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Posts For: March 4, 2013

Barack Obama’s Defective Public Character

Sequestration, for all its problems–and I consider it to be an abdication of responsible governance–is helpful at least to this extent: it captures, in a single, still-unfolding act the problematic character of the president.

To understand why, let’s update our effort to follow the bouncing Obama ball. Here’s some of what we know.

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Sequestration, for all its problems–and I consider it to be an abdication of responsible governance–is helpful at least to this extent: it captures, in a single, still-unfolding act the problematic character of the president.

To understand why, let’s update our effort to follow the bouncing Obama ball. Here’s some of what we know.

(a) The president and his administration are responsible for the sequestration idea. (b) Before that fact became widely known, Mr. Obama misled Americans of that fact in a debate with Mitt Romney–and his aides did the same thing in the aftermath of the debate. (c) Thanks to Bob Woodward’s The Price of Politics, the White House has now been forced to admit that, as top White House adviser Gene Sperling put it on Sunday, “Yes, we put forward the design of how to do that [implement sequestration].” (d) Over the last several weeks, the president vilified sequestration as a brutal, savage, and inhumane idea. (e) At a press conference last Friday, when sequestration cuts began and the world as we know it did not end, the president began to moonwalk away from his scorching rhetoric, saying, “Just to make the final point about the sequester, we will get through this. This is not going to be an apocalypse, I think, as some people have said.” (f) Since the sequestration idea was first signed into law by President Obama in 2011, House Republicans have twice passed legislation to make the cuts more reasonable–and Democrats have refused to act on it. (g) In the last week, Republicans have tried to give the president greater authority to make more reasonable cuts–but he has refused it, allowing unnecessary pain to be inflicted on Americans in order to blame Republicans.

To summarize, then: The president has spoken in the harshest possible terms about an idea he and his White House originated and signed into law. He has used apocalyptic language leading up to the sequestration–and then, as the sequestration cuts began, lectured us that “this is not going to be an apocalypse” as “some people have said.” And Mr. Obama has warned about the devastating nature of the cuts even as he has opposed efforts to make the cuts less devastating.

That’s quite a hat trick.

Will the president pay a political price for this fairly remarkable (and empirically demonstrable) record of dishonesty, inconsistency, and hypocrisy, to say nothing of inflicting unnecessary pain on the country he was elected to serve? I would think so, but I really don’t know.

What I do know is that the sequestration fight has once again shown us that Barack Obama has a defective public character and a post-modern attitude toward truth. He simply makes things up as he goes along. It looks to me that there are few things he will not do, and fewer things he will not say, in order to undermine his opponents and advance his progressive cause. That is something that is deeply injurious to American politics and America itself.

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The Military and the Monument Syndrome

Over the course of the past weeks as we’ve covered the sequester crisis, I have agreed with Max Boot that the impact of the sequester on the military is especially regrettable. After years of cuts it has suffered at the hands of the Obama administration, and with threats to our security around the globe getting more serious, this is no time to try to fund national defense on the cheap. But I part company with Max when he insists that the manner with which the unfortunate sequester cuts are being implemented cannot be questioned.

In his most recent post on the subject, Max takes George Will to task for voicing suspicions that the U.S. Navy’s decision to keep a second aircraft carrier at home rather than deploy it to the Persian Gulf as part of the cutbacks is just another attempt to hype hysteria about the sequester. I’d rather the Navy not be forced to cut a dime, but I share Will’s doubts that there was no better way to trim expenses than to keep the USS Harry S. Truman in port or to stop pilot training. Like the threats being voiced last week by various Cabinet secretaries about the impending sequestration apocalypse that don’t seem to have materialized, the Truman’s extended shore leave seems to me to be a classic case of the military employing its own version of the Washington Monument syndrome.

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Over the course of the past weeks as we’ve covered the sequester crisis, I have agreed with Max Boot that the impact of the sequester on the military is especially regrettable. After years of cuts it has suffered at the hands of the Obama administration, and with threats to our security around the globe getting more serious, this is no time to try to fund national defense on the cheap. But I part company with Max when he insists that the manner with which the unfortunate sequester cuts are being implemented cannot be questioned.

