Skip to main content

Journalist James Fallows

Fallows is the national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly. His latest article in the Atlantic is "Bush's Lost Year." Fallows has written seven books, including Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy, and is a commentator on National Public Radio. His articles have appeared in The Industry Standard, Slate, The New York Times Magazine and other publications.

43:00

Other segments from the episode on September 28, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 28, 2004: Interview with James Fallows; Commentary on German countertenor Andreas Scholl.

Transcript

DATE September 28, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: James Fallows discusses debate performances of George
W. Bush and John Kerry, and the Bush administration
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.

Thursday night George W. Bush and John Kerry will meet in Coral Gables,
Florida, for the first of three presidential debates. My guest, journalist
James Fallows, recently spent hours watching tapes of both Bush and Kerry in
past debates, and he wrote about their strengths and styles in a recent issue
of The Atlantic Monthly. Later in the show, we'll discuss his piece in the
October issue titled Bush's Lost Year, about the choices the administration
made following the September 11th attacks. Fallows is a national
correspondent for The Atlantic. He was chief speechwriter for President Jimmy
Carter, but he spent most of his career writing for and editing a number of
publications, including US News & World Report. He's also the author of four
books, including "National Security" and "Breaking the News: How the Media
Undermine American Democracy." I spoke to James Fallows yesterday.

You spent some time recently looking at a number of George W. Bush's past
performances in debates, including his 1994 gubernatorial debate in the Texas
gubernatorial campaign with then Governor Ann Richards. Set this up for us.
Give us the context of that face-off.

Mr. JAMES FALLOWS (Journalist): What was interesting about the '94
gubernatorial race is how Bush in the debate and the race itself defied
expectations. He came into that race against Ann Richards a decided underdog,
at least for the debate. Richards was at that time highly celebrated in Texas
and the Democratic Party, even nationally, for her oratorical skill. She'd
given a mocking speech about the elder George Bush at the Democratic
convention. She had had a past behind her as a debate champion in college.
She won a debate scholarship to Baylor University. And while Bush had some
advantages on his side in the race, you know, writ large, including Karl Rove
as his main consultant, and Texas is beginning the shift from a basically
Democratic to a basically Republican state, the debates seemed to be Richards'
to win. And you know, everything about the Bush campaign going into debate
reinforced that impression. They tried to stall in having debate. They
finally agreed reluctantly only to one. Their pre-debate spin to all the
Texas press was, you know, `Jeez, how can you expect us to hold up against
this woman who's the champion debater of all Texas? You know, we're not for
all this fancy talk.'

And when the debate occurred, Bush, having sort of talked himself into this
heavy underdog role, the surprise was that he didn't simply, you know, beat
the point spread and beat expectations, but he actually was better than Ann
Richards, you know, during those 60 minutes of debate at getting his main
points across.

DAVIES: Well, let's listen to a clip from this. This is the 1994
gubernatorial debate at George W. Bush vs. then Governor Ann Richards, and
in this case, we're going to hear George W. Bush answer a pretty tough
question from Paul Burka of Texas Monthly. He's talking about Bush's claim
that he is an outsider running against politicians. Let's hear this clip from
the 1994 debate.

(Soundbite from 1994 debate)

Mr. PAUL BURKA (Texas Monthly): I understand every politician wants to
present himself as an outsider. You're the son of a president of the United
States. You were an adviser to him. That hardly seems like you're an
outsider. You probably say you've never held public office, but you sought
public office and you got beat. You ran for Congress. Maybe you're proud of
it. I don't know. But isn't it a little disingenuous to say that--to portray
yourself as an outsider?

Mr. GEORGE W. BUSH (Gubernatorial Candidate): Well, I've never held office,
Paul. I mean, I'm only telling you the way the facts are. I'm not proud of
the fact that I got whipped in '78. I did come in second in a two-man race.
Here's my point: My point is is that if you want someone to think the way
it's been all along in Austin, they should not be for me. I am not happy with
the welfare system. I think we need to reform the welfare system to end
dependency upon government. I am not happy with the fact that nothing has
happened in the juvenile justice code in our state. We have children who do
not fear the consequences of the law in the state of Texas because nothing has
been done to change a code which is outdated, outmoded and totally
ineffective. I want to decontrol the school system of the state of Texas. I
believe that the only way to achieve excellence in the classrooms of the
schools of Texas is to free teachers and parents and principals from the
constraints and rules of the Texas Education Agency. I am not a fine-tuner,
and therefore, the fact that I haven't held political office, in my opinion,
gives me the freedom to think differently than someone who has spent her
entire career in public office.

DAVIES: That was George W. Bush in his 1994 debate against then Texas
Governor Ann Richards. Bush won that election and, in the eyes of our guest,
James Fallows, won the debate.

