Readers respond to "The Great Debate," by Gary Kamiya, and "State of the Union: Frightened," by Jake Tapper.

Published February 2, 2003 2:02AM (EST)

[Read "The Great Debate," by Gary Kamiya.]

For years I have admired Hitchens' ruthless, crystalline logic. How sad to see him now dropping all intellectual rigor in favor of the invigorating joys of revenge.

Saddam is a bloodthirsty tyrant, no doubt about that. He's also the latest in a line of dictators du jour singled out by the U.S. as a lighting rod for free-floating American anxieties (Qaddafi, anyone? Noriega?). I could name 20 as bad or worse in Africa, Latin America and Asia who have mysteriously never been on the receiving end of America's righteous indignation.

But what alarms me most is that there is no five-year plan, no vision of how this is going to play out in the long term. After the destruction, after the thousands of children have been buried, after the homeless and the orphans have trudged out of Baghdad to try to rebuild their lives, what then? In a word: Somalia.

The U.S. is hopelessly out of its depth in this splintered, factional political mess.

-- Jenny Crocker

I read Christopher Hitchens' opinions with interest, and I wonder if I've missed a thread in his logic. On the one hand, he asserts that "there has to be a stand made against the worst kind of tyranny that there ever could be, which is religious, so people can actually emancipate themselves." Yet he criticizes President Carter's stance on Iraq's war with Iran, which had just emerged as a militant theocracy.

So what is the bottom line, in Mr. Hitchens' view: Thou shalt not kill, or Thou shalt not organize around false gods? If the religious worldview poses the greatest threat to humankind, how can Mr. Hitchens criticize Saddam Hussein's war with his religious neighbors? I do not think the Iran/Iraq war was justified, and I doubt that Mr. Hitchens does either. But it seems to me that distinguishing "religious tyranny" from any other kind of tyranny opens the way toward justifying some instances of morally deplorable violence.

-- Rebecca Sutherland

Kamiya, you write in your most recent article on the Berkeley debate of Danner's view that the "presence of big-thinking, 'reshape the Middle East' neo-con hawks like Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith and Richard Perle as counsels to Bush was a reason for optimism," but that "Danner did not mention that the motivation beneath this motivation was to bring down the regimes that threaten Israel."

I see. Those pesky Jewish advisors like Perle and Wolfowitz are really all about helping Israel. They couldn't possibly see benefits to the world, the West, the region and even the Arab nations themselves in encouraging policies towards thwarting anti-democratic, repressive regimes.

Kamiya, that is not only cynical and myopic, it smells bad in that old uncomfortable way. Can you imagine someone accusing a Chinese-Amercian presidential advisor of offering counsel with China's interests, as opposed to U.S. interests, as the motive? It is comments like yours that have many American Jews advising Joe Lieberman not to run for the White House, warning him that even the "mainstream press" will bring out accusations of "duel" or "conflicted" loyalties when it comes to questions involving Israel.

American Jews deserve better than this, even those advising a president that you don't like. Whether you agree with the president's policies or even the specific perspectives of his Jewish advisors, to say that their counsel is contaminated by conflicted loyalties is just plain wrong.

-- Jeff Stillman

At the end of WWII it was agreed that henceforth the U.N. would arbiter relations among nations. Ultimately, if we wish some kind of long-term sanity in international relations, we will have to accept the U.N. decision on the appropriateness of the use of force.

This is not new. Trade and many other issues are dealt with by multilateral agencies, and under most circumstances their decisions are accepted by the participants even if they don't like the answer. This is exactly the situation we have now -- only now it's deadly.

Ultimately, if we don't accept a U.N. decision, we will simply be the British Empire of the 21st century. That, by the way, is the explanation for the British interest in this: They get to be imperial again with only a tiny fraction of the risk they used to have.

People who compare this to WWII need to learn that you need more parallels than skews. Here are some of the differences between the two situations:

Hitler had powerful arms and aircraft industries; Hussein does not.

Hitler had powerful warlike allies. Hussein has no allies, warlike or otherwise.

Hitler had a superbly trained army. Hussein has an army, but it hasn't actually acquitted itself very well on the field of battle.

Eventually, you come to realize that the current situation has few or no similarities to the prelude to WWII. Prescribing the same response now is a lot like prescribing penicillin for a headache.

-- Jeffrey Harrison

[Read "State of the Union: Frightened," by Jake Tapper.]

Will nobody in the mainstream press ever say the plain truth about the emperor's clothes? Doing my painful civic duty, I watched President Bush's speech last night -- Stinkorama! The man sounds like a constipated eighth-grader, carefully squeezing out every single word, as if desperately trying to add gravitas to his oral book report -- then stumbling, as always, on the nookyoolar thing.

Yet he is pronounced adequate, or even eloquent, by apparent adults in suits and ties. America's deep denial continues! Nobody says publicly that the cheerleader-boy is a disgrace.

His latest atrocious performance again confirmed my long-held suspicion that Bush is, as they say in A.A., "constitutionally incapable of being honest." His speeches consist entirely of these four rhetorical modes:

Platitude: i.e., "Americans are a resolute people, who have risen to every test of our time."

Nonsense: "The economy grows when Americans have more money to spend and invest; and the best and fairest way to make sure Americans have that money is not to tax it away in the first place."

Misinformation: "After recession, terrorist attacks, corporate scandals and stock market declines, our economy is recovering."

Lies: "In the Middle East, we will continue to seek peace between a secure Israel and a democratic Palestine."

None of these modes is a vehicle for the truth, which is why we never get it from Bush. How long will it be until some pundit, or one of our putative or would-be leaders, points these things out?

-- David Essex

George Bush can't win. Critics attack his approach with Saddam Hussein because of lack of evidence. He provides evidence, and articles like this lambast him for scaring everybody.

But that doesn't matter, because he's George Bush, right? He doesn't talk right and he looks like a dork. Let's get him!

-- Debra Lowe

Ending his assessment of the State of the Union address, Jake Tapper said, "And with that, Bush thanked the country and God, shook the hands of the old fat white men behind him, and went home to, presumably, sleep soundly."

This is racist. I hate George Bush and his weight-challenged cronies (or string-pullers), but not because they're white. Why is saying something like this OK? In the same story Tapper refers to Daschle's weakness on the Trent Lott issue, when Lott didn't even directly refer to race in his idiotic comment.

This is not the first time Salon.com has referred to older white men as somehow inherently inferior or stupid. My father is old and white, but he is not a fat oil man and he isn't a lying jerk. I, too, plan to be old and white some day. If your current writers have a problem with old white men, I suggest you hire someone who has some manners.

-- Erik Haugli

Stellar, a brilliant and waggish article on the State of the Union Address. After each one of these addresses, I look right and left and wonder if I'm insane or if everyone else is -- and why the hell are they clapping like they're buying it? Do they think they're hearing something new or significant?

It's coverage like Tapper's that assures me that I'm not insane -- someone else sees through the posturing, ignores the network news flacks and makes articulate sense of it. And Salon gets it out there.

I want to frame the lead paragraph:

"President Bush did his best to scare the bejesus out of his audience Tuesday to make his case for war. And afterward, he was probably the only person to get a good night's sleep."

Thanks for the perspective, Jake Tapper and Salon. I might not get a good night's sleep, but at least I'll get a slightly less bad one.

-- Leslie Strom

By Salon Staff

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