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January 11, 2007 - January 4, 2007

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Serendipitous Secrets

The last thing Maliki wanted: The Woman's Touch.

IRA.26.15-30. I know it won't be popular to say so, but there's a reason Bush's new strategy in Iraq might actually work. It depends on our ability to keep two big secrets, though, so after you read this don't tell any of it to the Iraqis. Okay?

The first secret is that the Democrats in Congress don't want to be responsible for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. They do want the troops out, but only if George Bush gives the order. Why? Because there is no conceivable outcome or scenario in which such a withdrawal produces anything but an amplifying wave of disaster. And while disaster per se doesn't bother them particularly, a disaster that can be laid at their doorstep is utterly unacceptable. Because even Teddy Kennedy knows that Iraq is not like Vietnam. When the Democrat congress terminated funding for our allies in that war, it was possible to turn a blind eye to the consequences because Vietnam was insignificant to the global economy. The repercussions -- horrendous as they were -- consisted of the massacre of hundreds of thousands of mere people. That's something you can deal with simply by not dealing with it. When Iraq dissolves into civil war and stateless chaos, the repercussions will be worldwide. Al Qaeda will have a new base from which to launch terror attacks against the U.S., the Iranians will increase dramatically in prestige, arrogance, and resources, and the consequent volatility of the oil market will send catastrophic shocks through the global economy. In short, things will get obviously much worse in a hurry, and the Americans who voted for Democrats won't give a damn that the mess happened because Democrats did what their constituents insisted they do.

Yeah, they'll still hate Bush, but they'll also remember that they weren't paying $4 a gallon for gas when we had a steady drip-drip-drip of casualties in Iraq, and all that talk about supporting the troops was only just talk anyway. They'd trade troops for cheap gas any day. They'll blame the Democrats for forgetting that. And for the $4 a gallon. And for the terrible thing that al Qaeda did to Chicago.

This means the Democrat strategy has to consist of doing everything possible to make George Bush quit in Iraq unilaterally, without substantive coercion by Congress. It's vital that Bush and the Republicans bear sole responsibility for all the actual decisions about what is done or not done in the mideast. Everything else is window dressing, voluminously cloaked in deniability.

But George Bush has a secret too. When he began the process of lowering the boom on the Maliki government last night, it was the first time he could do so with real credibility. Before he faced a majority of Democrats in the House and Senate baying at him like the Hound of the Baskervilles, he had no real stick with which to threaten the Iraqi government. They knew he couldn't afford to admit failure by drawing down troops. He'd be a worldwide laughingstock if he tried to follow through on his threats in any substantial way. So Maliki could listen to all the demands about putting down Shia militias and say yes, yes, yes, while all his (in)actions said no, no, no.

All that has changed now. The new Democrat majority in Congress means that the old good cop/bad cop schtick is suddenly credible. Bush is -- for the first time -- in a position to say, "Do this, and this, and this, OR ELSE." Or else Congress will cut off funding and we'll have to leave you alone with your death squads no matter how much it damages American interests and prestige. Bush can say to Maliki, "Don't you understand? The house of Congress that funds your government is being run by a woman who doesn't give a rat's ass about the stability of the mideast and the global economy. She just doesn't care."

All in all, this is the best chance we've had in several years to get on top of the Iraq situation. There's no guarantee it will work, of course, but there's also no disguising the fact that the partisanship which for so long undermined the war effort may at last have delivered the best means of forcing Muhammed to cease waiting for the mountain to come to him and start moving his lame ass to it. What's more, Nancy and the Dems are likely to leave Bush alone long enough to achieve some results.

Those are my secret reasons for optimism. Just don't tell the Iraqis. Shhhh.

Throwing down the gauntlet

Somebody picked it up, too. Good for them.

SOPHISTICATES.  Dean Barnett, who is Little John to Hugh Hewitt's Robin Hood, has posed a challenge to the liberals who routinely carp at his posts. He has asked them to explain what it it is they love about America and why, given that they are so ticked off at having their patriotism questioned. Barnett has even promised to take back his own slurs on their love of country if they can convey that love without degenerating into Bush-hating polemics along the way.