James Fallows, what do you hear in that exchange from George W. Bush?

Mr. FALLOWS: I hear some things are different from the present Bush we know
today, and some other probably more important things are the same. It's
fascinating and I think even more listening to it just now than it was when I
was watching this in videotape, to listen to the quality of candidate Bush's
language. You know, all the sentences, you will notice, were fairly complex
and well-formed. His diction was pretty rapid. There were a number of sort
of complicated words which you expect him, if you hear him talking now, to
kind of pause before those words. And he rolled right through them. And so
at a sort of surface fluency level, it's different from the man we hear today.

At a strategic level, I think what we heard from George Bush 10 years ago is
exactly what we're likely to hear from him in these debates and what we've
heard in his sort of best moments in the stump over the last month or so as
he's been our amongst sympathetic crowds, and what that is is a combination of
seeming to address the question that's asked him. He did answer Paul Burka's
question with a joke of sort of, you know, limited humor about being second in
a two-man race, but he was gracious about saying, `Yes, you know, I tried
before, and I lost.' But then you noticed him saying, `Here's my point.'
This is what we call, you know, skillful on messagism.

When Bush is at his best, he has two or three main points that again and again
and again, with no embarrassment about repetition but with great, you know,
clarity and certainty, he says, `Here is what I have, you know, to tell you.'
In Texas, it was all the things you saw, the welfare system, personal
accountability, juvenile justice. In the presidential campaign this year, of
course, it's going to be, `I have made you safer. We have the terrorists on
the run. The war in Iraq is seamlessly connected to the attacks on 9/11 and
the larger war on terrorism.' So if the president is performing in this
coming week as well as he did 10 years ago, he might not be able to match that
sort of word-for-word and sentence-for-sentence dexterity and fluidity, but
his strategy, I suspect, will be identical to what we just heard.

DAVIES: You know, I also watched that 1994 debate between then candidate Bush
and Governor Ann Richards, and I was also struck by just how sure-footed this
president seems. Why do you think we see this contrast between that
candidate, who seemed so well-spoken, and the speaker today, who has such
difficulty?

Mr. FALLOWS: I've come closer to having an explanation for that in the month
or so after this piece came out than I did beforehand. I asked a number of
people this, and there are all sorts of hypotheses and explanations. One
hypothesis which George Lakoff, the linguist from UC-Berkeley, has been most
sort of vigorous in pushing is the idea that the president speaks the way he
does now on purpose, that it's a way of accentuating a sort of NASCAR,
tough-guy, unyielding, not being distracted with fancy lingo kind of
personality. And I can see some of that.

Clearly, the president has been more broadly educated than he makes clear in a
lot of his diction, but it's hard for me to believe that the most embarrassing
parts of some of his current seeming aphasias are really intentional. For
example, he didn't falter when answering Paul Burka's question about why he
lost the election, but this spring at a press conference, when they asked if
he'd ever made a mistake, he just stood there. So there's a hypothesis that
it's on purpose.

What is most convincing to me and what people in Texas told me they believed,
was that he was so entirely comfortable in the environment in Texas--with the
people, with the issues, with the dreaded nuances, with everything else about
that environment--that he could have the sort of affable, charming side of
himself come out in public appearances, too. And the strongest confirmation
for that would be that in the last month or so, when he's been on the road
with friendly crowds, people who are bucking him up, he has sounded somewhat
more like the Bush of old, you know, not quite as quick in his diction as he
used to be, but more like that person. So I think it's a familiarity issue.
That's the best I can do.

DAVIES: One of the things you see in that 1994 gubernatorial debate is he has
about four points that he comes back to again and again and again, and when he
states them, they're all extremely well-crafted statements. Is it a matter of
preparation?

Mr. FALLOWS: Yes. The Bush associates, especially from Texas, whom I
interviewed, stressed that what's true for everybody seems to be even more
true for George Bush, which is that practice makes perfect or practice at
least makes better and that they explained his faltering performance in some
of his spontaneous remarks this year, you know, some of his press conferences,
some of his TV appearances, as reflecting the fact that he hadn't really
worked on this kind of presentation, whereas before his debate with Ann
Richards, before his debate with Al Gore, four years ago, he really did work.
He went to debate camp. He practiced again and again and again, and it seems
to be, and I would assume that in preparing for this year's debate, John Kerry
should assume that Bush is working very hard.

DAVIES: One of the low moments in George W. Bush's oratorical history has to
have been his appearance earlier this year with Tim Russert on "Meet the
Press." Remind us how that went.

