November 6, 2002
Frum's Guide to Mythology, Part II
looked at Mr David Frum, and we found him so incredible and
fantastic that we felt we'd have to come back and look at him some
more this week. Our initial interest in him was excited by this
stray Canuck being inflicted on right wing British newspaper-readers
as a guide to all things relating to US foreign policy. We were
suspicious; we had a good long stare at his terribly naughty fib
Britain and Europe think the United States is in the grip of some
phantom 'Jewish lobby'. There were three other 'myths' that Mr Frum
affected to believe we on this side of the Atlantic are prey to:
that the war is 'about oil'; that it is a 'Bush family vendetta';
and that, the US is a 'rogue state'. And then, ever so daringly,
Mr Frum produced a neocon rabbit out his mooseskin hat: 'America
is subverting the Middle East'. Paper tigers, each and very
one of his myths, but the rhetoric that handles them out into public
view is worth examining, and, most importantly, we have to see what
David Frum is boasting about as regards current US foreign policy.
Whether his crowing is more wish-fulfilment than accurate summary
remains to be determined.
I write those of you living in the United States are fortunate enough
to be enjoying the fruits of participatory democracy. On a very
low level of interest, I suppose I hope you're sensible enough to
elect conservative Republicans at root, I'm a hopeless party
flack, and always hope to see the sister teams overseas do well.
One American friend in London can't see much to excite her in her
home state of North Carolina, where Liddy Dole vs. Erskine Bowles
is hardly compensation for the outgoing Jesse Helms. Now, let's
face it, even before the Democrats nabbed the Senate, Jesse had
rather faded towards the end. But if he wasn't the man he had been,
he was still a useful thorn in the side of internationalist, police-the-world
idiots of every party stripe and he's not liable to be improved
upon. He certainly won't be improved upon if the sort of people
who come to predominate in the Republican party owe substantially
more to the likes of David Frum that they do to, oh, The American
of the most depressing things about a Frum is their habitual sloppiness:
and I, for one, don't think it's an inelegant cover for mendacity.
It really does seem to be a defining part of the beast. Let's take
a queasy po-mo dekko then at Mr Frum sketching Brits peering vaguely
at Americans and
see what I mean. It turns out that, 'the most immediately startling
thing about British political and media life is this: everybody
knows each other'. This is indeed startling, not least because it's
demonstrably false, but what makes it screamingly bogus is that
of all the hackneyed lies to tell about Britain, this is the laziest
on offer. Accept no substitutes: this is it for foreign bores cutting
and pasting their copy for back home. Except, err, this is what
Mr Frum was telling us about ourselves. No doubt he raises his game
when writing for a home [sic] audience, as, unlike the incestuous
complicity of the mother country, the atomised nature of American
public life 'helps to reduce the spread of clichés'. Dear
God . . .
you see, whilst we here in London are chatting away to each other
in one great big, old school conspiracy, poor David, well, when
an editor at the Wall Street Journal, America's most important
conservative paper, for three years in the late 1980s and early
1990s. I can count on two hands the number of times I met a politician
in an informal setting that is, something other than an editorial
board meeting or an interview.
different to London, not least, um, the bit about him being a hack
based in New York, while, as far as I know, the federal government
remains stubbornly based in Washington. Maybe people are having
him to dinner now? Is there a PayPal button I can hit?
point of all this self-pity was to illustrate and explode one 'myth'
about the modern United States we are supposed to subscribe to i.e.
that American politics are determined over Georgetown dinner tables,
in order that he might go on and rebut a still wilder one
that this coming war with Iraq will be 'about oil'. If only it was.
No, this war's going to be about something simpler and more complex:
it's about, as David Frum doesn't can't explicitly
spell out, American pre-eminence. That's a simple goal to state,
but a tough one to account for. Now of course on one level, this
is ineluctably going to be a war 'about oil'. If Saddam didn't have
the plentiful oil revenues he patently has, he'd be in even less
of a position than the North Koreans to acquire the WMD Mr Frum
and his ilk enjoy fretting about. Yet what he is at pains to do
here is to stress why his brand of interventionism is good (because
it's not about oil), in comparison to those conservatives
who support stability in the Middle East. These are chaps in the
pay of Big Oil, and showing some lingering Trot roots, this is bad.
ground I keep coming back to, but one of the chief reasons why,
even if the US should continue on its present imperial course, neocons
certainly shouldn't be the ideologues of empire comes from takes
on the world like this:
modern Middle East was, of course, a British and French invention,
but America long ago took responsibility for policing and protecting
how much longer can neocons go on, covertly or otherwise (the most
extreme, and intentional advocate of this line is 'mad' Michael
Leeden), blaming her current geopolitical discontents on 'situations
not of her own making'? Anglophobia's all very well and good, but,
ahem, we've not been running things pretty much anywhere for forty
years. Such international problems as there are are surely those
left to us by the great hegemon? After all, are we not constantly
instructed that such fruits as we enjoy today are equally the consequence
of America's benevolent pre-eminence? However, don't you worry,
we'll come back to that sly little 'took responsibility' quoted
above took, it sounds ever so nice and generous and downright
humble of the neocons, doesn't it? Gawd bless them, each and every
on from oil, the next 'myth' Mr Frum rugby
tackles to the ground, and impresses a few studs in the skull
of, is the idea that [look away now even I'm embarrassed]
the whole wide world believes that the war with Iraq is a Bush family
vendetta. Even though, you know, it was, uhhh, a Bush who didn't
'finish' the thing off in the first place. As we have noted before,
this is another frequent neocon vice, that of projection. In truth
the main body of folk bothered by the fact that the killrate was
moved up into a decent percentile in 1991 are our friends like Mr
Frum, they're the ones who lament that things weren't 'taken care
of' last time round.
point up to us how awful and sneering such an attitude to the United
States is, Mr Frum turns to that famed bastion of the curled lip,
the British civil service (think France, but without the running
away from Germans jokes). Sadly his unnamed civil servants simply
didn't give him the Dubya-knocking quotes, so . . . so, he makes
some up? No, obviously not, he instead engages in some mild phrenology
and interprets their smiles . . .
you ask certain senior British Civil Servants what they think of
President Bush, they respond with a smile. It took me a while to
learn how to translate that smile, but I think I understand it now.
