Jewish World Review April 12, 2002 / Rosh Chodesh Iyar, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | As time passes, George McGovern looks better and better. Not for his policies, but as a responsible citizen who doesn't confuse value with virtue, and as someone who respects the intentions of demonstrably good men.
In an essay this week in The Nation magazine-the premier policy forum for American leftists-Senator McGovern demonstrates that while a sense of responsibility has diminished among Democrats since his own day, certain naïveté remains timeless.
McGovern begins by acknowledging what today's armchair generals forgot long ago: "No longer in government, I do not have the benefit of national security briefings or Congressional committee deliberations. So… it may be more appropriate for me to ask some questions that have been on my mind both before and since September 11."
Fair enough. It's wise to ask probing questions about the conduct of a war, and as a World War II bomber pilot and a leader in the anti-war movement in the 1960s, McGovern certainly has the experience and authority.
Unlike the "Hey kids, let's protest!" part of the current anti-war crowd, McGovern asks thoughtful questions that add up to an explication of an alternate course for war. His reasonable questions deserve reasonable answers.
McGovern asks, "Which course might produce better results in advancing American security? Is it by continuing to boycott… Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya and Cuba… ? Or would we be better off opening up … trade… ?"
The senator is onto something that many thoughtful Republicans and Democrats agree with: trade builds peace. It is unwise to begin trade with outlaw states without careful explanations as to why we would do so-and unthinkable when effectively at war with them. But the argument about the value of trade in spreading democracy and human rights was made well in 2000, with the passage of Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China.
We also support boycotts against Iraq and others for fear that our interaction with such regimes will be taken as a seal of approval for their government's conduct-a reflection of the problem that most American's conception of government is nanny instead of referee.
But with that, the senator runs out of good ideas. McGovern asks, "Isn't [a rogue nation] simply one [that] doesn't always behave the way we think it should?" Well, no. Rogue nations (or as Madeline Albright likes to put it, "states of concern"-see where such thinking leads?) are those that support or sponsor terror. This is a bright line, and when portrayed as only a conflict of values, the absolute standards of good and bad-of human rights themselves-suffer violence themselves.
McGovern asks, "Instead of adding $48 billion to the Pentagon budget, as the President has proposed, wouldn't we make the world a more stable, secure place if we invested half of that sum in reducing poverty, ignorance, hunger and disease in the world?" Alas, a Democrat's disdain for and discounting of defense is hidden in a false either/or choice. Besides, bullies don't answer to kindness, they answer only to force. Charity is admirable, but it will not stop a single terror strike tomorrow.
Osama bin Laden is a wealthy man. He doesn't promise his followers prosperity; he explicitly promises them war and death. Radical Islam is fighting for neither possessions nor comfort. Its adherents fight for power, leverage, and the restoration of what they viscerally perceive as lost honor-while more than a few seem simply to revel in killing innocents.
McGovern notes the government-in-waiting, sequestered outside Washington, and asks if "paranoia has become policy." Of course, it has not. We are prepared this way because, unlike in previous conflicts, we face an enemy who seeks biological or nuclear weapons that could conceivably be smuggled in a suitcase-or created here, under the ironic cover of an "open society." This enemy has already demonstrated its will-indeed, absolute glee-to use weapons of mass destruction. McGovern terribly underestimates the threat.
McGovern concludes by suggesting that the "grim rhetoric" of President Bush is replacing Communism with terrorism as "the second great hobgoblin of our age," but the answer to that misguided idea is, sadly, self-evident.
Still, one has to respect the presentation of his ideas. He does not trash the sincerity or the intentions of our leaders; and he acknowledges that they have access to more information than he does. This is just the sort of reasonable engagement that should always be welcome in the public square-a far cry from the beat-down-Bush politics of the Left just now. George McGovern's respectful example is welcome anytime, but he can leave his policies on the
JWR contributor Michael Long is a a director of the White House Writers Group. Comment by clicking here.
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