Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The Same Old Thing

Our Augean stables are 30 years old.

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

One of the strangest developments of the ongoing presidential campaign has been the creation of a new national mythology: The United States is alienating the world, losing the friendship of the Europeans, needlessly offending the Arabs, and generally embarking on a radically new foreign policy of preemption and hegemony. Would that “unilateralism,” Bush’s drawl and Christianity, or Halliburton contracts were the cause of our problems — then we could fawn over the U.N., send Jimmy Carter once more around the world, have our president learn to drop his accent, and publicly chastise oil companies, and, presto, be liked! But unfortunately the current tension is far deeper than media strategies and insufficient “consultation” — and in fact goes back at last three decades.

Thirty years ago, during the Yom Kippur War of October 1973, most of the Europeans of the NATO alliance refused over-flight rights to the United States. We had only hours in which to aid Israel from a multifaceted surprise attack and were desperately ferrying tons of supplies to save it from literal extinction. In contrast, many of these same allies allowed the Soviet Union — the supposed common enemy from which thousands of Americans were based in Europe to protect Europeans — to fly over NATO airspace to ensure the Syrians sufficient material to launch and sustain their surprise attack on the Golan.

American “unilateralism” in those days meant acting alone not to let Israel perish. Had we gone “multilateral” and listened to our NATO allies — Germany, France, Greece, and Turkey all prohibited American planes from flying supplies in their space in transit to Tel-Aviv — there would be no Israel today at all. How odd that nations who asked for our protection from the Soviets would allow them to fly in supplies to the Syrian dictatorship, but not extend the same privilege of airspace to their protectors to save a democracy.

In exasperation at such a bad state of transatlantic relations, a furious — who else? — Ted Kennedy attacked Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, blaming us, not the Europeans’ peculiar taste for fascism over Israeli democracy, for “heedlessly creating a crisis in the Atlantic alliance.” Again, this was 30 years before his most recent outburst about a fraudulent war being cooked up in Texas. The New York Times, of course, then as now, echoed his concern.

Nor is the present Chirac-Schroeder axis novel — much less is it the result of a new bellicose American foreign policy. Again, 30 years ago the French and Germans — then under the auspices of Messrs. Pompidou and Brandt — were attacking the United States for showing partisanship to Israel and endangering European commercial interests in the Middle East.

The Dominique de Villepin of that age was the globe-trotting Michel Jobert, Pompidou’s foreign minister. Shortly after the war he visited all the radical Arab capitals to ensure French oil supplies and weapons sales. He capped off his trip in Baghdad to lend support for Arab rejectionism — in hopes of sending a message to the United States by sabotaging American peace efforts to end the hostilities. Indeed, Villepin’s present-day chauvinism is simply rehashed Jobert, down to the whining about being a victim of superpower insensitivity, decrying unilateralism, and calling for a new muscular European unity under the cultural aegis of France.

We worry about the recent eruptions of Arab anti-Semitism, but shouldn’t be surprised since that is the old stuff of the Islamic Middle East. Gamal Nasser, for example, once brought in 80 former Wehrmacht officers under Col. General Wilhelm Frambecher to refashion his army into something like Hitler’s finest. Apparently he thought German officers would know best how to finish off the Jews who escaped the Holocaust.

Are we upset that the Palestinian Authority had something to do, either explicitly or by laxity, with the recent killing of American attaches who were seeking to interview Palestinian students on the West Bank? But again, what else is new? Thirty years ago, Yasser Arafat’s thugs murdered two U.S. diplomats in Khartoum.

What explains the depressing similarity to years past, when the Soviet Union — the ostensible troublemaker that supplied the Middle East with terror training, weapons, and state-run police states — is now gone? Well, after Communism’s demise, Europe chose to disarm and thus is even weaker than before — and, for that reason, still angry at not exercising global influence in a world dominated by the United States. The French still stew over faded and unrecoverable past glories, but now cannot even use their nuclear force to triangulate with another superpower. Meanwhile the Germans are still troubled that their population and economic clout for some reason do not win commensurate world status given their checkered past. In response, more of the same tired retreats into historical revisionism, rather than principled support for democracy and freedom, more often provide salve for German self-inflicted wounds.

True, after 1989 the Arabs lost their best arms supplier and terrorist support havens in Eastern Europe. And the entire Marxist dream of a Pan-Arabist socialist empire ended up with the Baathist Saddam Hussein in a hole in Tikrit, Arafat lording over his rubble pile in Ramallah, Khaddafi blabbering about peace from a tent in the desert, and another Assad as bombastic as he is weak. Yet despite the decline of these Soviet-created tyrants, the political system of the Middle East — hereditary autocracy — is unchanged from thirty years ago. Thus an array of third-generation calcified ideologues cling to the old ace-in-the-hole hatred: “The Jews did it”; “Jihad will save us yet from the Zionist entity and the Great Satan”; “Palestine will stretch to the Mediterranean”; and so on.

Is there anything we can do to change the strategic calculus of decades past, inasmuch as we still protect a militarily weak Europe, and the Middle East is still undemocratic? In fact, we have already made good progress in unleashing cleansing waters through these Augean stables: carefully downsizing our troops in Western Europe; seeking to implant consensual government in Afghanistan and Iraq; and isolating an Arafat who is no different from his past or his present front groups that now do his killing.

