Friday, May 20, 2016

The New Yorker

Presidential Swag and the Gift Horse
Robin Wright  May 20, 2016
In 1862, Abraham Lincoln wrote to King Mongkut, of Siam (the “King and I” king), to gently reject his gift of “a supply of elephants” with which to populate America’s forests.“ This Government would not hesitate to avail itself of so generous an offer if the object were one which could be made practically useful,” Lincoln wrote. “Our political jurisdiction, however, does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant, and steam on land, as well as on water, has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation.”

Lincoln could not legally accept the elephants, in any case. The Founding Fathers were sufficiently concerned about foreign corruption of their young democracy that they enshrined a ban, in Article I of the Constitution, on U.S. officials accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” George H.W. Bush faced a similar dilemma when the President of Indonesia with a flesh-eating Komodo dragon. The present—not a good match for Millie, the First Dog—ended up at the Cincinnati Zoo, where he more than thirty little Komodo dragons. 

For President Obama, the most famous gift was to the youngest recipient. Read on....

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The New Yorker

What the Pope Saw at Hiroshima
By Robin Wright  May 12, 2016

A charred tricycle, its rubber pedals melted away, is one of the most evocative relics of war in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Museum. It belonged to three-year-old Shinichi Tetsutani, who was riding it when an American B-29 dropped a nine thousand-pound over the city, on August 6, 1945. Shinichi’s father found his son, barely alive, still grasping the handlebars under the rubble. He died a few hours later. Because Shinichi had loved that tricycle, his father decided to bury it with him—so that his son would not be lonely—in the back yard, where his son would still be close. Before the attack, the Americans had given the bomb a nickname—Little Boy. Four decades later, Shinichi’s father had his son’s remains exhumed for formal reburial in a cemetery. He donated the unearthed tricycle to the museum.

On May 27th, President Obama is scheduled to become the first sitting President to visit Hiroshima’s war memorial.  The fanfare around Obama’s visit has revived the tormented debate about the Second World War’s concluding acts—the merits and morality of America’s decision to drop the first nuclear bombs, in order to force Japan to surrender and avoid a ground war on the Japanese mainland. Everyone agrees that the bombings wreaked an enormous toll on humankind. The bigger, and more pressing, question is whether Obama’s trip will change anyone’s thinking about future use of the bomb. Read on...

Monday, May 9, 2016

The New Yorker

Iran's Grim News From Syria 
By Robin Wright
Iran is taking increasingly heavy casualties in Syria. A statement from the Revolutionary Guards announced on Saturday that thirteen of the corps’ √©lite forces were “martyred” in the escalating battle near Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, which has become the front line in the five-year civil war. Another twenty-one Iranians were wounded. It is, for Iran, the largest single casualty toll since the country intervened to rescue the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The fighting took place in Khan Touman, a village nine miles south of Aleppo. There’s no hiding the human costs in a war that is being played out graphically on social media. Syrian rebels immediately posted grisly photographs and videos of a pile of corpses dressed in camouflage, as well as photos of wallets with Iranian documents, identity cards, and currency.