Right Hook

The New York Post dismisses the rising U.S. body count; Oliver North says let the CIA play dirty. Plus: David Brooks says kill the evil scum; Canadian pundit Barbara Amiel gushes over Bush's "stern cowboy looks."

Published November 6, 2003 12:11AM (EST)

The U.S. struggle to rebuild Iraq turned ominous last week when a deadly barrage of guerrilla attacks struck Baghdad's al-Rashid Hotel and Red Cross headquarters, and a U.S. Army Chinook helicopter was brought down on Sunday, killing 15 soldiers and wounding 20 more. But President Bush, who declared major combat operations over last April, called the wave of attacks a last act of "desperation" by a still unidentifiable insurgency -- and several unfazed conservatives are beating the war drums ever louder. To boost the sense of mission, the New York Times' David Brooks turned to the familiar tactic of focusing on the brutality of Saddam's former regime:

"Um Haydar was a 25-year-old Iraqi woman whose husband displeased Saddam Hussein's government. After he fled the country in 2000, some members of the Fedayeen Saddam grabbed her from her home and brought her out on the street. There, in front of her children and mother-in-law, two men grabbed her arms while another pulled her head back and beheaded her. Baath Party officials watched the murder, put her head in a plastic bag and took away her children.

"Try to put yourself in the mind of the killer, or of the guy with the plastic bag. You are part of Saddam's vast apparatus of rape squads, torture teams and mass-grave fillers. Every time you walk down the street, people tremble in fear. Everything else in society is arbitrary, but you are absolute. When you kill, your craving for power and significance is sated. You are infused with the joy of domination."

"These are the people we are still fighting in Iraq. These are the people who blow up Red Cross headquarters and U.N. buildings and fight against democracy and freedom. They are the scum of the earth..."

For Brooks, it's not a matter of how we strategize or conduct the fight, so long as we fight it and win -- even if that means U.S. soldiers turn equally brutal:

"The only question is who is going to eliminate them ... The shooting down of the Chinook helicopter near Fallujah over the weekend was a shock to the body politic. The fact is, we Americans do not like staring into the face of evil...

"It's not that we can't accept casualties. History shows that Americans are willing to make sacrifices. The real doubts come when we see ourselves inflicting them. What will happen to the national mood when the news programs start broadcasting images of the brutal measures our own troops will have to adopt? Inevitably, there will be atrocities that will cause many good-hearted people to defect from the cause. They will be tempted to have us retreat into the paradise of our own innocence.

"The president will have to remind us that we live in a fallen world, that we have to take morally hazardous action if we are to defeat the killers who confront us..."

The New York Post's Ralph Peters insists the rising tide of guerrilla attacks bears no comparison to the Vietnam War. He weighed in before Sunday's helicopter disaster, but presumably his "cold-blooded" calculus concerning the war's relatively negligible body count still applies:

"Let's leave the phony pieties and hand-wringing to the presidential aspirants and celebrity journalists. Here's the truth:

"Thirty-six dead in a series of suicide bombings in Baghdad? The chump change of strategy. Cold-blooded, but true.

"Another American soldier killed in a roadside bombing? Every lost service member matters, but at the present casualty rate it would take 15 years for our dead in Iraq to surpass the number of Americans butchered on 9/11. Better to fight like lions than to die like sheep.

"Iraq another Vietnam? Hell, even Vietnam wasn't the Vietnam of left-wing baby-talk politics and campus political astrology. Our Vietnamese enemies represented a mass movement. The Iraqi terrorists represent a small, bloodthirsty movement to oppress the masses...

"There is only one way in which the situation in Iraq resembles Vietnam: Our enemies realize that they can't win militarily. This is a contest of wills much more than a contest of weapons. The terrorists intend to wear us down.

"Our enemies are employing media-genic bombings to leap over our soldiers and influence our political leaders and our elections -- just as the Vietnamese did. The suicide bombers themselves are deluded madmen, but the men behind the terror campaign calculate that, if they can just maintain a sufficient level of camera-friendly attacks, our military successes and all the progress of our reconstruction efforts will be eclipsed by a mood of dejection in Washington."

New York Times columnist William Safire takes a more sober view of U.S. casualties. But he sees widespread U.S. resolve to fight to the finish, even if there is no definable end in sight.

"One terrorist aim is to increase suffering by driving out the U.N. and Red Cross relief workers. Another is to assassinate Iraqi leaders and police who dare to cooperate with the liberation. The key goal is to kill enough Americans to cause U.S. public opinion to lose heart. Such a retreat before federal democracy takes root would set the stage for an Iraqi civil war.

"There is no denying that the shooting down of a transport helicopter, killing 16 Americans and wounding 20, was a terrorist victory... The question is: Will such casualties dishearten the U.S., embolden failure-mongers and isolationists on the campaign trail, and cause Americans and our allies to cut and run?...

