Politics & Policy

Hating Chalabi, being charmed by “Fidel,” celebrating a glorious couple — and more

One of the vexations and heartaches of the last year or so has been the media’s hatred — that’s the word for it: hatred — of Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi exile leader — former exile leader, I should say — who is working to give his country a future. This is obviously the man most prepared to provide leadership, yet the media pour disdain on him, in imitation of the State Department and the CIA. You see, Chalabi is known as the Defense Department’s man — Rummy’s man, Wolfowitz’s man — and anything DoD related is anathema to many people: at State as much as on the op-ed page of the New York Times (is there a difference?). In truth, Chalabi is no one’s man but his own. Those who know him, and have dealt with him, vouch for his independence and determination, no matter what else they may think of him.

I was reminded of the Chalabi Issue when perusing Newsweek (which is a useful thing to do now and then, provided your stomach is strong enough). As I saw it, the magazine was trying to score a point against Chalabi because he met in Tehran with government officials there. Chalabi assured the Iranians that, as far as he was concerned, post-Saddam Iraq would not become a base of operations against Iran, or against any other neighbors. This is of some concern to the wicked regime of the mullahs, because Iraq made war against them, for many years. (Alas, at the end of it, both Saddam and the mullahs were still standing.) Chalabi was perfectly right to speak as he did — Realpolitik and all that.

Okay, now get this: Newsweek’s report ended, “[I]t is the policy of President Bush and . . . Condoleezza Rice that Chalabi’s leadership ambitions be given no greater weight than those of rival contenders, including some who stuck it out inside Iraq during the decades of Saddam Hussein’s rule.”

That is a despicable shot. As I’ve said before, what would these people have had Chalabi do? Remain in fascist, Baathist Iraq to be imprisoned and killed? What good would that have done his countrymen? And do we hold it against de Gaulle that he was abroad when France was staffed by Nazis? (No, we hold other things against him.) This piece was signed by Mark Hosenball. I wonder what danger he has faced in his own life. I doubt he has the standing to scoff at Ahmad Chalabi, who has lived a life more perilous than anyone should have to endure. Hosenball — or his editor or whoever wrote those words — implied that Chalabi was some kind of coward for failing to “stick it out.”

Shame, shame.

While I’m on Newsweek: We learned the following in a report on Arnold Schwarzenegger: Maria Shriver, his wife, “once postponed a prized interview with Fidel Castro because it was her eldest daughter’s first day of preschool. Charmed by her commitment, Castro rescheduled.”

Doesn’t it warm your heart that Castro was charmed by Maria’s “commitment”? What a guy, that famous family man. Do you suppose his political prisoners would like to tend to their own children and grandchildren? But then, they’re probably not charming enough — worse teeth, for one thing.

I have an acquaintance who has a proposal concerning taxes: He believes that Tax Day should be, not April 15, but Election Day, or very close to it. That would concentrate the mind, wouldn’t it? As it stands, Tax Day and Election Day are about as far apart as it’s possible to be in the calendar year. A closer joining of the two might remind voters — taxpayers — what is at stake when they cast their ballots. They should not bellyache about their tax bills when they elect the men and women who make them too high.

This gives me a chance to repeat my own longstanding beef: against the withholding tax. If people had to pay their taxes in one lump sum — a big, whopping check on April 15 (or whenever) — they would have a greater appreciation of the burden they bear. That withholding, check after check, is a little like the proverbial frog in the slow-burning pot of water, who, because of a sinister incrementalism, fails to realize that he is being boiled to death.

Did you see the photo of Joe Lieberman — Joltin’ Joe Lieberman — pumping his fist and rallying the Yale University strikers? Some New Democrat — posing as Walter Reuther.

I hate to be a crab, but Lieberman seems, to me, sort of fake, in whatever he does. When he does something . . . he does it too self-consciously, as though envisioning it on the news or in his bio.

I know: To what politician doesn’t that apply? (To a few, actually.)

Yesterday, the New York Times had a headline: “U.S. Set to Take a Hard Line in Talks on Korean Arms.” May I interpret that term “hard line” for you? It means: an insistence that North Korea live up to its signed treaties, and that there be some sort of consequence for its life-threatening dishonesty.

