Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Do We Want to Go Back?

What to remember come November.

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

The great accomplishment of the Truman administration was containment — especially the creation of a policy to ensure that Soviet Communism did not enter Western Europe. Critics on the right once argued over “Who lost China and Eastern Europe?” and the stalemate in Korea (“No substitute for victory”). Left-wingers harped on American knee-jerk support for anti-Communist dictatorships in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.

Be that as it may, Americans owe Harry Truman a great deal for overseeing the rebuilding of Europe, his prescient understanding of the danger of Soviet expansionism, and preservation of the Democratic party from the forces of appeasement — and worse — from its extremist Left.

Something similar to that landmark policy — a Bush Doctrine — is now emerging to face the threat of Islamic radicalism. Despite the current shrill claims that the United States is hated, hopelessly naïve, bogged down worldwide, and back in another Vietnam, since September 11 we have witnessed a historic emergence of a comprehensive foreign policy to confront Islamic fundamentalism and its parasitic relationship with Middle East autocracy — without which it cannot survive.

The end of the Taliban and Baathist Iraq are impressive accomplishments. So are the scattering of al Qaeda and the arrest of hundreds of Saddamites and terrorists. But there are a number of other developments that have often gone unheralded and are, in the long run, just as important, even if they will not make nifty sound bites in the November election.

Hello, Europe. Far from polarizing our allies, we are entering into a more mature relationship that has dispelled much of the dishonesty of the last 20 years. Expect more, not less, cooperation from Germany and France around the globe. The United States’ willingness to use force for the preservation of Western ideals has given the Europeans new confidence at home and more credibility worldwide. Indeed, they now boast of their soft power in pressuring rogue regimes in a way impossible without the specter of allied American muscle. Our new relationship with Eastern Europe has reminded the Europeans that liberty rather than government-enforced equality still resonates with millions. NATO is at a crossroads, and will either deploy credible forces in Afghanistan and Iraq or die on the vine — and this is now as it should be.

Goodbye, Bases. Thanks to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, the entire question of where, why, and how American soldiers are based and deployed overseas is now, for the first time in 60 years, under sober review. To the Bush administration’s credit, the issue is not merely one of cost and pique — nor even of tactics and strategy in a post-Cold War world — although such considerations remain critical.

More importantly, the present leadership has grasped that many of our own problems with allies arose from an unhealthy dependency, in which we provided unquestioned security while they ankle bit amid their own growing sense of inferiority. Our post-Cold War relationships with Europe, South Korea, Japan, Turkey, and Middle East countries will become far better for all involved once they begin to learn American military support is a partnership to be shared rather than an entitlement to be granted.

Maturity in the Middle East. Despite hysteria that the Bush administration is in the clutches of some vast neoconservative (read Jewish/Likud) conspiracy, it has advanced the most ambitious, humane, and needed initiatives for the Middle East in the last half century. Precisely because we no longer give autocracies a pass for pumping oil and keeping out Communists — and are no longer complacent as usual, but unpredictably angry about terrorism — our policy now is neither cynical realism nor starry-eyed multilateral fantasy.

Instead, without naiveté we strive for constitutional government and modernization. We are trying to help to integrate the Middle East into the rest of the world’s democratic economy — and to end our own appeasement of fundamentalism, dictatorship, gender-apartheid, anti-Semitism, press censorship, and pathetic victimhood that all played their parts in leading to September 11.

Liberals ridicule the Bush doctrine because they claim to be idealistic, and resent that force, rather than reason alone, is sometimes needed. Islamicists hate it, because if Afghanistan and Iraq work, they are largely through. Moderate dictatorships in the region slur it because they can no longer triangulate with us to garner aid and a pass on their own repression. Arab faux-intellectuals and their fellow travelers in the West caricature it, because reform will make untenable their hothouse cynical anti-Americanism — as they soon become as irrelevant as Panamanian or Serbian leftists damning the United States for removing Noriega and Milosevic to give democracy a chance.

A Pass for Saudi Arabia? No autocracy has been more involved in the spread of anti-American Islamic fascism than the Saudis. And unlike the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, the royal family was so intertwined with grandees in Washington — oil projects, arms sales, decades-old shared anti-Communism — that it seemed impossible for the United States to distance itself from that hereditary plutocracy and all that it stands for.

To the credit of the Bush administration, all American troops will soon be out of Saudi Arabia. Its “charities” are being systematically shut down to end their subsidies to terrorists. For the first time in a half-century, the royal family is more worried about American support for democratic change in the Middle East than we are of an oil embargo. Given that the Saudis sit on 25 percent of the world’s known oil reserves, and that the American appetite for imported oil is insatiable, it is quite amazing that we have come this far this fast.

