Politics & Policy

Erring and forgiving, &c.

You may have heard about a little incident the other week. Speaking at Fort Drum, N.Y., President Obama confused one Medal of Honor recipient with another. One was still living, the other dead. Oops.

Everybody makes mistakes, of course, and a president can’t be expected to dot every “i” and cross every “t.” NewsBusters pointed out that none of the “big three” networks reported Obama’s Medal of Honor mistake. We might ask, And if Ronald Reagan or one of the Bushes had done the same?

In the 1980s, there was a book beloved by the chattering class: Reagan’s Reign of Error. Obama is working on a book of his own. He had “57 states,” of course. He spoke about the “Austrian” language. He said “Cinco de Cuatro,” attempting to say “Fourth of May.” And remember this one? “On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes — and I see many of them in the audience here today . . .” Etc.

Where Barack Obama is concerned, the press is mightily forgiving and understanding. Let them remember that when a Dan Quayle messes up with “potato” or a Sarah Palin gives a peculiar interpretation of Paul Revere’s ride. You know?

‐In the July 4 National Review — there’s a patriotic phrase! — I had a piece called “Friends in Need: A cadre of worthies takes up the cause of Israel.” Who are these worthies? They are members of the Friends of Israel Initiative, a group spearheaded by José María Aznar, the former prime minister of Spain. That piece is here.

Aznar’s partners — the Friends — include Václav Havel, the Czech hero; Alejandro Toledo, the former president of Peru; David Trimble, the Northern Irishman who shared the Nobel peace prize in 1998; and our man John Bolton.

The Friends are not a Jewish group, by and large. (Who’s counting?) They are a group of righteous Gentiles, to borrow a phrase. And their concern for Israel is explained a bit in my piece. Why any explanation should be necessary, I’m not too sure.

Over the years, many have asked me, “Why do you care so much about Israel?” They have said things like, “Why in the world would Sarah Palin, as governor of Alaska, have an Israeli flag in her office?” I have answered this general question many times. Let me throw some links at you, if you’re interested: here, here, here, and here.

And I will now say a bit more. Israel is a greatly admirable nation — established just a few years after the ovens stopped belching — and, perversely, it is the world’s pariah state.

According to Eye on the UN, the United Nations took 145 “human-rights actions” against Israel last year. That was, of course, more than against any other country. In second place was Sudan, with a paltry 50 actions. Sudan’s government is genocidal, as you know. In third place was Congo. Then came Somalia.

And in fifth place — drum roll, please — the United States. North Korea did a full 20 places better.

In Scotland, the West Dunbartonshire Council has forbidden local libraries to carry Israeli books. Actually, the council has protested indignantly that this isn’t true. They have forbidden libraries to carry books printed in Israel. If an Israeli should happen to use a foreign publisher — why, that’s kosher.

Time was, a performer made news if he boycotted Israel. Now, a performer makes news if he travels to Israel and plays, or sings. Elton John went there and shouted out, “Shalom! We are so happy to be back here! Ain’t nothin’ gonna stop us from comin’, baby.”

Israel, which is under siege by its neighbors, and by the awful weight of world opinion, is in sore need of friends. And Aznar & Co. are supplying this need. They are doing vital, golden work, and strictly from principle, deriving no benefit except duty fulfilled and conscience satisfied.

Let me tell you a quick story. After I published my article in National Review, I got a message from a reader. She told me she was 83, I believe, and on a fixed income. But she wanted to make a donation to the Friends of Israel Initiative. How could she do this? I found a street address for her. She is not the Internet-using type.

The rest of you sophisticates will want to check out the Friends’ website, here. It has many interesting documents and facets. In my view, the Friends are one of the clearest and most helpful groups out there. They are, to use an old Bush 41 phrase, a “point of light.”

#page#‐Above, I mentioned the U.N. (sorry). Let me tell you something that Solzhenitsyn said — you’ve heard me say it, if you’re a regular reader, more than once. The U.N. is not really the united nations, he said, or the united peoples; it is the united governments, or regimes. And the body as a whole is only as good as the members composing it.

