Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Jimmy Carter as Cassandra

Takes one to know one.
Cassandra at Cassandra does Tokyo recalls a voice from the past who spoke of old-fashioned virtues.
Still does, I believe.
But he's too much a gentleman to say "I told you so."

It was thirty years ago that Jimmy Carter donned a cardigan and spoke of malaise, it's causes, and proposed solutions, (thrift, parsimony, hard-work, sustainability, quality vs. quantity, replacing the emptiness of consumption with more spiritual things, faith, morality, optimism). Little of said redemption recipe was heeded despite the inherent correctness of his advice. And for twenty-five subsequent years to the present, rather than seeing the wisdom in his words, America as seen them as sanctimonious choosing instead the absurdity of renting the public interest for parochial gain, worse-than-neglectful energy policy, managed healthcare, unrelenting geographic sprawl, the dismissal of pricing negative externalities, rights without responsibilities, self-regulation, ballooning expansion of credit without any reasonable tether to sustainability, billions in bonuses coincidental to negative-billions at the bottom of the income statement, sub-prime lending, LBOs, SIVs, ZIRP, internet bubbles, housing bubbles, commodity bubbles, government bond bubbles, persistent half-trillion-a-year current account deficits, lending to a borrower to withdraw equity leaving a wafer-thin margin upon an illiquid depreciating asset that recently doubled or tripled, the packaging of non-recourse under- or un-secured loans-to-already-indebted people without a Plan-B and calling them 'AAA', leaving the lights on everywhere when no one is around, electing a President (twice!) whose unashamed objective was to terrorize the Public Interest, or building low quality 2x4 wooden homes in hurricane alley on a floodplain is almost beyond comprehension. And undoubtedly one could add their own litany of petty tyrants that offend any semblance of prudential decency or common-sense. And while this is going on, lawmakers and The People occupied themselves with steroid use in professional sports, how to insure prophylactics and birth-control pills receive second billing to abstinence, the un-sanctity of gay marriage, 10 things not to do with a cigar, amongst others trivial pursuits.

But now, America has finished performing. Now, Simon Cowell-The-market [the post starts off describing Simon Cowell's brutal but accurate candor] has harshly declared judgment. It isn't kind. It isn't nice. It stings and hurts. But it is truthful and honest and correct. Yet it remains almost unfathomable that they still cannot see its own culpability, despite it cutting wide and deep into each and every crevice of the Polity - in media, in government, in individuals, in academia. There's anger. There's disbelief. Dreams have been shattered. The tears are coming. But please, don't beg. Don't cry. Stoically face up to it. Affirm culpability. Introspect. Deal with reality. And most importantly, learn from your mistakes...

I noticed today's WSJ ran a painful remembrance by Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl's father, of what has come to be understood as the emergence of modern terrorism. In The Normalization of Evil he recapitulates what Hannah Arendt termed the banality of evil in the early Sixties, laying its most recent incarnation squarely at the feet of Jimmy Carter.

...somehow, barbarism, often cloaked in the language of "resistance," has gained acceptance in the most elite circles of our society. The words "war on terror" cannot be uttered today without fear of offense. Civilized society, so it seems, is so numbed by violence that it has lost its gift to be disgusted by evil.

I believe it all started with well-meaning analysts, who in their zeal to find creative solutions to terror decided that terror is not a real enemy, but a tactic. Thus the basic engine that propels acts of terrorism -- the ideological license to elevate one's grievances above the norms of civilized society -- was wished away in favor of seemingly more manageable "tactical" considerations.

This mentality of surrender then worked its way through politicians like the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. In July 2005 he told Sky News that suicide bombing is almost man's second nature. "In an unfair balance, that's what people use," explained Mr. Livingstone.

But the clearest endorsement of terror as a legitimate instrument of political bargaining came from former President Jimmy Carter. In his book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," Mr. Carter appeals to the sponsors of suicide bombing. "It is imperative that the general Arab community and all significant Palestinian groups make it clear that they will end the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the Road-map for Peace are accepted by Israel." Acts of terror, according to Mr. Carter, are no longer taboo, but effective tools for terrorists to address perceived injustices.

Mr. Carter's logic has become the dominant paradigm in rationalizing terror. When asked what Israel should do to stop Hamas's rockets aimed at innocent civilians, the Syrian first lady, Asma Al-Assad, did not hesitate for a moment in her response: "They should end the occupation." In other words, terror must earn a dividend before it is stopped.

The essay covers me with a wave of sadness and hopelessness. Although I grasp the logic and share the bitter grief that Daniel Pearl's loss will forever evoke, I also know that Jimmy Carter (and many others) who made good faith efforts at conflict resolution, would recoil in horror at the charge that he has "endorsed terror as a legitimate instrument of political bargaining."

Non-violent conflict resolution, peaceful alternatives to war in all its forms -- whether organized by "civilized" assemblies of recognized states, blessed with priestly approval as just wars, or "insurgent" renegades bent on overturning legitimate regimes -- is considered unrealistic in the best of times, and intolerable when needed most. Those of us who opposed the Iraq adventure did so for a variety of different reasons. My own reason, aside from the understanding that OBL and Saddam were natural enemies (one animated by a twisted creed, the other by the oldest of secular drives, a lust for power), was that every dead Iraqi who was not a terrorist -- collateral damage, you know -- left behind an entire family and peer group ripe to join a large and swelling population of Al Qaida recruits . We were fighting smoke with water (as though it were fire) when fresh air is more effective.

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