In his most recent post on the subject, Max takes George Will to task for voicing suspicions that the U.S. Navy’s decision to keep a second aircraft carrier at home rather than deploy it to the Persian Gulf as part of the cutbacks is just another attempt to hype hysteria about the sequester. I’d rather the Navy not be forced to cut a dime, but I share Will’s doubts that there was no better way to trim expenses than to keep the USS Harry S. Truman in port or to stop pilot training. Like the threats being voiced last week by various Cabinet secretaries about the impending sequestration apocalypse that don’t seem to have materialized, the Truman’s extended shore leave seems to me to be a classic case of the military employing its own version of the Washington Monument syndrome.

Max says Will is wrong to imply that our admirals would do such a thing without proof. Maybe he’s right, but I’d bet most Americans aren’t willing to salute the brass hats or their political masters on this call.

This sort of budgetary trick is called the Washington Monument syndrome because it calls for any government agency that is forced to cut expenses to eliminate spending that is most visible rather than that which is most superfluous. Thus, if you are a government bureaucrat who must stop spending on something, you choose to shutter the Monument or Mount Rushmore or lay off firemen rather than fire clerks or stop spending on other non-essential projects because those kinds of cuts are far more visible and therefore more likely to create pressure on politicians to restore funding.

In the case of the Navy, I’m sure that any cuts it had to implement would hurt our security and/or make the job that our brave sailors and marines have to do that much harder. But it is difficult to view a decision to thin out our forces in Persian Gulf at a time when the need to deter Iran is growing as anything more than a naval Washington Monument.

I share Max’s respect for our military, but asking us to believe that its leaders are above stunts to increase funding or to avert cuts is not merely naïve, it requires us to ignore much of the history of our armed services. Generals and admirals, as well as the Pentagon’s civilian leadership, may be entitled to more deference on some issues than those in charge of less heroic endeavors, but they are just as capable of orchestrating events to highlight what they believe are their needs as any other part of the government. And when they do things like cancel troop and naval deployments and vital training in order to make a point about the sequester, I think it is up to them to prove to us that there was no alternative to such dangerous decisions rather than for skeptics to prove the opposite.

It would be better if the White House had never thought up the sequester and the Congress had not agreed to it. But as much as the armed services are a victim of Washington’s dysfunctional political culture, there is no escaping the conclusion that much of what we have heard about the impact of the sequester is overblown. If they want us to believe that the Defense Department is not as guilty of trying to manipulate the crisis as the Department of Transportation, they’re going to have to do better than merely pull rank on people like George Will.

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No Alternative to Appeasing Morsi?

I wrote earlier today about the way Vice President Biden seemed to take the United States half a step closer to an eventual confrontation with Iran in his speech to the annual AIPAC conference. Also noteworthy was the absence of any criticism of Israel’s presence in the West Bank or settlements. Biden extolled the two-state solution for the conflict with the Palestinians, but as has been the case with the Obama administration since the start of the 2012 presidential campaign, there was an effort to steer clear of any real argument with Israel and its supporters on the peace process. But as much as Biden seemed anxious to agree with the pro-Israel community on a host of issues, such as isolating Hezbollah and treating it as a terrorist organization, there was one point of real disagreement with many of the Jewish state’s supporters.

While surveying the Middle East and denouncing threats to Israel, Biden insisted that the Obama administration’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt was not the mistake that many critics have claimed:

We’re not looking at what’s happening in Egypt through rose-colored glasses. Again, our eyes are wide open. We have no illusions about the challenges that we face, but we also know this: There’s no legitimate alternative at this point to engagement.

Only through engagement — it’s only through engagement with Egypt that we can focus Egypt’s leaders on the need to repair international obligations — respect their international obligations, including and especially its peace treaty with Israel. It’s only through active engagement that we can help ensure that Hamas does not re-arm through the Sinai and put the people of Israel at risk. It’s only through engagement that we can concentrate Egypt’s government on the imperative of confronting the extremists. And it’s only through engagement that we can encourage Egypt’s leaders to make reforms that will spark economic growth and stabilize the democratic process. And it’s all tough, and there’s no certainty.

