An article by Bill Kristol has garnered attention, and rightly so. Called “Stand for Freedom,” it concerns Egypt, and the response of American conservatives to the upheaval there. The concluding words of the article are, “The Egyptian people want to exercise their capacity for self-government. American conservatives, heirs to our own bold and far-sighted revolutionaries, should help them.”
Allow me to do a speck of quoting from a column of mine last week. (I know you’re shocked by the idea that not every person reads every column of mine, faithfully.) “The cynical position is the easiest one: ‘Oh, nothing good will come of the unrest in Egypt. It all leads straight down the tubes’ — which it may. But maybe not. And can’t any pleasure be taken in the fact that millions of people have at last lost their fear? Are publicly expressing, for the first time in their lives, that they wish a better, freer, more decent life?” Etc.
We are all skeptical, of course — skepticism is called for, in matters Middle Eastern, and in other matters as well. But there is a difference between skepticism and cynicism. I have seen a lot of cynicism about. And it is most unattractive (in addition to other things, none of them good). Particularly vexing is that the cynical position is taken, by some, to be the sophisticated one. Which ought to give sophistication a bad name.
More than once in this column, I have quoted Joyce Rumsfeld, wife of the former secretary of defense. This was in 2003, I think, and we were talking about Maureen Dowd, of the New York Times. At the time, she was very popular, the “it” columnist in the country. Mrs. Rumsfeld said, “There is nothing I like less in a person than cynicism.” Many can sympathize with that.
For years, people said that Asians had no aptitude for democracy. Democracy was just a Western notion, alien to Asia, which had its own history, ways, and aspirations. Then it was said that the Latin Americans could never have democracy. They loved their caudillos, and simply lacked the temperament for parliaments and such.
In due course, the Arabs will democratize. They are straining to do so in Iraq right now. They are straining to do so elsewhere. What will be the next people who are unfit or undestined for democracy? Who will be the very last people? Certain Africans under the blazing sun? Certain Eskimos in the freezing cold?
I have mentioned Mrs. Rumsfeld. I might as well discuss her husband too. He has a book out, and a website: www.Rumsfeld.com, of course. As I understand it, some 2,000 documents are available on this site, with thousands more to come. These are “raw materials.” Some of these materials have to do with Rumsfeld’s days in Congress: when he dealt with Vietnam, civil rights, the space race, and other pressing issues. Some of them have to do with his time as President Ford’s chief of staff.
And then there are snowflakes. I think there are about a thousand available now. And that’s just a small sample. Apparently, Rumsfeld created 25,000 snowflakes during his tenure as secretary of defense: his second tenure, I mean, during the administration of George W. Bush. (Rumsfeld was also SecDef for a while under Ford.) What are snowflakes? They are Rumsfeld’s memos, jottings, on any number of matters, to any number of people, including himself.
On September 5, 2001, he wrote a memo to secretary of state Colin Powell, cc’ing Vice President Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser. “We simply must get a policy for Iraq settled fast. Thank you.”
A friend of mine who has looked over these snowflakes — a blizzard of them (yuk, yuk) — says they are not merely disparate bits. Read together, read by the hundreds or thousands, they constitute a kind of narrative. Same with the memos from the Ford White House. Those interested in recent American history will have a feast, I suspect.
I cherish something Rumsfeld said, and said more than once: “America is not what’s wrong with the world.” And may I say that Rumsfeld is not what’s wrong with America? That’s for damn sure.
For many, many years, people who are either ignorant or deceptive have tried to tell you something: The source of Arab grievance is Israel. Those of us with experience in the Middle East (if I may) know that this is nonsense. All you have to do is get out a little. Many without such experience are taken in.
Israel has not kept the Arab world back; Arab misrule has.
I wish to quote to you from a column by David Horovitz, the editor of the Jerusalem Post. He is an English-born Israeli who is one of the best students of the Middle East I know of.
It is tempting to be smug. [Oh, go ahead.] Egypt’s blink-of-an-eye descent into instability underlines afresh the uniqueness of Israel, that embattled sliver of enlightened land in a largely dictatorial region. Those who like to characterise it as the root of all the Middle East’s problems look particularly foolish: the people on the streets aren’t enraged by Israel, but because their countries are so unlike Israel, so lacking in the freedoms and economic opportunities that both Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs take for granted.
Then we have the assertion that is either ignorant or deceptive. You might also say, more charitably, that it is misguided. “The main stumbling block is Israel.” Who said that? George Soros, here. The Soroses, we will always have with us. Not all of them are billionaires. In fact, just a handful are . . .