A Higher Moral Intelligence?

Dorothy Rabinowitz gets to the heart of Obama moralism by employing her usual abundant common sense:

…To hear Mr. Obama speak now on matters like the national defense is to recognize that the leader now in the White House is in every respect the person he seemed on the campaign trail: a man of immense moral certitude, prone to an abstract idealism, and pronouncements that range between the rational and the otherworldly.

That’s not counting the occasional touches of pure rubbish. Having, on the second day of his presidency, issued executive orders effectively undermining efforts to extract (from captured al Qaeda operatives) intelligence essential to the prevention of terror attacks — and in addition seriously hampering the prosecution of terrorist detainees — Mr. Obama argued that it was just by such steps that we strengthened our security. In his own words: “It is precisely our ideals that give us the strength and the moral high ground to be able to effectively deal with the unthinking violence that we see emanating from terrorist organizations around the world.”

What can this mean? What moral high ground, exactly, would have enabled us to deter the designs of the religious fanatics in search of martyrdom and the slaughter of as many Americans as possible on September 11?

So much had happened in Washington that week — so much speechifying and celebration — it was easy to tune out that pronouncement, particularly since we’d heard its like so often during Mr. Obama’s presidential run. It was of a piece with those assertions, emphasized the length of his campaign, that it was not our strength in arms but our principles that had made us a great nation.

During his grim inaugural address — never has the promise of a nation’s rebirth sounded so cheerless — he was similarly emphatic as he touched on the issue of our defense, proclaiming that “we will not give up our ideals for expediency’s sake.” It was a line that evoked a loud upsurge of applause from his audience.

They had heard in it again, Mr. Obama’s most dramatic and familiar campaign charge, delivered now in shorthand that needed no spelling out: The day of the Bush administration’s machinations against our sacred ideals, against democracy itself, all in the name of our security, was now over. In this new day of our national salvation, then — in a post 9/11 America that had seen 3,000 of its inhabitants murdered by terrorists — it was now acceptable to characterize strenuous efforts to avert more such catastrophes as “expediency.” It was not only acceptable, but proof of a higher moral intelligence.

The generation of Americans who had faced down fascism and communism understood, Mr. Obama further explained on Inauguration Day, that power alone could not protect us. They understood that our security came not just from missiles and tanks but from “sturdy alliances” and “enduring convictions” — it emanated from “the tempering quality of humility and restraint.”

It’s impossible to know what kind of history Mr. Obama has been reading but this much at least is true — the generation he describes knew the importance of sturdy alliances all right. There was that one, for instance, between the American leader, Franklin Roosevelt, and the British, Winston Churchill. Both of them, along with their countrymen, were driven by one enduring conviction — that fascism should be eradicated from the face of the earth and a total war of destruction waged on Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany until their surrender. It would be hard to find, in their pursuit of that purpose, any hint of that tempering quality of humility and restraint. Not that it isn’t entertaining to imagine Roosevelt extending the hand of friendship and conciliation to Hirohito, or Churchill proposing to raise a glass and talk things over with Hitler.[emphasis added]

It’s been tempting to ascribe Mr. Obama’s orders on terrorist detentions, interrogations and Guantanamo to his campaign promises. Not to mention the pressure of that political constituency whose chief enterprise has been these many years to portray the war on terror as an illicit enterprise, conducted by agents of government bent on robbing innocent Americans of their constitutional rights and instilling baseless fears — and that has succeeded, with the invaluable aid of a like-minded quarter of the media, in presenting a picture of Guantanamo as a hell on earth akin to Auschwitz…

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