EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Dear Reader (and those of you who get this “news”letter in talking-point form from the NSC),
I think the Bergdahl story is really very serious and there are still lots of things we don’t know. My friend James Rosen’s story that Bergdahl turned mujahideen in captivity is very interesting, but it doesn’t mean — nor does Rosen say — that he was a jihadi when he left his base. And, while the case doesn’t look good for Bergdahl, we don’t know that he was a deserter yet. We only know that he was AWOL. Indeed, according to an earlier Pentagon report, we know he had a habit of wandering off base. That may make him a flake or an idiot, but it doesn’t prove he was a deserter.
#ad#Indeed, there are so many unknowns here that it might be best to withhold judgment on a lot of aspects to this story.
Save perhaps one: The White House is run by clowns. It’s like a Fellini movie over there. Actually, that’s not quite fair. Clowns are actually pretty professional. They go to school to do what they do. That reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from The Simpsons. Sideshow Bob is talking to his brother Cecil through the plate glass of a jail visiting room.
Sideshow Bob: You wanted to be Krusty’s sidekick since you were five. What about the buffoon lessons, the four years at clown college?
Cecil Terwilliger: I’ll thank you not to refer to Princeton that way.
Look, I’m not making an ideological point here. For years, the White House had certain procedures and mechanisms in place that helped to ensure the dignity of the office and protect the president from saying too many things he’d later regret (like screwing up Billie Jean King’s resume, or slandering Rutherford B. Hayes, or calling the Benghazi attack a “bump in the road”). Of course, no president is immune to gaffes, but you try to keep them out of the prepared text. And of course, as conservatives, we can appreciate what amounts to one of our core insights on how the world works: Sometimes things go badly (I think it sounds more impressive in Latin).
In the old days, there was an unwritten rule of politics: Don’t put the president next to a guy who looks like he just emerged out of spider-hole with Mullah Omar. But these are more relaxed and tolerant times. Still, in the Washington of yore, the president’s advance team would at least go over with the president’s guests what they might say when standing alongside the leader of the free world. You know just to make sure everyone is on the same page. But that’s hard to do when the page is written in . . . Pashto!
Seriously, that Rose Garden ceremony with the Bergdahls was like a first draft of a scene from HBO’s Veep. In the final version, Mrs. Bergdahl would be in a burqa and ululating while Mr. Bergdahl was shouting “Allahu Akbar!” and firing an AK-47 into the White House portico causing plaster to fall down. But, you know, sometimes subtler is better.
I shouldn’t make light of Mr. and Mrs. Bergdahl’s ordeal, even if Mr. Bergdahl seems to have some, uh, interesting ideas. They remain sympathetic people put in a horrible situation (which is one reason the president desperately tried to make this all about them, as I write here).
Release the Hacks!
My only point is that the White House’s political chops in this fiasco look about as sharp as Dom DeLuise’s forehead. That’s kind of weird when you consider that his foreign-policy shop is largely run by political hacks — as Kim Strassel notes in her excellent column from yesterday. “Obama’s Kissingers,” as Strassel calls them, should be better at the politics than the foreign policy, given their resumes. But it turns out they stink at both. When you run foreign policy like a domestic political operation, it turns out that both the policy and the politics can blow up on you. I think this is because over the long haul foreign policy doesn’t work like domestic politics. You can have the best political hacks in the world, but if you give them a job they’re not suited for, it will actually make things worse. If you want to see what I mean, ask your mechanic to do your prostate surgery.
This president, we are constantly told, gets his information about scandals in his own administration the same way we do: from the newspapers. This raises an interesting question: Why have an office in the White House? Apparently you can do this job from anywhere.
Maybe Obama needs to get a subscription to Rolling Stone? If he’d read this story from two years ago, he’d at least know that Bergdahl’s case was like Norwegian weather in September: a lot of gray. In fairness, I don’t want the president of the United States wasting his time reading that rag. But in the old days, someone in the White House would have read up on the guy. A pro would have said, “Hey, let’s type Bowe Bergdahl into the Google machine and hit the ‘I’m feeling lucky’ button!” If they’d done that, they would have at least known not to say Bergdahl was captured on the “battlefield” and that he had served “with honor and distinction.” On why this was outrageous see Ralph Peters. On why this was politically stupid, see the entry in the dictionary for “Duh.”
“Go F*** Yourself San Diego”
This White House went a different way. They sent Susan Rice — Susan Rice! — out on the Sunday shows to beclown herself again. This woman was going to be secretary of state until she went out on the Sunday shows and read Ben Rhodes’s talking points verbatim. Apparently that’s sort of her thing. She reads what the hacks above — or below — give her. It’s like she’s the Ron Burgundy of foreign policy. But you’d think this time around she’d go over with her staff exactly what they know — and don’t know. You’d think she’d be like Roy Scheider in Jaws 2 telling the town council, “As God is my witness, I’m not going through that Hell again.” Instead she’s like Mikey from the Life cereal commercials and the White House political hacks are like the other kids. “Give these talking points to Susie, she’ll say anything.”
