Sunday, April 27, 2008

Falling in Love with Reverend Wright

Friday night is my favorite night for watching television. I am an afficionado of both "Washington Week" and the "McLaughlin Group" on PBS, always ready with lively commentary on the week's news; and then at 9 pm, there is Bill Moyers' Journal. This past Friday, I made myself stay awake to watch at least a few snippets of Moyers, who was interviewing Obama's infamous pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. I wasn't particularly looking forward to it, but duty called, and I admit to having had a certain curiosity. A few minutes, I thought, just enough to get the drift. All the earlier commentators had been saying it was a bad move to put the pastor on; timing was wrong, and it would work against Obama by keeping the story alive.

Believe me when I say I was totally unprepared for what happened: I found myself falling in love with
Jeremiah Wright. I understood completely why he became Obama's "mentor." I could easily have him as mine. I hung upon his every word. (I know, I know! It wasn't all that long ago I fell in love with Adirondack chairs.)

Wright has many of the same enviable qualities as Obama, only more so. He is brilliant, articulate, with that same concentration of focus that allows him to synthesize many divergent realms into a single, integrated, big picture. His dialectic of engagement, like Obama's, is fed by many sources, all leading to a world view of unity and equality. He is, for instance, very opposed to revenge killing. He is also very opposed to America's foreign policy, and is quick to point out its long history of terrorist activities, one behind the other, starting with the decimation of the Native Americans. Moyers showed lengthy sections from several of Wright's sermons, which put into context the kind of fiery comments that have been used as a snare against Obama by the "politicians of destruction." Once again I was embarrassed and ashamed at how a brilliant and good man has been abused and used as a political pawn. Wright himself is unflappable, good-humored, and obviously unfazed, although he did express distress over the personal death threats that both he and his church have received--ever since he was publicly branded a traitor and a demagogue. Listening in more depth to what he said, however, there was not one single word I disagreed with.

Despite his opposition to U.S. foreign policy, just for the record, Wright gave up his student deferment in 1961 to join the Marines and go to Vietnam. He was also a member of Lyndon Johnson's medical team and attended him during his 1966 surgery. The great patriots, GWB and Dick Cheney, by contrast, have refused to serve over many years in any war, or risk their lives to defend this country. But they are quick to have their hackles raised and spew vitriol about patriotism whenever any criticism of their foreign policy is expressed. "There is nothing more annoying in the habits of life [in America] than this irritable patriotism of the Americans," wrote Alexis de Tocqueville after touring here in the 1830s.

As Michael Scheuer points out in his latest book, "Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq," any efforts to educate the American public about how the enemy thinks and the real nature of the Islamic threat has not turned out to be as easy a task as he thought. Consensus opinion must not be reproached--the least prickly truth alarms it. And Scheuer should know. A former CIA veteran who served during the 1990s as Chief of the bin Laden unit, he has been pilloried every bit as badly as the Reverend Wright for viewing the war through the enemy's eyes--even though he does this not out of sympathy, but because he is convinced that bin Laden's own statements are the best source for knowing what al-Qaeda is really up to. The problem with Scheuer's assessments, however, is that the war aims as established by bin Laden are already very far advanced: "Bleed America to bankruptcy" and "Spread out American forces." But political correctness forbids these realities to play any part in the public discourse.

Even worse, Scheuer claims that, however much more we fight, we will still have to leave Iraq in defeat. Stating what seems, at least to me, to be the obvious, and also because of his belief that U.S. efforts to defeat al-Qaeda have been much less than adequate to do the job, he has been branded a "Bush-basher" and a "liberal appeaser" by the Republicans, and a "warmonger unfitted for high position within the CIA" by the Democrats. Scheuer is not the most popular of former CIA agents because he often adopts an "Osama voice" format in his writing that purports to be bin Laden himself speaking. This voice is often delighted at the failing public support for the war and the half-measures so far adopted by the administration:

"The American leaders appear to believe that we are afraid of and intimidated by their military power, may God help them to cultivate this illusion....Brothers, believe me, the Americans' leaders are either soundly asleep, unwilling to face reality, or fundamentally stupid. Based on my experiences, observations, discussions, and studies, U.S. leaders do not have a clue as to what their war with us is about."

Infuriating comments maybe, but ones that are sadly and drastically true.

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