Michael Hirsh

Stories by Michael Hirsh

  • 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...
  • Iraq: With Friends Like These ...

    It may have been the last time George W. Bush felt really good about Iraq. Last June, as the president flew back from a surprise visit to Baghdad--and his first sitdown with the new Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki--he was visibly excited. Bush was savoring a rare moment in his presidency: an unbroken string of great news out of Iraq. The U.S. Air Force had just knocked off Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi at his hideout north of Baghdad. The tough, plain-spoken Maliki had replaced Ibrahim Jaafari, Iraq's disastrously wishy-washy interim prime minister. And Bush had brazenly ordered Air Force One into a war zone in broad daylight so that he could shake hands with Iraq's first democratically elected leader under the new Constitution. The president wasn't disappointed. "I wanted to hear whether or not he was stuck in the past or willing to think about the future," a relaxed Bush later told reporters onboard Air Force One. "And I came away with a very positive impression." Maliki, Bush said...
  • Washington: A Dysfunctional Democracy

    Why are Washington policymakers so skeptical that George W. Bush’s surge plan for Iraq can work? In large part because they don’t trust Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The consensus in town: Maliki must get his act together, fix Iraqi governance and quell the out-of-control sectarian hatred in his country if America is to have any hope of success.What’s missing here is that Maliki and the rest of the world have every reason to be skeptical themselves about America’s own governance, not to mention our out-of-control sectarian divisions. And if they don’t think we can get our act together and speak with a common voice, they may cut separate deals (in Maliki’s case, with Tehran).All these problems were on display in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday as it debated a resolution opposing the president’s decision to send another 21,000 troops into what Sen. Chuck Hagel called "the grinder” of Iraq. “Don't hide anymore; none of us!” Hagel barked to his fellow...
  • Emptying Iran’s Pockets

    George W. Bush is clearly getting tough with Iran. He took aim at Tehran in his speech to the nation Wednesday night, stressing that he holds the Iranian government responsible for helping to destabilize Iraq. Within hours came reports the U.S. was arresting Iranian diplomats inside Iraq .But there's probably only one really effective way left, short of war, to put pressure on a government that has threatened a new Holocaust. And that is to adopt a strategy that Americans pursued a decade ago against the perpetrators and collaborators of the last Holocaust—the Germans and the Swiss.Stuart Levey knows this well. Levey, the undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, has been leading the U.S. campaign to isolate and slowly asphyxiate the Iranian economy. "Asphyxiate" is not a word he would use, but that is effectively the strategy being pursued by Levey and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson as they exert pressure on international banks and trading partners...
  • Gates Cleans House

    Air strikes this week on alleged Al Qaeda figures in Somalia may prove to be one of the last counterterrorism operations associated with a controversial Pentagon general who has overseen the deployment of secret U.S. Special Ops teams against suspected terror plotters, defense experts close to the Pentagon and intelligence community tell NEWSWEEK.Lt. Gen.William Boykin and his boss, soon-to-depart Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Steve Cambone, have guided or taken part in the planning of such covert operations against Al Qaeda-linked groups in several countries since 9/11. There is no indication that new Defense Secretary Robert Gates disagrees with the Somalia operation this week. But Boykin has long been a divisive figure. A devout evangelical Christian, he achieved notoriety in October 2003, when he was videotaped telling a church audience that the god of a Muslim warlord was "an idol" and that "my God was a real God." Boykin and Cambone have also generated controversy by...
  • 'All The Troops In The World Won’T Make Any Difference'

    Most top U.S. military officials—even members of George W. Bush’s administration such as national-security adviser Stephen Hadley—did not recommend a “surge” or escalation of U.S. troops into Iraq when they were interviewed by the Iraq Study Group last fall, says group member Leon Panetta, a former White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton. Instead of a surge—which the president plans to announce in a speech to the nation tomorrow—these officials recommended at the time that more U.S. advisers be embedded in Iraqi units, Panetta says. That later led the bipartisan commission co-chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton to come to the same conclusion, he says. Panetta also says that the officials interviewed knew that one of the Study Group’s central recommendations—that U.S. advisory teams in Iraq be quadrupled—was largely incompatible with a ramp-up of troops. The reason? In order to increase the number of U.S. advisory teams to that degree, American combat brigades must be...
  • Bush Rolls the Dice

    For a mailman’s son who put himself through school working at a Campbell’s Soup factory in hardscrabble Camden, N.J., there must be a special poignancy to knowing that your task over the next two years is to rescue the reputation of a blue-blooded president who’s gotten himself into a bind in the Middle East.But that’s going to be William (Fox) Fallon’s job as commander of CENTCOM—the first admiral ever to be named to head the traditionally land-oriented regional command, which covers Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, as well as a new trouble spot: Somalia and the Horn of Africa.Fallon’s nomination is part of a flurry of major appointments coming out of the Bush administration ahead of the president’s speech on a new Iraq strategy next week. The reshuffling of Bush’s top command is about much more than Iraq, Pentagon insiders say. It will set the course for the remainder of Bush’s presidency in the entire Mideast.The appointment of Fallon, a former Navy aviator who commanded an air wing...
  • Ford: A Model Bush Should Test-Drive

