Chrétien caught in a web of confusion
Mark Steyn
National Post

I see my colleague Paul Wells has compared Jean Chrétien to Spider-Man. As a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, Canada's Prime Minister isn't especially friendly to our immediate neighbour, but that's because, like Peter Parker, he believes that "wid da great power come da great responsibility." Traditionally, M. Chrétien then spurts his webbing all over himself, but evidently in this instance he also shot a few strands over Paul's typing fingers, judging from the coherence of what followed.

Just to clarify: Most of us "war hawks" don't have a problem with the Canadian government attempting to identify the "root causes," only with the particular root cause they settled on: Poverty. The late Osama bin Laden was a wealthy man. Wealthier even than Jean Chrétien, who's spent his entire adult life in government service except for six months in the late Eighties but has happily wound up a multi-millionaire. If M. Chrétien feels he's too rich (as we must assume he does), how much more excessively rich is the late Mr. Weirdbeard? Or Saddam Hussein, whose personal fortune is estimated at US$7-billion, a career in public service in Baghdad apparently being even more lucrative than one in Ottawa. And let's not forget the representative two or three hundred Saudi princes currently accompanying King Fahd on his convalescence in Spain. A lucky London escort agency has landed the contract for servicing the Saudi swingers: The gals all have to be blonde and they're replaced every week, having been thoroughly rogered out by then.

So we could increase foreign aid. It would enable Saddam to expand his anthrax factory and the House of Saud to rotate its hookers every 48 hours. But would it do anything else? Under the terms of the Camp David accords, Egypt has been the beneficiary of the largest amount of U.S. aid apart from Israel. What's happened to it? In the 1950s, Egypt and South Korea had more or less identical per capita incomes. Today, Egypt's is less than a fifth of South Korea's.

The Liberal Party of Canada hasn't had an original idea since Pierre Trudeau took his post-resignation vacation in Siberia, and M. Chrétien, whatever his efficacy as a small-time largesse-dispensing ward-heeler, has never troubled himself to form anything approaching a political philosophy. So, ask him what's to blame for September 11th, and he falls back on that old standby -- "global poverty," the growing "inequality" between rich and poor.

Let's spell it out: There's no such thing. The story of the last 30 years is the emergence of "a new world middle class," as Professor Xavier Sala-i-Martin calls them in his study The World Distribution Of Income. This class is made up of some 2.5 billion people in the developing world, whose standards of living now approach those of the West. That's to say, roughly half the people in the developing world are doing pretty well economically. As Virginia Postrel wrote in The New York Times recently, taking the world's population as a whole, in 1998 "the largest number of people earned about $8,000 -- a standard of living equivalent to Portugal's."

Why hasn't the Middle East shared in this economic growth? Because they're failed states run by kleptocrats who govern by clan and corruption and whose starting point is to exclude half the population -- the women -- from the economic life of the country. If M. Chrétien wants to give Paul Wells's salary to President Mubarak, that's up to him but it will have zero effect on either poverty or terrorism.

This is obviously too much for our Prime Minister to take in. The last time he was in the region, you'll recall, he didn't even know where he was. But let's take his broader point, the underlying assumption that there's some kind of accommodation you can reach with these guys so that they'll cease flying planes into Manhattan landmarks. What is it the Islamists want?

In the words of Hussein Mussawi, former leader of Hezbollah: "We are not fighting so that you will offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you."

OK, that's just his opening position. When CanWest call up at contract-renewal time, that's pretty much my pitch, too. But, generally, we're able to reach some sort of compromise. So what would a potential compromise with the Islamists look like? Mr. Mussawi is obviously a hardliner, but we should certainly be able to "work with" more "mainstream" figures in the movement such as Sheikh Muhammad al-Gamei'a, an Egyptian bigshot who was the imam at the Islamic Cultural Center and Mosque in New York at the time of last September's unfortunate example of the price of American arrogance. Back in October, the big-time Westernized imam thought it was all to do with America's Jewish influence: "You see these people all the time, everywhere, disseminating corruption, heresy, homosexuality, alcoholism, and drugs. Because of the Jews there are strip clubs, homosexuals, and lesbians everywhere. They do this to impose their hegemony and colonialism on the world ..."

Hmm. Sheikh al-Gamei'a and M. Chrétien are in agreement: America brought the attacks on itself. They differ only on the details: M. Chrétien thinks it's because of "arrogance," lack of niceness; the Sheikh puts it down to decadence, Jews, lesbianism, Molson, etc. Already one can see the parameters of a potential settlement emerging:

The Islamists want to kill all the Jews. What about if we split the difference and just killed half of 'em? Barbara Amiel and the other troublemakers, no shortage of candidates.

They want to behead all the sodomites. What about if we offered, say, 40%? Start with Svend Robinson, a couple of assistant choreographers and work down from there? And let's set up a Royal Commission to see if it's absolutely necessary to behead them. Maybe we could just bebottom them.

Oh, and they want to stone all the adulteresses. Let's give 'em all the broads Trudeau nailed post-'68 and that should keep 'em busy for a couple of months.

The Islamists have no rational demands, and no conceivable changes to U.S. policy will deflect them. M. Chrétien says he formulated his theory --American arrogance plus Osama's poverty equals global terrorism -- on the evening of September 11th. And what's heartening is that in the last 12 months nothing in the torrent of evidence has stirred our grand buffoon from his complacency. Indeed, we should give our Prime Minister credit for sticking to his hand-me-down clichés. For the more inventively you try to "explain" the Islamist psychosis as a rational phenomenon to be accommodated the more you risk sounding just as nutty as Mohammed Atta and the other genital depilators. Bill Clinton, in the Georgetown speech approvingly quoted by Paul Wells, thought September 11th was blowback for 1095 AD:

"Those of us who come from various European lineages are not blameless," he told his audience. "In the First Crusade, when the Christian soldiers took Jerusalem, they first burned a synagogue with 300 Jews in it, and proceeded to kill every woman and child who was Muslim on the Temple mound ... I can tell you that that story is still being told today in the Middle East and we are still paying for it."

You know something? Call me an "arrogant cowboy" but I honestly think I am blameless for the First Crusade. It was 1095. That's 907 years. Even Paula Jones would have settled. By comparison, the Japanese fought a filthy war, beheading the 22 British watchkeepers on Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands and burning their bodies in a pit, but less than 60 years later, Britain and Japan sit side by side at G8 meetings. If ever there was an occasion for the great Clintonian invocation that "we need to move on," a grudge over 1095 is surely it.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair have chosen to confront the real root causes. Mr. Chrétien's record got stuck in the groove some decades back and he sees no reason to learn any new tunes. Fortunately, it doesn't matter, as no one outside our deranged Dominion has heard of him. Wish I could say the same. But anyone who wants to understand why Canada, as J.L. Granatstein put it last week, punches below its weight internationally need only look at what passes for insight among our political class. Sad to say M. Chrétien's observations were only the second most idiotic on that CBC yakfest: David Collenette regretted the Soviet Union was no longer around to act as a check on American bullying. I can't remember whether this was just before or just after the bit where they talked about calling up the USAF F-16s to protect Canadian airspace.

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