Our Dog Days

August has passed, but its craziness may not have.

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

The Greeks believed that the rising of Sirius, the Dog Star, in August made the sun grow hot, and hence inaugurated a period when people acted a little crazy — as we ourselves all saw the past few weeks.

But beside the natural tragedy of Katrina, the panic of rising gas prices, and other assorted August calamities such as the stampede that cost hundreds of lives in Iraq, there were also other depressing events over the course of the month.

In Crawford, Texas, there grew what many would call a Star Wars bar of sorts, as almost every strange character in our cultural galaxy flocked to the corner table of Cindy Sheehan.

Not since the California recall election have we seen such a cast. When Ms. Sheehan slurred Israel, David Duke sent his praise, while assorted white supremacists and neo-Nazis showed up to express their solidarity. When it was known that she called the president the “world’s biggest terrorist,” everyone from Martin Sheen and Viggo Mortensen to Al Sharpton popped in. It is a strange world when Code Pink and Aragorn are in the same chorus of adulation as the National Vanguard.

Sadly she is now like a fluttering moth mesmerized by a candle flame that can only singe her tiring wings. Neither divorce, family illness, nor the shame of having offended other bereaved mothers can keep Cindy away from the cameras at Crawford — until, of course, the August Dog Days pass, the opportunistic media tires of her, the angling Left finds no more blood sport left in her, and she can return to her private grief.

Then we heard a lot from the Palestinians this month. Poor Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is embarrassed because after the Israelis left Gaza, the world sort of collectively sighed, “O.K., here’s your state, get to it.”

If a few thousand Jews could create an entire new agricultural sector from scrub while under siege, surely a million free citizens of Gaza, in an age of oil riches for the Arab world, could pave their streets and build their own power plants.

And so just when the world was beginning to think that the Palestinians, if not the Arab world in general, were losing the angst of their perennial victimhood — so necessary to deflect blame from their own failures onto the Jews and the West — a suicide bomber struck inside Israel.

Prime Minister Abbas condemned the attack. But the suicidal killer was simply reifying much of what Abbas himself had said on previous occasions. When he once boasted, “Today we are beginning the march of the fishermen towards freedom. Soon you will be able to fish along the whole coast of Palestine,” it could only mean something like, “Go to it, suicide killers, and pay no attention while I condemn you officially to the Americans.”

And so Hamas — their leaders still hooded and often in hiding — brag of Gaza now, West Bank next, Israel itself last — as if any of them could do what the entire Arab world failed to pull off with Soviet support in 1947, 1956, 1967, and 1973. Meanwhile, we all know that the reason there is not another conventional Arab-inspired Middle Eastern war is because there is no more nuclear Soviet Union — to force us to call the Israelis off when they are on the verge of defeating and humiliating the aggressors.

Final question: Since the Palestinian Authority has declared that Gaza will reopen its airport for international travel, will Hamas, Hezbollah, or Islamic Jihad provide the pilots, air-traffic control, and security to protect civilian passengers from masked hijackers, suicide bombers, and missile launchers?

Speaking of oil, in August it seemed to have spiked at $70 a barrel, over doubling in price in about two years. For all the jihadist rhetoric about the West stealing Arab resources, almost no one has contemplated the new billions of dollars now in the hands of Middle Eastern autocracies, perhaps around $600 million a day in extra profits, or over $200 billion more a year.

Three questions come to mind: (1) Will the jihadists finally stop talking about oil theft and start worrying about the Arab world’s price-gauging of petroleum-hungry impoverished poor Muslims in Africa and Asia? (2) Will any of this money go to the Palestinians, who apparently are now asking the strapped Europeans and Americans to resume aid to subsidize Gaza? (3) How many of these plentiful petrodollars will be recycled to jihadists and arms merchants — and what would Saddam and the Oil-for-Food thieves have done with an extra $20-30 billion a year to play with?

Yet, the strangest scene of this strange August was the recent staged Sunni demonstration against the constitution in Iraq. Should we laugh or cry, applaud or wince?

