As the chilling prospect of an atom-bomb armed jihad looms, our current president is finally willing to stick his political neck out…on the gay marriage question. But he has continued to block Israel’s plans for a self-defensive strike against Iran’s rapidly maturing atomic-bomb program.

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May 10, 2012


Jay B Gaskill

I first posted a version of this piece on July 30, 2007.  I am painfully reminded of the observation attributed to the Italian revolutionary, Garibaldi – The more things change, the more they remain the same.*

In 2007, a correspondent of mine whose opinions I greatly respect, Dr. Lawrence White, sent me a thought provoking piece of his, from which I quote excerpts as follows:

Are We Our Brother’s Keeper? Revisiting “It’s Not My Problem”

Editorial by Lawrence W. White MD

“In the time leading up to Pearl Harbor, the large and influential America First movement, led by Charles Lindberg, and an assortment of anti-Jewish figures, isolationist Republicans, and figures from both the right and the left, including Norman Thomas, Gore Vidal, Potter Stewart and Walt Disney, declared that hostilities in some far-off place were none of our business, and certainly not worth the loss of American life. The underlying assumption, never stated, was that American lives were worth more than the lives of those affected by the onslaught of aggressive war by the Axis powers. …

“What have we learned since then? The expression “Never Again” has a worthy pedigree. It was coined by Rabbi Meir Kahane and referred to the Shoah.

“Yet we have really learned nothing. Since the time of “America First”, we have avoided intervening against the most egregious instances of genocide. Are American lives really more important than those of Bosnian Muslims, or the Tutsis of Rwanda, or the Czechs or Hungarians revolting against tyranny during the Cold War, or those we abandoned in Viet Nam in 1975, or the Cambodians murdered on the killing fields, or the Shiites who rebelled against Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War?

“With all these other instances, it may be comforting to know that the abandonment of the Jews during the Nazi period was not personal. As they say in the Mafia, it was just business. It was simply part of the general approach to “realpolitik” foreign policy, in which our involvement is dictated by (and only by) our own narrow interest, without regard to morality or legality.

“Yet, as Jews, we are acutely aware of what it means to be on the wrong side of ‘It’s not my problem’”.

Copyright © 2007 by Lawrence White

As the chilling prospect of an atom-bomb armed jihad looms, our current president is finally willing to stick his political neck out…on the gay marriage question. But he has continued to block Israel’s plans for a self-defensive strike against Iran’s rapidly maturing atomic-bomb program.

Mr. Obama’s most recently stated position on gay marriage is nominally a federalist one (let the states decide this), essentially the same as held by former Vice President Cheney. Is this a serious position or pandering? Obama’s remarks got wide media attention as presaging an “historic” change because he is understood as signaling that he will try to force the change on all states over time.

This has produced an eerie foreign policy-domestic policy mirror effect as follows:

(1) Internationally, President Obama says to Iran that there will be grave consequences if they go nuclear, without actually promising to do any such thing.  As a result, he is not seriously understood to be threatening the mad Mullahs that the US will use military force.

(2) Domestically President Obama seems to imply to his followers that he will follow up on gay marriage in his second term without actually promising to do so.  Yet, he is taken seriously by the still-hopeful social liberals.

The only consistent thread is an ideological one.  Iran is right to be skeptical about Obama’s saber rattling, and the social conservatives are right to be skeptical about his federalist restraint. And we are all entitled to be skeptical about whether this political chameleon has any deeply held core positions except as they put him at the center of attention – not the political center.

I believe that the truth of the matter is that Mr. Obama fears that a Middle East conflict, even a short one in which the Iranian threat is removed by overwhelming American force, will spike oil prices and tank his increasingly slim chances for reelection.

This leaves him with a gesture option, a micro strike against one Iranian nuclear facility accomplished so close to the election that its success or failure and the economic blowback from either will not have a chance to affect votes. Such a scenario (at least as he or some advisor might think) would leave him with the “commander-in-chief” halo without the burden of results.

If I were an Israeli, I would not and could not trust this president.  This is one of those moments when I (and they) would wish we had a Harry Truman in the White House. “Never again!” should still mean something after the sacrifices of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations in World War II, because…

Israel’s survival manifestly is our problem.

Why is not Israel’s survival and security a reliable core interest of American foreign policy for this administration? …Because Mr. Obama just doesn’t get it.  Granted, he is no friend of Israel, and betrays no actual concern for her survival, except as it affects his personal political fortunes.

