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A Higher Standard
The Weekly at 10: Sometimes Wrong but Always Right

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Some left-wingers probably don't read the Weekly Standard because they figure it's a Rupert Murdoch-owned, right-wing, warmongering magazine and, of course, they've got a point. But now -- as the Washington-based mag prepares to celebrate its 10th anniversary -- it's worth noting that the Weekly Standard is a truly excellent right-wing warmongering magazine, no matter what your political persuasion might be.

The Standard is saved from the worst sins of ideological magazines -- crankiness, sectarianism and self-righteousness -- by a delightfully impish sense of humor. It is America's funniest right-wing magazine, although there is not, alas, much competition for that title.

The Weekly Standard was founded in September 1995 by William Kristol, the son of neoconservative intellectual Irving Kristol and a former aide to Dan Quayle when he was vice president. It's a magazine of ideas -- bold ideas, brilliant ideas and occasionally truly awful ideas.

Without a doubt, the most important idea yet advanced by the Standard came in the essay "Saddam Must Go," written by Kristol and Robert Kagan and published in November 1997. The idea was: Hey, let's invade Iraq, conquer Baghdad and overthrow Saddam Hussein for expelling American weapons inspectors.

At the time, nobody paid much attention to the suggestion. But five years later, President Bush dusted off the idea and ordered the Pentagon to execute it. And, as we all know now, it worked perfectly.

Or maybe not. You make the call.

Now polls show that most Americans think invading Iraq was a bad idea. But Kristol is still gung-ho. Sometimes, in fact, he seems even more gung-ho than the Bush administration.

A few weeks ago, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made a vague statement about withdrawing some American troops, Kristol lambasted him for exhibiting "the inescapable whiff of weakness and defeatism."

A week later, Kristol lambasted Bush for the sin of saying, "As Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down." No, Kristol corrected the president, we need to keep our troops in Iraq even after its army has learned to stand up and fight. "Even talking about 'standing down' as Iraqis stand up makes success more difficult," Kristol wrote.

Kristol's zeal for battle is truly inspiring. In fact, it inspired me to think: Maybe he should join the fight. He could emulate Theodore Roosevelt, who proved his zeal for the Spanish-American War by quitting his cushy desk job and organizing his own regiment to fight in Cuba. It was called the Rough Riders. Kristol's regiment could include other war-hawk opinion slingers in the Murdoch empire, guys like Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. He could call it the Tough Talkers.

But enough of that. We're not here to discuss Iraq. We're here to praise the Weekly Standard. And it deserves praise. It is consistently literate, readable and intelligent. Its cultural essays are excellent. If you don't believe me, check out Kristol's just-published anthology, "The Weekly Standard: A Reader: 1995-2005." It contains "Saddam Must Go," as well as edifying essays on everything from the poems of William Butler Yeats to the films of Dorothy Lamour to the secret meaning of professional wrestling.

The wrestling piece -- "Pro Wrestling and the End of History," by Paul A. Cantor, originally published in 1999 -- contains this amazing passage: "The state of professional wrestling today thus provides clues as to what living at the end of history means. It suggests how a large segment of American society is trying to cope with the emotional letdown that followed upon the triumph of capitalism and liberal democracy."

Wow! I've read the piece twice now and I still can't figure out if it's an academic analysis of pro wrestling or a brilliant parody of an academic analysis of pro wrestling. Either way it's fun.

My favorite writers in the Standard's stable are two guys with sharp eyes and cutting wits -- Andrew Ferguson and Matt Labash.

Ferguson's brain contains a highly effective baloney detector, which enables him to identify balderdash in all its myriad manifestations. Over the years, he has published great comic essays on such celebrated cultural icons as Frank Sinatra, Edward R. Murrow and Mikhail Gorbachev. For the Gorbachev piece, Ferguson found Gorby in the same conference room with Shirley MacLaine and Deepak Chopra, which severely strained Ferguson's baloney detector but inspired a hilarious story.

Labash likes to leave the office and explore the weirder aspects of the world, which is a good trait in a reporter. Back in 2001, when a politically correct faction of gym teachers denounced dodge ball as a threat to America's youth, Labash risked his life by venturing out to a Maryland elementary school to play the deadly game. And he lived to tell the tale in a funny piece called "The New Phys Ed and the Wussification of America."

This summer, Labash spent time with the Minutemen -- the controversial organization that patrols the Mexican border, trying to deter illegal immigrants -- and his nuanced piece shows that the Minutemen aren't xenophobic vigilantes, as they are sometimes portrayed.

But my all-time favorite Labash piece is "Welcome to Canada: The Great White Waste of Time," published last March and reprinted in the new anthology. In it, he offers this synopsis of our northern neighbor:

". . . a country that didn't bother to draft its own constitution until 1982, that kept 'God Save the Queen' as its national anthem until 1980, and that still enshrines its former master's monarch as its head of state. Her Canadian title is 'Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom, Canada and Her other Realms and Territories, Queen (breath) Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.' Maybe they should change their national anthem again, to Britney Spears's 'I'm a Slave 4 U.' "

I loved that story, but it made me nervous. I was afraid Kristol might read it and immediately call for the invasion of Canada. I support our troops, but I'd hate to see them bogged down in the snows of Saskatchewan, besieged by snowshoe-wearing, Molson-swigging insurgents armed with hockey pucks and Gordon Lightfoot CDs.

Fortunately, Kristol held his fire. But that doesn't mean he's gone soft. In this week's issue, he advocates bombing Syria. But don't tell the president about that, okay? He might actually do it.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company