Right-Wing Wunderkind

Here's a multiple choice question:

Given what you know about your favorite conservative columnists, who of the following recently wrote: "I am getting really sick of people who whine about 'civilian casualties.'"

Was it: -Ann Coulter -Cal Thomas -Jerry Falwell -Charles Krauthammer -Ben Shapiro (No, it's not all of the above!)

Despite stiff competition, the writer of this gem of a lead sentence for a column titled "Enemy 'civilian casualties' ok by me," is ... drum roll, please ... Ben Shapiro.

Ben Shap-who-ro?

In the enormous constellation that constitutes right-wing punditry, Ben Shapiro is a brash new voice-a young man on a mission. Shapiro, who is syndicated by the Creators Syndicate, Inc., appears regularly on the Heritage Foundation-sponsored TownHall.com.

In his July 25 column Shapiro writes: "I am getting really sick of people who whine about 'civilian casualties.' Maybe I'm a hard-hearted guy, but when I see in the newspapers that civilians in Afghanistan or the West Bank were killed by American or Israeli troops, I don't really care. In fact, I would rather that the good guys use the Air Force to kill the bad guys, even if that means some civilians get killed along the way. One American soldier is worth far more than an Afghan civilian."

Shapiro was responding in part to the July 1st U.S. bombing of a wedding party and several villages in Uruzgan province-about 175 miles southwest of Kabul-that left more than 40 civilians dead and over a hundred wounded.

Shapiro criticizes a July 21st New York Times report which stated that the "American air campaign in Afghanistan, based on a high-tech, out-of-harm's-way strategy, has produced a pattern of mistakes that have killed hundreds of Afghan civilians" ("Flaws in U.S. Air War Left Hundreds of Civilians Dead"). And he is outraged that the Times and other news services would "call both Afghan 'non-combatants' and American 'non-combatants' civilians. This is disingenuous. American civilians are people who go about their daily lives without providing cover for terrorists or giving them money. Afghan civilians are not."

Shapiro: "Take, for example, the 'wedding party' in Afghanistan that made front-page news after being strafed by American warplanes. The American pilots claimed that they came under fire from the wedding party. The Afghan interim government claimed that 48 civilians were killed in the attack and that the Americans had never come under fire. Perhaps, they suggested, the pilots were confused by Afghans firing their guns in the air in celebration.

"Whom do you believe? The American pilots, who say they were fired upon and respected the rules of engagement? Or the Afghan 'civilians,' who claim that American pilots were bored and decided to have target practice with women, children and goats?"

I doubt that any fact-finding effort, other than one conducted by the Pentagon, would satisfy or change Shapiro's mind. For what it's worth, however, the final United Nations report on the incident-which was recently issued, although its findings will not be released to the public-found there was "no corroboration of the U.S. claim that the aircraft that launched the attack had first been targeted from the ground."

A UN probe led by Lakhdar Brahimi, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan's special representative in Afghanistan, also "found that U.S. troops cleaned the area-removing shrapnel, bullets and traces of blood."

Who is Ben Shapiro?

So who is Ben Shapiro? If you gaze at the picture accompanying his column you would easily conclude that he looks like a nice enough young fellow. According to his official biography posted at TownHall.com, Shapiro is eighteen and grew up in Burbank, California. He was raised in the home of "two Reagan Republicans, where intelligent conversation about politics and philosophy was encouraged." A perfect training ground for twenty-first century "compassionate conservatism."

What else do we learn about him? TownHall.com claims it was Shapiro's family life that helped him develop into "a reasoned political thinker and a powerful writer." He began UCLA at 16 "and is currently a sophomore majoring in political science." The bio touts Shapiro's willingness to confront "political correctness": "Never afraid to antagonize his political opposition, he was the only counter-protester at an Affirmative Action Rally that drew over 1,500 people on UCLA's campus, and he has repeatedly challenged liberal professors and faculty."

Given the passion of his beliefs, I'm wondering if Ben will postpone his junior year and sign up with the U.S. military, giving him the opportunity to personally dispatch some of those bothersome Afghan civilians to the other side.

More on Ben: "As a staunch conservative on the modern politically correct campus, Shapiro faces the political liberals head-on. From exposing the leftist tilt of the professoriate on college campuses to addressing the conflict in the Middle East, Shapiro's confrontational approach always draws a hailstorm of response." Yeah, and Jeffrey Daumer and Ted Bundy drew a "hailstorm of response." Taking a page out of Ann Coulter's playbook, Shapiro understands that drawing "a hailstorm of response" is the hallmark of twenty-first century punditry as well as the makings of a successful career.

There is no doubt that we can look forward to many more Ben Shapiro columns in the years to come. And, in all likelihood, many more Ben Shapiros. If he plays his pundit cards right there might even be a Shapiro sighting on the Fox News Channel sometime before the end of the year.

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

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