"Our dovish left will say, with Oliver Hardy, 'a fine mess you've got us into' -- as if we created Saddam's threat, or made our C.I.A. dance to some oily imperialist tune, or would have been better off with our head in the sand. Most Americans, I think, will move past these unending recriminations, reject defeatism and support leaders determined to win the final Iraq war."

Iran-Contra vet rips the CIA
In an open memo to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld published in the Washington Times, former Marine Lt. Col. and National Security Council staffer Oliver North, now a Fox News correspondent, says a gutless CIA could lose the U.S. war on terror. North -- perhaps best known as a key player in the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan administration (he was indicted and convicted but ultimately emerged unscathed) -- calls for a return to down-and-dirty clandestine operations. North says that CIA director George Tenet should be sacked posthaste so that the intelligence agency, defanged for two decades, can build a new corps of officers willing and able to collect information from "bad people." (Apparently North himself lacks accurate intel on Washington's chief spook, referring to him as "Tenant.")

"We need a CIA. Since the late 1970s we haven't had an intelligence service worthy of the name. That's not to say we don't have some very smart, dedicated and courageous people working at collecting, analyzing and disseminating intelligence. We do. But for more than two decades the CIA has been a political football in Washington. As a consequence, our ability to collect human intelligence -- the only kind that matters in this war -- has been drastically curtailed. CIA Director Stan Turner [President Jimmy Carter's intel chief] gutted the Clandestine Service, apparently believing we didn't need spies because 'satellites can read a license plate from a hundred miles in the sky.' Great idea if we're being attacked by license plates -- but a lousy concept when small cells of Islamic Jihadists are plotting murder and mayhem.

"All my media colleagues keep asking, 'Why didn't we know about September 11?' and 'What happened to the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction?' and 'Why can't we find Osama or Saddam?' You and I both know the answer: We don't know these things because we had -- and have -- lousy human intelligence...

"If we're to win this war, somebody well up in the hierarchy of this administration must confront this issue head on -- and soon. Start by thanking George Tenant, the current CIA director, give him a gold watch and get him a professorship at Georgetown. Then hire a CIA director who can attract, train and field more Clandestine Service officers who will serve without diplomatic passports to recruit locals in Iraq to spy for us in the souks, madrassas and Islamic centers of the Middle East. Then, go to the Congress and tell them they will have to promise never again to threaten prosecution for CIA officers who collect information from bad people. We're not going to penetrate al Qaeda or Ansar Al-Islam with graduates of Mother Theresa's Home for Unwed Mothers."

Indeed, North insists that strict autonomy is vital for such a new breed of officers to have teeth -- though he doesn't bother to mention the White House's dubious outing of former ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife, CIA operative Valerie Plame.

National Review contributor Michael Ledeen, of the right-wing think tank American Enterprise Institute, is also blasting shoddy U.S. intelligence -- he's incredulous that inadequate security on the ground in Iraq could have put key U.S. war planner Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in harm's way. Ledeen, who seems to spend 99 percent of his time targeting the "mad mullahs" of Tehran, claims the Oct. 26 mortar attack on the al-Rashid Hotel, from which Wolfowitz narrowly escaped, was indeed planned by the Iranians.

"Let's start with a simple, albeit apparently unasked question: Who got fired for permitting Wolfowitz to stay at a hotel in Baghdad, when there was abundant evidence that Iranian-sponsored terrorists had been instructed to target the hotels?"

Ledeen sees nepotism as the Bush administration's worst crime, and calls for heads to roll:

"Placing Paul Wolfowitz in such a place at such a time was a criminal blunder, and everyone who okayed the decision should be fired, along with the people on the ground in Baghdad who seem unable to understand that we are really at war, and that our men need proper protection and intelligence, whether they are in helicopters or in convoys or in hummers...

"It's long past time -- since September 12, 2001 to be precise -- for people to be sacked for failure, and the fact that virtually no one has -- except for Larry Lindsay (seemingly for insufficient aerobic exercise) and a couple of others dealing with 'the economy' or with faith-based initiatives and volunteerism -- is the greatest failure of this administration. The bureaucracy has learned that there is no penalty for failure. The only way to change their mindset is to do to them what Reagan did to the air controllers.

"Unfortunately, Dubya has embraced the Loyalty Thing that is one of the Bush family's most cherished values. He doesn't turn on his own loyal aides, even (perhaps especially) when they come under attack. But this is no way to wage a war, where the only thing that matters is victory."

But Barbara Amiel, a columnist for the London Daily Telegraph, says angry critics of the Bush regime's nepotism miss the point.

"'Bush Hatred' is on the boil. His name ignites conversation like kerosene. I've heard Americans gloat over their own casualties in Iraq, as if every death were a stab in Bush's heart alone rather than in American soldiers', so profound is their hatred...

