Guys In The ‘Barbershop’ Talk Politics, Sports

Freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin and Sports Illustrated writer Pablo Torre talk about the news of the week. The guys offer their take on the dramatic exit of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the bizarre story of the lone American who went on a mission to kill Osama bin Laden, and the Wimbledon tennis match that lasted nearly 11 hours.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Well, it's time now, for TELL ME MORE's weekly visit to the barbershop where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael;�syndicated columnist, civil rights attorney�and editor, Arsalan Iftikhar; Sports Illustrated reporter�Pablo Torre;�and none other than NPR's�political editor Ken�Rudin.

Jimi, you've got it, bro.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Writer): Hey, what's up, Tony?

COX: How are you doing?

Mr. IZRAEL: Back again for the first time. What's up, man?

COX: And I have my I got my Laker hat on, too, buddy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh well, whatever, man. Yo, fellas, welcome to the shop. How are we doing? How's everybody else?

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil Rights Attorney): Hey, hey, hey.

Mr. PABLO TORRE (Reporter, Sports Illustrated): How's it going, man?

KEN RUDIN: Hey, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ken dog's in the house. Okay, well, you know what? Let's jump right in and talk about the big news this week. President Obama relieving General Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, of his duties. Dude, on Wednesday, just pulled the plug on him.

COX: Absolutely. Hey, Jimi, you know, we touched on this earlier in the political chat. The firing of General McChrystal came after Rolling Stone magazine, of course, published some disparaging remarks by McChrystal and some of his subordinates about key administration personnel, including President Obama. So, here is President Obama, speaking on Wednesday, about McChrystal's resignation.

President BARACK OBAMA: All Americans should be grateful for General McChrystal's remarkable career in uniform. But war is bigger than any one man or women, whether a private, a general or a president. And as difficult as it is to lose General McChrystal, I believe that it is the right decision for our national security. The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system.

COX: Hey, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yes, Tony.

COX: Finally, the president takes somebody important to the woodshed. Finally.

Mr. IZRAEL: That's one read, Tony. I mean, it's hard, but it's fair, you know what I mean? It's one of those things, you know.

Ken-dog, did General McChrystal kind of force Obama's hand in this case? Did he force the president to fire him?

RUDIN: Oh, there's no question. I mean, as you heard in President Obama's remarks, there is a time-honored adherence to the civilian control of the military. Douglas MacArthur learned it the hard way in 1951. The generals in "Seven Days in May," that movie - they learned it that way, too. And you know something? We talk about president Obama's lack of he just never seemed to want to get involved, he maybe stayed on the sidelines far too long during the health care debate.

He waited almost two months before he met with the guys, the head of BP. So everybody was saying, you know, do something. This was a sign, a clear sign from the president that he was that his decision was made and he was going to act accordingly.

Mr. IZRAEL: A-train.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah, you know, former French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau said that war is too important to be left to the generals. And it's important to keep in mind that civilian control of the military is something that is part and parcel and a sacrosanct aspect of our American Democratic society. And, you know, what General Stanley McChrystal said in the Rolling Stone article, which is called "The Runaway General" by Michael Hasting, was essentially insubordination.

You know, here you had a subordinate, you know, talking smack, not only about the commander in chief, but also the rest of his national security team, you know, basically saying that national security adviser Jim Jones is stuck in 1985 like Marty McFly. And that, you know...

Mr. TORRES: A clown. A clown.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah, a clown. Dick Holbrooke, you know, was like a wounded animal, things like that. And so, you know, it was just it was, you know, conduct unbecoming. And what Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek magazine, you know, coined to be a master stroke, he replaced him with General David Petraeus, someone who is widely regarded, both here inside the beltway and outside the beltway, as an amazing commander.

And so I think that, you know, by replacing Petraeus - McChrystal with Petraeus - he's going to take some of the heat off of the resignation of McChrystal.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what, Pablo? You know what, Pablo? You know, that great American, Geraldo Rivera...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: He made this interesting point on Fox News. I think is it it bears fleshing out. He says that he thinks that Rolling Stone did the country a great disservice by having journalist Michael Hasting kind of flesh these quote, unquote, "comments" that could've been taken off the record, could kind of flesh these out in the public sphere.

Mr. TORRES: You know...

Mr. IZRAEL: How do you feel about that?

Mr. TORRES: I'm going to have to disagree with the great American, Geraldo Rivera, because for the sole reason that this was excellent journalism. I mean, this was the point of the industry - and I applaud Michael Hastings. And I also wonder, as far as the disservice goes, I mean, I think what this revealed, as far as McChrystal goes, is that there's something of a character defect in the man.

