by Victor Davis Hanson
NRO’s The Corner
New and Improved?
As Mark Steyn has warned for years, the Western attitude toward reports of terrorism is about as anti-empirical as one can imagine. We hear that Jewish hostages in Bombay were horrifically tortured, even as pundits assured us that the terrorists were symptomatic not of a cruel and evil radical strain of hateful Islamic fundamentalism, but of poverty and India’s illiberality toward Muslim minorities (ergo — mad at Hindu extremists or the dominant culture? Then take a neighborhood Jewish fellow prisoner and torture and execute him and his wife?).
FISA and wire-intercepts of terrorist communications in the pre-Obama president months were once derided as more of Ashcroft-Bush stomping on the Constitution — except that now ABC News reports that, in fact, US intelligence agencies supplied India with general knowledge of the rough time period, place, and perhaps even method of terrorist attack. Are we to believe that such newfound capability to warn a country 7000 miles away about terrorist infiltration on its borders would be of no utility here at home?
I think in response what we will see is that insidiously, bit by bit, Obama and the Obama-brand press will begin to drop the shrill rhetoric about destroying constitutional liberties, and replace it with the vocabulary of ambiguity (e.g., try “complex,” “no easy answers”, “problematic”, etc.). Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (mastermind of the 9/11 mass murders) will cool his heels in Gitmo for a bit longer rather than going onto a federal circus trial in NY or DC as a political prisoner with his government-paid-for lawyers seeking to find a sympathetic jury to nullify the evidence in the interest of social justice (I hope David Axlerod has polled the American people on that possible fiasco).
And I suppose that, given the Obama appointments, Iraq is now no longer an open sore, and of no utility in fighting radical Islam, but quietly evolving into a success better turned over to the Petraeus/Iraq timetable. And I think there will be both no more campaign-trail chest-thumping about going into Pakistan (lest India finds that a useful exemplar), and quiet compliance with existing stealthy Predator strikes against bin Laden followers in Waziristan.
All this is very American: Like taking the same old laundry detergent, sprinkling in a few new inert green crystals, and putting it in a more eye-catching redesigned box, with “New and Improved” (rather than ‘hope’ and ‘change’) spashed in bold cursive across its top.
The Pakistani four-step
We all know the Pakistani four-step:
1) Large parts of the country where al Qaeda and its affiliates openly congregate are a “badlands,” a “frontier,” or a “tribal land,” supposedly out of control of an otherwise concerned government, eager to stop terrorism, but too often impotent to do so — and extremely sensitive to charges that its intelligence services or military cadres might in some quarters be sympathetic to radical Islamists who destabilize democracies in nearby India and Afghanistan.
2) Western suggestions for more order are deemed illiberal support for military juntas; Western suggestions for more democracy are derided as naive calls for plebescites that will empower popular jihadists. Taboo is the suspicion that a large majority of Pakistani people sort of likes the idea that its homebred Islamists from time to time kill Hindus, Afghans, Americans, Christians, and assorted Crusaders and Jews. We are told ad nauseam that Pakistani public opinion concerning the U.S. is “at all time lows,” never that U.S. public opinion toward Pakistan is even lower, or that we are more concerned about the present good will of a democratic India, than the disdain of an autocratic Pakistan where the 9/11 killers reside.
3) The suggestion of lunacy, as well as the notion of a “failed state,” is not unwelcome, since it reminds the U.S. that it should continue giving billions in aid, both military and civilian, inasmuch as otherwise an unpredictable nuclear and Islamic Pakistan is not always in control of terrorists who might get fissionable materials, or, due to its religious zeal, might not necessarily behave according to the Cold War laws of nuclear deterrence, or because of its poverty can’t be held to account.
4) When all else fails, the Pakistani Westernized elite simply blames the U.S., past and present: during the Cold War we armed dictators and jihadists alike (apparently the alternative of becoming a Soviet protectorate was preferable); during the war on terror we energized strongmen (apparently we were to accept that the architects of 9/11 were ensconced on Pakistani territory and free to destroy the Afghan democratic experiment). Taboo also is the suggestion that most of Pakistan’s problems are self-created, and involve deep-seeded religious zealotry and intolerance, rampant corruption, a lack of transparency, and medieval practices of land tenure (always interesting to hear anti-American critiques from members of the Pakistani baronial class).
As I understand the subtext of U.S. current policy — we pay Pakistan billions for (a) locking up their nukes, (b) the privilege of hunting terrorists, largely, but not always, through drone missile attacks — and Pakistan has plausible deniability. (c) It deplores U.S. intrusions when we screw up and either kill someone too prominent or get caught on tape; and (d) we loudly deplore Pakistani terrorism when its terrorists go beyond killing a few Christians or diplomats and do something like Mumbai.
I suppose all this is sustainable, but a large number of Americans (who wonder why seven years after 9/11 the killers are still traversing Pakistani provinces) are getting tired of the same old, same old, and might wish to wash their hands of Pakistan — and out-source the problem to India.
California — by negative example
I think the wretched state of California, now looking at a fiscal disaster of roughly a $20-30 billion annual shortfall, should be a wake-up call for the Obama administration. Whatever California is doing — please don’t follow suit!
With proposed increases, we will have the highest sales taxes (ca. 9%) in the nation, the highest state income taxes (10+%), and probably the lowest thresholds to get into those top brackets — and yet only about 380,000 Californians pay 40% of the aggregate income tax revenue.
In exchange, our schools, roads, airports, hospitals, and police are, to use a euphemism, not competitive. The CSU campuses make up the largest university system in the world, with the largest unionized faculty, and yet nearly 50% of entering freshman must take mandatory remedial math and English courses. We don’t utilize our ample energy, mineral, and timber resources, but instead depend on other states who do. Such an odd mix — we have sermons on our own greenness, but stealthy dependence on other less liberal producers to satisfy our insatiable appetites. (Thank God for moose-hunting Sarah Palin’s Alaska and an assortment of Middle East authoritarians).
We have an enormously expensive, but incompetent government at all levels. It has a horrendously expensive bicameral Legislature, hundreds of boards and bureaus that serve as $100,000+ sinecures for political insiders and term-limited ex-politicians. Those with advanced degrees fly to our low- or no-income tax neighboring states, coupled with an influx of tens of thousands without high school diplomas. We have a political discourse that is polarized, self-censored, and completely framed by race, class, and gender agendas — reflecting the curricula of our high-schools, colleges, and universities. The electorate is as volatile as it is unhinged. One day it will vote billions of dollars in new bonds for massive new projects, the next it will vote to fund massive prison complexes for “3-strikes and you’re out” prisoners, and on yet another it will vote to pass liberal feel-good nostrums that nullify what came before.
In short, the state is the left-wing version of Lehman Brothers.
©2008 Victor Davis Hanson