The hard truth won’t go away.
by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online
At the end of this summer of our discontent, an array of Democratic presidential hopefuls, along with a number of restless pundits, are seeking to reclaim credibility after their mistaken prognoses about the Afghan and Iraqi wars. These critics now claim that we are in a Vietnam-style quagmire in Iraq and have become estranged from the rest of the world on a variety of fronts from the West Bank to the United Nations.
Nothing could be further from the truth, which is immune to spin from both ends of the political spectrum. The facts themselves will not go away, and thus it is more likely that critics (quietly and without fanfare) will soon come over to the U.S. position, rather than vice versa — albeit on the cheap and at the eleventh hour.
For all the harping, postbellum Iraq and Afghanistan offer hope; the Taliban and Saddam Hussein certainly did not. The world knows the United States is promoting liberal government and that gangsters — whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, or on the West Bank — are opposing it. Choosing between the Dark Ages and the Enlightenment is not difficult even for the French, especially when someone else pays and dies.
The Iraqi people are sensing one party is blowing up its pipelines and roads, and one is protecting and rebuilding them. That is why even in the middle of postbellum chaos, in a recent Gallup poll almost 70 percent of Iraqis thought things were far better now than under Saddam. For all the media hysteria, the American people will accept that in history’s terrible arithmetic of conflict, the United States achieved an historic victory at an historic minimum of lives lost — and improved both its own security and gave hope for 50 million in the Middle East.
Saddam Hussein has been relegated to the status of the Serbian outlaws Karadzic and Mladic. It would be nice to catch such state criminals — and we will — but democratic reform goes on while they live on in the shadows, like empty wraiths shrieking and plotting despite their lack of flesh and blood.
For all the criticism about warlords, it is now likely that Afghanistan will never again be turned over to al Qaeda to train thousands to conduct the type of murder we saw on September 11. For all real problems with ambushes and sabotage, there will be no more gassings, mass murdering, invading neighbors, sending guided missiles across borders or no-fly zones in Iraq, but rather the hard work of consensual government — a difficult process easily caricatured, but when completed universally admired.
Mullah Omar can never give a press conference again. The quality of bin Laden’s supposedly authentic videos goes from bad to worse. A tape that once earned a red alert now is the stuff of lame jokes on late-night television. Soon even Clintonites will no longer boast about once keeping bin Laden or Saddam in his “box.”
We are not the only ones who know all of this. The German government realizes that these radical changes will prove for the universal good. For all of its election-inspired anti-American rhetoric last year, Germany accepts that the United States is not colonizing Iraq or siphoning off its oil, but rather spending billions of its own money, after a risky military operation, to help the Iraqi people — whether bringing water back to the Marsh Arabs, federalism to the Kurds, or respect and dignity to the Shiites.
Those facts cannot be spun and will not go away: American soldiers stationed in Iraq are no more exploitative than those in Germany, but are instead there to keep the peace and provide security, just as once they saved the Germans from themselves, and then kept the Russian bear out of Munich and Hamburg.
This truth, deep down, the Germans accept, and it explains why, for all of his prevarication, Mr. Schroeder knows that he is on the wrong side of history in his dispute with the United States. He is just now starting to sense that it is the American public, not a neoconservative cabal, that feels something is amiss with the transatlantic relationship, which from trade to defense largely benefited the Europeans.
If Mr. Schroeder is not careful, in a year from now there will be very few American troops in Germany; his socialist government will be faced with spending billions for its own security, with a piqued United States that for once will not so readily come to Germany’s aid in its inevitable hour of crisis; Iraq will enjoy a consensual government despite German opposition to the removal of Saddam Hussein; and France will be Berlin’s chief and perhaps only major ally. Ditto on a smaller scale for tagalongs like Belgium and Greece.
The French may even cease their overt opposition, not from appreciation that what the United States did in Iraq is for the long-term good of the world, but from a reality check provided by the last few months, which have not been as good for them as they think. There are cracks in the European Union, and the idea of choosing France over the Americans is odious even for most Europeans. Triangulating may for the moment play well in the Middle East, but ultimately Arabs will accept that the United States, not a harping France, risked so much to liberate Iraq. And when 10,000 of its own elderly citizens expired in their apartments while millions lounged at the beach, French claims of moral and political singularity were exposed as a fraud. And France, remember, traffics in images, not power.
So France, too, risks being an observer while the greatest democratic experiment of the age goes on in Iraq, isolated from the United States, which may well reconsider its clandestine support for France that so often facilitated Gallic military adventures abroad in Africa and elsewhere. A democratic, prosperous — and lucrative — Iraq is only in France’s interest, especially when someone else risked the blood and treasure to achieve it.
