Politics & Policy

Listening to Bush, &C.

It’s strange to say that a president doesn’t get enough attention–that his speeches and arguments are ignored. But I think this may be true of GWB. Over and over, he speaks clearly about the War on Terror, and other matters, and month after month, people say, “Why isn’t the president saying anything? Why doesn’t he speak out? Has he no defense of his policies?”

Problem is, Bush can give a speech to a few hundred people, and the rest of the world takes little notice (or isn’t given very much).

Poor president, I’m saying: Doesn’t have a big enough megaphone. “Get real, Impromptus guy!”

But consider–consider not just this latest Iraq speech (Wednesday’s), but the one he gave on Veterans Day (November 11). He spoke at the Tobyhanna Army Depot, in Pennsylvania, and I urge anyone interested to read this speech. He says why we are at war; he says who our enemies are, and how they’re related; he says how the war is going; he outlines his vision.

Now, you may disagree with Bush, and you may despise him: but it should be impossible to say that he has no clue.

I wish to highlight a few passages from the Tobyhanna speech.

It has been the custom of world leaders and other politicians to omit the Israelis in lists of terror victims–not Bush. He said,

“In the four years since September the 11th, the evil that reached our shores has reappeared on other days, in other places–in Mombasa and Casablanca and Riyadh and Jakarta and Istanbul and Madrid and Beslan and Taba and Netanya and Baghdad, and elsewhere.”

The presence of Netanya on that list shouldn’t be remarkable–but in our often-disgusting world, it is.

And was he once shy about identifying the enemy? If so–and I think everybody pretty much always got the message–he’s over it. He handles the question nicely:

“Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant jihadism; and still others, Islamofascism. Whatever it’s called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam. This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment, by terrorism, subversion, and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom.”

How do you like this, concerning jihadist aims?

“Some might be tempted to dismiss these goals as fanatical or extreme. They are fanatical and extreme–but they should not be dismissed. Our enemy is utterly committed.”

He took after Syria for what it does to decent people. For example, the regime “arrested Dr. Kamal Labwani for serving as an advocate for democratic reform.” Countless Russians testified how important it was that Jeane Kirkpatrick named names of prisoners on the floor of the U.N. Very little is more important than this naming of names–and when the U.S. president does it, that is big stuff indeed.

(Might GWB mention a Cuban or two–or 100? I mean, specifically?)

How about the notion that our presence in Iraq is itself the cause of terrorism?

“. . . we were not in Iraq on September the 11th . . . The hatred of the radicals existed before Iraq was an issue, and it will exist after Iraq is no longer an excuse.”

And “over the years, these extremists have used a litany of excuses for violence: the Israeli presence on the West Bank, the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, the defeat of the Taliban, or the Crusades of a thousand years ago. In fact, we’re not facing a set of grievances that can be soothed and addressed. We’re facing a radical ideology with inalterable objectives: to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world. No act of ours invited the rage of killers–and no concession, bribe, or act of appeasement would change or limit their plans for murder. On the contrary, they target nations whose behavior they believe they can change through violence. Against such an enemy, there is only one effective response”–you know what that is.

And the guy is not too sheepish about declaring what we’re doing to the enemy in Iraq:

“Two weeks ago, in Operation Clean Sweep, Iraq and coalition forces raided 350 houses south of Baghdad, capturing more than 40 of the terrorist killers. Acting on tips from local citizens, our forces have recently launched air strikes against terrorist safe houses in and around the towns of Ubaydi and Husaybah. We brought to justice two key senior al-Qaeda terrorist leaders. And in Mosul, coalition forces killed an al-Qaeda cell leader named Muslet, who was personally involved in at least three videotaped beheadings. We’re on the hunt. We’re keeping pressure on the enemy.”

As in his October speech at the Reagan Library, he spent some time on the similarities between the Cold War and the Terror War–between Communism and Islamofascism. And then he laid this on ‘em:

“Some observers look at the job ahead and adopt a self-defeating pessimism. It is not justified. With every random bombing, with every funeral of a child, it becomes more clear that the extremists are not patriots or resistance fighters–they’re murderers at war with the Iraqi people themselves.

