It is not easy to arouse the frequently dormant patriotism of the New York Times, that eminent journal more often preferring to stand by Samuel Johnson’s warning that patriotism is "the last refuge of a scoundrel." The dignified Times has generally found better ways to be a scoundrel and encourage others to be the same. The paper has more often warned against "jingoism" and xenophobia than it has bemoaned a lack of appreciation of "American exceptionalism" by an American president. And when, really, was the last time the Times criticized a U.S. president for not being tough enough, either rhetorically or in action, against Russia or the former Soviet Union? But now the president is Trump and it appears any stick is good enough to beat "the Donald" with.
To review: In an interview that aired on Super Bowl Sunday, Fox News controversialist Bill O’Reilly probed Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "He’s a killer," O"Reilly reminded the president.
"You got a lot of killers," Trump replied. "What, you think our country’s so innocent?"
Trump’s words, which are undeniably true, are less remarkable than O’Reilly’s response, which was, to say the least muted. He quickly moved on to other subjects. We can easily imagine the fiery indignation if the same had been said by a Democrat like, say, Barack Obama. Obama, you may recall, was roundly criticized by the patriots of the right for his inadequate appreciation of "American exceptionalism." Obama stated his belief in such exceptionalism while at the same time expressing his appreciation of the same by peoples in other countries, who regard their respective countries as also exceptional. "Oh-ho!" cried the professional patriots. That proves Obama doesn’t really understand or appreciate American exceptionalism. Oh, well. He’s probably a closet African Muslim. And where was his birth certificate, anyway, and why did it take so long to find it?
The hypocrisy on both sides is palpable. Yes, American exceptionalism is different from that of other nations and given its overwhelming power and its role of defending what we have defined, somewhat haphazardly, the "free world," there is some reason besides hubris for calling ourselves the "indispensable nation." But we have not been bashful about killing. Since World War II, the United States military has undoubtedly killed more people in foreign lands than any other country. We can say our motives were pure, our ideals exceptional and our patriotism unalloyed. But we killed a great many people in the cause of peace and freedom in a number of wars, including those we did not have to join or start. The Times admits as much in its editorial expressing regret over Trump’s apparent moral equivalence, acknowledging that the United States has made "terrible mistakes," including the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture that Bush administration officials insisted on calling "enhanced interrogation."
Ah, that overused word, "mistake." As in, "Mistakes were made." No, the Times did not use the passive voice, but it is at least a partial whitewash to call our war of aggression in Iraq a "mistake." What, our troops were on a training exercise in
Kuwait and veered into Iraq by "mistake"? The "shock and awe" visited from the air upon Baghdad was all a "mistake"? The indefinite detentions, the waterboarding, all a mistake? I guess the rest of the Arab world has failed to appreciate that.
Surely the war was filled, as all wars are, with unintended consequences. The Bush administration, with its predictions of a "cakewalk" and scenarios of grateful Iraqis throwing flowers at our liberating troops, surely did not anticipate the hundreds of thousands of deaths, the millions of refugees and the overall chaos the "fog of war" produced. But it is worse than naïve to dismiss the deadly combination of wishful thinking and coldly calculated deceit that led to that needless war as a mere "mistake."
The Times editorially opposed that war even as its front-page stories often reported uncritically the administration’s case for "Operation Iraqi Freedom," with reporters frequently swallowing whole claims of "incontrovertible evidence" of Iraq’s buildup of those infamous "weapons of mass destruction." Oooops! Even the New York Times can make "mistakes."
And these days the Times is lamenting President Trump’s "bromance" with that killer Putin. There are, of course, skeletons in the closets of the nation’s "newspaper of record." Back in the 1930’s, Times reporter Walter Duranty wrote lovingly of the Soviet utopia under a far more notorious killer than Putin, one Josef Stalin. Later, when Stalin’s Russia became a wartime ally, President Roosevelt had a warm regard for the tyrant he called "Uncle Joe." Compared to FDR, Donald Trump is positively Russophobic.
"I just have a hunch that Stalin is not that kind of man," Roosevelt said, turning back warnings from Ambassador to the Soviet Union William Bullitt. That warning came even before the United States had entered the war, but Roosevelt went on: "I think that if I give him everything I possibly can and ask nothing in return, nobles oblige, he won’t try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace."
There has been an interesting role reversal from the old two-party alignment that produced Democrats accusing the Republicans of reckless warmaking and/or "brinkmanship" and conservative Republicans accusing their Democratic brethren of being soft in opposing the evils of Soviet communism. Recall the shock and outrage expressed by liberal critics a few decades ago when President Reagan called the Soviet Union Russia’s "evil empire."
Putin is a "killer"? Well, as Trump said, "You got a lot of killers" and as he might have said, they rule in places like Havana and Beijing. Yet we have moved to normalize relations with Cuba and continue to build friendly diplomatic and trade relationships with China. Perhaps the "progressives" and their media allies haven’t noticed the Cold War is over. Indeed, some seem eager to start it up again.
Jack Kenny is a free-lance writer and veteran trumpeter, honorably discharged from the (Pat) Buchanan Brigades in Manchester, NH.