Most Overrated: The West Wing
I have to confess I didn’t watch much of this show, after the first episode featured a group of antisemitic “conservative” teachers (as though that’s a bigger problem with conservatives) and President Martin Sheen, I mean Josiah Bartlett, telling a bunch of conservative pastors (in real life, Israel’s best friends) to “get your fat asses out of my office.” That easy, clichéd slander was enough for me.
This show was constant liberal wish fulfillment throughout its run, like any production from the much-overrated Aaron Sorkin that directly deals with politics. Knock down straw men that represent liberal nightmares about conservatives, then be all self-congratulatory for taking on the “tough issues.”
In 2002, President Bartlett’s campaign was against the typical Republican candidate, a stupid, Southern right-wing governor, so it was an easy victory — despite the fact that the most recent president was someone that Hollywood considered a stupid, Southern right-wing governor. And a year after 9/11, the central issue seemed to be green energy; and, of course, liberal goodness and farsightedness won the day because the president had the good sense to embrace it.
In 2005, the show presented the “ideal” Republican candidate. The one that liberals supposedly fear the most. A pro-choice moderate played by… wait for it… Alan Alda!
His most triumphant moment is his refusal to go to a conservative mega-church and a declaration against religious tests. But, alas, he is a Republican, so of course he is most afraid of a dynamic Latino candidate on the Democrat side, the idealistic Jimmy Smits, and uses immigration as a wedge issue to hurt him in his own primary, leading to this slapdown by a close aide:
But aside from the constant liberal fantasy, there are two things that anyone who has ever worked for — or even with — government has to find laughable. First, the idea that government at any level doesn’t move with the speed of a glacier.
And second — adding to the ponderous pretentiousness of the show — did the White House not pay its light bill? The noirish atmosphere may be dramatic, but government buildings are anything but dimly lit, and their favorite type of lighting tends to be fluorescent.
During the run of The West Wing, every successful Republican for president in a generation had run as a conservative, while every successful Democrat had run disguised as a moderate. Of course, 2012 changed all that…
GRADE: The Show Overall — C, the Campaign — D
America’s muddle in Afghanistan is not merely an unwise policy. Two prominent American authors — one a serious analyst (and former badass warrior), the other a bestselling novelist (who created one of our biggest badass heroes) — worry that it is an affront to American manhood as well.
For years Bing West has argued that our carrot with no stick approach to counterinsurgency and nation building in Afghanistan is sapping the “martial spirit” of our armed forces. Recently, he even wrote a column titled “We’re Too Nice to Win in Afghanistan,” detailing how a wimpy approach to a truly savage enemy is making victory impossible.
West proposes we change from a counterinsurgency protocol (winning hearts and minds in order to recruit allies against the terrorists while building a civil society) to a counter-terror strategy (kill them whenever and wherever we can find them and let the Afghan government build its own society).
Vince Flynn, in his new book The Last Man, has his fictional alter ego, Mitch Rapp, take a very direct approach. Upon being introduced to a former Taliban official the CIA has recruited to be part of the Afghan security infrastructure as America prepares to leave the country, and who is certainly playing both sides, he sees only one incentive structure that can work:
Pistol-whip the sneaky bastard and threaten to kill him if he doesn’t cooperate.
So, based on West’s superb book on the war in Afghanistan, The Wrong War, and Flynn’s best thriller to date, here are 5 ways that Obama’s approach to Afghanistan is an affront to American manhood.
Americans have a naïve view of religion. The religious freedom that is so ingrained in our tradition — and our Constitution — has morphed beyond tolerance to a sort of anthropomorphic acceptance of pretty much anything.
In other words, in order to prove how tolerant we are, we take our basically Judeo-Christian view of what religion and God should be, and assume all other religions share the same goals, have the same values, and are just differing manifestation of the same loving and just God.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, the God of the Bible is unique in the history of the world’s religions. From Baal to Zeus, from Jupiter to Allah and Odin, the gods of paganism are capricious masters, not loving fathers. Control is their goal — when they think of humans at all — not justice or peace.
But saying so is sooooo judgmental!
Marvel Comics master storyteller Stan Lee took the most interesting of the Norse gods, Thor, the God of Thunder, and made him a crusader for truth, justice, and maybe even the American Way… or at least Western values.
But think of it from the view of the Vikings — what could be more capricious and destructive than the god of the weather?
