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Sunday, June 13, 2010

An echo of the past

Shortly before he was elected the United States Senator from New York in 1976, I had the privilege of sitting next to the recently retired US Ambassador to the United Nations, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, on an Eastern Airlines shuttle flight from New York's LaGuardia Airport to Boston. I was a junior in college and I was awestruck. Pat Moynihan was the man who faced down Yasser Arafat at the United Nations, condemning that horrible 1975 resolution that compared Zionism with racism. (The thought of Lazy Susan Rice doing anything remotely comparable today on any issue is too comical to even consider - woe how the mighty have fallen!). It was all I could do to ask him for his autograph.

Pay Moynihan belonged to a bygone wing of the Democratic party known as the Scoop Jackson Democrats. Moynihan served in both Democratic and Republican administrations, and was equally at home in both. And he was not a fan of Jimmy Carter.

Peter Wehner cites a few paragraphs from an essay written by Moynihan about Carter in February 1981 - just after Carter failed to be re-elected. I wasn't able to access the entire essay, but the words Wehner cites are clearly applicable to the Obama administration today and give a real sense of deja vu.

Moynihan writes about what animated Carter:
The political hostility which the United States encountered around the world, and especially in the Third World, was, very simply, evidence of American aggression or at least of American wrongdoing… If the United States denied itself the means of aggression, it would cease to be aggressive. When it ceased to be aggressive, there would be peace – in the halls of the United Nations no less than in the rice paddies of Southeast Asia.
That sure sounds like Obama, doesn't it? But then there's this (first from Wehner and then quoting Moynihan.
Moynihan went on to write about the Carter administration’s “fateful avoidance of reality” — “a denial that there is genuine hostility toward the United States in the world and true conflicts of interest between this nation and others – and illusion that a surface reasonableness and civility are the same as true cooperation.” He warned about the “psychological arrogance that lay behind the seeming humility of our new relations with the Third World – it was we who still determined how others behaved.” And Moynihan concluded his essay this way:
With the experience of the last four years, we should at least have learned that foreign policy cannot be conducted under the pretense that we have no enemies in the world – or at any rate none whose enmity we have not merited by our own conduct. For it was this idea more than anything else, perhaps, that led the Carter administration into disaster abroad and overwhelming defeat at home.
Eerily familiar, isn't it?

Read the whole thing.


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