Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Lessons of Ron Paul

The last few weeks have been a study in self-reproach, as revelations about Congressman Ron Paul's early newsletters pervade the airwaves and print media. I have never counted myself a Paul supporter, but I confess to being intrigued by his anti-war message and seemingly fearless integrity. I was only vaguely aware of Mr. Paul in 2008, but in this election cycle he had made, for me as for many others, an increasingly larger impression. Facebook has shown me friends and family who are ardent "Paulites." When some of my brightest students asked what I thought of his candidacy, I answered that I found some of his positions interesting but discounted the chances of someone who wanted to eliminate the Federal Reserve. I now feel remiss at having failed to tell them the truth, which is that Mr. Paul is political poison.

My culpability is compounded by the fact that there is no excuse for my ignorance. This information about Paul has been publicly available for years, and is only now being highlighted because he took the lead in polling in Iowa. My students asked particularly about the unfairness of the media's inattention to Paul's campaign, and I should have been able to tell them that such inattention was rather benign, that Paul would not look any better if more light was shown on his candidacy. Instead, I had allowed my own information about Paul to be shaped by the delivery mechanisms of the marketplace. I had been a passive consumer of knowledge that had been pre-packaged for me by newspapers and television producers, rather than going out to satisfy my own curiosity about this man and his past. It was a classic "do as I say and not as I do" scenario, for which I am heartily ashamed.

Paul has taught us all a valuable lesson about the difficult necessity of engaged citizenship. He has also offered us a snapshot of American political culture circa 2011. I do not pretend to know whether Mr. Paul personally holds the vile opinions that he allowed, year after year, to be published in his name. The trajectory of his career, however, demonstrates just how much traction such noxious ideologies still have in our society. The fact that Paul could not reach the political plateau at which he stands now without associating himself with racists and other bigots, and that even now he can not afford to effectively disassociate himself from them, stands testimony to the economic and political clout wielded by purveyors of hatred, intolerance, and paranoia in America today. If Barack Obama's election is a sign of how much social progress we have made as a nation, Ron Paul's candidacy is a sign of how much farther we have yet to go.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Invention of Newt Gingrich

Watching the GOP debate last night, it was frustrating to see Newt Gingrich's opponents stammer and fumble in search of a critique of his latest inflammatory rhetoric. If nothing else, the irony that Newt Gingrich, perhaps the American politician with the greatest gift for self-invention and reinvention, should judge the Palestinian people as "invented," is too rich to miss. It is perhaps too much to expect that a current GOP candidate could formulate an effective response in this context, however. All contenders last night were looking forward toward the general election, thus the polemical impotence of Newt's rivals on this score is an acknowledgment that he had stolen a march on them, finding just the right tone on this issue to score points with constituencies that will matter.

It is hard to know which possibility is worse in this case, that Newt's words were cynical or misguided. As a historian and a former professor, he surely knows that the question of whether (or when, or how) the "Palestinian people" were "invented" is entirely academic. "Palestine" is no more or less an invention than "Israel," arguments over which nation exists more "in essence" are hopelessly semantic. As I watched last night's debate, I waited in vain for someone to ask, "What exactly is your point, Newt? How does the 'inventedness' of the Palestinian people change the facts on the ground?"

The answer, of course, is that it does not. If the West Bank and Gaza were to be annexed by Israel today, it would no longer be a majority-Jewish state. At that point the Palestinian people, through the exercise of their franchise, would be free to invent whatever Palestine they would like, at the expense of Israel's very existence. Arguments over which nation is more organically "real" do not change that fact one iota.  For Israel to remain true to its Zionist principles, a two-state solution must be effected.

No one on the dais last night in Iowa had the courage to call out Newt Gingrich on his bombast, perhaps sensing that the truth was a political loser for the GOP in the long term. President Obama is hurt by the widespread (though erroneous) perception that his support for a two-state solution makes him anti-Israeli. One can only hope, for the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians, that the current Gingrichian moment is not a harbinger of things to come.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Iraq Through the Parallax View

Even before the last U.S. soldier has left Iraq, President Obama's order to withdraw forces is being filtered through distorting prisms on the left and right. In these opposed descriptions Iraq itself appears as if reflected in an array of funhouse mirrors, unrecognizable as a single nation from one account to the next. It would seem as if, whatever their ideological view, American observers are incapable of seeing Iraqi society as anything but a passive operand of U.S. power.

