Karl Keating Talks Common Sense

Karl Keating Talks Common Sense January 11, 2013

Over on FB he writes:

What do we mean when we say someone is “pro-country X”? What do we mean when we say someone is “anti-country Y”? We can’t look to Rick Santorum for the answer.

Yesterday Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, announced his is launching a campaign in opposition to Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense. Santorum characterized Hagel’s “mindset” as “anti-Israel, pro-Iran.” How is one to understand such language?

Usually, when we refer to someone as being “pro” a country, we mean he likes its people, its culture, its topography, perhaps even its political institutions–more the first three than the fourth, I suppose.

I rightly could be called “pro-Italy” because I enjoy visiting that country, by and large like its people, certainly enjoy its history and culture (despite, of course, deficiencies that every people and culture will have), struggle with but enjoy its language. While I won’t retire to Italy, I can imagine that it would be a fine place to spend one’s sunset years. I feel much the same about Croatia, where I have family roots, and to lesser extents about Japan, Britain, and Germany. I’m sure I could think of other countries toward which I’m “pro”.

When we refer to someone as being “anti” a country, usually we mean that he dislikes its people, dislikes its culture, dislikes its political institutions, or dislikes how it conducts itself in foreign affairs. (Notice that foreign affairs often count when someone dislikes a country and not so much, I think, when someone likes a country. We like countries more for cultural than political reasons and dislike them more for political than cultural reasons.)

Usually, if we are “anti” a country, we feel antipathy to something it does or some characteristic it has, but we don’t wish the country or its people ill. By my measure, you might be “anti-Croatia” because you don’t care for its climate (too hot or too cold), its language (too full of consonants), or its history (too Catholic), but I wouldn’t think that you want to see Croatia and its people injured in some way.

But that’s usually the sense that is given by people who go around calling other people “anti-Croatia.” They mean those other people want to see Croatia damaged economically, politically, or in some other way. When people talk in slogans and say that Mr. A is “anti-Croatia,” they mean that to be taken as most listeners will interpret them: “Mr. A would just as soon see Croatia disappear.”

Similarly when people call other people “pro-Croatia.” When they speak in such shorthand, they leave listeners thinking that the people they’re characterizing want to see Croatia advance on all fronts, even if it means at some other country’s cost, including their own. This becomes even particularly troublesome, to the public ear, if the country about which someone is said to be “pro” is a baddie, such as North Korea. You might think being “pro-Croatia” is wrongheaded but within the pale but that being “pro-North Korea” is outright vile.

This brings me back to Rick Santorum. He has thrown out slogans about Chuck Hagel, calling him “anti-Israel” and “pro-Iran.” Those terms will leave listeners with a certain sense about how Santorum is characterizing Hagel: that Hagel wants to see damage done to Israel, that he wants to strengthen and promote Iran. That’s how the public will interpret such slogans, but are the slogans fair to Hagel?

With respect to Israel, in the past he has spoken against what he perceives as its too-strong lobby in the halls of Congress (many other countries have lobbies of their own, of course), and he thinks a settlement in the Holy Land is more likely if Israel and its Palestinian opponents sit down and talk. Those might be incorrect or impractical ideas, but they don’t amount to wishing ill for Israel.

With respect to Iran, Hagel again thinks it’s worth sitting down and talking. He is said to have opposed sanctions against Iran, but that’s not accurate: He opposed unilateral (that is, U.S.-only) sanctions but endorsed multilateral sanctions (U.S. plus other countries jointly), his thesis being that unilateral sanctions can’t work because Iran would continue to do business with the countries that declined to participate in multilateral sanctions. These too might be impractical ideas, but they don’t amount to wishing Iran success in its aspirations.

Do Hagel’s positions warrant the characterization that Santorum has tried to give him by calling him “anti-Israel” and “pro-Iran”? Not remotely, so far as I can see.

During the primary campaigns for president, Rick Santorum was the most bellicose of the Republican contenders. While I appreciated that in the Senate he had been a leading pro-life voice, I shook my head at what I thought to be his over-aggressive foreign-policy stance, which I found to comport neither with the teachings of the Church nor with traditional conservatism.

