October 30, 2002

David Frum's Guide to Mythology

You've got to love being right wing in Britain – why here it verges on being a semi-respectable position. We don't have a New York Times to make us feel emotionally insecure about our belief system, and indeed, unlike both America and Canada for example, we even have a national Conservative party. All in all, despite everything, we're doing quite well: perhaps that's why there's no real call for shrillness in Tory discourse. Which, naturally, made the irruption of Mr David Frum into The Daily Telegraph a distinctive event. For there he was, putting the world to rights, demolishing four 'myths' we, apparently, have latterly been foolish enough to hold about the US, and confirming one 'truth' (or rather, asserting one fiction he'd very much like to be true). I don't know why Americans put up so pliantly with being told to send their boys off to fight in Canada's wars, but I'm drawing a line in the sand: this far Canuck warmongers and no further! It's time to take the war to them.

As the Telegraph didn't tell us – and nor did he for that matter – Mr Frum's potted biography at the end of his five articles was unduly modest: 'David Frum was President Bush's speechwriter in the first year of his administration. He is now a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and is writing a book about the Bush presidency' which is true enough as far as it goes. Also true is the fact that he left under a bit of a cloud when his wife, the writer Danielle Crittenden, boasted about his authorship of that felicitous little phrase, the axis of evil. You'll remember that, that's the thing that includes North Korea, because then it might have had nuclear weapons, and Iraq-which-we-must-fight-because-it-already-does, and then those crazy red goons went and admitted that they do in fact have them, but we don't need to invade them just yet, and oh, my head begins to hurt. Anyway, maybe he was always planning to go, that doesn't really matter, the point is, he's got form he ought to be proud of. The thing this scion of the Canadian haute-bourgeoisie (his father-in-law is Peter Worthington, that rare bird, a right wing hack from the great Dominion not yet inflicted on British and American readers by Conrad Black) evidently isn't proud of is that whole 'being Canadian' thing, for he excessively shy of. So much so that in his articles written for a right wing British audience you could have been forgiven for thinking that that this was an American writing, you know, all that, we, our stuff. A strange embarrassment which I admit I cannot account for, but we must move on.

This series kicked off with a pleasant enough conceit, which had British schoolgirls recognising Mr Frum and accusing him of being part of 'the Jewish lobby'. I leave it to your own inventive imaginations which of these unlikely happenings is the most implausible, but let's pick up on Mr Frum's social dissection of the teenage girls. They were wearing 'Islamic headdress', which has a pleasingly old-fashioned ring to it - one could almost imagine a pro-consular Frum examining the native squaws of Manitoba and dispatching picture perfect sketches of their fanciful apparel back to the Natural History museum in Kensington. Helpfully these two stock characters, with their ludicrous, inherently implausible and grossly offensive juvenilia got Mr Frum going. For you see, although the idea of a Jewish lobby is objectionable pants (and of course it is, don't make me have to come over there web-based emailers), there is, what would you know, a British press conspiracy devoted to promoting false notions of US fallibility. The epistemological implications of this escape Mr Frum but allow me to present them for you: the reason why notions of 'Jewish conspiracies' are vile nonsense is surely obvious to us all. It is exactly because of the unfeasibility of what would have to underlie them that we really ought, all of us, to appreciate that the idea that, for instance, concerted media attacks on America are nothing other than the random effusions of a free press. Unfortunately, like the rest of the neo-con magisterium, Mr Frum can't take criticism.

