The National Review mind

An up-close look at the mentality that has been running our country for six years.

By Glenn Greenwald
July 18, 2007 10:18PM (UTC)
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(updated below - updated again - Update III)

The New Republic's Johann Hari recently went on the National Review cruise and then filed this extraordinary report about what he witnessed (the full article is also available here). Hari mingled in with the NR faithful who, unaware that he was a reporter, provided him with material like this:

I lie on the beach with Hillary-Ann, a chatty, scatty 35-year-old Californian designer. As she explains the perils of Republican dating, my mind drifts, watching the gentle tide. When I hear her say, " Of course, we need to execute some of these people," I wake up. Who do we need to execute? She runs her fingers through the sand lazily. "A few of these prominent liberals who are trying to demoralise the country," she says. "Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that's what you'll get." She squints at the sun and smiles. " Then things'll change."

And, at a dinner Hari attended on the first day:

To my left, I find a middle-aged Floridian with a neat beard. To my right are two elderly New Yorkers who look and sound like late-era Dorothy Parkers, minus the alcohol poisoning. They live on Park Avenue, they explain in precise Northern tones. "You must live near the UN building," the Floridian says to one of the New York ladies after the entree is served. Yes, she responds, shaking her head wearily. "They should suicide-bomb that place," he says. They all chuckle gently. How did that happen? How do you go from sweet to suicide-bomb in six seconds?

There was a virtual unanimous consensus that Muslims are taking over Europe and then the world. I've been reluctant to write about this article because -- as well-written, insightful and darkly amusing as it is -- it relies upon isolated, selected anecdotes to indict a broad political faction, a practice I generally dislike, given that it is the province of the Bill O'Reillys and Michelle Malkins of the world.

But then I read the discussions from the National Review pundits themselves and it is hard to dispute Hari's methods. Today, for instance, National Review and Fox News pundit Larry Kudlow was addressing the latest findings from the intelligence community, documenting -- again -- that the Bush administration's conduct over the last six years has resulted in a robust, resurgent and powerful Al Qaeda. What is Kudlow's view of all this?

The reality here is that all three al Qaeda branches -- in addition to its jihadist cohorts elsewhere -- are coming at us.

The question now becomes whether the U.S. government will stay on the offensive, maintain all of its Patriot Act tools, and beat down the bad guys.

So we've invaded two countries so far, both of which we continue to occupy, and we have acted militarily in countless others. And Al Qaeda has strengthened as a result. So what do we do now? "Beat down the bad guys." Truly, that is how an 8-year old reasons.

Speaking of which, in a post almost immediately preceding Kudlow's, Jonah Goldberg laid down his Lofty Principles of American Warfare: namely, we must favor democracy in the world because it "is morally preferable to tyranny"; our wars must keep in mind "America's sense of decency"; "Americans want to feel good about their wars, particularly their wars of choice"; to beat terrorism, we need "something," and "Our something must be freedom"; and when waging war, Americans "need to be reassured they are the good guys."

And with these inspiring principals in mind, what does Jonah think we should now in Iraq?

As a matter of analysis and prescription, I'm all in favor of the war in Iraq becoming less "liberal" -- as you folks are using the term around here -- and more realistic, i.e. ruthless. No fan of "liberalizing" Iraq can be against winning there first.

Absolutely. The problem we have in the Muslim world is that we have not been sufficiently "ruthless" in our wars. We need to make sure that we are the good guys and on the side of freedom and maintain our sense of decency. And to do this, we must -- after four straight years of decimating that country -- increase our ruthlessness.

As I've highlighted before, neoconservative tough guys love to run around with hard-core-sounding slogans ("we need to get our hands dirty" - "we need to stop being so sensitive in how we fight" - "there need to be 'consequences' for anti-war activists who embolden the enemy"), but they constantly lack the courage ever to say what they actually mean, specifically. What kind of person says we should be more "ruthless" as his prescription for winning a four-year-old war without bothering to provide any specifics? It'd be instructive to know what Jonah thinks we should do in order become "more ruthless" in the Iraq War, in what ways have we been insufficiently "ruthless." One could email him and ask.


One more anecdote from the NR cruise:

The conversation ebbs back to friendly chit-chat. So, you're a European, one of the Park Avenue ladies says, before offering witty commentaries on the cities she's visited. Her companion adds, "I went to Paris, and it was so lovely." Her face darkens: "But then you think -- it's surrounded by Muslims." The first lady nods: "They're out there, and they're coming." Emboldened, the bearded Floridian wags a finger and says, "Down the line, we're not going to bail out the French again." He mimes picking up a phone and shouts into it, "I can't hear you, Jacques! What's that? The Muslims are doing what to you? I can't hear you!"

