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Works and Days

What Readers Wrote, Posted, and Called About

February 5th, 2007 - 8:30 am

In this posting I will try to address several themes raised by the commentators here in the last few weeks.

Going for Broke

Whatever one’s prior views on surging more troops (I was skeptical unless it was to be accompanied by a radical change in tactics, which I think it will be), it is incumbent upon all to support the American effort.

It is the last, go-for-broke attempt to save Iraqi democracy, and may well work. My hunch is that the change in American operations will be far more fundamental than we are told, and that very soon there will be a very aggressive effort to secure Baghdad—thus these latest terrible bombings by the insurgents to preempt our preparations.

In any case, the Senate could at least wait a few weeks before passing any resolution. Not only would it be wise, cynical politics to await the verdict of the battlefield, but also it would send a message to the terrorists that a reprieve is simply not in the works for them.

Instead to learn the position of critics, we are left with this existential paradox: hostile Senators—who have condemned the surge, indeed, condemned the entire Iraqi project, and all associated with it— recently unanimously confirmed Gen. Petraeus, the architect of the surge.

The Opposition

So? Is it, ‘We object strongly to the surge, but not the General who is to take command on the premise that a surge was crucial’?

More likely the opposition runs something like, ‘We won’t harp about an iconic general or his ideas on a surge, since he is far more popular than Bush/Cheney; and, if it fails, we can at least say we supported the general and his troops; and if it succeeds, we can at least say we sent over the right guy and bailed out the administration’s failed effort. Ergo, pass resolutions without teeth that may nevertheless encourage the enemy, but don’t quite yet cut off funds.

Pariah Redux

George Clooney is worried that Europe hates us. Kerry felt the same way apparently when he dubbed America a pariah while on stage with a real pariah in Iranian ex-President Mohammad Khatami (N.b., I got a lot of angry mail about my last Tribune column on his Davos inanity, even from the Kerry team). This is the constant complaint of our intelligentsia, politicians, and punditry.

In some sense, they are correct: elite-to-elite across the oceans, anti-Americanism is trendy.

And why not? The genre of the artiste is patently anti- the American President, more blatant even that the old ‘Reagan is a cowboy dunce’ during the nuclear winter/Pershing missile/nuclear freeze hysteria. Novels advocate killing Bush. Documentaries envision his murder. Comedians joke about him being a Nazi. Everyone from Ted Turner to George Soros echoes such slurs.

Anti-anti-Americanism?

It is chic to hate Bush, the supposedly Red-State twangy, Christian inarticulate anti-intellectual, as a respectable way to voice anti-Americanism, which on examination derives mostly from envy and perceived grievances.

The script is easy: forget US aid rushed to Iranian earthquake victims or the Tsunami victims. Or the role of the US in fostering democracy in Afghanistan or Iraq, or protecting Europe and Japan, or allowing China to cheat on all trade and commercial agreements in hopes its breakneck prosperity will some day lead to democracy.

Meanwhile we live with the reality. Prince Bandar puts up his Trimalchian ski-mansion for sale. The list of imams, theocrats, and Middle East dictators with students, family and houses in the US is endless. The world sits poised to trash the US for inaction if Iran goes nuclear, or blood-lust if we stop it.

None of this is new or surprising. But there is a growing mood of “enough is enough” throughout this country— of the parent finally taking back the keys and cutting off the allowance after one too many outbursts from the protected and pampered teen, that has not yet surfaced in the political landscape. But that weariness will soon be reflected in political changes, and brace yourself for the world outrage that the United states is not “engaged” and is “turning its back” on the Palestinians, or Darfur or the Sudanese or (fill in the blanks) problem de jour.

What looms next is a superpower China that insidiously translates its huge dollar reserves into a world class sophisticated military that in turn translates its armed clout into political concessions from allies, friends, neutrals and enemies alike. In the next decade we should prepare to hear from our current critical Japanese, Koreans, Europeans, or Middle East “friends” that China is cheating on this accord, or demanding that price, or violated this particular treaty—as is the way of all dictatorships.

