Memo To: Bill Kristol, The Weekly Standard
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: "Moral Equivalence"
It's been several years since I first heard of the concept of "Moral Equivalence," and I may be wrong, but I always associated it with you. You remember you commissioned me to write "An American Empire" for either the first or second issue of your Weekly Standard, back in August 1995. I'd argued that the leadership of the new "American empire" should be benevolent, acting on the principle of the Golden Rule. Do unto others, etc. With the United States finally alone at the top of the mountain of nation states, it seemed the direction of international politics should be vertical, not horizontal. The best paradigm would be that of a family, with parents at the pinnacle, managing the extended family with wisdom and diplomacy, with force as a last resort. This would be a dramatic change, as the paradigm had been horizontal throughout the history of the world. This is because there were always at least twin peaks -- more than one empire, in the most recent case the "Free World" assembled by Uncle Sam and the "Evil Empire" assembled by the Kremlin.
You never really told me why you flatly rejected my essay, but it soon became clear you and your colleagues at the Standard did not like the idea of the Golden Rule, because it implied "moral equivalence" among nation states. Those nation states you believe are morally inferior to the United States should be hammered until they shape up. You are now making the arguments relative to Israel, which is morally superior to the Palestinians, but I do recall you gave wings to the concept with regard to China. At one point you seemed to be saying that we will probably have to go to war sooner or later with China – which is not sufficiently democratic to give her moral equivalence, so why do anything now to add to her economic or diplomatic strength?
What I find is that you and the Pentagon intellectuals you have teamed with are now using the idea as a way of justifying pre-emptive military strikes against anyone you deem our moral inferiors. The mere assertion is intended to shut off the debate, most immediately with regard to Iraq. I e-mailed a friend the other day: "Kristol came down from Mt. Sinai with stone tablets to announce the ten conditions which would qualify a nation for M.E. with the United States. Once it has achieved that rank, it can presumably bomb anyone not on the list."
You guys have been clever enough to co-opt the President, at least to the point where he seems willing enough to talk about a pre-emptive strike against Iraq – without the slightest evidence that he now constitutes a threat to us or to Israel. While your periodical was pretending to support John McCain for the GOP nomination, your team was surrounding and lecturing Texas Governor George W. Bush on the concept of moral equivalence and pre-emptive strikes. Former Secretary of State George Shultz introduced Condaleeeza Rice to Bush, and on your recommendation, Condi introduced Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz to the unsuspecting Texas governor. They persuaded the President-elect to name Don Rumsfeld, one of their boys, Secretary of Defense, and Rumsfeld immediately reconstituted the Defense Policy Board, naming Richard Perle as chairman. Perle then named his longtime stooge, Jim Woolsey, to the Board, along with Newt Gingrich, a bomber from way back, and reserved a special seat for the Establishment geezer who started the ball rolling in the first place: George W. Shultz.
You must have seen the letter from Ted Sorenson in the NYTimes yesterday, Bill. The former special counsel to President Kennedy, Sorenson took exception to Condi Rice's comment that President Kennedy "thought about a lot of possibilities," including a pre-emptive strike, against Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962. This was in a NYT June 17 front-page article: "Bush to Formalize a Defense Policy of Hitting First." Here is what Sorenson went on to write:
More important to President Bush's consideration of such a strike against Iraq is that President Kennedy thought longer and harder about the broader consequences: the innocent civilians killed without warning; the harsh judgment of history for triggering a nuclear war; the loss of moral high ground that has long served United States diplomacy; and violations of international law.
A pre-emptive strike is usually sold to the president as a "surgical" air strike; there is no such thing. So many bombings are required that widespread devastation, chaos and war inevitably follow. The trouble with a pre-emptive strike doctrine is that it pre-empts the president's own choices. Yes, President Kennedy "thought" about a pre-emptive strike; but he forcefully rejected it, as would any thoughtful American president or citizen
Of course, you will now find Sorenson morally deficient in opposing pre-emptive strikes. I also note your mouthpiece at the Times, Bill Safire, has put a new ball into play in this moral equivalence game. In his column yesterday, he complains that the news director of the Voice of America has now lost "moral clarity," having fired Stephen Schwartz, "a contributor to the conservative Weekly Standard, who is critical of Saudi and Syrian support of terror." Why? Because Schwartz was leaking stuff to the San Francisco Chronicle about how his boss was "giving equal time to murderers," i.e., Muslim radicals, on V.O.A. broadcasts. Safire notes that Schwartz did not "join the 100 V.O.A. employees who signed a petition last year supporting the news director's defense of its offer of a platform to al Serri and Mullah Omar." Safire is especially incensed that when the American Foreign Service Association gave the boss, Andre de Nesnera, an award for refusing to follow "the suggestion from State last September to deny terrorists U.S. airtime," the ceremony was attended by an "approving Colin Powell," as champagne corks popped.
As far as I am concerned, Bill, it is you and Safire who lack moral clarity. You want to bomb the daylights out of Iraq without a debate, consider the Israeli Jews morally superior to the Palestinian Arabs because they kill with state-supported bullets and bombs, and you want to turn the V.O.A. into an Orwellian boom box. Then again, what do I know? Maybe I'm morally inferior too.