Silver (Crazy Like a) Fox (February 3, 2011)


Generally speaking, I have nothing but respect for Anderson Cooper, the superstar journalist and face of CNN’s cable news network (no matter what Wolf Blitzer may think). Despite being sired by the Vanderbilt, money as old as it comes clan, despite being privileged and ruggedly handsome and instead of contenting himself with the easy lifestyle of the East Coast aristocracy, A.C. has made a respectable name in his own right. Whenever you see a snug fitting black t-shirt and effortlessly tousled silver hair, look beyond the telegenic sexiness and you will see an honest, determined professional who is not afraid to get in the trenches.

While those of us couch surfing at home certainly appreciate the in-your-face, up close and personal gritty bent to Cooper’s quest for truth, I am beginning to wonder if the man isn’t a little touched in the head. The thought first occurred to me on Tuesday night, as Eddie and I hid from the blizzard, watching endless coverage of the Midwest winter storm. When CNN wasn’t breathlessly discussing the impact of “Snowmageddon,” the other big story of the evening, and in fact the last week, has been the populist revolt in Egypt.

What began as a mostly civilized, large scale and diverse turnout of Egyptians demanding immediate regime change has quickly devolved into the worst display of lawlessness and street thuggery. Someone (President Hosni Mubarak) seems to have recruited a brutal gang of armed responders in an attempt to crush the democratic protests of fed up citizens. Therefore instead of reasoned intellectual debate, or even impassioned demonstration, we are seeing images of Moltov cocktails, the resulting fires, beaten and harassed civilians splashed across our television screens. Cultural institutions such as the famed Egyptian Museum are suddenly in peril. The panic and pain of Tahrir Square has been frustratingly heartbreaking to observe.

Keeping more than just an eye on the situation throughout most of the week has been our man in the field, Anderson Cooper. Between dialing in to the network with reports throughout the day, appearing on late afternoon segments of “The Situation Room,” and continuing to anchor his own nightly program, “AC 360,” it doesn’t seem like The Silver Fox has had any time for sleep. And you get the feeling that Cooper is not out courting Pulitzers. His dedication is real. But at certain moments, you have to wonder about the man behind the serious gaze. As I said, on Tuesday night, I began to psychoanalyze A.C. a bit as he sort of carelessly informed viewers of his crew’s precarious situation. He chuckled more than once as he warned, “we may have to flee at any moment.”

So of course when I woke up Wednesday morning to the news that Cooper and his colleagues had indeed been mobbed and beaten in Cairo, my first thought was, “Well that was inevitable, wasn’t it?”

I realize that there are more urgent issues to consider coming out of the crisis in Egypt, such as its long-term effects on the stability of the Middle East region, the succession plan (if any) for President Mubarak, and the possible security fallout in Israel. But in times of great danger, it seems natural to wonder about those who go chasing it. Why exactly is Anderson Cooper the first to raise his hand when CNN needs someone to wade into a hurricane, wander into a war zone or pick a fight with powerful corporate and government interests? Fearless love of humanity or death wish – you decide.

What is biographically known about the famously guarded media darling suggests both Mommy and Daddy issues. His father, writer Wyatt Emory Cooper, died in 1978 when Anderson was 11. His mother, famed socialite Gloria Vanderbilt, paraded her son around on The Tonight Show and kept him occupied with high profile modeling gigs for Calvin Klein and Macy’s. So naturally at age 17, Cooper went to southern Africa in a “13-ton British Army truck” where he promptly contracted malaria and ended up in a Kenyan hospital. This appears to be the beginning of a well-worn pattern for A.C.

So I wonder, though I will never have the chance to ask Mr. Cooper, do you run toward tragedy to escape the pain in your own life? If so, I can sort of relate. Growing up in a terribly traumatizing home, I deflected processing my emotions by becoming the busy caretaker of everyone else. It was often a welcome, if damaging, distraction.

Last night’s edition of “AC 360” featured Anderson and his crew broadcasting from a secret, dark and dingy location, sitting on the floor, voices barely above a whisper. I pray for the safety of everyone in Egypt but I admit to a special concern for my favorite journalist. Because I suspect that even with all his fame, money and repute, he may not care much about himself.

Why U.S. Non-Interventionism in Middle East is Sound Policy (For Now) (July 15, 2013)


In recent weeks, I’ve come across a number of high profile articles mulling over President Obama’s Switzerland-esque approach to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, as well as the wait-and-see stance adopted in relation to continued unrest in Egypt. A number of commentators, including Aaron David Miller ofNewsday, believe that direct American intervention in Syria is inevitable. Likewise, writers such as Taimur Khan of The Nationalproffers US keen to keep Egypt aid flowing as the driving force behind the administration’s reluctance to choose sides in the recent military-enforced ouster of President Mohammed Morsi.

There are no doubt sundry and diverse motives for taking a sideline approach to the series of implosions occurring in the larger Middle East. Doubtless some of these are cynically diplomatic or financial in nature. But from the perspective of an ordinary citizen, as much as it pains me to witness the bloodshed and terror experienced by people advocating for freedom and opportunity, values held in esteem by all varieties of free nations, I applaud the extreme caution exercised by President Obama and his team. For it wasn’t so many years ago that we collectively witnessed the pitfalls of presumptive intervention in the affairs of other nations (see: the George W. Bush administration), and we continue to suffer the ill financial and public relations effects of those decisions.

In the case of Syria, Miller points out, “Obama has avoided intervention not because he’s insensitive, incompetent, or even uninterested. He has done so because his options aren’t just bad, they’re terrible.” Although there can be no doubt that the unfolding situation in that country is a moral and humanitarian debacle, it cannot be taken as a given that the U.S. possesses the means and authority to set things right. Certainly not after the bungling swagger that was the American regime change offensive in Iraq, or the continued, resolution-less quagmire that Afghanistan has become. While Al Qaeda has suffered, the Taliban one could certainly argue, remains as tenacious as ever.

Miller continues, “The American experience in Afghanistan and Iraq looms large over the Syrian conflict. The parallel that’s worth paying attention to isn’t boots on the ground – it’s the question of connecting means to ends. In the Syrian case, the central question is: How does militarizing the American role – through providing arms to the rebels, creating a no-fly zone, or even launching military strikes – pave the way for a successful outcome?” And what, it must be asked, would be the collateral damage to our nation’s reputation in the Muslim world, a profile that President Obama has only just begun to repair after eight years of Bush II imperialism?

In Egypt, the situation is somewhat different, although the current American approach is the same. The Obama administration did in fact join protesting Egyptians in calling for the 2011 removal of President Hosni Mubarak, then supported the democratically elected regime of Muslim Brotherhood-backed Morsi. Yet scarcely a year later, Morsi is out amidst worsening social and economic conditions for Egyptian citizens. No less an authority than former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton, told Newsmax: “We made a big mistake — I said it at the time — in forcing Mubarak out. He’s no Jeffersonian Democrat, but he was an ally of the United States and he supported the Camp David accord with Israel.”

No one can accuse President Obama of failing to learn from the recent past. In light of the quick and profound collapse of Morsi, America would do well to allow the Egyptians to decide the next steps for themselves, providing advice and assistance as requested.

Certain war hawks and plenty of other well-meaning folks who simply wish for a speedy end to international suffering would do well to remember that this is not World War II. We are not superheroes with unlimited human and financial capital and it is, in addition, the height of arrogance to assume that the Middle East requires saving when so many, many problems require our collective attention at home. Look to the Iraq and Afghanistan examples. By pushing for premature intervention in what may hopefully become nascent democracies, the most positive outcome could only be, at best, an expensive win-lose.