The Curled Lip, the Raised Eyebrow
I write a weekly newspaper column, and one day this summer a neighbor stopped me on the street and asked how the hell was I able to decide what to write about. He wasn’t interested in my “process”; rather, he was expressing a kind of baffled despair about the condition of the world. My answer: Whatever was the top story three hours before my deadline. And even then, it was difficult to make sense of what the top story was, because there were so very many top stories, and none of them was anything but terrible.
For as Bret Stephens details in the masterful article that leads this month’s issue, over the past few months the horrors have been piling up so quickly and in so many places the very effort to keep up with the news as it unfolds hour by hour practically induces attention-deficit disorder—when it is not inducing depression and dismay.
We have seen nothing remotely comparable to this since 1979. In that one year, Nicaragua fell to the Sandinistas, Vietnam invaded Cambodia, the Shah was ousted in Iran and was eventually replaced by the Ayatollah Khomeini, Britain experienced its “winter of discontent,” the Boat People fled Vietnam by the millions, Iranian thugs took 52 Americans hostage in Tehran, and the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.
In the summer of 1982, the world was whipsawed as Britain went to war with Argentina over the Falklands and Israel sought to drive the PLO out of Lebanon. I began my professional career then at Time magazine as a researcher in the World section, and the place was in a state of hyperactive madness because there were two major war stories at once and only 12 pages of space in which to cover them.
Consider just how tame, how stately, 1979 and 1982 seem to the present concatenation of calamities. A mere two wars? A vacation.
In just the past three months, Russia swallowed up a province of Ukraine whole, and as I write is now bidding fair to take another bite out of that country while the West gestures feebly. Later, Putin-lackey separatists shot a Malaysian Airlines passenger plane out of the sky, destroyed the evidence at the scene, and looted the possessions of the 297 people they murdered.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria—pooh-poohed earlier in the year by Barack Obama as second-string stumblebums not worthy of the al-Qaeda name—overran Mosul in Iraq and began a terrifyingly short march of religio-genocidal decimation. First they routed Mosul’s Christians, then killed 1,400 Iraqi soldiers and put it on YouTube, then decided to attempt the destruction of the Yazidi. The president who had bragged to the American people about ending the war in Iraq found it necessary to go back in with airstrikes.
The nation of Argentina has defaulted. The civil war in Syria has killed tens of thousands more—and the refugee crisis it has spawned, arguably the largest in history, threatens to destabilize and topple Jordan. There’s an Ebola breakout in Africa, and in Nigeria, where the potential spread of that plague poses the greatest danger, the monstrous Islamoterror faction Boko Haram stepped up its deadly campaign against girls and Christians.
And, of course, Hamas began to rain rockets down on Israeli cities and towns, leading to an inarguably justifiable military response by the Jewish state. That response was greeted by Israel’s foe in the White House with grudging pseudo-acceptance and condescending moral disapprobation. As ever, President Obama and his vassals like to pretend a curled lip and a raised eyebrow are expressions of friendship. Now, polling suggests, Obama himself is experiencing the curled lip and raised eyebrow of the American people, nearly 60 percent of whom believe he is doing a bad job with the nation’s foreign policy.
Obama may come to regard the mere souring of the populace with rueful nostalgia. For these may have been the months in which the world Obama has in part made ceased merely stumbling into chaos and began a vertiginous and unstoppable slide. And for that, history will not only join the American people in mirroring their president’s curled lip and raised eyebrow; it will then render its verdict and pass its harsh sentence.