Hamid Karzai (D-Chicago)
WASHINGTON -- I am beginning to think of President Hamid Karzai as Hamid Karzai (D-Afghanistan). The way he inveighs against troops who are fighting to secure his government in that inhospitable realm sounds very much like Senator Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) inveighing against our troops during the Bush administration. Not only that, but now Mr. Karzai has arrogated for himself a formerly independent Afghan commission whose duty it was to monitor elections for fraud and other irregularities. Last week he signed a decree that will henceforth allow him rather than the United Nations to appoint officials to the Electoral Complaints Commission, which the United Nations had set up in the aftermath of Karzai's rigged reelection. So maybe it would be more appropriate for me to think of him as Hamid Karzai (D-Chicago).
We now have underway in Afghanistan the most massive military operation since autumn 2001, when our forces sent the Taliban fleeing to their caves and mountain refuges. Thousands of American, British, and Afghan troops have overrun the former Taliban stronghold of Marjah. There they are trying to establish a proper civilian government while capturing or killing a sufficient number of Taliban to persuade the rest to lay down their arms. Yet on at least two occasions civilians have been killed. This was not because our troops were reckless or insensitive to the plight of civilians. A major goal of our forces is to minimize civilian casualties so as to win, as they say, the hearts and minds of the Afghans. So strict are the rules of engagement that they have increased the risk of injuries and fatalities to our forces.
Yet still civilians have been wounded and killed -- not exactly by accident. A little-remarked fact of war against Islamic fundamentalists is that they use civilians (Muslims!) as shields. They even use holy places such as mosques as shields for stationing their troops and storing their weapons. This use of civilians as shields takes place in the Palestinian territories, where the death of civilians is used as propaganda against the Israel Defense Forces, and of course in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the death of innocents is seen as a propaganda triumph against us.
Islamic fundamentalists not only use civilians as shields, they target them with roadside bombs and -- even grislier -- with suicide bombers attacking bazaars and cafes. The strategic purpose is to create dissension and demoralization among the citizenry. People familiar with warfare against Islamic fundamentalists know this. Surely Mr. Karzai (D-Chicago) knows this. He also knows that our air strikes are nixed if our monitors perceive civilians in a targeted area. Likewise our soldiers hold their fire, when the enemy is using civilians -- often women and children -- as shields while they travel through the country, planting bombs and planning ambushes. Nonetheless he assists them in spreading the propaganda that we are responsible for civilian deaths.
Over the weekend he opened the Afghan parliament with a diatribe. It was not against the Taliban who are in insurrection against his government but against our troops who are training his army, pursuing the Taliban, and trying to hand over a secure Afghanistan to him. He brought along a picture of a young Afghan girl who lost her family during a mid-February strike by our forces against suspected Taliban. Now that is a bit of public relations wizardry, but it is at the expense of his protectors and on behalf of his enemies. His protectors led by General Stanley McChrystal have apologized for their involvement in civilian deaths. His enemies who have put the civilians in harm's way apologize for nothing.
Reviewing his presidency, its corruption, ineptitude, and arrant stupidity, I am convinced of the aptness of thinking of President Hamid Karzai as Hamid Karzai (D-Chicago.) Perhaps this year the Democrats will ask him to speak at one of their Jackson Day Dinners
The Male of the Species (American)
WASHINGTON -- In recent years when I have heard the ongoing dirge about the deficiencies of America's young men I have had my doubts. The army that we have sent abroad to confront some of the most barbaric enemies Western civilization has ever faced is superb. Confronting savages -- usually on their own soil -- our forces have been professional to the utmost -- the Wehrmacht but with democratic values! Withal, they are brave, spirited, manly.
As for my personal experiences with the men of the younger generation, I have found them for the most part to be first rate: intelligent, diligent -- again -- manly. Admittedly the cohort I have encountered is not vast. Most have been young writers and reporters, or the young men introduced to me by my youngest daughter. As they were often young men in the service of her employer, Blackwater, their high quality is not surprising. All are retired special ops guys, and once the lurid canards about Blackwater collapse from lack of evidence, their bravery and devotion in protecting American diplomats will stand as another splendid chapter in American soldiering.
So what is the evidence that the young men of the country are subpar? Well, apparently they compose less than 50% of the college population. Why worry about that? Most universities are simply pretentious extensions of high school, presided over by a professoriate that is -- with heroic exceptions -- mediocre, tedious, ill-informed, bovine, and anti-intellectual. Better it would be for young men to take a couple of years of business courses and join the adult world. Yet there apparently really is evidence that many young men are loath to join the adult world. The demographics suggest as much.
From an unexpected source I recently got a sense of those demographics, namely, the ads televised during the Super Bowl. The clever minds that create those ads have obviously studied the characteristics of the audience they want to snare, which appears to be an audience of young men. All the ads I saw depicted young men who were stupid, giddy, neurotic, and adolescent unto middle age. They were charmless, often dressed like school children, and clueless as to any of the serious or sophisticated matters of life. All seemed to be the kind of lout who would break into a sweat trying to read, say, the Declaration of Independence or the language on a speeding violation. These are the kind of consumers many American corporations want to market their products to, though apparently their products are basically beer and junk food.
Often the Super Bowl ads depicted these patheticoes in humiliating states of catastrophe. One promoting a disgusting snack called Doritos -- an inescapable insult to Latin cuisine -- ended with a loutish young man wearing a dog collar and writhing on the ground -- supposedly another exemplary Doritos customer. Would you buy Doritos if you were depicted in such an undignified way? Are sensible adult viewers supposed to conclude that because an obvious idiot adores Doritos we will too? I am told there is also a wave of films whose protagonists are such coarse and stupid louts. My movie-going confidants speak of Step Brothers and Knocked Up. Perhaps I shall order a copy of each if I am laid up long enough with the flu.
Now every generation has its allotment of poor souls. Yet I can think of no generation that has cast the poor soul as the norm. In fact, there was a day when young men were seen as young gentlemen. They aspired to being intelligent, hard working, interested in a variety of exacting pastimes: sports, the outdoors, music, reading. In its early days Playboy magazine was marketed to just this sort of discerning young man, one interested in jazz, sports cars, what then passed for high-tech consumer goods, what are now called careers, and, of course, women undraped. Believe it or not, in the 1950s and for a while thereafter Playboy was an intelligent -- if amoral -- magazine. Today, of course, it is coarse and stupid. So maybe Playboy too is evidence of young American men's failings.
The pathetic young men depicted in the Super Bowl ads at least do not appear dangerous. Crapulent after a few beers and a sack of Doritos, they probably pass out and catch colds sleeping on park benches in their shorts and sandals. At some point a few years from now they really will enter middle age, at least physiologically. Their sad condition will not inspire emulation. An even younger generation of men will aspire to manliness, and American history abounds with examples of manliness for them to imitate. Young women, do not despair! Help is on the way.