A US Foreign Policy Marked by Competence and Strength

by Victor Davis Hanson


I would like to know if Victor sees any merit in the president’s attempt to appeal to ordinary Muslims via his bully pulpit? Does celebrating Ramadan in the White House or wishing Persians Happy New Year accomplish anything that can aid our efforts in the Middle East and elsewhere? If not, is it a matter of degree? (Ricochet member Trace Urdan)

It is always as a rule better to be “nice” than gratuitously rude. But that said, 2009 saw the most foiled terrorist attempts in any single year since 9/11. The Cairo myth-making speech, the Ground Zero presidential demagoguing of opponents, the often extreme anti-Bush outbursts by John Brennan, the counter-terrorism czar, the NASA new directive to outreach to Muslims — all this and more have not persuaded bin Laden and Dr. Zawahiri, or a Maj. Hassan or Mr. Mutallab that they should go easy on the West.

Why? Because their hatred of the West was never predicated on a particular president (remember that Jimmy Carter’s therapeutic foreign policy still won him the title of Great Satan in 1979), or even a particular act (the US has been unusually kind to Muslims in Kosovo, Bosnia, Somalia and helped to free them in Kuwait and Afghanistan), but is deep-seeded and long-standing, involving the primordial emotions such as perceived honor, fear, and pride. Note that bin Laden is not calling for jihad against Russia for its near-genocidal destruction of the Muslims of Grozny. The reason that there are not suicide bombers in Germany demanding back land from Poland, or in South Korea trying to force US troops to leave, is simply that both are successful societies full of successful people who make their views known in public fora where discussion and debate are aired and adjudicated.

In much of the Middle East, the reverse is true: failed states full of angry citizens who daily are made aware — through cell phones, the internet, cable TV — that life is far better (freer, more prosperous, and safer) outside the Arab Islamic world. Yet rather than address the causes of this disequilibrium — tribalism, statism, autocracy, gender apartheid, religious intolerance — they unleash their frustrations against a very visible, very successful hyper-power like the US and to a lesser extent Israel. That is in part because Arabs perceive that there are few consequences or reckoning to their venom, and, in part, because so many Americans offer them cheap talking points (it is no accident that a Zawahiri in his writings praises a Jimmy Carter’s book, the work of Noam Chomsky, or references Michael Moore) and encouragement.

So, yes, we should be nice and pleasant with the understanding that whether a jihadist acts out his frustrations hinges largely on whether he has bought into the propaganda that all his own personal unhappiness and angst have a global source in the US, and that there are many intellectuals, in and out of the West, that will confirm the righteousness of his paranoia.

Finally, appearing weak only encourages such violence. After the three-week brilliant victory in March-April 2003, Gaddafi gave up his WMD arsenal, Syria got out of Lebanon, Dr. Khan was shut down in Pakistan, and the Gulf states curbed their subsidies to terrorists. By 2007, however, anti-Americanism in Middle Eastern nations arose again commensurate with our apparent incompetence in Iraq. And yet by 2010 and apparent victory in Iraq, the US was regaining greater influence among the Arab community, especially as it looked for our leadership to stop Iran. Proven competence and strength, especially in pursuit of a good cause, can do far more than expressions of good intentions; a weak nation that is most considerate and full of deference will nevertheless be ignored or despised if it loses wars — given the universal nature of man.

©2011 Victor Davis Hanson

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