Politics & Policy

The Commanders in Our Culture, &C.

Couple of days ago, I was reading a speech by Peter Pace. It was a very good speech, too–on strategy in Iraq. (Find it here.) Who’s Peter Pace? He’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

And as I was reading, I realized how little I know of our commanders–of the people who are fighting the war (the war in Iraq, and the War on Terror at large). Who are these guys (Pace, Abizaid, Petraeus, et al.)? Where are they from? What are they like? Who are their wives? What are their nicknames? Etc.

I may be wrong, but it strikes me that our commanders aren’t celebrities in our culture. I believe that World War I Americans knew Pershing. And World War II Americans knew Ike, Patton, Bradley, Clark, and the rest. Hell, even Vietnam Americans knew Westmoreland, if only for bad reasons.

But I know a lot about Cindy Sheehan. I know a lot about Rep. John Murtha. I know next to nothing about our leaders in the field.

Could be my fault–could be that I’m reading the wrong things. But I sort of doubt it.

In the same way, we hear of very few heroic acts. Such acts go on all the time, in the field. (NR’s Kate O’Beirne has written about them, thank goodness.) But do these men become household names? Are those names lisped with pride by children in schools? Of course not.

TV is too fascinated by the latest Cindy antic.

Anyway …

‐Rumsfeld is in bad odor now–has been for a couple of years–but he’s not in bad odor with me. And one thing I like about him is that he always stresses that we’re not in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or anywhere else for the purpose of revenge. No, we’re there because our enemies have vowed to attack us until we succumb. They aren’t satisfied with the 3,000 dead of September 11. They won’t be satisfied until they have accomplished many more such deeds.

Particularly in the months after 9/11, Rumsfeld stressed that we were not interested in retaliation, retribution, or revenge. Those were the three wrong R’s (as I named them). No, we struck the terrorists and their allies because that was the only way to defend ourselves. We weren’t trying to avenge September 11; we were trying to prevent future ones.

So it is with a heavy heart that you pick up The Spectator–a conservative publication–and read a review by James Astill of George Packer’s book The Assassin’s Gate: America in Iraq. What you read is this:

The war became inevitable after the 11 September terrorist attacks, [Packer] argues, as President George Bush swiftly found Afghanistan too small a target for the retaliatory haymaker he wished to throw at the world. Its cheer-leaders were a motley lot: the “neo-cons”, for whom liberal democracy would flourish in tyranny’s defeat; right-wing realists, thirsty for oil and jealous of Saddam Hussein’s weapons programmes; left-wing humanitarian interventionists, including Packer, a wise reporter for the New Yorker; and random opportunists and controversialists, like Christopher Hitchens, a bar-stool general, fighting militant Islam over a boozy lunch: “You want to be a martyr? I’m here to help.”

Very, very clever. And very, very stupid–and depressing. “Retaliatory haymaker.” What can be done to convince these people that, if you don’t go after the terrorists, their sponsors, their apparatus, they will come to you, just as they came to 3,000–and, in a way, many more–about four years ago?

Nothing will convince them. They must think that September 11 was a weird accident. Fortunately, others understand.

‐Quick item from the AP: “President Bush on Friday rejected a request to place quotas on steel pipe imported from China, saying the cost to American consumers would outweigh the benefit to domestic producers.”

Hmm–think the fella has learned a lesson? They say he can’t, you know.

‐You poor readers: I’m always inveighing against the tax system and its favoritism. If I learned one thing from Senator Moynihan–and I didn’t learn much–it was that “tax policy is social policy.” You better believe it.

Ours is a system–sing along with my customary refrain–that favors homeowners over renters; married people over singles; married people with children over married people without; married people with children who go to college over married people with children who become mechanics; etc., etc.

With that in mind: “Hybrid cars are a good bet for tax breaks in 2006. The new year will bring more savings for buyers of at least 13 gas-electric vehicles, with those showing the most improvement in fuel efficiency securing bigger tax breaks for their new owners.” (That was another item from the AP.)

Oh, for heaven’s sake: Just pass a flat tax–no exceptions, no favoritism, no Mickey Mouse–and be done with it.

Argghh (as Howard Dean might say)!

‐Was reading a story headed “After 5 Years, White House Core Intact.” (Here.) Its theme: The Bush team has been together for a long time, they’re all insulated, they’re in a bubble, etc., etc. I particularly loved this quote from Paul Light, a professor of organizational studies at New York University (organizational studies?): “[Bush] is surrounded by people who agree with him.”

