Will Al Qaeda Win? Is Valerie Plame Related to Anna Nicole? Wither The American Scholar?
My original note dealt with an article in the Winter, 2007 edition about an author's boyhood friend, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who served as a top aide to Vice President Cheney and was recently convicted of making false statements to the FBI in regard to the Valerie Plame situation. She was the CIA agent "outed" by a government official, and Libby ended up taking the fall. As you'll see below, I'm not a big fan of Lewis Libby -- or of any Washington types who go around gossiping to reporters.
I say Libby took the fall because -- and this may surprise you -- he absolutely did NOT LEAK THE NAME/IDENTITY OF VALERIE PLAME (Mrs. Joseph Wilson). The person who did that was Colin Powell's deputy, Richard Armitage, who revealed her identity to Robert Novak and Bob Woodward. Strangely, Armitage was never indicted for anything. Libby, who had no reason to lie to FBI investigators -- and might not have done so -- was indicted and convicted. Armitage was known as a notorious gossip, and Libby apparently wasn't much better. Plame, with her long blonde hair, convertible, and celebrity status, was about as under-cover as Anna Nicole Smith.
The author of the Libby piece, Nick Bromell, is the son of a man and woman who served as members of the U.S. diplomatic corps in the Middle East. In Bromell's article he talked about how his father and mother had tried to align U.S. policy with "the realities on the ground" in the MidEast. That comment stuck in my throat like a ham bone.
Dear Mr. Wilson:
As one of those neoconservatives apparently identified these days as loathesome Public Enemies, I read Nick Bromell's Winter, 2007 piece ("Scooter and Me") with interest-- and alarm. Lewis Libby and his bosses, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, may or may not be right in their view of the world and the Middle East, something that won't be clear for many years, but they deserve a much more serious discussion than Bromell provided.
He noted that Libby and his neoconservatives have undermined the efforts Bromell's mother and father made as diplomats in Baghdad, Amman, Kuwait, and Cairo. In fact, he says, the neocons "destroyed my father's lifelong effort to make U.S. policy in the Middle East more responsive to the realities on the ground."
Actually, U.S. policies prior to the Bush Administration were deeply respectful to such "realities." Unfortunately, what existed "on the ground" were policies like authoritarian governments, the subjugation of women, intolerance of other religions, a propensity (at least on the part of Baghdad and Cairo) to initiate wars on their neighbors, as well as economic and social backwardness.
Those were the "realities on the ground" that fueled religious fanaticism and homicidal behavior that led to the rise of terrorist groups, including al Qaeda, that people like Lewis Libby, Dick Cheney, George Bush, and I abhor.
We neocons, for all our imperfections, believe that business as usual in the Middle East, the legacy of Bromell's father and many others, is no longer acceptable. Neocons are people who believe, with Abraham Lincoln, that all men (and women) in all lands at all times desire freedom.
Frankly, there's not a whole lot more to neoconservatism, which emphasizes the main points contained in the "Declaration of Independence." Accepting the Middle East as it was became an unacceptable policy about 9 a.m. on September 11, 2001. I have a hunch that Nick Bromell could learn a few things from Lewis Libby.
Stephen R. Maloney
Mr. Wilson responded to me with a thoughtful letter that stressed that: (1) The American Scholar did publish people with conservative views (including Princeton Emeritus scholar Bernard Lewis); (2) If I was looking for "balance" of conservatives and liberals -- not exactly what I was saying -- that perhaps I should proceed directly to the book reviews; (3) he selects articles he likes, an approach I support, since I did the same thing in my tenure as an editor at the Georgia Review. Here's how I responded to him.
You don't have to reply again -- you're busier than I am, because I'm semi-retired, well, maybe a quarter-retired -- unless you feel the need to.
I'm a big fan of Bernard Lewis, and he's the kind of scholar I admire. He gave a speech at Hillsdale College where he argued there was a tradition (not one that lasted a long time) of tolerance in many Muslim communities, perhaps not exactly what one might expect from Prof. Lewis.
