t many points in the last year, Ive been tempted to ask, Dont you know theres a war going on? Im sure youve had many such instances.
Earlier this week, a reporter on CNN said, [The Democrats] would rather get [Iraq] out of the way. The problem is the subject has sucked all the oxygen out of the room. [Gee, is that so? How rude of it.] If you are someone on Capitol Hill whos a Democrat who wants to get some legislation done, youre standing around talking to yourself because the talk is all of Iraq.
There is reason to doubt that we Americans are aware of the shadow under which we live, and the horrible gravity of the present times. In the next issue of National Review, well have a piece by the inimitable and irreproachable Paul Johnson that should make hair on necks stand up.
Traveling in Europe last week, I picked up a copy of Le Monde. They had on the editorial page a photo of a ten-year-old girl in Afghanistan a beautiful thing named Shoukriya Zaladgoul, who wants to grow up to be a doctor.
I wonder whether anyone at Le Monde anyone recognizes that they couldnt have published this photo without the U.S. military. Without George W. Bush. The photo wouldnt have existed. The girl couldnt have shown her face, and even the very legitimacy and legality of an image would have been in question.
And Le Monde, of course, opposed everything that made the liberation of Afghanistan possible.
By the way, I was with an intellectual and journalist in Albania, who had been on a panel with a diplomatic editor of Le Monde. He recounted to me, wide-eyed, how the man had been not only pro-Chavez, pro-Castro, but close to pro-terror as well. So very chilling.
George Will had a (typically) terrific column in which he explained why France has such a great attachment to the U.N. (Its role there is absurdly out of proportion to its present status in the world.) I was reminded of something else Ive been thinking of lately.
There is a famous anecdote told in operatic circles. Sometime in the 50s, I believe, the Met was touring in Europe, and stopped in Paris, where Roberta Peters starred in The Barber of Seville. She did not perform well, and the critics were merciless.
Next day, Rudolf Bing the urbane and caustic general manager of the Met held a press conference, at which he said, Miss Peters had a bad night; the Paris Opera has had a bad century.
So true (it didnt get any better, by the way). And France, at large, had a bad century, the 20th. That must sting terribly, in the breasts and eyes of certain Frenchmen.
It is significant that, as hes losing late in the campaign, Germanys Edmund Stoiber is playing the Muslim card for that is what the immigration card is, a Muslim card. This is the great sleeping issue in much of Europe. It almost won election for the Right in Sweden, of all places.
Stoibers opponent, the incumbent Gerhard Schroeder, said darkly, Whoever tries to create majorities at the expense of minorities is a baddun. Whatever has to do with hatred against minorities must be met with our decisive opposition. Understand that this is how the Left talks: Any questions about immigration and assimilation must be dismissed as hatred of minorities. The Democratic party here does this, of course, constantly.
Heres something cute, just as a matter of language: Stoibers opponents have taken to call him Stoiberlusconi, to link him with the Italian prime minister, a conservative who is thought (certainly by the German Left) a horror. I rather like the name.
More on Stoiber: He said something remarkable for a politician, something with relevance here in the United States. Asked whether he lacked the courage to propose economic reforms, he answered, No. If I arrived at rallies and there were 10,000 people demonstrating for the final removal of this yoke of a social-security system, then you could go for radical reforms. But since people consider social security an important element in their lives, Ive got to watch out theres no breakdown in this security.
Again, an amazing statement, and one with many reverberations.
You know how some group on the Mall will hold a rally and claim it was a big deal, usually with the help of the media, if the group is a Left group, which it usually is? You know: The Million Mom March, which may have a few thousand women chanting against guns. That sort of thing.
Waal, in Rome, they really hold a rally, the Left. An anti-Berlusconi rally had at least 200,000 people jammed into the Piazza San Giovanni; the organizers claimed 800,000. (This is the sort of game thats played at home, too.) Whatever the case, it was a helluva lot of people, demonstrating for left-wing things in a country experiencing (relative) peace and prosperity.
My main point: Thats a rally, not the piddling affairs that Marian Wright Edelman et al. organize here.
I remember being a student in Italy, in Florence, and observing a huge memorial service for Enrico Berlinguer, the Italian Communist boss and the father of so-called Eurocommunism (which was, as always, nothing but Communism, underneath everything). Thats when I grasped more than ever that Communism was part religion. This was, essentially, a religious ceremony, complete with hymn (the Internationale).
