Adam B.

Stories by Adam B. Kushner

  • Israel's Trade─For the Gilad Shalit Video─Wasn't Worth It

    Israel has often found itself asking the question, how much is a life worth? This week they asked it with a twist: how much is mere proof of life worth? A whole lot. The government yesterday traded 20 female Palestinian prisoners—accused (and often convicted) of crimes from plotting suicide attacks to carrying concealed weapons—for a video proving the soldier Gilad Shalit is still alive. Captured by Hamas in 2006, Shalit has been subject of several attempted deals, and when his freedom is finally won, it will likely be in a hugely asymmetrical deal. Is it worth it? Probably not. Even conceding that a soldier's life is worth the release of hundreds of prisoners, Israel has several times gotten a raw deal from these trades. In one famous 1985 exchange, Jerusalem traded 1,150 Arab prisoners—some of whom turned around and started shooting again—for three soldiers captured during the Lebanon occupation. Even when they don't, trades like these convey exactly the wrong ince...
  • Hurricane Katrina: The Comic Book

    I never knew that a person could actually be bored to tears until I read Josh Neufeld's new graphic book about Hurricane Katrina. A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge follows five real-life storylines in the lead-up to, and immediate aftermath of, the storm. The illustrations are acceptable, the narrative structure is unimaginative, the characters merit only the briefest (often reductive) treatment, and I whipped through it in an hour. And yet I wept. Twice.How could I not? A calamity like Katrina just oozes tragedy. Come to think of it, all the best graphic novels use this cheat, too: Art Spiegelman's Maus is a biography of his father's Holocaust epic; Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis chronicles her childhood after Iran's revolution; and Joe Sacco has carved out a specialty in ethnic-conflict comics, from Bosnia (three books) to Palestine (two by 2010). Behind them all is an implicit argument by their authors that disasters like these deserve art that is more cinematic than books, but...
  • Cold War History Means Cold War Nostalgia

    Nikita Khrushchev was the face of the Soviet Union for 11 years, yet to this day he is defined in the West by one image: banging his shoe furiously upon a U.N. delegate's desk. Was he a short-tempered but essentially good-natured buffoon, or was this the man whose childish overreactions would instigate nuclear war? According to Peter Carlson's diverting new book, K Blows Top, he was both. The folksy farmer-cum-pol was an adroit politician, but he was a rube in strategy and diplomacy. On a 1959 visit to America, it showed.A novelist couldn't have invented a wackier Cold War interlude than Khrushchev's trip: a midlevel State Department functionary misconstrues instructions from Dwight Eisenhower and accidentally invites the premier to meet the president at Camp David and to tour the United States. Khrushchev breathlessly accepts. Ike can't possibly retract. Madcap hilarity ensues.Americans knew Khrushchev as the hard-bitten Soviet honcho who had just ordered the Allied powers out of...
  • When Term Limits Aren't A Good Idea

    Critics of former president Bush's democracy-promotion agenda say he confused liberal ends (good government) with liberal means (elections). After all, leaders can use elections to perpetuate bad governments. In mature democracies, the answer has been to limit executive terms. But recent, controversial moves to dodge term limits are being taken by leaders in New York City and Colombia, which are widely seen as popular and successful models of good government. ...
  • Books: The Bleakness of Neil MacFarquhar's Memoir

    Neil MacFarquhar's new book does what every reporter aspires to: it sneakily delivers social science (history, anthropology, political theory) to the reader in the guise of a hack's memoir. The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday is the author's account of four years as a Middle East reporter for The New York Times, and it is filled with first-rate analysis leavened by plenty of color. Strangely, though, MacFarquhar's implied conclusion—he is cautiously optimistic about reform—is largely at odds with the evidence he submits. He sallies forth into Arab capitals and listens attentively to the ambitious, clever and desperate intellectuals trying to liberalize their countries. But ominous obstacles—stagnation-prone governments, paranoid autocrats—lurk in the background.MacFarquhar, who grew up in a Libyan oil enclave populated by Westerners, threads reform ideas into his country descriptions. A Syrian, Mohamed Shahrour, for example, believes the prophet...
  • Are Predator Drones Hurting the U.S. Effort?

