Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Brace Yourself

The months ahead will be momentous.

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

The summer and fall have been and will be momentous: national political conventions, elections slated in Afghanistan and here at home, the Olympics, high gas prices, and near cultural hysteria, whether measured by Fahrenheit 9/11 or the Swift-boat ads. But brace yourself — this is only the beginning.

We should expect not only the dirtiest election in years, but also some real challenges the United States has not experienced since 1941.

HYSTERIA

Almost every day, al Qaeda suspects or affiliated terrorists are arrested somewhere in the world. Islamic fascists blow up Israelis, behead Nepalese, murder Russian children in schools and on the street, and kidnap French journalists (so much for appeasement). They want to destroy trains in New York as they did in Madrid. They seek to ruin democracy in Kabul and Baghdad and take down Russian airliners. Nearly each week they are caught forming cells in Europe and the United States — all akin in their desire for theocracy, incoherent demands, partiality for barbarous methods of killing civilians, and hatred of Western-style liberalism and freedom.Now we learn that they may well turn their attention to targeted assassinations here at home — in the manner in which Osama bin Laden took out General Massoud of the Northern Alliance on the eve of the September 11 attacks, and like the various efforts to incinerate General Musharraf in Pakistan. The problem is not only that such efforts would be aimed at short-circuiting the nerve center of the United States, but also that previous reckless talk on the part of some cultural elites at home would only accentuate the turmoil.

The 2002 winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, Nicholson Baker, is due out with Checkpoint — an extended dialogue on killing (in a variety of strange ways) George Bush. Last year, comedian Rick Hall played to full houses in the U.K., performing his newest composition, “Let’s Get Together and Kill George Bush.” A so-called pacifist group announced its sponsorship of a rather violent-sounding off-Broadway “guerilla comedy” entitled, I’m Gonna Kill the President.

This is stupid — and dangerous. Al Qaeda has announced its intentions play on perceptions of Western decadence and nihilism. Should the terrorists strike at our leaders, there will be a national accounting over the failure of those on the left to condemn such extremism. Alfred A. Knopf, for example, is promoting Baker’s book as a cri du coeur — “in response to the powerless seething fury many Americans felt when President Bush decided to take the nation to war.”

“Seething”? The radical Left is courting disaster and threatens to destroy the credibility of liberals who are apparently fearful of condemning the madness in their midst — this “cry of the heart” to save Saddam Hussein from the wrath of an imperialistic and bullying United States. When upscale protestors swear at delegates and parade obscene signs in New York while John Kerry goes windsurfing in shades and racing gloves, you have a recipe for disaster for wannabe populists.

OIL

We should also accept that the terrorists have finally caught on to just how fragile the world’s oil supply is. The global economy is recovering. India and China are becoming voracious energy importers. The United States will neither tap all of its own ample reserves nor embark on a new round of fuel-efficiency standards. Global speculators and investors are hypersensitive to even the slightest disruption in supply.Thus we see daily attacks on facilities near Basra and in Kurdistan. The point of these bombings is not to shut down oil exportation altogether, but to make it clear that petroleum demand and supply is a fragile equation, requiring countries to pay exorbitant prices to unsavory regimes and causes, and to embrace political concessions.

It would be naïve of us to think that a Venezuela, a Saudi Arabia, or an Iran will ever unite with us to stop such terror, when the direct result of such uncertainty is an enhanced position for their regimes and cash windfalls in the tens of billions of dollars. We should assume instead that within a year or two we may well see a series of coordinated attacks on Russian or Middle Eastern petroleum facilities and tankers, as well as efforts to knock out or flip over a large exporting country; and we should plan right now for that eventuality. Greater fuel efficiency of our cars coupled with careful drilling in the Arctic is the obvious compromise, along with more nuclear power and continued work on hybrid fuels.

NUCLEAR IRAN

Get ready for a nuclear Iran — and perhaps sooner than we think. Oil exporters don’t burn off their natural gas and then complain that they need reactors to light their streets. Only Jimmy Carter believes that. Indeed, an ideal storm has arisen that has given the Tehran theocracy unforeseen opportunities to press ahead.The ongoing fighting in southern Iraq — astutely aided and abetted by the mullahs — gives the impression that the United States is not ready or willing to pressure the Iranians to desist. Anti-war hysteria in the United States, they assume, assures them of a temporary pass: A fragile petroleum market cannot take another Middle East war. “Preemption” and “unilateralism” are now no longer doctrines but caricatured profanities. And a Europe that appeased Saddam for cash will be outright fawning when faced with three-stage, nuclear-tipped rockets pointed at Brussels.

