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The “Gray” Zone

Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria on evading defeat in Iraq.

Time and Newsweek, Nov. 6 The Newsweek cover piece compares the Iraq war now to the final days of the Korean War—“not a defeat … but certainly not a victory.” The best we can hope for now is a “gray ending” that avoids worst case scenarios, Fareed Zakaria argues. That doesn’t mean pulling out now: “The United States must redefine its mission, reduce and redeploy its forces and fashion a less intrusive involvement with Iraq, one that both Iraqis and Americans believe is productive and sustainable for the long term.” The first step is to scrap the illusion of a “united, secular, harmonious, freedom-loving” Iraq and recognize the sectarian reality. A piece in Time gives a harrowing account of an Iraqi man’s kidnapping. While he was out driving his cousin’s Chevy Lumina, kidnappers mistook him for a wealthier man. He became dismayed when the captors unmasked themselves. “If they were willing to show me their faces … they meant to kill me eventually.”

Midterms: A Time election preview calls the upcoming elections “a referendum on an isolated President.” In 2002, congressional candidates couldn’t get enough face time with President Bush. Not so in 2006. Iraq has become a liability, as Bush argues that “staying the course means ‘constantly changing tactics’ and that benchmarks (good) aren’t the same as timetables (bad).” His approval ratings remain low. But a Democratic majority might not make Bush a complete lame duck, especially on cross-aisle issues like immigration. Bush describes himself at campaign events as “Mr. Optimism.”   Newsweek identifies a set of “wedge issues” likely to affect certain midterm races. Twenty-nine percent of voters care most about Iraq, but Rush Limbaugh’s recent remarks against Michael J. Fox have pushed stem-cell research to the fore in Missouri. The New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling on equal rights for gay couples may galvanize voters within and beyond the Garden State. And in South Dakota, a ballot question gives voters the option of overturning a state-wide abortion ban.—C.B.

New Republic, Nov. 6
The cover piece assesses Tempting Faith, a new book by evangelical Christian David Kuo that charts his political seduction and ultimate disillusionment. Kuo, who served as deputy director for the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, loved Bush but disliked his message to evangelicals: “Kuo listened as Bush lied through his teeth, claiming credit for making faithbased initiatives central to his presidency … and citing wildly inflated figures for how much the administration was spending on the poor.” But Kuo—“young, idealistic, and phenomenally naïve”—trusted Bush’s sincerity. The president’s recovery from alcoholism somehow made him even more infallible to Kuo. But, as the author notes, “Testimonialism simply does not make for serious politics (or serious religion).” A piece examines how Clinton-era fiscal policy, dubbed “Rubinomics” after Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, has taken a hit under George W. Bush. Recent economic growth has mainly benefited the rich, a trend that has “begun to unravel” the Clintonites’ confidence in remedies such as fiscal responsibility.— C.B.

Economist, Oct. 28 In the face of probable changes in strategy following the American midterm elections, an article and an editorial argue that the United States and Britain should not abandon Iraq. The editorial concedes that “cutting your losses is sometimes the sensible thing to do,” but argues that “by persevering, America stands at least some chance of putting Iraq on a more stable trajectory. By leaving, it is almost certain to make things worse.” The article reviews the dire situation and some possible strategies, such as a pullout timetable. The piece agrees that a new plan is needed: “Yes, but what?” A major survey of French society, published in anticipation of next year’s presidential election, reiterates the need for “radical reform.” France is politically, economically, and socially stagnant, and many commentators have a fatalistic attitude about the future. But the Economist is optimistic: “For almost every weakness” from which the French suffer, “it is possible to find a matching strength.” What is needed is a “Madame Thatcher”—a visionary leader capable of forcing through major “pro-competitive reforms.”— B.W.

