March 26, 2004,
He had everything but the wonky tie and the instinct for self-preservation. Speaking up in the quarterly sales meeting, he's the long-suffering guy who wants us to know that he's always right, that everybody else is always wrong, that his boss is nuts, and that he would have spoken up sooner, but he was having some very serious computer problems.
Richard Clarke's performance before an august bipartisan commission and its cheering, clapping D.C. audience was like Dilbert on Springer. It was covered extensively by BBC and European broadcasters, of course, because it was good TV: A simple but good man surrounded by wicked unbelievers. Former Illinois governor James Thompson tried to scourge him by pointing out that the remarks he gave in a press briefing before he resigned were different than the remarks he was making now. But Clarke bravely withstood the pain. He had lied at the briefing, he said, because it was his job to lie.
Now of course it is his job to sell books, and so by the time it was over, the gospel according to Clarke had dominated the EuroPress for days, leaving his book the second best-selling on the British Amazon charts (mysteriously lagging behind Girl with a Pearl Earring, a book about the subject of the Vermeer painting, but edging out Eats, Shoots & Leaves, a book about punctuation).
The press sinister (and their increasingly peculiar allies among the Iraq-obsessed British Right) covered Clarke with fascination, hope, and laurels. The Spectator's Peter Osborne said Clarke's testimony embarrassed Blair. Le Monde said Clarke's testimony embarrassed Bush. Der Standard said Clarke's testimony embarrassed Bush, but embarrassed Condoleezza Rice more. And il Reformista said Clarke's testimony embarrassed virtually everyone in Washington, except himself. Even before the commission heard his testimony, the Guardian said Clarke's allegations reflected "an administration...imprisoned in its own ideology," by which "ideology" meant having an assumption that a familiar enemy Saddam Hussein was at least as dangerous as an unfamiliar enemy al Qaeda. Only the Independent, astonishingly, ran an op-ed to balance the media blitz. It was a pretty decent point-by-point rebuttal of Clarke's remarks (quoting brother Marx, no less) by William Farish, the U.S. ambassador to Britain.
The consensus in the EuroPress is that in hindsight, Clarke was really right about Osama being more dangerous than anyone else thought. It fell to Sebastian Hesse, writing on ARD's site, to ask the impolite question: Okay, so?
Clarke's charges alone aren't enough to deliver maximum value to Bush-bashers, so they make the cartoon into a caricature: The real fault for September 11 should be directed at Bush. "The Blame for Sept. 11," an International Herald Tribune editorial picked up from the New York Times, tries hard to make the case, but gets kind of lost when they get to the part about how Clinton would have gotten Osama if it weren't for the Republicans trying to impeach him because of sex, or something. Not even the French press goes quite as far as that, but then the French press isn't as French as the New York Times, where every page is drenched in rich nuance. The whole episode had the makings of a comic-strip moment: something you talk about one day and forget about the next, because in the real world, there was real news.
ITEMSSpiritual leaders. Everybody's got one. The Moonies have Reverend Moon. The Democrats have Rev. Al Sharpton. The people who report from Brussels for EU Politix have this guy. And the Palestinian suicide bombers of Hamas had Sheikh Yassin, who was lovingly memorialized by the BBC after the Israelis blew him away with a rocket. The morning after Yassin was killed, the BBC World Service presenter, unable to contain his rage, was demanding that an Israeli official tell him "how many more Palestinian leaders you are going to assassinate." L'Humanité lamented the use of "state terrorism" by Israel, and the IHT ran an op-ed warning all of us to beware the ghost of Yassin because his death might actually encourage Muslims to perpetrate acts of terrorism.
The ghost of Yassin. Just days before Spiritual Leader Sheikh Yassin was killed, a schoolboy had unwittingly been planted with explosives and sent across a checkpoint by Palestinian terrorists. He was saved by the Israelis. A couple of days after Yassin was killed, a 14-year-old Palestinian boy was stopped at a checkpoint after he tried to run toward Israelis with a bomb strapped to his chest. He was saved, too. The incident was reported everywhere here's the Guardian's item; the IHT ran this New York Times piece. Well, everywhere, that is, but in France, as the ˇNo Pasarán! blog site notes. How Robert Fisk missed the story remains a mystery. Oddly, only the German wire services picked up the most telling details of the sad tale. According to this dispatch in Suddeutsche Zeitung, the kid had Down Syndrome and had been promised the equivalent of 20 euros if he did as he was told. (That would be in addition to the 72 virgins in heaven, of course.) The credit for these valiant attempts to gain respect for the Palestinian cause was taken by the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a group that some MEPs say is the recipient of EU funds that were knowingly misdirected. Regular readers of NRO will recall that the EU's external-affairs commissioner, Chris Patten, blocked a requested investigation of the affair. Rachel Ehrenfeld and Sarah Zebaida have already noted here the EU-al-Aqsa connection. The EU was among the first to condemn Yassin's killing.
