National Security & Defense

That Iran letter, &c.

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Forty-seven Republican senators have signed an open letter to the Iranian government, and the White House is none too happy about it. (For a news story on the matter, go here.) I would like to make three points.

President Obama said, “I think it’s somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hard-liners in Iran. It’s an unusual coalition.”

In the final stage of the Cold War, I heard this constantly. American liberals always said, “Our own hard-liners and the hard-liners in the Soviet Union want to block progress on arms control” (or whatever it was — usually arms control). “Conservatives in America and conservatives in the Soviet Union are on the same page.”

Yadda yadda yadda. This was practically the theme music of my upbringing. And it was always bunk.

Okay, my second point: The more I have studied Khomeinist Iran, the more I have been convinced of one thing: To speak of “hard-liners” and “soft-liners” is foolish. It does not comport with reality in Iran.

Experts I trust say this, and I’m afraid they are right. I wish it weren’t so, but . . .

Finally, a note about Joe Biden. He reacted strongly — heatedly — to the Republicans’ letter. He said, among other things, that it was “beneath the dignity of an institution I revere.” He was talking about the Senate. He said that Republicans were trying to undermine the president, who was having to deal with “a longtime foreign adversary,” i.e., Iran.

Let’s take a little walk down Memory Lane. Two years ago, I did a series called “SDI at 30.” It was about missile defense, on the 30th anniversary of Reagan’s historic speech (announcing the Strategic Defense Initiative).

In 2001, George W. Bush, a new president, gave notice to Moscow that the United States was withdrawing from the ABM Treaty. Bush had concluded that the treaty was inhibiting us from developing missile defense as we should.

Let me now quote from the relevant portion of my series:

There was much gnashing of teeth — not so much from Moscow as from Democrats. One of the loudest gnashers was Joe Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He said we were making a “tragic mistake,” one that would spark a “massive new arms race.” He threatened to cut off funding for missile defense if Bush went through with withdrawal.

Joe Biden is against congressional involvement in foreign policy — except when he’s for it.

‐Did you see Saturday Night Live’s send-up of Hillary Clinton, in the wake of her “e-mail scandal”? It’s here — and it is superb.

It used to be said that, if you’ve lost Johnny Carson, you’ve lost the nation. If Johnny starts making jokes about you — you’re cooked.

In a way, SNL is a voice of the Democratic party, I believe. And if they’re making fun of HRC . . .

‐There is a longstanding Clinton technique. It started in the 1992 campaign, as far as I know. Some scandal would erupt. The candidate’s people — George Stephanopoulos, most prominently — would stonewall. They would refuse to answer questions about the scandal.

And then, when reporters persisted, they’d say, “We’ve been over this and over this. You are obsessed, aren’t you?”

It was a technique that worked. Will it still?

‐The Cuban dictatorship is not benign — not toward the people it rules, and not in the world generally. Last October, I did a series called “Fraternal Relations.” It was about the Castros’ relations with North Korea, Russia, and China. For the three installments, go here, here, and here.

Were I doing that series today, I would include this, in the China section: “Colombian officials say they have detained the captain of a China-flagged ship bound for Cuba for illegally carrying explosives and other arms.”

Oh, yes. Birds of a feather, flocking together — arming one another, etc.

‐Earlier, I referred to my upbringing and “theme music.” Well, part of this music related to Israel. Americans who were anti-Israel would talk a lot about the USS Liberty. This was the ship that was attacked by the Israelis during the Six-Day War (1967). More than 30 crewmen were killed.

The Israelis said that the attack was a terrible accident, a case of mistaken identity. After an investigation, the U.S. government agreed. The Israelis paid many millions in compensation. But there have always been those who maintain that the attack was deliberate. (I think they want it to have been so.)

You may have seen the claim in recent weeks that “Obama threatened to fire on Israeli jets attacking Iran.” (I have quoted the headline over this article.)

I could not help thinking about Zbigniew Brzezinski, who in 2009 said that, if Israeli pilots left for Iran, we should stop them. “No one wishes for this, but it could be a Liberty in reverse.”

‐On to something lighter: I’m not one to force cute-kid videos on anyone — cat videos are another story — but this is charming and delightful, about how kids react when presented with an ancient instrument: the typewriter.

‐Ed Sabol died. He helped popularize professional football by creating NFL Films. The New York Times obit is here.

Check this out, from Sabol’s earlier life:

He was a champion high school swimmer at Blair Academy in New Jersey and at Ohio State University. He was named an alternate on the 1936 United States Olympic team in Berlin but did not go because he refused to swim in a pool built by Hitler.


‐John C. Whitehead, that pillar of the establishment, died. (I remember him from the Reagan State Department.) Check this out, from his obit:

In his book, he suggested that he had been motivated to succeed by a secret his mother told him after he had gotten in trouble for stealing cookies from a bakery. She said she had had twins who died at birth a few years before Mr. Whitehead’s own birth.

“Now, John, your father and I hope and pray every day that you will grow up to be a fine person and help us make up for the terrible loss,” she said.

Mr. Whitehead wrote, “For the rest of my life, I did everything I could to make my mother proud of me.”

Whoa. Amazing.

‐Feel like a little music? For a review of Anna Caterina Antonacci, the Italian soprano (singing an all-French program, including Poulenc’s monodrama La voix humaine), go here. For a review of Kirill Gerstein, the Russian-American pianist, go here.

‐There are things that happen in real life that you would hesitate to put in a short story, novel, or movie — because they seem so far-fetched. Impossible. Contrived. And yet they do happen, all the time.

You will want to read about Andy Grant. He was a British marine who had a tattoo saying “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” In Afghanistan, he stepped on a mine. He then had an operation to remove his leg below the knee. The tattoo now read “You’ll Never Walk.” Seriously.

This may have seemed a taunt. But he used the phrase as inspiration. He would walk. And now he is a champion runner.

If someone like Mark Helprin put that in a novel, moronic critics would say, “Ooh, yucky, sappy, romantic, impossible.” BS. Real.

‐Not long ago, I wrote a column about politicians, basically, and how we view them. A reader sent me a thoughtful note (typical of her) and concluded with a quotation. It is variously attributed to Horace Greeley, Mark Twain, and Harry Truman. Probably to others, but here it is:

“Fame is a vapor, popularity is an accident, riches take wings, those who cheer today may curse tomorrow, and only one thing endures: character.”

Whoever said it, said it well. Thanks, everyone, and see you.

N.B. This column has been amended since its original posting.


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