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.

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