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Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

When liberals thought it was politically expedient to declare Iraq lost, that was what they did. Liberal after liberal after liberal told us that we could not win in Iraq, that the surge was a waste of time, and that we should leave ASAP.

For example, there’s Time’s Joe Klein. Klein, like Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, supported the war in Iraq initially — when it was politically popular — and then changed his position later when the political winds blew the other way.

By January of 2007 Klein was in full “cut and run mode” and writing things like this,

“Pelosi’s right, though: it’s too late for a surge. Instead of putting all its brainpower into surging, the military should be focusing on how to get our conventional forces out (and leave our unconventional forces in the neighborhood) in a way that prevents an all-out regional conflict.”

For the record, I’m outraged Bush is ignoring the election results and the reality on the ground in Iraq. I think he is sending more young American lives into an impossible situation.

Now, here’s Joe Klein yesterday at Time’s Swampland blog,

The reality is that neither Barack Obama nor Nouri al-Maliki nor most anybody else believes that the Iraq war can be “lost” at this point. The reality is that no matter who is elected President, we are looking at a residual U.S. force of 30-50,000 by 2011 (a year ahead of the previous schedule).

So initially, it was “too late” for a surge and the situation was “impossible,” so we needed to leave as quickly as possible. Now, it’s impossible to lose, so we need to leave as quickly as possible.

Incidentally, this is exactly the same line of reasoning that Barack Obama has been using. He opposed the surge and believed we should leave Iraq in 16 months because the situation was unwinnable. Now, his new line is that we should leave in 16 months because things are going so well that they won’t need us — and ironically, Klein’s post yesterday was sharply critical of John McCain for having the chutzpah to tell the truth about Barack Obama.

This is a clear choice that the American people have. I had the courage and the judgment to say I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.

If anything, McCain’s comments were too limited because they apply just as aptly to Klein and most of the other big name political pundits on the Left, who have consistently and soullessly been putting politics ahead of the good of their country and winning the war in Iraq for years.

PS: I would be thrilled if we actually could have 30,000-50,000 troops in Iraq by 2001, but that’s a decision that should be made after consultation with our generals, based on the situation on the ground, not a decision that should be made based on political calculations designed to move votes for the 2008 election.

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As things have steadily improved in Iraq, cough, cough, coincidentally, cough, cough, the press has steadily gotten less interested in reporting what’s happening. Take a look at the numbers,

“The number of embedded reporters in Iraq has plummeted 74 percent over the past nine months, from 219 in September 2007 to a low of 58 in June, as U.S. troop casualties have plunged, according to Department Of Defense data analysis by CNSNews.com Staff Writer Kevin Mooney. U.S. casualties were down 84 percent in May and 75 percent in June from year-ago numbers, for example.

The number of embedded reporters peaked in September 2007, the month Gen. David Petraeus testified in Congress that the surge strategy was working and that violence was decreasing in the country. Immediately following Gen. Petraeus’ testimony came the largest single-month drop off in embedded reporters in October — from 219 to 78.”

The liberals in the mainstream media fell all over themselves reporting bad news from Iraq, but now that the news has improved, they’re not so interested.

Now, some people will justify that by saying, “if it bleeds, it leads,” but that’s just not good enough in this case. By over-covering the bad news and then largely ignoring the good news, the media has left a lot of Americans with a false impression — which is just the way the MSM likes it.

If they actually gave the improvement in Iraq the attention it deserves, the American people might recall that George Bush, John McCain, and the GOP largely supported the surge while the Left, including Barack Obama, almost universally said it wouldn’t work.

The MSM can’t have that and thus, they’ve suddenly become as uninterested in reporting what’s happening today as they were interested in reporting every negative detail when things weren’t going as well.

PS: Barack Obama has no experience and is therefore running on his judgment. The fact that his judgment was so far off the mark about the surge really should create a lot of doubt about his competence to lead the country because after all, if he has no experience and has no judgment, what makes him fit to be President?

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(RWN) – McCain wants to start the surge too early, Wesley Clark gets his facts wrong and also claims the Saudis had a hand in calming the violence – the surge has become a bit of a political football in this not yet official presidential contest.

