Cowboys and Secret Agents
A trans-Atlantic lesson, told through easy-to-understand stereotypes!


Last week I administered — and received — an education in international relations. I spent several hours with a pro-American European, a person fighting Islamic extremism throughout Europe and across the world. Now, for reasons that will soon be clear, that last statement is precisely true, but most of the following has been changed to protect her (her?) identity. . . .

I can see you leaning forward already. Excellent.

Helga(?) is a tall(?), elderly(?), German(?) woman(?). And her job — which she created for herself — is to try to penetrate the carbon-fiber, titanium-reinforced shell of denial that envelopes so many of Europe’s elites regarding the threat of unassimilated Islamists in every corner of the continent.

So I found myself toe-to-toe with someone on the same team, but from the opposite side of the fence, so to speak. It was weird. Helga might start in with a criticism of how stupidly the Bush administration handled the run-up to Iraq . . . oh no, here we go again . . . and follow that instantly by saying of course Saddam had WMDs! Bush should have attacked him without warning before he had time to move them to Syria!

Not what I expected. So then she’d say if Americans could just be a little more informed they could evolve past being such cowboys about such complex issues — at which point I would jump in and say, whoa, whooooaaa there little filly! You don’t evolve past being a cowboy. Being a cowboy is the pinnacle of evolution. Once you’re at cowboy, there’s nowhere to go but down. Cowboys don’t look for fights, but they don’t run away from them either. They do what they have to do, when they have to do it. And they usually have to do it alone, because everyone wants Black Bart’s gang out of town, but no one wants to walk down the street alongside the sheriff and get shot doing it.

Helga had never heard anyone defend cowboydom before. I mean, she’s from freaking Europe, fer chrissakes. But she liked it. And so we spent several hours over lunch, turning the clichés up to eleven in that sort of playful yet serious yet playful tone you take after four margaritas at your best friend’s wedding reception.

I asked her if she’d ever fired a gun before, and she had to think for a moment. Once, she replied, at the carnival, shooting at the paper target.

Ma’am? That’s a BB gun. It goes tick-tick-tick-tick. A real gun makes a sound like the earth coming apart and produces a muzzle flash the size of a large pizza. When you shoot a .45 caliber 1911-A1 hand cannon, you will know it. You will have no trouble remembering the experience whatsoever. And when I told her that what I like to shoot at most often was a life-sized paper image of Osama Bin Laden, she literally gasped in amazement. They let you do that?

Let you? They not only let you do it, they charge you for it. That’s the sound of freedom, baby! BOOOOOM!!

So I was in full-on swagger mode here, but the more I talked with her, the more I realized just how much harder her job is, compared to mine. I get to stand on a hilltop and trumpet exactly what I believe as loud as I want — like I’m doing right now. I have no way of knowing who will hear me, or how many, nor do I have to worry a hot damn about the effect I have on people. I say what I believe, and if you don’t like it . . . that’s okay too. And when I am done with this here article, I reckon I’m done ‘til next week. Time for a little siesta.

Helga, though, cannot afford to broadcast. Helga, in point of fact, has to be very careful about what she says, because the anti-Americanism that pervades the people she needs to try to convince is a very, very tough nut to crack. How to defend America and the Western tradition, and warn against the threat of Islamic fascism, when every single influential person she meets begins every discussion of the problem with a tirade about America’s foreign policy being responsible? If Helga’s real name appeared on National Review she — no kidding now — would have to resign. No one will even take a call from a neocon Bush apologist. Game over.

Helga, you see, is in effect a secret agent. Yes, of course, she is as much a real secret agent as I am a real cowboy. But that is how she has to operate. Helga cannot broadcast. Helga must use couriers. She must develop — at great time and effort — a series of private relationships and conversations in which revealing her true beliefs at the outset would be to break the connection forever.


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