The Best Defense

Name the world’s biggest banks

I was surprised when I saw this Financial Times chart passed along by the ever-inquisitive Nirav Patel. (Use the Y axis slider to move it from 1999 to the present-and watch the rise of Asian banks.) I was surprised to see how the relative size of American banks has shrunk.

The Best Defense

Cleanups on aisle six

This is a job better done by lyric-quoting Spencer Attackerman, but he hasn't, so I will get out the mop and bucket, even though there is little to be gained by cleaning up after them.

First, old Fouad Ajami began a piece in the Wall Street Journal last Friday by asserting that, "On its sixth anniversary, the Iraq war has been vindicated." 

This reminded me of a rule I had when I was editing newspaper stories: The place where falsehoods most often are stated is when the writer asserts that "it is obvious that..." or "every schoolboy knows that...." (this used to be a favorite at the old Luce-dominated Time magazine that made Quemoy and Matsu famous). Oddly, this error tends to occur not at the neglected end of articles, but -- as in the Ajami article -- in the "lede," as journalists refer to the opening of an article.

Ajami's bald assertion is arguable at best. What do the troops think? Well, here's a different view from one soldier that I noticed over the weekend on the 10th Mountain Division's snazzy blogsite:

We must focus our attention on Afghanistan, because that is where the real trouble lies. We didn't belong in Iraq to start off with, but now that we're there, we need to clean up our mess and head home."

Meanwhile, by coincidence, I finally got around to reading Bernard Lewis's essay in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs. I am sorry I did, because I lost some respect for him when I saw this sentence:

It was not until 9/11 that Washington felt compelled to respond with force, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, which were perceived as the sources of these attacks."

Oh c'mon, professor. Iraq as a source of the 9/11 attack -- evenly passively "perceived"? I didn't know a lot of serious people who saw a connection. This reminds me of another rule I had as an editor: Beware of sloppy assertions made in the passive voice. "Mistakes were made," indeed -- by the editors of Foreign Affairs in letting that phrase sneak into its pages.

Oddly enough, Lewis is the chairman of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa, while Ajami is the vice chairman. Furthering the group's diversity, V.D. Hanson, who never met a Bush policy he couldn't peddle, is a member of the amen corner. (So is George Shultz, who is likely to skew this group more toward reality.)