A Tough Year Ahead

Here in Gomorrah-on-the-Potomac, the common wisdom is that the new Congress will not do much of anything in 1999, being paralyzed by the razor-thin Republican margin in the House of Representatives. Strangely, the new House leadership seems content with this sense of lassitude. Here, though, are four issues fraught with moral significance. Each requires the most serious attention from our national legislators in the new year.

Human Cloning. The ban on human cloning never made it through the last Congress, and without serious moral and political leadership it won't make it through the new Congress, either. Meanwhile, experimentation continues, the public is being slowly acclimated to the idea, the crucial “yuck factor” is being weakened and the net result is that we are getting closer to living the terrors of Aldous Huxley's brave new world.

One hesitates to say that anything is the “ultimate example” of our cultural crisis these days. But turning reproduction into a technological process is a form of narcissism that's hard to imagine topping. It is also hard to imagine anything more degrading to the human project. My friend Charles Krauthammer is no enemy of science, being himself a doctor. But the distinguished columnist has gone so far as to propose making human cloning a capital offense. I cite his proposal, not necessarily to endorse it, but to drive home what a thoughtful man, who cannot be accused of being a toady to Catholic morality, deems the gravity of the issue.

Saddam Hussein. The fecklessness of the administration's attempts to enforce an international legal ban on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is not simply embarrassing; it is extremely dangerous. To be sure, the Clinton administration is following in the footsteps of a Bush administration whose Gulf War endgame looks more irresponsible with every passing week. But like the administration it replaced, Clinton's wills the end in Iraq — the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime — without willing the means.

Meanwhile, there is every indication that Yassir Arafat will declare an independent Palestinian state on May 4, 1999. With such a state established on the west bank of the Jordan River, Israel between the Jordan and the Mediterranean will be narrower than Derwood Merrill's strike zone in last year's baseball playoffs, and its security will shrink accordingly. Suppose Saddam Hussein's Iraq becomes Palestine's arms depot, and the arms in question are chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons? A ghastly, bloody war in the Holy Land would quickly ensue, and on the threshold of the Great Jubilee of 2000.

The Saddam Hussein regime is not safe for the world. Something must be done about it, and about reconstructing an Iraq fit to live in for the suffering people of the country.

Strategic Defense. Iraq is not the only rogue regime actively seeking weapons of mass destruction and the ballistic missile capability to use them over long distances. North Korea and Iran are others. Then there is Russia. Suppose, amid political chaos, instability, and food shortages, it seeks to reassert its superpower status and its leverage in world affairs by threatening to use the thousands of nuclear warheads it still retains?

Missile defense is not a moral option; it is a moral imperative, as a deterrent against rogue states and as a means of legitimate self-defense. And missile defense systems ought to be deployed in ways that demonstrate that the United States is not seeking to retreat beneath a space-based technological Astrodome, but will work with others to build a shield against preemptive missile attack against neighbors and democratic allies. The next time you hear someone dismiss missile defense as “Star Wars,” tell them to get morally, as well as politically, serious.

Saving Social Security. Yet another Congress has failed to discipline its spending habits and ensure the long-term viability of Social Security. This was bad enough when the country was running huge deficits. It is morally irresponsible when the federal government has an enormous income surplus. Guaranteeing the medium-term viability of Social Security while providing for a long-term conversion to a more private-sector-oriented mandatory retirement insurance program is another morally-grounded issue whose resolution won't wait for another presidential election cycle.

1999: Looks like a tough year at the end of a tough century.

George Weigel is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.