THE POWELL SYNDROME

An important editorial in the Washington Post today. The last few days have seemed to indicate the growing influence of Colin Powell in the administration, a truly ominous sign. The president’s statement in his speech last Thursday that the Taliban would share the fate of the terrorists if they didn’t hand bin Laden over has apparently been abandoned. Powell clearly wants the meekest of responses – limited to a few of bin Laden’s operatives, leaving the Taliban regime in place, and Saddam as well. As Bill Kristol has observed and as an astute letter to the site today notes, Powell seems dismissive of the president in public, and undercut the president’s speech in the Sunday news shows. My hope is that Bush is using Powell for good purposes – to soothe allies, talk softly – while we prepare for serious action against not only the terrorists but all the regimes that sponsor them. My fear is that Powell is calling the shots and that the alliance is taking precedence over the action we need to take – which is a recipe for the same failure as the ill-completed Gulf War. Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice: don’t let Powell screw up again! This time, as the Post rightly observes, failure is not an option.

MEMO TO REUTERS: Thanks for your suggestions for Reuters to use instead of the dread and terribly unobjective word “terrorists.” “Compassion-challenged advocates” has an Oprah-esque quality. “Aeronautical Fundamentalists” distinguishes them from the 700 Club, but doesn’t quite capture their aggressive tendencies. They could be evangelicals on the shuttle. “Collateral damage coordinators” has its merits. But I vote for “casualty facilitators.” Maybe even Peter Jennings could spit that one out.

CHEMICAL WARFARE AGAIN: It seems irrefutable now that chemical and/or biological weapons are going to be used in some manner at some point against American citizens by the enemy. Read this chilling piece in the Washington Post which explains that bin Laden’s Islamic extremists have been training for just such an attack. Today’s New York Times reports on arrests of several people planning to capture hazardous chemicals. So why do we have, so far as I can tell, no civil defense preparation? The Times argues cogently that nightmare scenarios – like the successful contamination of reservoirs – are unlikely, but not as cogently that subways may not be death-traps. We surely need to ratchet up public health monitoring of potential outbreaks. But why are there not plans for mass manufacture and distribution of gas-masks? Is it because we will only find out we’ve been gassed after it’s too late? If so, why are they available for members of Congress? Coming back to Washington, this kind of attack is the only thing I’m actually afraid of. Maybe I’m just another worried post-boomer, the kind Maureen Dowd lampoons today. Correspondents have tried to reassure me, but I’m not reassured. Why do we have to wait for the worst to happen before we take some elementary precautions to avoid it?

LETTERS: In defense of our universities; Pollitt and Lessing; a Canadian vents; Powell and Acheson – a revealing contrast; etc.

PATRIOTISM DEFENDED: “Patriotism has, then, many faces. Those who would reject it entirely do not seem to have considered what will certainly step – has already begun to step – into its place. For a long time yet, or perhaps forever, nations will live in danger. Rulers must somehow nerve their subjects to defend them or at least to prepare for their defense. Where the sentiment of patriotism has been destroyed this can be done only by presenting every international conflict in a purely ethical light. If people will spend neither sweat nor blood for “their country” they must be made to feel that they are spending them for justice, or civilization, or humanity. This is a step down, not up. Patriotic sentiment did not of course need to disregard ethics. Good men needed to be convinced that their country’s cause was just; but it was still their country’s cause, not the cause of justice as such. The difference seems to me important. I may without self-righteousness or hypocrisy think it just to defend my house by force against a burglar; but if I start pretending that I blacked his eye purely on moral grounds – wholly indifferent to the fact that the house in question is mine – I become insufferable….If our country’s cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation.” – C.S. Lewis, “The Four Loves.”

AMERICA RISING: A small interruption for a somewhat novel way of celebrating patriotism. Freedom of expression – and a tree carved into a 7-foot phallus with Old Glory on top. Just what would Katha Pollitt say?