Politics & Policy


"His people," our people, la moutarde, and more

May I raise an objection (as if you had a choice)? Many in the media are referring to Saddam Hussein and “his people” — meaning Iraqis. It should be obvious that this dictator doesn’t own his people, as he would, say, a chainsaw. And this usage reinforces his own opinion that he and the people trapped in the land he rules are inseparable. All dictators crave the perception of such inseparability.

#ad#Which is one reason I went semi-nuts two years ago when Colin Powell said of Fidel Castro, “He’s done some good things for his people.” It was hard to know which was more outrageous: the “good things for his people” — you know, the chimeras of health care and literacy, for which an absolute dictatorship is a sine qua non, of course — or that “his people.”

Sunday night, I was sitting at a bar, waiting for the kitchen to fork over my takeout spaghetti. There were three people having a conversation: the bartender, who was a woman of about 60; and two men, of about the same age, and ordinary in every outward respect. They were talking about the war. It was going badly, they said, with a hint of satisfaction.

Said one man, “We are children when it comes to our foreign policy. Did they think the Iraqis wouldn’t resist? I mean, haven’t they heard of the French resistance?” The woman chimed in, “And now people are complaining that they’re not fighting fair. Well, that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard. We are attacking their country with very modern weapons. Of course they’ll fight back, in any way they can.”

The other man contributed, “What if the Iraqis invaded New York? Don’t you think we’d resist with all our might? Why should the Iraqis be any different?”

To overhear this conversation was extremely depressing, for it was shockingly ignorant: My trio made no distinction between the regime and the people; they seemed unaware of the means used by the regime to prevent the people from opposing it; they had accepted the lie that George Bush and the American military are waging a war against a country, in the normal sense.

And the really depressing thing? These were ordinary people — ordinary Amurricans, as far as one could judge. Not Women’s Studies majors with bones through their noses. Not placard-bearing pinkos. Not New York Times op-ed columnists. Regular people, who might have been expected to know better.

If you’re looking for populism, don’t come to Impromptus, baby.

I will give you something slightly sappy: I am not only supportive of George Bush, Tony Blair, and the rest; I am not only proud of them; I’m grateful to them. I actually think they’re making me and my loved ones safer — by dealing with a menace that would only grow worse. We at National Review were maybe three miles from the World Trade Center, where 3,000 people were murdered in cold blood. We were lucky. Multitudes weren’t.

And this is an administration that is actually doing something about it. And Bush & Co. will not, I believe, stop.

Thing is, they’ll never get full credit: because history will never know what Saddam Hussein would have done had he been allowed to stand. This is one of the difficulties of “preemptive war.” Everyone knows what Hitler did, by 1945. But if he had been dealt with in, say, 1938, how many would say that the anti-Hitler powers had overreacted and overstepped their bounds?

I’ve got to hand it to the New York Post. It’s possible to sneer at tabloidism, but they perform a huge service, as when they caught the Iraqi ambassador to the U.N., Mohammed al-Douri, dining Saturday at one of the swankiest and “hottest” of East Side restaurants: Nello’s. It was amazing. The guy was sitting at that most visible eatery, consuming a $200 meal that included grilled swordfish and champagne. As the Post put it, al-Douri “capped off” the meal “in Marie Antoinette fashion with both crème brulée and chocolate cake.”

The headline over the article? “Saddam’s swine eats high on hog.” The picture showed him sort of glowering at the camera, with fork upraised. Underneath that image, the Post ran a photo of Iraqis (in Iraq) clamoring for food, with arms outstretched.

Bravi, tutti.

I won’t resume my crusade against the anti-smoking crusade. I’ve written about that (and well, if I may). (I can’t believe I said that.) But let me just comment that the headline in the Times this weekend was, “Sorry, Old Boy, the Mayor Says ‘No Smoking.’” Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on smoking in public places — like restaurants and clubs, where the “old boys” hang out — is now in force. And most people, such as the Times (taken as a person), are sort of amused, or at least unbothered.

