In recent weeks, I’ve been writing about nervousness–mine–over whether the United States disengages from Iraq too soon. Speaking to those troops in Baghdad, President Bush spoke to me, too, and to others who may be doubting: “We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost in casualties, defeat a brutal dictator, and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins.” Good. This is not only a good line–an eloquent line–but a deeply important and meaningful one.
Don’t you think?
‐The criticism Bush has taken over the Iraq trip–”photo-op” and all–is slightly appalling. There are some who hate Bush so much that they won’t credit him no matter what he does. In fact, they won’t even be neutral, but instead must damn him. I think of that old politician’s line: “If I walked on water, they’d say ‘[INSERT NAME HERE] can’t swim!’” It’s a tired line, but it perhaps applies to GWB. Some people are actually angry that Bush pulled off this Thanksgiving jaunt, and they seem miffed that the troops received him positively–and more than positively.
The most astounding thing I’ve seen in recent days is a cartoon by Jeff Danziger, a leftist full of bile. The cartoon–which can be found on this site–shows Bush bothering sullen and annoyed troops for a photo-op–and then skedaddling, in basically cowardly fashion. One soldier is actually glaring at Bush, exuding disdain. Luckily, however, we live in the age of the videotape: and we know that those troops weren’t sullen, annoyed, or disdainful. Quite the contrary. The reception brought tears to Bush’s eyes, and to many, I know, who witnessed this event on television. But Danziger, like others, is merely seeing the world–and, in his case, depicting the world–as he wishes it to be.
‐Let there be no doubt about Howard Dean’s position–and see whether he switches, once he wraps up the nomination (if he does). On Thanksgiving, his spokesman said, “It’s nice that [Bush] made it over there today, but this visit won’t change the fact that those brave men and women should never have been fighting in Iraq in the first place.”
Just so we’re clear.
‐I would like to say a word–a quite personal one (this is Impromptus!)–about the killing of those Spaniards, and the dancing of young Iraqis over their bodies. When I take in scenes like this, I’m tempted to say, “Screw ‘em.” (I’m cleaning up the language for this family-oriented column.) “If that’s the way they are, let them live under dictators. It’s not worth giving them a shot at a decent life.” But then I remember all the Iraqis not dancing. Their photos don’t get in newspapers much, and they tend not to feature in pundits’ columns. A breezy instant analyst (ahem) will say, “See? The Iraqis don’t like us, don’t appreciate us, and want us out,” thinking only of the dancers. But would that–an abandonment of the country–be fair to the non-dancers?
I wonder, too, how many Germans and Japanese resented us in those lands, and would have embraced the return of their former regimes. A great many, I suppose–not majorities, to be sure (or almost sure), but enough to fill many, many stadiums.
I’ll conclude this lil’ item with my strongest wish: That Iraqis–Iraqis themselves, the non-Saddamite majority–do something about the dancers. Ultimately, it’s their country, to win or lose.
‐Barry McCaffrey is a man I admire quite a lot, but I do not admire the op-ed piece he placed in the Wall Street Journal last week. It is a blast against Donald Rumsfeld. If he wants to blast Rumsfeld, fine–in fact, the world would welcome intelligent criticism of Rumsfeld from Barry McCaffrey. But, in knocking Rumsfeld, McCaffrey doesn’t really say what he himself would do, if he were in charge. He says, essentially, “Rumsfeld has messed up royally” . . . but he doesn’t go on to say what a McCaffrey treatment of Iraq would look like.
He writes, “Donald Rumsfeld is in denial of reality.” Oh, yeah? Seems to me that Rumsfeld is a man who has been fixed on reality, as opposed to illusion and wishfulness, for his entire career, usually to the cat-calls of the grandstand. McCaffrey later writes, “Some argue that Mr. Rumsfeld has ill served the president.” What a weaselly thing to say! “Some argue . . .” Well, what does McCaffrey argue? I could say, “Some argue that Barry McCaffrey is a horse’s ass”–I don’t think that’s true (as I made clear at the outset of this item), but I could say it, and if I didn’t weigh in myself, I’d be weaselly.
I was prepared for McCaffrey to assert, as so many Rumsfeld critics do, that we need more troops. Instead, he says, “We do not need more U.S. troops in Iraq.” But “we do need to increase the active-duty strength of the U.S. Army in order to sustain the current effort in both Iraq and Afghanistan”–so that is a policy recommendation, of a kind.
I don’t believe that McCaffrey had enough substance to warrant space on that sterling op-ed page. A blast from the great General McCaffrey–hero in Vietnam, hero in the Gulf, now a professor at West Point–should have had more pow. And, if I may, “some would argue” that McCaffrey came off looking like a bitter old man who resents being out of the power loop! I’ll say again, I admire McCaffrey–who has done more in life than I’ll ever do–but I do not admire this column.
