The second observation relates to Obama’s statement with Netanyahu on his arrival in Israel. A correspondent of mine pointed out the number of times Obama spoke of how Israelis “feel” about their security, as if the objective is to provide a feeling for Israelis on that head. It is an interesting rhetorical choice in more ways than one; an obvious concern is that Obama posits a theoretical situation in which Israelis could be, objectively, secure, and yet not feel themselves to be so.
Constructing such a theoretical situation for argument’s sake has, of course, problematic implications. Do we make policy to ensure Israel is actually secure, or is our policy oriented toward what will make Israelis feel secure? Why is there an apparent premise that the two things may be different? Statesmen normally
talk to allies about being secure, not about feeling secure; it is assumed that the latter is subjective and unquantifiable, and cannot be guaranteed. The former, by contrast, can be judged objectively and agreed on, given a state of geopolitics and technology.
This point reminded me of Obama’s commemorative address on Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2009, when he urged the learning of “empathy” as a preventive against holocausts, using the examples of sympathizers who had saved individual Jews from the death camps. I pointed out at the time that the Holocaust of the Jews was ended only through force of arms, with the “regime-change” of Germany. Like other genocides, the Holocaust was mounted using the armed force of the state; the only successful weapon against it was armed force.
But it couldn’t be just any armed force. It had to be the armed force of liberal nations with consensual polities, which finally decided to stop Hitler’s advances through Europe – and with him the process of the Holocaust. It had to be armed force used reluctantly by governments with compunction, accountable to their people. Indeed, the political environment that fostered these conditions is itself the practical antidote to sociopolitical diseases like anti-Semitism. Feelings are not the “way ahead” on matters like enforcing human dignity or maintaining national security – not even good feelings.
Rather, there must be careful, accountable governments and objectively verifiable freedoms honored by governments for the people. There can be no guarantee that everyone will “feel secure” (or be empathized with). But it is much more possible to guarantee, in an accountable way, that all of the relevant factors in national security will be discussed freely by those whose opinions differ. It can be guaranteed that votes will have meaning, that opposition will not be silenced, that vilification of each other by opponents will not undermine policy outcomes, that baseless allegations will not be used as a basis for government policy. It is possible to guarantee that those who fail to satisfy the people on these points can be removed from office.
Hitler was able to do what he did because these all-important factors were lacking. He didn’t succeed in killing six million Jews in the Holocaust because of a dearth of empathy in Europe. He succeeded because of a dearth of checks on the scope and power of his government.
Obama speaks with the demagogue’s touch, emphasizing feelings and leaving objective factors out of his narratives. Feelings, however, can be deceiving. Plenty of Europeans felt secure after Chamberlain returned from Munich proclaiming “peace in our time.”
Fortunately, Israel has everything she needs to adopt a more verifiably objective stance on national security, from consensual parliamentary government to freedom of speech and press, civilian control of the military, superb national intelligence, an educated populace, technological dynamism, and an active, creative diplomacy.
The traditional – correct – way for Obama to acknowledge this would have been to speak to Israelis in terms of ensuring their security, rather than referring to their “feelings” about it.
J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s “contentions,” Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard online. She also writes for the new blog Liberty Unyielding.