So far, several commenters have made an attempt, but only one struck me as a sincere effort to communicate honestly and without rancor. I made an attempt to respond to this one at the Townhall site but was dismissed into the limbo of "Page not found" when I tried to log in. So I got permission from Mr. Barnett (a fine man, except for his depraved allegiance to the Red Sox) to reproduce the comment that intrigued me here, followed by my response.

toady_ writes:

Barnett, you called me out
I love America because it is many places with many people holding many ideas. I love America because we were all once welcomed as immigrants are welcomed now, but as I reflect much of my love for America is framed by my life, by my experience.

I was born in Baltimore. My parents left there when I was young, so I didn’t get to know the Chesapeake, but I still love the Orioles and have never forgiven the Colts.

I mostly grew up in Connecticut, just outside of New York, an area with Jewish delis and Jewish mothers. I walked part of the Appalachian Trail, I skied in Vermont. I found a little shack in the woods where they sold a hundred kinds of apples in the fall and made a pie. I drank real cider and I ate real chowder in Boston and I saw real ships in Mystic. I went to school in Storrs, saw Livingston Taylor and Bonnie Rait in Willimantic. I body surfed near a boardwalk in Jersey. It was my youth, a time of war, a time of demonstrations. I felt like it was the perfect place to be and the perfect time to grow up -- a time of electric revolution. I loved New England.

I went to grad school in Baton Rouge, I hitch hiked down through Virginia and Tennessee and got frightened in a bad part of Memphis. I sang a song by the New Riders of the Purple Sage while I stuck out my thumb : “Tonight I’ll see my Louisiana Lady”…. I fell in love with the food and Mardi Gras, the French Quarter and Grand Isle. We would gig flounder and catch crabs off a bridge, then meet the shrimp boats and buy headless shrimp for a buck a pound. We would drive back to LSU and cook it all up. Other times a friend would take me on the bayous in a pirogue and we would catch crawfish. I learned to cook gumbo and jambalaya from Joe Cahn in the New Orleans School of Cooking, and yes I did meet my Louisiana Lady and I am still a Tiger fan. My fiance and I were married and we moved to Colorado.

Pike’s Peak is where the song was written: Oh Beautiful for spacious skies. I have skied the Rockies. Cheyenne Canyon and the Broadmoor Hotel are minutes from my house. I snuck down to Santa Fe one year and bought my wife a green sapphire, just because I could. We danced to cowboy music in Cheyenne Wyoming and drove through the salt flats to Tahoe. As much as I love New England and Louisiana, I will never move from the front range.

The country is not just the places and the customs, though that is so much of what I love.

When I was in grad school we had people from every part of the world studying physics. Africa, Italy, Beirut, China… Colbert jokes about not being able to see race… I swear at that time I did not see the races of my friends, but for most of my life I have been sadly conscious of race.

My grandparents lived in Vicksburg and I spent a couple of summers with them when I was a child. It was 1959 and 1961. I was not yet a teenager. I loved the battlefield and became a civil war buff. I always rooted for the south when I read a history book, though I knew it was best that they lost. My grandparents lived on Fort Hill. Down at the bottom of the hill is where the niggra’s lived. My grandmother always told me what a wonderful school the colored’s had, though of course the whites would never go there.

I was young and I didn’t understand. I didn’t know about the freedom riders and was only vaguely aware of what happened in Alabama and Mississippi. I know some of it now and I am so proud of the fact that my country can make so much progress in my lifetime. I am so proud to have seen it.

I love free speech. I love it more than anything.

I played backgammon on line in 1999. My opponent was in Hong Kong. I asked when the island would be returned to China. He told me the date and then asked that we not discuss that. I felt sad for the fellow and reflected on what I take for granted.

When I grew up I listened to Bob Dylan and John Lennon. In school I was introduced to Yeats, Eliot, Blake… many others.

It wasn’t until recently that I began to listen to political rhetoric. I had a very conservative friend who was convinced if I would simply read what he read then I would be convinced, he could make me conservative. My friend had patience, but after two and a half years he gave up. In the process I discovered the liberal blogs, but it is hard to be satisfied listening to voices that will only reinforce my preexisting notions. So I come to Hewitt’s home to listen and to test my rhetoric. It is sad though, so much of the conservative rhetoric is name calling, I honestly suggest you work on that.

It doesn’t matter though, rhetoric, speech is the greatest right we have, in my opinion.

