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Impromptus
"You're late," Bush-and-Hitler, Uncle Walter (sigh), and more


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Several readers have been kind enough to ask where I’ve been. I’ll tell you: I’ve been to a conference about anti-Americanism. It was directed by Paul Hollander, one of the world’s foremost experts on that subject. For a few days, we chewed over this great “anti-,” anti-Americanism. It can be as mysterious and frightful as that other great anti-, anti-Semitism.

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I remember one of the first times I marveled at the weird phenomenon of anti-Semitism: It was — many years ago — reading that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a big seller in Japan.

Japan! Where there was nary a kibbutz!

But the anti-Americanism we are now witnessing is as dismaying and gross a phenom as any I can remember. We are witnessing that anti-Americanism in Europe, of course, and in the capitals of the Middle East, but also on our own streets. San Francisco, unsurprisingly, has been particularly vulgar.

In the last few weeks, I’ve tried to put myself in the shoes of an antiwar protester — a useful exercise not just for a journalist, but for anybody. And let me share with you, just briefly, something I came up with.

If I were antiwar, but retained my essential nature, I might oppose the Iraq effort for one or more of several reasons: because I was a pacifist; because I was devoted to the U.N. Security Council, whose approval was paramount to me; because I believed in perpetual sanctions and inspections; because I thought that Saddam Hussein could be contained.

But I would still reason, “Even though I’m against this war, at least the Iraqi people will be free of Saddam Hussein. At least a byproduct of our war will be the toppling of one of the cruelest tyrannies of our time. No more torture chambers. No more rape rooms. No more putting men through shredders. No more cutting out of tongues for saying the wrong thing. No more ‘Republic of Fear,’ as Kanan Makiya memorably put it, in the title of his book.”

But you hear none of this from the antiwar protesters. At least I don’t. Their lack of compassion for the Iraqi people is staggering. It’s almost as though the continued torture and murder of innocents were better than any quarter given to George W. Bush: the Texan, the churchgoer, the villain.

We’re all supposed to respect dissent. It is, indeed, part of the American Way! But I must confess that I perceive very, very little to respect in the current armies of dissent. Henry David Thoreau is dissent; this is madness and meanness.

Of all the reports to come out of Iraq thus far, the one I found the most moving appeared in the Guardian — yes, the Guardian, not exactly an organ of the Republican National Committee. It concerned the city of Safwan, where “Ajami Saadoun Khlis, whose son and brother were executed under the Saddam regime, sobbed like a child on the shoulder of [the paper's] Egyptian translator. He mopped the tears but they kept coming. ‘You just arrived,’ he said. ‘You’re late. What took you so long? God help you become victorious. I want to say hello to Bush, to shake his hand. We came out of the grave.”

You’re late. And We came out of the grave. Why do words like that have no impact whatsoever? Again, even if I were antiwar — yet retained something like my present nature — I would rejoice over that, or at least find comfort in it.

At this conference, I used a car — I don’t, much, in New York City — and I thus had a radio, which was tuned now and then to NPR. I will say, briefly, about NPR that it is as appalling as its most vehement detractors contend. I doubt that you would ever hear statements like Ajami Saadoun Khlis’s over NPR. And the neutrality that the network — or whatever you call it — maintains is almost sick, given the moral gap between the American government and the regime it seeks to destroy.

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro and his forces have been busy beavers. Under cover of the Middle Eastern war, the regime in Havana has arrested many oppositionists, including the great Marta Beatriz Roque. The head of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation called this “the most intense repression in years.” Several of the oppositionists had spoken with James Cason, who is America’s representative in Havana. He allowed them to use his official residence for a meeting — and that was too much for Castro to stand.

To its credit, the State Department — often sleepy on such matters — denounced the arrests as an “appalling act of intimidation against those who seek freedom and democratic change in Cuba.”

Wanna know something else? According to Reporters Without Borders, at least a dozen independent journalists were included in the round-up. Have you heard squeals from their brethren in free countries, who are usually quick to denounce any transgression against those in the shared profession? No, I haven’t either — and don’t wait for them.

One of the journalists arrested is Raul Rivero, a writer and poet, and the director of the independent Cuba Press. Remember his name. It is to Castro’s benefit to have all these people anonymous. He knows that 60 Minutes will never, ever come a-calling — on Raul Rivero and other brave democrats, that is. On himself, sure.

My inbox has been full lately with news about Sgt. Asan Akbar, the murderer and traitor of the 101st Airborne Division. His original name is Mark Kools. Or rather, more fully, Mark Fidel Kools. Might that middle name be a clue as to the environment in which he was reared? This is so far unknowable, but it’s curious.

One’s heart must go out to honest Muslim Americans over this incident. It’s hard enough to fight off charges of fifth columny without Asan Akbar running around. In this respect, it’s almost providential that John Abizaid — reputedly Rumsfeld’s favorite general — is a Lebanese-American. It is to him that Arab Americans — and all of us, I suppose — must cling.

Newsweek conducted an excellent interview with the first President Bush, and I’d like to cite the two answers that struck me most sharply.

Q: How does it feel to be a president sending soldiers into harm’s way?

A: It’s the toughest decision by far that any president has to make. The first time I had to do it was in Panama, and literally I was physically in a vise because it just seemed so overwhelming. I went down to the hospital in San Antonio afterward and saw a soldier who had been wounded in the Panama strike, and he saluted and said, “The one thing I want to do, sir, is go back and serve my country,” at which I dissolved, of course.

