Magazine | November 12, 2018, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

That went 1/1024th as well as she thought.

When is a mob not a mob? When its members are Democratic. Ever since Donald Trump’s election, and with increasing urgency since the Kavanaugh hearings began, groups of anti-GOP protesters not only have disrupted numerous public events but have surrounded and loudly heckled and threatened Republican officeholders — or sometimes just random passers-by — in elevators, at restaurants with their families, on the street, and even in their cars. That’s what a mob does, right? Not so, say touchy Democratic politicians and mainstream newscasters; “mob” is an inflammatory term, and these folks are just active and engaged citizens making their voices heard. Of course, those same commentators showed no compunction about calling the Tea Party a mob, even though its members were much better behaved. Liberals who resent being associated with mobs should encourage their fellows not to act like them.

Democrats are debating civility. Hillary Clinton said, “You cannot be civil to a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for.” Since partisans always believe that about their opponents, the implication is that we can never be civil. Eric Holder amended Michelle Obama’s comment at the 2016 Democratic convention that “when they go low, we go high” to “When they go low, we kick them.” He later explained he was speaking only metaphorically of protesting and organizing. Mrs. Obama rebuked Holder, saying that we should not be raising our children to fear their fellow citizens. The former first lady is doing a public service in reminding her party that politics ought, after all, to be aimed at fostering a healthy society. That she has to argue the point demonstrates that her 2016 comment, presented as a flattering description, was only an aspiration, and one not shared by all in her audience.

The Proud Boys are a real-world, politicized version of Fight Club — young right-wing brawlers willing to mix it up with Antifa. When the Metropolitan Republican Club, normally a staid Manhattan institution, invited Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes to speak, Antifa vandalized the front door with graffiti. The night of the event, Proud Boys went at it on the sidewalk with their black-clad opposite numbers. Days later, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi was pursued by heckling Republicans outside a Miami campaign event. Representative Steve Scalise, who knows something about political violence, having been shot by an enraged leftist, had the right reaction: “I don’t agree with Nancy Pelosi’s agenda, but this is absolutely the wrong way to express those disagreements. If you want to stop her policies, don’t threaten her, VOTE! That’s how we settle our differences.” Real men fought and died to give us that right, and to protect it. Cheap imitations let them down. 

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) took a DNA test to prove her contested American Indian ancestry — Cherokee and Delaware, her family supposedly told her. The results showed a trace, larger than the typical American white person (an RNC press release saying her trace was smaller than average was debatable). The ancestor, however, was remote, at least six generations back. The Cherokee Nation’s secretary of state, Chuck Hoskin Jr., blasted Warren: “Legitimate tribal governments and their citizens . . . are well documented. . . . Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.” Warren responded that she has not claimed tribal membership, only a long-lost link. The link was important enough, however, for Harvard to cite Warren as a “woman of color” after it hired her for its law-school faculty in 1995. Identity politics has moved from theory to practice. In this, Elizabeth Warren was a pathfinder. 

One of President Trump’s best picks has been his selection of Nikki Haley to be our ambassador to the United Nations. She has performed that job in splendid fashion. She has spoken for American interests and called out malefactors, who are both enemies of ours and enemies of mankind at large. Now she is leaving, completing her tenure as ambassador at the end of this year. For one and a half terms, she was governor of South Carolina. Now she has foreign-policy experience. Will she run for president in 2024? It could be, but that is an eternity from now. Suffice it to say, she has done herself credit at the U.N.

A federal judge dismissed Stormy Daniels’s defamation lawsuit against Donald Trump. In April, the president had called a charge by Daniels that someone threatened her on his behalf a “total con job.” Judge S. James Otero deemed Trump’s remark “‘rhetorical hyperbole’ normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States.” In a recent victory tweet, the president called Daniels “Horseface.” This, too, is rhetoric normally associated with politics, at least in the age of Trump. He mocked Republican rival Carly Fiorina’s face during the primaries and claimed that booster-turned-critic Mika Brzezinski was bleeding from a facelift when she appeared at Mar-a-Lago on New Year’s 2017. AlwaysTrumpers maintain that the president dissolves political cant with his demotic lingo. They must, however, take the bitter with the sweet. It’s not as though Trump were Solon, reaching for a lexicon of abuse when necessary. He doesn’t stoop to conquer; he just stoops.

