About Me

Kyle Smith (Twitter: @rkylesmith) is critic-at-large for National Review, theater critic for The New Criterion and the author of the novels Love Monkey and A Christmas Caroline. Type a title in the box above to locate a review.

Buy Love Monkey for $4! "Hilarious"--Maslin, NY Times. "Exceedingly readable and wickedly funny romantic comedy"--S.F. Chronicle. "Loud and brash, a helluva lot of fun"--Entertainment Weekly. "Engaging romp, laugh-out-loud funny"-CNN. "Shrewd, self-deprecating, oh-so-witty. Smith's ruthless humor knows no bounds"--NPR

Buy A Christmas Caroline for $10! "for those who prefer their sentimentality seasoned with a dash of cynical wit. A quick, enjoyable read...straight out of Devil Wears Prada"--The Wall Street Journal

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  • McCain, Feinstein and Levin Denounce “Zero Dark Thirty”

    By kyle | December 19, 2012

    I’ve read a lot of media stories about how Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and John McCain say harsh interrogation techniques did not lead to Osama Bin Laden. “Zero Dark Thirty” says otherwise (despite the hedging of filmmakers Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow, who have an interest in not appearing to support conservative positions -they want to win Oscars that are voted on by a left-liberal Academy.)

    McCain went so far as to get a private letter from former CIA director Leon Panetta last year. McCain and the others have been saying that Panetta’s letter supports their version of events, and now they are publicly calling on the makers of “Zero Dark Thirty” to admit their film is a lie.

    I think McCain, who has a personal emotional stake in the matter of torture, is simply hearing what he wants to hear from Panetta. Panetta’s letter was not nearly as direct as McCain’s statements; it was, as I said in my Sunday column, carefully parsed and full of loopholes that are consistent with the story told in “Zero Dark Thirty.”

    This ABC News story is one of the few that are fair-minded and tries to reconcile Panetta’s statement with one by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey that harsh interrogation was critical in finding Bin Laden.

    Panetta told McCain the following:

    “We first learned about the facilitator/courier’s nom de guerre from a detainee not in CIA custody in 2002.” He said that some detainees who had been subject to enhanced interrogation techniques attempted to provide false information about the courier.

    Both of these ideas are expressed in the film. A file on the courier is in CIA hands before the harsh interrogation scene — but the file has been lost and no action has been taken on it. It’s only when the nickname, Abu Ahmed, of the courier comes up again during a harsh interrogation, that the CIA begins to join the dots and think this is a person of great significance.

    Panetta also said:

    In the end, no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts.

    Again, consistent with the movie. The CIA got the nickname, not the full true name, of the courier from the waterboarded detainee. They located the courier on their own, without using harsh interrogation. (In the movie, they buy a yellow Lamborghini for a snitch in Kuwait in exchange for Abu Ahmed’s mother’s phone number. Listening in to the mother’s phone calls, they note that Ahmed has been calling from various locations, never the same place twice, and that he lied about where he was calling from. They eventually get a trace on his cellphone, follow him through the streets in a car until they find him talking on his cellphone, get a picture of him, then set up “pickets” on the roads out of town with instructions to call in if they see Abu Ahmed’s car. One of these pickets spots Ahmed going into the Abbottabad compound.

    Concludes ABC:

    The statement leaves open the possibility that both Mukasey and Panetta are correct. Panetta refers to the “full true name” of the courier, while Mukasey, in an appearance Monday at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, said KSM disclosed “the nickname” in the course of the questioning that took place after the enhanced interrogation techniques.

    Topics: Bin Laden dead, Movies | 4 Comments »

    “Zero Dark Thirty” Vs. the Wets

    By kyle | December 16, 2012

    In my Sunday column, I explain why “Zero Dark Thirty” is a clear vindication of the Bush Administration’s approach to the war on terror. (Spoiler alert: The good guys win in the end.)

