If the rightwing had actual cheerleaders, they would be chanting, “What do we want? Moral clarity! When do we want it? Now.” In recent weeks, “moral clarity” has become the buzz-phrase for conservatives upset with President Bush’s less-than-wholehearted effort to pressure Ariel Sharon and to revive talks between Israelis and the Palestinians.
A quick tour: Paul Gigot, the editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, says Bush has “lost moral clarity on terror.” The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol and Robert Kagan complain Bush’s Middle East policy “wasn’t exactly moral clarity.” Thomas Hendriksen, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, writes, “George W. Bush has witnessed the moral clarity of his post-September 11 vision confounded by the deepening crisis between Israelis and Palestinians.” Arch-hawk and former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu huffs that Bush had shown a lack of “moral clarity” in the Middle East crisis. Senator Joseph Lieberman, joining this choir, grouses that Bush’s call for an end to Israeli military action in the West Bank “muddled our moral clarity” in the war against terrorism. And author and self-proclaimed virtue-czar William Bennett asserts, “We cannot stand between them [the Israelis and the Palestinians] without losing the moral clarity of Mr. Bush’s earlier message.” By the way, Bennett has a new book out: Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism.
This moral clarity thing has really caught on. When a reporter asked a demonstrator at a pro-Israel rally in Washington what he wanted, the fellow said, “We hope President Bush will show the same moral clarity [on the Middle East] that he has shown in the fight against al Qaeda.” At a pro-Palestinian rally, a counter-protester backing Israel said he was “supporting President Bush’s war on terrorism and the moral clarity he brings.”
To be clear about it, moral clarity has come to mean, let Sharon do whatever he wants on the West Bank. After all, the argument goes, if Bush could portray his post-9/11 war in black-and-white terms (you’re with us or you’re agin’ us; we blast away at terrorists and anyone who harbors or winks at them wherever and whenever we find them), then why cannot Sharon do the same? And why should Bush have anything to do with Palestinians–including Yasser Arafat–who can be linked to terrorism or who have not done enough to prevent terrorism? The MC police, who crave a full-force Israeli offensive, have been trying to appeal to Bush by shoving his Bush Doctrine in his face (“look–see, see?– you said this”) and by cloaking their strategic aim with a noble term. Who’s for moral cloudiness?
But moral clarity are weasel words when used in this fashion. They negate nuance. They suggest there is a simple and straightforward solution to a difficult foreign policy challenge (blow away the so-called Palestinian terrorist infrastructure without regard to the damage done to civilians or the prospects for negotiations). When Bush finally decided to get involved–way too late–he gazed at the Middle East and saw a conflict not defined by either/or. Not white hats and black hats, as with his war on terrorism. And that has driven the MC crowd bonkers.