When Hillary Clinton told CBS News’s Sunday Morning that Bill’s affair with Monica Lewinsky was not an abuse of power, she got pushback from sometime sympathizers: Vanity Fair headlined that she “still hasn’t learned the lessons of #MeToo.” “Her words,” wrote the Washington Post, “seemed to validate” the conservative take “that the former first lady enabled her husband’s misdeeds.” Mrs. Clinton tried to deflect — “Where’s the investigation of the current [president], against whom numerous allegations have been made?” — a maneuver that failed, since Trump’s wrongs don’t make a right. The media’s focus on Lewinsky itself serves, however inadvertently, as a defense for the Clintons: Bill’s other alleged victims — Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey — still appear in the last paragraphs of relevant stories, if anywhere. All in all, Vox got it right: “Hillary Clinton’s defense of Bill Clinton is why women don’t come forward.” That defense may look embarrassing now. It is also determined, decades-long, and still surprisingly successful.

Faith Goldy ran for mayor of Toronto, getting only 3 percent of the vote. And yet she is infamous. She is a white nationalist, or alt-rightist, a fangirl of such figures as Corneliu Codreanu, a Romanian Nazi. She described Codreanu’s 1937 book For My Legionaries as “very, very, very, very spot-on” — that’s a lot of “very”s. Goldy also gave an interview to The Daily Stormer, a Nazi organ. An American congressman, however, tweeted his support for her, calling her “a fighter for our values.” That was Steve King, Republican of Iowa. Whose values? Not ours.

Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke of El Paso is prepared to hand Democrats another “moral victory.” His opponent, Senator Ted Cruz, as of this writing with a comfortable lead in the polls, appears set to enjoy the actual victory. Like Wendy Davis, the abortion-focused Democrat who failed to hit even 40 percent in the 2014 governor’s race, O’Rourke is a media darling and a wish-fulfillment fantasy for national Democrats. He’s an odd choice for a 2018 Democratic mascot: a rich, white, prep-school graduate in a Democratic party with a substantial constituency that uses “white male” as a dismissive epithet. O’Rourke is young, and it showed in his awkward and callow debate performances against Senator Cruz. Texas Democrats have been looking for a savior for a long time now — no Democrat has been elected to statewide office since 1994 — and O’Rourke was greeted as a hero, celebrated, in the weirdly cultish progressive fashion, in cringe-inducing praise songs immortalized on YouTube. We’re very much enjoying these moral victories of the Democrats, and we wish them many more. 

In the North Dakota Senate race, Heidi Heitkamp is flailing. As the latest polls of the race showed the incumbent Democrat trailing her Republican challenger by double digits, her campaign made a grievous misstep: In an advertisement, Heitkamp’s team identified several constituents as sexual-assault victims without their permission. Their names and hometowns were published in an open letter to Heitkamp’s opponent, at-large congressman Kevin Cramer, which the campaign ran as an ad. Heitkamp quickly issued an apology and used her opening statement in the subsequent debate to take responsibility — certainly the right tactical move, not to mention the right thing to do. Candidates who wish to use #MeToo as a campaign tactic should be cautious, for multiple reasons.

Kyrsten Sinema, the Democratic nominee for Senate in Arizona, is trying to run away from her far-left past, but evidence of it keeps resurfacing. She accused stay-at-home moms of “leeching”; called her state the “meth lab of democracy” and gave activists tips on how to “stop your state from becoming Arizona”; said that she could accept another American’s choice to join the jihad; and distributed posters depicting soldiers as skeletons representing “U.S. terror.” The defenses are that she has changed and that she was indicting her state’s Re­publicans, not her state as a whole. But the second claim rests on a distinction that she did not make and that even if accepted calls into question the sincerity of her efforts to court Republi­cans and independents. The first claim is certainly possible, but Arizonans are entitled to wonder whether the main change is that she has become less candid.