While the concerns that Biden raises about the possibility that the Morsi government will break the treaty with Israel are real, his insistence that there are no alternatives to coddling the Brotherhood with arms sales and a virtual blank check to continue its quest for total power in Egypt is wrong. So, too, is his belief that making nice with the Islamists is altering their behavior.

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I wrote earlier today about the way Vice President Biden seemed to take the United States half a step closer to an eventual confrontation with Iran in his speech to the annual AIPAC conference. Also noteworthy was the absence of any criticism of Israel’s presence in the West Bank or settlements. Biden extolled the two-state solution for the conflict with the Palestinians, but as has been the case with the Obama administration since the start of the 2012 presidential campaign, there was an effort to steer clear of any real argument with Israel and its supporters on the peace process. But as much as Biden seemed anxious to agree with the pro-Israel community on a host of issues, such as isolating Hezbollah and treating it as a terrorist organization, there was one point of real disagreement with many of the Jewish state’s supporters.

While surveying the Middle East and denouncing threats to Israel, Biden insisted that the Obama administration’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt was not the mistake that many critics have claimed:

We’re not looking at what’s happening in Egypt through rose-colored glasses. Again, our eyes are wide open. We have no illusions about the challenges that we face, but we also know this: There’s no legitimate alternative at this point to engagement.

Only through engagement — it’s only through engagement with Egypt that we can focus Egypt’s leaders on the need to repair international obligations — respect their international obligations, including and especially its peace treaty with Israel. It’s only through active engagement that we can help ensure that Hamas does not re-arm through the Sinai and put the people of Israel at risk. It’s only through engagement that we can concentrate Egypt’s government on the imperative of confronting the extremists. And it’s only through engagement that we can encourage Egypt’s leaders to make reforms that will spark economic growth and stabilize the democratic process. And it’s all tough, and there’s no certainty.

While the concerns that Biden raises about the possibility that the Morsi government will break the treaty with Israel are real, his insistence that there are no alternatives to coddling the Brotherhood with arms sales and a virtual blank check to continue its quest for total power in Egypt is wrong. So, too, is his belief that making nice with the Islamists is altering their behavior.

I have always thought those who blamed the Obama administration for the fall of the Mubarak regime were giving it too much credit. Mubarak was on his way out no matter what Washington did. But the administration does bear a good deal of the blame for the way that the Brotherhood has risen to power since then. The president had no scruples about using the leverage provided by the more than $1 billion in U.S. aid that Egypt gets annually to force the army to accede to a Brotherhood government. But when offered the opportunity to use that same influence to stop the Brotherhood from seeking to eliminate any checks on that power from either the judiciary or the military, he has refused to do so.

Without a demonstrated willingness to cut off aid to the Morsi government or to cancel arms shipments, the engagement policy that Biden defended is just talk–and the Brotherhood has shown in the last year it considers American talk to be very cheap indeed.

The notion that Morsi can be encouraged to confront “extremists,” as Biden claims, is itself an absurdity. While there are groups that are even more extreme than Morsi and the Brotherhood, they are extreme enough to present a clear threat not only to secular Egyptians but also to regional stability and American interests. It’s all well and good for Biden to say that the administration isn’t wearing rose-colored glasses, but a policy that is based on the notion that the Brotherhood is a moderate organization or that it can be trusted not to impose Sharia-style law on Egyptian society or to move away from a cold yet working relationship with Israel is the one that is not realistic.

Those Egyptians, including the non-Islamists in the military, are waiting for America to show some sign that it is not willing to continue subsidizing the Brotherhood. If Morsi has not already broken the treaty with Israel, it is not because of Obama’s engagement but because he knows a return to war or warlike conditions is unsustainable given his country’s weakness. But the longer he stays in power with America’s approval, the more likely it is that he will grow bolder and the result will be bad for Egyptians and the United States.