We never did like going it alone in Iraq, but there is also a growing
sense by both supporters and critics here that we are in essence going it alone
nonetheless — and won’t stop until the democratic reconstruction of
Iraq is complete. For France and Germany — who gave no material or military support, but offered much overt hostility — there grows the realization that when we are done in Iraq, we might be in a sense done with both of them as well — a liberating, not a depressing, thought for millions of Americans. Demographic problems, statism, anti-democratic trends of the EU, failure to assimilate immigrants, pacifism and a disarmed continent, and intellectual bankruptcy and Pavlovian anti-Americanism among an elite — all that and more will be for them to handle in the decades to come.
Mr. Bush has been criticized for isolating Yasser Arafat. But the latter is someone whose enmity you welcome. The Europeans may give him a pass on his stealthy financial and emotional subsidies for Hamas and related killers, but they won’t forgive his near-billion dollars in a private bank account. Killing Jews is one thing; stealing European money to subsidize the good life for kin and cronies is quite another.
Finally, even facts do matter. Before Mr. Arafat returned to the West Bank, life was far better for his people than during his kleptocracy. He may be adept at screaming from balconies and writing checks to terrorists, but he cannot govern. He was a creation of the Soviet Union and a mobster of the old school, and thus can only do what mobsters do — provide protection for money, order hits, extort from rivals, buy supporters, embezzle from friends, and purchase political legitimacy.
Reasoning with him would be no different than discussing democratic reform with Saddam Hussein, or brokering freedom of speech with the Iranian mullahs, or believing Mr. Castro will hold real elections. Such men cannot do such things, because they are precisely such men — to ask them to do otherwise or to be other than what they are is to ask them to die.
None of the threats from the Israelis, the praise from the Arabs, or the measured and calculated rhetoric from the Europeans can change the truth. It just sits there and won’t go away. Palestinian puppets will come and they will go, but ultimately there will be no peace until Mr. Arafat finds his inferno or joins his family in France. It is simple as that.
These are difficult days with constant sniping at Americans, both metaphoric and literal, in Iraq, billions in expenditures, and a hysteria that has infected both our politics
and media. But as long as we keep on the right side of history, we will not go wrong. After September 11, seeking to recover our national security by removing aggressive terrorist and fascist regimes is both moral and noble; so is implanting consensual governments, not military dictatorships, in their places. Supporting a democratic Israel in its efforts to withstand suicide murdering by organized killer gangs is never a mistake, whatever the politics of oil, money, terror, or geopolitical strategy of the day.
Finally, the president’s critics have got it entirely backwards. The
easy, the safe — the amoral — path after September 11 was one of cruise missiles, grimacing with the nodding Europeans, and empty rhetoric, braggadocio that for the moment would have pacified angry Americans without disturbing their calm or hitting their pocketbooks. In contrast, the really hard choices were to ensure not that such horrific regimes ceased their killing for a moment, but that they ceased to be altogether. Critics talk of promoting “perpetual war,” but our past conduct, not the recreation of the present deterrence, alone would have guaranteed that scary scenario.
To ask brave soldiers to go into the inferno of Afghanistan and Iraq and by virtue of their skill and courage, under the televised scrutiny of a global audience, end the rule of murderers was not easy. Nor was staying on to help the helpless. Yes, the truly frightening alternative was the blustering inaction that we have seen for the past 20 years that led to September 11 and the real quagmire in the Middle East.
So I expect that the European critics, the U.N. (its money, its headquarters, its muscle, and its elite support, after all, depend on Americans), and most of the Arab world will eventually gravitate to the United States. After petty squabbles over prestige and honor, they will hold their noses and “support” (nodding, but no money) what is going on in Iraq — as long as we stay firm and don’t weaken in our commitment to rebuild Iraq and continue to press on in our effort to shut down the nearby havens of terror. There is no “war against terror,” remember — only a “war against those states that aid and abet those who employ the method of terror.”
Conventional wisdom here and abroad assures that Americans must seek to reclaim friendships now recklessly endangered. Yet despite the undeniable need for the United States to be humble and forgiving, I reckon the real rub may lie in the opposite direction, as they seek us out rather than vice versa.
Once the world sobers up and the frenzy subsides, nations will still want someone to be worried about Iran and North Korea. The Bekka Valley will not disappear. China will still scare its neighbors. Japan will still look to the United States military. The NATO partners won’t wish us to leave; Russians will remember that we will never attack them, but always find a way to forgive them for almost everything they do. Egyptians and Jordanians will appreciate that they have slandered Americans and been paid in the process. And despite, or perhaps because of, past appeasement, Islamic terrorists will still hate the defenseless Europeans as much as they do the United States.
Meanwhile the American public is tiring of them all — and that will be the real challenge for any president in the years ahead.
©2004 Victor Davis Hanson