Nearly every economic statistic is moving in the right direction, but the main exception is big and growing. The federal deficit came in at $779 billion for the fiscal year that just ended; it had been $666 billion the prior year. Democrats, naturally, pointed to the tax cuts as the cause of higher deficits. It’s true that the tax cuts caused revenues to come in lower than previously projected. But it’s also true that spending has been growing, with bipartisan support — and that the biggest driver of our looming debt problem is the growth of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which neither party is willing to moderate. Trouble ahead, and we can’t say we haven’t been warned.

“I think it’s pretty safe to say that entitlement changes, which is [sic] the real driver of the debt by any objective standard, may well be difficult if not impossible to achieve when you have unified government,” said Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell recently, in response to a question about what Congress would do about our out-of-control deficits. Democratic politicians and liberals in the media decided to pretend this was controversial: that McConnell was calling for imminent entitlement cuts (when in fact he was explaining why such cuts would not happen), or that it’s somehow up for debate whether entitlements are “the real driver of the debt.” But “Cocaine Mitch” speaks the truth. Buy-in from both parties will likely be needed to get the debt under control; neither party will make these hard decisions when it controls the government. The fact that Democrats are making partisan hay from distorting McConnell’s remarks just proves his point.

Liberals have spent much of the past two years harping on three points about health care: They have won the fight over Obamacare, which is popular and here to stay; Republicans are sabotaging Obamacare at every turn; and we need to make bold changes that move us closer, or all the way, to a single-payer system. That each of these points is in tension with the other two seems not to have dawned on many of them. What they truly have working for them is that Republicans are on the defensive about one issue specifically: how to protect people with pre-existing conditions. The liberal case for Obamacare has on the campaign trail collapsed almost entirely into the case for such protection. It is a peculiar case when unpacked. It amounts to saying that an arbitrary subsection of the population — those in the individual market for health insurance — should pay higher premiums and deductibles and have narrower provider networks in order to address a discrete problem that could be handled in any number of better ways, including just throwing tax dollars at it. For liberals’ current confidence to be justified, either the economics and politics of the health-care status quo have to be stable or their instability has to lead Americans to show a wholly new openness to letting the federal government upend their existing insurance plans. No wonder Democrats are cycling through their talking points so rapidly.

As we have noted, an electronic system called E-Verify is a key to stopping illegal immigration. By participating in this voluntary program, employers can ensure that their workers are in the country legally; were its use made mandatory, the attraction of illegal immigration would decline precipitously. The 115th Congress has failed to pass legislation to this effect, but with an immigration restrictionist in the White House for at least two more years, there is still hope for the 116th — if it has a clear mandate to do so. This is why it’s crucial for Republican Senate candidates to strongly endorse E-Verify: tout the program on their websites, embrace it in public appearances, and generally ensure that a vote for them is a vote for this popular method of work-site enforcement. Many candidates have taken these steps, but others, such as Josh Hawley in Missouri and Cindy Hyde-Smith in Mississippi, have been quieter on the issue. Even Democratic senators Heidi Heitkamp and Claire McCaskill, facing desperate electoral circumstances, have embraced E-Verify. What’s the holdup for Republicans?

Ignoring warnings from the U.S. and Mexico alike, a caravan of Central American migrants is making its way to our southern border. It’s an annual stunt these days, and it can be good publicity for everyone: The open-borders crowd has demanded they be let in; Trump tweeted his discontent, threatened to send in the military, and announced a desire to cut aid to the Central American countries whence the migrants came. The simple fact is that we would not have a border at all if thousands of people could simply arrive and demand to be let in. Turn them back quickly and stop giving these demonstrations so much attention. And for heaven’s sake, let’s not have a repeat of the family-separation disaster from earlier this year.

In Missouri, the state Democratic party included a plank in its platform reiterating support for the right to abortion but welcoming pro-life people to join and support the party. After severe backlash from abortion-rights proponents, the state party committee voted to remove the plank altogether. Voters who have qualms about abortion — the majority of them everywhere, and especially in Missouri — should take note.

