Friday, March 18, 2011
The Iraq war hawks urging intervention in Libya are confident that there’s no way Libya could ever be another Iraq. Of course, they never thought Iraq would be Iraq, either. All President Obama needs to do, Paul Wolfowitz asserts, is man up, arm the Libyan rebels, support setting up a no-fly zone and wait for instant democracy. It’s a cakewalk. Didn’t we arm the rebels in Afghanistan in the ’80s? And didn’t many become Taliban and end up turning our own weapons on us? And didn’t one mujahadeen from Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden, go on to lead Al Qaeda? So that worked out well. Even now, with our deficit and military groaning from two wars in Muslim countries, interventionists on the left and the right insist it’s our duty to join the battle in a third Muslim country. “It is both morally right and in America’s strategic interest to enable the Libyans to fight for themselves,” Wolfowitz wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece. You would think that a major architect of the disastrous wars and interminable occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq would have the good manners to shut up and take up horticulture. But the neo-con naif has no shame. After all, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates told West Point cadets last month, “In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.” Gates boldly batted back the Cakewalk Brigade — which includes John McCain, Joe Lieberman and John Kerry — bluntly telling Congress last week: “Let’s just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That’s the way you do a no-fly zone. And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. But that’s the way it starts.”
Wolfowitz, Rummy’s No. 2 in W.’s War Department, pushed to divert attention from Afghanistan and move on to Iraq; he pressed the canards that Saddam and Osama were linked and that we were in danger from Saddam’s phantom W.M.D.s; he promised that the Iraq invasion would end quickly and gleefully; he slapped back Gen. Eric Shinseki when he said securing Iraq would require several hundred thousand troops; and he claimed that rebuilding Iraq would be paid for with Iraqi oil revenues. How wrong, deceptive and deadly can you be and still get to lecture President Obama on his moral obligations? Wolfowitz was driven to invade Iraq and proselytize for the Libyan rebels partly because of his guilt over how the Bush I administration coldly deserted the Shiites and Kurds who were urged to rise up against Saddam at the end of the 1991 gulf war. Saddam sent out helicopters to slaughter thousands. (A NATO no-fly zone did not stop that.) Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is also monstrous, slaughtering civilians and hiring mercenaries to kill rebels.
It’s hard to know how to proceed, but in his rush, Wolfowitz never even seems to have a good understanding of the tribal thickets he wants America to wade into. In Foreign Affairs, Frederic Wehrey notes that “for four decades Libya has been largely terra incognita … ‘like throwing darts at balloons in a dark room,’ as one senior Western diplomat put it to me.” Leslie Gelb warns in The Daily Beast that no doubt some rebels are noble fighters, but some “could turn out to be thugs, thieves, and would-be new dictators. Surely, some will be Islamic extremists. One or more might turn into another Col. Qaddafi after gaining power. Indeed, when the good colonel led the Libyan coup in 1969, many right-thinking Westerners thought him to be a modernizing democrat.” Reformed interventionist David Rieff, who wrote the book “At the Point of a Gun,” which criticizes “the messianic dream of remaking the world in either the image of American democracy or of the legal utopias of international human rights law,” told me that after Iraq: “America doesn’t have the credibility to make war in the Arab world. Our touch in this is actually counterproductive.” He continued: “Qaddafi is a terrible man, but I don’t think it’s the business of the United States to overthrow him. Those who want America to support democratic movements and insurrections by force if necessary wherever there’s a chance of them succeeding are committing the United States to endless wars of altruism. And that’s folly.” He quotes John Quincy Adams about America: “Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy … she is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” As for Wolfowitz, Rieff notes drily, “He should have stayed a mathematician.”