The Inexplicable

I watched the posted video of the Muslim Students Union’s disruption of Daniel Pipes’ recent lecture at UC Irvine, and the ghoulish post-riotous celebration where the protestors high-fived and promised to continue such disruption until Israel was destroyed. If they were students, why aren’t they summarily expelled for a criminal violation of free-speech codes, and, of course, violating the university’s much heralded statutes against hate speech? If any were foreign students, they should be summarily deported for violating the tenets of their invitation.

As a footnote, I followed Daniel’s pre-9/11 historical work on warfare in the Middle East. He is a first-class scholar, a reasoned speaker, and a sharp critic of the entire hypocrisy endemic in the present Middle East. Read one of his books, juxtapose it with the taped comments of the Muslim Students, and you can see how far the university has sunk.

Sorry, non hic porcus.

I am reading Dinesh D’Souza’s latest, The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, and confess to a certain sense of shock. The theme seems to be that American conservatives are natural allies with traditional Muslims—that is, if it were not for our own decadent Left. Its supposed export of a bastardized culture worldwide tarred America and thus empowered al-Qaida.

The result is that we must fight this leftist enemy at home and thereby take the argument away from bin Laden—who apparently had some logical reasons to do what he did.

But wait. Bin Laden has NO argument other than incoherent rambling. When he wishes, he can sound just as often a leftist in his demagoguery by blaming us for Kyoto and white racism. Personally, I have more in common with an American rapper or a liberal professor than with the Saudi moral police who whip women who dance or sanction honor killings or stone the promiscuous or kill those who proselytize Christianity.

I think Salman Rushdie who survived a fatwa, contrary to D’Souza, really does not want to see bin Laden win. Nor do most liberals. Being naïve and pathologically hating Bush still doesn’t equate to wanting bin Laden to win, any more than the isolationist Right who despised FDR wanted Hitler to win after 1941.

I was sick of Falwell blaming us for 9/11, just as we all were with the lunatic Michael Moore or the then Dean of Woodrow Wilson school at Princeton. All these who fault us for some such sin—imperialism, Zionism, decadence, Christianity, or atheism—seem to be saying that unless ‘my vision of America is realized, I have no commonality with the America that doesn’t listen to me.’

So I am writing up this week’s Tribune column on the book and this strange phenomenon of blaming the US rather than the terrorists. I had no desire to see Brokeback Mountain or the atrocious Natural Born Killers, but would rather sit through such nonsense than through one of the daily harangues at Middle East mosques and madrassas, hearing imams blaring out about the Jewish monkeys and the apes or the very real need to kill your sister if she goes out alone.

Post Iraq?

Three things are clear about the American effort in both Afghanistan and Iraq if we fail ( that’s what “redeployment” means).

First, both countries will revert to safe havens for terrorists, as they were in the past, whether comparable to the Taliban’s gift of sanctuary to al-Qaida or Saddam’s hosting of individual terrorists and opportunistic funding and support for Islamists, such as those who ensconced themselves in Kurdistan or those who planned the first World Trade Center bombing.

Second, democratization will be finished as a US policy other than in lofty but empty rhetoric. The Democrats’ opportunistic and constant shifting on the war will mean that when they return to power there will be no Republican support for anything like Clinton’s Balkan campaign, much less anything like a messy intervention in something like Darfur.

If they now criticize a Republican who wishes to foster democracy, who can take them seriously if they ever again critique realpolitik, when their new godheads are Jim Baker et al.

You can already see the effects of this retrenchment with Pakistan. Only a few principled Democrats question our laxity to Musharraf, who once again is postponing true elections, de facto is hiding bin Laden, stealthily promoting the Taliban—his ear pressed to the US Congress where he sums up that Iraq is lost and with it any pressure to democratize. Can’t someone plead with the dictator’s family members in the US for their relative to allow to his own over there what he sent his own over here to enjoy?

Third, no Westerner again will listen much to Middle East reformers. In their failure of self-criticism about the anti-democratic forces in Lebanon, Iraq, and the West Bank, they have lost all credibility. Yes, if we fail in Afghanistan and Iraq, the consensus will be not to pay attention to these liberalizing megaphones, who will in the end always privilege either pan Arab nationalism, or Islam, or anti-Western and anti-Israeli rhetoric than genuine support for constitutional democracy.

