A Real War

Fighting the worst fascists since Hitler.

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

Saddam’s Baathists recently blew apart Japanese diplomats on their way to a meeting in Tikrit to discuss sending millions of dollars in aid to Iraq’s poor. Their ghosts join those of U.N. officials who likewise were slain for their humanitarian efforts. On the West Bank, three Americans were killed: Their felony was trying to interview young Palestinians for Fulbright fellowships for study in the United States. In turn, their would-be rescuers were stoned by furious crowds — not unlike the throngs that chant for Saddam on al Jazeera as they seek to desecrate or loot the bodies of murdered Spanish and Italian peacekeepers in Iraq while the tape rolls. All this, I suppose, is what bin Laden calls a clash of civilizations.

Jews at places of worship are systematically being blown up from Turkey to Morocco — along with British consular officials murdered in Istanbul, American diplomats murdered in Jordan, and Western tourists, Christians, and local residents murdered by Muslims in Bali, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. The new rule is that the more likely you are to help, give to, or worship in the Middle East, the more likely you are to be shot or blown up.

Most of the recent dead were noncombatants. All were either attempting to feed or aid Muslims, or simply wished to be left alone in peace. Their killers operate through the money and sanctuary of Middle East rogue regimes, the implicit support of thousands in the Muslim street, and the tacit neglect of even “moderate” states in the region — as long as the tally of killing is in the half-dozens or so, and not noticeable enough to threaten foreign investment or American aid, or to earn European disapproval.

But when the carnage is simply too much (too many Muslims killed as collateral damage or too many minutes on CNN), then suspects are miraculously arrested in Turkey or Saudi Arabia, or in transit to Iran or Syria — but more often post facto and never with any exegesis about why killers who once could not be found now suddenly are. No wonder Pakistani intelligence officers, Palestinian security operatives, Syrian diplomats, and Iraqis working for the Coalition are all at times exposed as having abetted the terrorists.

Yet it hasn’t been a good six months for the Islamists’ public relations. Billions the world over are slowly coming to a consensus that the Islamists’ killing has cast as a shadow over the Middle East — a deeply disturbed place, better left to stew in its own juices. Only its exports of oil, religious extremism, and terror — not its manufacturing, science, medicine, banking, tourism, humanitarianism, literature, research, or philanthropy — seem to earn global attention. This is all a great tragedy, but one that, after September 11, gives us no time for tears.

Remember, even apart from all the killing in Israel and Iraq, all of the deadly terrorism since 9/11 — the synagogue in Tunisia, French naval personnel in Pakistan, Americans in Karachi, Yemeni attacks on a French ship, the Bali bombing, the Kenyan attack on Israelis, the several deadly attacks on Russians in both Moscow and Chechnya, the assault on housing compounds in Saudi Arabia, the suicide car bombings in Morocco, the Marriott bombing in Indonesia, the mass murdering in Bombay, and the Turkish killing — has been perpetrated exclusively by Muslim fascists and directed at Westerners, Christians, Hindus, and Jews.

We can diagnose the cause of this new fascism’s growth — which has very little to do with the old canard that racism, colonialism, and the CIA are to blame. Instead, corrupt thugs in the Middle East have for years looted state treasuries. They have imposed Soviet-style state autocracy on tribal societies. And they have stripped basic human rights from a skyrocketing population — one that has received just enough Western medicine and technology to ensure an explosive birth rate, but not enough to encourage the commensurate social, economic, and cultural reform that would prevent such growth from making life in a Baghdad or Cairo desolate.

The demise of the Soviet Union left a terrible legacy — one rarely acknowledged by our own Middle East specialists. Its Stalinist machinery was left in place to kill and torture in awful places like Libya, Iraq, and Syria — but without the coercive force of the Soviets to ensure that such deadly antics did not expand across borders to draw the Russians into unwanted confrontations with the United States. In turn, without Communists to worry about, so-called moderates in places like Egypt and Jordan — excepting, of course, the petrol states of the Gulf — had very little in common, or much leverage, with the United States.

