Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Personal Asides: It’s Like Barbra Streisand…Newt Gingrich on “Meet the Press”…Iraq…Iran.

babs streisand
bush oct11

Barbra Streisand.

I cherish our contributors: especially, on Illinois political topics, a writer named Dan. He nudges me when in his estimation I deviate from the one, true, proper conservative stance. But the other day he nudged when a nudge wasn’t needed or necessary: not that I mind, but I’d like to urge him to reconsider. I said that in my Roosevelt University class, Greg Baise impressed me as probably the best vote statistician the Illinois GOP has. That’s because as he visited with the class, he recited topical electoral trends of many counties without referring to notes: an incredible feat which I later checked and found to be correct. The fact that it was done ad-lib, almost down to the last decimal point, impressed me mightily and I said so.

Dan responded by citing the many times that Baise deviated from conservative positions and said I was wrong to praise him. I don’t know first-hand that Greg Baise did these things that Dan alleges in Reader’s Comment—but let’s give Dan the benefit of the doubt and say Baise did. That kind of comparison does not compute. For instance, I will say that there is no other woman singer whom I enjoy more because of her way with the vocal acrobatics of a popular song than Barbra Streisand. To follow his prior habit, Dan would respond that Barbra Streisand is a lefty. Yes she is; and she’s also a great singer. Those estimates can be one in the same. I would urge Dan not to let two things that don’t compute influence his judgment. Barbra Streisand can be a great singer and a unregenerate lefty both at the same time: indeed she is. Greg Baise can be a great statistician and exhibit an acrobatic memory and be conservatively incorrect at the same time. Insisting that Barbra Streisand not be honored as a singer because she is a lefty is anti-intellectual; considering that Greg Baise not be regarded as a great electoral statistician because he is not 100% conservative is anti-intellectual. We…and I mean we conservatives…must not fall into that forensic trap. Conversely we do not have to argue that Ronald Reagan was a great president and a great actor (although at least one actor in my family maintains he was).

For instance, Milton Friedman was the greatest economist of our time—more than that, one of the greatest economists of all time. But on the issue of drug use—the decriminalization of marijuana—I can disagree with him on wholly moral, Burkean principles: and I do! By disagreeing with him on drugs does not mean I am insensitive to his great contributions on the economy—would you agree? (At least I hope you would). Abraham Lincoln was one of the true geniuses of the Western world: first a political genius who contrived to save the union despite the fact that the states who rebelled could honestly attest that they had a perfect right to rebel but Lincoln’s adamant stand and eloquence kept the Union together; second a literary genius whose words rank with those of Demosthenes and Cicero. But his solution to the race problem was to move all the blacks back to Africa. That was wrong in the context of his time and ours—but it doesn’t negate his genius. Would you agree? (At least I hope you would). You see, you must be nuanced as you look at the panoply of human talents.

Now I’ll try another: Franklin D. Roosevelt was an outstanding leader in the presidency. He was outstanding not because his solutions were correct but because by his eloquence and dynamism he galvanized a nation that was on the verge of disposing of the old verities and opting for even greater radicalism including a variant of domestic communism. He was wrong on a number of things, I believe: wrong on how he sought to revive the economy, wrong on how he tried to push us into World War II.

But you don’t say that because Roosevelt was wrong on these two major things, he was a bad president. He inherited the Depression, found the country in the throes of despair and revived it, no matter if his solutions were not infallible; he intervened to get us into war, believing our destiny was to defend the West. The way he got us into it is suspicious but there is no doubt that he was a gallant leader during our involvement in it. I personally believe a better president than Roosevelt on a host of other things…limited government, preservation of the free-market economy, the downplaying of the imperial presidency…was Calvin Coolidge (a man who has not been given his due). But I will insist that as a leader of a nation in Depression and war, Roosevelt was excellent and by all odds vastly better than a Calvin Coolidge could have been from the standpoint of inspiring a people to stand tall. Remember, I may have a bit of an edge on Dan: I was there during the Depression, saw the despair and was there during World War II and saw Roosevelt’s inspiring leadership).

