Eating each other while our enemies smile.
by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online
This war grows stranger here at home and abroad all the time. Despite the horrific barbarism in Fallujah and the gun-toting and killing by the Shiites, the United States is ever so steadily establishing a consensual government of sorts under impossible conditions in Iraq. Meanwhile the Middle East watches the pulse of the conflict, wondering whether the Fallujah savages and the primordial Shiite extremists will succeed in Lebanonizing Iraq.
Or will the American pressure for democracy and reform reverberate beyond Iraq and Afghanistan to move Libya, Pakistan, Iran, Syria, and the Saudis to greater transparency, consensual rule, and an end of their support for terrorists? The courage and sacrifice of thousands of American soldiers now determine whether those who dream of freedom step forward boldly into the light, or retreat meekly into the shadows — and whether we will be safe in our own homes.
Out of all the recent chaos emerges one lesson: Appeasement of fundamentalists is not appreciated as magnanimity, but ridiculed as weakness — and, in fact, encourages further killing. A shaken Spain elected a new government that promised to exit Iraq. In return, the terrorists planted more bombs, issued more demands, and then staged a fiery exit for themselves. France, as is its historical wont, triangulated with the Muslim world and then found its fundamentalist plotters all over Paris. The Saudi royals thought that they of all people could continue to blackmail the fundamentalists — until the suicide-murderers turned their explosives on their benefactors and began to blow up Arab Muslims as well. General Musharraf once did all he could to appease Islamists — and got assassination plots as thanks.
Following the Iranian hostage takeover in 1979, the United States had embraced a quarter-century of appeasement that had resulted in far more American deaths than all those lost during the present war against terrorists abroad — flaming ships, embassies, planes, skyscrapers, and people the wages of its mollifying. And every time in Iraq we have tried to offer conciliation before complete military victory — low profiles, tolerance for looters and militias, allowance for vicious mullahs — we have seen more, not fewer, killed.
The sad truth is that civilization itself is engaged in a worldwide struggle against the barbarism of Islamic fundamentalism. Just this past month the killers and their plots have been uncovered in London, Paris, Madrid, Pakistan, and North Africa — the same tired rhetoric of their hatred echoing from Iraq to the West Bank. While Western elites quibble over exact ties between the various terrorist ganglia, the global viewer turns on the television to see the samesuicide bombing, the same infantile threats, the same hatred of the West, the same chants, the same Koranic promises of death to the unbeliever, and the same street demonstrations across the world.
Looking for exact professed cooperation between an Islamic fascist and the rogue regime that finds such anti-Western violence useful is like proving that Mussolini, Tojo, and Hitler all coordinated their attacks and worked in some conspiratorial fashion — when in fact Japan had no knowledge of the invasion of Russia, and Hitler had no warning of Pearl Harbor or Mussolini’s invasion of Greece.
In fact, it didn’t matter that they were united only by a loose and shared hatred of Western liberalism and emboldened by a decade of democratic appeasement. And our fathers, perhaps better men than we, didn’t care too much for beating their breasts about the exact nature of collective Axis strategy or blaming each other for past lapses, but instead went to pretty terrible places like Bastogne, Anzio, and Okinawa to put an end to their enemies all.
Now, in the middle of this terrible conflict, unlike the postbellum inquiry after Pearl Harbor, we are holding acrimonious hearings about culpability for September 11. And here the story gets even more depressing than just political opportunism and election-year timing. After eight years of appeasement that saw repeated attacks on Americans, Pakistani acquisition of nuclear weapons under Dr. Khan, and Osama’s 1998 declaration of war against every American, we are suddenly grilling, of all people, Condoleezza Rice — one of the few key advisers most to be credited for insisting on using our military, rather than the local DA, to defeat these fanatics.
Over the last two years, each time a U.S. senator in panicked and wild-eyed passion screamed that we could not win in Afghanistan, she proved resolute and confident. On every occasion that an ex-general, a dissatisfied bureaucrat, or a wannabe journalist-strategist pontificated about what the United States could not do, she was unwavering in her determination to take the war to rogue regimes in the Middle East with a history of hostility against Americans and a record of providing easy sanctuary for terrorists. This present charade would be like holding public hearings on the eve of the 1944 election about the breakdown of intelligence and missed opportunities before Pearl Harbor — and then blaming Harry Hopkins and Secretary Stimson for laxity even while the country was in the very midst of a two-front war.
Then we have the creepy outbursts from commentators and screams from Democratic senators. We are told by Senator Graham that we smashed al Qaeda only to discover that we had hit a mercury-like substance that now has hopelessly scattered. Well, yes, that is what happens when you strike back in war. The alternative? Allow this elemental terrorism to remain cohesive and united? War is not a decision between good and bad choices, but almost always between something bad and something worse — and so it really is preferable to have toxic mercury scattered than to have it concentrated and pure.
Another pundit assures us that terrorists after American action in Iraq are more active now than before. Well, again yes — in the sense that Germany was messier in 1944 than in 1933, or that Japan was more dangerous for Americans in 1943 than in 1935. Danger, chaos, and death are what transpire for a time when you finally decide to strike back at confident and smug enemies.
Senator Kennedy, the past exemplar of sober and judicious behavior in times of personal and national crisis, has gone beyond his once-wild charges of Texas conspiracies to slur Iraq as Bush’s Vietnam — his apparently appropriate moral boosting for the young Marines, who, even as he spoke, were entering Fallujah to hunt down murderers and mutilators.