What will the anti-US policy, pro-Hezbollah, pro-Hamas protestors in Dearborn do, when they get their wish and the next government agrees to keep completely out of the Arab world, neither pressuring a Mubarak to reform nor extending the tab that is now way over $50 billion in cumulative Egyptian handouts?

And the next Saddam who murders his own (and there will be many), will do so in apparent freedom and with immunity, since no American President will dare intervene. I suppose our immigration policy could reflect that hands-off policy as well: please stay at home over there in the Middle East, pass on the great Satan, and solve your own problems without a meddlesome America that will only make things worse for you.

The Kurdish exemplar

Someone should do a complete analysis of Kurdistan and offer a thesis why this Muslim country works without dictatorship or theocracy or brutal internal killing, is relatively free and prosperous, and likes the US. We know the superficial answer, and accept it may be an artifact of our own long Iraqi policy, but nevertheless it easily could have evolved into a factionalized Gaza or Baghdad of self-destruction, and yet did not—at least not yet. And still, we quietly assume it is unique and its pattern cannot be duplicated elsewhere.

The Pulse of the Battlefield

Of all the dozens of liberals and conservatives who have done about- faces, I have yet to read any who (a) discuss candidly their earlier zeal and what initially accounted for it— without scapegoating or seeking the refuge of easy blame; (b) at what point they lost confidence and why, especially a revelation whether their change of heart was predicated entirely on their own sense of our winning or losing; (c) how and why the mistakes of this war both differ in nature and magnitude from the past, and thus preclude a U.S. victory; (d) and, more specifically, what they suggest the United States should do after leaving Iraq.

Unless I am listening to the consistent Noam Chomsky or Pat Buchanan, every time I hear or read a voice of anguish and furor at the war—whether a Sen. Clinton, Biden, or Kerry, or pundits such as Andrew Sullivan or analysts like Francis Fukuyama (who just days after 9/11 signed a letter calling for the removal of Saddam even if he were found to have no connection with September 11)—I assume there is a good likelihood that in late 2001 and most of 2002 they advocated going into Iraq, and thought a victory there and subsequent democratization were both moral and feasible, and would have positive effects of the surrounding region.

Again, if the peace had gone as well as the three-week war, I assume many (besides the caricatured neocons) would be now contemplating “On to Syria!”

“One War at a Time”

That’s what Lincoln sighed when Britain threatened war in November 1861, after the Union navy captured two Confederate diplomats on their way to London.

The hysteria over supposed proposed action against Iran is strange. Right now there is no public support for a simultaneous war against Iran, even it were waged entirely by sea and air.

For all the saber-rattling on the right and the leftwing screaming about further unilateral American action, what is forgotten is that the present US policy may in fact be working. Ahmadinejad is increasingly isolated. The Iranian economy is sliding. Iran has earned powerful regional enemies in the surrounding Arab countries, the US, and Israel. The democratic upheavals in neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq cause it anxiety. If oil hits $40 a barrel, the regime will eventually face civil unrest.

What is the present policy that is so slandered? Goading the UN to press on with sanctions. Prompting the multilateral EU to regain its stature, after its failed EU3 talks, by isolating Iran. Encourage and subsidize Iranian dissidents, coupled with steady military pressure by increased naval forces in the Gulf. Stabilize Iraq.

The question is simply whether there is still time for this strategy of cracking the egg with dozens of taps before Iran goes nuclear, when all bets are then off.

Again, Iran is yet another of these strange paradoxes where restraint (they are, after all, sending, along with Syria, serial assassins into Iraq to destroy the democracy) is pilloried as excessive when there is a logical argument for more, not less, toughness. When nations devolve into that mindset of slandering restraint as too excessive (Athens circa 360 BC, Rome in the 5th century AD, Britain around 1930, the US in the 1970s), then watch out….

Finally, if Hillary or Barack were President, they would both be doing the exact same thing with Teheran as Bush is. They would be praised as sober and judicious—and the cacophony of “let’s talk with Iran” would grow silent.

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