America’s retirement system is frequently said to be in crisis, with most of the blame going to the shift to 401(k)s. It’s a case that rests on the distortions of nostalgia and ignores the evidence that retirees are doing better than ever and retirement saving is higher than ever. Among the actual flaws of our system is that 401(k)s are not accessible to all who could make good use of them. The Trump administration is trying to fix that by letting groups of small employers who cannot afford to administer their own plans band together to offer tax-advantaged savings vehicles for their employees. Whether the administration has the legal authority to make this change on its own is debatable. Congress should act to make the legal issue moot.

A group pushing San Francisco’s Proposition C sent out a mailer that was supposed to include ten reasons to support the provision. In fact it was blank, save for the ten numerals. That’s about right, actually: The proposal combines an enormous tax hike with a dubious plan to address the city’s (very real) homelessness problem, and there is no good reason to support it at all. The tax hike is especially bad because it involves a “gross receipts” tax, which deeply distorts economic production that involves a chain of businesses (since each point later in the chain keeps getting taxed on the earlier activity). It is also levied only on large businesses, targeting the tech and finance sectors rather than affecting the entire tax base evenly. (The tech sector in particular has erupted in skirmishes over which companies are being treated unfairly.) As for the plan to address homelessness, the measure essentially just throws money at the problem, with little in the way of specifics or benchmarks. The mayor opposes the measure, citing a lack of accountability for the money already being spent and the fact that much of the funding would go to “services for residents from other counties.” To the extent we have any sway in San Francisco, we too encourage voters to shoot this one down.

On October 17, Canada approved legislation allowing the use of recreational marijuana, becoming the second country, after Uruguay, to do so (the famous “coffee” houses of Amsterdam are tolerated, not legalized). NR has long supported a careful relaxation of drug laws. The Canadian experiment, in a continent-sized federal democracy, will offer a useful laboratory for the United States. Will there still be a black market? (Many provinces will allow privately run stores, others — British Columbia, Quebec — only government dispensaries.) Will use by young people go up? Will there be an increase in pot-related accidents? Can laws against public use and intoxication be maintained? How much revenue will the government take in from taxes on pot businesses? American lawmakers, law-enforcement agencies, and doctors should keep their eyes north.

Arguments began before the District Court of Massachusetts in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, the lawsuit brought by a group of Asian-American plaintiffs alleging racial discrimination by Harvard University in its admissions process. Harvard continues to deny that it engages in such discrimination, but as the lawsuit plods on, the university’s denials appear desperate. The latest datum is that, between 1995 and 2013, Asian-American applicants had the lowest acceptance rate of any racial group. The plaintiffs deserve to prevail, and the university should be reminded of its motto.

The Trump administration is undoing President Obama’s transgender adventurism. In an infamous directive back in 2014, the Obama administration expanded the definition of “sex” as used in Title IX of the Education Amendments — which bars education programs that receive federal money from discriminating on the basis of sex — to encompass the amorphous yet trendy concept of gender identity. (For a progressive to conflate the supposedly distinct concepts of sex and gender would normally be verboten, but President Obama got a pass.) Thus it became illegal for a school to require a biological man to use the men’s bathroom. Now a leaked memo from the Department of Health and Human Services indicates that the Trump administration will clarify the definition of “sex” it will use both in Title IX and across federal agencies. The administration plans to say that your sex is whatever is listed on your birth certificate, unless “reliable genetic evidence” says otherwise. If Congress wants to mandate otherwise, it should at least hold a debate and a vote.

Trump says he’s pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and he should. The 1987 agreement that was a central achievement of the late–Cold War diplomacy between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev has outlived whatever usefulness it had (NR stubbornly opposed it at the time). The Russians have persistently cheated on the treaty, which bans intermediate-range, ground-based missiles. We have tried to get them to stop for years, to no avail. Meanwhile, as was not the case during the Cold War, there is now more than one major military power for the U.S. to reckon with. Almost all of China’s missile force would be in violation of the agreement if Beijing were a signatory. There’s no reason for U.S. to consent to be the only country in the world truly constrained by the treaty.