On the right, for example, Charles Krauthammer decries Obama's "unseriousness" in attempting to retain a mere five thousand soldiers in Iraq rather than the twenty thousand recommended by military commanders, demonstrating that "he simply wanted out." "Years from now," prognosticates Krauthammer, "we will be asking not 'Who lost Iraq?' — that already is clear — but 'Why?'"

The view from the left, though inverted, is weirdly symmetrical.  Immanuel Wallerstein castigates the Obama administration for "trying as hard as they could to negotiate an agreement with the Iraqis that would override the one signed by President George W. Bush to withdraw all troops by Dec. 31, 2011." The fact that they failed in this attempt spells defeat for the U.S. and "a victory for Iraqi nationalism." "No one should be surprised," opines Wallerstein, "if, after the next Iraqi elections, the prime minister will be Muqtada al-Sadr."

The common fallacy of Krauthammer and Wallerstein  resides in their shared rhetoric of American "victory" and "defeat." It should be clear to anyone who has looked critically at events in Iraq for the past eight years that the situation there was not America's to "win" or "lose." Since the fall of Saddam Huseein, Iraqi society has been evolving almost entirely under the impulses of its own people and culture. Views like those of Krauthammer and Wallerstein demonstrate a complete failure to view Iraq authentically and on its own terms.

Krauthammer's insistence that twenty thousand American troops will make the difference between triumph and disaster in Iraq is made most remarkable by his lack of interest in explaining the principles upon which this judgment is based. He seems to assume that the logic of his case is self-evident, but it is only so if one ignores any portion of Iraq's past in which the U.S. did not play a role (and some others in which it did). Krauthammer lambasts the Obama administration's inability, given three years, to "broker a centrist nationalist coalition" for Iraq's government, a failure that looms large unless it is compared to the failure of the Bush administration to accomplish the same task in five. He posits the "lost" twenty-thousand troops as an end unto themselves, declaring that Obama has missed "the opportunity to establish a lasting strategic alliance with the Arab world’s second most important power." But if garrisoning an Arab nation is of such vital strategic benefit, the U.S. deployment in Saudi Arabia prior to the invasion of Iraq arguably already fulfilled that role, much good that it did. In like fashion, Krauthammer complains that a continued U.S. presence is necessary to forestall growing Iranian influence. Not only does this ignore the historic tensions between Iraqis and Iranians, it overlooks the fact that if reducing Iranian influence in Iraq is the sine qua non of American victory, the U.S. could have won best by not invading Iraq in the first place, as Iranian influence was at its nadir under Saddam Hussein.

Wallerstein's view similarly ignores the particulars of Iraq's past and present. Though Iraq is not and has never been wholly dependent upon or malleable to U.S. power, Iraqis are not and have never been homogeneously and reflexively anti-American. To characterize a "victory for Iraqi nationalism" as synonymous with "U.S. defeat" is to adopt an absurdly reductionist and one-dimensional model of both nations. This is clearly illustrated by Wallerstein's "prediction" that Muqtada al-Sadr might become prime minister of Iraq. Al-Sadr has been a consistently anti-American force, it is true, but to believe that this makes him the poster child for Iraqi nationalism in all precincts of the Iraqi community is to completely misunderstand his role in Iraqi culture and society. There is no scenario in which Muqtada al-Sadr becomes prime minister of Iraq in which that nation is not plunged immediately into civil war.

The invasion of Iraq should provide no precedent for U.S. foreign policy moving forward. That will only be guaranteed, however, if Americans can break the habit of viewing foreign nations as driven entirely by the shifting dispositions of U.S. power and interests, and come to appreciate that each nation has its own history, culture, and particular political dynamic. This latter sort of perspective was expressed by one American observer in 2002, who warned "that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences." How true that proved to be.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Occupy the Ballot Box

I have many excuses for failing to appear at Zuccotti Park. Work and family preoccupy my time. Well into middle age, I simply do not feel hip enough to join the drum circle. Rank laziness is, if I am completely honest, a factor.

My guilt at this lapse is genuine. As income disparity grows, the relentlessly widening chasm between the wealthiest segment of our society and everyone else threatens the very foundation of our Republic. The issues being raised by the OWS protesters are vitally urgent, the crisis of this generation. Yet, all excuses aside, my aloofness reflects a genuine ambivalence.

