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Impromptus
A president who means it. What good the student exchange? Straight from the emir's mouth — and more


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I know it’s late, but may I make a comment or two on President Bush’s press conference? I promise I’ll be brief.

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First — I’ll sound like Dan Rather here — I don’t think presidents should call a press conference for the purpose of delivering a speech. If a president wants to address the nation, he should simply tell the networks that: “I wish to address the nation on a matter of vital national interest.” Otherwise, he should keep his “opening statement” at the press conference short — if he has to read one at all.

Second, I wonder whether some of the reporters felt sheepish about asking questions so repetitive. Yes, war is the topic of the day — but Bush had said all he had to say on the subject within the first half-hour or so, and he had said it well.

Third, I can’t imagine Bush’s — or anyone’s — performing much better than our president did on Thursday night. He did everything right, said everything right, thought everything right. He didn’t forget anything. When someone pressed him on the cost of the war, I was surprised (frankly) and delighted that he remembered to say (approximately), “Sure, there are costs to war, but, remember: Sept. 11 imposed significant costs, not least in human lives. And who knows what costs we will incur if we stand aside now?”

Some people say that Bush still hasn’t “made the case.” If you don’t believe he’s made the case by now, you never will — ever. But, of course, the president and his people should remind people of this case, at every opportunity.

Fourth, I think that conservatives — e.g., Republican Reaganites from Texas — have a special advantage when they occupy the presidency of the United States. Conservatives are used to being scorned, despised, and abused by American elites, and by world elites. That’s par for the course. We don’t say “Eek!” when the New York Times hates us, or Peter Jennings hates us, or leftists and dupes in the street protest against us, even in the millions. We rather expect it. And we don’t care. That is, we might care, but we forge ahead.

To be a public conservative is to develop thick skin. If you’re in the Clinton administration, and the New York Times denounces you, you’re apt to get nervous. “Where did we go wrong? What do I do?” If you’re a conservative, you say, “Yeah, what else is new, Charlie?”

This is useful in the presidency.

And finally, I’d like to comment on the question that went something like, “Mr. President, do you ever worry — perhaps in the wee small hours — about what will go wrong in this war?” First, I doubt that this Bush is up in the wee small hours. Second, to be president is to have to decide. All the rest of us have the luxury of musing and analyzing and debating forever. We can weigh every scenario indefinitely. We can say, “On the one hand, on the other hand, on my third hand, on my fourth hand . . .” We never have to make the call.

Only the president must do that. The buck really does stop with him. That’s the terrible burden of the office. Bush the Elder used to say — in the ’88 campaign — “It all comes down to the man at the desk.” His team even put that in his campaign video (which showed an empty desk in the Oval Office): “It all comes down to the man at the desk.” Yes. And aren’t you sort of glad that you don’t have to make this fearsome call?

Sure, Bush worries about what might go wrong in this war. But he would worry about what might go wrong if he refrained from prosecuting it. Would this same journalist have asked a non-warmaking president, “Do you ever worry, in the wee small hours, about what might go wrong because you’ve opted against toppling Saddam Hussein?”

The Democrats will say, “I told you so,” rest assured. Why? Because they’ve said everything. The whole gamut. They’ve talked about success in war, failure in war, a happy post-war rebuilding, a messy and frightful post-war attempted rebuilding — everything. They’re perfectly positioned, regardless.

But Bush: He has to decide. Even a partisan on the other side should grasp and sympathize with that.

You’ve gotten a load of this, I presume? Reports Adam Daifallah in the New York Sun,

Journalists arriving in Kuwait City to cover the looming war in Iraq are being greeted with an ominous warning — do not cooperate with Israel, or face “persecution.”

Westerners staying in at least one of the city’s Hilton hotels awoke Saturday morning to find a note had been placed under their doors from Kuwait’s Ministry of Information. The note was titled: “Announcement/Reminder to all respected press/media representatives present in Kuwait.”

The note said Kuwaiti law prevents “any kind of cooperation or interaction with Israel” and that any person or organization caught sending news reports from Kuwait to Israel “will face legal persecution.” It is signed “Assist. Secretary for International Media Affairs.”

Besides showing an apparent lack of translation skills — prosecution, not persecution, is presumably what law-breakers would face — the Kuwaitis’ admonition underscores the fact that the decades-old Arab boycott of all things Israeli, rekindled by the Arab League last fall, is alive and well and showing no signs of [fading] away.

Remind me once more why we saved these SOBs? (That question was rhetorical, of course.)

Every day, I read about Arab terrorists and various jihadis, and I note that virtually all of them studied at American schools. I wonder what this tells us about the principle we have long believed in and acted on: that exposure to our country and our “system” fosters mutual understanding and generates goodwill throughout the world. In a great many cases, these Middle Eastern students come filled with anti-Western hate, and leave filled with anti-Western hate. Perhaps it has intensified.

Now, as a conservative, I have had my fair share to say about the state — spiritual and otherwise — of American college campuses. But, geesh.

As my regular readers know, I have long been skeptical about the taming effect of our institutions of higher ed. After all, I was once enrolled in a Near Eastern Studies department — which I mentioned in this 9/17/01 column — and what I witnessed made my blood run cold.

