Magazine article The New Yorker

FIGHTING WORDS; Comment

Magazine article The New Yorker

FIGHTING WORDS; Comment

Article excerpt

Earlier this month at the National Press Club, in Washington, two expert September 11th political opportunists joined in an embrace, when Pat Robertson, the televangelist who attributed the terrorist attacks to American sinfulness, endorsed Rudy Giuliani, the Republican Presidential front-runner whose every campaign sentence, according to Senator Joseph Biden, consists of "a noun and a verb and 9/11." Robertson explained his support for the pro-choice, pro-gay-rights candidate by stating, "The overriding issue before the American people is the defense of our population from the bloodlust of Islamic terrorists"--bringing to mind no one so much as the foreign-policy commentator Borat, who told a rodeo audience in Virginia, "May George Bush drink the blood of every single man, woman, and child of Iraq."

As the tide goes out on President Bush's foreign policy, the mass of flotsam left behind includes a Republican Party that no longer knows how to be reasonable. Whenever its leading Presidential candidates appear before partisan audiences, they try to outdo one another in pledging loyalty oaths to the use of force, pandering to the war lobby as if they were Democrats addressing the teachers' union. Giuliani has surrounded himself with a group of advisers--from Norman Podhoretz to the former Pentagon official Michael Rubin--who, having got Iraq spectacularly wrong, seem determined to make up for it by doing the same thing in Iran. Giuliani approaches foreign policy in the same mood of barely restrained eagerness for confrontation with which, as mayor of New York, he went after criminals. He has essentially promised to go to war with Iran in order to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons, and he recently suggested that waterboarding is only torture when the wrong people are doing it, and blamed the "liberal media" for giving it a bad name. He has said that he would improve America's miserable image around the world by threatening State Department diplomats with unnamed consequences unless they defend United States foreign policy more aggressively. "The era of cost-free anti-Americanism must end," Giuliani snarled in the polite pages of Foreign Affairs, which had invited candidates to lay out their views.

Mitt Romney, perhaps sensing that his military bona fides might be in question, has declared his readiness to out-Cheney Dick Cheney and "double Guantanamo." In an ad, he strolls across the lawn of a large suburban home, like a financial adviser in a Charles Schwab commercial, and intones, "It's this century's nightmare--jihadism. Violent, radical Islamic fundamentalism. Their goal is to unite the world under a single jihadist caliphate. To do that, they must collapse freedom-loving nations, like us." John McCain, who does not believe that the definition of torture depends on who's doing it, has staked his campaign on a long-term victory in Iraq through the strategy of the surge, which is destined to end around the time the parties gather to nominate their candidates, next summer. For Fred Thompson foreign policy is mostly immigration policy--he just wants the borders patrolled with heavy force.

In 1968, when the Democrats tried to hold on to the White House during a disastrous war, the Party self-destructed at the Chicago Convention. But in 2008, in Minneapolis, the Republicans will nominate a candidate on a promise of four more years of the same. The one piece of Bush's foreign policy that the leading Republicans haven't taken up (again, with the occasional exception of McCain) is his "freedom agenda. …

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