Politics & Policy

Dressing up, dressing down, a pair of foursomes – and more

 I see a picture of Palestinians dressed up as suicide bombers: KKK suits, headbands, explosives (fake, in this case), Koran — the whole nine yards. An awful question occurs to me: If the West Bank had Halloween, would the kids dress up as suicide bombers, out of admiration?

I note, too, that when militants and their supporters held a rally in the Gaza Strip, they fired rifles into the air — which reminds me of a fact that I have never been able to get out of my head: When Israel ejected the PLO from Beirut, about 20 years ago, the gunmen fired their rifles into the air “in celebration” (as though they hadn’t been routed). The result of this celebratory fire was 16 dead. That, to me, said something about sanity and respect for life, and I suppose that’s why I’ve never forgotten it — the impression was deep.

Turkey is talking turkey: The government is considering sending troops to Iraq, although the foreign minister has emphasized that Turkish soldiers would be mere helpers, not “occupiers.” He said, “We’re not going to be there the way American soldiers are.” We Yanks just “haven’t established relations with the people. They [we] haven’t won over the people.”

The arrogance. The gall. The ignorance. The Americans have “won over” millions of Iraqis, though not the Saddam- and Osama-supporting terrorists who want to kill them, and would drag Iraq back into night. The Americans “won them over” on the day they toppled the regime that had been subjecting “them” to some of the worst repression on earth (torture chambers, “rape rooms,” children’s prisons, the cutting out of tongues for dissent, etc.).

On the same day I saw the words of the lovely Turkish foreign minister, I noticed a powerful article in the Wall Street Journal Europe, by Michael M. Phillips, about all the Americans are doing in Iraq — for the people, for the country — and the difficulty of transferring these tasks to others (e.g., Bulgarians), so great and diverse and daunting are they. The article pointed out that American troops in one city — Karbala — have been engaged “in everything from painting schools to training a new local police force.” Some “occupation.” Said the Bulgarian on the spot, “It’s impossible [for others] to do everything they have done.”

You betcha. So let the Turks send troops if they want, but, in his rhetoric, the foreign minister should cut the you-know-what.

Do you know the lovely William Pfaff? He’s a columnist for the International Herald Tribune — basically the New York Times in Europe — and a piece of work he is.

He had a column the other day that must have warmed the hearts of its European readers. He said, among other things, “Choosing to invade two Islamic states, Afghanistan and Iraq, neither of which was responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, inflated the crisis, in the eyes of millions of Muslims, into a clash between the United States and Islamic society.”

Let’s analyze just that for a moment: “choosing to invade two Islamic states.” These were invasions, of course, but more accurately, they were missions to destroy regimes that the people themselves could not destroy, in their powerlessness. (The Iraqis, as David Pryce-Jones pointed out, couldn’t even bring down the statue of Saddam in central Baghdad, without U.S. assistance.) And did Washington strictly “choose” to assault these regimes? There was the fact of 9/11, and the need to prevent further such atrocities (which our enemies have promised). And — just on that opening clause — was Saddam’s Iraq an “Islamic state”? We were constantly told, by the likes of Pfaff, that Saddam was a secular Baathist, and therefore could have no truck with the Islamists.

As far as not being “responsible” is concerned: The Taliban was the great shelterer of Al Qaeda, which, some may recall, committed 9/11. As for Saddam’s terror ties . . . well, if you’re not convinced by now, you never will be. (Must have been an accident that two terrible Abus — Abbas and Nidal — were in Baghdad.)

Pfaff continues, “The wars opened killing fields in two countries that no one knows how to shut down . . .” Ah, my friend: The Taliban’s Afghanistan and Saddam’s Iraq were killing fields, for numberless innocents. That, in truth, is what has been shut down, most prominently and most importantly.

“The killing was one way in September 2001: Al Qaeda killed Americans and others in New York and Washington. [He forgot Pennsylvania.] Later in 2001 and in 2002, the killing was overwhelmingly in the other direction. Taliban soldiers, Al Qaeda members and Afghan bystanders were the victims, in uncounted numbers.”

And you thought moral equivalence died with the Cold War?

“The neoconservatives believe that destruction produces creation. They believe that to smash and conquer is to be victorious.” No, “the neoconservatives” believe that forceful action has to be taken in defense of the United States, and that appeasement has proven a disaster. It is true, however, that, to create something good — i.e., a non-expansionist and -murderous and -terrorist government — you sometimes have to destroy something, e.g., the offending regime in power.

I could go on with this incredibly smelly column, but I’ll give you just one more Pfaff blast: “[T]hey [Paul Wolfowitz and other monsters] are credulous followers of Woodrow Wilson, a sentimental utopian who really believed that he had been sent by God to lead mankind to a better world.”

Well, if we rule out of government those who believe that God demands contributions to a better world . . . we rule out a helluva lot of people. Good people, too.

My final message: Pfie on Pfaff. (Yes, it was hard to settle on “fie.”) And take this consolation, dear readers: The New York Times is even worse abroad.

