Back talk, &c.

President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Watford, England, December 3, 2019 ( Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)
‘I’ve got your back’; Mayor Pete and kissing; Christmas foibles; and more

There is a new movie called “The Report,” about 9/11, the CIA, and torture. I have not seen it, but Mike Pompeo has. He is the secretary of state, as you know, and, before that, he was the CIA director. “Fiction,” he said about the movie, via tweet. He also said, “To be clear: the bad guys are not our intelligence warriors. The bad guys are the terrorists. To my former colleagues and all of the patriots at @CIA who have kept us safe since 9/11: America supports you, defends you and has your back. So do I.”

A stirring statement. But this back-having business is a very selective one. I think of Marie Yovanovitch, who was our ambassador to Ukraine, and William Taylor, who is our acting ambassador now (for a few more days).

Here is one headline, from Axios: “Pompeo again declines to defend diplomats embroiled in impeachment.” I will quote a bit from the article:

Asked again whether he would defend his employees, Pompeo said “I always defend State Department employees” — though he declined to do so with any specificity . . .

When another reporter asked about Trump’s tweets attacking Yovanovitch, Pompeo said, “I don’t have anything to say.”

Pompeo also declined to say whether he has full confidence in Bill Taylor . . .

Okay. Now imagine you are the secretary of state, and the president is maligning people in your department. It would be uncomfortable to defend them. It would be awkward to offer them support — to express any confidence in them. It might even cost you your job. But it would be pretty gutsy, wouldn’t it? Pretty stand-up.

Having someone’s back when it’s easy is one thing; having someone’s back when it’s hard — when it might cost you something — is another.

Here is another article, from Reuters, covering the same ground. The headline is, “Pompeo declines to defend ex-U.S. ambassador after Trump attack.” Asked whether he agreed with Trump’s assessment of Marie Yovanovitch, Pompeo declined to answer, of course. He did say this: “If somebody else has a substantive question about something that the world cares deeply about, then I’m happy to take it.”

Well, I can’t speak for the world, but I myself am interested in this issue. I think it’s important (and substantive).

Yes, a very selective business, this back-having stuff.

A report from the Wall Street Journal tells us that William Taylor was ordered to leave his post in Ukraine before Pompeo visits the country. According to the report, Pompeo wanted to avoid meeting Taylor and being photographed with him.

Taylor is, so to speak, backless. Don’t nobody got his back.

Personally, I would be happy to meet Taylor and be photographed with him. Do you know his background? I’ll relate just a little. Taylor went to West Point, like his father before him — and like Pompeo, in fact (although Taylor is about 15 years older than he). Taylor was a company commander in the Vietnam War, decorated for valor. At one point, he was eligible to return stateside, but he volunteered to stay on. As a diplomat, he has worked in very difficult places, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

Does Bill Taylor have cooties? Should he be shunned?

Let’s now consider some more back-having — and not-having. President Trump, as you know, intervened in the cases of three servicemen convicted or accused of war crimes. “Just this week, I stuck up for three great warriors against the Deep State,” he told one of his rallies. Apparently, the Deep State includes military juries and the military at large.

Trump reversed the demotion of Edward Gallagher. He again overrode military leadership by demanding that Gallagher be allowed to keep his SEAL pin, his Trident. Last week, Gallagher socialized with the president at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

Robert C. O’Brien, the president’s national security adviser, was asked on television to defend all this. “Ultimately,” he answered, “the president as commander-in-chief has said that he’s got the back of our men and women in uniform.” That’s wonderful. But how about the military jurors? How about the Naval officers who thought it right to pull Gallagher’s Trident? Who’s got their backs? Anybody?

How about the SEALs who risked their careers to report what they knew about Gallagher? Backless? Did you see this report? Headline: “Anguish and Anger From the Navy SEALs Who Turned In Edward Gallagher.” It makes for very, very difficult reading, the kind of thing you want to turn away from. But we should look it in the face, if only for a moment — because the country’s honor is at stake.

I don’t claim to know the absolute truth about these military cases, that’s for sure. But forgive me if I’ve become cynical about this “I’ve got your back” business. It is utterly selective, highly “situational.” Remember that one? “Situational ethics” used to be a phenomenon, and I was always suspicious . . .

