We Are Finishing the War

Anatomy of our struggle against the Islamicists.

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

Across the globe we watch the terrible drama play out. Car and suicide bombings in Baghdad are aimed at American aid givers, U.S. peacekeepers, Iraqi civilians, and provisional government workers. Spanish civilians are indiscriminately murdered — as are Turks, Moroccans, Saudis, and Afghans.

President Musharraf is targeted by assassins. Synagogues are blown apart. Suicide murderers try to reach a chemical dump in Ashdod in hopes of gassing Jews to the pleasure of much of the Arab world and the indifference of Europe. Indeed, Palestinian murderers apologize for gunning down an Arab jogger in Jerusalem — for the colossal mistake of thinking that he was Jewish. The world yawns, but is then outraged because Israelis take out a mass-murderer during a time of war. We are witnessing a grand struggle between those who create things and those who can only destroy them, between those who are confident and build civilizations and those who have failed and turned vicious.

Daniel Pearl is executed on television. The U.N. is singled out as a target for mass murder in Iraq, as are synagogues in Istanbul. Again, we in the West are supposed to tremble at the devilishness of the jihadists or turn on each other in fear. ‘We worship death, you cling to life,’ they warn us. Al Qaeda’s message to Europe — which they hate even more than the United States, because it is not only wealthy but soft and weak as well — is that of every mythical monster who promises his trembling prey that with proper flattery he can be gobbled down last.

We should remember that this war of barbarism against civilization is global and connected. Poor Mr. Villepin may ignore that his country’s appeasement and profit-making in Iraq were helpful to Saddam Hussein’s state-sponsored terrorism and he may believe that things are worse in Baghdad now. But he will learn that past French double-dealing, flamboyant anti-Americanism, and obsequiousness to Iranian theocrats will win him no reprieve from these purveyors of a new Dark Age. The extremists will be just as likely to murder French children over banning headscarves as they would have had three Gallic divisions fought in Iraq.

The Spanish may think that bin Laden’s past fury over the Reconquista and the Crusades was silly while the present anger over Spaniards in Iraq is logical. But they too will soon learn that appeasement wins them temporary quiet from enemies and general disappointment from friends — not a permanent pardon from terrorist attacks. If they believe al Qaeda is a rational interlocutor, they should assume that the U.S. withdrawal from Saudi Arabia and cessation of the embargo of Iraq — replaced by massive American aid — have met bin Laden’s original 1998 demands and that peace is at hand.

What is our enemies’ ultimate agenda? Judge them by what they say and then do: Any who champion women are targeted. Those who are Jews should die. Expressing tolerance for other religions is a capital crime. Secular law and government are a betrayal. Apostasy from Islam justifies murder. Hypocrisy does not matter — whether that means using a hated Western computer or flocking to a despised Western capital. This craziness is actually an agenda of sorts, proclaiming to the wretched, “Purge yourself of the modern West (sort of) and fool yourself into thinking that you will have power, honor, and wealth as never before.”

We laugh about such a formerly pampered playboy lunatic and his puerile calls for a return of an 11th-century caliphate, replete with a paradise of 72 virgins and hack medieval poeticisms like “O this, O that,” “God willing,” and “infidel” in all his court communiqués. But such fantasies out of the Arabian Nights are perhaps not so fantastic. In al Qaeda’s utopia a loose confederation of Islamic theocracies — on the model of the Taliban or Iran’s mullocracy — will sweep the Middle East, liquidating Westerners and those Muslims tainted by Westernization. Oil will not only enrich a theocratic elite — note the pampered privileges of Taliban insiders and the spoiled progeny of Iranian clerics — but can be manipulated to gouge a petroleum-hungry West while paying for plentiful weaponry from cynical Western arms dealers.

When terrorists are rounded up now in Spain or the United States or deported to Britain, they deny rather than brag of their erstwhile Afghan training, and plead that they are either innocent or were misled. None throw down the gauntlet and bore us with the old long harangues — a la Richard Reed — about the imminent death of the West.

While Ted Kennedy and John Kerry pontificate about losing the war on terror, al Qaeda is nearly finished. What we have been seeing lately are its tentacles flapping about in search of prey, after the head has been smashed — still for a time lethal, but without lasting strength. We should remember that perhaps the bloodiest month for Americans in the European theater of World War II was not during 1943 and 1944 amid the invasions of North Africa, Sicily, Italy, or Normandy, but rather in January 1945, a mere five months before the close of the war, when GIs fought back the last bitter German offensive.