Vice President Mike Pence delivered a resolute speech to the Hudson Institute on our relations with China. Coming as it did during the height of the Kavanaugh affair, the speech was easy to miss. But it was sneakily significant and represented a turning point in the history of U.S.–China relations. Citing the administration’s National Security Strategy, which foresees a new era of great-power competition, Pence slammed China’s flouting of international trade rules, denounced its persecution of Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist minorities, and called its “belt and road” initiative — a massive transportation-infrastructure project in Central Asia — a scheme to ensnare nearby countries in debt traps. He also warned that the Chinese Communist Party is attempting to conscript American corporations into doing its bidding, and, more dubiously, said that China is “meddling” in American elections. Readers of this magazine should expect that our conflict with China will only intensify (see “Cold War II,” May 28, 2018), and we think Pence’s speech got the big things right.

Asia Bibi, on death row in Lahore, Pakistan, since 2010, has appealed her sentence and expects the court to decide her fate any day. A Punjabi woman now in her late thirties, she was working in the fields when neighbors scolded her for drinking from a cup used by Muslims. During the heated back-and-forth, she asserted her belief in Christ, “who died on the cross” for their sins. “What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?” Later, a mob descended on her house. She was rescued by the police, who investigated. No member of the mob went to prison. She did. There, after a year, she was charged with violating Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. The details of her alleged crime are disputed, but contrary accounts are hard to determine in part because Muslims familiar with the case are reluctant to transcribe or repeat remarks they deem blasphemous. But in this case the details ought not matter. Such low regard for both freedom of speech and freedom of religion outrages all fair-minded people.

Andrew Brunson, an American Protestant clergyman, was released from a Turkish prison by a local court in October, after the Trump administration announced increased tariffs and the imposition of financial sanctions on two officials of the Erdogan government, which was already feeling the pressure of an economic crisis. Turkish prosecutors had charged Brunson with a host of improbable crimes, including collaboration in a failed coup attempt in 2016. The administration had pressed for his release for months, with the president prepared to shutter the U.S. embassy in protest, according to ABC News. People of good will, cheer the news of Pastor Brunson’s release, a victory, though delayed, for human rights. Please, though, don’t forget Serkan Golge, another U.S. citizen, who still languishes in a Turkish prison, detained on charges essentially the same as those in the Brunson case.

Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, ranks as “first among equals” in the byzantine ecclesiological structure of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, so the world sat up and listened when he granted autocephaly, or independence, to “the Church of Ukraine,” which has three main branches, the oldest being under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Moscow. In effect, Bartholomew now recognizes Christians who belong to churches not affiliated with Moscow and rejects Moscow’s claim of exclusive rights over the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Objecting that he has no authority in the matter, the Russian Orthodox Church, which claims jurisdiction over the entire nation, responded by declaring the Patriarchate of Constantinople schismatic. So far the controversy has serious symbolic but no practical consequences — Christians will go to their usual church to pray the Divine Liturgy on Sundays — although fights over property could erupt if congregations currently in the Russian Orthodox fold decide to leave it. Bartholomew appeals “to all sides involved” to avoid retaliation. Euge, Patriarch Bartholomew.

It’s always the little things that cause trouble in a marriage: little things and money. In 2012, when fugitive Julian Assange found sanctuary in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, it seemed a match made in heaven, the WikiLeaks founder, whose disclosures had embarrassed the U.S. government, setting up housekeeping with Rafael Correa’s fervently anti-American socialist government. But now the seven-year itch seems to be setting in, with Assange and his hosts squabbling over laundry, grocery bills, who will mop the bathroom floor, and even responsibility for cleaning the litter box of Assange’s cat — along with the $5 million Ecuador has spent to keep Assange safe. The Australian-born Assange, now an Ecuadorian citizen, has filed suit in Ecuador charging mistreatment, and the government seems increasingly impatient with its tattletale guest; but if it kicks him out, the British will arrest him immediately and presumably deliver him to the Americans. So the pair maintain their increasingly grumpy modus vivendi. It’s hard to imagine how Assange, when he started WikiLeaks over a decade ago, envisioned the rest of his life turning out, but it’s safe to say he never imagined himself playing the lead role in a never-ending revival of The Man Who Came to Dinner.