That is so Bush.

And this:

Q: Do you talk to your son about how to handle the pressures of war?

A: No, but I talk to him all the time. Historians will be very interested in what we talk about, but they’ve got to wait. When you look at the burdens on the president, you start with Al Qaeda and 9-11, then you get the Taliban, then you get Iraq, then you have Korea, then you have our own economy. These are enormous burdens for a president, but I’ve never, ever heard him whine about “the loneliest job in the world,” or how heavy the burden is.

That is Bush, too — H.W. and W.

About a year ago, I wrote a piece about MEMRI — the Middle Eastern Media Research Institute (whose website is at www.memri.org). MEMRI, of course, is an outfit that specializes in the translation of materials from the Arab world.

I remarked that the Arab media were replete with references to Nazis. Sometimes the Nazis were hailed (except when they were faulted for not “going far enough” — for not killing every single Jew in Europe). Sometimes the Israelis and Americans were equated with Nazis, and condemned for it. Sometimes the two mindsets were evident in the same article.

I observed that many Arab commentators seemed unable to decide whether the Nazis were to be exalted or despised. It apparently depends on what’s rhetorically handy.

Anyway, MEMRI now informs us that, in an article for the Egyptian daily Al-Ahalil, the former Egyptian minister of war, Amin Huweidi, has likened President Bush to Hitler — that’s in every particular. Peas in a pod, don’t you know. Separated at birth. Huweidi cites, for support, a good European, the ex-justice minister of Germany, Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, who can be credited for starting this Bush-and-Hitler stuff.

In the course of his analysis, Huweidi equates Guantanamo Bay to Auschwitz, and argues that Bush lifted his ideas from Mein Kampf.

Is it a relief that this man is Egypt’s ex-minister of war? Not really. No more than it is a relief that Herta Daeubler-Gmelin is Germany’s ex-minister of justice. There are plenty, plenty more where those came from.

But we don’t have to go abroad for our idiocy. We always have Walter Cronkite, thought to be the Most Trusted Man in America. Well, I trust him, in a way. I trust him always to take the reflexively, unthinkingly left side of things.

At Drew University in New Jersey, Cronkite ripped Bush and the war, saying, “Every little country in the world that has a border conflict with another little country — they now have a great example from the United States.” The ex-anchor completely faulted Bush for the failure of France, Germany, and a few others to join the allied effort: “The arrogance of our spokespeople, even the president himself, has been exceptional, and it seems to me they have taken great umbrage at that. We have told them what they must do. It is a pretty dark doctrine.”

He also parroted the Democratic talking point about the cost of the war: “We are going to be in such a fix when this war is over, or before this war is over. . . . Our grandchildren’s grandchildren are going to be paying for this war.” Not only is the thinking old and sloppy, but the tropes — “our grandchildren’s grandchildren” — are too.

“Uncle Walter” continued, “I look at our future as — I’m sorry — being very, very dark.” Maybe, but at least this man will not be on the air.

After confirming that Jimmy Carter was the “smartest” president he’d ever met, Cronkite addressed the issue of media bias. As he usually does, he conceded that the mainstream media tilted liberal — but only because they care so much. “Most news people start their early years as cub reporters, covering the seamy side of life. They see the poverty. They see the want” — and therefore they are liberals. Because, as we all know, conservatives hate the poor, when we’re not merely indifferent to them.

In this, Cronkite joins Barbara Walters, who has said that journalists are liberal — must be liberal — because they’re “involved with the human condition.” (I’m quoting from memory, but I believe I have it right.) What would a conservative know of the human condition?

But enough of them. And I’ll save my thoughts on the Oscars for another time. And I’ll save my accumulated gripes about the New York Times for another time.

Let’s close with a couple of missives.

From Missouri: “On our local news, the scene was a high-school classroom where students were encouraged to discuss their views on the war. The particular young man sitting at his classroom desk was discussing the evil U.S., how peace cannot be achieved through war, etc. The teacher — of course very proud — talked about how important it was for these views to be heard. Behind her on the marker board was a poster of Che Guevara. Gee, I wonder which way her politics swing?”

Reminds me of home! Of dear Ann Arbor Town! Venceremos, people!

Another reader responded to my reference to Ted Weiss, the late New York congressman who attempted to impeach President Reagan over the invasion of Grenada.

“You reminded me of an incident back in 1986. Just for the hell of it, I decided to campaign for Weiss’s Democratic primary opponent, a good-natured businessman. I was given a pile of leaflets to hand out, stationed in a part of the district that consisted of ‘radical-Left Democrats and old Stalinists, in roughly equal proportions’ (as my candidate’s campaign manager said), and abandoned. I hung around outside a school for a few hours, when who showed up but Martin Sheen, Himself. He informed me that Ted Weiss was ‘a good personal friend.’ I informed him that Weiss was ‘a blight.’ In all the nasty language that flew back and forth, I plum forgot to ask for his autograph.”

I love how that letter ends.

Finally, a little language. Says a reader, “In the first Gulf War, the big media word seemed to be collateral. In this one, it’s embedded.”

Could be. And how long, may I ask, before Johnny Apple — probably on the front page — starts bellowing of “quagmire,” “the Big Muddy,” “Vietnam,” “Tet” . . .



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