Monday, July 17, 2006

Quote of the day: Newt Gingrich announces the start of World War III, and Tim Russert is too polite (or something) to ask if he's been taking his meds


"This is, in fact, World War III."
—former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, to Tim Russert on yesterday's Meet the Press

This is what happens when a person routinely blows off the Sunday-morning TV gasfests, on the ground that it's just a bunch of media kiss-asses kissing the asses of a bunch of blowhards blowing hard. It's possible to get through the whole day, maybe watch a ballgame on TV (Yanks sweep Chisox!), get to the gym, and catch a Simpsons rerun [actually, an episode you've never seen—where Marge ODs on cleaning products, bumps her head and winds up in the hospital with amnesia until, as the doctor explains, chuckling, "The insurance company says you're as well as they're gonna pay for"], and you don't even find out till you check your e-mail that World War III has started!

Of course you know about the escalating hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, but World War III? It turns out to be somehow connected to "wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, this week's bomb attacks in India, North Korean nuclear threats, terrorist arrests and investigations in Florida, Canada and Britain," as Seattle Times chief political reporter David Postman puts it in his account of an interview with Newt during a fund-raising stop in Bellevue, Washington.

It seems Newt wants President Bush, as Postman puts it, "to deliver a speech to Congress and 'connect all the dots' for Americans." And oh yes, Newt wants Chimpy to call a joint session of Congress the first week in September and apparently declare war on, well, somebody.

There is a clip of Newt breaking the news about World War III to Tim Russert, and you have to say that Tim seems surprised. But he doesn't even ask, "Mr. Speaker, have you gone off your meds?" Let alone summon the men in white coats with the butterfly nets. (It seems pretty clear that the Bellevue in Washington is not the one where Newt needs to be spending time.)

Newt's idea seems to be that once we all acknowledge that we're engaged in World War III, and the gloves are off, the Israelis will magically figure out how to deal with Hezbollah (and, apparently, its patrons in Syria and especially Iran—well, he did say it's a "world war," didn't he?), and the U.S. will figure out . . . oh, I can't figure out what the U.S. will figure out.

It's true that our policymakers seem to have no clue what to do in Iraq, and it's true that Afghanistan seems to be going down the tubes. But neither of those situations will change once Newt gets his world war. We'll still be clueless in Iraq, and we'll still be paying the price for being too dishonest, stupid, uninterested and, yes, cheap to have done the job properly in Afghanistan, when what Chimpy's neoncon chumps really wanted was their war in Iraq.

But we nitpick. While we haven't really looked at Newt's plan that closely, we see just two real features that seem to call for a bit of fine-tuning:

• "Frankly," he said to Tim Russert after breaking the news about WWIII, "our bureaucracy’s not responding fast enough and we don’t have the right attitude." And yet the president isn't going to have this tough-talking session of Congress until September? If it's so important, and so valuable, to acknowledge that we're at war, why are we waiting till September?

Say, do you suppose Newt hasn't heard that, on Karl Rove's advice, especially with another hurricane season looming, our Chimpy isn't going to be taking his usual August off? (At least not officially.) What happens if, in the meantime, some mad-dog peace-promotin' dastards should find a way to ease the current hostilities? Do we have to try to stop them?

(For an alternate theory about the September timing, scroll down toward the end of this post.)

• And while again we hate to be picky, seeing as how it's a world war that Newt's so hot for (I remember the good old days when WWIII was something that responsible people tried to avoid; who knew?), we have to point out that there really don't seem to be enough countries involved for that. (This may be just my problem, but for one thing, I can't figure out which "side" Lebanon—where there's actual fighting going on—is on. The poor Lebanese seem to be caught beteween a rock and a hard place.)

Luckily, it appears that we've got till September to, you know, choose up sides—maybe we could call the sides the White Team (us) and the Black Team (them), though this might have to be negotiated. There should be enough time to schedule a session, in Geneva or someplace, where the team captains could get together and do the, you know, choosing up. You just hope it can be done with dignity, and not degenerate into something like:

"You wanna take Palau?"

"No, why don't you take Palau?"

"Oh, no! We had Palau last time. You take Palau this time."

"But we don't want Palau. Look, for the sake of argument, if we were to take Palau—and we're not saying we will—then you have to take Tonga, and also Eritrea."

(And so on, and on.)

Say, you know who could probably throw this meeting together on such short notice? Jack Abramoff! He knows all the good places. Like maybe a Scottish golfing trip? They're always popular.

It does occur to us that there might be another reason why the war session of Congress is put off to September. We note that in his interview with David Postman, Newt seemed to have a lot to say about the November elections, and giving the Republicans a better issue to run on than (yikes!) the president's record.

It was just yesterday that Frank Rich reminded us: "As the president’s chief of staff then, Andrew Card, famously said of the Iraq war just after Labor Day 2002, 'From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.'"

So maybe what Newt has in mind isn't so much an actual world war as yet another P.R. gimmick, to be rolled out, according to the usual Republican electoral timetable, in September. It's World War III, folks, be afraid! Vote Republican!

It was also just yesterday that I noted that I was pondering Mags's penetrating observation, with regard to the Middle East mess, "that the very people charged with fixing this are the very people who benefit from it." I think I should quote her continuation now: "They will not suffer as the people suffer. Their motivations are financial and political."

I really wasn't expecting to have the point driven home so pointedly so quickly.


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