February 18, 2009

"We can run from our moral duty but we can't hide"

Bush's Greatness, by David Gelernter, in the Weekly Standard:

...Bush's greatness is often misunderstood. He is great not because he showed America how to react to 9/11 but because he showed us how to deal with a still bigger event--the end of the Cold War. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 left us facing two related problems, one moral and one practical. Neither President Clinton nor the first Bush found solutions--but it's not surprising that the right answers took time to discover, and an event like 9/11 to bring them into focus.

In moral terms: If you are the biggest boy on the playground and there are no adults around, the playground is your responsibility. It is your duty to prevent outrages--because your moral code demands that outrages be prevented, and (for now) you are the only one who can prevent them.

If you are one of the two biggest boys, and the other one orders you not to protect the weak lest he bash you and everyone else he can grab--then your position is more complicated. Your duty depends on the nature of the outrage that ought to be stopped, and on other circumstances. This was America's position during the Cold War: Our moral obligation to overthrow tyrants was limited by the Soviet threat of hot war, maybe nuclear war.

But things are different today. We are the one and only biggest boy. We can run from our moral duty but we can't hide. If there is to be justice in the world, we must create it. No one else will act if the biggest boy won't. Some of us turn to the United Nations the way we wish we could turn to our parents. It's not easy to say, "The responsibility is mine and I must wield it." But that's what the United States has to say. No U.N. agency or fairy godmother will bail us out.

Of course our moral duty remains complicated. We must pursue justice, help the suffering, and overthrow tyrants. But there are limits to our power. We must pick our tyrants carefully, keeping in mind not only justice but our practical interests and the worldwide consequences of what we intend. Our duty in this area is like our obligation to show charity. We have no power to help everyone and no right to help no one. In the event, we chose to act in Afghanistan and Iraq to begin with--good choices from many viewpoints....

"If you are the biggest boy on the playground and there are no adults around, the playground is your responsibility." That's simply the way it is. We didn't ask the job, it just fell to us.

The complaints that we are oppressors amassing an empire because we are oil-stealing bullies are just stupid crap from nihilists who are desperate to avoid all moral duties. Including the duty of patriotism and love for this greatest of all countries.

Posted by John Weidner at February 18, 2009 7:01 PM
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