Politics & Policy


Say what? "Fedayeen" Maureen. Worth the fight — and more

Have you ever had the following experience? You see something about yourself in print. You find that it’s all wrong. And you wonder how you can believe anything else you read.

In other words, your name is Bob Black, and you live in Topeka, Kan. A publication says that your name is Mike White and that you live in Mobile, Ala. How can you trust anything else you may read — as you normally would?

The New York Observer — a weekly newspaper here in town — had a ridiculous article on “neocons” in New York. National Review was scorned, as it often is in such articles. Here is the relevant snippet:

#ad#”William F. Buckley Jr.’s paleo-conservative magazine, seen as a kind of relic by the new neocons, but which achieved neocon street cred with editor Jay Nordlinger, who arrived last year from The Weekly Standard . . .”

Well, let’s count the ways. Part of the problem is that these articles are written by liberal or sort of apolitical, or stupidly political, reporters who know nothing about conservatism. No one with an ounce of sense regards National Review as paleoconservative, at least as paleoconservatism is commonly understood. In fact, it seems that most of those who are paleoconservative devote their lives to reviling National Review. We are the publication of Rich Lowry, David Frum, David Pryce-Jones, Rick Brookhiser (a columnist for the Observer, by the way — they should talk to him once in a while), Ramesh Ponnuru, Rob Long, etc., etc., etc.

As for being seen as a “relic,” only one word: They wish. (Okay, two words, but the point still holds.)

Now to lil’ ol’ me (well, not as little as I’d like, that’s for sure). A) I’m not the editor, I’m the managing editor. B) I came to National Review in 1998, not last year. C) This “neoconservative” business is a little silly.

What is a “neoconservative”? I believe that this word has little meaning today, except in the minds of the politically confused or mischievous. It was a word applied to former leftists who, in the 1970s and ’80s, crossed over to the conservative camp, chiefly based on anti-Communism. This expanded to a tough-mindedness about social problems, including crime and education. Its flagship magazine was Norman Podhoretz’s Commentary, of course.

Many years ago — I was there, listening to the speech at the American Enterprise Institute — I heard Podhoretz pronounce a “requiem” on neoconservatism. (“Deliver one for”?) The designation had outlived its usefulness.

Am I a neoconservative? That’s a longish essay — and, come to think of it, I’ve written a few — but the answer is no. Not really. Oh, yes, I grew up in a leftist environment — as my regular readers know — and was educated by leftists (who wasn’t?). But any ill effects were pretty much purged by the time I left college. Norman Podhoretz, through Commentary, and William F. Buckley Jr., through National Review — and Firing Line and a hundred other things — had won me.

If I have to call myself something, I call myself a Reaganite. That is the truest — as well as quickest — label. It simply takes too long to discourse on the gradations of conservatism, or the implications of genuine liberalism. You can just cut to the chase by saying: “Reaganite.”

Neoconservatism, as I understand it, included a certain skepticism about capitalism. In fact, Irving Kristol penned a famous work entitled “Two Cheers for Capitalism.” At this point in my life, I’m giving the full three. (Perhaps he is too, I don’t know.) I am a Kudlovian — a Hayekian, a Friedmanite, whatever you like. I long ago shed any embarrassment over the principles or record of “capitalism” (but why can’t I get rid of those quotes? Still seems like sort of a sneer word to me). I acknowledge capitalism as the greatest poverty-destroying and class-leveling machine in world history.

A final word: One of my favorite comments — ever, in any category — came from Phil Gramm, about “compassionate conservatism.” He disliked the term. He said, “Freedom is compassionate, dammit.”

I should ignore it, but Maureen Dowd wrote a hate piece that deserves some comment. It is a condemnation of Rumsfeld and his supporters, and a defense of Powell and his. This “clash,” she said, is “epochal because it’s beyond ego. It’s about whether America will lead by fear, aggression and force of arms or by diplomacy, moderation and example.”

Let me pass over this, to comment on something smaller — but deeply irritating. Impromptus-ites know that this is a longstanding peeve of mine.

Back in the early ’80s, liberals learned the word “Hezbollah.” They then started referring to Republican conservatives as “Hezbollah.” Sam Donaldson, on the Brinkley show, rejoiced in speaking of the “Hezbollah wing of the Republican party.”