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Even in the thick of a historical tragedy, Tony Blair never seemed like a Shakespearean character. He’s too rabbity brisk, too doggedly modern. The most proficient spinner since Rumpelstiltskin lacks introspection. The self-described “manipulator” is still in denial about being manipulated. The Economist’s review of “A Journey,” the new autobiography of the former British prime minister, says it sounds less like Disraeli and Churchill and more like “the memoirs of a transatlantic business tycoon.” Yet in the section on Iraq, Blair loses his C.E.O. fluency and engages in tortured arguments, including one on how many people really died in the war, and does a Shylock lament. He says he does not regret serving as the voice for W.’s gut when the inexperienced American princeling galloped into war with Iraq. As for “the nightmare that unfolded” — giving the lie to all their faux rationales and glib promises — Tony wants everyone to know he has feelings. “Do they really suppose I don’t care, don’t feel, don’t regret with every fibre of my being the loss of those who died?” he asks of his critics. In Iraq, marking the transition to the “post-combat mission” for American troops, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was eloquent with an economy of words. Asked by a reporter if Iraq would have to be a democratic state for the war to benefit U.S. national security, Gates cut to core: “The problem with this war for, I think, many Americans is that the premise on which we justified going to war proved not to be valid — that is, Saddam having weapons of mass destruction.” He added, candidly: “It will always be clouded by how it began.” Iraq will be “a work in progress for a long time,” Gates said, and, “how it all weighs in the balance over time, I think remains to be seen.”…..
Blair did not want to be W.’s peripheral poodle. He wanted to “stand tall internationally” with Britain’s main ally and not “wet our knickers,” to use a Blair phrase, when the going got tough (or delusional)…..It is criminally naïve, given the billions spent on intelligence, that Blair and W. muffed the postwar planning because they never perceived what Blair now acknowledges as “the true threat”: outside interference by Al Qaeda and Iran. So the reasoning of the man known in England as Phony Tony or Bliar amounts to this: They had to invade Iraq because Saddam could hypothetically hook up with Al Qaeda. But they didn’t properly prepare for the insurgency because they knew that Saddam had no link to Al Qaeda. He knew Dick Cheney had a grandiose plan to remake the world and no patience for “namby-pamby peacenikery.” “He would have worked through the whole lot, Iraq, Syria, Iran,” as well as “Hezbollah, Hamas, etc.,” Blair writes of Cheney, adding: “He was for hard, hard power. No ifs, no buts, no maybes. We’re coming after you, so change or be changed.”…..If he had challenged W. and Cheney instead of enabling them, Blair might have stopped the farcical rush to war. Instead, he became the midwife for a weaker Iraq that is no longer a counterweight to Iran — which actually is a nuclear threat — and that seems doomed to be run one day by another brutal strongman. Maybe Blair should have realized the destructive Oedipal path W. was on. At their first meeting at Camp David, W. screened “Meet the Parents.”
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Monday, April 5, 2010
Yup, we need a Nope. A nun who is pope. The Catholic Church can never recover as long as its Holy Shepherd is seen as a black sheep in the ever-darkening sex abuse scandal. Now we learn the sickening news that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, nicknamed “God’s Rottweiler” when he was the church’s enforcer on matters of faith and sin, ignored repeated warnings and looked away in the case of the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, a Wisconsin priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys…..It was only when the sanctity of the confessional was breached that an archbishop in Wisconsin (who later had to resign when it turned out he used church money to pay off a male lover) wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger at the Vatican to request that Father Murphy be defrocked. The cardinal did not answer. The archbishop wrote to a different Vatican official, but Father Murphy appealed to Cardinal Ratzinger for leniency and got it, partly because of the church’s statute of limitations. Since when does sin have a statute of limitations?
The pope is in too deep. He has proved himself anything but infallible. And now he claims he was uninformed on the matter of an infamous German pedophile priest. A spokesman for the Munich archdiocese said on Friday that Ratzinger, running the diocese three decades ago, would not have read the memo sent to him about Father Peter Hullermann’s getting cycled back into work with children because between 700 to 1,000 memos go to the archbishop each year. Let’s see. That’s two or three memos a day. And Ratzinger was renowned at the Vatican for poring through voluminous, recondite theological treatises. Because he did not defrock the demented Father Murphy, it’s time to bring in the frocks. Pope Benedict has continued the church’s ban on female priests and is adamant against priests’ having wives. He has started two investigations of American nuns to check on their “quality of life” — code for seeing if they’ve grown too independent. As a cardinal he wrote a Vatican document urging women to be submissive partners and not take on adversarial roles toward men. But the completely paternalistic and autocratic culture of Il Papa led to an insular, exclusionary system that failed to police itself, and that became a corrosive shelter for secrets and shame. If the church could throw open its stained glass windows and let in some air, invite women to be priests, nuns to be more emancipated and priests to marry, if it could banish criminal priests and end the sordid culture of men protecting men who attack children, it might survive…..
