Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Mark Steyn on the war and Beltway elites

It's been awhile since we've highlighted Mark here, but today's column is well worth the read:

As far as I know, the movie "Deliverance" has been featured in political discourse just the once. Back in 1996, Pat Buchanan, hot from his triumph over Bob Dole in the New Hampshire primary, warned the country-club Republicans that he was coming to get them "like a character out of Deliverance." In the film, you'll recall, a quartet of suburban guys spend a nightmare weekend in the backwoods, in the course of which one of their number winds up getting sodomized by a mountain man. ("Squeal, piggy!")

At the time of Pat's remark, I remember thinking: What a great country! In how many other political cultures can a fellow identify himself with a stump-toothed inbred psycho hillbilly homosexual rapist as an applause line? I'd love to think he'd paid some demographic-positioning consultants to focus-group the thing, but it seems more likely it was an impromptu flourish by the candidate.

Now, however, Newsweek has attempted a more sustained political deployment of the movie. In a column headlined "War and Deliverance," their Middle East editor, Christopher Dickey, makes the picture the defining metaphor for "the Mesopotamian quagmire." The Atlanta suburbanites in the picture include Burt Reynolds as the obsessive wannabe back-to-nature survivalist and Jon Voight as "the perfectly ordinary man, the just-getting-by guy," but the one who, in the end, delivers his pals from the hell of their weekend in the country.

Unlike most of us, whose knowledge of the film relies on hazy memories from the 1970s and late-night TV screenings, Dickey knows the story in depth: His dad wrote the novel and the screenplay. And, as he sees it, the Burt Reynolds character with his "untested ersatz fortitude" is "Dick Cheney's closet fantasy of himself," and the Jon Voight character is "the rest of us, just scared and trying to get by." As for the river whose rapids they set out to negotiate, "that's the war in Iraq."

Christopher Dickey paints with a broad brush: "On a grand scale they [the administration] could reinterpret the Constitution until it became meaningless." (Monitoring jihadist phone logs being the reinterpretation into meaninglessness, unlike, say, partial-birth abortion, which is merely an ancient constitutional right the founders had cannily anticipated a need for.) So one's first reaction to this is a faint flicker of surprise that Dickey doesn't see Cheney as the mountain man and the Constitution as his rape victim. One's second reaction is that the metaphor is dishonest. When it comes to "closet fantasies" about toppling Saddam, it's not Dick Cheney versus "the rest of us." Throughout the 1990s and all the way up to the Iraq war resolution, there were a lot of folks auditioning for the Burt Reynolds role: Bill Clinton, Al Gore and almost every other prominent Democrat indulged in just as much "ersatz fortitude" about Iraq and its WMD as Dick Cheney ever did.

But the third and bigger point is that, enjoyable as they are, pop-culture metaphors aren't really of much use, especially when you're up against cultures where life is still defined by how you live as opposed to what you experience via media. It seems to me, for example, that when anti-war types bemoan Iraq as this generation's Vietnam "quagmire," older folks are thinking of the real Vietnam – the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and whatnot – but most anybody under 50 is thinking of Vietnam movies: some vague video-store mélange of "The Full Metal Deer Apocalypse."

Take the Scott Thomas Beauchamp debacle at the New Republic, in which the magazine ran an atrocity-a-go-go Baghdad diary piece by a serving soldier about dehumanized troops desecrating graves, abusing disfigured women, etc. It smelled phony from the get-go – except to the professional media class from whose ranks the New Republic's editors are drawn: To them, it smelled great, because it aligned reality with the movie looping endlessly through the windmills of their mind, a nonstop Coppola-Stone retrospective in which ill-educated conscripts are the dupes of a nutso officer class.

It's the same with all those guys driving around with "9/11 Was An Inside Job" bumper stickers. That aligns reality with every conspiracy movie from the past three decades: It's always the government who did it – sometimes it's some supersecret agency working deep within the bureaucracy from behind an unassuming nameplate on a Washington street; and sometimes it's the president himself – but when poor Joe Schmoe on the lam from the Feds eventually unravels it, the cunning conspiracy is always the work of a ruthlessly efficient all-powerful state. So Iraq is Vietnam. And 9/11 is the Kennedy assassination, with ever higher percentages of the American people gathering on the melted steely knoll.