So let’s discuss this as rationally as possible. Yes, the Anbar Awakening had some effect on calming the violence – in Anbar. That’s 1 of 18 provinces and it was something which was growing within Anbar as we began surging our troops. But it hadn’t grown anywhere else at that time. Read Michael Yon about that awakening. I remember talking with him during an interview on WRKO’s Pundit Review Radio and while he thought, at the time, that it was a great thing, it still was quite small and the violence in Iraq still very high.

I remember talking to MG Rick Lynch (Commanding General of the 3rd ID) not long after the surge’s second phase had begun. The most memorable thing he said was that when he and his troops pushed into an area or neighborhood and contacted the local authorities, the first thing they asked, without exception, is “are you going to stay?”

Once answered in the affirmative, he said the local intelligence and cooperation multiplied exponentially. That is how the “awakening” spread.

A good example of that is Baquba, the provincial capital of Diyala province (NE of Baghdad). It was a place almost untouched by US forces and a mixed area of sunni, shia and kurds. The entire town was wired to explode. Yet, and this again comes from Yon, our forces carefully took the town, drove out AQ and convinced the insurgents (the 1920 Brigade) that it was in their best interest to join the side of the US and Iraqi Government.

I remember an incident talked about by Michael Yon where one of the leaders of the 1920s Brigades told the US leader there that all they wanted was the US to leave. The US leader told the insurgent leader that he and his soldiers wanted nothing more than to do exactly that. Yon says it then dawned on the insurgent leader that cooperation was the best way to accomplish that. Also understood by this insurgent leader is we weren’t going to go away and try as he might, he wasn’t going to be able to drive us off.

You don’t know how key that is to the success we’ve begun to enjoy in Iraq.

Al Sadr, somewhere in this time frame, also agreed to a stand down of his Mahdi army. Some would like to attribute that to graciousness on the part of al Sadr. But as we’ve seen subsequently, when he did let them loose, it was a tactical decision driven by the fact that he wasn’t ready and didn’t have the assets he needed to directly confront the US. And he also figured that we might instead withdraw.
He was no more ready for the surge of troops than was AQI. Consequently he played the “patriot” by withholding his militia officially while the militia’s “special groups” continued to attack us. Would his militia’s presence have complicated the surge? Of course. But as we’ve seen since, it was a very ragtag lot which were pretty easily defeated in both Basra and Baghdad.

All of this to say the intent of the Democrats is to play down the significance of the surge. They want you to believe that the Anbar awakening was well established and spreading like wildfire and that once al Sadr stood down his militia, that surge, in essence, was unnecessary.

Clark even goes so far as to claim no troops were surged into Anbar. That’s flat wrong. 2 additional Marine battalions were surged into that place because it was still hot.

Had the surge not taken place it is entirely possible that the Anbar Awakening would never have spread outside that province. That’s because Baquba was the new “capital” of AQI and would have remained as such. Given the tactics of AQI, there is little doubt a concerted effort would have been made by them to decapitate the awakening leadership in Anbar as a lesson. Had the surge not taken place, the outlying rings of Baghdad would have continued to see car and truck bombs built at will and used in the capital to continue to fan the flames of sectarian violence. AQI forces would have remained positioned to continue to attack, kill, destroy and encourage more violence. Had the surge not taken place, al Sadr would have had no reason to stand down or restrain his militia.

And this talk, as I’ve heard from Obama, that the surge was about “tactics” is a load of dung as well. The surge was an integral part of a change in strategy. To ignore the fact that we switched our strategy to counterinsurgency warfare is to demonstrate a complete lack of knowledge about the operation.

When all is said and done, yes, the awakening was an important development and the stand down of the Mahdi army helped delay an inevitable confrontation (since resolved, btw) and made the surge less complicated, but the fact remains that the major reason that Iraq is in the shape it is today is the surge.

The surge insured and helped spread the Anbar Awakening. The fact that we promised to stay made it easy for tribal leaders in other provinces to cooperate with us. The fact that we surged 30,000 troops into Iraq made it pretty much a no-brainer, in a tactical sense, for al Sadr to stand his motley crew down. And while we’re at it, it also allowed the time necessary to continue the training of the ISF to the point that they were recently able to mount successful major operations in Basra and more recently, Baghdad’s Sadr City.