Then, in 2001, liberals learned the world “Taliban.” They immediately started referring to the “Republican Talibans,” or the “Taliban Republicans,” or the “Talibanic wing of the Republican party.” (Funny, but it was the “Taliban Republicans” — George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld — who destroyed the real Taliban. But put that aside.)

Now liberals have learned the word “fedayeen.” And here’s Maureen Dowd in her column: “the fedayeen of the Defense Policy Board.” She’s not content with using it only once; she goes back to it: “Mr. Bush has never reined in Rummy’s rabid fedayeen.”

What a rotten thing to say. And who, again, took care of the real fedayeen? Dowd and her like always call us by the names of those we have the courage to stand up to and defeat.

That’s a subject for the psychologists, not me.

Ah, one more thing, re this columnist: She quotes, approvingly, a quip uttered by Richard Armitage, about Newt Gingrich (who had just attacked the State Department, in an important speech): The ex-speaker must have been “off his meds and out of therapy.” Cute. But would Dowd accept this comment directed at someone she liked? Or would she say, “How Soviet of them: to accuse anyone they disagree with of mental illness”?

I wish to make you aware of an important article in the New York Times about Saddam Hussein’s reign of fear, and the torture it involved. (If Maureen Dowd wants to complain about “fear and aggression,” she should consider our enemies, not the Pentagon.) The article is by Craig S. Smith, and, hard reading though it is, it is enlightening reading.

“I thought they were going to execute me,” said [Farris] Salman, sitting on the floor in his family’s small house . . . after being freed by a frightened prison warden as Americans took control of the city. “When one of the fedayeen [this would be the real fedayeen] said they were going to cut my tongue out, I said, ‘No, please, just kill me.’”

The tales of torture burn fresh in the memory, regardless of how many years have passed since the damage was done.

Another Iraqi man — Ali Kadhem Ghanem, formerly imprisoned, tortured, and mutilated — was supposed to report each week to the local intelligence bureau. “‘I don’t know where they are now,’ he said, and laughed for the first time in two hours [the duration of the interview, presumably]. ‘They have all vanished.’”

Yes, they all vanished. And the man was able to laugh.

As war with the United States drew near this spring, [Ghanem] said his unit was ordered to fire on Iraqi civilians trying to flee to Jordan. [Which was more dangerous to ordinary Iraqis? U.S. forces or Saddam Hussein’s forces? Why does Kofi Annan — why do others — refuse to acknowledge that?] When the war began, his unit simply dissolved and he went home again, this time, he hoped, for good.

Just one more excerpt:

Then, on March 5, Mr. Salman was blindfolded and bundled into a van. Residents of this neighborhood say the van arrived in the afternoon with an escort of seven trucks carrying more than a hundred black-uniformed fedayeen wearing black masks that only showed their eyes.

Imagine that scene: the dread that it inspires. You would hardly dare to make a movie like that.

They rounded up neighbors for what was billed as a rally; Mr. Salman’s mother was ordered to bring a picture of [Saddam] Hussein.

And then she, with the neighbors, was forced to watch as the fedayeen cut her son’s tongue out.

Ladies and gentlemen, this was an evil regime. And I’m glad it’s gone.

Aren’t you?

I quote from a front-page story in the Times on Guantanamo prisoners: “With the United States on the verge of releasing 7,000 prisoners seized during the war in Iraq, lawyers and human rights advocates say they hope the contrast with the long detentions [at Guantanamo] will put more pressure on the administration to deal with the people captured in Afghanistan and other countries in the campaign against terrorism.”

Lawyers and human rights advocates. Excuse me, but wouldn’t human-rights advocates be those who would want terroristic people kept under lock and key?

The article goes on: “In mid-March, 22 prisoners were released from Guantanamo, sent back to Afghanistan with blue jeans, new copies of the Koran and, on average, an additional 13 pounds from a diet that is similar to that of the soldiers who guard them.”

In January, while in Davos, I had to listen to people condemn the United States as a human-rights abuser for its treatment of the detainees at Guantanamo. &*%@~!

A couple of comments on the departed. An old left-wing warrioress from my home state, Martha Griffiths, died at 91. She had been a congressman from, and lieutenant governor of, Michigan. The Times called her a “Fighter for Women’s Rights.”

That she was. But it occurred to me: They never call conservatives “fighters,” do they? No anti-abortion activist would be called a “fighter for the unborn.” “Fighter” is a good word, in this context: and it’s not reserved for the likes of us, fellow cons.

