Politics & Policy

Bread returns to Mosul, &c.

Friends, this is an “old” news item — May 24 — but I wanted to share it with you, because it is extraordinary: It shows how al-Qaeda is being defeated in Iraq, and, with al-Qaeda, insanity:

Coffee shops and restaurants, as well as other favorite meeting spots like the corniche overlooking the Tigris River in downtown Mosul, have . . . buzzed with activity since the anti-al-Qaeda operation got under way.

All across the city, residents have taken on a new lease on life.

Streets are thronged with pedestrians, and market stalls brim anew with fruit and vegetables — including tomatoes and cucumbers displayed side by side in clear defiance to the Islamists who had banned this as sexually provocative.

The local Iraqi bread known as “sammoun” — also prohibited by the militants, who argued that it did not exist in the time of the Prophet Mohammed — can now be found again in bakeries.

And so on. The complete article may be found here. And it quotes a schoolteacher, Zakia Abdullah al-Badrani, who says that his is “a land of civilizations that should not be soiled by obscurantists” such as al-Qaeda.

I was struck by that word “obscurantists,” because that is exactly the word I have heard Pervez Musharraf use, more than once. He uses it to describe people who try to tell other people that Islam is what it isn’t.

‐This is an “old” item, too: President Bush’s speech before the Knesset, delivered on May 15. This was in celebration of Israel’s 60th anniversary. It was a great speech: a wise, humane, moral, and stirring speech. I’m sorry this fact was obscured by the news coverage of it: which focused on a political controversy.

Bush spoke about the dangers of appeasement: and Barack Obama thought he was alluding to him. Actually, Bush was talking about a mindset that’s shared by millions. Apparently, Obama thought that the shoe fit . . .

I was reminded of a line that I believe Chevy Chase uttered in a movie: “I resemble that remark.”

Personally, I had one objection to Bush’s speech — or rather, reservation. He did what all presidents do, and what they should do, I’m sure: He spoke for “America” and “Americans.” Give you a few examples:

The prayers of the American people are with Ariel Sharon.”

“America is proud to be Israel’s closest ally and best friend in the world.”

“When Americans look at Israel, we see a pioneer spirit that worked an agricultural miracle and now leads a high-tech revolution . . .”

“Masada shall never fall again, and America will be at your side.”

“Some people suggest if the United States would just break ties with Israel, all our problems in the Middle East would go away. This is a tired argument that buys into the propaganda of the enemies of peace, and America utterly rejects it. Israel’s population may be just over 7 million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because the United States of America stands with you.”

“. . . you have built a mighty democracy that will endure forever and can always count on the United States of America to be at your side.”

Great, great. George W. Bush understands, appreciates, and supports Israel. He would never let Israel fall, if he could do anything about it. And this is true of lots of other Americans too. But is it true of all of us? Of course not. And can anyone today make guarantees about American leadership tomorrow? Almost certainly not.

Think about Jimmy Carter’s second term — a term that never came about. Cyrus Vance, the former secretary of state, remarked in private that Carter was prepared to sell Israel down the river, in a second term.

At any rate . . . a magnificent and memorable speech. (To read it in its entirety, go here.) It’s a shame that it did not receive the coverage and commentary it deserved.

And, as I noted in my journal from Sharm El Sheikh (found in this column’s archive), that speech rankled a whole lot of people. Bush really touched a nerve, in his 60th-anniversary Israel speech. It reminded me of when he spoke about the consequences of our abandoning Vietnam: The whole of the American press corps howled in pain, indignation, and outrage.

Unsurprisingly, these speeches — the Israel one and the Vietnam one — are just about my two favorites!

‐I thought of something, the other day: A few years ago, I was present when a young person was asked, “What do you think about the Iraq War?” And he said, sort of clearing his throat, “Well, I want us to win.” And then he went on with a fuller answer.

I want us to win. This fellow was not trying to be cute, or to utter a “line.” He was just saying what he thought. And his words struck me as fairly profound: “I want us to win.”

A question might be put to Senator Obama: Do you want us to win? Or, like Howard Dean and many others — on both left and right — do you think winning is impossible, or meaningless? Furthermore, you say you want to end the war: Is there a difference between ending it and losing it?

But how can I ask candidates questions if I’m sitting on my booty in New York writing breezy lil’ columns like this?

‐A little language: In “booty,” do you prefer “y” or “ie”? It is “fielder’s choice,” as our friend John Derbyshire says.

‐Like lots of others, no doubt, I read Todd Purdum’s piece for Vanity Fair as soon as it hit Drudge. This is the piece in which the author asks, “What’s the matter with him?” — “him” being Bill Clinton, the Big Him. (Monica, of course, referred to the “Big He.”)

I wish to make just a couple of points. And I should say that I’m scribbling these notes on Sunday night — so if these points are utterly commonplace by now, forgive me.

There is nothing “the matter” with him — rather, nothing new. Clinton is basically the same old Billy J. The same old WJC. It’s just that the media and the zeitgeist are now against the Clintons. They are for Obama. So the ex-president’s flaws are being noticed, commented on, and criticized.

When his “enemies” were Newt Gingrich, Jerry Falwell, and National Review, Clinton had to be defended, at all costs. Everything was overlooked or excused. Now that his “enemy” is Barack Obama, he’s fair game — and so’s The Wife. At least that’s the way a lot of us see it.

Purdum takes the obligatory shots at the Big Bad Right — and they are perhaps especially obligatory because Purdum is writing negatively about Clinton, the (former?) hero:

To know Clinton is, sooner or later, to be exasperated by his indiscipline and disappointed by his shortcomings. But through it all, it has been easy enough to retain an enduring admiration — even affection — for a president whose sins against decorum and the dignity of his office seemed venial in contrast to the systemic indifference, incompetence, corruption, and constitutional predations of his successor’s administration.

