September 18, 2006
Neither George Allen nor James "Born Fighting" Webb committed any gaffes on Meet the Press yesterday (the transcript is available at MS-NBC), and there actually was some thoughtful exchange of opinions, mostly about war and national security. Webb cleverly evaded getting sucked into the "withdrawal deadline" debate trap he had created for himself by invoking what President Eisenhower did to extricate us from the Korean War "mess" after he became president in 1953. What Webb neglected to mention was that the way Eisenhower forced the Chinese to agree to an armistice was by implicitly threatening to escalate the conflict to the nuclear level. Otherwise, the stalemated see-saw conflict would have dragged out for years and years, much like World War I. Invoking the Korea precedent as the basis for U.S. strategy in the Iraq war implies that we should make a similar threat to the real source of the conflict: Iran!
Webb managed to put Allen on the defensive at one juncture by pointing to the building of fortified compounds for U.S. troops, implying that our commanders are resigned to remaining in hostile territory for years to come. It is too bad that Allen didn't do better in criticizing Webb's alternative of redeploying U.S. troops out of Iraq to nearby friendly countries such as Qatar or Bahrain. It is the same thing that Rep. John Murtha has advocated, and it makes no strategic sense at all! Such a retreat would be very demoralizing the the moderate regimes in the region, making the vulnerable to subversion by Islamo-fascist terrorists. I would have to agree with Larry Sabato that Allen missed an opportunity to convince wavering voters that he is committed to serving a full six-year term in the Senate. By demurring on that question in front of a national audience, he practically declared his candidacy for president. At the end, Tim Russert asked both candidates what they would say to young people about their nasty tobacco chewing habit ("dipping"), and of course, there is no good answer for that.
Today's debate in Northern Virginia (shown by C-SPAN) was likewise constructive, though both candidates played it just a little too safe. Allen was pressed on the "Macaca" gaffe, for which he again apologized (appropriately), but he strained credulity by denying he knew what it meant. He resented having his mother dragged into the controversy, which is understandable, but he brought it on himself. Webb came across as restless and a bit grouchy, and he still doesn't convey a sense that he has a strong idea of what he wants to do in the Senate. I think he missed a big opportunity to make an impression on public opinion in the Commonwealth.
Sunday's Washington Post took a look at the impact of bloggers that are paid by political candidates. They mention the new Allen's A-team blog, run by Chad Dotson of Commonwealth Conservative fame, as well as some others. Technically, it is not associated with the Allen campaign, and Chad makes it clear that neither he nor the others on the "A-Team" blog are getting paid for it. Speaking of which, A-Team member Riley points out that Jim Webb opposed the "Desert Shield" troop buildup in late 1990, just as he opposed the liberation of Kuwait. That does not speak very well for Webb's judgment in strategic matters.
The fact that an obscure remark by Pope Benedict to a gathering of scholars could result in so much violence and mayhem in the Muslim world tells us a lot about the world we live in. He said he is "deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries," which is not quite the same thing as an apology. His address at the University of Regensburg, Germany on September 12 cited a 14th-century dialogue between Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologos and a Persian scholar. The former said:
Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached. SOURCE: Washington Post)
I suppose the Pope could have made it clearer that he was not echoing that opinion, but I doubt the reaction in the Muslim world would have been much different. So what does this say about the doctrine of Papal Infallibility? (It only applies to matters of Church Doctrine, but it would seem that's what this case is.) Has a Pope ever been forced to make such a self-abasing gesture of contrition before?
Already, various Muslim extremist groups are using this gaffe as an excuse to kill Christians and burn churches. "Don't they realize that by reacting violently they are only contributing to the image of Islam as a violent religion?" Of course they do! In any case, fanatics are generally oblivious to irony. On a higher level, this incident demonstrates why the term "Islamo-fascist" is an apt description of the global movement that this violence represents. As with German, Italian, and Japanese fascism in the 1930s, the Islamo-fascism of today takes a miniscule plausible grievance and blows it all out of proportion, construing ordinary statements as intolerable insults or grave menaces. It basically recasts the moral foundation of discourse by presuming that a gradual shift of global political power in their favor is entirely natural, and that anything else constitutes a hideous threat. That is why gestures that seek to placate ("appease") the Muslim protesters are so utterly useless. It only rewards their previous aggressive behavior and encourages them to escalate their demands.
UPDATE: This is one of those cases where only Scott Ott's ScrappleFace can express just how totally absurd things have gotten: "Sorry Pope Considers Sainthood for Muhammad" (Hat tip to Stacey Morris.)