I was glad that he failed to gain the Republican nomination, and I hoped that he would learn from the experience. It seems he hasn’t. He still talks belligerently, and he talks in slogans. People use slogans in place of arguments. Slogans may be useful on bumpers but they’re not useful otherwise because they hide important elements that should be part of the discussion, and they tend to misrepresent things, as Santorum has misrepresented Hagel.

Someone should be able to oppose Chuck Hagel’s nomination without employing slogans that imply Hagel wants to see damage done to a country that generally is considered a friend of the U.S. and wants to promote the interests of a country that generally is considered an opponent of the U.S. Hysteria is not a good way to settle arguments at home, and it’s not a good way to settle political issues either.

Hear! Hear!

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  • Sean O

    Chuck Hagel is a true breath of fresh air, a thoughtful cautious man with real world experience and the strength of character to stand up against the outright nonsense that passes for “thinking” these days in US foreign policy especially on the right but on the left as well.

    Santorum like so many other Hagel bashers is a loud mouth clown. Hopefully these criticisms will get a full airing along with full responses. That would be useful and put some of this nonsense to rest.

    • Dee

      So aptly stated!

  • Stu

    It sure does make Santorum look desperate in an attempt to attract attention.

  • kenneth

    By Santorum’s standard, and the one employed by Romney, any president who doesn’t take orders from Likud and have his speeches pre-approved by Netanyahu is “anti-Israel.”

  • Matthew

    I found Keating’s definitions of “pro” and “anti” to be incredibly idiosyncratic. In any contemporary political usage of the terms “pro” or “anti” I can’t imagine anyone’s first response to the terms looking anything like Keatings.

  • My reaction was similar to Matthew’s. I just don’t see that being what people think when they use phrases like that, and it varies depending on the situation anyway. I think “anti-Israel” – a poor choice of words in any event – means people who see Israel as the main, if not only, source of the problems (with the possible addition of America’s meddling). They may not deny the problems inherent in the Islamic/Arabic world, but they’re pretty sure that if Israel (and possibly America) could be slapped around a bit, things would settle down and we could seriously give peace a chance.

    Likewise, the idea of pro-Israel seems to be applied to those who see Israel, no matter what it’s wrongs, to be the victim struggling for survival against a hostile environment, an Arabic world that at best wouldn’t be sad to see Israel go, and at worst would be happy to make it happen. No amount of simple talk will stem the tide against Israel, and it’s likely they will remember those who insisted Hitler could be reasoned with when it comes to talking to places like Iran.

    Those words can mean other things in other places, but just listening to folks and reading them, I get the impression that’s close to what they mean when they employ the terms.

    • Bob_the_other

      Well, at the moment pro-Israel seems going against what a good number of Israelis (Jews and Arab Christians and Muslims) want and taking the Likud version of Israeli history to be fact, and Likud policy to be the very definition of sanity. Anti-Israel, inasmuch as it has been applied to Hagel, means any suggestion that it might be a good idea to have a negotiated peace, and stop settlements, and stop dehumanizing and ill-treating the Palestianians, while acknowledging that Israel has a right to exist, and defend itself against terrorism, and that some Palestinians are terrorists. I agree with you that there is a tide against Israel. I am sorry that there is. But I think it is a tide that the present government of Israel is doing everything in its power to swim into by acting determinedly to shut down a two state solution and by simultaneously strengthening Hamas and weakening Abbas.

      Likewise, pro-Iran means being willing to consider some other way than all-out war.

      I am glad for Karl Keating’s very sensible comments.

    • The Deuce

      They may not deny the problems inherent in the Islamic/Arabic world, but they’re pretty sure that if Israel (and possibly America) could be slapped around a bit, things would settle down and we could seriously give peace a chance.

      Or, more likely, they don’t *really* believe that in their heart of hearts, but they’d like to slap them around just the same, and pretending that it’s in the name of “peace” allows them to feel good about themselves while pushing for it.

      Likewise, the idea of pro-Israel seems to be applied to those who see Israel, no matter what it’s wrongs, to be the victim struggling for survival against a hostile environment, an Arabic world that at best wouldn’t be sad to see Israel go, and at worst would be happy to make it happen.