I mean, not to get too personal. I don't know him. I only know of him through these reports. But anybody who did not - I mean, let's - I think we can all agree that didn't fall on the sword. This is not something - an outcome that he wanted. He did not want to be fired. And if we operate from that perspective, the question is what was his margin for error? What was he thinking, right? Why would he even say those things? And...

COX: Let me, before you get to the next one...

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah.

COX: ...let me just remind people what they are listening to. This is the Barbershop, if you didn't already know that. You're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News, our weekly segment called the Barbershop. And we are speaking with journalist Jimi Izrael, Ken Rudin, Arsalan Iftikhar and Pablo Torre.

Okay, Jimi, you got it back.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, Tony, I'm wondering if it's just me. Did anybody else have shades of Jesse Jackson in 1984 when The Post ambushed him with anti-Semitic comments he thought he'd made off the record, and that ended up in the paper?

RUDIN: Oh, no. Oh, no. No. Can I just jump in on this?

COX: I didn't have that feeling.

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Ken. Go get it.

RUDIN: First of all, the Jesse Jackson thing was a private conversation that Milton Coleman of The Washington Post decided to report.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

RUDIN: It was a private conversation. What's so amazing about this is General McChrystal, who may be a great general, and everybody says he is, and it goes beyond what Pablo just said about excellent journalism. He sat there with a journalist and just ripped apart his commander-in-chief, and that's - I mean...

Mr. TORRE: For a month.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

RUDIN: How do you do that?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, he was embedded - Michael Hastings was embedded with McChrystal and his crew for a month, and he even went to Paris and, you know...

Mr. TORRE: Right through the volcano, yeah.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah. When his crew was getting drunk and wasted and saying these things. I mean, it's not like the guy was there for two days and he was out. He was there for a month. They knew exactly who he was.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.

RUDIN: And the great irony here is that General Petraeus, who the left hated -remember he was General Betrayus, the MoveOn.org thing?

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Senator Obama was not a fan of his. Now, Petraeus could save a policy that, for all I know, hasn't changed and still looks like there's no satisfactory conclusion to it.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: Let's move on.

COX: But Jimi, let me...

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Tony.

COX: Before you go on, I have a hard time understanding how someone as smart as Stanley McChrystal could allow this to happen as a oops kind of thing.

Mr. TORRE: Exactly, and that's my question, too. I'm baffled by it.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right. All right. Well...

COX: All right. Well, you want to move on to another thing? Go ahead.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, let's keep it in motion. Let's to jump to talking about Gary Faulkner, my dude.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Oh, man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Now, in case you forgot, he's the American arrested in the mountains of Pakistan last week with a 40-inch sword, a pistol and night-vision goggles. He was apparently Shaft on a solo mission hunting Osama bin Laden. Wow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Yeah, absolutely.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, and now he's back in Colorado, arrested.

COX: You're right about that. He's been dubbed, in fact, the Rocky Mountain Rambo. You know there'll be a movie coming. You know it will.

Gary Faulkner has hinted he may try again to catch bin Laden. Now, remember, the U.S. has placed a bounty of 25 cool million dollars on...

Mr. IZRAEL: Best of luck.

COX: ...the al-Qaida leader's capture. Here's Faulkner talking to CNN about his mission.

Mr. GARY FAULKNER: There's people out there talking smack - oh, he's crazy or this or that. You know what? Those are the people sitting on their (beep), talking (beep). They'll sit there and say, well, that quarterback should have done this. Or this guy should have done that. But you know what? I got off my butt and I put my life on the line to go out there. I stood up for what I believed.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thank you for that, Tony.

COX: I guess he did. I guess he did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, you know what? The problem with that, A-train, is that there is no international bounty-hunting license, as the Dog Chapman found out...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: ...a few years back in Mexico.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, they have another name for bounty hunting overseas. It's called kidnapping.

Go ahead and get that, A-Train. What's up with that?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, Gary Faulkner, first of all, if you look at him, he looks like, you know, the stunt double for Tommy Chong.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: And, you know, let's not forget...

Mr. IZRAEL: Come on, man.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...not only is he...

Mr. TORRE: That's actually accurate.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...he's a 50-year-old, unemployed construction worker and ex-convict from Colorado.

RUDIN: Perfect. He's perfect.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Who was essential...

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, I'm saying.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Who was essentially caught with, you know, his Highlander samurai sword and night-vision goggles in, you know, the hinterlands of Pakistan. You know, if he goes back - you know, I'm more afraid that he's going to, you know, end up in something, like, back bazaar of Peshawar, like Chevy Chase and Dan Akyroyd in "Spies Like Us," and sucking his thumb somewhere.