So don’t let the Democrats rewrite history on this one. They were wrong about opposing it and that is what they’re trying so hard to duck. When all is said and done, it was the decision to change strategy and surge troops into Iraq to implement that strategy which played the major role in defeating AQI, turning the rest of the insurgents into allies and driving the Mahdi army off the battlefield, at least temporarily (and later permanently).

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(WSJ) – A lot of poor commentary has framed the Iraq war as a conflict of “choice” rather than of “necessity.” In fact, President George W. Bush chose to remove Saddam Hussein from power because he concluded that doing so was necessary.

President Bush inherited a worrisome Iraq problem from Bill Clinton and from his own father. Saddam had systematically undermined the measures the U.N. Security Council put in place after the Gulf War to contain his regime. In the first months of the Bush presidency, officials debated what to do next.

Saddam’s Shiite Victims: Over 2,000 Bodies were found at this mass grave in Hillah.

As a participant in the confidential, top-level administration meetings about Iraq, it was clear to me at the time that, had there been a realistic alternative to war to counter the threat from Saddam, Mr. Bush would have chosen it.

In the months before the 9/11 attack, Secretary of State Colin Powell advocated diluting the multinational economic sanctions, in the hope that a weaker set of sanctions could win stronger and more sustained international support. Central Intelligence Agency officials floated the possibility of a coup, though the 1990s showed that Saddam was far better at undoing coup plots than the CIA was at engineering them. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz asked if the U.S. might create an autonomous area in southern Iraq similar to the autonomous Kurdish region in the north, with the goal of making Saddam little more than the “mayor of Baghdad.” U.S. officials also discussed whether a popular uprising in Iraq should be encouraged, and how we could best work with free Iraqi groups that opposed the Saddam regime.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld worried particularly about the U.S. and British pilots enforcing the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq. Iraqi forces were shooting at the U.S. and British aircraft virtually every day; if a plane went down, the pilot would likely be killed or captured. What then? Mr. Rumsfeld asked. Were the missions worth the risk? How might U.S. and British responses be intensified to deter Saddam from shooting at our planes? Would the intensification trigger a war? What would be the consequences of cutting back on the missions, or ending them?

On July 27, 2001, Mr. Rumsfeld sent a memo to Mr. Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney that reviewed U.S. options:

“The U.S. can roll up its tents and end the no-fly zones before someone is killed or captured. . . . We can publicly acknowledge that sanctions don’t work over extended periods and stop the pretense of having a policy that is keeping Saddam ‘in the box,’ when we know he has crawled a good distance out of the box and is currently doing the things that will ultimately be harmful to his neighbors in the region and to U.S. interests – namely developing WMD and the means to deliver them and increasing his strength at home and in the region month-by-month. Within a few years the U.S. will undoubtedly have to confront a Saddam armed with nuclear weapons.

“A second option would be to go to our moderate Arab friends, have a reappraisal, and see whether they are willing to engage in a more robust policy. . . .

“A third possibility perhaps is to take a crack at initiating contact with Saddam Hussein. He has his own interests. It may be that, for whatever reason, at his stage in life he might prefer to not have the hostility of the United States and the West and might be willing to make some accommodation.”
The Iraq policy debate remained unresolved when the September 11 attacks occurred. Like all major national security issues, Iraq policy was re-examined in light of our post-9/11 sense of vulnerability and the heightened worries about terrorism and, especially, about the danger that terrorists might obtain WMD from a nation state.

When the president ultimately decided that the Iraqi regime must be ousted by force, he was influenced by five key factors:

1) Saddam was a threat to U.S. interests before 9/11. The Iraqi dictator had started wars against Iran and Kuwait, and had fired missiles at Saudi Arabia and Israel. Unrepentant about the rape of Kuwait, he remained intensely hostile to the U.S. He provided training, funds, safe haven and political support to various types of terrorists. He had developed WMD and used chemical weapons fatally against Iran and Iraqi Kurds. Iraq’s official press issued statements praising the 9/11 attacks on the U.S.
2) The threat of renewed aggression by Saddam was more troubling and urgent after 9/11. Though Saddam’s regime was not implicated in the 9/11 operation, it was an important state supporter of terrorism. And President Bush’s strategy was not simply retaliation against the group responsible for 9/11. Rather it was to prevent the next major attack. This focused U.S. officials not just on al Qaeda, but on all the terrorist groups and state supporters of terrorism who might be inspired by 9/11 – especially on those with the potential to use weapons of mass destruction.
3) To contain the threat from Saddam, all reasonable means short of war had been tried unsuccessfully for a dozen years. The U.S. did not rush to war. Working mainly through the U.N., we tried a series of measures to contain the Iraqi threat: formal diplomatic censure, weapons inspections, economic sanctions, no-fly zones, no-drive zones and limited military strikes. A defiant Saddam, however, dismantled the containment strategy and the U.N. Security Council had no stomach to sustain its own resolutions, let alone compel Saddam’s compliance.
4) While there were large risks involved in a war, the risks of leaving Saddam in power were even larger. The U.S. and British pilots patrolling the no-fly zones were routinely under enemy fire, and a larger confrontation – over Kuwait again or some other issue – appeared virtually certain to arise once Saddam succeeded in getting out from under the U.N.’s crumbling economic sanctions.
Mr. Bush decided it was unacceptable to wait while Saddam advanced his biological weapons program or possibly developed a nuclear weapon. The CIA was mistaken, we all now know, in its assessment that we would find chemical and biological weapons stockpiles in Iraq. But after the fall of the regime, intelligence officials did find chemical and biological weapons programs structured so that Iraq could produce stockpiles in three to five weeks. They also found that Saddam was intent on having a nuclear weapon. The CIA was wrong in saying just before the war that his nuclear program was active; but Iraq appears to have been in a position to make a nuclear weapon in less than a year if it purchased fissile material from a supplier such as North Korea.
5) America after 9/11 had a lower tolerance for such dangers. It was reasonable – one might say obligatory – for the president to worry about a renewed confrontation with Saddam. Like many others, he feared Saddam might then use weapons of mass destruction again, perhaps deployed against us through a proxy such as one of the many terrorist groups Iraq supported.

Thoughtful, patriotic Americans differed then and now on whether the risk of leaving Saddam in power outweighed the risk of war. But Mr. Bush concluded that it did, and that war therefore was necessary. In Congress, many Democrats as well as Republicans supported that conclusion. Debates will continue over whether the president should have balanced the risks differently. But characterizing the Iraq war as “a war of choice” sheds no light on the issue.

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WASHINGTON – Maybe it was because I was sitting in the back of the Senate chamber with three war protesters — grim-faced, chanting women dressed in black hooded cloaks, white makeup and blood-red hands — that I felt as though I were watching a production of “Macbeth” rather than a hearing on Iraq.

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair,” the witches in the play said. “Hover through the fog and filthy air.”

Many words hovered Tuesday in the Senate — including some pointed ones by the woman and two men vying to be commander in chief. But the words seemed trapped in a labyrinth leading nowhere.

The Surge Twins were back, but the daylong testimony of David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker before two committees seemed more depressing this time. As the Bard writes in “Macbeth”: “From that spring whence comfort seemed to come, discomfort swells.”

They arrived on the heels of the Maliki debacle in Basra, which made it stunningly clear — after a cease-fire was brokered in Iran — that we’re spending $3 trillion as our own economy goes off a cliff so that Iran can have a dysfunctional little friend.

Not good news, given Ahmadinejad’s announcement that his scientists are putting 6,000 new uranium-enriching centrifuges in place.

I like General Petraeus’s air of restrained competence and Ambassador Crocker’s air of wry world-weariness. But now they seem swallowed up by the fresh violence and ancient tribal antagonisms that they were supposed to be overcoming.

The guardians of Iraq offer more of the same — a post-Surge Pause or “consolidation and evaluation,” as the general generically puts it — and no answers about how we can stop our ward from aligning with our enemy.

The way forward, General Petraeus said, should be “conditions-based.”

Even in a place as prosaic as the Senate, this news spurred existential angst.

Senator Evan Bayh summed up the Dada nature of our plan in Iraq: “We’ll know when we get there, and we don’t know when we’re going to get there.”