Where conservative people concerned with the triumph of its principles—of which I number myself—err, is when they lump all faults together and ditch the virtues: to-wit, liberals say Calvin Coolidge was a poor president because he was too restrained in use of presidential power; conservatives that Franklin Roosevelt a poor president because he was too demonstrative in exertion of presidential power, not recognizing that they lived in different times. Does that presage a relativist view on my part? Not in the slightest. There are absolutes in consideration of the presidency and they can be cited easily. James Buchanan was an absolute failure by refusing to rise to the challenge of the incipient Civil War. James K. Polk was an absolute genius president in achieving all he had set out to do…including enlarging America…within a self-declared one-term limitation. Reagan was a great president by insisting on return to the old virtues of tax cuts and, in the Cold War, the will to win it. I firmly believe George W. Bush will be as great as Reagan, far greater than his father—but that remains to be accepted.

With that, let us begin the discussion. Let us see if Dan will accept this modest correction. Let me restate my contention: Greg Baise is undoubtedly one of the best…if not the best…Republican masters of Illinois electoral history based on voting statistics. No more; no less.

Newt Gingrich.

I have often cited Henry Hyde’s evaluation of Newt Gingrich as 50% genius and 50% nuts. It is, incidentally, the same evaluation that Lord Beaverbrook and others including Lady Nancy Astor gave to Winston Churchill between the two world wars. Indeed, given Churchill’s wild forays into world strategy—which were held down admirably by his general staff—they were right! Gingrich’s 100% genius rating was deserved with his molding of the Contract with America. It was ratified in a number of his speeches on vital issues: notably the ones covered in his latest book “Winning the Future.” The 50% nut factor showed up Sunday with his interview with Tim Russert on “Meet the Press.” To Newt the entire problem over Iraq and other world challenges has to be solved with a decision by America to add enormously to the power of the State Department—in numbers and hugely expanded budget! It’s impractical, wacky stuff. In the next Republican administration he should be locked in a room and asked to come out every fifteen hours with a sheaf of 24 ideas: twelve of which will be idiotic, ten impractical, one impossible and one a concept of genius.


Sometimes it is idyllic to use a short-form in discussing world affairs. As I reported before in “Flashback,” in 1979, a year before he was elected to the presidency, Ronald Reagan came to Chicago to change planes before returning to California…and I was asked by John Sears to gather a few business CEOs to meet with him. He was then regarded decidedly as a lower-rung candidate…overshadowed by the prospect of John Connally, who was being covered as the portent of the Republican future and Reagan was “a bit long in the tooth” as James J. Kilpatrick, then the most prominent conservative newspaper columnist, called him. The press speculated that the failed attempt to dislodge Gerald Ford from the nomination made Reagan appear disloyal to his party…that Howard Baker was the vision of youth…that Bob Dole had the centrist thrust.

While President Jimmy Carter was not doing very well, it is important to remember how the media treated him: as a kind of super-intellectual who thought, unlike politicians, in admirable tones of grey and beige with no oversimplifications. In fact with the exception of Dole, most of the Republican challengers made special efforts to stress the nuanced elements of foreign policy. When I met Reagan and spent almost four hours with him, we talked of many things including foreign policy. His solution to the Cold War was simple: we must win it…win it, not effect a kind of negotiative stance with the Soviet Union. It was startling for me to hear this, so inured was I to hear so many others talking about this tack, that stance, this negotiating tactic, that. It was a temptation to think that Reagan was over-simplistic; an old man; an actor; a non-intellectual. Yet he was right, was he not? And he proved it, did he not?

I am beginning to believe that the same problem of nuance and complexities in discussion is overwhelming us on Iraq. Friends, I do not have the faintest idea of how many troops should have been sent there; or whether Bush was right to have held firm on the number of troops he originally dispatched. I am sure the Pentagon misjudged the ease with which the occupation could have been effected: that’s transparently clear, isn’t it? But I don’t know, not having been there, whether it was a mistake to decommission all of the Iraqi army or to try to incorporate it into a police unit. I do know this, based on what I have learned in many years of life thus far: There is no substitute for victory in Iraq. Let the Baker-Hamilton people and the media debate in fuzzy specifics…let the Democratic presidential candidates posture about the Shiite-Sunni hostilities as insurmountable…there is nothing theoretical about the specter of defeat for us if we allow things to come to an impasse and make the false step of declaring victory and getting out—which is the Democratic approach.

As Reagan would say today, we must win. The Taliban and Qaeda elements in Afghanistan would be immeasurably bolstered by a U. S. defeat in Iraq; the pro-Karzai forces would be decimated. A defeat in Iraq would easily lead to likely defeats for the U. S. and Western efforts in Afghanistan. We fled Vietnam after a decade of fighting, having lost 60,000 and sustaining 150,000 casualties. We paid an enormous price as Soviet policies expanded in the 1970s and early `80s. It is important to see who was on what side in the debate. The mainstream media were rooting for us to get out and trumpeted that we were an imperialist country; great segments of the Democratic party were as well. This disaffection carried over to large segments of the Republican party. I remember picking up Connally for a talk at my Northwestern University class; he was not sanguine that we could win. Howard Baker, George H. W. Bush all spoke in terms of holding the line. The great simplifier was Reagan: we can win it. We must win it.

