Friday, December 19, 2008

"Arabia", if you will

Conservative writer Mark Helprin has put the cat among the pigeons with a Wall Street Journal op-ed page demolition of George Bush's claims to have made America safer. Much of the article would read well as a catalog of "liberal" critiques of Bush. Out of the gate to defend Bush is, inevitably, Peter Wehner, who was in the White House for much of the disastrous war management years to which Helprin refers.

Wehner undercuts his own arguments in various ways, including by misspelling Helprin's name several times, but even more so by this --

On the matter of reforging the political culture of the Arabs: that, too, is happening. As Charles Krauthammer, America’s best columnist and one of our finest geopolitical thinkers, put it recently:

"[A second hugely important effect of Iraq] is the regional effect of the new political entity on display in Baghdad — a flawed yet functioning democratic polity with unprecedented free speech, free elections and freely competing parliamentary factions. For this to happen in the most important Arab country besides Egypt can, over time (over generational time, the time scale of the war on terror), alter the evolution of Arab society."

It's just laughable to cite Krauthammer as an expert on the Arab world. For one thing, the claim that Iraq is the 2nd most important Arab country after Egypt is as close to factually wrong as an opinion can be. The 2nd most important Arab country is Saudi Arabia. It's where Islam started. It has the mosques. It's where millions of Muslims head every year. It has the oil. It straddles the Gulf and Red Sea. It's the only Arab country with a seat at the table in key international fora (e.g. the G20). It's why George H.W. Bush started making friends with the Saudis in the late 1960s. It's why there's a Bandar Bush. And of course it's where the 9/11 hijackers and their inspiration came from.

One other swipe of Wehner's --

Helprin writes that for “seven years we failed to … make intelligent arguments for policies that were worth pursuing. Thus we capriciously forfeited the domestic and international political equilibrium without which alliances break apart and wars are seldom won.”

In fact, the speeches by the President — from the September 20, 2001 address to a joint session of Congress, to the 2002 and 2003 State of the Union addresses, to his speech to the American Enterprise Institute in early 2003, to his National Endowment for Democracy speeches, to many others — presented the arguments for war in an intelligent and persuasive manner.

So his refutation is to cite a litany of speeches -- the need for speeches being symptomatic of the deeper problems -- and claim they were "intelligent and persuasive". Of course they were -- he worked on them!

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