Lee Smith Articles

The Boys (and Girls) in the Bubble (Updated)

Istanbul dispatch.
9:03 AM, Feb 08, 2016
The Kebab and Camel" might be the most important English-language website covering Turkey. It's run by two Turkish journalists, Beybin Somuk and Enes Calli, and an American academic, Adam McConnel, who teaches Turkish history and U.S.-Turkish relations at Sabanci University in Istanbul. The site is a like a critical aggregator that collects many of the recent English-language stories on Turkey, and details, with English- and Turkish-language sources, how they're getting the story wrong—and woe to those who keep flubbing it. Read more

Art and the Ottomans

Istanbul dispatch.
11:00 AM, Feb 05, 2016
Last week, Italian officials covered a number of nude statues in order to spare the modesty of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani during his visit to Rome. The Italians got a fair amount of heat for their pre-emptive act of cultural appeasement—much of it from Italians, including the minister of culture, appalled at the willingness of their fellow countrymen to abandon their own glorious tradition—and perhaps rightfully so. Read more

Turkey's Syria Problem

Washington chides allies and rewards foes.
Feb 08, 2016
Istanbul Read more

'A Dish Has a History'--Eating with Turkish Culinary Expert Engin Akin

Istanbul dispatch.
12:44 PM, Jan 27, 2016
I’m eating with my friend Engin Akin, a food writer—more like a food guru—whose new book Essential Turkish Cuisine was published a few months ago in the United States and is already getting terrific notices. She's regularly quoted in top food sections like that of the New York Times, and I wrote about her, too, ten years ago, when I was last in Istanbul to do an article for Bon Apetit on Turkish food. Apparently, it took her a decade to figure me out: "You don't really know much about food, do you, Lee?" she says in response to my question about tomatoes and onions balancing each other out. "You can learn a lot on the internet," she explains. Read more

Midnight in the Orient Bar with Ataturk

Istanbul dispatch.
5:21 PM, Jan 26, 2016
Traffic on the Bosphorus goes one way and then the other. One day it leads from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and from there through the Dardanelles, to the Aegean and then the Mediterranean. On alternate days, the other way. Often it seems Turkish history goes like that. Read more

Unabated Hostility

Jan 25, 2016

Early last Wednesday, Iran released the ten American sailors it had detained to coincide with President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night. The administration understood clearly that the Iranians were both trying to ruin Obama's victory lap and sending a message—on the eve of implementing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—that Tehran will be calling the shots. So Obama made no mention of Iran's capturing 10 Americans during his speech: No way were the Iranians going to get a rise out of him on his day.

The administration would prefer to forget the incident entirely—along with a series of other hostile acts by Iran since the nuclear deal was signed in July.

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Mike Piazza--and Me

12:12 PM, Jan 08, 2016

Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Piazza were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. With his first time on the ballot, Griffey made history, named on 437 of 440 ballots (99.3 percent)—which has baseball left fans wondering how three journalists whose expertise is clearly European Handball got into the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

It was Piazza's fourth try at the Hall and he was elected by 83 percent of the voters, a solid showing for the man who hit more home runs as a catcher, 396, than anyone else. He finished with 427 home runs total, a .308 batting average and 1335 runs batted in.

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Permanent Revolution

Iran's aggression continues.
Jan 18, 2016

The attacks on Saudi Arabia’s two diplomatic missions in Iran—which came in response to Riyadh's execution of a Saudi Shiite cleric—are perhaps best understood as yet another skirmish in the Islamic Republic's long war against the regional order and the international order, both underwritten by the United States. In other words, the mullahs' revolution marches on.

The 1979 takeover of the American embassy in Tehran wasn't just a symbolic gesture. It was the Islamic Revolution's founding act. The goal of any revolution is to overturn the existing order, and the order of the Middle East is Sunni, the majority Muslim sect. The revolution meant to tip the balance of power on behalf of the region's minority

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Obama Sides With Iran--Again

8:49 AM, Jan 05, 2016
Saturday’s siege should be understood in the context of other Iranian campaigns against the American order. Read more

French Ambassador Rationalizes Iranian Belligerency

10:28 AM, Jan 03, 2016

Saturday the French ambassador to the United States Gerard Araud downplayed the attacks on Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic facilities in Iran. Following the execution of controversial Saudi Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, Iranian mobs surely backed by the clerical regime set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and the kingdom's consulate in Iran's second-largest city, Mashad. In response to the destruction of diplomatic missions, the chief of France's diplomatic mission in Washington wrote that "Iran was obliged to react. Burning an embassy is spectacular but not war."