Likewise a mere four months before the surrender of Japan the United States began the most bloody campaign of the entire war at Okinawa, where almost 50,000 Americans were killed, wounded, or missing. The fighting, which killed the commanding generals of both sides, did not end until a mere two months before the surrender. What later is seen rightly to be last gasps at the time often appear as irrefutable proof of inexhaustible strength and endless war to come.

Instead, a much better measure than the week’s explosions is a systematic examination of al Qaeda’s position, then and now.

The terrorists have been routed from their sanctuary of Afghanistan and cannot come back as long as the United States and its allies are determined to stay the course. They are being slowly drawn and quartered inside Pakistan, where the Musharraf government has finally agreed to begin to close down its frontier border sanctuary. Terrorists’ ties with rogue regimes like Saddam Hussein’s and Khaddafi’s Libya are now cut. Saudi, Syrian, and Iranian subsidies and sanctuaries of old are now under scrutiny. Reformists in all of those countries are organizing.

The United States has imposed a global crackdown on terrorist funding, and muscled suspect regimes like Yemen and Jordan into deporting or jailing jihadists and their sympathizers. Pakistan and India are talking, which is bad news for the fundamentalists in Kashmir and the badlands along the Afghan border. The Palestinian killers have brought only misery to their people and now a wall — ensuring that their constituents will soon have a chance to enjoy from Mr. Arafat the same good government that the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, and the Iranian clerics extended to their similarly isolated people.

But perhaps the worst development for the fundamentalists has been a radical change of attitude in the United States. No longer do we say to autocrats “pump oil, and keep out communists — and do what you want with your own people.”

Yet we can do far more in this time of war that is also a military, political, ideological, and economic struggle. We must explain to the world that no nation has done more to save Muslims — whether in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Somalia, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Iraq. In the last quarter-century we have given billions in aid to Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinians. We are the most tolerant of Western countries to Muslim and Arab immigrants. In Iraq now, we — not Arab intellectuals, not “moderate” Arab governments, and not the Europeans — are bringing consensual government and billions more in aid to the Arab Middle East.

The problem is not “getting the message out,” but having the intellectual courage to tell the truth and not to be browbeaten by faux intellectuals who talk monotonously of mythical pipelines and Zionist aggression. The fact is, beneath the hype, Iraqis will soon appreciate American help and idealism far more than French perfidy. It is never wrong to be on the side of freedom — never.

Nor do we have anything to apologize about to the Europeans. We liberated the continent, sent it billions in aid, protected it from Soviet Communism, supported the EU and German reunification, created NATO in part to keep internal peace, intervened in Kosovo to stop more European genocide, and have well over 100,000 troops there still to protect it sixty years after it nearly destroyed itself. We no longer expect gratitude or even memory of the past, but we do expect maturity and not the patronizing lectures from a Spanish or French foreign minister who should know better — given the respective histories of their countries and our own during the last century.

So, yes, they are our allies. And yes, we must be polite and considerate as we all work together to hunt down terrorists. And yes, we are often undiplomatic when there is no need to be given our stature. But there is a reason for Europeans’ anger and it transcends George Bush — having everything to do with the fear that America is a stubborn, powerful, moral antithesis to their own global socialist utopia. What the Spanish did recently was only an affirmation of what France has done with Saddam for twenty years.

Finally, for the duration, to sustain both our military power and foreign largess, we also must look to ourselves inasmuch as we are running vast trade deficits, along with unsustainable budget shortfalls, and are stuck in an entitlement craze where government payouts bring not gratitude but shrill demands for even more subsidies. Our borders are porous and yet we are paralyzed and afraid to enforce our own laws — even as 12 million illegal aliens inside the United States cannot be identified or even be referred to as illegal.

Our educational system is increasingly therapeutic and turning out too many poorly educated youth who have not inherited the tradition of American expertise and competence and cannot in the immediate future ensure our privileged position as the world’s most affluent consumer society. The Chinese, Europeans, South Koreans, and Japanese are all lending us money for consumption. But they do so only in the trust that our legal system, stability, and competence will continue to justify such debts, which can only be paid back on the expectation that America can sustain its global civilizing role and lead the world in technological innovation and capital formation.

So to press on, we must begin to look at the struggle across the spectrum in this new multifaceted war: bring consensual government to the Middle East; destroy the last al Qaeda holdouts; put Syria and Iran on notice to cease their support for terrorists; reexamine the location and purpose of all our bases; encourage candor and a new honesty with our allies; and seek to bring a new discipline to our own government and citizenry.

We have the chance not merely to win this war and do the world a great deal of good, but also to aspire ourselves to be a stronger and better people after it. We at least owe the dead of September 11 that much.

© 2004 Victor Davis Hanson

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