Belmont Club

When you see the Southern Cross for the first time

In October, 2003 Edward Luttwak argued that Paul Bremer was making such a mess of things in Iraq that America was better served retreating. In 2003 he wrote:

Just because terrorists are trying to bomb us out of Iraq, it does not mean that we have to stay there. The time has come to recognise that the policy which sent L Paul Bremer to govern Iraq, with troops and contractors working on a myriad projects around the country, has failed and will continue to fail, at ever greater cost. Coalition forces should not abandon Iraq, but they should withdraw to remote desert garrisons and let Iraqis try to govern themselves.

Nearly five years later, Luttwak believes that George W. Bush will be remembered as a great President in the mold of Harry Truman. And more interestingly, he believes Bush has won an historic victory without recanting his views about the specific errors of the Iraq campaign. The gist of Luttwak’s argument is that Bush’s resolve sent a signal, of which the campaign in Iraq was the most visible part, that it was time to choose sides. He roused the world from its sleepwalk through history and it has opened its eyes scant steps from the edge of the precipice.

“The Korean war is half forgotten, while everyone now knows that Truman’s strategy of containment was successful and finally ended with the almost peaceful disintegration of the Soviet empire. … For Bush to be recognised as a great president in the Truman mould, the Iraq war too must become half forgotten. …

Yet the costly Iraq war must also be recognised as a sideshow in the Bush global counteroffensive against Islamist militancy, just as the far more costly Korean war was a sideshow to global cold war containment. … While anti-terrorist operations have been successful here and there in a patchy way, and the fate of Afghanistan remains in doubt, the far more important ideological war has ended with a spectacular global victory for President Bush. … Of course, the Bush victory has not yet been recognised, which is very odd indeed because it has all happened in full view. …

In different ways, other governments in Muslim countries all the way to Indonesia also took their stand with Bush and the US against the jihadists, even though jihad against the infidel is widely regarded as an Islamic duty. Suddenly, active Islamists and violent jihadists suffered a catastrophic loss of status. Instead of being admired, respected or at least tolerated, they had to hide, flee or give it up. Numbers started to shrink. The number of terrorist incidents outside the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq keeps going down, while madrassas almost everywhere have preferred toning down their teachings to being shut down. In Indonesia, the largest Muslim country, the dominant association of imams condemns all forms of violence without exception.”

Ayaan Hirsi AliLuttwak’s ideas were interesting after watching Ayaan Hirsi Ali argue before an Australian audience last night that the only thing to fear was doubt in itself. The Enlightenment, she argued, was nothing if we were not ready to fight for it. It was a simple idea whose ordinariness made the significance of its saying the most curious circumstance of all. The subversive character of repeating the credo of Western civilization was apparent to all and evident in the composition of the audience. The representatives of a certain religion, represented by its most articulate members, were ready with well-spoken arguments about the “limits of freedom of speech”. A former head of government, who would be instantly recognizable to every reader of this site, sat in articulate silence in the audience making a statement with his very presence. Would any of us have been there; would the issue have been joined; would any have come forward according to their better or worse natures if George Bush had not asked whether ‘you are for us or against us’? Iraq was a signal that the temporizing was over and the hard bedrock had been reached. America would yield no more.

I think it is too early to claim a global victory. But I think Luttwak correctly senses that the signs are there. It was fascinating to watch the wheedling, almost slyly cunning tone that Hirsi Ali’s detractors in the audience were forced to adopt, in spite of themselves. You know you are starting to win the clash of civilizations when your opponent begins, however grudgingly, to respect yours. If George W. Bush is ever remembered as the new Harry Truman it will because he reminded us of who we were. The rest was detail.

Tip Jar.