Politics & Policy

‘If you’re more comfortable,’ &c.

(State Department via Flickr)

In recent days, some Americans have debated whether we are at war. The secretary of state, John Kerry, told a congressman that he could call our current engagement a war if it made him “more comfortable.”

Yesterday, I was reading about our air strikes. And I thought, “What if we lose a pilot? What if a pilot is killed? Do we go to his mother, or wife, and say, ‘Sorry, ma’am: We were doing a little degrading, and he died. We were trying a little kinetic action, and, you know — he bought the farm’?”

If what we are doing is not war, it is certainly war-like.

Kerry’s fuller statement was this: “What I care about is not what we call it, I care about what we do. And I care about making sure we defeat ISIL. And if you’re more comfortable calling it a war against this enemy of Islam, then please do so. We’re happy to call it that. I think it’s much more important to focus on how we’re going to do it.”

Okay. But this ISIL, or ISIS, or Islamic State, or whatever it is this week: Is it an “enemy of Islam”? Is that an appropriate formulation from the secretary of state? Are there imams on record as having characterized the Islamic State as an “enemy of Islam”?

I hope so.

‐Last week, I talked with a person who has lived and worked in Baghdad since the 1990s. In his view, there is no way to dislodge the Islamic State without ground troops (whatever uniform they’re wearing). Air strikes, no matter how numerous or furious, will not cut it, he said.

So I was unsurprised to read this headline in the New York Times: “Weeks of U.S. Strikes Fail to Dislodge ISIS in Iraq.” (Article here.)

‐Now we are striking in Syria. And please bear with me a second — I want to talk about Hafez Assad. Not the late father of the current Syrian dictator, who was himself dictator for a full 30 years (1970-2000). The late dictator’s grandson — the firstborn of the current dictator and his beautiful, stylish English-Syrian wife.

In August 2013, a Facebook post was circulated, said to have been written by Hafez II. He was eleven years old. The post appeared to be authentically his. For a news story on this, go here.

Little Hafez — if it was he — ranted about the United States in the manner of the dictatorship’s leading men. Why was he talking about the Americans? Because, at the time, we seemed poised to intervene in Syria.

Wrote Hafez II (again, assuming it was he), “They may have the best army in the world, maybe the best airplanes, ships, tanks than ours, but soldiers? No one has soldiers like the ones we do in Syria. . . . America doesn’t have soldiers, what it has is some cowards with new technology who claim themselves liberators.”

The post went on to say, “I just want them to attack sooo much, because I want them to make this huge mistake of beginning something that they don’t know the end of it. . . . They don’t know our land like we do, no one does, victory is ours in the end no matter how much time it takes.”

One commenter, evidently a loyalist of the regime, said, “Like father like son! Well said future President!”

Since at least 2010, when he was eight, Hafez II has been talked about as his father’s successor: the next dictator of Syria, the third Assad in a row.

Well, North Korea is on its third dictator from that same grotesque Kim family.

And Baby Doc’s son, Nicolas, is an adviser to the current Haitian president. Did you know that? Some are hoping that Grandbaby Doc (as I call him) will take over someday.

(Americans elect Adamses, Harrisons, Roosevelts, Tafts, Kennedys, Bushes, and others freely. People elsewhere do not have a choice.)

‐The Islamic State is a horrific and dangerous thing that ought to be erased from the earth. But the main danger lies in Iran — is Iran, or its dictatorship. The Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, spoke frankly and truly when he said,

“Now, I know there is still some absurd talk in certain quarters about Iran being a partner in solving problems in the Middle East. They are not a partner, they were not a partner, they never will be a partner. Iran as a nuclear power is a thousand times more dangerous than ISIS.”

Yes, a thousand times more dangerous. Think of that. ISIS can behead only so many a day. Iran — or any of its favored friends — can wipe out multitudes with a nuke. Or, in the words of an old bumper sticker — very popular in my hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich. — one nuclear bomb can ruin your whole day.

‐Let’s move on to something cheerier: North Korea. A friend of mine sent me this clip of an interview on CNN. It is with a rapper named Pras Michel, who had taken a trip to North Korea.

He had some complimentary things to say about the country. He said that it was doing well, infrastructure-wise. He said that it “didn’t really feel like a Third World country.” I think he meant that it was at a higher level than a Third World country.

Of course, North Korea is a pulverized, brutalized, starving country. The testimony of defectors is ample. North Korea has a vast gulag. The people are brainwashed as no other people on earth. North Korea is a “psychotic state,” as Jeane Kirkpatrick said. Now and then, the regime leads gullible foreigners on Potemkin tours.

(To my ears, Pras Michel sounded less gullible, less duped, than some.)

At the end of the interview, CNN’s lady had an observation: “Sounds like a pretty cool trip.” Yes, cool, cool.

You might excuse a rapper — or a CNN host — but what about a former president of the United States? Those who have had the job of president should be among the most worldly people on earth. I have rapped Jimmy Carter for his performance in North Korea before. (I have rapped him for many things.) Let me do it again.

He went to Pyongyang in the days of the monster Kim Il-sung. He said he had been able to “observe the North Koreans’ psyche and their societal structure and the reverence with which they look upon their leader.”

Carter would have flipped for Stalin. What about Hitler? Not a few Germans looked on him with reverence, too.

Our Jimmy said, “I don’t see that they are an outlaw nation” — meaning the North Koreans. Because nothing spells “responsible international citizen” like “North Korea,” right? The state has been that since the 1940s.

Maybe worst of all, Carter described Pyongyang as a “bustling city,” where shoppers “pack the department stores.” Indeed, he was reminded of the “Wal-Mart in Americus, Georgia.”

Paul Hollander and other honest scholars have written about political fools such as Carter for a long time — people who go to totalitarian countries and enthuse about them as though they were democracies. (See Hollander’s Political Pilgrims, for example.) I suppose this sort of travel has always occurred and always will.

‐The headline read “FBI: Cuban intelligence aggressively recruiting leftist American academics as spies, influence agents.” (Article here.) I said to Rick Brookhiser, “Talk about shooting fish in a barrel.” He said, “Yes, and why ‘aggressively’?”

‐I was pleased to see Charlton Heston on a U.S. postage stamp. He was not there for his politics; he was there for his acting, his status as a Hollywood icon. Still — I was pleased. I was pleased that he was not somehow blocked.

‐I was very pleased to see a change in the U.S. customs form. For many years, I complained that they made you go day/month/year. If it was May 2, 2005, you had to write “2/5/05” — like we were Euros.

But now all is well, and American: May 2 is 5/2. Whew. (Doesn’t that sort of rhyme?)

‐Let’s have some language — some sports and language at the same time. All my life, strikeouts were strikeouts. Suddenly, they are “punch-outs.” At least it seems sudden to me. When did this happen, and why?

‐A little music? For a post at The New Criterion, go here. I have some remarks about Behzod Abduraimov, a young pianist from Tashkent. I also have some remarks about the Romantic piano repertoire — particularly the concertos known as “warhorses.”

‐Last month, I remarked the passing of Licia Albanese, the Italian soprano. She died at a buck-oh-five — 105. Now, Magda Olivero, another Italian soprano, has died. She was 104. A friend of mine sent me a clip of her singing at 99. First, Olivero explains a dream she has been having. Then she sings, at the 3:30 mark. In light of her years, I can forgive the mike she holds in her hand.

Later, gators.

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