The rabid anti-Semite at the head of the Cairo government isn’t interested in the administration’s concerns. So long as the money keeps coming and the U.S. is not actively seeking to encourage the opposition to the Islamist movement, they know they have nothing to fear. Obama’s engagement with Morsi is no more likely to succeed than the similarly named policy he tried with the Islamist leaders of Iran.

While the vice president tried to portray the current policy toward Egypt as pragmatic, it is actually a path to further problems and violence. Time is running out for the U.S. to start trying to remedy a situation in Cairo that is rapidly moving past the point of no return. Any more American engagement with Morsi will put an end to any hope for progress in Egypt or for retrieving the U.S. influence that Obama has already lost.

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Sequestration Impact on Military Isn’t “Synthetic Hysteria”

Washington pundits–especially of the conservative stripe–continue to insist, as George Will wrote in a recent column, that all the talk of the disastrous impact of sequestration is “synthetic hysteria.” If only.

Actually, we are already seeing severe consequences for our military readiness even though the full brunt of the cuts has not yet taken effect–many will not be implemented for another month or more. But already the Navy has announced that in addition to canceling the deployment of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group to the Persian Gulf (which Will denounced, based on no actual evidence, as part of a “crude, obvious and shameful” campaign by the Navy “to pressure Congress into unraveling the sequester”), it will have to cancel eight other ship movements and ground four air wings.

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Washington pundits–especially of the conservative stripe–continue to insist, as George Will wrote in a recent column, that all the talk of the disastrous impact of sequestration is “synthetic hysteria.” If only.

Actually, we are already seeing severe consequences for our military readiness even though the full brunt of the cuts has not yet taken effect–many will not be implemented for another month or more. But already the Navy has announced that in addition to canceling the deployment of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group to the Persian Gulf (which Will denounced, based on no actual evidence, as part of a “crude, obvious and shameful” campaign by the Navy “to pressure Congress into unraveling the sequester”), it will have to cancel eight other ship movements and ground four air wings.

Two more air wings will be operating at minimum safe flying levels–i.e., flying fewer hours than judged necessary to maintain a high state of warfighting readiness. Military Times reports: “Basic flight training for pilot and flight officer trainees will halt in March.” Since the Navy only has nine active carrier air wings, this means that it has effectively lost nearly half of its aerial strike power.

There is still time to restore the combat effectiveness of the Navy and the other services, but that will require a recognition on the part of both Republicans and Democrats that a crisis is at hand. At the moment, however, most of the power brokers in Washington appear to be in denial mode, which means that our armed forces will pay a heavy price for partisan gridlock.

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Is Iran Listening to Biden’s Threat?

The Obama administration may now have among its members a secretary of defense who can’t get its position on containment of a nuclear Iran straight. But the administration continues to lay down markers on its commitment to stopping Tehran’s nuclear ambitions as if Chuck Hagel’s nomination was an aberration, rather than a signal that is being interpreted in Iran to mean that it need not worry about President Obama’s threats. Vice President Biden’s speech at the annual AIPAC conference today in Washington contained more pledges that the president wasn’t bluffing on Iran. While nothing Biden said, let alone the utterances of the president on this subject, guarantees that the U.S. will ever act to stop Iran, the accumulation of their rhetoric is going to make it even harder for them to back away from their promises.

The vice president arguably went even further than the statement President Obama made at last year’s AIPAC conference when he specifically disavowed containment as an option. While Biden’s typically long-winded and meandering speech contained some highly questionable statements, such as his defense of engagement with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government, his remarks also took the administration another step down the road to confrontation with Iran. Instead of merely alluding to the use of force by saying that all options were on the table, he made the case that the current futile diplomatic process with Tehran was defensible because it gave the administration the ability to tell the world that it had done everything possible to avoid conflict before resorting to force.

