"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, July 17, 2006

Bill Clinton's Moral Authority

Now it's a politico's job to be political, but when you start invoking morality in service of your politics, our secular polity stands athwart it, yelling, "Stop!"

So, OK. Our own Dr. Ben Zycher of the Cato Institute notes below that Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean invoked former US president Bill Clinton's "moral authority" on the current state of world affairs.

You could look it up. Or, wait, let's save you the trouble:

“If you think what's going on in the Middle East today would be going on if the Democrats were in control, it wouldn't, because we would have worked day after day after day to make sure we didn't get where we are today. We would have had the moral authority that Bill Clinton had when he brought together the Northern Irish and the IRA, when he brought together the Israelis and the Palestinians.”


Bill Clinton, whose amateurish Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (stupidly, and falsely) confessed to all the world to killing a half-million innocent Iraqi women and children in the interest of "containment"?

Lesley Stahl: We have heard that half a million children have died [in Iraq]. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And you know, is the price worth it?"


Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price---we think the price is worth it.


Now, to be fair, the actual figure, according to Reason Magazine's Matt Welch, was probably only in the tens of thousands, or, in other words, somewhat less than the number of innocents lost as "collateral damage" in Mr. Bush's War, which at least has provided a puncher's chance of self-determination and the end of systematized exterminations among the Iraqi people.

Otherwise, if you want to believe that only the creative, brilliant and angelic Bill Clinton created peace in Northern Ireland instead of its people dictating peace because it was sick of war, all I can point to is the Israel-Palestinian question, where Clinton, somewhat to his credit, at the close of his second term got the then-current left-wing government of Israel to offer the closest thing to total Israeli acquiescence to Palestinian demands that was ever likely to be offered.

The Palestinians made no counteroffer. Unlike the people of Northern Ireland, they were, and are not, interested in peace. If they had wanted peace, there would be peace, Bill Clinton or no, just as there would have been peace in Northern Ireland, with or without Bill Clinton.

It would be easy to dis Bill Clinton's moral authority over the sad Monica Lewinsky affair: I thought, and think, that the GOP should not have turned such a failing of the flesh into a political matter.

However, Mr. Clinton's geopolitical record aside from his intervention in Kosovo (and in that apparently admirable military intervention, he might have killed more people than he saved) is checkered at best. If his butcher's bill in Iraq for his sanctions is as bad as it seems, he is morally negligent at least, and at worst, well, the gentle reader has already filled in the blanks.

The DRUDGE REPORT quotes Mr. Clinton as saying in 2002, after his presidency was already receding into the fond memory of at least some Americans:

“The Israelis know that if the Iraqi or the Iranian army came across the Jordan River, I would personally grab a rifle, get in a ditch, and fight and die...”


Uh-huh.

Well, Saddam Hussein paid rewards to Palestinian suicide bombers who purposely killed Israeli women and children, with no military target in mind and not even the excuse of collateral damage. We chickenhawks never expected you to actually crawl into a ditch to defend Israel against Saddam's Iraq, Mr. Clinton, but we might expect you at least today to endorse the erasing somebody who encouraged and enabled the butchering of Israel's people.

Which you haven't. According to you, the timing of the Iraq invasion wasn't right. It was a "mistake." But I do not know when the timing is right to stand up against the murder of innocents. Now, might be the answer.

Sorry, Mr. Dean, and sorry for your PR for your party. Bill Clinton is indeed the best of your ilk in the past generation of world affairs you have to point to, but his actions unfortunately were at best morally neutral, which is pretty much as high as you guys aim, and you confuse with moral authority.

To preserve civilization, to beat back entropy and chaos, if not genuine evil, neutrality will not be sufficient. You actually think that diplomacy could have placated the implacable murderers of the Party of God?

Mr. Dean, give me a ring. I've got a reality-based community I wanna sell you.

16 comments:

James Elliott said...

With the exception of Kosovo (and that largely due to Richard Holbrooke and Wesley Clark), Clinton’s foreign policy apparatus rather resembled Amateur Hour at the Laff Club. His administration’s insistence on dealing with Arafat - to the point of strong-arming Israel time and again after Arafat’s PLO would renege on its side - helped to set the stage for today’s disasters in that part of the Middle East by enabling the PLO’s (and later Fatah’s) corruption.

Now, to be fair, I think part of this brouhaha arises from Dean’s complete inability to remain articulate for more than half a sentence; the other part comes from his complete lack of international relations experience. Where Dean speaks of moral authority, he should be using the word “legitimacy.” Whether one agrees with Clinton or not - and on Middle East policy, I’m often in the “not” - he is viewed with a large degree of respect and legitimacy - which Bush is not - by leaders and policy makers in the Middle East and abroad. A lot of this is down to his political skill, his ability to play people in a room like a snake charmer to a cobra. But at least he doesn’t make a consistent ass of himself, and the Middle East is a place where decorum and manners among leaders is expected. Such legitimacy and respect does translate into a kind of diplomatic authority. Especially among the Palestinians, his reputation for dealing fair with them is viewed as a moral legitimacy - without which no leader can properly deal with such an ideologically-based leadership as theirs.

