The Ironies Ahead: What George W. Bush Faces

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

Life is pretty good in the United States now. For all the campaign hysteria about a new Ice Age, jobs are being created. We are recovering from the mess after the late 2000 recession, Wall Street meltdown, and $1 trillion hit from September 11. But there are a number of challenges on the horizon that are going to test the United States like never before. They will require all of George Bush’s resoluteness and tact to get us through — inasmuch as he will be blamed for what he is not responsible for while the good that he does will be inevitably seen as bad.

Globalization has brought the world unforeseen material prosperity and an increasing standardization in material consumption, communications, and basic medical care. But the embrace of Western-style economic reform so far seems predicated on a continual American willingness to run-up enormous trade deficits, allow easy immigration, promote liberal dissemination of expertise, provide global security for commerce, and to ignore accumulated national debt.

Outsourcing has done more for India in improving its standard of living and moderating its former socialist policies than all the past billions in foreign aid. Letting in cheap Chinese goods has caused a liberalizing revolution in Asia and weakened Peking’s Communist death grip as much as all the brave work of Voice of America. Japan and South Korea are reasonable, stable, and prosperous societies precisely because the United States was willing to tolerate enormous trade balances with them, subsidized their defense, ignored their occasional anti-American rhetoric, and promoted Democratic reform. The same is true to a lesser extent of many countries in Latin America and Africa.

That is the good news and the world is surely richer and freer for it. But such accomplishment doesn’t come cheaply: Ask a steel worker, farmer, or billing clerk. Of course, globalization pressures us to be more competitive and gives us low-cost products; but ever-cheaper wages abroad, an absence of regulations and trial lawyers, and lack of environmental oversight allow all these countries to undercut American producers. We are soon to be a net agricultural importer, something unthinkable twenty years ago. Just drive through the San Joaquin Valley of central California, once the world’s breadbasket, and see weed-filled vineyards and orchards, entire generations of farmers gone to town, and suburbs encroaching on former cropland — the wages of cheap dried and imported fruits and staples from abroad. The same realignment is true of manufacturing, textiles, and now even the computer industry, as American expertise and know-how is adopted overseas, but without our health, judicial, environmental, and government oversight — thus, at least for the near future, giving our competitors enormous advantages.

Still, India, China, South Korea, and even Japan, for example, have endemic social problems and financial instability undreamed of here. Our competitors have yet to encounter necessary unionization and regulation, and they will have to endure the sirens of leisure and affluence that we have already weathered. But for the present George Bush is going to have to make the argument that millions of Americans must retool, as traditional lifestyles continue to go by the wayside — even as our beneficiaries abroad or the world in general never acknowledge the dividends of American liberality. Indeed, countries such as Pakistan are more likely to demonize the United States as the great disrupter of traditional culture rather than praise it as a free trader, financial-aid giver, and provider of expertise that is pulling them out of the Dark Ages. So George Bush will be damned at home for outsourcing and destroying American jobs and damned abroad by newly upscale foreign elites for destroying their old (and now unwanted) way of life.

Energy is another paradox. We know that we cannot continue to import billions of dollars of high-priced oil that only enriches some pretty awful regimes, takes away our energy independence, piles up deficits, and drives up the cost of worldwide petroleum. But we also accept that should the United States embark on radical energy conservation and alternative fuels, and break the hold of the oil-producers, then many of our competitors, such an India or a China, will, scavenger-like, reap the subsequent benefits of cheaper worldwide prices without commensurate investment in the trillions of dollars of our overhead. Once more, for both national-security and economic reasons, Mr. Bush is going to have to figure out how to cut imported American oil without impairing American competitiveness — and confront everything from the need for nuclear power, Arctic oil, and fuel-mileage improvement.

Europe offers a similar paradox. Our Western cousins have chosen a path far different from our own, on almost every social, economic, and military issue. Throughout this war Europeans have snickered that over-the-top Americans blast their way across the globe, leaving needless wreckage in their wake, in their Team America-like search for mythical jihadists. But ask the Dutch, who, as thanks for crafting the most liberal society in Europe, are now living in fear of a jihadist assassination campaign. Or talk to the Spanish — whose appeasement after the Madrid bombing earned them an Islamist plot to obliterate their Supreme Court judges. France — in its old blow-up-Greenpeace mood — claims that it only supports the use of force in extremis, but then almost immediately exploded the tiny air force of the Ivory Coast on news that nine of its soldiers were killed, prompting thousands of Africans to hit the streets in anti-Gallic rage.