Mr. FALLOWS: This was when--in contrast to his successful appearances or
successful performances where George Bush has three or four points he wants to
get to but he sort of shows the connection between what the person was asking
and the point he wants to make, on "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert, he was
not able to show the connections. He almost visibly had his index cards, you
know, in front of him and said, you know, `Point one: We are safer because of
the war in Iraq.' And so when Tim Russert would ask him, `Well, what about no
weapons of mass destruction? What about things going badly in Iraq?' all the
president could do is sort of just repeat himself and almost stammer, and
that's the difference, as I understand it, between a George Bush who is
prepared and knows how to make the connection between the question he's asked
and the point he wants to make and the Bush who is not prepared and just seems
to be, you know, robotlike, reading off his note card.

When he's not prepared, when he's not ready to handle questions, you know, he
can be at his worst. There's two ways in which the president can be at his
worst when caught by surprise. One is looking sort of dumbfounded and had
what I call the unfortunate puzzled champ expression. The other and less
frequent but more damaging way is when he loses his temper. You know, he is
said to have quite a sharp temper, like his mother, and he's revealed it a
couple of times. One was with, I think, the Irish or BBC interview a few
months ago where he was sort of putting the interviewer back in her place.
The other was against John McCain, where he got sort of first defensive and
then angry against John McCain in 2000. Bush's impatience and sort of nasty
haughtiness can come out when he gets mad.

DAVIES: Have Bush's opponents underestimated him?

Mr. FALLOWS: Yes. Partly they've been extrapolating from the way he answers
questions at press conferences and thinking, `Well, gee, this will be, you
know, a snap in a debate.' Partly they have fallen for a very skillful and
consistent strategy by the Bush team, which has been to low-ball the debates
going in. They know that debates, like presidential primaries, are often
scored by the press on an expectations basis: Well, you know, he came in
second in New Hampshire, but he beat expectations. They also know that more
people are going to hear about the debates, and especially hear, where the
talking heads start saying immediately afterwards and the next couple of days,
than actually see them. And so to the extend they can condition that reaction
to be, `Well, Bush did much better than expected,' that's paid off. I think
that's harder to do this time than before, both because Bush's past success is
more evident now, and you know, because the Kerry campaign is not letting them
do it.

There was an amusing time, I guess, in September when the chairman of the
Republican Party said that John Kerry was, you know, the most accomplished
debater since Cicero, and that seemed to be overreaching the strategy. Also,
for an incumbent president, it's harder for him to say, `Well, you know, aw,
shucks. I don't really know that much of the fancy details. You can't expect
me to do well in a debate.'

DAVIES: My guest is writer James Fallows. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: My guest is James Fallows. He's a national correspondent for The
Atlantic. He recently watched tapes of past debates by both George W. Bush
and John Kerry and wrote about them in the magazine.

Let's talk about John Kerry. The knock on him, as a public speaker, is that
he comes off as stiff, sometimes pompous. How has he been on his feet in
debates?

Mr. FALLOWS: Well, you know, just as Bush is a better debater than you'd
think listening to him answer questions, Kerry is a better debater than you'd
think, listening to him give speeches. And the metatheory here is there's two
very, very different realms of oratorical achievement and discourse, and Kerry
surprisingly has succeeded in both of them, despite their differences. One of
them is sort of the formal oratory mode, and Kerry has worked that since
before the time he was in high school. He was winning speaking and debating
prizes at St. Paul's in prep school and at Yale and afterwards. At Yale, one
of the achievements was to knock off a previously unbeaten debate team that
was visiting from Oxford or Cambridge, and he was celebrated for those skills.
And you hear those in play in his formal speeches now which, above all else,
are formal, and they sound senatorial and they can sound somewhat starchy.

There's the very different realm of political debate performance, and although
the skills required there are separate, he's very good at those too, and I
would argue he's better at those.

DAVIES: In 1996, John Kerry fought a very tough re-election battle for his US
Senate seat with Governor William Weld, a campaign that is remembered for no
fewer than eight face-to-face debates, two really smart, experienced public
officials going at it. What did you learn about John Kerry's performance in
that series of debates?

Mr. FALLOWS: The sort of first big surprise of listening to that many hours
of two smart men talk is that actually it was quite interesting. You know, I
have a limited stomach for sort of formal political oratory, including that by
Senator Kerry, but I was, in some strange way, sorry when these 12 hours of
footage were over, partly because it was at a high level. These were two very
smart, accomplished men, very proud men, very confident men, and they were
different in their styles, but they both were good.

The interesting thing is that Kerry was better to listen to this way in debate
than he is in formal speeches. And the reason is, he seems to shift into a
different personality. He's much more like a prosecutor than he is like a
senator when he's in these debates, where you can see him thinking fast and
sort of trying to edge around the witness, trying to kind of turn the argument
around, trying to say, `Well, surely you're not suggesting,' etc. And so
it's usually engrossing to watch on TV or in movies or read in books,
courtroom dramas and seeing how very skillful, on-their-feet advocates are
doing their job. And that's what Kerry is like at his best as a debater. You
can see him making these quite fast and graceful moves.

