What the President Might Say

It is about more than just Fallujah.

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

We are presently engaged in a world war for our civilization and its vision of a just and humane society. Our values will either endure this present struggle and indeed be invigorated by the ordeal, or like once great civilizations of the past we will stumble in the face of barbarism and lose all that we hold dear. Across the world in places as diverse as Madrid, Fallujah, Kandahar, Thailand, Amman, and Bali agents of intolerance and religious fascism seek to terrorize and thereby eventually destroy the promise of a free and tolerant mankind. We must be as determined to defeat them as they are to destroy us.

Americans believe that freedom and consensual government — far from being the exclusive domain of the West — are ideals central to the human condition and the shared aspirations of all born into this world. That is the great hope we embrace now in Iraq, that as we rout those who advocate fundamentalism and intolerance, millions of others will gain confidence and join the struggle for democratic change. But until then, even as we speak, millions, sometimes in fear and silence, are watching our present efforts. They are uncertain of the outcome. They wait to pledge their allegiance to the victor, hoping, but not yet convinced, that we can defeat those who would impose tyranny and intolerance on any who would seek to reform and escape from their present misery.

What are the values for which hundreds of Americans have now fallen in Afghanistan and Iraq? They are not new or hard to fathom, nor are they the easily caricatured images of American popular culture. Rather they are the same principles for which Americans died at Valley Forge, Gettysburg, Iwo Jima, and Pusan: the guarantee of free association and expression, the tolerance of different ideas, a respect for the rule of law, and the right to enjoy equality under the aegis of consensual government. So this is what we believe in and this is what we have made it our mission to preserve.

Make no mistake: As we learned on September 11, our enemies do not merely disagree with us. They demand our very destruction for what we believe and who we are. Against savages who knock down skyscrapers and blow up innocents, we understandably speak of a war against terror. Indeed we are fighting against cowardly and cruel people who behead, desecrate, blow up, and know only how to harm and torture the innocent — never to create or build a just society.

Yet terror is only a method that our enemies employ out of cowardice and weakness. We do not battle the car bomb, suicide belt, or roadside explosive, but rather the people and their patrons who use them. In truth, their creed emanates from radical and lawless groups in the Middle East who have hijacked a sacred religion, imbued it with hatred, and now seek to direct the frustrations of thousands against the United States because they are terrified of our success at home and our global power and influence abroad. To the degree that we seek to lead the world into the 21st century, bin Laden, al Qaeda, their kindred terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, and their sympathetic supporters residing in Syria, Iran, and Lebanon kill to bring us all back to the 8th.

We believe we can win this war of ideas and values with more, not less, freedom and with greater knowledge and understanding, not a retreat into the dark prejudices of our enemies. So we in America stand willing to help kindred reformers in the Middle East, working in tandem to promote freedom, elections, the equality of women, and guarantees of protection for those of differing ideas and religions.

This is not rhetoric, but the record of history. America has shown in the past — through its sacrifices to free Afghanistan from Soviet dominance, to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, to prevent the genocide of the Kurds and Shiites, to ensure that Bosnians and Kosovars were not exterminated in Europe, to feed the starving in Somalia, and to provide Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinians billions of dollars over a quarter-century of partnership — that our promises of help are not mere boasts but are backed by concrete aid in both peace and war. And this too is not new. In Germany, Japan, Italy, South Korea, Panama, Serbia, Afghanistan, and Iraq Americans have died to eradicate totalitarianism and autocracy and sought to leave liberal societies in their place. It was not just the courage of millions in Eastern Europe who won freedom from the Soviet Union, but also a half-century of determined resistance by the United States that brought down that evil empire and thus allowed a freed Russian people to pursue their natural destiny of peace and prosperity.

But let us not delude ourselves either. This present struggle cannot be won entirely through material largess and moral support. Tragically, victory will come only when fanatical killers such as the al Qaeda terrorists and their supporters in Iraq are either eliminated or routed and their odious ideas exposed and discredited for the pure hatred they purvey.

So this brutal war is worldwide. And it is not an insurrection, not a police matter, and not just a terrorist incident. In places like Afghanistan and Iraq, we have battled against regimes, whether theocratic or autocratic, fundamentalist or secular, that have brutalized their own people, aided and abetted terrorists on their soil, and sought to harm the Untied States and its interests through such surrogate forces. All these extremists and their state patrons must be identified and then defeated militarily if their ideas are to lose currency and their adherents credibility.

