The Washington Times

Ah, nothing like a blast from the late days of the Cold War to get the blood flowing on a cold December morning. If you picked up the Outlook section of The Washington Post Sunday, it was 1988 all over again.

The lead article, by David Greenberg, a visiting scholar at the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the “History Lesson” columnist for Slate.com, is called “Back, But Not By Popular Demand,” and it evokes in hectic flush the good old days when left-wing opinion was so comfortable and uniform that it felt it need not even acknowledge its own partisanship.

The article is a hatchet job on John Poindexter, Elliott Abrams and Henry Kissinger. Mr. Poindexter is now working for the Pentagon on electronic intelligence-gathering. Mr. Abrams [a friend of mine and contributor of a thoughtful essay on the subject of truth commissions to the journal I edit] has distinguished himself in the Bush administration National Security Council by his work on human rights issues and international law, and has now has been elevated to the critical top NSC portfolio on the Middle East. And President Bush has asked Mr. Kissinger to chair the panel that will investigate and produce a report on the September 11 attacks.

Now, you or I, upon reading about these appointments, would probably recall the controversy surrounding these figures in their day and reach the correct conclusion that these are obviously very capable and indeed distinguished people, and that whatever brief against any of them political partisans might continue to harbor, they have all been investigated within an inch of their lives, and the process is long since over. An appeals court overturned Mr. Poindexter’s five-count conviction for lying and obstruction; Mr. Abrams was coerced by the same abusive independent counsel investigation – you remember, those unaccountable prosecutors we have all, Democrat and Republican alike, now wisely concluded have no place in our legal system – into accepting a plea agreement on two misdemeanor counts of misleading Congress, for which he was subsequently pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. Mr. Kissinger, as secretary of state in exceedingly complicated times, took his share of abuse but has never been tried for anything [although that is a project some law professors in town are working on].

But from a certain orthodox left-wing perspective, for example Mr. Greenberg’s, what this amounts to is the return to power of three discredited criminal or near-criminal figures who, while in power, led rogue operations that trampled on the law and grotesquely violated the civil liberties of American citizens. In resurrecting such “vintage villains,” the current Bush administration is engaged in nothing more than “a deliberate demonstration of power, a flaunting of contempt for opposition and dissent, in the expectation that such a show will likely deter, not spur, critics.”

So you can see that there is essential continuity in Republican policymaking: It has been an essentially corrupt enterprise since at least 1969.

Those who were not directly implicated in the initial corruption nevertheless corruptly threw the full weight of their offices into aiding and abetting their partisan comrades, from the judges who threw out the Poindexter conviction [“he escaped hard time thanks to [two] conservative appellate judges” – one of whom, by the way, ruled in first lady Hillary Clinton’s favor in a case related to her health-care task force]; to the president who pardoned some [but not all] of the Iran-contra figures [which “ensured that no more information would surface” – a scant six years after Lawrence Walsh began his avenging independent counsel investigation]. Mr. Kissinger, for his part, “emerged from the rubble [of the Nixon collapse] unscathed” because he persuaded “Washington elites . . . that his ouster would imperil what remained of an American foreign policy” in a world that, shall we recall, would soon experience the collapse of Saigon, genocide in Cambodia, war in the Middle East, the rise of Euro-neutralism and the march of the Soviet Union through Africa, Central Asia and Central America. What’s with the priorities of those Washington elites, anyway?

Mr. Greenberg is at his most amusing when he dismisses “the left’s hyperbolic ‘war criminal’ taunts” at Mr. Kissinger. You know, the left, something that is here to be understood as distinguishable from the straight-down-the-middle views of Mr. Greenberg. Never a taunt from him, certainly not this judgment of Mr. Kissinger in Slate: “a lying, cold-blooded, immoral bastard.”

Mr. Greenberg, at one point, refers to the “contempt . . . for the opposition party” harbored by “Poindexter and Abrams, like Nixon and Kissinger.” Well, Mr. Greenberg, there are indeed partisans who engage in vicious political caricature in both parties, and you are one of them. You will, I hope, forgive Republicans for their failure to accept your judgment that there is a “legitimate outcry” about these appointments, as it seems to be coming chiefly from people like you.