DAVIES: Let's hear a clip from one of these debates between John Kerry and
Governor William Weld, and this is a widely noted exchange that involves
Governor William Weld attacking John Kerry's stance on the death penalty and
invoking a particularly troubling case. Let's listen to the clip.

(Soundbite from debate broadcast)

Governor WILLIAM WELD (Massachusetts): Could you look into the camera,
perhaps at Ann Scovina(ph), who's here, whose son was a Springfield police
officer cut down by a murderer, tell her why the life of the man that murdered
her son is worth more than the life of her son, the police officer?

Mr. JOHN KERRY (Senatorial Candidate): Well, Governor, I would say to you, I
would say to her and I would say to every citizen in this country, it's not
worth more. It's not. It's not worth anything. It's scum that ought to be
thrown into jail for the rest of its life and that ought to learn day after
day the pain and hell of living with the loss of freedom and with the crime
committed. But the fact is, Governor, that yes, I've been opposed to the
death. Well, I know something about killing. I don't like killing, and I
don't think a state honors life by turning around and sanctioning killing.
Now that's just a personal belief that I have.

DAVIES: That was John Kerry answering Governor William Weld in the 1996
Massachusetts Senate race, one of the more famous debates that John Kerry was
involved in.

James Fallows, what do you hear in the clip we just heard?

Mr. FALLOWS: It's very interesting to contrast that with the famous and
notorious answer that Michael Dukakis gave when running against the elder
George Bush in 1988, when he was asked what he would do if his wife were raped
and murdered. And he gave this very factual-sounding, clinical answer.
Kerry, by contrast, first addressed the question with sort of an emotional
reaction to the intrinsic horror of it, of how much he would hate the
criminals, and then, with this `I know something about killing' line which,
everyone tells me in his camp, was not scripted and not prepared but thought
up on the scene, was able to introduce quite subtly and effectively the whole
Vietnam issue without being ham-handed about it and give a kind of emotional
backing for his anti-death penalty stand.

DAVIES: You've made the point that George W. Bush does best when he is
extensively prepared. Kerry may have a problem sometimes with having too much
time to go into the nuances of every issue. Does he seem to do better when he
has too little time to express his ideas?

Mr. FALLOWS: I say yes and no, and the `no' part is something I've sort of
come to think about since writing that article. The `yes' part is that almost
everybody who knows John Kerry suggests that he is somebody whose highest
powers are brought out when he feels under pressure. You know, in athletic
endeavors, in combat, as we've all heard, when his campaign is behind, etc.,
this seems to be where he is most engaged and fired up.

The part where I think preparation may be important for him is in two very
specific aspects of these debates. First, they have relatively short time
limits on the answers, which I think actually works to John Kerry's advantage,
because he will be forced in his debate training to boil his answers down to a
shorter version than their natural length, and that will help him. The second
thing that I think preparation will help is he has to come up with a
formulation on Iraq which is as crisp as the one the president has. The
president says, `We went to Iraq, and we are safer.' Senator Kerry needs to
find a way to say right back, you know, `We went to Iraq and we're worse off,'
or whatever he would say. But that is something he needs to work up.

DAVIES: Can John Kerry make himself likable in this debate?

Mr. FALLOWS: Not to the degree that Ronald Reagan might or Gerald Ford in
his affable way. I think the lesson of personality in national politics is
you can't make yourself somebody you aren't. You know, when Richard Nixon
would give his sort of nervous smile or try to tell a joke, it just was even
creepier than the real Nixon. So it's a matter of presenting a version of
yourself that seems authentic to people. But I think that John Kerry doesn't
really need to make himself, you know, Mr. Smiley or Mr. Let's Go Have A
Beer to succeed in the debate or the election. What he has to--you know, the
strength he has is to be this serious, competent guy, the grown-up, if you
will, who can say, `Look, listen to me. We're making a big mistake here
in'--name your policy area. `The course we're on is wrong. I'm going to take
us on a right course, and listen to me do that.' So I think rather than
trying to prime him with jokes, trying to present himself as the most
effective, serious, earnest, responsible guy is probably the way to go.

DAVIES: The Atlantic Monthly national correspondent James Fallows. He'll be
back in the second half of the show.

I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

DAVIES: Coming up, what the Bush administration did and did not do in the
year following the September 11th attacks. We continue our conversation with
James Fallows. His piece titled Bush's Lost Year appears in the current
Atlantic Monthly magazine. Also, Lloyd Schwartz profiles German countertenor
Andreas Scholl.

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, filling in for Terry Gross.

