Bush at Bay

     It is the unhappy fate of some men to become 
synonymous forever with a single, notorious word. 
Virginia's outgoing Sen. George Allen will be associated 
for all time with the term "macaca." Similarly, the 
neoconservative Kenneth Adelman will never live down the 
word "cakewalk."

     That's what he predicted the Iraq war would be. He 
is now being bitterly ridiculed for it. The word sums up 
the neocons' optimism about the war they were clamoring 
for, and, fairly or not, this is recrimination time. 
Washington's talking heads are now shouting, sneering, 
mocking heads, and the neocons are their chief butts.

     But it takes more than everlasting disgrace to 
discourage the neocons, and they are refusing to accept 
their ignominy as history's final judgment. On the 
contrary, they are actually claiming vindication! The 
Iraq war, it seems, was a brilliant idea; only the way it 
has been carried out by the Bush administration has been 

     THE WASHINGTON POST reports, as its headline puts 
it, "Embittered Insiders Turn Against Bush." The singular 
absence of neocon contrition is captured in a few 
quotations. Joshua Muravchik asks "whether the war was a 
sound idea but very badly executed." Richard Perle adds, 
"If I had known that the U.S. was going to essentially 
establish an occupation, then I'd say, 'Let's not do 

     And Adelman himself says, "This didn't have to be 
managed this bad. It's just awful." All they asked was 
what Perle and David Frum called "an end to evil," a 
modest goal, and sure enough, Bush and Donald Rumsfeld 
goofed it up. (As I write, evil still exists.)

     An article in the neocon monthly COMMENTARY accuses 
Patrick Buchanan and me of charging the neocons with 
"dual loyalty," but that is utterly false. For my part, I 
wish it were the case, since it would mean that the 
neocons sometimes sacrifice Israeli interests to American 
interests, and I can't recall a single instance of that, 
ever. I can hardly even imagine it. Much as they resent 
the suspicion of dual loyalty, they have no compunctions 
about impugning the patriotism of genuine conservatives 
who oppose the war. (Frum has accused Buchanan, me, and 
others of "hating" our country!)

     On the one hand, David Brooks has asserted that 
"neoconservative" is a hostile code-word for "Jew"; 
whereas Max Boot, who wears the label proudly, 
acknowledges that support for Israel is a basic "tenet" 
of neoconservatism. Which is it? Knowing these guys, I 
suppose it can be both, depending on the convenience of 
the moment.

     But in fairness to the neocons, it should be pointed 
out that some of those who are wittily skewering them now 
have their own vulnerable records. During the run-up to 
the war, Michael Kinsley praised Bush as "a great 
leader," and, if my failing memory does not deceive me, 
George Will, lately a skeptic about the war, looked with 
favor upon the idea of invading Iraq. It would be amusing 
to review what they were writing back in 2002.

     Undeterred by experience, the warrior intellectuals 
are now offering the same reasons for attacking Iran that 
they once offered for attacking Iraq. Once again we are 
even hearing the expression "regime change." They have 
learned only to avoid the word "cakewalk."

     And let's not forget that much of Bush's more 
substantial base, the "Christian right" personified by 
the likes of the fiery John Hagee, favors war on Iran. 
Despite the elections, Armageddon still beckons. It's as 
if Dr. Strangelove had been getting ideas from the Book 
of Revelation.

     Apart from the dubious moral justifications the 
advocates of war gave us, they utterly failed to predict 
-- or prepare us for -- what might go wrong even if their 
advice was taken. They showed no awareness that prudence 
is not only a practical necessity but a duty. They still 
don't. That's why they feel no responsibility for the 
calamity that has resulted from their counsels.

The Two (?) Parties

     Just when the Republican Party appeared to be in 
near-terminal condition, the Democrats assumed control of 
Congress and, prating of change, new directions, party 
unity, and other fine things, whipped out their stilettos 
and lost no time in getting right down to the business of 

     Nancy Pelosi, the new speaker of the House, seemed 
to get on more amicably with President Bush than with 
Maryland's Steny Hoyer, with whom she has a history of 
bad blood. Hoyer won this bit of infighting, but both 
sides appeared to have failed to internalize President 
Clinton's adage that "the things that unite us are more 
important than the things that divide us." Depends on the 
meaning of "us," I guess.

     Anyway, Speaker Pelosi declared an end to the 
hostilities with her trademark forced smile and her own 
adage about peace, which she said she had learned in 

     At the top of the Democrats' "legislative agenda" 
(chilling phrase!) will be raising the minimum wage, just 
when, by ironic coincidence, Milton Friedman, the world's 
most famous advocate of the free market, has gone to his 
final reward at age 94. Will the compassionately 
conservative Bush dare to use his veto?

     The bottom line is that we are still dealing with 
the alleged "two-party" system, which confronts us with 
the perpetually baffling question of which faction, other 
things being equal, is worse. Please don't ask me to 
answer that one.

The Indignant Atheist

     I just heard at this writing that the publication of 
O.J. Simpson's new book has been canceled. Like many 
other observers, I take his denial with a grain of salt, 
notwithstanding his acquittal by a jury of his peers. In 
this, if nothing else, I find myself in agreement with 
Christopher Hitchens, a highly literate man whom I have 
met and liked, though I find his writing hard to follow. 
He usually leaves me clear enough about whom he hates, 
but less clear about what he thinks.

     Writing in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, Hitchens is 
furiously indignant, as you might expect, that Simpson is 
so insouciant about murder and so willing to capitalize 
on it.

     To that extent, he is perfectly right. But what 
puzzles me about Hitchens is that he is so passionately 
indignant about so many things. This is the curious thing 
about atheists, and he is a militant atheist. "Religion 
poisons everything," he recently told an interviewer, and 
he has just written a book on this theme. Everything? 
Would that include Bach's music? Thanksgiving dinner?

     Why, oh why, are atheists always so indignant? If I 
were an atheist, and a believer in Darwin (which Hitchens 
also militantly is), I think I'd try to roll with the 
punches. My philosophy would be that this is just the 
kind of universe where Simpson's behavior is more or less 
what we should expect in the ruthless struggle for 

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