The only difference in the American use of force has been one of magnitude: We lose 3,000 — not 9 — and send out 1,000 planes — not 3 — when attacked. Why does France get a pass in its postcolonial interventions? Simply because there are no French to criticize them. For all the European hysteria over the reelection of George Bush, I would wager that privately, leaders there are sighing with relief that a resolute U.S. is fighting the Islamists, taking the heat, and supplying them with both emotional and material cover at no cost. How can you buy off the Iranians to drop their bomb plans without fear by the mullahs that a cowboy George Bush is the dreaded alternative?

George Bush thus will get no credit for elections replacing the Taliban or for the liberation of women in Afghanistan, much less for democracy in Iraq. Instead he will be the target of constant venom for the human costs of war, with the silent proviso that he is not to cease, lest a Holland, France, or Spain become even more besieged by anti-Western jihadists emboldened by American appeasement. Indeed, Bush must endure elite European hatred, even as the majority there silently expects the United States to maintain the alliance and protect the West.

But perhaps the greatest paradox is here at home, where our world has been turned upside down. Much of what the media reported about the campaign was false — from suspicious exit polls and biased projections to forged documents. Grassroots populists got out the Republican vote; mercenary workers did less well for the Democrats. There was no new youth landside vote, much less a novel dynamic 18-to-24-year-old Kerry surge. The Hispanic vote was neither huge nor overwhelmingly Democratic. The Republicans were swamped by Democrat fat cats in raising outside 527 soft money, designed to circumvent liberal reformist law. Blogs, talk radio, and cable news were not only more influential, but often more intellectually honest than CBS, NPR, and the New York Times. The former represented blue-collar America, the latter the sophisticates of the Ivy League and East Coast. Such is our strange society in which democratic populism is now defined by pampered New York metropolitan columnists, billionaire heiresses, financial speculators, and a weird assortment of embittered novelists, bored rock stars, and out-of-touch Hollywood celebs.

Under such conditions dialogue is almost impossible — and so rarely occurs, as the medicine is always worse than the disease. We have over ten million illegal aliens here in this scary age without borders, when we have also lost confidence in assimilation and legality. In response? Mexico demands more emigration, eager to damn the United States as “nativist,” if not “racist,” in hopes it can earn even more billions of dollars in worker remittances and export ever more millions of future economic and political dissidents from its heartland. The problem is not that we cannot stop the influx, but rather that we can’t even discuss it — given our own race industry and an intrusive, hostile Mexican government.

Most Americans — in the movies they watch, the TV shows they view, the radio they hear, the abortions they receive, the sexual practices they choose, and the fashion and entertainment they enjoy — do not feel they are straight-jacketed by a Christian fundamentalist society. And yet we are told that the new jihadists are not Islamists, but our own Christians who are implementing a continental-wide red-state Jesusland.

At its richest, most populous stage in its history, the United States, after reeling from a devastating blow to its financial and military nerve centers, in less than three years toppled the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, implemented elections in Afghanistan and scheduled them in Iraq, prevented another 9/11-like attack — and so far has tragically lost about 1,100 in combat in a war against a virulent fascism that is antithetical to every aspect of Western liberty. Our grandfathers would have considered all this a miraculous military achievement. We call it a quagmire, deride our leaders as liars and traitors, and often doubted that our Marines — the greatest street-fighting besiegers in the history of warfare, who stormed Manila, Seoul, Hue, and Panama City — could take Fallujah last April.

George Bush is asked to win the war without losing Americans. He must defeat Islamists, but not kill too many jihadists on global television. His second term must deal with everything from jobs and globalization, energy dilemmas, fickle Europeans, and a war where winning is sometimes seen as losing. Entitlements are out of control, yet his critics don’t want cuts, but rather further increases. In such a topsy-turvy world, all that will see him through are his iron will to stay firm and consistent in face of a global media barrage. He must smile more, keep far quieter, seem much nicer — and carry an even a bigger stick. God help him, because few others will.

©2004 Victor Davis Hanson

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