Michael Hirsh

Stories by Michael Hirsh

  • Day Three: Telling Jokes in Iran

    The elites mock the president as a religious extremist with a lousy approval rating. Iran may be more like America than you think.
  • Hirsh: Tehran Diary, Day Two

    Washington's drive toward regime change in Iran is only rallying the country around its radical president.
  • Hirsh: Icy G8 Meeting for U.S., Russia

    It wasn’t like Harry and “Uncle Joe” at all. Or was it? Sixty-two years ago, here at Potsdam, Harry Truman and Joe Stalin seemed to get along famously, putting on a display of bonhomie that belied how fast their relationship was about to go into a deep freeze. During the conference after the surrender of Nazi Germany, the U.S. president quietly received a message that said, “Babies satisfactorily born,” meaning the world’s first successful atomic test had just occurred at Los Alamos, N.M. The cold war—and the start of a four-decadelong arms race—was just a year or so away. On Wednesday, representatives of the major powers met again in the Berlin suburb of Potsdam, this time for a G8 meeting. Such gatherings are typically relentlessly amiable, and so the delegates tried to make it this time. But beneath the forced grins, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov exchanged icy, even scary, words that suggested a new cold war is not...
  • Hirsh: Debunking Nuclear Myths

    These are not happy times on the nuclear proliferation front. Iran this week defied yet another 60-day U.N. deadline ordering it to stop enriching uranium, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported Wednesday. That could put Tehran within sight of a bomb in the next couple of years. Turkey, which fears being left out of the European Union, has recommitted itself to developing nuclear power. Several Arab countries, anxious over being left behind in the arms escalation between a nuclearized Iran and Israel, are beginning to do more than merely talk about developing nukes on their own. According to Western intelligence and the IAEA, nations such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt are developing infrastructure, and hiring scientists, possibly from Pakistan.Pakistan itself, meanwhile, is engulfed in civil unrest aimed at toppling Western-friendly autocrat Pervez Musharraf, which may be an even more frightening prospect than what is happening in Iran. Since Musharraf summarily ousted his...
  • Well-Intentioned Wolfowitz's Rise and Fall

    He started out well. Conscious that he had image issues—he was the Ugly American architect of the unpopular Iraq War—Paul Wolfowitz, the now embattled World Bank president, ate lunch in the employees' mess hall rather than in the Bank president's palatial dining room. Always soft-spoken, he listened and encouraged e-mails from colleagues. Whether it was attacking tyranny in the Arab world or poverty in Africa, the last thing Wolfowitz ever wanted was to be seen as a heartless intellectual or a ruthless hawk. He "deeply, deeply cared" about making the world a better place, says Ray DuBois, assistant to Wolfowitz when Wolfowitz served as deputy Defense secretary. Andrew Young, the civil-rights activist and former U.N. ambassador, says: "If I ever got caught in a dark alley with [Dick] Cheney and [Donald] Rumsfeld, I'd want to whip them. But Wolfowitz is a very sympathetic figure."He may also be the first president dismissed in the 62-year history of the Bank if its board of directors...
  • Hirsh: World Bank Saga Causes Political Rift

    It’s one of those musty, neocolonial traditions dating back to the World War II victors’ club. The two big institutions invented at Bretton Woods, N.H., to resurrect the global economy—the World Bank and International Monetary Fund—were supposed to be run by those winners, no questions asked. The Americans would get to choose the president of the World Bank, and the Europeans would pick the head of the IMF. So it went for 62 years, even as the rest of world emerged from colonialism, the Soviet bloc and poverty, developed powerful economies of their own, and joined the international system. But the monthlong scandal over Paul Wolfowitz, who on Thursday became the first World Bank president in history to be forced out, may now be casting a harsh new light on this hoary tradition.At least Henry Paulson, the U.S. Treasury secretary, seems to think so. Paulson is believed to have the main responsibility for selecting Wolfowitz’s successor. But early signs are that Paulson, the former...
  • Hirsh: The Problem with Bush's New War Czar

    Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute is by most accounts a formidable fellow: smart, efficient and expert in all aspects of nation-building—civilian and military. As the top operations officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he’s also intimately familiar with all aspects of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “Lute is about as broad-gauged a senior military officer as they could find,” says Philip Zelikow, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s former senior counselor, who’s known him since Lute was a captain. “He’s perfect,” adds retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a harsh critic of George W. Bush’s “surge” plan in Iraq.But Lute, who was named this week to be Bush’s new war “czar” for Iraq and Afghanistan, is also just a three-star general, and he’s still on active duty. What this means is that while nominally he’s the president’s man—his title puts him on par with national-security adviser Steven Hadley—militarily he’s still inferior in rank to four-star Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and...
  • Children of Iconic Republicans May Vote Dem

    Susan Eisenhower is an accomplished professional, the president of an international consulting firm. She also happens to be Ike's granddaughter—and in that role, she's the humble torchbearer for moderate "Eisenhower Republicans." Increasingly, however, she says that the partisanship and free spending of the Bush presidency—and the takeover of the party by single-issue voters, especially pro-lifers—is driving these pragmatic, fiscally conservative voters out of the GOP. Eisenhower says she could vote Democratic in 2008, but she's still intent on saving her party. "I made a pact with a number of people," she tells NEWSWEEK. "I said, 'Please don't leave the party without calling me first.' For a while, there weren't too many calls. And then suddenly, there was a flurry of them. I found myself watching them slip away one by one."Eisenhower isn't the only GOP scion debating if the party still feels like home. Theodore Roosevelt IV, an investment banker in New York and an environmental...
  • Hirsh: America's Angriest General

    If there's one rule that's sacrosanct in American political culture, going all the way back to George Washington, it's that civilians have clear control of the military. Yes, a few generals have bumped up against that line before. George McClellan ignored and mocked Abe Lincoln early in the Civil War, then ran against him for president in 1864. Douglas MacArthur brazenly disobeyed Harry Truman in Korea before getting fired, like McClellan before him. Until now, these have been the exceptions. But the Iraq War has so profoundly transformed the political landscape—and so angered a whole generation of generals who object to the way the conflict was planned and executed by civilians—that the line between military and civilian roles is being muddied as never before. The question is whether this is a good thing—or something very worrying.No, we're not about to experience a real-life version of "Seven Days in May," the 1964 John Frankenheimer thriller about a military coup in Washington....
  • Hirsh: Wolfowitz's Controversial Companion

    Only a few years ago, Shaha Riza was what is known in journalistic parlance as a flack. She was a media relations person, in other words—and a fairly junior one—whose job it was to reach out to reporters like me so that we would write about various World Bank activities. As recently as mid-2004, Riza was faxing and e-mailing PR releases to reporters around town, requesting that we contact her about exciting new Bank initiatives like a “$38 million investment loan to help the Government of Jordan develop efficient transport and logistics services,” or the “$359 million in loans for two projects aimed at helping the government of Iran improve housing conditions for poor and middle-income urban neighborhoods as well as expand access to clean water and coverage of sanitation services.” At the bottom of each missive she listed her number (202 458 1592) and her e-mail (sriza@worldbank.org). Guess what? Many of us never called.Now we’re calling and calling, and Shaha Riza just won’t pick...
  • Intel Agents Call For Tenet's Medal

    In his much-watched "60 Minutes" interview on Sunday, former CIA director George Tenet spoke passionately in defense of his former colleagues at the agency, saying they had been maligned and scapegoated by the Bush administration. Tenet said he wrote his book, "At the Center of the Storm," which goes on sale this week, partly to defend their honor. "The only people that ever stand up and tell the truth are who? Intelligence officers. Because our culture is never break faith with the truth," Tenet said in the interview. But on Monday a group of former CIA officials circulated a letter questioning Tenet's honesty, and harshly criticizing him for "failed leadership" that besmirched the agency. "We believe you have a moral obligation to return the Medal of Freedom you received from President George Bush," said the authors of the letter, adding that Tenet ought to donate "a significant percentage of the royalties from your book to the U.S. soldiers and their families who have been killed...
  • Hirsh: Joe Biden is Dead Right on Iraq