My guest James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly.
His piece in the magazine's current edition, titled Bush's Lost Year, explores
decisions the administration made in early 2002 when the nation had deposed
the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and was considering its next steps in the
war on terror. Fallows said he spoke to people at the working level of
America's anti-terrorist efforts, in military, diplomatic and intelligence
positions, as well as some in Washington think tanks.

Well, James Fallows, you say that George W. Bush and the United States began
the year 2002, which, of course, was three months after the September 11th
attack--they began that year shocked and wounded, but with tremendous
strategic advantages. It was a time of opportunity. What do you mean?

Mr. FALLOWS: What I mean is, and the point of this whole article is, that
everyone recognizes that the events of September 11th, 2001, were in one day a
series of world-changing events. But I try to argue that the decisions that
were made in 2002 were in a way more consequential and that there were
certain paths we went down that year which will have effects for a very long
time. So I'm trying to contrast the difference between the choices that were
available to the United States in January of that year and the ones that are
available at the end.

For example, the beginning of the year, the United States still had, you know,
a population almost totally unified behind its president. It had almost
unvarying international support. It still had a practically balanced federal
budget. It had a military that was rested, prepared, ready. It had an
opportunity, if it chose, to re-examine a lot of the fundamental issues that
have been problems for a long time: our relationship with Saudi Arabia, our
relationship with Egypt, our standing in the Israel-Palestine dispute, our
dependence on oil in general. If there were a time to address
fundamental--and it also had Osama bin Laden on the run in the borderland
between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

So one possibility that would have been open to us would have been to
concentrate on getting Osama bin Laden, to concentrate on pacifying
Afghanistan, to reorder our relationships with Saudi Arabia, to do the same in
Middle East politics and basically to say what are the things which we've not
been able to do in the past but now we can do to address our real long-term
security interests.

DAVIES: Well, how did the Bush administration evaluate its options and make
its priorities?

Mr. FALLOWS: What I chronicle in this article is the way, month by month, all
the possible options in a war on terrorism and a struggle for improved
national security became reduced to the single dimension of war in Iraq. And
you found in Afghanistan there was effort and troops and money deflected so as
to be ready for Iraq. You found that with Iran and North Korea, which are
clearly much closer to nuclear weapons than the worst suspicions of Iraq ever
were, that we've lost time in dealing with them. Clearly there's been a
division of the domestic population, fractured with our allies; the Army is
now overused; the budget is now expended. We spend far more every week in
Iraq now than we do on all Homeland Security operations put together. So the
chronicle of going from this range of options to one option, which is Iraq,
which crowds out the rest--that's the chronicle of that year.

DAVIES: You make the point that President Bill Clinton had a directive for
handling international crises which the Bush administration revoked. Now this
is maybe a little bit of sort of internal government mechanics, but did that
limit Bush's ability to consider the options it had and the consequences of
its decisions?

Mr. FALLOWS: Yes, and there are all sorts of these inside baseball details
that turn out to be quite important. The Clinton administration in the
mid-'90s had put together this sort of extensive presidential decision
memorandum. I forget exactly its number; it might be 56 or something like
that. And the idea was, for the foreseeable future, the United States was
going to be confronting a different kind of war. It wouldn't be like World
War II; it wouldn't be like Vietnam. It would be a war in which all elements
of national power would be combined. We'd need the normal military. We'd
need the Special Forces. We'd need a human--you know, humanitarian efforts.
We'd need diplomatic efforts. We'd need the CIA. And so the crucial thing
was to enable all parts of the government to play together and coordinate
these activities.

For reasons either of policy or just of bureaucracy, when the Bush
administration came in, it revoked that order and it didn't come up with
anything new to replace it by the time of September 11th and certainly, you
know, it hasn't done so since. And so the efforts--one of the main hallmarks,
in retrospect, of the efforts after September 11th and especially the
preparations for Iraq is how little coherent coordination there was among the
parts of government that should have been working together. For example, the
State Department had an elaborate project on what would be necessary in
postwar Iraq, and the Defense Department, which was put in charge of postwar
Iraq, you know, never even looked at it. There were constant battles over
who would in fact be in charge and how the so-called stovepiping problem--that
is, information being separated and never sort of crossing the institutional
boundaries--could be solved. These were all things which had been addressed,
you know, six years earlier by the Clinton administration and were sort of
reinvented. And if there is another such enterprise in a further
administration, maybe there'll be some new plan, but much of the real spending
of the last three years can be traced back to that decision.

DAVIES: Let's look at a couple of specifics. Others have made the point that
while the administration has focused on removing Saddam Hussein, rebuilding
Iraq, the whole war effort, that it has paid too little attention to the
nuclear program of North Korea. Now that is on the other side of the world.
Why can't an administration pursue a war in the Middle East and still also
undertake the diplomatic efforts, you know, and technical efforts that it
needs to deal with the crisis in North Korea? Shouldn't a government this
size be able to handle both things at once?

