The Current Scene
The idea that democratization can help the stagnant Middle East is now moribund and slurred as a neo-con conspiracy or worse. Yet, when one surveys the region—the hard-working Karzai government, the efforts to calm Iraq, the return of Bhutto to Pakistan, the brave Lebanese efforts to stave off Syrian agents and Hezbollah, the debates in the Turkish Parliament—I see a lot more hope for constitutional rule there than in so-called “stable” Russia (Putin now trying to ensure that Iran gets the bomb, and that Europe is perennially to live in fear) or China (furious that the Dalai Lama would dare meet with an American President.)
Of course, in waves of horrific violence, the Ottomans had hoped that large numbers of Christian Armenians in 1915, as well as later Greeks in Smyrna, would perish in mass. There were special extermination gangs, camps of death, and forced starvation—the means (the Ottomans did not have gas chambers, good rails, and sophisticated crematoria at their disposal), not the intent, were what differed mostly from Nazi Germany. California’s Central Valley is home to a large part of the Armenian Diaspora, and I grew up hearing chilling tales of Turkish butchery and ethnic cleansing, especially among neighboring raisin farmers (the industry was built by Armenian refugees at the turn of the century.)
But all that said, why after nearly 100 years, should the US House of Representatives prepare to vote to condemn a defunct Ottoman state, at a time when we are trying to keep Turkey in touch with the West, out of democratic Kurdistan, and willing to let us use facilities there to keep the effort in Iraq well supplied?
It makes no sense to condemn Turkey for its forefathers’ crimes, but then do nothing about ongoing slaughter from the Congo to Rwanda—much less unilaterally to withdraw abruptly from Iraq, when we know our departure would unleash massive violence against civilians worse than we have seen heretofore in the war.
Either the Pelosi gambit is to be seen as a way to stop the Iraqi war by cutting off our supplies through Turkey, or simply a ‘all politics are local’ pandering to domestic constituencies, or both, or proof (if proof were needed after her visit to the assassination-mind Bashar Assad) of her inexperience and ineptitude.
I spent some time in Iraq accompanying Col. HR McMaster who was on an inspection tour of the forward operating bases. He is a UNC PhD, former Hoover Security fellow, and author of an acclaimed book, Dereliction of Duty, on (the lack of) military leadership during Vietnam, as well as one of Gen. Petraeus’s top counter-insurgency thinkers.
I could not imagine a tour (some 30-40 days I think he is on) that would pose more risks—humveeing and coptering into all sorts of places, regardless of the recent 24-hour conditions. Over the years, in Gulf War I, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, he has seen a number of close calls, and walks with a limp from an injured hip (probably will have to be replaced). Full body armor, pistol, and M-16 to lug around can’t help the pain.
I would watch him negotiate with Sunni governors, police chiefs, and generals, then be debriefed by Marine and Army officers, then go on tour in Humvees or foot patrols. This would start at 7 am and end at 8pm. Then after the long helicopter trip back to Camp Victory, HR would eat and join discussion with fellow Colonels until after 11 PM.
We often talk loosely of the idea of a renaissance man, but colonels like McMaster come closest—I would add another Colonel Chris Gibson—to the idea that I have ever come across.
Something is going on in Iraq entirely missed by media. It’s not just that things are turning around, but rather Gen. Petraeus has assembled perhaps the most gifted group of Army officers seen in a generation—who feel they are going to snatch victory from the jaws of political defeat. I think they will pull it off and the entire political landscape here at home will have to readjust to it by early next year. The smarter Democrats will take credit by claiming their anti-Bush efforts forced needed change, the denser ones will just continue to deny, like Sens. Reid and Schumer, that any good is occurring at all.
By habit I remain a registered Democrat, largely because my parents and grandparents were agrarian populists in outlook. I also try to vote and support (even as our district boundaries keep changing) one Democrat, Jim Costa, our local Democratic congressman, who is cut from the Scoop Jackson mold. Central Valley Democrats used to be considered mainstream center-right people in a way unimaginable now. We forget that a long time ago, Democrats were considered sort of tough, practical minded, a world away from the blueblood golf course crowd, receptacles of conservative values in a way the elite Republicans were not. That’s ancient history now.
