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April 11, 2010: Have the Lessons Been Learned?

August 1, 2010



A rhetorical title for today’s post. For the answer, quite obviously and tragically, is that they have not.


Tonight begins Yom Hashoah, or, as it is properly called here in Israel, Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laGvura — translated perhaps as a day of remembrance of the Holocaust and the Heroism.  Important to remember that there was bravery as well as victimhood.


I knew what I had intended to say here.  But Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in his opening remarks at the official ceremonies at Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust Memorial) this evening said it all, and I prefer to share a part of his address:

“Israel is a wellspring of innovation in the world, with its face to the future. But we still need to ask the question: Have the lessons of the Holocaust been learned?

“I believe that three of the lessons are: Strengthen yourself, educate for good and fight evil. The first lesson – strengthen yourself – first of all concerns us, the people of Israel who were abandoned and powerless before the waves of murderous hate that broke against us again and again, in every generation. We need to gird our strength for our independence to ensure that the next enemy cannot plot his schemes against us. Maintaining our strength is the first condition for our existence. It is also the necessary condition for widening the circle of peace with those of our neighbors who have come to terms with our existence…”

And then:

“A free society must ask itself what it should do in the face of evil forces who aim to destroy it and to trample human beings and their rights underfoot. There is no limitless tolerance, and we must draw the line. This is the question that all enlightened states must ask. The historic failure of the free nations before the Nazi beast was in the fact that they did not gather to oppose it in time, when it was still possible to stop it.

“We are witness today to the new-old fire of hate, hatred of Jews inflamed by organizations and regimes of extremist Islam, most of all Iran and its satellites. Iran’s leaders are scurrying to develop nuclear weapons and freely announce their desire to destroy Israel, but before these repeated declarations to wipe the Jewish state from the face of the earth, at best we hear faint protest, and even this is fading.

“We don’t hear the forceful protest that is required, we don’t hear the strong denouncement, nor the angry voice. But as usual, there are those who direct their criticism against us, against Israel… The world accepts Iran’s declarations of annihilation and we still don’t see the international determination required to prevent Iran arming…”


The significant difference between 1939 and the present is that now we have a State of Israel.  Anyone who is serious about having learned the lessons of the Holocaust has a solemn obligation to work to help keep Israel strong and safe.

Nothing less is acceptable.


Charles Krauthammer has written a piece, “Nuclear posturing, Obama style,” that merits our attention:

“Nuclear doctrine consists of thinking the unthinkable. It involves making threats and promising retaliation that is cruel and destructive beyond imagining. But it has its purpose: to prevent war in the first place.

“During the Cold War, we let the Russians know that if they dared use their huge conventional military advantage and invaded Western Europe, they risked massive U.S. nuclear retaliation. Goodbye, Moscow.

“Was this credible? Would we have done it? Who knows? No one’s ever been there. No one’s ever had to make such decisions. A nuclear posture is just that — a declaratory policy designed to make the other guy think twice.

“Our policies did. The result was called deterrence. For half a century, it held. The Soviets never invaded. We never used nukes. That’s why nuclear doctrine is important.

“The Obama administration has just issued a new one that ‘includes significant changes to the U.S. nuclear posture,’ said Defense Secretary Bob Gates. First among these involves the U.S. response to being attacked with biological or chemical weapons.

“Under the old doctrine, supported by every president of both parties for decades, any aggressor ran the risk of a cataclysmic U.S. nuclear response that would leave the attacking nation a cinder and a memory.

Again: Credible? Doable? No one knows. But the threat was very effective.

“Under President Obama’s new policy, however, if the state that has just attacked us with biological or chemical weapons is ‘in compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT),’ explained Gates, then ‘the U.S. pledges not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against it.’

“Imagine the scenario: Hundreds of thousands are lying dead in the streets of Boston after a massive anthrax or nerve gas attack. The president immediately calls in the lawyers to determine whether the attacking state is in compliance with the NPT. If it turns out that the attacker is up to date with its latest IAEA inspections, well, it gets immunity from nuclear retaliation. (Our response is then restricted to bullets, bombs and other conventional munitions.)…

“This is quite insane. It’s like saying that if a terrorist deliberately uses his car to mow down a hundred people waiting at a bus stop, the decision as to whether he gets (a) hanged or (b) 100 hours of community service hinges entirely on whether his car had passed emissions inspections.

“Apart from being morally bizarre, the Obama policy is strategically loopy. Does anyone believe that North Korea or Iran will be more persuaded to abjure nuclear weapons because they could then carry out a biological or chemical attack on the United States without fear of nuclear retaliation?

“The naivete is stunning. Similarly the Obama pledge to forswear development of any new nuclear warheads, indeed, to permit no replacement of aging nuclear components without the authorization of the president himself. This under the theory that our moral example will move other countries to eschew nukes…

Krauthammer then discusses the fact that the new US policy is “worrying to many small nations that for half a century relied on the extended U.S. nuclear umbrella to keep them from being attacked or overrun by far more powerful neighbors. When smaller allies see the United States determined to move inexorably away from that posture — and for them it’s not posture, but existential protection — what are they to think?

“Fend for yourself. Get yourself your own WMDs. Go nuclear if you have to. Do you imagine they are not thinking that in the Persian Gulf?

“This administration seems to believe that by restricting retaliatory threats and by downgrading our reliance on nuclear weapons, it is discouraging proliferation.

“But the opposite is true…”


Are you connecting the dots, guys?


And sure enough…

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is disturbed because Iran’s nuclear development is being scrutinized, but Israel is “free to do what it wants.” 

Before leaving for the conference in Washington, he told reporters that he would be raising this issue.

Hey, why not?  Israel.  Iran.  They represent similar world threats, right?

Turkey and Egypt plan to make an issue of the fact that we haven’t signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.  Our alleged nuclear capacity, and the possibility that we might use it if threatened existentially, has done a great deal to keep us safe here in the Middle East.  It’s called deterrence, and it’s exceedingly important.


More dots to connect:

Barry Rubin, in his blog, cites two Arab journalists who talk about how a U.S. policy of containment is “totally inadequate.” I’ve shared this point of view here before, and here it is again:  As the Arab nations perceive a weakening U.S., there is a strategic shift in the Middle East.  Needless to say, this is not a strategic shift in our favor.


Fouad Ajami, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (and someone I respect greatly), writing in The Wall Street Journal says, 

“The shadow of American power is receding; the rogues are emboldened.”

Dear Heaven, is anyone paying attention?




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