Also, I was amazed at this item in the obit of Abram Bergson, an economist: He was born Abram Burk, in 1914. And while in graduate school, “Professor Bergson and his brother, a physicist, decided to change their last names. The name Burk, they agreed, did not sufficiently convey their Jewish heritage.”

Well, there’s a switch!

In my Impromptus for Thursday, I cited Teresa Heinz Kerry’s latest — and possibly greatest — utterance: “They probably don’t even speak French.” She was referring to members of the Bush administration, those rustics. (Actually, Condi speaks pretty good French, I believe, and excellent Russian, by all accounts.)

I then went on to say: “Aside from the delicious hauteur of that comment: How much you wanna bet the lady’s French stinks? I’ve heard it before: rich (American) lady’s French. It’s not pretty.”

Well, the joke’s on me: Several readers wrote to point out that Mrs. Kerry is not, in fact, a native American — and I’m not talking Geronimo here — but a Mozambican (which would make her first language Portuguese, presumably). Her bio reads: “Born and raised in Mozambique, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Romance languages and literature from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and graduated from the Interpreters School of the University of Geneva.” “So chances are,” said a reader, “she speaks better than ‘rich lady’ French.”

Probably so. But she’s still a rich lady, lucky gal!

Folks, I’ve got loads more here, but should we have a little mail? (More mail, I should say?)

“Dear Jay: I was just going through this week’s Economist, which I consider a good publication, as long as the subject doesn’t involve Israel. I was confirmed in my opinion. In an article about a new Hezbollah computer game — can you guess the target? — the following description of Hezbollah appeared: ‘a Shia militia which the Americans deem a terrorist organization.’

“Can you believe this?”

Oh, yes.

“Jay, the obsession of some people with trying to understand why radical Muslims hate America has just become too much for me to take. Tom Friedman just did an hour-long documentary on the ‘Discovery Times’ channel about this subject.

“Here’s my beef with this pointless exercise: Those who wring their hands over ‘root causes’ never seem to grasp the obvious — that the rage of the radical Islamist (and those who follow him) is an irrational hatred fed by perpetual ignorance. It is like racism; and no intelligent person wastes time trying to understand racists, or to absorb the ‘root causes’ of bigotry. We rightly dismiss racists as small-minded fools, and we should do the same with the current zealots.”

“Dear Jay: Thought you’d enjoy these tidbits of postmodern musicology (I studied musicology in Vienna in the early ’90s, and I’m thankful to say that they spared us the postmodern approach):

“Queering the Pitch : The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology”

“Gay Darmstadt: Flamboyance and Rigor at the Summer Courses for New Music”

“Noise : The Political Economy of Music”

“Piano Four-Hands: Schubert and the Performance of Gay Male Desire”

“Authority and Freedom: Toward a Sociology of the Gay Choruses”

“Fakin’ It/Makin’ It: Falsettos’ Bid for Transcendence in 1970s Disco Highs”

“‘Rip Her to Shreds’: Women’s Music According to a Butch-Femme Aesthetic”

“‘Was George Frederick Handel Gay?’: On Closet Questions and Cultural Politics”

“The Queer Pleasures of Mary Martin and Broadway: The Sound of Music as a Lesbian Musical”

Mamas, don’t let your sons grow up to study musicology.

“Jay, I was interested in that letter about the singing of the National Anthem by the Amadeus extras in Prague. Jaromir Jagr — now of the Washington Capitals, formerly of the Pittsburgh Penguins and currently in hot water with the IRS to the tune of $3.3 million — came to Pittsburgh as an 18-year-old rookie. It was considered a bold and risky move when the Penguins’ general manager, Craig Patrick, drafted Jagr with the fifth pick in the first round in 1990. There was still quite a bit of uncertainty about whether the Penguins would be able to legally get Jagr out of Czecho. Jagr ended up making a major contribution to the Penguins’ first Stanley Cup win.

“When he came to Pittsburgh he knew four English words: yes, no, and Ronald Reagan. He said, through an interpreter, that he’d had a Ronald Reagan poster on his bedroom wall back in Kladno. I’m guessing that — considering his recent problems with the IRS — he would be in favor of another Reagan tax cut.”

I should say!

Hang tough, y’all.

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