NEW YORK — Monday night I attended a public policy discussion sponsored, not surprisingly, by The American Spectator — I say not surprisingly because I have been attending these meetings for roughly thirty years and always come away with fresh ideas. They are meant to ventilate ideas, and now that a presidential election is drawing near we are inviting presidential candidates as our special guests to float their ideas by our assembled luminaries. At any rate Monday night, while our President was addressing the nation on the causes and consequences of his involvement in Libya, I listened to former governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota cross that very same terrain. The dinner was off the record, but I do not believe that I betray any confidences when I say Governor Pawlenty’s discourse was very different from that of our President.
He is proud and confident of America’s role in the world, unlike our President. The former governor began speaking of American national security. At times we must project force on behalf of American national interests, and Pawlenty was proud of our military’s professionalism, competence, and readiness. He continued, speaking about “American exceptionalism.” He sees America as blessed, a shining city on a hill. We have obligations in the world. Pawlenty says we need to get rid of Colonel Moammar Gaddafi, but Obama will not get rid of him.
I thought of that the next morning when I read of our shillyshallying President’s rationale for establishing a no-fly zone in Libya without the support of Congress. He said he would work to remove Colonel Gaddafi from power in concert with our allies. He would not use force but rather political and financial power. Well, what if that is not enough? Obama has enraged a dangerous man armed with an arsenal of weaponry and he has barred himself from eliminating him. Is that wise?
“The burden of action should not be America’s alone,” he said. “Our task is instead to mobilize the international community for collective action, because contrary to the claims of some, American leadership is not simply a matter of going it alone.” Well, what if the international community will not be mobilized? In fact, what if there is no international community? What then? Well, America will apparently dither.
Gaddafi has forced one truth out in the open for which we should be grateful. The world community is nonexistent. The world of nations and of peoples shares no values, certainly no values that are difficult to enforce. All the world likes blue skies and sunny days, but who can doubt that out there in the world there exist grumpy people who do not like blue skies and sunny days.
The other day President Obama said, “If we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city nearly the size of Charlotte, could have suffered a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.” I for one have been watching the uprisings along the coast of North Africa and in the Arab world and I am very clear there is no “conscience of the world.” It simply does not exist. There may be a conscience of the English-speaking world. It might extend to Europe and to some other advanced nations. Surely there are delicate souls, distinct minorities, elsewhere who are at least susceptible to that conscience, but that is about it.
The stories drifting out of Egypt about the military conducting “virginity checks” on women, raping them, and otherwise torturing demonstrators makes a nonsense of the conscience of the world. And remember the military in Egypt was supposed to be under the control of the good guys. There are also reports of rape and torture in Libya and other parts of the Arab world, to say nothing of massive repression. The brutes of Araby obviously are not partaking of Obama’s world conscience.
Writing in the late 1940s, Max Ascoli, founder of the Reporter magazine and a leading liberal writer of the time, cautioned against mounting a policy based on an international longing for shared values. He claimed there were no world values and there was certainly no world conscience. Rather there are many cultures. Some are enlightened and humane. Others are primitive. Our President disdains American exceptionalism in pursuit of values and consciences that do not exist. I shall take my stand with Max; American values are best and occasionally they are worth fighting for. We need leaders who have such modest expectations.