Michael Hirsh

Stories by Michael Hirsh

  • Powell's Bad Day

    Dominique de Villepin was grinning handsomely as he headed out of the United Nations Security Council, pausing for a photo op. "Mr. Minister, will you be discussing a second resolution when the Council meets again next week?" a NEWSWEEK reporter asked him. "No need for a resolution," the French foreign minister shot back, still grinning.It was not difficult to surmise why he seemed so happy: by day's end de Villepin had thoroughly outmaneuvered U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Resolution 1441, which had insisted on active compliance by Iraq in revealing and destroying its weapons of mass destruction, would get more time.Earlier in the week, of course, the Americans were talking about the possibility of pushing immediately for a second resolution after Hans Blix's update to the Security Council on Friday. This one, the Americans said, would call for "serious consequences"--in effect, authorizing force. By the time Blix had finished his briefing, both the Americans and the...
  • High Roller

    George W. Bush likes clarity, and he likes moral truth. Even when it comes to taxes. So on Nov. 26, the president gathered his top economic advisers around a table in the Roosevelt Room of the White House and asked them a simple question: "What are the specific obstacles to the economy growing quicker?" Bush was full of vim from his party's historic capture of both houses of Congress, and his corralling of Iraq at the United Nations. But dangers were already gathering for his political future: a stock market going sideways, and a stuck economy faced with unknown new wars and costs. Bush wanted some answers from his team: the then Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, the then economic adviser Larry Lindsey, Commerce Secretary Don Evans and chief economist Glenn Hubbard. In the instant history that the White House put out last week, Bush's question elicited a "universal consensus," even from O'Neill and Lindsey, who would both shortly be fired. According to a senior administration...
  • Kim Is The Key Danger...

    More American flags can be seen in North Korea than in most U.S. cities. Millions of them dot the roads of this desperately poor land. Why? Because Old Glory is printed on the sides of polyester food-aid bags that feed 6 million to 8 million hungry North Koreans annually--one third the population. North Koreans have few belongings and no money, so "the bags are valuable as carrying cases," says a U.N. food worker. And the leader of this mudpatch of a nation, the tiny, pouf-haired Kim Jong Il, projects nothing like the menace of Saddam Hussein, whose black mustache and penchant for firing rifles into the air makes him a poster villain. Kim has no resources and rules a hermit kingdom isolated in a stable, prosperous region; Saddam, swimming in oil revenues, seeks to dominate the world's most unstable region.So it might seem odd to call North Korea the far greater threat to America and world peace. And yet that is plainly the case. The reason is, to use one of Defense Secretary Donald...
  • Fast Chat: Andrew Natsios

    The head of America's foreign-aid program has sent food to Africa, begun to rebuild Afghanistan and championed the biggest leap in U.S. overseas aid in years. Yet mostly what Natsios hears are complaints that the United States ignores the world's problems. He talked with Michael Hirsh.The criticism must be frustrating for you... ...
  • A Safe Haven?

    When Zacarias Moussaoui arrived in Norman, Okla., to take flight lessons, one of his first stops was the white gated mosque just down the street from the university campus. Mosque members Hussein Al-Attas and Mukkaram Ali took Moussaoui in. All three joined a local gym. And when Moussaoui needed to get to Minnesota (where he was later arrested and accused of being the "20th hijacker"), Ali offered to drive but then broke his hand, so Al-Attas agreed to go. (Ali gave them his laptop computer for the road.) While Moussaoui was a bit gruff, no one questioned him closely about who he was or what he was doing there. "It's human nature that we help each other, especially in Islam," a Norman mosque board member told NEWSWEEK. Al-Attas and Ali, who were detained as material witnesses in the Moussaoui case, were "in the wrong place at the wrong time. We hope the FBI finds the truth that they are innocent," said mosque member Hassan Farah Ahmed.In San Diego, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi...
  • Powell's Battle

    Colin L. Powell, the benign face of American power, leaned close to the four orphans sitting at his feet in a sun-dappled schoolyard, a small oasis in war-ravaged Angola. "Do you know who I am?" he asked, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. The adolescent girls, having spent days rehearsing a native dance and song for their distinguished guest, answered as children often do when caught in a spontaneous moment: they told the unvarnished truth. No, they said, they had no idea who he was. Powell's big, broad features creased upward, and his adoring entourage laughed. "I'm what's called a secretary of State"--self-deprecating shrug--"a diplomat," the former four-star general explained. "I visit lots of countries. I talk to leaders to let them know that America is interested in what is happening" there.But is America really interested? As Powell discovered anew on his trip to Africa last week, many people around the world seem to think otherwise. They accuse America of being interested in...
  • Hawks, Doves And Dubya

