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Jewish World Review April 18, 2001/ 25 Nissan, 5761


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Five days Inside the Beltway -- LAST THURSDAY, April 12, was an odd time to tour the White House, considering President Bush's diplomatic victory the day before in resolving the brief China-U.S. stalemate. Or so I thought. As Mrs. M, the boys and I stood on line, waiting for security clearance, my mind was racing with the possible consequences of the administration's first international skirmish. (The petulance of Euro heads of state over Kyoto doesn't count.) How tough will Bush get now that the troops are home?

Will the liberal Democrats-not to mention a hostile mainstream press-who applauded his conduct during the 11-day impasse dial down the obscene rhetoric they've pinpricked the President with, claiming that he's the most conservative (and cruel) leader since St. Calvin Coolidge? And has Bill Kristol, whose April 16/23 Weekly Standard editorial, "A National Humiliation," was a clumsy attack on Bush, now pooled his political fortunes with those of laughingstock xenophobes Gary Bauer and Pat Buchanan?

The first two questions were easy. Bush will be quietly aggressive: Taiwan will be receive more firepower; he won't discourage blackballing China out of another year of Most Favored Nation status (if Americans have attention spans longer than a mouse's, the Kmart-inspired boycotts of Chinese products will influence Congress); and obviously the military surveillance in the South China Sea will continue. I'd like to see China get nixed from the 2008 Olympics as well. Who needs the Chinese to recreate Hitler's 1936 German propaganda machine? And one can only hope the White House will insist that all Americans unfairly incarcerated in China be released.

The second puzzler was also a snap. The Democrats, after the yellow-ribbon glow has faded, won't give Bush any leeway, and will continue the bogus assault on his environmental "rollbacks" and his tax cut for the "wealthy." There's a lot of blather in the media that the GOP is courting disaster in the 2002 midterm elections because of arsenic and ergonomics, but the current economy will be the paramount concern of swing voters. One prediction is a 100 percent certainty: The affluent New York Times management will continue its immoral class warfare campaign for the remainder of Bush's presidency.

I don't believe Kristol deserves a fate as severe as the one Bauer and Buchanan deserve, but his contention that Bush showed "fear" and "weakness" was absurd. There's no question that he and cowriter Robert Kagan are correct that China deserves retribution for its premeditated provocation, but Kristol in particular was intellectually dishonest in his belittling of Bush. It was only last year that he ran John McCain's media campaign (no small feat, considering how many journalists were in the tank with Mr. Clean); more to the point, Kristol and the Bush family don't get along, dating back to his tenure as Dan Quayle's chief of staff.


Kristol and Kagan wrote an op-ed piece for The Washington Post on April 13, which was less bellicose than the Standard edit, but still on the outer fringes of paranoia. (It was ironic that next to the article was Slate editor Michael Kinsley's essay called "Bush Is Right on Arsenic. Darn!" Talk about ideological flipflops.) I'm sure the duo filed their tirade before Bush once again ramped up the rhetoric against the Chinese on Thursday afternoon, but their words were sour nonetheless.

Kristol and Kagan write: "[China] held our troops hostage until we said 'Uncle.' When we finally said something that in Chinese sounds a lot like 'uncle,' they let them go... If we simply try to put the crisis behind us and return to 'normal,' as so many China hands, foreign policy 'realists,' corporate executives and our secretary of state have suggested, the message to the Chinese leaders will be that they will pay no price for an assault on American interests and honor. No message could be more dangerous or more dishonorable."

I wonder if Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's vehement condemnation of China on Friday has allayed Kristol and Kagan's fears. Probably not, since their printed opinions have as much to do with politics as policy.

Now, for all I know, Kristol was playing double agent for Bush, whipping up right-wingers to send the Chinese a message. Still, the headline of the piece, "We Lost," said it all. If, as the pair argues, a few crackpot but dangerous dictators draw strength from the U.S.' expression of regret, I think Bush can deal with that. It's not as if Saddam Hussein, who saw eight years of Clintonian foreign policy empathy, really budged much from his position at the end of the Gulf War. And, mercifully, he's now 10 years older and closer to joining his buddies-men like Ferdinand Marcos and the Ayatollah-six feet under.

It's been vexing to watch the political talk shows recently, since the pundits are more confused than usual. Hardball's Chris Matthews, who at the beginning of last week was praising his "pal" Kristol, by Friday was laughing with Mike Barnicle on MSNBC, theorizing that the Standard editor was talking tough, perhaps trying to avenge himself on the bullies who'd bothered him during his high school years. Pretty silly. Barnicle, the former Boston Globe plagiarist who's failed upward, even said of Kristol: "The last time he wore a uniform was on Halloween a few years ago." Ho, ho, ho and a bottle of Evian.

I still like Hardball. Even though Matthews, who was so on-target during the Clinton scandals, now kisses up to anyone who'll appear with him, he does book an impressive array of guests. Yes, it's nauseating to watch him slobber over Mario Cuomo and McCain, but Pat Caddell's frequent appearances compensate.

Kristol's in a tough position. He's not a journalist by trade and he's presumably seeking a key position of power in a Republican administration. He'd be a tremendous asset-as was proven by his heroic efforts to ignite the sleepy GOP against Hillary Clinton's socialist healthcare program in '94-but man, he's got to get that Texas-sized chip off his shoulder.

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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