Saturday, May 28, 2011

Rubinstein Revisited

(The recordings on this video correspond to some of the recordings discussed below.)

Arthur Rubinstein (I include the “h” in his first name as he preferred) was easily the most beloved pianist of the 20th Century. His concerts regularly sold out, his recordings consistently sold well, and he seldom got a bad review. Rubinstein’s career had such endurance that by the time he retired, he had crossed over from the limited niche of Classical music and was known to the general public. (He did this, by the way, without straying from the Classical and Romantic repertoire that he loved, and continued to make known his distaste for popular music – the Beatles in particular.) Rubinstein’s recordings of much of the core repertoire, particularly Chopin and Brahms, became the standard for how those works are played and will be with us for many decades.

Some of the hallmarks of Rubinstein’s best playing – the gorgeous tone, technique that was solid but never for show, healthy temperament - were so obvious that much else that distinguished the pianist from many of his contemporaries was missed. It was not Rubinstein’s style to offer the high-wire excitement of a Horowitz, the dynamic contrasts of a Hofmann, or the gaunt angularity of a Serkin. At the tail end of the “Golden-Age” of piano playing, Rubinstein’s straightforward, uncluttered performances must have come as a splash of cold water across the face of the cognoscenti. It’s not for nothing that Paderewski, who Rubinstein considered the epitome of the “bad” 19th Century school, much preferred the young Horowitz. (Paderewski described Horowitz as “self-disciplined, and above all, he has rhythm and tone…Without any doubt, he is the most convincing of the younger pianists.”) Rachmaninoff, whose own style of playing was straighter than Paderewski’s but still rooted in an earlier tradition, considered Horowitz his heir. If Rachmaninoff ever had any opinion on Rubinstein, aside from his advice to his Polish-colleague to stop playing “dirty modern music” like Stravinsky’s Petrouchka, I have yet to see it.

I never heard Rubinstein in person. I was only nine years old when he retired. I first heard AR's playing in 1983, when I found an old 78RPM recording of Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata in my grandmother's basement (it was the 1946 recording, in retrospect a pretty slapdash performance - despite the surface thrills). Since that time, I’ve come to know his playing much better.

Several times, I’ve heard young pianists comment to the effect that they didn’t understand why Rubinstein was so popular with the older generation of music lovers. The recordings they’d heard (which would naturally be the most easily available) sounded cautious or even stodgy.

The historical view of Rubinstein as pianist and musician has become somewhat distorted. It’s not easy to get a grasp of the totality of Rubinstein’s career. It may be impossible, since there’s no one alive today who would remember his earliest performances. Recordings give a very incomplete picture: Rubinstein’s very first recording, made in 1910 when he was 23, has never been issued on LP or CD and is nearly impossible to find. (I have never heard it, but have been told that all one can hear through the poor sonics is rather careless, sloppy playing.) His next recording wasn’t made until 1928 when he was over 40 - the same age Evgeny Kissin is at this writing. From that point on, Rubinstein recorded prolifically until he was 89 – at one point he was the world’s most recorded Classical pianist. But he was loath to make live recordings, and the few he made reveal that he played differently in concert than in the studio. RCA (now Sony) reissued Rubinstein's stereo studio recordings several times - going back to the early CD era, while the most of the mono recordings have been issued only once - and many are hard to find. Problem is, most of the stereo recordings capture the final phase of Rubinstein's long career - and it's impossible to have a balanced view of his playing without knowing more of his output. It would be like judging Toscanini's conducting based only on his last years at NBC, or Horowitz solely on his Deutsche Grammophon recordings.

About ten years ago, I bought RCA’s mammoth boxed set of Rubinstein’s complete recordings with that label – over 106 hours of recorded music covering a period from 1928 to 1976. Many of these performances were unfamiliar to me. But it was fascinating to follow the evolution of his playing from middle to old age. Rubinstein’s recording career coincided with a quantum leap in recording technology, starting in the earliest years of electrical recording (that is, recording with a microphone instead of a horn) during the 78RPM era, to the LP, and stereophonic sound. (By time digital recording came into common use, Rubinstein had retired – and early digital recordings seldom sounded very good anyway.) Every time recording technology improved, Rubinstein would rerecord his core repertoire – so we often have at least three recordings of the same works.

