Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Happy Meal For Algernon

Pat Buchanan and Rick Perlstein have great posts/columns (sometimes, it's difficult to tell the difference) following a similar thing - the absurdity of our national overreaction to a visit from The New Hitler himself, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

We'll start with Rick, since he takes more time to summarize our collective abject terror at the prospect of Ahmadinejad setting foot on our precious Temple Of Never Forgetting:

Iran's president speaks at a great American university. That university's president, in the act of introducing his lecture, whines like a baby bereft of his pacifier that his guest is a big meany poopy-head. City Council members, too, and a rabbi, make like ten-year-olds, giving their press conference in front of a sign with his face struck through and the legend "Go To Hell." Up in Albany, Democratic leader Sheldon Silver treat the students of this great university like ten years olds, threatening to defund Columbia University lest censors like himself prove unable to shut the poor children's ears to difficult speech. (What, was he worried they'd be convinced, join the jihad?) Then a Republican presidential candidate chimes in—bye, bye, federalism!—saying Washington should starve the school of funds, too. American diplomats used to have the gumption to spar face to face with dreaded foreign leaders. Now they go on cable TV and whine about what a "travesty" it would have been to visit a site which properly should belong to the world. Hundreds of foreign nationals died in the World Trade Center on 9/11 (maybe even some of the Iranian!). Yet we have to systematically repress that—as if our national ego would crack like fine crystal if we were forced to acknowledge the mingling of American blood with that of mere foreigners.
I'd encourage you to ignore the immigration tangent, and click through to Rick's article to follow his links. Take it away, Pat:
What is it about this tiny man that induces such irrationality?

Answer: He is president of a nation that is a "state sponsor of terror," is seeking nuclear weapons, and is moving munitions to the Taliban and insurgents in Iraq.

But Libya was a "state sponsor of terror," and Col. Ghadafi was responsible for Pan Am 103, the Lockerbie massacre of school kids coming home for Christmas. And President Bush secretly negotiated a renewal of relations in return for Ghadafi giving up his nuclear program and compensating the families of the victims of that atrocity. Has Ahmadinejad ever committed an act of terror like this?

Richard Nixon went to Moscow and concluded strategic arms agreements while Moscow was the arms supplier of the enemy we were fighting in Vietnam that used, at Hue, mass murder as a war tactic.

Nixon went to Beijing to toast Mao Zedong, the greatest mass murderer in history, responsible for the deaths of 37,000 Americans in Korea, who was, in 1972, persecuting and murdering dissidents in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution run by his crazed wife, and transshipping Russian weapons into Vietnam.

And Nixon is today hailed as a statesman for having gone there.

In 1959, President Eisenhower rode up Pennsylvania Avenue in an open convertible with Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin's gauleiter in Ukraine, who, three years before his tour of the United States, had sent tanks into Budapest to butcher the patriots of the Hungarian Revolution.

What has Ahmadinejad done to rival these monsters?

Nothing of course, but actions don't matter like they used to. Back to Rick for some elaboration on the Khrushchev visit:
Nikita Khrushchev disembarked from his plane at Andrews Air Force Base to a 21-gun salute and a receiving line of 63 officials and bureaucrats, ending with President Eisenhower. He rode 13 miles with Ike in an open limousine to his guest quarters across from the White House. Then he met for two hours with Ike and his foreign policy team. Then came a white-tie state dinner. (The Soviets then put one on at the embassy for Ike.) He joshed with the CIA chief about pooling their intelligence data, since it probably all came from the same people—then was ushered upstairs to the East Wing for a leisurely gander at the Eisenhowers' family quarters. Visited the Agriculture Department's 12,000 acre research station ("If you didn't give a turkey a passport you couldn't tell the difference between a Communist and capitalist turkey"), spoke to the National Press Club, toured Manhattan, San Francisco (where he debated Walter Reuther on Stalin's crimes before a retinue of AFL-CIO leaders, or in K's words, "capitalist lackeys"), and Los Angeles (there he supped at the 20th Century Fox commissary, visited the set of the Frank Sinatra picture Can Can but to his great disappointment did not get to visit Disneyland), and sat down one more with the president, at Camp David. Mrs. K did the ladies-who-lunch circuit, with Pat Nixon as guide. Eleanor Roosevelt toured them through Hyde Park. It's not like it was all hearts and flowers. He bellowed that America, as Time magazine reported, "must close down its worldwide deterrent bases and disarm." Reporters asked him what he'd been doing during Stalin's blood purges, and the 1956 invasion of Hungary. A banquet of 27 industrialists tried to impress upon him the merits of capitalism. Nelson Rockefeller rapped with him about the Bible.

Had America suddenly succumbed to a fever of weak-kneed appeasement? Had the general running the country—the man who had faced down Hitler!—proven himself what the John Birch Society claimed he was: a conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy?

No. Nikita Khrushchev simply visited a nation that had character. That was mature, well-adjusted. A nation confident we were great. We had our neuroses, to be sure—plenty of them.

But look now what we have lost. Now when a bad guy crosses our threshhold, America becomes a pants-piddling mess.
Huge, massive block quotes I know, but they're so good I can't resist.

Pat's article is titled "Infantile Nation". Rick's goes by "Bed-Wetter Nation." Both imply the same, optimistic sentiment: that in time, we as a nation will mature and learn not to shit our pants at the slightest threat from abroad. If only it were true! We've been around for well over 200 years; we've been through a civil war, a couple of world wars, and a couple of stupid foreign entanglements. We are not toddlers; our stupidity is not a result of youth and inexperience. We have all the experience we need, and then some. We simply choose to ignore it.

No, the trend in this nation is not away from irrational fear, but towards it. Our notions of courage have been reshaped; it is no longer courageous to accept that death is a risk and proceed with principled actions anyway. It is now courageous to lash out, to commit whatever crimes we must in a fevered crusade to reduce to zero the probability that nasty brown people from the desert will blow us up. Never mind that doing so is roughly as feasible as traveling at the speed of light.

Furthermore, the self-serving notion among right wing pundits that the war is one of propaganda and will creates the idea that one can be courageous simply by saying the right things. It doesn't matter what you do, so long as you make sure you don't embolden the enemy by criticizing our troops!

I've owned two dogs in my life, and they reacted in different ways when I ran the vacuum cleaner. The first dog stood 6 feet away and barked incessantly at the vacuum until it was back in the closet; the second keeps its distance and meekly moves to a different room at her first opportunity. Which one was afraid of the vacuum? Both of them.

The most telling aspect of our reaction to Ahmadinejad's visit is that, for now, it's all talk; all politicians and pundits racing to the bottom to see who can be the bravest, the most post-9/11, the most "serious", by exhibiting the most hysterical reaction to a diplomatic visit. They claim that the visit is harmful because Ahmadinejad is only here for propaganda purposes. This is doubly ironic: first because their reaction is itself propaganda, and second because their reaction gives Ahmadinejad all the propaganda he could ever need. He is the bogeyman, the monster under the bed. He gives us nightmares. We bark at him from a safe distance until he goes away.

If any American leader could provoke a reaction like that in the Middle East, we'd elect him President in a second.

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