One might have been forgiven for thinking it was an April Fool's joke. At the very least, the author of an oped published in the Washington Post last Friday - former South African Supreme Court Justice Richard Goldstone - sure looked foolish as he all but acknowledged being incredibly naïve and irresponsible when he authored a harshly critical report for the United Nations Human Rights Council after Israel's 2008-2009 war with Hamas in Gaza.
It seems the lead author of the Goldstone Report has experienced a severe case of second thoughts or buyer's remorse. Presumably, that is due at least in part to a belated appreciation of the immense damage caused by his misbegotten handiwork. As the jurist put it in his essay, "If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document." He is not the only one who is reconsidering - or should be - what they are about.
Unfortunately, as in the case of the Goldstone Report, in most instances where buyer's remorse is setting in, there is really no excuse for the actions to be taken in the first place. Consider several examples:
Let's start with Justice Goldstone's opus. In it, he assailed the Israel Defense Forces for engaging in "potential war crimes" and "possibly crimes against humanity" by purposefully attacking non-combatants. In so doing, his report established a moral equivalency for the Jewish State with the terrorists of Hamas and contributed mightily to international efforts to stigmatize and delegitimize Israel. Yet, Goldstone now acknowledges, based on subsequent investigations conducted by others (including the Israeli government), that "civilians were not intentionally targeted [by Israel] as a matter of policy."
Welcome as this vindication of Israel is, it cannot undo the immense damage done by charges made eighteen months ago, when there was ample reason not to tar the Israelis with the same brush as Hamas. Justice Goldstone now avers, "That the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying - its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets." There is, however, no excuse for him not knowing and affirming at the time that Israel had adopted a wholly different approach. No amount of remorseful op.ed. articles will obscure that reality, or mitigate the damage done by his moral equivalence.
Second thoughts are much in evidence at the moment in official Washington about the Obama administration's responses to the wildfires that have been raging in recent weeks throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The original view was that these were spontaneous "awakenings" in which peoples long denied freedom were rising up, asserting their demand for democracy, inspired and fanned by Western-innovated social networking media. As such, they were widely seen to be causes that warranted strong U.S. support.
It is becoming increasingly clear that in virtually every case, these fires were set by arsonists, not democrats. The instigators were Islamists seeking to impose the supremacist, totalitarian politico-military legal program they call shariah. In those few instances where such Islamists were not actually among the catalysts, they are certainly emerging as the principal beneficiaries of the revolts thus set in train.
American policies encouraging the overthrow of regimes that were (more-or-less) aligned with the United States are having the effect of clearing the way for successors deeply hostile to us, our allies (most especially Israel) and interests. These include not just Muslim Brotherhood operatives but al Qaeda terrorists, some of whom have returned to the fight after being released from Guantanamo (another practice sorely in need of reconsideration!) The Obama administration is reportedly cutting off arms sales to Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon; it should exercise similar restraint with respect to the present impulse in some quarters to supply weapons to the so-called "rebels" of Libya. Andy McCarthy calls the latter the Libyan mujahideen, a group perfectly capable of turning their weapons on us, as their counterparts in Afghanistan did after we collaborated in defeating the USSR there in the 1980s.
Now would also be a good time, with Congress and the executive branch poised to effect deficit reduction on the backs of U.S. servicemen and women, to engage in some second-thought-style reflection - before the Pentagon budget is reduced any further. After all, we are at war in three different theaters. Our enemies are already sensing our weakness and irresolution and emboldened by it. And the past costs of reconstituting military capabilities unwisely and irresponsibly dissipated have proven - time and time again - vastly to exceed the savings. At the very least, we should resolve to apply any resources freed up by ferreting out waste, fraud and abuse in the Defense Department, to addressing yawning shortfalls in the military's modernization, research and development and operations and maintenance funding.
Monday, President Obama declared his candidacy for reelection. While his decision was no surprise, whether the American electorate will decide to give him a renewed mandate next year seems an open question. For millions across the country, the answer may rightly turn on second thoughts they have had - and will have between now and November 2012 - about him and his policies, among others the foregoing directly related to keeping us safe and secure.