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Jewish World Review Sept. 27, 2002 / 21 Tishrei, 5763

Michael Long

Mike Long
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Goodbye To All That

The terrible, wide war that must be fought. | The days of American moral neutrality are over. Thank G-d-and G-d preserve us in the coming storm.

The President has announced a wholesale shift in U.S. security policy from deterrence to prevention. We are thus set on a path where, by definition, we must abandon our idealistic stance of "all nations equal" in favor of fighting for a few proven and suddenly-threatened virtues that make civilization possible: freedom of religion, speech, association, government.

We have prided ourselves in the second half of the twentieth century on being the colossus of tolerance by reason, standing astride the globe shouting not "Stop!" (as William F. Buckley put it years ago), but "Live and let live!" This ideal of liberty is at the heart of the best thinking on the left and the right; the fundamental difference between the two sides having always been from which end to carve out exceptions of laissez-fair morality, and how deep.

Moreover, this "ideal of the unbiased" is the only acceptable starting point for investigation of anything at all: assume nothing, consider everything. But the principle fails to serve if those who apply it refuse to accept all the conclusions to which evidence leads. For many, those orphaned conclusions automatically include anything reflecting conventional wisdom or tradition-that is, conclusions that some things are always bad, and cannot be tolerated.

In a world where tolerance is the ideal, this makes for an apparent contradiction that many cannot accept. They end up deciding that a tolerant worldview must allow even for intolerance whose principles threaten the tolerant system itself.

So we are now divided into two groups. The first asserts that some things are not only evil, with all the half-packed philosophical baggage the word carries, but also unjustifiable: No one has a justifiable reason to fly passenger jets into buildings. Some leaders and societies are too unstable to be allowed weapons of mass destruction. A proportionate response to the threat of terrorist attacks is unquestionable neutralization of the enemy, most often by military means.

The second asserts that everything is ultimately amenable to reason-that is, it can be accommodated within a framework of tolerance-and that those rare entities that are not amenable may be constrained or deterred by other engines of reason: Hyper-aggression, even an act as sickening as the World Trade Center attack, is usually a desperate lashing out on behalf of oppressed groups who see no other outlet. If one nation is entitled to acquire weapons of mass destruction, all nations are similarly entitled. A proportionate response to the threat of terrorist attacks should consist not of punishment but of attention to root causes, which shall be both a preventative and deterrence by remedying oppression.

So we argue whether U.S. hegemony is the cause of our problems, or the solution. Whether an essentially absolute American military power can be a force for peace, or if it inevitably becomes a vehicle for cultural and economic paternalism. Whether lawless dictators should be contained or cut down.

Interesting questions, all. But the debate over them in the current state of the world leads to certain answers that either encourage or discourage the survival of the U.S. and, with it, the ideal behind the U.S. itself. Are some systems of government, some nations, and some ideologies so oppressive and threatening that they must be destroyed? The weight of evidence leads to a suicidal contradiction for those who believe "Live and let live" has no limits.

The goal of Islamic fundamentalism is to establish Islamic theocracies-where Allah must be worshipped-around the globe. Is this acceptable? No. The goal of Islamic fundamentalism is to destabilize America to make the first goal easier to reach. Is this acceptable? No. The goal of Islamic fundamentalism is to bring low the concept of individual and group liberties because at best it offends their concept of G-d and at worst it separates various megalomaniacs from acquiring more oppressive power. Is this acceptable? No.

Ideologies which, a priori, disallow freedom of religion, speech, association, and representative government are bad enough, but we don't fight against all of them with tanks and soldiers because, ultimately, they all don't pose an immediate threat to our own tolerance-based system, however imperfect our attempts may have been to build such a thing.

Today, however, there is such an immediate threat. When groups attempt to impose those same ideologies around the world by physically attacking us and attempting to keep us constantly off-balance, they must be fought against, and decried as threats to civilization. It is not acceptable to merely keep them at bay. They must be destroyed before they bring down the house.

These are the fundamental truths lately ignored, mostly as a result of well-intentioned but fetishistic imagining that all values and all forms of government are equally virtuous. Yet one simple truth is indisputable by either left or right: some ideologies stand foursquare against everything that is good: freedom, liberty, equality. Members of a dark empire are gathering to destroy those things, including the freedom to come to this or any conclusion. They are coming for you and me personally. It is time to fight them, and to their death.

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JWR contributor Michael Long is a a director of the White House Writers Group. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Michael Long