Mr. FALLOWS: It should in theory. And I think there's a high policy reason
and then a human reason. The high policy reason is that one of the decisions
the Bush administration made about going into Iraq was that it cared more
about achieving its goal than it did about, you know, maintaining its allied
relationships in general with, as obviously became clear, many of our
strongest and most traditional allies, with the exception of Great Britain,
who were very much opposed to the strategy the US took. And so we made--the
administration made the strategic choice we will step aside from them on this
issue so as to pursue our objective. So as a high policy matter, if you need
allied cooperation, as everyone says you do, to deal with both the Iran and
the North Korea problems, it's that much harder if they're literally at odds
with you on the main thing that you're doing.

The human reason is one that was stressed to me by Richard Clarke, the
renowned former terrorism chief from both the Reagan, Clinton and Bush White
Houses. He was saying, you know, you would think that people in a government
this vast could walk and chew gum at the same time, but in reality, a very
small number of people are making these decisions. As he put it, there is one
secretary of State and there's one secretary of Defense, and they each have
one deputy. And there's one national security adviser. And if they are
spending their time just engrossed in a crisis, as they clearly were about
Iraq, there simply is not give in the system or in their minds or in the
center of gravity of effort to deal with other things. You know, you see this
in small organizations, but it's true in any vast federal government as well.
And so, he said, it just is in the nature of governmental life. If there's
one crisis that so dominates everything else, these other things just get
ignored.

DAVIES: Afghanistan is the other area in which there was a clear choice to be
made. The United States put, if I recall, about 10,000 troops into
Afghanistan. What did the United States not do in Afghanistan by focusing on
Iraq?

Mr. FALLOWS: There were a number of decisions in Afghanistan, all of which
had the effect of conserving American troop strength. One reason for trying
to conserve American troop strength was Donald Rumsfeld's desire to
demonstrate that a light force, using unconventional weapons and working with
alliances, could get the job done. But also, there was clearly increasingly a
desire to hold forces in reserve for Iraq.

One important thing that the US did was to rely on other people to do crucial
parts of the job. We relied, of course, on the Northern Alliance, the tribes
of the Northern Alliance, to hunt down Osama bin Laden. And we relied on the
Pakistanis also to seal the border with Afghanistan, where Osama and his
colleagues were. Neither of those allies was as interested in getting that
job done as the US was, and the job wasn't really done. Osama is obviously at
large as we speak. So one missed opportunity was having the US soldiers do
that job of catching Osama bin Laden.

DAVIES: Let's be concrete here. How large of a force would have it have
taken to get into Afghanistan? And what about the lesson of the Soviet
experience that big armies get chewed up in those mountains by villagers who
don't want to see foreigners there.

Mr. FALLOWS: Sure. And nobody I've spoken with has recommended a US sort of
forced conquest of Afghanistan on the Soviet model. The question here is
crucial deference of US to non-US control as the news appeared to be getting
closed around Osama bin Laden, the battle of Tora Bora, and then in Operation
Anaconda, where no one knows exactly how many soldiers it might have taken.
But if the US were willing to place the same emphasis and, as one former
ambassador told me, was as willing to break crockery to catch Osama bin Laden
as it had been to dethrone Saddam Hussein, that presumably this would have
been a more feasible challenge to put the pressure on both Pakistan and
whatever forces in Afghanistan, say, `It matters more to us than anything else
to capture this al-Qaeda leadership.' So it's not--you can't say for certain
that it would be doable, but it would not be like the Soviet invasion of
Afghanistan in toto.

DAVIES: My guest is writer James Fallows. We'll talk some more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: We're back with James Fallows. He is a national correspondent for
The Atlantic and has written about the forthcoming presidential debates. In
the current issue, he has a piece called Bush's Lost Year. It's about what he
regards as some opportunities lost in 2002 by the Bush administration.

The Bush administration is believed by many to have essentially disengaged
from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. How does that fit into the
options and opportunities that Bush faced in 2002?

DAVIES: Well, in 2001, before the attacks, President Bush quite proudly said
that this was--you know, we were not going to meddle in this conflict that was
going nowhere. We'll let the parties on the ground work it out themselves.
After the attacks of September 11th, clearly the ferment in the Arab Islamic
world in general became a part of a problem that the United States had to deal
with. And so re-engagement was inevitable for the US.

There were sort of two contending theories about how the war in Iraq and the
struggle in the Middle East were related, the Israel-Palestinian struggle.
One was the theory that the administration apparently applied, which was you
could sum up--they often summed up as `The road through Jerusalem leads
through Baghdad.' That is, once they removed Saddam Hussein, once they got
rid of an obvious threat to Israel, once they showed their toughness, then
they'd be in a better position to try to put pressure both on the Sharon
government in Israel and on the Palestinians, say, `OK, you have to make a
deal; we have to enforce a land-for-peace deal.'

