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Candide’s Latest: Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Bush’s Gunboat Dithering

Astronomers proved on Monday what has been in abundant evidence at the White House since 2001: dark matter's existence.

If George Bush was a battleship, he’d have been the USS New Jersey on Monday—the New Jersey that fired its 16-inch guns at the hills of Lebanon from the safe remove of the Mediterranean, displaying gunboat diplomacy at its brutal worst (and using ordnance not used since the Korean War, which sums up Bush’s retrograde foreign policy). It was ostensibly a press conference at the White House. It was in reality the first major salvo of the GOP’s mid-term electoral campaign, with Bush as the party’s desperate skipper retreating to the scenarios that worked so well in 2002 and 2004: The Democrats are wimps, they don’t understand the world, they’re not even democratic. Bush referred to them as the “Democrat Party,” pointedly rhyming them with bureaucrats, technocrats, aristocrats—anything but democratic, which is supposedly his exclusive, to not say dictatorial, purview. And he fired his guns from the safe remove of a president who waddled to lame-duck status not long after the 2004 election, when his presidential quackery foundered on the shoals of Social Security “reform” (his word, our brief bane). It was a bathetic performance (and I mean bathetic, as in hackneyed), a retread of the same old sentences (“A failed Iraq would make America less secure,” as if it hasn’t already), the same old appeals to same old fears, the same old baits (“And there's a fundamental difference between many of the Democrats and my party, and that is, they want to leave before the job is completed in Iraq,” because a death rate of 40,000 a year is just not quite where we want it yet. Do I hear 50,000?), the same old theaters of war with new names. Namely, Lebanon.

But no one wants to be a soldier in Lebanon. Jacques Chirac’s French have broken their promise to put their boots where their mouth is (there’s a presidential election in France next year, no candidate wants the hassle of having to defend French blood spilling on Hezbollah beards in the crossfire of Israel’s military sophistry). Germany thinks it’d be too dicey to send German soldiers face to face with Jews in Arab land. Israel doesn’t want soldiers from any countries that don’t have diplomatic relations with it, which wipes out just about, oh, every muezzin nation from West Africa to the Hindu Kush. And of course the United States wouldn’t dream of sending yet one more contingent to slaughter. Americans in south Lebanon would be Hezbollah’s tastiest target since Hezbollah’s boy scouts blew up the Marines’ barracks at Beirut Airport in 1983, and the USS New Jersey was decommissioned in 1991. The Americans will settle for the chicken-coop approach: “logistical” support, as if the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean hasn’t been logistically supporting Israel for the better part of the last half century. All of which makes it very easy for Bush to sound more French than Chirac: Send in the troops, he lectured on Monday, only count us out. The Americans are supposedly doing their share keeping the world safe from democracy in the face of “terror.” Asking for American troops in Lebanon would merely inflame the situation (Bush didn’t say that, but it’s the unspoken implication: that’s how low the American image has fallen.) So he settles for lecturing, heckling, marshaling, like the head cheerleader that he was when at Yale, but with the Seal of the President of the United States to hide behind—and a mid-term election to play just right (again, like Chirac). He comes out looking tough and making everyone else look “naïve” for not “understanding the world in which we live.” That’s his new line, drummed up repeatedly during his news conference on Monday: “This has nothing to do with patriotism; it has everything to do with understanding the world in which we live.” He used it again when he bashed up the federal judge who bashed up his domestic spying program last week: “Those who heralded the decision not to give law enforcement the tools necessary to protect the American people simply don’t see the world the way we do,” he said. He’s right: Bush sees the world as Thomas Hobbes did. The rest of us see it as Thomas Jefferson did.

No Israeli talks with Syria: It was too good to be true anyway. The Israeli prime minister had dangled the possibility of a dialogue. On Monday, he backtracked. Bush must have gotten to him with the universal language of American diplomacy: “Don’t talk. Ever. To anyone. But Bush.” In Jerusalem, Israel’s army reservists march against the handling of the Lebanon war, call for an inquiry, and call for the resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. No word yet on whether Joe Lieberman called for their resignation from the Israeli army.

IEDs in every kitchen? They’ve charged suspects in the alleged British terror plot, but the police’s revelations do raise more questions than they answer: Eleven people, including a woman and a teenager, were charged on Monday over the alleged plot to blow up planes over the Atlantic, the UK Times reported, “as police revealed that they had found bomb-making equipment and martyrdom videos during their searches. In a highly unusual move, the head of Scotland ’s Yard’s Anti-Terrorist branch detailed some of the items seized during the huge investigation.” These included “martyrdom videos, improvised explosives devices, suicide notes and wills of alleged co-conspirators and an annotated map of Afghanistan .” Now, we were told this was a plot to blow up planes with innocuous liquids that would be mixed on board, not with IEDs—unless the definition of IEDs has been expanded to include any potential explosive regardless of how innocent it may seem when unassembled. That opens a curious possibility: what kitchen and bathroom closet isn’t a potential trove of IEDs under that scenario?

Spike Lee takes on the shame of Katrina and New Orleans in "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts," on HBO: “Even when Lee's subjects are calm and composed, their words cut to the bone,” the Post’s Lynn Duke writes. “It hurts to listen when Herbert Freeman Jr. describes leaving his dead mother behind at the Convention Center. And most of us know her, or at least know of her, for hers was the body in the wheelchair, covered with the blanket her son had laid over her, along with the note he wrote with her name, his name and his cellphone number. Four days after her death, the evacuation began. The National Guard prodded the evacuees aboard buses, even a man whose mother was lying dead a short distance away.”

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