But did he say Vietnam? Apparently the senator thinks that the cause of these medieval fanatics who want to bring the world back to the ninth century will resonate with leftists the same way Uncle Ho’s faux promises of equality and egalitarianism swayed stupid anti-war protesters of the past. Or is the real similarity that, once more, as promoters of anti-Communist realpolitik, we Americans are installing a right-wing government rather than promoting pluralism, elections, and the protection of minorities and women — the “dream” of the 1960s? Or perhaps Kennedy’s comparison revolves around 600 combat dead in Afghanistan and Iraq, the liberation of 50 million from the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, and the emergence of proto-consensual governments in less than two years of hostilities? Does all that suggest to Senator Kennedy that we are embarking on a 12-year war, will lose 50,000 men, and are stymied by a bellicose nuclear China and Russia on the borders of Iraq?
Yet Kennedy is right on one count in his evocation of Vietnam. If there is any similarity between Vietnam and the current war, it is not 1963, when his late brother convinced us to commit troops to stop Communist aggression. A better year for comparison is 1974, when Kennedy and other senators began to cut off funding for air support promised to enforce the Paris peace accords, resulting in the collapse of South Vietnam, mass murder in Southeast Asia, and over a million boat people, with more still sent to the Communist reeducation camps.
A New York Times columnist (who before the routing of the Taliban warned us of hopeless quagmire in Afghanistan) chimes in about Fallujah with neat metaphors like “block party” and “slam dance,” and then ends by quoting the old tired canard from Vietnam that “We’re going to destroy the village to save it” — apparently unaware that the supposed postmodern aphorism was probably made up, was never traced or attributed to any particular military officer, and was more likely the creation of a like-minded journalist also eager for some cute phraseology.
There are plenty of things to argue about and there will be plenty of time in which to do it. In a crisis and with worries about national security, many of us thought it was the wrong time to embark on deficit spending, allow near amnesty for those who cross our borders illegally, and not compromise about the need for both American conservation and exploration of oil, in an effort to wean us off Middle Eastern petroleum.
More specifically, in our postwar paranoia about being too brutal in Iraq, we were too lenient — and thus ultimately will probably be more brutal than we would otherwise have had to be. During the prewar exegeses, there was too much emphasis on WMD and not enough on other legitimate casus belli, ranging from violations of the 1991 armistice agreement and U.N. accords, Saddam’s past invasion and assassination attempts, the unending no-fly zones, Baathist mass murder, environmental catastrophe, and bounties for suicide killers.
More troops were probably needed; the Iraqi army should have been immediately reconstituted; and Iraqi officials might have had a more public role in the reconstruction. All these are legitimate tactical issues that could have been discussed and debated within the general parameters that we are at war against horrific enemies who wish to end our civilization, and who cannot be bought off or talked to, but only defeated, and yes, often killed.
Instead, we see more of the same hysteria and invective. It has been almost three years now and many Americans are becoming sickened by this continual procession of collective madness delivered up in doses of twenty-four-hour new cycles. This country has gone from the shouting and screaming about quagmire in Afghanistan, its high peaks, Ramadan taboos, the supposed unreliable Northern Alliance, Guantanamo meals, our failure to get bin Laden — to “millions” of refugees in Iraq, the toppling of moderate governments in the region, an envisioned 5,000 American dead in battle, Saddam and his sons forever uncatchable, worry over legal rights of the Husseins, Bush’s landing on a carrier, looting of museums, WMD acrimony, tell-all books from ex-Bush-administration employees, and the present election-year 9/11 inquiry circus.
And this culminates now in the animus toward Condoleezza Rice, who has weathered it all and never for a moment evidenced the slightest lack of resolve. I suppose we are witnessing a sort of American pop version of the French revolution — journalists and politicians on the barricades and guillotines constantly searching for an ever-expanding array of targets, their only consistency blind and mindless fury at the old regime.
So let us get a grip. Bush yet again must remind the American people that we are at war not merely in the Sunni Triangle or in the Afghan badlands, but rather globally and for the liberal values of Western civilization. There is no mythical pipeline in Afghanistan; Halliburton executives are not lounging around the pool in Baghdad chomping on cigars and quaffing cocktails; and in this age of sky-high gas prices there is no sinister cabal that has hijacked Iraq oil. Sharon is not getting daily intelligence briefings about Iraq. The war is what it always was — a terrible struggle against an evil and determined enemy, a Minotaur of sorts that harvested Americans in increments for decades before mass murdering 3,000 more on September 11.
Everything that the world holds dear — the free exchange of ideas, the security of congregating and traveling safely, the long struggle for tolerance of differing ideas and religions, the promise of equality between the sexes and ethnic groups, and the very trust that lies at the heart of all global economic relationships — all this and more Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and the adherents of fascism in the Middle East have sought to destroy: some as killers themselves, others providing the money, sanctuary, and spiritual support.
We did not ask for this war, but it came. In our time and according to our station, it is now our duty to end it. And that resolution will not come from recrimination in time of war, nor promises to let fundamentalists and their autocratic sponsors alone, but only through the military defeat and subsequent humiliation of their cause. So let us cease the hysterics, make the needed sacrifices, and allow our military the resources, money, and support with which it most surely will destroy the guilty and give hope at last to the innocent.
© 2004 Victor Davis Hanson