Jewish World Review Dec. 31, 2002/ 26 Teves, 5763
GOP underperforms, but Dems are laughable
We do not yet know how this latest twist in the Clinton saga will play out in the Democratic presidential race, but the wedding of Teflon Willie and Silicon Demi would be like one of those old European dynastic unions, formally sealing the relationship between the Dems and Hollywood, just when both parties, if they had any sense, should be figuring out that they ought to be seeing less of each other. Like Sean Penn holding press conferences in Baghdad, there are times when the Dems could use fewer celebrities. Far fewer.
The Republicans, meanwhile, have been battered by the political fallout from Strom Thurmond's birthday party--not a phrase I would have predicted typing 12 months ago. The GOP acquitted itself well here, if only compared to the pass Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is getting from her colleagues from her ''Say what you like about Osama, but he made the Afghan yak trains run on time'' endorsement. As usual, the Dems are overreaching: The sub-Carvillian hit-job on Trent Lott's replacement, Bill Frist, is even more pathetic than usual, resting as it does on the notion that attacking Marion Barry is an obvious ''racial code.'' If Democrats really want to take the view that an incompetent crackhead is beyond criticism because of his race, then feel free.
In its own shriveled way, Trent Lott's self-inflicted wound sums up the last year. The Republicans underperform. But ultimately, the Democrats always manage to underperform more. Furthermore, the Democratic base seems to be working overtime to keep the party looking at best irrelevant or at worst deeply trivial. What happened in November is that a small but critical sliver of the electorate decided the Dems weren't credible on the big issue of the day. This is very true. The Dems' lack of credibility is laughable--so laughable that it's very conveniently obscured how the administration's own credibility on this issue diminishes month by month.
This is the real change of the last year. Nobody thought 52 weeks ago, when the Yanks were mopping up in Afghanistan and Hamid Karzai had just put together his broad-based government, that that was it. Intermission. A selection of snacks, ice creams and beverages will be available in the Mezzanine Bar for the next 12 months, but do make sure you take your seat in plenty of time for Act Two in early 2003, well, maybe late spring, whatever. On its face, this is very difficult to explain, though a lot of us go to a lot of trouble trying to. The endless postponement of the Iraqi D-Day, now as routinely rolled over as those Soviet five-year plans, is all part of some cunning Bush ''rope-a-dope'' strategy. So is Colin Powell's recent statement that the administration isn't looking for regime change in Baghdad. So is the ongoing mantra of ''the Saudis are our friends, no matter how many of us they kill.''
It's true that lulling the enemy into a false sense of security can be very cunning. But only if the sense of security does, indeed, turn out to be false. Otherwise, as the Internet commentator William Quick puts it, how much longer can Bush dine out on Afghanistan? And a lot of what the Bushies do barely falls into the lulling category. When Princess Haifa, wife of the Saudis' Washington ambassador, was revealed to have funneled money, unwittingly or otherwise, to the 9/11 killers, why did Alma Powell and Barbara Bush rush to phone her to commiserate? The connection between Saudi ''charitable giving'' and terrorism is well-known. The most benign explanation is that the princess is an idiot, and Americans are dead because of her idiocy. The wife of the secretary of state and the mother of the president have no business comforting a stooge of their country's enemies.
Possibly the president knows something we don't. Every so often, some well-connected Washington type, late in the conversation, spins me some dark yarn involving weaponized smallpox resistant to the vaccine, or some such. The last time this happened, the guy e-mailed me the following morning to say he'd been drunk and to pay no attention. Her Majesty's government in London, with its terrifying warnings of mounds of corpses on every Tube platform sheepishly withdrawn the morning after, would also seem to be following this pattern. There are rumors that the recent spate of mass vomiting and diarrhea on Caribbean cruise ships is the work of al-Qaida. The idea that the Great Satan can be overthrown by making him spend 19 hours a day on the can is a novel one, and I defer to more expert military analysts when it comes to assessing its chances of success, but, weaponized laxatives aside, from their inability to strike within the United States it seems reasonable to conclude that al-Qaida's freedom of maneuver has been drastically curtailed.
Oh, and by the way, Osama bin Laden is still dead, no matter what the government tells you.
But, the has-bin's demise aside, the world is more dangerous than it was a year ago. The ''axis of evil'' the sophisticates mocked last January turns out to be a going concern: A nuclear North Korea is a problem that in the end has to be removed rather than managed. Bush understands this, but he's walking a fine line: Another atrocity on American soil, and he won't be able to blame Clinton-era foreign policy and intelligence failures. Joe Lieberman is already positioning himself to run as a credible national security candidate, though I doubt whether, absent a major Bush stumble, a pro-war Jew will last through primary season.
It's hard not to feel that this year has been a lucky escape--except for the dead in Bali, Moscow, Kenya, et al. It seems unlikely that the West can make it through another 12 months without something happening somewhere. By ''the West,'' I mean not just the serious countries--America, Australia, Britain--but also the softer Euro-Canadian provinces still in quiet-life mode. If that's a gloomy note to end on, let us hope Bill and Demi and the political fallout from Strom's next birthday party provide some light relief in the year ahead.
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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is Senior Contributing Editor of The National Post and the author, most recently, of "The Face of the Tiger," a new book on the world post-Sept. 11. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.
11/26/02: A bombing pause --- for 12 months!?