08/22/2006 12:38 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

How to Win Friends and Terrorize People

tom and jerry gold.jpg

From the Stranger-Than-Fiction Dept, Terrorism Subdivision: Jill Carroll's captors "watched Tom and Jerry cartoons when the television set wasn't tuned to the Koran Channel ... one of the better-educated guards spent his time reading from the book How to Win Friends and Influence People."

Garbage in, garbage out.

Actually, I can see why these guys would be fascinated by Tom and Jerry. After all, Tom the Cat's superior size, weight, and brute strength make him the "superpower" in the house. Jerry the Mouse is tiny, on the other hand, but he almost always wins.

It's an exercise in vanity for terrorists to watch those cartoons and identify with the protagonist. Jerry's agile, smart, and quick, while the Great Satan Tom is musclebound, slow-witted, and overly dependent on brute force.

In fact, Hanna-Barbera crafted the ideal propaganda vehicle for asymmetrical warfare. And Jerry and the terrorists share a taste for the barbaric. Like his improbable Middle Eastern fan base, the hyperkinetic rodent loves medieval instruments of evil - which in his case includes axes, heavy weights, dynamite, and sticking a cat's tail into a waffle iron.

Where Americans see light entertainment, apparently the terrorists see a training video. That darned cat! But wait: Here's where the terrorists get it wrong. Unlike big slow-witted Jerry, some cats can decide to wise up. And when they do, they then become both powerful ... and smart.

The Dale Carnegie book's a more surprising choice. "Don't criticize, condemn or complain," advises Mr. Carnegie. "Avoid arguments," he adds, and "never tell somebody they're wrong."

Fat chance. All we've ever gotten from this crowd is "bitch, bitch, bitch."

But wait: "Get the other person to want to do what you want them to by arousing their desires." That sounds like a good description of what Bin Laden's done in provoking the Administration to attack Iraq. Intelligence analysts already knew that move was exactly what Osama wanted. Now we can blame Dale Carnegie.

"Be genuinely interested in other people." You can bet they're interested in us. That's why, while we're chasing illusory goals in Iraq, they're studying our ports, our habits, what makes us feel vulnerable ...

That's another principle of asymmetrical warfare: Turn the enemy's own tactics against him.

"Throw down a challenge." Um, hel-lo. Of course they've thrown down a challenge. And the greatest sign of weakness anyone can display is to accept someone's challenge on their terms, rather than your own.

We can take the terrorists on anytime. We have the national will. But we, not they, should decide when, where, and how to fight. And we should go after the right guys.

"Smile," adds Mr. Carnegie.

(Never mind, boys. You can practice some more later. Please stop grimacing.)

In an almost equally bizarre story, Tony Snow claims that Bush's vacation reading included "The Stranger" by Camus. Ssshh. ... I'm going to tell you a secret: When I was in college, I read this novel for extra credit ... in French. (That's right, I said French.. But keep it entre nous, OK?)

That was a long time ago. Nowadays I can't even read a menu in French, much less speak it intelligibly. (So can I be an American again?)

Here's the thing I don't understand. It's a given that Snow is lying, but what could he possibly be thinking? Does he hope to suggest that Bush is deeper and broadminded that you might think?

Obviously, nobody in the White House press operation has read the novel, not that I necessarily blame them. It's a hard read in any language, and not exactly 'vacation reading.'

Tony, if you're reading this, here's what "The Stranger" is about: There's a man who is pathologically incapable of feeling normal human emotions, including grief or remorse. He makes friends with a crook. Then he kills an innocent Arab for no discernable reason.

Why would anybody think a book like this would be relevant to George W. Bush?

Never mind. I withdraw the question.


POSTSCRIPT: My mother wouldn't let me watch "Tom and Jerry" because she thought the cartoons were too violent. Fortunately my best friend Louie lived right next door, and his parents had no such qualms.

Mom may have been right after all, although I hear Louie turned out OK.

A lot of brilliant and successful business people swear by Dale Carnegie's principles. And God knows terrorists seem to be "winning friends and influencing people."

The GOP response (endorsed by McCain ... and Lieberman) is to kill other Arabs - mostly those who weren't involved in attacking us.

How's that working out for you?

I wish we were spending our time going after the guys who want to hurt us. Now that would "influence people."

By the way, have any of the conservatives who accused Jill Carroll of being a traitor apologized? Oh, right. No remorse.

I take back the "garbage in, garbage out" statement - well, the "garbage in" part. "Tom and Jerry" and Dale Carnegie are American icons.

In fact, someday I hope to watch Tom and Jerry ... in French.

Lastly, the editors wish to inform you that no cartoon characters were harmed in the writing of this piece.

Th-that's all, folks.

A Night Light