Right Hook

After the vote: Podhoretz rips Democrats, Kerry for not celebrating "Bush's colossal vindication"; Steyn gloats that Iran is next. But a leading neocon acknowledges huge blunders.

Topics: 2004 Elections, Michael Moore, Iraq, Middle East, David Brooks,

Right Hook

In the days bookending the Iraqi election, there wasn’t a whole lot of sophisticated discussion about the prospect of democracy’s taking root in the war-torn region. On Sunday, the day of the vote, New York Times Magazine contributor Michael Ignatieff (generally regarded as a “liberal hawk”) pointed out the polarized and vapid punditry from both ends of the spectrum — though he focused on the shortcomings of the political left, which he criticized for its lack of vocal support for Iraqi democracy. Borrowing a riff more typical of the far right, Ignatieff deemed the left’s “morose silence” in the face of insurgent violence a “casualty of the corrosive bitterness that still surrounds the initial decision to go to war.”

“Liberals can’t bring themselves to support freedom in Iraq,” he wrote, “lest they seem to collude with neoconservative bombast. Meanwhile, antiwar ideologues can’t support the Iraqis because that would require admitting that positive outcomes can result from bad policies and worse intentions.”

Whether or not Ignatieff has it right that liberals are lining up against freedom in Iraq out of principled defiance, many on the far right seized upon Sunday’s relatively high voter turnout to sugarcoat the country’s long-term prospects — still plenty bleak by several measures — and to shout “vindication” from the roof tops.

“There are literally millions of Americans who are unhappy today because millions of Iraqis went to the polls yesterday,” scoffed John Podhoretz in the New York Post on Monday. “And why? Because this isn’t just a success for Bush. It’s a huge win. It’s a colossal vindication. It’s a big fat gigantic winning vindication of the guy that the Moores and Kennedys and millions of others still can’t believe anybody voted for.

“And they know it.

“And it’s killing them.”

For Podhoretz, the villainous Bush critics to be put in their place included the president’s former opponent.

“Case in point: the junior Eeyore from Massachusetts, John Forbes Kerry, who had the distinct misfortune of being booked onto ‘Meet the Press’ yesterday only 90 minutes after the polls closed in Iraq — and couldn’t think of a thing to say that didn’t sound negative.

“‘No one in the United States should try to overhype this election,’ said the man who actually came within 3 million votes of becoming the leader of the Free World back in November.

“No? How about ‘underhyping’? How about belittling it? How about acting as though it doesn’t matter all that much? That’s what Kerry did, and in so doing, revealed yet again that he has the emotional intelligence of a pet rock and the political judgment of a … well, of a John Kerry.”

“Yesterday was a day for Democrats and opponents of George W. Bush to swallow their bile and retract their claws and join just for a moment in celebration of an amazing and thrilling human drama in a land that has seen more than its share of thrilling human drama over the past 5,000 years. But you just couldn’t do it, could you?


The New York Times’ David Brooks went a little lighter on the gloating, instead taking his main cue from the president’s high-flying inauguration speech.

“And then came Sunday’s act of mass heroism. On the Internet and in interviews, Iraqis tried to convey the tactile feel of their new migration to normalcy. ‘Every person has realized that he’s not fighting alone in this battle,’ one voter wrote. ‘I moved to mark my finger with ink. I dipped it deep as if I was poking the eyes of all the world’s tyrants.’

“They proudly described liberating themselves, finally making themselves the initiators of their own lives.”

Brooks dismissed any concerns about the situation on the ground, emphasizing what he believes to be an even truer form of democracy in action than our own.

“The journey back from where these people have been is not a straight shot, which we can readily understand. In Washington, senators make facile arguments about improving the training of Iraqi troops, trying to reduce problems of motivation to problems of technique. Ted Kennedy gave a speech last week blithely insisting that the terrorists are winning the war for the hearts and minds of Iraqis. Brent Scowcroft warned of incipient civil war, denigrating the Iraqis’ ability to manage their own tensions.

“In fact, these are a people who voted at higher rates in the face of death than we do in the face of inconvenience. These are a people who have used the campaign as a process of therapy and self-education. These people have just built the most democratic government in the Arab world.”