In India, someone is poisoning Coke and Pepsi with pesticides. This may well be a terrorist, anti-American act. It reminds me that a friend of mine was attending a conference in Europe and observed a French participant’s being offered a Coca-Cola: “No,” the Frenchman said, dramatically, “I do not drink the drink of imperialism.”

I think I’ll have me a Coke.

Chris Patten, the longtime British pol, Europeanist, and now chancellor of Oxford, was interviewed by the Financial Times, for its “Lunch with . . .” series. The interviewer quite astutely pointed out to him that, back in the ’90s, he was an ally of Paul Wolfowitz in arguing against the assertion that “democracy and Asian culture don’t mix.” (Patten was the last British governor of Hong Kong.) So how about democracy and the Arab world? Responded Patten, “I just think that the way [Wolfowitz] extends the argument is too crude. I start to worry about what Robespierre called armed missionaries . . . democracy at the point of a gun.”

This is sheer evasion, of course: Wolfowitz is anything but crude — he’s a very polished thinker, as anyone who has listened to him can tell. It’s just that Patten would no more support a big American endeavor than he would wear the wrong tie (or something).

Patten has a foe in The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, both of which are owned by Conrad Black, who was born in Canada. Patten told the FT, with typical cleverness, that Black “gives us the Canadian view of British patriotism.” As I said, clever, very clever (no one has ever accused Patten of not being that). But here is something the interviewer might have brought up with him: Patten has claimed that he is not a Briton, but a European “with a British passport.”

Doesn’t Conrad Black have a right to comment on that? Don’t I? Look, if you want to be European rather than British, that’s fine with me — it’s none of my business — but don’t go all jingo when someone, of any birth, points out your choice.

As some of you know, I have spent a couple of weeks in Salzburg, moderating symposia at the Festival, giving a lecture, and covering the scene. If you’re interested in things musical, you can find reviews archived in the New York Sun, and see a piece in the next issue of NR, and read a chronicle in the October issue of The New Criterion.

But how about some matters non-musical? I will provide just a couple of political, or semi-political, notes.

Even now, some people, when they meet a conservative, look for horns and a tail. After all we’ve been through! I mean, Goldwater was 40 years ago! Some folks — both European and American — can’t imagine that a genuine, thinking conservative exists: that someone who is not obviously a monster could, for example, back George W. Bush.

I should be used to this by now — an exotic animal in the zoo — but, somehow, it still prickles, just a bit.

I had a lady tell me that I worked for a “reactionary magazine” (meaning NR, dear ones). I should have said what I believe Mrs. Thatcher once said: “Yes, but there’s so much to react to. Don’t you think?”

I also had a lady — a Briton — tell me that the trouble with the world was that President Bush and Prime Minister Blair were both Christians, acting from those weird and harmful doctrines.

I then found myself talking to a distinguished critic of the (aforementioned) International Herald Tribune. In the course of an intermission conversation, he let drop, “I hate George Bush.” Now, he knew nothing of my politics — he just knew me as a fellow critic. And yet he felt free to say, “I hate George Bush” — as casually as he would have said, “Hot here, huh?”

I myself can’t imagine telling a near stranger, “I love George Bush” (although I do, most of the time). I mean, it’s just a social impossibility: How could you impose so strong an opinion, not knowing the views and sensitivities of the other person? But this fellow probably assumed that we thought alike — were in the same caste. And note that word “hate”: not disagree with, or didn’t vote for, but hate. A rather startling word, and emotion. And this was no flaming bohemian, but a solid Midwestern man.

Oh, well.

What else do I have for you? The place was full of very fancy people — I missed an opening party, at which Prince Charles was the guest of honor. But there were plenty of other royals and nobles about. A duchess here, a baron there. In fact, I encountered so many of these people, when a program director said to me, “You’re going to see The Count of Luxemburg Thursday night,” I thought, at first, that she was referring to a person, not to the Lehár operetta, which she in fact was.

Where was that operetta? Not in Salzburg, of course — it was in Bad Ischl, about an hour away. This was where the emperor had his summer home (sort of his Camp David). The Kaiservilla still stands, and it is occupied by Franz Joseph’s heir, a very friendly archduke. In the company of his son — a poised and likable recent high-school grad — he gives tours of the place, in a wry manner.

A couple of remarks you might like: At one point, he said, “Monarchy wasn’t that hard for you people [!]. Taxes were much lower.” So the archduke is a Reaganite! Sign him up! Coming upon a famous image of his ancestor, F.J., he said, “We have never received a penny in royalties, although this has been reproduced all over the world. If only . . .!” (The family is evidently in some financial straits.)

One lady, an old-time Salzburger, was asked how many Hapsburgs there were in the country. She replied, “As many as there are gas stations in America.” I wish you could have heard her say it, and seen the expression on her face.

This same lady — a real firecracker, but elegant, too — said that the “most charming” men she had ever met were 1) Franz Lehár himself, 2) Richard Strauss (I wouldn’t have guessed that), 3) Maurice Chevalier (okay), and 4) “my grandfather.” She later listed the four men in history she “most admired”: Ramses II, Alexander the Great, Mozart, “and my husband.”

Priceless. Just priceless.

Thanks for listening, y’all.

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