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June 29, 2004
2:10pm EDT




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BY JAMES TARANTO
Monday, June 21, 2004 3:33 p.m. EDT

Editor's Note
We'll be on the road tomorrow promoting our book, "Presidential Leadership: Rating the Best and the Worst in the White House." (You can buy it from the OpinionJournal bookstore.) In lieu of our usual column, you'll get a sneak preview of OpinionJournal's Political Diary, our subscription-only newsletter.

Haven't We Been Punished Enough?
Writing in The Weekly Standard, James Piereson offers a useful addition to the American political glossary: "punitive liberalism." This "bizarre doctrine," which found its fullest expression in the presidency of Jimmy Carter, holds that "America had been responsible for numerous crimes and misdeeds through its history for which it deserved punishment and chastisement." Those who disagree "were written off as ignorant patriots who could not face up to the sins of the past." Piereson gives some examples:

The punitive aspects of this doctrine were made especially plain in debates over the liberals' favored policies. If one asked whether it was really fair to impose employment quotas for women and minorities, one often heard the answer, "White men imposed quotas on us, and now we're going to do the same to them!"

Was busing of school children really an effective means of improving educational opportunities for blacks? A parallel answer was often given: "Whites bused blacks to enforce segregation, and now they deserve to get a taste of their own medicine!"

Do we really strengthen our own security by undercutting allied governments in the name of human rights, particularly when they are replaced by openly hostile regimes (as in Iran and Nicaragua)? "This"--the answer was--"is the price we have to pay for coddling dictators." And so it went. Whenever the arguments were pressed, one discovered a punitive motive behind most of their policies.

Piereson's essay is a eulogy for Ronald Reagan, whom he credits with having "exposed, confronted, and eventually defeated the bizarre and self-flagellating doctrine of Punitive Liberalism." And of course it's true that even if he hadn't accomplished another thing, Reagan would deserve credit just for saving the country from another four years of Carterian malaise.

Yet we wonder if Piereson isn't a bit premature in declaring punitive liberalism's defeat. Punitive liberalism is still alive and well among our liberal elites. It didn't take long after Sept. 11 for various left-wing intellectuals to start positing that America had brought the attacks on itself. The media's obsession with Abu Ghraib and its relative lack of interest in Saddam Hussein's far worse human-rights abuses is another example.

Punitive liberals are often defensive about their patriotism--understandably enough, since their relentless complaining about America often is hard to distinguish from out-and-out anti-Americanism. Their defense is that "true" patriotism consists in acknowledging your own country's faults and exhorting it to improve.

Well, maybe. Certainly there's nothing unpatriotic about criticizing your government or its policies. And since love of country is a matter of the heart, it's presumptuous to question anyone's patriotism. But imagine a man who treats his wife the way the punitive liberals treat America: constantly belittling her, pointing out her faults and never showing her any kindness. He may love her, but most people would agree he has a twisted way of expressing it.

Is punitive liberalism dead as a political force? We'd have to say not yet. True, Carter was the last--and thus far the only--such president we had. Whatever his flaws, Bill Clinton was no punitive liberal; as President Bush said last week of his predecessor, "he showed . . . the forward-looking spirit the Americans like in a President. Bill Clinton could always see a better day ahead--and Americans knew he was working hard to bring that day closer."

But Al Gore's doomsday environmental extremism certainly puts him in the punitive camp, as do his foreign-policy pronouncements of the past couple of years (he recently called Abu Ghraib an American "gulag"). Gore would be president today had he received a few thousand more votes in Florida.

John Kerry also shows punitive tendencies, at least on foreign policy. As a young antiwar activist he portrayed America as the aggressor in Vietnam and accused his fellow servicemen (and himself) of war crimes. In the 1980s he sided with America's adversaries in Central America. And inasmuch as he's shown any consistency at all in his position on Iraq, it is in his complaint that America has lost the world's "respect" by liberating Iraq over the objections of pro-Saddam governments in countries like France and Germany.

It's early yet, but Kerry so far has been holding his own in the polls against President Bush. If Kerry loses big in November, perhaps we'll join Piereson in declaring punitive liberalism dead.

JFK, Then and Now

"Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country."--John F. Kennedy, 1961

"In a Kerry Administration, if you believe in yourself enough to work hard and do what's right, your country will invest in you."--John F. Kerry, 2004

'Parallels' to Abu Ghraib
Check out this passage from a New York Times story on the beheading of American hostage Paul Johnson by al Qaeda terrorists in Saudi Arabia:

There was never really any chance of their release, and Saudi analysts saw the kidnapping as both a means of prolonging the attention paid to the militant group, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and a way to draw parallels with the treatment of Arab prisoners in Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

And this one, from the Washington Post:

Last weekend, the group announced it was holding Johnson and said he would be treated as Muslim detainees were treated in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, scene of abuse by U.S. jailers, and Guantanamo Bay.

