When I was growing up in New Jersey there were a lot of colorful expressions that one managed to pick up. The flyover America public can get a glimpse of what that means by listening to Chris Christie speak, though he offers only a mild version of the local vernacular as he is simultaneously trying to sound cultured. Far better to watch a few episodes of The Sopranos. One of my favorite expressions was to describe a totally inept and clueless individual as “Someone who couldn’t find his buttocks with both hands” though I must admit that I am being polite and the Jersey original is somewhat saltier than that.
In any event there were a couple of outstanding performances during the past week that fully merit consideration for this month’s find your buttocks award. Last month’s prize went to former General David Petraeus who suggested that the United States might want to team up with al-Qaeda against ISIS, setting the bar for future competitors extremely high. Carly Fiorina came in second by stridently insisting that the United States desperately needs 300 “battleships.”
This time around I had to exercise executive privilege to disallow President Barack Obama’s speech before the United Nations explaining that maintaining a multinational free fire zone in Syria while removing its government is the perfect solution for the horror going on in that country. Denigrating Our Head of State in that fashion would undoubtedly be disrespectful and for all I know there might now be a law against criticizing Our Supreme Leader written into the latest version of the Authorization to Use Military Force.
Fortunately there were other candidates. Quite a few of them, in fact, but I will limit myself to the two most outstanding individuals, soon-to-be Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy and the ubiquitous celebrity journalist at large Charlie Rose.
There is only one requirement to be considered for the award and that is that the candidate must believe that the United States of America is really and indisputably a force for good and that it is the absolute God-given center of the known universe, which means you can forget about those funny looking people speaking their odd languages and eating weird stuff. In fact, the less one knows about that kind of trash the better because you might make the mistake of thinking that they are actually human beings just like us Americans.
Beyond that an award winner can be found anywhere on the political spectrum. Kevin wants a really big army, navy and air force because you can do a lot of different things when you have all those toys to play with. A career politician who never served in the military himself he appreciates that if some soldiers and hapless natives get whacked due to his wanting to play at war it’s no skin off his nose. Charlie, on the other hand, is kind of a closet leftie democracy-promotion type who is vaguely skeptical about all that hardcore jingoism type talk but nevertheless toes the line for his corporate ownership by making clear that guys like Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad are really bad and somebody has to do something about them.
Kevin wins first place in this month’s award ranking due to his brilliant understated impersonation of George W. Bush mangling the English language during a speech intended to solidify his bid to become the next Speaker of the House of Representatives. Knowing that the bumbling John Boehner had been forced to resign due to his feckless behavior in being too nice at least some of the time, Kevin fired with both barrels before a group of GOP foreign policy experts, admittedly an oxymoron. He told the gathering of the John Hay Initiative, which is sending out its neocon Myrmidons to advise nearly all the current crop of GOP presidential wannabes, that he will be no slouch when it comes to sticking his thumb in the eyes of guys like Putin and those treacherous Iranians. And of course always deferring to our good friend and greatest ally in the whole world Israel.
Dana Milbank of the Washington Post attended the talk and reported some of the catchy turns of phrase that Kevin came up with, remarkable in that he was reading from a prepared text that he had apparently been working on for weeks. He started out by hitting the essential American Exceptionalism button, declaring that we “live on the greatest nation that’s ever been on the face of the Earth” but then got tripped up by his own rhetorical flourishes, calling for “‘an effective politically strategy to match the military strategy,’…he [then] lamented that ‘we have isolated Israel while bolding places like Iran.’ He blamed President Obama’s White House for ‘putting us in tough decisions for the future,’ but he voiced hope that a ‘safe zone would create a stem the flow of refugees.’ And he scolded the Department of Veterans Affairs for failing to assist returning servicemen ‘who fought to the death in Ramadi.’”
And there’s more: “…Russia’s hybrid warfare became ‘high-bred warfare,’ and restrictions on U.S. energy shipments became ‘the band on America.’ He spoke of the ‘beth path forward to safety and security’; he asserted that Syria’s regime uses chemical weapons ‘to the very day’; he argued that the Soviet Union collapsed ‘because of America’s leadership and America resolve.’ And he memorably rephrased the famous question asked of Republican presidential candidates: ‘Would you have gone to war if you knew what you knew now?’”