      While both sides have major flaws, and have done bad things, I think it’s clarifying to look at it this way: If Israel could have their wishes granted, the Palestinians would keep their peace agreements, leave them alone for good, and eventually form their own peaceful state. If their Arabic opposition could have their wishes granted, Jewish DNA would be erased from the face of the earth.

    • I’m not so sure. It’s not to say that Israel can’t reform its policies. It is to say that the contingent that wants Israel out of the Middle East has to be reckoned with. That’s the problem. It’s not so much anti-Israel as much as it may not be seeing the whole picture. That is no small factor, those in the Arab world who wish for Israel’s destruction. A main reason is that the Arab world, like much of the Muslim world, like quite a bit of the world at large, doesn’t spend its time lamenting its own sins. As Americans, we typically begin by the assumption that we screwed up. Except for those in the far right, most Americans today are content with the idea that we cause the problems, we screw up, we make people hate us, it’s our fault, and if we could get our act together, things would calm down. While we chafe at the thought that Americans would paint a country like Iran in broad brushstrokes, we think nothing of applying the same brushstrokes to our own backyards. The Islamic/Arabic world does not usually share that tendency, at least not in numbers. And in the end, Israel is aware of this. As are those with Israel in the cross-hairs. Unless we can assure Israel that we aren’t doing with them what we so often do with ourselves, it’s not likely they will put much faith in our ultimate success.

      Again, I’m not saying Israel doesn’t deserve some of the blame, nor would I be unhappy to see a peaceful resolution to the problems with Iran. But those solutions will demand more than the assumption that we and Israel alone are the problems, and once we get our acts together, the world will fall into line, singing John Lennon songs, and ushering in an era of peace and unity.

  • “joe”

    i got banned from keating’s forums when i suggested that george bush’s tenure may not in fact have been the second coming. but credit where it’s due, he is right about santorum.

    • I’m quite sure, “joe”, that you weren’t banned from Catholic Answers Forums for expressing an opinion that everyone at Catholic Answers would affirm. I’m equally sure that you’re misrepresenting what occurred. Over the years we’ve had to ban several hundred people (out of 376,000 registered members) because they incorrigibly wouldn’t follow the forums’ rulesof conduct. More often that not, the problem was severe lack of civility when dealing with other members or with moderators. Most of the banned people seemed to think they were being banned not for how they behaved (rudely or crudely) but for the opinions they expressed. They just didn’t get it; some people never do. But 99% of our members have been no trouble at all.

      • “joe”

        “I’m equally sure that you’re misrepresenting what occurred.”

        you’re wrong. i’m not.

  • Peggy R

    Is Mr. Keating simply criticizing Santorum for oversimplifying the issues or does Mr. Keating actually agree w/Hagel’s world view over Santorum’s? Several conservative outlets have articulated in more detail the concerns of Hagel’s views on Israel, Iran and the Iraq surge.

    I suppose I am “pro-Israel” as I support its continued right of existence and ability to defend itself against Islamic terrorism. It has nothing to do with the biblical role of Israel or the Jewish people for me. The Palestinians have no interest in negotiating in good faith. I have yet to see any genuine interest in compromise or ending terrorism on the part of the Palestinians. Then, parts of the Arab/Muslim world eggs on the Palestinian position by calling for destruction of Israel. The rise of radical Islam running Egypt and Libya among other places exacerbates the problems–and has harmed Christians greatly as well. I don’t see how any good faith discussions can take place under such conditions.

    • Bob_the_other

      Umm… Take most or all of Mahmoud Abbas’ statements within the last … say … ten years, including his saying that he only expects to return to his own home as a tourist. Shimon Peres, among others, thinks that Abbas is in perfect good faith, based on a long experience of negotiation with him. I am yet to come across any statement outside of the Israeli right wing, which denies his truthfulness. In the Israeli press for the last year or so, people from the Shin Beth and various elements of the Israeli defence establishment have been coming out saying that Benjamin Netanyahu is obsessed with his historical appearance, and has been systematically making things worse, exaggerating the Iran threat, strengthening Hamas (by respecting and responding to and negotiating with Hamas), and undercutting Abbas (by expanding the settlement program, by ignoring diplomatic initiatives). If anything, I would say that there is very little evidence that the current Israeli government is capable of negotiating in good faith.

