Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not. (Jeremiah 5:21)
John Boehner has just noticed that the “ …’world is on fire.’ (Leave it to a politico to see fire where there are in fact rivers of blood.) And America isn’t doing nearly enough to stamp it out.” This according to the report of an interview he gave to Politico. On account of what he has learned during a trip to the Middle East Boehner also “said that his theory that the U.S. doesn’t have a coherent foreign policy has been borne out. He’s concerned about the U.S. led talks with Iran and has been most surprised by ‘the boldness of the Iranians’ in exerting their influence throughout the region.”
I suppose we are now supposed to applaud the fact that his eyes are now open. The problem is that he still refuses to see that incoherence isn’t Barack Obama’s problem. From day one of his occupation of the White House Obama has pursued a coherent foreign policy. The problem is that his coherent policy consistently disserves and damages America’s friends, aids and abets America’s enemies, and weakens America’s will and ability to defend itself, at home and abroad.
Obama’s policy began by changing the terms the U.S. government used to refer to terrorists and their activities, so that our official language no longer acknowledged that their ongoing global war, not only against the United States, but against every country in the world that believes government should be based on persuasion and consent, rather than fear and forceful intimidation. By ceasing to refer to the wicked injustice we were fighting against, the change stripped away the moral context for America’s military actions.
This departed from what had been the practice of the U.S. government in every conflict that required sustained and general support from the American people since the war to defend our Declaration of Independence; up to and including WWII. For all its many faults, the system of international organization the U.S. helped to establish in the aftermath of that war was formally committed to an approach to international relations base on the principle that all governments are obliged, even in wartime, to acknowledge and observe certain norms of decent conduct, including non-aggression, concern for non-combatants, and even respect for basic human rights.
According to these norms, all governments are obliged to use their power to defend, and not abuse, people innocently doing what natural right obliges them to do- for example, build homes; start and nurture families; follow the righteous sentences prescribed by their religious beliefs; defend themselves from wrongful attacks and depredations, and so forth. This obligation, rooted in our common humanity, transcends man-made rules dictated by arbitrary force, including boundaries imposed or defended by it.
Thanks to my experience as a diplomat, leader and administrator in the conduct of U.S. foreign affairs (I served for some time as Ronald Reagan’s Ambassador to the UN Economic and Social Council, and then as Assistant Secretary of State for International Affairs) I learned first-hand to appreciate the fateful flaws in the global international arrangements put in place after WWII. However, that experience also convinced me of the vital role the United States had to play in articulating, justifying and helping to maintain the principles that are supposed to inform and guide those arrangements.
Lacking such experience, perhaps it’s understandable that a high U.S. official like Speaker Boehner never before learned to appreciate this country’s vital role. Yet I remember how often it occurred to me, during my activities at the UN, that both the fateful flaws, and the context of just intentions the international organizations were supposed to serve, resembled situations and characters familiar to me from what I knew of the history of the United States. Ours was also the experience of a flawed society, challenged by high ideals but faced with difficulties like those which beset the people of many nations allied against tyranny in both episodes of global warfare in the twentieth century.
Even things I remembered from movies and TV shows, intended as entertainment, resonated with the tangled skein of goodness and wickedness; of good intentions and bad ambitions, of true principle and constant, deceitful machinations I had every day to assume and live with as I sought to represent the American people at the presumptuously named United Nations.
John Boehner and I are about the same age. Like me, he would have grown up in an educational and popular culture in which America’s history was still basically cast as a shrewd morality tale, in which materialism and rambunctious ambition were constantly competing and sometimes at war with a core reverence for God, justice and the fair play and compassion people have the right to expect from others, and ought to extend to them. Contrary to the silly caricature of that culture now in vogue among our currently dominant clique of smarmy elitists, the fact that it saw things in terms of good guys and bad didn’t encourage to naiveté about the complex and insidious possibilities of human nature.
The same sensibility that prudently limited blood and gore in the depiction of violence also avoided the one-dimensional understanding of heroes and villains characteristic of the comic book simpletons that pass for both in contemporary storytelling. Usually the moral of the story left one with an inescapable sense that people are usually not as good or bad as they seem. It taught that good folks have an obligation to seek out and support those ultimately inclined to do right; and to stand with them against those who are otherwise inclined. And encouraged keeping the heart tuned in to the broadcast frequency of “the laws of nature and of nature’s God”, ready to receive the voice of conscience that helps sort good will from bad.
The uniform pattern of Iran’s activities for the past several decades clearly proves that its ruling mullahs are not inclined to do right, as God gives us to see the right. They proclaim America to be the archetype of wrongdoing (unless ‘Great Satan’ has some connotation of praise I’m too simpleminded to see.) They haven’t been reticent to declare their diligent hostility toward the U.S., and to act on it. Their track record includes forcefully imposing tyranny on their own people. Assuming that Speaker Boehner has anything left of the common sense he should have acquired from the moral culture in which he was likely raised, what are we to make of his surprise at the “boldness of the Iranians”? His sudden awakening reminds me of the character (Captain Renault) in “Casablanca” who is “Shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on…” in the establishment where he himself could often be found cheerfully joining in.
I will be delving further into Boehner’s unbelievable surprise in my column for Barbwire.com later this week. Check it out.