Politics & Policy

Straight Talk in a Strange Place, &C.

Folks, I wanted to tell you a little about John Bolton. (I’ve always disliked “folks”–don’t know why I just said that.) I’ve done a piece about Ambassador Bolton, for the current issue of National Review. Specifically, it’s about his month as president of the U.N. Security Council. His month–that of the United States, really–was February. (Yeah, we drew the shortest month.) The piece is called “Bolton at Bat,” and the point I’d most like to make now is this:

A Bolton press conference is a special thing. First of all, it’s extremely informative, and second of all, it’s not a little entertaining. And you can see transcripts of those press conferences on the website of the U.S. Mission at the U.N.: Go here. Bolton is just as blunt as the president he works for, and he can be just as playful (in a certain mood). Turtle Bay is not used to the sort of talk Bolton doles out.

Anyway, see what you think. Needless to say, Bolton was stringent and stirring, as president. (I talked to him on March 1. He said to me, “I’m an ex-president.”) The presidency of the Security Council is not the most powerful position on earth, but you can do things with it, and Bolton did all he could.

I’m not sure he’ll get another turn at bat–recess appointment and all. I hope he does. But he surely made the most out of the month he had, as he’s making the most out of his tenure at large, which is the theme (basically) of my NR piece.

‐I suppose I should confess something. That’s the joy of being a journalist–especially an opinion journalist!–as opposed to a public official, or someone else who needs to be responsible. (Ahem.) Sometimes I’m tempted to adopt the attitude of “the worse the better.”

I’ll give you an illustration. At the U.N., the issue of the Human Rights Commission has come up. You know the Human Rights Commission: home of those liberal-democratic giants Sudan, Cuba, Zimbabwe, China, etc. There is an effort underway to reform it, although the main proposal is very weak indeed. (The U.S. will vote against it, if it comes to that.)

Anyway, some on the left have accused conservatives of liking the Human Rights Commission just the way it is. That way, we have a club to beat the U.N. with. Kofi Annan keeps saying that the commission “casts a shadow” over the U.N. as a whole–you bet it does.

I will admit that I like to throw the Human Rights Commission in the faces of apologists for the U.N. Done it many a time. “How can you respect an organization the head of whose human-rights panel is Qaddafi?” That sort of thing.

So the temptation is, “The worse the better.” The U.N. is a rotten institution, and its rottenness is most clearly seen in the Human Rights Commission. What’s wrong with the U.N. is perfectly encapsulated there: As Solzhenitsyn says, we’re not talking about united nations, we’re talking about a collection of governments, or regimes, and a lot of them reek.

The responsible thing to do is favor the reform of the U.N. Human Rights Commission: so that it is a serious panel, which can be taken seriously. John Bolton is genuinely for reform–is ardent for it. I, however . . . am a little less responsible.

Reminds me of how I felt about CBS, and the ouster of Dan Rather. I was a little disappointed. I mean, the leader of CBS News ought to attend Democratic fundraisers. He ought to brandish fake documents on air in order to shaft Republican presidents. And so on. With Dan Rather, it was clear that CBS was as partisan as National Review.

Similarly, I thought it was great that the New York Times’s Supreme Court reporter marched in a pro-abortion rally. A person in that position ought to do so. I was a little disappointed when the paper disallowed this.

In short, it’s pretending–fig leaves–that I loathe.

‐From time to time, I point out speeches emanating from the administration–including from the president–that compare the Cold War to our current struggle, the War on Terror. The latest such speech was made by Donald Rumsfeld, at the Truman Library, March 2. You may find it here.

The speech needs to be read to be appreciated–to be agreed with or disagreed with–but I’d like to quote a little from it. The SecDef said,

Now with the perspective of history, the many new institutions and programs of the Truman years can seem, I suppose to many people, as part of a carefully crafted, broadly supported strategy that led to what now almost seems like an inevitable victory in the Cold War.

