Right Hook

Fox News' Oliver North claims liberal media inspires terrorists; U.S. Army says Iraqis need "a heavy dose of fear and violence." Plus: Why Reagan was too busy to fight AIDS.

By Mark Follman
Published December 10, 2003 11:56PM (EST)

Following a recent trip to U.S.-occupied Iraq, Former Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, now a Fox News correspondent, is relaunching a rather tired conservative argument: By criticizing President Bush's foreign policy, the "liberal" media is nurturing America's enemies. (It's curious, though -- whenever liberals evaluate the negative effects of America's wealth and exercise of global power in Islamic countries, conservatives are quick to argue that America is in fact not responsible for creating militant Islamic enemies.) But to his credit, North pumps up the partisan floater with some fresh hot air: Never mind concerns over a bogged-down reconstruction; the steady insurgency against U.S. troops, he argues, springs from Baathist enemies who are urged on by America's anti-Bush news coverage.

"After two trips to Iraq this year and listening carefully to those who go to work wearing camouflage, flak jackets and ballistic protective helmets, it's clear that the media's unabated animus and hyperventilated political hostility aimed at President Bush is now adversely affecting the outcome of the war on terror. It hasn't diminished our troops' morale or their affection for their commander in chief -- but it has encouraged our enemies.

"The Baathists, who pay to build Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), provide RPGs to fire at convoys, orchestrate mortar and rocket attacks, and finance Jihadist suicide bombings, know American politics better than they know military tactics. They watch American television on their pirate satellite dishes and read American newspapers online. They know that when they kill an American soldier, blow up a Humvee or even shoot down a U.S. helicopter, the action is militarily insignificant. But they also believe, based on what they see, hear and read in our media, that the U.S. public has a very low threshold for pain and that their nemesis -- George W. Bush -- is vulnerable."

Citing some curious intelligence gleaned by U.S. interrogators, North reaches a conclusion almost as comic as it is absurd: The Iraqi insurgents' master plan, he claims, hinges on the Democrats defeating President Bush in November 2004:

"The Baathists don't want the people of Iraq to go to the polls and vote -- but they know we are going to have an election next year. Captured 'former regime loyalists' smugly tell interrogators that their goal is to simply 'hang on' until the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November 2004. Then, they are convinced, 'anybody but Bush' will move into the White House, and the United States will pull out of Iraq."

Confronting the legacy of Saddam -- and the antiwar left
In the December issue of Commentary magazine, New York writer Stephen Vincent, who spent more than a month and a half living in U.S.-occupied Iraq during the fall, scolds antiwar activists from around the world for whitewashing Saddam's horrifying human rights record. Vincent investigated a few of the many thousands of documented stories of torture, rape and murder under the Saddam regime, and confronted some of the dictator's Western apologists as well:

"I met 'humanitarian workers' in Baghdad who, even as they decried the U.S. 'occupation' of the country, would fall into an embarrassed silence when I mentioned Saddam's atrocities, and 'peace activists' who suggested that the terrible image the world has of Saddam Hussein was largely the creation of 'U.S. propaganda.' One Dutch photographer argued that Saddam's attack on Iran was no worse than 'America's invasion of Vietnam' and that Baath-party members were mostly 'guys just looking for jobs.' When I tried to describe to a worker for a Canadian NGO some of the findings of the [National Association of Iraqi Human Rights], he shrugged and waggled his hand as if to say, 'Yeah, yeah, we've heard all this before.' Impatiently, he burst out: 'Yours is the real rogue nation.'"

Vincent argues there was a noble, humanitarian rationale for the U.S. to invade Iraq -- though he doesn't say whether he believes it was a key reason the Bush administration chose to go to war.

"Justice: ask an Iraqi and you will be told that, along with freedom and stability, justice is the third reason why America needs not only to be in Iraq but to stay there. Because of U.S. power, Iraqis already enjoy an independent judiciary and a police force no longer made up of thugs and gangsters. Though Saddam himself remains uncaught, the continued presence of coalition troops is a pledge that his henchmen and fedayeen will not escape unpunished or fall into the hands of a vengeful mob but will face the just retribution of law. It is by means such as these, my interlocutors urged upon me, that Washington has given the Iraqi people, and perhaps the Middle East as a whole, something they never possessed before -- a future. 'There are no barriers for us now,' a young Iraqi said to me gleefully."

