Inaction and Deception


President Obama & Secretary Clinton

One of the many interesting subplots of the Benghazi saga involves the State Department’s Accountability Review Board, which was asked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to review State Department decisions before, during, and after the spontaneous demonstration—oops, terrorist attack—on the night of September 11, 2012. The board managed to conduct a review in which it chose not to interview several key figures in the Benghazi decision-making process, including—to take two rather obvious examples of people whom you’d think a review board might want to talk to—Secretary Clinton and Mark Thompson, the senior counterterrorism official at State. Thompson even volunteered to meet with the board, which decided not to take him up on the offer.

Having failed thoroughly to review what happened, the board produced a report that was somewhere between radically incomplete and positively misleading. It also—no surprise—failed to ...


Define and Conquer


At his press conference last month, President Barack Obama employed a trope he often uses​—​that of a sociologist studying his opposition. Explaining how his agenda has stalled in the Senate, he said:

I can, you know, ...


The Benghazi Scandal Grows

The State Department, the CIA, the White House . . .



CIA director David Petraeus was surprised when he read the freshly rewritten talking points an aide had emailed him in the early afternoon of Saturday, September 15. One day earlier, analysts with the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis had drafted a set of unclassified talking points policymakers could use to discuss the attacks in Benghazi, Libya. But this new version​—​produced with input from senior Obama administration policymakers​—​was a shadow of the original.

The original CIA talking points had been blunt: The assault on U.S. facilities in Benghazi was a terrorist attack conducted by a large group of Islamic extremists, including some with ties to al Qaeda.

These were strong claims. The CIA usually qualifies its assessments, providing policymakers a sense of whether the conclusions of its analysis are offered with “high confidence,” “moderate confidence,” or “low confidence.” That first draft ...

Adrees Latif Reuters Landov

Target: NRA

Caught in the media’s crosshairs.


Was the National Rifle Association playing some sort of joke on the media? In the press room at the NRA’s annual gathering at the Houston convention center was a large cheese plate laid out for the fourth estate’s snacking pleasure. It wasn’t just a proletarian platter of ...

Gary Locke

Are Universities Above the Law?

The great unscrutinized institutions of our time.


Corporate governance is a much-discussed topic, and the operation of corporations has proven a fertile field for investigative journalism. But even though many colleges and universities are multibillion-dollar-a-year operations, the subject of university governance has been ...

Immigration office in Houston: amnesty, 1980s-style

The Amnesty Next Time

The specter of 1986 haunts the immigration debate.


In 1986, three million illegal immigrants in the United States were given the right to become citizens. It was a full-scale amnesty, created by a bipartisan majority in Congress and signed into law by President Reagan. It had one big flaw.

Fresh Embryos

Eggs for Sale?

Brace yourself for the human embryo market.


If you want to know what’s going to go wrong in the culture, read the professional journals. A case in point: An article in the April 10 New England Journal of Medicine called for the creation of a commodities market for “made-to-order” human embryos.

"Smoke rises following an explosion in Syria near the Israeli border on May 7, 2

Two Strikes . . .

The logic of Israel’s Syria policy.


Israel’s two strikes inside Syria in early May underscored its primary strategic concern in the ongoing Syrian civil war and throughout the Middle East. Jerusalem first struck on May 3, targeting a shipment of Iranian missiles at the Damascus International ...

Self Radicalized?

Self-Radicalization Chic

The preposterous theory du jour.


The president has described the Boston terrorists as “self-radicalized,” and his voice is but one in a great chorus insisting that we face a major threat from Americans gone bad, almost entirely on their own, and certainly without any input from foreign countries or ...


Upward Mobility

A Senate job with more ups than downs.


'Push the correct button, win a cash prize!” That might sound like an outdated carnival game, but it actually describes government employment. Uncle Sam shelled out more than $1.2 million to pay operators to man the Capitol’s fully automated senators-only elevators over the ...


Radioactive Regime

Iran and its apologists


Gary Locke/BigStock/Landov/Newscom

The list is long of Occidentals who’ve fallen for Persia. This isn’t surprising. Compared with Arab lands save Egypt, Iran has a longer history—Hegel described the Persians as “the first Historic people”—and a more layered modern identity. Compared with the Turks, whose indefatigable martial spirit is reified in the unadorned stone power of Istanbul’s magnificent mosques, Iranians are more playful and mercurial. Isfahan’s Sheikh Loftallah Mosque, with its delicate polychrome tiles, its shifting, asymmetrical shapes radiating from the dome’s apex as a peacock, captures brilliantly the Persian love of complexity, synthesis, and whimsy. Its patron, Shah Abbas the Great, a curious, wine-loving, absolute monarch, captured the imagination of contemporary Europeans, including Shakespeare. 

