Politics & Policy

The only answer, &c.

I should begin by saying something about Benazir Bhutto, and I will contribute the briefest of words: I remember when she gave the commencement address at Harvard, in 1989. Needless to say, a lot of us were sort of in love with her, this graceful, promising woman. After she was murdered, there was a lot of blaming going on: people blaming Bush, people blaming Musharraf. You know who was to blame? The murderers — and Islamofascism in general.

There is a strange, harmful reluctance in the West to blame the Islamofascists for their misdeeds — people feel the need to blame someone else (and Bush and the “neocons” are a frequent resort, for some reason). There is a general reluctance to look Islamofascism in the eye — which George W. Bush is very good at. This is one reason so many hate him.

The truth is, these people, the Islamofascists, have to be beaten: They have to be ground down, humiliated, utterly defeated. They have to be relentlessly opposed and pursued, until they bother us no more.

You can talk about this and write about this at length, and we should. But that is the long and the short of it.

‐Before going further, I should probably mention that I’m writing this here lil’ column very early — on Sunday. So if my material seems dated, or I have missed something big: Forgive me.

‐What I’m sorry I did not miss was Barack Obama’s elaboration of his “experience”: in particular, his relatives overseas. I’ll quote the worldly Chicagoan (and forgive the garbled nature of this statement, but this is the way it appeared in the press):

“It’s that experience, that understanding, not just of what world leaders I went and talked to in the ambassadors house I had tea with, but understanding the lives of the people like my grandmother who lives in a tiny hut in Africa.”

Our Metternich went on to say,

“That’s the experience that helped inform my opposition to the war in Iraq . . .”

Ladies and gentlemen, this is kindergarten talk, and the idea that this man has a shot, and a good shot, at being America’s commander-in-chief is positively unnerving.

‐For years, one of the things that opponents of the Iraq War have loved to say is that this war caused us to “take our eye off al Qaeda.” They do not want to appear dovish; so it suits them to say, “Because of George W. Bush’s kooky obsession with Saddam Hussein — his need to avenge his father or something — we have taken our eye off the main enemy, namely al Qaeda, the ones who attacked us in the first place.”

Barack Obama is one of the latest to peddle this line. I quote a news report:

“Obama, who stands out in the Democratic field as long-opposed to the Iraq war, said the ‘bigger context’ for the terrorist problems in Pakistan is his contention that the Iraq war ‘resulted in us taking the eye off the ball.’ ‘We should have been focused on al-Qaida,’ he said.”

Uh-huh. Don’t they all. All of this reminded me of points made long ago, and I’d like to excerpt, if I may, an article I wrote on Gen. Wesley Clark in early 2004, when he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination. The below says pretty much all I would like to say now, and I hope you will find it persuasive, or at least interesting:

When Clark speaks of Bush and Iraq, he does so in the same tones as Dennis Kucinich, or a college activist. “He’s repeated his father’s war.” “This administration took us to war recklessly and without need to do so.” Clark’s persistent line is that Bush ignored al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in favor of Iraq and Saddam Hussein. He says that Bush had all along a secret plan — a “neocon” plan, he says, getting with the lingo — and just looked for an excuse to destroy Saddam, an excuse that 9/11 provided.

“I think they came into office looking for the opportunity, not quite sure how to get it. And 9/11 — presto. Perfect opportunity.” “The president of the United States deliberately misled the American people away from a struggle against Osama bin Laden. He did a bait-and-switch on us and substituted Saddam Hussein.” “The failure of this administration was not to put the troops in to finish the job against Osama bin Laden. And you know why they didn’t do it? They didn’t do it because, all along, their plan was to save those troops to go after Saddam Hussein.”

Listen to a bit more: “A wise leadership would not have put us into Iraq at this time. Instead we’d have concentrated on Osama bin Laden. We knew who attacked this country on 9/11, and it was not Saddam Hussein. It was Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network. We should have gone after that network and we should have gone after it directly instead of taking half the United States Army and putting it in Iraq and using $150 billion and distracting us from our world leadership in the War on Terror.”

These comments raise many questions. First, how do you “concentrate” on bin Laden (if he is in fact still alive — and even if he is not)? This is a great Democratic talking point, and it has been intensified now that the elusive Saddam has been captured, for obvious reasons. But what makes Clark and others imagine that the choice is either-or: either “do” Saddam or “do” Osama? It takes a strange mind to suppose that President Bush is not moving heaven and earth to run bin Laden to ground. A senior administration official raises what he calls “a narrow, nasty, amoral political point: The capture of bin Laden is so obviously in Bush’s interest — the crushing of al-Qaeda is so obviously in his interest — I mean, why wouldn’t the president be trying! Of course we are!”

Recall Clark’s words: We should have gone after that network and we should have gone after it directly. Did the general somehow miss the Afghan campaign? Did he miss the ruin of the Taliban — al-Qaeda’s chief patron — and the utter disruption and dispersal of al-Qaeda itself? Does he doubt that U.S. forces killed as many al-Qaeda as possible, and are continuing to do so?

Then there is the notion that the administration shifted the military from al-Qaeda to Iraq — that, in Clark’s words, it “saved” troops to “go after” Saddam. The senior administration official points out that “there are more special-forces troops in Afghanistan than in Iraq.” So “the contention that we have forgotten al-Qaeda and bin Laden is false.” To be sure, American resources are not infinite, and you could argue that there are CIA operatives and the like who are working in Iraq who instead should be in Afghanistan. “But the United States has a lot of interests,” and, in the case of the War on Terror, “the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone.” To say that one should tackle al-Qaeda but not Iraq is like saying that “we should not have fought Germany because we were fighting Japan”; or that, in the Cold War, “we should have let Berlin go and kept them out of Cuba. Life is a little more complex.”

Granted, Clark, along with many others, refuses to see any connection between the regime of Saddam Hussein and terror. But that is a question of educability, and probably of blind political partisanship. Says this senior administration official, “Consider state support for terrorism: We have gotten Afghanistan and Iraq out of the business. More and more it appears that Libya is out of the business. Sudan used to be a base; it is no longer.” The loss of these states is a blow to al-Qaeda, dangerous though it still is.

And what of the charge that the U.S. Army could somehow be deployed against al-Qaeda (instead of wasting time and lives in Iraq)? Sadly, al-Qaeda is a different kind of foe, to be fought mainly in the shadows. As the official asks, “How could we have ‘saved’ the 82nd Airborne for al-Qaeda? Where does General Clark plan to put the First Infantry in the fight against al-Qaeda? This is really a classic twilight struggle” (a phrase memorably applied to the Cold War by President Kennedy).

To hear Clark tell it, “If I’d been president, I would have had Osama bin Laden by this time.” You might dismiss this remark as an expression of campaign fever, Bush-hating, or military braggadocio. But you would probably not call it temperate or honorable.

Funny, I had forgotten all about Wesley Clark. But the spirit of his disgusting ’04 campaign is alive and well in the present one.

We liberated Gaza by force, not by Oslo or by Taba —

but with my steadfast people, and with its blazing fire.

We liberated Gaza by force, not by Oslo or by Taba —

but with my steadfast people, and with its blazing fire.

Rafah sings, and the Kalashnikov replies.

Rafah sings, and the Kalashnikov replies.

We, who know no fear, are the lions of the jungle.

Look how beautiful our Gaza is. We crowned it with a laurel wreath.

To hear the rest of this ditty, warbled by its adorable tyke, go here. And remember how easy it would be to have peace in the Middle East if only the Jews would stop oppressing others and see reason.

And you remember what Natan Sharansky and other critics of the Gaza withdrawal said would happen, don’t you? They said the Arabs would claim that they had evicted Israel by force of arms. This, in turn, would whet the appetite for more “armed victory.”

Sharansky et al. had a point (but so, of course, did Sharon and the other withdrawers).

‐People are desperate to leave Cuba, and sometimes they risk their lives to do so. And sometimes they pay with their lives. Shortly after Christmas, 13 people set out for America. Their boat capsized, killing two. Of the eleven survivors, nine were taken into custody by the Cuban state, and two are at large — or at least were on December 27, when this report was filed. In all, 26 people are in custody. Who are the other 17? People who wanted to be on the boat but were turned away for lack of space.

We can well imagine what is happening to those 26 people.

A Coast Guard spokesman of ours said, “[As long as] people are content to see the lives of their loved ones needlessly endangered by the reckless, negligent and criminal actions of migrant smugglers, migrant smuggling and the human tragedy associated with it will continue in the Florida Straits.”

Yes. But I have a feeling that this spokesman knows relatively little about what goes on in Cuba: what drives men and women to risk their lives in this way. Maybe next time, he can speak a little more sensitively. Some people turn to “smugglers” as the only ones who can get them out. And the real “human tragedy” is the regime on Cuba — or rather, more like monstrous human crime.

‐Over the years in this column — since early 2001 — I have gone off on the metric system. I have explained how, in my hometown of Ann Arbor, it was imposed on us like soccer, and for the same reason: People in the rest of the world did it, and therefore it must be right, as Americans are blinkered and jingoistic. No exceptionalism; gotta get with the program — be just like the Guatemalans.

Well, now one of the best journalists in the world, Charles Moore, has had something to say about the metric system, in his Spectator column. May I share it with you?

People sometimes warn against the idea that ‘man is the measure of all things’, but there is a literal sense in which he is, or should be — measurements themselves. This has been brought home very clearly to me by a short, sharp new book called About the Size of It, The Commonsense Approach to Measuring Things, by Warwick Cairns (Macmillan). The book identifies ‘the great, unwritten, unspoken unacknowledged Principle of Measurement’, which is that ‘people can’t always be bothered to do things properly’. As a result, we measure things, for daily as opposed to scientific purposes, roughly. When we do this, in almost all cultures, we use our bodies. Thus a human foot measures out a building plot; the width of a human hand, working vertically in a way human feet find difficult, measures the size of a normal brick or the height of a horse; a yard is a stick as long as your leg; a pound is about the weight you can easily hold in your hand, and so on. The only system of measurement that is hostile to these human origins is the metric one. A kilogramme of apples, for example, cannot fit in your hand. Metric is an imposition; other measurements arise from the ‘crooked timber of humanity’, and therefore work.

Interesting, at a minimum — and almost certainly true.

‐Want a book in which Charles Moore is quoted, on p. 266 (according to the ever-helpful index)?


‐And how about some music — in the form of a review published in the New York Sun? For the Metropolitan Opera’s Hansel and Gretel (Humperdinck), go here.

In some respects, the Met’s production is praiseworthy. But there is no gingerbread house, no gingerbread children, no 14 angels, no woods — and Hansel and Gretel themselves turn cannibal, eating the Witch.

Doesn’t strike you as Hansel and Gretel? What are you, some kind of traditionalist? A conservative? Repressed?

Dear Jay,

After reading your review of the New York Philharmonic’s Messiah, I wanted to tell you about a Cleveland tradition. For the last 20 years or so, on the Wednesday before Christmas, Trinity Cathedral has sponsored a Messiah sing-along. It is generally attended by 200-plus people, many of whom bring their own scores and return year after year. The church itself is a beautiful 100-year-old building of stone and oak and amply exemplifies the prosperity of Cleveland at the turn of the 20th century. We have many reasons to be grateful to our “robber barons” of industry.

Yes, yes, yes. One of the biggest bum raps in American history is that against the “robber barons.” And one of the most unfair epithets in our lexicon is “robber baron.” My formal education gave me so very much to unlearn. It seems I have spent most of my life doing so — kind of playing catch-up from what Ann Arbor — from what modern America — bequeathed. You know?

‐Let’s have a language item. In his Spectator column, Paul Johnson expounded on the word “aggressive,” and what people have meant by it over the years. He quoted an OED definition: “self-assertive, pushful, energetic and enterprising.” I was delighted to see that definition — because I had never known the word “pushful.” Such a perfect, obvious word. Probably too late for me to incorporate it, however, as, I believe, language becomes semi-fixed. That is, the language one uses becomes kind of fixed, over time. It’s hard to add words, in a natural way. At least I have found. I’ve been going with the vocabulary accumulated by about age 14.

‐Received a letter from a reader, who had a kind of P.S.: “By the way, my current project is reading A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn [the far-Left writer whose text is almost the official history in this country]. Ever the soldier, I have to stay prepared for what my children will be exposed to in my wonderful state [Minnesota]!”

I remember talking to David Horowitz once. He said, “Why don’t people mind that Howard Zinn sells a million copies? Why don’t people care that a hard leftist is principally responsible for teaching America’s children about American history?”

I don’t know.

‐Finally, I received a lot of mail about an oversight in my previous Impromptus. After talking about Christmas music, I said there wasn’t a lot of New Year’s Eve music — I mean, Guy Lombardo, “Auld Lang Syne.” Many people said, “You forgot Frank Loesser’s ‘What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?’” One reader wrote, “It has a lovely, almost plaintive melody, and a lyric sad but hopeful, too — just like the day itself.”

Eloquent readers we have here at NRO, huh?


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