I know a lot of folks here are concerned about religion in the public square. My religion is very personal and so that is not such a concern to me. I do understand the importance though. My father worked for Union Carbide and lost his job after the Bhopal disaster. Within months he lost his wife to cancer and his mother was senselessly murdered. He found strength through the Episcopal Church. He became a deacon. He worked in the prisons and ran a soup kitchen. I watched him from afar, I listened to him preach. I spoke at his funeral about the lessons he learned in the last third of his life, lessons he learned from the Bible and from his church.

I know the importance that Christianity can have in a person’s life. All of the major religions have the power to transform. All of the religions should be respected and should be sanctioned by the state. Historically America led the way in this regard. I am proud of that.

I work for a semiconductor company. The founder of the company was the son of Greek immigrants and his right hand man is an immigrant from Tiawan. In 1989 I was working for Honeywell and our plant was losing money. We were sold to these immigrants and somehow I became an assistant to the VP and played a small, but hopefully significant role in growing the company from 60 million to 2 billion dollars of revenue. It was the best time of my working life and the most intense. 2001 was painful for our company and so I have come full circle: rags to riches to rags, but I had my chance. I got to watch the proverbial American Dream: so no regrets, no tears.

Until about 1998 I swore I would not own a computer. They were only good for two things, word processing and spread sheets and I didn’t need either at home. I began to become vaguely aware of the internet and bought a computer one Christmas and signed up for AOL under the misspelled name “abalone”.

The changes in our country and in our culture have been driven by an incredible business machine. Intel, Apple, Microsoft and the rest have generated massive wealth and through their direct action and spinoffs have supported a generation financially. What American industry has brought forth in the last thirty years is unbelievably important.

Business, capitalism, free trade are very good things.

I guess I should say something about freedom. I was arrested once when I was in college, marijuana wouldn’t you know. I saw a court room from the frame of reference of a defendant. We plea bargained and the judge reached a fair decision.

Years later I was on the jury in a drug case and I saw the legal system from a different point of view.

America guarantees basic civil liberties for all persons until they are convicted. I believe in the protections of the accused given by the Miranda decisions. I grieve at what we have done to Padilla without due process. The bill of rights is a stunning statement of political morality that must never be diluted.

Let me say one more thing. I have been privileged to spend a lot of time in the south of France and in Malaysia. I have visited Hong Kong and Japan and many other places briefly. I love America like I love my children. My son is not the fastest person, the smartest person or the funniest person, but he is my favorite kid. America is like that. There are finer cuisines in the world. There are more peaceful countries in the world. There are more advanced cultures in the world. I am always happiest here though. It is what I know and where I have been. It is where my life and the lives of my family have been played out.

I love America for what it is: its rivers and mountains and plains. I love America for its people all who have different ways, yes I love diversity. I love America for its speech. I love our food and our music and our theater.

Yes Mr. Barnett, liberals do love our country and it is very possible to disagree with you without being ambivalent to the United States of America. I hope you will take it all back now.

I found myself respecting Toadie. He's obviously someone it's possible to have a real conversation with. So I wrote this to him:


First, let me say I’m not comfortable with Dean Barnett’s challenge. It smacks a bit too much of requiring a loyalty oath for me. But you accepted the challenge, and I do have a reaction to share with you.

In essence, your essay declared that you ARE an American and that your experiences are American, which means that your love of country is intrinsic. That’s fine. So it is with most of us. But you also write:

Let me say one more thing. I have been privileged to spend a lot of time in the south of France and in Malaysia. I have visited Hong Kong and Japan and many other places briefly. I love America like I love my children. My son is not the fastest person, the smartest person or the funniest person, but he is my favorite kid. America is like that. There are finer cuisines in the world. There are more peaceful countries in the world. There are more advanced cultures in the world. I am always happiest here though. It is what I know and where I have been. It is where my life and the lives of my family have been played out.

On matters of opinion like this, no one can pronounce you wrong, but it is possible to point at specifics and say, this is an area where we may disagree in a meaningful way.

I, too, have had the opportunity to spend significant time in, and visit, other countries – France, Italy, Germany, Colombia, Hong Kong, et al – and every single time, I can’t wait to get home. Why? Because I specifically disagree with you when you say “There are finer cuisines in the world... There are more advanced cultures in the world.”

