Literary Liaisons

From the medieval ‘Song of Roland’ to a novel about human cloning—and a lot of greatness in between.

Last year’s big literary ruckus in France, which pitted President Nicolas Sarkozy against fans of the 17th-century novel “The Princess of Clèves,” served as a reminder that classic story-telling can still raise pulses. Mr. Sarkozy’s proposal to remove “The Princess of Clèves” from the school syllabus—the president confessed “to having suffered a lot from it” as a boy—not only failed to win approval but also encouraged impromptu readings of Marie-Madeleine de la Fayette’s novel in towns all over the country. Sales of the book shot up by more than 40%.

Lance Donaldson-Evans rightly includes “The Princess of Clèves” (1678) in “One Hundred Great French Books,” his deft and illuminating study of landmark French literature. He explains that Madame de La Fayette’s 124-page tale—concerning marriage and wayward passion within an aristocratic household— offered “a radically new concept of the novel,” moving the genre away from the massively long works that were “wildly popular at the time but whose length and complexity attract only few readers today.”

It is clear from Mr. Donaldson-Evans’s survey that the first female writers in France were often more daring than their male counterparts. Marie de France, who came to prominence during the 12th century, wrote about adultery as though it were “normal practice,” Mr. Donaldson- Evans notes. The poet Louise Labé perturbed her 16th-century contemporaries by writing sonnets about female sexual desire at a time when “writing in general and writing poetry in particular were primarily seen as male occupations.”

Mr. Donaldson-Evans wisely presents his choices in chronological order, giving each book and author two pages of introduction and comment. By so doing he provides us with a lapidary history of France by way of the works that have helped to shape its culture. The first entry is “The Song of Roland,” a chivalric narrative poem written around 1095, possibly by a man named Turoldus; the last entry is “The Possibility of an Island” (2006) by Michel Houellebecq—an apt endpoint, given the novel’s futuristic subject, human cloning.

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One Hundred Great French Books

By Lance Donaldson-Evans
BlueBridge, 224 pages, $15.95

Not that French history is everywhere evident among the “greats” on offer. As Mr. Donaldson-Evans concedes in his own introduction, he might have called his survey “One Hundred Great Books Written in French,” since it includes authors from Africa, the Caribbean, Canada, Belgium and Switzerland—and one from Ireland: Samuel Beckett (“Waiting for Godot”), whom Mr. Donaldson-Evans describes as “one of those rare authors who, like Vladimir Nabokov, have achieved literary renown for their work in two languages.” Mr. Donaldson-Evans’s survey itself is a bridge between two languages: He tells us that he decided, as a criterion of selection, that each of the books be available in English translation.

Its few limits aside, “One Hundred Great French Books” is an enjoyably subjective trawl through different literary genres, from novels and poetry to plays and short stories—and a great deal more. Mr. Donaldson-Evans includes François de Sales’s “An Introduction to the Devout Life” (1609), dubbed “the greatest Catholic self-help book ever”; René Descartes’s “Discourse on Method,” his philosophical treatise from 1637; Eugène Delacroix’s journal from 1893; Georges Simenon’s detective fiction (“Lock 14,” from 1931); the “Asterix” comic book series by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, which began appearing in 1959 and continues today; and Jean Renoir’s memoir, “My Life and My Films” (1974).

After more than 40 years of teaching French literature, Mr. Donaldson-Evans, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is expert at detecting the wider cultural effects that certain French books have had. He suggests that Edmond Dantès, the badly wronged and cunningly vengeful hero of Alexandre Dumas’s “The Count of Monte-Christo” (1844), “takes on almost mythical status,” becoming “in many ways the precursor of the modern superhero.” Chateaubriand’s largely autobiographical novella, “René” (1802), reminds Mr. Donaldson-Evans of modern-day Goths, “the spiritual descendants” of the novel’s main character, a figure consumed by “self-indulgent sadness.” He traces the bad-boy lineage of poets like Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud—so-called poètes maudits (accursed poets)—back to François Villon, the 15th-century writer whose “Testament,” an autobiographical collection of poems, used acerbic irony to attack senior members of the French clergy.

