"We Are Shocked, Shocked!"


Here is a topic on which I have some personal feelings'the success of Richard A. Clarke's book, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror (Simon & Schuster, 2004). Clarke is today's liberal democratic hero since he has come out attacking President George W. Bush for the latter's alleged failure to properly prosecute the war on terror. Despite having earlier defended Bush'Clarke claims because he was ordered to do just that and it was his job then'he is now a star witness against the Bush team, claiming that they have failed us by not taking seriously terrorist threats they had been briefed about prior to 9/11.

The New York Times ran a piece on Friday, March 26th, expressing wonderment about how well the book is doing. This reminds me of that famous line from Casablanca, uttered by the character of Claude Rains, professing shock at finding gambling going on at Rick's, the nightclub Humphrey Bogart's character owned and managed. The captain, played by Rains, had been gambling there himself, of course, all along!

The New York Times has been promoting Clarke and his book for several weeks now, ever since it hit the bookstores, making as sure as only that 'newspaper of record' could that Clarke becomes a media star. And maybe this is exactly right'I am not concerned about that here. What amounts to at least a minor case of journalistic malpractice is to pretend surprise at the success of the book, as The Times did in a 'report' penned by Rachel Swarns. They practically engineered the massive sales the book is enjoying. (And here comes my personal lament: If only they gave a fraction of the send-up Clarke's book got to just one of my own, I could be sending my kids to happy holidays spots across the globe now and, more importantly, my ideas would be the topic of most mainstream media forums!)

But quite aside from my own sour grapes, there is this other more serious matter that I am unable to fully appreciate: Why are liberal democrats and those on the Left in general so outraged'again, 'shocked, shocked''that the American government embarked on a preemptive war against Iraq and used whatever ill-concocted excuses it could imagine to try to justify this policy? Of all the factions on the American political scene, liberal democrats and other Leftists, more than anyone else, ought to have complete sympathy with preemptive government policies.

Take the long and eagerly championed precautionary approach in the field of environmental public policies. The argument here is that some things are just so horrible to contemplate about the future ecology of the planet that action needs to be taken even in the absence of concrete evidence demonstrating the need. Or in the bulk of government regulatory policies: We must send in the government'as inspector, licensor, rule setter and the like'because without this, various professionals and businesses might very well misbehave and it will be too late once they have done so.

The entire plethora of the federal government's alphabet soup agencies'EPA, APHIS, ESA, FTC, OSHA and what have you'rests on the conviction, spread by liberal democrats, Leftists, and all of their academic supporters, that we can completely forget about the requirements of due process, about the ban on prior restraint, because what might happen is so terrible that not to act now would be unforgivable. So, then, bring on the feds!

Only the libertarians within the American political arena have consistently opposed the perpetration of all such preemptive, precautionary government policies. The Cato Institute, for example, has firmly opposed the Iraqi war, as well as government regulations and similar preemptive public policies, holding that not unless it is demonstrated that someone is doing violence to another'or at least there is solid evidence of probable cause'may the law come in to defend the victims. The same has been the theme of many other libertarians, including when it came to the Bush Administration's policies vis-'-vis terrorism and Iraq.

Yet organs like The Times insist over the last year or so, mainly to bash Bush, that preemptive wars are wrong, even criminal, without ever confessing that they have all along been the strongest supporters of political ideas that unabashedly and unapologetically endorse preemptive and precautionary public policies.

How can they get away with posturing like that, pretending surprise and shock at the fact that the American government now regards preemptive and precautionary public policies perfectly ok, be it in domestic or foreign affairs? How can they be so hypocritical?

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Tibor R. Machan's picture
Columns on STR: 70

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and recent author of Neither Left Nor Right: Selected Columns (Hoover Institution Press, 2004).  He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.