That Was Then, This is Now…
I have been reading various columnists today, going over the weekly angry mail about essays I wrote in support of our efforts in Iraq, and listening to Democratic candidates pontificate on the war. I hope this collective national furor at George Bush comes from the 25% who initially opposed the war, or the minority of politicians of both parties who voted against authorizing it in October 2002. Or barring that, can the angriest critics explain precisely why they switched positions—the cost, human and material? Iraqi ineptness? Our failure to deal with the Shiite militias under Sadr? The looting? Any such pleading is legitimate; but what is not is the overblown rhetoric of “fiasco”, “quagmire” or “disaster” by those who once called for Saddam’s ouster, have now jumped ship even as thousands of soldiers are fighting daily, and cannot explain the reasons for their conversion. Again, I am sure there are reasons why so many have changed their opinion about the war to remove Saddam and replace him with democratic government, but what is striking is that there has been so little honest discussion when and why that transformation has happened to former and often zealous supporters of the enterprise.
I’ve been rereading The Generals’ War by Wood and Trainor, the authors of Cobra II. Given their conclusions in this account of the first Gulf War, you’d think they would have been persistent supporters of the present conflict. In the initial volume, Paul Wolfowitz is a laudable idealist who almost alone worries over the fate of the abandoned Shiites, who rise up on the call of George Bush, Sr. only to be mowed down on the second-thought reflections of State Department realists beholden to the Wahhabists in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf oil-exporting states. By the same token, the military must be watched for exaggerating the lethality of their enemies in order to get far too many troops than were really necessary. Colin Powell simply did not understand the nature of Saddam’s evil, nor the disastrous decision to leave him in power in 1991 when we were almost near Baghdad. Coalition warfare is problematic, as the misguided effort to get allies of any sort hampered both tactical operations and strategic choices. Realism is a sort of amorality, epitomized by removing Saddam from Kuwait but not from Iraq, for geopolitical reasons that had nothing to do with the welfare of the Iraqi people.
After rereading it, I would have concluded something like the following: we need to go to war in the Middle East next time with quicker, lighter forces, fewer and more dependable allies, led by politicians who will demand strategic resolution from their superior military forces, and with a moral imperative that takes into consideration the lot of Arabs who must live under dictators we have coddled.
So at least in some cases, Gulf War II was predicated on correcting the perceived failures of Gulf War I. And just as the victory in Afghanistan took 7 weeks and led to some sort of coalition democratic government in about a year, that calculus was deemed believable for (the supposedly more secular and easily governed) Iraq as well. So a three-week victory in Iraq would no doubt lead to a stable government in six months. I offer this not as criticism, but as an example again of how past experience has guided the present.
Without being too reductionist, I would also offer the sad conclusion that the pulse of the battlefield postfacto determines wisdom and ideology. Had Iraq a stable democracy up and running in three months, then Cobra II would have had a triumphalist tone, and Bob Woodward’s third volume would have been laudatory like the prior praise of Bush after the three-week victory. So it was with Lincoln, demonized in 1864, and canonized in 1865, or poor Harry Truman in 1953 and tough, principled old Harry by 1960. Likewise supposed nut-case Ronald Reagan ranting about commies in 1980 was wise and sober Sir Ronald in 1990 after communism collapsed. Clemenceau was a fiery maverick before the war, a sober wartime “Tiger” by 1918, and blamed for a rising Germany when he died in 1929—and still being reassessed in 2006.
The point again is not the mundane one that perceptions change, but rather IF victory is achieved or at least something akin to victory, then the wartime hysteria ceases, and upon reflection the demonized leader is praised for enduring rather than caving under the pressure. No one today praises the wartime leadership of LBJ or Nixon, but they might have—had we not cut off aid to South Vietnam in 1974-5–and, without the boat people and the Cambodian holocaust, the South had looked a lot today like South Korea without the postwar brutality of the late 1970s.
All Trees and No Forest
Maybe the rise of specialization in the university causes us to stress the exception rather than the rule. Or perhaps the rise of personal anecdote in lieu of analysis, common in our therapeutic society, explains why we shy away from generalization.
It is certainly true that the emergence of minority rights and grievances has chastised Americans from making generalizations that are valid in the majority of cases, but ridiculed because there are occasional exceptions. If one were to conclude that Swedes were dour, prone to drink, large, and sometimes moody, based on what I have seen of my family, I would tend to agree as a rule—with the qualifier I have met many who were sunny, tiny, and abstainers. But nevertheless that stereotyped portrait remains a good enough truism.
I raise this with exasperation since lately we are told that various radical Islamic groups—Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda, or the Muslim Brotherhood—are not all alike. But who is? And what does it matter if their generic hatred of the West and the United States in particular is predicated on the West Bank, Lebanon, Afghanistan, or our failure, according to Dr. Zawhiri, to sign the Kyoto accords? I’m sure our grandfathers did not resent the insensitive lumping together of Mussolini with Hitler and Tojo because there were undeniable differences between Bushido, National Socialism, and Fascism.
Indeed, this fear to generalize has gotten so bad that we cannot speak of “Arabs” as generic people, even though they themselves, in perfect Pan-Arabic fashion, do so, and, of course, speak of Americans as a predictable cadre. I have visited Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait Libya, Palestine, and Tunisia and most there I met seem to entertain real antipathy for Israel, express a strange simultaneous attraction for, and anger with, the United States, share certain ideas about the role of women, religious tolerance, Islam, Western culture, and the role of family patriarchs. And while there are obviously many who resent such a characterization, it is all the same a valid generalization.
The debate over immigration keeps drifting to the right: what seemed once unimaginable (such as a 700-mile fence) now seems timid (e.g. , why not fortify the entire border?). Whereas I used to get hate mail from the Left for writing Mexifornia with its calls for assimilation and integration, more often criticism now comes from the right over the book’s suggestion of earned citizenship for most illegals on the understanding that there will be an end to bilingual documents, and linguistic and ethnic tribalism.
Why the Shift?
What caused this shift? The steady influx of a million a year that has resulted in illegal aliens appearing in places far distant from the American Southwest—like parking lots in Kansas or emergency rooms in Alabama or school districts in North Dakota.
Those May Day marches didn’t impress Americans; waving Mexican flags and placards of Che seemed more like a demonstration in Bolivia and Venezuela than a 4th of July celebration in the United States.
Mexico isn’t helping things by publishing comic books advising its own how to evade American law. Mexico City’s cynical suppositions in publishing such pamphlets apparently are that those who leave Mexico should—and also can’t read.
Over the last five years, the issue is no longer demonized as a white America showing its xenophobia against a downtrodden Hispanic population, but rather poor whites, African-Americans, Asians, and Mexican-Americans worried about employers hiring cheaper-paid aliens, or the inequality of asking some to follow immigration laws and not others.
Finally, Oaxaca, the source of a great many illegal newcomers, seems to be in open revolt. Put all these considerations together, and suddenly the problem of illegal immigration is discussed as a crisis in a fashion it wasn’t just four years ago. While it is true that President Bush has alienated many by waiting six years to enforce our borders, at least there is the perception that the Republicans will ultimately do more to restore American sovereignty, while the Democrats are too indebted to radical fringe groups like the La Razistas, ACLU, and others who oppose any reasonable steps to restore border control.
I can imagine a Republican like Giuliani or Romney, who combines toughness in calling for an end to open borders, outlines specific measures how to do that, and appears sympathetic to the plight of the alien, will resonate in a way a Democratic candidate who would like to do that can not. The Wall Street Journal libertarian right is much less influential on Republicans than is the Leftwing therapeutic pressure on Democrats.