Monday, July 24, 2006

Morality Takes a Holiday

On a day when President Bush was vetoing the Stem Cell research bill because he said it “crosses a moral boundary,” and his press secretary, Tony Snow, said of the president’s rationale, “The simple answer is he thinks murder is wrong,” Snow also trumpeted the administration’s 2001 “compromise” (that allowed for some federally funded research on a small number of existing stem cell lines). Snow also pointed out that Bush’s veto did not make this research illegal, and, as ABC's Jake Tapper reported on NPR’s On the Media, the White House press office issued releases claiming that Bush had done more to forward the progress of stem cell research than any other president.

To paraphrase Tapper, you can make the “morally defensible” point that you think any destruction of fertilized human eggs is wrong, is murder, but then you can’t also claim that you are a champion of stem cell research. (i.e. Murder is wrong, but this president has done more for murder than any other president—more, of a sort, on that later.) The OTM piece also alludes to what so many other people have pointed out: specifically, that almost all of the IVF embryos that are not implanted are slated for the medical waste bin. . . a fate the administration has yet to differentiate from their “murder” rap.

But the Stem Cell conundrum is penny ante stuff, really, because the same administration that thinks rescuing donated blastocysts from the trash heap is murder thinks that the indiscriminant bombings of Lebanese and Israeli civilians are the “birth pangs of a new Middle East.”

That vile quote (and I do think it completely vile, to the point where I can’t believe the press corps did not hiss and spit) came last week from the mouth of the United States’ supposed chief diplomat, Condoleezza Rice, during a press conference where she attempted to justify America’s hands-off approach to the escalating crisis surrounding Israel and its neighbors (hands-off diplomatically, that is, since the Pentagon is complying with Israel’s request for expedited delivery of precision-guided munitions, possibly including “bunker-busters”). And while the hypocrisy of a White House that regards the death and displacement of living, breathing humans as just so many “birth pangs,” while defining scientific research on soon to be discarded frozen embryos as “murder,” is more than enough irony to last an entire election cycle, the dishonesty and ignorance in such statements forecast missteps could last for generations.

I will set aside the possible but still far off chance that stem cell research could someday provide some kind of help for those injured in armed conflicts, and instead focus on the reportedly educated Secretary of State and her utter inability or refusal to comprehend her job description.

The idea advanced by Rice that we can’t have a ceasefire just now because we’ll be forced to revisit the Israel-Hezbollah issue in the near future demonstrates that the head of the US diplomatic corps has zero understanding of what diplomacy actually is.

You don’t wait until after one side has achieved some sort of tactical or strategic advantage to call for a ceasefire—that’s called “victory” (or “surrender,” depending on your point of view)—you call for a ceasefire in order to stop the hot war, stop the killing, and let diplomats negotiate a solution that makes sense for all parties in the conflict. Civilized cultures talk because imposing one’s will through force is always a poor second choice. Enlightened peoples negotiate because killing fellow human beings, accidentally or purposefully, is morally odious. Mature nations rely on their diplomats because it’s preferable to relying on your soldiers—economically and strategically.

Diplomacy isn’t some box to be checked on your way to unilateral action any more than a ceasefire is a final settlement. That the US can’t grasp that you call for a ceasefire and negotiations shows either a complete ignorance of the way diplomacy works, or a complete disdain for the process.

Disdain is more likely, of course. For even where the Bush Administration lacks moral clarity, they are never less than completely certain that they, and only they, know what is right and true. If you posses such a certainty, then negotiations, discussions, inquiry, curiosity, and even, yes, research are, in the end, unacceptable, inconceivable, and, one might even say, immoral.

Of course, the hubris of such moral certitude is a moral failing all on its own. But that sort of “intellectual” argument is precisely the kind of thinking that keeps you from seeing the world as “simple,” that keeps you from seeing yourself as always good, and your detractors as always evil, that keeps you from seeing actors in the Middle East as friends, or as enemies, and that keeps you from seeing the use of unimplanted embryos as anything but murder. . . except when it isn’t.

Instant Update: While I’m reading this over, I hear that Secretary Rice now sees an "urgent" need for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hezbollah conflict. Is this because the US now understands it is the “moral” thing to do? Or is it because, as has been reported over the weekend, the war isn’t going so well for the Israelis? One need only note the change in Israel’s rhetoric (from “destroying Hezbollah,” to “crippling Hezbollah,” to establishing a situation on the ground that makes it difficult for Hezbollah to accurately launch missiles into Israel) to understand that Israel’s reportedly long-planned Operation Midwife is not going according to plan. So, maybe, it is now to the strategic or tactical advantage of Israel (and the US?) to take a "time out."

Thus Rice and the government she represents prove not to be moral actors after all—which is probably the point I wanted to make all along. This is realpolitik in morality’s clothing—though using an “intellectual” term like realpolitik is again probably giving this White House too much credit.

For realpolitik implies practicality, and while the Bush Administration is big on the politics, they continue to have trouble with the real—and (if you care about the future) their actions continue to be anything but practical.

Later Update: I should know to wait. The urgency that Rice saw this morning hasn’t actually translated into any actual policy change in terms of, you know, action. Maybe it’s because a ceasefire will just mess with the Rapture.

(Cross-posted over at Daily Kos.)


Blogger guy2k said...

Or maybe Rice's new "clarity" has something to do with average gas prices topping $3.00 this weekend, or maybe her eyes were opened by her friends from the House of Saud ( . . the world is full of "moral" rationales.

8:09 AM  

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