It says: 'I am a professional and, while that notebook of yours
is open, nothing you can say could possibly induce me to reveal
my true opinion of that moron the Americans call their president'.
you, that would be pretty much my advice to you too if you happen
to bump into David Frum in a dark alleyway: maintain eye contact,
keep smiling, nod a lot, back away slowly.
not much doubt that the neocon method is rotten, but it is, too
often, dishonest as well. David Frum is not a stupid fellow, but
when he, for example, argues that a cabinet resignation in a parliamentary
system would be a one day wonder, whereas if, say, 'Colin Powell
or Donald Rumsfeld resigned . . . they would tear the Bush Administration
apart'. What nonsense! In the American system, cabinet members enjoy
office at the pleasure of the President. In contrast, in a parliamentary
system like ours Prime Ministers enjoy office at the pleasure of
their cabinet colleagues. This was an odd mistake for a Canadian
to make. You begin to suspect that this is reality twisted so as
to fit the destination Mr Frum wishes to end up at.
reason, one imagines, why we went down this imaginative route, is
that David Frum wants to unbalance us before he unleashes the fancy
that, unlike a British Prime Minister, able, apparently, to declare
war at will, 'a president cannot take America into a major war all
by himself'. Maybe I'm listening to different neocons to you, but
how long ago was it when they were telling us that, 'of course a
President doesn't need congressional authorisation before he commits
forces to warzones'? As I recall, their main constitutional point
about the chief magistrate was that there wasn't much point to him
and his office if he couldn't toss jets and bombs and troops
round the world at will.
and on this paper tiger hunt goes, with it culminating in the demolition
of the idea that the US is a 'rogue state', heedless
of international opinion. All you need as a representative flavour
of the tendentious deceit on offer here is this opening for the
may be irritating when Americans apply their laws on Cuban property
or banking privacy extra-territorially. It's irritating when the
Europeans do the same, by refusing to extradite accused criminals
to face the death penalty. In neither case is it a violation of
some law: it is a diplomatic problem that friends must resolve together.
that? When the American government tries to tell a British firm
to desist from trading in Cuba (fortunately complying with this
is illegal under British law) this is, plain and simply, the American
state arrogating to itself the impractical right to tell one foreign
entity (the British company) what it can do in another foreign jurisdiction
(to wit, Cuba). You'll look through his writings long and hard before
you find an instance where Mr Frum stands up for the equally noxious
extra-territorial laws on trade with Israel that many Arab regimes
try to enforce (with a comparable lack of success, it has to be
said, to America's efforts to enforce her absurd extra-territorial
laws relating to Cuba). Anyway, the real shocker here is that Mr
Frum somehow thinks that this is somehow meaningfully related to
one sovereign state declining to extradite an individual resident
in it to another. Honestly, I can't believe that divorced from the
prism of neoconservatism a bright cove like this could credit such
a thing. In many ways the strongest argument against this creed
is medicinal: it appears to be driving most of its adherents stark,
staring bonkers. It would be a kindness to put them on Ritalin and
prescribe 6 months of Chronicles-reading for them all.
all of this series was building up to, and what a damp squib it
turned out to be, was that, actually, forget all my talk about how
reasonable the US is, and how much it listens to the rest of the
world and how, well, all those other things you believe about it
just ain't true neither mister: the US is intent upon subverting
the Middle East. I don't actually think it is; like most empires
I strongly suspect that Washington aims to, sensibly, follow the
line of least resistance whereever possible and that, every now
and again, shouting very loudly and glaring an awful lot at one
regime may well have to be a tactic that's employed. However, what's
self-evident is that David Frum, and a horde like him, ardently
wish that it were.
that guff about America 'taking responsibility for policing and
protecting' the Middle East? That's the world as David Frum would
like you to see it, for if he held up an accurate mirror to the
past, his contemporary delusions would become all the harder to
sustain. It's exactly by being so wrong about the past that he can
say sincerely, I think loopy, ahistorical things like,
'America, operating in its own name and under its own flag, cannot
replace one dictator with another'. That's one of those 'iron laws'
more observed in text books than in real life. The entire history
of the post-war period is just so: how the hell can anyone think,
for instance, that 'democracy' plays much of a part in the regime
put in place in Afghanistan? Or Kosovo? Or Bosnia? Or . . . the
list is a jolly long one, so I'll sigh and give up. It's what propagandists
like David Frum are counting on us doing.
epitaph for Mr Frum and his worldview lies in his line that:
full cost of maintaining the old order in the Middle East did not,
however, become apparent until September 11.
that it has, now that the first bloody installment has been collected,
can anyone tell me why this commodity, the maintenance by the United
States of any sort of order in the Middle East, is a price
worth her paying?