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Sic Semper .  .  .

From the Scrapbook

Nov 7, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 08 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Tyrants come and go, sometimes dying in their beds, but more often than not dying at the hands of long-suffering subjects or conspirators. Hitler (1945) shot himself while the Red Army closed in on his bunker. Nero (68 a.d.) cut his throat before he could be beaten to death. Stalin (1953), after suffering a stroke, probably died because his underlings were too frightened to summon a physician. Samuel Doe of Liberia (1990) was tortured before he was executed; Doe, in turn, had tortured his predecessor William Tolbert (1980) before murdering him.

Photo of gold statue head

AP / SergeyPonomarev

The Scrapbook was reminded of these melancholy facts by the grisly last moments of Libya’s Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, who seems to have been shot in a minor skirmish, dragged wounded from a drainpipe, beaten by rebel fighters, and dispatched with bullets to the head and chest. Few mourn the loss of Qaddafi, but more than a few seem to have been shaken by its manner. “You never like to see anybody come to the kind of end that he did,” President Obama told Jay Leno on the Tonight Show. Not since the swift trial and execution of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceau-sescu and his wife (1989) has summary justice so captured the attention of the world. 

In The Scrapbook’s view, this is probably the consequence of modern technology. When Robespierre was overthrown and executed during the Terror (1794), there were no cameras to record the event, or telegraph wires to disseminate the news. But the sight of the dead Mussolini (1945) hanging upside down beside his mistress​—​duly chronicled on film​—​gave the civilized world a moment’s pause. The fact that Qaddafi’s last moments were recorded on video for posterity has contributed to a certain official unease, and the inevitable calls (from U.N. headquarters and Amnesty International) for an investigation and possible prosecution for war crimes.

The problem, of course, is that dictators seldom retire from their jobs, and certainly disdain surrendering their powers. This is partly because of the pathological nature of such people, and partly because the loss of power renders tyrants vulnerable to public vengeance. 

As Winston Churchill once said, “Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount.” Occasionally a tyrant will be subject to some judicial process and sent to prison or into exile​—​Napoleon (1815), Madame Mao (1981)​—​but they are the lucky ones. The tendency of oppressed people, when confronted with their oppressors suddenly shorn of power, is to kill them​—​and to assure their countrymen that they will oppress them no more. The sight of Libyans standing in line to see Qaddafi’s corpse in a freezer tells us all we need to know about his 42 years in power.

So The Scrapbook agrees that, all things considered, it would have probably been better not to have shot Qaddafi out of hand, but to have turned him over to Libya’s new ruling body or, perhaps, the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Yet The Scrapbook is not shocked that he perished as he did. And lest we forget, he was repeatedly exhorted (by our government, among many) to surrender to some instrument of international law, which would have enabled him to die peacefully in old age. But just as he had since 1969, Colonel Qaddafi made his own choice, and now he has paid the consequences.

Pillar of the Intelligence Community

Mother Jones has published a long article about one of the foreign policy advisers with the Romney campaign, Walid Phares. The Beirut-born Phares has written a number of books in Arabic as well as English-language efforts like the provocatively titled The Confrontation: Winning the War Against Future Jihad. He launched his career as a commentator on counterterrorism and Middle Eastern affairs after emigrating to this country in 1990. As Mother Jones reports, Phares seems to have served before then as a member of the Lebanese Forces, a Christian militia that fought in the Lebanese civil wars, in a psychological warfare unit.

While the article acknowledges that atrocities were committed on all sides during Lebanon’s 15-year-long conflict (1975-1990), it’s hardly surprising that the Christians​—​with Phares serving as the part standing for the whole​—​should come under special scrutiny. The crimes that the Christians committed during the war, like the massacres at Tel al-Zaatar, Karantina, and Sabra and Shatila, are deservedly infamous, known by even the most casual student of the modern Middle East. However, the fact is that other parties and confessional sects have had their records scrubbed by local publicists and their Western associates, who for a variety of reasons do not want to challenge the account that, for instance, Hezbollah and the Palestine Liberation Organization have dictated for posterity.