    It's clear that predator drones are revolutionizing the way America fights battles: the flying robots, piloted from thousands of miles away, stand watch while soldiers sleep, kill terrorists from afar and patrol for 24 hours at a stretch. But some counterinsurgency experts say the drones are impeding the broader strategy by losing the war for hearts and minds in Pakistan."We need to call off the drones," testified David Kilcullen, who masterminded Iraq's surge for Gen. David Petraeus, to Congress last month. One problem is a dismal precision rate—Pakistani officials claim that as many as 50 civilians die in Predator attacks for every insurgent killed. "The moral requirement is a commitment ... not to strike unless you're sure who you're hitting," says Just and Unjust Wars author Michael Walzer. Peter Bergen, author of The Osama bin Laden I Know, also argues that drones "might fatally undermine U.S. efforts" as people on the ground feel besieged. A poll last year bore this out: 52...
  • Why The U.S. Won't Embrace Nuclear Energy

    It wasn't April Fool's Day when congressional Republicans (the authors of Capitol Hill's wartime "freedom fries") declared last month that America should emulate France. They were talking about nuclear energy, which supplies 80 percent of the Gauls' needs and skimps on carbon. But here's one issue where the supposedly green Democrats aren't pulling toward Paris.That's because their leader, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, represents Nevada, home to the nation's only plausible nuclear-waste repository at Yucca Mountain. As a concession to Reid, President Obama's proposed budget nixed funding for the site, promising to find "alternatives." But that won't happen, since they'd take decades to develop (against "not in my backyard" intransigence). And Reid will likely coast to a fifth term in 2010; as long as he's running the show, the U.S. will never go nuclear.
  • Islamism Suffers as Voters Turn to Technocrats

    Alongside exports, employment and growth, the financial crisis is claiming a less-talked-about victim: political Islam. In Muslim countries worldwide, voters have begun turning their backs on Islamist and other values-based parties in favor of dry but competent economic technocrats.Take Turkey, where the religious Justice and Development Party (AKP) suffered badly in local elections last month. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been ignoring calls from the business community for IMF help and had downplayed the effects of the credit crisis on Turkey, suggesting it was all psychological. Instead of financial issues, Erdogan campaigned on a variety of Islamist platforms, including criticism of Israel. But Turkish voters were preoccupied with more-domestic concerns: their economy contracted 6.2 percent in the last quarter of 2008 alone. And the AKP dropped 8 points in popular support and lost votes even in its Anatolian heartland.A similar pattern played out in Indonesia last week...
  • General Barry McCaffrey on Mexico's Drug War

    Once upon a time, Mexico was only an adjunct in the war on drugs, which Gen. Barry McCaffrey fought in his job as Bill Clinton's drug czar. The Vietnam and Desert Storm veteran used to see Latin America through the lens of Colombia, where he persuaded Clinton to initiate an aid program that helped topple the cartels. Now though, Mexico is ground zero—Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was there in March to pledge American support—and McCaffrey has plenty of advice. He chatted with NEWSWEEK's Adam B. Kushner. Excerpts: ...
  • Bart D. Ehrman's "Jesus Interrupted"

    The bible, theology scholar Bart D. Ehrman writes in his new book "Jesus, Interrupted," is offered as a sacred text in U.S. churches—not as a historical document. But who wrote its 27 books? When were they written? What were its authors trying to do? Pastors and congregants may wish to avoid the crises of faith that these questions provoke, but Ehrman says asking them is the only way to understand the Bible. ...
  • Fast Chat: Dan Baum, Author of 'Nine Lives'

    Dan Baum's terrific new book, "Nine Lives," traces nine New Orleanians from Hurricane Betsy in 1965 through Katrina in 2005. What emerges is a portrait of an entire city in all its quirky, backward beauty. Baum spoke with NEWSWEEK's Adam B. Kushner. ...
  • Will Clinton Or Geithner Control Our Asia Policy?