    For a guy whose presidential campaign was declared dead almost the day it started, Joe Biden sounds a bit too confident these days. Especially when it comes to Iraq. “If it were up to us,” says Larry Rasky, Biden’s chief campaign flack, “all 90 minutes” of Thursday night’s inaugural debate between the eight Democratic candidates would have been devoted to the subject of Iraq. Why? Because the six-term senator from Delaware is “the only one with a comprehensive plan for getting us out of Iraq without leaving chaos behind,” says Rasky.Of course his spokesman would say that. But in this case, Rasky has a point. When it comes to staking out clear, convincing positions on Iraq, the rest of the Democratic race resembles a bad day at the Demolition Derby. Even the golden-tongued Barack Obama, while waxing eloquent about the global leadership vacuum left by George W. Bush, had little to say about Iraq the other day in his first big foreign-policy campaign speech. (Obama reiterated his call...
  • The President Has Encouraged Me To Speak My Mind About Iraq. He Would Just Prefer That I Not Do It Out Loud.

    Is Robert Gates becoming the Paul O'Neill of President Bush's second term? Someone, in other words, who not only can't stay on the same page as the White House, but who may have lost his songbook altogether -as often seemed the case with the former Treasury secretary? Twice now in the past week, Defense Secretary Gates has raised hackles at the White House with headline-making comments on Iraq that sounded a different note from the official line. First, at a time when Bush was hammering away at Democrat-sponsored spending bills that would set a withdrawal deadline, Gates suggested on a trip to Jordan last week that the debate on Capitol Hill over an Iraq withdrawal deadline was "helpful in demonstrating to the Iraqis that American patience is limited." Then, during a stop in Iraq a few days later, Gates said "the clock is ticking" and that U.S. troops would not be patrolling Iraqi streets "open-endedly." That also seemed to give aid and...
  • Interview: Talbott on Yeltsin's Legacy

    Strobe Talbott, who served as deputy secretary of State during the Clinton administration, got to know Boris Yeltsin as well as any U.S. official. From Yeltsin's days as maverick Moscow party chief to his critical role in ending the Soviet Union to his chaotic years as president of the new Russian Federation, Talbott closely observed the rise and fall of a man he likens to a construction crane that demolished the old system but left a great deal of chaos in its wake. Or as a popular Russian joke in the late '90s had it, “Mikhail Gorbachev took us to the edge of the abyss, and Yeltsin took us one step further.” Talbott, who first gained fame as a Russia expert when he translated the memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev, says that Yeltsin's greatest mistake was to name Vladimir Putin as his successor. Putin has reversed many of the democratic and open-market reforms put in place by the former Russian president, who died Monday. Talbot, who is now president of the Brookings Institution, spoke...
  • Hirsh: A World of Trouble

    The next U.S. president will have a tough job turning around the world's opinion of America, a new survey shows.
  • Inside the Tragedy at Va. Tech

    The early morning calm was shattered by the sound of gunfire. By the time it stopped, at least 33 were dead. Inside the tragedy at Virginia Tech.
  • Assessing the Iranian Nuke Threat

    Iranian President Ahmadinejad announced his country is now capable of producing 'industrial-scale' uranium enrichment. Assessing that boast—and what it means for nuclear negotiations.
  • Reality Check on Bush's Rose Garden Talk

    Bush came out swinging against a Democratic Congress determined, he argues, to undo the benefits of the "surge." Time for a reality check. Finding the thorns in Bush's Rose Garden address.
  • Hirsh: Can Bush Force Iran Into a Deal?