But Vincent cautions that there are formidable barriers, indeed -- and that the antiwar left may be one of them:

"The work of reconstruction -- political, social, and cultural no less than physical -- is gargantuan, long-term, and beset with peril. But increasing its difficulty is the historical and moral amnesia exhibited by the anti-war camp toward the crimes of Saddam Hussein. Castigating the United States rather than the tyrant it deposed, refusing to acknowledge the great good our nation has accomplished, these peace activists, Western politicians, international journalists, and intellectuals threaten the rebirth of the country for whose fate they profess to care."

He doesn't comment, however, as to what critics of the Bush administration might say or do if they felt that the reconstruction had been poorly planned, or was being inadequately carried out.

Battling Iraqi guerrillas, Israeli-style
The New York Times reports that the U.S. military is now fighting guerrilla forces in Iraq by adopting hard-line tactics drawn from the Israeli experience of urban warfare in the occupied territories. According to U.S. Army officers Capt. Todd Brown and Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman, tactics such as bulldozing houses, arresting families of suspected insurgents, and encasing entire villages in razor wire are necessary because Iraqis respond foremost to an iron fist:

"American officers here say their new hard-nosed approach reflects a more realistic appreciation of the military and political realities faced by soldiers in the so-called Sunni triangle, the area north and west of Baghdad that is generating the most violence against the Americans.

"Underlying the new strategy, the Americans say, is the conviction that only a tougher approach will quell the insurgency and that the new strategy must punish not only the guerrillas but also make clear to ordinary Iraqis the cost of not cooperating.

"'You have to understand the Arab mind,' Capt. Todd Brown, a company commander with the Fourth Infantry Division, said as he stood outside the gates of Abu Hishma. 'The only thing they understand is force -- force, pride and saving face'...

"'With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them,' said [Lt. Col. Nathan] Sassaman, [commander of First Battalion, Eighth Infantry, part of the Fourth Infantry Division]."

Sharp criticism of U.S. military tactics in Iraq came from a surprising figure this week: former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who is a member of the Defense Policy Board, an influential Washington group that was key in promoting the war. In an interview with Newsweek an uncharacteristically dovish Gingrich says the Bush administration is failing to make allies of the Iraqi people and has gone "off a cliff" with its occupation strategy:

"Gingrich argues that the administration has been putting far too much emphasis on a military solution and slighting the political element. 'The real key here is not how many enemy do I kill. The real key is how many allies do I grow,' he says. 'And that is a very important metric that they just don't get'...

"'The idea that we are going to have a corruption-free, pristine, League of Women Voters government in Iraq on Tuesday is beyond naivete,' he scoffs. 'It is a self-destructive fantasy'...

"'We are not the enforcers. We are the reinforcers,' says Gingrich. 'The distinction between these two words is central to the next year in Iraq.'"

Mark Levin, a contributing editor for the National Review Online, says that as the U.S. military uses harsher tactics in Iraq, President Bush is a hypocrite for condemning Israel's construction of a massive barrier to separate it from the Palestinian occupied territories.

"As the United States builds barriers between our troops and these villages for the purpose of reducing American casualties, the Bush administration is denouncing Israel's construction of a wall to protect its citizens from Palestinian terrorists...

"[But] the president is intentionally overlooking the legitimate purpose for which Israel is constructing the wall -- to protect its citizens from Palestinian terrorism. In the last three years alone, there have been over 6,700 Israeli casualties, including nearly 900 deaths. This far exceeds the casualty levels of the U.S. military thus far in Iraq."

According to Levin, the barrier isn't about logistically complex, politically explosive issues inherent to dividing up precious slivers of ancient land. Rather, the whole situation could be resolved, Levin argues, if the Palestinians would stop consistently breaking their promises to the ever earnest Israelis.