But of course, a self-centered destructive superhero who loves war and longs to be worshiped would make for a crappy comic book.
On the serious side, though, a misunderstanding of a leading world religion has serious implications for most of the current world conflicts.
Even George W. Bush mouthed the diplomatically convenient canard “Islam means peace.” Yes, and Pravda means “truth.”
A non-rebellious slave is at “peace” with his master, too.
The Black Count:
Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
By Tom Reiss
Crown, $27, 414 pp.
Review by David Forsmark
It sounds like one of those goofy Black History Month blog posts put out by an activist — hey, did you know the inspiration for the Count of Monte Cristo was really black … and his name was Alexandre Dumas?
The first thought that crossed my mind while reading The Black Count — the fascinating new book by Tom Reiss — was “why the heck hadn’t anyone written a major biography of General Alex Dumas before 2012?” This was immediately followed by “why the heck do we have Black History Month if it’s not going to uncover and publicize this man’s story?”
First, to avoid any confusion, the book’s subject is not the 19th century author who penned such adventure classics as The Three Musketeers, The Corsican Brothers, and The Count of Monte Cristo. Rather, this is the tale of the writer’s father, who is not nearly as well known as he deserves to be.
Reiss, author of The Orientalist, presents the story of the son of a French aristocrat and a Dominican slave who rose through the ranks of the French army through feats of incredible valor, only to be betrayed by racist backlash. In the process, Reiss offers a unique look at the first modern-style totalitarian government to be born of revolution.
The Black Count begins in the slave-trading world of colonial France, an oddly hybrid system where French legal protections for people of mixed race clashed with perhaps the most brutal form of European-sponsored slavery in the New World.
Alex enters the historical record at the age of 14, when his father, a rebellious French nobleman who disappeared into the Haitian wilds with his slave mistress, returns after a years-long absence to reclaim his inheritance. Alex, however, is his father’s sole companion when they return to France; his mother and sisters were sold off by his father before the journey. Alex, in fact, was recorded as his father’s slave upon their return.
Alex, however, was brought up as a nobleman’s son and grew into an intellectually and physically imposing figure. Still, he entered the French army as an enlisted dragoon, rather than taking advantage of his titles.
By Dakota Meyer and Bing West
Random House, $27, 239 pp.
Does this sound familiar?
1. A group of Americans on a diplomatic mission to reach out to Muslims are pinned down by al-Qaeda and come under overwhelming fire.
2. They repeatedly call for support fire missions, which are denied because they cannot absolutely guarantee no civilians are in the area.
3. A frustrated American warrior disobeys orders to go on what appears to be a suicide mission to try to save them.
4. The pinned down Americans are wiped out because supporting fire missions are denied them.
No, this is not a rush-to-press account of the recent disgrace in Benghazi, but if you think Libya was a unique screw-up during the Obama administration, Into the Fire — the story of the Battle of Ganjigal, by Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer and war correspondent extraordinaire Bing West — will change your perception.
As Benghazi and Ganjigal show, it’s the unwritten policy of the Obama administration that civilian lives come before the lives of American soldiers, even when there is only a slim chance bystanders will be killed.
I first learned of Meyer’s story while reading West’s masterful The Wrong War, a scathing critique of how the Afghan war has become more of an ill-conceived welfare plan than an anti-terrorism fight.
Among that book’s most gripping chapters is the story of the ill-conceived and ill-fated Operation Dancing Goat (which I’m sure is informally known as goat-something-else among those who participated). Here, the rules of engagement and brass with no respect for the enemy’s capabilities nearly led to a disaster that would have been much worse but for the unbelievable heroism of one Marine, Dakota Meyer.
But Into the Fire, despite its subtitle, is more than just an account of that fateful day. Meyer sets the stage by telling of his complete tour in Afghanistan, recounting the successes and failures of training Afghan troops to take over their own security, and of the incredible strictures placed on American combat forces by their own command.
Time and again, Meyer was constrained from engaging enemy forces by casualty-shy commanders who forgot the age-old maxim: force projection is force protection.
But even more frustrating were the rules of engagement that all but forbade contact with the enemy if civilians were part of the context, thus giving Taliban and al-Qaeda forces the incentive to surround themselves with innocents.
They all pledged their “lives, fortunes and sacred honors,” and it was more than just an idle boast.