    It was all in the body language. The temperature was 100 degrees in the shade as President George W. Bush met reporters at his Texas ranch last week. Cows were dying. Buzzards were circling. And there standing next to Bush, squinty-eyed and square-jawed, was the nation's hawk-in-chief, Donald Rumsfeld, barely sweating in a gray business suit (Bush was in sportswear). As the president took questions, the Defense secretary chimed in confidently, and Bush treated him like the "matinee idol" he once joked Rumsfeld had become. "Mr. Secretary, would you like to say a few words?" Bush asked. "I want to learn how you answer questions. They tell me you're quite good at it." Since the U.S. military victory over the Taliban in December, Rumsfeld has become --"the big stud in town," as one Washington official describes him, famed for his frank talk at the podium about killing Al Qaeda and imperious but jocular manner. Even some White House press aides are said to study Rumsfeld's briefing...
  • Powell's Plan: President Arafat--Without Powers

    Yasir Arafat's future is on the table--and, the White House hopes, out of his hands. George W. Bush's wish to be rid of the Palestinian leader will be among the topics in key talks this week in New York and Washington between Secretary of State Colin Powell and European and Arab officials. NEWSWEEK has learned that Powell is encouraging the drafting of a plan that would give the Palestinians a state while moving Arafat into a figurehead presidency with limited powers. U.S. officials say it would work like this: under a new draft constitution, written by Palestinian-American lawyers with Saudi funding, a Palestinian parliament would be elected and it would appoint a prime minister, whose name could then be forwarded to the president, Arafat, for formal approval.Washington badly wants to avoid the embarrassment of having Arafat run for election himself--which most observers think he would win handily. State Department officials hope to get the Europeans and Russians to back this...
  • What Did He Know?

    George W. Bush has been all but untouchable in the war on terror, and he has the poll ratings to prove it. Now, for the first time, doubts are surfacing publicly in Washington--and knives are being sharpened--over what Bush knew about the threat from Osama bin Laden and when he knew it.Most of the questions center on a recently disclosed intelligence briefing on Aug. 6, 2001, at which the president was warned that, among other threats, Al Qaeda-linked terrorists might try to hijack an airliner. Considering that, at about the same time, FBI agents in Phoenix and Minneapolis were raising suspicions about Middle Easterners taking flight lessons in the United States and the intentions of Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged "20th hijacker" who had been arrested, the revelations have opened up a credibility gap for a White House that prides itself on giving things straight to the American people. The reason is simple: Bush and his top officials insisted in no uncertain terms after September...
  • Bush Gets Engaged

    Most of the media talk is about whether George W. Bush is violating the "Bush Doctrine" by sending Colin Powell to the Mideast to mediate with Yasir Arafat.Is the president who stood before the world and declared, "You are either with the civilized world or you are with the terrorists," caving in to violence? Actually, if you look carefully at Bush's dramatic announcement on Thursday, the answer is no.Gone were the fudgy words of recent days, when Secretary of State Powell declared that Arafat is "the leader of the Palestinian people, and his leadership is now even more central to trying to find a way out," and White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Arafat was exempt from the we-don't-deal-with-terrorists rule because he had signed the Oslo Peace Agreement. Instead, in his remarks Bush harshly downgraded Arafat and spoke directly to the Palestinian people--and, by implication, to other potential Palestinian interlocutors. "The situation in which he finds himself today is largely...
  • Blowing The Best Chance

    Ari Fleischer was on Air Force One, keeping an eye on CNN, when the news flash came last week. Another suicide bombing in Jerusalem. "This is live," the White House press secretary told Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national-security adviser, as she walked into the cabin. Rice started shaking her head. "Oh no, no, no," she said. Rice walked up to the president's cabin to notify him. Bush was angry. The administration thought it had been making progress on a ceasefire. Now even the meager prospect the Bushies were dangling before Yasir Arafat--a meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney--was off for the moment. Secretary of State Colin Powell, also on the plane, phoned Arafat and demanded, yet again, that he publicly condemn the attack and call for peace. Powell also insisted that Arafat say it in Arabic to his own people, as well as in English to the rest of the world.But "peace," in whatever language, has become an almost mythical word in the Middle East today. It seems to hark...
  • Warlords And B-52S

