Politics & Policy

The right flag, &c.

John Quincy Adams (G.P.A. Healy, 1858)

Al-Qaeda and other such groups have a common flag: black, just black. That is maybe the most appropriate flag in the world. It’s as though the jihadists know how bad they are.

They could put a skull and crossbones in the middle of it, but that might be too cute.

‐The headline read, “Iraq crisis stirs fears Afghanistan could be next.” I snortingly thought, “‘Could’? More like ‘will.’” The first paragraph read, “The deteriorating situation in Iraq is giving Congress pause about President Barack Obama’s plan to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, with fears that hard-fought gains could be wiped out by a resurgent Taliban.”

(Article here.)

“Betrayal” is a very strong word, one of the strongest. But are we Americans guilty of it, as in Vietnam? Wait a second: Were we guilty then?

More questions: What do we owe our Iraqi and Afghan allies? What do we owe our people who have fought and died in those countries? Isn’t it important that their sacrifice mean something?

It is tempting to think, “Iraq may be falling, and Afghanistan may well fall once we leave. But at least our people won’t be bleeding and dying over there. Let the locals fight it out. It’s their life, their part of the world. We have done our best, and paid a very high price. No more.”

The problem is, our enemies have pledged to hit us again and again. John Quincy Adams said that we do not go abroad “in search of monsters to destroy.” But what if the monsters come to us, as on 9/11? (Rick Brookhiser made this point, in the following days.)

Before we invaded Afghanistan, I believe, Donald Rumsfeld made the point that the dead of 9/11 could not be brought back. But future mass murder could be prevented. We were not going to war for the purpose of revenge, retaliation, or retribution. Those were three wrong R’s (as I thought of them). No, we were going to war for the purpose of self-defense: Deal with them over there, or deal with them at home.

My concern is, the fall of Iraq and the fall of Afghanistan will lead to more war. That we will be drawn back in, at perhaps greater cost than before. Retreat from the world seems like such a pleasant option, but sometimes the world won’t allow it. A Swiss kind of existence is apparently not possible for the United States.

To be continued, unfortunately. I don’t see any easy answers. Every plausible argument leads to a “Yes, but . . .”

‐Readers may remember Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez, an independent journalist in Cuba. An independent journalist is a very dangerous thing to be in Cuba. Those who try it are among the bravest people in the world.

I met Roberto last year at the Oslo Freedom Forum. I wrote about him in a journal (this installment). Word comes now that he has been brutally attacked. For details, and pictures, go here.

Let me note that Roberto was on his way to the Czech embassy to use the Internet. I once wrote about the Cubans and the Czechs: “Solidarity, Exemplified.” A few weeks ago, I was part of a group talking with Václav Klaus, the former president of the Czech Republic. I mentioned that the Czechs were by far the best friends of Cuba in Europe. Klaus said, incredulously, “Of Cuba?” “Yes,” I said, “of the Cuban people.” Then he understood.

‐Let me ask you something (and myself at the same time): If you were Chinese, would you urge government officials to disclose their assets? Doing so could land you six and a half years in prison. There are people who do it, as you can read here. Why?

The bravery of these people is barely comprehensible.

‐I’ll tell you why I like Juan Carlos, Spain’s now-retired king. Well, there are several reasons: He was important to the development and maintenance of democracy. But I like that he told Hugo Chávez to shut up. He said, “Por qué no te callas?” or, “Why don’t you shut up?”

Do you remember that? His utterance was so popular — so thrilling, really — it became a ringtone.

#page#‐I was pleased with the election of Narendra Modi, I guess, but his linguistic populism is worrisome. So is populism generally, in my view. It so often comes with the smell of the mob, followed by tyranny.

As this (highly interesting) news article tells us, the new PM is making government bureaucrats use Hindi. Okay (though this is problematic, as the article explains). But Modi himself has declared he will speak only Hindi with foreign leaders.

Really? He’s sitting alone with some leader, and they both speak English, and he’s going to call in a translator and proceed in Hindi?

Linguistic populism, I think, is even stupider than most.

Beware the populists, chillen. If a politician carries on about “the people,” be on high alert. Do you remember 2000, when Al Gore carried on about “the people versus the powerful”? Huey Longism is obnoxious, and sometimes dangerous, but it often prevails.

‐A headline read, “New push to get girls into computer sciences.” I didn’t read the article, but I have been reading articles like it my entire life. My entire life, people have been “pushing” to get girls and women into that, or blacks into that, or Hispanics into that.

You know what I say? I say, let’s have equal opportunity — equal opportunity to the extent possible — and then let people pursue whatever they desire. And if there are “gender” or racial or ethnic “imbalances,” tough.

Is that too harsh? Misguided?

‐I give you Clint Eastwood: “Everybody talks about living within your means, but nobody really wants to do it, at least in government. I have strong feelings about that because I was born in 1930. I was a Depression kid. It was a long time before my parents got stable. I lived with grandparents and various relatives while they were struggling, so it’s just engrained in me.”

You know, I admire Mitt Romney for having him at the Republican convention.

‐I admire Casey Kasem, too. The famed Top 40 DJ has died, and I was interested to learn the following, in an obit:

Mr. Kasem, with an audience of 10 million listeners in his heyday, made politeness and decorum hallmarks of his broadcast. His courtly voice seemed capable of rendering the most raunchy song titles in appropriate-sounding phonemes, and when not able, to swerve around the problem effortlessly.

He would not say “I Want Your Sex” when that was the title of a 1987 hit song, for instance. Instead, Mr. Kasem introduced that one as “George Michael’s latest.”

Given the audience he imagined for himself, Mr. Kasem could hardly do otherwise. “I picture people in a car, with Mom and Dad in the front seat, a couple of kids in the back seat, and a grandparent as well,” he told Billboard.

In another interview, he said: “I feel good that you can be going to synagogue or church and listen to me, and nobody is going to be embarrassed by the language that I use, the innuendo. Quite frankly, I think we’re good for America.”

This article was headed “California mayor curbs self over dog poop incident.” Let me do a little quoting:

The doo-doo has gotten too deep for the mayor of a wealthy Los Angeles suburb who flung dog poop onto a political opponent’s property.

The Pasadena Star-News reports San Marino Mayor Dennis Kneier (kuh-NEER’) resigned Tuesday after outcry from residents who say he smeared their image.

I wish the reporter hadn’t used the word “smeared.”

‐Care for a little language — more language, I mean? Let’s do an oldie-but-goodie. I saw a banner headline on Drudge: “Price of Meat, Chicken, Fish Soars to All-Time High.”

After the appropriate economic reflection, I thought about the meaning of “meat.” As I said in a column last year,

There was a time when fish was included in meat. Think of Jesus, in King James language. He calls out to his disciples, who are fishing, “Children, have ye any meat?”

He didn’t mean pork chops.

From the Bible to a movie: 2002’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding. An aunt says to a vegetarian, “What do you mean, you don’t eat no meat? That’s okay, that’s okay. I make lamb.”

‐Let’s end with some music — a review at The New Criterion. This one is of a concert by the New York Philharmonic, with Alan Gilbert, conductor, and Yefim Bronfman, piano soloist.

And don’t forget: I stand with you, the people, against the powerful. Viva Perón!

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