    Under George W. Bush power flowed away from the State Department, which never held the president's ear for long; and the Treasury Department, led by Sinophile Hank Paulson, took charge of China policy. Today, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner speaks fluent Mandarin, and he wants to hold on to the reins. But Hillary Clinton wants to reconsolidate foreign policymaking at the State Department, and she covets Asia.Clinton took advantage of Geithner's many worries—all about the financial crisis—to establish herself as the executive branch's lead China hand on her first official visit to Beijing. She made policy and returned last week with a raft of headlines—for humanizing the secretary's role, for acknowledging line-of-succession questions in North Korea, and for explicitly downplaying human-rights issues. Those departures from existing policy showed she's in control, which she's especially eager to prove at a time when the appointment of high-powered presidential envoys has elicited...
  • Where Every Vote Counts

    Not for the first time, Israeli voters gave a firm mandate to … none of their candidates. In the coming weeks, centrist Tzipi Livni and hawk Bibi Netanyahu will try to assemble a majority coalition and become prime minister. No matter who does it, Washington's tone toward Israel may change incrementally —but its policy won't. There are, however, several other overseas elections this year that could genuinelyreshape U.S. foreign policy. Ranked in order of importance: ...
  • James Baker on the Return to Realism

    James A. Baker III: Sad to say there are people in my party who regret the fact that we no longer have a big enemy out there.
  • How Israel Could Win In Gaza

    As Israel's operation in Gaza extends into week four, critics have begun to compare the assault on Hamas to the messy 2006 war on Hizbullah in Lebanon. Israel's "massive retaliation" against Hamas rocket attacks is "bound to fail," wrote Steve Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, shortly after the conflict began. But Lebanon was not an unqualified failure, and Gaza could yet furnish Israel with a victory.The 2006 war was handled badly. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sent the unprepared Army into southern Lebanon with the aim of rooting out Hizbullah, and ending its rocket attacks. But there was no clear plan of attack, little intelligence about munitions depots, weak knowledge of the countryside and strong local support for the enemy. Hizbullah, by surviving, was able to claim victory. Yet Israel did manage to stop the rocket attacks—and Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah later admitted that, had he known how fiercely Israel would retaliate, he never would have...
  • Katrina Documentary: "The Old Man and the Storm"

    Hurricane Katrina didn't just wreck 82-year-old Herbert Gettridge's home in New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward; it leveled his entire world. The Frontline documentary "The Old Man and the Storm," which premieres on Jan. 6, chronicles Gettridge's defiant, solitary effort to rebuild the house he lost. Director June Cross's telling is heavy-handed, but Gettridge gleams through as a wondrously cantankerous icon of the city's spirit.Gettridge gets to work just days after the storm, showing up amid the stink and postdiluvian rot, determined to bring his wife, Lydia, out of exile hundreds of miles away. Katrina czars and incredulous reporters come and go (Cross, overnarrating, makes sure we know that she found him first) and most urge him to give up. But he's a fifth-generation New Orleanian, a proud patriarch whose 36 grandkids were all raised nearby, a living rebuke to those who say the Ninth Ward should be left in ruin. His home isn't just where he lives. It's who he is.Lydia does return,...
  • Colombia's Failed Drug War

    The U.S.-backed war on drugs is failing, as coca traffickers stay one step ahead of Uribe.
  • Iranians May Warm To Obama

    There will be no honeymoon for Barack Obama on the Axis of Evil. Though Obama campaigned on a promise to talk to American enemies whom George Bush had once shunned, including erstwhile members of his Axis of Evil—Iran, North Korea and Iraq—they responded by pre-emptively hardening their bargaining positions. North Korea welcomed Obama by saying that it had not agreed to fully open its nuclear sites to international inspection, even though the Bush administration said it had. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad backtracked from a warm letter he'd sent to Obama by demanding last week that Washington furnish "mutual respect"—in other words, an assurance Obama won't seek regime change and will accept Iran's nuclear program.Having an American enemy provides Iran and North Korea with an excuse to pursue nuclear weapons, and a way to divert attention from economic woes at home. But they're not the only ones raising the ante on Obama. Russia promised to station missiles in Belarus if...
  • Reversing Bush's Executive Orders May Take Time