Moving on from convenient school girls Mr Frum, in his campaign to rebut myths, finds . . . a boozy left wing hack. Aren't they all? they certainly are in most novels and television programmes. This helpful fellow opines for Mr Frum's benefit that all criticism of America is actually motivated by envy. So you there are. And on and on he goes, swishing away at the notion of a 'Jewish lobby' and its alleged power. Mind you, there's a thing I have never understood: very unfairly – in fact it's downright dirty, falsely exploiting as it does some seriously dark matter – a standard neo-con refrain is that, 'to criticise Israel is to criticise the Jews, ergo the critic is an anti-Semite'. Yet, if instead of silliness like a 'Jewish lobby' we talked about the 'Israeli lobby', which there undoubtedly is, and which people from all denominations and none are proud to proclaim themselves members of (Mr Frum, for one, does) why the idea that Israel must always be rendered as Jewish, hence the false syllogism employed above, but it doesn't work the other way round? I mean, my friends looking forward to the rapture aren't, as far as I can tell, really the sort of friends I would want come the, uh, Coming were I Jewish, but let's, uh, dispense with that line of reasoning too.

What, invariably, is the problem with people like David Frum, when they embark on the entirely estimable business of challenging such anti-Semitism as there is, is that they so often, so quickly, so venomously resort to exactly the same category-error of smear and lie anti-Semites do. Take this disagreeable little passage:

Nor is the political Left immune to older prejudices: a Labour minister complained to me about the Israelis 'rampaging through the Holy Land at Easter' – an unconscious hint that, while dechristianised Britain may have lost its faith that Christ ever lived, it has not quite forgotten who killed Him.

Can you do anything other than shudder for the sake of Mr Frum's soul when you read stuff like that? From finding shooting at Christ's birthplace marginally offputting to incipient shouts of 'Christ killers'? This isn't journalism, it's well paid hysteria.

It's useless to point out that lie number one is peddled during the course of this article as well: that Israel is a democracy. You and me both know that to be a democracy there's only one simple test you need to pass: you let all the people living inside the borders you claim as your own to vote in your elections. The thing of interest about the Frumian schema served up to poor, suffering Telegraph readers is that he retails the line that, 'supporting Israel is a cause for conservatives and Republicans (good), and opposing [sic] Israel is the cause of liberals and Democrats (bad)'. Because, presumably, conservatives and Republicans, unlike the evil liberals and Democrats, always and everywhere support freedom abroad and fight tyranny. That must be it, that really must account for the party divide on this issue, seriously, it's what David Frum says.

If I had to single out the lousiest argument advanced by Mr Frum over the course of many thousands of words, it's this one, written of Saudi's friends in, well, in the military-industrial complex in the US:

As Saudi Arabia's veteran ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar, told the Washington Post in a report this February: 'If the reputation . . . builds that the Saudis take care of friends when they leave office, you'd be surprised how much better friends you have who are just coming into office'.

It was a shrewd assessment, and, after nearly 20 years, in America, Prince Bandar has acquired some very good friends indeed.

Got that, the Saudis buy their friends, that what money does, no one, not can we assume, the cited troop of 'the Brent Scowcrofts and the James Bakers, the Anthony Zinnis and the Laurence Eagleburgers', would possibly speak up for historic US policy in the region unless bought and paid for by Prince Bandar. Whereas . . . when we were earlier told that noted philo-Semite Bill Clinton was fortunate enough to lead a party where, by Mr Frum's estimate, 'one third of the money given to Democratic candidates comes from Jewish donors', this is immaterial? I certainly believe it's immaterial, I'm a sufficiently ugly and unregenerate Conservative not to believe that one is tainted by any kind of financial donation. That, indeed, more fool an unsavoury sort for giving you his money, on the age-old principle, better me (a virtuous cove) than him. Not so David Frum, who operates in a world where Saudi money 'buys' folk but 'Jewish' money doesn't. That's an ugly outlook, and I'm priggish enough to be glad that I don't share it.

There's more to come on Mr Frum, and we'll peer at him again next week.

– Christopher Montgomery

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Christopher Montgomery is an historian who is currently writing a book on the historiography of the Suez crisis, and is publisher of ERO. He recently took some time out to run the Iain Duncan Smith campaign office, and for a while was working in the private office of the Leader of the Opposition. A young representative of the diehard tradition, he believes that Enoch Powell was right on everything apart from immigration. His column appears here on Wednesdays.

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