And now, to cover their mistakes, these guys are complaining anonymously to Chuck Todd that Bergdahl is being “swiftboated” by his former comrades. My friend Iowahawk called this one perfectly. Seriously, what’s the point of putting the hacks in charge if they can’t even hack right?
It’s amazing how good liberals are at creating terms that attack motives in order to deflect inconvenient facts. I have my problem with the uses and abuses of “McCarthyism,” “witch hunts,” “climate deniers,” “reality-based community” etc. But “swiftboating” really stands out as slimy piece of business. What the Swiftboat vets did was tell the truth as they saw it about events they had firsthand experience with. Some of their recollections may have fallen short of accurate, but many were completely accurate. I guarantee you not one in a hundred people who throw the term “swiftboating” around can tell you exactly what the vets did wrong.
#ad#Well, I take that back. They can tell you what they did wrong: They created problems for the Democrats. What they can’t tell you was what the vets said that was inaccurate — because they don’t care.
The Boys of Pointe du Hoc
I didn’t want this “news”letter to go by without at least acknowledging the day. Also, it’s a good excuse to tell a relevant story. A few years ago, NR did a French riverboat cruise that included a day trip to Normandy. It was really an amazing experience and if you ever get a chance, I highly recommend it. Anyway at one point I wandered down by myself to the observation area at the top of Pointe du Hoc. If you didn’t know, Pointe du Hoc is the highest spot between Utah and Omaha beaches and the Germans had artillery batteries there that could hit both beaches. When you’re up there even a military know-nothing like me can immediately see its tactical significance. Army Rangers attacked and seized Pointe du Hoc in one of the most legendary tales of heroism in World War II. They had to scale these 100-foot cliffs while under fire. You can read all the details elsewhere. Anyway I walked down and looked down the cliff side on my right and my left, and then muttered a bit too loudly “How the [expletive deleted] did they do that?”
About five minutes go by and one my fellow NR speakers, Bing West, wanders up. Now you should know something about Bing. The technical term for Bing is badass Marine. He led over a 100 combat patrols in Vietnam and — in his sixties — embedded with Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. He studied war at RAND and Princeton and was a high-ranking official in Reagan’s Defense Department. Suffice it to say, he has a significantly better grasp of military tactics than I do. Anyway, he didn’t see me. But I watched him as he looked down both sides of the cliff, studying the path of the Rangers assault. And then, he muttered, a bit too loudly, “How the [expletive deleted] did they do that?”
Various & Sundry
Please give until it hurts — or at least stings. Here’s my annual plea (or is it semi-annual?) for shmundo. I tried something a bit different this year.
Goldberg Update: Sorry for the abbreviated and possibly lackluster G-File. This has been a pretty brutal week. The Fair Jessica was out of town working on a project (my Mother’s Day present to her was a stint in a nice hotel out of town and away from beast and child so she could hit her deadline). The inconvenient part is that I had a nearly 10,000-word essay due for Commentary this week (signed off on galleys yesterday), my daughter has her last week of school (which is chock-a-block with events that require logistical foresight that doesn’t come naturally to daddy), and the dingo remains a very bad girl. She ate through a thick extension cord in four places the other night. Fortunately it wasn’t plugged in (“If it had been, I bet she wouldn’t have chewed it apart in four places.” — The Couch). She wakes me up in the middle of the night just to make sure I’m okay and to see if I might want to play Boggle. And her favorite place to sleep when I am working on the back porch is directly under the chair leg when I lean back. Anyway, I have to go to my kid’s school graduation ceremony, not because she’s graduating, but because she’s singing in the chorus. And so I have to file early.
Nietzscheans Against Nietzsche!: University College London’s student union has banned a Nietzsche club from meeting. Most people will get all worked up about the free-speech angle here. I prefer to focus on the hypocrisy. Obviously, I don’t know any of the students who made this decision. But I am fairly certain most of them subscribe to views that could be characterized as Nietzschean. That is unless these kids believe God is alive and well, that there is an external, universal morality, or that willpower isn’t self-justifying.
First, some D-Day links:
Here’s AP’s first report about the landing.
Here’s Reagan’s Pointe du Hoc speech.
Eisenhower’s pre-written letter accepting blame for D-Day’s failure
Microscopic horrors in your house
Japanese women divorces husband for not liking Frozen.
Speaking of world’s greatest dads, these are pretty funny.
Is James Bond a Time Lord?
25 products Americans can’t get, thanks a lot bin Laden.
Hipster beards with animals shaped into them.
Well, at least Zoë didn’t do this.
French bulldog puppy discovers spring door stopper.
Speaking of cats and dogs, I discussed them both in the latest Banter Podcast. Though I was ambushed by the question!