But what if it were a vice they liked that was being taken away? Would they be so blasé and chuckly about that? It seems only yesterday that all the elites and would-be elites were smoking; they sort of turned on it overnight (while sucking furiously at their martinis). This is a freedom issue, y’all. I dislike cigarette smoke as much as anybody (who’s anti-smoking) — but this is ridiculous.

The smoking section and the no-smoking section are so wonderfully democratic. I never quite realized how much.

(By the way, when did private clubs become public places?) (That was rhetorical, incidentally.)

In the same section of the Times — SundayStyles (no space) — there was an interesting article on pro-life kids at odds with their pro-choice parents (and teachers, no doubt). It was actually semi-fair, this article — or maybe even completely (I’d have to go back and re-read it).

I could go on for hours about this article and its themes, but I’ll focus on just one tidbit — a side issue. The author writes, “Even though [partial-birth abortion] is used in only a tiny fraction of cases, graphic descriptions of it since the mid-90′s, and even the name its foes have given it (doctors call it dilation and extraction), have had an impact on young people.”

First, I bet there are some doctors — probably many — who refer to this practice as “partial-birth abortion.” Second, I wonder whether this dread designation was really something the pro-lifers dreamed up. I’d have to research it (and might).

I took on a similar question with “political correctness.” This was a term invented, and imposed, by the Left — by the politically correct themselves. Then when headway was made against political correctness, the Left tried to pretend that the Right had concocted the phrase, to use as a bludgeon against the Left. But it wasn’t so.

I actually investigated this one. And I have a sneaking suspicion — that’s all — about “partial-birth abortion.”

A final article in that same section: This one’s about the difficulty of having a dinner party in Manhattan when talk about war — and disagreements about same — can cast a pall on things. It contains several of the themes (class, fantasy, reality, manners) that we have explored for months.

I think I’ll simply reprint the following news item, without comment. Regular readers have heard any comments that might pertain anyway:

“Tibet’s longest-serving female political prisoner, Ngawang Sangdrol, has obtained an exit visa from the Chinese government and is en route to the United States, Radio Free Asia (RFA) has learned.

“Ngawang Sangdrol left China earlier Friday after securing a visa permitting her to seek medical treatment in the United States, sources in Asia told RFA’s Tibetan service.

“No further details were immediately available, and the circumstances surrounding her departure from China were unclear. In the past, China has released or exiled prominent dissidents ahead of high-level meetings with U.S. officials, and U.S. vice president Dick Cheney is expected to visit China in April.

“Ngawang Sangdrol, a Buddhist nun who is now in her late 20s, was first detained at age 13. She was paroled from Lhasa’s notorious Drapchi Prison on Oct. 18, 2002, nine years before completing her sentence, for good behavior. A nun at the Garu nunnery, she took part in pro-independence demonstrations in Lhasa in 1987-88. Ngawang Sangdrol’s sentence was extended three times to a total of 21 years after she and other nuns engaged in prison protests.”

And now, our Hilarious Comment of the Month (and on this, the last day): Richard Schickel, in a generally excellent review of a new W. C. Fields biography in the New York Times, wrote, “[Fields] met his wife, Hattie, in [a] burlesque company. She became his onstage assistant but left the act when she became pregnant. Fields began straying with various chorines. This was unforgivable to the sternly Roman Catholic Hattie.”

Because, as we all know, you have to be “sternly Roman Catholic” — or something close — to object to your spouse’s adultery!

“Saddam’s torture of Iraqi citizens is unforgivable to sternly anti-torture Iraqi citizens.”

Ah, Serge Schmemann. He, too, had a book review in the Times this weekend. I’ll quote-cha a little: “Democratic administrations have not shied away from using force . . . Yet Bill Clinton avoided a ‘you’re with us or against us’ posture, and managed to remain popular in Europe.”

Forget about that little matter of Sept. 11, 2001, and the context in which Bush uttered the words that are now held against him. And we all know that the high purpose of a U.S. president is to remain popular in Europe, for heaven’s sake.