"Most arguments justifying the enmity to Bush simply lack logic. Bush's political success is attributed to his family connections and frowned on as an abuse of America's meritocratic tradition. But privilege and a family "hand up" have never bothered commentators before -- so long as the silver spoon was in the left side of the mouth, as with a Kennedy, Roosevelt or Rockefeller..."

Amiel contends it's not Bush's pronunciation, pedigree or policies that ultimately stoke the ire of the American political left; it's the president's innate masculine strut -- the perfect antidote, she says, to the retro-stale Bill Clinton:

"The malapropisms of Bush stand in stark contrast to the fluency of many other American presidents, but one can't dismiss as an idiot a man who graduated from Yale and got a Master's in Business from Harvard. Whatever one thinks of the MBA as a degree, and I don't think much of it, Harvard's is as tough as they come -- family pedigree won't get you through. Whether Bush's aphasic speech is a function of nerves in public or a corny device to lower expectations of him, it hasn't stood in the way of a remarkable political career...

"At the bottom of Bush Hatred is, I suspect, a personality so strongly defined that it automatically provokes an acute response. In Bush's case, his style and manners embody everything his opponents dislike about the period he represents. This happens rarely, but when it does the response is dramatic. Bill Clinton's Sixties 'I feel your pain' approach to ideas was bad enough; if he had worn a small ponytail as well, I might have gone ballistic.

"Bush's ponytail is his walk: he swings his arms as if they were hovering over gun holsters. When he heaves into view, his midriff stiff as a board and his smallish head turning to cast stern cowboy looks left and right, he appears to be expecting a posse of Red Indians. His buttoned-up cowboy is the very opposite of the hang-loose Sixties."

Disillusioned Dems start backing Bush
In an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, a conservative Democrat from Georgia, explained why he has no choice but to vote for Bush in 2004. Not only are his fellow party members out of control on taxes and in denial about the war, he says, their lousy campaign tactics are raising the specter of both McGovern and Mondale.

"If I live and breathe, and if -- as Hank Williams used to say -- the creek don't rise, in 2004 this Democrat will do something I didn't do in 2000, I will vote for George W. Bush for president.

"I have come to believe that George Bush is the right man in the right place at the right time... My political history to the contrary, this was the easiest decision I think I've ever made in deciding who to support. For I believe the next five years will determine the kind of world my four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren will live in. I simply cannot entrust that crucial decision to any one of the current group of Democratic presidential candidates.

"Believe me, I looked hard at the other choices. And what I saw was that the Democratic candidates who want to be president in the worst way are running for office in the worst way. Look closely, there's not much difference among them... Some want to raise our taxes a trillion, while the others want to raise our taxes by several hundred billion. But, make no mistake, they all want to raise our taxes. They also, to varying degrees, want us to quit and get out of Iraq. They don't want us to stay the course in this fight between tyranny and freedom. This is our best chance to change the course of history in the Middle East. So I cannot vote for a candidate who wants us to cut and run with our shirttails at half-mast.

"I find it hard to believe, but these naive nine have managed to combine the worst feature of the McGovern campaign -- the president is a liar and we must have peace at any cost -- with the worst feature of the Mondale campaign -- watch your wallet, we're going to raise your taxes. George McGovern carried one state in 1972. Walter Mondale carried one state in 1984. Not exactly role models when it comes to how to get elected or, for that matter, how to run a country."

Following Miller's lead, novelist/screenwriter and blogger Roger Simon confesses he's quickly becoming a conservative in liberal's clothing -- because the current crop of "sleazy" Democratic candidates has completely lost touch with reality:

"Let me begin by saying that there is not a great deal of domestic policy about which I agree with George Bush ... in many ways Im a liberal.

"Still, if the election were held today, like Georgia Democratic Senator Zell Miller, I would vote for George W. Bush without a seconds hesitation. Thats how bad I think the Democrats are on foreign policy, by far the most important issue of our day. I will go further. They are one of the sleaziest collections of low-down opportunists I have ever seen on one stage together short of that crowd of tobacco executives who testified 'No, sirree, I didnt know that nicotine was addictive.' These dudes and one dudette (Moseley-Braun) are downright dangerous. (Okay, Lieberman can be sane, but he doesnt seem to have a chance in that bizarre atmosphere.)

"And heres why I think theyre dangerous -- theyre acting like were still in Vietnam when were in a real war of civilizations. Were on the right side this time. Haven't they seen the videotapes of Baathists chopping their own countrymen's heads off and pushing them off roofs? Haven't they seen the unmarked graves of children? Whats going on with these people? Do they think suicide bombers driving into the Red Cross are pacifist Buddhist monks? (Actually, I think some of them deep down know the truth, but are afraid to admit it because theyre trolling for votes -- how pathetic is that!)"

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Read more of "Right Hook," Salon's weekly roundup of conservative commentary and analysis here.

This story has been corrected since it was originally published.

By Mark Follman

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

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