There were basically three phases of Rubinstein's recording career:

* 1928-1946: Impetuous playing, full of brio, but sometimes uncontrolled, very much a virtuoso but sometimes gets carried away, more freedom and imagination than in later years.
* 1947-1962: greater maturity, still hot blooded but starting to mellow, most secure technically, increasing understanding of musical structure.
* 1963-1976: maturity giving way to stodginess, control of pianissimo failing, best in contemplative repertoire like late Brahms.

In short, if you haven’t heard recordings drawn from Rubinstein’s early and middle periods, you haven’t heard Rubinstein. Examples of the evolution in Rubinstein’s playing can be found in the many works he recorded several times. One that comes to mind for me is Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto, which Rubinstein recorded in 1929, 1952, 1958, and 1971. (There are other, unauthorized recordings from broadcasts and the like, but I am only including the authorized versions here since they presumably reflect Rubinstein’s wishes.) The 1929 version is a hell-for-leather performance that runs contrary to “traditional” Brahms, and quite marred by technical lapses and over-pedaling. But wrong notes were inevitable in the days before tape editing, so those can be forgiven, and Rubinstein may have been falling back on his youthful habit of leaning on the pedal to avoid exposing cheated passagework. The question is: Did Rubinstein not practice enough for this recording? Or was he determined to present his conception of the work no matter what the obstacles and blemishes? I am inclined to believe the latter. It should be noted that Rubinstein’s tempos in this performance are closer to Brahms’ metronome markings than any other recording I’ve heard.

The 1952 and 1958 are very similar in approach, although the stereophonic sound of the latter makes it preferable. These are still rather impetuous performances, not as extreme in tempo as the 1929 version, but outgoing. The pianist often stated that since Brahms was alive until Rubinstein was ten years old, he thought of him as a living composer instead of an old master. This is not the tired, grey bearded Brahms, but a vigorous, temperamental, even lusty conception.

The last version, with Ormandy, is the weakest. His conception of the piece had changed dramatically in the intervening years, and he seems to have traded one extreme for the other. The octogenarian pianist’s tempos are slow here, phrasing is flabby, then opening flourish of the Scherzo is played in an almost dainty fashion, and Rubinstein seems overwhelmed by the Philadelphians. A pseudo-reverential quality drains the spontaneity and passion that marked his earlier recordings. One wonders if Rubinstein was thinking of this recording when he stated in his autobiography that the first versions he recorded inevitably remained the best.

Much the same could be said for Rubinstein’s Chopin as for his Brahms – but there is a twist since Chopin wrote across more solo piano genres than Brahms.

Rubinstein recorded the bulk of Chopin’s solo works three times (roughly: in the 1930s, late ‘40s/early ‘50s, and in the stereo era starting in 1958). There are exceptions to this pattern: the Ballades were recorded only once, as were the Op. 28 Preludes and the Third Sonata – and some assorted pieces were recorded more than three times.

As has been noted by many, Rubinstein never recorded the Op. 10 & 25 Etudes in the studio (an attempt in the late 1960s was abandoned after one session). But he did record the Trois Nouvelles Etudes twice – the early stereo version from 1958 is a bit more alert than the 1962 remake.

Rubinstein’s one traversal of the Preludes, from 1946, is a perfunctory rendition and not among his best efforts in any composer’s work.

I heartily endorse his 1950s Chopin Polonaises which I reviewed under the headline "The Best Polonaises – EVER!". (That headline earned me a good amount of hate-mail, particularly from Pollini fans. The headline was a parody of a famous line from Mommie Dearest.) I have yet to hear a set of Polonaises that combines the fire, swagger, and gravitas of this idiom better than this cycle. The same for his 1949 Scherzos – although the superior sound in the 1959 Scherzos compensates for a slight falling off in tempos.

