A war for our lives, or a nuisance to our lifestyle?
by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online
Americans are presented with a choice in this election rare in our history. This is not 1952, when Democrats and Republicans did not differ too much on the need to stay in Korea, or even 1968 when Humphrey and Nixon alike did not wish to withdraw unilaterally from Vietnam. It is more like 1972 or 1980, when a naïve McGovern/Dukakis worldview was sharply at odds with the Nixon/Reagan tragic acknowledgement of the need to confront Soviet-inspired Communism. Is it to be more aid, talk, indictments, and summits — or a tough war to kill the terrorists and change the conditions that created them?
Mr. Kerry believes that we must return to the pre-9/11 days when terrorism was but a “nuisance.” In his mind, that was a nostalgic sort of time when the terrorist mosquito lazily buzzed about a snoring America. And we in somnolent response merely swatted it away with a cruise missile or a few GPS bombs when embassies and barracks were blown up. Keep the tribute of dead Americans low, and the chronic problem was properly analogous to law-enforcement’s perpetual policing of gambling and prostitution. Many of us had previously written off just such naïveté, but we never dreamed that our suspicions would be confirmed so explicitly by Kerry himself.
In the now-lost age of unperturbed windsailing and skiing, things were not all that bad before al Qaeda overdid it by knocking down skyscrapers and a corner of the Pentagon — followed by George Bush’s commensurate overreaction in Afghanistan and Iraq that brought on all the present messy and really bothersome cargo of IEDs, beheadings, and promises of dirty bombs to come. The Taliban and Saddam were, of course, bad sports. But really, going all the way over there to topple them, implant democracy, and change the status quo of the Middle East? Tsk, tsk, tsk — well, that was a bit much, was it not?
Terrorist killing, like the first World Trade Center bombing or the USS Cole, certainly was not seen as the logical precursor to 9/11 — the expected wages of a quarter century of appeasement that started with the weak Carter response to the Iranian hostages and was followed by dead soldiers, diplomats, and tourists about every other year. No, these were “incidents” like 9/11 itself — “law-enforcement” issues that called for the DA, writs, and stern prison sentences, the sort of stuff that barristers like Kerry, Edwards, Kennedy, and McAuliffe handle so well.
This attitude is part of the therapeutic view of the present struggle that continually suggests that something we did — not the mass murdering out of the Dark Age — brought on our present bother that is now “the focus of our lives.” We see this irritation with the inconvenience and sacrifice once more reemerging in the Atlantic Monthly, Harpers, and the New York Times: We, not fascists and Islamist psychopaths, are blamed for the mess in Iraq, the mess in Afghanistan, the mess on the West Bank, and the mess here at home, but never credited with the first election in 5,000 years in Afghanistan or consensual government replacing autocracy in the heart of the ancient caliphate.
Sometimes our problems arise over our past failure to chastise the Russians over Chechnya. Or was it not enough attention to Mr. Arafat’s dilemmas? Or maybe we extended prior support for corrupt sheiks? All that and more — according to rogue CIA “experts,” best-selling authors, and the omnipresent Richard Clarke — earned us the wrath of the Islamists. Thus surely our past transgressions can be alleviated by present contrition, dialogue, aid, and policy changes of the European kind.
To all you of the therapeutic mindset, listen up. We can no more reason with the Islamic fascists than we could sympathize with the Nazis’ demands over supposedly exploited Germans in Czechoslovakia or the problem of Tojo’s Japan’s not getting its timely scrap-metal shipments from Roosevelt’s America. Their pouts and gripes are not intended to be adjudicated as much as to weaken the resolve of many in the United States who find the entire “war against terror” too big, or the wrong kind, of a nuisance.
Instead, read the fatwas. You hear not just of America’s injustice in Palestine or Chechnya — not to mention nothing about saving Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo or Afghanistan of the 1980s — but also of what we did in Spain in the 15th century and in Tyre, Gaza, and Jerusalem in the 12th. The mystery of September 11, 2001, is not that it happened, but that it did not quite happen when first tried in 1993 during Bill Clinton’s madcap efforts to move a smiling Arafat into the Lincoln Bedroom and keep our hands off bin Laden. Only an American with a JD or PhD would cling to the idea that there was not a connection between Group A Middle Eastern terrorists who attacked the WTC in 1993 and Group B who finished the job in 2001.
