as anyone else a little rattled to see that photo of Colin Powell with the umbrella, circulated all around the world? At a time like this, one doesnt really want to see ones leaders with umbrellas.
(It spoils a joke to have to explain it, but the reference, of course, is to Neville Chamberlain, in the rain. Theres a priceless story about Reagan one of thousands. Shown a portrait of the former British PM, he says, Wheres his umbrella?)
I join those who are a little skeptical of the administrations approach to the U.N. It seems to me that our critics have a point: You go to the U.N. to enlist their cooperation, but when you dont get it, you stomp off and do as you like anyway. Enlisting the U.N.s cooperation smacks of seeking its permission. It seems to me that a government should either submit to the U.N. or not; the U.N. is not always an easy body to finesse. We should not look like hypocrites before the world, waving the banner of the U.N. only when we can get our way.
Did Begin seek the U.N.s permission to take out the Iraqi (and French) nuclear reactor? He wouldnt even have gotten Washingtons permission in fact, our government condemned him.
While Bill Clinton was spending those eight years apologizing, he might have apologized to the government of Israel.
A visitor to Europe is struck by the frequent, not to say constant, mention of the U.N. Of course, Euros use the world body as a club against the United States they like the U.N. as a check against American action. In recent conversations with various European journalists and intellectuals, I confessed that I could not respect the U.N. as they did, and certainly not reverence it. Why?
Well, there are the usual explanations: the longstanding Zionism is racism, that Riefenstahlish festival in Durban. But then theres the old Solzhenitsyn point: The U.N. is not so much the united nations as the united governments, or regimes. The organization is only as good as the governments that compose it. And most governments or a good chunk are illegitimate, ruling without the consent of the governed.
And how about this? The U.N. is a body the head of whose human-rights committee is Syria; its next head is set to be Libya. How can one take seriously an organization like this, much less reverence it?
And when you talk this way, heads are apt to nod. Understanding dawns. You may not entirely convince, but you make a point that is perhaps under-made.
(For my recent speech to an audience in Greece, please go here.)
I wish that President Bush would cease speaking about Iraqs defiance of world opinion. I know what he means: He means U.N. resolutions, etc. But he shouldnt use the phrase world opinion. After all, defying world opinion is sometimes a blessed thing to do. W. himself did it when he withdrew from the ABM Treaty, and he did it, to a degree, when he went to war in Afghanistan. Certainly Begin did it. (And do you remember the Israel leaders striking observation that his people had had quite enough of poison gas for one century?)
The U.S. has re-joined UNESCO, and that reminds me that one of the most bracing things Reagan ever did was withdraw from that organization. You never withdraw. You might threaten, but you never act thats against the rules. Or it was. Institutions like UNESCO adhere to a kind of Brezhnev Doctrine: They stay forever and they remain forever the same (unless they bloat). When Reagan yanked the U.S. out of UNESCO, everyone was shocked everyone but Ed Meese, maybe. It just wasnt done and that was part of why it was so thrilling. I believe that it was one of those tiny blows that turned the tide against the Soviet Union. And lets not exclude Reagans firing of the air-traffic controllers. You laugh?
Remember the testimony of the Soviets, or ex-Soviets, themselves. When did they know that Reagan was serious, a force to reckon with? When he gave that speech at Westminster, or went ahead with Euromissiles, or invaded Grenada, or backed the Contras? No, no: When he took on PATCO, firing the air-traffic controllers. (Reagan wouldnt like my saying firing. He always said, I didnt fire them: They quit by which he meant that their contract forbade them to strike.)
But I was talking about UNESCO. After we withdrew, Gen./Amb. Vernon Walters liked to say that 80 percent of the organizations budget was spent in Paris and chiefly in the 16th, 17th, and 18th arrondissements! That was a typically lovely, and true, Walters touch.
Im not too sure about re-joining UNESCO; it seems to me that Reagans victory might well have been left alone. But at least it should be said that, if not for Reagans spine, that institution would never have reformed.
Have you heard the latest about al Qaeda? Theyre turning to organized crime. That is, theyre beginning to cooperate with it. As Mark Huband reported in the Financial Times, any principled aversion to criminality is expected to diminish as al Qaedas cells loosen ties with the networks leadership. Dont you love that aversion to criminality principled aversion, no less! Al Qaeda is also beginning to work with women, another former no-no. So, maybe we do indeed have them on the run.