Cardinal Ratzinger devoted his Vatican career to rooting out any hint of what he considered deviance…..The sin-crazed “Rottweiler” was so consumed with sexual mores — issuing constant instructions on chastity, contraception, abortion — that he didn’t make time for curbing sexual abuse by priests who were supposed to pray with, not prey on, their young charges. American bishops have gotten politically militant in recent years, opposing the health care bill because its language on abortion wasn’t vehement enough, and punishing Catholic politicians who favor abortion rights and stem cell research. They should spend as much time guarding the kids already under their care as they do championing the rights of those who aren’t yet born. Decade after decade, the church hid its sordid crimes, enabling the collared perpetrators instead of letting the police collar them. In the case of the infamous German priest, one diocese official hinted that his problem could be fixed by transferring him to teach at a girls’ school. Either they figured that he would not be tempted by the female sex, or worse, the church was even less concerned about putting little girls at risk. The nuns have historically cleaned up the messes of priests. And this is a historic mess. Benedict should go home to Bavaria. And the cardinals should send the white smoke up the chimney, proclaiming “Habemus Mama.”
Friday, March 26, 2010
The Democrats were walking around in a state of shock. Holy cow, they were saying to themselves. We’re not total wimps! We don’t have to sit around and let ourselves be slapped silly by Republican bullies and Tea Party scaremongers. We can actually get something done if we suck it up and find a way to pull together. One minute they were legislative losers, squabbling and scrambling for the off-ramps. The next they were history-makers, sharing chest bumps and goose bumps at the White House. How had the lofty president and the wily speaker suddenly steered them off Jimmy Carter Highway and onto F.D.R. Drive? One gleeful and relieved White House aide called the bill-signing ceremony in the East Room, packed with Democratic lawmakers snapping pictures and acting like obstreperous children, “an Old Spice moment.” “You could see it in their faces,” he said. “It was kind of like that Old Spice ad where the guy smacked himself on the cheeks and said, ‘Wow, that feels good!’ It was like they smacked themselves on the cheeks and said, ‘You are a member of Congress and now you can start doing things. Wow, that feels good!’ ” David Axelrod agreed: “It was incredibly moving to be in that room today. This was such an emotional high that I actually saw congressmen hugging senators. People are so used to low expectations around here that the idea that you could do something big and meaningful is exhilarating.”
…..But David Frum, the former W. speechwriter, conceded that in trying to turn health care into Obama’s Waterloo — a replay of the Clintons’ disaster in 1994 — Republicans may have made it their own Waterloo. “We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat,” Frum wrote on his blog, adding: “Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother?”…..Only a week ago, Fred Hiatt, The Washington Post’s editorial page editor, had written that Obama did not seem happy in his job, that he projected “weariness and duty” instead of the “jauntiness” of F.D.R. and J.F.K. But Tuesday, the president was joyous, and that infectious smile so sparsely offered over the last two years lit up the East Room…..Until now, Obama has gotten irritated at those who cast Washington affairs in Manichean terms of strength or weakness and red or blue. He wanted to reason, to compromise, to float in his ivory tower. But at long last, when push came to shove, he shoved (and let Nancy push). He treated politics not as an intellectual exercise, but a political one. He realized that sometimes you can’t rise above it. You have to sink down into it. You have to stop being cerebral and get your hands dirty. You can fight fear with power. The Chicago pol in the Oval has had to learn one of the great American truths: You’ve got to slap the bully in the face. He’s a consensus-building “warrior,” Axelrod boasted to Charlie Rose. The president, who has been reading Edmund Morris’s “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt,” has always spoken with a soft voice. Now he’s wielded the big stick.