Jewish World Review April 8, 2002 / 27 Nisan, 5762

Lewis A. Fein

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Moral Confusion at 1600 | Remember George W. Bush's selling point, that his ignorance of world affairs would be irrelevant? Irrelevant beside the collective wisdom of trusted advisers, men (and women) with names like Rice, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Powell. Irrelevant athwart a pile of rubble and before a tattered, windswept flag - the president's words at Ground Zero serving as the ultimate rebuke, to critics and enemies alike, that this leader would accept history's summons to greatness.

Yet, after a series of important - even inspiring - successes, Bush's critics seem to be disturbingly correct: that, when confronted with an issue of geopolitical complexity and moral significance, Bush would fail; that he would fail, in part, because of the advisers he would not beseech and largely because of the guidance he would not shirk. So, as Israel burns beneath terrorism's fire - and as moral relativism runs rampant - Bush finds himself reduced to liberalism's caricature - an immature (like Bill Clinton), easily bored, perpetual adolescent; a fraternity brother, with a pillow atop his face and an unopened book beneath his bed.

Harsh words, indeed. But the president's decision to dispatch Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Middle East is itself a moral timeout, a pause for evenhandedness - independent of guilt or Palestinian terrorism - where both parties, purely because of spilt blood, somehow have equal claims before the world's attention. And, if conservatives seem unduly critical of Bush's inconsistent Mideast policy, there is an obvious reason: conservatism is the last bulwark against the Left's incurable case of moral relativism.

For Powell's trip represents a crucial victory for inappropriate diplomacy, which, precisely because the State Department does not make moral pronouncements, will further embolden Palestinian terrorists. His trip also signifies an assault against language, between what constitutes murder and what defines martyrdom.

It is this war against language - between characterizing Ariel Sharon as an Israeli Hitler, or popularizing Yasser Arafat as a Palestinian patriot - that is, in part, the most despicable aspect of moral relativism. Indeed, the Bush administration's confusion about this very issue should concern all conservatives.

This confusion is frightening because it is a moral form of presidential retreat - an acceptance of the Establishment's political preferences, replete with the United Nations (including its most dictatorial members) condemning Israeli behavior. This confusion threatens all free nations, because once morality yields to bureaucratic legalese - to the idea that murderous terrorism is simply another indexed service, like welfare or food stamps - truth dies.

Thus, the president's decision to send Secretary Powell to Israel is a *moral* mistake. For Secretary Powell will repeat the diplomatist's fatal error: he will brandish documents and proffer treaties, each inscribed with presidential ink, while ignoring the inherently evil acts of Palestinian terrorism.

Yes, he will express his sympathy for the victims of murderous terrorism. But he will temper his remarks (as he always does) with comments about "cycles of violence" and other morally ambiguous language from the State Department's briefing book. In the end, Palestinian extremists (and their Western supporters) will act upon what Powell does not say - that Palestinian terrorism is evil, directed exclusively against Jews because Israel is a Jewish homeland.

President Bush must make a decision between convenient words and morally important actions. He must choose between moral relativism and righteous judgment. He must choose between what some of his advisers refuse to acknowledge and what the free world needs to hear: that Palestinian terrorism is murder, even if it has a flag.

JWR contributor Lewis A. Fein is a writer and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles.Comment by clicking here.


© 2002, Lewis A. Fein