Can we win it? Of course we can. Did we not defeat the insurgents in Malaysia and Algeria? Could we not have defeated our enemies in Vietnam? Of course; the Tet offensive, contrary to Walter Cronkite’s estimate, was a success. Did we break faith with the women who died in Vietnam? I shrink from the awful truth: but, in a sense, of course we did. And I put it on a partisan basis because it belongs there. The Democrats who capitalized on Watergate and who took control of Congress cut off the funds to wage the war, with “The New York Times” cheering the way. Slowly I am coming to the conclusion…not having gotten there yet…that it would be a monstrous mistake if we elected a president who was not firm enough to win the war. As of now…and only now…that man would seem to be McCain—as flawed as he is on other issues: notably McCain-Feingold. I have estimated that McCain and Giuliani would be the best ticket but I would settle for McCain and Romney or McCain and Brownback. But the answer is to move to the simplistics. And win the damned thing.

…and Iran.

There’s no doubt that the low estate of George W. Bush’s popularity would dissuade any normal political president from further riling up his critics at this time, when his very name has become a curse-word to the trendy left…when a movie is advertised full-page in “The New York Times” picturing in fictional terms his very assassination (with no objection from Father Greeley, let it be said). But this president has not been a politically pragmatic one. He did not shrink from his duty to defend our shores by taking the battle to the Islamo-fascist source of terrorism. It would be my hope that he would see the wisdom of moving on Iran in the same way. For there are many reasons for us undertaking the military option. I have studied this one more prodigiously than I have other things and believe along with Arthur Herman of Georgetown that we should not remain powerless in this eventuality.

Iran has defied all of the UN’s resolutions and its harboring of terrorists who operate against the West is well known. To this list I would add its often declared intention to wipe Israel, a member of the United Nations, off the face of the earth. The Left which has of late embraced an anti-Israel stance…particularly with its newest recruit, former president Jimmy Carter whose hatred is Israel is immense, making comedic his receipt of the Nobel peace prize…decries any fashioning of Israel’s well-being with our own foreign policy. This is nonsense. Of course Robert Taft’s prescription that war should only be waged to preserve the peace and liberty of the American people: but these days, Islamo-fascists link us with Israel in almost the same breath. Far from backing away from Israel, we should recall that 25 years ago Israel blasted Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor at Osirak which rendered a temporary but invaluable service to the cause of peace.

It would seem to me that our defense in the form of an aggressive offense, would be to: (1) insist that we will not allow any state to endanger the flow of commerce in the Straits of Hormuz and that we do it by sending a carrier strike group’s guided-missile destroyers to be deployed there with unmanned air vehicles and submarines to guard against any Iranian missile threat to our Navy. As (2) we should halt all shipments of Iranian oil while at the same time supporting the right of tankers with non-Iranian oil and the platforms of other Gulf states. How to back up this guarantee? It wold be done by destroying Iran’s air-defense system, its bases for its air force and communications systems along with its missile sites along the Gulf coast—with, and this is important, Iran’s nuclear facilities, embracing not just it’s “hard” sites but replete with destruction of bridges and tunnels to block the movement of critical materials to places of refuge.

Finally, (3) amphibious Marines and special ops forces seize Iranian oil assets in the Gulf which means the 100 offshore wells and platforms on its continental shelf. Is this the ravings of one who is an overage destroyer (me?). Not if you value history. We did all of this before. In 1986-88 under Reagan when the Iran-Iraq war threatened to interrupt oil traffic, the president sent the Navy to organize convoys and actually re-flagged vessels to prevent Iranian attacks. That operation not only worked in the short-range: it led Iraq and Iran to slow their long war.

It requires a man of George W. Bush’s intestinal fortitude to do this. But, hell, he has nothing political to lose. He has been demonized by the Left up to now and nothing he does, including finding a cure for cancer, will change it. But this it will do: it will break the cycle of us being paralyzed with indecisiveness in this struggle. It is the thing Ronald Reagan would do…because he already did it. To the whining media and the Left, I say: leave them to heaven—or, to be more accurate, the opposite location.

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