Stubbornly attached to their Indo-European language, the people of the Iranian plateau ...

Books & Arts

Unfriendly Fire

Terrorism has its partisans, alas.


The late Anwar al-Awlaki delivers ‘A Message to the People of the Media’ (2011).

He poses as an investigative journalist and is presented in his main outlets—the Nation, MSNBC, Socialist Worker, Democracy Now!—as a foreign-affairs expert. In fact, Jeremy Scahill—a college dropout who was arrested several times in the 1990s in connection with (among other things) the occupation of a federal building and the vandalizing of a military aircraft—has never been anything but a radical ideologue out to discredit America and debilitate its defenses. 

In 1996, as a 21-year-old member of a “faith-based resistance community,” a disciple of the anarchist Philip Berrigan, and a fan of Fidel Castro, Scahill told the Washington Post that American sanctions were “torturing people of the world by starving them to death.” Later, after working on Michael Moore’s TV show The Awful Truth, he ...

Benedict Nightingale

Nightingale’s Song

The collected versatility of a ‘really good’ critic.


Drama critics come in all kinds, besides, of course, good and bad. There are those who regurgitate the plot and those who gallop off on hobby-horses. There are those with sound ideas but no style; those ...

Raymond Queneau in a photo booth, ca. 1929

Words at Play

Cracking the code of the Workshop for Potential Literature.


Did you hear about the Oulipian stripper? She delivered a lipogram before vanishing, with an invisible wink. 

If this joke means nothing to you, then you are—like myself and 99.9 percent of other humans—not a member of the ...

Nicole Kidman as Isabel Archer (1996)

Picture Perfect

How the Master saw the outsider’s inner life.


By all but universal agreement, The Portrait of a Lady (1881) was Henry James’s first masterpiece, a lengthy contemplation of the fate of an orphaned American girl who falls victim to European manners and morals—the first great ...

Allen Weinstein, Bill Clinton in Little Rock, Arkansas (2005)

Truth to Tell

A 35th-anniversary revision of a Cold War classic.


The historian Allen Weinstein has had, by any standard, an illustrious career. For some years, he was a professor of history at Smith. Moving on, he created and served as director of the Center for Democracy, which promoted democracy abroad and played a major role in ...

Marvel Studios

Characters Count

An infinite number of explosions gets you only so far.



The signal irony of the special-effects blockbusters that now dominate American moviegoing is this: Their dazzling computer-generated imagery has rendered them entirely interchangeable. They all feature ...


Death By Numbers

Philip Terzian, innumerate


Chris Gall

Rooting around in a bookstore not long ago, I stumbled upon a second edition of Functions of a Complex Variable (1917) by the Scottish mathematician Thomas MacRobert. Immediately I felt a chill, a sense of doom and foreboding, I had not experienced since youth. This was a dread mathematics text with which I had once wrestled, with limited success.  

On a whim I bought it, transported it home, and proceeded to examine its introductory pages. As I expected, the text and mathematical symbols were almost wholly incomprehensible, and whatever knowledge (if that is the word for it) I may have once possessed—of differential equations and the functions of complex numbers, of inverse tangents and infinite products—was truly dead and gone.

Which was hardly a surprise. What did surprise me, however, was that I was willing to peruse its distasteful pages without ultimately depositing ...


A Slim Risk

Chris Christie

The Scrapbook notes, without editorial comment, that Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey seems to have undergone a laparoscopic surgical procedure last February to reduce his stomach’s capacity. The object of the operation is obvious—weight loss—but there seems to be some debate about why the governor chose to go under the knife, and whether he should have immediately informed the public when it took place. 

On that latter question, The Scrapbook leans toward full disclosure. Governor Christie, in his characteristic way, dismissed such reasoning recently with a blunt none-of-your-business answer to reporters’ questions. We can sympathize with the governor’s desire to protect his privacy, and suspect a certain amount of embarrassment comes into play as well. But for good or ill, we live in an age when the health of important public officials is the people’s business. Up to a point: There is no need for the public to be ...


The Numbers Game

Our demographic understanding of the 2012 election continues to be fleshed out, most recently with a Census Bureau report. Some of the census findings merely confirm what we thought we knew. For instance, for all the talk about 2008 as a “historic” election, turnout, as a ...

Gov. Cuomo

Cuomo State of Mind

In late December 2012, congressional Republicans took enormous heat in the media for daring to reduce the size of the Hurricane Sandy aid package. New York governor Andrew Cuomo said the move was “insensitive at best.” 

Cuomo ...


Sentences We Didn’t Finish

‘'But the larger fault goes to Congress as a whole, including but not limited to [Rep. Darrell] Issa, for acting like moths to flames in their attraction to attack mode and scandal, real or purported, while avoiding like a cat who has sat on a hot ...

Clinton Benghazi


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