May 4, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 32 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
As always, Winston Churchill said it best. Here he is on March 24, 1938, less than two weeks after the Anschluss, the Nazi annexation of Austria:
For five years I have talked to the House on these matters—not with very great success. I have watched this famous island descending incontinently, fecklessly, the stairway which leads to a dark gulf. It is a fine broad stairway at the beginning, but after a bit the carpet ends. A little farther on there are only flagstones, and a little farther on still these break beneath your feet. . . . That is the position—that is the terrible transformation that has taken place bit by bit.
Churchill didn’t resign himself to this transformation: “Now is the time at last to rouse the nation. Perhaps it is the last time it can be roused with a chance of preventing war.” But the nation was not roused. Six months later was Munich. A year later, war.
This week, for the first time since President Obama abandoned the bipartisan and international policy of pressuring Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program, the Senate will have a sustained debate on the administration’s Iran policy. For the first time! The op-ed pages and the journals have been full of arguments about the path the administration has gone down. A remarkable number of serious observers, including many sympathetic to the notion of a negotiated deal with Iran, have been critical of the administration’s repeated cascades of concessions.
But Congress? No. The administration has succeeded in averting votes on various pieces of legislation, and therefore in preventing a real and sustained congressional debate on its Iran policy. So the elected representatives of the American people haven’t weighed in.
Now they have a chance to do so. The occasion is the Corker-Cardin bill, reported out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which establishes a process for congressional review of whatever deal the administration reaches. It’s a toothless bill, setting up a process that allows Congress, in reaction to a deal, to stop the president from waiving or removing sanctions on Iran—which is of course something Congress could already do in any case, at any time. So the bill sets up a process that allows Congress to do something it can do without that process.
There is no reason to think passage of this bill, as it now stands, significantly increases the chance of reversing a deal once it is agreed to. There is every reason to think, if the bill passes without serious debate, that it will have the opposite effect—giving the illusion that Congress is doing something to stop or slow down a bad deal when it really is not.
So as it stands, the bill is at worst misleading, at best toothless. But there will be efforts on the floor of the Senate to give it teeth. Various senators are planning to offer amendments specifying what provisions would need to be in a deal to make it worthy of congressional support. These amendments range from requiring that Iran stop denying international inspectors access to certain sites, to insisting Iran stop spinning centrifuges at such sites, to making sure that sanctions relief is gradual and based on Iranian behavior rather than immediate and based only on Iranian promises, to requiring that Iran stop engaging in terror against Americans or supporting attempts to destroy Israel.
Some of these amendments will be more important or more useful than others. But each needs to be considered, and debated, and voted on. Such a Senate debate, and votes, could put the administration—and the Iranians—on notice as to what Congress would and would not accept. And Congress would not be in the position of having to overturn later an agreement entered into by the executive branch with a foreign government because of objections that had not been clearly stated in advance. It could also clarify what is at stake in this deal—not just the status of Iran’s nuclear program and the sanctions on Iran, but the broader question of Iranian hegemony in the Middle East and the likelihood of a regional nuclear arms race. It could rouse the nation to a serious consideration about the stairway we are descending under the guidance of the Obama administration.
Nothing would be more natural for the U.S. Senate than to have, over the next few weeks, a full and detailed debate about our Iran policy. But nothing is more impressive than the forces now arrayed against such a debate. Not just the Obama administration but the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the leading establishment pro-Israel lobbying group all prefer quiet acquiescence to a toothless bill rather than a serious debate and series of votes over our Iran policy.
Feb 16, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 22 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
The Scrapbook was saddened to learn last week of the death, after a long illness, of Sir Martin Gilbert, the British historian. He was 78 years old. Sir Martin, whose grandparents had fled to England from czarist Russia after a pogrom, was an Oxford-educated scholar and writer of exceptional fluency and industry. Obituary tributes have made much of the fact that he produced some 80 books in his lifetime—an astonishing record, by any measure—but of course, there was more to his achievement than mere numbers.
His words still call to us.
4:01 PM, Jan 23, 2015 • By RICHARD M. LANGWORTH
Anyone reading this knows where he was on September 11, 2001. A diminishing number remember where they were on January 30, 1965—the day we said farewell to Winston Churchill. (He died fifty years ago, January 24, 1965.)
Jul 21, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 42 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
Scrapbook correspondent Richard M. Langworth, the author and longtime president of the Churchill Centre in Washington, D.C., weighs in on the new statue of Gandhi to be erected in London . . .
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Every time you realize how badly the media mangles something you know about, you wonder how well they are interpreting what you don’t know.
Jun 16, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 38 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
The Scrapbook notes, with sadness, the death last week in London of 91-year-old Mary Soames, the youngest and last surviving child of Sir Winston Churchill. From her time as a very young woman in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (the British equivalent of the WAC), where she assisted her father at his various wartime conferences, through her career as the wife of a prominent politician, mother, biographer, benefactor, and resource for historians, Lady Soames led a long and productive life. And by all accounts, a happy one as well.
May 5, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 32 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
From Brandeis on the Atlantic to Azusa on the Pacific, an iron curtain has descended across academia. Behind that line lie all the classrooms of the ancient schools of America. Wesleyan, Brown, Princeton, Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Berkeley, Bowdoin, and Stanford, all these famous colleges and the populations within them lie in what we must call the Liberal sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from the commissars of Liberal Orthodoxy. . . .
Jan 20, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 18 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
These observations of his on the Middle East have easily withstood the test of time:
Sep 23, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 03 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Maybe Barack Obama really is a Marxist. His September 10 speech to the nation on Syria seems to have been inspired by Groucho’s great number in Animal Crackers (1930):
Hello, I must be going
I cannot stay, I came to say I must be going
I’m glad I came, but just the same, I must be going . . . la-la!
A velvet red carpet in the ‘Iron Curtain’ city. May 27, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 35 • By CITA STELZER
You learn a lot about America and its people on a book-signing tour.
Apr 29, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 31 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.
How many times in the last century have these concluding lines of C. P. Cavafy’s famous 1898 poem, “Waiting for the Barbarians,” been quoted? How many modern intellectuals have pondered the subversive implications of that sophisticated question?
Nov 26, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 11 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
The gratitude of every home in our island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.
—Winston Churchill, tribute to the Royal Air Force,
House of Commons, August 20, 1940
The time for evasion is over.Jul 26, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 42 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Last month, we published an editorial under the title “A Period of Consequences.” The phrase was taken from a speech in the House of Commons in late 1936 in which Winston Churchill warned: “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”