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The Obama administration may now have among its members a secretary of defense who can’t get its position on containment of a nuclear Iran straight. But the administration continues to lay down markers on its commitment to stopping Tehran’s nuclear ambitions as if Chuck Hagel’s nomination was an aberration, rather than a signal that is being interpreted in Iran to mean that it need not worry about President Obama’s threats. Vice President Biden’s speech at the annual AIPAC conference today in Washington contained more pledges that the president wasn’t bluffing on Iran. While nothing Biden said, let alone the utterances of the president on this subject, guarantees that the U.S. will ever act to stop Iran, the accumulation of their rhetoric is going to make it even harder for them to back away from their promises.

The vice president arguably went even further than the statement President Obama made at last year’s AIPAC conference when he specifically disavowed containment as an option. While Biden’s typically long-winded and meandering speech contained some highly questionable statements, such as his defense of engagement with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government, his remarks also took the administration another step down the road to confrontation with Iran. Instead of merely alluding to the use of force by saying that all options were on the table, he made the case that the current futile diplomatic process with Tehran was defensible because it gave the administration the ability to tell the world that it had done everything possible to avoid conflict before resorting to force.

The “if we will be forced to use force” phrasing can, of course, be represented as an empty promise or just a cheap political point being made on the eve of the president’s trip to Israel. The U.S. decision to go along with the West’s decision to make concessions to Iran at the most recent P5+1 talks last week is hardly indicative of strength or resolve. Yet by spelling out a scenario in which, as the vice president said, “God forbid” the Iranians don’t give in on their nuclear ambition, the administration has raised the possibility of using force against Iran from the purely speculative to a rational scenario.

Hagel’s confirmation places a man who was an opponent of sanctions–let alone the use of force–against Iran in a position as a senior advisor to the president. That may have encouraged the Iranians to think that Obama doesn’t mean what he says about never allowing them to gain nuclear capability. But by sketching out a scenario in which four years of feckless engagement and a reliance on failed diplomacy and often unenforced sanctions was justified as a necessary preliminary to a last resort attack on Iran, Biden has turned up the heat on the Iranians and laid the foundation for public support for another Middle East conflict. If, as the New York Times reports today, Biden is going to play an outsized role in foreign policy during the president’s second term, his AIPAC speech may be looked back on as a moment when that claim was validated.

It is certainly possible to doubt Obama’s word–or Biden’s–on this subject. The Iranians may wise up and accept a weak offer from the P5+1 group that will defuse the crisis and allow them to eventually go nuclear anyway in the same manner that their North Korean allies did after signing nuclear agreements with the West. But if they continue, as they have for the last decade, counting on their ability to run out the clock with the U.S. via diplomatic delays and deceptions, Biden offered some hope that this administration might actually be considering taking action to end this farce before an inevitable announcement of an Iranian bomb. It must be hoped that Tehran was listening and drawing the appropriate conclusions about the need to abandon their nuclear gambit before American threats become reality.

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Hey Kerry, Still Optimistic About Iran Talks?

If President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry were still optimistic about the latest round of talks, the comments of Iranian Atomic Energy Organization head Fereydoun Abbasi should disabuse them of that notion.

Speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Isfahan, according to a news compilation circulated by U.S. diplomats in the region, Abbasi said that Iran would announce further “achievements” at the next round of talks, and that Iran would not accept any new restrictions:

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If President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry were still optimistic about the latest round of talks, the comments of Iranian Atomic Energy Organization head Fereydoun Abbasi should disabuse them of that notion.

Speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Isfahan, according to a news compilation circulated by U.S. diplomats in the region, Abbasi said that Iran would announce further “achievements” at the next round of talks, and that Iran would not accept any new restrictions:

“Iran has new achievements and matters, which it will announce in the future as a political support for the country in the nuclear talks… Iran wants the people’s rights in nuclear matters to be respected and that we not be asked to fulfill any other obligations than those which exist in signed treaties.”

In other words, Iran’s program keeps progressing, the incentives offered in Almaty have not brought increasing Iranian flexibility, and that Iran continues to ignore the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which found Tehran to be in non-compliance with its safeguards agreement, let alone several UN Security Council resolutions on the topic.