The opposing view, which most foreign governments subscribe to and which Tony
Blair reportedly pitched hard to George Bush, was `The road to Baghdad leads
through Jerusalem.' That is, the United States had to show that it was more
serious about putting pressure on the Sharon government in particular in order
to get some kind of consensus and consent in the Arab Islamic world to its
good faith in getting rid of Saddam Hussein.

So clearly the strategy the US chose was that by taking over Iraq they'd have
a better time in the Middle East. To date, it hasn't worked out that way, but
we'll see.

DAVIES: I guess the defenders of the Bush administration's approach here
would say that what the war in Iraq has done is to demonstrate American will
and resolve and to make a very clear point to any future host state for
terrorists or potential nuclear power that we will act and act decisively so
that governments in Syria and Iran learn the lesson that Saddam Hussein
learned the hard way. What about that argument?

Mr. FALLOWS: Well, certainly there is that argument, and the strongest case
people give is, in Libya, Colonel Gadhafi has been more forthcoming in the
last two years than he'd been for the previous 15 years. So there is that
possible positive demonstration effect. There seem to be a number of negative
demonstration effects, too. One is the derived lesson for any state that has
the potential of getting nuclear weapons is that it better hurry up and get
them, because the reason, the main reason the United States could invade Iraq
and couldn't invade North Korea is that North Korea almost certainly already
has nuclear weapons. The United States could not take the risk of the
destruction to Seoul in particular and South Korea in general of invading
North Korea. So it a commonplace in the diplomatic world now that the race to
develop nuclear weapons is faster among many potential possessor states now
because it they get them, they are safer against the US than they would be
otherwise.

The other demonstration effect is on sort of a recruiting of future
terrorists. The Bush administration points out that it's knocked off
two-thirds of the people on its wanted list from al-Qaeda. Almost every other
source points out that there are thousands of new recruits to al-Qaeda. The
International Institute for Strategic Studies in London said a month or two
ago there are about something like 18,000 active al-Qaeda operatives now,
roughly three times as many as before the Iraq War, largely because of the
demonstration effect of the Iraq War.

DAVIES: A lot of these criticisms we hear from Democratic partisan sources,
and particularly in an election year. To what extent do these represent the
views of independent thinkers and think tanks or among retired military and
intelligence personnel?

Mr. FALLOWS: I'll tell you what my experience has been. Almost the entirety
of people I've been interviewing for the last year and a half has been people
at the working level of the military and intelligence establishments: a
number of people in active military service; a number of recent retirees, you
know, who are still relatively young since you leave the military young; a
number of people both active and retired in the CIA, other intelligence
agencies, the State Department. And there is virtual unanimity among these
people that this war has turned out quite badly from the strategic point of
view of the United States. I say `virtual unanimity' because some people say,
`Well, you know, we had to do it and we still have to.'

Almost everyone recognizes that before the war, most intelligence estimates
said that Iraq probably did have some kind of weapons of mass destruction.
But the way the war has been carried out, both in the absence of alliances and
the chaos since the fall of Baghdad a year and a half ago, has made people
think that it's been a strategic catastrophe for the US in the way our troops
are tied down in the very difficult situation, the opportunity costs in Iran
and North Korea, the undermining of our relationship with our allies, the
financial cost and all of the new hostility that's been built up in the Arab
world as we have essentially confirmed the warnings that Osama bin Laden had
been laying out in his preachings about what the US would do if it had the
chance.

DAVIES: After September 11th, Bush made a policy speech in which he
essentially said terrorists hate us because they hate freedom and democracy.
You call this notion, in your piece, `dangerous claptrap.' Why?

Mr. FALLOWS: The formulation the president most often uses, `They hate us for
who we are; they hate us because we are free.' And the two halves of it,
`dangerous' and `claptrap,' I'll explain what I mean. The `dangerous' part is
that if you believe this, that it is something in the essence of our finest
aspects that creates hostility in the Arab world, the only take-home message
you have is, `Well, there's nothing we could possibly change or be doing wrong
in any way. It's only because of our outstandingness, our achievements, our
sort of rise up the evolutionary ladder of societies, that we are resented,
and so we just have to find some way to squash and quash this destructive envy
that's coming from the outside world.

The `claptrap' part is because this seems to reflect so little nuanced
understanding of how Islamic terrorism has actually accelerated over the last
10 or 15 years. And it's--you know, one of the main maxims of war is to know
your enemy, understand your enemy. During the Cold War, we spent a lot of
effort trying to understand communism and the Soviet bloc and what their
vulnerabilities were. There are lots of people in the government who have
done just that with Islamic terrorists and some other terrorists, too, and
they point out that while, of course, there is this envy of the Islamic world
of the Western world and while, of course, there is culture disapproval of
some of the libertine ways of the West from some of the more restricted
Islamic societies, the real root of this is specific policy disagreements.