But in the Nocturnes and Mazurkas, I recommend the 1930s set, which have many moments of magic missing from the later sets. Why is this? For one thing, some of these pieces were probably new to him. Rubinstein played only a small selection of Nocturnes and Mazurkas in concert, and the idea of recording a complete set of them was unusual in the 1930s and fairly daring on Rubinstein’s and HMV’s part. (Schnabel’s set of Beethoven Sonatas had to be financed in advance via subscriptions.) The freshness in this set is palpable. But by the 1960s, Rubinstein was very much aware that he was the "elder statesman" of Chopin; he knew this would be his last cycle of Chopin's music, and he was thinking of "posterity." As such, his last set of Mazurkas was over-thought and rather stiff – “stripped of pungency” in the words of David Dubal. There's also the problem - likely caused by his failing hearing – that Rubinstein consistently played too loudly in the last decade of his career. That especially marred his last version of the Nocturnes.

Indeed, of Rubinstein’s later Chopin recordings, I can only recommend one without reservations: His 1961 recording of the famous Funeral March Sonata is head and shoulders above his 1946 version. There is a relaxed kind of virtuosity here, and a keener grasp of the totality of the piece than in 1946. The B minor Sonata (his only recording of the piece, made over a two year period) is not on the same exalted level. Rubinstein seems to have had a troubled relationship with the B minor sonata, and legend has it he threw a tape of a concert version of this piece into his fireplace.

There is a pattern to be discerned above in the Brahms and Chopin examples above, and it can also be confirmed by listening to Rubinstein’s recordings of other works like Franck’s Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue or any of his concerto recordings: His understanding of large scale works improved as he aged, while his recordings of shorter works tended to lose imagination with time.

(I do not endorse the notion, claimed by some, that Rubinstein’s last producer, Max Wilcox, was responsible for the character of Rubinstein’s later recordings. There are plenty of instances in the later years, such as the all-French album or the Chamber music recordings, where Rubinstein is clearly “on.” In any case, recordings were never issued during Rubinstein’s lifetime without his consent, and one can presume that they met his standards. The idea of Wilcox pressuring Rubinstein into playing in a certain way, or tricking the pianist into releasing something not to his standards, is at once laughable and defamatory.)

Despite the changes in his performances, positive and negative, that came with age and maturity, Rubinstein's interpretations were always very normal, in the sense that they didn’t call attention to themselves. In the last half of the 20th Century, there were growing numbers of pianists who offered straight interpretations of the standard repertoire (Ashkenazy was the king of normalcy, IMO). But when Rubinstein was starting out, this kind of straightforward, unfussy approach was somewhat new. The notion that Glenn Gould put forth, that one shouldn’t perform a work unless one consciously intended to perform it differently, was anathema to Rubinstein’s philosophy. As Daniel Barenboim said, Rubinstein put all of his musical ideas through a “strainer of naturalness” and if an idea didn’t pass through that strainer, Rubinstein rejected it. His early Chopin performances put off the old-schoolers, who expected a more personalized approach. Rubinstein once said that his masculine approach to Chopin, performed without the “swan dive into the keyboard” angered many critics – “they said my Chopin was ‘cold’”. But there were pianists before Rubinstein who rejected swan diving, including Hofmann and Rachmaninoff.

Although Rubinstein’s never recorded the complete Beethoven Sonatas or Mozart Concertos, his repertoire was vast stylistically – encompassing Bach to Szymanowski. And he seemed to play so much of it remarkably well, in the same suave, warm, uncluttered way his public came to expect. It’s no surprise that the concert going public, who felt fear/awe at Horowitz and respected Arrau, considered Rubinstein to be their “beloved Artur.”

It may be a false sense of causation by way of correlation on my part, but I feel that Rubinstein’s knowledge of various human cultures helped him musically. Born in Poland, he studied in Berlin and spent his adult years living in London, France, and the United States. He traveled so widely that he became fluent in eight languages. (He once stated that he would play anywhere except Tibet, because it was too high, or Germany, because it was too low. Contrary to popular belief, he was not referring to the Holocaust in his condemnation of Germany, but to that nation’s behavior during World War I. I have sometimes wondered if Rubinstein’s boycott of Germany is an underlying reason why some have never accepted him as a Beethoven interpreter – I can’t find a musical justification for the dismissal of some of his Beethoven.) It seems to me, also, that Rubinstein was able to play an uncommonly large swath of repertoire with a high degree of authenticity. Although it can fairly be pointed out that Rubinstein sometimes glossed over details - particularly with regard to dynamic markings - everything he played had a clear, high-level approach. Neither his German, French, nor Spanish repertoire was ever played with a Polish accent. His Chopin, appropriately, was. Yet even in his countryman’s music, he was more urbane and cosmopolitan than, say, Witold Małcużyński.

Now, following an era when normalcy gave way to stultification, it seems like interpretations are moving back into a more personalized approach - witness the explosion of pianists who play transcriptions (their own and others) and the very individualistic performances by pianists such as Lang Lang, Denis Matsuev, Alice Sara Ott, and others. But without the tradition of 19th Century performance practice as a foundation, many of these youngsters flounder in their attempts at individuality. Rubinstein was able to balance his individuality (that tone alone makes him instantly identifiable) and his romantic temperament with his innate classicism – note the small “r” and small “c”.

Arthur Rubinstein proved that Classicism and Romanticism, upper or lower case, are not opposing virtues.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Memorial Day - to honor those who gave their lives

Two decades ago, the phrase "card carrying member of the ACLU" was used to smear political candidates as soft, liberal, and un-American. I've always found it ironic that one veteran who served honorably, George H. W. Bush, used this smear to impugn the patriotism of another veteran who also served honorably, Michael Dukakis.

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to South Euclid Mayor Georgine Welo urging that a blatantly un-Constitutional ordinance banning candidates for office from marching in the Memorial Day parade be rescinded. This ordinance does not apply to incumbents and is hypocritical.

Let us remember the reason for Memorial Day: It is to honor those who died in service to our country. Memorial Day is not about barbecues, baseball games, or political aggrandizing. It is about sacrifice. But we also live in a country that was founded on the principle of free speech and an open political system, and if incumbent office holders want to march in a parade, then their opponents should be allowed. It must be pointed out: political groups - including the Cleveland Tea Party - have marched in South Euclid's Memorial Day parades before.

Let all the candidates march, or none at all - including incumbents (unless they are marching as veterans and not office holders).


UPDATE: Political candidates will be allowed to march in the parade.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Oakwood Commons – Final Post

This will be my final post on the situation at the former Oakwood Club. I began posting on this issue in January. You can review my posts here.

In summary, at first I was reactively opposed to any development at the former Oakwood Club. I thought the land should be a park. At that time, I did not know the full history there, including years of attempts by the owners to sell it, the inability of a local group to raise funds to purchase the land, the unwillingness of local municipalities or the Metroparks system to purchase it. One can call my initial response idealistic, or one can call it uninformed and naïve – one could even call it both!

Over time, as I studied the issue, I pondered several scenarios, including more housing (not likely in the short term, but possible in the longer term – disastrous for our area in any case), retail, non-retail commercial, senior housing, or a combination of the above. It seemed to me that a combination of retail and senior housing is, if not the best, then the least bad use of this land. Leaving it unused (as it is not accessible to non-Club members) in an unacceptable scenario.

I have already stated elsewhere that I am somewhat skeptical of putting more retail in an area with a declining population. Both sides of this debate have legitimate arguments. It’s certainly true the some existing retail might be harmed by the construction of this center. Niche retailers like Big Fun would probably be unaffected, but chain retailers like those at Severance might face some stiff competition. To those who oppose development on these grounds I say: competition is the American way, deal with it. I also find it interesting that there has been nary an objection to First-Interstate’s proposed use of the Cleveland Heights portion of the land, which is slated for mixed use senior housing/assisted living. The CH portion of the land is considerably larger than the SE portion. It gives the lie to those who state their opposition on environmental grounds.

I’m sure many who remember South Euclid and the surrounding area in the 1970s would love to return the area to the way it was back then: Whigam’s farm on Anderson Road, Connor’s Ice cream up Mayfield Road in Lyndhurst. But there was a dark side to our area then, which those with rose-tinted glasses have forgotten, like the time an African-American family in Lyndhurst was harassed to the point that they left the area.

Sadly, those opposed to this project have never tried to engage the developer in a constructive manner. Instead, they have made repeated attempts to demonize the developer, as they trotted out the same rumors and talking points and repeated them ad nauseum – on their own Facebook page, in the Sun Newspapers, and in the Heights Observer. As a result, they have found themselves described as a “somewhat fringe” group by the developer and without leverage with the city of South Euclid.

In March, Susan Miller contacted me to try and convince me to spearhead the push for a Community Benefits Agreement with First Interstate. CBAs are generally accomplished between a developer and those opposed to development – so I thought it was a bit strange that Ms. Miller had contacted me since I had already spoken in favor of Oakwood. She and other members of the Citizens for Oakwood group had burned their bridges to South Euclid and First Interstate (not that they had any to the latter), so it was obvious that Ms. Miller was feeling me out to see if I would do their bidding. (Disclosure: I met Ms. Miller when, in a moment of frustration with the foot-dragging of the Obama administration on several issues, I flirted with the Green Party in October of 2010. Looking back, I can only be baffled as to what I was thinking. Reactive decisions made in frustration are seldom the right ones.)

As stated above, there are legitimate arguments on both sides of this issue – actually, all sides as there are more than two sides here. But the bottom line for me is that I support private property rights. The right to own land and do what you want with it (subject to reasonable regulatory restrictions) is a hallmark of America’s economic system. That goes for a business person’s land as well as a private person’s land. To override that right requires, in my opinion, overwhelming evidence of harm to the community at large. The arguments of those in opposition to Oakwood Commons did not meet that burden. Fact is, at this point, the only way to guarantee that Oakwood would become a park would be for South Euclid and Cleveland Heights to both invoke eminent domain on the land – a move which neither city can afford, and which would almost certainly be defeated in court.

Emilie DiFranco of South Euclid Oversight has suggested putting the question of rezoning to a popular vote, and I would support that, with several caveats, including: any vote on rezoning the South Euclid portion of the land would be voted on by South Euclid residents only (Emilie told me she agrees with that); any ballot referendum must be worded in a neutral manner (no WHEREAS verbiage about parkland and the evils of big box retail) – accordingly, the verbiage must be clear about choices: residential and commercial, period.

As I stated before, this will be my final post on this matter. This blog was established as a place to post my reflections on culture (particularly music), politics, and life. The posts on Oakwood were exceptions to that, and what I have to show for it are anonymous comments that ran the gamut from irrational to threatening. Those comments, which I declined to publish, came from people on both sides of the issue but the more harassing ones were from those opposed to Oakwood Commons.

The time has come for me to refocus my blog along the parameters in which it was initially envisioned. Accordingly, my next post will be about pianist Arthur Rubinstein.

Letter to Coucilman Romeo

Dear Councilman Romeo:

As a citizen of South Euclid and your ward, I am writing to express my opinion in favor of rezoning the South Euclid portion of the former Oakwood Club.

When the sale of the former Oakwood club was announced, I was opposed to rezoning and published a blog post to that effect. After researching the issue in depth, I came to realize that a refusal to rezone could lead to several alternatives – all of which would be devastating to South Euclid. You are welcome to review my blog posts here:

Many of those opposed to rezoning at Oakwood have cited this as a decision that should be made regionally. The issue of regionalism has been a hot topic in Cuyahoga County for several years. While I favor regionalism in terms of smaller communities collaborating to save costs on things like rubbish collection and recycling, opponents of rezoning at Oakwood are using regionalism as an excuse for a larger suburb to exert undue influence upon a smaller one. It’s no coincidence that the majority of those opposed to rezoning hail from Cleveland Heights – indeed the primary driver of the opposition is the Severance Neighborhood Association, in collaboration with Heights businesses.

One of the factors that led me to support rezoning at Oakwood is that First Interstate has been very above board in their statements to the media and on the Oakwood Commons facebook page (to the extent of leaving comments from those opposed to rezoning on the page) while the anti-rezoning group has made many unsubstantiated claims, repeated them ad-infinitum, and censored their page – deleting many comments which do not agree with their agenda.