With a characteristic mix of wit and erudition Mr. Donaldson-Evans ponders Baudelaire’s “Les Fleurs du mal” (1857), or “The Flowers of Evil”: “Although probably not popular with florists, the title of Baudelaire’s great collection of poetry is one of the most captivating in literature, juxtaposing as it does the negativity of evil with a term associated with love and beauty.” The title reveals “a new poetic vision in which things and people not normally considered beautiful become the object of the poetic gaze. Indeed, it is up to the poet to extract the beauty—the ‘flowers’—from ugliness and evil (one of Baudelaire’s poems is even devoted to roadkill).”

There is only one glaring omission in Mr. Donaldson-Evans’s selection and that is the most accursed and cursing of all French writers, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, whose lyrical, fulminating novels, especially “Journey to the End of the Night” (1932), have influenced writers like Günter Grass, Charles Bukowski and Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, the recent French Nobel Prize winner (whose novel “The Prospector” is included). Perhaps one day Mr. Donaldson-Evans can be persuaded to write a sequel: “One Hundred More.”

Mr. Grey is a reporter and literary critic living in Paris.

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Full article and photo: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704784904575112102112663656.html

About That Playboy in My Drawer . . .

If America wants to tilt the balance of Muslim sentiment in its favor, it needs to stand up for its principles, its liberties and its friends—Israel, Playboy and Lady Gaga included.

It’s time to make a personal and professional admission: I keep a copy of the Feb. 2007 issue of Playboy in a desk drawer in my Wall Street Journal office.

This is not the sort of thing I ever thought I’d publicly confess. But I’m prompted to do so now in response to a string of online rebuttals to my Tuesday column, “Lady Gaga Versus Mideast Peace,” in which I argue that Western liberalism (in its old-fashioned sense) has done far more than Israel’s settlements to provoke violent Muslim anti-Americanism.

In particular, I was taken to task by Andrew Exum—the “Abu Muqawama” blogger at the Center for a New American Security—for allegedly failing to watch my share of racy Arabic-language music videos, such as those by Lebanese beauty queen and pop star Haifa Wehbe. “With music videos like this one,” writes Mr. Exum, “Stephens can hardly argue that Lady Gaga is the one importing sexual provocation into the Arabic-speaking world and stirring things up, can he?”

So let me tell you about that Playboy, and how I came to purchase it.

In the spring of 2007 I wrote a series of columns from Indonesia about the battle lines then emerging between religious radicals and moderates in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. I profiled Abdurrahman Wahid, then the former (now late) president of Indonesia and a champion of his country’s tolerant religious traditions. I visited a remote Sumatran village that had expelled an itinerant Islamic preacher for his militant Wahhabi teachings. I interviewed Habib Rizieq, head of the Front for the Defense of Islam, a vigilante group known for violently suppressing “un-Islamic” behavior.

I also spent a delightful evening in the company of Inul Daratista, the Indonesian equivalent of Shakira, who had been accused by a council of Muslim clerics of committing pornoaksi—or “porno action”—for gyrating a little excessively in one of her music videos. A million Indonesians had taken to the streets to denounce the video, and legislation was introduced in Indonesia’s parliament to ban pornoaksi, which could be defined as any female behavior that could arouse a sexual response in a man, such as the sight of a couple kissing in public or a woman wearing a backless dress.

One person I didn’t manage to interview was Erwin Arnada, the editor of the Indonesian edition of Playboy. I did, however, get hold of a copy of the magazine (the one now in my office): It contains not a single picture of a naked woman. The Playmate in the centerfold is clad in the kind of lingerie that would seem a bit old-fashioned in a Victoria’s Secret catalogue; a second photo essay in my magazine looks as if it belongs in a J. Crew ad.