This is about the most heartening AP lead — please don’t sic “lede” on me — I’ve seen in ages: “In a rare action against a head of state, President Bush invoked economic sanctions against President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and dozens of officials of his government on grounds that they undermined the country’s democratic institutions.” This is just another reason to be grateful that the Florida mess came out as it did, and that we have a “different kind of president.” Enjoy it while it lasts. You never know about 2004.

One thing I especially liked about that Thursday press conference? The journalists raised their hands, hoping to be acknowledged, but Bush was reading from a list of journalists he would call on, in that order. He sort of winked at a person who apparently wanted to be acknowledged, saying, almost under his breath, “This is a scripted deal.” Can you imagine any other president making so open, self-aware, and refreshing a remark — during a press conference about imminent war, no less? A man who doesn’t take himself all that seriously is just the kind you want in the Oval Office. And George W. Bush has already demonstrated all the “gravitas” you need.

A president who actually says “scripted.” I’ve seen everything now.

Let me put on my Media Watch hat: In an article touching on the foreign press, Tim Weiner of the New York Times wrote, “Le Monde is considered left-leaning in its views, and Le Figaro is regarded as France’s leading right-wing newspaper.” So Le Monde is merely “left-leaning” while Le Figaro is “right-wing”? Reed Irvine, call your office! Or call somebody else’s office!

Here’s a headline from the Times that warmed the cockles of my heart: “Israel Kills a Top Hamas Leader; Arafat Promotes Critic of Uprising.” Would that the news were always that good.

I know, I know, I shouldn’t welcome the death of anyone. I’m just . . . Impromptusizing.

If you read only one article about the Arab Dilemma — or rather, the American Dilemma re the Arab World — this week, I would suggest making it this one from The New York Times Sunday Magazine. Adam Davidson has written a piece — about a young and not atypical man in Jordan — that ought to win some kind of award. But perhaps he will settle for an acknowledgement in Impromptus?

In the 1980s, as Reagan was trying to install cruise and Pershing missiles, and the “European street” (i.e., the Communist-inspired European Left) went nuts, I always wished he’d just threaten to leave — to walk out of Europe. That would sober ’em up, and would bring the more sensible types out of the woodwork, rather than leaving the field — or the street — entirely to the kooks.

Well, have a look at South Korea — where just such hints have been made. The headline in the Times read, “Musing on an Exodus of G.I.’s, South Korea Hails U.S. Presence.” The article said, “After a huge pro-American demonstration here [in Seoul] last Saturday, supporters of the American military presence are increasingly finding their voices.” I should say. And the lesson should be impressed on all those who need it: Leftist demonstrations in a given country don’t tell the whole story. A) Conservatives tend not to demonstrate; and b) backers of a governmental policy tend not to demonstrate. You just can’t take a country’s pulse by widening your eyes at the masses — partying or burning — in the streets.

Have you had a chance to check out the March New Criterion yet? It is, as usual, a feast. (I don’t mean just the March issues, of course, but all of them!) There are a few articles available online, and for those who just have not had enough to read about music lately, The New Cri. has installed a Jay Nordlinger archive, for you to dig, or click, through. (End of self-promotion . . . for now.)

You’ll recall the uproar about Qatar. I went through this in my piece “‘Gutter’ Politics”, about the pronunciation of foreign place names and other things. Here is a brief excerpt (and, believe me, I have a point):

I called up the Qatari embassy in Washington. The receptionist answered, “Good morning, Embassy of Qa-TAHR [not “Gutter” ].” I smiled. I then asked — this was a native — how Qataris (“gutterees”?) pronounced the name of their country. She said “gutter,” or something close. But one gets the feeling that she wouldn’t say “gutter” when speaking in English. Neither would an American say “United States” instead of “Etats-Unis” when speaking French.

And this brings me to a marvelous note from a reader: “Jay, I just watched the 60 Minutes piece on Qatar and was sent racing to my computer to e-mail you. That’s because, while Ed Bradley was pronouncing the name of the country as something close to ‘gutter,’ none other than the Emir of Qatar himself — responding to Bradley’s questions in English — pronounced it ‘Qa-TAHR’ (i.e., the way it used be pronounced in the Anglosphere before it was subjected to sensitivity-police brutality).

“Notwithstanding my profound respect for the linguistic expertise of the talking heads on CBS, CNN, etc., I think we should all feel pretty comfortable following the lead of the good Emir when it comes to pronouncing his country’s name.”

I’ll say!

“Dear Jay: The letter from the fellow who was offended by ‘farting around’ reminded me of an incident a few weeks ago in a legislative hearing in the Minnesota legislature. One new GOP member of a particular committee, Rep. Mike Beard, has made quite an impression with his grasp of a wide range of topics. The topic on this particular day was the continuing use of nuclear power in Minnesota. Rep. Beard was expressing surprise at the passion of some of the nuclear opponents. He said, ‘I don’t understand why so many people are getting their undies in a bundle over nuclear power.’ It was a first in legislative debate!”

And may it not be the last!

Finally, a reader sent me a song from the South Park movie, sung by Saddam Hussein to his paramour, Satan. It seems more apt than ever today:

But I can change, I can change.
I can learn to keep my promises,
I swear it.
I’ll open up my heart
And I will share it.
Any minute now
I will be born again.
Yes, I can change, I can change.
I know I’ve been a dirty little bastard:
I like to kill, I like to maim.
Yes, I’m insane, but that’s okay,
’Cause I can change.

Sadly perfect, huh?



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