Sears, Roebuck and Company was the original disrupter, with its catalogue business opening up the local monopolies in rural communities most often served by a single general store. Its 1906 initial public offering was the first such major sale of stock by an American retailer, and its shares remained a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average from 1924 until 1999, by which point it already was in decline, having been superseded as the nation’s largest retailer by another innovative upstart, Walmart, ten years before. As Sears has declined — it has just announced that it is shuttering 142 stores and seeking bankruptcy protection — much has been made of the role of its recent owner, the hedge fund ESL Investments, and its founder, Edward Lampert, who has been denounced in predictable terms as a “vulture capitalist.” But Sears in fact has a long and complicated history when it comes to debt and ownership: Julius Rosenwald, the man who really built Sears into a retail-business powerhouse in the early 20th century, was a clothier who ended up owning part of Richard Warren Sears’s failing business — the Panic of 1893 nearly wiped him out — because Sears owned him money. The more things change . . . Nostalgia aside, this is how economic progress actually happens: Outmoded uses of capital fail, and that capital is reorganized into pursuits that more closely match what people want and need. There’s no more need to cry for Sears than there was to cry for the general stores Sears wiped out all those years ago. 

The big new hit at the multiplex is Halloween, which in its opening weekend posted a gigantic $77.5 million domestic gross against a tiny $10 million budget. Wonder of wonders, the film turns out to be that rare Hollywood offering with an unmistakable conservative message. The movie’s heroine, ex-babysitter Laurie Strode, played once again by Jamie Lee Curtis, scoffs at sentiments such as the one held by her daughter (Judy Greer) that the world is “full of love and understanding” and instead trains her from a young age to be handy with firearms and to count on the state to fail to protect them from the institutionalized serial killer Michael Myers, who does indeed escape and go on another masked rampage. A pair of oblivious podcasters, representing hand-wringing progressives who seek understanding for the wicked, get their comeuppance, as does a kid who whines that dance lessons are more to his liking than shooting practice. A voice on tape from the late psychiatrist who knew Myers best warns us that the evil he embodies should have been ended via execution rather than managed in therapy. Few among us will have to do battle with knife-wielding psychos, but the film’s skepticism about the limits of the state’s abilities, together with its faith in the power of well-trained individuals with firearms, is — whatever the film’s other merits — refreshing fare from Hollywood.

In an era when modern Catholic churches often resemble high-school auditoriums, Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia basilica has stood as a gloriously exuberant counterexample. With its profusion of decorated spires and neo-Gothic arches and its bright, throbbing colors, intricately detailed sacred carvings, and riotous modernist stained glass, Sagrada Familia — designed in 1883 by Antoni Gaudí, who spent his life overseeing its construction — inspires millions of visitors per year, Catholic and non-Catholic, despite still remaining unfinished due to red-tape delays and chronic lack of funds. Now the basilica’s trustees have settled the fines that are owed to the city and procured the funds needed for completion, and it looks like Gaudí’s dream will be realized in its full glory by 2026, the centennial of his birth. The Church often stumbles when it follows fashion in architecture, just as when it follows fashion in thought, but Sagrada Familia shows that modern doesn’t have to mean ugly.

It was Tet 1968, and the celebration of the Vietnamese lunar new year had become a living nightmare. Outside Hue City, Gunnery Sergeant John L. Canley took charge of Company A, First Battalion, First Marines, replacing his wounded commanding officer, and led his men forward. For three days of brutal combat, the Marines followed him, attacking dug-in enemy positions in an attempt to relieve friendly forces that had been cut off and surrounded. Though wounded himself, on February 6, Canley twice climbed over a wall in a hospital compound, exposing himself to heavy enemy fire, to retrieve wounded Marines and carry them to shelter. A 28-year Marine veteran, Canley enlisted at 15, using his brother’s stolen paperwork, and retired as a sergeant major in 1981. Now, 50 years after his actions at Hue, Canley’s Navy Cross has been upgraded, and he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Trump. Thirty Marines who fought with Canley were present at the White House. They honor him, as do we.