Araud articulated his bizarrely obtuse thesis during a Twitter exchange with Omri Ceren, the managing director for press at the Israel Project.

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Five Words? Next Year Will Be Worse

Jan 11, 2016

It was a great year for the Obama administration’s foreign policy .  .  . says the Obama administration. The State Department even created a new hashtag to celebrate the White House's annus mirabilis—#2015in5Words. "Protecting Arctic Climate and Communities" and "Protecting Health of Our Ocean" are among two of the administration's big wins.

A few of the claims are of course questionable, like "Winning Fight Against Violent Extremists." Okay, congratulations to the White House for hosting a conference on countering violent extremism in February.

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Kerry: Assad Stays

3:13 PM, Dec 17, 2015

"The United States and our partners are not seeking regime change in Syria," John Kerry said in Moscow this week. The announcement that the White House is fully in line with the position of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's Russian and Iranian sponsors caught some by surprise. Others argue that it's the second time the White House has failed to enforce a red line regarding Syria. Just like the president said it would change his calculus if Assad used chemical weapons, Obama said in August 2011 that Assad should step aside. However, when Obama didn't blink after Assad had slaughtered his first 100,000, White House policy was pretty clear.

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A Visit to the 'Place With No Noise'

Marrakesh dispatch.
10:02 AM, Dec 14, 2015


Moroccan Hollywood is about a 20-minute plane ride from Marrakesh southeast further into the interior of the country, and flying in I could see why it's preferable to go by air. The desert sands make it a trying drive, though of course the landscape is also why so many studios choose to shoot here in Ourzazate—which in Berber language "means place with no noise."

Still, the group I'm traveling with couldn't stop talking about the last "Game of Thrones" episode filmed here.

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Ted Cruz's Muddled Foreign Policy

12:50 PM, Dec 12, 2015

Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz delivered a foreign policy speech that was meant to carve out a position between the interventionist and isolationist wings of the Republican party. Instead, the candidate for the Republican nomination for president of the United States showed that his ship of state would tack erratically in foreign waters between the policy of the current White House and incoherence.

Of course Americans are dissatisfied with the recent direction of U.S. foreign policy.

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Moroccans Ignore Trump and Worry About Their Own Problems

8:01 AM, Dec 11, 2015


It's been just a few days since Donald Trump said he'd close America's doors to Muslims, and here in Marrakesh so far not a single Moroccan has raised the issue with me.

"Most Moroccans realize it's an internal American issue right now," says a Moroccan friend at a café. "If Trump was president, then it's a different matter. When Bush decided to invade Iraq, we had plenty of protests."

Generally, however, many Moroccans seem to think they should be primarily concerned with their own affairs, their own politics, as well as their own history. "That's urgent right now," says Rabie al-Kati, a Moroccan movie star. "We're erasing our own history and we need to preserve it.

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Bill Murray in Morocco

Marrakesh dispatch.
11:14 AM, Dec 09, 2015
The Marrakesh international Film Festival paid tribute to Bill Murray on its opening night Friday. As he was making his way to the theater, an interviewer stopped him on the red carpet and asked how he'd pay homage to Bill Murray. He replied, I'd say I always love you best when you're most engaged with the world. Then Murray wandered off the red carpet and started engaging with the crowd. Read more

Christie Debates Cruz on Real Threat Facing America

11:04 AM, Dec 04, 2015

In his interview with the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, New Jersey governor Chris Christie explains that the Obama administration has got it wrong. "Iran is a greater threat than ISIS. If you're prioritizing the threats, which a president has to do, then I think that Iran is a greater threat than ISIS," said Christie. "I believe Iran is moving toward obtaining a nuclear weapon. I have no proof at this point that ISIS is moving toward obtaining weapons of mass destruction."

The Republican presidential candidate who has taken some criticism for being a little weak on foreign policy has hit the nail right on the head. The Islamic Republic is the clear and present danger.

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The Deal and the War

Nov 30, 2015

In July the Obama administration and its European and Russian partners met with Iran in Vienna to sign the so-called nuclear deal. The general idea was to at least delay nuclear proliferation in an already volatile part of the world. No doubt the White House was hoping for much more—that the Islamic Republic of Iran could be welcomed back into the community of nations, bringing stability to a violent Middle East. But it is now clear that Obama’s great diplomatic endeavor has had the opposite effect: Sectarian war is engulfing the Middle East.