A confused Chuck Hagel asked the pair: “So, where’s the surge? What are we doing? I don’t see Secretary Rice doing any Kissinger-esque flying around. Where is the diplomatic surge? … So, where is the surge? What are you talking about?”

Condi is too busy floating trial balloons about being John McCain’s running mate to bother about the fact that she was instrumental in two historic blunders: 9/11 and Iraq.

It’s hard to follow the narrative of our misadventure in Iraq. We went in to help the Shiites that we betrayed in the first Gulf War shake off their Sunni tormentors. But then, predictably for everyone except the chuckleheaded W. and Cheney, the Shiites began tormenting the Sunnis. So we put 90,000 Sunni Sons of Iraq — some of the same ones who were exploding American soldiers — on our payroll so they’d stop shooting at Americans and helping Al Qaeda. Our troops have gone from policing a Sunni-Shiite civil war to policing a Shiite-Shiite power struggle, while Osama bin Laden plots in peace as Al Qaeda in Iraq distracts us and drains our military resources.

Even some senators got confused.

John McCain seemed to repeat his recent confusion over tribes, mistakenly referring to Al Qaeda again as a “sect of Shiites” before correcting himself and saying: “or Sunnis or anybody else.”

And Joe Biden theorized that “The Awakening,” made up of Sunnis, might decide to get into a civil war with Sunnis, presumably meaning Shiites.

But Senator Biden asked a trenchant, if attenuated, question of Mr. Crocker about Al Qaeda: “If you could take it out, you had a choice, the Lord Almighty came down and sat in the middle of the table there and said, ‘Mr. Ambassador, you can eliminate every Al Qaeda source in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or every Al Qaeda personnel in Iraq,’ which would you pick?”

Given the progress beating back Al Qaeda in Iraq, the ambassador replied, he would pick the hiding place of bin Laden.

“That would be a smart choice,” Mr. Biden noted.

Senator John Warner asked the essential question — the one that makes it clear that W. and Cheney hurt the national interest: Is the war making us safer here at home?

General Petraeus avoided answering. But he acknowledged that the “fragile” gains there are “reversible.” “The Champagne bottle,” he told Senator Bayh, “has been pushed to the back of the refrigerator.”

You know you’re in trouble when Barbara Boxer is the voice of reason.

“Why is it,” she asked, “after all we have given — 4,024 American lives, gone; more than half-a-billion dollars spent; all this for the Iraqi people, but it’s the Iranian president who is greeted with kisses and flowers?”

She warmed to: “He got a red-carpet treatment, and we are losing our sons and daughters every single day for the Iraqis to be free. It is irritating is my point.”

Ambassador Crocker dryly assured the senator from California that he believed that Dick Cheney had also gotten kissed on his visit to Iraq.

By Maureen Dowd

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(NYT) – A popular video on YouTube shows Kellie Pickler, the adorable platinum blonde from “American Idol,” appearing on the Fox game show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” during celebrity week. Selected from a third-grade geography curriculum, the $25,000 question asked: “Budapest is the capital of what European country?”

susan-jacoby.jpg

          Susan Jacoby
Ms. Pickler threw up both hands and looked at the large blackboard perplexed. “I thought Europe was a country,” she said. Playing it safe, she chose to copy the answer offered by one of the genuine fifth graders: Hungary. “Hungry?” she said, eyes widening in disbelief. “That’s a country? I’ve heard of Turkey. But Hungry? I’ve never heard of it.”
Such, uh, lack of global awareness is the kind of thing that drives Susan Jacoby, author of “The Age of American Unreason,” up a wall. Ms. Jacoby is one of a number of writers with new books that bemoan the state of American culture.Joining the circle of curmudgeons this season is Eric G. Wilson, whose “Against Happiness” warns that the “American obsession with happiness” could “well lead to a sudden extinction of the creative impulse, that could result in an extermination as horrible as those foreshadowed by global warming and environmental crisis and nuclear proliferation.”

Then there is Lee Siegel’s “Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob,” which inveighs against the Internet for encouraging solipsism, debased discourse and arrant commercialization. Mr. Siegel, one might remember, was suspended by The New Republic for using a fake online persona in order to trash critics of his blog (“you couldn’t tie Siegel’s shoelaces”) and to praise himself (“brave, brilliant”).