I'm just happy that, you know, he got out alive. I mean, our Navy SEALs, our Special Forces, you know, and drone attacks weren't able to catch Osama bin Laden. I don't think that this knucklehead could.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, I don't know. Pablo, my whole thing is nobody's hiring, why knock this guy for like trying to hustle up the rent?

Mr. TORRE: You know what?

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean, seriously.

Mr. TORRE: You know what? I watched that CNN interview, and there is definitely - it may be perverted, but a hint - of the, you know, the Rooseveltian, you know, it's not the critic who counts, but the guy in the arena who actually takes matters into his own hands.

That - I mean, granted, the guy sounded, by all accounts, unhinged. And, you know, we're talking about movies - I just can't decide if this is going to be a comedy or a drama. I mean, the guy is - seems, again, disturbed from afar. And, you know, my favorite quote actually was from his family who, when they asked, you know, does this guy have any combat training? They're like oh, no, but he's excellent with a sword.

Which just reminded me of, like, "Napoleon Dynamite," you know, it's not...

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Hey, let me...

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh, come on.

COX: Let me...

Mr. IZRAEL: Nah. I...

COX: Wait, let me ask you this question, Jimi, and the guys. Suspend reality for just a second. What if he had been successful?

Mr. TORRE: That's a great question.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah. I mean...

Mr. TORRE: I love that question.

Mr. IZRAEL: ...what if he had been successful? I mean, I think it's a bad read to look at this guy and say he was disturbed. I think this guy, whether you like it or not, is a patriot. And we can argue his method. We can even argue his look. But, I mean, he's right. We're all sitting here bellyaching about bin Laden, and he's going out and trying to get him. So, hey, you know...

RUDIN: Let me tell you...

Mr. IZRAEL: ...go get him.

RUDIN: ...what's more incredulous.

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Ken.

RUDIN: John McCain, during the 2008 presidential debates, said: I'll get Osama bin Laden, my friends. I know how to get him. I know how to do it. But he didn't have a sword. He didn't have night goggles.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: At least Faulkner knew what he was doing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, and also let's not forget, you know, that this concept of mercenaries - I mean, with the advent of Blackwater, which is now called Xe, you know, we have, you know, essentially, soldiers of fortune, you know, running around country...

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...running around the world, both in Iraq, Afghanistan, all over the world, you know, running around as mercenaries. And, you know, I think that this Gary Faulkner guy got caught up in the mercenary rush.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. I think that's the one big problem: There is no such thing as international bounty hunting license. You know, you just can't go to another country and just start randomly rustling, you know, criminals, like, you know, like you're Luke Skywalker or somebody like that.

I mean, you got to - you need some kind of stamp from the government. Something.

Mr. TORRE: But, you know what he did do? What he did do was bring attention...

Mr. IZRAEL: ...a note from your mother. Mm-hmm. Go ahead.

Mr. TORRE: He did bring attention and shed a spotlight - shined a spotlight on Osama bin Laden, who honestly had fallen out of the conversation. I mean, the fact that we're even talking about bin Laden because of an effort like this I think is admirable in some way, regardless of what you think of the guy's pathologies.

RUDIN: You know, if Faulkner had to find something, he should find the offense for the Washington Nationals.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: That's been missing for a long time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Oh, no. I'll tell you what, before you get to the next topic, I mentioned that there might be a movie. But I really could see a reality show. You know, you want to become a mercenary? You want to learn how to go and get bin Laden? You know, tune in every night, six o'clock.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I'll watch.

Mr. TORRE: Wow. God.

COX: All right, Jimi. What are we going to talk about next?

Mr. IZRAEL: I might be on it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: All right. Well, moving along: I'm not a big tennis fan, but I can tell you one thing for sure. You won't catch me playing a match that lasts 11 hours and five minutes. But that's what happened at Wimbledon this week, in a game that started on Tuesday, resumed on Wednesday and finally finished yesterday, Tony.

COX: It absolutely did.

Mr. IZRAEL: What's up with that?

COX: You know, I watched it.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Unbelievable.

COX: I didn't watch all of it...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I watched it.

COX: ...obviously not, 'cause I do have a life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: But I did watch the end.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

COX: But I watched the end of it. So, of course, you're talking about the match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut - a Frenchman, I believe.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Nicolas Mahut.

COX: Nicolas Mahut.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Oui.

COX: Thank you very much. And not only was it the longest match ever, it also holds the record for the most games in a set, the most games in a match, and the most combined aces.

Now, the previous record for length of a match at Wimbledon was six hours, 33 minutes. Man, oh, man. That's a long time to sit.

Mr. IZRAEL: Man, I thought my second divorce was long. So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: ...Pablo, was this actually a competitive match? Or was this just about bad tennis gone far too long?

