New on NewsReal – Peter Beinart Confuses "Democracy" with "Freedom" in the Middle East

My latest NewsRealBlog post:

At CPAC 2011, Ann Coulter made the following claim:

Democrats are all for meddling in other countries –- but only provided a change of regime will harm U.S. national security interests.

It probably wasn’t his intention, but this week the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart has set out to prove her right. Beinart (who, recall, doesn’t think the War on Terror is a war and says conservatives only support profiling because we don’t believe people who look like us are capable of bad things) has chosen to lecture us about “the hypocrisy of the right’s shallow rhetoric on liberty and human freedom,” allegedly displayed by those of us who aren’t all that optimistic that a post-Mubarak Egypt will be any more free or humane:

[T]he people with the biggest megaphones on the American right—people like Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich—are not preaching democratic idealism. They’re warning that Egypt and Bahrain are about to become Iranian- or Taliban-style theocracies. They’re comparing Barack Obama to Jimmy Carter for not standing behind our favored strongmen. And they’re suggesting that, at the very least, America should demand that Islamist parties be banned. When it comes to Muslims and democracy, much of the supposedly idealistic American right turns out to be pretty pessimistic. It turns out that the people uninterested in the human rights of Muslims at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay aren’t all that concerned about them in Egypt or Bahrain either.


What human-rights disinterest are you referring to, Peter? The way I remember it, conservatives overwhelmingly condemned the actual abuse and the military punished those responsible all on its own, while waterboarding has saved American lives. And Beck, Palin and Gingrich’s doubts are far from groundless—the radical Muslim Brotherhood is among the factions vying for control of Egypt’s new government, and as David Horowitz sarcastically pointed out to Bill Kristol, recent history doesn’t suggest great odds for Egypt:

Perhaps the elections in Egypt will turn out better than those in Gaza where Hamas now rules a terrorist state; Iraq, which has instituted an Islamic Republic; Lebanon, where Hezbollah now rules a terrorist state; and Afghanistan, which is a kleptocracy wooing the terrorist theocracy in Iran.

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New on NewsReal – Television Turned Against Women’s Rights in Afghanistan. Where’s Cultural Imperialism When You Need It?

My latest NewsRealBlog post:

Television can be a force for liberty in totalitarian and theocratic societies, but it can be used to thwart liberty, as well. Case in point: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon’s Daily Beast report on disturbing events in Afghanistan:

In the past several weeks, controversial television presenter Nasto Naderi has stepped up a campaign he began this year accusing women’s shelters of supporting prostitution and other behavior considered immoral. In December, Naderi showed footage of a family guidance center run by the organization Women for Afghan Women, followed by pictures of family guidance and women’s shelter staff entering their offices. According to Naderi, women’s shelters encourage behavior that violates Islam, though he has yet to offer any evidence to support his allegations.
The unwanted attention has sent a chill through women’s rights supporters in Kabul and created an environment of both fear and defiance among shelter workers. In a conservative country with little history of providing safe havens for domestic-violence victims, the concern is that Naderi’s charges could do great harm—and put shelter workers at risk.

“By these kinds of programs, people’s minds may be swayed, and they may think negatively about these kinds of safe houses,” said Selay Ghaffar of the organization HAWCA, which offers legal aid and temporary shelter to Afghan women seeking to escape domestic abuse.

Naderi makes no bones about what’s really driving his propaganda campaign, boasting that his people “have fought 30 years to put the word ‘Islam’ in front of Afghanistan […] But some NGOs come and want to make another way for our country.” It certainly isn’t concern for the shelters’ quality—“Mr. Nadiri says he hasn’t visited any of the 17 shelters officially registered with the government.”

Women’s defenders fear the legitimization of the Taliban could mean the end of the shelters:

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Don’t Rush Out of Afghanistan, Says…Time?

My fellow NewsReal blogger Jenny Erikson has a powerful post highlighting Time’s latest cover story: “What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan.” Both works confront the horrifying subjugation of Muslim women, demanding to be read in full. Here I’d like to make a different observation: the moral clarity Time is capable of when the commander-in-chief is a Democrat is remarkable, isn’t it?

Did the Commander-in-Chief Allow the Endangerment of Afghan Informants?

That’s what scumbag propagandist Julian Assange apparently alleges. If it’s true that Obama had the opportunity to redact the names and locations of “hundreds of Afghan civilians who worked as informants for the U.S. military,” it would sure strike me as impeachment-worthy. But this is Julian Assange we’re talking about; his word isn’t enough evidence to go after Obama on.

Movie Review: Iron Man

This weekend, Marvel Comics’ latest big-screen superhero adaptation, Iron Man, hit theatres. The film has garnered some attention for touching on political themes, and some liberal reviewers are trying to claim it as their own. Is Iron Man a lefty propaganda piece? I saw it last night, and will give my answer in the following review. Be warned, though: I’ll try to hide plot spoilers as best I can, but if you don’t want to know anything at all about the film until you see it, here’s the bottom line: conservatives (and pro-military Democrats) can rest easy buying a ticket for this one.

