The Strangest of Times: A Perplexing World Stage

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

Skeptics cite a number of hypothetical disasters that might befall the United States should we attack Iraq. These are very legitimate worries; but it seems to me more likely that the far more serious ramifications will follow elsewhere, especially should we be successful in ridding the world of Saddam Hussein. We are currently on a roller-coaster ride — and where we are going and what will befall us is as unpredictable as it is wild. Indeed, we are quite literally at one of the most pivotal, dangerous, and bewildering moments of the last half century. Below are a few of strange possibilities on the postbellum horizon.

If we are to fight and risk our youth in Iraq, what will 5,000 Americans do who are now stationed in Saudi Arabia solely to protect the kingdom from Iraq? Will they sit tight out in the desert — on orders of a regime whose citizens murdered 3,000 of our innocents and have subsidized terrorists — as their fellow Americans are killed a few hundred miles distant? It would be hard to imagine our diplomats or generals grounding fighters and bombers as Americans were in harm’s way an hour’s flight away in order to accede to a government of questionable friendship and morality. Indeed, it might prove very explosive for the Saudis to attempt to prevent Americans from coming to the aid of their countrymen on the battlefield.

If we fight in Iraq, with the British alone of our NATO allies, what will the American public make of our critical European friends — especially the Germans who have deprecated such an effort as a mere “adventure,” at odds with a superior “German way,” a mentality, according to former and present officials, that is supposedly immune to pressures from an American-style Jewish lobby and the Hitler-like impulses of an American president? The last four crude statements by present and former members of the German government have brought German-American relations to the worst point since 1945. Will the “German way” put restrictions on the American use of German airspace and facilities — the idea being that we are allowed abroad to protect Europe and America from enemies that no longer exist, but not from those that do?

Americans now are learning of German help in establishing Iraq weapons of mass destruction as they wonder to what degree these bizarre pronouncements — voiced across the political spectrum and employing the metaphors of past belligerency — reflect an out-of-touch elite or are grassroots harbingers of some predictably nasty times ahead. In the aftermath of the war, Americans may gradually turn to unilateral relationships with those eastern and western Europeans — Great Britain especially as well as the Italians and Spanish — who appreciate American efforts to create stability in the world, and who in turn for their support as real allies wish inclusivity beneath the security umbrella of the United States.

If Saddam sends a half-dozen germ- or chemically laced Scuds into Israel, what will happen if they are tracked by Israel satellites, targeted by improved second-generation Patriot-like missiles, and blown apart in their descent over Jordan and the West Bank, with their toxic clouds kept eastward by Mediterranean winds? Will the Palestinians again cheer if the Iraqi projectiles this time break up over Ramallah, spreading their patron’s frightening poisons over themselves? What will be the official Palestinian response: anger or praise for Saddam? Or perhaps: “Shame on you Jews for not allowing just yourselves to be gassed?”

If the so-called Arab street in Cairo, Amman, or on the West Bank applauds our enemies in the next war, will American taxpayers at last demand that we no longer send millions of dollars to the autocracies of Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority who encourage such outbursts to deflect anger from their own failures? In the pre-September 11 days, our diplomatic insiders might have winced at such overt and puerile anti-Americanism, but nevertheless were confident that their own “expertise” and “experience” with such “complex” issues could ensure American hayseeds that what they saw and heard on their screens is not what they really saw and heard on their screens. Will that be possible this time when the shooting breaks out?

What will Arab intellectuals say should the U.S. intervention be quick and successful, Saddam Hussein removed, and a consensual government established that allows freedom of expression without becoming an American colony? Will they deplore American intrusion but visit a new Baghdad to write and speak freely? Will they damn us for bombing an Arab country as they freely investigate for the first time the disappearance of thousands of Iraqis over the last decades? Or will they go on the state dole in Egypt or Saudi Arabia to write op-eds criticizing freedom in Iraq?

If the other members of the axis of evil seem to be moderating their behavior in light of the president’s public taxonomy — North Korea, for example, has recently and mysteriously confessed it kidnapped and in some cases murdered Japanese citizens in efforts to further its covert war in the region — what will be their stance, when the first of the despotic triad has ceased to exist?

If the United States is successful, and there is a postwar consensual government in Iraq, what will be the effect of such an emerging latitude of reform — in Turkey, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Iraq, and Qatar — upon the surrounding autocracies of the region? And do the monarchs and autocrats in the Gulf realize that under the present evolving circumstances the greatest danger to their rule is not the Arab street, the fundamentalist madrassas, a bullying United States, or assorted Libyan and Syrian thugs, but the democratic contagion that might emerge in Iraq?

If U.S. interventions abroad have been recently aimed at eliminating fascistic and autocratic dictators — in Panama, Serbia, Afghanistan, and Iraq — and implementing democratic reform in their place, what will the American Left make of such “imperialism” that costs lives and money not for land and treasure, but for freedom for others? Should we apologize to the EU and U.N. and try to make things as they were before our provocative and preemptory attacks took place — by attempting to bring back Noreiga, restore Milosevic, resurrect the Taliban, and ensure the continuance of Saddam?

Here at home everything is also in flux. Louis Farrakhan feels affinity with Patrick Buchanan; Right-wingers sound like revolutionaries; and Left-wingers appear cautious advocates of the autocratic status-quo abroad. Isolationists are having a problem with the crater in New York and wondering how pulling in our horns is going to make us safe in a post-9/11 world. Sober Cold War realists are becoming aware there is no longer any nuclear, aggressive Soviet Union that demands support for strongmen as the lesser of two evils. Multiculturalists find it perplexing that fundamentalists like al Qaeda and the Taliban are not merely “different” but quite evil and far worse than we. Leftists are hard-pressed to find a recent American intervention that didn’t take out Right-wing thugs. Internationalists privately concede that U.N. resolutions are about as moral and binding as those of a faculty senate, and that Libya is more likely to be applauded as a model of human rights than is the United States. Multilateralists are waking up that what German officials say is not very nice and that Europeans shrug about anti-Semitism while they sell strategic materials to fascists in Iraq who plot to use that expertise to send gas against the Jews of Israel.

Meanwhile, an embattled United States goes it alone as its critics, here and abroad, are confused whether they should remain mute, hector, or applaud when the world’s hyperpower continues to use its vast power to rid the world of some of its most abhorrent regimes.

And things promise only to become more, not less, perplexing in the weeks ahead.

©2002 Victor Davis Hanson

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