By Jefferson Flanders

With a tip of the cap to New York columnist Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but…

MIKE LUCKOVICH’S CARTOON OF DICK CHENEY subjecting a youthful Halloween trick-or-treater to forcible apple-bobbing (“Confess!”) captures the absurdity of Cheney’s endorsement of “dunking” suspected terrorists (“a no-brainer”) and the subsequent White House denial that Cheney wasn’t backing torture. The entire episode made the Vice President an inviting target for satirists…although his implied endorsement of water-boarding is no laughing matter.

THE “SHY TORY FACTOR,” where voters won’t admit to pollsters that they plan to vote for conservative candidates, makes the outcome of the upcoming midterm elections harder to predict. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, for example, always performed better when real votes were being counted than their pre-election-survey numbers would suggest. Senator George Allen (R, Va.) has to hope that the “shy Tory effect” is masking some of his conservative support in his race with James Webb.

NIKE’S NEW “THE LEBRONS” COMMERCIALS aren’t particularly funny; saturating sports programming with the ads won’t make them any funnier. Le Bron James is a great basketball player—but where is it written that all great NBA stars have to endorse a sneaker line? Is that what “I want to be like Mike” is all about?

IRAQI INSURGENTS ARE HIDING SNIPERS among civilians, apparently more confident than journalist Seymour Hersh that U.S. troops will adhere to strict rules of engagement meant to protect Iraqis.

Hersh, now writing for the New Yorker, told a Canadian audience at McGill University that “there has never been an American Army as violent and murderous as the one in Iraq,” and claimed to have seen a video “in which American soldiers massacre a group of people playing soccer.” (This would not be the first time Hersh made wild claims in front of an audience—in an article in New York magazine in April 2005 entitled “Sy Hersh Says It’s Okay to Lie (Just Not in Print)” author Chris Suellentrop reports that Hersh had told the soccer massacre story before, without providing any hard evidence, along with other lurid, and unsubstantiated tales about American wrongdoing in Iraq).

The reality on the ground is quite different. C.J. Chivers of the New York Times reported in a front-page story that Marines in Anbar had been ordered to show restraint, “a policy rooted in hopes of winning the trust of the civilian population.” Chivers further reported:

“Iraqi snipers seem to know these rules and use them for their own protection. They often fire from among civilians, the marines say, having observed that unless the marines have a clear target, they will not shoot. In two sniper shootings witnessed by two journalists for The New York Times, on Oct. 30 and 31, the snipers fired from among civilians. The marines did not fire back.”

No doubt there are American soldiers guilty of crimes and atrocities against Iraqi civilians, but the journalism I’ve seen from Iraq suggests that this behavior—in places like Haditha and Mahmoudiya—remains the exception, not the rule, in the way this counterinsurgency is being conducted. Considering that American forces have been stretched to the limit in a “dirty war,” the restraint shown has been remarkable. There was an amazing story this summer of an American medic, shot in the chest by an Iraqi sniper but saved by his body armor, later treating that very sniper who had been captured—alive.

If Hersh has evidence of widespread atrocities, he should publish it, sooner rather than later, and turn it over to the American military so the wrongdoers can be prosecuted.

ANY TIME I DRIVE THE LENGTH OF THE MASSACHUSETTS TURNPIKE this time of the year, I think of James Taylor’s song “Sweet Baby James” and these lines:

Now the first of December was covered with snow
And so was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston
Lord, the Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frosting
With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go

No snow on the Pike…yet.

IT IS FITTING TO LET THE AMERICAN HUMORIST WILL ROGERS have the last word: “The more you read and observe about this Politics thing, you got to admit that each party is worse than the other. The one that’s out always looks the best.

Reprinted from Neither Red nor Blue

Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders

All rights reserved

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