Swaggering and staggering, &c.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and (inset) his “Department of Swagger” seal (Yuri Gripas/Reuters; inset via Twitter)
On Pompeo, the world order, Syria, China, Steve Bannon, Tiger Woods, and more

The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, now declares that he leads the Department of Swagger. He’s got a seal and a photo to prove it (check him out). Cute. But I don’t think the United States needs such gimmickry, boasting, and blowhardery. Leave it to lesser nations.

If Hillary Clinton or some other Democratic secretary of state did this, the entire conservative world would barf, believe me.

• The concept of “swagger” makes me think of “swerve” — as in “to get your swerve on.” A friend of mine says, admiringly and flatteringly, “Oh, Jay got his swerve on.”

If only it were so . . .

• In the real world, consider Robert Kagan’s piece: “The Cost of American Retreat: The world order that the U.S. built after World War II required sacrifice and commitment, but it brought unprecedented benefits. What happens if it disappears?”

Nothing good. The post-war order that many of us complain about — sometimes justifiably — has been a bonanza for the United States, freedom, democracy, prosperity, and peace.

Janis Kazocins, the marvelous Anglo-Latvian, commented, “The liberal order of the last seventy years was a historical exception. Now it may be coming to an end.”

Well, if it has to be, it has to be. What I don’t understand — and what I find vexing, frankly — is why so many of my friends on the right welcome it. No matter what they imagine, I think they (or their children) will find the post-liberal, post-American world a nastier place than ever. And it will be too late to restore what they despised and grinned to see end.

• A difficult but necessary read, I think, is Noah Rothman on Syria: “The Last Days of Syria and the Non-Interventionist Catastrophe: The course the West followed has been a disaster.”

In his view, “Syria is a case study in the perils of ideological non-interventionism.” He says, “Ideological adherence to non-interventionism well after it had proven an untenable course of action allowed the flourishing of terrorist organizations.”

He believes that future generations will look on Western indifference to Syria “with contempt.” In his concluding sentences, he writes, “American interventionists are often asked by their opponents to reckon with the bloodshed and geopolitical instability their policies encourage. If only non-interventionists would do the same.”

In the run-up to the Iraq War, George W. Bush used to say, “There are consequences of action and consequences of inaction. I have to weigh those.”

I’m further reminded of a conversation I had with Michael Gove, the British writer and politician, in 2014. He was then education minister; he is now environment minister. He had just read a column by Michael d’Ancona, headed “Tony Blair’s instincts on Iraq were right — and Syria proves it.” The subheading was, “Unlike citizens who attempt to arrest him, the former PM grasps the perils of inaction in a post-9/11 world.”

A young man named Twiggy Garcia had tried to make a “citizen’s arrest” of Blair. Garcia was working in the restaurant in which Blair was eating. At the end of his column, d’Ancona wrote,

One wonders how many detainees have been maimed and killed since the Commons rejected possible military action against the Syrian dictator last August. This, of course, is Blair’s strongest point: that inaction, as much as intervention, has a cost. It is not always right to intervene, and often impractical to do so in any case. But those who do nothing should be held to account, too. Who interrupts the appeaser’s meal?

“Who interrupts the appeaser’s meal?” That is what Gove recited to me, with some emotion.

• A special feature of anti-corruption rallies in Russia is the arrest of children. There are many pictures that show this — you can Google them, and they are sights to behold. I ask again, for the thousandth time, as many others have done: If Putin is so popular, why does he feel the need to crush out all dissent? Maybe he knows something his apologists don’t.

• In Burma, they have sentenced those Reuters reporters — Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. They were arrested late last year for investigating the atrocities committed against the Rohingya minority by Burmese forces. They have now been sentenced to seven years in prison.

After the sentencing, Wa Lone said, “We know we did nothing wrong. I have no fear. I believe in justice, democracy, and freedom.” That is in stark contrast to the government headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace laureate, and once a heroine to millions.

Compared with what the Burmese have done to the Rohingyas — the mass murder, the mass rape — the imprisonment of these two journalists is nothing. (I wrote about Burma and the Rohingyas earlier this year, here.) But it is still an outrage, and a further illustration of what the Burmese regime is.

• The Chinese Communist Party is perpetrating evil of its own, of course, particularly in northwest China, where the Uyghurs live, and suffer. There is some good news, reported by Edward Wong of the New York Times: “The Trump administration is considering sanctions against Chinese senior officials and companies to punish Beijing’s detention of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uighurs and other minority Muslims in large internment camps . . .” This would be done under the Global Magnitsky Act, that blessed, necessary thing. Wong further writes that, “until now, President Trump has largely resisted punishing China for its human rights record, or even accusing it of widespread violations.”

(For a piece of mine on what the Chinese dictatorship is doing to Uyghurs, go here.)

• I strongly recommend this column by Josh Rogin about Taiwan. The heading says a lot: “Trump is failing to counter China’s diplomatic assault on Taiwan.” Rogin writes that the administration is stocked with pro-Taiwan officials. But Trump himself is reluctant to rile the PRC No. 1, Xi Jinping, with whom he feels a bond.

Let me say, further, that many pro-Taiwan Americans, including politicians, are furious with little countries such as El Salvador for transferring their recognition from Taiwan to the PRC. I don’t see where America has a leg to stand on: We did the exact same thing, when we felt it was in our interest.

