Devotees of National Review — and who’s not? (!) — may remember a piece in our December 29, 2008, issue. This was our Farewell to the GWB Administration issue. I had a piece called “Diplomatic Health: On Bush, our allies, and varied perceptions.” It began,
“If there’s one thing everyone knows, it’s this: America’s alliances are in tatters and the American image abroad is terrible. George W. Bush has eschewed diplomacy and sacrificed the good name of the United States. Our alliances, our image, and our name need to be ‘restored.’”
The article continued,
“When President-elect Obama chose Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, she vowed to ‘reach out to the world again.’ Obama spoke of his ‘commitment to renew American diplomacy and restore our alliances.’ Bill Clinton chimed in that his wife was ‘the right person for the job of helping to restore America’s image abroad.’ And Democrats aren’t the only ones who talk this way. Some Republicans are in on this act too (e.g., John McCain, late of the presidential campaign).”
One more paragraph, please:
“So, everyone ‘knows’ that our alliances are tattered, etc. But is it true? When people talk to you about these suffering alliances, you might ask them to go country by country. That could embarrass them. And in a recent meeting with National Review writers in the Oval Office, President Bush said, ‘All I ask is that people analyze our alliances around the world’ before they come to any conclusions. In that spirit, shall we have a quick tour d’horizon?”
And that is what we did. To see that piece — to take that tour — go here. Walks down Memory Lane can be useful, sometimes.
And you know exactly what I’m going to ask now: How are we doing, with our alliances? How are we doing with “restoring our good name”? Are our friends comforted and reassured, and our enemies discomforted and worried? What would our allies say, if they could speak with perfect candor? What would you hear from — and I’ll give you a selective list, to be sure — the British, the Hondurans, the Colombians, the Czechs, the Poles, the Indians, the Israelis . . .?
Look, the Republican nominee in 2012 might have to run on “restoring our alliances.” And a lot of people — a lot of Americans — owe GWB a big fat apology. But a) he doesn’t want one, I think I know, and b) it ain’t ever goin’ come.
‐It was John Bolton who dubbed Obama the “first post-American president.” I know another conservative intellectual who calls Obama the “first non-aligned president.” I think the reason these designations sting is that they’re true-ringing.
‐Maybe I should say here that I agree with the Palmerstonian adage — of course: We have neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies, but permanent interests. I often cited this adage during the Bush years, when liberals would say, for example, “Look how far we are from our beloved ally France!” (This was when Chirac was in power, not when his successor, Sarkozy, took over.) But I don’t think O is doing so well with our interests, either — and that’s the big thing.
‐I’ve been meaning to write about Rob Portman for some time now. He’s the Ohio Republican who is running for the Senate this year. From 1993 to 2005, he served in the House. Then he was U.S. trade representative and OMB director (not at the same time, I should perhaps say). Could I take you back to 1999? I’m interviewing Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the Gulf War hero who, at the time I saw him, was President Clinton’s drug-policy director. He brings up this young congressman, Portman. He says, “I hope he’s president of the United States in another twelve years. He’s one of the finest public servants I’ve met in America.”
Geez. Anyway, “another twelve years” would be 2012, roughly. He won’t run for president that year (one guesses). But he could be in the Senate — which would be a happy development.
One more thing about Portman: I encountered him in Davos in 2004. At a reception, he was with another Republican congressman, a little older. And this other congressman said, “You say in the early stages of your career, ‘I’m not going to be president. I’m not going to be president.’ But you don’t necessarily mean it. And there comes a time when you say, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m really not going to be president.’” The congressman then did something comical and memorable. He got down on one knee, clasped Portman’s hand, and said, “You’re my only hope. You could be president. Would you remember me for a cabinet position?”
‐The First Lady spoke kind of a clumsy sentence when she referred to Kenya as the president’s “home country.” We all speak clumsy sentences. (Some of us may even write a few!) But, you know? If a conservative Republican called Kenya Obama’s home country, he would probably be drummed out of public life.
‐For years, this column has chronicled Gao Zhisheng, the great Chinese human-rights lawyer — who has been imprisoned and tortured, who has endured the worst. He has always persevered. Two days ago, a surprising news article appeared. It began,
A crusading Chinese rights lawyer whose disappearance more than a year ago caused an international outcry said Wednesday that he is abandoning his once prominent role as a government critic in hopes he’ll be allowed to reunite with his family.