      Which I think is sad, because I too support the right of Israel to exist, and even exist as a majority Jewish state or a state with a Jewish character, but I don’t think they have a right to a state which denies fundamental rights to their non-Jewish citizens. Israel, under its current government, is heading towards a future which is either an apartheid state (which will slowly collapse upon itself, because the economic powerhouse of Israel, Tel Aviv, simply will not stand for it and emigrate en masse) or non-existence and being swallowed up into an Arab Palestine. The possibility of the other alternatives (two-states or one pan-Israeli state with equal rights for Arabs) are rapidly disappearing.

      BTW, a large part of the opposition to Hagel is based on his view that war should, one way or the other, be a last resort. Another significant part to his opposition to the settlements.

  • William

    It seems that some people posting here might do well to speak with some Palestinian Christians living under the Israeli occupation and learn what it’s like to watch your house bulldozed, your olive grove (owned by your family for centuries) destroyed, your water supply controlled, a wall block built that blocks you off from your neighbors and your parish, a family member lose an unborn baby because of an Israeli check-point. I could go on and on. Some here are very confused about who the victims are in the Holy Land. I speak as one who went there as an evangelical missionary who believed that 1948 Israel was a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and returned home two years later a Catholic, having learned that not only was my dispensationalism heretical, but that it is the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who are the victims.

  • Karl Keating

    Peggy asks, “Is Mr. Keating simply criticizing Santorum for oversimplifying the issues or does Mr. Keating actually agree w/Hagel’s world view over Santorum’s?”

    I’m not sure how to characterize their respective world views–that’s awfully broad–but, looking more narrowly, I agree with Bob’s comment that Hagel bases “his view that war should, one way or the other, be a last resort.” Santorum’s view is different. During last year’s primary campaign he made it plain that war (with Iran) would be high on his list. He and others like him, such as John McCain, seem to have learned little from the failed wars we’d had in recent years. So that’s part of it. Another part is that I recoil from Santorum’s style, which, as I said, is to speak in slogans, with the expected bluster. As I said, I appreciate Santorum’s pro-life work, but for me that’s been negated by his pro-war work, not to mention the fact that he isn’t by any means a small-government conservative but consistently in the Senate voted for the big spending bills. If he hadn’t been a vocal pro-lifer, I’d have classified him during his Senate time as simply another tax-and-spend liberal.

    • Peggy R

      Mr. Keating. Thank you for your reply. It would seem to go without saying that war should be a last resort in any situation. I agree Santorum sounded bellicose, but I was not convinced that he was speaking full-scale war, but a strike to take out nuclear capabilities and send a message. That’s about all that would be needed I’d think, if anything. McCain would have us in a 100 years war of course. I agree that fiscally Santorum isn’t much to write home about.

      On points raised by others:
      I am aware that Christians are suffering and are caught in the middle. I don’t have a detailed understanding of the hardships, but from what I gather, the steps that Israel takes to prevent terrorism adversely affects Christian Palestinians as well. If our president weren’t so anti-Christian perhaps his admin could be out there advocating for the interests of Christians in all this mess. I won’t hold my breath. I have read stories of fertile, productive fields and properties being destroyed as the Palestinians took over Gaza in the last decade. That was not done by Israelis.

      Maybe Netanyahu is a bit aggressive himself. He knows the score for Israel better than we do. He has a personal stake in this.

      While we don’t need Israel to “dictate” our foreign policy, we should remain favorable to that nation, especially over the Palestinians and bellicose Muslim nations. Now with Egypt gone, there is no nation in the middle east that favors Israel’s continued existence. Europe doesn’t seem to keen on Israel either.

      • Peggy R

        spelling “too keen”…

        la la la for the filter…

      • Mark Shea

        Santorum is so bellicose he was cheering for the murder of Iranian civilian scientists. Yes. The man is a war zealot.

        • Peggy R

          I recall that incident and recall disagreeing then with your characterization.


