Moral clarity dept.

Leader of the Free World smiles at noted Jew-baiter Mahathir Mohammed.

bush mahathir.jpe

Update This seems to have struck a nerve, judging from the angry emails. But none of my correspondents specified which word in the phrase “noted Jew-baiter Mahathir Mohammed” needed to be more carefully explained. The Prime Minister’s career has relied from its beginning on whipping up hatred of Jews (despite the fact that Malaysia has no Jews). Nor did anyone explain why it was wrong to blame George W. Bush for giving such a warm greeting to such a thoroughgoing scoundrel.

Second update And no, I’m not silly enough to think that the picture constitutes an argument. It’s merely a symbol. If anyone can find a word of criticism by Mr. Bush of Mahathir Mohammed’s general record of anti-Semitism or his latest statement, I’ll be happy to link to it.

Jack O’Toole has noted that Jacques Chirac’s refusal to go along with a proposed European Union denunciation of Mahathir Mohammed’s ravings makes it tough for those of us who have been fighting frog-bashing. How is Bush’s silence different (except that the displeasure of the United States matters a much more than the displeasure of France)? “Silence gives assent.”

And of course it’s the case that diplomacy sometimes means pretending not to despise the despicable. That’s why “moral clarity” is no substitute for careful thought. My point was that the current administration, having abandoned the thought, has not really gained the clarity in return.

Third update Now I see why the emails on this have been so vitriolic and semi-literate. They were generated by a post from Conrad, the Gweilo Diarist, who seems to have let a bad hangover get in the way of ordinary civility.

Fourth update Thanks to three alert readers, here’s a news story in which a White House spokesman says that Mr. Bush told Mr. Mohammed privately that his remarks were “wrong and divisive.” (Condi Rice did a little better, calling them “hateful.”) That’s something short of the sort of public denunciation Bush seems to so enjoy, but it’s better than nothing. One reader points out that the delay, which dismayed me, could have been for the purpose of delivering a rebuke face-to-face.

Further update here: the Chirac story seems to have been bogus, and Mahathir Mohammed is calling Bush a liar by denying that the “private rebuke” ever happened.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

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