Mr. TORRE: You know, I'm not going to say it was good or excellent tennis. You know, the match widely regarded as the best was Federer-Nidal at Wimbledon, and that was 16-14.

But what this was is compelling in a completely different way. You know, serves weren't often broken. There were, you know, so many aces does not necessarily equate to great tennis and great rallies. But my rule for events like this is that any time the scoreboard is not formatted to display what your match is doing, that is automatically a great sports moment.

COX: Absolutely.

Mr. TORRE: That's Nadia Comaneci in the Olympics with the 10.0. That's strikeout records. That's long, long baseball games. And this game, this match was longer than any baseball game in history - 11 hours. It's rare to see two see people meet basically at perfect equilibrium. Really a matter of stubbornness as much as it was skill. And to me, that was incredible.

Mr. IZRAEL: A-Train.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I actually watched it. You know, I was watching U.S.-Algeria World Cup on TV, and I had my laptop on my lap watching this unbelievable, redonkulus match. I mean...

COX: Wow.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...you know, Pablo talks about the 2009 epic final which ended 16-14. I remember in 2003, during the Australian Open Quarter Finals, Andy Roddick beat Younes El Ayanoui 21-19. And this was 70 to 68...

COX: Well, wait, Arsalan.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: This was like the...

COX: But don't you have a life?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: No, I don't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: This was like an...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: This was like an...

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks for that, Tony.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: This was like an NBA game going 14 overtimes.

RUDIN: Can I just mention something about the World Cup, though? I just found out that Joe Barton just apologized to the Algerians.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: I just want to point that out. Sorry.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: It's not going to do them any good.

COX: It wasn't easy.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: But, I mean, honestly, like, this was tantric tennis at its best. I mean wow.

Mr. TORRE: It was pretty wild.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: This was unbelievable.

COX: Well, I guess they had the new Ironmen of tennis, these two guys, right?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: No doubt. They're something.

Mr. TORRE: The Superman of...

Mr. IZRAEL: Whatever, man.

COX: It was interesting.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Nobody broke serve. That was the amazing part of it. For, you know, 138 games in the fifth set, you know, Isner had over a hundred aces. Mahut had over a hundred aces. They shattered every record in the book. They couldn't break each other's serve. This wasn't bad tennis. This was amazing tennis.

RUDIN: I've had relationships that didn't last as long.

COX: So Isner...

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. I know, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: So what happens? Isner gets knocked out in the next round? What happens? Right?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: It doesn't matter. He's already made the annals of history.

RUDIN: Sure.

COX: Well, I guess that that and 25 cents will get you what?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TORRE: Oh, right. Exactly.

COX: You know that for me...

Mr. IZRAEL: It might make you king of the bar or something.

Mr. TORRE: A license to kill Osama bin Laden, I guess.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Plus night goggles.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Hey, listen, guys. We've got to get out of here. But before we do, Jimi, let me just jump in and say, you know, the whole country - some parts of the country - are talking about the fact that today is the anniversary of the death of Michael Jackson. And I know - I see that you've got your Michael Jackson shirt on, Ken Rudin. And see you've got your...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I got my glove.

COX: ...Michael Jackson glove on and of all that. So...

RUDIN: Hee-hee-hee.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Did you know that he made a billion dollars in the last year?

RUDIN: I don't make that in five years.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, that makes sense to me.

COX: A billion, with a B.

Mr. TORRE: I just hope the money ends up in the right place, at this point. Right?

COX: For music, for memorabilia, videos, documentary films. Even the people who had tickets to concert in London that was cancelled...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Mm-hmm. Right.

COX: ...didn't turn them in to get refunds because they kept it as keepsakes. You know what that was worth? Six-and-half-million dollars.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I guess this really was it. Wasn't it?

COX: He's a money machine.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup. It's sad.

COX: And that's really what he was. He was a singing, dancing, crotch-grabbing money machine - moneymaking machine.

Mr. IZRAEL: 'Cause his father is here today in Cleveland doing multiple appearances. I'm sure he's not doing it for charity.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Not the Jackson dad.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I mean, the most recognize...

COX: I got to roll, guys.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Most recognizable face on the Earth.

COX: Absolutely.

Jimi Izrael, freelance journalist and author of the book "The Denzel Principle," joining us from member station WCPN in Cleveland.

Pablo Torre, a reporter for Sports Illustrated, joining us from our New York bureau.

Arsalan Iftikhar here with me in our D.C. studios, the founder of the themuslimguy.com. He is also a legal fellow for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

And Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor. He, too, joined us here in Studio B -4B.

Good conversation, guys. Thanks.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

Mr. TORRE: Thank you.

RUDIN: Thanks, guys.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

COX: That's our program for today. I'm Tony Cox, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News.

Michel Martin is back to talk more on Monday.

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