by Jonathan Rosenblum
Baltimore Jewish Times
February 4, 2005
Reviewing Michael Frayn's Democracy, a play about how a mole planted by the East German Stasi became Willy Brandt's personal secretary at the height of Brandt's Ostpolitik, critic Robert Brustein finds himself yearning for a time "when political leaders were driven by humanitarian concerns rather than military and religious obsessions. . . "
Note the false parallelism. At the level of intentions, President Bush's determination to spread freedom around the globe is surely no less humanitarian than Brandt's desire to reconcile West and East Germany. Yet Brandt is forgiven for being a dupe; there is no comparable dispensation for Bush's sins, real or imagined.
The offhand putdown of the President is a good example of what the New Republic's Lee Siegel terms, the "tried and true American genre: the Appearance of Good. . . . Want to prove your goodness write a novel about someone mentally impaired, compose a play about someone who is terminally ill . . . " Siegel might have added "make fun of the President's religiosity" to his list.
The great thing about the appearance of goodness is that it is so easy. It requires only the profession of the right values, not the painstaking attainment of any particular virtue.
Not surprisingly, however, that which is cheaply obtained takes its toll in intellectual sloth. The appearance of the goodness requires that the signs of both good and evil must be crystal clear – there can be no middle ground, no nuance. Everything must fit into its neat pigeon-hole.
Dana Milbank of the Washington Post provides a classic example of this need for simplistic categorization with his dismissal of Natan Sharanky as "far-right" and "so hawkish that he has accused Ariel Sharon of being soft on the Palestinians." Trying to place Sharansky into familiar dichotomies of right/left or hawk/dove is to obscure his entire argument in The Case for Democracy.
Sharansky, in fact, fits into none of the traditional categories. He is far more optimistic about the possibility of real peace with the Palestinians and more willing to entertain the possibility of major territorial compromise than almost all of those on the Right -- but only if the Palestinians create a free society. Unlike those on the Left, however, he sees no point in further territorial concessions, until the Palestinians move towards a free society, because fear societies will always require an outside enemy against which to war.
The appearance of absolute good depends for its existence on the equally clear appearance of evil. Being anti-war, any war, for instance, is today's quickest signal that one is on the side of good wherever the herd of independent minds gathers. That easy indentification, however, requires portraying as an evil warmonger, who relishes killing human beings, anyone who dares to assert that military force can sometimes be employed for moral ends.
The quest for the appearance of goodness often leads to compliance with evil. The preening virtue to opponents of the war in Iraq prevents them from ever acknowledging what eschewing military force entailed: making one's peace with the slice 'em and dice 'em approach to political prisoners adopted by Saddam and sons and leaving Saddam free to continue gassing any group that stood in his way, such as Kurds and marsh dwellers. Yet, if one knew Saddam's Iraq only from Fahrenheit 9/11, one would think it was an idyllic world in which kids spent their time flying kites with nary a care in the world.
Opponents of the war in Iraq label as "insurgents" those who behead infidels and gleefully hold up their severed heads or who set off car bombs killing dozens of their fellow Iraqis. In Michael Moore's inapt analogy, the "insurgents" are the equivalent of American Revolutionary War minutemen.
But the so-called insurgents would not simply melt away were the American army to decamp. The Islamists and Baathists have allied around a common cause – denying Iraqis the freedom to determine their own future. And they would continue to pursue that goal with undiminished brutality if there were not a single American left in the country. Those who cite every terrorist attack as further proof of the war's immorality, again refuse to acknowledge that they are bedfellows with Zarqawi and deposed Baathists.
Fortunately, Zarqawi has been brutally clear about his goals. In a letter to senior Al Qaeda operatives last February, he proposed a terrorist campaign designed to trigger a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites. The great danger, he argued, is that Iraqis might actually form a stable government. Last week, he was even more explicit, declaring, "We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology."
This week millions of Iraqis risked their lives to vote and thereby claim for themselves the freedom we take so much for granted. Too bad that those who lay claim to a monopoly on goodness could not join in celebrating their heroism and the triumph of democracy.
Related Topics: Peace Process
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