Taking Us in the Direction We All Already Want To Go
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Jan. 30 2002 1:07 PM

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David,

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What passion! But to be transformational, one must transform: Who exactly disagrees with the president's war against al-Qaida? I sure don't, and neither does Dick Gephardt—a politician whom I usually find uninspiring, to say the least, but who was, happily, far more bellicose than Democrats usually allow themselves to be last night. But this is a serious business, and nuances must be observed. The most important nuance is this: Who's waging war on us? North Korea? Oh, please. The Iranians have been careful to limit their international mischief to the "Zionist Entity" ever since Khomeini died. Saddam is the worst of the bunch, but it was Bush 41 who tacitly decided that Saddam in control was better than the chaos that would ensue if the Shiites in the south of Iraq bonded with Iran, and the Kurds in the north established a separate country—thereby destabilizing Turkey, home to a great many unhappy Kurds. Saddam, too, has been careful not to target Americans. Hamas and Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad (and the Irish Republican Army, for that matter) are all dreadful—and entirely local. If we find any evidence that any of these guys are targeting Americans, as I said in the last posting, we should nuke them forthwith. But show me the evidence.

You cite the "idealism" of Kristol—whom I consider a friend—and Kagan. But their foreign policy has a tragic flaw: They tend to conflate "idealism" with aggressive action. (Their support for a Nader-Buchanan China policy is sad evidence of this.) Aggressive actions are often appropriate—the Gulf War, Clinton's sending the Navy into the Taiwan straits, the current al-Qaida campaign—but what about our disgracefully low levels of non-military foreign aid? Shouldn't we be concerned about that particular idealistic void? Doubling the Peace Corps is a fine start; more support for non-governmental and, yes, faith-based anti-poverty programs overseas would be even better.

As you said the other day, it's a mistake to underestimate Bush. I think he has a good heart and a great personality, and there is hope that he will use his enormous popularity to lead the Republican Party away from its witless, selfish excesses (just as Clinton led the Democrats away from their crack-brained protectionism, extreme civil libertarianism, and undue faith in the wisdom of bureaucrats). But I saw precious little evidence of that last night—just a leader who is taking the country in a direction that practically everyone, for the moment, wants to go.

See ya tomorrow,
Joe

Joe Klein is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton.

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