Wednesday, July 8, 2009



Vice-President Joe Biden, as is his wont, caused quite a stir on last Sunday’s edition of ABC’s “This Week.” Mr. Biden, when asked about a possible Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, said that Israel “can determine for itself—it’s a sovereign nation—what’s in their (sic) interest.” He quickly added that he was not making a statement regarding “whether we agree or not” with Israeli policy.

Some with too much time on their hands decided that Mr. Biden was sending a signal to the Israelis that the Obama administration was okay with an attack on Iran. Others thought that Mr. Biden was just being Mr. Biden, going off half-cocked and generally embarrassing the people around him. The latter is far more likely than the former, but there is a third possibility: perhaps Mr. Biden was performing that rarest of feats among our governing class, i.e., making some sense.

I don’t want to put words in Mr. Biden’s mouth, or thoughts in his head, but he might have been saying something very profound that would indicate a dramatic change in foreign policy, something broader in scope than even our attitude toward the Middle East. Perhaps Mr. Biden was saying that Israel, and every other nation, is not only a sovereign state but is governed by adults who ought to be treated like adults. Rather than imperiously assuming that we alone are the bearers of all wisdom and power, and that therefore every nation, and especially our allies, should come to us for approval for its actions, perhaps we ought to let people work out their problems as they see fit. Much to the amazement of those who have spent their lives in Washington, Washington is not Rome. We do not rule the world. The world is composed of at least nominally independent countries that do not need the approval of senatus populusque Americae to do what they feel is in their best interests. Therefore, perhaps it would be best for us to simply mind our own business.

I don’t know whether it would be wise policy for the Israelis to hit suspected Iranian nuclear weapons sites. But it doesn’t matter what I think, or even what anyone in power in our country thinks, regarding this matter. The Israelis are in a much better position to judge, simply because the stakes are so much higher for them, what to do regarding Iran. They can best determine what is a genuine existential threat for them and whether to act in accord with that determination. It is equally the province of the Iranians to determine how to proceed on their nuclear program and how to react to Israeli military action, should such action take place. Both sides would, of course, have to deal with the consequences of any action, or reaction, they would take. As sovereign nations, rather than errant schoolchildren, as many in our State Department seem to regard both sides, deciding on actions and bearing the consequences of those actions is their right and their obligation.

Just about the entire political class in this country, even members of that party that lives to deny such beliefs, believes in the nanny state. The only argument in Washington is who gets to be the nanny. But most of us think this attitude only applies to domestic affairs. People who spend a lot of time thinking about these things, however, have come to realize that this schoolmarm mentality stretches far beyond the borders of our once great nation. Further, the Republicans, who seem to spew the largest crocodile tears about big government on the domestic front, are the most ardent proponents of big government on a global scale. In the eyes of the professional politicians who dominate both major parties, not only are the citizens of the United States, the people who provide the sustenance that makes our politicians’ lifelong sinecures possible, witless, benighted, and badly in need of guidance from their betters who have no experience with life away from the public payroll, but the entire world is full of people and nations who can’t take care of, or think for, themselves. All these backward, or simply confused, peoples must take orders from Washington, which, of course, is rightly destined to rule the world, spreading Pax Americana to every remote corner of the planet. After all, the pols, and the financial barons of Wall Street, have done such a terrific job here, it is clear that they deserve to work their same magic on the rest of the globe.

Given that Joe Biden has been one of the foremost proponents of the nanny state for all of his nearly forty years in Washington, it is all but impossible to believe that his errant statement regarding Israel’s being a sovereign nation signals that sea change in America’s foreign policy approach, an approach that recognizes limits and displays humility. Joe was just being Joe, the crazy uncle whose entertainment value is best characterized by its fleeting nature. But it would be nice to think that maybe someone, somewhere in Washington realizes that wisdom is not the exclusive province of the Beltway and that America’s blood and treasure are not limitless.

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