• I wonder if you saw this: “Hallmark Channel apologizes for pulling gay-themed wedding ad.” And the subheading: “Hallmark now plans to reinstate the commercials, which featured 2 women kissing.”

I could not help thinking of this very interesting piece, published by The Bulwark last April. By Tim Miller, it’s called “The Kiss: What Mayor Pete means for America.” Scrolling through his “Instagram live stories,” the author had seen an image of a kiss. “What stopped me wasn’t the kiss, but the kissers. They were both men and one of them is Pete Buttigieg, candidate for president of the United States.”

He also said, “The kiss itself wasn’t anything particularly noteworthy, as far as kisses go. It wasn’t Al and Tipper tonguing down in Los Angeles.”

I had to smile. Do you remember the Gores’ bodacious, breath-taking (literally) kiss at the Democratic convention in 2000? We at National Review pictured it on our cover, with the word “Gross-Out.” Those were the days . . .

Anyway, I’ve been thinking. Say Pete wins the nomination (just say). He gives his acceptance speech. There’s the balloon drop. Then the spouse comes out (along with the vice-presidential nominee and his or her spouse and children or what have you). And then . . .

Handshake? Peck? What? And what would the effect on the electorate be? I pose this question with zero ill-will or snark, I promise you. As a political observer, I find this interesting, and something to be considered . . .

• On Christmas Day, Pete issued a tweet that made me (and many others) wince. “Today I join millions around the world in celebrating the arrival of divinity on earth, who came into this world not in riches but in poverty, not as a citizen but as a refugee. No matter where or how we celebrate, merry Christmas.”

Twenty years ago now — almost to the day! — I wrote a column about Hillary Clinton, who was First Lady, and fixin’ to run for the Senate. She had referred to Jesus as a “homeless child.” I mentioned my column in a 2015 post:

I haven’t been able to find it, in a few minutes of searching, so that vital piece of literature is lost to history. But the point is: Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were not homeless. Joseph and Mary had traveled from Nazareth, in Galilee, where they lived, to Bethlehem, in Judea, in order to be taxed. Or to be polled, as part of the census. Lots of people had descended on Bethlehem for the same purpose. Hence, no room at the inn.

I continued with something that had just come up:

This year, Martin O’Malley was ticked at the news that illegal aliens would be rounded up and deported. (I was less ticked than amazed.) O’Malley is running against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. So he decided to say that Jesus was once a “refugee child.”

He has a greater leg to stand on than Hillary did, with the homelessness business — because Joseph and Mary, with their baby, fled to Egypt, to escape Herod. It’s been a while since Jews fled into Egypt for refuge . . .

Anyway, you can criticize government policy on illegals without dragging Jesus into it. When I hear the likes of Hillary and O’Malley, I think that Democrats, as a class, may have a point: that religion does not belong in politics. Is that the point they’re trying to make to me?

Where Pete Buttigieg got the idea that Jesus was born into poverty, I have no idea. He probably knows better. He was probably doling out the “progressive” equivalent of “boob bait for Bubbas” (in Moynihan’s phrase).

To that 2015 post, I had a P.S.:

At the Democratic convention, of course, Jesse Jackson compared Vice President Dan Quayle to Herod. The mother of Jesus, said Jackson, “had family values. It was Herod — the Quayle of his day — who put no value on the family.”

Interesting. Quayle is pro-life. Herod was not. Neither is Jackson (though he was, before he wanted to be the Democrats’ presidential nominee).


• I’ve got a million more things to say, but I will columnize again soon. (“Commit columny,” Safire would say.) Let’s close with a little music. For my “New York Chronicle,” in the latest New Criterion, go here. For a review of Der Rosenkavalier at the Metropolitan Opera, go here. For a review of Wozzeck, also at the Met, go here.

Conducting performances of Der Rosenkavalier is Sir Simon Rattle. He was in attendance at the Wozzeck I covered. In the lobby, a group of music students — they had instruments on their backs — excitedly approached him and said, “Are you Simon Rattle?” He answered, “On my good days, yes.”

Is it too late for Christmas music? Well, we can go to New Year’s Day. Or Martin Luther King Day. Or, hell, beyond. My latest Music for a While is a Christmas show, here.

Thank you, dear friends, and talk to you again soon.

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