Thursday, January 06, 2005

Nostalgia for 9/11

At least this time, Frank Rich's column in the "Arts" section of the New York Times actually involves the arts, inasmuch as he mentions the news season of "24" which begins this weekend. (See here and here for earlier, more questionable "Arts" columns.) Otherwise, it's typical, predictable Frank Rich.

Does anyone still remember the war on terror? On Sunday night, Jan. 9, it will be lobbed back onto the TV screen like a hand grenade with the new season of "24," Fox's all-cliffhangers, all-the-time series about Jack Bauer, the relentless American intelligence agent played by Kiefer Sutherland. You will find no plot surprises divulged here. But tune in, and you'll return, not necessarily nostalgically, to the do-or-die post-9/11 battle that has been all but forgotten as we remain trapped in its nominally connected sequel, the war against Saddam Hussein.

I can't believe he actually calls Iraq "nominally connected" to the war on terror. For Rich, that's almost an admission of support! But let's not go crazy here. Rich's obvious point is that we haven't been fighting a war on terrorism ever since that "do-or-die post-9/11 battle," which I think is a reference to Afghanistan, but I can't be exactly sure. He could be talking about beltway politics for all I know.

This show is having none of President Bush's notion that Iraq is "the central front in the war on terror." In "24," the central front of that war is the American home front, not Mosul.

Okay, so . . . I think he's saying that the real front in the war on terror is the fictional home front in "24." Just a guess. It's so easy to confuse fiction and reality.

On "24," they're thinking about Islamic terrorism instead of Baathist insurgents, about homeland security instead of the prospects for an election in the Sunni triangle.

Because, you know, those "Baathist insurgents" aren't terrorists. They're Michael Moore's minutemen. They're just citizens with a legitimate gripe. And an election in Iraq is just a waste of time.

The secretary of defense must not only contend with terrorists but also with a glib antiwar son who, in his view, has succumbed to "sixth-grade Michael Moore logic." Dad, amusingly enough, is played by William Devane, the actor who first became famous 30 years ago impersonating John F. Kennedy in a television drama ("The Missiles of October") about a colder war where the battle lines were clearly drawn.

As I live and breath, I never thought I'd hear a lefty say that the cold war had clearly drawn battle lines!

The rest of the column is a sort of love-letter to Richard Clarke for his Atlantic Monthly piece -- a fictional lecture on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Rich is almost near a good point in his suggestions that we still have many homeland security shortfalls, but Rich's insistence that Iraq is a distraction from the war on terror (rather than being a central part of it, as even John Kerry admitted before he took it back) blunt whatever valid points he might make.

Through all his combining of fact and fiction, it's the 9/11 nostalgia that really sticks out in Rich's column. It's as if he misses those heady days when we could point to a pile of rubble in lower Manhattan and say with authority "Yep. That was a terrorist act." That terrorists are killing Iraqi citizens almost daily -- targeting in particular those Iraqis who are trying desperately to build a democracy -- is simply not on his radar.


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