September 26, 2003


Bush's Rhetoric Deficit: In making the case for the war, he downplays his strongest argument: America's duty. (David Gelernter, 10/06/2003, Weekly Standard)

ON IRAQ the administration likes to talk interest, not duty. "We did ourselves and the world a favor." But interest is always arguable; duty can be absolutely clear. Torture, mass murder, and hellish tyranny make for the clearest case possible. Yet too often the administration has sounded hesitant and defensive on Iraq. It has a compelling, open-and-shut moral case but prefers to make pragmatic arguments about global terrorism and Arab politics. Of course security is important, but mass murder is even more important. In Iraq the torture is over, the gale of blood is finished; we put an end to them. What else matters next to a truth like that?

On September 23 the president gave a measured, stately speech at the U.N.--which decidedly did not begin: "Ladies and gentlemen, we have shut down the terror, the torture, and the murder in Iraq." (The speech was well underway before the Saddamite terror got a passing mention, and then one full paragraph of its own.) The president began by recalling 9/11--but don't we owe it to the world and ourselves to couple that story to an account of how we answered the deed of terror by two of liberation, thereby converting a maniac monologue into one of the more moving, astounding dialogues in human history? [...]

Yes, the question has its nuances. Have we always intervened, will we always, to overthrow a murderous dictator? No; but in this post-Cold-War era the boundary-lines are new--no nation has ever dominated the world militarily as we do today; it will take us time to get our bearings and understand our new responsibilities. Didn't we have pragmatic, selfish reasons to act in Iraq? Of course we had. Isn't self-defense itself a moral imperative? Absolutely. But these side issues fade to nothing in the sunlight of a new reality: A bloody tyrant is overthrown. That fact dominates all others.

The president is at a decision-point: temporize, or move proudly straight ahead? For now, "temporize" is fatal advice. The administration must stand on its achievements, not its anxieties. Start with the moral issue. The same holds for the U.N.: Why does the administration sound defensive when it ought to stand on the moral heights? If it were any kind of morally serious organization, the U.N. would have carried a vote of gratitude to the Coalition the day Saddam fell. How come the Security Council is so "Eurocentric," anyway? Counting Russia as 50 percent European, half of all vetoes belong to Europe. Why? And where are congressional hearings when we need them?--hearings on the deposed Saddam regime. Let Iraqis speak; let the world listen.

But after all, conservatives have a long history (going back to Vietnam) of ceding the moral high ground to their opponents without a fight--and thereby of participating in the cardinal error of modern political thought: the neglect of spiritual, moral, and religious things.

Sadly, Mr. Gelernter is right. The flipside of the WMD argument only being necessary when we were courting the UN is that it (and the UN) should be treated with contempt now and the emphasis should be placed just on ending a terrible regime and giving the Iraqi people an opportunity at freedom and a decent society.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 26, 2003 7:37 PM

Mr. Judd;

Isn't that what makes them the Stupid Party?

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at September 26, 2003 9:37 PM


Posted by: oj at September 26, 2003 10:00 PM

Does anyone have any theories as to why this is happening--the hesitation I mean? The President may not be a natural orator, but he has lots of smart advisors and, besides, Blair is.

Whenever I argue with middle-of-the-roaders, they usually respond to the "moral underpinning" argument. I talked to a liberal Canadian reporter yesterday, who admitted disgust with the UN and said "It's got to be reformed and the US has to lead it!". With a constituency like that, one would think you can't lose.

Posted by: Peter B at September 27, 2003 8:13 AM

One problem with moral certainty is that it's easy to assume others must share it.

Posted by: oj at September 27, 2003 8:22 AM

Part of the problem is what Gelernter hints at: we are not going to adopt a doctrine requiring us to put down tyranical regimes.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 27, 2003 1:49 PM