So with the demise of the Cold War, these pathologies came to full maturity. Globalization enticed the appetites of the impoverished — as cell phones, the Internet, and videos, along with fast food and cheap imported goods, gave the patina of prosperity. In fact, internationalization only reminded 400 million that they could have the junk of the West, but without its freedom, material security, education, health care, and recreation. It is one thing to call a friend on a cell phone, and quite another to realize that one’s society cannot make the phone, cannot fix it, cannot improve upon it, and cannot even use it as desired — and is reminded of these failures by the very fact of the imported device’s daily use.

If the onset of democracy in India, Malaysia, and Indonesia suggested that Islam was not incompatible with consensual government, that hopeful message apparently did not catch on in much of the Middle East. Far from attempting to end the endemic problems of sexual apartheid, illiteracy, religious intolerance, polygamy, and everything from “honor” killings to state-sanctioned legal barbarism, most autocracies in the region allowed Islamic extremists and apologists to champion just such “differences” — as if the existence of such Dark Age protocols and endemic anti-Semitism were proof that the Arab world suffered none of the weakness and decadence of a soft West. Enough fools in the West were always around to nod rather than to challenge such Hitleresque romance — and even to invite such fascists from the Middle East to speak in Europe and the United States to the “oohs” and “ahs” of a few stupid and spoiled self-hating elites.

Into this vacuum stepped the Islamists — fed by Saudi money, blackmailing dictators as they saw fit, championing the poor and dispossessed who found their messages of hatred against the United States and Israel a salve for their own wounded pride and misery. It did not hurt that their enmity of the West was about the only topic of free expression allowed in censored state media.

In their defense, the mullahs in the madrassas at least realized that if it were left to corrupt tyrants like Saddam Hussein, Khadafi, and Assad to offer alternatives to the West, the Arab world would soon be caught up in the same liberalization that had swept Asia and parts of South America and Africa — to the chagrin of the patriarch, imam, and warlord, whose currency is deference received rather than freedom granted.

This strange new fascism explains why millions in the Middle East who in theory do not like a Yasser Arafat, Saddam Hussein, or Osama bin laden still find consolation in the unrelenting opposition of these killers to the West. Kids whose parents were butchered by Saddam Hussein and are now fed and protected by American money and manpower nevertheless dance upon a burned out Humvee while shouting for Saddam to return. The same is true of those on the West Bank who have their capital looted by the Palestinian Authority, their relatives jailed or murdered, and their votes and speech curtailed: They will still praise Arafat to the skies — if he at least mutters some banality about hating the West. Because these are irrational responses — people acting from their appetites and impulses rather than their heads — we here in the United States, in our arrogant worship of our god Reason, with no confidence in or appreciation of our singular civilization, have gone about things pretty much all wrong.

Remember the worry about “getting the message out”? We all know the tiresome refrain: If the Arab world just knew about all the billions of dollars we give; all the Muslims we saved from the Balkans to Kuwait; all the censure we incurred to ease Orthodox Russians’ treatment of Muslims in Chechnya, to stop Orthodox Serbian massacres of Albanians, or to discourage Chinese attacks on their own Muslim tribes; then surely millions of the ill-informed would reverse their opinion of us.

Sorry, the truth is just the opposite. The Arab street knows full well that we give billions to Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinians — and are probably baffled that we don’t cut it out. They also know we have just as frequently fought Christians on their behalf as Muslims; they know — if their voting feet tell them anything — that no place is more tolerant of their religion or more open to immigration than the United States. Yes, Islamists all know that opening a mosque in Detroit is one thing, and opening a church in Saudi Arabia is quite another. Hitler wasn’t interested in Wilson’s 14 Points or how nicely Germans lived in the U.S. — he cared only that we “cowboys” would not or could not stop what he was up to.