But of course, things didn’t unfold that way. That isn’t the way it was in history. They never unfold quite that way. Our country was tired after the Second World War and strong strains of isolationism still persisted. Many Americans were not in the mood for global involvement on the part of the United States. And particularly against something as ill-defined as the Communist menace at the time. It wasn’t as though they were engaged in a battle and you needed to respond, it was different than World War II. It was something that you couldn’t quite put your hand on, you couldn’t quite show a movie about it as readily.

I love that line: “You couldn’t quite show a movie about it.” Says a lot, if you ponder it.

And Rumsfeld had this to say, about bipartisanship:

. . . together, leaders of both of our political parties tended to get the big things right. And they did get the big things right. They understood that war had been declared on our country–on the free world–whether we liked it or not. That we had to steel ourselves against an expansionist enemy, the Soviet Union, that was determined to destroy our way of life.

Especially important are those words “whether we liked it or not.”

Anyway, as we say in BlogLand, “Read the whole thing.”

‐We usually do a little language toward the end of this column, but let Rumsfeld do our language for us, up here. Speaking of Harry Truman, he said in that speech,

You have to admire a president who was so down to earth that when he was asked what’s the first thing he’s going to do when he’s home, he said I’m going to “take the grips up to the attic.” Now, some of you are a little young and you don’t know that a “grip” is a suitcase, back in the old days. And I can remember my father using the word, my wife using the word.

I’m told that on leaving the White House in 1953, he said: “If I’d known how much packing I’d have to do, I’d have run again.”

Let me use the word “grip” for you in a sentence: “After I put my grip down, I went to the ice box for a slice of pie, then settled on the davenport with my dame.” Or something like that.

‐About a week ago, I got a call from a friend of mine, in high dudgeon. He had just been through the Dubai airport. (As it happened, this was during the UAE ports “crisis.”) He had a little time to kill, so went to the airport’s bookstore. And there, big as day, was Mein Kampf. But of course! From what I understand, Mein Kampf is more common in the Arab lands than a phone book.

This reminded me, of course, of an excellent piece that David Pryce-Jones did for us–for NR–in July 2002: “Their Kampf: Hitler’s book in Arab hands.” You may find it here.

That further reminded me of this: When talking to the Egyptian prime minister in Davos two months ago, I should have said, “As you know, Egyptian state television broadcast a series based on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Do you accept that The Protocols is a czarist forgery, or do you believe it says something real? And do you agree that your government ought to be sponsoring such a thing?”

Plumb slipped my mind.

‐It’s amazing–absolutely amazing–what comes out of President Bush’s mouth. He is mind-bogglingly candid, relaxed, normal. Unworried. I spotted this in Time:

“Touring New Orleans last week, [Bush] met a man who had survived for days on canned goods before being evacuated to Utah. ‘Were you the only black man in Salt Lake City?’ Bush asked.”

Doesn’t the Mailman still live there?

‐You may enjoy–or at least be interested in–a piece by Raúl Rivero in Newsweek International. Rivero is a Cuban poet and journalist, and he was a dissident and political prisoner. He now lives in Madrid. Amazing that Newsweek–any version of Newsweek–published him. (Which is a pathetic observation, isn’t it?) Rivero’s piece is about the Latin American sucking up to Castro’s regime, and the harm this does to the Cuban people. Anyway, you may read it here.

‐While I’m in the piece-recommending business, I wish you’d look at a Robert J. Samuelson column on immigration. It begins bracingly. In fact, this is as bracing an opening as I can remember:

It’s time to build a real fence or a wall along every foot of the 1,989 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border. There can be only two arguments against this approach to keeping out illegal immigrants: (1) it won’t work–possible, but we won’t know unless we try; or (2) we don’t want it to work–then, we should say so and open our borders to anyone but criminals and terrorists. Either way, we need more candor in our immigration debates.

Their politics tend to be different, and they’re quite different men, but Samuelson reminds me of Thomas Sowell a little: Both cut through the fog, and cut to the chase.

