In December, I wrote a longish piece about John Bolton, the Republican foreign-policy whiz. (Actually, he whizzes on other issues as well — so to speak.) In that piece, I mentioned that Bolton called Jim Baker “the best secretary of state since Dean Acheson.” One thing about Baker, said Bolton, was that he was the president’s man in the State Department, not the State Department’s man in the White House. That makes a very, very big difference.
Bolton also said this — something that did not make it into my piece (which is here, by the way): Colin Powell, unfortunately, became the State Department’s man, largely. To some, this made him a hero. To others — to people like Bolton and, well, me — it made him something less.
And you know what a lot of us said about Bolton himself, when he went to Turtle Bay: At last we had a U.S. ambassador to the U.N., not a U.N. ambassador to the United States. For years, the job of our ambassador at the U.N. was to represent the world body to Americans. Bolton, bizarrely — where does he get these notions? — represented Americans to the U.N.
All of this came to mind when reading this column by Claudia Rosett, the intrepid, indefatigable, and brilliant journalist who is one of the world’s foremost experts on the U.N. (and because she is an expert, she is a critic: To know the U.N. is to be appalled by it). Under Obama, of course, we again have a U.N. ambassador to the United States. Her name is Susan Rice. She is an anti-Bolton, meaning the Secretariat must love her.
Rosett ended her column, “If, as Rice says, a big part of the job of America’s envoy to the UN is now to market the UN to Americans, then why not just streamline the process? Close down the U.S. Mission to the UN in New York, hand over the budget to the UN itself, and let Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon hire Susan Rice as his special envoy to American taxpayers.”
As much damage as Obama and his team can do, and have done, on the domestic front, they can do more in foreign policy, I’m afraid. This administration can’t end soon enough, for me. Is it January 2017 yet? (Just kidding — the humor of pessimism . . .)
‐You know one of the reasons Rice is all hot to lobby for the U.N.: We have a new sheriff in town — a new House, and I am thinking in particular of the new chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Bizarrely, she takes the role of oversight seriously: She is wondering what U.S. millions are accomplishing at the U.N. This has Susan Rice and other U.N. advocates rather nervous. Ros-Lehtinen has this strange notion that the U.S. should not be funding — certainly overfunding — an anti-American and anti-Israel swamp.
Weirdo. Right-wing Cuban-American extremist.
‐Reading Donald Rumsfeld’s memoirs — a marvelous and instructive experience — I was reminded how close President Ford came to being assassinated, twice. Rumsfeld was in the line of fire too. An excerpt:
. . . as we came out of the building, we heard the crack of a gunshot. The President ducked. Standing just behind him, I ducked as well. A Secret Service agent pushed Ford into the backseat of his limousine. I followed the agent, and we landed on top of the President, on the floor of the car, as it sped off. . . .
It was the second assassination attempt in less than a month. This time the would-be assassin was Sara Jane Moore.
Moore was a Marxist radical. After the shooting, she explained that she had wanted to “allow the winds of change to start. I wish I had killed him. I did it to create chaos.”
Rumsfeld relates the following facts:
Moore was standing across the street, about forty feet from the President, when she fired. An alert bystander, Oliver Sipple, saw the revolver and reached out to deflect her aim. The bullet came within inches of the President’s head — and my own — striking the wall of the hotel behind us.
Rumsfeld notes that “Moore later said she was blinded by radical political views.” Uh-huh.
A question: Did her attempt to kill the president discredit Marxist radicals, or cause any particular discomfort for them, on their campuses and so on? A little while ago, a young psychotic shot up a bunch of people in Arizona. He had no discernible politics, but some of the most influential people in the country pointed their fingers at Republicans, the Tea Party, and conservatives in general. The DailyKos guy wrote, “Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin.” Paul Krugman, Andrew Sullivan, and Keith Olbermann made essentially the same accusation. Jeff Danziger, the much-honored political cartoonist, drew a gunman rising out of a steaming teapot (as in Tea Party).
Our political culture is poisonous.
‐Rumsfeld has been at or near the center of events from about 1960 on. This is a record matched by very few. The civil-rights movement, the space race, congressional maneuverings, the war on poverty, Vietnam, Watergate, the presidential elections, missile defense, the War on Terror — he has been involved in so much. He has known and worked with practically everybody. His memoirs are enthralling for anyone interested in American politics and world affairs. I don’t care whether you’re pro-Rumsfeld or anti-Rumsfeld, a liberal or a conservative or something else: If you’re interested in this period of history, the book is a total feast.