I can not summon a robust motivation to join the protests because I am hounded by a persistent question: how many of the protesters voted in the last election? This is, I know, a heavily freighted question. The old adage warning us not to assume is well taken, and I might well be surprised by the empirical answer to my query. But I can not shake the doubts my question raises.

If many of the constituencies popularly associated with OWS (I am thinking especially of the young) had showed up at the ballot box in 2010 in the same numbers as 2008, our political landscape would be radically different right now. Real progress would have been made on some of the issues most central to the OWS protest- the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans would almost certainly already have been repealed, giving us a start toward redressing the crisis of income inequality.

In that climate, if a Democratically-controlled Congress continued to show reticence to address the concerns of the 99%, a broad-based popular movement like the one we are seeing now could have exerted real pressure to influence the legislative agenda. Alternatively, if the OWS protests had begun before the 2010 race, perhaps they could have mobilized groups that were absent from that electoral contest. It is in this respect of timing that the OWS movement is most distinct from the Tea Party. Though both groups are motivated by similar senses of anger and disaffection, the Tea Party translated that political energy into real effects at the ballot box.

At the moment, it is difficult to imagine OWS having that kind of impact. The Republican House will not be moved one iota from its commitment to obstructionism. Until the legislative logjam is broken, little can be accomplished by way of redressing the widening inequalities of American society. With every passing electoral cycle, the problem becomes more intractable. As wealth shifts ever-upward, the forces of regression acquire new power to entrench and institutionalize the dysfunctional status quo.

The way back from this precipice, however, can not be found in the complete absence of our established political institutions. Money may have corrupted politics to an unprecedented degree, but government action remains the greatest lever for change. The passion and cause of the OWS protesters are admirable, but their means will not attain their goals unless and until they can be translated into electoral impact. All depends on the vote.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The End of the Iraq War

President Obama's announcement of a total troop withdrawal from Iraq by the end of this year is a watershed moment in U.S. foreign policy, and one that should be applauded. Those critics, mainly in the GOP, who excoriate the President for "prematurely" disengaging from Iraq demonstrate their fundamental incomprehension of the situation. This moment is one toward which the U.S. has been heading ever since the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003, and it is transpiring under circumstances more optimistic than those for which I and many other opponents of this war had dared to hope. The assertion that this withdrawal may confidently and definitively be deemed "too early" is based on the same kinds of flawed premises that led to the ill-conceived invasion from the outset.

Critics of the withdrawal are not wrong to hope that Iraq will remain relatively stable, peaceful, and prosperous. However misguided our initial invasion of Iraq may have been, since the defeat of Saddam Hussien our soldiers have been fighting and dying to secure the Iraqi people a future free from violence and terror, and it would be a tragic squandering of their sacrifice if Iraq slips back into civil war and anarchy. It is delusional, however, given the experience of the last nine years, to imagine that the long-term stability and prosperity of Iraq hinges on any actions by the United States right now. Since the first tanks rolled across the border in 2003, Iraq has served as an object lesson in the limits of U.S. power. Though America had the might to bring a swift end to the Hussein regime, from that point on it lost control of the situation. Iraqis, representing various constituencies, under varying degrees of pressure and influence from the U.S., have been driving events in Iraq for most of the nine years leading up to President Obama's withdrawal declaration. The removal of our last military personnel brings our strategic influence down to a new nadir, but this is a change to the situation in degree, not in kind.

Those pundits and gurus who declare that the failure to leave 5,000 trainers in Iraq is a disastrous mistake betray either cynicism or ignorance. After nine years of blood and struggle, Iraq remains a conflicted society whose state rests on a tenuous foundation. Perhaps the retention of 5,000 U.S. soldiers could spell the difference between continued stability and a slide into chaos, perhaps not. There is no real way to know. This last fact is not an argument for the ill wisdom of President Obama's order to withdraw. It is proof that the invasion of Iraq should never have been undertaken in the first place.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Obama Doctrine

Even as today's news of the demise of Muammar Gaddafi inspires admiration for the courage and sacrifice of the Libyan people, it is not inappropriate to ask what lessons it holds for U.S. foreign policy. The contrast between U.S. actions in Iraq and Libya is quite stark. In both cases similar outcomes resulted, despite immeasurably greater losses of blood and treasure in Iraq. Perhaps now the theories of neoconservatism, that "unchallenged" U.S. power can remake the world according to America's preferences, may finally be put to rest. In its place Libya has given us an Obama Doctrine, the tenets of which may be listed as follows:

1.  U.S power may be applied in foreign nations to assist trends that serve American interests and embody American values, only when those trends originate and have a substantial and organic basis of support in the nation where the operation will take place.

