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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

A Slam Dunk — Or Was It?

(Reprinted from the issue of May 10, 2007)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for A Slam Dunk -- Or Was It?By the end of a long war, it may be hard to remember how it began or what it was all about. The Trojan War — let’s see — something about Helen, Menelaus’s queen, wasn’t it? World War II —Germany’s invasion of Poland? (Oh yes, the Soviets invaded too! Nearly forgot!) World War I? Who knows?

Now we are arguing about how the Iraq war started. Did it have something to do with George Tenet, then director of the Central Intelligence Agency, assuring George W. Bush that Iraq had nuclear weapons and ties to al-Qaeda, posing an imminent threat to the United States and its allies? (“Slam dunk, Mr. President,” Tenet reportedly said.)

In his new book At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA, Tenet disputes this legend, though he admits he used the term “slam dunk” and was misled. Still, he insists that he meant something rather different from what it sounded like in the retelling, and he blames Vice President Dick Cheney for propagating the distorted account. (He lets President Bush off more leniently.)

Tenet has already given several major interviews about the book, including one on 60 Minutes, contending that the neocons in the administration were intent on attacking Iraq long before the 9/11 attacks. He quotes Richard Perle as saying Iraq must be punished for those attacks the day after they occurred! Tenet says the CIA already had information pointing to al-Qaeda; and al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein hated each other. Casting Saddam as the ally of Muslim fanatics was one of the administration’s most implausible sleights. How did the public ever fall for that one?

Some of Tenet’s assertions are already being challenged, but I don’t see how these, at least, can be doubted. If the neocons had anything to say about it, a war on Iraq was bound to happen. I seem to recall saying that this was obvious over 20 years ago. (Not that I’ve gotten much credit for it, then or now.)

After all that has happened, Bush seems to have learned nothing. He persists in warning us that unless we stop our enemies in Iraq, we’ll have to stop them here. But who are “they” these days? And how are they going to get here? Are they training camels to swim across oceans? What, exactly, is Bush imagining?

You can only pity men like Tenet who have had to please and placate rulers so dishonest and irrational. Beyond that, though, it gets confusing. Why did he wait so long to tell us something so important? Was he saving it all for his book?

All the people in positions of power seem to know more than they are saying in public. If democracy requires an informed citizenry, what was the point of “slam dunk,” anyway? “Good enough for government work”? We seem to be getting further and further away from the original reasons for this war, whatever they were.

I didn’t think the Iraq war debate could get any more confusing and bitter than it already was. I stand corrected. All that is clear is that nobody in Washington is eager to hog all the credit for this war.

Now please don’t ask me to explain what set off the Wars of the Roses.

Democrats on Parade

The Democratic presidential candidates have now had their first televised debate, to call it that, and better men than I seem to agree that Hillary Rodham Clinton bested her rivals, especially Barack Hussein Obama and John Reid Edwards. She spoke of “retaliating” against attacks on this country, while the others tried to pander to those who just want peace.

Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes 
them!So why did my own heart go out to the candidate nobody favors — Delaware’s Sen. Joe Biden? I’ve poked fun at him for years, but suddenly I was listening to him with respect, affection, and even a little yearning, not only during the pseudo-debate but also, even more, during the Sunday talk shows.

First, he made me laugh. Asked whether he could restrain his notorious garrulity, he shot back with a grin, “Yes.” It was a delightfully humble moment.

But my heart didn’t turn over until Sunday, when I noticed a subtle change in his overall tone. He didn’t talk like the standard liberal personally-opposed-but-pro-abortion Catholic Democrat I’d always taken him for. He recalled that he’d spent five months in the hospital for two brain aneurysms, the top of his skull removed, an experience that would leave anyone changed, more reflective and self-critical.

If I’m any judge of people at all, Joe Biden takes his faith very seriously now. That may explain why he doesn’t seem to take himself very seriously.

Not that I’m endorsing him for president. That would be taking myself much too seriously. Besides, I can’t even endorse the presidency, so what would be the point?

Let me put it this way. The U.S. presidency is a fantastically powerful office; nobody should hold it, because in its present form it should not even exist. But if we are doomed to have a president, the only Democrat who doesn’t frighten me is Joseph R. Biden Jr.

If I’m wrong about him, I’m wildly wrong and I’m very sorry. He’ll be put to the test soon enough.

But our merciful Lord, who brings good out of evil itself, has glorious surprises in store for us. Surely some of the greatest of them will come from people we always thought were our enemies.

Piety and Orthography

Just to show that my power of finding things to complain about is unimpaired by age, allow me to grumble about my pet peeve: the modern practice, peculiar to English, of capitalizing pronouns referring to God and Jesus Christ.

What does it achieve, beyond cluttering up the page? No translation of the Bible does it. Is that impious? By this logic, unknown to any other language I know of, wouldn’t it make much more sense to apply it to divine attributes (“his Will”) or even body parts — e.g., to write “his Hands” (or even “his Spittle”) than “His hands”?

If piety is to be expressed this way, then capitalizing the name of Satan must be a step toward devil-worship.

Having endured many scoldings from readers on this score, I’ve been waiting to say this for years.

“Whom did the great Laurence Olivier salute as ‘my favorite actor’? Why, Mickey Rooney! Who else?” Regime Change Begins at Home — a new selection of my Confessions of a Reactionary Utopian — will provoke thoughts and smiles. If you have not seen my monthly newsletter, SOBRANS, yet, give my office a call at 800-513-5053 and request a free sample, or better yet, subscribe for two years for just $85. New subscribers get two gifts with their subscription. More details can be found at the Subscription page of my website.

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Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2007 by The Wanderer,
the National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867
Reprinted with permission

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