I’m sorry, but a writer who is capable of thinking like that is hard to take seriously. “Systemic indifference, incompetence, corruption, and constitutional predations” — where’d he get that, Michael Moore? Only Moore would have put it less stiffly and pompously.

Also,

“So, yes, let us stipulate: Ken Starr was a prurient, partisan zealot.”

No, let us stipulate that Todd Purdum hasn’t the faintest idea what he’s talking about: Anyone who knows Ken Starr knows that he is anything but prurient or partisan. He is an honorable man — the soul of decency — who did the job he was asked to do. This was a thankless job, too, especially given the deep and perpetual dishonesty of Bill Clinton and his White House.

But Purdum is perfect for Vanity Fair and its readers. This piece (here, by the way) is tough on Clinton — but the readership’s core prejudices won’t really be challenged.

‐If you want to know what Lewinsky and impeachment were really about — or if you want to be reminded — I can’t do better than to recommend the book by Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf: Truth at Any Cost: Ken Starr and the Unmaking of Bill Clinton. I reviewed the book, those eight years ago (and you can find that review here). Please allow me the republication of some closing paragraphs:

At the center of the drama are two men, Starr and Clinton, alike in no important respects. “Although they were both trained in the law,” write the authors, “it was as if they had apprenticed on different planets.” Starr had “a nearly religious reverence for the rule of law”; Clinton, not. One effect of this book is to remove the horns that have been placed on Starr. He is a rather inspiring figure, with an inspiring life story, even if it lacks razzle-dazzle. To revisit what the White House and its allies did to him is almost traumatizing. But Starr steadily refused to defend himself, until it was too late. “Facts and law,” he would tell his exasperated staff, “facts and law.” Truth had always been his friend, and it would out. Decent-minded people would be grateful for his efforts. From his parents and church, he had learned to “set your face against the popular mood.” And when he met the force and forces of Bill Clinton, he got clobbered. Referring to the polls, one of Clinton’s aides exulted, “He’s down in Gingrichland!”

Repeatedly, Starr’s sensitivity to the president allowed Clinton to slip the noose. Starr declined to subpoena Clinton early, instead issuing six invitations to him, trying to entice him to speak voluntarily. Starr thought that the president was in a terrible bind, and — if you can believe it, and you should — sympathized with him. Clinton held off, giving himself time to learn what others were saying, which enabled him to shape his lies just so. If Starr had kept The Dress and its fateful evidence to himself, Clinton’s perjury before the grand jury would have been even more flagrant; but Starr, thinking it only fair, tipped him off. A funny creature, Starr. He forbade those in his office to refer to Clinton as anything but “the president” or “Mr. Clinton.” The authors say that the White House viewed Starr as “totally out of step with modern society.” Is that right? Maybe so. Starr, given his religious views, wouldn’t mind — “Come out from the world and be separate,” etc. But then, Starr had what turned out to be a very worldly job.

This book will make ordinary readers mad; it should make others ashamed. How Maureen Dowd, for example, can confront the evidence in this book and still damn Starr as a sex-craved pervert is a mystery. The book is plenty sophisticated — independent-counsel territory can be murky — but it also reminds us of some kindergarten lessons about government. At one point, one of Starr’s lawyers, Stephen Binhak (who voted for Clinton twice and celebrated the 1992 victory in Little Rock), said the following about Paula Jones: “The lowliest person in the country can sue the most exalted and get a fair day in court. That’s what this is all about.”

The Clinton fog machine, of course, will continue to do its work. But at least there will be this book — something to brandish, a resource to trust. Schmidt and Weisskopf have indeed gone “over and over this.” Others will now have less need to do so. It certainly won’t help the authors to be praised and thanked in National Review. But they have proven that journalists, especially when they are most needed, can be public servants, too.

‐Hmm, speaking of public servants: Barack Obama gave the commencement address at Wesleyan University. And, naturally, he called for the kids to enter “public service.” That’s what they all call for. And this is of a piece with Mrs. O.’s infamous statement (one of them), to wit,

We [Barack and she] left corporate America, which is a lot of what we’re asking young people to do. Don’t go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. Those are the careers that we need, and we’re encouraging our young people to do that. But if you make that choice, as we did, to move out of the money-making industry into the helping industry, then your salaries respond.

Just once — one friggin’ time in my life — I’d like to hear a commencement speaker say, “You know what I think you should do? If you can, I think you should start a business. You should think of an idea, and act on it. Give the public a product or service it needs. And make your company grow, and enrich your shareholders. That is a wonderful thing you could do for yourself, your neighbors, and mankind.”

But we are unlikely to hear that at a commencement ceremony, and you know why? Because America is a capitalist country where, curiously, a socialist mindset holds sway. Does Obama have any idea why he has such a rich country to play with, politically? Where does he think those tax revenues come from? Does he have any idea at all?

Building a better mouse trap, and selling it at an affordable price, is a public service. Michelle Obama speaks of a “money-making industry” and a “helping industry.” Evidently, she didn’t learn very much at Princeton and Harvard, or wherever she went. Henry Ford and Bill Gates have “helped” her a lot. Only she doesn’t know it.

Anyway . . . you get my drift.

‐Barack Obama looks out at veterans and says he sees “fallen heroes.” He wonders how the actors got up on Mt. Rushmore for North by Northwest. He says that the Reverend Wright “married Michelle and I.”

But never forget that George W. Bush is stupid — and Dan Quayle, and Reagan, and Ford, and Goldwater, and Ike, and nearly every other Republican. Never forget it.

Friends, I’ve got much more for you, but I think I’ve ranted enough today — and, if I’m not careful, we’ll have to rename Impromptus “Rantings.”

Catch you soon, dearhearts, and thanks.

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