In which Jay Nordlinger speaks for me

Jay Nordlinger is the managing editor of National Review, but most of the work that appears under his own name comes in the learned music reviews he writes for the New Criterion and the New York Sun. Jay also writes the irregularly appearing Impromptus column for National Review Online, and it is an oasis of good humor, good writing and sanity. In his most recent Impromptus column, Jay’s first item comments on President Bush’s speeches on the war (with links to each) and makes the point that John made here earlier this week about their failure to pierce the media fog:

It’s strange to say that a president doesn’t get enough attention — that his speeches and arguments are ignored. But I think this may be true of GWB. Over and over, he speaks clearly about the War on Terror, and other matters, and month after month, people say, “Why isn’t the president saying anything? Why doesn’t he speak out? Has he no defense of his policies?”

Problem is, Bush can give a speech to a few hundred people, and the rest of the world takes little notice (or isn’t given very much).

Poor president, I’m saying: Doesn’t have a big enough megaphone. “Get real, Impromptus guy!”

But consider — consider not just this latest Iraq speech (Wednesday’s), but the one he gave on Veterans Day (November 11). He spoke at the Tobyhanna Army Depot, in Pennsylvania, and I urge anyone interested to read this speech. He says why we are at war; he says who our enemies are, and how they’re related; he says how the war is going; he outlines his vision.

Now, you may disagree with Bush, and you may despise him: but it should be impossible to say that he has no clue.

I wish to highlight a few passages from the Tobyhanna speech.

It has been the custom of world leaders and other politicians to omit the Israelis in lists of terror victims — not Bush. He said,

“In the four years since September the 11th, the evil that reached our shores has reappeared on other days, in other places — in Mombasa and Casablanca and Riyadh and Jakarta and Istanbul and Madrid and Beslan and Taba and Netanya and Baghdad, and elsewhere.”

The presence of Netanya on that list shouldn’t be remarkable — but in our often-disgusting world, it is.

And was he once shy about identifying the enemy? If so — and I think everybody pretty much always got the message — he’s over it. He handles the question nicely:

“Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant jihadism; and still others, Islamofascism. Whatever it’s called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam. This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment, by terrorism, subversion, and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom.”

How do you like this, concerning jihadist aims?

“Some might be tempted to dismiss these goals as fanatical or extreme. They are fanatical and extreme — but they should not be dismissed. Our enemy is utterly committed.”

He took after Syria for what it does to decent people. For example, the regime “arrested Dr. Kamal Labwani for serving as an advocate for democratic reform.” Countless Russians testified how important it was that Jeane Kirkpatrick named names of prisoners on the floor of the U.N. Very little is more important than this naming of names — and when the U.S. president does it, that is big stuff indeed.

(Might GWB mention a Cuban or two — or 100? I mean, specifically?)

How about the notion that our presence in Iraq is itself the cause of terrorism?

“. . . we were not in Iraq on September the 11th . . . The hatred of the radicals existed before Iraq was an issue, and it will exist after Iraq is no longer an excuse.”

And “over the years, these extremists have used a litany of excuses for violence: the Israeli presence on the West Bank, the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, the defeat of the Taliban, or the Crusades of a thousand years ago. In fact, we’re not facing a set of grievances that can be soothed and addressed. We’re facing a radical ideology with inalterable objectives: to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world. No act of ours invited the rage of killers — and no concession, bribe, or act of appeasement would change or limit their plans for murder. On the contrary, they target nations whose behavior they believe they can change through violence. Against such an enemy, there is only one effective response” — you know what that is.

And the guy is not too sheepish about declaring what we’re doing to the enemy in Iraq:

“Two weeks ago, in Operation Clean Sweep, Iraq and coalition forces raided 350 houses south of Baghdad, capturing more than 40 of the terrorist killers. Acting on tips from local citizens, our forces have recently launched air strikes against terrorist safe houses in and around the towns of Ubaydi and Husaybah. We brought to justice two key senior al-Qaeda terrorist leaders. And in Mosul, coalition forces killed an al-Qaeda cell leader named Muslet, who was personally involved in at least three videotaped beheadings. We’re on the hunt. We’re keeping pressure on the enemy.”

As in his October speech at the Reagan Library, he spent some time on the similarities between the Cold War and the Terror War — between Communism and Islamofascism. And then he laid this on ’em:

“Some observers look at the job ahead and adopt a self-defeating pessimism. It is not justified. With every random bombing, with every funeral of a child, it becomes more clear that the extremists are not patriots or resistance fighters — they’re murderers at war with the Iraqi people themselves.

“In contrast, the elected leaders of Iraq are proving to be strong and steadfast. By any standard or precedent of history, Iraq has made incredible political progress — from tyranny, to liberation, to national elections, to the ratification of a constitution — in the space of two-and-a-half years.”

Yes.

People say, over and over, “Why isn’t Bush saying anything?” He is — but is anyone bothering to listen? It’s not all that hard, even if Dan Rather — or whoever the new guy is — won’t dump it in your lap. Again, I urge you to read the Tobyhanna speech — skip the boilerplate about veterans, and how much money the administration is spending on them, at the beginning. The guts of the speech will take you maybe 15 minutes to read. It will be worth it, if you want to know the president’s view. As I said, you may disagree with him, or think he’s full of it — but you should at least know where he (and, by extension, we as a country) stand.

I have said for many years that Bush should hold more press conferences. Prime-time ones, in the East Room, or whatever. It would give him an opportunity to speak to people — lots of people, not just a crowd gathered in an auditorium. Let the questioning be hostile — the more hostile the better. Bush can handle it, and he would impart information, or opinion, that people should have. The White House staff should feel no need to protect him. He can talk. In his fashion — homespun and unpolished — but he can talk.

Jay adds the following comment among the many worthy notes included in the column:

By the way, I’ve always felt it inappropriate that TR is on Rushmore, with those other guys. But you can’t dislodge the old blusterer now.

And this:

Check out this, from the AP! “Widely recognized as a military hawk, President Richard M. Nixon fretted privately over the notion of any no-holds-barred nuclear war, newly released documents from his time at the White House reveal.”

Everyone knows that, in general, military hawks are entirely unconcerned about no-holds-barred nuclear war!

You simply get tired of explaining to people that the reason we’re hawks is, in large measure, to avoid war. You just do. The culture the Left has made — particularly through the schools — is simply too strong.

And this:

As usual, Thomas Sowell has spoken for me: “A nightmare for the 2008 presidential election: Hillary Clinton versus John McCain. I wouldn’t know whether to vote Libertarian or move to Australia.”

Well, that goes a little too far. I have to think that McCain, by contrast with Ms. Hillary, would make a good commander-in-chief. Indeed, at a recent military appreciation dinner in Minneapolis, McCain gave an absolutely stellar speech on military service and martial sacrifice. But in general, and in spirit, as usual, Jay Nordlinger has spoken for me.

UPDATE: Coincidentally, at Democracy Project, Bruce Kesler writes: “Interrogation: McCain doesn’t speak for all POWs.”

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