‐May I recommend another article? The Wall Street Journal had an editorial comparing Saddam Hussein’s crimes in a town called Dujail to Lidice. This is as powerful and true and gratifying an editorial as I have read in many a moon.

‐A little music, from the New York Sun? For a review of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, under Robert Spano, and for a review of the New York Philharmonic, under Christoph von Dohnányi, please go here. And for a review of an all-Britten concert featuring the tenor Ian Bostridge, please go here.

‐Reader says,

Hey, Jay,

I don’t know if you saw this quote in today’s WSJ by Rep. Mike Oxley (R., Ohio) in a story concerning the ports deal: “Congress does two things well: nothing and overreacting. We’re into phase two.”

I think it is sad and consistent with your observation about [Dan] Wasserman’s Globe cartoon. [This is a reference to an item in Thursday’s Impromptus.] I just thought you would appreciate that it comes from the same man who co-sponsored Sarbanes-Oxley, that great overreaction to the accounting scandals of earlier this decade.

‐Many, many people–many, many, many people–responded to Thursday’s item about that Richard Cohen column: the one beginning, “The charm of businessmen in general is not only that they lack irony but, because they took business courses in college, they lack basic knowledge.” Holy Moses, did that strike a nerve. Many readers wrote pages and pages about the absurdity of it.

I will represent those letters by only one–a short, sweet, temperate missive from a man who works as a business reporter:

I was a print journalist for five years before I went back to college . . . to get a business degree, because it was the best way to understand how the world works.

Over time I’ve gravitated to business reporting just because it is stripped bare of pretentiousness. Successful business people are extremely realistic. Otherwise, they’re failures.

‐Last, you may remember the item (again Thursday) about the concert in western Massachusetts. I will repeat what the local paper said, just for fun:

Bush partisans, beware. Tonight’s Berkshire Symphony program comes with a political agenda.

Three works composed under Soviet regimes make up the program, which takes place at 8 in Chapin Hall. Each work is a response to war and injustice. Conductor Ronald Feldman chose the trilogy to suggest parallels between political repression under the Soviets and similar tendencies in the United States under the Bush administration.

The principal work is Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, the composer’s response to criticism–and the threat of imprisonment or execution–by Stalin himself.

Many readers wrote in to say, “Hey, Jay, look at the bright side! At least they’re now acknowledging Soviet repression!” But Peter Kirsanow, that warrior of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, and NRO, wrote in to say this:

The theme of the Berkshire Symphony, suggesting parallels between Stalinist repression and “similar tendencies in the United States under the Bush administration,” made magma come out of my nostrils, and I’m annoyed at myself as a consequence. After seeing hundreds of such comparisons from those who fancy themselves enlightened but succeed merely in showcasing galactic moral vanity, I usually just shake my head and return to the real world. But this one is particularly ironic.

My father used to spend many evenings listening to Shostakovich, often with a wistful expression on his face. As a Russian soldier in the Red Army, he had been detained and brutalized by the NKVD after WWII on suspicion of being less than a robust supporter of Stalin. He escaped before being executed, but not before he saw scores of others also endure horrific tortures before being killed.

He often related to me how people would disappear for no reason other than uttering a mild complaint about, say, the length of a bread line, the weakness of the tea, or the scarcity of toilet paper. Family members of the offending parties might also disappear–the dreaded knock on the door in the middle of the night (and they didn’t even have a Patriot Act!). Of course, he was witnessing on a micro-level what we now know happened to millions of people during that era (thanks to Mr. Solzhenitsyn, no thanks to Mr. Duranty). Even listening to a disfavored composer like a Shostakovich would mean disappearance.

My father didn’t spend much time worrying about frivolous artists who refuse to acknowledge that if any U.S. administration were even remotely like the Stalinists, those artists would be sent to ANWR for merely planning a program based on Shostakovich. Rather, he spent his last few years taking his little granddaughter for long walks and making sure they saluted every single American flag they encountered along the way.

See you next time, y’all.


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