Work and Days

War?—What War?

Reader Responses

I have learned a great deal reading the responses to these essays, and often try to predicate the next entry on the concerns of the readers.

So one reoccurring topic is the controversy over just how serious is the threat of radical Islam. I get a great deal of furious mail, suggesting that Bush & Co. for a variety of reasons (fill in the blanks: oil, Halliburton, etc.) have created a bogeyman out of a few ragtag terrorists, and dangerously and gratuitously set us on a path of war in the Middle East.

Such critics are emboldened by the luxuries of relative world peace. Remember, we enter into year six without an attack on the United States homeland comparable to September 11. That fact, taken together with the absence of a clearly-identified enemy nation state, has suggested to many that there is hardly a present threat comparable to dangers posed by Nazis, fascists, Japanese imperialists, or Soviet and Chinese communists of the past.

But how true is that really?

I. -Isms and –Ologies Are More Deadly

Global ideologies pose greater threats than particular bellicose states. Nazism, for example, was more dangerous than Prussian militarism because it much more easily appealed across national boundaries.

The same was true of communism versus, say, Japanese militarism that was predicated on unique thoughts about racial superiority rather than Pan-Asian communitarian solidarity. Bushido appealed to few non-Japanese.

Jihadism, however, resonates with Muslims in Pakistan, the Arab World, the Philippines, or Indonesia. Race, language, landscape, or nationality are not always predictable in our enemies, only a certain shared derangement guided by the idea that the West and its modernization have eclipsed Islam and are in some way responsible for radical Muslims’ current sense of inferiority and lost entitlement.

II. A Dirty Bomb Versus a Salvo or Air strike?

Second, the global wherewithal of any enemy is predicated as well on technology and conditions of the age. Just as the Kaiser was NOT the avatar of a global revolutionary ideology, he also lacked the technology to harm the continental United States. While it is true that al Qaedists don’t posses (yet) Soviet-style nuclear missiles; still, equipped with miniaturized weapons, stealthy terrorists can now hit almost anywhere. And there is no logical reason why in the next act of escalation, they will not evolve from planes and bombs to more deadly chemicals or germs—or a nuclear Iran or a Pakistan run by jihadists.

III. “We Didn’t Do It—They Did”

There is also a third force-multiplier that might explain why the pathetic cave-dwelling Dr. Zawahiri and his clowns could hurt the United States far more than Hitler or even the Soviets ever could. True, the absence, after the fall of the Taliban, of a state apparatus has hurt the terrorists, but their umbilical cords to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran offer them the nourishment of a parent state, but without national culpability. Thus it is hard for us to target patrons who by design deny culpability, and nullify classical deterrence between nation states.

That is, killer teams that poison the water supply of Los Angeles or blow themselves up in the Mall of America, defy an easy response. Do we hit the Saudis whose charities funded them? The Syrians who gave them the weapons? The Iranians who trained them? Or the Pakistanis who offered them space? All such governments would immediately “deplore” such attacks, offer their condolences, and claim they had no influence over their cheering crowds (in the manner Arafat gave blood after the West Bank street high-fived 9/11).

IV. The Fragility of the Good Life

Fourth, in our sophistication arises more of our vulnerability. Tojo or Mussolini could not ruin the world’s banking system. The globe is even more interconnected than during the Cold War. So a dirty bomb set off in the New York Stock Exchange—remember the panic set off by the Maryland/Virginia snipers—or anthrax spread in the Capitol would have ripple effects, psychological implications that we saw after 9/11 when there was a trillion dollar hit to the hotel, airline, and travel industries.

The more modern man evolves from his physical world, the more vulnerable he becomes. In a world where few know how to raise food, where cash is disappearing as the normal currency, where our debits and assets are mere numbers on a computer, we can become paralyzed by centrally-planned but rather narrowly-focused attacks on computer systems, government, and corporations that ripple out with life-or-death consequences.

