Is it wrong to help authoritarian states repress their own citizens? Of course. But the question is rarely posed in Washington these days, which is what made last week’s hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs so notable.
In a brief exchange, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a fiery Republican from Florida, questioned Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte about American exports of security-related articles and services to China for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Negroponte told her that the State Department is the lead agency in the American government for “supporting security for the Olympics,” and that there is a small task force in our embassy in Beijing working on this matter. He promised that in the future he would consult with the House committee, but said he knew nothing more about the issue.
In spite of what the polls supposedly tell us, I strongly suspect that the Democrats may already have blown the 2008 election. Unlike the late Senator Aiken of Vermont, who proposed that we declare victory and get out of Vietnam, the Democrats want us to declare defeat and get out of Iraq. This, they imagine, is what the American people were demanding in the congressional election of 2006.
But it seems far more likely that the message of that election was not “Get out,” but rather “Win, or get out.” In any case, the position the Democrats are now taking can only have the effect of revivifying and reinforcing the sense of them as weak on national security. And this was the very factor that led to the ignominious defeat of their presidential candidate, George McGovern, in 1972, when they also misread the public temper by paying too much attention to the left wing of their party.
Furthermore, reading the first volume of Bill Bennett’s America: The Last Best Hope, I am reminded that the American distrust of defeatist political parties goes back beyond 1972—all the way back, in fact, to the War of 1812. Like Iraq, it was an unpopular war that its Federalist-party opponents called “Mr. Madison’s war,” just as the Democrats today call Iraq “Bush’s war.” In addition, just as the Democrats today keep threatening to cut off funds for Iraq, a number of state governments controlled by the Federalists “refused to supply militia troops for the war effort.” The end result, says Bennett, was that the Federalists would “never again seriously contend for the presidency.”
On October 23, 1983, 241 American Marines were killed by a suicide bomber in Lebanon. “Not easy,” wrote Ronald Reagan in his diary about the painful task of telephoning the parents of the dead. “One father asked if they were in Lebanon for anything that was worth his son’s life.” The answer—not spoken but implicit in the fact that Reagan was shortly to withdraw all American forces from the war-torn country—was evidently “no.” Lebanon’s civil war raged on for almost another decade without further American interference. From the standpoint of history, the Marines had perished in vain.
We have now lost almost 3,400 soldiers in Iraq. Over the weekend another dozen Americans were added to the list, along with a great many more Iraqis. Will they, too, be seen to have perished in vain, their lives “wasted”—to employ the politically insensitive word that Barack Obama used earlier this year and then apologized for?
With each American casualty, the pressure is building for a rapid American withdrawal. The Democratic-controlled Congress wants to impose a deadline on the American presence. It is threatening to cut off funds for the war effort. Yet if the United States withdraws from Iraq, leaving in its wake a raging civil war and a fertile breeding ground for Islamic terrorists, history’s answer to that terrible question—have they died in vain?—will be all too clear.
But supporting a war that is going badly, in which American forces are getting continually hammered, is emotionally, morally, and intellectually arduous. To those of us who do not want to see American soldiers die and die needlessly, it may be time, then, to tip our hats to those in public life—soldiers, politicians, and intellectuals—who are not only being steadfast but are finding a way forward.
Is abstraction in the midst of a revival? In a lengthy essay in ARTnews, deputy editor Barbara A. MacAdam makes the case that it is:
Just as the figure—once disparaged as academic, facile, or simply frumpy—experienced a renascence, showing up in numerous guises to suit the social, political, and artistic moment, abstract art has been flaunting its brilliant past and reconfiguring itself for the present and future.
As evidence she cites the flurry of recent exhibitions highlighting both contemporary abstract painters and those of the 1960’s. Moreover, England’s Turner Prize, that bellwether of academic trendiness, recently went to Tomma Abts, a German-born painter known for her cool geometric abstraction. Just a year earlier the prize was awarded to Simon Starling, whose project involved converting a vacant wooden shack into a boat, sailing it to Basel, and reassembling it into a shack. The Turner has been taken home often in recent years by conceptual tricksters such as Gilbert and George (1986) and Damien Hirst (1995). That it has now gone to a lyrical painter is indeed a sign that things have changed.