Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Buckley on moral equivalence

Here's a delicious tidbit from William F. Buckley Jr.'s literary autobiography Miles Gone By, speaking of his Blackford Oakes spy novels:
The point I sought to make--and continue to do so in the series of novels that has followed the initial one--is that the CIA, whatever its failures, seeks to advance the honorable alternative in the struggle for the world. We have had not only Robert Redford starring in a movie the point of which is that the CIA is a corrupt and bloody-minded secret instrument of an amoral government. We have also had novels by Graham Greene, and John le Carre, and Len Deighton, for instance, their point being, really, that there is little to choose between the KGB and the CIA. Both organizations, it is fashionable to believe, are defined by their practices. I said to Johnny Carson, when on his program he raised the question, that to say that the CIA and the KGB engage in similar practices is the equivalent of saying that the man who pushes an old lady into the path of a hurtling bus is not to be distinguished from the man who pushes an old lady out the path of a hurtling bus: on the grounds that, after all, in both cases someone is pushing old ladies around.

I almost burst out laughing when I read this, as it seemed so perfectly to answer this common equation from the "blame America first" contingent, (as Jean Kirkpatrick dubbed it). During the Cold War we heard interminable such comparisons between the Soviets and the United States. Lately I'm hearing the same sort of thing about Iran, as in "why doesn't Iran have just as much right to have nuclear weapons as Israel?" But of course, that's the whole point. It's not the nuclear weapons, per se, to which we object. The United States didn't try to stop France from acquiring nuclear weapons, for instance; as a matter of fact, we helped them tremendously, probably saving them 10 years of research. Why? Because France is our ally, and we trust their responsible possession of nuclear technology.

How anyone could make the straight-faced argument that Iran--the single largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world--could be a responsible and trustworthy possessor of nuclear weapons is beyond me. Yet I hear it at least once a week these days. Pushing old ladies around, indeed.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

World War IV

I just finished reading Norman Podhoretz's superb argument in support of the Bush Doctrine: World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism. Podhoretz, for those who don't know, is the very definition of the word neoconservative, a former leftist writer and intellectual of New York Jewish stock who became disillusioned with the American Left's apologia and common cause with Communism and other forms of totalitarianism, and as result turned a "neo" (new) conservative (though most who use the word don't even know its intended meaning and use it as either an epithet for all conservatives in the same way "fascist" is so often used, or as a code word for a suspected secret cabal of Jews working in American government at the behest of Israel). He is also the father of New York Post opinion columnist and all around conservative pundit John Podhoretz.

Podhoretz starts his argument by defining the cold war as World War III, and our present struggle against Islamofascism as World War IV, which he postulates could last every bit as long as the 40 some years of the cold war. The book has the virtue of being brief and to the point, coming in at barely over 200 pages of medium sized print. The only draw-back to this brevity is that his many quotes of dissenters and denouncers of the Bush doctrine are almost never given date and time attribution since there are no foot or end notes. These quotes are so poignant and ripe for use in further argument that I miss their trace.

WWIV succinctly chronicles the origins of the Bush Doctrine, drawing both parallels and contrasts to the Truman Doctrine as well as the domestic political and cultural challenges to each. Of particular interest to me, however, was the chapter, The Radicalization of the Democrats, in which he shows how far various politicians have strayed from their positions in an extraordinarily short time, especially when compared to the time frame of the same sort of thing that happened during the Viet Nam war. Consider these quotes from Democrat politicians before they turned against the war in Iraq:
If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction program. (President Bill Clinton 1998)

Iraq is a long way from {the United States}, but what happens there matters a great deal here. For the risk that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face. (Madeleine Albright 1998)

...take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strike on suspect Iraqi site) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. (a letter to President Bill Clinton around the same time from Carl Levin, Tom Daschle, and John Kerry)

Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons-of-mass-destruction technology, which is a threat to countries in the region, and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process. (Nancy Pelosi)

There is no doubt that...Saddam Hussein has invigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical, and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War status. In addition, Saddam continues to redefine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of a licit missile program to develop longer-range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies. (Senator Bob Graham in a letter to newly elected President Bush 2001)

Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandate of the United Nations, and is building weapons of mass destruction and means of delivering them. (Senator Carl Levin in the letter to President Bush)

In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological-weapons stock, his missile-delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members. (Senator Hillary Clinton 2002)

There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years... We also should remember we have always underestimated the progress Saddam has made in development of weapons of mass destruction. (Senator Jay Rockefeller 2002)

Saddam Hussein in effect has thumbed his nose at the world community, and I think that the president is approaching this in the right fashion. (Senator Harry Reid 2002)

We know that {Saddam} has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country... Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter, and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power. (Al Gore 2002)

We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction. (Senator Edward Kennedy 2002)

The last UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in October of 1998. We are confident that Saddam Hussein retains some stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and that he has since embarked on a crash course to build up his chemical and biological-warfare capabilities. Intelligence reports indicate that he is seeking nuclear weapons. (Senator Robert Byrd 2002)

Podhoretz also deals extensively with the democratization agenda that was--despite many accusations that it was "hidden" or "unstated"--clearly declared as a central tenet of the Bush Doctrine from the beginning.

For anyone desiring to sort out the actual case made for the Iraq War by the Bush administration as opposed to the mythology constructed by its antagonists and detractors (who are legion), I highly recommend World War IV.