V. Too Sophisticated

Fifth, this is a different America from 1941, 1946, 1950, or even 1973-4. A quarter-century of multiculturalism, utopian pacifism, and cultural relativism have convinced many that there are no real cultural differences in the world, much less Western or American exceptionalism. Resistance is outdated and a poor remedy for aggression that is not prompted by evil, but rather follows only from ignorance, poverty, and misunderstanding—much of it induced by a grasping and immoral Western civilization.

The Locus Classicus of Iran

When such thinking is confronted by the primordial world of the 7th century, then a sort of dangerous naiveté follows, perhaps best epitomized by our confusion over Iran.

A jihadist of the first order swears that he hears religious voices and through his mesmerizing speech prevents his audiences from blinking. He promises a world without the United States and swears he will wipe Israel off the map. As relish he brags about shutting down the Straits of Hormuz and choking off global petroleum commerce. And these are not impossible threats, since Ahmadinejad has at his disposal billions in petrol-dollars, soulless commercial partners in Russia, North Korea, and China who will sell him anything, and a certain apocalyptic vision that, Jim-Jones like, convinces him that he can achieve eternal fame in this world—the downtrodden Shiite Persians at last trump the Sunni Arabs as the true warriors of Islam—and Paradise in the next.

And all this is reified by an ongoing nuclear program. Set against all that, our own wise men and women demonize those who will not “talk” with the Iranian theocracy, so convinced are they either of their own moral superiority and beguiling rhetoric, or of the rational sense of the Iranians. In other words, suggest modestly that Iran is creepy enough to keep distant from—and suddenly that wariness is slurred as a neocon plot to wage war with Teheran.

So, yes, I have no apologies for labeling radical Islam as a danger comparable to Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, Stalin, or Mao.That admission does not make any of us who share these worries fond of war, far from it. Rather we fear that radical Islam has much in store for us ahead, and the more America prepares for it, the less our citizens and others less strong will suffer.

So What Do We Do?

By the same token only a comprehensive strategy that addresses the ideological basis of radical Islam will ultimately work. Regional solutions—talking with Syria about Lebanon, pressuring Israel to give back more of the West Bank, continuing the now $50 billion subsidy for Egypt, etc.—are palliative without offering hopes of an eventual solution.

Our Current Approach

Instead only a four-pronged fundamental approach, much of which we are presently engaged in, will ultimately work: kill jihadists whether in Somalia or Anbar or the Hindu Kush; promote consensual government and market economies that so drive the jihadists crazy and offer a chance that some day the Middle East will achieve parity with other regions—and thus cease blaming the West for its self-induced failures; work with regional governments, whether the newly established Afghans or Iraqis, or the Ethiopians or the Jordanians or the Israelis to fight the jihadists; and collapse the world oil market though conservation, more exploration, alternative fuels, and nuclear power. 20 -dollar-a-barrel oil will take immediately nearly $500 billion a year out of the coffers of Middle East exporters—and with that loss, floating petrodollars for weapons and terrorists.

The Surge

I wrote at National Review Online about the surge, and did some radio interviews about the controversy over it. I have been skeptical about the ‘more troops’ arguments, since the real problem centered on the rules of engagement, especially the arrest/release of terrorists, the open borders with Syria and Iran, the pass given the militias, and the ambiguity of a sort of, not sort of autonomous Iraqi government. But now, the President has decided on the increase as part of a reassessment of tactics.

A brilliant general is confident of its efficacy. Troop morale is still high. And the arguments against it from the Democrats (why would they select Sen. Durban as the public responder, he of “Nazi” and “Pol Pot” slander infamy?) offer neither improvement nor honesty in confessing their desire to leave and call it quits. So as a Jacksonian, I will support the surge in confidence it will work, and hope my reservations about pouring more troops without a change of tactics have been answered by the President’s promises that there is indeed a new way of operations accompanying the addition of 20,000 more soldiers.