    Topics: Barack Obama, Bin Laden dead, Politics | 8 Comments »

    Bin Laden Bounce Is Gone

    By kyle | June 7, 2011

    As I said at the time, Obama’s Bin Laden bounce was bound to be short-lived because people are worried about the economy. So it has come to pass. On Assassination Day, remember, every liberal pundit was saying (this before the first fish was nibbling on Bin Laden’s remains) that this event was sure to secure a massive new revise of public opinion in favor of the president. I particularly recall my excitable friend Steve Zeitchik saying such things, and of course Andy Borowitz predicted reelection with 100 percent of the vote. Today I am accepting mea culpas.

    The election will (of course) be about the economy. People worry about the thing that is right in front of their face. If that happens to be terrorism, they’ll vote on that basis. But terrorism isn’t first and foremost in the American mind. (It could be, if there were to be another major attack, but it isn’t.) People are worried about jobs and the anti-business, anti-rich people rhetoric of Obama has completely failed — as witness the rise in polls of rich businessman Mitt Romney.
    Still, I think Romney made a mistake when he said Obama “doesn’t understand” the way the economy works. Implying that Obama is a dummy is not the way to go. It isn’t true, and it may backfire. Much better for Romney to talk about how likable, charismatic, personable, intelligent, etc. Obama is — then slowly pivot to the sad disappointment of his putting so many other things ahead of the economy in the national list of priorities. And the sad proof that the philosophy of regulating everything is retarding job growth.

    Topics: Barack Obama, Bin Laden dead | 5 Comments »

    Transparency Looking a Little Cloudy

    By kyle | May 5, 2011

    Transparency — President Obama has committed to making his administration the most open and transparent in history, and will play a major role in delivering on that promise. The President’s executive orders and proclamations will be published for everyone to review, and that’s just the beginning of our efforts to provide a window for all Americans into the business of the government. You can also learn about some of the senior leadership in the new administration and about the President’s policy priorities.

    White House Web posting, Jan. 20, 2009

    President Obama ruled out publicly releasing photographs of the deceased Osama bin Laden on Wednesday, and White House officials said they would give no new details about the raid on his compound in Pakistan, an information clampdown that followed fitful attempts to craft a riveting narrative about the killing of al-Qaeda’s leader.

    White House Goes Silent on Bin Laden Raid, Washington Post, May 4, 2011

    Sure. It’s not like the Bin Laden raid was important or anything. It’s not like reporters would have questions about it. It’s not like conflicting details would be noticed.

    The killer paragraph is here, in the “larger narrative” portion of the story, the “pattern of incompetence” bit.

    The conundrum mirrored problems that the Obama administration has had communicating its national security approach in the past. From the immediate aftermath of an attempted airliner bombing on Dec. 25, 2009, to the early management of the H1N1 flu crisis, the White House has repeatedly labored to prove its command of inflammatory facts during fast-moving events.

    Once WaPo and/or New York Times reporters start pushing the “larger narrative” function key, it becomes major problem. I wonder if someone in the White House communications shop is suddenly going to decide to spend more time with his family. What a muckup this is turning out to be.

    Topics: Barack Obama, Bin Laden dead | 6 Comments »

    Military Success, PR Fiasco

    By kyle | May 5, 2011

    This seems to be the conventional wisdom already. Strange but true: the administration has tripped all over itself on a victory lap. This sums it up pretty well:

    The core conflict is the White House’s “desire to kill bin Laden but also to have the world think we did so respectfully and politely,” said Eric Dezenhall, founder of Dezenhall Resources, a PR firm. “I’m in the PR business, and I don’t think guys like me have the alchemy to persuade the public that something is the opposite of what it is,” he said, adding, “spin only gets you so far.”

    Topics: Barack Obama, Bin Laden dead | 1 Comment »

    The Gift That Is Michael Moore

    By kyle | May 5, 2011

    Just keeps on giving….now via Big Hollywood, it seems he’s upset that there were no headlines reading “Multi-millionaire kills 3,000,” as though the motive for Bin Laden’s jihad were that he was rich and that turned him evil. Moore is upset that Bin Laden is characterized as a Muslim. And that being a Muslim is somehow portrayed as being central to Bin Laden’s motivation.
    Since Moore is himself a multi-millionaire and not a Muslim, isn’t this a bit like being terrified of the image in the mirror? Is Moore really more scared of Wall Street bankers and Hollywood filmmakers than he is of jihadists who attacked the city where he lives? If not, why does he feel he has to pretend to be? Moore is a deeply disturbed and rage-filled man and one day this will be obvious to everyone instead of just most of us. Thank you, Michael, for continuing to speak out and prove anew with each breath who you are.