If a liberal wrote one like it, I’d eat it up, I swear. How about Sammy Davis Jr. taking Rummy to see Elvis in Vegas? Isn’t that interesting? Even if you’re glad Ho Chi Minh won or were sorry to see Saddam go?
‐So I see this headline: “Fetal surgery better for kids with spine defect.” It is over this article. And I’m thinking, What the hay? Surgery on . . . what? A “meaningless blob of protoplasm”? (That was a big phrase at one time.) Some irrelevant thing within the body, perfectly abortable?
I grew up with a slogan: “A fetus in a woman’s womb has no more standing than a hamburger in her stomach.” (That was a pro-abortion slogan, in case you’re wondering.) Now they’re operating on that hamburger?
I gave a speech once, autobiographical, on abortion: about my grappling with the issue, when I was in my teens and early twenties. May dig that bad boy out soon . . .
Hang on, let me excerpt my piece on Tom Sowell, which appears in the current National Review:
Asked to comment on abortion, Sowell says, first, that the courts should have stayed out of the matter. “They were solving what was basically a non-problem. There was no serious controversy over abortion prior to Roe v. Wade.” States were addressing the issue in their various ways. Second, it is almost impossible to get “an honest discussion” about abortion. No one will say what an abortion actually is. We resort to euphemism and other methods of avoidance. Sowell says that, like many people, he had always thought of abortion in a particular way: An “unformed mass of cells” existed “somewhere in the body”; a doctor removed it, and that was that. But “once I began to learn about these ultrasounds,” it was plain that “there’s a little person in there,” which is a “different ballgame.” Sowell notes that people like to say, “A woman has a right to do whatever she wants with her own body.” But it should be obvious that there’s another body in question.
‐Last month, I wrote a series on Belarus, “Europe’s last dictatorship,” as it has been called. The dictator there, Lukashenko, cracked down heinously in December, after stealing his latest election. At the website of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, they have published a piece by Alyaksandr Lyalikov, a math instructor at a university. It tells of his torment at the hands of the KGB. (They still call it that in Belarus — nowhere else in the former empire is the intelligence service called the KGB.)
His last sentences are, “It is so hard to be a man in an unfree country. If you do nothing, you are a passive participant. If you try to do something, you are broken and turned into a traitor. It takes incredible courage and spiritual strength to escape this fate. Courage and strength that I lacked.”
I can’t tell you how many Cubans, and others in totalitarian societies, I have heard talk this way.
One more thing: Lyalikov was able to find solace in Christmas carols — “their calm goodness was exactly the salve my tortured soul needed.”
‐Something lighter? Some relief from abortion and torture? Okay, a name: A reader gave me Maj. Sunset Belinsky, a NATO spokeswoman in Afghanistan. You could look her up. Lovely moniker.
‐Years ago, I had an experienced editor who thought that the most commonly misspelled word in English was “desiccated.” I later learned, in the run-up to the year 2000, that it is, in fact, “millennium.” Every writer I edited, for two or three years, misspelled “millennium” (writing just one “n”).
Anyway, I came upon this, in the great Charles Moore: “She is a dessicated spinster.” (Moore is writing in this particular column about the new True Grit.) I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that Moore wrote “desiccated,” only to have an editor change it to the misspelling. (Stuff like this has happened to me lots.)
‐Let me share with you some of the wit and wisdom of my NR colleague Fred Schwarz. The other day, I wrote a piece about the Peace Corps (whose 50th anniversary is March 1). My piece contained the sentence “[Charles] Murray [the great and famed political scientist] says that he could not contribute much to the Thais [while in the Peace Corps].” Fred wrote in the margin, “On the other hand, Massenet contributed a lot to Thaïs.” (Thaïs is the opera, by Jules Massenet, from which the famous Méditation comes.)
Also, I mentioned a man named Earl Aagaard, noting that he was a retired professor of biology. Fred wrote, “Oh, so he’s Dr. Aagaard then: a palindrome.”
That sort of thing makes a day sweeter.
‐So does this: A friend sent me an image of a magazine cover, out of Serbia, with a note saying, “What NR’s designers are overlooking.” Here is that image: Serbia’s National Review, with a fetching lass (as they might say in Scotland) on the cover.
Hey, we have Jeb Bush on our cover. And next time, we’re gonna have Tim Pawlenty. Sex is us, baby!