The Narrow Visions of Dick Cheney and Benny Morris

by James M. Wall                    Morris cover                        
This is a quick visit into the thinking of two men, Dick Cheney and Benny Morris, one an American, the other an Israeli.  Both have formulas they have developed to deal with “others”. 

You would have thought Cheney, defeated in 2008, could no longer find audiences eager to listen to his message.  You would have thought wrong.  

Cheney has emerged from his bunker and is once again taking his show on the road. 

He preaches to a public which gave him an approval rating of 29% in November, 2008.  His most recent favorable ratings are up to 37%. He still faces a 55% unfavorable rating. 

Since Dick Cheney came out, blinking into the sunlight, he has been officially designated by both Leno and Letterman as the “former president”, which, of course, accurately describes the man who also answers to Darth Vader. 

There is no fresh message from the “former president”. He still pushes his mantra: “Torture until you find an excuse to bomb”. You may want to ask, how did that formula work out during Cheney’s reign? Don’t ask. 

It was when I read Howard Fineman’s current (May 25) Newsweek column, that I realized Dick Cheney is not really Darth Vader. Fineman reports that he was present when he heard Cheney speak at a recent New York dinner in Manhattan,

Cheney was not on the program to speak, but as he listened to Nicholas Burns, a former State Department official in Cheney’s own Bush Administration, his face grew even grimmer than usual.  Burns was praising the merits of diplomacy in dealing with Iran.

Asked if he wished to respond, Cheney rose to his feet and began to speak

in his fatefully avuncular I’ve-been-there-and-you-haven’t tone. Diplomacy, he said, works only if the countries share the same objectives. Here [referring to Iran] they don’t. The Iranians are merely stalling for time to build the bomb. . . There will be no progress unless the Iranians “believe the threat of military force is on the table”.

This is not Darth Vader speaking.  This is the legless, diabolical, inventor, Dr. Arliss Loveless, from the movie Wild, Wild West. 

Kenneth Branagh, was the original Dr. Loveless, acting with an atrocious Southern accent, sounding like a native of Wyoming trying to be Southern. 

In the movie, Loveless is confined to a wheel chair, a victim of the late Great War Between the States. He is also a genius, who has built a machine with which he intends to conquer the world.  

Standing in his way are two warriors, Captain James West (Will Smith) and U.S. Marshall Artemus Gordon (Kevin Klein).

The original 1999 Wild, Wild, West received a host of bad reviews. I liked the film; it is rich metaphorically. Remember Obama’s inauguration? Remember Cheney arriving and departing in a wheel chair?

In my Wild, Wild West, 2009, Obama has the Will Smith role. Biden is in the Klein role as Obama’s faithful, charming, witty, sidekick.

In the original film, the mighty machine of futuristic destruction invented  by Dr. Loveless, lumbers across the desert sands, killing and destroying all in its path. 

Dick Cheney is a perfect Dr. Loveless, the man sitting in the driver’s seat, propelling the machine forward. All those “others” who do not “share his objectives” must face his wrath.

Many brave men and women have died in wars under leaders like Dick Cheney. Our military forces do their duty, proceeding forward as instructed. Many of the wars they fought were thrust upon our troops; they met their challenge. Others, like the one orchestrated by Cheney and his merry band of neocons, were launched under a cloud of lies.

Dick Cheney is not a lone gun fighter in the absolutist camp of fighting against those “others” who do not share “our objectives”.  He has counterparts in other nations.

Meet Benny Morris. 

Morris, an Israeli historian, has just written a new book informing the world of his own unique view of how to define “those who share our objectives”.  For Morris, “sharing our objectives” means “sharing our values”.  

In both cases, the meaning of “objectives” and “values” are defined by those with the biggest war machines.

On page 187 in Benny Morris’ book, One State, Two States, we find this appalling presentation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Thanks to Phillip Weiss for pointing to this passage.)

The mindset and basic values of Israeli Jewish society and Palestinian Muslim society are so different and mutually exclusive as to render a vision of binational statehood tenable only in the most disconnected and unrealistic of minds. The value placed on human life and the rule of (secular) law is completely different–as exhibited, in Israel itself, in the vast hiatus between Jewish and Arab perpetration of crimes and lethal road traffic violations.

Arabs, to put it simply, proportionally commit far more crimes (and not only ones connected to property) and commit far more lethal traffic violations than do Jews. In large measure, this is a function of different value systems (such as the respect accorded to human life and the rule of law). Benny Morris, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict, Yale University Press.

Morris is no raving wingnut.  He is conservative, to be sure, but he has academic credentials. He also has soul mates in the current right wing of the Israeli government, most notably, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. 

review of the Morris book written by Jeffrey Goldberg for the New York Times, is surprisingly affirming. Goldberg allows Morris’ views on the “difference in values” between Israeli Jews and Muslim Palestinians, to go unchallenged.

In his review, Goldberg repeats Morris’ racist and utterly indefensible language, words which few of his New York Times readers would have  ever read, except in the Times‘ review. Goldberg offers not the slightest acknowledgement that the language is racist.

What in the name of the gods of responsible journalism was the editor of the Times Sunday book review section, Sam Tanenhaus, a self-described conservative, thinking when he allowed this comment to appear in print without refutation?

Tannehaus has edited the Sunday Book Review section since 2004. Much of that time he has been writng a biography of William F. Buckley.   It is hard to imagine Buckley letting Morris’ racist language into print. 

Adam Horowitz, writing for Mondoweiss.com, is harshly critical of Goldberg’s review. 