Nevertheless, upon beginning publication in 2006 Mr. Arnada was almost immediately charged with violating Indonesia’s indecency laws. (He was ultimately acquitted.) His Jakarta offices were violently attacked by Mr. Rizieq’s goons, forcing the magazine to move to the predominantly Hindu island of Bali. “For Arnada,” wrote New York Times reporter Jane Perlez, “all the fuss represents fears about the intrusion of Western culture. ‘Why else do they keep shouting about Playboy?’ he asked.”

Mr. Arnada’s comment gets at the crux of the argument I made in my column, which is that it is liberalism itself—liberalism as democracy, as human rights, as freedom of conscience and expression, as artistic license, as social tolerance, as a philosophy with universal application—to which the radical Muslim mind chiefly objects, and to which it so often violently reacts. Are Israeli settlements also a provocation? Of course they are, as is Israel itself. Should Israel dismantle most or even all of its settlements? Sure, if in exchange it gets a genuine peace.

But the West will win no reprieve from the furies of the Muslim world by seeking to appease it in the coin of this or that Israeli withdrawal or concession. To do so would be as fruitless and wrong-headed as cancelling a performance of Mozart’s Idomeneo because it might offend radical Islamic sensibilities—though that’s precisely what a Berlin opera house did in September 2006 for fear of sparking a violent outburst of Muslim rage.

Fortunately, the West has better options for dealing with that rage than pressuring Israel. Though he doesn’t seem to realize it, Mr. Exum makes my point very nicely by noting the inroads that artists like Ms. Wehbe have made in much of her region. Liberalism, not least of the sexual kind, sells in the Muslim world: The first issue of Playboy Indonesia, tame as it was, sold out its entire print run of 100,000 copies. In Bahrain, efforts by Islamists in parliament to ban a performance by Wehbe failed on account of popular demand: As one Bahraini fan told the Lebanese Web site YaLibnan, “If certain people find it offensive, they shouldn’t go to the concert.” It’s hard to imagine a more liberal outlook than that.

There was a time when liberals believed that rock’n’roll would change the world. They were right, though not in the way most of them imagined. Instead, in places like communist Czechoslovakia—where Vaclav Havel took inspiration from the likes of Lou Reed—and today in the repressive lands of Islam, the sensual currents of Western life exert a constant and ineradicable attraction, even as they also provoke censorious and violent reactions.

If America wants to tilt the balance of Muslim sentiment in its favor, it needs to stand up for its principles, its liberties and its friends—Israel, Playboy and Lady Gaga included.

Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal

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Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304252704575155992763833532.html

A Second Big Bang In Geneva?

The Large Hadron Collider could unlock the secrets of genesis.

Champagne bottles were popped Tuesday in Geneva where the largest science machine ever built finally began to smash subatomic particles together. After 16 years—and an accident that crippled the machine a year and a half ago—the Large Hadron Collider successfully smashed two beams of protons at the astounding energy of 3.5 trillion electron volts apiece. This act produced temperatures not seen since the Big Bang occurred 13.7 billions years ago.

The LHC is colossal. It is a gigantic doughnut, 17 miles in circumference, in which two beams of protons will eventually create energies of 14 trillion electron volts. Yet by nature’s standards the LHC is a pea shooter. For billions of years the earth has been bathed in cosmic rays much more powerful than those created by the LHC.

Despite this great achievement, European taxpayers are asking if this 10 billion euro machine is a waste of money, particularly given the current financial crisis. These skeptics would do well to remember that the LHC could help us understand not only the instant of genesis, but will help unify the four fundamental forces that rule the universe. Each time one of these forces was deciphered it changed the course of human history.

When Sir Isaac Newton worked out the theory of the first force—gravity—in the 17th century, he created the mechanics that laid the groundwork for steam engines and the Industrial Revolution. The Machine Age unleashed humanity from the bondage of subsistence farming, lifting untold numbers from grinding poverty.

When Thomas Edison, James C. Maxwell and Michael Faraday helped to decipher and harness the second force—electromagnetism—it eventually gave us TV, radio, radar, computers and the Internet.

