Dialogues

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Dear Warren,

I’m going to make this short, since we both agree on a point of paramount importance, which is that there’s no sure way to leave Saddam Hussein in power and keep him from getting the Bomb. Everything else is commentary. And we’re not commentators, though we both play commentators on television from time to time (and, in my case at least, feel dirty afterward).

By the way—and I realize that there’s no room (or, presumably, inclination on Slate’s part) for us to dilate on the Palestinian-Israeli mess (even though it is our actual true obsession)—did you make a cursory study of the front page of the New York Times yesterday? (Of course you did; I can’t imagine Warren Bass ever not.) The one-column lead story’s headline: “Cheney Is Poised for Arafat Talks at Envoy’s Signal.” Bumping up against this headline was the following, spread over two columns: “A Secret Iran-Arafat Connection Is Seen Fueling the Mideast Fire.” I will not point out the meaning of these two stories in combination, on grounds that the meaning is too obvious to bother pointing out. I will only say that the upcoming Netanyahu prime ministership will be most interesting to watch.

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May I make a slightly philosophical point about your political analysis? I’m not disagreeing with you that the men who are leading the campaign to see the United States oust Saddam are, in other spheres, conservative in bent (even though there are democrats, such as James Woolsey, President Clinton’s first CIA director, among them). But I’ve become distressed by the accusation that this cause is fundamentally conservative. Let me explain.

Kanan Makiya, the great Iraqi writer and dissident, argues that the Baghdad regime is similar in ideology and practice to the European fascist dictatorships of the 1930s. This makes it fundamentally different from every other ridiculous Third World dictatorship currently holding a seat in the U.N. General Assembly. Saddam’s Iraq is the quintessence of a security state, built on paranoia and homicide and Big Brother surveillance; its charismatic and megalomaniacal Great Leader thinks of himself as father of his people; his regime engages in racialist thought; it commits genocide; it seeks Lebensraum; and on and on and on.

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So, what is conservative, or neoconservative, about Paul Wolfowitz or Richard Perle (or Dick Cheney) standing in the front line against fascism? I didn’t realize that the fight against fascism is solely the province of the neoconservative movement. Isn’t the real story here not the muscular unilateralism of the neocons, but the moral abdication of the moderate left, which is missing a chance to defeat a genocidal fascist?

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I’m just not sure, in other words, that Cold War-era labels mean anything in this fight. In fact, they are used as weapons by people who would rather obscure the facts about Saddam’s true nature. But maybe you have a different understanding.

People are asking me how it feels to be used by Dick Cheney and company. In their struggle. In case you missed it, Bush and Cheney have been talking up TheNew Yorker (!) over the past couple of days. I am gratified, of course, that someone is paying attention (it certainly beats traveling to dangerous places, with all the angst and gastrointestinal drama that such travel entails, and then being ignored), but I am especially and quite sincerely pleased that the our country’s top leaders are talking about the plight of the Kurds—by name. I was told that Cheney yesterday specifically mentioned the terrible medical legacy of Saddam’s chemical bombardment of the Kurds. I hope that this sort of attention leads to actual help for these Kurds, who have been suffering in silence for 14 years and deserve an enormous break.

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By the way, I don’t know if you saw the president’s mention of the story: He brought it up during a press conference in Monterrey a couple of days ago, with President Fox of Mexico at his side. The transcript reads like this:

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Q: President Bush, good evening. During his recent trip to the Middle East, the vice president made it very clear that at each stop he told our Arab allies that no military action against Iraq was imminent. Isn’t it also true that this administration is telling our allies, Arab allies and others around the world, that this government is, however, committed—as committed to removing Saddam Hussein from power as the administration was for removing the Taliban?PRESIDENT BUSH: Let me put it to you this way, David—what we’re telling our friends is that Saddam Hussein is a man who is willing to gas his own people, willing to use weapons of mass destruction again Iraq citizens. Evidently, there’s a new article in the New York magazine or New Yorker magazine—some East Coast magazine—and it details about his barbaric behavior toward his own people. And not only did he do it to his own people, he did it to people in his neighborhood. And this is a man who refuses to allow us to determine whether or not he still has weapons of mass destruction, which leads me to believe he does.

I’m going to have the words “some East Coast magazine” printed on my business cards.

See you in Baghdad.

Best,
Jeff

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