“In contrast, the elected leaders of Iraq are proving to be strong and steadfast. By any standard or precedent of history, Iraq has made incredible political progress–from tyranny, to liberation, to national elections, to the ratification of a constitution–in the space of two-and-a-half years.”


People say, over and over, “Why isn’t Bush saying anything?” He is–but is anyone bothering to listen? It’s not all that hard, even if Dan Rather–or whoever the new guy is–won’t dump it in your lap. Again, I urge you to read the Tobyhanna speech–skip the boilerplate about veterans, and how much money the administration is spending on them, at the beginning. The guts of the speech will take you maybe 15 minutes to read. It will be worth it, if you want to know the president’s view. As I said, you may disagree with him, or think he’s full of it–but you should at least know where he (and, by extension, we as a country) stand.

I have said for many years that Bush should hold more press conferences. Prime-time ones, in the East Room, or whatever. It would give him an opportunity to speak to people–lots of people, not just a crowd gathered in an auditorium. Let the questioning be hostile–the more hostile the better. Bush can handle it, and he would impart information, or opinion, that people should have. The White House staff should feel no need to protect him. He can talk. In his fashion–homespun and unpolished–but he can talk.

‐I think you know this old song of mine: Bush critics want no imposition in Iraq–no imposition of American values or practices–except when they want such an imposition. You remember when the Iraqis wrote their constitution? Critics screamed, “But it’s not American enough, not Western enough, not liberal enough!” And they were the ones accusing us war backers of imperialism, in every form.

I thought of this when reading this little story: “The nation’s top military man, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, said American troops in Iraq have a duty to intercede and stop abuse of prisoners by Iraqi security personnel.”

Okay, fine. But what happened to respect for the native way? What happened to our loathing of “ethnocentrism,” or whatever the latest buzzword is? What happened to our fear of imperialism, military and cultural?


‐Imagine you’re a lefty–or some kind of righty, or someone, anyway–and you think the U.S. military is bad (basically). And then the military, in Ethiopia, rescues cheetah cubs, abused for the enjoyment of an audience. It wasn’t the U.N. who rescued those animals, or Bishop Tutu, or PETA–but the big bad American military.

Gosh, I love those stories.

(Did you miss that one? It’s here.)

‐Look, I have nothing against Dwight D. Eisenhower–he was a decent president, and a fine general, and an inestimable booster of golf. People more or less agree that he was an admirable–not to mention a likable!–man, and a patriot. But I’m not sure I’m crazy about this new monument for him, destined to appear on the Mall.

Isn’t the Mall getting a little crowded? We’ve got–just for presidents–Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and FDR. Ike would be the fifth. (He would be the first to bow to the policy, “Foursomes only”!) How low–or how generous, if you prefer–should our standards for Mall entry be? The whole thing could get seriously out of hand.

Kennedy lovers will plump for JFK. Great Society enthusiasts will plump for LBJ. I doubt Nixon will have anyone behind him. But how about Reagan–what happens when the likes of me say, “But the Gipper’s gotta be on there, especially if you have those others!”

Again, nothing against Eisenhower: but we should add these monuments cautiously, soberly–with fear and trembling–lest they lose their meaning, and lest the absence of one become something like an insult.

‐Memo to itchy-fingers: I know that the Jefferson Memorial, and other such sites, aren’t technically on the Mall. I am speaking loosely, popularly.

‐By the way, I’ve always felt it inappropriate that TR is on Rushmore, with those other guys. But you can’t dislodge the old blusterer now.

‐Check out this, from the AP! “Widely recognized as a military hawk, President Richard M. Nixon fretted privately over the notion of any no-holds-barred nuclear war, newly released documents from his time at the White House reveal.”

Everyone knows that, in general, military hawks are entirely unconcerned about no-holds-barred nuclear war!

You simply get tired of explaining to people that the reason we’re hawks is, in large measure, to avoid war. You just do. The culture the Left has made–particularly through the schools–is simply too strong.