    In Afghanistan these days, when two warlords want to settle an argument, they call upon a phantom in the skies. This is not another medieval superstition common to this rocky, primitive land, which is still dominated by fierce men in turbans and beards who look--and behave--much as their ancestors did. The warlords point upward and warn their rivals that "B-52 justice" could soon fall like a curse on their houses--that Afghans who break the peace will suffer devastation from the stunning assortment of precision-targeted weaponry that destroyed the Taliban. They warn, in short, that the Americans will strike. "This is happening all over the country," says Abdullah Mujahid, a local police commander. "The B-52 is called 'the peacekeeper'."Some in the Bush administration still hope that peacekeeping from on high--and a minimal U.S. presence on the ground--will be enough to establish the young Afghan government of interim leader Hamid Karzai and stabilize his country. With the help of a...
  • Tensions At The Top

    In a serious blow to Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai, his foreign minister on Tuesday publicly disputed Karzai's version of the shocking murder last week of Abdul Rahman, Afghanistan's minister for Air Transport and Tourism. ...
  • Powell's New War

    As George W. Bush raised the stakes in his war on terror last week--pitting America against an "axis of evil"--one member of his administration knew that the first thing he had to worry about was unrest among his own troops. Two days after Bush's dramatic State of the Union address, Colin Powell summoned his top staff and ordered them to line up behind the White House. "The president meant what he said," the secretary of State told his harried diplomats, who have had to explain the administration's increasingly bellicose bent to a worried world. "He feels deeply about it, and I don't want anyone in this room to take the edge off it," one attendee quoted Powell as saying. ...
  • Kidnapped Reporter Sought Underworld Contacts

    Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl expressed an interest in meeting Pakistani organized crime figures in Karachi about a week before he was abducted there, the head of a major security firm in Pakistan said today. ...
  • Give More U.S. Aid...

    A couple of years ago I had a conversation with Paul Nitze, one of the last living "Wise Men," the generation of policymakers that gave America its successful cold-war containment strategy. Nitze, white-bearded and frail, recalled a moment a half century before when he had difficulty in convincing George C. Marshall of the wisdom of the Marshall Plan. It was the spring of 1947, and the revered secretary of State and former World War II Army chief of staff was soon to give a speech at Harvard announcing the $13 billion aid program ($88 billion in today's dollars) to save Europe. Marshall has gone down in history as the plan's indefatigable champion, perhaps American foreign policy's finest hour. But in his talk with Nitze, then a State Department aide, the general was having his doubts. "It's just not the sort of thing we do," said Marshall.No, the Marshall Plan wasn't the sort of thing America did. Until then. It was a brand-new solution to a brand-new problem. And it took a...
  • Powell In The Middle

    On Sept. 11, Colin Powell seemed to be, not for the first time, out of sync with his boss. The secretary of State was sitting down to breakfast in Lima with Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo when an aide handed him a note: the first tower had been struck. "Oh, my God," Powell exclaimed. "Something terrible has happened." After the hijackers sliced into the second tower and the Pentagon, Powell ordered his plane back to Washington. But for 10 long hours he was out of touch with President Bush, who was on his own airborne odyssey across a vastly changed America.That harrowing day two weeks ago is the last time Colin Powell was out of touch with George W. Bush. The gulf-war hero who on Sept. 10 seemed the loneliest moderate in Bush's right-leaning White House, the sole internationalist in a crowd of America-firsters, is at center stage of the country's new war. He's likely to remain there. Cool under fire, the quintessential crisis manager, Powell finds himself the go-to guy, joined...
  • 'We've Hit The Targets'

    At the time it seemed an empty boast, if a chilling one. On Feb. 7, 1995, Ramzi Yousef, considered the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was being escorted in shackles back to New York City. The FBI had just seized Yousef in Pakistan, and agents felt they could crow a little. An FBI SWAT commando pulled up his captive's blindfold and nudged him as they flew in a helicopter over mid-Manhattan, pointing to the World Trade Center's lights glowing in the clear night. "Look down there," he told Yousef. "They're still standing." Yousef replied, "They wouldn't be if I had enough money and explosives." Recalls Lewis Schiliro, a former head of the FBI's New York field office, "He was as cold as ice." Today Ramzi Yousef is safely in prison, as are five of his confederates from the failed 1993 attempt. But Yousef's passion for killing Americans is flourishing in a loose network of tiny Islamic fundamentalist terror groups spread around the world. And the main suspect in the...
  • Clinton To Arafat: It's All Your Fault