In the Chicago Sun-Times Mark Steyn predicted that Iraq is on its way to becoming “the economic powerhouse of the region,” the result of a well-conceived destabilization of the entire Middle East. He also returned to the original sin of delaying the invasion in the first place: Bush’s going “the extra mile” at the United Nations, he said, allowed some other “low-hanging fruit” dangling from the axis of evil to ripen a little too long.

“It would be idiotic to assume that, with an almighty invasion force squatting on his borders for six months, Saddam just sat there listening to his Sinatra LPs. He was very busy, as were the Islamists, and Iran, and Syria. The result is not only an insurgency far more virulent than it would have been had Washington followed my advice rather than Tony’s and gone in in August 2002, but also a broader range of enemies that learned a lot about how ‘world’ — i.e., European — opinion could be played off against Washington.

“I don’t believe Bush would make that mistake again. Which means he wouldn’t have spoken quite so loudly if the big stick weren’t already in place — if plans weren’t well advanced for dealing with Iran and some of the low-hanging fruit elsewhere in the region. Bush won’t abolish all global tyranny by 2008 — that might have to wait till Condi’s second term — but he will abolish some of it, and today’s elections are as important in that struggle as any military victory.”

Author and Hoover Institution fellow Victor Davis Hanson invoked the sweep of history in support of the ideological mission: “The preference for the status quo offers short-term stability, while the principled insistence on consensual government proves risky and hinges on unproven reformers,” he wrote on Monday. “Yet in the long-term, America has rarely gone wrong for being on the democratic side of history.”

He sees Bush’s legacy in Iraq as a bright one, eventually.

“If the past is any guide to the future, that hard road to democracy in the Middle East will create as much immediate chaos and caricature of President Bush’s new idealism as it does enduring stability and eventual praise — but only long after he is gone.”

An unlikely realist from the right wing?
Johns Hopkins University’s Eliot A. Cohen, who has served the gamut of neoconservative organizations, from the Defense Policy Board to the Project for the New American Century, wrote in Monday’s Wall Street Journal that the Iraqi vote was “a victory, no doubt about it.”

But far more striking was his lengthy, sober assessment of just how much has gone wrong under Bush.

“If the war has had its great successes, it has also had more than its share of bungles, evident in the chaos and suffering in Iraq, heavy loss of American life, and a battered reputation for the United States abroad. Bloody mistakes occur in all wars, as some point out — an easy wisdom that flows most easily from those who have no loved ones in harm’s way. Even such philosophers, however, should honor the 8,000 families of dead and wounded American soldiers by facing the unpleasant truths, because even if blunders characterize all wars, blunders they remain.”

Cohen outlined the broader consequences of Bush’s accumulated policy debacle.

“Because we choose to cut taxes in wartime, we have a ballooning deficit; because we have a ballooning deficit we cannot expand the active-duty military on a permanent basis; because we cannot expand the active-duty military we call up hundreds of thousands of reservists to fight an optional war half a world away, sending part-time soldiers — some ready for this mission, others not — off for a year of combating guerrillas in a limited war, a concept at odds with all previous notions of what citizen-soldiers do.”

That, Cohen added, while Bush stuck with and heaped praise on failed civilian leaders:

“Ambassador Paul Bremer, an intelligent and self-sacrificing man, accepted the call to go to Iraq, with neither the time nor the authority to build a staff and a plan. Still, the Coalition Provisional Authority he ran was a disaster, a micromanaged American enterprise too often out of touch with Iraqi realities. The U.S. government that had not provided the structure needed to administer postwar Iraq would not admit his deficiencies and replace him. Instead, he, like George Tenet and Gen. Tommy Franks — equally able and patriotic men, who also failed in key aspects of the Iraq war — received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”

Cohen concluded with some advice surely directed at the entrenched Bush White House.

“The United States may still achieve a tolerable outcome in Iraq,” he wrote, “albeit at the cost of far too much American and Iraqi blood, far too much treasure, far too much political capital. We remain big, rich and determined; above all, we have tapped a yearning for freedom in Iraq. But as we celebrate this historic poll, honoring the courage of the millions of Iraqis who risked their lives to vote, and the bravery and skill of our soldiers and public servants who helped them do so, we should, in all humility, look at our failures as well as our successes, call them by that name, and learn from them.”

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Read more of “Right Hook,” Salon’s weekly roundup of conservative commentary and analysis here.

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>