When Albert Einstein wrote down E=mc2, it helped to unlock the secret of the two nuclear forces (weak and strong), which unraveled the secret of the stars and unleashed nuclear power.

Today the LHC may have the potential to explain the origin of all four fundamental forces—gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. Physicists believe that at the beginning of time there was a single superforce which unified these fundamental forces. Finding it could be the crowning achievement in the history of science, ending 2,000 years of speculation since the Greeks first wondered what the world is made of. It could answer some of the deepest questions facing us, such as: What happened before the Big Bang? Are there parallel universes? Is time travel possible? And are there other dimensions?

In addition to helping us unlock the mysteries of the universe, the LHC may also create a new scientific elite. These scientists will likely spearhead new industries, creating jobs and perhaps significant wealth in Europe.

It’s sobering to remember that this could have happened in the U.S. Back in the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan pushed to create a Superconducting Supercollider just outside Dallas, Texas. This machine would have been three times larger than the LHC and would have maintained U.S. leadership in advanced science for at least a generation. Congress allotted $1 billion to dig the hole for the Supercollider. Then it got cold feet and cancelled the plans in 1993, spending another $1 billion to fill up the hole. U.S. high-energy physics was set back an entire generation and has never recovered. So today the Europeans can brag about being the world’s leader in advanced physics.

Remember that because of World War II, the cream of European science, perhaps no more than a few hundred people, fled Europe for America. They unleashed the greatest explosion in science the world has ever seen. These Europeans trained new generations of American scientists, people that went on to create radar, microwaves, nuclear power, computers, the Internet, the laser and the space program. They created a scientific establishment that is the envy of the world, a source of profound wealth, and a magnet for young scientists world-wide. U.S. technological superiority and all the high-tech wonders of today can, in some sense, be traced back to this exodus. But such leadership is not a given.

I extend my congratulations to the Europeans; the LHC is their well-earned prize. I only hope that U.S. policy makers are paying close attention to Geneva.

Mr. Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at City College of New York, is the author of “Physics of the Impossible” (Doubleday, 2008) and host of “Sci Fi Science: Physics of the Impossible,” on the Science Channel.

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Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304252704575155710695957900.html

Would the Founders Love ObamaCare?

The resistance to ObamaCare is about a lot more than the 10th Amendment.

The left-wing critics are right: The rage is not about health care. They are also right that similar complaints about big government were heard during the New Deal and the Great Society, and the sky didn’t fall.

But what if this time the sky is falling—on them.

What if after more than a century of growth in the national government, starting with the Progressive Era, the American people are starting to push back. Not just the tea partiers or the 13 state attorneys general seeking protection under the 10th Amendment and the Commerce Clause. But something bigger than that.

The Democratic left, its pundits and academics criticizing the legal challenges to ObamaCare seem to be arguing that their version of our political structure is too big to change.

That’s not true. The American people can and do change the nation’s collective mind on the ordering of our political system. The civil rights years of the 1960s is the most well-known modern example. (The idea that resistance to Mr. Obama’s health plan is rooted in racist resentment of equal rights is beyond the pale, even by current standards of political punditry.)

Powerful political forces suddenly seem to be in motion across the U.S. What they have in common is anxiety over what government has become in the first decade of the 21st century.

The tea party movement is getting the most attention because it is the most vulnerable to the standard tool kit of mockery and ridicule. It is more difficult to mock the legitimacy of Scott Brown’s overthrow of the Kennedy legacy, the election results in Virginia and New Jersey, an economic discomfort that is both generalized and specific to the disintegration of state and federal fiscs, and indeed the array of state attorneys general who filed a constitutional complaint against the new health-care law. What’s going on may be getting past the reach of mere mockery.

Constitutional professors quoted in the press and across the Web explain that much about the federal government’s modern authority is “settled” law. Even so, many of these legal commentators are quite close to arguing that the national government’s economic and political powers are now limitless and unfettered. I wonder if Justice Kennedy believes that.