When we first meet Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), he hardly seems like hero material. Though a quick-witted charmer and technological genius, the billionaire weapons manufacturer is also a gambling, womanizing, hard-drinking scoundrel, much to the exasperation of those around him: indispensable personal assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and best friend Air Force Lt. Col. Rhodey Rhodes (Terrence Howard). All that changes, though, on Stark’s own Road to Damascus, which happens to run through Afghanistan. While visiting the warzone to demonstrate Stark Industries’ newest toy, the Jericho Missile, his convoy is hit by a roadside bomb. He wakes up to find himself in a terrorist camp, and is horrified to discover his name stamped on a whole lot of their arsenal. Ordered to build a Jericho for the bad guys, Tony instead builds a makeshift suit of armor with which to escape (and kick terrorist butt in the process, of course). Upon his return to America, he announces that his company will cease weapon production, and secretly builds a new hi-tech suit with which he plans to destroy whatever other Stark Industries weaponry has fallen into enemy hands. Naturally, business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) is none too pleased about this, and villainy ensues.

First, is Iron Man any good as a movie? The answer is a resounding yes. The writing is coherent and certainly doesn’t ask for any more suspension of disbelief than the average superhero or sci-fi film. The casting of Downey Jr. as Stark is absolutely perfect. From wisecracking and sleazy to courageous and driven, Stark has a wide range of traits throughout the story, and Downey nails them all, never letting his changes of heart seem unnatural while doing so. By contrast, while I’ve come to like Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker in the Spider-Man films, he does take some getting used to. Not so here: from the opening scene on, there’s no doubt that Robert Downey is Tony Stark. Paltrow is smart and charming as his right-hand gal, and the chemistry between the two is genuinely sweet. Howard doesn’t have a whole lot of material to work with as the responsible straight-man to Downey’s wild card, but he works out just fine, and as comic fans know, he’ll have his
time to shine in the sequels. Bridges is great as the main villain, too, though by the time he goes into full bad-guy mode for the climactic showdown, his performance is a bit on the generic side, if still enjoyable. The special effects are excellent, and while not every shot of the hero’s digitally-animated stand-in looks photo-realistic, many do, and the CGI blends quite well with the actual constructed suits. Overall, Iron Man is a faithful adaptation of the comic book and Marvel’s best big-screen offering yet (though not necessarily better than the crown jewel of the genre, Batman Begins, or its forthcoming sequel, The Dark Knight). If you like comic books, science fiction, or action movies in general, you simply have to see it. (Oh, and comic book diehards probably already know this, but be sure to stick around after the credits…)

OK, then, what about the politics? In
Time’s review, Richard Corliss describes Iron Man as a “semi-pacific” hero who “resolves to study war no more” and is on a mission “to dismantle his own company.” While it’s true that Tony puts the kibosh on his company’s weapons program, it doesn’t come across as a blanket condemnation of military force, for a few reasons. First, it’d be a sensible move for anyone in that position—yes, even evil, heartless conservatives—to stop the weapons flow, at least until figuring out how terrorists are getting a hold of them. Second, both the United States military and the government are portrayed as benign and heroic, without the slightest hint that America’s current conflicts in the real world are unjust—a refreshing image, and Iron Man deserves credit for bringing it to the screen. And third, there’s no way somebody can even remotely be called a pacifist when his armor is packin’ that much heat! Furthermore, the line about “dismantl[ing] his own company” is simply false—Tony only [Spoiler; highlight to read] plans to destroy the weapons he discovers Stane has been selling to terrorists.

Also noteworthy is the depiction of the terrorists. All are portrayed by Middle Eastern-looking actors, dressed in the same sort of grimy fatigues we’ve all seen jihadists wearing on the news. The imagery of a captive Tony bound in a chair, flanked by armed terrorists as a hostage video is being filmed, is chillingly similar to the videos of captured journalists like Steve Centanni and Daniel Pearl. This, along with another scene of [Spoiler; highlight to read] the militants terrorizing an Afghani village and almost executing a defenseless father, helps ground the film in reality and leaves the unmistakable impression that the people our nation is fighting in the Middle East are truly evil, with no rationalizations or excuses for their behavior, be it Western imperialism or economic depression, anywhere in sight. Granted, they are not overtly portrayed as Muslims with religious motivations, but this is not for reasons of political correctness—their group [Spoiler; highlight to read] is called the Ten Rings, which is a reference to Iron Man’s longtime archenemy the Mandarin, and is likely intended to lay the groundwork for the villain’s appearance in a sequel. In addition, it’s worth mentioning that when Tony initially refuses to meet their demands, he’s waterboarded, which is certainly portrayed as an ugly, painful procedure. But it does no lasting damage to him, and the conservative position on waterboarding has nothing to do with whether or not it’s pleasant to go through.

Iron Man is a great movie—equal parts excitement, humor, and heart, with political undertones that shouldn’t divide audiences, but do offer a healthy dose of moral clarity about our armed forces and our enemies, which should always be welcome on those rare occasions it comes out of Hollywood.

PS: While we’re on the subject, here’s
an interesting snapshot of Robert Downey’s real-life political leanings.