May 23rd: Tehran's Azadi Indoor Stadium, 20 days before the election. The press had difficulty getting in the gates. "All full," the guards kept telling us. And full it was, overflowing in fact, for a Mir Hossein Mousavi campaign rally. Mousavi wasn't even there. Instead, the rally featured former President Mohammad Khatami and Mousavi's wife, Zahra Rahnavard, and the eager crowd numbered more than 20,000. I couldn't make my way to the VIP section, and I didn't want to.
“YES, SOMETIMES I GO into the room with my advisers and I start shouting. And then they say, ‘And then what?’” The question hangs in the perfectly cooled air in Sa’ad Hariri’s marble-floored sitting room, where Beirut appears as a sunlit abstraction visible at a distance through thick windows. Hariri’s father, the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, martyr of the Cedar Revolution, arches his black eyebrows from a giant poster near the sofa, looking out at his son with a sidelong, mischievous glance. “It hasn’t been a joyful trip,” Sa’ad Hariri is saying.
The seventh floor of the U.S. State Department is a generally dreary place. Its employees roam hallways so long and confusing that they are color-coded for guidance. Fluorescent lights throw down a harsh hospital glare. But, to most State employees, the "real" seventh floor is a secure area, protected by armed guards and doors that require electronic keys, where the department's top staffers, including the secretary herself, spend their days.
Last year, a new Middle East lobby called J Street was formed to push American Jewish opinion in a more conciliatory direction. "What we're responding to," wrote J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami last year, "is that for too long there's been an alliance between the neo-cons, the radical right ofthe Christian Zionist movement and the far-right portions of the Jewish community that has really locked up what it means to be pro-Israel." Israel's supporters do have a distressing tendency to define their position in maximalist terms.
Earlier this month, Joe the Plumber Wurzelbacher--last seen serving as the third wheel on John McCain and Sarah Palin's increasingly disastrous blind date--traded in his toilet jack for a handheld microphone and traveled to the Middle East to become a foreign correspondent covering the Israel-Hamas war for the conservative website Pajamas Media. Alas, he wasn't terribly impressed with his new colleagues. "I think media should be abolished from, you know, reporting," Wurzelbacher said in the Israeli city of Sderot, where he was, from all appearances, reporting. "You know, war is hell.
When it comes to Iraq, "withdrawal" seems to be the word of the day. In Washington, the incoming administration has revived the Obama campaign's 16- month timetable for removing combat troops from Iraq.
Shanghai, from which I have just returned after a first visit to China, has a specially built modern museum to house exhibits on the planning for the future Shanghai, and it includes an enormous model of Shanghai today. It is of a scale and detail that matches the huge model of New York City built for the 1964 World's Fair and now housed in the Queens Museum—which is itself located in a fragment of the 1939 World's Fair in New York City. But the contrasts are striking and reveal much that distinguishes China's largest city from our own largest city.