A dash more modesty, please
by Jonathan Rosenblum
August 4, 2004
The most insufferable aspect of listening to denizens of the Left discuss the war in Iraq is their smug assumption of both moral and intellectual superiority. Both qualities were on full display at the recently concluded Democratic Party convention. Mark Steyn captured that assumption of moral superiority with his usual perspicacity. "There’s a narcissism about the tone of this convention which cuts to the heart of the Democratic Party’s problem: they don’t believe in anything except their monopoly of goodness."
Eighty-six per cent of the Democratic delegates, according to one survey, say they were opposed to the war in Iraq from the start. Their position at least has the virtue of clarity lacking in their party’s standard-bearer, who both voted for the war in Iraq – a vote about which he still has not made up his mind whether he was duped or not – and against funding the post-war occupation. To these delegates Deaniac tirades against ‘’the immoral war in Iraq" come trippingly to the tongue, though they were carefully scripted out of the convention itself.
Let us assume (counterfactually) that Saddam had no WMD capacity, and certainly no intention of ever using such weapons again, and that all he wanted to do was to be left alone to terrorize and torture his subjects and go on building pleasure palaces. There is a school of realist thought that argues in such a situation America has no business committing either men or resources. According to this school, the task of the American government is to improve the lot of American citizens and protect vital national interests, and any other goal is beyond the mandate of the government.
FDR’s refusal to divert Allied bombers even a few miles from their raids over industrial zones near Auschwitz in order to destroy the rail lines leading into the camp or the gas chambers – a step that might have saved tens of thousands of Jewish lives – derived from precisely such a realist perspective. His consistent answer to all voices urging him to do more to Europe’s Jews was: We must first defeat the Germans, and then whatever Jews are still alive will be saved.
A dash of realism is not necessarily a bad thing. Certainly none of us would wish to be citizens of a state that treated our lives no differently from those of any other person on the face of the planet. All states place a higher value on the lives of their own citizens.
But it is hard to understand why the realist perspective is self-evidently the more moral one. It is right and proper that opponents of the war should note the cost in the lives of Allied soldiers, primarily American, and Iraqi civilians lost in the fighting. (It is a good deal dicier knowing on which side to place the lives of hundreds of Iraqis killed by terrorist bombings designed to prevent the establishment of a democratic Iraq.) But those who cite the human cost of the war lose all claim to moral seriousness when that cost is not juxtaposed to the cost of not removing Saddam.
Yet that is precisely what opponents of the war steadfastly refuse to do. They change the subject whenever the question is asked: Are Iraqis better off today or under Saddam? (Except, of course, for Michael Moore, who is unequivocal that Iraqis were better off under Saddam, when children spent idyllic days flying their kites, with nary a worry in the world.) It will not do to wax morally indignant about the abuses in Abu Ghraib prison, while ignoring the thousands dropped alive into meat grinders, the mass graves holding tens of thousands, the tens of thousands more killed by poison gas, the million lives lost in wars initiated by Saddam, or the 60,000-70,000 Iraqi children who died annually from malnutrition and poor health care, while Saddam diverted billions in oil revenues to maintaining his terror apparatus and building monuments to himself. Nor should those who take for granted the right to say whatever they want to whomever they want treat so lightly the fear of ever talking openly to another human being that characterized life under Saddam.
Those who cannot be bothered to discuss such things before hurrying to turn the discussion back to "Bush lied," Niger uranium, (at least until we found out Joe Wilson lied), the wounded pride of the French, etc., have no claim to their self-image as moral paragons. And if their refusal to include in their moral calculus the cost of Saddam’s regime were not enough to disqualify them from sainthood, the blind eye that they turn to other unspeakable crimes around the world would. Over the past two decades, over two million Sudanese blacks have been massacred by ethnic Arab Muslims, 30,000 in the last six months. More than a million more have been displaced from their homes. Yet, reports feminist author Phyllis Chesler, on all the academic and feminist lists to which she belongs, ethnic cleaning in Sudan rates barely a mention compared to "defeating Bush, cosmetic surgery, discrimination against transgendered people, defeating Bush . . . "
LEFTISTS ARE EQUALLY CONVINCED OF THEIR superior intellects. Bush the idiot, Bush the ventriloquist – dummy of neoconservatives compete with Bush=Hitler as the Left’s favorite tropes.
When former president Bill Clinton said of the Kerry-Edwards ticket, "Strength and wisdom are not conflicting values," the sly wink to the audience and implicit comparison to the mentally deficient Bush was unmistakeable. Left-wing icon Michael Moore is much less subtle. Not only is the President a moron, according to Moore, but Americans in general "are the dumbest people on earth." He told a British audience, "We Americans suffer from an enforced ignorance. We don’t know anything about what’s happening outside our country. Our stupidity is embarrassing."
Just one question for these intellectually superior folks: If you’re so smart, could you please tell us what you’ll do to keep Iran from going nuclear, or about a nuclear North Korea, or about ensuring a free and stable Iraq? One would have thought that John Kerry would have devoted a few words to these fateful subjects in an acceptance speech of over 5,000 words.
Yet about North Korea and Iran, Kerry had only one allusion: "We will lead a global effort against nuclear proliferation." Golly, I feel a lot safer knowing that we will be in such wise hands.
One thing for sure, the solution to Iran will not be found in the recent Council of Foreign Relations study authored by Zbigniew Brezinski, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, which recommends "constructive engagement" with the mullahs. Perhaps the CFR did not notice that this is precisely the course followed by the French, Germans and British for the last year, and all they have received in turn is nosethumbing from Iran, which carries on enriching uranium.
All in all, Kerry devoted only about 500 words to foreign policy and the war on terror. He assured the American people that he would fight the war in Iraq on the basis of the lessons he learned in Vietnam. What those lessons might be (other than that Kerry spent four months in Vietnam, in case anyone did not know) is unclear. A guerilla insurgency to conquer South Vietman does not self-evidently pose the same challenges as theologically driven Islamist fanaticism bent on first terrorizing then ruling the entire world.
Kerry’s most concrete proposal was to increase the number of cargo inspectors. Perhaps that is a good idea. But it is purely defensive. Unless we take the fight to the Islamists, an offense of tens of thousands of Islamist fanatics possessing, or soon to possess, some of the world’s most dangerous weapons, will eventually overwhelm any defense.
Kerry reiterated his determination to regain the respect of European allies. He seems to think that the contrariness of the French owes to more Bush’s faux pas, (not having attended a Swiss boarding school), than to the longstanding French policy of undermining the American hegemon in any way possible. If Michael Moore wants to investigate conspiracies involving big oil and big business, he would do better to start with the French determination to prevent the downfall of Saddam than with the American decision to go to war.
As for the rest, we are asked to accept Kerry’s assurances that he will be both smarter and stronger. On intelligence, for instance, he will "ask hard questions and demand hard evidence," as if the reason that every Western intelligence service concluded that Saddam possessed vast stocks of WMDs was that no one ever thought of asking hard questions or seeking hard evidence. The problem, as Amir Taheri points out, is that when it comes to intelligence gathering against terrorists, hard evidence often does not exist, or comes only after the attack. Until then, we are still left operating in the area of probabilities.
For those convinced of the inate intellectual superiority of the Left, nothing in Kerry’s speech will shake their self-confidence. As for the rest of us dummies, we are still waiting to be convinced that brighter and better approaches are on the way.
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