 2. U.S. power should ideally be applied only when it is most urgently needed, to avert a major crisis or catastrophe.

3. U.S. power should be applied with the lightest possible footprint.

4. U.S. power should never be applied unilaterally, but in concert with the broadest and most capable coalition of allies possible.

The U.S. could do far worse than to embrace this Obama Doctrine moving forward. If it had been followed in places like Rwanda and Darfur, events might have transpired differently. In future, the more nearly U.S. foreign interventions approximate the ideals of the Obama Doctrine, the more likely outcomes will resemble those of Libya rather than Iraq.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Zionist Appraisal of the Release of Gilad Shalit

The release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian detainees has elicited much comment around the world. Many are critical of the terms of Shalit's return, noting that among those Palestinians being released are Hamas operatives and others guilty off horrendous crimes. As a Zionist, I cannot share in the condemnation of this exchange. Though I abhor what I view as the Netanyahu government's criminally negligent obstruction of a two-state solution, I would insist that in this instance they have acted as any other Israeli regime would have done, in accordance with the best principles upon which the Israeli state was founded.

If this exchange were likely to provide incentive for Hamas to abduct more Israelis, criticism might be more warranted, but it is not. Hamas did not capture Shalit with the main goal of freeing jailed Palestinians. They killed four of Gilad Shalit's comrades and took him captive in order to undermine Ariel Sharon's attempt to unilaterally disengage from the Palestinian Authority, which would have thwarted Hamas' aspirations for a "one-state solution." In the wake of Shalit's capture the Israelis re-occupied Gaza, killing many Hamas operatives and capturing many others, more than offsetting any "gains" Hamas has realized from the current prisoner exchange. In the face of those facts, the only arguments to be made against the exchange are the security threat posed by released Palestinian detainees and the propaganda value of a Hamas "victory" in this instance, but both these considerations are displaced by the larger principle embodied in the Israeli government's actions.

The Jewish state exists to defend the dignity and humanity of Jewish life in the face of powerful and enduring threats. On the basis of this urgent imperative, Israel demands a Herculean sacrifice of military service from all its citizens, but is also obligated to requite them with absolute commitment and support. Other governments have given Jews numbers, set them to work, and expected them to die. For the Israeli government to treat Gilad Shalit in such a fashion would be to betray the animating spirit of the Zionist movement. Israel calls on all its men and women to live in death's shadow, but in return it promises to move Heaven and Earth to bring them home alive after the completion of their duty, or, failing that, to see that their remains are properly interred rather than being cast into an oven or a mass grave.

Was the cost to bring Gilad Shalit home high? Yes. Was it right to pay that cost? Yes.

Welcome home, Gilad.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Clear Precedent for the Attack on Al-Awlaki

In the wake of the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, by U.S. forces in Yemen last Friday, some commentators have raised questions about the implications this attack has for civil liberties and due process in the United States. Critics express fear that this attack will radically expand presidential powers for use of military forces against U.S. citizens. Such doubts hinge on the assertion that this situation is unprecedented in U.S. military and legal history, however. It is not.

Anwar al-Awlaki is far from the first American citizen to go to war against the U.S. For example: during World War II, two Americans, Peter Delaney and Martin James Marti, served in the SS-Standarte Kurt Eggers, a Waffen-SS unit that specialized in propaganda aimed at Allied nations. Their role in the German military was thus remarkably similar to that performed by al-Awlaki in Al-Qaeda. Delaney was killed in action by Allied forces in 1945.

Senate Joint Resolution 23 of the 107th Congress authorizes the President "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001." As a result, the United States is effectively at war with Al-Qaeda as unequivocally as it was at war with Nazi Germany in 1945. U.S. forces thus had the same legal justification to target Anwar al-Awlaki as they did to target Peter Delaney during World War II.

If there is anything unprecedented about the current situation, it is not in the actions of the President or the military, but in the nature of Al-Qaeda itself as a combatant force.  Peter Delaney formally invited U.S. hostility by donning the uniform of the Waffen-S.S. Al-Qaeda is a much more vaguely structured entity than the Nazi Party, the Wermacht, or the Greater German Reich, thus Anwar al-Awlaki's participation in Al-Qaeda did not generate the kind of formal, activating symbols that made Peter Delaney a target. If the enemy wears no uniform, how can we identify them? In al-Awlaki's case, we could take his word for it. He declared to the world repeatedly that he was a member of Al-Qaeda and that he shared its mission, thus there was no reason to doubt that he was at war with the United States of America.

