War Folklore

Don’t listen to the latest groupspeak.

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

Just as we migrate from Scott Peterson to Kobe Bryant and back to Jessica Lynch, so too did the snowy peaks of Afghanistan bow out to the sandstorm-induced pause in Iraq and that in turn to 16 words of the president’s speech. But amid all these expressions of fleeting American madness, we need to carefully separate larger truths from the folklore that our elite mob for the moment is mouthing. Here are a random five examples of the current groupspeak that defy common sense.

1. Tens of thousands of troops deployed in Iraq represent an unacceptable escalating and open-ended commitment of American blood and treasure.

It was never so simple as staying or leaving — inasmuch as we already had been in Iraq for over a decade in a manner that had saved thousands of Kurds and Shiites. Against the present cost of pacifying Iraq must be set a half-generation and the $20-30 billion already spent to secure two-thirds of the airspace of Iraq. Then there was the costly naval enforcement of the U.N. embargo from the Gulf to the Indian Ocean — as well as years of prior shootings and bombings along the way.

Add another decade’s outlay of keeping 10,000 troops in Saudi Arabia — with all the political risks of putting Americans in such a strange place. Consider further the thousands of Americans stationed elsewhere in the Gulf since 1991 to thwart Saddam Hussein. This three-week conflict, in other words, marked the start of the denouement — not the first act — of a long, costly engagement that began in 1991.

If, with the demise of Saddam Hussein — who was the original reason for our aid to his weak and vulnerable neighbors — we can withdraw or at least downsize from places like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey, and the Gulf sheikdoms, then a great deal of the present investment will represent a transfer of expenses rather than an entirely new commitment. Unless we are activating entirely new National Guard units or creating ex nihilo divisions, some percentage of our costs for troops is static and previously budgeted anyway — whether American soldiers are to be fed and housed in Texas or in Baghdad.

The present task has a definable goal — leave with consensual government established in Iraq — whereas the last twelve years really were open-ended and led nowhere.

2. Iraq was a complete distraction from the war against terror.

This is a tired allegation made by a number of Democratic presidential hopefuls, especially Senator Graham.

First, none of the oft-repeated and dire predictions — increased terror, an inflamed Arab street, the fall of “moderate” governments in Jordan and Egypt, a ruined Turkish economy, millions of refugees, thousands dead, endless sectarian fighting, and other horsemen of the Apocalypse — have followed from Saddam’s ouster. Indeed, the end of Saddam Hussein has already brought dividends in other areas.

Consider the following collateral developments in little over 100 days. There is some movement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Soon an American military presence in Saudi Arabia will end. We already see a cessation of cash rewards for suicide murderers; the death or arrests of terrorists like Abu Nidal, Abu Abbas, and al Qaedists in Kurdistan; probable disruption of Iraqi cash flows to terrorist groups based in Lebanon; Hamas worried in Syria; democratic foment in Iran; and a growing sense that the United States is not something terrorists wish to arouse.

The Democratic leadership needs to cease its embarrassing rants before its last shred of credibility is lost. The pause was not a setback; the museum attack was not a 170,000-icon heist because Americans were off in the oilfields; Jessica Lynch really did go through hell and her comrades really did die shooting. Despite the recent rants from some out-of-touch Democratic congressmen, it is not wrong to kill mass murderers in a firefight. Indeed, those Democrats should be reminding Americans that they are proud that the Senate voted long ago to go into Iraq and to eliminate a fascist Baathist state that had murdered tens of thousands.

3. The lack of tangible evidence of weapons of mass destruction undermines the success of the war — and gives powerful ammunition to the Democrats’ criticism of Mr. Bush.

This would be true if there had not been ample reasons presented for going to war — from Saddam’s violation of the 1991 accords, his expulsion of U.N. inspectors, his past history of invading and attacking his neighbors, his connection with terrorists, and prior confirmation by the U.N. and the Clinton administration of a continued Iraq WMD program.

There are also political problems on the horizon. If senators — who had access to classified intelligence — voted to authorize the president to take measures against Iraq and now object to the circumstances of our (successful) intervention, then either their prior sanction or their present objection is wrong: and they need to tell us which it is and why.

If President Clinton once authorized a four-day war because of Saddam’s non-compliance with past promises, and no subsequent evidence was adduced that those stockpiles of WMD were in fact recovered or destroyed, then were the Clinton administration and the U.N. wrong, or disingenuous, in their belief that such weapons ever really existed?

And — putting all put aside WMD, curbing terrorism, and concerns over our own security — is saving thousands of Iraqis any less humanitarian than intervening in Liberia?

It will also be difficult for Democrats to say much about proliferation elsewhere since they now allege that there was no real prewar evidence of WMD in Iraq. So their current harangues will have the pernicious effect of convincing us in the future to ignore accepted reports of enriched uranium in Iran or undiscovered reactors in Korea. Why hassle sifting through tricky intelligence reports when you will only be ankle-bitten later for acting on purportedly fabricated evidence? Most Americans will instead shrug and say, “No way: let the Europeans or the Japanese — not us — worry about Iranian or Korean nukes.”

