by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online
Do we even remember “all that” now? The lunacy that appeared after 9/11 that asked us to look for the “root causes” to explain why America may have “provoked” spoiled mama’s boys like bin Laden and Mohammed Atta to murder Americans at work? Do we recall the successive litany of “you cannot win in Afghanistan/you cannot reconstruct such a mess/you cannot jumpstart democracy there”? And do we have memory still of “Sharon the war criminal,” and “the apartheid wall,” and, of course, “Jeningrad,” the supposed Israeli-engineered Stalingrad — or was it really Leningrad? Or try to remember Arafat in his Ramallah bunker talking to international groupies who flew in to hear the old killer’s jumbled mishmash about George Bush, the meanie who had ostracized him.
Then we were told that if we dared invade the ancient caliphate, Saddam would kill thousands and exile millions more. And when he was captured in a cesspool, the invective continued during the hard reconstruction that oil, Halliburton, the Jews, the neocons, Richard Perle, and other likely suspects had suckered us into a “quagmire” or was it now “Vietnam redux”? And recall that in response we were supposed to flee, or was it to trisect Iraq? The elections, remember, would not work — or were held too soon or too late. And give the old minotaur Senator Kennedy his due, as he lumbered out on the eve of the Iraqi voting to hector about its failure and call for withdrawal — one last hurrah that might yet rescue the cherished myth that the United States had created another Vietnam and needed his sort of deliverance.
And then there was the parade of heroes who were media upstarts of the hour — the brilliant Hans Blixes, Joe Wilsons, Anonymouses, and Richard Clarkes — who came, wrote their books, did their fawning interviews on 60 Minutes,Nightline, and Larry King, and then faded to become footnotes to our collective pessimism.
Do not dare forget our Hollywood elite. At some point since 9/11, Michael Moore, Sean Penn, Meryl Streep, Jessica Lange, Whoopi Goldberg, and a host of others have lectured the world that their America is either misled, stupid, evil, or insane, bereft of the wisdom of Hollywood’s legions of college drop-outs, recovering bad boys, and self-praised autodidacts.
Remember the twisted logic of the global throng as well: Anyone who quit the CIA was a genius in his renegade prognostication; anyone who stayed was a toady who botched the war. Three- and four-star generals who went on television or ran for office were principled dissidents who “told the truth”; officers in the field who kept quiet and saved Afghanistan and Iraq were “muzzled” careerists. Families of the 9/11 victims who publicly trashed George Bush offered the nation “grassroots” cries of the heart; the far greater number who supported the war on terror were perhaps “warped” by their grief.
There were always the untold “minor” embarrassments that we were to ignore as the slight slips of the “good” people — small details like the multibillion-dollar Oil-for-Food scandal that came to light due to the reporting of a single brave maverick, Claudia Rosett, or Rathergate, disclosed by “pajama”-clad bloggers without journalism degrees from Columbia, sojourns at the Kennedy School, or internships with the Washington Post. To put it into Animal Farmspeak: elite New York Times, CBS News, and PBS good; populist bloggers, talk-radio, and cable news bad.
In place of Harry Truman and JFK we got John Kerry calling the once-maimed Prime Minister Allawi a “puppet,” Senator Murray praising bin Laden’s social-welfare work, Senator Boxer calling Secretary of State Rice a veritable liar for agreeing with the various casus belli that Boxer’s own Senate colleagues had themselves passed in October 2002. And for emotional and financial support, the Democratic insiders turned to George Soros and Michael Moore, who assured them that their president was either Hitlerian, a dunce, or a deserter.
Then there was our media’s hysteria: Donald Rumsfeld should be sacked in the midst of war; Abu Ghraib was the moral equivalent of everything from Saddam’s gulag to the Holocaust; the U.S. military purportedly tried to kill reporters; and always the unwillingness or inability to condemn the beheaders, fascists, and suicide murderers, who sought to destroy any shred of liberalism. Meanwhile, the isolation of a corrupt Arafat, the withdrawal of 10,000 Americans from a Wahhabi theocracy, the transformation of the world’s far-right monstrosities into reformed democracies, and the pull-back of some troops from Germany and the DMZ went unnoticed.
What explains this automatic censure of the United States, Israel, and to a lesser extent the Anglo-democracies of the United Kingdom and Australia? Westernization, coupled with globalization, has created an affluent and leisured elite that now gravitates to universities, the media, bureaucracies, and world organizations, all places where wealth is not created, but analyzed, critiqued, and lavishly spent.