This global war may be lost in Afghanistan and Iraq, but it cannot be won there. It is a struggle to the death with Islamic fascists and their patrons, pitting, on the one side, the majority of those who believe that a modernizing and liberal Middle East can be enriched and ennobled by Islam, against, on the other, a small but zealous group of dedicated killers who would destroy Islam by claiming that it seeks only to destroy non-Muslims.

It has now been nearly three years since we were attacked in a time of peace by the al Qaeda killers, through the aid of their Taliban patrons. Yet this war against the fundamentalists had in fact been going on for nearly a quarter century before the fall of the World Trade Center and the bombing of the Pentagon. Across the world in little known places in Lebanon, East Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, Americans have for years been murdered by extremists from the Middle East and the countries who harbored and gave them sanctuary — in the same manner that hundreds more have been murdered recently in Turkey, Spain, and Morocco, and thousands of others saved in the nick of time in London, Paris, and Jordan.

From that bitter experience we have learned an equally bitter lesson: that the Islamic fascist, the terrorist, and the mass murderer cannot be talked to, parleyed with, or appeased, but only defeated — for they view magnanimity as weakness, and conciliation as decadence. Indeed their mantra is not merely that the West cannot fight, but that it won’t. To those critics who claim that we started this war too early, I fear instead that we have replied far too late. Thousands of Americans, Afghans, Kurds, and Shiites killed in the last two decades would agree.

So at last we have woken up from our slumber at the eleventh hour, and after the murder of 3,000 of our own we have taken on the difficult and unpopular task of bringing the war against our enemies closer to their haunts than our own homes. In a mere three years, two of the worst regimes in the world have been crushed, terrorists on their soil scattered, and consensual governments are now in the making. Extremists in Pakistan, Libya, and Iran have taken note, and there are now pressures for democratic reform throughout the Middle East. Three things are so far indisputable: Every time the United States has confronted these cowardly killers, we have defeated them overwhelmingly; where we have created conditions of security and confidence moderates have stepped forward to participate in the birth of freedom; and when even for a moment we have hesitated or appeased, innocents have died and we have lost precious time and support.

We cannot cease until Syria, Iran, and Lebanon join the family of nations, expel the terrorists from their soil, and part company with those who would seek to destroy the West. As we have seen in the case of Libya and Pakistan, such a rejection of evil need not come through military invasion. Rather, it can come through our enemies’ careful calculation that continued support of terror along with efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction lead ultimately not only to a military confrontation with the United States, but also to blackmail, instability, and chaos at home.

Our critics ask, have we made mistakes in this terrible war so far? Of course. We can all argue and parry over the lack of our preparedness on September 11, the number and nature of our troops that should be committed to the reconstruction of Iraq, and the degree to which our knowledge of weapons of mass destruction comprised a long- or short-term threat to the United States. I welcome that discussion, for it is only from audit and self-critique that liberal societies such as our own profit from their errors and press on to victory.

Yet at some point, we of diverse views and opinions — Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative — must transcend our own points of departure to unite in marshalling the will to finish the task in Iraq and to ensure that the Middle East is no longer a sanctuary from which to launch deadly attacks on the United States and its interests — but rather one that offers employment, stability, and justice to its deserving citizens.

How will we know we have won? Whom exactly are we fighting? What are the tactics and strategies we must employ to defeat the enemy?

These perplexing questions have bothered Americans since September 11, and indeed they should distress us inasmuch as our enemies seek to attack from the shadows, often disclaiming their responsibility for the very murders they commit and waging a war without fronts, uniforms, rules, or conventional soldiers. They hope to avoid a rendezvous with the conventional and deadly military power of the United States and instead kill so many of our civilians, interrupt so much of modern life, and keep the world so much on edge that tired and disheartened citizens acquiesce to their demands and allow them to tyrannize the Middle East.

Yet today, Islamic fascists use terror and stealth so that tomorrow they will have the power to wage a greater war with greater weapons and more openly. In response, sometimes we will meet and crush their supporters on the battlefield; other times we will round up their agents at home and abroad. Yet again in this multifaceted war we will send out the warning that those nations who offer money, sanctuary, and ideological support for these killers can no longer hide through disavowal and slander but instead will be confidently defeated by the United States.

This is no mere boast. Remember at one time most of us asked how we could defeat those as powerful and wicked as the Nazis when by July 1941 their terrible rule stretched from the English Channel to the outskirts of Moscow, from the Arctic Circle to the Sahara Desert, with millions more impressed by the power of their hateful ideology and fearful of its reach. And yet four years later not a Nazi activist and open adherent was to be found, so completely had the United States and its allies destroyed the power and refuted the ideas of Hitler.

