Scylla and Charybdis

To begin, the politics of policy is so often so dishonest that one marvels that so much so decent has been achieved. So many so foul, who know it and know it not, so many so foolish, who never know it. How to enter into it all and be neither foul nor fool? The dilemma of those who seek service or power, or both.

Yesterday’s Thomas Friedman column in The New York Times, “As Ugly as It Gets,” gets right to the foul.

I confess that when I first saw the May 17 picture of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, joining his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with raised arms — after their signing of a putative deal to defuse the crisis over Iran’s nuclear weapons program — all I could think of was: Is there anything uglier than watching democrats sell out other democrats to a Holocaust-denying, vote-stealing Iranian thug just to tweak the U.S. and show that they, too, can play at the big power table?

No, that’s about as ugly as it gets.

“For years, nonaligned and developing countries have faulted America for cynically pursuing its own interests without regard for human rights,” observed Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment. “As Turkey and Brazil aspire to play on the global stage, they’re going to face the same criticisms they once doled out. Lula and Erdogan’s visit to Iran came just days after Iran executed five political prisoners who were tortured into confessions. They warmly embraced Ahmadinejad as their brother, but didn’t mention a word about human rights.

At the same time, it’s impossible not to see Friedman’s column as an indirect rebuke of that by fellow Times columnist Roger Cohen (fool), of last week, which I wrote about on Tuesday. In that column, Cohen rebuked the U.S. for not accepting the meaningless show deal.

Friedman rebuked the Obama administration too.

In my view, the “Green Revolution” in Iran is the most important, self-generated, democracy movement to appear in the Middle East in decades. It has been suppressed, but it is not going away, and, ultimately, its success — not any nuclear deal with the Iranian clerics — is the only sustainable source of security and stability. We have spent far too little time and energy nurturing that democratic trend and far too much chasing a nuclear deal.

He closes

I’d prefer that Iran never get a bomb. The world would be much safer without more nukes, especially in the Middle East. But if Iran does go nuclear, it makes a huge difference whether a democratic Iran has its finger on the trigger or this current murderous clerical dictatorship. Anyone working to delay that and to foster real democracy in Iran is on the side of the angels. Anyone who enables this tyrannical regime and gives cover for its nuclear mischief will one day have to answer to the Iranian people.

The Obama administration, very much in the realist manner of Bush 1, made a judgment call on Iran, that too overt expression of support for the protest movement could backfire. I thought the administration, while too restrained, overall played it right. Of course, that approach not enjoying any observable success, it was easy for the right to find democratic perfidy in what, once upon a Republican world, long, long ago, it would have accepted from that first Bush. The Right charged betrayal of democratic values even as the post-election resistance was at its peak because the only way Obama can do right by the Right is to be Right. The only thing Obama is not doing better, more aggressively, more effectively that Bush (despite some stumbles to be sure) in fighting the War on Terror is not to call it that and not to have actually started a war on faulty intelligence and bungled it for the first four years. But if Obama speaks the word “war” he will not, for the Right, speak it right. Foul.

Now Obama, rather than visit Arlington – for conservatives, suddenly the American flag lapel pin of veterans’ cemeteries – over the Memorial Day weekend, will visit Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery outside Chicago instead, and conservatives once again find him un-American. Of course, there is a perfectly reasonable other way to see it.

“We don’t really see the big deal, so long as he’s taking the time to honor our fallen war heroes throughout Memorial Day weekend,” said Ryan Galluci, spokesman for AMVETS. “After all, it’s not ground-breaking for a sitting President to visit other national cemeteries or overseas America cemeteries over the holiday. Arlington is certainly not the only place our fallen heroes are buried, so why not pay your respects to veterans around the country?”

But says Eric Erickson of “Of course, Obama really doesn’t like the military, does he.” This is the same theme the Right now plays on any Democratic president, as it played it with Clinton. He doesn’t respect the military. The military doesn’t respect him. In Clinton’s case, the Right was replaying Vietnam. But now if you are a Democratic president without military service, you can expect it like the sunrise. Jefferson had no military service, by the way. Lincoln was in the Illinois militia off and on for three months in 1832. I don’t imagine that’s what made him a better general than McClellan. And can you imagine if Obama tolerated a McClellan today as Lincoln did then? Foul. Foul. Foul.

If Achilles, in Homer’s Iliad, was not “fleet-footed,” then he was “godlike” or “leader of men.” Hector, whom he slew, was “tamer of horses.” And when Achilles killed Hector, in a warrior’s burning rage, he dragged his body around the walls of Troy to humiliate both him and the Trojans. Odysseus, instead, was “resourceful” and “nimble-witted.” It was neither Achilles nor Hector who lived on archetypally in an epic of his own, but Odysseus. Of course, it took Odysseus ten years to lead his men home, to a house taken over by suitors to his wife, and a son usurped. No reelection for Odysseus.

It isn’t my intent to ill-favor Obama with a burdensome comparison. He has several buckets of balls in the air. The angle of the toss and degree of spin on each is easily critiqued without knowledge of where they’ll land, and that won’t mean anything anyway to his critics. But while he has a whole party of fierce, preening-warrior sons of Peleus to his Right, he’s got Charybdis to his Left. The Right imagines there is nothing to Obama’s left, but the Right is blinded by the smoke it snorts.

Yesterday, Jeffrey Goldberg interviewed Marcy Winograd, once more challenging Jane Harmon in the Democratic primary for the House seat representing California’s 36th district. This is a race and interview of particular interest to me because it happens to be my district, where Winograd won 38% of the vote on the last try. I will get Israel quickly out of the way.

As a Jew, I do not want my name or country associated with occupation or extermination.


The “root causes” of the Afghan war and terrorism?

Most of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia and were angry at the proliferation of U.S. bases and forces in Saudi Arabia, so I think there’s a great degree of pushback over the presence of U.S. troops all over the world.

This is a woman who does not read and cannot learn.

JG: Is there anything you would do against terrorism militarily?

MW: I would join the International Criminal Court. I believe in diplomacy and the rule of law. When people are perpetrating acts of terrorism they should be tried before the world in the world court or tried in absentia. The strongest defense is when you create coalitions of people around the world, not when you have divided the world.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. (More fool.)

Many on the Right would have attacked Iran already. They got it right about Iraq’s WMD and Petrocolus has been slain. Winograd will ask Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs to play nice with their nuclear weapons. Odysseus, forced to sail between Scylla and Charybdis, chose to steer toward Scylla, where he might lose only some of his men, rather than the whirlpool of Charybdis, that might take the whole ship down.

Who knows what the exact parallel might be with Iran. But I like a cunning man. Here’s to tales of brave Ulysses.


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