But even if the overriding moral issue is invisible to our self-absorbed president, this is much bigger than Israel as such.  It is about averting the next Dark Age.  Western civilization is at actually at risk; our future is actually at stake; and little Israel is the moral, psychological and practical fulcrum on which history’s outcome will turn.

US foreign policy, from its very inception, has been driven by a moral component but also by an equally important amoral one.  This is why our long-term, large-scale military engagements tend to be couched in moralistic terms, tinged with self-interest.  The inherent tension between these components (morality and self-interest) is reflected in various competing political camps and their ideologies of convenience.

As a nation, we love to rescue the innocent, we love being appreciated by those we choose to help and – above all – we Americans love winning.

For better or worse, our most popular military engagements tend to be shaped by three interconnected attractors:

  • Double bull’s-eye marketing;
  • The action movie narrative arc.
  • Victory or don’t bother

US foreign policy adventures are best sold when the moral crusade bull’s eye and the national security bull’s eye overlap.  But popular support tends to fall apart when events drag out to the point that reality no longer resembles the neat and satisfying narrative of the thriller.

All the while, something else overshadows the practical psychological calculus:  Any civilization that lacks an understanding of evil on the “Burkian level” (evil of a scale that triggers the concomitant obligation of all civilized peoples to defeat it) will prove incapable of defending itself.

This limited space has no rrom for a peroration about the reality of evil as a force in the modern world.  For that you can go to three of my articles: “The moral Challenge of Radical Islam, “How do we Explain Evil?, and “Reflections on Evil and the Modern Mind

Suffice it to say that, until Western civilization recovers our deep, ancient knowledge about evil, we are at risk of immolation. Our current moral ambiguity is an “evil enabler”.

Please indulge an extended self-quotation from one of my earliest discussions of the nature of evil on the “Burkian” scale:

In economics, “Gresham’s Law” is the tendency of bad money to drive out the good.  A form of Gresham’s law applies when we bicker about evil in the marketplace of ideas.  When we use the epithet “evil” like a schoolyard taunt, when we indulge the impulse to demonize our opponents, we debase the currency of our discourse.  The real thing tends to be forgotten or marginalized.

I recall the stories about British civilian plane spotters in WW2 who were trained to identify bomber silhouettes. Clearly, intelligent identification is essential. So what are the parameters.  What is the shape of real evil?  I see three parameters.

First. Purpose matters.

As Oliver Wendell Homes said, “Even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over and being kicked.”

Second. Scale matters.

I don’t mean to trivialize smaller scale wrongdoing, say on the level of ordinary crime, because it is so obviously worthy of our ongoing attention.

But the scale that most concerns me is that of the events and trends that alter life generally.  I believe this was the scale of evil that Edmund Burke had in mind when he said “all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

Third.  The core nature of the threat matters.

Think of an earthquake or tornado, and contrast an example of large scale, human directed malevolence, like the Nazi death camps or the Pol Pot massacres. In common natural disasters, structures and the physical basis for life are imperiled.  Our response is calibrated accordingly.  When purposeful human malevolence looms, we are threatened on the immediate physical level, but we are also attacked on the level of our deepest values.

This is why true evil draws us back to our core values.

We Americans can endlessly argue with each other about our military actions – past and proposed; we can bicker about what is or is not in the immediate, vs. long term national self-interest; and we can quibble about what is, was or will be a prudent course of action in light or our limited military and political resources.

But surely it is insanity to argue endlessly about the moral and practical imperative to defeat the looming Islamist extremist threat to civilization.

Hitler’s brutal hegemony was the apotheosis of evil on the Burkean scale. The Shoah was the result of an ambivalent and tardy response of Western civilization in the face of an outbreak of existential and essential evil on the Burkean scale.  The Islamist extremist threat is this century’s latest and most virulent form of Burkean-scale evil.

If the West permits another holocaust in the form of a depopulated Israel at the hands of Islamic fanatics, a new Dark Age will follow like the Arctic night follows the summer.

No one will be safe.

* Re  Garibaldi’s quote:  As a correspondent (who last wrote me from London), Ralph Goldstein, has reminded me, the quotation was undoubtedly from the 19th century French journalist/novelist, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr.  Garibaldi probably repeated it.


Copyright © 2007, 2012 by Jay b Gaskill, Attorney at Law

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