In One State, Two States, [Morris] argues that this most enduring of conflicts is primarily cultural, not political. Between Arabs and Israelis, “the value placed on human life and the rule of (secular) law is completely different,” he writes, “as exhibited, in Israel itself, in the vast hiatus between Jewish and Arab perpetration of crimes and lethal road traffic violations.” But might the differences also be explained by higher rates of poverty among Arab Israelis?

Horowitch reacts to Goldberg’s vacuous reference to “poverty” with a dismissive, “Huh?”

He then points, in dismay, to more of what Goldberg found to be of value in the Morris book which

. . . regurgitates the “generous offer” canard yet again, and includes Morris’s infamous claim that Israel should have gone farther in forcing Palestinians off the land during the Nakba. About this call for ethnic cleansing, Goldberg simply says Morris sometimes comes to “inflammatory conclusions.”

In his Mondoweiss posting, Horowitz chastises the Times for both Goldberg’s review of Morris’ book, and for a second review in the same issue, which is a “celebration of Amos Oz, written by Liesl Schillinger”.  The reviews are separate, but, as Horowitz points out, they compliment each other by presenting “a biased narrative of the conflict”.

Horowitz helpfully reminds us of the iconic role Amos Oz plays for American liberal supporters of Israel. He is the Israeli author who makes them proud.

Schillinger’s review of Amos Oz provided an interesting, if unintentional, companion to Goldberg’s review. Oz is routinely celebrated in the liberal American press as the great Israeli humanist, the conscious of a nation. Schillinger’s review focused on Oz’s insistence on “imagining the other” which Oz feels is the “antidote to fanaticism and hatred.” He is presented both as a cosmopolitan author, and a kibbutznik pioneer.

You can imagine he may feel out of sorts in Lieberman’s Israel; he harkens back to the Israel liberals in the US used to love. It feels like the seemingly annual celebration of Oz in either the Times or New Yorker is perhaps meant to help liberals remember why they supported Israel in the first place.

As an historian, Morris has been all over Israel’s political map. Before Oslo, Morris moved from being a champion of Israel’s founding, to a debunker of the Zionist myth. His own research exposed Prime Minister Ben Gurion’s ethnic cleansing plan against the Palestinians. 

After Oslo, Morris shifted again. He was angry because Yasir Arafat turned down Israel’s “generous offer”, an offer Arafat had to refuse because he knew it could never lead to a viable Palestinian state.  

Morris and Goldberg refer to Palestinians as “Muslims”, ignoring the presence of Christians in Gaza and the West Bank. (Memo to Morris and Goldberg: Behind that “security” wall wrapped around Bethlehem you will find the birthplace of Jesus.  You get there by walking down a stairway in the Christian Church of the Nativity.)

This ignorance of the Palestinian narrative leads to a slanted, and inaccurate Goldberg reference to Muhammad Dahlan, whom Goldberg describes as “a former chief of one of the Palestinian Authority’s multifarious secret police organizations, and once a tacit ally of the C.I.A.

Dahlan was, in fact, Mahmoud Abbas’ longtime Fatah security chief. And, he was much more than just a “tacit ally” of the CIA. Dahlan’s forces were trained by the CIA to overthrow Hamas after the U.S. and Israel scuttled a unity government Fatah and Hamas had agreed to form.

I wrote a column in the Christian Century on Abrams and Fatah. The column was reprinted here in the Middle East Times. For a longer treatment, see this article in a 2008 issue of  Vanity Fair

Fatah was set up to fight Hamas by George Bush’s Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, a veteran neocon bureaucrat. Abrams  believed the U.S. should recruit indigenous “strong men” to lead forces loyal to the U.S. against elected governments. 

This tactic did not work for Abrams and Ronald Reagan in Central America. It also did not work in Gaza. Abrams and his “strong men” lost both times. His Central American adventure almost landed him in an American jail. He was spared incarceration when he was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. 

Dick Cheney, Benny Morris, and Elliott Abrams share the sin of exclusivity, the belief that the “other” must share “our” objectives and “our” values; otherwise they will feel “our swords”. Am I my brother’s keeper?, is not a question for the tribe alone. It embraces all “others” as well.  

Exclusivity is the narrow vision of the jungle; democracies can do better. 

About wallwritings

James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Jim launched this new personal blog April 24, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
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3 Responses to The Narrow Visions of Dick Cheney and Benny Morris

  1. Harris Fawell says:

    Jim: Very excellent article. My thanks. Harris

  2. Martin Bailey says:

    Jim,
    As usual, I appreciate your incisive writing; you cut through a lot of garbage and show Cheney for the dangerous person he is.
    Two particular comments: I watched the faces of his audience when he “answered” Obama’s reasoned speech at the National Archives. Some of the people even in the front row looked uncomfortable that Cheney was on their soapbox. The other comment is that Obama looks so good in contrast and I think most Americans see Cheney for what he is….just plain ugly.

  3. Mark says:

    Though I was educated to look first for “power and interest” interpretations inherent in situations, I have more recently reincluded the quite convincing testimonies of such indicators as “values”, culture, and even “religious imperatives” that people embrace. I now see “honor-shame” as an extremely telling predictor of Arab motivation, and I go as far as to believe that when they talk “genocide” they are not just whistling dixie. For sixty years the Palestinians could have had peace. Israel made peace and kept it with Jordan and Egypt. They are truly hungry for peace. The Palestinians have consistently preferred their victim narrative and genocidal subtext instead, with few real indications that statehood was more important than destruction of the intensely vital state of Israel which also had its victimization in recent memory but decided (as contrasted to the Palestinians) to build a power house democracy (imperfect though it is), creating so many strong and transparent institutions and world leadership in many realms of innovation and productivity which the world enjoys. I like Morris.

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