“The moral high road to which we pretend to subscribe turns out to be something we live by on a highly selective basis.”
Wednesday, September 23, 2008
This is one of those pieces I almost didn’t write on the odd chance that someone who counts might actually read it and find my simple argument convincing.
I don’t like the government of Iran. I believe its leaders are reckless, dangerous people who pose a real threat to our friends, Israel in particular, in the region, to Western interests everywhere, and especially to the United States. I believe they have too little to lose, and way too much to gain from developing the technologies of terror. My fear is not so much that they would would use such weapons themselves, but that they might advertently or inadvertently disseminate their technology or the weapons themselves to others who would.
So on what basis do we, the United States, have the right to tell Iran that it can’t develop nuclear weapons? The obvious rationale would be that they represent a “clear and present danger” to our nation and its people in response to which we have every right to take preemptive action to defend ourselves. Neither common sense nor the law require that you wait until after you’ve been shot before protecting yourself, before preventing the shooter from pulling the trigger. But by what standard does Iran’s development of nuclear or any other weapons constitute a clear and present danger?
If, I don’t know, let’s say the Netherlands decided to develop its own nuclear weapons, would that constitute a clear and present danger? Would the international community demand that they cease and desist? Would we insist on humiliating them by inspecting their nuclear research facilities to make sure they were strictly for peaceful applications of nuclear technology? I doubt it, because we trust the Dutch, because they’re one of us. Developed. Western. Civilized, by our standards of course. Nice people. Tulips. Great tasting Amstel Light.
Suppose you’re, let’s say, black or Jewish, gay or, heaven forbid, all of the above. Despite laws which allow people in your state who have no criminal history to own guns, you have none. Guns make you nervous, and you’re opposed to them on moral grounds. Your next door neighbor, however, has no such misgivings. To make matters worse, he’s known to be an active member of some group that finds people of “your type” offensive and a threat to his own way of life. He has no compunction about expressing his dislike for you openly and aggressively. He hasn’t explicitly threatened you because there are laws against that, but he’s made it clear how he feels and plays with your fears with his rhetoric and body language at every opportunity, particularly in the presence of his friends who share similar beliefs. You’re understandably concerned, maybe even afraid. Maybe he won’t harm you himself, but there are people he knows who might, people he might encourage and support.
All that having been said, do you have a right to stop him from buying a gun, from exercising his legal, I dare say “sovereign” right to bear arms just because you find his beliefs and behavior objectionable, even scary? Perhaps you want to become an advocate for universal gun control, including preventing even you from owning a gun, but under what specific circumstances can you single him out, deprive him specifically and others sharing his points of view of their right to protect themselves against what they perceive, however misguidedly, as a danger to their way of life?
The moral high road to which we pretend to subscribe turns out to be something we live by on a highly selective basis. We have megatons of nuclear weapons ourselves and an arsenal of the highest tech conventional weapons on the planet – more than enough to scare the bejesus out of anyone, particularly a country like Iran that’s inclined not to trust our motives and knows we don’t like them. But they can’t have any. We pick who we defend and who we don’t – Georgia, for example, which Russia recently invaded – depending upon who they are and who we are defending them against. We basically do whatever we can get away with, based on the assumption that our judgment is generally infallible, and that ours is the only point of view that matters.
I’m not defending Iran and, believe me, I really don’t want them having nuclear weapons. For that matter, I don’t want anyone to have nuclear weapons, but that’s dreaming and off the point. Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, claims, on behalf of his country, to have the sovereign right to develop nuclear or any other weapons they believe they need to defend themselves. I don’t want to, but I have to agree with him. In the absence of any hard evidence of a clear and present danger, why doesn’t Iran deserve the same right to bear arms that we reserve for ourselves as a nation, and individually? And if there is such evidence, then aren’t we compelled to take tangible, hard defensive action immediately? The fact that we don’t, and that even Israel for which the threat is close at hand hasn’t, would suggest that evidence doesn’t exist.