RERUN–Dancing for the Boa Constrictor

Originally posted 10/2/2004
Updated 8/8/2012

In Wind, Sand and Stars, Antoine de Saint-Exupery refers to the legend of the monkey that dances for the boa constrictor–in the hopes that the snake will be so enchanted that it will let the monkey go on living. (St-Ex was making an analogy with a man he met in a village during the Spanish Civil War, who was trying very hard to be extra-friendly to his neighbors…in the hope that they wouldn’t shoot him for political differences.)

It strikes me that there is a lot of dancing for the boa constrictors going on it the world today.

In the debate Thursday night, John Kerry attacked President Bush for underwriting research into bunker-busting nuclear weapons. “I’m going to shut that program down,” says Kerry, arguing that we are not “sending the right message to places like North Korea” when we are pursuing such programs. Evidently, Kerry believes that if we provide the proper role model by abandoning such efforts, then North Korea and Iran will be more inclined to abandon their own nuclear programs.

Which makes about as much sense as arguing, in the late 1930s, that Britain and the U.S. should have provided a better role model for Nazi Germany by abandoning key weapons programs–say, the Spitfire fighter and B-17 bomber. Could any sane person believe that such actions would have led Germany to moderate its behavior? And today, could any informed person not believe that the leaders of Iran and North Korea are cut from cloth very similar to those from which the Nazi leaders were cut?

In this post, Bill Hobbs (link no longer available) explains the importance of the bunker-busting weapons. But to me, the key issue here is not whether building the bunker-buster is a good or a bad idea. The key thing is the absolutely stunning level of naivite that Kerry has demonstrated in thinking that the kind of people who run Iran and North Korea will respond in any substantive way to demonstrations of “good behavior” on our part.

Dancing for the boa constrictor. Maybe he’ll like me, says the monkey, maybe he won’t eat me–at least not yet.

(complete debate transcript here. Thanks to Little Miss Attila for the link.)

Shannon Love has written a very astute post on this subject. Sample:

In Kerry’s world model controlling nuclear proliferation is about moral suasion. He would contain the threat of rouge nuclear entities by making nuclear weapons a moral taboo. To create this taboo, we must lead by example and refuse develop new nuclear weapons. Our shining moral example will create a world in which it will be difficult for any national or sub-national political entity to justify creating, stealing and using nuclear weapons of their own.

At his heart Kerry is a talker. His core skill is political persuasion. He wants fiercely to believe in a world where any problem can be solved with enough articulation. He honestly believes that he can convince anybody to do anything. In his model, the US does not need nuclear weapons, especially new types of them, because they are superfluous when moral example and negotiation can easily contain the nuclear threat.

Sadly, Kerry doesn’t understand that violence isn’t about moral standing, it is about physics.

Also read the comments.

Update 8/8/2012: And here’s Barack Obama, in 2009, giving a great exhibition of boa-constrictor-dancing by asserting that deep reductions in the US nuclear arsenal will somehow make the North Korean leaders want to give up their nuclear weapons.

4 thoughts on “RERUN–Dancing for the Boa Constrictor”

  1. Robert Avrech over at Seraphic Secret ( had a very astute observation in re: the West’s attitude towards the Palestinians – that is that so many in the West “assume” that “they” think like “we” do and want the same things and are as “reasonable”.

    Seems like many in the West seem condemned to repeat that mistake – over and over.

  2. BillB…here’s something Ralph Peters wrote in 2006:

    “One of the most consistently disheartening experiences an adult can have today is to listen to the endless attempts by our intellectuals and intelligence professionals to explain religious terrorism in clinical terms, assigning rational motives to men who have moved irrevocably beyond reason. We suffer under layers of intellectual asymmetries that hinder us from an intuititive recognition of our enemies.”

    And here’s a rather similar remark attributed to Paul Reynaud, who became Prime Minister of France just two months before the German invasion of 1940:

    “People think Hitler is like Kaiser Wilhelm. The old gentleman only wanted to take Alsace-Lorraine from us. But Hitler is Genghis Khan.”

  3. David – Ralph certainly said the truth – to which I would add “Political “Correctness’ also hinders us from “intuitive recognition of our enemies” And for the same reasons – attributing to our enemies the same thoughts and desires that we have.

    Paul Reynaud had a rare insight – for 1940 France.

  4. A more fluent debater than poor George would have jumped right down Lurch’s throat at that moment and they would have ended the contest as a TKO.

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