Please remember that, next time you see “hard line” thrown about in the headlines of our paper of record.

You’re used to my picking on the New York Times; you’re perhaps not accustomed to my picking on the New York Post, Rupert Murdoch’s lively and feisty tabloid. Some years ago, a person I knew described it as “the most entertaining read in America” — that it may be. And all of us right-leaners are especially grateful for it.

But I have a significant gripe against it, and it is this: When writing about mafia matters, it says “rat” and “turncoat,” just the way the killers do. The paper adopts the terminology and mindset of the mafia, with this “rat” and “turncoat” business. I, for one, thank Heaven for mob informants, no matter what their motives — they do an infinite amount of good.

But America, in general, can’t seem to shake its crush on certain criminals, be they Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde, or the Gottis. They are exciting; their victims are boring. Clear-minded people maintain that the real rats are the continuing criminals, not those who help law enforcement apprehend them.

Incidentally, do you know that the great soprano Barbara Bonney claims to be a descendent of Billy the Kid — or suspects she may be? His name, of course, was William Bonney. André Previn has written a song cycle for Barbara, Billy the Kid. Not bad at all.

Hang on, folks — sorry. I’m back to Newsweek. There was a little item by Michael Isikoff — of Monicagate fame — concerning the departure of Larry Thompson from the Justice Department. He was deputy attorney general, and has left, sadly, to join the Brookings Institution. (I would say that the Ashcroft Justice Department for the Brookings Institution is a significant step down. But no one — certainly not Thompson — asked me.) So, Isikoff says: “although a strong conservative, Thompson is a widely respected professional . . .”

I know that I’m a tad sensitive to this sort of thing. But being a strong conservative, dear Mr. Isikoff — “Spikey,” Lucianne Goldberg nicknamed him, because his editors would kill (would “spike”) his stuff — is no barrier to being a widely respected professional. But then, he may have a point: Respected by whom?

John Rhodes, the Republican congressional lion, is dead at 86. I was startled to see in his New York Times obit that he was “Arizona’s first Republican congressman.” This is a reminder of how a state’s political coloration can change. Arizona is known, rightly, as a seriously Republican state — just as Massachusetts once was. If we don’t like the politics of our state: all we have to do, maybe, is wait a generation or two.

That obit, incidentally, was written by the famous — famous because of her middle name, or initial — Jennifer 8. Lee.

Also, Robert N. C. Nix. Jr. is dead — he was chief justice of the Pennsylvania supreme court, and the first black chief justice of any state supreme court. The Times headline was: “R. N. C. Nix Jr., 75, Groundbreaking Judge.” With a name like that, too bad he didn’t work for the Republican party. Of course, he might have worked against, too . . . given the “Nix.”

No, my mother never told me not to use obituaries to play with names.

Speaking of names, I have remarked before that “Cruz Bustamante” is one of the great names in American politics, right up there with Zach Wamp (R., Tenn.). (I used to think that the California lieutenant governor’s name was “Bustamente,” up until a few days ago — must have seen it written incorrectly a few times.) I offer a slogan: “California or Bust(amante)!” And, if he becomes governor and presides over a further melting down, Republicans can tease that the state has gone bust(amante) (or something).

Anyway, our John Derbyshire — the incomparable John Derbyshire — pointed out that Bustamante was a member of MEChA, a Latino hate group. Their noxious motto is “For the Race, everything. For those outside the Race, nothing.”

My Harvard/NR homeboy Duncan Currie pointed out that this motto is an echo of Castro, who, back in 1961, admonished artists and intellectuals, “Inside the Revolution, everything. Outside the Revolution, nothing.” That was his warning — and MEChA utters much the same.

Will this be held against Candidate Bustamante? Are you mad?

As some of you know, I spent some weeks amid European elites, which can be depressing, for someone looking, or hoping, for support of American policy. On my flight home, however, I met an Italian couple, most refreshing. They were flying from Milan to the U.S. for their honeymoon — three weeks in New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and other places. They both worked in Milan, as nurses, but come from the state of Puglia, in the southeast. They expressed a deep and touching love for America, saying that they didn’t want to honeymoon or vacation anywhere else. They had never been outside of Italy, except for forays into southern Switzerland, the Italian part.