It has to do with America's policy on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, has to
do with our tolerance of repressive regimes that happen to provide us with
oil. It has to do crucially with having troops in Saudi Arabia, which has
been a huge issue. It has to do with the occupation of Iraq, which contains
many very holy Islamic sites. It has to do with the number of Iraqis being
killed, civilians, as part of the ongoing war. So it's--just to say, `Well,
there's nothing we can do about it; these people are just insane,' doesn't
take you any distance towards understanding why they're doing these things and
how they can be offset, controlled and undermined.

DAVIES: Well, James Fallows, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. FALLOWS: My pleasure. Thank you.

DAVIES: The Atlantic Monthly's national correspondent James Fallows.

Coming up, Lloyd Schwartz on Andreas Scholl, who sings in a register higher
than tenor. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: German countertenor Andreas Scholl
DAVE DAVIES, host:

The movement to restore historically authentic performances of music from the
18th century and earlier has led to a revival of interest in the highest range
of the male voice. Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz thinks the most
remarkable of the current crop of men who sing in a register higher than tenor
is the German countertenor Andreas Scholl.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ANDREAS SCHOLL (Singing in foreign language)

LLOYD SCHWARTZ reporting:

I first heard Andreas Scholl on a trip to Dresden four years ago. `You have
to hear him,' a German friend told me. `You won't believe it.' My friend was
right. Not only did the beauty of Scholl's voice impress me, but also his
natural, unshowy expressiveness. Countertenors usually have small falsetto
voices. But Scholl's voice had an amplitude I had never heard before. He's
more than six feet tall; maybe that's what gives his voice such resonance.
The church where I heard him seemed to reverberate with his sound.

Since then I've heard him a couple of times in the US, and my first impression
was confirmed. His voice pours into a large hall as easily as a hand filling
a glove. It's the one quality you can't tell from a recording, where
engineers can make even the tiniest squeak sound huge. But recording
certainly captures Scholl's other qualities. Here he is singing a haunting
German Baroque song, Johann Philipp Krieger's "An die Eisamkeit," "To
Solitude."

(Soundbite of "An die Eisamkeit")

Mr. SCHOLL: (Singing in foreign language)

SCHWARTZ: In Germany, Scholl is a star, and he's made many recordings for the
Harmonia Mundia label, including solo recital albums such as one of English
lute songs, which he sings with impeccable diction. Would that more American
singers could project the English language so eloquently. He has a sense of
humor, too, as he demonstrates in a German song called "The Art of
Kissing." On an album called "The Countertenors," a witty, even wicked
parody of the "Three Tenors," he satirizes the feminine aspect of the
countertenor voice.

(Soundbite of "The Art of Kissing")

Mr. SCHOLL: (Singing in foreign language)

SCHWARTZ: But Scholl's greatest gift is in singing the greatest music, like
the alto solos in the two great Bach Passions. Here's his moving performance
of one of the most profound arias ever written, from the "St. Matthew
Passion," "Erbarme dich," "Have Mercy on Me." The conductor is
Philippe Herreweghe.

(Soundbite of "Erbarme dich")

Mr. SCHOLL: (Singing in foreign language)

SCHWARTZ: Scholl's latest album from Decca includes first recordings of 17th-
and early 18th-century Italian cantatas dealing with the imaginary earthly
paradise Arcadia. He's also in two of Handel's greatest oratorios, singing
the title role in "Solomon" and David, the real hero of Handel's "Saul." The
last time I heard Scholl in person, at Harvard, crowds flocked around the
table where his CDs were being sold. That's when I decided to write this
review. I want more people in this country to know about an artist this good.

DAVIES: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of the Boston Phoenix.

(Credits)

DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

52:30

Extreme heat, flooding and wildfires: How climate change supercharged the weather

Washington Post reporter Brady Dennis warns our aging infrastructure systems weren't built to withstand the stresses of climate change: "There is a certain amount of suffering that we can't avoid."

43:29

'British Vogue' editor-in-chief wants his magazine to reflect the world he sees

Enninful has had a three-decades-long career as a stylist, art director and editor for some of the most popular fashion magazines and brands in the world. He's served as editor-in-chief of British Vogue since 2017, holding the distinction as the first male Black and gay editor in the magazine's 106 year history.

08:01

You won't want to miss this funny and surprising 'Reboot'

Hulu's new comedy series is about the rebirth of an old comedy series — one that never existed. Reboot is the funniest sitcom about making a sitcom since the Showtime series Episodes.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue