Politics & Policy

An American Sickness, &C.

Not a minute too soon, President Bush and Vice President Cheney are fighting back against this “Bush lied” nonsense. About the worst charge you can level against a president is that he lied his country into war–an unnecessary war. And this lie has been gaining traction among people. What Bush always had going for him–from the first; since he started running in Texas–was that he was a “straight shooter.” He was almost painfully honest. Even if you didn’t like him, or his policies, you knew he was sincere, that what you saw was what you got. This is an invaluable quality for a politician. (Reagan had it too.)

And Bush is now widely seen as shady, shifty–Nixonian. That is an alarming and stupid reversal.

Of course, as has been amply documented in National Review and elsewhere, the Bush-lied charge is the biggest lie of all. (For a total demolition of this lie, see Norman Podhoretz’s piece in Commentary.) That this lie has made such progress says something sick about our culture. That Joseph Wilson is basically a figure of respect rather than infamy says something sick about that culture, too–especially our media culture. His lies have been exposed again and again, and he ought to go away somewhere, Agnew-like, to atone. Instead, he is a proud celebrity. Again, this is sick.

Meanwhile, Bush, Cheney, et al. have a war to win. They have a society to protect, against people bent on doing it harm. Bush and his team are constantly attacked as torturers, as haters of civil liberties–but as soon as any American is killed, they will be condemned as lax.

This is the burden of leadership. The rest of us can just sit at our typewriters and carp. The administration is supposed to stop the Lackawanna Six. But we get to say that the Patriot Act is an expression of McCarthyite evil. Isn’t that a sweet deal–for us? All the administration can do is perform. And if they do their jobs, they will be thanked–maybe not soon, and maybe not even in their lifetimes, but eventually, I believe. And I think Bush knows this, too.

‐When I go to some conference or other and speak before liberals, I sometimes let drop that many, many conservatives don’t regard Bush as a conservative at all–they regard him as a heretic, or a moderate, or a liberal. A second Great Society president from Texas. These liberals are aghast: because they view Bush as Attila the Hun. They think he’s a Goldwaterian nightmare, out to make America a dog-eat-dog jungle. (I guess dogs don’t live in jungles.) The gap between their image of Bush and Bush’s actual record is enormous.

Mark Steyn captured all this perfectly in a recent column. He argued that Bush is properly seen as a Third Way-er–and “it’s a remarkable achievement to get damned day in, day out as the new Hitler when 90 percent of the time you’re Tony Blair with a ranch.”

As I said, perfect.

‐One of the most amazing developments of the recent period is the Left’s newfound respect for the CIA–especially for the sanctity of covertness. For pretty much all of my lifetime, the CIA has been the villain of every movie (or at least every movie in which the agency appeared). When I was in college, to say “CIA” was essentially to say “SS” or “Gestapo”–it was simply assumed that everyone thought of America’s intelligence service as nefarious. And most people I knew thought Philip Agee cool.

I have often said, it took Ronald Reagan and his SDI proposal to make the Left love Mutual Assured Destruction. And it has taken George W. Bush, Ahmad Chalabi, and Lewis Libby to make it love the CIA.


Frankly, the Left was better when it loved Agee and the Church Committee–it was more honest, at least.

‐An indication of how times have changed: When Agee blew agents, he got some of them killed. When some Bushies revealed the identity of Joe Wilson’s wife, they got both of them in Vanity Fair.

‐Q.: When the name “Valerie Plame” is leaked, the world goes nuts. When the existence of an entire covert prison system is leaked, the world yawns (if it notices at all). Why is that?

If you’re reading this website, you don’t need an “A.”!

‐In a column last week, I wrote that it was encouraging to see Moroccans in the street, demonstrating against al-Qaeda, defending a godly Islam. (It took the kidnapping of a couple of Moroccans in Iraq to do that.) We see similar expressions in Jordan. Next time someone speaks glibly about “the Arab street,” remember those people. That street is occupied not only by Osama-worshippers.

‐And lest you forget the character of the Syrian regime–or suppose that no Arab wishes to fight for liberty or decency–consider this report:

Dr. Kamal Labwani, head of the Liberal Democratic Party in Syria, was arrested upon arrival to Damascus airport last night [Nov. 8]. Labwani was seen escorted by scores of security personnel wearing civilian clothes.

Labwani arrived Washington DC in late October at the behest of the US State Department Visitor’s Program. Initially, he met with NGO’s and human rights organizations. Later, he was introduced to some officials in the State Department and the White House and eventually this led to a meeting with J.D. Crouch, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor.

Dr. Labwani has been imprisoned during the “Damascus Spring” of 2001 for three years for voicing his opinion against the regime of Assad. This did not quell his efforts to re-energize his political will upon leaving the Syrian prison system. . . .

A democrat comes to the U.S., meets with our officials, returns home, and is promptly “disappeared.” Our government should have something to say about that, right? Fortunately, it did. Said Scott McClellan, “We are deeply disturbed by reports that Dr. Kamal Labwani was arrested by Syrian authorities upon his arrival in Damascus . . . We stress that the United States stands with the Syrian people in their desire for freedom and democracy. The Syrian government must cease its harassment of Syrians peacefully seeking to bring democratic reform to their country.” The White House called for Labwani’s “unconditional release”–not very Scowcroftian, but American, and reassuring.

‐Speaking of that which is un-Scowcroftian: The president met with the Dalai Lama before he traveled to China, although he did so very, very, very quietly. This presents a question: If you sip tea with the spiritual leader of Tibet, but keep it on the downlow, is that okay with Brent & Co., or have you committed an act of utopian, warmongering zeal?

As you know, President Ford–to whom Scowcroft was national-security adviser–refused to meet with Solzhenitsyn 30 years ago. That act does not look so admirable now. No matter what, GWB will come out smelling much, much better.

