Work and Days

Politics Again


An Asymmetrical War

The other day a story ran about new French male fashion shows—of sexually-ambiguous fellows dressed in a sort of terrorist-chic outfit (one had a hood on). And on the same day came this quote from one of the creepier terrorists around, Mr. Nasrallah of Lebanese Hezbollah infamy; he emerged briefly from his secret bunker to announce, “I tell the Israelis, we have the heads of your soldiers, we have hands, we have legs.”

That juxtaposition in tastes between what goes on in Paris and Beirut makes this war, well, very problematic to say the least. A bin Laden or Dr. Zawahiri must be quite amused, surprised, flabbergasted, delighted? by a Cindy Sheehan, Code Pink, or Michael Moore.

Gaza Blackout

After the nth rocket attack, Israel politely stopped providing fuel transit for the Gaza power station, which is now shutting down for a bit. Expect world outrage. Israel would have done better to send about 20 Kassem captured rockets into it rather than do something transparently, nonviolently and logically, given the outrage of safe Western elites.

And the effect? I would assume two things: the ‘Kill all the Jews” rhetoric of Hamas will go into, “How can they do this to us” victimization in a heartbeat; and, two, don’t expect an emergency shipment of Saudi fuel, or a sudden airlift, Berlin style, from Iran or Egypt. Sending weapons is one thing if it means using Palestinian fodder to hide the criminality of the Arab hierarchy in the Middle East, but quite another to help keep the lights on.

There will be as many candle-light processions in Gaza as there are none to stop the rockets. And remember Gaza is no longer “occupied”, but under Hamas control, itself in a deadly war with the West Bank Palestinian authority.

What happened to Iraq?

The general media reaction to the good news in Iraq has been the following: ignore it; or run stories about traumatic and deadly stress of veterans, or other bad news themes like the updates on the Marine trials; or talk not about the significance of victory but only of the unnecessary cost. Iraq was supposed to be the make-or-break issue for the Democrats, as they vied with one another to get the troops out the quickest. But the last two months in the theater, the number of American fatalities is starting to devolve to the number of what might be normally lost in deployments of the size of 160,000 through normal training and dangers in a noncombatant environment. (20,000 have died in military accidents since 1980).

In any case the argument is increasingly becoming moot. Americans of all persuasions want US troops to come home, the question now is mostly under what circumstances. Fears of Iran and $100 a barrel oil have made many of the old controversies of the 2003-5 years moot as well. I wrote once that the war would end with a whimper not a bang, and so it is starting to—only to be refought for the next twenty years by historians, once the tell-all, fiasco, quagmire, ‘George Bush is our worst president’ exposes clear out.


More on McCain

I continue to be deluged with angry letters from conservatives about McCain. My observations–as a TMS columnist I can’t endorse candidates– were entirely empirical: McCain has the best and perhaps the only chance to defeat the Democratic nominee, and his chances hinge in part on the degree to which either conservatives balance his good conservative rating (in the high 80s, strong support for the war, budgetary prudence) versus his propensity in the past to denigrate principled critics, and, out of misplaced bipartisanship, vote wrongly on issues such as closing the border now and censoring forms of political expression, inter alia—or his own magnanimity in admitting past straying and promises to reflect his party, perhaps by selecting, if nominated, a hard conservative as VP.

That’s how it looks from the outside, without partisan zeal. I understand conservatives’ anger that they will sense they are being co-opted, but they have to weigh that against the specter of a co-Bill-and-Hillary Presidency (on which see below).

An afterthought. If Bill and Hillary continue to split the Democratic Party, and Bill especially plays the race card, and loses his temper at the minority upstart that did not come through proper liberal white suburban approval channels, a number of bruised Obama voters may either stay home or vote a McCain ticket.

Trip to Battlefields of Western Europe

In an effort at chronological (15th-century to the present) and topical (e.g., Agincourt, Waterloo, Somme, Verdun, Normandy, etc.) diversity (post-war issues such as Nato in Brussels and the Treaty ending World War I at Versailles) we will try to spend some time at Rouen visiting the Joan of Arc sites. Within a few days I’ll have more information on the Nato headquarters meeting and the debate at the Hotel Trianon at Versailles between Professor Thornton and a prominent French intellectual on the future of Europe. We still have a few more openings, but have now a good-sized group, and some wonderful speakers. For those who might tire of lectures on war and campaigns and graveyards and battlefields, there is a nice evening boat cruise on the Seine in Paris, and plenty of down time in Brussels and other cities.

Sent this into the NRO corner this morning on Bill Clinton:

Who exactly is running for President?

I wrote not long ago about Bill as the “Clinton Albatross,” but recently it is more apt to compare him to some sort of attack dog unleashed. His (note-his, not hers) victory speech in Nevada was quite extraordinary; he went on and on, while she stood next to him mute-as he gloated over her comeback, took digs at the other candidates, referenced himself of course, and was reluctant to give up his iron grip on the microphone.

Her expression was that of a classic “Don’t dare ask me to muzzle that Doberman!” frozen bystander. If she can’t control him, how could she control the country-or is that a fair comparison given that his own pathologies are far greater than those of our collective nation? It defies the laws of physics for such a narcissist to recede into the shadows, or in suitable fashion yield to his wife, or to play a private role making calls and quietly calling in political debts.

In 2000 George Bush was careful not to be too partisan and mostly kept out of the campaign limelight. There was no sense that a vote for W. was simply a continuance of Bush I. So Bill’s ubiquity on the campaign-sharp partisan attacks and caricatures, misinformation about his own record, fiery outbursts to reporters-is quite unprecedented for an emeritus President, especially one who had so carefully cultivated his image as a global insider and international humanitarian.

If between 2001 and 2008, the Clinton 1993-2000 legacy was something to be defended by all Democrats, now Hillary’s candidacy and Bill’s unseemly behavior are calling all that in the past into question. Who knows, soon Democrats themselves, either Obama supporters or disillusioned Clintonites, may grudgingly concede to critics, “Yeah, you were right about that guy all along.” If Bill keeps up the attack on Obama, he may become the first unblack President.

Of course, Bill sees his wife’s election as a referendum on himself, a way to redeem himself for his impeachment and tawdry exit from the Presidency, and a co-presidency-if the prefix “co-”, in any sense, can ever be applicable to someone of such an extraordinary ego. Again, I pass on the Freudian aspect of him in part wanting her to lose. Handlers may think that Hillary’s bounce came from Bill’s suddenly frenetic pace, and indeed, he surely claims as much. But it is more like a shot of adrenalin to a floundering patient-necessary perhaps for one-time revival, but fatal in the long term if resorted to on a daily basis.

Again, the surprise is not that he has gnawed himself free, but rather how and why the old pros in the Clinton campaign did not have a steel chain rather than a mere leash. So far Obama has played off this gaffe in good fashion-when attacked being both pained and confused in just the right mixture. But it would be wise for him to counter Bill a bit more, drawing on his sense of much more even-tempered perplexity and sadness to challenge Bill’s mendacity. If he does that and keeps his cool, it will remind voters that Hillary apparently has willingly chosen bystander status-and sooner or later Bill will blow up big-time, and do irrevocable harm to Hillary’s candidacy. The Clintons know his snapping and biting must cease, but also know he can’t stop-sort of like the frustrated Queensland Heeler who has gone through extensive obedience training only to snap at the first stranger he sees.

In the meantime, we witness the odd effect that the more Bill presses the attack, the more sympathetic and likable-and presidential-Obama becomes. How odd that Obama appears on the campaign trail more like a calm ex-President, and Bill the over-eager grasping wannabe we remember so well from the late 1980s.