinians.
She then went to Ramallah and met with Abbas, followed by a return trip to Jerusalem and an hour-long meeting with Livni. Rice then held a trilateral meeting with Livni and chief PA negotiator Ahmed Qurei for 90 minutes to discuss the status of the negotiations on a "shelf agreement" - that is, one that would only be implemented when certain conditions were met - for a Palestinian state.
In the evening, Rice met again with Barak, who, according to Israeli diplomatic sources, she believes holds the key to removing West Bank roadblocks and dismantling illegal settlement outposts.
Rice's Monday morning meeting with Olmert will be her last before heading back to Washington. Olmert and Abbas are scheduled to meet after her departure.
PA officials, meanwhile, said after Rice's meeting with Abbas that the gap between the Palestinians and the Israelis remained as wide as ever.
"US efforts to achieve peace are continuing, but what is needed is more than an effort," said Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for the PA presidency. "What is needed is American pressure on Israel to implement the road map, especially with regards to halting construction in the settlements and removing checkpoints [in the West Bank]."
Abbas told reporters after the meeting that the road map, the Arab League peace initiative and US President George W. Bush's vision for peace in the Middle East formed the basis for solving all the final-status issues, ending the occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital alongside Israel.
"We stressed during the meeting the need to halt settlement activities, including so-called natural growth, the removal of the settlement outposts, reopening closed PLO institutions in Jerusalem, lifting all the checkpoints and barriers, releasing all the prisoners and allowing deportees to return to their homes," Abbas said. "Both the Israelis and the Palestinians are racing against time in the peace talks. The negotiations are taking place almost every hour and every day and everyone is serious about them."
Abbas expressed hope that the two sides would reach an agreement before the end of the year, although he did not rule out the possibility that the talks could fail. The PA, he said, wanted an agreement on all the stalled issues.
"If we can't reach an agreement, we must think about the next step," he added. "But for now, we don't want to think about failure, which is also possible."
Abbas said his security forces were determined to impose law and order in the West Bank and warned that anyone who tried to hinder their efforts would be held accountable.
He also expressed hope that Egypt's efforts to achieve a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians would succeed.
Abbas urged Hamas to end its "coup" in the Gaza Strip, saying he was prepared to hold early parliamentary and presidential elections to resolve the crisis.
Rice said at a joint press conference with Abbas that she still believed that an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty was possible in 2008.
"We continue to believe it is an achievable goal to have an agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis by the end of the year," she said.
Rice criticized Israel's settlement policy as "particularly problematic to the atmosphere of trust that is needed." She added that she was pressing Israel to ease restrictions imposed on the Palestinians' movement, and urged the PA to increase its efforts to restore law and order and meet Israeli security demands.
But Rice's optimism did not appear to be shared by most of Abbas's top aides.
"It's unrealistic to talk about a peace treaty this year," one aide said. "We haven't seen real changes in the Israeli policy."
When the book came out in the 1990s, attention focused upon Jack Stanton, the charismatic, philandering governor of an unnamed southern state (capital: Mammoth Falls), whose campaign hires an old friend to anticipate and deal with accusations of adultery. His wife Susan was alternately calm and violent, precise and foul-mouthed--a portrait which Hillary Clinton's friends immediately denounced, but which, I was informed by an acquaintance who had been in an excellent position to know, was actually totally accurate. Susan/Hillary was often infuriated by her husband--whom she described to a new acquaintance, the narrator, as "a faithless, thoughtless, disorganized, undisciplined shit"--but the chains that bound them together--a common ambition for power--were far more powerful than any ordinary love. His antics reduced her to tears, violence, and, on one occasion, adulterous retaliation, but the campaign always came first. And in the film, Emma Thompson gave a magnificent performance.
One inevitably focuses more upon that performance (and, actually, wishes that Klein might do a sequel!) since it is now Hillary who seeks the White House. The contemporary parallel is weirdly accentuated because the book and movie's main character, Henry Burton (also played by an Brit, Adrian Lester, whose career never took off) is bizarrely similar to Barack Obama: somewhat black, northern, very well-educated (the James Carville character calls him "Hotchkiss" after his prep school), and relatively cool and unemotional amidst a herd of uncontrollable Boomers. (Burton was obviously George Stephanopoulos, but Klein managed to introduce a lot of interesting racial issues by making him black.) One could say a great deal about Susan Stanton in today's context, but two things stand out--one tactical, one more profound. First, Susan is the most cold-blooded when it comes to using dirt against Stanton's Democratic opponents--she's the kind of woman who would say that Barack Obama is not "as far as I know" a Muslim. Her excuse, when challenged by an old friend, is that if the Stantons don't use the dirt to win the nomination, the Republicans will use it to win the election, and who wants that? It was the day after we saw the movie that the Reverend Wright made his notorious appearance before the National Press Club, and I was not surprised ot learn that Barbara Reynolds, the woman who apparently arranged it, was a long-time Hillary supporter.
But the more profound message involved Susan/Hillary's whole life. We all know about her marital difficulties, but we haven't given enough attention, it seems to me, to the toll her marriage took in other ways. This Chicago-born, Wellesley- and Yale-educated woman found herself, at the age of 28, transplanted to Little Rock, where she remained for the next seventeen years. It would not have been easy to find a less hospitable environment for an intelligent, assertive, liberated Yankee woman in the 1970s, but she put up with it, as well as with her husband. Her years in the White House, when she began as a co-President, then went into virtual exile after the 1994 elections, and finally emerged in the degrading role of a betrayed but loyal spouse, could not have been easy either. Once again the parallel with Richard Nixon, who never felt remotely at home in the upper reaches of American life but felt irresistibly drawn to power, comes to mind. Both of them put up with humiliation that normal people simply do not have to experience to get where they got, and both of them, clearly, feel that they have earned their reward. And both of them became so used to doing whatever was necessary that it was very hard to tell in what, if anything, they truly believed. (That now applies even to the nuts and bolts of economic policy, where I have previously given Senator Clinton some credit. She does talk sensibly about income taxes, but her endorsement of a gas tax holiday that seems designed to increase both consumption and price is inexcusable. A significant heating oil subsidy to deal with the 66% increase in price that I and my fellow New Englanders are dealing with would do a lot more for the Democratic base, and without increasing energy consumption. Just my opinion, of course.)
Meanwhile, Barack Obama's travails do make me wonder whether he is the man of the moment. Once again Strauss and Howe provide an invaluable insight. Obama, born in 1962, identifies himself (as they did) as a Gen Xer, and his cool, unemotional approach, his very real desire to move beyond partisanship, is totally characteristic of a member of a Nomad generation. He would have been an outstanding President in another twenty years, after the crisis was over. He may be an outstanding one now--but he is out of sync with the Boomers who still dominate our political life and who, along with older Silents, have kept Hillary alive in one Democratic primary after another. On the other hand, if Obama is nominated (as he almost surely will be), an unprecedented registration drive could finally turn the youth vote, which overwhelmingly favors him, into a decisive factor. We could have a different, more peaceful crisis--and that could be all to the good, too. As against Obama, we have Hillary, the most frightening type of prophet--one whose righteousness has degenerated into self-righteousness--and McCain, who has totally capitulated to the worst Boomer excesses of his own party on one issue after another. For me, that still remains a relatively easy choice.