Interesting Times: The librealist consensus

Is this something that American Jews really want to be a part of?

saul singer 88 (photo credit: )
saul singer 88
(photo credit: )
A few years ago I was making the rounds in Washington, hawking my book at a brown-bag lunch at the American Enterprise Institute. I almost had to rub my eyes when in walked Jeane Kirkpatrick. It was as if I was back in school and the professor had sat in the audience and expected me to give the class. Kirkpatrick, senators Henry "Scoop" Jackson and Daniel Moynihan, and Ronald Reagan were all my heroes. All began as Democrats and the two senators remained so. Though none of them were Jewish, all were "neo-conservatives." Though the label "neocon" has become somewhat of a dirty word, these four leaders exemplified what it means to me: the liberal pursuit of ideals coupled with a conservative consciousness of interests. Even more succinctly, a neocon pursues "liberal" ends by "conservative" means. We must put "liberal" and "conservative" in quotes these days, since current usage distorts their original meanings beyond recognition. Would a "conservative" advocate, as George Bush has, something as revolutionary as eradicating tyranny from the earth? Would a "liberal," as most Democrats have, see no value in the fall of a brutal dictator such as Saddam Hussein, who made such former liberal targets as Pinochet, Marcos, and Samoza look like choirboys? Kirkpatrick did not leave the Democrats, the Democrats left her. Speaking to the 1984 Republican convention, she quoted Democratic president Harry Truman: "'The United States is great because we, as a people, have been able to work together for great objectives even while differing about details... The basic source of our strength is spiritual. We believe in the dignity of man.' That's the way Democratic presidents and presidential candidates used to talk about America." To Kirkpatrick, it made no sense to rise up against odious, tinpot dictators and then turn into mush in the face of, or even become apologists for, tyrants wrapping themselves in communist ideology. Even as late as John F. Kennedy, Democrats maintained a muscular approach toward advancing and defending American ideals. In the wake of the Vietnam War, however, a very different form of "liberalism" was born. ONE MIGHT think that a dictator who was also anti-American would trigger opposition by a liberal-conservative consensus - liberals via ideals and conservatives via interests. For post-Vietnam "liberals," however, a threat to US interests not only failed to reenforce their opposition to a regime on human rights grounds, but seemed to actually cancel out the outrage that the same behavior by a pro-American dictator would have produced. It is this pattern that Kirkpatrick memorably labeled "blame America first." The transformation of liberals from crusaders for freedom to apologists for anti-American dictators was objectionable, but in the Cold War context might have been excused as a form of naivete. Communism, after all, billed itself as morally superior in Western terms, in that it supposedly represented the antithesis of cutthroat capitalism. In our post-9/11 world, "liberals" have no such excuse. Unlike communism, there is nothing warm or fuzzy about militant Islamism, even in theory. These regimes combine everything liberals supposedly abhor most: intolerance, misogyny, force, fascism and theocracy. How is it possible to explain, for example, that many of the same people who are shouting from the rooftops that George Bush is Christianizing America seem unconcerned about Iran's bid to Muslimize the world? THIS BRINGS me to a failure that "liberals" and their new friends, the Baker-Hamilton-Gates "realists," have in common - a failure of imagination. One would like to think that if "liberals" and "realists" believed that the Iranian regime really represented a global threat, they would be much more exercised about preventing it from obtaining nuclear weapons. But the analogy to the rise of Hitler in the 1930s leaves them cold. To the "liberals" and "realists," Iran is just one, small, faraway country. Sure it can do a lot of damage, but the best way is not to provoke it. As Gates clearly implied in his Senate hearing, confronting Iran is itself the real threat, since Iran has so many ways to hurt Western interests, either through terrorism or in the Persian Gulf. It is true that confronting Iran, militarily or not, could be dangerous. One has to be somewhat blind not to see, however, that the Iranian regime is not just out to protect itself (again, as Gates suggests), but to export its brand of Islamism throughout the Muslim world, and to leverage that power to dominate the West as well. I realize that the mishandling of postwar Iraq has evoked a powerful isolationist strain in the now-united "librealist" camp. This camp is more concerned about Bush botching a confrontation than letting Iran forge ahead on its Bomb. The librealists, however, have succeeded too well. Someone within this camp must start swinging the pendulum the other way. Do the librealists really believe that the current paralysis will advance either American ideals or interests? Do they really believe that Iranian megalomaniacs will stop unless they are stopped? The majority of American Jews belong to the liberal half of the librealist front. After 60 years of saying "never again," can we Jews be so consumed by Bush-hatred that our imaginations - even our memories - have left us? NOW IS the time for the Jewish community to say to Congressional liberals: However much we oppose Bush, however much he botched Iraq, we need to join him in forging bipartisan strategy - not for an invasion or an occupation - but, yes, to confront Iran. A bipartisan Congressional leadership delegation should join Bush in meeting European leaders to convince them of the need for unity and determination to face down Iran. Otherwise, those who claim that Bush went after the wrong country will be deeply complicit in allowing what they rightly argue has always been the greater threat, Iran, to become much more difficult to defeat.

- Editorial Page Editor Saul Singer is author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle & the World After 9/11