A Kerry presidency, we know now, will go back to the tried and true institutions so dear to the therapeutic mind that please the elite and sensitive of our society. How silly that most Americans are about through with the U.N. Indeed, we Neanderthals want it relegated to something like the Red Cross tucked away at the Hague, if not on the frontlines in Nigeria or Bolivia. Yes, we dummies have seen enough of its General Assembly resolutions aimed at the only democracy in the Middle East, its promotion of rogue states such as Syria, Cuba, Iran, and Libya to human-rights watchdogs, its corrupt Oil-for-Food program, and its present general secretary and his role in nepotism and sweet-heart contracts at the expense of the Iraqi people. No surprise that a shaken perpetual-president Hosni Mubarak is calling for a U.N. conference on terror with wonderful Arab League logic: ‘You kill Jews on your own soil, good; you kill them on mine and lose me money, bad.’
The artists, musicians, and entertainers have also railed against the war. In the therapeutic mindset, the refinement and talent of a Sean Penn, Michael Moore, Al Franken, Bruce Springsteen, or John Fogerty earn respect when they weigh in on matters of state policy. But in the tragic view, they can be little more than puppets of inspiration. Their natural gifts are not necessarily enriched by real education or learning. Indeed, they are just as likely to be high-school or college dropouts and near illiterates, albeit with good memories, voices, and looks. The present antics of these influential millionaire entertainers should remind us why Plato banished them — worried that we might confuse the inspired creative frenzies of the artisans with some sort of empirical knowledge. But you can no more sing, or write, or act al Qaeda away than the equally sensitive novelists and intellectuals of the 1930s or 1940s could rehabilitate Stalin.
And then there are the new green billionaires who no longer worry about the struggle to make any more money, much less about state, federal, and payroll taxes that can eat up half of a person’s income. A George Soros may have made his pile by trying to destroy the British financial system, but now he wishes to leave the world safe for currency traders to come by defeating George Bush. The up-from-the-bootstraps struggle to create the dough for the Heinz fortune is a century past and forgotten — thus the post-capitalist Teresa in her private jet and John Kerry on his $500,000 power boat can lecture us about Americans’ shameless oil profligacy and George Bush’s blood for oil gambit in Iraq.
Our mainstream media also cannot quite believe we are at war with evil people who wish us dead — something like the crises that have faced all civilizations at one time or another. Instead, to ponder Rathergate or the recent ABC memo advocating bias in its reporting is to fathom the arrogance of the Enlightenment, and the learned’s frustration with those of us less-gifted folk who don’t quite wish to follow where they lead us. Such anointed ones have taken on the burden of saving us from George Bush and his retrograde ideas. After all, who believes that anyone would really wish to reinstate a mythical caliphate, a Muslim paradise of sharia, gender apartheid, and theocracy spreading the globe through Islamic nukes and biological and chemical bombs? How one dimensional and unsophisticated.
Meanwhile most Americans have already quietly made up their minds. They think the Democratic party is run not by unionists, farmers, miners, truckers, and average folk, but by those rich enough not to have to make a living, and who wish out of either guilt or noblesse oblige to force the dumber upper middle class to be more sensitive, generous, or utopian. Americans also believe Europe has lost its way and is bogged down in a hopeless and soon-to-be scary task of legislating by fiat heaven on earth. We of the tragic persuasion wish them well with Turkey and their unassimilated Islamic populations, but we don’t want our hurtful combat troops there after 60 years of subsidized peacekeeping. Americans also don’t care much about the Nobel prizes anymore — not when a Jimmy Carter is praised after trying to undermine his own president on the eve of war, and not when the most recent peace-prize winner rants on that AIDS is a Western-created germ agent unleashed to hurt Africa but silent about $15 billion in American aid to stop what her own continent is spreading.
John Kerry is probably going to lose this election, despite the “Vote for Change” rock tour, despite Air America, despite Kitty Kelley’s fraud hyped on national media, despite Soros’s MoveOn.org hit pieces, despite Fahrenheit 9/11, despite the Nobel Prizes and Cannes Film Awards, despite Rathergate and ABC Memogate, despite the European press, despite Kofi Annan’s remonstrations, despite a barking Senator Harkin or Kennedy, despite the leaks of rogue CIA Beltway insiders, despite Jimmy Carter’s sanctimonious lectures, despite Joe Wilson, Anonymous, and Richard Clarke — and more. You all have given your best shot, but I think you are going to lose.
Why? Because the majority of Americans does not believe you. The majority is more likely to accept George Bush’s tragic view that we really are in a war for our very survival to stop those who would kill us and to alter the landscape that produced them — a terrible war that we are winning.
When all is said and done, it still is as simple as that.
©2004 Victor Davis Hanson