Basically, the issue of rezoning comes down to the best use for the community as a whole, as opposed to the needs of the few who would be negatively affected by rezoning. It is certainly understandable that those who live on streets bordering the old Oakwood Club would not want the area to change. But efforts to sell the Club have been common knowledge since the 1990s, so they should not be surprised or outraged that this is happening. Many of those opposed, either deliberately or through a form of collective delusion, refuse to comprehend that denying First Interstate’s zoning request does not mean the area will magically become a park. Instead, it will remain an unused empty space and eventually, the site of more housing – the LAST thing this area needs.

I also see the Oakwood Commons project in the larger context of the great things that are happening in University Circle and Gordon Square, which are helping to bring population back to the urban/inner-ring area. These efforts are vital if we are to combat exurban sprawl, which is the driving factor of fossil fuel consumption in America - a point that seems to be lost on those who claim to be concerned about the environment.

Many of those opposed have also stated that they do not oppose development per se, they just oppose development at Oakwood. The problem with that line of thinking is that developers wishing to invest in an area will look to a municipality’s history in dealing with business. They are far less likely to invest in a city which denies rezoning requests or engages in arbitrary and needless over regulation. They are far more likely to work with a city that shows genuine interest in improving its business areas – even when that city holds the developer to rigorous design and environmental standards. That is exactly the course South Euclid should follow after approving First Interstate’s rezoning request.

Hank Drake

Monday, May 9, 2011

Clumsy Cover up at the Plain Dealer

As mentioned here, on May 3, I wrote a letter to the Plain Dealer regarding the death of Osama Bin Laden. That letter was published, in edited form, on May 8. The Plain Dealer’s clumsy editing removed an important point in my letter, which drew comparisons between the operation to get Bin Laden and the failed Operation Eagle Claw in 1980. But for an incident of bad weather, Operation Eagle Claw may well have been a success. Indeed, it’s very possible that, had the hostages been rescued, Jimmy Carter might have been reelected that year.

I made several attempts at to link to the original text of my letter, but all posts have been censored. The only reason the PD would have for this is to cover-up their hack job on my letter.

The Plain Dealer makes it, well, PLAIN that they reserve the right to edit letters. Pity that they did such a poor job on mine.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On the remains of evil and their disposition

A brief meme went out over the social networks on Monday, taking into account that the world learned of Adolf Hitler’s death on May 1, 1945, and Osama Bin Laden’s death on May 1, 2011. It’s a bit of a misnomer on the face of it. First of all, Hitler died – in his Berlin Bunker and by his own hand – on April 30th. In the pre-Internet age, and with Berlin bombed to smithereens, communication was going to naturally take longer. Bin Laden was killed on May 2, at around 1am local time. Some have complained about the delay from Bin Laden’s death until President Obama announced it to the world. But it took time to dispose of OBL’s remains and notify world leaders.

To be blunt, I'm glad Osama Bin Laden is dead, just as I'm sure many were glad to learn on May 1, 1945 that Hitler was dead. In both cases, the world would have been a lot better off if it had happened sooner. Both in 1945 and 2011, the decision arose as to how the physical remains of these evil people should be dealt with.

Let’s take a look back in time:

Following their suicides, Hitler’s and Eva Braun’s remains were incompletely burned and buried in a shallow bomb crater outside the bunker. Hitler’s death was reported by German radio on May 1st, with the report stating that the Fuhrer fought “to the last breath” for Germany. On May 2, Hitler’s remains were found by Soviet Intelligence forces, along with those of Joseph Goebells, his wife, and their six children. The question arose as to how to handle their remains. Benito Mussolini had recently been executed, his body then hung upside down after a mob had kicked, spat, and urinated on his corpse. These events were on the Soviets’ minds. So, the physical remains were dealt with in a manner that would prevent both the creation of a neo-Nazi shrine and the desecration of their remains: Hitler's remains (along with those of Eva Braun, the Goebells family, and Hitler's dog) were quietly buried in a secret location in Berlin. But, as would happen in 2011, rumors began to circulate. Rumors led to conspiracy theories that Hitler’s body had been taken to Moscow for an autopsy (which led to rumors, among other things, that the Fuhrer was mono-testicular). Later, there were rumors that he didn’t die but went to South America. A death photo, circulated shortly after Hitler’s death and later exposed as a fake, only served to fuel the conspiracy theorists.

