Bad Advice

Oh, hot diggety. It’s not every day I get to Fisk a former Secretary of State, but the Boston Globe somehow conned Madeleine Albright to write a little piece entitled “Ten rules for No. 44.” In this, the woman who oversaw our State Department during the bombing of the USS Cole, the wildly successful North Korean negotiations over their nuclear weapons program, and the first “Islamic Bomb” as Pakistan joined the nuclear club — just to cite some of her finer accomplishments — gives her studied counsel to whoever will be the next president of the United States.

I’m not going to give it a customary Fisking, though. I’m going to steal a bit from P. J. O’Rourke, who once wrote about a party game he played involving Jimmy Carter’s book. It involved opening the book at random, reading a sentence or two, and then continuing that thought in as brutally honest fashion as he could.

To begin, Mr. President or Madam President: You must honor our troops by always keeping their sacrifices in mind, limiting them to essential missions, equipping them to do their jobs, and bringing them home safely and as soon as circumstances permit.

Might I suggest you start with Guantanamo Bay, Germany, Japan, Korea, and the Balkans?

Second, you must recognize that the American flag includes both red and blue and that bipartisanship is not a four letter word. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have a monopoly on wisdom.

For example, witness Nancy Pelosi’s stunningly brilliant diplomatic advances towards Syria — just before Israel blew their nuclear weapons plant all to hell.

Third, bear in mind that our country is exceptional because of its resources, traditions and ideals, not because we carve out exceptions for ourselves to the rules we insist that others obey; torture is not a weapon with which to fight terror; on the contrary, it has been a humiliation to us and a gift to Al Qaeda.

We’ll skip over the quaint notion that Americans are just like everybody else, and not the result of the centuries of taking the best and rejecting the worst of other cultures; that the “rules” we’re talking about here are the Geneva Conventions, which have only been honored by one opponent of ours since they were passed; let’s just remember that Al Qaeda LIKES it when we torture them.

Fourth, understand that, to many overseas, America today is identified more with violence and arrogance than justice and liberty – more with Guantanamo than Omaha Beach. Your actions and words can change that, but you are not the only story-teller on the street (or Internet). This means that you will have to work hard to resurrect confidence in the American brand. Speak carefully; listen patiently; earn respect without assuming or demanding it; and do battle each day with the axis of evil: poverty, ignorance, and disease.

Because everyone remembers that time when America was universally loved and respected — I think it was… um… I’ll get back to that one. Instead, it’s much nicer when you call abstract concepts the “axis of evil” instead of… well, you, know, people and countries set on doing evil.

Fifth, attack Al Qaeda at its weakest point. These terrorists are not warriors but murderers who kill the unarmed, children, and Muslims. They offer no vision for the future except the sword. They should not be accused of Islamic terrorism for their crimes are profoundly un-Islamic. As president, you should make reference frequently and with favor to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition.

Remember: they’re not terrorists, they’re criminals, so treat them as such, with trials and lawyers and discovery and prison sentences and the like, send cops after them or make sure our soldiers act like cops, and when they repeatedly say that they are acting in the name of Allah and cite chapter and verse to justify it, say something vaguely nice about Islam to placate the terrorists’ enablers.

Sixth, don’t allow President Bush’s mistakes to dissuade you from promoting democracy. Subtract the passion for liberty from America and we would not be America. Remember, though, that democracy must evolve; it cannot be imposed. It is forged through the blending of lofty ideals with street level experience, as people dare to entrust their rights to others while gaining confidence in the rule of law.

After all, we tried the force approach in Germany and Japan, and look where it’s gotten us.

Seventh, believe in the American people. We’re not cowed by danger and we are far more willing to sacrifice than most politicians suspect, provided we’re treated like adults and told the truth.

And as soon as we figure out a way to be 100% candid with the American people and make sure none of the bad guys hear a peep, we’ll be all set. In the meantime, though, we’ll just hope that the bad guys don’t pay attention and no Americans let anything slip.

Eighth, reward honesty, not flattery; the advisers you need most are those who will be unafraid to warn you when you are about to go astray.

And while it might be tough to separate those who sincerely disagree from those who are just plain contrary or who might want to sabotage you, you can never go wrong if you listen to those who tell you to do the opposite of what you want to. Indeed, a wise president should always reject his or her own opinions and do the contrary of their own convictions.

Ninth, learn from the past, but don’t rely on historical clichés to dictate future actions. The world never stops in the same place twice. Not every enemy is Hitler and intelligent acts of diplomacy should not be confused with appeasement.

After all, we used intelligent acts of diplomacy against Al Qaeda after the first World Trade Center bombing, the African Embassy bombings, and the Cole bombing, and that worked out just fine — even better than our intense negotiations and reasonable concessions with North Korea over their nuclear program.

Finally, forget Mt. Rushmore; if you are to leave the White House with your head held high, you must be ever mindful of your own capacity for error and that the voters, not God, made you president. Greatness doesn’t come by pursuing greatness; it comes through the steady application of intelligence, guts and nerve to the pursuit of honorable ends.

And appeasement! Never forget appeasement!

Madeleine Albright’s tenure as Secretary of State was a disaster. But I have to laud her for her public service; she continues to provide a reliable voice for precisely the wrong tack to take on international affairs, and reminds us of just what sorts of things we can look forward to in a Hillary Clinton administration. For that alone, she has the thanks of a grateful nation.

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