I suffered through Serge Schmemann when he was reporting — often comically (although it was serious then) — from Moscow. One did the same when he was in the Middle East, sockin’ it to the bad old Likud. And now, natch, he has risen to editorial-page editor of the International Herald Tribune.

Forgive my whining and sighing, but . . .

(Longtime readers might recall one of my favorite bumper stickers: KWICHERBITCHIN’ — spotted in the parking lot of a mid-Virginia Cracker Barrel.)

You well know, dear readers, that I don’t mix art and politics, at least unless it’s absolutely necessary. But I concluded a review the other day with something I just couldn’t help. I had written about a New York Philharmonic concert, conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich — a very great man, not just a great musician. I appended at the bottom, “Forgive me for intruding a non-musical note: but we are at war. Would it have killed Slava and the Philharmonic to play the national anthem at the beginning of their concert?”

This was in New York, you know, where that . . . thing happened.

A little mail?

“Dear Mr. Nordlinger: I am currently a second-year cadet at the United States Military Academy. I have read your Impromptus for quite some time and was struck by the banner hoisted by anti-war protesters in San Francisco: ‘We Support Our Troops When They SHOOT Their Officers.’ Being in an environment where I am surrounded by Army officers and officers-in-training, I was amazed that people could say such a thing. I have good friends who are newly commissioned second lieutenants leading platoons of soldiers in combat at the age of 22. I shared the quote on the banner with an instructor of mine who is an Army major, and he simply said, ‘Just remember, those are the people we’re fighting for.’ I guess there really are two Americas and I’m glad to be on the side I’m on.

“I also find it amusing to read of college students and even professors walking out of the classroom to protest the war, while here at West Point the war is discussed only very briefly each day. After all, it is our ‘duty to the American public’ to learn calculus, physics, and engineering. The war is still a passion, but must be following during our scarce spare time.”

“Dear Jay: My sympathies to French’s Mustard. [This refers to an Impromptus item from Friday.] My last name (by marriage) is French. My ex-husband had not a single tiny drop of French blood in his family tree. I don’t know where the name came from. But now, I am honestly considering changing my and my kids’ names to something else. My son (twelve years old) is being harassed and bullied for having the name ‘French’ and kids are accusing him of being French, which is an enormous insult and the kids all know it. I don’t whether this will blow over or not.”


“Dear Jay: Just because French’s is yellow doesn’t mean it’s French.”

“Mr. Nordlinger: Reading your publication of the French’s Mustard disclaimer sent me to my own kitchen, but not for mustard.

“My father, a French army veteran and World War II POW, immigrated to this country from France in 1949. By profession he was a chef — a saucier, to be precise — and he operated his own restaurant here in Houston for 20 years until shortly before his death in 1987. In the lobby of his establishment there hung a small sign, prompted by French President De Gaulle’s partial withdrawal from NATO. That sign now graces the wall over my stove.

“In the Chef’s own calligraphy, it reads as follows: ‘French cuisine and wines are non-political. We are constrained therefore to assure our patrons that the current policies of the government of France do not reflect in any way the views of this restaurant.’”

“Dear Jay: You talked about the attitude of the Brazilian media toward the war. Canada’s CBC Newsworld, which we get here with our DirectTV package, calls its war coverage ‘Attack on Iraq’!

“I used to be a Canadian; now, it’s ever-so-slightly embarrassing to admit to it. I’m even scrapping my maple-leaf-flagged keychain fob, in case someone sees it and assaults me.”

“Hey, Jay: Not every American in Europe who tries to ‘pass’ as Canadian is ashamed of his country.

“When I was a young man in the Army, I was stationed in Italy. Sometimes a few of my friends and I were not always the best guests of the country. We were work-hard, play-hard kind of people, and the abundance of cheap but good vino rosso was an attraction that was hard to resist.

“We were always cognizant that we were ambassadors for our country. So we practiced this smidgen of Italian so that our wine-lubed tongues could still work it out: Mi dispiace. Non parlo italiano. Sono canadese.

“No need to reinforce stereotypes against us!”

How you like that, sports fans?


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