OpinionJournal – Best of the Web Today – November 27, 2007


Best of the Web Today – November 27, 2007


    Today’s Video on WSJ.com: Jason Riley interviews the heads of XM and Sirius on their satellite-radio merger.

    Best of the Tube Tonight: James Taranto talks Internet politics with David Asman on “America’s Nightly Scoreboard,” Fox Business Channel, 7 p.m. EST, with a repeat showing at 10 p.m.

    Our Friends the Saudis
    “Saudi Arabia’s participation in the U.S.-sponsored talks on Middle East peace was seen as a diplomatic coup for the Bush administration but the kingdom has made clear there will be no handshakes with Israeli officials,” Reuters reports from Washington:

    “We are not here for theater. We are here for the serious business of making peace. We are not here to give an impression that everything is normal,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters on Monday, on the eve of the conference to be held in Annapolis, Maryland.

    “We will not do anything that will divert from the seriousness of the occasion, (such as) shaking hands to give an impression of something that is not there,” he said.

    Now of course handshakes are not always sincere. As Reuters notes, Yasser Arafat shook hands with Yitzhak Rabin in 1993; and in the process he made fools of Rabin, Bill Clinton and the Norwegian Nobel Committee. So in a way Faisal’s snub is refreshingly honest. At least he is not making a pretense of amity only to betray it later.

    What is more, a refusal to shake someone’s hand is a sign of weakness. Contrary to Faisal’s protestation, it is a sort of theater–a show that one is unable to rise above one’s own grudge to observe ordinary social niceties. The Saudis have no legitimate grievance against Israel (the Palestinian problem notwithstanding); their hostility toward the Jewish state is based in a combination of religious hatred and envy.

    Faisal has demonstrated that Saudi Arabia is a petty little country, worthy only of the world’s contempt and condescension. It is a clarifying moment in Mideast politics.

    And if We Don’t Meet Our Goal, We’ll Set Another One!
    Recent progress on Iraq led Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan to show up this weekend on “Fox News Sunday” to complain about lack of progress in
    Iraq. Here’s an exchange with host Chris Wallace:

    Wallace: Sen. Levin, what do you think about that idea of allowing [the Iraqis] till January and then trying to put more pressure on them?

    Levin: It was the Maliki government themselves that a year ago adopted the so-called benchmarks that they would have revenue sharing by a year ago, that they would have provincial elections by about a year ago.

    They failed to meet their own benchmarks. And just to continue to say that if they don’t do something by a certain date that then we’ll take some action to put pressure on them is the mark of a lack of pressure.

    You’ve got to put pressure on them now, and the way to do it is to set a goal, which is what we had in our last vote, just simply a goal for the removal of most American forces from Iraq.

    That even got support from the former military commander, Governor–I mean, General Sanchez, over the weekend, who supported the effort to set a goal–not a binding deadline, but a goal–for the removal of most American troops, leaving a number there for the limited missions.

    Levin then goes on to offer assurances that “we’re not going to cut funding for the troops” and that “it was not a binding goal. It was simply a goal.” In other words, Levin’s way of pressuring the Iraqi government to meet its benchmark is to set a benchmark for the U.S. government that it is under no compulsion to meet.

    As for Sanchez, whom we discussed yesterday, a reader calls our attention to the section on him in Thomas Ricks’s “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq.” You can read it by clicking here, searching for “Sanchez” and jumping to page 156; here’s an excerpt:

    There was, and is, much to respect about Sanchez, even if one thinks that he failed as a commander in Iraq. “I think there are some really admirable qualities,” said Maj. Gen. [David] Petraeus, who reported to him for a year. . . .

    Even so, the methodical Sanchez often appeared overwhelmed by the situation, with little grasp of the strategic problems he faced. The opinion of many of his peers was that he was a fine battalion commander who never should have commanded a division, let alone a corps or a nationwide occupation mission. “He was in over his head,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Holshek, who served in Iraq in 2003. “He was a fulfillment of the Peter Principle.” . . .

    “It was my view after seeing him that Rick Sanchez was exactly in the wrong place,” said Richard Armitage. . . . “And when you look in retrospect, a lot has improved since Rick went out. . . . I came away from my first meeting with him saying that this guy didn’t get it.”

