Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Diplomacy: What Not To Do

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

1980 Redux

We are in scary times. The horrific photos of Ambassador Stevens bring to mind memories of Mogadishu or Fallujah, and make us ask why were there not dozens, if not vastly more, Marines around him in his hour of need. By preemptively caving into radical Islam and not defending the US Constitution and our traditions of protecting even uncouth expression, the Cairo embassy’s shameful communiqué only invited greater hostility by such manifest appeasement.

I’m afraid that a number of hostile entities abroad will be reviewing all this in the context of the last four years and surmising that this may be the best time, as in 1979–1980 (e.g., Russians in Afghanistan, Communist take-overs in Central America, the Chinese invading Vietnam, hostages in Tehran, etc.), to cash in their chips. Radical Islamists knew that their governments in Egypt and Libya either would not, or could not, do anything when they went after Americans; talk of radical defense cuts and American financial implosion may encourage others to take chances when in the past they would not have; there is trouble brewing in Asian waters over disputed territories and perceptions that the US, whether conventionally or even in the nuclear sense, is not quite the strong ally of Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and the Philippines that it once was; when we snub the Israeli prime minister, after a long series of earlier slights, the message goes out to Tehran that the US is not entirely sure that it will aid Israel in its coming time of crisis. And by now we have heard enough Cairo-like speeches,Al Arabiya interviews, and seen enough bows to know that we can always find yet a new way to be culpable even for self-induced Middle East pathologies.

Note the recurrent theme: We always blame the wrong entities. We fault Netanyahu for making a supposed pest of himself for reminding us of Tehran’s nuclear progress. We go after the nuts who made the anti-Muslim movie rather than the far greater danger of bloodthirsty Islamists who would murder to deny all free speech. When a Major Hasan goes on his rampage, our chief of staff of the army immediately laments the danger to our diversity program. We fret that KSM might not get his civil trial, or a Mutallab his Miranda rights. As Coptics are targeted, we assure ourselves that the Muslim Brotherhood is secular, and on and on.

Spike the Ball?

Triumphalism is usually not wise, if only from a pragmatic point of view. The media had a field day when Bush unwisely allowed himself to be filmed speaking beneath a huge navy banner reading “Mission Accomplished.” Yet it was strangely quiet when a laughing Hillary Clinton once boasted of Qaddafi’s death — channeling Caesar’s veni, vidi, vici boast over the end of Pharnaces at Zela: “We came, we saw, he died.” Or when we heard ad nauseam from Joe Biden and others that “GM’s alive and Osama bin Laden is dead.” In comparative terms, bombing a fleeing and forsaken Qaddafi or even taking out an isolated Osama in his compound may prove far less difficult than dealing with what is rising in the Middle East after the Arab Spring, what emerges from Syria, and what Iran becomes within a year or so. I would cool all this “spike the ball rhetoric,” and quietly carry an even bigger stick, because there is a lot going down abroad within the year.

©2012 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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