In fact, the remains of Hitler and his entourage were moved several times over the decades, eventually to Magdeburg, a suburb of Berlin, were they were buried in the courtyard of SMERSH (later KGB) headquarters, which was promptly paved and used as a parking lot.

In 1970, Yuri Andropov, then head of the KGB, feared that knowledge of Hitler’s remains would spread and become a neo-Nazi shrine. So Andropov ordered remains of Hitler and his party exhumed, cremated, and scattered in the Elbe River. Andropov, by the way, later became head of the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

The history of the end of Osama Bin Laden’s life is still being sifted through. But it’s already known that OBL died in an above ground bunker in Pakistan at the hands of Navy SEALs, and that his remains were buried at sea where the chances of them ever being found are nil to none. It’s reasonable to assume that the United States disposed of OBL’s remains in the way they did for much the same reasons as the Soviets were so careful with Hitler’s corpse. The difference is that the U. S. has been more open about what was done, and why. There has been a lot of second guessing over this decision, but I feel it was, on balance, the best decision possible.

Give credit where credit is due

My latest letter to the Plain Dealer (as of May 4, it has yet to be published written on May 3rd and finally published on May 8):

The birthers, schoolers, and others who are blinded by their hatred of President Obama never cease to amaze or appall. Shown the President’s long form birth certificate, they trumpet that it’s a fake. With Osama Bin Laden finally killed, something the Bush administration failed to do, they now state that the President approved the operation on purely political grounds.

President Obama put his presidency on the line when he approved Operation Geronimo. If this operation had been a failure, like Operation Eagle Claw was in 1980, the President would have received all the blame and surely been defeated in 2012. Though our Navy SEALs and intelligence operatives deserve the bulk of the credit for Operation Geronimo’s success, President Obama deserves kudos for making the right decision at the right time.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama bin Laden: Good Riddance

Let history record that Osama bin Laden was killed on President Barack Obama’s watch, and that the order to capture or kill him came from the President. This could not have happened without the strategy he announced at the beginning of his presidency, scaling back our involvement in Iraq while re-engaging the fight in Afghanistan. He also enacted the policy he announced during the Democratic primary debates in 2007, that he would not hesitate to move against bin Laden in Pakistan if credible intelligence was found. Hillary Clinton and others pooh-poohed Senator Obama’s statements as proof that he was not experienced enough to be president.

Let’s review a bit of history: The mission to capture Osama bin Laden “dead or alive” began under President George W. Bush following the 9/11 attacks. Bush dropped the ball very early on in Afghanistan, when he committed far too few troops to the mission – fewer troops, in fact, than the number of police in Manhattan. America’s mission in Afghanistan was further eroded when Bush began beating the drum for war against Iraq, based on phony intelligence of weapons of mass destruction and a supposed “link” between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda – both of which proved false. By the time Obama was sworn into office, most intelligence pointed to Pakistan as bin Laden’s most likely location. Our people acted on that intelligence, often gained by following the movements of couriers and less on highly touted satellite technology.

Osama bin Laden is now dead. The world is still a dangerous place. Al Qaeda is still very much a force for terrorism. But the symbolic importance of this day cannot be overestimated. President Obama’s actions vindicate his policies vis-à-vis the war on terror, including his decision to recommit to Afghanistan - which was met with criticism from the left and right. Abroad, it is a reminder of American persistence. At home, it soundly refutes the notion - touted by birthers, schoolers, and political opportunists - that Barack Obama’s rise to the presidency was some kind of conspiracy or that he was a “Manchurian candidate” in a plot to Islamify the world.

Our entire armed forces, from those who conducted this raid to the Commander in Chief, deserve a round of thanks for their efforts. But the best way we can thank our troops is to refrain from endangering them unless absolutely vital to our national security.