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Conrad Black

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Eliot Spitzer Lost: Maybe America Isn't a Nation of Obtuse Dolts

Posted: 09/11/2013 12:17 pm

As I returned from the studio in Toronto at the baseball stadium from where I speak to foreign television networks, after doing my best to be respectful of the great office of president of the United States while expressing my views of the debacle of American policy in Syria on Fox News, despair for American foreign and national security policy was heavy in my thoughts. It was on the follow-up comment on the radio version of the program where I had appeared also. My thoughts wandered back many years to previous television appearances of former U.S. presidents I had watched announcing important foreign policy initiatives; president Eisenhower announcing the landing of Marines in Lebanon in 1957, a successful operation that caused no American casualties; president Kennedy's successful handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962; president Johnson's successful intervention in Santo Domingo in 1965 which has been a fairly well-functioning democracy ever since; president Nixon's address following the North Korean shooting down of a U.S. reconnaissance plane in 1969; and president Reagan's address on the liberation of Grenada in 1983. All came to mind. All were precise, closely reasoned, proportionate responses that achieved their objectives. The president in each case defined the danger, the national interest, the response, the goal, and the exit strategy (where one was required). And each of these actions was crisply and professionally executed and was a justifiable and effective use of the president's authority as commander-in-chief.

After telling Neil Cavuto how reluctant I was to criticize a president of the U.S. on an American television network, given my esteem for the presidency of that country and anyone who holds that position, on request, I gently recounted the sequence of events that brought us to President Obama's remarks on Tuesday night, Sept. 10, just before I, among others, was asked to comment. Syria had long been a terrorism-exporting state, and a conduit for Iran's terrorist activities via Hamas and Hezbollah, and had severely provoked the West many times. My view, as I have often had occasion to state it, is that regimes that so affront the civilized world, when they can be disposed of easily by supporting a dissident faction, should be overthrown, as Libya's Gaddafi was. We allowed that opportunity to slip as the war within Syria deepened and became more murderous and destructive.

At that point, having effectively declined to do anything, President Obama should not have been making ex cathedra statements about Assad having to go as president of Syria if he was not going to do anything about it. He should not have been drawing red lines if he was just going to back away from them. Once it was established that the Assad government in Syria was using chemical weapons on its own civil population, the president was correct to declare this to be morally intolerable, but instead of sending punitive forces to Syrian waters and engaging in a public dialogue with himself about whether he was going to take action or not, he should either have not indicated that any counter-measures would be taken, or taken them and announced them ex post facto, like the actions taken by the presidents enumerated above. He should not have fumbled his authority as commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the United States into the incapable lap of the Congress; should not have stumbled and blundered into votes for which there was no Constitutional justification, where it emerged that he could not win (even after Secretary of State Kerry said that any military action would be "unbelievably small"); should not have suggested punishing Assad without hurting him; and should not have enabled the collective penchant for idiocy in the Congress to explode in a lot of drivel about "not going to war," which absolutely no one had suggested doing. And he should not have reduced the United States to the pathetic and contemptible position of relying on some phony handover of lethal gas (which Assad claimed until a few days ago he did not possess) to the Russians, Assad's patrons, and self-declared enemies of the U.S., on an unverified and easily revocable basis. Every mistake that could be made has been made and there is no one near any aspect of this policy, such as it is, who has not made a complete ass of him/her/self, including the Republican spokesmen, such as Rand Paul and John McCain. The whole episode is a disgrace.

As I was contemplating whether America's collective brain had turned to mush and the descendants of those who elevated some of modern history's greatest statesmen to America's highest public offices had become a nation of obtuse dolts, a Damascene bolt of reassurance came through my car radio: The most obnoxious and unsuitable person in modern American public life had just been defeated. Eliot Spitzer lost his race for comptroller of New York City. That is a city notoriously capable of electing stupefyingly inappropriate people, but even New York balked at Spitzer. This was the man who persecuted Dick Grasso at the New York Stock Exchange, threatened the very distinguished John Whitehead and Ken Langone over that case; intimidated and threatened the directors of AIG and helped ruin that great company, and accused its great builder Maurice (Hank) Greenberg of crimes in the media, but did not prosecute and his civil case against him collapsed. Spitzer is resisting calls for his own emails on the AIG case, and lost the Marsh McLennan and Merrill Lynch prosecutions (that should never have been taken); and as governor and as attorney general, he committed the crime of paying for the services of prostitutes while masquerading as a pillar of probity and public morals. He is an unregenerate menace to society.

The United States re-elected an inadequate president but its largest city has held the red line on someone manifestly unfit for public office. There is a safety net of some public judgment somewhere, though it seems to require a near-death-plunge in municipal office to find it.

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  • Anthony Weiner, Jordan Weiner

    Democratic mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner holds his son Jordan as he leaves the voting booth after casting his vote at his polling station during the primary election in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

  • Anthony Weiner, Jordan Weiner

    Democratic mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner, with his son Jordan, is surrounded by reporters while speaking to an unidentified woman and her child after casting his vote at his polling station during the primary election in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

  • Anthony Weiner, Barbara Morgand, Valerie Grant

    Democratic mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner's aide Barbara Morgan, right, speaks with Board of Elections coordinator Valerie Grant before Weiner arrives to cast his vote at his polling station during the primary election in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

  • Anthony Weiner, Jordan Weiner

    Democratic mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner holds his son Jordan as he speaks to reporters after casting his vote at his polling station during the primary election in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

