Iraq and Moral Distortion

by Victor Davis Hanson

The American Enterprise Magazine

The war that began on September 11, 2001 has unfortunately pushed international moral relativism and anti-Americanism back onto the front burner. Ugly paradoxes abound:

  • European and American journalists agonized over a purportedly mistreated Koran in Guantanamo Bay, yet remain silent about the police state right outside of Gitmo’s walls.
  • Sexual stupidity at Abu Ghraib gets far more weight than the thousands murdered in the same building by the dictatorship that America ended.
  • The U.N. is held up as a morally superior alternative to coalitions of the willing, even after the vast Oil-for-Food scandal that enriched Saddam and U.N. insiders at the expense of everyday Iraqi lives has been exposed.
  • France and Germany present themselves as alternatives to U.S. leadership in solving the problems of the Middle East, even though they were the main traffickers with Saddam up until the very eve of the war, and have sent money to terror groups like Hamas.
  • The U.S., which has welcomed millions of Arab immigrants, and given billions in aid to Egypt, Palestine, and Jordan, and rescued Muslims in Kuwait, Kosovo, Bosnia, Somalia, and Afghanistan must now plead that we are not anti-Muslim.

How did America’s willingness to remove fascistic and odious regimes like the Taliban and Iraqi Baathism result in such a skewed moral reaction?

First, for a great many Western elites, and the Third-World intellectuals who take their cues from them, it is a given that anything the United States is for, they are against. America enrages these people, while they merely blink away al Qaeda terrorists and Arab dictators. We glimpse this pathology in Cindy Sheehan’s indictment of President Bush as a “terrorist,” or Senator Kennedy’s slander that “Shamefully, we now learn that Saddam’s torture chambers reopened under new management: U.S. management.”

Second, the problem is deepened when the Administration fails to make the full moral case for our current Middle East policy, and speaks only in the abstract about installing democracy and eliminating the horrors of the Taliban and Hussein pasts. In truth, the United States is engaged in one of the grandest efforts in international rebuilding of the last century. Not since the postwar liberation of Japanese women, and the breakup of landed monopolies in Japan, has any postwar humanitarian reform of this cultural and social scope taken place.

How perverse that Americans — long branded as cynical opportunists for backing strongmen who pumped oil and kept out communists — are now derided as naive fools who do not appreciate the hierarchies of tribal Islam, because we now traffic in idealism.

Then there is oil. The entry of China and India into the global petroleum market has encouraged cutthroat self-interest. Almost everything a France, Germany, India, or China does in international affairs in the future will be predicated on improving its own access to oil supplies. That’s why Putin’s Russia and Chavez’s Venezuela and near-nuclear Iran and Wahabi Saudi Arabia are increasingly immune from global criticism; they have petroleum to sell. Yet it is America that gets accused of trading blood for oil!

How can the U.S. regain the moral high ground it deserves today? We should begin by making clear who is trying to blow up the innocent in Iraq. They are not Iraqi patriots, but psychopathic killers. Fascism is their creed, and they hate everything about liberty and tolerance.

And we must remind the world that America is not only extracting no oil wealth out of Iraq, but instead spending its own children and treasure there to create a more humane Middle East. Utopian Europeans and Americans should be reminded that inaction in the face of barbarity is the real moral failing.

There can be legitimate disagreement about whether America’s effort in Iraq will work, and whether it is worth our sacrifices. But that argument is one of efficacy, not morality. To those critics who babble endlessly about U.S. hegemony and imperialism, we should say simply: Shame! Shame on you for aiding those who blow up schools and murder women with purple fingers, in places that for the first time in modern memory do not have a tyrant’s portrait leering down from their walls.

Victor Davis Hanson is a contributing writer for The American Enterprise.

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