by Victor Davis Hanson
Nobel Prizes from Lala Land
Norway is a tiny country that was born lucky. It is weak and defenseless (and was quickly overrun in World War II [while neighboring, neutral Sweden sold the Third Reich 40% of its iron ore, that went for everything from Tiger tanks to kill Americans to the ovens at Auschwitz — with free shipping across the Baltic included as a favor]. In the late 1940s it would have been Finlandized during the Cold War, if not for American-led NATO. And the world’s largest military is still pledged to its defense, in case any of the nations, to whose icons it bestows awards, some day decides to send terrorists or nukes its way
Second, it sits on or near enough to oil to allow what is otherwise a rather insignificant country to be the wealthiest per capita oil producer in the world, and enjoy the influence that many in the Gulf have grown accustomed to. Throw in minerals, natural gas, timber, and fish and the nation sits on a bonanza of natural wealth. No wonder there are philosophers who ponder how to dispense the largess and absenteeism is a national crisis (one receives almost ad infinitum the same cash whether “sick” at home or well on the job). The population of under 5 million is largely homogeneous (90% Nordic), and is thus stable, and both rich and safe beyond its wildest dreams. It does not border a Third World country; “difference” and the “other” — even with recent Islamic immigration — is still defined as speaking Swedish or Danish.
In other words, Norway has the leisure to be utopian, and cannot quite understand why other countries are not as liberal as it has proven. So Norway loves to give award to all sorts of right-thinking frauds (Menchu), scoundrels (Elbaradei), terrorists (Arafat), Stalinists (Le Doc Tho), Elmer Gantrys (Jimmy Carter) and hucksters (Gore) — as it sits in judgment of others from Lala land.
Remember, though, the Norwegians privately would not like to live under Central American communism of the Ortega brand, or right next to nutty nuclear Iran, or have Palestinian terrorists on their borders, or in general live the real life that the nation sanctimoniously advocates in the abstract. It sees what happens to neighboring Denmark’s cartoonists when they exercise free speech. It once saw what Neville Chamberlain wrought for its own neighborhood.
Norway is, in other words, the Hollywood nation. Imagine it is as the son or daughter of a movie star, one who grew up in Malibu, and feels so terribly about it that he lectures the U.S. about everything from global warming to George Bush’s assorted sins — confident that he will never have to work at Ace Hardware, and never have to live near South Central LA. That’ sums up Norway.
Effort and intention, not achievement, matter to these pious Europeans. We should honor preseason favorites, not 20-game winners; praise dazzling book proposals, not best sellers; gush about on-the-shelf Pentagon plans not battle victories. Don’t dare end the Cold War, or save millions in Africa from AIDs, or get rid of Milosevic; but most certainly do dare to convince the world that the Muslims jump-started the Renaissance. For that brave assertion, global peace will surely follow.
Norway on the Potomac
More seriously, the Obama Prize represents two recent larger Nobel trends: 1) an effort to curtail American foreign policy in favor of international deference (as in the case of rewarding Carter and Gore for their defamation of Bush in their opposition to Iraq); 2) a general disconnect from accomplishment in favor of leftist intentions, as in the case of Elbaradei or Rogaberta Menchu who accomplished essentially nothing (and spoke or wrote about that nothing in suspect fashion), but were a hit among international Western elites as authentically anti-Western non-Westerns.
Anyone who has taught in the university over the last thirty years has witnessed dozens of mini-sorts of Nobel Prizes each year handed out to faculty on the basis of what they represent or said rather than accomplishment; but it is still remarkable to see such postmodernism hit the world stage, where reality is virtual and constructed on language and expressed intent.
Think of the tiny Norway’s Machiavellianism: A utopian American President is now supported for his rhetoric — and yet also sent a signal that brave new Nobel Prize laureates simply don’t support Israel, pressure Iran, stay in Afghanistan or Iraq, or keep open Guantanamo. It is as if that Oslo is saying ‘our man in Washington’ is, well, now really ‘our man in Washington.’
The vision of Norway is now to be the aspiration of the world, albeit with the understanding that in the era of cap-and-trade someone will still buy Norway’s oil to power their carbon-foot-printing cars, and its timber for their ungreen homes, and still offer icky planes, rockets, nukes, and carriers to ensure Norway is safe in a fashion that it was not sixty-five years ago. Quisling is still its chief loan word to the English Language.
It’s Your Surge, Mr. President
OK, Mr. President, here’s your call. Your former bad, optional, get out by March 2008, unnecessary, “the surge in not working” war in Iraq is, mirabile dictu, about over. It’s quiet; fewer soldiers are dying there per month than die on average from illness or accident elsewhere in non-combat theaters.