A few years ago, a couple of Muslim scholars teaching in the U.S. were on PBS. One of them -- forget his name -- was a professor at Brandeis, and he said that there was a real chance of building the "first tolerant Muslim community in the world." It turned out that community would be in . . . the United States.
In my experience, that's the kind of comment that can bring out a lot of demonstrators on American campuses, even though it happens to be true. Many things are true, or at least seem to be, that some of us would wish were not.
Niall Ferguson, the historian mentioned in your Winter issue, is apparently making a reputation as a teller of unpleasant truths, and that's a good sign. In the review of Ferguson's book, there was a quote about 4,000 Romanian Jews being run down and killed by local authorities and their "neighbors."
(Here's the article Ferguson quotes in his book: "Hordes of Jews pursued by soldiers and maddened civilians armed with knives and crowbars fled along the streets; groups of policemen smashed in house doors with their rifle butts; windows opened suddenly and screaming disheveled women in night gowns appeared with their arms raised in the air; some threw themselves from windows and their faces hit the asphalt with a dull thud. Squads of soldiers hurled hand grenades through the little windows level with the street into cellars where many people had vainly sought shelter . . . Where the slaughter had been heaviest the feet slipped in blood . . ." and on and on.)
What is the proper response of civilized people to such situations? That strikes me as the ultimate question for anyone committed to doing something positive in the world. The proper response is NOT to go around beating drums (as one liberal group of academics was doing recently in response to Darfur) or signing a petition for publication in the Times. With the drums and the petition, the 4,000 Jews -- or the million Rwandans or the half million Shias or the 200,000 Sudanese Christians -- are still dead, and the example has been set.
In the review of Ferguson's book there's a quote about the fecklessness of the British military (such as it was) in the face of Hitler's rise. Those military people didn't want to irritate Hitler. They wanted peace, like the million-plus singers of the "King and Country" resolution ("Resolved, we will not fight for King or Country). The British military wanted, in the face of tyranny, to hide under the bed.
The military's reaction was shameful, as was the denigration of the supposed warmonger Churchill. Being "for peace" is not enough when you're dealing with psychopaths.
I don't find academics generally dealing with these kind of heart-breaking realities. What does one do when there are several options, all of them bad? In a sense, Niall Ferguson seems to be willing to wrestle with some of those questions, but he's a rare breed.
By the way, on Lewis Libby: I think his playing around with the role of Valerie Plame was immoral. If I'd been in his position, I would not have revealed the name of any CIA agent, covert or overt. If I'd been ordered to do so, I would have resigned. He should have done the same. (I'm not a big fan of the CIA as an "intelligence" group.)
One writer I'd love to see in your pages is Michael Oren, who wrote The Six-Days War and a more recent book on America in the Middle East. I've heard he's been teaching at Harvard and Yale, and he's a veteran of the first war in Lebanon. He is very, very good. He gave me a much better understanding of the situation Israel faces. I wish he'd write about his own military experience.
One last word: in last Sunday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, columnist Jack Kelly (a conservative generally, but not robotically) wrote about the new movie "The 300," a not-so-great film dealing with Leonidas and Themopylae (where 300 Spartans and 1100 other Greeks died fighting 250,000-plus Persians some 2500 years ago).
Jack revealed a lot of the "real history" (the Spartans being an early version of the Waffen SS and the Persians under King Cyrus being relatively benign) and also talked about the military virtues (honor, discipline, courage).
As I read and re-read the article, it became clear he was talking about American and the West in conflict with al Qaeda and the Mohammed Atta types. Jack, a former Marine, a former Army Ranger, and very pro-American, was saying that al Qaeda is the Spartans and we're the Persians. In other words, he was saying that we're probably going to lose the War on Terror.
He wasn't beating the Democrats over the head. He was talking about us a people. He was talking about the limitations of an affluent society that hates to see real dead people on the nightly news.
Oddly enough, it's a view of America he shares with bin Laden. Kelly's article appeared last Sunday, and I've been thinking about it ever since. I wish we'd gotten more articles like that at the Georgia Review. I wish you'd get more at the Scholar. I think what I'm calling for is creative "imbalance" more than balance. I'm looking for writers who make us think in truly new ways.
Regards, steve maloney