- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 7, 2003

For two years now, it has been apparent that increasing numbers of us are living in entirely self-created realities. For example, when I switched on the TV the other day, I saw President Bush being warmly received at Thanksgiving dinner in Baghdad. By contrast, Wayne Madsen, co-author of “America’s Nightmare: The Presidency Of George Bush II,” saw a phony stunt that took place not at dinner time but at 6 a.m.

“Our military men and women,” he insisted, “were downing turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and nonalcoholic beer at a time when most people would be eating eggs, bacon, grits, home fries, and toast.” Warming to his theme, Mr. Madsen continued, “The abysmal and sycophantic Washington and New York press corps seems to have completely missed the Thanksgiving ‘breakfast dinner.’ Chalk that up to the fact most people in the media never saw a military chow line or experienced reveille in their lives. So it would certainly go over their heads that troops would be ordered out of bed to eat turkey and stuffing before the crack of dawn.”

Mr. Madsen’s column, titled “Wag the turkey,” arose, it quickly transpired, from reading too much into an a.m./p.m. typographical error in The Washington Post’s story and an apparent inability to follow complex technicalities like time zones. But, when Brian O’Connell wrote to Mr. Madsen pointing out where he had gone wrong, the “investigative journalist” stuck to his guns: “It’s all a secret, of course, so no one will ever know,” he concluded, darkly. For those in advanced stages of anti-Bush derangement, it will remain an article of faith for decades the president made the troops get out of bed at 6 in the morning so he could shovel pumpkin pie down them.

Now consider Amr Mohammed al-Faisal’s take on the same “little skit” (his words) for Saudi Arabia’s Arab News: “Instead of a dainty starlet trotting in to entertain the troops,” he wrote, “lo and behold, it was George Bush. … Now, dear readers, you mustn’t laugh at the Americans; remember they are our friends and allies.” Mr. al-Faisal then proceeds to explain the Saudis need to find the Americans “a face-saving exit out of Iraq.” But “before we lift a finger to help,” the Americans must meet certain conditions, among them:

“The halt to the vicious campaign of hatred and lies propagated in the U.S. against Saudi Arabia. Administration officials starting with President Bush himself must spare no occasion to praise Saudi Arabia and inform the American people how lucky they are to have us as allies. The release of all Saudis detained in the U.S. or in Guantanamo Bay into Saudi custody.”

Really. While you’re at it, why not demand every freed Saudi gets a couple of “dainty starlets” of his choice for the plane ride home? The appeasers in the House of Saud, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, fed the crocodile in hopes it would eat them last. But the croc got hungry and couldn’t wait: Right now the bombs are going off in Riyadh, not New York, and Mr. Bush has indicated, in his Whitehall speech and elsewhere, that the Saudi regime in its present character has outlived his usefulness.

But, if you were one of the various deluded factions in the House of Saud, the fact the streets outside the palace are not full of folks doubled up howling with laughter at Mr. al-Faisal’s column might well bolster your view the lid can be kept on the al Qaeda pot and spreading around a few more millions in Washington might breathe another couple years’ life into the old the-Saudis-are-our-friends routine so many retired American diplomats like to do on “Nightline” and CNN.

But once in a while, even those in the most hermetically sealed alternative universes enjoy a day-trip to reality. On September 11, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, happened to be in New York, a couple of blocks from the World Trade Center. Made no difference. The archbishop is worldwide head of the Anglican Communion. And, when he’s not wrestling with homosexual bishops in New Hampshire and same-sex marriage in British Columbia, he occasionally has a spare moment to deal with non-homosexual issues.

To Archbishop Williams, the Americans’ liberation of Afghanistan was “morally tainted,” an “embarrassment” and an example of the moral equivalence between the U.S. Air Force and the suicide bomber, both of whom “can only see from a distance: the sort of distance from which you can’t see a face, meet the eyes of someone, hear who they are, imagine who and what they love. All violence works with that sort of distance.”

Last month, the archbishop happened to be in Istanbul and was a guest at the home of the British consul, Roger Short. Within a few hours of his departure, Mr. Short was dead, vaporized in the wreckage of an almighty bombing. Archbishop Williams sounded momentarily shaken, expressing “shock and grief” at the death of his host, and condemning “these vicious and senseless attacks. These acts of violence achieve nothing.”

In fact, “these acts of violence” achieve quite a bit. Why, only a month earlier similar acts of violence had led the archbishop to make a speech at the Royal Institute for International Affairs at which he had argued terrorism can “have serious moral goals. … It is possible to use unspeakably wicked means to pursue … an aim that is intelligible or desirable,” he said. By ignoring this, America “loses the power of self-criticism and becomes trapped in a self-referential morality.”

Perhaps Archbishop Williams would like to explain what precisely is the “serious moral goal” of the men who killed his host.

One reason George W. Bush comes on a bit strong about “evildoers” and so forth is that the archbishop of Canterbury and any number of the Western world’s great and good have rendered less primal language meaningless in this sphere: When Archbishop Williams condemns terrorism as “vicious and senseless,” that’s just the mood music of the evening news. When he says “these acts of violence achieve nothing,” what he means is that his “shock” stops at the end of the sound bite; whether or not the terrorists “achieve nothing,” he intends to do so.

Will the archbishop’s recent run-ins with reality shake him from his equivalence pap? Islamic terrorism is a beast that has to be killed, not patted and fed. The Palestinians use children as human shields and as human bombs. Would it be too much to expect the archbishop, instead of bleating about “serious moral goals,” to dust off, say, Matthew 18:6 and offer up something about how it would be better if these fellows shoving their kids into the suicide-bomber belts hung the old millstone round their necks and drowned in the sea? Or will we have to wait for such Bushesque “self-referential morality” till His Grace is brushing the plaster from his cassock after his next close shave?

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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