Offering incentives is neither wise nor sophisticated diplomacy if the other side is not anywhere near the zone of possible agreement. Rather, premature and unilateral incentives can actually be diplomatic malpractice because they retrench positions and make future dealings all the more difficult. Today, however, accountability seems to be as dirty a word in Foggy Bottom as it is in Tehran.

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Kamikaze Drones over the Strait of Hormuz

Like clockwork, every four months or so, one Iranian official or another will threaten to close the Strait of Hormuz. The Pentagon assumes that Iran would seek to carry out its threats with mines, and so has deployed extra mine-sweepers to the region. Certainly, the Iranian navy would not be a match for the U.S. Navy. Anti-ship missiles are another concern, but it is a safe bet that not only the Defense Intelligence Agency, but also the militaries and intelligence agencies of most regional states, keep an eye on Iranian mobile missile launchers.

The latest news from Iran—if true—should raise new concerns and could undercut U.S. strategy for keeping the waterway open.

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Like clockwork, every four months or so, one Iranian official or another will threaten to close the Strait of Hormuz. The Pentagon assumes that Iran would seek to carry out its threats with mines, and so has deployed extra mine-sweepers to the region. Certainly, the Iranian navy would not be a match for the U.S. Navy. Anti-ship missiles are another concern, but it is a safe bet that not only the Defense Intelligence Agency, but also the militaries and intelligence agencies of most regional states, keep an eye on Iranian mobile missile launchers.

The latest news from Iran—if true—should raise new concerns and could undercut U.S. strategy for keeping the waterway open.

While Tehran is prone to fantastic—and false—claims regarding its unmanned aerial vehicles, it is also true that it has made progress. Late last month, the Persian-language press reported successful tests of “suicide drones.” Such reports might be exaggerated, but it doesn’t take the most advanced technology to ram drones—perhaps packed with explosives—into ships (or helicopters, or other targets). If the U.S. Navy is assuming that Iranian mines pose the biggest problem for international shipping, the Iranians may have a surprise in store. It’s not 1988 anymore.

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Apologetics, Politics, and Our Moral Imagination

Michael Ward, Chaplain of St. Peter’s College, Oxford, has written a marvelous essay (which can be found in this collection) on the centrality of imagination in the apologetics of C.S. Lewis. Lewis’s friends J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson showed Lewis that Christian doctrine was subordinate to “narrative theology.” Doctrine is about translating concepts and ideas, which is vital; but the primary language of Christianity is a “lived language,” meaning incarnational. 

Reason and imagination, then, are essential–but Ward argues it was only through imagination that Lewis’s reason, and ultimately his will, were transformed. Of course Lewis himself engaged in apologetics through the works of imagination (most famously in The Chronicles of Narnia). One person commented on Lewis’s writings by saying this: “We think we are listening to an argument, in fact we are presented with a vision; and it is the vision that carries conviction.”

I mention all this because in a recent dinner conversation with friends, I observed that what is missing in our politics is the ability to touch people’s moral imagination. My point was that too often in politics, we present our case with facts and figures, with appeals to logic and abstract reasoning. These things are important, but they are not enough. It is in the nature of human beings that we are often moved less by the power of an argument than by the power of a story and a cause. “The heart has its reasons which reason knows not,” is how Pascal put it.

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Michael Ward, Chaplain of St. Peter’s College, Oxford, has written a marvelous essay (which can be found in this collection) on the centrality of imagination in the apologetics of C.S. Lewis. Lewis’s friends J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson showed Lewis that Christian doctrine was subordinate to “narrative theology.” Doctrine is about translating concepts and ideas, which is vital; but the primary language of Christianity is a “lived language,” meaning incarnational. 

Reason and imagination, then, are essential–but Ward argues it was only through imagination that Lewis’s reason, and ultimately his will, were transformed. Of course Lewis himself engaged in apologetics through the works of imagination (most famously in The Chronicles of Narnia). One person commented on Lewis’s writings by saying this: “We think we are listening to an argument, in fact we are presented with a vision; and it is the vision that carries conviction.”