Or as David Kopel asked on the Volokh Conspiracy blog: “Is the tax power infinite?”

The signing of the Constitution, which included states

In a country that holds elections, that question is both legal and political. The political issue rumbling toward both the Supreme Court and the electorate is whether Washington’s size and power has finally grown beyond the comfort zone of the American people. That is what lies beneath the chatter about federalism and the 10th Amendment.

Liberals will argue that government today is doing good. But government now is also unprecedentedly large and unprecedentedly expensive. Even if every challenge to ObamaCare loses in court, these anxieties will last and keep coming back to the same question: Does the Democratic left think the national government’s powers are infinite?

No one in the Obama White House, asked that in public on Sunday morning, would simply say yes, no matter that the evidence of this government’s actions the past year indicate they do. In his “Today Show” interview this week, Mr. Obama with his characteristic empathy acknowledged there are “folks who have legitimate concerns . . . that the federal government may be taking on too much.”

My reading of the American public is that they have moved past “concerns.” Somewhere inside the programmatic details of ObamaCare and the methods that the president, Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Reid used to pass it, something went terribly wrong. Just as something has gone terribly wrong inside the governments of states like California, New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Massachusetts.

The 10th Amendment tumult does not mean anyone is going to secede. It doesn’t mean “nullification” is coming back. We are not going to refight the Civil War or the Voting Rights Act. Richard Russell isn’t rising from his Georgia grave.

It means that the current edition of the Democratic Party has disconnected itself from the average American’s sense of political modesty. The party’s members and theorists now defend expanding government authority with the same arrogance that brought Progressive Era reforms down upon untethered industrial interests.

In such times, this country has an honored tradition of changing direction. That time may be arriving.

Faced with corporate writedowns in response to the reality of Congress’s new health plan, an apoplectic Congressman Henry Waxman commanded his economic vassals to appear before him in Washington.

Faced with a challenge to his vision last week, President Obama laughingly replied to these people: “Go for it.”

They will.

As to the condescension and sniffing left-wing elitism this opposition seems to bring forth from Manhattan media castles, one must say it does recall another, earlier ancien regime.

Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal

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Full article and photo: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304252704575156031760261858.html

Trouble by the Spoonful

The world’s favorite sweetener was once at the heart of the slave trade.

Your Java Chip Frappucino at Starbucks will never taste quite the same after you’ve read Elizabeth Abbott’s “Sugar,” a sprawling, often fascinating, sometimes annoying history of the world’s favorite sweetener. If you always wanted to know what kind of dessert chefs served to medieval kings, what slaves on Barbadian plantations ate for dinner, how Hershey’s chocolate was invented, or how a wild plant from the Far East changed the world’s eating habits and the Western economy, Ms. Abbott is ready to tell you (and tell you and tell you). “Sugar” is epic in ambition and briskly written, interweaving the invention of the global sugar industry with its far-reaching effect on New World slavery, the environment and, in Ms. Abbott’s words, “the addiction of millions of people to sweetness and to unhealthy, disease-causing diets.”

Sugar was unknown to ancient Europeans. When the Greeks and Romans sweetened their feasts, it was with honey. “The noble cane,” as it was once called, was first domesticated in New Guinea. By the late centuries B.C. it was known in India, and from there it traveled to the Middle East, where Europeans discovered it during the Crusades. In 13th-century England it was so precious that when King Henry III ordered three pounds of it for the royal kitchens, he added, “if so much is to be had.”

Everywhere man’s encounter with sugar was love at first sight. In wealthy Renaissance households, it was used as a medicine, a spice, a decoration and a preservative, and of course as a food in its own right. Best of all, it enhanced the flavor of meals and drinks without altering their essential tastes. Demand for sugar climbed dramatically with the popularization of tea, coffee and chocolate in the 17th century. Suddenly naturally bitter drinks became sweet and delectable. Aristocratic diners ate from sugar dishes and drank from sugar glasses, sliced their bonbons with sugar knives, and even lit their dining rooms with sugar candles. In time, Ms. Abbott explains, sugar became “proletarianized,” becoming “the crutch and delight of toiling millions” in the form of icing on wedding cakes, chocolate Easter bunnies, candy canes and a multitude of other tooth-rotting delicacies.

