One of the things that sets the US apart from many other nations is what we call The Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is the general term given to the first ten amendments to the Constitution, and it lays out the fundamental rights of US citizens: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to bear arms, freedom from unreasonable search, and so on. It was written early in our history when the framers of the Constitution realized that while they'd crafted a good guide for representative government, they had somehow forgotten to enshrine the rights for which they'd just fought a terrible revolutionary war.
Americans love their rights, and we tend to trumpet them at every opportunity. Unfortunately, what we talk about less frequently is responsibilities. If you have absolute freedom, you can easily have unlimited chaos, and so we have a vast code of laws which - essentially - restrict those freedoms granted by the Bill of Rights. We can own a gun, but we can't use it to murder our neighbor. We enjoy free speech, but are enjoined from yelling "FIRE!" in a crowded theater. We have the right to be secure from unreasonable searches, but the police can obtain a search warrant to go through our things if they've convinced a judge that there's reasonable cause to believe we've committed a crime. We've learned to live with the balance between rights and responsibilities.
Well, most of us have.
I thought about this most recently when I read this article - Report: US Rejected Israeli Plea to Attack Iran.
This CNN article was based on a story by a New York Times reporter which detailed how the government of Israel had asked the US for various types of advanced weapons and passive assistance in conducting an attack on Iran's nuclear complex at Natanz. According to the author, the US government turned down the request because it could jeopardize operations in Iraq and have wider repercussions. But the part of the article that really made my hair stand up was this:
"Bush, instead, persuaded Israeli officials to not proceed with the attack by sharing with them some details of covert U.S. operations aimed at sabotaging Iran's nuclear ambitions..."
As I read this, a reporter for a major US newspaper has decided that his press freedom has granted him the right to expose what is certainly - if it exists - a program of extreme secrecy. I'm quite sure that the Iranian internal security organizations were very happy to learn about this, and are busy trying to stop it.
The purpose of Iran's nuclear program is, of course, open to interpretation. There are those who fervently believe that the program is entirely peaceful and dedicated to providing electricity for hospitals and orphanages. And there are those who believe that this may be true, but is at its heart a blind to provide cover for an attempt to develop a nuclear weapon. I happen to belong to the second camp.
I don't know about you, but one of the things that scares me more than the Internal Revenue Service is the thought of a nuclear weapon in the hands of a religious zealot who believes God speaks directly to him and has given him the authority to kill those who do not share his form of religious belief. This is, of course, the same person who has announced his desire to "wipe Israel off the map." I'm no particular friend of Israel, but I can understand the Israelis might be a little concerned about this.
Which brings us back to the New York Times story. What has been gained by exposing the possible existence of a "covert" program? I think the only winner in this was Iran.
We have many freedoms, and we cherish all of them. If you don't believe that, just try to convince a gun owner that there should be any restrictions on his ability to own a 155mm howitzer. But with freedom comes responsibility. I believe it was unnecessary and irresponsible for the Times reporter to publish this story. I don't know if there really is a covert program to fiddle with (that's a technical term) the Iranian nuclear program...the government doesn't usually check with me before doing such things. What I do know is that the thought of a nuclear weapon in the hands of a rigidly theocratic government is a very, very scary thing.
And I depend upon my government to protect me from it.
Freedom of speech is good. Sadly, though, it isn't always accompanied by Freedom of Smart.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.