These aren't gratuitous Abu Ghraib references, since the Times and the Post are merely relaying other people's comparisons of Johnson's murder to the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the "abuses" at Guantanamo. But note what the Times and the Post neglect to point out: that no one has ever alleged that America beheaded anyone at either place.

Our Friends the Saudis
After Johnson's killing, the less-bad guys scored a victory when Saudi police killed four terrorists, including Abdelaziz al-Muqrin, leader of the al Qaeda cell that confessed to the murder. "Experts on the extremists were stunned that so many senior members of the cell were moving around together at the same time," reports the New York times. "They said it appeared to be a sign that the group was smaller than had been believed."

That's certainly good news, but here's something troubling: The Associated Press reports that "an account of the operation posted on an Islamic extremist Web site Sunday" claims that "al-Qaida militants disguised in police uniforms and cars provided by sympathizers in the Saudi security forces set up a fake checkpoint to snare the American engineer they later beheaded." It seems that whenever Saudi police end up in a confrontation with terrorists, the terrorists either escape or are killed. Could this be because Saudi authorities are afraid that if captured alive, terrorists could be in a position to reveal official complicity?

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post reports that top Saudi royals have their own theory as to who's behind the murder:

Crown Prince Abdullah blamed Israel for the execution. Speaking to Saudi television, he said, "Zionism is behind it. It has become clear now. It has become clear to us. I don't say, I mean. . . . It is not 100 percent, but 95 percent that the Zionist hands are behind what happened."

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef said, "Al-Qaida is backed by Israel and Zionism, " and a Saudi official in the US argued that Zionists and others who argue for regime change in Saudi Arabia "share the same objective as Osama bin Laden."

Riyadh's position seems to be either you're with us, or you're with the Jews.

Terror Hurts Bush! No, Wait, It Helps Him!
A "news" story in London's left-wing Independent newspaper posits that Johnson's murder may be "the horror that will finally undo George Bush's presidency":

It is hard not to think back to earlier acts of defiance against the might of the United States and wonder if we are not seeing a parallel erosion of presidential authority: the steady drip-drip of casualty figures from Vietnam that proved the undoing of Lyndon Johnson's presidency in 1968, or the corrosive effect of the Iran hostage crisis on Jimmy Carter 12 years later.

But another left-wing London paper, the Guardian, puts forth a contrary theory:

A senior US intelligence official is about to publish a bitter condemnation of America's counter-terrorism policy, arguing that the west is losing the war against al-Qaida and that an "avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked" war in Iraq has played into Osama bin Laden's hands. . . .

Anonymous, who published an analysis of al-Qaida last year called Through Our Enemies' Eyes, thinks it quite possible that another devastating strike against the US could come during the election campaign, not with the intention of changing the administration, as was the case in the Madrid bombing, but of keeping the same one in place.

"I'm very sure they can't have a better administration for them than the one they have now," he said.

Does terrorism help or hurt Bush politically? The Bush-haters across the pond can't seem to agree.

A Wrong-Headed Story
An Associated Press dispatch from Cairo carries this peculiar headline: "Al-Qaeda Head Justifies Targeting Johnson." As blogress Dawn Eden notes, a better headline would have been "Johnson Head Justifies Targeting al Qaeda."

Foggy Bottom Just Got Foggier

"Secretary of State Colin Powell says terrorists would earn a victory if American workers leave Saudi Arabia in response to a spate of terrorist attacks, including the murder of hostage Paul Johnson."--Associated Press, June 19

"The Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens to defer travel to Saudi Arabia. Private American citizens currently in Saudi Arabia are strongly urged to depart."--State Department Travel Warning, updated June 17

Italy Tortures Oldsters
A New York Times report on the treatment of terrorists at Guantanamo includes this tragic story:

Parkhudin, a 26-year-old Afghan farmer who was held at Guantánamo from February 2003 to March 2004, said in an interview in Khost that he had been questioned for up to 20 hours at a time under uncomfortable conditions at Guantánamo. He said he had been shackled with a small chain during questioning. ''They made me stand in front of an air-conditioner,'' he said. ''The wind was very cold.''

Meanwhile, Agence France-Presse reports from Rome that "Italian officials have suggested that the elderly should be herded into air-conditioned cinemas or supermarkets to avoid a repeat of last summer's tragedy, in which a record heatwave claimed some 8,000 lives."