About the Muslim issue in Europe: One Alberto Carosa had a remarkable column in the Italian press, about the delicate issue of religious freedom. He quoted the head of the Northern League, who said that the country could ill afford to ignore the fact that mosques and Islamic centers are not just places of worship but also forums for fundamentalist propaganda and the recruitment of terrorists. How to handle this, in the law, in ones police work? Touchy. Very touchy. I, for one, in humility, am glad that I dont have to decide.
In this connection, I read something memorable, in Roger Kimballs superbly good essay on James Burnham, in the current New Criterion. Burnham wrote,
While Im quoting, let me spring Bernard Lewis on you. The dean of Middle East scholars, as hes rightly called, had a bracing op-ed piece in the Washington Post, for the anniversary of September 11. He wrote, in part,
Okay, let me be the detestable bad-boy partisan: Who was president from 93 to 2000? That may be a lousy thing to say, but one has a right to a little petulance and anger at this juncture. Someone has to be responsible, somewhat just a little. Every single aspect of America cant be no-fault.
In a recent column I apologize, but I cant find it online Mark Steyn mentioned John Howard, the prime minister of Australia. He did so in the following context: Symbolism matters. . . . [The] privilege of kicking loose at the ranch ought to be reserved for real friends [not for terror-funding oil princes]. Yet Australias . . . John Howard, whose boys fought alongside the U.S. in Afghanistan, didnt get an invite to Crawford.
I get a huge kick out of Mr. Howard John, he would want me to call him. Ill tell you why. And it goes to my fondness for Australians generally, some of the friendliest, most enjoyable people on earth. (By the way, Bill Buckley says that, in his experience and he has circumnavigated the globe many times the friendliest people in the world are Nova Scotians and New Zealanders.)
A few years ago, my wife and I were invited to a party hosted by the Australian consulate in New York, at the time of the U.S. (tennis) Open. It was to honor Australian tennis greats, which is almost to say tennis greats, including the greatest, Laver. We were invited because I had come to know Michael Baume, who was serving as the Australian consul in New York.
We get there, and we learn a lot about the vaunted informality and down-to-earthness of Australians. We were introduced to the ambassador to the U.N. After chatting with her for several minutes, I became afraid that we were using too much of her time. I said, Surely, you have people to see here. She said, Oh, no. Then she saw that we were without drinks, and insisted on going off to fetch us drinks. This was the U.N. ambassador, mind you. Richard Holbrooke was our own ambassador at the time, and I tried to imagine him doing the same. It was impossible. Then, at the end of our conversation, this woman Im sorry I cant remember her name (theres gratitude for you) gave us her card. And we werent big deals, mind you; we were just minor-league American journalists.
Then we met the ambassador to the U.S. same deal. We chatted gaily about Fresh Fields, the earthy-crunchy grocery-store chain in Washington.
And then came the prime minister. Here I was, meeting the head of state of a significant country. Referring to my friend and host, the consul, I said rather stiffly, Mr. Prime Minister, were so glad to have Mr. Baume here in New York. Hes a wonderful asset. And Howard threw his head back and said, That old son of a bitch? You know, hes part Catholic, part Protestant, part Jew, part everything. Hes all mixed up, that son of a bitch. His ancestors are all over the map. And so on. They were great old friends and political comrades. And the prime minister was letting loose on him, talking so freely to us, journalists, no less.
Yes, W. would have an excellent time with John Howard at the ranch, or anywhere else. Theyre peas in a pod, really.
You know, Ill read Dave Barry, and Ill think, This guys a genius. Then a year or two might go by, when I dont see his column. And Ill forget. And Ill grow skeptical. And then I read him again and think, Ill be darned: He really is a genius.
Such was my reaction when I read his recent column on the tobacco wars: here. I link you to it in a kind of tribute to real columnizing talent.
And on this subject: Have you seen Rob Longs current View, in NR? You must. It might be his all-time best (a dangerous judgment, I realize).
Finally as long as were talking about other peoples writing Id like to share with you the following note from a reader: Perhaps as the EU moves closer and closer to a model of a united states (their single currency, all-European military force, etc.), the Europeans should consider paring down their presence at the U.N. to a single ambassador. Alternatively, the U.S. could send a delegate from each of our 50 states.