"The wall is about Israel's self-defense, and nothing more. The wall can be moved if future agreements require it. The problem has never been Israel's unwillingness to exchange land for Palestinian promises of peace: It has always been the Palestinians' unwillingness to keep their promises. This is just one more example of a double standard that devalues Israeli security and the lives of Israeli citizens."

Some of my best friends are gay (but I'll sell them out if necessary)
Syndicated columnist and former Nancy Reagan speech writer Mona Charen acknowledges that promoting the "civilizing institution" of marriage for gays makes sense -- in theory. But because gay men notoriously have "hundreds of sexual partners," claims Charen, in practice, marriage would not make them any less depraved:

"Most of us have gay friends and no wish to cause homosexuals unhappiness. But if they insist that homosexual unions be sanctified, we have no choice but to resist.

"Some conservatives have accepted the argument -- most eloquently advanced by Andrew Sullivan -- that backing gay marriage actually advances a conservative position. Marriage, he argues, is a civilizing institution, and good conservatives should welcome the fact that a new group of people would like to live within its constraints of fidelity.

"But it's not that simple. We know that traditional marriage forces men to constrain their normally promiscuous sexual behavior in favor of the monogamy that women tend to prefer. We further know that men's and women's natures differ in this respect. Homosexuals and lesbians provide even more evidence of the obvious. Gay men tend to have lots (like hundreds) of sexual partners, whereas lesbians tend to be quite happy to settle down with one partner for long stretches. That's the nature of the beast."

Charen insists that men just don't value loyalty or fidelity the way women do:

"Will marriage make gay men more monogamous? Doubtful. With no woman in the picture to insist upon it, the incentives are quite weak. To prove one's fidelity? To keep a promise? Those are far less weighty concerns than to uphold the family and respect God's law. Conversely, the lack of marriage has not made lesbians more promiscuous."

And Americans are already struggling to keep the institution of marriage vital anyway, she says, so why let gays suck more life out of it?

"Marriage must, if the word is to retain its meaning, be only between one man and one woman. For as critics on both sides of the debate acknowledge, we're having a hard time upholding the integrity of marriage among the heterosexual population. At this moment, we ought to be reinvesting marriage with the honor it once commanded, not bleeding it of substance."

Republican presidents don't like to multitask
Though obesity is one of the most serious health threats Americans now face, James Taranto, editor of the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal, heckles Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Lieberman for taking up the issue. While Lieberman recently criticized President Bush for overlooking the dangers of America's corporate-driven junk food juggernaut, Taranto says the president deserves a pass because his hands are already full.

"Sounding less like a presidential candidate than something of the Onion, [a politically satirical Web magazine], Sen. Joe Lieberman is waging war on Big Food. 'Parents today are being forced to contend with a new threat -- big food companies targeting junk food at children,' the New York Sun quotes Lieberman as saying. 'We cannot raise strong and healthy children if the best efforts of good parents all across America are being consistently undercut by corporations looking to profit by spreading bad behavior.'

"The Sun adds that Lieberman 'criticized President Bush, saying he had "dropped the ball" on the issue.' It seems minor matters like fighting al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein have distracted the president from what's really important, namely the battle of the bulge."

Using the same batty logic as Taranto, New York Post contributor Deroy Murdock is defending Ronald Reagan's record on the AIDS epidemic in America during the 1980s. Perhaps HBO's high-profile production of Tony Kushner's "Angels in America" and the recent controversy over the CBS movie "The Reagans" compelled Murdock to explain why the former president didn't do more to stop the deadly disease: Apparently Reagan, too, was a little too busy to handle an urgent national health crisis.

"Could Reagan have said and done more about AIDS? Surely, and he might have done so absent the urgent need to revive America's moribund economy and defeat Soviet Communism. But the notion that Ronald Reagan did nothing, or worse, about AIDS and hated gays, to boot, is a tired, left-wing lie about an American legend."

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

Mark Follman

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

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2004 Elections Fox News George W. Bush Iraq War Newt Gingrich