    Nearly a year after he failed to achieve a deal at Camp David, former president Bill Clinton gave vent to his frustrations this week over the collapse of peace in the Mideast. And Clinton directed his ire at one man: Yasir Arafat. On Tuesday night, Clinton told guests at a party at the Manhattan apartment of former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke and his wife, writer Kati Marton, that Arafat called to bid him farewell three days before he left office. "You are a great man," Arafat said. "The hell I am," Clinton said he responded. "I'm a colossal failure, and you made me one."Clinton said he told Arafat that by turning down the best peace deal he was ever going to get-the one proffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and brokered by Clinton last July-the Palestinian leader was only guaranteeing the election of the hawkish Ariel Sharon, the current Israeli leader. But Arafat didn't listen. Sharon was elected in a landslide Feb. 6 and has gradually escalated his crackdown on the...
  • Dark Questions For Ibm

    Thomas J. Watson Sr. and the company he created, IBM, are one of the great success stories in U.S. corporate history. Well before the computer age, when IBM sold typewriters and punch-card machines, Watson was the man who put the iconic slogan think on IBM's walls, who ruthlessly crushed competitors and who created the blue-suited corporate culture that revered him as its "Leader." Even Watson's more famous son, Thomas Jr.--who took IBM into the modern Information Age--criticized the scary, "cultlike" atmosphere that surrounded his father.But according to an explosive new book, the IBM of Tom Watson Sr. was engaged in far more frightening practices. In "IBM and the Holocaust," author Edwin Black describes how under Watson Sr.--who once received a medal from Hitler--IBM actively supplied the technology and expertise that aided Nazi Germany in its savage efficiency. Backed by exhaustive research, Black's case is simple and stunning: that IBM facilitated the identification and roundup...
  • Just Getting To Know You

    A little dialogue can make a lot of difference. By giving the outside world a peek into his secluded country, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has transformed his image, in just a few months, from that of an ominous rogue tyrant in Asia to something like a benign Yertle the Turtle, a tinpot autocrat ruling over a mud patch of a nation. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, returning home last week from a historic two-day visit to Pyongyang, echoed the comments of South Korean, Chinese and other officials who have met with the newly gregarious Kim recently. Kim is not, she said, what he once seemed to be.A few years ago U.S. intelligence portrayed Kim as a lascivious nut who might soon be able and willing to fire missiles at America. Now he is routinely described as logical, reasonable and willing to make a deal that would entail halting his missile and nuclear-weapons programs in exchange for massive U.S. aid, along with help in installing civilian satellite and nuclear-power...
  • Pyongyang Diary, Day 2

    By Tuesday, the second day of my trip to Pyongyang with Madeleine Albright, I had begun to run seriously afoul of my North Korean hosts. As the day wore on their smiles--always forced--turned frigid and grew flatter. I'd like to think this had little to do with their personal feelings toward me. I think it had everything to do with the fact that they are from Mars and we Americans are from Venus. For North Koreans and Americans, ending the Cold War and overcoming our language gap is the least of our problems: our brains are simply wired differently.My first violation of the rules began with The Stroll. About mid-morning, while Albright was meeting privately with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il--the first U.S. Cabinet-level official to do so--a colleague and I decided to walk to a park and a train station a few blocks from the Koryo Hotel, where we were staying. It was quite pleasant, though the park had no grass, only packed earth, and the train station officials forbade us entry...
  • Letter From North Korea

    It was a scene that George Orwell, the master inventor of the totalitarian nightmare, couldn't have dreamed up on his best day. And none of us accompanying Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on her historic visit to North Korea today was the least bit prepared for it. As the sun set over Pyongyang, the capital of this reclusive country, a group of reporters, myself included, was ushered past beige-uniformed guards packing holstered sidearms into a giant circular stadium. We had been told we were about to see a "gymnastics show." It was the latest in a series of events prepared for the most senior American official ever to journey to this drab, impoverished city--and intended to impress upon Albright that Pyongyang was anything but drab and impoverished, and that totalitarian communism was alive and well, if only in this lonely Asian outpost. ...
  • The Lost Peace Plan

    It may be hard to imagine now, with the Mideast peace process faltering badly. But consider, if you will, the following scenario. Top Israeli and Palestinian negotiators shake hands and agree to recognize each other's nation in perpetuity. They accept that "Jerusalem" (Al Quds for the Palestinians, Yerushalayim for the Israelis) will be the capital of both states, and they lay out, in great detail, security arrangements that will keep their long-hostile peoples from each other's throats. The two negotiators then tearfully hug, truly believing--for the moment--they have secured a peaceful future for generations to come.That is exactly what happened five years ago this fall in secret meetings between Yossi Beilin, a top aide to the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and Yasir Arafat's closest adviser, Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen. The two sides thought they had reached the basis for a final peace deal. But Rabin never had a chance to read it, much less sign off on it....
  • Upstaged