Why my reiteration of this truth? Well, North Korea, a rogue state, particularly where nuclear weaponry is concerned, has just become chairman of the Conference on Disarmament.

What can you do? Nothing, except see the U.N. with clear eyes. Often, when I’m in Europe, people ask me why Americans like me have so little respect for the U.N. I tell them things like this: North Korea chairs the disarmament conference. They understand a little better, when you put it to them that way.

‐I want to recommend three articles to you, three Associated Press reports. (I know you don’t have enough to read.) The first is here. It’s on the CIA analyst who spent years hunting bin Laden. He was our chief bin Laden-hunter. Fascinating.

‐The second article is here. “Ceremony honors Jews killed by Polish neighbors.” The Polish president, Bronislaw Komorowski, said, “The nation must understand that it . . . had an active role. Today, Poland can still hear the never-fading cry of its citizens. Once again, I beg forgiveness.”

‐And the third is here: “One mother’s catharsis on Srebrenica anniversary.” This is maybe the most stunning news article I’ve read this year. I’m tempted to quote the whole thing — but then, what would be the point of linking? Here’s a taste:

She came face to face last month with the man she blames for [her son’s] death: former Serb general Ratko Mladic, who was captured in May and is standing trial in The Hague, Netherlands on charges of masterminding Europe’s worst massacre since World War II.

Last month, her eyes met Mladic’s through the glass barrier that divided the courtroom from the audience chamber. She pointed at him, then at herself, slowly dragged a finger across her throat — and waved it Mladic.

“You killed my only son,” she said the gestures meant. “Now you will pay for it.”

The article comes complete with pictures.

‐Care for a little ballet? The American Ballet Theatre staged Coppélia, that enduring hit of Léo Delibes. I have a cherished story about it — told to me by David Pryce-Jones, who has told me so many of my favorite stories. Sir Thomas Beecham was conducting Coppélia one day or night. He chose particularly fast tempos. Putting down his baton, he said (of the dancers), “Made the buggers hop.”

The prima ballerina on the night I attended was Paloma Herrera, the Argentinean. She has the quality of winsomeness, endearingness. She gets on your side, you get on hers. You root for her. This is a special quality in an artist. It is the icing on the cake — the cake being composed of technique and stuff.

May I quote from Stephen Foster? “I long for Jeanie with the daydawn smile, / Radiant in gladness, warm with winning guile.” Winning guile — what a phrase. I have always wondered at it.

‐Care for some language? (More language, maybe I should say.) I thought of this the other day, when contemplating Debbie Wasserman Schultz (as one does). The perfect word for her, or one of them, is “strident.” But you can’t use that word anymore, about a woman — because it’s sexist, or “sexist.” Too bad. Sometimes the mot juste is just the one that’s disallowed.

P.S. As I’ve mentioned before, DW-S is very good on the subject of Cuba. She “gets it,” as a Floridian should. As everyone should.

‐Yet more language? I thought of this the other day, when attending a black-tie affair. Most of the country abbreviates “tuxedo” “tux” — pronounced “tucks.” But part of the country says “tuck.” It would be interesting to see a map along these lines, like the one that tells us where they say “soda,” “pop,” or what have you.

‐Feel like a name? A reader writes,

My great-grandfather, a Mormon convert who came from England in 1861, chose to change the family name in 1869, from Hoar to Orr — for which we honor and revere his memory. In tracing back the original family name, we come to a halt in the late 1600s with a noble gentleman named Faithful Hoar.

Feel like another name? Actually, this one is a name that never came to be:

I once knew a southern belle from Raleigh, N.C., named Dolly. She had a longtime beau with the surname of Jolly. Their relationship was doomed because she refused to become Dolly Jolly from Raleigh.

What a shame!

Thanks for the read, my friends, and see you.

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