    Allies may be dismayed to learn that President Obama can't turn American foreign policy on a dime when he takes office in January, say executive-power scholars. Only a few components of U.S. policy flow from the Oval Office in the form of revocable "executive orders," the commands that presidents sometimes revoke in the first few days. Obama is expected to reverse a few of these—such as the global gag rule, which keeps U.S. money from family-planning groups that provide (or suggest) abortions. But, says Phillip J. Cooper of Portland State University, President Bush made policy using instruments like classified "national security directives," presidential memoranda and signing statements that aren't all listed in the Federal Register, the daily journal of the U.S. government rules and amendments. Digging up every message Bush sent to executive agencies—on subjects from Gitmo to development aid—could take months. Change, it turns out, takes time.
  • Why Obama Will Disappoint U.S. Allies

    America's allies got the candidate they overwhelmingly preferred, but that doesn't necessarily mean America's relationships with the globe will warm instantly. In fact, history is strewn with rock-star presidents whose first years were terrific disappointments for U.S. allies.John F. Kennedy, the son of an ambassador, "considered himself a citizen of the world" and thought he could quickly assert "America's position," says David M. Kennedy, the Stanford historian. Yet it took him barely three months to make his first major mistake: the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. JFK biographer Robert Dallek says many European allies were horrified by Kennedy's rashness and were soon appalled anew when Kennedy, ignoring a direct warning from French President Charles de Gaulle, allowed himself to get drawn into a debate with Nikita Khrushchev over the future of Berlin at a Vienna summit, beginning a stalemate that eventually led to the Berlin Wall.Bill Clinton is an object lesson of...
  • Fast Chat With Pollster Nate Silver

    Frustrated by illogical poll analysis, baseball statistician Nate Silver started modeling data on his Web site, FiveThirtyEight.com. He spoke to Adam B. Kushner last week. ...
  • What Congress Will Look Like Under the Blue Dogs

    Which way will a larger Democratic majority in Congress push Obama on foreign policy? The incoming "blue dogs"—electable centrists recruited by the Democratic Party for vulnerable districts—are likely to push a populist antiwar stand, urging Obama to draw down faster in Iraq than he might like. Typical newbie blue dogs like North Carolina's Larry Kissell may also encourage Obama's already strong impulse to add new protections for labor and the environment to free-trade deals, according the American Enterprise Institute's Norman Ornstein. Indeed the outgoing Congress may push through the pending deal with Colombia, because they know the new Congress won't do it. Finally, the blue dogs are skeptical of a new international climate-control deal (expected in December next year) because it will surely be costly—a hard sell during a recession. Congress is definitely going blue, with a bark that could make it tough for Obama to deal with America's neighbors.
  • Asia's Nuclear Arms Race Begins in Pakistan

    The danger that the U.S.-India nuclear deal will break down the international nonproliferation regime seems to be growing. Critics warned that aiding a rising power that has spurned international nonproliferation treaties could inspire copycat violations—and they can now point to the latest China-Pakistan deal as proof.Beijing recently promised to help Islamabad build two new reactors, even though China is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which bans nuclear trade with nations that spurn International Atomic Energy Agency rules. Pakistan is one of those nations. China also helped Pakistan build two earlier reactors, but that was before China joined the NSG in 2004. Clearly, the group is losing leverage over its members in the wake of the India deal, says proliferation expert Peter Scoblic. Bush's hope that he could confine his special offer to one friendly nation ignored the fact that other nuclear powers have different friends.
  • Why Don't McCain and Obama Talk About Immigration?

    During the U.S. presidential debates, the word "immigration" was mentioned only once, odd for a time of steep job losses, when bashing foreign workers might normally sell. Why the high road? One reason: John McCain, who has a pro-immigration record, hardened his stance for the election but may not want to highlight his flip-flop. Barack Obama, for his part, favors a path to citizenship—not exactly grist for a populist crusade.Finally, while immigration was a hot issue in the 2006 elections, it's not anymore because migrants aren't flocking to the U.S. The housing-market slide has gutted jobs in construction, a crucial sector for immigrants. The household income of noncitizen foreigners sank 7 percent in 2007. As a result, Mexican immigration fell by 25 percent last year, and Central American by 50 percent. The challenge for the next president may be how to lure them back.

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