Though there is much to savor in “Sugar,” it is not without flaws, some trivial, others less so. Ms. Abbott’s fact-gathering is sometimes sloppy. At one point she says that in 18th-century England sugar sold for about sixpence per pound, “the price of a postage stamp” at the time. In fact, stamps were not introduced until the 1840s. She claims that “when the Civil War ended in 1865, one-fifth of military-age white men and hundreds of black soldiers were dead.” Not exactly. Of the three million men who served in the Union and Confederate armies, 20% died during the war (perhaps 4% of the eligible male population), including 36,000 African-American soldiers.

Ms. Abbott also has a penchant for strained oracular utterances. She mars her generally excellent account of the sugar-related slave trade, for instance, by claiming that its “stranglehold monopoly over sub-Saharan external commerce stifled Africa’s economic development . . . stymieing infrastructural or institutional developments that might otherwise have occurred,” including “manufacturing and agriculture [that] failed to develop as they surely would have.” This is well-meaning nonsense. Slaves were exported almost exclusively from the coastal regions of West Africa. Had the slave trade never existed, it is still not likely that Africa would today resemble Western Europe.

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Sugar: A Bittersweet History

By Elizabeth Abbott
Overlook, 453 pages, $29.95

That said, the foul relationship between sugar and slavery did create the trans-Atlantic slave trade, wrecked the lives of millions of Africans, and brought fabulous wealth to white planters and absentee investors. “Sugar slavery’s most insidious creation was the racialism that justified enslaving Africans and forcing them into the cane fields,” Ms. Abbott accurately writes. Black slaves, in effect, became “sugar machines.”

Sugar was an economic pillar of the British Empire, part of the triangular trade by which British ships carried trade goods to Africa; slaves from Africa to the West Indies; and sugar, rum and molasses from the Indies back to England. According to Ms. Abbott, field slaves could expect to survive only seven years on average; they died, remarked one 19th-century observer, like “over-driven horses.” Cultivating cane in the Caribbean sun was unimaginably grueling. Failure to meet an hourly work quota might mean a flogging on the spot. “The music of the negro is the whip,” remarked one Martinique planter.

If sugar was “literally polluted with slaves’ blood,” as Ms. Abbott arrestingly puts it, the horrors of slavery also aroused humanitarians and jump-started the abolition movement in 18th-century England. Abolitionists calculated that if every family using five pounds of sugar and rum per week refused to consume slave-grown sugar, every 21 months they would save one African from enslavement and death. Cynics scoffed. But by the 1790s, 300,000 English were abstaining from West Indian sugar, while grocers and importers sought new sources of “free sugar” in East Asia. Parliament voted to abolish slavery in Britain in 1807 and then in the West Indies in the 1830s. These victories, in turn, inspired abolitionists in the U.S.

Oh, about Hershey’s chocolate. At the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Milton Snavely Hershey, a Pennsylvania Mennonite, was amazed to see a contraption that roasted, hulled and ground up chocolate beans into a liquid so that, when blended with sugar and other ingredients, it could be poured into molds and hardened into bars. Hershey bought the equipment on the spot and hurried home to his farm in Lancaster County, where he processed milk from his herd of Holsteins until it was slightly sour—”to the horror of European connoisseurs,” Ms. Abbott says—then blended it with the output from his new machine. Voila! North America’s first milk chocolate.

Mr. Bordewich is the author of “Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America.”

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Full article and photo: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704896104575140631370218958.html

Iran Sanctions Are Failing. What’s Next?