You will like something uttered by W. (reportedly uttered by W., I should say), transmitted by Bruce Anderson in The (London) Spectator. Mr. Anderson wrote, Recently, one British visitor was chatting to CIA director George Tenet about the Europeans role [in the war]. Ill tell you exactly what the President said the other day on that very subject, said Mr. Tenet. He said, I dont give a sh** what the Europeans think.
How do you like that?
It reminds me a little of Al Haig, briefly and in some ways gloriously secretary of state. Word leaked out that Haig had referred to the British foreign minister as a duplicitous bastard. (This was during the Falklands crisis.) Recall that Haig was famous for garbled, byzantine, and hard-to-decipher language. Confronted with this report, the secretary quipped, I couldnt have said that its much too clear.
If only for that, love Al Haig.
Graffiti seen in Rome (and how appropriate that is, as graffiti is an Italian word): The Intifada Will Triumph. Graffiti also seen in Rome: Soviets, Out of Afghanistan. They dont get around to effacing graffiti very often in Rome.
To revert to The Spectator, editor Boris Johnson conducted and wrote up a remarkable, delightful, and revealing interview with Ghazi Algosaibi, the notorious Saudi ambassador to London the one who wrote the poem in homage to the Palestinian homicide-bomberess. The whole interview is a must-read, but I especially cherished this: The American psyche is unlike the British psyche, said the ambassador, seeking to flatter his British interlocutor. You are in many ways more lackadaisical. [He means this in a good sense, as youll see.] You have two prime ministers almost killed, and you say, Oh, well, some things are fated, some are not. The Americans say, We are going to go and get them.
Yes: Thats exactly right. We dont take the murder of 3,000 of our fellow citizens lying down. Its not ho-hum.
Does anyone doubt that Bushs stance on Arafat decried by virtually all the world has led to the Chairmans salutary difficulties in the PA (and I dont mean Pennsylvania)? But will anyone say it?
A little culture: and that will include sports. Somewhat lost in the Tiger Woods story is Annika Sorenstam, the LPGA player who is exhibiting an almost surreal dominance. This year alone, the Swedish athlete has won eight tournaments on the LPGA Tour and ten worldwide. This is the equivalent of . . . oh, the Republicans taking the House this November by 400 seats to 35. (Dont get excited now. It will be a near miracle, I now believe, if the Republicans hold on to the House, and it seems that the Democrats will significantly increase their lead in the Senate. But I have sworn that Im out of the political-prognostication business. In the early and mid 90s, I told anyone who would listen that Clinton was a one-term president, an accident of the Perot candidacy. I keep a humble silence on such matters nowadays.)
A recent Travel Section article in the New York Times dealt with Galena, Ill., a former home of President Grant. In a museum exhibit lies a mushy little object in a glass case with a card that says: Cigar butt discarded by Grant in 1880, picked up by a Galena boy. Terribly sweet. And it reminded me of the European woman who kept tucked in her cleavage, to the end of her days, a cigar stub deposited by Franz Liszt. Yeah, I know, it reminded you of that too.
Enfin (but why an out-of-town word?), a little language: specifically, the word mirror, in verb form. What does it mean? Theres great puzzlement about on this subject. An article in USA Today (that invaluable paper nothing Mc about it) said, In July, the Republican-run House passed a bill that nearly mirrors Bushs proposal. The writer meant, that is nearly exactly what Bush himself proposed. To mirror, according to Websters, is to reflect in or as if in a mirror, naturally enough. And a mirror image is something that has its parts reversely arranged in comparison with another similar thing or that is reversed with reference to an intervening axis or plane.
That, to me, sounds a little like the SAT, which makes me shudder. In common usage, to mirror means to reflect exactly. But in its true sense, it means something rather different which is why folks like me tend to stay away from that word.
Which is also why youll almost never catch me using that now-blobby word irony which is a whole nother article, or book, or screaming debate, which I want no parts of, as an old Waycross, Ga., friend of mine used to say.
A P.S.: On reading over this column yes, sometimes I do that (no snickering) I noted that some might regard tiny blows that turned the tide against the Soviet Union as something of a mixture. I say now in advance, Please go jump in a lake. Who thinks of oceans when the phrase turning the tide is used anyway?
Ah, I should have said: Kindly go jump in an ocean, whether the tide is high or low.