    With Sanchez having embraced the role of Democratic spokesman, he comes to look increasingly like the George McClellan of the war on terror.

    Can This Marriage Be Saved?
    Same-sex marriage has come to Iraq, CNN reports:

    Soldiers manning a checkpoint near Baghdad stopped a wedding convoy to find that the purported bride and groom were wanted terror suspects, an Iraqi Defense Ministry official said Monday. . . .

    The soldiers became suspicious of the convoy because its members–save the “bride”–were all male and because one of the cars in the convoy did not heed orders to stop, the official said.

    But the bride was male as well:

    Upon inspecting the convoy, soldiers found a stubbly-faced man, Haider al-Bahadli, decked out in a white bride’s dress and veil.

    Bahadli was wanted on terror-related charges, as was his groom, Abbas al-Dobbi, the official said.

    This is only an anecdote, though; it would be irresponsible and homophobic to conclude that there is a link between same-sex marriage and terrorism.

    Jihadi Bear
    Time magazine reports on a story that’s been getting a lot of attention this week:

    It probably seemed like the most innocent of ideas to the newly arrived teacher from England, still settling into life in the Sudanese capital Khartoum. She asked her class of six- and seven-year-olds to dress up and name a teddy bear, and keep a diary of his outings. She hoped it would provide material for projects for the rest of the year. And it might have, except for the name the children chose for their bear: Muhammad.

    Now Gillian Gibbons, 54, is spending her second night in a Sudanese prison, accused of insulting Islam’s Prophet. She faces a public lashing or up to six months in prison if found guilty on charges of blasphemy.

    Can the Sudanese really be such superstitious wackos? It makes you wonder if this isn’t a clever plan to divert the world’s attentions from the violence in Darfur by making people think of the Sudanese as just laughable.

    Nah, they’re superstitious wackos.

    Better Ted Than Read
    Oh joy: “Senator Edward M. Kennedy has agreed to a multimillion dollar deal with Hachette Book Group USA to pen his memoirs,” the Boston Globe reports:

    Neither Kennedy’s office nor the publishing house would reveal the size of the package, but a publishing figure familiar with the deal said Kennedy’s payment was one of the largest in history, eclipsing the $8 million given to New York Senator Hillary Clinton. Former President Clinton and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair each got a reported $10 million for their memoirs.

    Mary Jo Kopechne could not be reached for comment, but the Globe does mention her passing in passing:

    No one involved in the negotiation could say if Kennedy would address the events at Chappaquiddick, where Kennedy’s car went over a bridge in 1969, killing his passenger and campaign worker, Mary Jo Kopechne.

    The then-youthful senator pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident, and was given a two-month, suspended jail sentence.

    But the episode forever tainted Kennedy’s image, and political analysts believe it contributed heavily to the senator’s failure to win the Democratic nomination for president in 1980.

    That “then-youthful” is especially rich. Kennedy was 37 at the time, which, while certainly youthful by the standards of the gerontocracy known as the U.S. Senate, surely would not be young enough to exonerate a Republican in similar circumstances.

    A Gal’s Entitled to Change Her Mind
    “Hillary Clinton has proven her gender isn’t a factor, that she has all the attributes necessary to be a favorite candidate–intelligence, diplomacy, experience and a keen interest for the welfare of the citizens. Her gender leads her to sense issues important to the special needs of children and women.”–Dorothy Duffy of Laconia, N.H., letter to the editor of the Concord Monitor, Nov. 27

    Department of Corrections
    Our item yesterday about the New York Times’s oddly parochial report on Australia’s elections failed to note two errors in that report. Australia is a continent, not part of Asia; and Jose Maria Aznar was not defeated in Spain’s 2003 election, except in the sense that Bill Clinton was in 2000: He did not seek re-election, and his party lost.

    Meanwhile, the Times published this correction Sunday to an article we never noticed:

    A headline last Sunday about a Muslim man and an Orthodox Jewish woman who are partners in two Dunkin’ Donuts stores described their religions incorrectly. The two faiths worship the same God–not different ones.

    We’re glad that’s finally settled, though we suppose it’s still an open question whether Christians worship the same God as Muslims and Jews.