Perhaps that’s why former CIA employee Paul Pillar, a source for the article, has a blank spot. “I can’t think of any earlier instance of a [possible presidential] adviser having held a comparable formal position with a foreign organization,” Pillar told Mother Jones. “It should raise eyebrows any time someone in a position to exert behind-the-scenes influence on a U.S. leader has ties to a foreign entity that are strong enough for foreign interests, and not just U.S. interests, to determine the advice being given.”

Pillar most recently distinguished himself by questioning the integrity and intelligence of his former colleagues in the U.S. law enforcement and intelligence communities when he openly doubted the government’s account of the Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States. But perhaps he’s best known for using his perch at the CIA to campaign against the Bush administration. It’s hardly surprising, then, that he’s now using his intelligence community credentials to attack the Romney campaign since, as Thomas Joscelyn has written in these pages, Pillar “is a master of the art of politicizing intelligence.”

Unlike Pillar, The Scrapbook has a very clear memory of someone who had “held a comparable formal -position with a foreign organization” and yet wound up quite close to a presidential candidate​—​indeed, the one who came out on top in the 2008 election. 

Barack Obama and Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi both taught at the University of Chicago in the ’90s, and at a farewell dinner for Khalidi in 2003, Obama warmly praised Khalidi’s advice, which took the form of “consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases.” Since the Los Angeles Times never released its videotape of the event, we may never know Obama’s blind spots or the enlightenment on offer from his friend and colleague Khalidi​—​a PLO spokesman in Beirut during the Lebanese civil wars.

Khalidi has denied his role with the PLO, but Martin Kramer, the Wexler-Fromer fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has him dead to rights. On his website, www.martinkramer.org, Kramer explains that between 1976 and 1982 Khalidi was consistently identified​—​by, among others, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times​—​as a PLO spokesman, without once demanding a correction. Still, all Khalidi will admit today is that he was “deeply involved in politics in Beirut.”

Perhaps it’s understandable that Khalidi won’t come clean about his role in the civil wars, for everyone came out of the conflict dripping with blood, not just the Christians and Israelis, but the Palestinians, too. Why the Christians are typically censured for their brutality while the PLO seems to get a pass from so many U.S. analysts, journalists, and even former government employees like Pillar is strange, especially since PLO chairman Yasser Arafat showed that, unlike the Lebanese Forces, he was willing to kill Americans as well.

He’s a Large Part of the One Percent

Liberal filmmaker and world-class hypocrite Michael Moore is generally best ignored. While his “documentaries” may do boffo box office, all they offer are dumbed-down sermons to the liberal choir. So you probably won’t be surprised to learn Moore is a big fan of the carnival of inanity otherwise known as the Occupy Wall Street movement. 

Standing in solidarity with the 99 percent is a bit tricky, however, when your net worth ($50,000,000 in Moore’s case) places you solidly in the 1 percent. And so -Michael Moore took to the Daily Kos to write this screed defending his personal wealth. The results are, however unintentional, illuminating: 

I do very well​—​and for a documentary filmmaker, I do extremely well. That, too, drives conservatives bonkers. “You’re rich because of capitalism!” they scream at me. Um, no. Didn’t you take Econ 101? Capitalism is a system, a pyramid scheme of sorts, that exploits the vast majority so that the few at the top can enrich themselves more. I make my money the old school, honest way by making things.

The dust is gathering on our textbooks, but The Scrapbook took Econ 101 back in the day. We seem to recall “making things” as a rather prominent feature of the capitalist system, as is keeping the fruits of one’s honest labor. 

In this case, the things that Michael Moore happens to produce are films that assuage the guilt of rich liberals, and he is very good at it. Whether he likes capitalism or not, Moore amply demonstrates just how robust and efficient free markets really are. After all, Moore knows absolutely nothing about economics and has still managed to become a remarkably successful capitalist.

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