And one point on language: I noticed it in McCaffrey’s piece, as I have elsewhere: I wince when I see the word “collaborators” applied to Iraqis helping Allied forces, and thus helping themselves. “Collaborator” has an odor about it (think France, think Quisling, think etc.). Not in the strict, dictionary definition, I grant you–the sense in which George and Ira were collaborators, and Mozart and da Ponte, for that matter! But I don’t like “collaborator” when applied to patriotic Iraqis, and I don’t like “resistance”–what a wonderful word!–when applied to the Saddam remnant that wants to reverse the long-awaited liberation.
And I imagine you, dear Impromptus-ites, feel the same way.
‐I weary of defending “Mission Accomplished,” but I’ll keep doing it anyway. As you know, “Mission Accomplished” is supposed to have been a great gaffe, embarrassing to the president. We shouldn’t let “them” take away “Mission Accomplished” from “us.” The mission had been accomplished, and that mission was the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, which was no easy thing, or which at least bargained not to be. And, as the president stated plainly aboard that carrier, we had hard work ahead of us. But there was nothing wrong with celebrating the accomplishment of that important mission, so beneficial to humanity–and more than celebrating, with thanking the troops who had, in fact, accomplished the mission. Bush wasn’t patting himself on the back–he was congratulating those troops, and conveying the gratitude of all of us.
We must not let “them”–the Democrats, the media–make it seem dirty.
And, by the way, the use of Willie Horton in the 1988 campaign was 100 percent legitimate. And the 1992 convention in Houston was no hate-fest. And John Ashcroft made no attempt to cover those stupid breasts. And . . .
‐I wish to quote from a superb piece of reporting by a superb and invaluable reporter, John F. Burns. The dispatch is from Amiriya, Iraq:
“Knowing what ordinary Iraqis thought was never easy for Western reporters when Saddam Hussein bestrode the land. Now his secret police and information ministry minders are gone, but not Mr. Hussein himself. So his terror still radiates among Iraqis, many of whom condition their words and actions against the possibility he may return.
“For now, to gauge the real mood of Iraqis, a visitor must listen carefully–especially when they gather in numbers, wary of what candor may cost if American troops are withdrawn before stability is established.”
These words should be read not only by the broad public, but by journalists–especially those undertaking to cover, or comment on, Iraq.
Burns quotes a man named Jasim, who says, “Tell the Americans that what we want is for them to bring a suitable man to power, an Iraqi the people can trust, a man who will govern us well. Only when they have done that should they leave, and they will do so with our blessing. We don’t want them to leave now. It would be chaos.”
‐A little North Korea? Okay! A little PLO? Okay! How about the two of them in one?
This bulletin is from Pyongyang’s news agency: “Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK, today sent a message of solidarity to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and chief of the Palestinian National Authority, on the occasion of the ‘World Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people.’ The message said that the Palestinian people are waging a vigorous struggle to put an end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory and achieve national independence under the leadership of the PLO headed by Yasser Arafat and sincerely wished him and the Palestinian people success in their efforts to regain their legitimate national right.”
‐If you’d like to read a moving piece, try Martin Peretz’s appreciation of Larry Tisch, the great businessman who once owned CBS. Tisch died not long ago. I met him once or twice, and, while I didn’t know him, I could sense a man of integrity: modest, unassuming, smart, secure in self. That was my impression, at least, and it has been confirmed by those who knew him.
Toward the end of his appreciation, Peretz writes, “I once needed to talk to Larry but couldn’t find his phone number. So I called [Tisch’s son] Tommy to get it. To which Tommy replied, ‘Larry’s number is in the New York phone book. And his address, too.’”
I will confess to you, ladies and gentlemen, that when I read those words, I–like a dumb curious kid, or something–went to the phone book and looked it up. And, behold: Larry Tisch’s name, number, and address.
That says something splendid about the man, although I’m afraid I can’t articulate just what at the moment.
‐Folks, I’ve got loads more, but I’ve gotta run, and will commit columny again soon. Don’t get me started on “Happy Holidays.” That’s two or three columns right there, by itself.
Want to end on a cute letter? It refers to my remarks last week on the gay-marriage-and-fidelity business:
“Jay, I faithfully read NRO Online and subscribe to NRODT. Can I now claim to be married to National Review and claim all of you as dependents? What a wonderful write-off! I suspect that I should re-route my subscription to the federal penitentiary where I will be staying for tax evasion.”