Meet the new boss...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

Now that the Baker-Hamilton Commission is ending this country's long national acid trip, I am struck by the fact that, save possibly Donald Rumsfeld and Christopher Hitchens, no one's intellect, analysis, and honesty have been more profoundly undermined by the results of the Iraq war than the editors of The Weekly Standard. Remember when William Kristol was separating loyal liberals from the traitorous kind? Kristol wrote:

The Gephardt liberals are patriots. They supported the president in the run-up to this war, and strongly support the war now that it has begun. [...] The other group includes the Teddy Kennedy wing of the Senate Democrats, the Nancy Pelosi faction of the House Democrats, a large majority of Democratic grass-roots activists, the bulk of liberal columnists, the New York Times editorial page, and Hollywood. These liberals -- better, leftists -- hate George W. Bush so much they can barely bring themselves to hope America wins the war to which, in their view, the president has illegitimately committed the nation. They hate Don Rumsfeld so much they can't bear to see his military strategy vindicated. They hate John Ashcroft so much they relish the thought of his Justice Department flubbing the war on terrorism. They hate conservatives with a passion that seems to burn brighter than their love of America, and so, like M. de Villepin, they can barely bring themselves to call for an American victory.

Yeah, well, now that Rumsfeld's strategy has been, um, "vindicated," have they changed their tune?

Not much. Look at this review by Fred Barnes of a book on the Copperheads:

Weber's highly readable account of the short life span of the Copperheads is especially valuable because it redresses a historical oversight, and also points intriguingly to a current political struggle. The oversight was to give Copperheads short shrift by minimizing their role in the Civil War and the trouble they caused Lincoln. The analogy with today is between the Copperheads and Democrats who oppose President Bush on Iraq and are critical of the war on terror.

Weber draws no analogy with Democrats today. She sticks to history. But I think the analogy is inescapable -- not that Democrats are unpatriotic or treasonous. But like the Copperheads, antiwar Democrats have grown in numbers as victory in the war -- in Iraq now -- has faded from sight. They've weakened the president's tools in combating terrorists and made that effort more difficult. And Democrats today have offered no real alternative, merely a seemingly irresistible impulse to retreat from Iraq.

Barnes is still where Andy Sullivan was when he wanted to round up those of us he now admits were right and send us to Gitmo. He is also the author of what may be the single stupidest sentence ever written by a Bush acolyte. At least it's my nomination, here.

Barnes explained that Bush's second inaugural address had triumphantly ended the centuries-long ideological conflict between foreign policy idealists (meaning Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Reagan) and realists (George Kennan and Hans Morgenthau). "Boom!" wrote Barnes, "The wall between the two schools is gone, at least in the president's formulation." As he explained, "The policy of idealists will lead to the goal of realists," because Bush had declared that "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one."

To say more would give me heartburn ...

Meanwhile, Barnes and Kristol are supposed to be the smart right-wingers. There's no pretense about the likes of Prager, Hannity, Beck, and Savage, but still, openly stated racism, if not stupidity, ought to be off the table for the companies that underwrite them. They flip-out over a Muslim "swearing-in" ceremony that does not exist. Are these guys more stupid than ignorant, or vice versa? Actually, it's a false choice. But more to the point, what about the idiots that take them seriously? For instance, how can Tucker Carlson and his producers justify even having this nutty discussion?

On the day after future Secretary of Defense Robert Gates insisted that Americans would need a lot more time in Iraq to get things stabilized, and on the very day when James Baker's Iraq Study Group is to hand over to the president a series of recommendations for, among other things, more U.S. military advisers to be embedded in Iraqi units, Michael Schwartz takes on the American Myth of More in Iraq. In his latest canny analysis of our roiling Iraqi catastrophe, TomDispatch regular Schwartz reveals the special madness of Bush administration policy there -- in which tactics fail and, in response, the call is simply for more, and more, and more of whatever we've already tried. In dissecting the Myth of More, he focuses on two particular fallacies -- that "once more Iraqi troops are trained both the insurgency and the American presence will decline" and that "once enough troops are brought into Baghdad, the sectarian violence will subside." In both cases, he explains exactly why the American logic is so infernally wrong and why, in each case, more means worse and produces less.

Marty sends his notes for his shrink to the blog by accident, part xxxviii:

You may know what I think of the Baker Commission. And, if you don't know and don't care, move over to The Plank or Open University. If you do want to know what I think you can read the article, "Ignore James Baker," I published in TNR hard copy ten days ago and reprinted here a few days after. I have some further thoughts, "Syriana," about Baker's conniving in the current issue which should have arrived in the mail Saturday or will arrive today, at latest tomorrow. When it will appear online only God knows and maybe not even him. Anyway why should he care? You want New Republic articles as they come hot off the press, please read this offer.

Um, we'll have to leave it there.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Spencer Adams
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

According to Rep. Jim Moran, D-VA, Bush did know in advance about Webb's son almost getting killed in Iraq and was advised not to bring it up.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric --

I share your anger at George Will and the media's general mischaracterization of the exchange between Webb and the president. I'm wondering how they would have reported the conversation if it had gone something like this:

GB: "How's your boy?"

JW: "He feels lucky that he's not one of the 2,900 dead or 46,000 wounded service personnel. How are your girls, Mr. President?"

George Will can bloviate all he wants about Webb's perceived lapse in protocol, but the junior senator from Virginia has my respect for showing the president the contempt he has earned.

We've always recognized that the man and the office are distinct, but they've not been so distinct since, say, Harding. I'll be interested in the next American historians' ranking of US presidents. Nixon may have found his place off of the bottom of the list.

Name: Steve Elworth
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

Eric,

I share your admiration for the work of Edward Norton, who can be showy but disappear into character.

What happened to the later work of Nicholson and DeNiro is that they have become extremely theatrical and almost self parodistic. Earlier, they played characters; now they become characters in the negative sense. Dustin Hoffman has been lucky in taking smaller, weird roles to refuse this for the most part.

Another contemporary film actor who I extremely admire, Johnny Depp, shows this problem in the second pirate movie, in which Jack Sparrow becomes schtick. Let's hope that he stays away from trilogies after the final pirate movie.

Name: David S
Hometown: Seattle, WA

I'm sure you're getting inundated with favorite actor e-mails, but I thought I'd chime in anyway. I agree with M. George that the main reason we only see certain actors in certain characters is that that's what the public expects, so those are the roles offered. DeNiro may be the best actor on your list to suffer this fate (I also agree that Pacino should be on the other side.)

One leading actor who I feel should be listed with the character actors is Robert Duvall. He has as much range as any actor out there now. If you don't believe me, try a double feature of A Family Thing and Wrestling Earnest Hemingway.

Name: D Barker
Hometown: NYC

Mr. Alterman: I have to disagree with your assessment of DeNiro. Sure, there are movies where he's doing the DeNiro thing, but in some other films, he played his role with remarkable understatement. A Bronx Tale and True Confessions are two good examples. And of course, let's not forget his role in one of the greatest films of all time: The King of Comedy.

Meanwhile, I'm bummed about the loss of Chad Bradford.

Thank you for your work.

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