What was the old strategy?

In the typical American fashion of ‘out with the old, in with the new’ or ‘the King is Dead, Long Live the King’ suddenly the once praised Gens. Abizaid and Casey are considered goats and their strategies failed. But is that fair? And what was their thinking? Namely, that in a global war against jihadism, American ground troops are stretched too thin at precisely the time there are more dangers arising in Syria, Iran, and the Horn of Africa. Thus, we wanted to stabilize Iraq with what we had, keep an ample reserve for future problems, and force the Iraqis to understand our troop presence was shrinking and only they could stabilize their own country. I think the Generals would have changed the parameters of their operations, and still have secured the country with what we had—in time. But after the 2006 elections, there was no longer any political window, and things have now come to a head where either we win quickly or the politics turn ugly circa 1974..

Grant Was Saved By Sherman

Something similar was occurring from Summer 1864 to Spring 1865 with Grant. We forget that his strategy of attrition was pilloried and most of his fervent admirers from 1863 had turned on him. Only Sherman’s capture of Atlanta saved Lincoln the ensuing election that was formerly said to have been lost due to Grant’s quagmire in Virginia. And while he wore down Lee’s forces, their collapse was more likely brought on by the realization that Sherman’s huge confident Army of the West was approaching at the Confederate rear from the Carolinas. So rightly or wrongly the era of static operations are over, and we are gong to have to go after our enemies, risk increased casualties, deal with a perfidious government that may at times side with the militias, and Sherman-like risk all to win.

The Bathos of Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter apparently did not realize that his Carter Center—both its funding and reputation—was predicated on a certain liberal thinking that, at its best, was supposed to be disinterested and appealed to the better angels of our nature. But his crass apartheid slurs, his intellectual dishonesty about the Middle East, and his almost inexplicable disdain for Israel, all that is eating away at his liberal base, as witnessed by the recent resignation of 14 members of his board of counselors. In short Jimmy was revealed at last not as Gandhi but more a Stanley Baldwin, nit-picking his way into infamy. His two worst prior feats? Sending Ramsey Clark to Teheran to beg for the hostages, and actively campaigning among Europeans for the Nobel Prize by undermining a sitting US President at a time of war.

What will follow will be either be the implosion of the Center, or, to survive, some sort of transparently Middle Eastern-funded, highly partisan, pro-Saudi think-tank that alone ensures further money. There is something tragic about all this. After a failed Presidency, Carter for a quarter-century religiously tried to reconstruct his legacy by his visible public works and missionary zeal, if punctuated by the occasional crass outburst. But now that once characteristic meanness has resurfaced in his dotage, and in a manner of weeks destroyed his decades of artful reconstruction.

In short, his post-presidency will now be considered as failed as his notorious administration. Note the role of the Greek god Nemesis. As the retired Gerald Ford, who liberals once snickered at as a Golf Course apolitical functionary, went off into the night with grace, his own dignified emeritus career only highlighted Carter’s foolery.

All this is very sad.

PS Tractoriana

Some readers wrote in asking about tractor preferences not long ago. I once wrote an essay about the topic ten years ago or so in The Land Was Everything. I grew up driving old ones, like Italian Olivers or a British-built 3-cylinder Ford 4000, and earlier a Ford Jubilee and tiny 8ns and even 9ns, and over the years some real lemons like an old clunking Allis-Chalmers. But in the early 1980s, we bought two Massey-Ferguson 265s, and they were the most dependable, best machines we ever owned, with Perkins engines and wonderful hydraulics. They didn’t burn diesel like the bigger 285s and yet had enough power to pull either a tandem 9-foot disc or a 500 gallon PTO sprayer, and rarely heated up even over 100 in July or August. With hydraulic cane-cutters chopping in front, and a big disk with coil in back, and only a few inches of vine clearance on either side, they nevertheless pulled steady down the vine row, a real American achievement that tractor.