There is a long American tradition of actors doubling as political activists, especially anti-war activists: think John Wilkes Booth. So it would never occur to me to challenge Sean Penn’s right to utter utter nonsense about matters martial. After all, he did receive special tutelage from My Favorite Martian in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. And he played the schlub who stole money from his Orthodox Jewish brother to try to kill the President in The Assassination of Richard Nixon. As for his understanding of hand-to-hand combat, suffice it to remind ourselves he was once married to Madonna.
Yet I must address his latest tirade because I was its target in a personal way. Instead of attacking President Bush all by his lonesome, he included the “smarmy pundits who bathe in the moisture of your soiled and blood-soaked underwear,” i.e. yours truly. What kind of man would I be if I did not return fire? (Full disclosure: Sean Penn’s wife, Robin Wright, and the mother of my children were actresses on The Young and The Restless together in the late ‘80s, so he may resent me for getting the more beautiful one.)
Now a surface scan of Mr. Penn’s position on the war in Iraq and my own may not yield any obvious divergence. He wants it over, I want it over. The differences are two, 1) why we think it should end, 2) what we think of its beginnings. Penn and his fellow free radicals believe it should never have been undertaken, while I and my pundit pals mostly believe it started well but was overtaken by events. Sean, it should be recalled, was Saddam’s last invited guest. He convened incoherent press conferences in Baghdad to purvey platitudes dictated by the late unlamented dictator.
The Iraqi people themselves giving Saddam Hussein more due process than he ever gave their butchered peers and executing him for crimes against his nation has not humbled the Penn anti position. If any underwear-moisture-bathing was going on at that time, who was the baby in that bathwater? This is the genius who gets to lecture people like myself who devote our intellects to protecting our nation, preserving our culture and making the world somewhat more livable.
It is my belief we should leave Iraq as soon as the place is sufficiently stable that our people on the ground assure us we will not have chaos and a failed state. It gives our troops a definable mission, pressures the Iraqi government to coalesce and prevents us from being a sitting target in the Mideast over the long term. But that is a calculated risk, not surrender. At some point Iraq must be the responsibility of the Iraqis; America is not in the business of colonization.
That is worlds apart from the Penn-y loafers. In my view, the war was very valuable in its initial achievement and fits perfectly into the War on Terror, whether or not weapons of mass destruction were available to Saddam at the time. There had clearly been an Axis of Evil, although Syria was in it and North Korea was out. An atmosphere of strategic confederation existed between various surly Mideast potentates and the stateless loose cannon of terrorism.
Just as Hezbollah conducted an armed conflict with Israel using Syrian and Iranian weaponry, the Husseins and Qaddafis intimidated the world by terrorist proxy, leaving no fingerprints. On the eve of the first Gulf War in 1991, Saddam put out a call to the terrorists of the world to strike at American interests. He also paid a death benefit to the family of every Palestinian suicide bomber. Taking the Taliban and Saddam out in short order back-to-back were intrinsic victories which also sent a strong message: Qaddafi folded and Ahmadinejad upped the ante, but everyone had to show their hands.
Incidentally, the Penn see-no-evil no-axis-to-grind approach is one even Democrats cannot afford to embrace fully. It verges on pacifism, though it objects less to violence than to the premise that America is pure enough to deliver the violence virtuously. Their rhetoric provides a bludgeon the Democrats try to skillfully calibrate against Republicans, but there is no political future in this country for a party as green and as peacenik as Greenpeace.
For now I will continue residing in the drawer with the presidential drawers, knowing he has the courage to draw down against vicious opponents. And while he knows how to fight better than Penn, he also has a kinder, gentler taste in metaphors.