February 19, 2003


Another March of Folly? (CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY, February 19, 2003, NY Times)
Twenty years ago this month, I was an aide to Vice President George Bush during another trans-Atlantic crisis. There were demonstrations in European capitals in which America was portrayed as the threat to world peace and the American president was called a warmonger, a "cowboy" and worse. Vice President Bush's response in February 1983 may hold some lessons for President Bush in February 2003.

Two decades ago the vice president was dispatched to London to calm things down, to hold hands, to remind our European friends and allies that we were still all in this together. What made his trip necessary was the controversy over deployment of nuclear missiles in Europe; several years earlier, the Europeans had requested that the United States place Pershing 2 missiles in Europe to counter Soviet medium-range missiles that were aimed at the Continent.

But when the missiles were ready to be put in place, Europe changed its mind. We don't want those missiles after all, Europe decided, under pressure from its left and the Soviet Union. You'll just use them to wage nuclear war on our soil. [...]

That night in Guildhall, as the vice president gave a positively brilliant speech, the shouting of the demonstrators seemed loud enough to rattle the stained-glass windows of the historic building. There was a question-and-answer session afterward. A politician wearing the clerical collar of the Church of England rose and in a tone of high moral revulsion denounced the United States for bringing emotions in Europe to the present boil and for forcing on an unwilling England and Continent these ghastly weapons. He had children, he announced with umbrage, and he rather hoped he would be able to see them grow up and not be incinerated in a nuclear exchange initiated by America.

The vice president began to answer, in his usual earnest, thoughtful and patient way. And then he stopped. I saw the air go out of him. He sighed. It was as eloquent and sincere a sigh as I have ever heard from a politician.

"Look, I have kids too," he said. "Don't you think I want to see them grow up?"

He followed this remark by saying that these missiles--he did not add, "That you asked us for, bub"--were intended to make Europe safer, not more dangerous. He reminded the gentleman that President Ronald Reagan had pledged to meet with General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev "at any time" and "any place" to sign an agreement eliminating all intermediate-range nuclear missiles.

The moment was defused. I had never seen the vice president in better form.

It's a moment in time that it's vitally important we remember, even as the Left tries to forget. Appeasement wasn't one brief mistaken moment in the 1930s; it's been the strategy of Europe and of American liberals for decades. Perhaps because their political ideology is based on the fundamental goodness and ultimate perfectibility of mankind, they seem to believe that we can change the behavior of the world's worst regime simply by being nice to them. So they (one or the other or both) left the USSR
in control of Eastern Europe
, so they refused to carry the Korean War to China, so they refused to carry the Vietnam War to even North Vietnam and then undercut the South Vietnamese when it looked like they'd be able to hold out without us, so they countenanced and then defended Castro in Cuba and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and so they fought to preserve the Soviet Union (via detente) rather than confront and finally defeat it. And so, today, they seek to prop up Saddam, and Yassar Arafat, and Assad, and all the rest, rather than face the tragic flaw in their own worldview and accept that evil is real, that it must be dealt with by the good, and that we are justified in judging others to be the former and ourselves to be the latter.

If you can stomach listening to an interview with the one of the protestors who're out in the streets these days, you'll hear them talk about the uniqueness of their movement, in its size, passion, moral position, and power. That's bunk. They resemble nothing so much as those '80s marches against the intermediate missile upgrade and SDI and in favor of the Nuclear Freeze. In fact, the issues don't much matter; they'd march for any anti-Western cause you trotted out. Because the real point of their protests is a futile attempt to assert control over our enemies. It is necessary for them to believe that Saddam is not a bad man who's beyond our control, but an essentially decent and reasonable man who our own actions have caused to behave badly.

Many have wondered why these folks would bad mouth their own countries and political systems and cuddle up to every two-bit dictatorship that comes down the pike. And people are mystified by the obvious disregard that such demonstrators have for the victims of such tyrannical rulers: how can these ostensible humanitarians care so little about particular humans, like those in the Gulag, then, or in Iraq now? The answer, of course, is that the protests aren't about the lives and rights of people in other countries; they're a desperate assertion of personal powerfulness by the demonstrators themselves. They are an act of contempt for Saddam and the Iraqi people, an attempt to reduce them to mere results of our own behavior rather than serious moral agents in their own right, responsible for the Iraq they've created, a place of evil.

So, when George W. Bush and Tony Blair declare their intent to hold the Iraqi regime responsible for its actions and the peace movement demands that this not be done, it's not a question of the Left disagreeing that those actions were terrible, but rather they disagree that Iraq is responsible. Only we can be responsible, because if what the Right calls "evil" can exist without our having created it ourselves then all of Leftist ideology is a lie and the world, which is truly beyond our control, is too scary a place to even be contemplated.

We should hardly be surprised then that the Western Left--already buffeted by the collapse of communism and socialism as viable alternatives to capitalism, and reeling from the American people's ready acceptance of the idea that 9-11 and after represents a clash between good and evil--has poured into the streets to hysterically proclaim that it's all our own fault, that it's big oil, or fundamentalist Christians, or our arming of Saddam, or our support of the Afghan mujahadeen, or our support of Zionism, or whatever...that has "caused" the conflict. The Left believes it can control the world, can reshape humans, and can create a utopia. Such a dream must die hard and we can't expect its death throes to look pretty. Were they not abetting evil, it might even be possible to pity these folk.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 19, 2003 9:24 AM

"With malice toward none; with charity toward all" sums it up. (Yup, he was an extraordinary man.)

People do the best they can with what they've got.

Which can, indeed, be a problem sometimes.

But this doesn't mean that one shouldn't stick to his or her principles and defend them (with passion and with civility---and one hopes that that's not a contradiction....)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at February 19, 2003 10:03 AM

I condemn the Danes for not carrying the war to Berlin in 1940. Those dastards.

Posted by: Harry at February 19, 2003 8:13 PM
« LAY LOW, LIKE SNAKES? | Main | ZBIG MISTAKE (via Kevin Whited): »