‐In 1991, they pulled the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky–the Cheka chief–from in front of the Lubyanka. Now Dzerzhinsky has gone back up. It’s as though you’re being commanded to worry about the direction in which Russia is going.

By the way, David Pryce-Jones said something interesting the other day: He objects to references to Dzerzhinsky as “Iron Felix.” Sounds too light, almost warm and friendly. No one talks of Himmler–the German Dzerzhinsky–as “Heiny.” (Although you might want to use hiney, as in, “Kiss my . . .”)

‐Remember when Reagan used the word “keister”? Fabulous.

‐He used it in the sentence, “I’ve had it up to my keister with these leaks.”

‐As usual, Thomas Sowell has spoken for me: “A nightmare for the 2008 presidential election: Hillary Clinton versus John McCain. I wouldn’t know whether to vote Libertarian or move to Australia.”

‐Friends, I’m going to vent a little bit, about a company that has recently wronged me: Eddie Bauer. A first-rate company, I always thought. I’ll tell you a story that may sound familiar to you. That is, you may have experienced something like this yourself, from someone.

Few months ago, I took out an Eddie Bauer credit card. Big mistake. The nice, pretty clerk prevailed on me to do so, telling me how much I would save. I figured I should be all for saving.

Then the bill came, and I paid it. Then another bill came–saying I still owed. Using the phone number given on the bill, I called the company to dispute this, or at least to inquire about it. You know: to have a discussion. I fought my way through their automated system, listening to all the commands, and obeying them. But I was cut off. I called again, went through the whole rigmarole again–and was once more cut off.

So, frustrated, and facing a long to-do list, I turned to something else.

And then another bill came, indicating that the penalties were mounting. I again called–again went through their system, punched in all those numbers, listened to all those commands. And again I was cut off–the system wasn’t working. At least it wasn’t working for me. I was not able to speak to a person.

So I gave up. Forgot about it. Thanksgiving, etc., etc.

Okay, yesterday morning: Received a call, very early, from a bill collector. I hadn’t paid my Eddie Bauer bill, and I was about to be reported to a credit agency. Would I care to pay my debt now–for an extra “processing fee” of $7?

I was about to pay, but then I said, “Look, friend, I tried to call this company–I tried over and over–but I couldn’t. I couldn’t speak to a human being. I’d like to tell someone that, before I pay this bill. Do you know of a way of talking to someone?”

He gave me a number, and I got a human being. I was soon sorry I had. She was utterly unsympathetic, said I should have written a letter, especially after I’d failed to reach someone on the phone. (She may have been right.) This dear lady doubted I had made those calls at all–virtually called me a liar.

I was pretty surprised, I have to tell you. Getting nowhere, I paid my debt–forking over that $7 processing fee–and asked to cancel the credit card. Was shifted to someone else. She asked why I was canceling. I told her. She seemed sympathetic! And as we were talking . . . I was cut off, somehow. Could have been my cellphone. Probably was.

As regular readers know, I’m all for automation, globalization, other “ations.” I don’t weep over the demise of the mom ‘n’ pop store on Main Street. Often, that store was understocked and overpriced, and not infrequently Mom ‘n’ Pop were a little rude. But at least you had someone to speak to. At Eddie Bauer, I had no one to speak to–and when I was finally able to speak to someone, instead of apologies and understanding I got accusation, and the shaft.

Trust me, dear readers, I would never abuse what little power this platform has to blast a company (or an individual). I would have to feel strongly, and I would have to feel sure of the facts. (Also, I would have to suspect you were interested!)

And I do. So, as I sit here, typing in my Eddie Bauer pants — great, by the way — I can tell you that this company did not behave laudably.

‐Care for a little music? For a review of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Levine, please go here. For a review of the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Lorin Maazel, please go here. And for a review of the mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager in recital, please go here.

‐A quick letter about language?


Your comment on English, and how difficult it must be for a foreigner to learn, reminded me of the old joke about a Frenchman. He had just about gotten the idea of through, though, cough, tough, bough, and so forth, but gave up and went home when he saw a newspaper headline about a theatrical production: “‘Hamlet’ Pronounced ‘Success.’”

Have a good weekend, y’all.


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