The Founding Fathers were committing treason against the most powerful empire that the world to date had ever seen. It was also their Mother Country, to which many of their friends, family, and neighbors were still loyal.
And while they certainly, in the words of Patrick Henry, “made the most” of their treason, the idea that they would establish the most free and powerful nation in the history of mankind was not the most likely outcome.
So in singling out these 7 men in standing out as badasses (and I am sure some of you will find a more worthy nominee or two that I should have thought of, so please feel free to enlighten me in the Comments section), I am not minimizing the notion that Ben Franklin was right — that they could most certainly “all hang separately” whether they all hung together as he urged them, or not.
However some men risked just a bit more, courted danger a little more closely, and were just a bit more reckless with their lives or fortunes. Here are 7 of them, and on this Independence Day, I hope I do these Founding Badasses justice.
7. Henry Laurens
Veteran Indian fighter Henry Laurens from the Cherokee campaign of the French and Indian War was a bit too old to serve in the Continental Army during the Revolution, but that didn’t stop him from being the only American to be imprisoned in the infamous Tower of London.
After that war, Laurens became a very wealthy rice planter, and was a continuously elected member of the South Carolina Assembly. Like most of the eventual revolutionaries, Laurens favored reconciliation with the Crown, even while advocating for more freedom for the colonists.
He became a prominent member of South Carolina’s revolutionary government, was elected to the Continental Congress, and eventually succeeded John Hancock as the president of the Revolution’s governing body.
Meanwhile Henry’s son John was making a name for himself as a soldier in the Continental Army. John vociferously argued that slavery was anathema to the fledgling nation’s rhetoric about liberty, and was granted permission to offer South Carolina’s slaves freedom in exchange for military service.
He was vigorously opposed by Governor Rutledge, who was not quite as fierce in his defense of Charleston from the British. When Rutledge tried to surrender, John Laurens took on the defense of Charleston and repulsed the British forces.
Shortly thereafter, he was captured by the British and shipped to Philadelphia, just as his father Henry was leaving that city for a secret mission to convince the Netherlands to help the American cause financially. Henry’s diplomatic mission was successful, but he was himself captured by the British on his second voyage to Amsterdam and tossed into the abysmal conditions of the Tower.
Eventually both Laurens were freed in prisoner exchanges (Henry for Lord Cornwallis himself), and, undaunted, John went back to fighting Redcoats and Henry back to get money from the Dutch. John was killed in a skirmish late in the war in 1782; but his father honored his principles by manumitting all 260 of their slaves after the war.
By Eric Blehm
Waterbrook Press, $21.99, 257 pp.
It’s hard for a book to stand out in a publishing world filled with excellent accounts of valor by America’s warriors in the fight against al-Qaeda, the war in Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan.
But in Fearless, Eric Blehm — author of the excellent The Only Thing Worth Dying For, the underreported story of the fight in southern Afghanistan and the worst “friendly fire” incident of the conflict — has given us an inspiring and unlikely story that is unique in several points:
- It’s probably the only biography of a Navy SEAL I have ever read that will appeal equally (or nearly equally) to both men and women.
- It features a hero whose biography is even more compelling than his considerable combat exploits.
- It’s the first such book written by this bestselling mainstream author for a Christian publisher.
- And I imagine it’s the first book published by an imprint associated with said publisher, Waterbrook, an imprint associated with the venerable Christian publisher Multnomah Press, to include the words “shit” and “ass” (unless the latter refers to the animal that talked to the prophet Balaam or provided Jesus’ mode of transportation on Palm Sunday).
But aside from such publishing and marketing considerations, the story of Navy SEAL Adam Brown would be unique for a trio of reasons, any one of which would have been enough to disqualify Brown from the SEAL teams on its own.
To my knowledge, Brown is the only former crack addict to become a Navy SEAL, an extraordinary testimony to faith and determination. SEAL training is some of the toughest military training in the world, designed to weed out candidates by breaking them mentally.
Then after overcoming that — though not without the occasional temptation or backslide — Brown overcomes losing an eye in a training accident and having the fingers of his right hand severed and reattached.
Forget any sports rehab story you thought was the best you ever heard. Brown taught himself to shoot well enough with his left hand to not only stay a Navy SEAL but also move up to DEVGRU (Naval Special Warfare Development Group), the most demanding unit in the SEALs. It’s better known as SEAL Team SIX, basically the Navy’s version of Delta Force.