They thought it especially important to visit the United States after September 11 — to show their solidarity. Their family and friends questioned their decision to come here (terrorism concerns), but this marvelous couple — Luigi and Lucia — said they simply had to. They are ferocious and glorious anti-Communists — living on Gramsci Street, in Milan, and not happy about it! (“It’s just the street name: What can you do?”)

At JFK, walking to the baggage carousel, Luigi looked out the window and spotted an Air France plane, on the ground. “Why do you let them in here?” he asked.

It pays to remember Luigi, Lucia, and their like when we’re tempted to become too despairing about our cousins over on that Continent.

Do you want to know something else nice about that homecoming? As I was waiting at Passport Control, one official — in charge of the line — didn’t quite have her act together. She asked me to stand in a variety of places, none of which seemed the right one. When I got to a desk, this second officer — who had noticed my little dance — said, cheerfully, “Getting the good ol’ American run-around, huh?” I smiled and said yes. “Well,” he continued, “at least you know you’re home.”

I thought that was absolutely precious — a sort of verbal and personal candy upon my re-entry.

Some of you may remember that, in my previous installment, I mentioned having a tour of the Kaiservilla, in Bad Ischl, conducted by the present heir of Franz Josef. As we went about the house, he pointed to a very famous image of his imperial ancestor and rued not receiving any royalties for it — it had been reproduced, endlessly, around the globe. Our (very sharp) Rick Brookhiser commented, “Isn’t the reason he doesn’t get royalties — that he is royalty?”

Could be!

A reader contributes a joke about Fidel Castro:

“Castro dies and goes to heaven [bear with us]. When he gets there, St. Peter tells him that he is not on the list and that, no way, no how, does he belong in heaven. Castro must go to hell. So Castro goes to hell, where Satan gives him a hearty welcome and tells him to make himself at home.

“Then Castro notices that he left his luggage in heaven and tells Satan, who says, ‘No hay problema, I’ll send a couple of little devils to get your stuff.’

“When the little devils get to heaven they find the gates are locked — St. Peter is having lunch — and they start debating what to do. Finally, one comes up with the idea that they should climb over the wall and get the luggage.

“As they are climbing, two little angels see them, and one angel says to the other, ‘Would you look at that? Fidel has been in hell no more than ten minutes and we’re already getting refugees!’”

This, however, is less funny: “Dear Jay: I was recently interning in NYC and was living at the 92nd Street Y, which, as I’m sure you know, is not a bastion of conservatism. Anyway, one of the residents on my floor was an aspiring actor from London and was easily to the left of Karl Marx. He was talking about politics, and the subject of Cuba and Castro was raised. He came up with these two gems: ‘I would like to find a cool Cuban bar to hang out in, but it would probably be filled with the ones who fled the country.’ And, ‘I would like to visit Cuba before Castro dies and America f***s up the country.’

“Not only are those statements insulting to freedom-pursuing Cubans everywhere, they make me literally sick to my stomach. Thank God the Europeans aren’t in charge of ensuring my freedom.”

I hear you, bro’.

“Mr. Nordlinger: I was Googling for something else and came across a column you wrote last year that included an item on honorifics. I then happened to see the latest on the Alabama Ten Commandments brouhaha with ‘the Rev. Barry Lynn’ chortling over the monument’s removal. I can’t decide which is more annoying: Judge Moore’s grandstanding (if you’re a fan of his, sorry) or the press’s faithful use of the honorific ‘Reverend’ for Lynn, who is consistently hostile to even the most innocuous references to religion in the public arena. I know he is allegedly an ordained minister of some church or ‘nother, but geez . . .”

“Geez” is right!

Last, in my previous column — in reference to the International Herald Tribune columnist William Pfaff — I said “Pfie on Pfaff” (not wanting to submit to a much more vulgar “pf” word).

A reader says, “I am reminded of one of my all-time favorite headlines. A small town near Austin, Texas, had a football team with a huge winning streak. When they at last lost one, the headline in the Austin paper read, ‘Pflugerville Pfinally Pfalters.’”

Pfarewell, for now, y’all.

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