You don’t say? Unlike, say, President Clinton, who was surrounded by people who disagreed with him all the time. You remember those towers of independent-mindedness and strength. Remember how they stood up to Clinton during the lies of Lewinsky?

Gimme a break!

‐Reader of mine sent me something charming: the website of Trouvé, a company that sells “European, French, and Eclectic Decor and Gifts.” (French is not European?) Among their products are finger puppets, and one of their “little thinkers” is Che Guevara. Isn’t he cute! They also have an “Axis of Evil.” I’ll quote the ad copy: “They’re finger puppets; they’re magnets; and they’re pure evil! Condi, Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld, the true axis of evil! They also triple as pincushions.”

Yes, just thought you’d like to know.

‐But here’s something you’ll really want to know: My boy Bret Stephens had a piece in the Wall Street Journal on the new Spielberg movie about the Black September terrorists and the Israelis who hunted them down. Did you see it (the piece, that is)? You must: here. Bret has seen the movie and explained–coolly–what is wrong with it, saving the rest of us the trouble.

An invaluable service.

‐A little news on the Indian-American front. (Did you know we had such a front? We do.) A year ago, I had a piece on the Indian Americans and their stirrings in American politics. (By Indian, I mean the Subcontinent, not the rez.) I mentioned the first Indian-American congressman, Dalip Singh Saund, Democrat of California, elected in 1956. He went door to door in his turban. The second Indian American was elected only in 2004, and that was the Republican Bobby Jindal, of Louisiana.

Why do I bring this up? Well, only to say that the House has just authorized the commissioning of an official portrait of Saund. It will hang in the halls of Congress. Which is great–for Saund was a remarkable story.

‐A little news on the Albanian front? Friend of mine sent me this picture, with the note, “From a shop window in Pristina–I thought you’d like this.”

He was right.

(Yes, I know Pristina is not in Albania. I beg you not to write me pointing this out. The picture very much qualifies as “on the Albanian front.”)

‐A little language? Okay. The other day, I wrote that Wozzeck–Alban Berg’s masterpiece–is perhaps “the most terrible opera extant.” And I meant “terrible” in the first sense: “causing great fear or alarm; dreadful.”

And that provoked a memory, from graduate school. I was listening to a lecture by Donald Fleming, the eminent historian of ideas (and other things). Speaking of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, he said–something like–”And one of the most terrible things about that terrible book …” At this point, the class tittered. And he said, “And you know the sense in which I mean ‘terrible.’” Of course, they hadn’t.

Funny, the things you can remember, and the things you can forget.

‐Friends, I have a new favorite name in life: Kevin Pittsnogle, a player on the West Virginia University (Dub-V-U) basketball team. Read it the other day. I hope he pronounces it “noggle”–I certainly do, in my head.

Of course, no one and nothing can ever replace the immortal Pooh Richardson. I believe that remains my all-time favorite.

(I’m partial to Mookie Wilson too. I especially like the phrase, “‘sup, Mook?”)

‐A little music? For a review of the Metropolitan Opera’s Elixir of Love, published in the New York Sun, please go here.

‐A little unfinished business from Tuesday’s Impromptus. As you may recall, I inveighed against the University of Michigan, and its decision to ban Coca-Cola products from its campuses. Seems the kids were concerned about conditions in the company’s bottling plants in Colombia.

A reader reminded me of a key point–one I had meant to make, but forgot, in my mockery of the university. So, these kids don’t like the conditions at those plants, or what they imagine those conditions to be. Okay. Will they employ those Colombians? Can they give them jobs? What do they expect them to do–put on a coat and tie and slide into middle management at IBM?

Let’s just boycott Coke, put ‘em out of work, go to sleep at night on a self-congratulatory high.


You remember that I said that Michigan’s action made me want to go out and drink a Coke, ditching Pepsi? A reader wrote, “Be sure to buy your Coke at Wal-Mart, too–that’ll teach them.”

I loved that.

And here was an obvious point–one I should have made. I quoted the AP headline that went, “Experts: Roberts, Alito Side with Business.” I then delivered a micro-sermon on business.

A reader wrote in, “If you read the article, nowhere does the reporter say that those judges ’side’ with the law. That’s the only legitimate ’siding with’ to be done.”


Finally, a million–a million–people wrote to say, “Jay, if you write about Gaffney [S.C.], how can you fail to mention the giant peach–the water tower painted like a peach? Also, it looks just like a derriere.”

Yes, how could I have?



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