The current conundrum is also predicated on two other shaky premises: that evidence of WMD won’t be found and that things in Iraq will get worse. Neither is likely. American aid and oil revenue will bring more, not less money, to the Iraq economy in the months ahead. Freedom grows sweeter, not more bitter, to its new beneficiaries.

A year from now it is also probable that millions of unsavory Baathist documents will have been cataloged and translated. The fate of the Hussein tribe is becoming clear. Consensual government will be stronger. Those in the know about Saddam’s past crimes will become more talkative.

Finally, note that the purported communiqués from Saddam’s guerrillas repeatedly insist that America’s intervention was based on lies and falsehoods about WMD. In contrast, 25 million Iraqis are mostly silent on the issue. Are Saddam’s murderers, or his victims, the better allies in the present debate?

The discovery of a single cache of weapons or the arrest or corpse of any Hussein will, of course, soon put an end the entire pseudo-controversy — as we are now just witnessing with late-breaking news of the dead epigones.

4. We have done lasting damage to international alliances and institutions.

Careful scrutiny reveals just the opposite: the U.N., NATO, the EU, South Korea, and other bodies and nations are reexamining their own, not our, behavior.

The U.N. is not debating leaving the United States or expelling us from the Security Council, but in fact is reviewing its entire constitution: from the exclusion of powerful nations like Japan, Germany, and India from the Security Council to the nature of odious regimes that participate on important commissions — such as that paragon of human rights, Libya.

The Belgians are worried about curtailing, not empowering their lunatic courts. They want NATO headquarters to remain, not be moved to Warsaw. Except for the temporary rise of the euro, the news from the EU is of confusion, not lockstep anger at the United States. North versus South, East versus West, Britain versus the Continent — all that reveals intrinsic European fault lines not of our own making.

For all the present calumny, Mr. Blair still enjoys far more prestige and admiration abroad than do Messrs. Chirac, Schroeder, Villepin, or Fischer. And among the English-speaking nations, it is just as likely that Canada will move closer to the Australian position vis-à-vis the United States than vice versa. South Korea is keeping silent about its “sunshine policy” — and suddenly quite worried about its anti-American demonstrations — as we ponder our evolving new relationship.

In short, a new honesty and maturity are the real dividends of American actions.

5. In a drive for global hegemony, America is crafting a new imperialism to rule the world.

The trendy notion of America as a “hyperpower” is largely an artifact of the aftermath of the Cold War. True, we enjoy unmatched military strength. Sure, we spend more on defense than do the next ten or so nations collectively. But that imbalance is not a reflection of a wish to dominate the globe, but mostly due to the abject collapse of an empire that failed to do precisely that — and the cleanup of the resulting detritus of Soviet interventions and clients, from Serbia to Afghanistan to Iraq.

In terms of percentages of GNP, we are spending no more on our military budget than we did through most years of the Cold War. Both at home and abroad, the real story is just as often the abandonment, not the construction, of military bases.

Our sin was mostly that we won the Cold War, kept active in NATO, and did not disarm after the fall of the Berlin Wall. When one of two superpowers is still standing, then ipso facto the survivor usually enjoys twice its former relative power.

The fact is that we have been consistent in a predictable 60-year commitment to national security, while our friends and former enemies — by intent or default — have followed different paths since 1989. We stayed mostly the same as they became hypopowers that, to take a small example, would and could do nothing should a madman in Korea wish to kill millions.

Without 9/11, remember, we would not now be in either Iraq or Afghanistan — the two points of departure for most of the recent critiques of America as the new Rome.


These are still perilous times. But if anyone on September 12, 2001, had predicted that 22 months later there would still be no repeat of 9/11; that bin Laden would be either quiet, dead, or in hiding; that al Qaeda would be dispersed, the Taliban gone, and the likes of a Mr. Karzai in Kabul; that Saddam Hussein would be out of power, his sons dead, and an Iraqi national council emerging in his place; that troops would be leaving Saudi Arabia, Arafat ostracized, and Sharon seeking negotiations; that new Middle East agreements under discussion — and all at a cost of fewer than 300 American lives — then he would surely have been written off as a madman.

All that and more were no mere accidents. They were the direct result of the work of thousands of brave and astute Americans who were as likely to be slurred during their risky ordeal as they were to be third-guessed in its successful aftermath — and predictably by the same opportunistic bystanders.

So far we have lost fewer lives in Afghanistan and Iraq than we did in a single day’s butchery in the Marine barracks in Lebanon. But unlike that terrible sacrifice, this time Americans are fighting back, winning, and changing for the better the lives of millions in the most remarkable, ambitious, and risky endeavor since the end of World War II.

We need to remember all of that, and get a grip on ourselves amid the latest outbreak of what we can now diagnose as a chronic and embarrassing hysteria Americana.


©2004 Victor Davis Hanson

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