    Wannabe Pundits
    Writing in the Los Angeles Times, one Charles McNulty bemoans “the roiling, polarizing mess of what has been called the ‘new gilded age’ . . . the eternal battle for a bigger piece of the pie, which has become harder for ordinary Americans to come by in an age in which globalization, deregulation and a never-ending war have rewarded the money pushers, oil barons and governmental cronies with the biggest slices of all.”

    He goes on:

    All of us can relate to the fierce struggle wrought by an economy that has transformed housing and healthcare (forget dentistry altogether) into luxuries, given us job security on a wing and a prayer and forced upon businesses a risk-reward ratio that most professional gamblers would smirkingly walk away from.

    Can you guess what he’s writing about? Yup, the Broadway stagehands’ strike. We guess he’s the Times’s theater critic, which means he’s not just a wannabe pundit but a wannabe Frank Rich.

    Disciplining the U.N.
    “Lawmakers to Consider Spanking Ban”–headline, WCVB-TV Web site (Boston), Nov. 27

    Now They Tell Us
    “Firefighters Warn of Electrical Dangers After Fatal Fire”–headline, WTOP-FM Web site (Washington), Nov. 26

    It Feels Like the First Time
    “Intimacy Found Through Alzheimer’s”–headline, Post-Star (Glens Falls, N.Y.), Nov. 26

    The Birthday Card Was Misaddressed to ‘Occupant’
    “Roxton Celebrates 100th Birthday of Resident”–headline, Paris (Texas) News, Nov. 25

    World’s Smallest Wildfire
    “Flea’s Home Destroyed by Wildfire”–headline, KXAS-TV Web site (Dallas), Nov. 26

    Help Wanted
    “Morgan Hill Police Seek Armed Robber With Penchant for Bud Light”–headline, San Jose Mercury News, Nov. 27

    News of the Tautological
    “After All-Time Low, Crime Goes Up”–headline, Miami Herald, Nov. 25

    News You Can Use

  • “For Sale: Defunct Wisconsin Bridge, $1”–headline, Associated Press, Nov. 25
  • “Price of True Love Up to $78,100”–headline, Oklahoman, Nov. 26

Bottom Stories of the Day

  • “Man Clad in Swim Trunks Rides Bike Through Motel”–headline, WCCO-TV Web site (Minneapolis), Nov. 26
  • “Peace Conference Will Challenge Annapolis Traffic”–headline, Associated Press, Nov. 27
  • “State Worker Case Still Undecided”–headline, Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.), Nov. 27
  • “Streisand Endorses Hillary Clinton”–headline, Associated Press, Nov. 27

Stressed to the Nines–II
Two weeks ago, we noted that 9-year-old Zach Bonner was walking across Florida to draw attention to the problem of homelessness. The Tampa Tribune reports that Zach, now 10, made it to the state capital yesterday, drawing praise from one advocate:

“Here we have a 9-, 10-year-old kid who’s giving up his birthday, Thanksgiving at home, to bring awareness to this issue: It’s pretty amazing, don’t you think?” said Kay Freeman, executive director of the Big Bend Homeless Coalition. “It says that America’s dirty little secret about homelessness isn’t such a secret anymore.”

Now that the dirty little secret about homelessness has been exposed, perhaps the media can turn to exposing other dirty little secrets, such as the one about global warming, or the one about George W. Bush’s unpopularity, or the one about Anna Nicole Smith’s death.

(Carol Muller helps compile Best of the Web Today. Thanks to Scott Fraser, Simon Koeppel, Bill Frank, Jason Shanker, Michael Segal, Mordecai Bobrowsky, John Williamson, Dave Sibert, Bruce Goldman, Dave Wheeler, Curt Schmidt, Joe Perez, Ethel Fenig, Brooke Ruzek, Thomas Dillon, Dan Morenoff, Robert Whitt, Keith Samuels, Rich Shipe, Dennis Powell, George Sturve, Andrew Rosson, Greg Baruch, Dan Tracy, Ed Jordan, Aaron Dahnke, Chrystal O’Hanlon, John Sanders, Darin Nugent and Dean Nederveld. If you have a tip, write us at opinionjournal@wsj.com, and please include the URL.)

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