Now that this barrier has been broken -- everyone agrees the Muslims are devouring the French, and everyone agrees it's funny -- the usual suspects are quickly rounded up. Jimmy Carter is "almost a traitor". John McCain is "crazy" because of "all that torture". One of the Park Avenue ladies declares that she gets on her knees every day to " thank God for Fox News". As the wine reaches the Floridian, he announces, "This cruise is the best money I ever spent."

These truly are the people who have been running our country for the last six years. No matter how many times one thinks about it, it never gets any less difficult to believe. And it really does explain virtually everything of any political significance in this country.

UPDATE: I would be remiss if I failed to highlight this passage from Hari's report:

[Cruise attendee Norman] Podhoretz is the Brooklyn-born, street-fighting kid who travelled through a long phase of left-liberalism to a pugilistic belief in America's power to redeem the world, one bomb at a time. Today, he is a bristling grey ball of aggression, here to declare that the Iraq war has been "an amazing success." He waves his fist and declaims: "There were WMD, and they were shipped to Syria ... This picture of a country in total chaos with no security is false. It has been a triumph. It couldn't have gone better." He wants more wars, and fast. He is "certain" Bush will bomb Iran, and " thank God" for that. . . .

"Aren't you embarrassed by the absence of these weapons?" [William] Buckley snaps at Podhoretz. He has just explained that he supported the war reluctantly, because Dick Cheney convinced him Saddam Hussein had WMD primed to be fired. "No," Podhoretz replies. "As I say, they were shipped to Syria. During Gulf War I, the entire Iraqi air force was hidden in the deserts in Iran." He says he is "heartbroken" by this "rise of defeatism on the right." He adds, apropos of nothing, "There was nobody better than Don Rumsfeld. This defeatist talk only contributes to the impression we are losing, when I think we're winning." The audience cheers Podhoretz. The nuanced doubts of Bill Buckley leave them confused. Doesn't he sound like the liberal media? Later, over dinner, a tablemate from Denver calls Buckley "a coward". His wife nods and says, " Buckley's an old man," tapping her head with her finger to suggest dementia.

What can one even say about all of this?

UPDATE II: In response to email inquiries, Jonah unveils his Plan of Ruthlessness for Glorious Victory in Iraq:


First he says that the objections in the emails were "to a point well-taken" because "I don't think ruthlessness as it's commonly understood -- dogged, merciless, belligerence -- is necessarily what we need most." What do we need, then?

Jonah next cites, as an example of where more ruthlessness was needed, a story about how the CIA proposed some scheme which its own lawyers said was illegal, suggesting -- apparently -- that being more "ruthless" means ignoring (i.e., breaking) our own laws. Finally, Jonah "clarifies":

But, what I mean by ruthlessness . . . is a single-minded determination to win.

By "single-minded determination to win," does that mean we bomb more indiscriminately, forget about ethical restraints, break the law, re-instate the draft, raise taxes to pay for a larger military? Who knows. He won't say. They never do, because their real goal is to sound tough and avoid admitting error ("the Iraq War isn't a failure; not at all. We just need to stiffen our spines, take the kid gloves off, and commit ourselves to a single-minded determination to win").


To Larry Kudlow, what we need to do in order to Win the War on Terror is Beat Down the Bad Guys. To Jonah Goldberg, to win the War in Iraq, we need to be more ruthless, which means we have "a single-minded determination to win." Those are the serious-minded -- and, of course, "tough" -- foreign policy geniuses who have been driving our actions since 9/11. The only real surprise is that the damage hasn't been even greater than it is.

UPDATE III: It is worth noting that while many of the comments Hari includes are from anonymous NR cruise passengers, many are from NR writers and other prominent neoconservative spokespeople.

More importantly, the most inflammatory comments Hari reports are hardly unrepresentative of the conservative movement. Recall, for instance:

* Michael Reagan's call for Howard Dean to be hanged as a traitor for having said the war in Iraq could not be won;

* Ann Coulter's arguing that "We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too. Otherwise, they will turn out to be outright traitors";

* Ben Shaprio urging that Al Gore, John Kerry and Howard Dean be criminally prosecuted for sedition for opposing the war;

* Frank Gaffney fabricating an Abraham Lincoln quote in order to argue that traitors, such as Sen. Carl Levin, should be executed (specifically, hanged).

In light of this record, it is difficult -- one could say impossible -- to argue reasonably that any of the comments reported by Hari, including the call by Hillary-Ann to put a few antiwar liberals in the gas chamber, are truly aberrational.

Glenn Greenwald

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