The apprehension surrounding al-Awlaki's case is, in part, a product of unfortunate rhetoric that has marked U.S. foreign and military policy since 9/11. From the outset, many critics warned of the obscuring  potential of a vaguely labeled "war on terror." The suspicions aroused by the death of al-Awlaki are just this type of consequence. Rhetoric should not blind us to what are evident facts and clear principles, however. Though a "war on terror" may be ill-conceived, a war on Al-Qaeda is just and necessary. In this context, our clearest guides to the identity of enemy combatants in the current struggle are the claims they themselves profess to make. We may never entirely understand why al-Awlaki joined Al-Qaeda, any more than we can understand the motives of Peter Delaney for joining the SS, but both men were equally at war with the United States of America, and suffered the same consequences.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Impressions of a Trip to China

Anyone who has traveled periodically to China over the past 25 years (as I have) will remark upon how rapidly and profoundly China has changed over that time. In my most recent trip (from which I returned yesterday), however, even I who have been acculturated to the extreme dynamism of the new China was amazed by how drastically it has changed in the eight years since I last visited. Prosperity has advanced in China to a degree that would have been difficult to imagine when I first set foot in Beijing in the winter of 1987.

The first inkling we had of this transformation was on our first full day in Beijing, on a visit to the Forbidden City. The site was overrun by a throng of tourists one would not encounter anywhere in the U.S., with the possible exception of Disneyland. These were people from all over China. In casual conversations we encountered families from Shandong, Shaanxi, and Fujian, and I am sure if we had taken the time we could have found someone from every province and autonomous region of the PRC. Even accounting for the summer season, the crowds of leisure travelers signified the rise of a new middle class that simply had not existed at any other time I had visited China in the past 25 years.

That new socioeconomic reality was made more dramatic on our excursion to Beijing's most famous roast duck restaurant, Quan Ju De. In 1987 I and my other college friends used to roll up to the door on our bicycles and be escorted promptly into the half-empty (and prohibitively expensive, from the perspective of most Chinese citizens) restaurant to dine next to party cadres. This time my family and I arrived at the front door to find a crowd of at least 150 people perched on small plastic stools, each clutching a number and waiting to hear it called over a megaphone by a hostess in a beautiful silk qipao. Such culinary democracy was unknown in the China I had seen in the past.

These were only two instances of the enormous rise and spread of prosperity that we encountered on this trip. To be sure, there was still real poverty, and the limits of the new prosperity could be observed. New buildings were under construction everywhere, but certain key resources were poorly maintained. In Chengdu my mother suffered a laceration that required stitches, and the trip to the emergency room of the local hospital was like a journey to 1988. Vast sums have been spent on assets that have a high international profile, such as the Chengdu airport (which is tripling in size), but Chengdu's hospitals do not seem to have benifited as significantly from these capital investments.

Even acknowledging these shortfalls, the rising tide of prosperity in China is astounding and impressive. I do not know the hard statistics, but I would be willing to bet that, in either absolute or proportional terms, the PRC government has overseen the largest expansion of wealth in human history. This fact has forced me to reassess my expectations regarding China's short-term future.

I have felt in the past, and continue to believe, that China's political system is in dire need of democratization and decentralization. Indeed, this trip was not without signs of political trouble. In the Forbidden City we saw a policeman carelessly scatter a poor peddlar's wares with his nightstick, and on the walk  back to our hotel we encountered a battalion of police who had cordoned off a one-block perimeter around a disturbance and who refused either to let us pass or to answer questions about what was happening. Beyond this, in every city but Hong Kong to which we traveled we saw ubiquitous political slogans, which had been almost totally absent from the urban landscape eight years ago. Everywhere banners, billboards, and posters exorted citizens to be "civilized 文明" or praised "the unity of the party and the people." Such insistent propoganda smacks of political insecurity.