Like the Army’s DELTA Force, Seal TEAM SIX is one of our nations Special Missions Units, anti -terrorist teams called upon for the most important and dangerous missions, with orders that come directly from the Oval Office and/or top ranks within the Pentagon. These are our nation’s most secretive warriors with millions of dollars invested in their training. To put it mildly, they don’t often take guys who just learned to shoot with the hand he’s using.
Whatever the facts of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case may turn out to be, it is instructive in how the media narrative works. Many reporters and pundits are ignoring the forest of reality while waiting to climb the one tree and go out on a limb assuming a local crime story reinforces their world view.
So it comes as a bit of a surprise that three of today’s best suspense novelists — writers who stand firm against the media narrative of crazy killer veterans, reflexively racist cops and imperialist CIA oppressors — are prize-winning journalists from the liberal troika of the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and, yes, the New York Times.
It will surprise no thriller fan that Stephen Hunter is less than politically correct. For more than 20 years and through 17 novels, Hunter has tweaked media narratives and refuted their clichés about guns and the men who use them. His most famous novels, which feature former Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger, celebrate the small-town American fighting man who fights his country’s wars and has contempt for the elites who underestimate him.
In his last Swagger book, I, Sniper, Hunter showed he was fed up with the industry that awarded him a Pulitzer Prize for film criticism as a writer for the Washington Post. In what could be seen as a one-paragraph summary of Thomas Sowell’s The Vision of the Anointed, Hunter put these words in the mouth of a frustrated FBI agent:
The narrative is the set of assumptions the press believes in, possibly without even knowing that it believes in them. It’s so powerful because it’s unconscious. It’s not like they get together every morning and decide “these are the lies we tell today.” No, that would be too crude and honest. Rather, it’s a set of casual non-rigorous assumptions about a reality they’ve never really experienced that’s arranged in such a way as to reinforce their best and most ideal presumptions about themselves and their importance to the system and the way they’ve chosen to live their lives. It’s their way of arranging things a certain way what they all believe in without ever really addressing it carefully. It permeates their whole culture. They know, for example, that Bush is a moron and Obama a saint. They know Communism was a phony threat cooked up by right-wing cranks as a way to leverage power to the executive. They know Saddam didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, the response to Katrina was f—ed up, torture never works. … Cheney’s a devil, Biden’s a genius. …The story [the central frame up in I, Sniper] was somewhat suspiciously concocted exactly to their prejudices, just as Jayson Blair’s made-up stories and Dan Rather’s Air National Guard documents were. And the narrative is the bedrock of their culture, the keystone of their faith, the altar of their church. They don’t even know they’re true believers, because in theory they despise the true believer in anything. But they will absolutely de-frackin-stroy anybody who makes them question all that.
This was written too early to add: “And innocent Trayvon Martin was executed for Walking While Black to buy Skittles by a racist white Hispanic who listens to Rush Limbaugh.”
Hunter’s latest, Soft Target (Simon and Schuster, $26.99), makes the rant above seem subtle. On the surface it updates Die Hard with the setting in the Mall of America. A Marine sniper is trapped with 1,000 customers on Black Friday by a team of jihadists calling itself the Mumbai Brigade.
That’s on the surface. At its core, Soft Target is a withering media and political satire that takes fewer prisoners than its hero, Ray Cruz, son of Swagger.
You see, the man in charge of the response to the terror attack is Colonel Douglas Obobo of the Minnesota State Police, whom Hunter describes as a charismatic media darling being pushed to be the first black director of the FBI. Hunter goes on to add he “hadn’t really done anything. His career was primarily a phenomenon of showing up, giving speeches, accepting awards, then moving up to the next level.”
Obobo scoffs that terrorism is the motive for the raid, opining that “other than a few Arabic-styled scarves, there is no evidence for that.” He goes for negotiations rather than confrontation, while the jihadists — spurred on by a local radical imam who is good at pleading persecution whenever someone objects to his sermons — plan to go out in a blaze of glory, taking their hostages with them,.
Ultimately, of course, it turns out it is the terrorists who are trapped in the Mall with Ray Cruz. Soft Target is shorter and more obvious than the average Hunter book, but it’s great fun, fueled by Hunter’s knowledge of weapons and tactics — and his newly revealed sense of outrage.
Besides, who can resist a thriller where the department store Santa gets sniped by a Muslim terrorist on page one?