Railroaded. The mighty French had the first round of their normally insignificant regional elections last weekend. As this report in Le Monde shows, Chirac's center-right party was getting slapped around by the rudderless Socialists and, to a lesser extent, by the National Front, who came in a surprising second in my little village. By next week, after the second round of voting, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the current prime minister, will be even less important than he is now and would probably be completely abandoned by Chirac, if he weren't afraid of the alternative ambitious Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy, the man who would be Jacques, but might settle for being Jean-Pierre first.
France isn't as bad as Germany, but unemployment's high, the economy's flat, there's a growing resentment of the EU, and corruption continues to flourish. Raffarin tried to propose reforms to address the first two issues. But, as everybody knows, the French have their entitlements among them, a 35-hour work week, employment for life, more vacation than a teachers' union shop steward, subsidies for everything French, a lottery-sized pension, and expensive health care. Raffarin's lame reforms were only a whispered threat to diminish those guarantees, but that was enough to make him despised. He did have a moment of leadership splendor, though, when a bomb was found on a railway line leading to Switzerland. Raffarin went on TV and told everyone to remain calm. At about the same time, the mysterious terror group, AZF, sent a letter, reprinted in Libération, saying they were going to stop planting bombs on the tracks because they're having technical problems, but that they'll resume their work once they've ironed out the details. In inspiring calm, the AZF, whoever they are, did a better job than Raffarin.
Showing Patten leather. When Javier Solana and Chris Patten, the EU's foreign-affairs twins, came to Kosovo, there was supposed to be dancing in the streets. After all, five years ago, when Solana was secretary-general of NATO, he came down hard on the side of Kosovo Liberation Army, coordinated the bombing of Serbians because they didn't seem able to dislodge their crazy dictator, and left Kosovo in the hands of "peacekeepers" who, according to this report from the BBC, don't really feel it's their place to shoot at people who are burning homes and churches so they simply withdraw from keeping the peace. More than 200,000 Serbs have been forced from their homes in the last five years and, says this dispatch, the few remaining Serbs in Kosovo to have survived the NATO- and UN-supervised cleansing of the province refused to show Patten and Solana hospitality when the two came to call for a photo-op. Most of the Euro-press reports a fragile peace in Kosovo and treats this week's atrocities like some unfortunate 24-hour malady. But that's wishful thinking on the part of the European press, who are uncomfortable with what has happened in Kosovo. The terror there continues: Only two days ago, I read a note sent by a Serbian bishop pleading for help because his 14th-century monastery had just been torched, and only the Guardian had room for this wire-service report showing what we helped create the last time we bet on the good will of Muslim fanatics.
He lives! Howell Raines, the author of Whiskey Ma, once an editor at the New York Times, and one of the least self-aware media celebrities in America, has a self-serving piece coming out in The Atlantic Monthly and previewed in the Guardian. The surprising thesis: Raines was right, everybody else was wrong, and his boss was crazy. (See above, under "Clarke, Richard.")
Last word: The EU has decided to get tough on terrorism. To show their steely resolve, they appointed an antiterrorism czar. His name is Gijs De Vries, and, according to Libération, he's Dutch, he's multilingual, and he's opposed to terrorism. This may be the last news item in which he is mentioned. As Blogger One at Eursoc points out, the antiterrorism charade was seen largely as an excuse to ram-inject approval of the EU constitution. Prospects for approval looked bleak last December (as reported here), when the constitution was buried alive by the principled opposition of Spain and Poland. Four months later, things have changed. Spain doesn't have to worry about principles any more, and the Polish political landscape seems to be in upheaval, if this report in the EU Observer is right. So the constitution is back from the dead, and, as this story in the Irish Times explains, the Irish presidency is optimistic that, this time, it will go through. Meanwhile, back in Brussels, the EU continues to knock the wind out of whistleblowers. Last week, according to the Independent, they had Belgian police arrest Hans-Martin Tillack, a reporter for Stern who is an expert in uncovering widespread EU corruption and fraud.
Save a Minder, Lose a Mind. Paul Wood, one of the BBC's worried men in Baghdad who missed the details when the Americans came to town a year ago (as I reported here), is back on the anniversary of the invasion with his best wartime reminiscences, including this one:
The day before the bombing started, I took a walk under the crossed swords memorial with our government minder, a captain in the Iraqi secret police.
As an employee of the BBC and a man whose firm belief in Iraqi intelligence was demonstrated under fire, Wood of course accepts that the British would go door to door killing people, so you can't blame him for forking over the grand. As it happens, I'm not all that far from Agincourt, another place where the British took no prisoners. A cool thou would help get my family out of France and all the way to Ashford for a weekend, where we could get a decent curry, pick up some books, and see The Passion. What about it?
Denis Boyles writes the weekly EuroPress Review column for NRO.