But the defeated enemy has now refocused its attention on your good, necessary, must win war — one that you praised all during the campaign. Yet, Dr. Zawahiri senses hesitation among us the winners, and renewed zeal among his legions of losers. He wants to recoup the tarnished brand of radical Islam, and even up the score, by taking Kabul for losing Baghdad.
You recently announced that your new strategy was “finalized”, and, indeed, proved that by appointing your man in Kabul, General McChrystal. Now both your strategy and your team are in place, but need more troops to do in Afghanistan what we accomplished in Iraq. Your hot pursuing into Pakistan likewise would require additional reserves.
Still, the call is much easier for you than what faced the evil Bush: a) your Republican opposition is mostly on your side, not demonizing your general as a traitor (cf. General Betray Us) as the left once did in 2006-7; (b) your polls (50%) are higher than those of Bush in late 2006 (35-40%); you are coming off an incredible victory in Iraq, Bush was facing two ongoing wars, which were being written off by the pundits who used to chest-thump for both; and (c) the American people are more likely to support escalation (ca. 45%) than they once did the surge (ca. 30%). (I know that, since I have never gotten more hate mail than in late 2006/early 2007 for politely suggesting the surge was necessary, would work, and would save lives, both ours and Iraqis.)
But can Noble Peace laureates still escalate in the short term to win a war, save thousands of Afghan lives from a Taliban takeover and ensure that “evil-doers” do not plan another 9/11 from safe havens? Will you — or tiny Norway — determine U.S. foreign policy? Is the medal around your neck a shiny medallion of honor or an albatross sent from a wily bestower?
Some of us had doubts about your ‘let me at ‘em’ stump speeches, and ‘go into Pakistan’ tough talk in 2008. I felt that you were posturing and politicizing the war, given your Democratic opponents’ suggestions that you were weak on national security. As I wrote then, I worried that the goddess Nemesis was watching as you sounded like Patton on Afghanistan and Chamberlain on Iraq — and that an accounting might come due once the theaters were reversed. And so they have, and so the tab is now due.
Is it to make Norway angry, the elite international community “troubled”, the Left at home “ambiguous” or to finish the job and secure Afghanistan against the odds as we once did in Korea and Iraq — but not in Vietnam?
Do the Right Thing?
It is not an easy call, either politically or militarily. But still the choice is one far easier than the prior surge — given our unprecedented strength, the ability of liberal Presidents to calm Pavlovian anti-war outbursts, and the fact that we are fighting a nasty form of fascism, not a boutique sort of communism that appeals to the ignorant. (A cap-and-trade, gay-marriage, anti-American may find an Ortega or Castro romantic in a way he does not bin Laden or Zawahiri.)
So you can (1) get out, watch a general slaughter and boat-person-like overland exodus of the doomed; blame Bush, borrowing the language you employed against Iraq in 2007-8—and enjoy the acclaim accorded to laureates with troubled brows and bitten lips;
Or (2) you can sort of, kinda, maybe, maybe not, vote present, and continue as we are now, hoping we don’t lose as we don’t win. It’s the LBJ choice, counting on the sympathetic New York Times and NBC and Newsweek for a bit longer not to turn on you, and so will ignore the ‘tolerable” monthly body count;
Or (3) you can offend your liberal base, snub you sponsors in Oslo, and send in another 40,000. That would mean Churchillian talk of winning, a visit to the theater, and a FDR-like encouragement of the troops.
You might have to define the Taliban for what it is — a fascistic sort of murderous religious zealots — and lay out the objectives at hand: freedom for the Afghan people to govern themselves, with a message to radical Islam that never again will they plot the destruction of the U.S. from a safe haven.
If you pick the easy 1, your friends will praise you not as expedient, but “brave’” “principled,” and “daring.”
The even easier choice 2 ensures you grudging report, more disdain for Bush, and a neutral issue that neither hurts nor helps you in 2010. You may still do the old “Bush did it” to me thing and staunch the bleeding. Your “ordeal” and “agony” will earn Newsweek essays daily, and photos of you walking troubled and alone in the Rose garden.
But 3? That offends both your base, the Europeans, and even the public — and helps only the soldiers out on the frontier, sometimes outnumbered and outgunned. They are fighting and dying for a vision of freedom and security that they once took as sincere when they landed in that godforsaken country to fight godforsaken enemies from the 7th century. Do 3 and you will be surprised at the number of us who did not vote for you, but who will support your decision — even as casualties mount in the short term from the surge, and those who voted for you turn on you.
It is not easy, and a lot harder than campaigning. But that’s what Presidents do — they are trashed while they are in office, and judged fairly only when they are retired or beyond.
©2009 Victor Davis Hanson