While this is true, and while I remain convinced of the need for real political change in China, my latest visit makes me less confident that it will come in short order. The impact of the sheer magnitude of wealth China has generated in the last twenty years is difficult to assess or anticipate. On the one hand, rising prosperity will most likely lead to rising expectations, which will produce agitation for change. On the other hand, the government's success in overseeing rapid economic expansion must contribute in some measure to its legitimacy, and might understandably make the populace reticent to disturb the status quo. In any case, what I observed on this visit convinces me of one basic truth: if its leaders and people can take the steps necessary to make the rising tide of prosperity ecologically and politically sustainable, the future belongs to China.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Obama, Israel, and the Jews

President Obama's speech to the State Department last week has occasioned much heated debate in the American Jewish community. These arguments have centered chiefly on the President's unprecedented declaration that "‎the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states." Though it is true that this has been the tacit basis of negotiations for more than a decade, Obama is the first U.S. president to publicly endorse such a formula. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has added more heat than light to this situation, responding with a long tirade as to why Israel can not return to its pre-1967 boundaries. This was a deeply obfuscatory rhetorical strategy, one that I suspect, given the power of Mr. Netanyahu's intellect, was quite disingenuous. Netanyahu knows very well that the issue is not whether Israel can or should return to its pre-1967 boundaries, but whether those should serve as the conceptual basis for a new Palestinian state. All negotiations in recent years have assumed that many Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank will remain within Israel; the adoption of the 1967 boundary as a benchmark only establishes the principle that a future Palestinian state must be compensated for such Israeli annexations by the transfer of equivalent uninhabited lands to Palestinian sovereignty. 

The "indefensibility" of the 1967 boundaries was a well-worn shibboleth invoked by Netanyahu in response to Obama's speech. This is a further deflection from the point of Obama's initiative, and willfully ignores the heart of his message. In the same speech Obama committed the U.S. to the proposition that the future Palestinian state must be constitutionally demilitarized, an acknowledgment that both states emerging from the two-state solution will be secure jointly or not at all. Israel will in effect have to stand surety for the safety of the future Palestinian state, leaving the defensive perimeter of Israel virtually unchanged in the wake of a two-state solution.

As a Jew and a Zionist, I hope my fellow Americans will correctly see the right side of this divide. What Obama has offered is a reasonable way forward, and what Netanyahu has offered is a truculent and tendentious defense of an unsustainable status quo. The timing of Obama's speech is, as many commentators have noted, far from arbitrary. The Palestinian Authority is planning to apply for UN recognition this fall, and such recognition will only be forestalled by a U.S. veto. Should that happen, both Israel and the U.S. will be cast into severe diplomatic isolation, and the path toward peace will become even more intractable. In the face of this contingency, President Obama's initiative is as wise as it is bold. For him to risk some of the political capital that he has accrued in the wake of Osama bin Laden's demise shows vision, leadership, and a sincere concern for the cause of Israel and peace. It would be a shame if the American Jewish community were to be taken in by the rhetorical attacks of Prime Minister Netanyahu. If that should happen, the greatest losers (after the Palestinians) would not be Obama or his party, but the Israelis themselves.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tragedy in Arizona

I am heartbroken by the murder of so many innocents in Arizona, and in the midst of sorrow I have one regret which, with some trepidation, I feel moved to articulate. In December of 2008, Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi threw a shoe at President Bush during a press conference in Baghdad. Despite being deeply angry at Mr. Bush for what I felt was negligent leadership on his part, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the incident. The assault was an affront to the dignity of the United States, and exposed vulnerabilities in the President's security that might embolden would-be assassins. I did not, however, publicly express outrage or condemnation. I take little solace from the fact that I was not alone in this lapse.

The current tragedy throws my inattention at that time into sharp relief. It may seem grotesque to compare the somewhat farcical incident of 2008 to the terrible events now, but they do exemplify a common principle. Any assault, no matter how trivial, on the person of an American government official, is an assault upon the office he or she holds, and an attack on the nation that office embodies. For anyone of any political stripe who claims to love our country there can be no question of degree or area of gray on this score. Our democratic Republic can not long withstand the repetition of acts like that in Tucson. Either the persons of our elected and appointed officials are sacrosanct, or our Constitution is not worth the paper upon which it is written. Anyone who suggests, even rhetorically or in jest, any sort of physical trespass upon the person of any official of the United States government, is not a patriot, and should be given no attention whatsoever in serious discourse.

I realize that it is in bad taste to express an abstract principle on the occasion of what is a horrific personal tragedy for so many, but I hope I may be excused. My thoughts and condolences go out to all who have been affected by this heinous act. May God bless you and grant you strength to endure your grief.