There's a kind of decadence about all this: If 9/11 was really an inside job, you wouldn't be driving around with a bumper sticker bragging that you were on to it. Fantasy is a by-product of security: it's the difference between hanging upside down in your dominatrix's bondage parlor after work on Friday and enduring the real thing for years on end in Saddam's prisons.

That's the real flaw in Christopher Dickey's "Deliverance" metaphor: If Cheney is Burt Reynolds, and the rest of America is Jon Voight, and the river is Iraq, who are the hillbillies? Well, presumably (for he doesn't spell it out) they're the dark forces you make yourself vulnerable to when you blunder into somewhere you shouldn't be. When the quartet returns to Atlanta a man short, they may understand how thin the veneer of civilization is, but they don't have to worry that their suburban cul-de-sacs will be overrun and reduced to the same state of nature as the backwoods.

That's the flaw in the thesis: Robert D. Kaplan, a shrewd observer of global affairs, has referred to the jihadist redoubts and other lawless fringes of the map as "Indian territory." It's a cute joke but a misleading one. The difference between the old Indian territory and the new is this: No one had to worry about the Sioux riding down Fifth Avenue, just as Burt Reynolds never had to worry about the mountain man breaking into his rec room. But Iran has put bounties on London novelists, assassinated dissidents in Paris, blown up community centers in Buenos Aires, seeded proxy terror groups in Lebanon and Palestine, radicalized Muslim populations throughout Central Asia – and it's now going nuclear. The leaders of North Korea, Sudan and Syria are not stump-toothed Appalachian losers: Their emissaries wear suits and dine in Manhattan restaurants every night.

Life is not a movie, especially when your enemies don't watch the same movies, and don't buy into the same tired narratives. To return to that 1996 presidential race, Bob Dole, apropos Pat Buchanan's experience hosting a CNN talk-show, muttered testily at one point, "I was in the real crossfire. It wasn't on television. It was over in Italy somewhere, a long time ago." Happy the land for whom crossfire is purely televisual and metaphorical. But, when it turns real, it's important to know the difference.

As always, Mark hits the nail on the head. We can have these beltway fools talk about Iraq, and come up with every metaphor in the world for it, but in their rush to make a pithy line or a quirky column, they don't do readers any service in ignoring the overall threat we face.

Yes, people like Kim Jong-Il, Bashar Assad, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mohammed Khatami, Robert Mugabe, and even Hugo Chavez all enjoy the jet-setter lifestyle; the fancy clothes, the ritzy dinner parties, etc. These aren't the people we're fighting and trying to kill abroad, or even those we maintain a vigilant watch for here in America. No, these are their enablers, and they wave and smile and pretend that they do no wrong, and these beltway fools buy it. they buy it, print it, and spoon-feed it to their idiotic readers -- the same ones that Mark keenly observes are likely to have that stupid bumper sticker on their car.

These people are playing the facade game, and we, unfortunately, have enough useful idiots in America willing to cover them up, whitewash their abhorrent records, and make them look like just your average politician; the sort we might even have in DC. Nothing could be further from the truth. And our enemy isn't going to relent until we either surrender or are destroyed to the point where we can't be a thorn in their side for years to come. Norman Podhoretz stated it best in a May 2007 Wall Street Journal column:

And then, finally, comes the largest dream of all: what Ahmadinejad does not shrink from describing as "a world without America." Demented though he may be, I doubt that Ahmadinejad is so crazy as to imagine that he could wipe America off the map even if he had nuclear weapons. But what he probably does envisage is a diminution of the American will to oppose him: that is, if not a world without America, he will settle, at least in the short run, for a world without much American influence.

That, next to our surrender, is the goal of our enemy. And by surrender, I don't mean we, as America, agree to be subjugated by the Islamicists, but rather we simply cede them the region. Europe is already well under way of ceding itself to them, but they want the region for their caliphate. That is the endgame that Ahmadinejad is playing for now, in addition to a Middle East without an Israel. He wants the whole region under a new Persian Empire, and no nation in the region can stand up to him. If he obtains nuclear weapons, the "quagmire" the beltway dupes will be looking at will be the smoking centers of power int he Middle East if those nations don't give into the Islamicists demands.

Forget Deliverance. Squealing like a pig will be the last worry on our minds if the Middle East becomes the center of nuclear blackmail.

Publius II


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