  • Christine Quinn, Kim Catullo

    City Council Speaker and New York City Democratic mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn, right, embraces her wife, Kim Catullo, after Catullo voted in the primary election, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, in New York. Quinn led the polls for most of the year but has seen support disappear as her rivals linked her to the bitter debate to let Mayor Michael Bloomberg run for a third term in 2009. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

  • Christine Quinn, Tim Gunn

    City Council Speaker and New York City Democratic mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn, greets supporter Tim Gunn at a campaign stop on primary election day in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. Quinn led the polls for most of the year but has seen support disappear as her rivals linked her to the bitter debate to let Bloomberg run for a third term in 2009. Gunn is the "style czar" for "Project Runway." (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

  • Christine Quinn, Kim Catullo

    City Council Speaker and New York City Democratic mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn, center, and her wife, Kim Catullo, right, sign in to vote in the primary election with an unidentified poll worker in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. Quinn led the polls for most of the year but has seen support disappear as her rivals linked her to the bitter debate to let Bloomberg run for a third term in 2009. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

  • Eliot Spitzer

    A board of election worker, right, helps Democratic comptroller hopeful Eliot Spitzer in the voting booth before he cast his vote in the primary election at his polling station in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

  • Eliot Spitzer

    Democratic comptroller hopeful Eliot Spitzer exits the voting booth after casting his vote in the primary election at his polling station in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

  • Scott Stringer

    Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer emerges from a voting booth with his 20-month old son Max after casting his ballot during the primary election, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, in New York. Stringer is running against Ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer for city comptroller. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

  • GOP Mayoral Candidate Joe Lhota Votes In NYC Primary Election

    NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 10: Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota, former CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, votes in the New York City mayoral primary on September 10, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Lhota is running against businessman John Catsimatidis on the Republican side. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • GOP Mayoral Candidate Joe Lhota Votes In NYC Primary Election

    NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 10: Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota, former CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, speaks to the media after voting in the New York City mayoral primary on September 10, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Lhota is running against businessman John Catsimatidis on the Republican side. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Scott Stringer

    Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer leaves a polling station with his 20-month old son Max after casting his ballot during the primary election, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, in New York. Stringer is running against Ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer for city comptroller. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

  • Bill de Blasio, Chirlane McCray

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  • Bill de Blasio, Chirlane McCray

    Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, arrive to cast their primary votes, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, at the Park Slope Public Library in the Brooklyn borough of New York. New Yorkers head to the polls Tuesday in a primary election that begins the process of replacing Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor who has defined their city for 12 years. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

  • Elsie McCabe Thompson left, stand with her husband, New York City Democratic Mayoral hopeful Bill Thompson, as they get ready to vote in the Democratic primary election, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013 in the Harlem section of New York. New Yorkers head to the polls Tuesday in a primary election that begins the process of replacing Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor who has defined their city for 12 years. (AP Photo/Jin Lee)

  • New York City Democratic Mayoral hopeful Bill Thompson votes in the Democratic primary election, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013 in the Harlem section of New York. New Yorkers head to the polls Tuesday in a primary election that begins the process of replacing Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor who has defined their city for 12 years. (AP Photo/Jin Lee)

  • Democratic mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner makes his concession speech at Connolly's Pub in midtown Tuesday, September 10, 2013 in New York. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio held a clear lead Tuesday night in New York City's mayoral Democratic primary as polls closed, according to early and incomplete voting returns. (AP Photo/Jin Lee)

  • Democratic mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner makes his concession speech at Connolly's Pub in midtown Tuesday, September 10, 2013 in New York. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio held a clear lead Tuesday night in New York City's mayoral Democratic primary as polls closed, according to early and incomplete voting returns. (AP Photo/Jin Lee)

  • Bill De Blasio, Chirlane De Blasio

    New York City Democratic Mayoral candidate Bill De Blasio, left, and his wife Chirlane wave to supporters at De Blasio election headquarters after polls closed in the city's primary election Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

  • Bill De Blasio

    New York City Democratic Mayoral candidate Bill De Blasio dances on stage after addressing supporters at his election headquarters after polls closed in the city's primary election Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

  • Bill De Blasio, Dante De Balsio, Chiara De Blasio, Chirlane De Blasio

    New York City Democratic Mayoral hopeful Bill De Blasio embraces his son Dante, left, daughter Chiara, second from left, and wife Chirlane, right, after addressing supporters at his election headquarters after polls closed in the city's primary election Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

  • Bill Thompson

    New York Democratic mayoral hopeful Bill Thompson speaks to his supporters after the polls closed, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013 in New York. Thompson and opponent Bill de Blasio are locked in a tight race in the Democratic primary. Thompson is holding up three fingers, indicating that he is hoping for a runoff election to determine the Democratic nominee in three weeks. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

  • Christine Quinn Campaign Holds Primary Election Night Event

    NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 10: New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn speaks next to her wife Kim Catullo (L) during her concession speech in the New York Democratic mayoral primary elections on September 10, 2013 in New York City. Quinn, who lead early in the polls and who was endorsed by all of New York's major newspapers, saw her lead slip away in the final weeks of the campaign. Quinn would have been the first woman and lesbian to hold the job of mayor. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Christine Quinn Campaign Holds Primary Election Night Event

    NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 10: New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn gives her concession speech in the New York Democratic mayoral primary elections on September 10, 2013 in New York City. Quinn, who lead early in the polls and who was endorsed by all of New York's major newspapers, saw her lead slip away in the final weeks of the campaign. Quinn would have been the first woman and lesbian to hold the job of mayor. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, at the podium, delivers his concession speech at his election night party after losing the Democratic primary race for New York City comptroller Tuesday Sept. 10, 2013 in New York. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)

 
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