“Had Germany acquired nuclear weapons during the Second World War . . .” No one wants to finish that sentence. The Nazis were on the threshold but never crossed it, thanks to a band of Norwegians led by 23-year-old Joachim Rønneberg, who fled to Scotland after Germany invaded his native country in 1940. He received military training in the U.K. and soon found himself on a mission, with a handful of fellow countrymen, to prevent the Wehrmacht from acquiring the “heavy water” that was crucial to its plans for an atomic bomb. So they parachuted back into Norway and skied through the Telemark forest. Escaping the notice of guards and German troops in nearby barracks, they sneaked into the heavy-water plant, set off explosives, and sneaked out, eluding a hunt by 2,800 soldiers through the surrounding countryside. British officers had given Rønneberg and his comrades cyanide pills to swallow if they were captured. He knew what he was getting into. London would have looked “like Hiroshima” is how Rønneberg finished the sentence, many years later. Dead at 99. May he rest in well-deserved peace.

 

MIDDLE EAST
Saudi Allies, Not Friends

It took nearly three weeks for the Saudis to acknowledge the obvious, that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was dead after disappearing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The official story now is that Khashoggi was inadvertently killed during a fistfight that just happened to break out in the midst of an otherwise standard meeting with Saudi officials. The regime has made a show of dismissing and arresting several operatives that it says were rogues, and attributes responsibility for the killing to them only.

As alibis go, this barely qualifies. The images of a body double masquerading as Khashoggi around Istanbul after his murder and the reports of a bone saw used to dismember him should leave little doubt that this was a premeditated operation, almost certainly undertaken at the behest of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Surveillance video — courtesy of the Turks, who are exploiting the crisis to enhance their own position at the expense of the Saudis — shows that a group of Saudi musclemen flew into Istanbul and entered the consulate hours before Khashoggi arrived. Several of them are members of Prince Mohammed’s inner circle; one, since dismissed from his post, is among the crown prince’s closest advisers. Very little happens in Saudi Arabia without Prince Mohammed’s foreknowledge and approval, so the notion that he would be so unaware of his inner circle’s activities regarding one of the regime’s highest-profile international critics is laughable.

President Trump has at times sounded eager to give support to the Saudi version of the story. This is a mistake. It diminishes American credibility on the international stage and treats the Saudis far more favorably than they deserve.

The nature of the Riyadh regime is no mystery, and there is no use pretending otherwise. Saudi Arabia is a religious dictatorship in hock to fundamentalist Islamic clerics. It has a long history of brutal and repressive measures aimed at solidifying its rule. Riyadh and the United States, and to some extent Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, share enemies and interests; since the 1940s, the U.S.–Saudi alliance has been a linchpin of our Middle East strategy. But shared interests do not equal shared values. Our relationship with Riyadh is important, but our approach should be clear-eyed and strictly transactional.

There is no good alternative to the present regime. Absent this kingdom, disorder, an Iranian puppet state, or an even more radical Wahhabist regime could take root there. And a clean break with the Saudis, which some are calling for, would risk upending the anti-Iran alliance that the U.S. has worked to build and could endanger the safety of our other allies in the region.

So what is the right approach? The U.S. should exact some meaningful price on Riyadh that expresses our displeasure with such a massive disregard for international norms. It should not, however, lead to a fundamental rupture of the alliance. Sanctioning the officials involved in the killing is an obvious move already underway, and American lawmakers of both parties seem poised to suspend arms sales to the Saudi regime, at least for a while.

The first step, though, should be for the administration to acknowledge forthrightly that Prince Mohammed deserves the blame for this killing. The choice here isn’t between dissolving our Middle East strategy and pretending the Saudis did nothing wrong. The president should not provide any public-relations cover for this murder.

NR Editors includes members of the editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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