Ms. Jacoby, whose book came out on Tuesday, doesn’t zero in on a particular technology or emotion, but rather on what she feels is a generalized hostility to knowledge. She is well aware that some may tag her a crank. “I expect to get bashed,” said Ms. Jacoby, 62, either as an older person who upbraids the young for plummeting standards and values, or as a secularist whose defense of scientific rationalism is a way to disparage religion.

Ms. Jacoby, however, is quick to point out that her indictment is not limited by age or ideology. Yes, she knows that eggheads, nerds, bookworms, longhairs, pointy heads, highbrows and know-it-alls have been mocked and dismissed throughout American history. And liberal and conservative writers, from Richard Hofstadter to Allan Bloom, have regularly analyzed the phenomenon and offered advice.

T. J. Jackson Lears, a cultural historian who edits the quarterly review Raritan, said, “The tendency to this sort of lamentation is perennial in American history,” adding that in periods “when political problems seem intractable or somehow frozen, there is a turn toward cultural issues.”

But now, Ms. Jacoby said, something different is happening: anti-intellectualism (the attitude that “too much learning can be a dangerous thing”) and anti-rationalism (“the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion”) have fused in a particularly insidious way.

Not only are citizens ignorant about essential scientific, civic and cultural knowledge, she said, but they also don’t think it matters.

She pointed to a 2006 National Geographic poll that found nearly half of 18- to 24-year-olds don’t think it is necessary or important to know where countries in the news are located. So more than three years into the Iraq war, only 23 percent of those with some college could locate Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel on a map.

Ms. Jacoby, dressed in a bright red turtleneck with lipstick to match, was sitting, appropriately, in that temple of knowledge, the New York Public Library’s majestic Beaux Arts building on Fifth Avenue. The author of seven other books, she was a fellow at the library when she first got the idea for this book back in 2001, on 9/11.

Walking home to her Upper East Side apartment, she said, overwhelmed and confused, she stopped at a bar. As she sipped her bloody mary, she quietly listened to two men, neatly dressed in suits. For a second she thought they were going to compare that day’s horrifying attack to the Japanese bombing in 1941 that blew America into World War II:

“This is just like Pearl Harbor,” one of the men said.

The other asked, “What is Pearl Harbor?”

“That was when the Vietnamese dropped bombs in a harbor, and it started the Vietnam War,” the first man replied.

At that moment, Ms. Jacoby said, “I decided to write this book.”

Ms. Jacoby doesn’t expect to revolutionize the nation’s educational system or cause millions of Americans to switch off “American Idol” and pick up Schopenhauer. But she would like to start a conversation about why the United States seems particularly vulnerable to such a virulent strain of anti-intellectualism. After all, “the empire of infotainment doesn’t stop at the American border,” she said, yet students in many other countries consistently outperform American students in science, math and reading on comparative tests.

In part, she lays the blame on a failing educational system. “Although people are going to school more and more years, there’s no evidence that they know more,” she said.

Ms. Jacoby also blames religious fundamentalism’s antipathy toward science, as she grieves over surveys that show that nearly two-thirds of Americans want creationism to be taught along with evolution.

Ms. Jacoby doesn’t leave liberals out of her analysis, mentioning the New Left’s attacks on universities in the 1960s, the decision to consign African-American and women’s studies to an “academic ghetto” instead of integrating them into the core curriculum, ponderous musings on rock music and pop culture courses on everything from sitcoms to fat that trivialize college-level learning.

Avoiding the liberal or conservative label in this particular argument, she prefers to call herself a “cultural conservationist.”

For all her scholarly interests, though, Ms. Jacoby said she recognized just how hard it is to tune out the 24/7 entertainment culture. A few years ago she participated in the annual campaign to turn off the television for a week. “I was stunned at how difficult it was for me,” she said.

The surprise at her own dependency on electronic and visual media made her realize just how pervasive the culture of distraction is and how susceptible everyone is — even curmudgeons.