Has the U.S. abandoned plans to target the Iranian regime’s access to banking and credit and to isolate Iranian air and shipping transport? While recent reports to that effect have been strenuously denied by the administration, it has become clear that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s promise of “crippling sanctions” and President Barack Obama’s “aggressive” penalties are little more than talk. The administration simply cannot persuade a critical mass of nations to join with it.

At this juncture, there are blunt questions that need to be asked. Can sanctions even work? Can we live with a nuclear Iran? Is military action inevitable? But first, some foreign policy forensics are in order.

Candidate Obama told us engagement would be his byword, and to give him credit, he proffered a generous, open hand to Tehran. If his hand remained outstretched a little too long, he was secure in the knowledge that the world rarely criticizes an American president who is willing to make sacrifices for peace (especially if those sacrifices are measured in terms of American national security). But Mr. Obama was more than committed to dialogue with Iran: He was unwilling to take no for an answer.

How else to explain Mr. Obama’s lack of interest in the Iranian people’s democratic protests against the regime. Or his seeming indifference to Tehran’s failure to meet repeated international deadlines to respond to an offer endorsed by all five permanent U.N. Security Council members (and Germany) to allow Iran to enrich uranium in Russia, receiving back enriched fuel rods that do not lend themselves to weapons production. One might have hoped the administration was using that time to build international consensus for a plan B. But apparently that’s not the case.

After months of begging, China will agree only to discuss the possibility of a fourth U.N. Security Council resolution punishing Tehran’s noncompliance with its nonproliferation commitments. But along with Russia, it has already ruled out any measures to target the regime or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Even nonpermanent U.N. Security Council members Japan, Brazil and Turkey have reportedly rebuffed the administration requests to support tougher sanctions.

Meanwhile, Tehran continues to work toward a nuclear weapon, with the International Atomic Energy Agency now looking for two new nuclear sites in the Islamic Republic. Any talk of a tidal wave of ad hoc sanctions among various like-minded Western nations has fallen by the wayside. True, companies like Royal Dutch Shell, major oil trader Vitol and others have decided to take a pass on new deals with Iran. Others are less cautious.

In the past few weeks, among other reported business with Iran, Turkey announced it was mulling a $5.5 billion investment in Iran’s natural-gas sector. Iran and Pakistan signed a deal paving the way for the construction of a major pipeline. And a unit of China National Petroleum inked a $143 million contract with Iran’s state-run North Drilling Company to deliver equipment for NDC’s Persian Gulf oil fields.

Sanctions increasingly appear to be a fading hope. Thus we are left with a stark alternative: Either Iran gets a nuclear weapon and we manage the risk, or someone acts to eliminate the threat.

Unofficial Washington has long been discussing options for containment of a nuclear Iran. Setting aside the viability of containment (I have my doubts), surely these challenges must be apparent to some on the Obama team. But you’d never know it from administration officials, who continue to privately profess faith in the (weak) sanctions route. Badgered by those in the region most directly menaced by a nuclear Iran, administration officials have reportedly refused to engage in discussion of possible next steps.

The implications of this ostrich-like behavior are grave. Some Gulf states (including, some say, Qatar, which hosts American forces and equipment) have begun to openly propitiate the Tehran regime, anticipating its regional dominance once it is armed with nuclear weapons. Others, not reassured by Clinton drop-bys and ineffectual back-patting, have begun to explore their own nuclear option. Repeated rumors that Saudi Arabia is negotiating to buy an off-the-shelf Pakistani nuclear weapon should not be ignored.

What of Israel? The mess of U.S.-Israel relations has ironically only bolstered the fears of Arab governments that the current U.S. administration is a feckless ally. If the U.S. won’t stand by Israel, by whom will it stand? Conversely, our adversaries view both the distancing from Israel and the debacle of Iran policy as evidence of American retreat. All the ingredients of a regional powder keg are in place.

Finally, there is the military option. Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu left Washington last week befuddled by Mr. Obama’s intentions on Iran. Should Israel decide to attack Iran, the shock waves will not leave the U.S. unscathed. Of course, Mr. Obama could decide that we must take action. But no one, Iran included, believes he will take action.