So it will be too when Islamist terrorist cells are rounded up in Europe and in the United States; when their havens in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq are completely eradicated; when their sponsors in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon abandon their cause; and when freedom and prosperity are offered to millions as an alternative to both Islamic fascism and autocracy under which it can alone thrive.

More challenging still, our own military — as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan — is so skillful, so adept in accomplishing its mission that it can defeat the enemy abroad with the appearance — I emphasize again the appearance — of so far not incurring costs of the magnitude we saw in World War II, Korea, or Vietnam. But it would be a terrible mistake, in this age of our greatest affluence and leisure, to trust in such a misconception, to turn our attention inward precisely when the best citizens of our nation are fighting so well and so long and hard in such difficult places in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We must support them with all the material and spiritual aid we can muster. We must think of them daily, hourly and hold them in our prayers. We must make the needed sacrifices here at home to ensure that the unpleasant and often deadly task we have entrusted to them can be accomplished with every full measure of our love and support.

What would such sacrifice and responsibilities entail? All Americans with pride and confidence must confront in spirit and speech those who would caricature and misrepresent our struggle — that it is unnecessary, that it is wrong, that it is against Islam rather than the distorters of Islam. Yes, Americans must take on this new apparent phenomenon of anti-Americanism, learn about it, and then refute it with all their being, explaining that it is the United States who preserves the peace, whether that be in the Persian Gulf, the Korean Sea, or on the Mediterranean.

We seek no tribute, no colonies, no blackmail for ensuring that the seas are open and nations are free to pursue their own destinies without fear of attack by their neighbors. Whether it is stationing troops in the Balkans or in Japan, or providing billions of dollars in help for the victims of AIDS, or being a loyal and militarily powerful ally to Europe and a friend to large nations like Russia and India or protectors of the smaller like South Korea, the United States is a proven force for good in this world. And so the world depends on us to defeat those who would bring it back from the present horizons of modernism, global prosperity, and new friendships to the rule of the jungle of the Dark Ages.

More concretely, we must wean ourselves from the imported petroleum of the Persian Gulf, whose dollars so often fuel and subsidize the fundamentalists who have killed thousands and wish to kill still thousands more Americans. Let us in a bipartisan manner agree on a new energy strategy aimed precisely to curb the appetite for imported oil that has so often served as our own nemesis.

Surely conservatives can agree to reasonable mileage standards for new cars that will have the eventual practical effect of reducing our nation’s daily consumption of oil. By the same token, surely liberals can agree to explore our own Arctic Circle for known petroleum, under careful environmental scrutiny to ensure that such resources are extracted with more care at home than they are currently extracted abroad, in areas where our own environmental protocols have no sway.

We Americans cannot expect to drive cars that consume more gasoline than they need nor demand of others to tap their own fragile environment for resources that we desire but would not do the same for at home. Meanwhile, we must enter on a new Manhattan project, a similar wartime effort to find new sources of energy to fuel our transportation, homes, and commerce, so that never again can agents of destruction and barbarism seek to hold the United States hostage, and use the fruits of our own commerce from which to buy the very weapons to destroy us.

At a time of war across continents and against tens of thousands of killers, we are running huge trade imbalances and an unsustainable annual deficit. These debts are often the historical wages of war, due in large part to the destruction wrought by the murderers of September 11 and the subsequent dislocations and costs needed for new security measures.

But if our economy is to remain strong — as it must to provide for our soldiers in battle — then Congress must accept compromises on both spending and taxation. We can neither spend nor tax our way out of our present difficulty, so let us agree that no Democrat shall propose another dollar of spending without providing for an addition dollar of revenue; no Republican shall cut another dollar of taxes without guarantees of a like reduction in spending. This war is not entirely one of ideas or bullets, but also one of money and influence. To win, the United States must reestablish its reputation as not only the most powerful and richest country in the world, but also the most financially sober and prudent. We owe our soldiers in the field no less.

Finally, this is not just a struggle to defeat the Islamic fundamentalists, but to establish the principle that the United States in a moment of its greatest success, material wealth, and power can still make terrible sacrifices that throughout the ages have always been the cost for the freedom and security of its citizens and friends abroad. What Osama bin Laden, and those who actively support him, have started, we in the United States most surely will finish.

©2004 Victor Davis Hanson

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