A minority of the population, many affiliated with the past regime that wrecked the country and butchered the population, first mostly boycotted the vote, then lost, then — once bruised — came back into the political process, then left — and now is out on the street carrying the picture of the demon who would have butchered any Iraqi for such marching just a few years ago.

Are the Sunni leaders part of the democratic fervor or not? How can they slur democracy, but then seek a redress of grievances through democratic demonstrations? Is the strategy to be, “I don’t believe in constitutional government, so I will participate in it — if only to end it?”

And their “Pay no attention to that man behind that curtain” strangeness gets stranger. The Sunni clerics and Saddamites hold sway over a fraction of the population. They have no oil, but instead too often have a record of backing the butcher of Baghdad, while being spiritual supporters of the terrorists and killers who have tried to destroy Iraq. And yet, the mere fact that they are registering to vote in droves and airing their grievances peacefully has probably done more to undermine the insurgency than almost any recent development; after all, the terrorist Zarqawi recently threatened to kill any Sunni who voted, and now the mosques themselves are urging their flocks to do just that.

Back at home, there was an August strange deer-in-the-headlights quality to the Democratic leadership that may likewise be due to the heat and ennui. Despite the weak approval ratings of the president, the Democrats don’t know quite what to do about Iraq.

There is constitutional voting, but Sunni boycotts. The insurrection continues, but our military is getting much better at stopping it. The Middle East seems to be moving in the right direction — in Lebanon, the Gulf, Libya, Egypt — but so slowly.

What to do, what to say?

Is Cindy Sheehan the avatar of a new summer of 1967, a San Francisco-like reawakening that will bring us a new grassroots surge to stop the war?

Or is she Michael Moore redux, with whom you don’t wish to be caught, Jimmy Carter-like, sitting during a televised convention?

She scores points with the faithful when she bashes Bush on the war, but not when stooping to call the president “the world’s biggest terrorist” and the US a “morally repugnant system” — much less shouting the following in support of the convicted terrorist abettor Lynne Stewart: “We are waging nuclear war in Iraq, we have contaminated the entire country. It’s not OK for Syria to be in Lebanon. Hypocrites! But Israel can occupy Palestine? “

Yes, there is a real antiwar wing of the Democratic party now, but what are savvy veterans like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, or Joe Biden to do — embrace it, ignore it, or run from it?

Will Sheehanism lead to Moorism, and devolve into something like the Chicago-convention street theater of 1968, and thus derail a potential Democratic victory in 2008 — sort of in the way George Soros’s Moveon.org and Howard Dean probably hurt Kerry?

Indeed, if “Stop the War, now!” thinking characterizes the mainstream party, is the antiwar movement going to deliver a George McGovern of 1972 all over again? Or if you hold out, will you be back-stabbed and dry-gulched by your own, as happened to Hubert Humphrey?

Since the Democratic establishment’s political stances on the war are predicated apparently only on the ever-changing pulse of the battlefield, no one knows quite what to do — only that the cryptic American people seems to be losing interest in a war that it fears apparently we will not or cannot win, but yet does not want to resign itself yet to losing.

If the military beats the insurgency, the Iraqi constitution goes through, and the ripples of democracy surge throughout the Middle East, then no Democrat wants to be on record advocating a cut off in aid, a timetable of withdrawal, or for the 4th consecutive year whining about Halliburton and “Bush lied, thousands died.”

On the other hand, if the losses mount, the Iraqi provincial government collapses, and real civil strife breaks out, then there will be a rush to the podium to proclaim “I told you so.”

So for the more sober Democrat pros this hot August, the conventional wisdom was to keep away from Cindy and Crawford, watch and wait, and be content with the innocuous mantra “train more of the Iraqi security forces, talk to moderates in the region, and get our allies involved” — the very things that the present administration has been actively involved in for the past three years.

Thank God, this sad August of natural and manmade disorder is at last over.


©2005 Victor Davis Hanson

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