No, the message, much less getting it out, is not the problem. It is rather the nature of America — our freewheeling, outspoken, prosperous, liberty-loving citizens extend equality to women, homosexuals, minorities, and almost anyone who comes to our shores, and thereby create desire and with it shame for that desire. Indeed, it is worse still than that: Precisely because we worry publicly that we are insensitive, our enemies scoff privately that we in fact are too sensitive — what we think is liberality and magnanimity they see as license and decadence. If we don’t have confidence in who we are, why should they?

To arrest this dangerous trend requires a radical reappraisal of our entire relationship with the Middle East. A Radio Free Europe, though valuable, nevertheless did not free Eastern Europe; nor did Voice of America. Containment and deterrence did. As long as governments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and many Gulf states encourage hatred of the United States, we must quietly consider them de facto little different from a Libya, Syria, or Iran. For all the glitter and imported Western graphics, al Jazeera and its epigones are not that much different from Radio Berlin of the 1930s.

We had also better reexamine entirely the way we use force in the Middle East. We did not drive on to Baghdad in 1991 out of concern for the “coalition” — and got 350,000 sorties in the no-fly zones in return. We chose to worry about rebuilding before the current war ended, and let thousands of Baathist killers fade away, and in the aftermath allowed mass looting and continual killing before our most recent get-tough policy.

In fact, anytime we have showed restraint — using battleship salvos and cruise missiles when our Marines were killed, our embassies blown up, and our diplomats murdered; allowing the killers on the Highway of Death to reach Basra in 1991; letting Saddam use his helicopters to gun down innocents — we have earned disdain, not admiration. In contrast, the hijackers chose not to take the top off the World Trade Center, but to incinerate the entire building — proof that they wished not to send us a message but to kill us all, and to kill us to the applause of millions, if the recent popularity of Osama bin Laden and his henchmen in the Arab street is any indication.

We had better rethink the entire notion of dealing with the mythical moderates within regimes like Iran and Syria. I am sure that they exist, as they existed in Saddam’s Iraq. But we see the moderates now in Iraq and — with all due respect — they are not exactly the stuff of Ethan Allan, Paul Revere, or the Swamp Fox. In fact, in the Middle East, tens of thousands of democrats are more passive in their desire for freedom than are a few hundred fascists in their zeal for tyranny. We should accept that dissidents would never have toppled Saddam on their own — and are not quite sure what to do even in his absence. Victory alone, not stalemate or a bellum interruptum, will free the Arab people and extend to them the same opportunities now found in Eastern Europe.

In short, there is no reason for any American diplomat to have much to do in Teheran or Damascus — the haven of choice for many of the killers who bomb in Turkey, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. “Getting the message out” to a Syria is like traveling to Warsaw in 1950 to convince the government there how nicely Poles are treated in Chicago; sending peace feelers to Teheran is analogous to doing the same to Cuba in about 1962; discussing policy with Saudi Arabia is like talking to Gen. Franco about the perils of Mussolini or Hitler; incorporating Jordan in our resistance is like counting on a France circa 1940.

Peace and harmony will come, but only when the Middle East, not us, changes-which, tragically, will be brought along more quickly by deterrence and defiance than appeasement and dialogue. President Bush was terribly criticized for his exasperated “bring them on,” but that was one of his most honest, heartfelt — and needed — ex tempore remarks of this entire conflict.

We are not in a war with a crook in Haiti. This is no Grenada or Panama — or even a Kosovo or Bosnia. No, we are in a worldwide struggle the likes of which we have not seen since World War II. The quicker we understand that awful truth, and take measures to defeat rather than ignore or appease our enemies, the quicker we will win. In a war such as this, the alternative to victory is not a brokered peace, but abject Western suicide and all that it entails — a revelation of which we saw on September 11.

Despite some disappointments about the postbellum reconstruction and the hysteria of our critics, our military is doing a wonderful job. We should understand that they have the capability to win this struggle in Iraq and elsewhere — but only if we at home accept that we have been all along in a terrible war against terrible enemies.

©2004 Victor Davis Hanson

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