So Long, Yasser Arafat. If one believes that Mr. Arafat is not merely an ex-terrorist but a contemporary criminal as well — given the proximity of killers in his midst — then past American support for his Tunisian mafia was crazy. In an era when Mr. Arafat had recently felt like the White House was his second home, and the fatally flawed Oslo agreements were still spoken of in near religious language, President Bush had the courage to sever the pathological relationship. The Americans have made it clear that Arafat’s brutality makes peace with Israel impossible while his innate corruption precludes any chance that there will ever be prosperity and consensual government for the Palestinian people. So it is now the Palestinians’ call — fair and periodic elections, free speech, and civic audit — not ours. And that too is as it should be.

Nuke-Mart. For two decades the Western world lamented the spread of nuclear materials, but chose to avoid the messy work of coercing crazy regimes to reveal their arsenals. The old American policy was based on two flawed premises: trust in the power of international agencies, and bribery. That led to the nuclearization of both Pakistan and North Korea — and a number of other lunocracies like Libya and Iran reaching the penultimate state of getting the bomb.

Amid the wreckage of the past, credit goes to the Bush administration for a new tripartite policy: 1) engaged vigilance, but not blackmail, of rogue nuclear states like Pakistan and North Korea; 2) pressure, including the threat of force, against would-be nuclear powers like Libya; 3) empowerment of international agencies to monitor emerging nuclear programs through promises the United States will (cf. the fate of Saddam Hussein), if need be, enforce their edicts.

The United States is waking up from a serious malady. Once upon a time state-supported terrorism was seen as a criminal problem, not war, requiring yellow police tape, not GPS bombs. Afghanistan was turned into an anti-American terrorist base. Saddam Hussein required never-ending patrols to “box” him in. Osama bin Laden was too “hot” to be apprehended when offered up by potential captors. Pakistan and North Korea went nuclear — the greatest failure of many of the Clinton administration. Iran and Libya bought arsenals with impunity. Yasser Arafat systematically destroyed twenty years of economic progress on the West Bank and violated every accord he signed. Anti-Americanism grew in Europe without rejoinder or consequences. Saudi Arabia expected protection while our own female soldiers on patrol there hid their faces and arms — and promised not to drive. Terrorist funds flowed freely throughout the globe, as anti-Semitism and Islamicist-inspired hatred of Israel became the new pillar of trendy left-wing thought. All that has at least been recognized, checked, and is well on the way to being stopped.

Just as a presidency of earlier ossified liberals like Michael Dukakis or Walter Mondale probably would have led to support of a utopian nuclear freeze and subsequent Russian intimidation of Europe, unilateral cuts in military preparedness, and acquiescence to the Soviet Union, so too the election of John Kerry may well undo much of what has been achieved these last three years as we return to the old, normal way of doing business.

With Howard Dean gone, Kerry realizes that suddenly he must move rightward to sound tougher than George Bush. Finally, he seems to understand that every northern liberal Democrat in the last 30 years who ran to the left on national security lost badly — like McGovern, Mondale, and Dukakis. And so Mr. Kerry abruptly will have to talk grandly of what he would have done to make us more secure. Yet a better guide is his own record in opposing defense programs, in harboring a chronic suspicion of using American force, and his own contradictory past votes about deployments to the Middle East.

More likely, if President Bush loses, the war against terror will return, as promised, to the status of a police matter — subpoenas and court trials the more appropriate response to the mass murder of 3,000 at the “crime scene” of the crater in New York. Europe will be assured that our troops will stay while we apologize for the usual litany of purported unilateral sins. North Korea will get more blackmail cash, while pampered South Korean leftists resume their “sunshine” mirage. Iraq will be turned over to the U.N. as we abruptly leave, and could dissolve into something like the Balkans between 1991 and 1998. Iran and Syria will let out a big sigh of relief — as American diplomats once more sit out on the tarmac in vain hopes of an “audience” with despots. The Saudis will smile that smile. Arafat will be assured that he is now once again a legitimate interlocutor. And strangest of all, the American Left will feel that the United States has just barely begun to return to its “moral” bearings — even as its laxity and relativism encourage some pretty immoral things to come.

If White House politicos figured that many who were angered about out-of-control federal spending and immigration proposals would grumble, but not abandon Mr. Bush — given the global stakes involved after September 11, and the specter of a new alternative foreign policy far to the left of that of a Warren Christopher and Madeline Albright — then they were absolutely right.

© 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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