Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 30, 2009

The Operational Significance of “Never Again”

Abe Greenwald, J. E. Dyer, Michael Ledeen and Scott Johnson have all posted important critiques of President Obama’s address last week at the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda — each of them going beyond its eloquence to examine some troubling concepts and regrettable omissions.

I want to add — using some borrowed eloquence — a point about a particularly unfortunate aspect of the address:  Obama’s definition of “never again.”

Before defining it, the President told the audience that “never again” should be a “call to action,” not “merely an aspiration.”  But his own call to action was only an aspirational admonition.  After noting that Protestant and Catholic children now go to school together in Northern Ireland, that Hutus and Tutsis live side-by-side “forgiving neighbors who have done the unforgivable,” and that people in 25 countries have “united in common cause” with those suffering in Darfur, the President concluded as follows:

[O]ur fellow citizens of the world [have shown] us how to make the journey from oppression to survival, from witness to resistance and ultimately to reconciliation. That is what we mean when we say “never again.”

The journey to reconciliation is an admirable aspiration, and sometimes an achievable accomplishment, but it is not what we mean when we say “never again.”

The phrase has operational rather than aspirational significance, and it was captured in the remarks at the ceremony of Joel M. Geiderman, Vice Chairman of the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Council, who compared the failure to confront Hitler’s threats in the past to the danger of ignoring equally plain threats in the present, and then eloquently said this:

So, as I did last year, in the name of the victims [of the Holocaust], I call on the assembled leaders and the rest of the world to assure that no country that threatens such destruction will ever obtain the means to achieve it. Nuclear weapons in the hands of aggressor fanatics cannot be allowed. By my articulating these words to you in this building, in this great hall of freedom, I am reminding all of you that what we do and don’t do matters and will be remembered. It would be far too easy to light twelve candles for twelve million murdered rather than six candles for six million. The harder work is to make sure that that does not happen. No more candles. Not anywhere. Never again.

“Never again” is not something our fellow citizens of the world have shown us how to do, nor is reconciliation an effective remedy for a gathering storm.  The phrase is a commitment to stop genocide before it occurs, not to commend reconciliation afterwards.

Abe Greenwald, J. E. Dyer, Michael Ledeen and Scott Johnson have all posted important critiques of President Obama’s address last week at the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda — each of them going beyond its eloquence to examine some troubling concepts and regrettable omissions.

I want to add — using some borrowed eloquence — a point about a particularly unfortunate aspect of the address:  Obama’s definition of “never again.”

Before defining it, the President told the audience that “never again” should be a “call to action,” not “merely an aspiration.”  But his own call to action was only an aspirational admonition.  After noting that Protestant and Catholic children now go to school together in Northern Ireland, that Hutus and Tutsis live side-by-side “forgiving neighbors who have done the unforgivable,” and that people in 25 countries have “united in common cause” with those suffering in Darfur, the President concluded as follows:

[O]ur fellow citizens of the world [have shown] us how to make the journey from oppression to survival, from witness to resistance and ultimately to reconciliation. That is what we mean when we say “never again.”

The journey to reconciliation is an admirable aspiration, and sometimes an achievable accomplishment, but it is not what we mean when we say “never again.”

The phrase has operational rather than aspirational significance, and it was captured in the remarks at the ceremony of Joel M. Geiderman, Vice Chairman of the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Council, who compared the failure to confront Hitler’s threats in the past to the danger of ignoring equally plain threats in the present, and then eloquently said this:

So, as I did last year, in the name of the victims [of the Holocaust], I call on the assembled leaders and the rest of the world to assure that no country that threatens such destruction will ever obtain the means to achieve it. Nuclear weapons in the hands of aggressor fanatics cannot be allowed. By my articulating these words to you in this building, in this great hall of freedom, I am reminding all of you that what we do and don’t do matters and will be remembered. It would be far too easy to light twelve candles for twelve million murdered rather than six candles for six million. The harder work is to make sure that that does not happen. No more candles. Not anywhere. Never again.

“Never again” is not something our fellow citizens of the world have shown us how to do, nor is reconciliation an effective remedy for a gathering storm.  The phrase is a commitment to stop genocide before it occurs, not to commend reconciliation afterwards.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Michael Goldfarb provides a fine summation of where we stand: “Obama wants credit for closing Gitmo even though there’s only one less prisoner there than when he was inaugurated and his administration has no good answer for what to do with the rest. Obama wants credit for his handling of the economy even though the economy contracted at a worse than expected 6.1% in the first quarter of this year. Obama wants credit for rejecting the false choice between our security and our ideals even though you only get credit for that if your policies keep the American people safe.”