American cuisine consists of all the cuisines of the world, brought to us by all the immigrants who fled the land of their birth for the one nation ever founded as an idea rather than a kingdom. Your choice of cuisine as a criterion makes for an interesting metaphor. In France I get sick of so much French cooking. In Italy I tire of even the most excellent pasta. After a week or so, the experience of it becomes so narrow and confining that I begin to feel claustrophobic. I yearn for the amazing variety of tastes we always have available here. The same is true of the vaunted foreign “high cultures” as well, which in my experience over the last decade or so have come to seem curiously enervated and mannered rather than inspiring, as if the incredibly long pasts of older nations have become a kind of fossilized snakeskin they can’t quite wriggle free of. The creativity and dynamism which fueled their historical cultural achievements have in large measure migrated here, where it is still exploding spontaneously and vibrantly in the vast cultural summation that is America.

Further, I object strenuously to the notion that there are “more peaceful countries in the world.” I believe this to be a gross misstatement of fact that represents a gross misunderstanding of history. Without the United States of America, the relative peace that reigned during the so-called Cold War would never have obtained. Europe and much of the rest of the world would have fallen victim to the most murderous totalitarian power the world has ever seen. They could not have protected themselves because what you see as pacifism is more akin to resignation or exhausted fatalism (on display now in their glacial abdication to rigid muslim superstitions). But I suspect that you define peace as the absence of purely military hostilities. A nation whose people are tortured and murdered in the hundreds of thousands by their own government is nevertheless technically "at peace" and therefore preferable to the war-mongering represented by any external military intervention. I understand. I disagree. But I understand.

Overall, your poetic overview of things American, which is honestly quite moving at times, nevertheless carries the implication that America is just one more country, picturesque and sense-laden as any other, and you love it because it happens to be your own. I believe this is precisely the disconnect Dean Barnett may have been seeking to uncover. For most of our history, America has been the hope of the entire world. For very sound reasons. Time and again, it is the world beyond our borders which has begged us to leave our peaceful homes and pull their fat out of the fire. Their ingratitude is no surprise, and it certainly shouldn’t blind Americans to the magnificence of the legacy we tend to take for granted. Yet I’m guessing you’re too sophisticated to see that or to understand the import of your more pedestrian view.

In my opinion, a love of America which is rooted in sentiment for the land and its people without taking note of American exceptionalism as a nation is not strong enough to withstand the libels and rationalizations of those who would make us singularly responsible for all their weaknesses, failings, hatreds, and crimes.

I don't dispute your love. It's just that it seems, in the final analysis, more a sensory preference than a passionate commitment. But that's your right and privilege. As an American.


I should add, too, that I'm reconsidering the fairness of Dean Barnett's challenge. It is interesting to look beyond the surface of politics and explore what it is that's so different in the worldviews of rhetorical combatants.

Anyone who visits here should also feel free to expatiate on their own feelings about the country whose heritage we share.

UPDATE. If you're visiting from, you might also enjoy InstaPunk's take on the new Iraq War strategy announced last night by the President. Or the amazing irony attendant to President Ford's funeral. Unless you're really, at heart, just an old-time NFL football fan.

UPDATE 01/15/07. For those who are interested in this post, there's much more commentary over at, where Dean Barnett's readers, including Toadie, continue to discuss the issues. Also, here's an InstaPunk Update on a closely related topic: chickenhawks.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Eagles Fly, Giants Try

Playoff excitement, and something special besides.

PSAYINGS.5S.9-11. Not flying high exactly, but much closer to ground level, the Philadelphia Eagles continued their battle back from oblivion yesterday and won their sixth straight game, 23-20, sending the New York Giants home for the season. They did it with the running game. Brian Westbrook rushed for more than 140 yards, outshining a superlative performance by Tiki Barber in his final NFL game. And there was something marvelous that happened. But we'll get to that later. First, some specifics.

There were high notes and low notes for both teams. Eli Manning looked like a deer in the headights for most of the game and gave Giant fans plenty of reason to be concerned about his ability to lead and inspire. The Eagles offense sputtered early, and until the climactic game-ending drive, the coaching staff seemed to have trouble remembering that what got them to the playoffs was ball control, not relentless air attacks. There was also a staggering price paid for two penalties in the second half that between them cost the Eagles 115 yards and 10 points.