We can do still more — remembering that the problem can only be slightly ameliorated, but not altered by sugarcoating what we say to the Europeans, inasmuch as the tension is deep-seated and arises from our own insistence on subsidizing much of their defense, when their land is larger, their people more numerous, and their enemies fewer than America’s. Despite the risks involved — the continent is still the graveyard of thousands of American soldiers who died to stop its perpetual internecine killing — only by allowing Europe to take care of its own security will we ever have a real friend and partner rather than a perpetually dependent adolescent in his forties, whining that he can take out “his” car whenever he wants, as long as his parents make sure that it is paid for, insured, gassed, and runs.

At some point, Mr. Villepin will realize that he has led France into near disaster, his puerile dash as appealing to American intellectuals as it is suicidal to his country’s interests. Indeed, Eastern Europeans now win far more global respect than France for their integrity and courage in promoting not arms sales or oil concessions, but democracy under fire, in Iraq. And at precisely the time Mr. Chirac has offended the radical Islamic world by his banning of scarves in the French school system, he has also eroded in an era of danger and crisis almost all public support for France in the United States, which, instead of playing the role of a high-school principal in prohibiting Islamic dress, has been a historic agent of global change promoting democracy among Muslims.

Indeed, America has no time to worry about dress codes. Instead it is has embarked on the most radical policy in the history of the region — one whose unorthodox nature has stymied even our worst critics from the mullahs in Iran to Muammar Khaddafi. Power — destroying and humiliating the Baathists in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan — coupled with idealism in supporting indigenous democracy rather than a shah-like strongman, offers some chance of ending the old way of doing business.

We must continue hacking away the terrorist Hydra in the Sunni Triangle, and hope that the ongoing cultural, economic, and military fallout from Iraq begins to erode fascism and theocracy in Syria and Iran faster than such nearby pathologies can ruin us in Iraq. We are in a race for civilization like none other since World War II. And yet, due solely to the courage and skill of an amazing generation of American professional soldiers battling in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are winning — as this difficult war is beginning to resemble 1944 far more than 1939.

As the Europeans talk, the Palestinians explode, and the Arab dictatorships threaten, the fence creeps on in Israel — the most radical old idea in a half-century. It is not a perfect solution, but a forced solution of sorts nonetheless, prompting hysterical reactions from the terrorists, but strange silence from most capitals of the Arab world. Many outside of Ramallah secretly won’t be unhappy to see the situation gradually quiet down into a de facto settlement — along the lines of readjusted borders in a present-day postwar Germany or Japan, whose citizens are not blowing up Poles or Russians a half century later for occupying home soil lost after failed wars of aggression.

The Palestinians, who get their state and will see lots of settlers leave, hate the barrier not because it slices off some security slivers from the West Bank, but rather because it simply promises an end to their entire parasitic relationship with Israel. Suicide bombing was predicated on weakening Israeli will, ruining the economy, discouraging immigration to Israel, encouraging Jewish flight, tapping into latent anti-Semitism in Europe, and thus hoping that terror and demography would one day win what arms never could. In contrast, early indicators suggest the fence will make it very hard for suicide bombers to continue to traffic in death — apparently the sole bargaining chip left to a corrupt Palestinian Authority.

Arafat’s thousands of hangers-on will now be free to take their billions in European, American, and Arab bribe money and either build a successful society on their own side, or continue the squalor that results from their robbing and stashing millions in foreign banks as they claim perpetual victim status. And the whole world can watch the verdict on a Palestinian state that shares open borders with several Arab nations without blaming Israelis — a quandary for liberal Europeans, since for decades their inexplicable support for Palestinian autocracy has served as a convenient and useful vehicle for entrenched anti-Semitism adroitly masked by concern for supposed refugees and an oppressed “other.”

Arabs themselves can’t so easily encourage another 100,000 Palestinian Arabs to sneak across an open border to live in the only sanctuary for Arab human rights in the region — as they caricature Israel as a racist nation. And with a fence Israel’s own one million Arab citizens will find that they really must now be Israelis, not “Palestinians,” and thus eventually might be subject to four years of public service rather than the old way of rock-throwing and protests of solidarity with “deprived” and “stateless” kin a few kilometers of easy access away. The world is long tired of the juvenile “We hate you — let us in” and “Destroy the Zionist entity — but let me earn some cash there first.”

Downsizing in Europe, seeing a wall rise on Israel’s border, and trying to create democracy in places like Afghanistan and Iraq are not pleasant, easy solutions. Indeed, such tough efforts to end the familiar status quo will prompt greater outrage. Expect more adolescent “I hate Bush” articles, gloomy, end-of-the-world scenarios in the New York Review of Books, and hysterical appearances from an array of ex-NATO apparatchiks, worried former Saudi ambassadors, out-of-work Clinton State Department “crisis-managers,” and frowning Washington insiders. Anticipate also more invective about “neoconservatives,” “unilateralism,” “ideologically driven policy,” “hegemony,” “squandered good will” — and all the other meaningless buzz words and third-hand catch-phrases that now are regurgitated daily in lieu of thoughtful analysis.

Yet in truth we are witnessing a radical change in the world’s landscape, a much-needed honesty that will soon curtail both the deceitful rhetoric and hypocritical behavior that have insidiously warped us all in the West during the last 20 years.

So let the waters wash on through the stables of our corruption.

©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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