The Washington Post editors blast the Obama administration for sweet-talking Hugo Chavez while ignoring his appalling persecution of political opponents, including Manual Rosales who fled to Peru. (“Peru’s democratic government is to be congratulated for its decision to offer Mr. Rosales asylum. It is shameful that the Obama administration won’t say so.”) But isn’t the same criticism equally applicable to the Obama policy toward Iran and North Korea?

And Marty Peretz has had enough of Hillary Clinton’s obtuseness on Hezbollah, declaring that even “Ban Ki-moon, a more or less consistent United Nations bureaucratic coward” is more savvy on the subject.

Ed Whelan is racking up the retractions (getting not giving them!) from those who baselessly accuse him of supporting torture or torture “enablers.” If anything is clear on this subject it is that the Left has only a passing familiarity with the facts — from who the involved participants were to the number of incidents to what the Geneva Convention requires to the information which was obtained from interrogation.

Could be must-see TV: “Former CWA Local 1034 President Carla Katz, who was once Gov. Jon Corzine’s girlfriend, has called a statehouse news conference for Thursday afternoon.  Katz has declined to disclose the topic of her presser.”

A group of Republicans have figured out how dysfunctional the RNC is and are starting their own operation (National Council for a New America) – to talk policy and sell the party around the country. And there’s a new strategic operation (Resurgent Republic), too.

The Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary heats up. (I’m not sure what Terry McAuliffe is saying, but he sure is loud.)It really heats up.

Now Nancy Pelosi isn’t so keen on the “truth”: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been pushing for a ‘truth commission’ to investigate the CIA’s use of ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques like waterboarding – until Republicans started shining the spotlight on Pelosi herself. Now she is not so adamant.Spokesman Brendan Daly told me that Pelosi wants a truth commission, ‘but she still realizes the political reality’ – as in the opposition of President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The rest of the reality may well be this: Pelosi knew that White House lawyers had sanctioned waterboarding in 2002 – and did not protest.”

I don’t often say this (okay, never before), but Chris Matthews is right: “And I think they are going to find it very hard to believe that a guy, a politician, was loyal to a political party for a half a century, that gave him elective office time after time after time, supported him, raised money for him, voted for him, believed in him. And then just like that, when he sees a better opportunity, he splits to the other side. You’ve got to wonder about a guy’s character who does that, I think.” Well, I suppose Pennsylvania voters will tell us how understanding they are.

And David Broder echoes that sentiment: “But much as Specter’s decision reflects an increasingly serious weakness in the Republican Party, there is no escaping the fact that it is also an opportunistic move by one of the most opportunistic politicians of modern times. The one consistency in the history of Arlen Specter has been his willingness to do whatever will best protect and advance the career of Arlen Specter.”

Governor Rendell tells (warns?) Democrats Specter will disappoint them. And so they should pick him in the primary? This is getting weird. But not as weird as Senate Republicans hanging George Bush and Rick Santorum around Specter’s neck.

And Senate Democrats are peeved at Harry Reid’s deal to let Specter’s Republican tenure count toward seniority. It seems they may not recognize the deal. It may be that some Democratic Senate challengers adopt the same attitude.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary blogs in favor of Roxana Saberi’s release.

A sign of the times: “Starbucks late Wednesday reported its quarterly profit fell 77% from a year ago, hurt by hefty charges to close stores, and said sales were clipped by a decline in the number of customer transactions. . . . Much to his chagrin, CEO Howard Schultz has said Starbucks has become the ‘poster child for excess’ and he wants to shake that image.” Yeah, $4 lattes are so 2007.

Good question: “The Obama Administration insists that it doesn’t want to nationalize the auto industry (or the banks, or the mortgage market, or . . .). But if that’s true, why has it proposed a restructuring plan for General Motors that leaves the government with a majority stake in the car maker?” The worst is yet to come: “This inevitably means running them for the benefit of the UAW that is so closely tied to the Democratic Party. Next up will be tax changes and regulations intended to coax, or coerce, Americans to buy Gettelfinger Motors cars. This tale of taxpayer woe is only beginning.”