Dean is right on one front: Had a Democrat been in charge in 2001, we probably wouldn’t be in the same state we are today. Our military would not be bogged down, its invincible imagery shattered, by an unnecessary conflict, making it more likely for countries to put their weapons down when the U.S. says “Knock it off.”

I know you like to flog the “sanctions” horse until it’s dead and then zap it with the paddles so you can flog it some more, Tom, but you must realize that no sanctions arise or continue without the constant endorsement of Congress, a body the GOP controlled for six of Clinton’s eight years as president. I agree with you: put blame where it’s due. Everywhere it’s due.

-Jim

Tom Van Dyke said...

The blame is on militant Islam. Period.

I keep flogging the sanctions deaths because, rest assured, the Muslim world has not forgotten. In fact bin Laden flogged them quite thoroughly in in his 1996 fatwa declaring war on the west.

He used Albright's acknowledgement of the 500,000 dead figure, and to this day, that's the figure the Muslim world believes.

So when bin Laden took out a lousy 3,000 Americans at the Twin Towers, it was not surprising that the Muslim world had barely a tear to spare for them.

"Legitimacy"? Maybe in Paris or Turtle Bay.

As for the US military losing its aura of invincibility, Clinton took care of that too with Black Hawk Down. That did not escape bin Laden's notice either.

Tlaloc said...

"He used Albright's acknowledgement of the 500,000 dead figure, and to this day, that's the figure the Muslim world believes."

It's also the figure the rest of the world believes, well outside of Reason magazine's circulation.
Why do you consider them authoritative on the issue?



"As for the US military losing its aura of invincibility, Clinton took care of that too with Black Hawk Down."

Somalia was a screw up but it was not exactly a huge deal. Everyone knew if wanted to go in and flatten the country we could. On the other hand Iraq is an enormous deal. We couldn't flatten Haiti at the moment, much less Iran. Trinidad and Tobago would be quite the challenge.

Matt Huisman said...

If you think what's going on in the Middle East today would be going on if the Democrats were in control, it wouldn't, because we would have worked day after day after day to make sure we didn't get where we are today.

Wow. Given that neither he nor Kerry is in office, one might begin to wonder if the day after day approach could use a little tweaking.

The blame is on militant Islam. Period.

I'm looking forward to seeing that on a bumper sticker.

James Elliott said...

"The blame is on militant Islam. Period."

That might be what flies for cogent analysis in the Manichean-tinted world of neoconservatism, but here in the realist world, things are rather more complex.

Tlaloc said...

"That might be what flies for cogent analysis in the Manichean-tinted world of neoconservatism,"

Unfortunately it does. No wonder conservative saints like George Will and Bill Buckley have jumped ship.

Tom Van Dyke said...

For the record, I quoted Reason magazine in fairness to President Clinton, to relieve him of the guilt of the deaths all 500,000 innocents. (A figure, the conscientious googler will find Madame Albright, too late, alas, later disavowing.) Matt Welch's article was one of the only inquiries I could find in any medium whatsoever outside of the Daily Worker. Down the memory hole.

It is true that Bill Buckley questions the wisdom of the Iraq invasion, but neither is he on record as offering to take to the ditches to defend Israel from Saddam. As for the loss of Professional Token Conservative George Will, I'm very happy with having received Christopher Hitchens in trade.

As for Manichaeism, even if the charge were true (a charge rather clumsily Manichaean in character itself), it is better to be able to tell north from south than to have no moral compass at all.

(I do appreciate you yielding several points about the Clinton administration's adequacy, James. I do try to be charitable to his presidency---my criticisms are largely not for what he did, but for what he was unable to bring himself to do. And I am enjoying his ex-presidency far less than his actually term in office.)

Matt Huisman said...

That might be what flies for cogent analysis in the Manichean-tinted world of neoconservatism, but here in the realist world, things are rather more complex.

At the end of the day, the blame is on militant Islam... is cogent analysis, given their actual objectives. (And since when did working ultra double plus hard to solve problems - day after day even - qualify as sophisticated?)

The reality of realism is that its real pursuit is more often a search for the best response to a likely outcome than it is a quest for a full understanding of the actual facts.

Those who say that that conflict has no beginning, and is part of a cycle of violence - have, it turns out, said nothing more sophisticated than 'The blame is on X.'

Hunter Baker said...

The whole "moral authority" argument is baby food for the middle-of-the-road voter. We all know that the "moral authority" of an outsider to the situation would never resolve the Middle Eastern crisis. Moral authority figures will have to rise from within the contesting parties, otherwise the thing will be resolved by violence. Which is, of course, the way of the world.

