In Slumdog Millionaire, the winner of eight Academy Awards in 2009, including Best Picture, a poor boy with no formal education becomes the first contestant in India’s most popular television quiz show (“Who Wants to be a Millionaire”) to run a gauntlet of nine questions and claim the grand prize of 20 million rupees.
Before he answers the last question, the show’s host and producer turns the boy over to the police — thinking he must be cheating and hoping they will be able to beat a confession out of him. The chief inspector and his sergeant do their best — hanging him from the ceiling, hooking him up to a car battery, and subjecting him to repeated jolts of electricity in the course of a brutal interrogation. In the end, even the inspector is forced to conclude that, yes, the kid from the slums of Mumbai really did know all the answers.
We learn how Jamal Malik knew the answer to each question through a series of flashbacks — with one of them, for instance, taking us to the Taj Mahal, where Jamal and his older brother Salim beg for money, engage in petty crime, and try to sucker unsuspecting tourists into hiring them as “expert” tour guides. A rich American saves them from a beating by his Indian chauffeur and gives them a hundred dollar bill.
A little later on in the story, the good-hearted Jamal hopes to save another boy from starvation by giving him this unknown quantity of money. The other boy — a blind street singer, wise beyond his years — rubs the bill in his hands and marvels at what he finds: It is a portrait, he tells Jamal, of Benjamin Franklin, which means it is a lot of money.
So when the quiz show host asks Jamal to name the U.S. statesman whose face appears on an American one hundred dollar bill, he stuns the audience by answering without any hesitation — Benjamin Franklin.
I thought of Slumdog Millionaire as I was doing the foreign policy quiz compiled by the uber liberal Nicholas Kristof (an early champion of all the great things that were about to happen as a result of the so-called “Arab Spring”) in his column in last weekend’s New York Times.
It was a mental exercise that caused me to have a number of flashback moments of my own. I had one flashback to Hillary’s tantrum before a Senate Committee on the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans at the consulate in Benghazi (“Was it because of a protest or was it because some guys out for a walk who decided to go kill some Americans? What difference at his point does it make?”). Then I had another of Candy Crawley saving Obama’s skin in his second debate with Mitt Romney before the 2012 presidential election. I remembered how she — the supposed moderator — butted into the debate to support the flailing president in his patently false claim that he had publicly recognized the assault on the consulate as a terrorist attack from the very beginning.
Another defining memory was the famous “red line” that the president set when he publicly announced that he was prepared to launch military strikes against the Assad regime if it resorted to the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war. This was (as Tom Sowell noted in recent column) a red line drawn in disappearing ink. Assad went ahead in gassing his own people. In failing to mount any military response, Obama had to be rescued from an acutely embarrassing situation by Vladimir Putin, of all people.
That, in turn, led to the still more awful decision by this president to work with Putin and the Russians in trying to reach an agreement with Iran that might curb that country’s obviously warlike nuclear ambitions. Here the administration agreed to give up economic sanction against Iran in exchange for some very iffy and almost certainly unenforceable promises from Iran to slow the development of nuclear weapons. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius publicly called the U.S.-backed plan “a sucker’s deal.”
That sets the stage for a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It also signals to the Israelis that they will have to act on their own —without U.S. help — if they want to take out a very real threat to their own existence. Will this heroic nation of just eight million people be able to do it — sending war planes and soldiers over more than a thousand miles of hostile territory to destroy critical parts of Iran’s capacity for nuclear armament that are both widely scattered and deeply entrenched?
Among other flashback moments, I also think of the time (it was March 2012 — at the Seoul nuclear summit) when Obama was caught with an open microphone whispering in the ear of Dmitry Medvedev. After his reelection, he said, “I will have more flexibility” in dealing with Russia. Medvedev — then Russia’s president but still the #2 dog in Kremlin — replied that he would “transmit this to Vladimir.”
Apart from that last exchange, none of the events and developments mentioned above figures in any way in the foreign policy quiz devised by the Times’peripatetic foreign affairs columnist (he says he has travelled to more than 150 countries).
Though written under the title, “Do You Speak Dictator?” Kristof’s column is less about knowing the foibles and mannerisms of the current gang of dictators in Seoul, Tehran, and other pits of despair than it is about knowing how to think about, and react to, world events from the blinkered perspective of a die-hard liberal.
Of course, few things in life are more utterly or drearily predictable than what passes for critical thinking and analysis on the leftmost side of the liberal mindset. I give myself no credit for scoring a perfect 12 out of 12 on a quiz emanating from that nearly brain-dead mindset. I would be surprised if any regular reader of The American Spectator rated anything less than a “genius” score under Kristof’s rating system.
To review five out of the 12 questions:
Putin’s most lethal policy has been
a) The invasion of Crimea
b) Warfare in Chechnya
c) Attacks on dissidents, gays and Pussy Riot
Here Kristof seems to be mocking non-readers of the Times, who might be stupid enough not to know that the answer is b). Chalk this question up to the smugness of Kristof and his readers — a point that is reinforced at the bottom of his column, when he gives his answers and flatters readers by saying, “Up to two wrong, you’re a genius! Three to four wrong, near genius.”
Which leader has the higher domestic approval rating?
a) Putin, after stealing Crimea, increasing his leverage
b) Obama, after achieving quasi-universal health care, giving us leverage
c) They are now about the same: Putin’s popularity tanked because of concern about the economic impact of sanctions.
We all know the answer is a), although Kristof suggests that it ought to be b), even though Obamacare ranks as the biggest disaster in domestic policy making since the Great Depression. Yes, Putin has gained in popularity while Obama’s poll numbers have fallen. Putin is the anti-Obama in his re-assertion and glorification of his nation’s identity and place in the world. Obama is doing the exact opposite — and he is leaving a vacuum for Putin and other tyrants to fill.
Let’s skip ahead then to three other questions loaded with latent anti-Americanism:
The countries with the highest incarceration rates are:
a) North Korea and the United States
b) Russia and China
c) Uzbekistan and Iran
Well, of course, it is a). Whatever the blame-America-firsters may say, however, the real measure of the subjugation of people in a truly oppressive state is not the size of the prison population; it is how effective the state has been in scaring the hell out of everyone else who has not yet arrived at that destination.
Equipment from which country is primarily used to suppress the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain?
c) United States
Once again, of course, the bad guy identified by Kristof is the United States. India is a throwaway answer, and we all know (or should know) that Iran is trying to export violent Shiite revolution to Bahrain. We should also know that no regime is more strongly opposed to democracy (or more strongly opposed to individual freedom) than theocratic, despotic, and rigidly thought-controlled Iran.
If the United States wants to curb human rights abuses, we should have the greatest impact on:
a) Russia, because of its dependence on oil and gas exports
b) Cuba, because it is small and nearby
c) Countries like Bahrain, Israel, Morocco and Ethiopia, because they are allies who care about what we think, say and do.
Well, obviously, from Kristof’s blinkered, ultra liberal perspective, the only possible answer is c). But the real answer is none of the above. The best way for our country to curb human rights abuses is not to try to cut deals with tyrants (as the feckless Obama administration continues to do), but to stand tall and strong for freedom.