The furor over North Korea convinces Tehran of the attention — and bribery — to be had by threatening to go nuclear. America will soon have to face the fact that while we were hypnotized over Kerry’s medals and George Bush’s National Guard service, Iran quietly and methodically created and hid away enough bombs to threaten the world’s oil supply and much of the West itself. And the president who confronts a nuclear Iran will be demonized by the global Left in a manner that makes the present Bush-hatred look tame.

HE’S BACK

Michael Moore is only temporarily dormant, and, as we just saw, he is starting to froth and rumble. It has been a little while since he was in the spotlight with Fahrenheit 9/11 — a near-fatal quiet for an egomaniac of his caliber. He inaugurated the present cycle of American viciousness right after 9/11 (lamenting that Republicans were not more in evidence at the 9/11 World Trade Center) and never really stopped — calling Americans “stupid,” praising the beheaders in Iraq as “Minutemen,” and slurring Bush as a “a drunk, a thief, a possible felon, an unconvicted deserter, and a crybaby.” For the moment his presence has been trumped by the Swift-boat veterans, whose mainstream third-party ads have done more harm to Kerry than Moore’s creative slumming ever did to Bush.But it is worse than that. Michael Moore is a greater albatross around John Kerry than any Republican ever could have wished — providing tit-for-tat exemption for outside groups on the right to emulate his methodology, but without his counterproductive, buffoonish, and repulsive antics. Moore is the Abbie Hoffman or Jerry Rubin of our times, and thus might do for John Kerry what the latter two and their followers did for Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern.

So get ready for another Moore belly-flop into the American political cesspool. It is too late to make another propaganda film before the elections, but we will see his hand in a variety of media, with his characteristic allegiance to untruth, hysteria, and malice.

DEMOCRATIC IMPLOSION

Finally, this election promises to be a turning point in American political history, but not in terms of the usual pundits’ reckoning of a red/blue standoff and the specter of a divided country’s future once more decided by the courts. The voting won’t come to that, but may well lead to a lopsided new division. The close presidential polls we see now mask a larger trend that has been nearly unceasing the last 20 years: the growing popularity of conservative thinking, which has been far more successful than the boutique liberal ideology in capturing the aspirations of working Americans.The Democratic party of Harry Truman is moribund. We saw that all through the primary and convention. Democratic “populism” now consists of a screeching preppie Al Gore or Howard Dean, backed with money from Hollywood and George Soros — or John Kerry skiing in Sun Valley or windsurfing while resting up at one of his many homes. The result is that, despite the controversy over the war, the post-9/11 jitters, and the hysterical reactions to George Bush, most Americans tend to distrust those who claim allegiance with “the people.”

Thus if the Democrats lose the next election, they must confront the bitter fact that the House, the Senate, the presidency, and soon the Supreme Court are lost — and lost mostly to the dominant influence of their most vocal and wealthy supporters in Hollywood, the universities, the media, and the foundations who have privileged an agenda that is out of touch with most of those whom they never see nor wish to see.

It might have been neat the last two years to read of Soros’ money pouring into anti-Bush movements or the various theatrics of ANSWER, Not In Our Name, and Moveon.org. But most Americans who channel-surfed their televised rallies were disgusted by the hate and the weird fringe groups that showed up to trash the United States. Witness the protests at the recent convention in New York: again, guerrilla street theater juxtaposed with sailing off Nantucket are not the images Democrats wish to convey while Islamofascists blow up and behead innocents in Russia, Israel, Kabul, and Iraq.

The party hierarchy reflects only its accumulated years in law school — the Clintons, Ted Kennedy, Al Gore, John Edwards, John Kerry — slicers and dicers who redefine the word “is” and view the world in terms of words rather than action. When a smug John Edwards flashed his smile and thought he was reentering the televised courtroom to dissect the president’s use of “catastrophic,” we knew that his old legalese, not ideas about fighting terrorists, is about all he has to offer. But, Senator Edwards, we are not a jury that can be talked into voting for millions of dollars for you in claims. We are a people in a real war for our very existence who want to be led to victory.

If Bush wins in November, and I think he will, then there will be recriminations and fury of the like we have not seen since the Right imploded after 1964. For many of us lifelong Democrats, the very sight of Michael Moore perched next to Jimmy Carter at the convention in Boston says it all — the sorry coming together of conspiratorial anti-Americanism and self-righteous appeasement.

We are not at the end of history, but rather at its new beginning. All the old truths — conventional warfare, the Atlantic alliance, petroleum-based affluence, conventional political debate, etiquette, principled disagreement, and the old populist Democratic party are coming under question. And the only thing that is clear from what will follow is that it will all be loud, messy, full of surprises — and occasionally quite scary.

© 2004 Victor Davis Hanson

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

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