Sunday, September 26, 2004

Before John Kerry, the only alumni of Swiss finishing schools I had ever met (in my younger days) were a certain type of lively English girl, a couple of minor princesses from Gulf emirates and a charming young Iranian lady whose family had been forced to flee after the shah fell. Collectively, they all fell into the category the British call “posh totty.” And, although they were way out of my league, the one thing I noticed was their impeccable carriage — they had done all the walking-around-with-books-on-your-head stuff — and how exquisitely well-mannered they were. Even when giving you the brush for being a broke loser, they were very nice about it.

In this respect, John Kerry isn’t exactly the best advertisement for his Swiss finishing school. Forget the impeccable carriage — if you imagine you’re watching streaming video on a slow dial-up connection, his gait seems perfectly natural. But the manners thing seems to have passed him by entirely. His decision to break the time-honored tradition of keeping out of the way during the other guy’s convention by rushing on the air within an hour of President Bush’s speech to give an instant response was boorish and petty. But, given that his “midnight rambler” routine in Ohio was a disaster, there didn’t seem much point dwelling on it.

But last week he did it again. Iyad Allawi, the first prime minister of post-Saddam Iraq, was in Washington to give a joint address to Congress. A tough, stocky, bullet-headed optimist, Iraq’s interim leader delivered a simple, elegant and moving speech, which made three basic points:

“First, we are succeeding in Iraq. [Applause] It’s a tough struggle with setbacks, but we are succeeding. …

“The second message is quite simple and one that I would like to deliver directly from my people to yours: Thank you, America. [Applause] …

“Third, I stand here today as the prime minister of a country emerging finally from dark ages of violence, aggression, corruption and greed. … Well over a million Iraqis were murdered or are missing. … ”

Mr. Kerry didn’t show up for Mr. Allawi’s visit to Washington — he was in Ohio again, which is evidently becoming the proverbial Vietnam-type quagmire for him. Nonetheless, barely had the prime minister finished when the absentee senator did a daytime version of his midnight ramble and barged his way on to the air to insist he knew better than Iraq’s head of government what was going on in that country. One question from his accompanying press corps was especially choice:

“Prime Minister Allawi told Congress today that democracy was taking hold in Iraq and that the terrorists there were on the defensive. Is he living in the same fantasy land as the president?”

It would be nice to think this was a somewhat crude attempt at irony, but given America’s Ratherized media this seems unlikely. Just for the record, Mr. Allawi is not living in a fantasy land. He’s living in Iraq, and he begins his day with a dangerous commute across Baghdad’s “Green Zone.” John Kerry’s regular commute, by contrast, is from his wife’s beach compound at Nantucket to his wife’s 15th-century English barn reconstructed as a ski lodge in Idaho. Nonetheless, he is the expert on Iraq and the guy living there 24/7 is the fantasist, and he is happy to assure us the prime minister doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It’s all going to hell, forget about those January elections, etc.

What a small, graceless man John Kerry is. The nature of adversarial politics in a democratic society makes George W. Bush his opponent. But it was entirely Mr. Kerry’s choice to expand the field, to put himself on the other side of Iyad Allawi and the Iraqi people. Given his frequent boasts that he knows how to reach out to America’s allies, it’s remarkable how often he feels the need to insult them — Britain, Australia, and now free Iraq. But, because this pampered cipher has floundered for 18 months to find any rationale for his candidacy other than his indestructible belief in his own indispensability, Mr. Kerry finds himself a month before the election with no platform to run on other than American defeat. He has decided to co-opt the jihadist death-cult, the Ba’athist dead-enders, the suicide bombers and other misfits and run as the candidate of American failure. This would be shameful if he weren’t so laughably inept at it.

Still, you can understand why, inside the Democrat-media cocoon, the senator’s bet on the collapse of a free Iraq doesn’t sound quite as revolting as it does to the average Iraqi. On Thursday, President Bush held a press conference at the Rose Garden with Mr. Allawi. You know how these things go. The Norwegian Prime Minister happens to be visiting Washington and they hold a joint press conference and Norwegian issues aren’t terribly pressing at the moment so the press guys ask Mr. Bush about prescription drug plans for seniors and increased education funding while the visitor from Oslo stands there like a wallflower at the prom.

But Iraq is the No. 1 issue in American right now, and they’ve got the go-to guy right in front of them, and what do the blowdried poseurs of the networks ask?

“Mr. President, John Kerry is accusing you of colossal failures of judgment in Iraq … .”

NBC guy: “A central theme of your campaign is that America is safer because of the invasion of Iraq. Can you understand why Americans may not believe you?”

CNN: “Sir, I’d like you answer Senator Kerry and other critics who accuse you of hypocrisy or opportunism. … ”

They’re 6 feet from Iraq’s head of government and they have no question for him. They jave no interest in Iraq except insofar as they can use the issue to depress sufficient numbers of swing voters in Florida and Ohio.

Who is living in the fantasy land here? Huge forces are at play in a world of rapid change. As the prime minister said, “We Iraqis will stand by you, America, in a war larger than either of our nations.” But the gentlemen of the press can barely stifle their ennui. Say what you like about the old left but at least they were outward-looking and internationalist. This new crowd — Democrats and media alike — are stunted and parochial, their horizons shriveling more every day.

So for Mr. Kerry the new world war is just a wedge issue. After their schooling in Switzerland, those well-mannered English gels used to describe themselves as “finished.” If he wasn’t “finished” after graduating from the Institut Montana in Zug in 1955, this week John Kerry is looking finished in a far more American sense.

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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