    U.S. forces are massing on Iran, and soon it will be time to strike. No, not militarily—that would be the height of insanity—but diplomatically. The Americans and Europeans are close to achieving the leverage they have long sought against Tehran through a deftly managed policy of political encirclement and economic strangulation. Just two big pieces still need to fall into place: a sign from Iran that it is willing to suspend uranium enrichment, at least temporarily, and a willingness on the part of George W. Bush to take yes for an answer—and strike a deal.On the latter point, the Bush administration does seem to be shifting in tone. With the departure of several key Bush hardliners in recent months, it feels as if the regime-change fever has broken in Washington. While still talking tough, chief Iran envoy Nicholas Burns sounded almost magnanimous toward Tehran on Wednesday as he detailed the “multiple points of pressure” being applied on Iran’s leaders. Speaking at a Rand Corp....
  • Life for Plame and Other Women at the CIA

    Lindsay Moran spent several years as a case officer at the CIA after graduating from Harvard and later wrote a 2005 book about her experiences, "Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy" (Putnam), a ribald retelling of the manifold challenges of being both   adventurous and female at one of America's stodgiest and strictest national-security services. In a interview with NEWSWEEK's Michael Hirsh, Moran reflects on the career of fellow spy Valerie Plame Wilson, who spoke publicly before Congress for the first time on Friday since her identity as a clandestine operative was "outed" by newspaper columnist Robert Novak in July 2003. Wilson's exposure lead to the recent trial and conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, on perjury and obstruction charges. Excerpts: ...
  • How Not to Win the War on Terror

    The KSM case points up what's wrong with the way the Bush administration fights terrorism. How the next president can do better.
  • Rumors Of War

    Jalal Sharafi was carrying a video-game, a gift for his daughter, when he found himself surrounded. On that chilly Sunday morning, the second secretary at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad had driven himself to the commercial district of Arasat Hindi to checkout the site for a new Iranian bank. He had ducked into a nearby electronics store with his bodyguards, and as they emerged four armored cars roared up and disgorged at least 20 gunmen wearing bulletproof vests and Iraqi National Guard uniforms. They flashed official IDs, and manhandled Sharafi into one car. Iraqi police gave chase, guns blazing. They shot up one of the other vehicles, capturing four assailants who by late last week had yet to be publicly identified. Sharafi and the others disappeared.At the embassy, the diplomat's colleagues were furious. "This was a group directly under American supervision," said one distraught Iranian official, who was not authorized to speak on the record. Abdul Karim Inizi, a former Iraqi...
  • About Face

    More than anything else he has done in his second term, George W. Bush’s embrace of a fuel-for-nukes accord with North Korea shows that he is adjusting to the harsh realities of diplomacy—and straying ever further from the ideology of regime change. The proof: the president has cut a deal that is likely to help a member of his notorious “Axis of Evil,” Kim Jong Il, stay in power longer, even while it may make the world safer.The agreement announced today represents a major change in attitude that goes beyond North Korea. The most evident sign is that the accord, under which Pyongyang will immediately get 50 tons of emergency fuel oil with nearly a million more tons to come, is plainly a reversal of the administration’s previous principled stand against the “nuclear blackmail” that it accused Bill Clinton of engaging in. Until this week the administration refused to reward “bad behavior”—secret weapons programs—by promising dictators like Kim goodies in return for giving up nukes. ...
  • Kissinger’s Fingerprints

    He is 83 now, very gray and a bit saggy around the edges. But nearly 40 years after he first convened the Paris Peace Talks, Henry Kissinger is still playing the globe like a three-dimensional chessboard. And judging from the moves George W. Bush has been making lately, the president appears to be following the old meister’s advice on Iran. Kissinger’s bottom line: don't negotiate with Tehran until you've realigned the forces in the Middle East so that you're negotiating from a position of strength.Bush is trying to realign, big time. In an extraordinary series of moves, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other U.S. officials have been seeking to create a united front of Sunni Arab regimes and Israel against Shiite Iran as part of an aggressive new approach to Tehran. Fed up with Iran’s recalcitrance in talks to curb its nuclear program, and reports of Iran’s alleged complicity in attacks inside Iraq, the Bush administration is engaged in diplomacy of truly Kissingerian...