• As long as I’m in the recommending mode: See this article by Thomas Kent, the president of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. “Fake news is about to get so much more dangerous,” is the heading. Oh, yes. We ain’t seen nothin’ yet. I am very glad that RFE/RL exists — continues to exist — as there is a sore need for it, and the organization does an excellent job. (I wrote about RFE/RL here.) Also, they have a sense of humor. This article is about a shortage of diapers in Iran. Its opening sentence: “The times they are a changin’. But in Iran, families with infants are struggling to do the same.”

• Most of us, I guess, pooh-pooh President Trump’s threats to the media — just bluster, we say. Okay. Recently, Trump has been blasting NBC and saying, “Look at their license?” Okay. Just bluster. An empty threat. But should a president of the United States talk this way? And would we conservatives like it if a liberal president routinely issued such threats against conservative media?

• Howard Jacobson, the British novelist, gave a superb speech about Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour party, and anti-Semitism. One of his lines gave me a memory. I wish to share it with you, but first, the line: “If this reminds you of those who lived downwind of the chimneys of Bergen Belsen claiming never to have smelt anything out of the ordinary, I say you have suspicious natures.”

Almost 20 years ago, I was talking with a gent — a World War II veteran — in Weirton, W.V. He had been present at the liberation of a concentration camp. Of the locals, he said, “They may not have seen anything. They may not have heard anything. But I’ll be damned if they didn’t smell it.”

• There was an extraordinary picture out of the Oval Office — a man and his wife with Trump, at the Resolute desk. The man was Michael Lebron, known as “Lionel,” a radio personality and RT contributor. (RT is the Kremlin propaganda outlet, as you know.) Lebron is a leader of the QAnon movement, whose contention is this: President Trump and the U.S. military are engaged in a glorious shadow war against a global pedophile cult, in which top U.S. Democrats figure prominently.

Okay. Lebron, of course, circulated his Oval Office photo far and wide, with various QAnon hashtags. He said that meeting the president was “an awesome transcendental moment.” Sure. May Trump transcend such moments, and such photos, in the future.

• A Republican senator, Bob Corker, said this about Trump: “Left to his own accord, our country would look somewhat like Venezuela. He’s remarkable in his lack of appreciation for democratic values and institutions. And I think that’s where some of the greatest damage is being done.”

Amazing that a Republican senator said this. Corker is retiring. Do other Republican officeholders, who are not retiring, agree with him? How do they talk privately? The same way, I gather.

• One of the most valuable people in the country — a national treasure, I dare say — is Peter Wood, the president of the National Association of Scholars. He is an anthropologist and I imagine would have continued in his field if it had not become so flaky. (See my “Majoring in Anthro,” here.) Wood has written in defense of a professor of medieval history, Rachel Fulton Brown of the University of Chicago, who has been defamed for years, by all the usual suspects. Wood’s article got my blood boiling — but that’s good for the system, now and then.

• Did you read about Zina-gate? It involves Zina Bash, a top-flight conservative lawyer, and a friend of mine. The kind of woman who inspires adoration in people who know her. Zina went to Harvard College and Harvard Law, then did a couple of clerkships: Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit and Alito on the Supreme Court. (Forgive me if I don’t have the lingo just right.) She assisted Brett Kavanaugh in his recent confirmation hearings.

On social media, people accused Zina of making a white-power symbol with her hand. Her husband, John Bash, a U.S. attorney, issued a powerful response on Twitter: “We weren’t even familiar with the hateful symbol being attributed to her. . . . Zina is Mexican on her mother’s side and Jewish on her father’s side. She was born in Mexico. Her grandparents were Holocaust survivors.”

Need any more be said? Actually, I would like to say this: With all the real racism and hatred in the world, people who would pick on Zina Bash, of all people, should get a life.

• Did you read this article, an essay by Elaina Plott, another friend of mine, formerly with National Review, now with The Atlantic? “The Bullet in My Arm.” It is about her experience of being shot. It is a marvelous piece of writing, and thinking, and belongs in an anthology one day. Let me quote one quick passage: “Sometimes a friend would ask whether my feelings on gun rights had changed. I usually said ‘I don’t know,’ and that was true. Knee-jerk calls for gun control didn’t resonate with me. Yet a reverence toward guns no longer felt right either.”

• I learned a word, “grubstake.” Steve Bannon said, “Donald Trump is totally self-made. [!!] He took a small grubstake of his father. His father gave him, what, $100 million? $50 million? $40 million?”

Oh, man, my kingdom for a grubstake. I’ll take a measly million.

• Let’s have some language — some more language, beyond “grubstake.” Barack Obama has trouble with “I” and “me,” as almost everybody does. I noticed this about Obama during his presidency (remarked on it too, of course). Recently, at John McCain’s funeral, Obama noted that McCain had asked him and George W. Bush to give eulogies for him. “What better way to get a last laugh than to make George and I say nice things about him to a national audience?”

I’ll tell you a secret. On a podcast recently, I said “I” when I should have said “me.” I was aware of it seconds later, and, after the podcast was complete, recorded over it. So no one knew . . .

• Want some music? Here is my “New York Chronicle” for the September New Criterion. And here is a little blogpost, about an operatic passage in an English detective novel . . .

• Want some Jaywalking? These are audio versions of Impromptus, essentially, with added touches such as music. My last three are here, here, and here.

• Let’s end with some sports — some Tiger Woods, in particular. (Don’t talk to me about the Detroit Lions, please.) In the latest PGA Tour event, Tiger shot -17. He shot rounds of 62, 70, 66, and 65. That was good enough for a tie for sixth, only. But still. He is seducing me. He is sucking me back in. He is trying to make me believe in this comeback. And, Lord help me, it’s working . . .



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