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The most anti-conservative rhetoric against conservative talk radio these days is coming from supposedly free-market conservatives. It’s disgusting.Author Mark Helprin’s grenade in The Wall Street Journal stands out. Yesterday, he launched an attack on conservative radio hosts who oppose presumptive GOP presidential nominee John McCain. Helprin sneered that their “major talent is that, like hairdressers, they can talk all day long to one client after another as they snip.”

It’s one thing to hear such petty snark coming from the left. Outraged that conservative talk radio has succeeded in the marketplace while liberals have bombed, and unnerved that new media outlets have upended mainstream journalism’s monopoly apple cart, liberals have long crusaded against the medium. Bill Clinton blamed the Oklahoma City bombing on the “many loud and angry voices” in conservative talk radio that “spread hate.” Democrats continue to deride “Republican noise machines” and are working in Congress to marginalize, regulate and stifle influential talkers — most recently by threatening to reinstitute the Orwellian Fairness Doctrine.

But now, we have establishment Republicans parroting liberal ad hominem rhetoric: Talk-radio hosts are talentless blabbermouths. Their listeners are mind-numbed robots. Or, as supposed free-market conservative and McCain supporter Phil Gramm put it in his broadside against talk radio in the Washington Post last week: “They say they have principles, but some of it is their ego and power, too. They’re well-known, and they’re used to having power.”

Funny. These trash-talking GOP politicians and pundits had no problem when conservative talk-radio hosts used their “ego and power” to help kill Hillary Clinton’s massive government health care takeover in 1994. They had no problem when conservative talk-radio hosts used their “ego and power” to galvanize support for the Republican revolution, two Bush presidential campaigns and the war in Iraq.

In major metropolitan U.S. cities, conservative talk radio offers rare relief from liberal orthodoxy — and local talk show hosts have spearheaded effective activism. KSFO in San Francisco led the Gray Davis recall brigade. KVI in Seattle was instrumental in launching the successful fight against Hillarycare and in support of an initiative abolishing government racial preferences.

Were they nothing more than empty-talking hairdressers then?

The Republican talk-radio bashers did start having problems when many national hosts harnessed popular grassroots opposition to help kill last year’s Bush/McCain/Kennedy illegal alien amnesty bill. GOP Rep. Lindsey Graham dismissed them as “loud folks.” In other words: They were making a difference. Then-Sen. Trent Lott lamented that right-wing talk-radio hosts were a “problem.” In other words: They were effective. McCain’s defenders have made common cause with the likes of ethnocentric, open-borders groups like La Raza in redefining all conservative talk-radio opposition as unacceptable “hate” beyond the bounds of reasonable discourse.

In other words: They must be shut up. Bill Clinton approves.

Those who most stridently criticize talk radio know the least about it. It is not one monolithic bloc. Disagreements among top conservative hosts are legendary. They have different interests, varying styles, and divergent strengths and weaknesses. Do they do what they do primarily for money, ego and power? It’s an embarrassingly class-warfare-tinged cheap shot.

In any case, if you’re a true free-market conservative, it’s not supposed to be a crime to make a profit. There’s no shame in making a living by sharing information and opinions — or in meeting unmet demands in the marketplace of ideas.

I’ve done it for 16 years in the newspaper, TV and blogging businesses. And I can tell you this: Talk radio has been instrumental and invaluable in the dissemination of conservative principles. Ask any author who hasn’t been able to get a fair hearing in the national press, but who has watched his Amazon.com ratings soar after a mention by a talk-radio host. Ask any local columnist grateful for a chance to see his or her reporting receive wider attention.

Helprin accuses conservative talkers who oppose McCain of rooting for a liberal presidency because their “influence and coffers swell on discontent” and they are “nostalgic” for the Clinton years. Translation: They’re all just greedy self-promoters who care more about themselves than the good of the country. Gramm leveled the same attack: “They’re people who put their dogma in front of the interests of the country.”

Cocooned conservative establishment snobs denigrate talk-radio hosts for preaching to the choir. But these same critics have no problem using the medium to market their own work. Ask their publicists. The message of the anti-conservative conservatives dissing talk radio: Self-interest for me, but not for thee.

No need to wait for a Clinton to take the White House. Clintonism is alive and well among conservative talk-radio haters on both sides of the aisle.

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