New York Times Magazine, Oct. 29 A piece analyzes the role of Islam in the nuclear era. With Sunni-Shiite violence escalating in Iraq, Muslims may pose a greater threat to each other than to the West. A nuclear Iran would change the rules of warfare, given that the practice of suicide bombing “unsettles the theory of deterrence,” the writer contends. Scholars disagree on how Islam regards mass violence: Shariah law forbids the killing of women and children, as well as “offensive jihad” without the authorization of a “legitimate Muslim leader.” But what happens if a nation’s leaders apply a martyrdom complex to their own people? One radical Saudi scholar believes military inferiority justifies violation of Islamic law if using WMD is the only way “unbelievers can be repelled.” A piece profiles Tony Snow, the “gloriously glib” White House press secretary whose charm has put a friendly face on an embattled administration. He’s the anti-McClellan: “Snow’s style is basically cheery: Gee, isn’t it fun to run the world?”— C.B.

New York, Oct. 30
An article chronicles the author’s experimentation with the Calorie Restriction “lifestyle.” CR buffs believe their life expectancy will increase if they subsist on a caloric intake that nears starvation levels. How does CR differ from anorexia? According to one devotee, “[t]he focus of CR is health. Nobody here is trying to figure out how to eat less and disappear. The constant thought is, ‘How can I pack more nutrition into my calories?’—and that’s not something an anorexic is doing. Anorexia is slow suicide.” A piece reports that New Jersey may be on the verge of electing its first Republican senator since 1972. At a time when Republican candidates are running scared, Tom Kean Jr. may end up besting Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez because, as the son of one the state’s most popular governors, Kean has his dad’s legacy working for him, while Menendez has to contend with a legacy of crooked Jersey Democrats.— Z.K.

The New Yorker, Oct. 30
Connie Bruck assesses the state of microfinance, in part by profiling “godfather of microcredit” Muhammad Yunus, winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. He hit on the idea of giving very small loans—a few dollars at a time—to poor villagers during the 1974 famine in his native Bangladesh; and his Grameen Bank subsequently proved that the idea worked, loaning out more than $5 billion over the years. Today, Yunus is at odds with a new cohort of microlending visionaries who want to make microcredit profitable, instead of relying on government and donor support. Yunus fears that in doing so, microcredit banks will abandon the “very poor” for the “less poor,” and with them his dream of eliminating poverty altogether. George Packer spotlights groups in Washington that are earnestly trying to cook up alternative strategies for Iraq that acknowledge that “a unified and democratic Iraq” is no longer in the offing, and condemns the Bush administration for stifling internal dissent on Iraq and burying its head in the sand.— B.W.

Weekly Standard, Oct. 30 An editorial pleads with Republicans to get out and vote on Election Day. Sure, Iraq is a boondoggle, Republicans have been spending like Democrats, and a new GOP scandal seems to sprout up on a weekly basis, but now is not the time for conservatives to give up by shirking their civic duty: “For them to skip out on their obligation to vote in this election over a petty grievance—or for that matter, over a not-so-petty grievance—would mark them as politically childish,”harangues Fred Barnes. A profile of Montana Senate candidate Jon Tester suggests he’s representative of a new breed of Democrat emerging from such red-state bulwarks as Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, and Utah. Christened by Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas as “Libertarian Democrats,” this hybrid is wary of government abusing its power, but also understands that “no one is truly free if they fear for their health, so social net programs are important,” the blogger contends.— Z.K.

The Atlantic, November 2006 A sweeping profile of Hillary Rodham Clinton suggests her successful Senate career may inhibit her presidential prospects. The author describes Hillary’s rise as “a pattern of ambition, failure, study, and advancement.” Since her health-care bill died in 1993, Clinton has played a cautious game, taking “small steps” without much political risk. Despite her name recognition and ability to reach across the aisle, critics see her latest incarnation—no longer the “brashly confident leader of health-care reform”—as unlikely to defeat a popular Republican like John McCain. … A piece examines the emerging genre of dramatic video games. Two programmers spent five years designing Façade, an emotionally charged “interactive drama” that breaks from the dominant action-thriller mold. The game, which features two characters in a marital crisis, may remedy the “real lack of meaning” in video games. But there’s just one problem: “Façade is ingenious, but it is not fun.”— C.B.