There's a popular Middle Eastern restaurant my wife and I patronize
just about every time we visit my parents in suburban Detroit. The
first time we went there, I recall, my dad raised the worrisome
prospect that some portion of the money we spent might be diverted
to some unsavory cause. But we quickly banished the thought,
because it seemed brutally unfair. The overwhelming majority of
Arab Americans are loyal to this country, and you can't use an
ethnic stereotype to punish some immigrant small businessman. Plus,
the food is really, really delicious. They serve a mind-boggling
combination of hummus and grilled lamb, a fattoush salad tastier
than any I've sampled elsewhere, pita loaves piping hot from the
oven ... but I digress. As it turns out, the restaurant's owner is
supporting terrorists, at least according to the Department of
Justice, which announced this disconcerting news a couple of months
ago. The owner allegedly maintains "connections at the highest
levels" with Hezbollah, according to court documents. On top of
that, he has allegedly engaged in tax evasion on a massive scale.
So that pretty much violates all my core political convictions
right there. The experience of learning that I have been
subsidizing militant Islamist guerrillas--via a tax cheat, no
less--is a new one for me. It has prompted several emotions:
remorse (did my fattoush salad sponsor a rocket attack?), denial
(it's possible Hassan Nasrallah used my fattoush money to build a
hospital or something, right?), paranoia (can the Bush
administration declare me an enemy combatant?), and, finally,
self-pity (what am I going to eat the next time I'm in Detroit?).
It is in that final stage where I remain today. My only consolation
is that I'm not alone. A few weeks ago, a Michigan-based friend
excitedly informed me that he had dinner at this fantastic Middle
Eastern joint. I told him I had some bad news.Also working through his emotions toward the Middle East right now
is Chris Matthews. In a recent broadcast, Matthews declared,
"[President Bush] didn't have any philosophy when he went in, and
they handed it to him--these guys with ... you know, the guys you
used to make fun of at school, the pencilnecks, the intellectuals,
the guys you never trusted." So now we know the true sinister
influence behind the Iraq war: nerds. Nerds have always been, of
course, the favorite target of demagogues, and this latest attempt
to scapegoat them is steeped in the usual illogic. Far from being
nerds, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are gruff former jocks, and
distinctly thick of neck. And the more we learn about the bungling
of the war, the more we discover that it was precisely Bush,
Cheney, and Rumsfeld's propensity to ignore the geeks in the
bureaucracy that has made it such a fiasco. Yet Matthews appears
ever more deeply wedded to his blame-the-nerds theory. In another
recent broadcast, he asked Pat Buchanan:

When are we going to notice that the neocons don't know what they're
talking about? They're not looking at this country's long-term
interests. They're bound up in regional and global ideology, and
they have had no experience--I'll say it again--in even a
schoolyard fight. They don't know what physical fighting is all
about. They went to school and were intellectuals, but they want
our government to be their big brother. I don't get it. I don't
know why we keep falling for it--and the president, you say is he
free of these guys yet or not?

Buchanan replied, "I certainly hope the president is not listening
to them, because I really question whether they've got America's
national interest at heart."

A more suspicious mind might detect in this some ugly insinuations,
but I prefer to take Matthews's theory at face value. Maybe he
truly believes that participating in schoolyard brawls is necessary
training for the successful conduct of foreign policy. (Perhaps the
young George F. Kennan formed the nascent outlines of his worldview
in the elementary school latrine, while administering swirlies to
the pencilnecks.) There is, of course, a long- standing belief that
only veterans have the moral standing to support wars. Matthews,
who never joined the military himself, is simply defining the
relevant combat experience more broadly than has been traditionally
done. In this novel schema, the heroes are those who braved the
horrors of fighting--be it during wartime or recess. They stand
across an unshakable psychological divide from mere civilians who
remained behind in the safety of, respectively, the home front or
the monkey bars. Buchanan, for instance, was a notorious bully as a
youth. No doubt this experience accounts for the subtlety of his
foreign policy thinking.

Where Buchanan likes to flay Jews for putting Israel's interests
above America's, David Gelernter, writing in The Weekly Standard,
flays Jews for failing to do so. Neoconservatives, of course, have
spent much of the last three decades scolding liberal Jews for our
insufficient tribalism. Gelernter, however, has a distinctive
contribution to the genre, which he elevates to the level of
self-parody. His novel touch is to insist that left-wing Jews
should vote Republican even when Democratic candidates support
Israel, because other Democratic voters may not:

When you vote for a presidential candidate, you are voting to award
jobs to a few of his supporters, and influence to vast numbers of
them. Most Democratic politicians speak up for Israel. But
grassroots Democrats are increasingly dangerous to the Jewish state
(not to mention the American state).

So, when Democrats buck some of their base to support Israel, the
proper response of pro-Israel Jews is to vote against them anyway,
even if you agree with them on everything. The overriding
imperative is to keep anti-Zionists from securing a foothold within
the Fish and Wildlife Service. Gelernter is so enraged that liberal
Jews fail to see this obvious political logic that he hurls at us
his strongest insult, which is to compare us to Palestinians:
"[Jewish liberals'] behavior is a lesson in self-destructive
nihilism that could teach even the Palestinians a thing or two." He
quickly notes that he means this only as an analogy. "American
Jews," he writes, "are not Palestinians and have not sunk to the
level of supporting terrorist murderers." Thank goodness Gelernter
doesn't know about me.

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