Tlaloc said...

"Those who say that that conflict has no beginning, and is part of a cycle of violence - have, it turns out, said nothing more sophisticated than 'The blame is on X.'"

But it did have a beginning. it began with Israel. There is absolutely blame to be laid, but it goes first and foremost on the feet of the Israeli government. They initiated the conflict with their blatant racism, massacres, and constant willingness to out-atrocity their terrorist opponents.

Tlaloc said...

"Those who say that that conflict has no beginning, and is part of a cycle of violence - have, it turns out, said nothing more sophisticated than 'The blame is on X.'"

But it did have a beginning. it began with Israel. There is absolutely blame to be laid, but it goes first and foremost on the feet of the Israeli government. They initiated the conflict with their blatant racism, massacres, and constant willingness to out-atrocity their terrorist opponents.

James Elliott said...

"But it did have a beginning. it began with Israel..."

Oh for the love of...

Tlaloc, that's about as single-minded an analysis as Tom and Matt focusing on militant Islam. In both cases, there are aspects in which you are all correct, but you miss so much of the surrounding factors that you all might as well have never spoken.

(And Tom, Chris Hitchens is no "conservative" - but then, neither are you or any of the posters or commenters here - rather, Hitchens remains as he has always been: an iconoclast. And I love the man for it. Anyone who attends Henry Kissinger's speaking events so he can scream "Toad!" at the top of his lungs is just fine in my book. George Will remains a principled conservative, something the vast majority of people who currently call themselves conservatives cannot say with honesty.)

Matt Huisman said...

Maybe I should give the double-minded approach more consideration, but it seems to me that 'solving' this mess is impossible - and the blame lies with the Palestinians/Arabs.

It is pretty clear what Israel's desires are...can anyone define what the Palestinians actually want? Can they?

How does one negotiate in such a circumstance?

Tlaloc said...

"Tlaloc, that's about as single-minded an analysis as Tom and Matt focusing on militant Islam."

No not really. I'm NOT saying it is all Israel's fault, by any means. It has become a cycle of violence and both sides are to blame for that. But you can rewind history through that cycle until you come to an end point. That end point is unambiguously the creation of Israel on other people's land.

That did in fact start it all.

James Elliott said...

"It is pretty clear what Israel's desires are...can anyone define what the Palestinians actually want? Can they?

How does one negotiate in such a circumstance?"

I agree with that, in so far as we are referring to organizations whose existence is predicated around a “Palestinian struggle” (i.e. Hamas, Fatah, and Hezbollah). They have subsumed their original quests for Palestinian statehood into a larger ideology of political supremacy. However, assigning such motives to all Palestinians is foolish - if such was the motivation of them all, then we would see sectarian violence between Eastern Orthodox Christians and, more tellingly, Shia and Sunni (there is quite a gulf between Qutb’s Sunni followers and the brand of Shia fundamentalism you see promulgated from Iran). While there is definitely a brewing Shia-Sunni gap among the Palestinians, it is not an openly violent one (yet, I will concede). For the majority of Palestinians - indeed, as the rift between Fatah and Hamas shows - the question of the “struggle” remains overwhelmingly political, not ideological. Israel is a convenient “other,” a fulcrum for Arab domestic and regional politics to tilt upon. Israel’s existence gives purpose and power to the dominant militant political groups that are Palestine’s current actors. They serve as convenient proxies for Iran and Syria, with their dreams of regional hegemony.

But assigning blame is pointless, as there is plenty to pass around. Israel’s current strategy - forcefully disarm Hezbollah - will, if successful, heavily influence the outcome in Gaza. A successful campaign here will do a lot for Israel’s security. Blame does nothing. It is a convenient game for armchair moralists.

Tlaloc said...

"But assigning blame is pointless, as there is plenty to pass around. Israel’s current strategy - forcefully disarm Hezbollah - will, if successful, heavily influence the outcome in Gaza. A successful campaign here will do a lot for Israel’s security. Blame does nothing. It is a convenient game for armchair moralists."

Obviously I disagree. Blame is being assigned, constantly, and always on the wrong people. So long as Israel is never held accountable for it's actions the cycle cannot stop because they have no motivation to stop. It serves the goals of the Israeli government (if not her people).

Blame is needed, and badly. The US needs to stop blocking UN motions that condemn Israel and that have widespread word support (we were the only vote against the most recent). The US needs to stop supplying Israel with money and weapons so long as they keep using both irresponsibly.

They are to blame in this situation (not solely though) and that needs to be recognized. Without assigning blame correctly we can never hope to change the situation. Similarly the US needs to accept blame for it's role in south america before we'll ever manage to move forward with them. The Russians need to accept blame for their role in Chechyna.

Contrary to your assertion blame is an integral part of the process of correcting or at least learning from a mistake.