Politics & Policy

Keeping Account

Useful Idiots

In his 1997 State of the Union address, President Bill Clinton offered this charming reinterpretation of the recent past: “One of the greatest sources of our strength throughout the Cold War was a bipartisan foreign policy. Because our future was at stake, politics stopped at the water’s edge.”

That would be the same Bill Clinton who – some 3,000 miles beyond the water’s edge – participated in (or, depending on who you listen to, maybe organized) some pretty noisy protests against the bloodiest of the Cold War’s battles, the Vietnam War. The truth is that the Cold War was from its start bitterly controversial inside the United States, and that between 1969 and 1989 the Cold War was bitterly opposed by many of the most influential sections of American society.

Those opponents were wrong, horribly wrong, and they have never been called to account. Not till now.

Mona Charen is one of the most widely syndicated columnists in the United States. In her first book, Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got It Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First, released today by Regnery, she offers a carefully researched, precisely itemized roll call of who did what and when during the Cold War – and a reminder that the old crew is still repeating its old mistakes.

Sunday morning, I heard Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan on Fox News Sunday urging the United States to postpone action in Iraq to give the UN one more chance. And here, according to Mona Charen, is that same Senator condemning the liberation of Grenada in 1983: “There is no legitimate reason for the United States to seek to overthrow other governments we don’t like.”

Byron Dorgan of North Dakota is another senator unimpressed by the evidence of Saddam’s dangerousness. Again according to Charen, he was not much more impressed by facts a decade ago, when he refused to take note of the activities of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas: “[T]here is a claim that Nicaragua exports revolution. There is some small evidence of that. … Ronald Reagan has once managed to call into worldwide question his balance and judgment when it comes to matters of peace and war.”

Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts is still making up his mind whether to support the War on Terror or not. But as Charen reminds us, he had no such hesitation over the SDI missile program that might have protected us from North Korean or Iraqi ballistic missiles: He was against it 1985, and he is against it still.

It’s often considered bad form to drag up this ancient history. After 9/11, it even seemed that the bipartisan foreign policy that Clinton praised might indeed at last become reality. But as the argument over the Iraq war has heated up, it has become apparent that the people on the wrong side of the Cold War have learned nothing from their past mistakes. By tallying those mistakes, Mona Charen has rendered a priceless wartime service. Her book is calm but devastating. You can read an excerpt from Useful Idiots right here. Or you can proceed directly to Amazon or Barnes & Noble.com.

I’ll be conducting a Q&A with Mona Charen in this space next week. If there are any questions you’d like me to pose to her, please email them to me at dfrum@aei.org

The Alternative

Let’s hear it for Jessica Mathews of the Carnegie Endowment! Although she opposes military action in Iraq, this foreign policy expert refuses to dodge and evade the facts. Unlike Tom Daschle, she acknowledges that Saddam possesses an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Unlike the Government of France, she admits that this arsenal is a danger and problem. Unlike antiwar pundits in the United States, she agrees that in the post 9/11, a danger as severe as Iraq demands a serious U.S. response – and in Sunday’s Washington Post she describes in detail what a serious response short of war would look like.

As an alternative to war, Mathews recommends:

1) A dramatic increase in the scope and intrusiveness of the inspections process, including flying U-2 surveillance aircraft over Iraq. If Iraq objects to U-2s, the U.S. should fly them anyway, and if Iraq shoots a U-2 down, the U.S. should go to war.

2) Iraqi military aircraft should be banned from most of Iraqi airspace; Iraqi aircraft that ignore the huge new no-fly zones should be shot down without warning.

3) Weapons factories should be immediately destroyed, either by the inspectors themselves or else from the air by American planes. Ditto for any suspected illegal materials detected anywhere in Iraq.

4) If all else fails, UN soldiers should roll into Iraq and occupy strategic Iraqi territory.

So this is the hardheaded “alternative”: Saddam stays in power forever; we bomb and strafe Iraq forever. We’d inflict hundreds, maybe thousands of Iraqi civilian casualties – present ourselves to the Arab world as an imperialist power of occupation – and all without loosening Saddam’s grip on power, without offering the Iraqi people any hope for a better life, and without discrediting Saddam-style radical Arab politics. Mathews has brilliantly managed to find a way for the United States to suffer every single one of the risks and disadvantages of an Iraq war – while forgoing any hope of gaining any of the benefits of victory. If this is the best alternative (and it almost certainly is), then let the invasion begin!

The NRO Debate

I am sure I am not the only reader who thought that Brent Bozell wiped the floor with Eric Alterman in last week’s three-round NRO debate over media bias. In fact, Alterman’s argument was so amazingly feeble that it leads one to question why he bothered with it at all. To sum up the six posts:

1) Alterman praises his own book and then quotes a couple of conservatives denying that they think liberal media bias is real or important.

2) Bozell points out that there is abundant empirical evidence of bias and presents a couple of damning examples.

3) Alterman praises himself some more and then accuses Bozell of prejudice against homosexuals.

4) Bozell presents more empirical evidence of media bias.

5) Alterman at last offers one solitary concrete argument for his contention that conservatives exercise immense media power: In October 2001, ABC News President David Westin told a Columbia Journalism School class that he had “no opinion” whether the Pentagon was a legitimate target for attack by America’s enemies. Many people objected to this remark, and Westin apologized. Alterman says he found this “capitulation” “dispiriting.”

6) Bozell refrained from scoring the obvious debater’s point here: “Do you, Eric Alterman, truly mean to concede that it is ‘conservative’ to be anti-terrorist and ‘liberal’ to be agnostic about terrorism? Maybe you and Anne Coulter have more in common than you think.” Instead, Bozell calmly concluded that he had offered evidence to prove his point and Alterman had offered none. Game, set, and match to Bozell – and a pretty convincing demonstration to those of us who have not yet read Alterman’s book that we need not bother.

The Mailbag

Several readers caught this error in my Friday post. I erroneously said that Clinton’s Operation Desert Fox started “in the middle” of his “impeachment trial” and ended when the trial did. In fact, Operation Desert Fox started on December 16, 1998, in the middle of the impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives – and ended on December 19, when the proceedings ended. Clinton was impeached on the 19th. The trial occurred a month later in the Senate. Clinton knew from the start that there was zero possibility that the Senate would convict him. Clinton launched no military actions that month.

My comments on Adlai Stevenson’s performance at the UN during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 elicited an extremely interesting letter from a reader in Minneapolis, a journalist who covered the crisis as it happened. I abridge the letter slightly:

“In support of the fact that the Kennedys loathed Adlai Stevenson: [In an articleabout the crisis in the Saturday Evening Post, Stuart Alsop quoted] a high administration official (no question it was Bobby Kennedy) as making devastating complaints about Adlai Stevenson’s behavior throughout, saying ‘Adlai wanted a Munich.’ The assertion that Adlai ‘wanted a Munich’ created quite a furor.

“In one televised performance at the U.N., Stevenson demanded a Yes or No answer on some matter of the Soviet representative, who replied, ‘You will have your answer in due course.’ To which Adlai retorted in stentorian tones, ‘I am prepared to wait until hell freezes over for your answer, Sir.’ To this day I don’t understand why Adlai was treated by the media as a hero for his half of this exchange; after all, he was merely saying, in effect, okay, ‘I will wait patiently, you can answer me whenever you want.’ Perhaps it was his tone of voice, or maybe because he used the word ‘hell’ right out in public, a pretty racy thing to do in those days. In any case, there is little doubt that the Kennedys had little respect for him, and threw him the UN job as a sop to his many followers in the Democratic party.”


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