I throat clear like that because of the steady insanity shown by the Democratic political class. Now Congressman Stark accuses President Bush of enjoying the deaths of our soldiers in Iraq; this follows Harry Reid’s letter trying to intimidate and silence Rush Limbaugh. And, of course, we witnessed a litany of insanity voiced by Sens. Kerry, Durbin, and Kennedy about Iraq and our soldiers, who were libeled as everything from terrorists to Saddamites to Nazis by those three. Congressman Murtha pronounced Marines guilty of war-crimes before they were tried. Sen. Obama asserted our troops killed innocent civilians, while Sen. Reid and Clinton essentially called Gen. Petraeus a fabricator (“suspension of belief”).
When we factor in the “Betray-us” ad, the Hollywood antics, and the university embarrassments, whether denying Larry Summers a right to speak at UC Davis or welcoming in Ahmadinejad at Columbia, one is forced to ask, “What happened to liberal thinking and the Democratic Party?” Why do dissent and criticism almost immediately devolve into elemental rage, whether Durbin screaming that our soldiers are Nazis or Moveon.org that their leader is a traitor? Why do deans, media heads, and politicians show such bad taste?
Plenty of explanations come to mind: the Democrats were out of power and frustrated with their impotence, and show a furor at being out of the loop for years. There is also something to the changing demographics of the party, which now includes a number of rich and mega-rich supporters, who apparently feel, that unlike a hardware store owner, or an accountant, they have made it, are exempt from mundane worries, and have enough money not to care about taxes and climbing entitlements.
Among this very elite, liberalism is now a sort of entrée for business, entertainment and leisure, a social requisite, like being a petty Christian official in the Medieval World, always taken for granted and not often examined.
Among this new influential class, clustered in universities towns, and progressive cities like Seattle, the Bay Area, the southern California Coast, Boulder, New England, and the suburbs of Washington, hating George Bush, or assuming that Western industrial rapacity is heating up the planet for profits, or that Iraq is a war for Halliburton is all akin to having oak floors, leather furniture, a stainless steel, granite kitchen, a glass of white wine after work at a fern bar, or driving a Prius to campus—manifest symbols of taste, erudition, and culture. Championing social causes at a distance also provides the upscale a sort of psychological penance: e.g., something like ‘I wouldn’t dare live or tutor in East Palo Alto, but will play the radical at Stanford’s picturesque campus as spiritual recompense.’
NB: the Kerry and Gore and Michael Moore lifestyles at odds with their professed rhetoric. I doubt should the obese Moore need heart surgery that he will go to Havana, or that Gore will plug his mansion into wind turbines or fly commercial, or that Kennedy will allow a windmill on his vacation home horizon.
Other factors that explain why Democratic leaders appear so ill-mannered are the legacies of the general uncouthness of the 1960s. One sees that in Cindy Sheen talking about her womb, or Moveon.orgs tasteless ads, or the language of a Bill Maher, or the sort of placards you see at campus protests, or the web postings on the leftwing sites.
In the 1960s, there was a general assault on manners, language, habit, protocol—anything deemed “plastic” or part of the “establishment” responsible for classism, imperialism, racism, and sexism. We forget that those who embraced it an early age (I saw the very tail-end of that dying movement as a freshman at UC Santa Cruz in 1972), did not just fly off to Mars.
Instead their coarseness was imprinted deeply upon their souls and the culture at large. And as we watch that generation age, whether in Congress or in films or at our universities, we see people inherit great positions of power—deans, bureau chiefs, senators—even as their small 1960s essences remain trapped in aging bodies. So just rent the DVD Woodstock, add 40 some years to those bodies, and, presto, imagine them all with suits and ties running universities, newspapers, foundations, and government, torn between the enjoyment of the lavishness that democratic capitalism provides them and their very abstract disdain for it.
I want to thank readers for expressions of concern. I’m feeling better and hope to be normal again in a few more days. I learned that there is a small number of us who seem to have these constant stone- and gravel-making propensities that call for intervention from time to time; your letters reminded what an accursed group we are. I hope never to see another stint in this lifetime.
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