Just last month, historian
Michael Bechsloss, no left-wing radical,
revealed audio tapes documenting Lyndon Johnson's belief that the 1964
Tonkin Gulf incident never happened, but was concocted to draw the country
into an unwinnable war. Johnson was correct on both counts. At a time when
many on the right equate dissent with treason although there's hardly any
serious opposition to the "war on terrorism," somebody needs to remind them
that it's precisely their tolerance of open debate that makes democracies
smarter and more adaptable than their enemies.
That said, there are many
reasons to think bin Laden's latest home
movie is precisely what the Pentagon says it is. Independent experts say
the technology doesn't exist to manufacture so clever a fake, especially
not in Arabic. Even if it did, the time to have done so, politically
speaking, was two months ago. Coming at a time when Islamic religious
extremists in Pakistan and elsewhere have been stunned by the spectacle of
Afghans joyously celebrating their liberation from the Taliban and Al
Qa'ida, the tape's short term propaganda impact is minimal. Even the doubts
expressed to reporters may reflect less real disbelief than what people in
Muslim countries feel free to say in public.
It's also likely that CIA
operatives setting out to defame bin
Laden would have portrayed him more like Ming the Merciless from the old
"Flash Gordon" serial, and less like Pat Robertson in a turban and beard.
The oddest aspect of bin Laden's performance wasn't his callousness.
Indifference to the lives of dehumanized "infidels" is implicit in his
career as a terrorist and mass murderer. Rather, it was his almost medireview
belief in magic spells and grandiose prophetic dreams.
Hearing bin Laden tell how
he'd warned an associate to keep quiet about his
dreams-something about a U.S. vs. Al Qa'ida soccer match with the Arabs in pilot's
uniforms-lest the plot be given away, was like eavesdropping on the 14th century.
The only things missing were flying carpets and magic lamps for summoning powerful
genies to grant his wishes. (Although Islamic fundamentalists probably forbid Arab
fairy tales for thesame reasons Arkansas fundamentalists want to ban "Harry Potter.")
Anyhow, smug narcissism,
sycophantic sidekick and all, the whole
thing resembled an even loonier episode of the 700 Club-a bizarre blend of
superstition and authoritarianism. Except that bin Laden's god isn't going to
bring a hurricane to blow away Disneyworld, he's going to bring down the
whole USA. Yeah, well, lots of luck Osama.
The good news is that what
the tape really dramatized is the sheer
futility of Al Qa'ida's jihad against the post-Enlightenment world. Devious
and cunning though he may be, bin Laden's relationship to the civilization
he wants to destroy is purely parasitic. Now that he's truly gotten our
attention, the silly SOB hasn't got a chance.
SPEAKING OF SYCOPHANCY, here's
part of a recent Newsweek profile
of our own peerless leader. "The First Team has been exemplary in the eyes of
the Amercan people. Bush has been a model of unblinking, eyes-on-the-prize
decisiveness. His basic military strategy...has proved astute. He has been
eloquent in public, commanding in private. He had survived the first blows,
made the right calls and exceeded expectations-again. The president
doesn't read many books, because he's busy making history, but doesn't look
back at his own, or the world's....Bush would rather look forward than
backward. It's the way he's built."
Surely it's possible to say
the president is doing a decent job
without implying that ignorance is a virtue. Elsewhere author Howard
Fineman writes that Bush is "utterly comfortable in his role," citing four
clothing changes on a one day trip to Kentucky. "He arrived for our
interview," Fineman gushes "in a dark blue Air Force One flight jacket.
When he greeted the members of Congress on board, he wore an open-necked
shirt. When he had lunch with the troops, he wore a blue blazer. And when
he addressed the troops, it was in the flight jacket of the 101st Air-borne.
He's a boomer product of the '60s-but doesn't mind ermine robes."
Ermine implies royalty. If
that's not embarrassing enough, The
Daily Howler turned up several instances of Fineman as TV pundit opining
that Al Gore had an identity problem because he wore a blue suit to a
Rotary speech and a lumberjack shirt to the VFW hall.
But that was then, this is now.