More Iraq-al Qaeda Ties
Last week the partisan "mainstream" press pounded President Bush by falsely claiming that the 9/11 commission had found no connections between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank gave away the game yesterday in an "analysis" that began: "The White House's swift and sustained reaction last week to the preliminary findings of the Sept. 11, 2001, commission showed the potential threat the 10-member panel poses to President Bush's reelection prospects."

Yet Reuters reports the commission "has been told 'a very prominent member' of al Qaeda served as an officer in Saddam Hussein's militia, a panel member said on Sunday":

Republican commissioner John Lehman told NBC's "Meet the Press" program that the new intelligence, if proven true, buttresses claims by the Bush administration of ties between Iraq and the militant network believed responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America.

This isn't news to readers of this Web site, which published a May 27 Wall Street Journal editorial on the officer, Ahmed Hikmat Shakir.

The Saddam Torture Video
Several readers responded to our Wednesday item on the Saddam torture video by asking where to find it. The American Enterprise Institute has links on this page. AEI warns that the video is "very graphic" and "not suitable for children." We've seen part of it, and we're not sure it's suitable for anyone, so proceed at your own risk.

Uh-Oh, We're in Trouble Now!
"Syria Plans to Impose Sanctions on U.S."--headline, Associated Press, June 20

Viruses Have Feelings Too
"Deadly SARS Virus Found in Tears"--headline, BBC Web site, June 20

Thanks for Ruining the Surprise
"Surprise Meteor Shower Possible in June"--headline, Space.com, June 18

Pleasant Prairie's Finest
"A father and two sons missing from Chicago for more than a month were identified Sunday as the bodies that washed ashore on Lake Michigan bound together by nylon rope and tied to bags filled with sand," the Associated Press reports from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.:

"We consider these deaths to be very suspicious and this case is being handled by law enforcement as a homicide," said Pleasant Prairie Police Chief Brian J. Wagner.

Hmm, ya think?

Metric Football, World's Dullest Sport
"Latvia Celebrates Historic 0-0 Draw Against Germany"--headline, Associated Press, June 19

The Clintons Cash In
"Simon to Buy Chelsea for $3.5 Billion"--headline, Reuters, June 21

This Just In
"Clinton Autobiography Is Long-Winded, Self-Serving"--headline, Arizona Republic, June 20

Clinton Blows His Stack
We missed yesterday's "60 Minutes," which was entirely given over to Dan Rather's interview with Bill Clinton, who's hawking his new memoir. But we did see Larry King (who'll conduct his own interview with the ex-prez this week) interview Rather last week about the latter's interview with Clinton, and it sounded as though it was going to be a regular love-in.

Not so the BBC's interview with Clinton, as the Sunday Telegraph reports:

Bill Clinton loses his temper with David Dimbleby during a BBC television interview to be broadcast this week when he is repeatedly quizzed about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

The former American president, famed for his amiable disposition, becomes visibly angry and rattled, particularly when Dimbleby asks him whether his publicly declared contrition over the affair is genuine.

His outrage at the line of questioning during the 50-minute interview, to be broadcast on Panorama on Tuesday night, lasts several minutes. It is the first time that the former President has been seen to lose his temper publicly over the issue of his sexual liaisons with Ms Lewinsky.

What someone ought to ask Clinton is why his book is so darn long. At 957 pages, it's more than three times as long as our "Presidential Leadership: Rating the Best and the Worst in the White House," which includes not only an excellent chapter on Clinton by the English historian Paul Johnson but also chapters on every American president.

Did we mention you can buy it from the OpinionJournal bookstore?

(Carol Muller helps compile Best of the Web Today. Thanks to Tom Darrow, Dennis Powell, S.E. Brenner, Barak Moore, Michael Segal, David Shapero, Rosanne Klass, Samuel Walker, Michael Hopkovitz, Naftali Friedman, Carl Sherer, Ethel Fenig, Gerry McCracken, Marion Dreyfus, Jeff Grimshaw, C.E. Dobkin, Edward Morrissey, Ed Lasky, Yitzchak Dorfman, Mark Schulze, Terry Harris, Henry Hanks, John Archer, Monty Krieger, Mordechai Bobrowsky, Craig Wagner, Thomas Ferguson, Bill McConaghy, Mary Ann Lomascolo, Dan O'Shea, Daniel Foty, Steve Roberts, Shay Harrison, John Lott, Tom Linehan, Paul Music and Sol Cranfill. If you have a tip, write us at opinionjournal@wsj.com, and please include the URL.)

Today on OpinionJournal:

  • Niall Ferguson: Without American hegemony the world would likely return to the dark ages.
  • John Fund: Instead of "lawyering up," both parties should be working to prevent another Florida.
  • Alan Bromley: Reagan dies. Harvard shrugs.
  • Ann Bayefsky: Is the U.N. finally ready to get serious about anti-Semitism?

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