BY JAMES TARANTO
Monday, June 21, 2004 3:33 p.m. EDT
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
bookstore.) In lieu of our usual column, you'll get a sneak preview of OpinionJournal's
Political Diary, our subscription-only newsletter.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Meanwhile, the Jerusalem
Post reports that top Saudi royals have their own theory as to who's behind
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
Riyadh's position seems to be either you're with us, or you're with the Jews.
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
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.
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
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
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."
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.
We're in Trouble Now!
"Syria Plans to Impose Sanctions on U.S."--headline, Associated Press,
Have Feelings Too
"Deadly SARS Virus Found in Tears"--headline, BBC Web site, June 20
for Ruining the Surprise
"Surprise Meteor Shower Possible in June"--headline, Space.com, June 18
"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
Hmm, ya think?
Football, World's Dullest Sport
"Latvia Celebrates Historic 0-0 Draw Against Germany"--headline, Associated
Press, June 19
Clintons Cash In
"Simon to Buy Chelsea for $3.5 Billion"--headline, Reuters, June 21
"Clinton Autobiography Is Long-Winded, Self-Serving"--headline, Arizona
Republic, June 20
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
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