Thus we now expect that the New York Times, Harper’s, Le Monde, U.N. functionaries who call us “stingy,” French diplomats, American writers and actors will all (1) live a pretty privileged life; (2) in recompense “feel” pretty worried and guilty about it; (3) somehow connect their unease over their comfort with a pathology of the world’s hyperpower, the United States; and (4) thus be willing to risk their elite status, power, or wealth by very brave acts such as writing anguished essays, giving pained interviews, issuing apologetic communiqués, braving the rails to Davos, and barking off-the-cuff furious remarks about their angst over themes (1) through (3) above. What a sad contrast they make with far better Iraqis dancing in the street to celebrate their voting.
There is something else to this shrillness of the global throng besides the obvious fact of hypocrisy — that very few of the world’s Westernized cynical echelon ever move to the ghetto to tutor those they champion in the abstract, reside in central Africa to feed the poor, give up tenure to ensure employment for the exploited lecturer, or pass on the Washington or New York A-list party to eat in the lunch hall with the unwashed. Davos after all, is not quite central Bolivia or the Sudan.
First, there is a tremendous sense of impotence. Somehow sharp looks alone, clever repartee, long lists of books read and articles cited, or global travel do not automatically result in commensurate power. So what exactly is wrong with these stupid people of Nebraska who would elect a dense, Christian-like George Bush when a Gore Vidal, George Soros, Ben Affleck, Bruce Springsteen, or Ted Kennedy warned them not to?
If the American Left is furious over the loss of most of the nation’s governorships and legislatures, the U.S. House, the Senate, the presidency, and soon the Supreme Court, the Europeans themselves are furious over America’s power — as if Red America is to Blue America as America is to Europe itself. Thus how can a mongrel culture of Taco Bell, Bud Light, and Desperate Housewives project such military and political influence abroad when the soft, subtle triangulation of far more cultured diplomats and sophisticated intellectuals from France, Germany, and Scandinavia is ignored by thugs from Iran, North Korea, and most of the Middle East?
Why would the world listen to a stumbling George Bush when it could be mesmerized by a poet, biographer, aristocrat, and metrosexual of the caliber of a Monsieur Dominique de Villepin? Why praise brave Iraqis lining up to vote, while at the same hour the defeated John Kerry somberly intones on Tim Russert’s show that he really did go into Cambodia to supply arms to the mass-murdering Khmer Rouge — a statement that either cannot be true or is almost an admission of being a party to crimes against humanity if it is.
Second, political powerlessness follows from ideological exhaustion. Communism and Marxism are dead. Stalin and Mao killed over 80 million and did not make omelets despite the broken eggs. Castro and North Korea are not classless utopias but thugocracies run by megalomaniac dictators who the world prays will die any minute. The global Left knows that the Cold War is over and was lost by the Left, and that Eastern Europeans and Central Americans probably cherish the memory of a Ronald Reagan far more than that of a Francois Mitterrand or Willy Brandt.
But it is still more disheartening than that. In the 1960s and 1970s we were told that free-market America was becoming an anachronism. Remember Japan, Inc., whose amalgam of “Asian Values” and Western capitalism presaged the decline of the United States? Europeanists still assured us that a 35-hour work week, cradle-to-grave entitlement, and secularism were to be the only workable Western paradigms — before high unemployment, low growth, stagnant worker productivity, unassimilated minorities, declining birthrates, and disarmament suggested that just maybe something is going very wrong in a continent that is not so eager for either God or children.
Perhaps the result of this frustration is that European intellectuals damn the United States for action in Iraq, but lament that they could do nothing in the Balkans. Democrats at home talk of the need for idealism abroad, but fear the dirty road of war that sometimes is part of that bargain — thus the retreat into “democracy is good, BUT…” So here we have the global throng that focuses on one purported American crime to the next, as it simmers in the luxury of its privilege, education, and sophistication — and exhibits little power, new ideas, intellectual seriousness, or relevance.
In this context, the Iraqi elections were surely poorly attended, or illegitimate, or ruined by violence, or irrelevant, or staged by America — or almost anything other than a result of a brave, very risky, and costly effort by the United States military to destroy a fascist regime and offer something better in its place.
Yet as Yeehah! Howard Dean takes over the Democratic party, as Kojo Annan’s dad limps to the end of his tenure, and as a Saddam-trading Jacques Chirac talks grandly of global airfare taxes to help the poor, they should all ask themselves whether a weary public is listening any longer to the hyped and canned stories of their own courage and brilliance.
©2005 Victor Davis Hanson