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Was the Head of Iran's IRGC Wounded in Syria?

3:06 PM, Nov 25, 2015

Sources in Beirut are confirming reports from various Middle East media outfits that Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ expeditionary unit, was wounded in the fighting in the Syrian city of Aleppo recently. Fighters from Hezbollah, according to sources close to the party of God, believe the Quds Force commander may be in a hospital in Tehran, or already dead.

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Congress Observed Moment of Silence for Hezbollah and Its Supporters

1:34 PM, Nov 19, 2015

Yesterday, members of Congress observed a moment of silence to commemorate casualties suffered by a community aligned with Bashar al-Assad in his exterminationist war against Syria’s Sunni Arab population.

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Russian-Iranian-Syrian Axis: France Brought Terror on Itself

10:17 AM, Nov 15, 2015

Since the terrorist attacks in Paris Friday that killed more than 120 people and injured hundreds more, world leaders from President Barack Obama to newly elected Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, and from U.K. prime minister David Cameron to German chancellor Angela Merkel, have expressed their solidarity with France. An exception is Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who sees mass murder as an opportunity to say I told you so.

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Iran Unleashed

Nov 09, 2015

Last week, the Obama White House moved to ensure Hezbollah’s ability to point 100,000 missiles at Israel. That’s not how they would describe it, of course. But it was the Obama administration—as U.S. officials are quietly letting on—and not Russia that invited Iran to participate in talks in Vienna to resolve the Syrian civil war. By doing so, the White House legitimized the Islamic Republic as a “stakeholder” whose interests in Syria must be respected.

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Here Comes Dusty Baker

5:04 PM, Nov 05, 2015

On Thursday, Dusty Baker was introduced as the Washington Nationals' new manager. The 66-year-old former all-star outfielder was named manager of the year three times (1993, 1997, and 2000) with the San Francisco Giants (1993-2002), and then went on to lead the Chicago Cubs (2003-2006), and the Cincinnati Reds (2008-2013).

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Democrats and Iranians Celebrate

Nov 02, 2015

Last week, Senate and House Democrats threw a party to celebrate the adoption day of Obama’s Iran deal. Ninety days after the White House signed the deal in Vienna, Obama directed the United States government to lift sanctions on Iran, the Democrats listened to a string ensemble in Washington, and all present pretended it was a joyous occasion.

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Homeland Chair Tells Obama to Get Tough on Iran

7:35 AM, Oct 30, 2015

The chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Rep. Michael McCaul (R., TX), is trying to get the White House to pay attention to what Iran is doing around the Middle East. Earlier in the week, McCaul wrote a letter to Obama arguing that the clerical regime “has demonstrated hostility towards the United States and our allies through a series of increasingly provocative actions.”

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Life Coach

Lee Smith on the man behind the mound
Oct 26, 2015

Now that playoff baseball has returned with the onset of autumn, and baseball becomes more intense, more excellent, and more precious, I’m thinking again about Harvey Dorfman. Little known to most casual fans, he was one of the great men of baseball, for he taught his students and friends and all who knew him how to embody and appreciate the best qualities of the game and embody the best in their lives, too.

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Obama Got Punked

'Clock boy,' considered.
12:38 PM, Oct 22, 2015

It will be some time before it’s clear whether the story of Ahmed Muhammad, aka “clock boy,” has a happy ending.

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Reading Obama’s Mind

Oct 19, 2015

Last week an Obama administration official bragged that the White House’s Syria policy is working out just as planned. Special envoy for Syria Michael Ratney said that the “Russians wouldn’t have to help [Bashar al-]Assad if we didn’t weaken him.”

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In Defense of the Chase Utley Slide

6:22 AM, Oct 12, 2015

Last night Major League Baseball’s chief baseball officer, Joe Torre announced that Dodgers infielder Chase Utley was suspended for game three and four of the National League Division Series.

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The End of Pax Americana

Obama’s ‘accomplishment.’
Oct 12, 2015

The United States, President Obama said at the U.N. General Assembly last week, “worked with many nations in this assembly to prevent a third world war—by forging alliances with old adversaries.” Presumably, the president was not referring to his deeply flawed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the recent agreement that the White House has marketed as the only alternative to war with a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran.

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