  • Elmwood

    Santorum is no more of a war-monger than Romney was. Romney wanted to get involved in Syria by arming the rebels and criticized Obama for his inaction (our Holy Father made a statement that sending arms to Syria would be gravely wrong). Romney wanted to increase defense spending and talked about an “American Century” which is basically a code word for neoconservatisim. Santorum also said that he supported funding for planned parenthood and was proud to show he wasn’t opposed to contraception. It’s one thing to tolerate it, it’s another to endorse and fund it with tax payer money. Santorum is a dissapointment but he was still better than Romney.

  • William

    Peggy, I’m not sure where you get your characterization of the Palestinians taking over Gaza in the last decade. I’ve been to Gaza many times and it’s essentially a giant Palestinian refugee camp which was created in 1948 as a result of the creation of the state of Israel when so many Palestinians were made homeless. As for your love for Israel, why can’t you just treat Israel like any other country? Folks like you tempt me to play the lottery in order pay for American Catholics to visit our Catholic Palestinian brethren in the Holy Land to find out first hand what life under the Israeli occupation is like.

    • Peggy R

      Israel pulled out of Gaza Strip in Sept 2005, not quite 8 years ago. The govt had to forcibly remove some from Israelis their own homes. Israel did raze the houses and for some reason not all the synagogues. Whatever Israel did not destroy, including green houses and the synagogues, were ransacked, looted and utterly destroyed by the Palestinians who came in. Israel did this for the cause of peace. Palestinians seemed rather ungrateful for the land and the green houses which were much needed to grow vegetation in that climate.

      • Bob_the_other

        The Israeli right-wing narrative about Gaza is “Israel left Gaza for the sake of peace.” In reality, the Gaza strip is a massive network of refugee camps with very few economic prospects (largely due to Israel’s actions), and cut off from the rest of Palestine by Israel. It was also used by Sharon as a cover for increased settlement activity in the West Bank, and thus as a way of retreating from commitment to the 1967 borders. Arguably, the way Gaza has played out (regardless of the intention of some of those who supported it at the time) makes the two state solution less and not more likely.

        Also, by the way, “Israelis,” let alone the Jewish diaspora, does not form a monolith all of whom basically agree with Likud-Beitenu. Those opposed to such policies include orthodox Jews, some of the ultra-orthodox, reform Jews, and Israeli Academics. There is quite a strong “Boycott the settlements” movement within Israel. The idea of a monolithic Israel fighting against an Arab world is another myth encouraged by what might be properly called neither the “Jewish lobby,” nor the “Israel lobby,” but the “Likud lobby.”

        Failing a visit to Palestine, might I also recommend William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain? That gives an interesting perspective on Middle Eastern politics, and the interactions between the various religious groups in the region generally. It is quite a surprising picture.

        • Peggy R

          I am aware that not all Israelis, Jewish or not, see things the same way. I am aware that the Palestinians live in hovels in spite of lots of UN aid and such. They seem to have resources for armaments and the comfort of the leadership. What are the Palestinian leaders doing to provide a living for the people? Why must it depend upon Israel? I frankly do not see why Israel must move back to 1967 borders. They gained additional land in a war they won. If they want to go back, then fine. I don’t really care. It’s up to Israel, not the US.

  • Peggy: The situation with Iran wouldn’t be solved with a surgical strike. That would delay but not end Iran’s research efforts, and it certainly would galvanize that nation against us in a way that hasn’t been seen yet. The Iranian government might settle for underwriting terrorists to come after us, or it might deploy its military in the Persian Gulf. It has enough firepower to block the Strait of Hormuz (all it takes is one sunk tanker, and oil companies will abandon that sea lane–oil prices would skyrocket). Iran might even sink a few U.S. military vessels in those waters. Sure, it would get pounded in return, but it Iran wouldn’t be beaten. That would require massive U.S. ground forces (Iran is much more populous and has a better army than did Iraq), something Americans just won’t put up with. The result would be a kind of stalemate, with Iran digging deeper into mountains for its research facilities. In short, war would fail. Containment has worked for other countries unfriendly to us, so why not with Iran? (And don’t say that the mullahs are “crazy” and happily would launch ICBMs at us; they aren’t, and they won’t. Mao was crazier and didn’t, with good reason.)

    • Peggy R

      I do agree that there is no public support for another ground war. I certainly do not favor such a thing. I tend to favor political, diplomatic and economic disinvestment from the middle eastern nations. There is nothing for us there.