‐A remarkable development in the Arab world, as reported by the AP: “Israel’s foreign minister traveled Tuesday to Tunisia, the first time that an Israeli plane carrying an official delegation has flown directly to the North African country. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom is leading Israel’s delegation to the U.N.’s World Summit on the Information Society, which starts Wednesday in Tunis. Israeli radio said Shalom traveled directly from Israel aboard a special plane. Tunisia does not have diplomatic ties with Israel.”

To longtime students of the Middle East (broadly defined), this is not uninteresting at all.

‐Barbra Streisand has called for the impeachment of President Bush. This reminds me of Ted Weiss, the late New York congressman, who called for Reagan’s impeachment, following the liberation of Grenada. When Bush is at his downest–e.g., now–he should remember that he’s in good company (on so many fronts).

‐It’s hard to take in the entire monstrosity that is Castro’s Cuba, but focus on one prisoner, if you will, as described and supported by Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, on the House floor:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak about Blas Giraldo Reyes Rodríguez, a political prisoner in totalitarian Cuba.

Mr. Reyes Rodríguez is an opposition activist and independent librarian . . . His life is dedicated to the proposition that the men and women of Cuba must be free: free to learn, free to worship, free to elect their leaders, free to enjoy their inalienable human rights. Independent libraries in Cuba, such as the one operated by Mr. Reyes Rodríguez, provide the indispensable service of circulating truth at a time when the tyrannical regime provides only propaganda. These heroic librarians often circulate the great works of anti-totalitarian literature, including the important writings of Václav Havel and Dr. Martin Luther King. Literature is a great danger to totalitarian regimes: books often provide the truth that tyrants seek to hide.

Unfortunately, in March 2003, as part of Castro’s condemnable crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy activists, Mr. Reyes Rodríguez was arrested. In a sham trial, he was sentenced to 25 years in the totalitarian gulag.

Reyes Rodríguez is suffering from ill health. The authorities have threatened to arrest his wife, for receiving visitors who expressed sympathy with her–this comes under “counterrevolutionary activities.”

Lincoln D.-B. concluded, “Mr. Speaker, let me be very clear: Mr. Reyes Rodríguez is languishing in an infernal gulag because he believes in freedom, truth, democracy, and human rights. His family is being constantly threatened because of these ‘dangerous’ beliefs. My colleagues, we must demand the immediate and unconditional release of Blas Giraldo Reyes Rodríguez and every other political prisoner in totalitarian Cuba.”

Yeah, don’t you think?

‐Speaking of great people: Mary Anastasia O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal has won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism, given by the International Policy Network. Her acceptance speech is a prizewinner itself, devoted to the Cuban situation. (Enjoy it here.) This lady is a journalistic hero of our times, and we should hope that she writes forever.

‐The loser of the New Jersey gubernatorial race said something charming. You will recall that he is Doug Forrester, a wealthy Republican who “self-financed.” He said, “When your children admire you for spending their inheritance, you either have a great cause or great kids–or both.”

Geez, I’m sorry he lost, for many reasons.

‐On the Tonight show, Jay Leno said something not only funny, but rather bold, and painfully true. (As a Detroit-area kid, I know.) He said, “Over 1,300 cars set on fire in France [that dates the comment]–1,300! Usually, to see that many cars on fire, you have to wait for the Detroit Pistons to win a championship.”

‐I’m looking at the back cover of The New Republic. It has an ad from the Saudi government. The slogan is, “Strong allies. Committed friends.” (That means them and us Americans.) There is a photo, and it shows two young girls, frolicking, having fun, faces to the sun, hair flowing freely.

Smart cookies, those Saudi admen: What an image of female Saudihood (or Saudi femalehood) to transmit! I guess they didn’t want to show women covered in black, locked in a room at home, while their husband is having his way with the Filipino maid.

Yeah, yeah, I know, every country has its problems. “What about the Negroes in the South?” Blah, blah, blah.

‐In case you have forgotten, the above-quoted line was the stock response of Soviets and other Communists when Americans raised human-rights concerns during the first decades of the Cold War.

‐My boy–our boy–Rob Long has published a book, titled Set Up, Joke, Set Up, Joke. As you know, Rob is a Hollywood writer, and the author of an NR column, “The Long View.” (Get it?) He also happens to be one of the most talented and loveliest people in America. (He’ll kill me for that pansy word “loveliest,” but it’s true.) I haven’t read the book yet, but I can’t wait to get my hands on it–oh, the link is here–and I can guarantee you (and myself) this: I’ll feel damn good after reading it. During, too.

‐Nor is this the first book Rob has written. Have you read Conversations with My Agent? Do. Not. Deprive Yourself.

‐Time for some criticism from the New York Sun. For a review of the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, please go here. For a review of the Bruckner Orchestra of Linz, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, with violinist Renaud Capuçon, soloist, please go here. For a review of the soprano Miah Persson, and a review of the violinist Leila Josefowicz, please go here. And for a review of a gala concert featuring the soprano Deborah Voigt and the tenor Ben Heppner, please go here.

‐Finally, check out this statement, from the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (whose output I admire, incidentally):

The work of every artist can be plotted, from a very early age, on a grid whose axes are time and place. In fact, the early coordinates are the important ones: in my case, the time was a time of war and the place was Finland. It was fortunate that it was Finland: a land of dramatic destinies, wedged between East and West, between the tundra and Europe, between the Lutheran and Orthodox faiths . . . And what about the war then: the tragic death of my mother as a consequence of war, my father already dead by then, my being adopted by my mother’s sister; chaos all around in my life and in the world crumbling around me? What could be more fertile soil for growth? Full of problems, traumas and complexes, ready to be compensated in art.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it!

See you soon, y’all.


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