The high notes predominated, however. After a nightmare second half of the season, the Giants could have gone meekly, and understandably, into the night without much of a struggle. Instead, they were valiant. Stellar moments: Shockey losing his helmet and fighting through a minefield of Eagle helmets for more yardage; Barber stopped at the line on a critical third down, but gaining the necessary yard through sheer force of will; Eli Manning mounting a fourth-quarter touchdown drive when it seemed the momentum of the game had turned irresistibly against him. Of course, the Eagles found a way to win according to their recent formula -- brilliant performances by Westbrook and Dawkins, a gutty performance by Garcia, and a truly great game played by someone unexpected, in this case Reggie Brown, who was everywhere on the field at once, like a, well, offensive version of Brian Dawkins. The cherry on top of the Sunday was a last-second winning field goal, expertly held (gasp!) for kicker David Akers by returning Eagle Koy Detmer.

These are the kinds of things one expects from the playoffs, though. What makes a game special and memorable is not the great deeds but the small ones, the brief glints that don't spotlight sports stars so much as illuminate sport. The Eagles and the Giants are fierce lifelong rivals stretching all the way back to 1933 when they met in the very first game the Eagles played. Their two regular-season meetings this year were grueling, traumatic confrontations, huge turning points for both teams each time. The mood of this game -- destined to finish off a deeply emotional season for one or the other --  could have been bitter and murderous. But it wasn't.

On both sides I saw brutal hits that could have started fights -- Tiki slammed violently out of bounds, Westbrook the same -- except that the tackler immediately helped the runner to his feet with an exchange of grins and back pats. I saw similar instances between offensive and defensive antagonists several other times during the game. On the next play they'd blast each other all over again, of course, but the glint had been there, and it wasn't my imagination, because at the end of the game, there was a lot more of it, Eagles and Giants shaking hands and smiling at one another like gentlemen sportsmen of another era.

Most movingly, Westbrook and Barber embraced one another at midfield, the two of them having accounted for an astonishing 280 yards of offense. Watching them, you knew that Westbrook was saying a respectful farewell to an icon and Barber was congratulating a successful younger rival.

The post-game press conferences confirmed what had been evident on the field. Andy Reid, Brian Westbrook, Brian Dawkins, all went out of their way to laud Tiki Barber for his talent and his heart, and in his turn, Tiki eloquently pointed the way to what really was special about the game and these two teams. He told the reporters he thought it fitting that he should have ended his career in Philadelphia, against Jeremiah Trotter and Brian Dawkins, men who had repeatedly battered him over the years. And he related how moved he had been by his meeting on the field with Dawkins after the game. Dawkins said, "You are a warrior." Tiki understood exactly what it meant to receive such a compliment from such a man. Each of them was staring into a kind of mirror. As were the two teams who took the field yesterday.

Neither the Giants nor the Eagles are the most talented team in the NFL. But they share things which transcend the ups and downs of any particular season, including this one. They're the twin dinosaurs of the northeastern U.S., metropolitan teams -- and next-door neighbors -- who have survived very long histories under the spotlight of sophisticated big city presses who lionize and assault them beyond what is imaginable in most other cities. They are sustained by extraordinary fans. Largely blue-collar fans who are the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of Giant/Eagle fans. Fans who cheer and boo with complete abandon because it is their birthright, part of their blood. This is the source of the teams' strength, the deep well from which they draw their resiliency, their willingness to go above and beyond, their capacity for tragic collapses, their ecstasy in victory and despair in defeat. The history and the blood ties make them feel more than most, and give them that startlingly clear sense of identity they have in common -- what it means to be an Eagle, what it means to be a Giant, win or lose.

There are many factors in the current NFL game that have the power to undermine team identities, the vital bond with fans, and that precious sense of 'home.' Free agent contracts make a joke of geography, the Redskins are a status symbol for ambitious Yuppie carpetbaggers, the Colts of Unitas abandoned their roots for landlocked Indianapolis, and the Browns who play in Cleveland now are rank impostors. No team is immune, and both Giants and Eagles have displayed their share of the spoiled, stateless multi-millionaire syndrome. But they remain where they began, anchored to the brightest lights of the east coast. And when the stars are right and the moon is in an ideal phase, both these great institutions can still plug into the vast legacies of which they are a part and become, for an afternoon or an evening or a season, a living monument to what is best in the tradition of American sport.

That's what I saw yesterday.

Go, Giants.

Fly, Eagles, fly.

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