To get elected to the Senate, you have to meet certain requirements. You have to be at least 30 years old, a U.S. citizen for nine years, and a resident of the state you represent. Based on Jim Webb’s recent performance, I would like to propose a fourth requirement: you have to be a novelist. If we had 100 novelists in the Senate, the body might finally be able, like Webb, to distinguish fact from fiction.
Scratch the surface of any story and you’ll find rumors, hoaxes, and conspiracies. The conspiracy theory is the most intriguing of them all, for it combines total skepticism with total credulity. The same person will challenge every assertion made by the government or the mass media about Roswell or the Kennedy assassination, and then proceed to embrace the most cockamamie theory without even doing a minimum of legwork to test it.
They were both responsible for thousands of civilian deaths in causes they believed were righteous. They both occupied top spots on the World’s Most Wanted list. They were both the subject of raids that were years in the making and required extensive intelligence work. But in all other respects — and particularly in the messages they sent to the international community — the operations against Ratko Mladic and Osama bin Laden couldn’t have been more different.
For some people, there’s nothing President Obama can do to prove his love for Israel. He could pull a Sammy Davis, Jr. and convert to Judaism. He could give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a big kiss on the lips. He could personally expel Palestinians from East Jerusalem. And still Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin would kvetch. “Yes, but what have you done for us today?” the ultra-Zionist would say. “Did you call this morning? Where are the fresh flowers? What, you don’t love Israel anymore?”
It was a primitive form of surgery. Almost ten years ago, the United States and its allies stuck a knife deep into Afghanistan in an attempt to remove two malignancies, al-Qaeda and the Taliban. One of those, Osama bin Laden’s crew, is nearly gone. The Taliban, after going into remission for a brief period, has come back.
The knife remains in the patient. With bin Laden gone, the debate has intensified: what to do with the knife?
If the killing of Osama bin Laden were a Hollywood murder mystery, the shootout scene in Abbottabad would be followed by the unveiling of the sponsor who arranged for the al-Qaeda safe house. Is it the Pakistani intelligence officer who appears early in the movie to assure his U.S. counterparts that he is fully committed to bringing bin Laden to justice? Is it the Saudi construction magnate who owes several major favors to the bin Laden family? Or perhaps it’s the U.S. embassy official who, it might turn out, believes that Osama is more useful alive than dead — until finally, he is useful no longer.
We have, once again, played right into Osama bin Laden’s hands. This might seem like an odd assertion, since the al-Qaeda mastermind is finally dead at the hands of U.S. Special Forces, most heads of state have voiced their congratulations, and practically the entire U.S. citizenry is unified in celebration. But Osama bin Laden always understood that the weak use the weapons of the powerful against them, such as U.S. airplanes against U.S. skyscrapers.
Muammar Gaddafi is the undead chicken. Bashar al-Assad of Syria and King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain are the unscared monkeys. The United States has shaped its policy toward the evolving situation in the Middle East according to the Chinese proverb of “killing the chicken to scare the monkey.” The Obama administration has intervened in the conflict in Libya with the apparent goal of punishing Gaddafi for cracking down on the emerging protest movement back in February. This intervention was designed to send a message to other autocrats in the region: don’t fire on your unarmed opposition — or else. But the United States and its allies are having problems with the “or else” part of the equation.
Washington is a slaughterhouse these days, as politicians from across the political spectrum take their knives to the budget. Going under the blade are dozens of social programs that provide food for low-income women and children, energy assistance to folks who can’t pay their heating bills, and health care provided through community centers.
In its luxury pen, meanwhile, the sacred pig grows fatter and fatter.
Zoologists get pretty excited when they discover an unusual animal. They happily devote many hours to the task of classifying the beast and, if it qualifies as a new species, giving it a name. A great deal of money and prestige rides on these scientific endeavors. The same applies to the political sphere, where new and unusual creatures frequently turn up. When it comes to Barack Obama, however, political zoologists remain undecided whether he is a new kind of political animal and if his foreign policy represents a unique departure from the same old, same old.