Psychologist and author Dr. Jacob Mermelstein, among many attainments, is knowledgeable in his Jewish observance. He was on the staff of a clinic with a large Jewish population and when the chaplain was suddenly called away, he asked Mermelstein to officiate in his stead at Yom Kippur services. So Yom Kippur Eve found him in an unaccustomed hortatory role, sermonizing to a "flock" of mental patients. Delivering a talk about Man's purpose in the world, he became impassioned and began imploring: "Why are we here? Why are we here?" From the back of the room a riposte was heard.
"Because we're not all there."
This puts me in mind of the current gestalt of the Democratic Party. It has latched unto something that is not untrue, the fact that our presence in Iraq is "not all there." Yet it is dooming the efficacy of its cry by losing perspective of "why we are here." Its preferred solution is retreat, than which no more deleterious program is imaginable. Leaving Iraq to inherit the maelstrom would be a recipe for untold disaster.
AND YET, we have problems there. Subtle ones. Problems that require delicacy and forethought and planning and execution, not to mention the occasional execution. The fact is that in past invasions which bred insurgencies, the resistance tended to be sporadic and rarely effective. Today we are in a situation where there are successful bombings of significant targets such as police stations and army recruitment centers on virtually a daily basis. Each guerrilla sortie or terrorist massacre claims between ten and a hundred lives. This is more than attrition for a society's sense of wellbeing; this is wholesale erosion.
Even if the military obstacles are eventually breached, we are caught in a subtle conflict that simultaneously challenges our political, governmental, legal, and moral sensibility. Say we determine, as hitherto we have, that the peculiar morphology of modern terrorism requires the suspension of certain precious mores. It allows, even demands, that we imprison people for years with less-than-due process, or torture people who have urgent knowledge of pending or impending horrors. What, then, do we tell the new government of Iraq? Can we allow it to behave in this manner?
This is akin to the maxim attributed to Rabbi Ezekiel Landau (1713-1793) of Prague, who said: "If you can walk straight, standing on your head is acrobatics. If you can only stand on your head, that's illness." For a nation such as our own, grounded in centuries of altruism and fair play, the emergency torture option can be employed in special instances without introducing a culture of sadism. But if the fledgling democracy of Iraq opens for business from Day One with torture chambers "reserved for terrorists," it is almost a cinch to segue into Saddam redux.
It's no fun, I know, but think about it. Can we practice torture because of the special circumstances of the age while hectoring Iraq against such excesses? Can we credibly try Saddam for torture while winking to his replacement that torture is the order of the day? Probably the best of these admittedly troublesome options is to return to our primordial conscience against torture, regaining our moral perch from which to ban the practice for the New Iraq, and take our chances that we can prevail within the standard playbook. In which case the Democrats, abetted by Senator McCain, may be on to something, or at least a piece of something, with their anti-torture amendment.
However, in their hysteria of overreaching, they insist on qualifying Iraq as a quagmire. Their rhetoric of imputing lies and conspiracies to the prosecution of a war of security and conscience saps their meager reservoir of credibility. The American People, when polled, express a vague sentiment of dissatisfaction with the Iraq operation. Yet they do not embrace the Democrats' shrill cavils. Still, Republicans should not try to bargain them down from a quagmire to a quiddity -- more like an earnest quandary, but amenable to resolution.
Always we must remember the answer to "why are we here?" We are here because Saddams may no longer rule by crushing the human spirit. We are here because the globe cannot afford little laboratory countries for breeding terrorists. We are here because even if Saddam was not saber-toothed, he was a saber rattler, and in the desert when you hear a rattle you shoot first and ask questions later. And we are here because even if it's the other guy's mess, we have to mop up before we leave. Finally, we are here because there is a still voice in our heart that enjoins us to heed the prophet's call and beat swords into plowshares.
As to the Democrats' overwrought claims, all we can say is: "There, there." There is no there there.
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