And so, as the failure of Mr. Obama’s Iran policy becomes manifest to all but the president, we drift toward war. The only questions remaining, one Washington politico tells me, are who starts it, and how it ends.

Ms. Pletka is vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

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Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB20001424052748704094104575144512310062970.html

Where the Tea Partiers Should Go From Here

Five commitments that could make a difference this fall.

Democrats are taking aim at the tea party movement. In a recent fund-raising email, the Democratic National Committee called those who attend tea party events “narrow minded . . . nut jobs” and “vile two-bit wing-nuts.” Democratic leaders routinely denigrate tea party participants and President Barack Obama dismisses them as an extremist “strain [that] has existed in politics for a long time.”

But that’s not true. Democrats are attacking the tea party movement because it is a new force that’s bringing millions of here-to-fore unengaged Democrats, independents and Republicans into the political arena. If there’s something a ruling party doesn’t like, it’s a new political player converting spectators into participants.

The Democrats are particularly concerned because the No. 1 target of the tea partiers—ObamaCare—is not rising in public opinion polls. It remains as unpopular as before it was jammed through Congress.

The president’s popularity briefly increased after health-care reform passed but has since fallen back below 50%. Also, the generic ballot, a measure of support for each party, indicates that the GOP could win a large congressional victory this fall.

The White House’s promised campaign to sell its health-care reforms is unlikely to pay off. Mr. Obama delivered 58 speeches on health care in the 51 weeks leading up to Congress’s passage of ObamaCare and was still unable to halt a slide in public opinion against his reforms. What new can he say in the 31 weeks before Election Day?

The president will speak against a background of bad news about health-care reform. For example, already 3,500 companies are considering dropping or reducing the drug coverage they offer hundreds of thousands of retirees because ObamaCare changes the tax status of those benefits.

If insurance premiums now rise and states push back against ObamaCare’s expensive Medicaid expansion, Mr. Obama could be speaking into a fierce wind.

To maintain their influence, tea partiers will have to maintain their current energy and concern over health care and federal spending.

I suggest that to do that tea partiers design a citizen’s pledge and then ask friends and neighbors to sign it with them. The pledge should make five concrete commitments.

The first would be to educate themselves about the key issues of health care, spending, deficits and the economy. The second commitment would be to ascertain with certainty where their candidates for the U.S. Senate and House stand on these issues.

The third would be for each signatory to agree that they will register and then vote this fall for candidates they personally believe best represent their views on these issues.

Such a pledge would also draw on the tea party movement’s record of spontaneous growth with a fourth commitment that each signatory make a manageable list of 10 to 25 people whom they would individually approach to take the pledge.

The fifth and final commitment would be that each signatory personally see that each of their recruits register and vote.

These steps would build on the natural inclination of tea party groups to use social networking tools and draw on the energy of people fresh to politics looking for ways to affect the country’s direction.

But tea partiers will have to do more than surf discontent with the Obama administration’s policies. They will also have to coalesce around a positive agenda.

Some political leaders, like Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), have offered good ideas (see his “Roadmap for America’s Future”). Good ideas are also being generated by conservative think tanks, like the Heritage Foundation with its new publication, “The Patriot’s Guide: What You Can Do for Your Country.” This can be downloaded from Heritage.org.

Politicians who hope to appeal to tea partiers must offer solutions that are heartfelt and well thought out. Tea party members may be new to politics, but they have a keen instinct for what’s authentic. Attempts to pander will fall flat.

The tea party movement must also distance itself from the “birthers” who insist Mr. Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., the 9/11 deniers, and other conspiracy fans who make wild comments the media will seize on to undermine the movement’s credibility.

The unhinged quality of the White House and the DNC attacks show that they understand how much the tea party movement can affect this year’s elections. Now is the time for the movement to ensure its energy—and influence—stay high.

Mr. Rove, the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, is the author of “Courage and Consequence” (Threshold Editions, 2010).

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