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America's non-resolve to fight evil

By Ed Cline
web posted January 27, 2003

The "Bush Doctrine," presented to the world shortly after 9/11, has collapsed. What happened to those "self-evident truths" about what we'll do to those evil nations that support terrorism? Those truths have been all but repudiated, lost in a morass of evasion and accommodation. The United States has become a paper tiger, engaging in a parody of warnings followed by. . . more warnings. Predictably, we have encouraged rather than frightened the villains.

It wasn't this way when our nation began. In 1800, shortly after he took office as President, Thomas Jefferson had to decide what to do about the Barbary pirates, who were raiding American and European shipping in the Mediterranean and exacting tribute from Western governments. At first, Jefferson tried the short-range pragmatic policy of paying that tribute. But when he saw that the looting beys of Barbary would not honor any agreements they signed with Washington, he sent in the Navy to deal with them. During his -- and James Madison's administration -- the Barbary States swore off a policy of extortion, ransom, and the seizure of American merchant vessels. European powers were left to make their own decisions regarding the pirates. For the Americans, there was no hand-wrenching, no need for "coalitions," no fear of international opinion, no concern about our "image." Just self-confident, decisive action, employing the method chosen by the pirates: physical force.

Jefferson and Madison's response was partially the result of the important lessons they learnt in the struggle between the colonies and the British government. As far back as the 1740s, Americans tried to reason with the mother country. Every argument that colonial thinkers offered in defense of life, liberty, and property was either ignored by London or answered with attacks on the character and motivation of the colonials. Every act of defiance by the colonials was met by another repressive action to "exact due deference." Americans accepted the
obvious: The British government was not open to reason. American force was the only response to British force. "Toleration" and compromise would work only to defeat the colonists and more firmly establish British tyranny. Freedom and tyranny cannot co-exist.

The Founders then pledged their "lives, fortunes, and sacred honor," declared American independence, and faced the 18th century's greatest "super power."

Today, the United States is the only super power on earth, yet it is losing to a motley collection of "Barbary pirates" and an international cabal of dedicated killers. America's political leaders, educated in 20th-century universities, are stubbornly certain that one can't be certain of anything, that there are no "self-evident truths," nor any immutable facts and that no culture is better than any other. There is no right and wrong, no good and bad. Tyrants, Bush believes, can be cajoled into becoming benevolent leaders, and bomb-producing metal shops transformed into soup kitchens. The nearest thing to a "truth," to our policymakers, is a consensus, a constantly shifting collective opinion about facts and morality.

The self-evident truths that President Bush struggles to evade are that Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Iran are our mortal enemies, to whom death, blind obedience, and self-sacrifice are the sole immutable truths, and that these countries should be dealt with as Jefferson and Madison dealt with the beys.

Kim Jong Il
Kim Jong Il

Saddam Hussein, Yasir Arafat, Kim Jong Il, and the ayatollahs have repeatedly demonstrated that they are not open to reason and that they are determined to impose tyranny outside their realms. Arafat wants to destroy Israel. Iraq plays the equivalent of a three-card Monte game with U.S.-approved U.N. weapons inspectors. North Korea, emboldened by the irrational and pragmatic policies of the United States, has announced that it will become a nuclear power, and threatens the United States. Saudi Arabia is exposed daily as the enemy it has always been. Iran pursues its own nuclear arsenal, actively supports terrorists and prepares to execute a man because he called for the separation of mosque and state.

Every one of these facts should have been acknowledged. Action should have been taken. It was within the military capabilities of this country. Yet, moral self-doubt and squeamishness about the "arrogance" of defending this country have simply prolonged and aggravated the crises.

Americans deserve courageous leaders, but President Bush and his advisors are cowards. They have been disarmed (morally and literally) by pragmatism, subjectivism, and non-judgmental humility. The Founders had principles and were moved by moral and factual certainty. Our present political leaders have none of that. Afraid of being condemned for "arrogance" (i.e., self-assertion), they are moved only by range-of-the-moment pragmatic diplomacy. It is a policy that can guarantee nothing but this country's suicide.

Ed Cline is a novelist who has written on the revolutionary war period and is a writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, California. The Institute promotes Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Send comments to reaction@aynrand.org.

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