I mention all this because in a recent dinner conversation with friends, I observed that what is missing in our politics is the ability to touch people’s moral imagination. My point was that too often in politics, we present our case with facts and figures, with appeals to logic and abstract reasoning. These things are important, but they are not enough. It is in the nature of human beings that we are often moved less by the power of an argument than by the power of a story and a cause. “The heart has its reasons which reason knows not,” is how Pascal put it.

The greatest political figures of the 19th and 20th centuries, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, understood something about this reality. They possessed remarkably impressive analytical minds–but they understood, too, the role of imagination in politics; that great statesmen have the capacity to present a compelling vision of a better world and can place a particular moment in time in the arc of a larger story. (Both Lincoln and Churchill were powerfully shaped by the King James Bible and Shakespeare.)

In his essay, Michael Ward points out that in C.S. Lewis’s last novel, Till We Have Faces, a character called the Fox, a rational teacher, comes to learn at the end of the story that mere reason is “glibness … a prattle of maxims … all thin and clear as water.” It was Lewis’s way of saying that reason was utterly inadequate when it comes to apprehending what he called “the richness and spirituality of real things.”

The most important things in life–beauty, grace, redemption, compassion, loyalty, love–are beyond the reach of reason. Which doesn’t make them any less real.

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Jihadists, Suicide, and Nuclear Weapons

Over at The Long War Journal, Lisa Lundquist examines the decision by Pakistani clerics to give religious sanction for suicide attacks. While her analysis focuses on what the Pakistani declaration means for Afghan attempts to outlaw religiously-motivated suicide attacks as part of the ongoing Afghan peace process, there are two larger points which she leaves unaddressed.

The first is pedantic, but necessary in an age when political correctness trumps reality. The Pakistani ulema council’s decision should end the nonsense quips that suicide bombing can’t be theologically-grounded, because Islam forbids suicide. The debate among Muslim theologians is actually more nuanced, and was well-covered in this Middle East Quarterly article. In short, the devil is in the details, because Koranic verse 2:154 declares, “Do not think that those who are killed in the way of God are dead, for indeed they are alive, even though you are not aware,” which means that a bystander’s assumption that the terrorist committed suicide because his head is lying on the street somewhere is wrong, since he went to paradise while still alive and therefore can’t be said to have killed himself.

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Over at The Long War Journal, Lisa Lundquist examines the decision by Pakistani clerics to give religious sanction for suicide attacks. While her analysis focuses on what the Pakistani declaration means for Afghan attempts to outlaw religiously-motivated suicide attacks as part of the ongoing Afghan peace process, there are two larger points which she leaves unaddressed.

The first is pedantic, but necessary in an age when political correctness trumps reality. The Pakistani ulema council’s decision should end the nonsense quips that suicide bombing can’t be theologically-grounded, because Islam forbids suicide. The debate among Muslim theologians is actually more nuanced, and was well-covered in this Middle East Quarterly article. In short, the devil is in the details, because Koranic verse 2:154 declares, “Do not think that those who are killed in the way of God are dead, for indeed they are alive, even though you are not aware,” which means that a bystander’s assumption that the terrorist committed suicide because his head is lying on the street somewhere is wrong, since he went to paradise while still alive and therefore can’t be said to have killed himself.

The second is more important. “Palestine is occupied by Israel, Kashmir by India, and Afghanistan by the US. So if the Muslims don’t have the atomic bomb, they should sacrifice their lives for God,” Lundquist cited Tahir Ashrafi, the head of the Pakistan Ulema Council, as declaring. This suggests that if Islamist powers or groups did have the atomic bomb, they would gladly use that against Israel, India, or the United States.

President Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel might live in the belief that it is the American projection of power that is the problem, and that radical Islamists are simply another breed of negotiating partners. To dismiss the desire of the most radical elements for the destruction of Western culture, however, would be a fateful mistake. Their failure to attack the United States is not the result of reticence or a desire for peace, but rather because they have not yet mastered the weaponry to do so.

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