    It was a time of terrible weakness. We were a nation kicked in the gut by Vietnam and Watergate and stagflation. Gerald Ford—who was a strong and honorable man but who had no mandate or electoral legitimacy—was an emblem of that weakness. And yet somehow, by the time he left office, Ford had “rescued a cohesive American foreign policy from the carnage of Vietnam and Watergate," Henry Kissinger wrote in the final volume of his memoirs, “Years of Renewal.” Indeed, Ford helped to steer the United States back onto a course that led to ultimate triumph over the Soviet Union. It is a lesson in snatching victory from the jaws of defeat that George W. Bush needs to learn, especially when it comes to the biggest threat Washington now faces, Iran. And there is no time to waste.Ford, who died Tuesday, accomplished this by first acknowledging, with admirable courage and honesty, that America had taken some blows and was not on top of its game. He banished the “imperial presidency” and the...
  • 'The 172nd Was Special'

    Just a few weeks ago, Capt. Brad Velotta was kicking in doors in the most dangerous city in the world. Now he's kicking back with his wife, Jodi, who can hardly believe he's home from Baghdad at last. "He is my buddy, my pal and the love of my life," she gushed in an e-mail. "I never once second-guessed that. This deployment was tough, but it made us stronger."The Stryker Brigade's tour of duty, chronicled in a series on NEWSWEEK.com, did not end with overwhelming success. There have been badly strained marriages, struggles with alcoholism and therapy sessions for troubled kids. Some, like Cpl. Alexander Jordan, didn't come home at all; he was killed by a sniper in September. The 172nd Stryker Brigade "had the toughest challenge of any unit in Iraq," says U.S. Army Secretary Francis Harvey. Brigade Commander Michael Shields praised the 172nd for coping with the 450-day deployment in a way that was "legend." Despite its brutal tour, the 172nd had one of the highest re-enlistment...
  • A Little-Lamented Departure

    Perhaps the signature moment of John Bolton’s tenure as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations came last summer, when the No. 2 official at the U.N., Mark Malloch Brown, had the temerity to suggest some helpful hints to Americans. He said that Americans were acting against their own interests when they bashed the world body. Malloch Brown’s message was simple: you can’t depend on the U.N. for so much—using it as a forum for legitimizing action against Iraq, Iran, North Korea and Syria, for ending the war in Lebanon and keeping Syria out of Beirut—while at the same time dismissing it as a useless, corrupt institution. A Briton who has lived most of his adult life in the United States and is one of the most devoted friends Washington has at the U.N. Secretariat, Malloch Brown warned Americans they could “lose” the organization if they continued “the prevailing practice of seeking to use the U.N. almost by stealth as a diplomatic tool while failing to stand up for it against its...
  • The Last Man Standing

    It's been a rough season for neoconservatives, the group that has dominated U.S. foreign policy since the attacks of September 11. They've been largely run out of the Bush administration, beset by infighting, and mocked by a foreign-policy establishment that hailed their power just a few years ago. Last month was particularly brutal. They looked on helplessly as Democrats took both houses of Congress. They had to grit their teeth when President Bush met with Washington dealmakers James Baker and Lee Hamilton, whose bipartisan group is charged with extricating America from the mess the neocon-influenced policy created in Iraq. Then, insult to injury: they watched their cold-war nemesis in Central America circa 1986, Daniel Ortega, rise again to be president of Nicaragua.The neocons are reeling, but they're not dead yet. A few stalwarts are digging in their wing-tips. And there's already a small backlash against the backlash. At the State Department, supposedly the bastion of realism,...
  • A Bust in Bakersville

    The forthcoming report by James Baker's Iraq Study Group has enjoyed the biggest public buildup since the Segway. And it is likely to be just as big of a bust.Here's why the Baker-Hamilton report is destined to land with a thud, after weeks of messianic hype. According to sources who have seen the draft report introduced this week, the group will recommend deeper engagement with Iran and Syria in hopes these countries can help us quell the violence in Iraq. But George W. Bush, who remains a true neocon believer—"It's the regime, stupid"—is very unlikely to cut deals with such evil states, except in the most foot-dragging way. In any case, with each passing week Iraq's sectarian fratricide makes these neighboring countries less and less relevant. One doesn't have to be trained by Hizbullah or the Iranian secret service to grab a few Sunnis off the street every night and shoot them in the head. But until those killings stop, the yes-it-is-a-civil war-no-it's-not-a-civil-war in Iraq...
  • Get Ready for the ‘Biden Report’

    Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware is poised to retake the chairmanship of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, after the new Democrat-controlled Congress is sworn in. Biden discussed his plans for stabilizing Iraq by creating a federal system of three autonomous regions—Kurd, Shiite and Sunni—and for addressing Iran’s nuclear program, among other issues, in an interview with NEWSWEEK’s Michael Hirsh. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: I understand you’re planning to hold hearings on Iraq in January as your first act as chairman.Joseph Biden: I am. We’re putting it together now. It will probably amount to six weeks of hearings. We’ll have experts who are left, right and center, neocons, internationalists and isolationists, to come in and dissect the various elements of our Iraq policy. For example, the never-examined premise upon which we say we’re going to stand up Iraqis and stand down ourselves. It’s not a question of getting them to stand up; it’s getting them to...
  • The Change Agent

    Milton Friedman was a tiny, balding man who would have looked at home wearing green eye shades in an accountant’s cubicle. But he was a giant of the 20th century whose impact, good and bad, is still reaching every corner of the globe in the 21st. He was also a big enough man to admit that his ideas may have occasionally overreached in helping to generate a free-market revolution.Austrian economist Friedrich von Hayek is invoked more often than Friedman as the patron saint of modern laissez-faire capitalism. It was Hayek who mainly inspired the twin free-market revolution in Great Britain, where Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan’s ideological soulmate, launched a historic campaign to privatize nationalized industry at about the time the Reagan Revolution was taking off. But Hayek’s main impact was as a political theorist who delivered a powerful critique of the fallacies of socialist central planning. It was Friedman and his Chicago School, whose prominent disciples...