When Ralph Waldo Emerson remarked in 1841 that, "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," he was doubtless referring to the intellectual shallowness that plagued the public discourse of his own era. Yet, the brewing public controversy that is accompanying the impending release of Mordechai Vanunu from prison illustrates the timeless relevance of Emerson's observation.
Vanunu, of course, is the former Israeli nuclear technician who was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment after he leaked highly sensitive information about his country's top-secret Dimona reactor facility. Convicted of treason and espionage in 1986, Mordechai Vanunu is shortly scheduled to complete his prison term.
The prospect of Vanunu walking free has prompted a wholesale descent into hobgoblin-hood by critics of Israel and the United States. This largely leftist chorus is bandying about the charge of an Anglo-American double standard that turns a blind eye to Israel's nuclear weapons, while using WMD as a rationale for war against Iraq.
Journalist Robert Fisk recently produced a typical example of this fare in Britain's Independent newspaper when he wrote: "how can President Bush remain silent on Israel's nuclear power when he has not only illegally invaded an Arab state for allegedly harbouring nuclear weapons and condemned Iran for the same ambitions?"
Yet, Fisk's argument is predicated on a fundamental illogic that pervades his views on international relations in general, and on the Middle East in particular. His writing is dominated by a fatuous tendency to equate the ethics and policies of democratic governments with those of despotic regimes. Fisk appears unable to recognize the self-evident differences between a freely elected head-of-state whose tenure is determined by power of the ballot, and a third world tyrant whose rule depends solely on the power of the bullet.
Since even before its formal establishment in 1948, Israel has been forced to fend off repeated assault by a hostile, numerically superior Arab world that is over 500 times its geographic size. Indeed, over the past half-century, Arab leaders oft expressed their desire to erase any sovereign Jewish presence from the map of the Middle East. Last year, Syrian President Bashar Assad provided an all-too-typical example of Arab genocidal rejectionism when he declared: "it is inconceivable that Israel will ever become a legitimate state, even if the peace process is implemented."
Yet, despite this ever-present threat of absolute physical annihilation, Israel has consistently employed policies of strategic restraint, using its unproclaimed nuclear arsenal to deter, rather than to destroy. Moreover, Israel has committed to disarm itself within the framework of a comprehensive peace agreement with its Arab neighbors.
But, Robert Fisk remains oblivious to the fact that Israel was induced to seek nuclear weapons as an insurance policy against a second holocaust. Displaying a perfect example of Emersonian foolish consistency, he makes the absurd assertion that the nuclear arsenal of a democratic Israel constitutes the same threat to world peace as nukes in the tyrannical hands of Saddam Hussein.
Since the full horror of atomic weapons was demonstrated during the closing days of World War II, the nations that have acquired such munitions have used them responsibly by not using them at all. Despite the Cuban missile crisis, and other Cold War flirtations with disaster, the world's nuclear powers showed enough good sense to shrink from the brink of oblivion.
Yet, Saddam Hussein gave no indication that he was endowed with even a modicum of the rationality that kept America and Russia from a fatal descent into nuclear Armageddon. In fact, the alacrity with which Saddam resorted to the use of chemical munitions against his own Kurdish population indicated he would not hesitate to employ the nuclear arms that he so assiduously sought to acquire.
The belief that Ba'athist Baghdad maintained a chemical and biological warfare program was shared by the intelligence agencies of anti-war nations, like France's DSGE and Russia's FSB. In light of Iraq's lengthy track record of obstruction and prevarication, it was only reasonable to assume that Saddam Hussein had to be hiding something substantial. Thus, the argument over military action never revolved around the question whether the Iraqi dictator possessed WMD, but merely over the best means of dealing with that generally accepted threat.
After September 2001, the United States was no longer willing to tolerate the nuclear ambitions of a megalomaniacal despot with a penchant for launching unprovoked invasions of neighboring nations. And presently, Iran's pattern of support for Islamic terrorism creates similar concerns about the sobriety of the radical Muslim mullahs who rule in Tehran.
The berserk brinkmanship that has long been employed by North Korea demonstrates the dangers posed by nuclear weapons in the hands of a deranged authoritarian dictator. The first rule of planetary self-preservation dictates that whatever it takes should be done to prevent additional rogue regimes from crossing the nuclear threshold. It is unfortunate that a journalist of Robert Fisk's experience can not understand that Israel, a stable democracy dominated by free speech, a free press and free elections, can not be counted among their number.
This is hardly the first time that Robert Fisk has been seduced by facile analogies, and spurious logic predicated on erroneous fact. After all, this is a man who, after being savagely beaten by Afghani refugees in 2002, wrote an article with strong overtones of the Stockholm Syndrome that expressed sympathy for his assailants. This incident earned Fisk such widespread derision that his name has come into common usage as a pejorative verb in the parlance of weblog-journalism. Thus, the http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com defines this neologism as follows: "Fisking, or 'to Fisk', refers to the act of deconstructing, often in minute detail, an article, essay, argument, etc. with the intent of challenging its conclusion or theses by highlighting supposed logical fallacies and incorrect facts."
Robert Fisk has been reporting on Middle Eastern affairs for decades, and a perusal of his journalistic oeuvre clearly reveals that he suffers from what might fairly be described as "T.E. Lawrence Syndrome." This is ideological condition characterised by an uncritical affection for the Arab world that is complemented by an unreasoning hostility towards Israel. While this is an all-too-common affliction throughout the Fourth Estate, this syndrome has affected Robert Fisk far more than most.
The result is writing that is so unabashedly partisan that it excludes Fisk from the category of serious, fair-minded journalism, and reveals him as nothing more than a practitioner of leftist polemical hackery.
Ted Lapkin is Associate Editor of The Review, a monthly journal of analysis and opinion published by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council