Waar is de Nederlandse John McCain?

Huma Abedin is wat we in Nederland een niet-westerse allochtoon zouden noemen, en ze is actief in de Democratische Partij in de Verenigde Staten, nota bene als adviseur van de minister van Buitenlandse Zaken, Hillary Clinton. Haar vader komt uit India, haar moeder uit Pakistan en ze groeide op in Saoedi-ArabiĆ«. Ze is praktiserend moslim. Continue reading →

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CNN – How The Mighty Have Fallen

I used to study journalism in the early nineties (Sante was my teacher back then). And although we learned that objective journalism does not really exist, we learned also that one is expected to at least try to be objective. What you learn next, not at school but in real life, is that most journalists don’t really try too hard. All of us have our opinions, all of us have our likes and dislikes. And that’s fine as long as things don’t get out of hand, and they do sometimes.

In those days Holland was introduced to a new phenomenon: the world-wide, round-the-clock news coverage of CNN International. I loved it, I was addicted to it, I would stay up much too late to catch Larry King Live (starting 3 AM Central European Time) and I was introduced to a host of world class reporters like Christiane Amanpour. It was fast, it was therefore mostly superficial, and it was American, no matter how much they tried to avoid that in Atlanta. But it was immediate, it was everywhere, it had everyone, and although it wasn’t exactly the BBC, it did have it’s merits.

Surprise surprise today, when after a year without CNN I saw this video via the Guardian US election site.

How in the world did that go on air? It’s a very thinly veiled jab at the McCain campaign’s reluctance to put their much-heralded veep candidate up on the stage and it has the level you would expect from a less-than-mediocre blogger who’s had a bit too much to drink. Not only is the anchorwoman, Campbell Brown, trapping herself by claiming out of the blue that the press is kept away from Palin because she is a woman – thereby committing the sexism she accuses the McCain people of – but she knows damn well (I should hope) that the issue with Palin is not her being a woman at all, but probably her inexperience with rooms full of reporters or with international issues, or the fact that she’s a bit of an unguided missile, or all of the above.

Do they really think people are that stupid? I am not a McCain supporter at all and I see right through this badly scripted bit of junk. And it does not make me happy, it does not make me want to go out there and cry Sexist! at John McCain. But sure enough, some pick it up and spread it around happily, as if everything is good as long as it’s coming from your side.

Yes it’s good to call upon the McCain campaign to put Palin up there in the spotlight, but why be so clumsy about it? Why this lame attempt at luring back the women who reportedly flocked to the McCain campaign once Saint Sarah of Wasilla was nominated? Why not make the fact that she’s kept from the press itself the issue, instead of wrapping it in a half-assed sexism claim?

Maybe it’s good that we don’t get CNN here on the Edge of Europe. It’s definitely not what it used to be.

Hero

Lately I’ve been wondering a lot about heroes. What makes a person a hero? I used to think it had to do with a selfless act for the benefit of others, like a fireman rushing into a building to rescue someone. Or, better still, a bystander jumping into some ice cold river to save someone from drowning.

Somewhere along the line however, the idea of heroism has devaluated. A man who was shot down over Hanoi and who has consequently spent a long time in a notorious prisoner of war facility is suddenly a hero. Why? What did he do, other than following orders to bomb the shit out of people and failing to come home from his mission? Somehow that strikes me as odd, not in the least because it seems unfair to those who did come home that day.

Of course, if you buy into the prevailing ideology of the day – the infamous domino theory which stated that all of South East Asia was going to fall to Communism unless it was stopped – you could see John McCain as a fireman rushing in to save the people. But if the prevailing ideology of the day is to be the standard by which we measure things, then how do we look upon people fighting for Saddam Hussein, for Idi Amin and of course – for Hitler?

I don’t think you need examples of what the ideology of the day made the Germans do – so let’s not go there. In any case, I don’t think many in Vietnam would agree that McCain was trying to save them by bombing them – there is something decidedly unfiremanlike about lobbing high explosives at people. And let’s not fool ourselves into believing that the people of the United States benefited from what he did in Vietnam.

Let’s get down to basics with McCain: he did his job. Yes, he ‘served his country’ but let’s cut that down to size really quickly: so did Joseph Mengele, so did I, so did millions and millions of people on all sides of any conflict between states. It’s a meaningless phrase. He did his job. That makes most of us heroes.

Military Experience? No Thanks

“John McCain has extensive military experience”, an American friend of mine wrote, explaining why he would be the better choice for the presidency of the United States. And he is not the only one thinking like that – not by a long shot. It is something I fail to comprehend: why would that be so important?

Sure enough, the President of the United States is the commander-in-chief of the American armed forces, but I really don’t think that any president has commanded any armies hands-on since the Civil War. The wars of American presidents have been political affairs: weighing options, acknowlegding or dismissing advisers, finding supporters, influencing public opinion. You don’t learn that in the military unless you end up in a Washington position like on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Wars are best left to professionals – Americans with any sense of history know full well what happens if Washington starts to indulge in micromanagement of a war. It is exactly that which caused John McCain to end up in the Hanoi Hilton. American aircraft, on strict orders from Washington, flew along fixed routes and attacked fixed targets without permission to go look for targets of opportunity – it was so predictable that the North Vietnamese could just point their artillery in the right direction and wait for the Navy and the Air Force to fly into their cross-hairs. Well, almost. So one wouldn’t want a president with any ideas about commanding armies in any direct way.

One of the greatest wartime leaders the US – and indeed the world – has ever seen, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who brought the US into World War II and lead the nation almost to victory (he died but a month before victory over Nazi Germany), had no military experience. Woodrow Wilson, US President during the First World War, had no military experience. The victories brought about by these men and their allies are still celebrated to this day, and rightfully so.

By contrast, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon and to a lesser extent Lyndon B. Johnson all had military experience. Eisenhowers is the most impressive and well known, but Kennedy and Nixon both served in the Navy during World War II and Johnson was a Navy Reserves observer for President Roosevelt. These are the men ultimately responsible for the build-up of “advisers” in Vietnam, for the full-blown war which followed and for the drawn-out retreat. And I wouldn’t call Vietnam a success in US military history. The erstwhile enemy is the one celebrating there.

With all that in mind, I would prefer a President without military experience. Judging history I’d say it’s a definite disadvantage.