Friday, July 21, 2006

Misreading Buchanan

Pat Buchanan has made a career of sticking his foot in his mouth that has been only slightly less successful than his other careers of misinterpreting politics and impersonating a conservative. The astute reader will discern that I have no particular love for the man. But I have to disagree with the folks who are calling him anti-Semitic for allegedly claiming that Israel is "un-American and un-Christian".

I first saw this charge at Sonia's blog where she awarded Buchanan the coveted "Assclown Award". He certainly deserves the award for the mangled analysis he provides of the conflict in Lebanon, and the odor of anti-semitism is not new to Buchanan's rhetoric, but I don't think his quote is quite so obviously bone-headed as it appears.

The article in question (on the marginally reliable World Net Daily) begins with the sentence: "When Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert unleashed his navy and air force on Lebanon, accusing that tiny nation of an "act of war," the last pillar of Bush's Middle East policy collapsed." The first point to note here is that Buchanan's target is not Israel but, as usual, President Bush (whom Buchanan tends unadvisedly to equate with Neo-conservatism in general). His concluding paragraphs further emphasize this attack on Bush:

Who is whispering in his ear? The same people who told him Iraq was maybe months away from an atom bomb, that an invasion would be a "cakewalk," that he would be Churchill, that U.S. troops would be greeted with candy and flowers, that democracy would break out across the region, that Palestinians and Israelis would then sit down and make peace?

How much must America pay for the education of this man?
Now, you might suggest that, in Buchanan's mind, those whisperings would obviously be the dreaded "worldwide Jewish conspiracy" otherwise known as the "Israel Lobby" or more recently simply "Neo-cons". That may well be true, but it seems pretty obvious from the context that he is referring to the intelligence community and we don't need to go much further to understand the context of this article. Buchanan is simply playing his standard game of moral outrage against America couched in conservative language and it doesn't really matter why. The entire article, though it talks a lot about the actions of Israel, is meant to be a condemnation of US foreign policy in the Mid-East.

With this context in mind, lets look at the quote in question:
"But what Israel is doing is imposing deliberate suffering on civilians, collective punishment on innocent people, to force them to do something they are powerless to do: disarm the gunmen among them. Such a policy violates international law and comports neither with our values nor our interests. It is un-American and un-Christian."
As I noted in the post below, I think Israel is handling the situation pretty well and the charge that they are specifically targeting civilians is both disingenuous and factually misleading. Now, I agree that his syntax may be a bit confusing, but he clearly makes two complaints in the previous sentence: Israel's actions are in conflict with international law (a dubious claim, but we won't go there) and that they are in conflict with "our values [and] interests". But it seems pretty obvious that, given Buchanan's paradigm, what he is saying in the last sentence is simply that we should not support Israel because to do so would be "un-American and un-Christian". I don't agree, but then I don't agree with much that Buchanan says.

More recently John Podhoretz at the Corner has picked up on this theme claiming (without either quoting or linking to the original article, mind you):
When Pat Buchanan calls Israel's military action "un-Christian," that's anti-Semitism.
Now Instapundit has picked up the meme (linking to JPod's article but, again, not the original) and commenting "WELL, DUH: Pat Buchanan calls Israel "un-Christian." Never mind what I'd call Pat Buchanan..."

All very clever, but perhaps a bit light on the facts, hmm?


sonia said...

Excellent analysis of Buchanan's speech. I think your interpretation of 'un-Christian' is closer to the truth than mine. But I still think that Buchanan was being deliberately provocative using that word (and mentioning the Pope Benedict as well), in order to try to drive a wedge between Jews and Christians. He seems to be living in a world where Muslim fundamentalism either doesn't exist or is a force for good. I am sure Buchanan would love an alliance between Christian and Muslim fundamentalists against Jews. And he's enraged that the reality is very different: it's Jews and Christians against Muslim fantatics.

Jack said...

I still think that Buchanan was being deliberately provocative using that word (and mentioning the Pope Benedict as well), in order to try to drive a wedge between Jews and Christians.

Possibly. I know that he has in the past made comments that tended in this direction. He certainly would like the US to stop supporting Israel.

I am less sure about the rest of your comment. Buchanan generally argues against any kind of foreign entanglements, so I think he would prefer just to let the Muslims and Jews kill each other while we concntrate on domestic issues.

But the Muslim-Christian alliance against Jews is a big theme for Pallestinian Christians (and other Eastern Orthodox groups in the region) which is truly shameful. Maybe Buchanan has picked up on that vibe.