Spin doctors were relabeled "strategists" in the early 1990s. And as Mark Steyn wrote last week in National Review, "Increasingly, the Western world has attitudes rather than policies."
The latest attitude to be flouted as policy is indignation. Specifically, Democratic Presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama's furious indignation at President George W. Bush's address before the Knesset last week where he celebrated Israel's 60th anniversary and extolled the US's alliance with Israel. Beyond praising the Jewish people's 4,000 year-old devotion to the Land of Israel and to liberty, Bush used the speech to warn against those who think that Iran and its terror proxies can simply be wished away through appeasement.
As the president put it, "Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided. We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."
To Israeli ears, Bush's words were uncontroversial. Israel is beset by enemies who daily call for its physical annihilation and while doing so, build and support terror forces who attack Israel. For most Israelis, the notion that these enemies can be appeased is absurd and deeply offensive.
The only strong reaction that Bush's remarks provoked in Israel was relief. In spite of the Bush administration's own participation in the six-party talks with North Korea, its support for the EU-3's feckless discussions with the mullahs, its paralysis in the face of Hizbullah's takeover of Lebanon, and its support for the establishment of a Palestinian state run by Fatah terrorists dedicated to Israel's destruction, at the very least, standing before the Knesset, Bush effectively pledged not to allow Iran to acquire the means to conduct a new Holocaust.
From an Israeli vantage point then, it was shocking to see that immediately after Bush stepped down from the rostrum, Obama and his Democratic supporters began pillorying him for his remarks. Most distressing is what Obama's reaction said about the Democratic presidential hopeful.
OBAMA'S RESPONSE to Bush's speech was an effective acknowledgement that appeasing Iran and other terror sponsors is a defining feature of his campaign and of his political persona. As far as he is concerned, an attack against appeasement is an attack against Obama.
Obama and his supporters argue that seeking to ease Iranian belligerence by conducting negotiations and offering military, technological, and financial concessions to the likes of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who refers to Israel as pestilence, daily threatens the Jewish state with destruction, and calls for the eradication of the US while claiming to be divinely instructed by a seven-year-old imam who went missing 1100 years ago is not appeasement. Indeed, Obama claims that conducting direct face-to-face negotiations with the likes of Ahmadinejad is the right way to be "tough."
But is this true? Obama recalls that US presidents have often conducted negotiations with their country's enemies and done so to the US's advantage. And this is true enough. President John F. Kennedy essentially appeased the Soviet Union during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis when he offered to remove US nuclear warheads from Turkey in exchange for the removal of Soviet nuclear missiles from Cuba.
But there are many differences between what Kennedy did and what Obama is proposing. Kennedy's offer to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was made secretly. And the terms of the deal stipulated that if its existence was revealed, the US offer would be cancelled. More importantly, Khrushchev was open to a deal and was ready to give up the Cuban nuclear program. And – most importantly of all – Kennedy deployed military forces and went to the brink of war to make the alternatives to negotiation credible.
Obama has repeatedly stated that unlike Kennedy, if he is elected president, he will not openly threaten war while being open to private talks. Instead, Obama intends to surrender the war option while conducting direct, public negotiations with the mullahs. So from the very beginning, he wants to undermine US credibility while giving Ahmadinejad and his murderous ilk the legitimacy that Kennedy refused to give Khrushchev.
Far from exerting force to strengthen his diplomatic position, Obama has pledged to withdraw US forces from Iraq where they are fighting Iranian proxies, cut military spending and shrink the size of the US nuclear arsenal.
SINCE THE definition of appeasement is to reward others for their bad behavior, and since the US has refused for 29 years to reward the Iranians for their bad behavior by having presidential summits with Iranian leaders, Obama's pledge represents a massive act of appeasement. And since it is Iran's illicit nuclear weapons program that would bring a President Barack Obama to the table, his policy would invite nuclear blackmail by other countries by signaling to them that the US rewards nuclear proliferators.
But even if Obama and his supporters were right and negotiating with the ayatollahs was not by its nature an act of appeasement, the question remains whether it would be possible to reach a deal with them that would not endanger US interests or US allies a la Neville Chamberlain at Munich.
Since the EU-3 began negotiating with the Iranians four years ago, the Iranians have made clear at every opportunity that while they welcome negotiations, they will never give up their nuclear program. Over the weekend, Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei again repeated that there is no deal that anyone can offer Iran that would move the regime to give up its nuclear aspirations and nascent arsenal. So there is no deal to be had.
Iran's support for terrorism and its nuclear aspirations make confrontation with the US inevitable. Since there is no way that in the midst of presidential negotiations the US would confront Iran, by pushing for such summitry, Obama is conceding to Iran the US's right to choose when and how the confrontation will begin.
IN MANY ways, Obama and his allies call to mind the influential American newspaperman H.L. Mencken. In the 1920s and early 1930s, Mencken was the most influential writer in the US. He was an anti-Christian and anti-Semitic agnostic, a supporter of Germany during World War I, and a fierce opponent of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. He also opposed American participation in World War II.
In his biography of Mencken, The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken, Terry Teachout argues that the reason Mencken did not think it was worth fighting Hitler's Germany was because Mencken simply couldn't accept the existence of evil. He could see no moral distinction between Roosevelt, who he despised, and Adolf Hitler who he considered "a boob."
There are strong echoes of Mencken's moral blindness to Hitler's evil in the contemporary Left's refusal to understand the nature of the threat posed by Iran and its terror proxies. And Bush made this clear in his speech to the Knesset when he said, "There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain away their words. It's natural, but it is deadly wrong."
Obama's supporters seek to silence these echoes by pointing to Obama's life story as Obama told it in his two autobiographies, Dreams From my Father and The Audacity of Hope. His supporters‚ argue that since his life story is unique, his decision to appease the Iranians is uniquely wise. Yet the most interesting aspect of his life story
is how little is actually known about it.
As the New York Times noted in an article Sunday about Obama's career as an autobiographer, "In the introduction [of Dreams from my Father], Mr. Obama acknowledged his use of pseudonyms, composite characters, approximated dialogue and events out of chronological order."
That is, the man who is supposedly uniquely qualified to appease and so adopted an attitude of indignation at Bush's condemnation of those who seek to cut deals with evil men, is also rather cavalier about facts. Justifying Obama's fast and loose treatment of the truth about his past, his editor Deborah Baker explained that Obama's attitude was more important than the facts or, in her words, "The fact is, it all had a sort of larger truth going on that you couldn't make up."
LIKE HIS life story, Obama's policies are not based on facts, but on his attitude. And his attitude, like Mencken's in the 1930s, is based on a naïve and arrogant belief that the worst thing that can happen is to have someone who talks about evil in the White House.
Peter Osnos, Obama's former publisher told the Times that Obama's meteoric rise to the pinnacle of politics is due in large part to his gift as a storyteller. In his words, "It's almost all based on these two books, two books not based on a job of prodigious research or risking one's life as a reporter in Iraq. He has written about himself. Being able to take your own life story and turn it into this incredibly lucrative franchise, it's a stunning fact."
Indeed, it is stunning. And frightening. It says that in a world in which evil men are combining and preparing for war and genocide, good men are preparing for pleasant chitchat with their foes because they have come to prefer attitude to substance. It is a world in which indignation can be summoned as readily (and perhaps more easily) for partisan political attacks as for delusional dictators' open preparation for genocide. And it is a world in which it is more important to discuss "healing" emotional wounds than devising policies capable of coping with an ever-more-dangerous international coalition of murderers.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.