    Topics: Bin Laden dead | 3 Comments »

    Economist Readers Have Gone Wobbly

    By kyle | May 4, 2011

    The Economist is taking a poll: Is it right to celebrate the death of Bin Laden? The question need not even be asked. And yet…so far, 58 percent have said no. I can remember when The Economist and its readers were united in their center-right common sense. One of the unfortunate habits of modern Western educated man is to dig for complexity in things that are simple.

    Topics: Bin Laden dead | 1 Comment »

    Spike the Football, Please

    By kyle | May 4, 2011

    The President says he doesn’t want to release photos of Bin Laden because there is no need to “spike the football.” Well.
    Tell me, what is the amount of marginal humiliation involved in releasing photos (or, for that matter, of bringing the body back to the US before burial at sea) of someone you have just had shot in the head after spending 10 years hunting him down, using waterboarding, rendition, many thousands of troops and billions of dollars? The American people spent a lot of money finding this man. Let’s see what we bought. The jihadists will be furious — but then, they’re always furious. They were furious that Salman Rushdie wrote a novel. They were furious that Danish cartoonists published cartoons. They were furious that an inanimate object was burned in Florida. They’re furious that our women don’t walk around in tents. They’re furious that we’re rich. Fury is their business. Worrying about the marginal fury that attaches to releasing the photo is like dropping a bomb and fretting that it made too much noise.
    Look at it this way — everybody in the US military wants to see that photo. They’ve put in a lot of work along the way. Are you more concerned about their morale, or that of the jihadists?

    Topics: Barack Obama, Bin Laden dead | 10 Comments »

    11-Point Bump

    By kyle | May 4, 2011

    For Obama. Surprisingly small. Then again, I think Bush only got a seven-point bump out of Saddam’s capture. People vote their pocketbooks anyway. I don’t think anyone thinks the election is going to be about anything but the economy. It’s odd how excited liberals were (judging from Twitter…Andy Borowitz imagined the approval rating would hit 100%) about the president’s re-election chances. I venture to say that they were more excited about the political bump than about the bumping off.

    Topics: Barack Obama, Bin Laden dead | 13 Comments »

    Nah, Go Ahead, Characterize It as a Victory

    By kyle | May 2, 2011

    A beyond-shameless Daily Kos contributor on the rather fortunate demise of Osama Bin Laden:

    No matter how inevitable bin Laden’s death may have been, we should be careful not to characterize it as a victory. At minimum, his story serves to illuminate our own failure to create an equitable society…

    The same writer blames Bill Clinton (!) for being so rah-rah about capitalism that he helped birth Bin Ladenism:

    While bin Laden’s ideological justification for violence may have been anathema to our own understanding of world peace, it did not emerge in a vacuum. For elevating capitalism to monolithic proportions, Bill Clinton must shoulder some blame for both creating the fertile soil within which al-Qaeda thrived as well as for failing to grasp to full potential of bin Laden’s allure among the deprived and marginalized.

    I thought it would take a bit longer than this for the far left to get all droopy-eyed. It seems I was wrong: They have immediately noticed that someone who hated a lot of the same stuff they hated has departed this earth. The enemy of my enemy, etc.

    Rather, if we truly seek an end to this conflict, we must couple his death with our own redemption by acknowledging the harm inherent in capitalist totalitarianism and renouncing violence in all its forms. Without this, all we’ve managed to do is kill an elderly diabetic with a big mouth.

    See, “capitalist totalitarianism,” or the American market economy, is just another flavor of jihad. Or something. Feel free to pass along other examples of far-left wingnuttery.

    Topics: Bin Laden dead | 13 Comments »