In an exclusive interview, his first since he resurfaced two weeks ago, Gao Zhisheng said he did not wish to discuss his disappearance and whether he had been held and mistreated by the authorities. He appeared thinner and more subdued than the stocky, pugnacious civil rights defender of the past, though he said his health was fine.
Yeah, right. They have tortured him beyond endurance.
Gao said, “I don’t have the capacity to persevere. . . . You know that past life of mine was abnormal, and I need to give up that former life. . . . You know the main basis for choosing to give up is for the sake of family feelings. I hope I can reunite with them. My children need me by their side growing up. . . . Everybody will be disappointed. Some people were really involved, concerned, supportive, making appeals. So when they read my words they will definitely feel disappointed. To them, I apologize. I’m extremely sorry.”
As I see it, Gao has no need to apologize. He has done more, and endured more, than can be reasonably asked of any human being. He is one of the greatest men we have ever known about. And I feel certain he is not done doing good. I also wonder: When will the world turn at last on a regime — the one in Beijing — that lives for breaking men?
‐A headline on Tuesday read, “US OKs radical US-born cleric for death.” The first line of the article went, “The Obama administration has authorized the killing of a radical Muslim cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen believed to be hiding in Yemen and thought to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the U.S. to participating in them, according to published reports.”
I am interested only in the language, for the purpose of my little item here — the language in the headline: to “okay” someone “for death.” To okay for death. A new one on me, and memorable.
‐A particular remark by Ahmadinejad about Obama has gotten a lot of attention: “Mr. Obama, you are a newcomer. Wait until your sweat dries and get some experience.” But the Iranian brute said something else of particular interest. He said — again addressing Obama — “[American officials] bigger than you, more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you.”
He was surely alluding to President Bush and his team. And, you know? The brute is probably, terrible to say, correct.
‐For as long as I can remember, conservatives have complained that the mainstream press always labels people “conservative” (or worse) but never labels anyone “liberal.” This complaint has been just. And I myself, at many conferences, national and international, have been introduced as “Jay Nordlinger from the conservative National Review.” I have never heard anyone described as coming from a “liberal” publication or organization.
No matter. No big deal. Just sayin’. But I arched an eyebrow when I saw the following headline from the Associated Press: “Republicans step up opposition to liberal nominee.” That was kind of a wow. And the article began, “Republicans intensified opposition Tuesday to the nominee for a San Francisco-based appeals court, setting up a test of whether President Barack Obama can win confirmation for an unabashed liberal” (Berkeley law prof Goodwin Liu).
Geez Louise! (I like the omission of the comma, for rhythm.) No complaints here.
‐The other day, in the Corner, I made kind of a crabby remark about language. I said I didn’t want to hear from people who claim you can’t begin a sentence with “However.” For that matter, I would prefer not to hear from people who claim you can’t begin a sentence with “And” or “But.”
Anyway, my colleague Kevin Williamson sent me a hilarious note, and one that I will tuck in memory: “New rule: You can’t begin a sentence with ‘You can’t begin a sentence with . . .’”
#*#Attention, Masters junkies (or maybe I should say, “ardent and devoted fans”): Can’t get enough of the tournament this week and weekend? At a loss for what to do between broadcasts? In our May 4, 2009, issue, there was a piece called “The Hills Are Alive.” I wrote it after a visit to Augusta. Check it out, if you like.
‐Let’s end with a little Ann Arbor. Regular readers are used to hearing me talk about my Michigan hometown – “a small citadel of the Left,” I have often called it. Well, I have some amazing news. The center of Ann Arbor — at least Left Ann Arbor — is the “Diag,” short for “Diagonal,” I think. This would be the Ann Arbor equivalent of Red Square. Once, my witty friend Tom said, “Jay, let’s sit on the Diag and watch the Left go by.”
Anyway, earlier this week, I received a note from a reader, saying, “Hi, Jay: We’re having a Tax Day tea party on the Diag this year. I plan to attend with my neighbor — and my camera.”
A tea party on the Diag? Friends, I can’t impress on you the incongruity of this — it’s a little like a Passover Seder outside, or in, PLO headquarters. (Yeah, yeah, I know: The PLO now supports Israel’s right to exist. Sure.) I am gobsmacked. Have a good one, tea partiers (and others)!