Michael Goldfarb provides a fine summation of where we stand: “Obama wants credit for closing Gitmo even though there’s only one less prisoner there than when he was inaugurated and his administration has no good answer for what to do with the rest. Obama wants credit for his handling of the economy even though the economy contracted at a worse than expected 6.1% in the first quarter of this year. Obama wants credit for rejecting the false choice between our security and our ideals even though you only get credit for that if your policies keep the American people safe.”

The Washington Post editors blast the Obama administration for sweet-talking Hugo Chavez while ignoring his appalling persecution of political opponents, including Manual Rosales who fled to Peru. (“Peru’s democratic government is to be congratulated for its decision to offer Mr. Rosales asylum. It is shameful that the Obama administration won’t say so.”) But isn’t the same criticism equally applicable to the Obama policy toward Iran and North Korea?

And Marty Peretz has had enough of Hillary Clinton’s obtuseness on Hezbollah, declaring that even “Ban Ki-moon, a more or less consistent United Nations bureaucratic coward” is more savvy on the subject.

Ed Whelan is racking up the retractions (getting not giving them!) from those who baselessly accuse him of supporting torture or torture “enablers.” If anything is clear on this subject it is that the Left has only a passing familiarity with the facts — from who the involved participants were to the number of incidents to what the Geneva Convention requires to the information which was obtained from interrogation.

Could be must-see TV: “Former CWA Local 1034 President Carla Katz, who was once Gov. Jon Corzine’s girlfriend, has called a statehouse news conference for Thursday afternoon.  Katz has declined to disclose the topic of her presser.”

A group of Republicans have figured out how dysfunctional the RNC is and are starting their own operation (National Council for a New America) – to talk policy and sell the party around the country. And there’s a new strategic operation (Resurgent Republic), too.

The Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary heats up. (I’m not sure what Terry McAuliffe is saying, but he sure is loud.)It really heats up.

Now Nancy Pelosi isn’t so keen on the “truth”: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been pushing for a ‘truth commission’ to investigate the CIA’s use of ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques like waterboarding – until Republicans started shining the spotlight on Pelosi herself. Now she is not so adamant.Spokesman Brendan Daly told me that Pelosi wants a truth commission, ‘but she still realizes the political reality’ – as in the opposition of President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The rest of the reality may well be this: Pelosi knew that White House lawyers had sanctioned waterboarding in 2002 – and did not protest.”

I don’t often say this (okay, never before), but Chris Matthews is right: “And I think they are going to find it very hard to believe that a guy, a politician, was loyal to a political party for a half a century, that gave him elective office time after time after time, supported him, raised money for him, voted for him, believed in him. And then just like that, when he sees a better opportunity, he splits to the other side. You’ve got to wonder about a guy’s character who does that, I think.” Well, I suppose Pennsylvania voters will tell us how understanding they are.

And David Broder echoes that sentiment: “But much as Specter’s decision reflects an increasingly serious weakness in the Republican Party, there is no escaping the fact that it is also an opportunistic move by one of the most opportunistic politicians of modern times. The one consistency in the history of Arlen Specter has been his willingness to do whatever will best protect and advance the career of Arlen Specter.”

Governor Rendell tells (warns?) Democrats Specter will disappoint them. And so they should pick him in the primary? This is getting weird. But not as weird as Senate Republicans hanging George Bush and Rick Santorum around Specter’s neck.

And Senate Democrats are peeved at Harry Reid’s deal to let Specter’s Republican tenure count toward seniority. It seems they may not recognize the deal. It may be that some Democratic Senate challengers adopt the same attitude.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary blogs in favor of Roxana Saberi’s release.

A sign of the times: “Starbucks late Wednesday reported its quarterly profit fell 77% from a year ago, hurt by hefty charges to close stores, and said sales were clipped by a decline in the number of customer transactions. . . . Much to his chagrin, CEO Howard Schultz has said Starbucks has become the ‘poster child for excess’ and he wants to shake that image.” Yeah, $4 lattes are so 2007.

Good question: “The Obama Administration insists that it doesn’t want to nationalize the auto industry (or the banks, or the mortgage market, or . . .). But if that’s true, why has it proposed a restructuring plan for General Motors that leaves the government with a majority stake in the car maker?” The worst is yet to come: “This inevitably means running them for the benefit of the UAW that is so closely tied to the Democratic Party. Next up will be tax changes and regulations intended to coax, or coerce, Americans to buy Gettelfinger Motors cars. This tale of taxpayer woe is only beginning.”

Read Less




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