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The rest of the planet does not pause while Washington sorts out its internal food fights. Republicans—and other Americans—need to put aside their childish squabbles.
First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic:
Two years ago, I wrote my first newsletter for The Atlantic, in which I worried that the United States was “no longer a serious country.”
Of course, we’re still a powerful country … But when it comes to seriousness—the invaluable discipline and maturity that allows us to discern matters that should transcend self-interest, to set aside churlish ego and emotionalism, and to act with prudence and self-restraint—we’re a weak, impoverished backwater.
When I wrote those words, the world was emerging from a pandemic, but many Americans were still refusing vaccines; Congress was bickering over infrastructure; Russia was occupying Crimea. Joe Biden had been elected president, but as I said at the time, “one president can’t sober up an entire nation.” I was, to say the least, pessimistic about the American future.
Today, the situation is even more dire. The Russians continue an all-out war of conquest in the middle of Europe, a conflict that could engulf the planet if the cowards in the Kremlin remain mired in their imperial delusions. Thousands are dying in Armenia and Sudan. And now Israel is at war, after suffering its worst surprise attack since the Yom Kippur War 50 years ago and with more Israeli citizens killed in a single day than ever in its history.
And yet much of America, and especially the remnants of the Republican Party (a party whose leaders during the Cold War defined themselves as the responsible stewards of U.S. foreign policy), remains in the grip of childish, even inane, politics. The international community in this difficult time needs a United States that is sane, tough, and principled; worthy of the title of leader of the free world; and determined, in the words of President John F. Kennedy, to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
Instead of Kennedy’s inspiring vision, America has the ignorant and incoherent Donald Trump as an apparent lock to capture the eventual GOP presidential nomination, the House of Representatives without a speaker, and a public that cannot find Ukraine or Iran on a map.
“I look at the world and all the threats that are out there,” Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Sunday. “And what kind of message are we sending to our adversaries when we can’t govern? When we’re dysfunctional? When we don’t even have a speaker of the House?”
An excellent question, especially when the People’s House lacks a speaker because of a motion from Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida—an utterly unserious man who is despised even by other House Republicans. Backed by seven right-wing GOP extremists, Gaetz and this “chaos caucus” (to use Mike Pence’s description) notched a historical first by enabling the vote that tossed Representative Kevin McCarthy of California out of the job. (For some reason, the CBS show Face the Nation felt the need to interview one of the anti-McCarthy group, Nancy Mace, the day after war erupted in Israel—thus providing Mace with exactly the sort of attention she was likely hoping to garner.) At this point, the two main contenders for the post are Representatives Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio.
The idea that someone as ridiculous as Jim Jordan could be in contention to lead the House should make every American pause and wonder how the United States has come to such a moment. Jordan is among Donald Trump’s most loyal supporters—Trump has already endorsed him for the speaker’s job—and one of the most cynical and huckstering members of Congress from either party. Jordan, on many issues (and especially when backing Trump’s preposterous claims about presidential power), is merely an annoying, gish-galloping gadfly.
But on the central issue of American democracy, he is much more dangerous.
Jordan was a consistent and vocal supporter of Trump’s claims of a stolen election. He usually couched this support in a “just asking questions” ploy, but occasionally the mask would slip and he would charge the Democrats with attempting to steal the election. As Thomas Joscelyn, one of the authors of the House’s January 6–committee report, told CNN: “Jim Jordan was deeply involved in Donald Trump’s antidemocratic efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.” Jordan refused to cooperate with the committee and defied its subpoena.
Jordan yesterday threatened another attempt to shut down the government (this time over immigration policies). But more to the point, how can the United States respond as one nation to the various crises around the world when the speaker of the House is an election denier spewing conspiracy theories about the current president? This is the man who could be wielding the speaker’s gavel when Congress receives the electoral votes in the 2024 election?
Scalise, the current majority leader, is as close to a “normal” candidate as the Republicans can produce, and he is likely in the lead for the job. That’s the good news. The bad news is that “normal” in this context means that Scalise is just another mainstream GOP figure calling for defunding “87,000 new IRS agents,” establishing “a committee on the weaponization of the federal government against citizens,” and holding “woke prosecutors accountable.”
The situation is no better over in the usually more staid and thoughtful U.S. Senate. As conflicts erupt around the world, hundreds of military promotions, including the chief of naval operations and many other senior appointments, remain frozen. They are being held up by Tommy Tuberville, a former Alabama college football coach who thinks U.S. servicepeople should be denied access to abortion and decries what he thinks is too much “wokeness” in the military. (Woke is now Republican speak for anyone who isn’t an obvious bigot.)
Meanwhile, the United States has been unable to send ambassadors to several nations, in part because of irresponsible holds placed by irresponsible senators. Senator J. D. Vance of Ohio, like Tuberville, appears to have held up posts over “wokeness,” while Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has blocked appointments over his unhinged insistence on seeing what he thinks are nefarious U.S. government documents regarding the coronavirus’s origins.
And in a juvenile attempt to turn the war in Israel into yet another GOP weapon against U.S. support for Ukraine, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri yesterday tweeted: “Israel is facing existential threat. Any funding for Ukraine should be redirected to Israel immediately.” Hawley, like Vance and others, is a smart man who disrespects his voters by pretending to be stupid. He almost certainly knows—one would hope, anyway—that pitting Israel against Ukraine is a false choice. (It also fudges the two situations: Israel has regained some control of the situation, for now, while Ukraine remains mired in a huge conventional war against a giant, nuclear-armed enemy.)
The old saw about partisanship ending at the water’s edge was never completely true. The right and the left in the United States have argued plenty about foreign policy, but they once did so with a seriousness of purpose and an understanding that millions of lives, the security of the nation—and in the final analysis, the survival of humanity—were at risk. If any adults remain in the GOP, they need to get control of their party and get to work.
President Biden’s foreign-policy leadership, especially with a Russian war so close to NATO’s borders, has been admirable and successful. But he cannot, and should not, do it alone. The world needs America—and that means all of us.
- Israel responded to Hamas’s brutal weekend attack by launching fierce air strikes on the Gaza Strip.
- Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will run as an independent in the 2024 presidential election, abandoning his Democratic bid.
- A person who crashed a car into the Chinese consulate in San Francisco was shot and killed by police.
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I’m not the kind of guy to say “I told you so,” but … oh, who am I kidding, of course I am. Back in 2022, I wrote about the James Bond film franchise, and I said that all the talk of casting a Black or female 007 was just silly. Bond, created by Ian Fleming, is forever frozen in time as an aspiring white male elitist of the old British establishment. In the books and the better entries in the films, he’s a hero you can admire only with serious reservations.
With the exception of Skyfall, I didn’t much care for the Daniel Craig movies; they were too emotional and introspective. (I won’t ruin Spectre for you, but when the movie revealed a twist involving the iconic villain Blofeld, I nearly walked out.) And so I’m gloating a bit now: The Bond rumor mill says that Christopher Nolan is in talks with EON Productions and Amazon to direct two Bond films. But he reportedly wants them to be period pieces that stay close to Fleming’s source materials, which would be pretty daring. (If you think the 1973 Live and Let Die movie was racist and offensive, wait’ll you read the 1954 novel—if you can find one that hasn’t been bowdlerized yet.)
If the rumors are true, then good for you, Mr. Nolan. Bond doesn’t need to be drinking beer and sharing his feelings. He needs to be saving England, the Empire, and the world, probably in that order. The last few Bond films were just British-accented Bourne movies. Let Bond be Bond—including the parts we don’t like in 2023.
Katherine Hu contributed to this newsletter.
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