    They are two leaders on their last legs. One is the most powerful man on earth, the foremost champion of globalization and an indefatigable optimist. The other is the aging head of an insignificant island nation, the avatar of a musty, closed economic system and a notoriously long-winded ranter. But on Wednesday, in a vivid illustration of the leveling logic of the United Nations, it was Fidel Castro, not Bill Clinton, who won the hearts of the General Assembly at the United Nations Millennium Summit.Clinton, in one of his last big foreign speeches before he leaves office in January, spoke somberly of the need for better UN intervention. After his five-minute address, the president won only tepid applause, and seemed to trudged off the stage reluctantly, as if expecting something closer to the remarkable standing ovation he received at the UN two years ago at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. His spokesman, Joe Lockhart, was quick to say that the president hadn't expected...
  • The Lioness In Winter

    It wasn't long ago that Madeleine Albright was known as "Madame War." No one meant this as a compliment. Stern and hawk-faced, her signature Stetson pulled low over her eyes, the secretary of State seemed to be the militant in Bill Clinton's cabinet. She was the one who prodded NATO into battle for the first time in 50 years in Kosovo, ousted a U.N. secretary-general for his reluctance to bend to U.S. demands and lectured countries left and right over their behavior. The United States, Albright loved to say, is "the indispensable nation." And while her counterparts around the world recognized that was no doubt true, they didn't particularly want their noses rubbed in it. Within Washington circles, meanwhile, she was roundly derided as a single-minded policy lightweight, obsessively focused on bringing American power to bear on every situation, whether in Kosovo or Iraq.Witness, then, the "new" Madeleine Albright: humble, subtle and, to a surprising degree, effective. And that's some...
  • Legacy Of An Arab Survivor

    Hafez assad was never very good at war. Though he built up a huge army, Assad lost the Golan Heights to Israel in 1967 as Syria's Defense minister and failed to win them back in 1973 as the nation's leader. He later saw his entire air force wiped out over Lebanon. Assad was no great shakes at peace, either. From the '70s on he found himself outflanked as his old partner, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, made a separate deal with Israel that left him stranded, and his hated rival, Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, paced past him in peace talks. What Assad was very good at was survival. During his 30 years at the top, while his Soviet allies collapsed, Sadat was assassinated and Israeli prime ministers came and went, Assad cunningly managed to consolidate control in Damascus while he waited to get the Golan back. And in doing so he became the key holdout in the protracted Mideast peace process.This year it seemed that, finally, Hafez Assad's time had come. As the clock ticked over into...
  • The Long March Begins

    For Bill Clinton at least, the hard part is over. As his staff gathered in the place where their boss once strayed with Monica Lewinsky--George Stephanopoulos's old West Wing office--to watch on C-Span, the president known for lurching from disaster to triumph waited upstairs in the residence for one of his greatest victories to unfold. Finally, the hard-fought House vote to grant China permanent normal trade relations went over the top, ending at a decisive 237-197. Clinton came down with a big smile. "This is just great!" he exclaimed. Later, in a congratulatory call to his ace trade negotiator, Charlene Barshefsky, he reminisced over the 13-year U.S. effort to bring China into the World Trade Organization, a drive that culminated in last week's PNTR vote. "This is historic," he told her. For him, clearly, it is. Clinton knows that while histories of his administration may well begin with impeachment, his WTO feat will help to balance the ledger.But by January 2001, when Clinton...
  • Giving Them The Business

    Ed Whitfield wears the hunted look common among certain congressmen these days. These are the undecided ones, those who haven't said how they'll vote on China. Tracked down in a Capitol Hill hearing room, the Kentucky Republican is surrounded by several large, well-fed men representing billions in blue-chip market cap: Procter & Gamble, Caterpillar, Bank of America. All want the same thing: a "yes" vote on a bill to grant permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) to Beijing. Whitfield looks peevish, weary. "It's frustrating," he tells them, "that business leaders have not done a very effective job of talking to employees." Translation: labor unions, which fear that opening up China will cost U.S. jobs, are threatening to trash him in the fall election if he approves PNTR. "I'll probably end up voting for this law," says the congressman, who comes from a Democratic coal-mining district. "But it's going to be damaging."This little tableau, enacted dozens of times last week with...