Apart from the Yogi Berra-esque misspeaks and malapropisms, McCarthy espoused a straight belligerent line. Lethal aid to Ukraine to fight the Russians, an America that is feared as well as respected, a no-fly zone and boots on the ground in Syria, overturning the “unconscionable” agreement with terrorist supporting Iran, and standing by our “uh, the allies in the Arab Gulf.” “When it comes to tyrants, dictators and terrorists, strength and the threat of force is the only language they understand.”
Charlie’s approach to an interview with the Russian president Vladimir Putin was more subtle and high minded but based on the somewhat absurd premise that American leadership is what is lacking in the Middle East. As he was actually sitting face-to-face with one of the baddest of the bad guys, Vlad “the Impaler” Putin himself, Charlie did his best to put the former KGB officer in his place. He started off with Syria, asking with that sly smile that he has perfected, if Putin were trying to “rescue” the ruthless al-Assad government. Putin looked surprised, first noting that the United States had done its best to support the equally bloody Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq when the latter was fighting Iran. He then responded “To remove the legitimate government would create a situation which you can witness in other countries of the region, for instance Libya, where all the state institutions have disintegrated. We see a similar situation in Iraq. There’s no other solution to the Syrian crisis than strengthening the government structure.” Putin might have also noted that Libya and Iraq were devastated by intervention from the United States, but he was apparently too polite to do so or maybe he just figured that Charlie would make the connection. If he assumed that, he was wrong.
Charlie persisted in trying to nail Vlad as the would-be savior of Bashir al-Assad, but the Russian’s response shifted to the U.S. role in the region, though by that point Charlie might have been too glued to the instructions on his notepad to notice. Putin said “What do you think about those who support the terrorist organizations only to oust Assad without thinking about what happens to the country after all the state institutions have been demolished…? Look at those [terrorist groups] who are in control of 60 percent of the territory of Syria.”
Having exhausted his Syria talking points, Charlie then turned to Ukraine. He asked why the Russians were moving soldiers up to their border with Ukraine. Putin seemed surprised at the question, asking Charlie whether the presence of U.S. troops all over Europe meant that Washington intended to annex the entire continent. And how was it somehow a “crime” to defend one’s own border from an unfriendly neighboring country that has been deliberately destabilized by the United States?
Charlie also seemed astonished to learn that the Russians might actually have been aware of what Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland and her friends were up to in Ukraine when they initiated their program of regime change, so Putin spelled it out for him: “We have thousands of contacts with them [the Ukrainians]. We know who and where, and when they met with someone, and who worked with those who ousted Yanukovych, how they were supported, how much they were paid, how they were trained, where, in which country, and who those instructors were. We know everything.” This resulted in a voice-over from Charlie, correcting the narrative, as it were: “For the record, the U.S. has denied any involvement in the removal of the Ukrainian leader.”
Putin emerged from his grilling looking and sounding like a genuine statesman while Charlie Rose seemed to be a man who was desperately trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge. In my humble opinion Kevin and Charlie certainly turned in extraordinary performances worthy of recognition, both deserving of praise. Their fortitude in advancing what used to be referred to as the “American Way” demonstrated that there is no idea or point of view so stupid or irrelevant that it cannot be regurgitated by a politician or journalist, something that they probably regard as exemplifying freedom of speech.
To be sure, it is indeed hard work to be so obtuse as to deny the reality of what is clearly visible right in front of one’s own eyes and it should be a wake-up call when Vladimir Putin of Russia has to set the record straight while being confronted by someone who is allegedly a leading American journalist. No less depressing is the ham handed speech of yet another completely ignorant aspirant to high office seen performing in front of a group of foreign policy “experts” who brought us Iraq and every politico-military debacle that has followed since that time. Willful blindness regarding what is actually taking place in the world will inevitably produce a bad result. It has already done so in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Somalia but one can only hope that we Americans will never have to endure the far graver consequences that would come with serious miscalculations regarding Iran and Ukraine.