Friends, as always, I hope you’ll see the current issue of National Review. (For the relevant information, please go here.) Lots of good articles for you. The cover piece is by Jim Lacey, and it concerns the findings of the Iraqi Survey Group. In short: Of course Saddam Hussein had WMD programs. Of course he was too dangerous to leave in power. No, we didn’t discover WMD in the James Bondian sense: ticking nukes, waiting to go off. But what we discovered should be enough to convince anyone that invasion was justified, on WMD grounds alone (forgetting the other grounds).
I’m afraid, however, that positions have hardened on the question. One side says, “Ha, ha, there were no WMD, and you never should have gone in. Big blunder.” And we, on the other side, are left to say, “Are you kidding? How can you be smug about what Dr. Germ was up to?” (Dr. Germ–a woman, and not unattractive–was just the most colorful of Saddam’s WMD scientists.) At any rate, Lacey is valuable and enlightening reading, for anyone truly interested in the subject.
What else is in this issue? Well, lots of treasures. I hate to keep naming them, because I don’t mean to slight the ones I don’t name, but . . .
Jonah Goldberg gives the mainstream media a wonderful punch in the eye. When conservatives express doubts about Iraq, these mainstreamers are apt to charge isolationism. But when liberals express doubts (or worse)–the I-word stays unused. Ramesh Ponnuru reviews Charles Murray’s new book, which is making waves in the social-policy world (as Murray books and pronouncements tend to do). John Derbyshire remembers the late John Profumo and his affair.
And Mark Steyn has a bracing column on the Palestinians: “the most comprehensively wrecked people on the face of the earth.” (It begins fantastically: “If I were a Palestinian, I’d occasionally wonder what I had to do to get a bad press.” I imagine you’ve thought of that yourself, as I have.)
‐I thought I might say a couple of words about my own piece: Called “Terror on Trial,” it’s about Shining Path and its leader, Abimael Guzmán. You remember this crowd, of course: They terrorized Peru for twelve years, from 1980 to 1992. And they threaten to terrorize it once more.
Guzmán is in the dock again, and has been for well over a year. I say “again” because his first trial was in 1992, after his capture. That was a military trial, in which the defendant, wearing prison stripes, was in a cage; the judges wore hoods.
Lest you be too harsh on hooded judges, consider this: Until then, you couldn’t try Shining Path terrorists, because the group kept murdering judges–or their families, or their friends, or their colleagues. In the worst two-year period, Shining Path succeeded in killing 120 judges. Hundreds of others resigned, unwilling to sacrifice themselves (to no end).
But a few years ago, Peru overturned all of the Shining Path verdicts, because the inter-American court in Costa Rica judged them undemocratic. Thus, Guzmán and his comrades had to have civilian trials, in which they have acted up, like Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.
The Guzmán case–like the Saddam case, like the Milosevic case, like the Rwandan case, like the Nazi case–brings up the question: How do you try monsters of this type, in a court of law?
And, in revisiting Shining Path, I was struck by many similarities to today’s insurgents in Iraq. Do you know what Shining Path did? They did everything they could to destroy Peruvian democracy, depriving that country of a decent future. Their first attack, poetically, was on a polling place. Shining Path burned all the ballot boxes. They couldn’t tolerate the least flowering of democracy (and Peru was just emerging from years of dictatorship).
They killed everyone running for office; they killed everyone trying to vote. They killed government officials, they killed policemen, they killed relief workers. They kidnapped. They bombed churches, they bombed embassies, they bombed businesses.
They bombed bridges, they bombed irrigation projects, they bombed electrical installations. They caused many blackouts and water shortages. Their goal was to bring the country to its knees, making democracy impossible, and their own rule inevitable.
You know, they did just about everything Iraq’s insurgents are doing except beheading–but, as I say in my NR piece, they made up for it by hacking to death with machetes. That was their specialty, their terrorist signature.
And one forgets how close Shining Path came to succeeding–to taking over the entire country, not merely large swaths of the countryside. Álvaro Vargas-Llosa was one of the Peruvians who talked to me about this. Vargas-Llosa is a scholar and analyst in Washington, and he’s the son, as you may know, of Mario, the distinguished writer (and sometime politician). Álvaro remembers when people in Lima feared the country wouldn’t hold–that Shining Path simply could not be resisted. It was touch and go.
And Shining Path is rumbling again, on the move, killing people.
There are many differences with Iraq’s insurgents, of course, but the similarities are tremendous. In the case of Peru, the country could have fallen to a Pol Pot-ist movement with mass murder on its mind (and, as it was, they succeeded in killing 40,000 people, depending on how you do the accounting). We know what kind of future the insurgents have in mind for Iraq. The Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya wrote a book called Republic of Fear. The insurgents would impose another such “republic.”
In last Friday’s column, I expressed the hope (to put it mildly) that Iraq would not be turned over “to the beheaders.” Recently, Donald Rumsfeld said that to leave Iraq to the insurgents would be like leaving Germany to the Nazis. Peruvians found a way to beat down Shining Path (even if they have not been able to extinguish it altogether). Will Iraqis and those committed to them have similar success?
Anyway . . . pick up the current issue of National Review, for more on this and other matters both timely and perpetual.
‐I mentioned Rumsfeld, a second ago. At a press conference last week, he said, “If you believe everything you read in Maureen Dowd, you better get a life.” This reminded me of an interview I had with him–and a separate one I had with his wife, Joyce–in November 2003. I wrote all this up, for NR, in a piece called “Air Rummy: A conversation with the secretary of defense–and the missus.”
Here is an excerpt:
I ask [Rumsfeld whether he reads] Maureen Dowd, the New York Times columnist who regularly makes sport of him. He allows that he reads the headline and the first paragraph or two. Then, having gotten the drift, he quits. “Do you know her?” he asks me. “No,” I say, “but you’ve been good for her career.” He responds: “I’m not so sure about that–that this has been good for her career.” A highly interesting point, which there is too little time to pursue.
And here is another excerpt:
Mrs. Rumsfeld is a bit of a media maven, and I ask whether she reads the New York Times. Yes, she says, “but faster than I used to.” She likes the Washington Post’s editorials, because they’re “thoughtful, worthwhile, and not knee-jerk.” And does she read Maureen Dowd? “Yes, I do.” And . . . ? “Well, she’s clearly a bright and talented person,” but her mission seems to be ridicule–artful ridicule, with little content or argument. The whole thing is soaked in cynicism. And “there is nothing I like less in a person than cynicism. I hope that [the columnist] is not cynical in the rest of her life. Because, to be cynical 100 percent of the time–that would be sad.”
I haven’t forgotten that wonderful, arresting line: “There is nothing I like less in a person than cynicism.” They are a fascinating couple, the Rumsfelds. (High-school sweethearts, incidentally.) And even if he no longer has widespread popularity, he at least has her.
And a global war to run.
‐Did you hear Qaddafi the other day, lecturing the U.S. on democracy? It was rich (and you can find the Reuters story here). Speaking to a Columbia University audience by video, the garish dictator said, “There is no state with a democracy except Libya on the whole planet.”
I must say, I like it better when he’s flaky and amusing than when he’s armed and dangerous, as he used to be. (Of course, he is ever dangerous to the Libyan people.)
‐You have read the latest about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: She pretty much blamed her Republican critics for the death threats she has received. (These critics in particular have objected to her use of foreign law in Supreme Court decisions.) I was reminded of one of the lowest moments in the Clinton presidency: Do you remember when, after the Oklahoma City bombing, the president implied that conservative talk radio–Rush Limbaugh, for example–was responsible?
There were many low moments during those eight years–I’m not sure that any was lower.
‐On Friday, Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post had a pretty rough column, touching on Jesse Helms. He referred to the retired senator as “the old buzzard from North Carolina,” and declared he was a racist. I don’t have this view of Jesse Helms–and I thought I’d take the opportunity to offer the interview I conducted with him last summer, in which we covered a variety of topics (including race). Please go here.
‐A little language? Not long ago, President Bush got in trouble for saying “butcherer,” instead of “butcher.” You know: Saddam Hussein was a butcherer; so was Milosevic. Everyone said, “Ha, ha, another Bush blunder” (like “Grecian”–not really a blunder–and like “subliminable,” or whatever he said).
Well, well, well. Some years ago, an extremely distinguished writer used the word “butcherer” in an NR piece. I wasn’t familiar with the word; I thought it was a typo. I changed it to “butcher.” He said, “No, no, Jay–I meant ‘butcherer,’ a perfectly good word. I think it ought to be used for one who butchers masses of people. Save ‘butcher’ for the man in the apron who sells you your lamb chops.”
President Bush is in very good company.
‐Speaking of good company: Would you like to join us, in Houston, for our upcoming fundraiser? Info is here. The other night, I was talking with a friend, who was taking his young son hunting in Texas. (I think the son’s about ten–can’t remember.) He said, “Yeah, they’ll let you do pretty much anything in Texas.” And this was said in complete admiration, by the way!
‐A touch of music: For a New York Sun review of a New York Philharmonic concert, conducted by Lorin Maazel with guest soloist Gabriela Montero, piano, please go here.
‐Finally, you may recall my item from St. Paul on Friday. (“There once was a girl from St. Paul” . . . that’s a great limerick.) Anyway, the “human-rights director” there ordered a secretary in City Hall to take down the Easter decorations she had put up: the Easter bunny, eggs, and the like. The decorations were supposed to be “offensive to non-Christians.”
I got much, much mail on the subject: talking about the Easter Bunny, about religion, about the world at large. But most of the mail said, “What about the name of the city? Does the human-rights director want to change that as well, as ‘offensive to non-Christians’?”
One of the best letters said, “Maybe they should change the name to ‘Saul.’”
See you, guys.