Christmas Day Observations
The Last Full Measure
I thought throughout this Christmas day of the terrible sacrifice of our soldiers, now and in the past, whose ultimate sacrifices gave us this wonderful country. I don’t how youth today can go up into the Hindu Kush and fight savages like the Taliban jihadists on their home turf, or wade into Anbar province to battle Saddamites and Wahhabi killers. But they do, and we owe almost everything to them, as we did in the past to those at Gettysburg and Okinawa and Choisun.
The Great Disconnect
For all the holiday depression with the state of the world, there is great munificence and affluence around the globe, and especially here in the United States that have brought us a long way, for both good and evil, from our primordial existence of even the immediate past.
Part of the pre-January rhetoric of the Democrats is the notion of great inequality. Yet despite the budget deficits, the piling up of national debt, and amid the doom and gloom of the vast amount of US capital held by Chinese, or oil payouts to the Arabs, or a declining standard of education, there are signs of American wealth never seen before among any civilization on earth.
I live in one of the poorest sections of one of the poorer counties in California, but consider: there were near riots to get the latest PlayStation 3 video games nearby. I was looking at a 4-wheel drive truck recently, and passed up all the “extras” offered by the salesman—leather seats, GPS, DVD player, extra chrome, multiplayer CD—but that extravagant Toyota Tundra was snapped up by a family on welfare in the booth next to me. With a zero-interest loan package, and no money down, apparently almost anyone can walk into a showroom and drive out with a $40,000 monster-sized truck.
Then I drove into the local shopping center and walked through Office Max, Wal-Mart, and Food4Less where there were more signs of America's new encompassing wealth. There were new Camrys and Accords all over the parking lot, nearly everyone was on a cell phone. Nearly everyone was also speaking Spanish and no doubt a first generation immigrant (legal or not from Mexico). But in terms of traditional notions of poverty and the ability to acquire material goods, food, communications gear, transportation, etc. they were hardly poor.
Perhaps this new prosperity that encompasses almost all social classes in America is due to the miracle of science that now gives us such cheap appurtenances, or the addition of 1 billion Indian and Chinese fabricators to the world’s work force that results in endless consumer goods; or the ability of low interest and almost universal instant credit.
We are not talking of European vacations, second homes, or SAT camps for junior, but nonetheless there is something very different from the past that I remember when the poor nearby lacked indoor plumbing and at school in the early 1960s students ate thirds and fourths at our noon meal of barely edible surplus cafeteria food. Surely something has gone right in eliminating elemental poverty that we never hear in the din of constant accusations and complaints about American inequality.
This summer I bought on sale an old-style color television, 32-inch screen (the kind with the big tube in the back and curved front) for about $130. A decade ago it would have cost $500. The surprise was that the clerk laughed about what he thought was the idiocy of wanting one of these now obsolete, but perfectly fine, televisions. He probably made about $10 an hour, but would never have apparently stooped to such sacrifice. Again, any discussion about this surreal world is entirely lacking in the current political debate.
A final note. I wrote about such anomalies about three years ago when I broke my arm and visited the local emergency room in Selma about three miles away. Nothing much has changed since then, which is good—however little the credit this country gets from its critics. (http://www.victorhanson.com/articles/hanson031304.htm)
Don’t Talk with Ahmadinejad!
Right in the midst of all these calls for talking with Iran—whether by realists like Zbigniew Brzezinski or naifs like John Kerry—we see the following happening to Ahmadinejad: his anti-American slate of Islamists can’t even win the usual rigged elections; he is shouted down by students during an internationally taped address; the timid UN actually passes a resolution calling for some boycotts and embargoes of his government; Tony Blair damns him in tones far exceeding anything George Bush said in his Axis of Evil speech; Iranian terrorists are embarrassingly captured and detained by Americans in Iraq; and his handouts in the billions to Hezbollah in Lebanon are enraging hard-pressed Iranians.
In other words, he is taking Iran into further isolation and poverty—and is ever more unpopular at home. Why, when our steady, quiet, and calm ostracism of this madman is working, would we want to hand him the stature and the legitimacy that even his own people will not extend?
While driving through Fresno this Christmas evening, I saw some “peace” demonstrators at an intersection shouting about “Free Palestine” and condemning Israel. It is now taboo to say such legitimate criticism is grounded in anti-Semitism. But I think it is—and here’s why.
On this Christmas day there is a terrible amount of injustice in the world. All of Tibet has simply been absorbed by China. Greek Cyprus is still occupied by an illegitimate Turkish state. Iran is killing innocents in Iraq and violating UN accords to get the bomb. In Darfur there is a real genocide. Somali Islamists are killing Ethiopians. Hezbollah and Syria are trying to destroy Lebanese democracy. The list of injustice and carnage could be expanded.
Why then would these particular protestors ignore all these other atrocities to focus entirely on the Jewish state—especially when over a million Arabs live in peace and enjoy the benefits of democracy inside Israel?
The answer can only be that something about Israel—not any facts that it is uniquely harsh to its neighbors by the world’s standards—infuriates a few elite Westerners to the point of driving them out on the streets of Fresno at Christmas. And that singular emotion that privileges purported Israeli felonies over all the others in the world, I submit, can only be explicable in terms of hating the notion of a Jewish state.
The point again is not the legitimate criticism of a foreign nation, but the obsession with the purported misdemeanors of a humane democracy and the complete lack of comparable interest in the felonies of murderous dictatorships around the globe. Why, why, why?
Three Stages of Development in the Middle East?
No doubt that the Islamic Middle East—four major wars against Israel; twenty years of nihilistic bloodletting in Afghanistan; the million-dead Iran-Iraqi war; Pakistan’s ritual wars against India; thousands butchered by Saddam; Syria’s vaporization of the town of Hama; Lebanon’s twenty years of assassinations and bombings; Nasser’s gassing of Yemenis; the Black September bloodbath in Jordan, serial Iranian murdering of dissidents, Algeria’s death struggle against the Islamists—was always a mess, and is only getting worse.
Everything and Nothing
But there is a difference now. What has changed? Everything and nothing.
Nothing in the sense that tribal, sectarian, and religious hatred continues, along with the old random killing and torture. Women are still second-class citizens; Christians live in fear; Muslims demand protocols that they would never extend to others (try walking into Mecca in the manner a Muslim strolls into the Vatican or opening a new church in Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Syria the way Muslim exiles found mosques in the West).
But suddenly in the last four years there is a new wrinkle to the old violence. After the elections, Fatah and Hamas on some days are fighting among themselves more than they are against Israel. TV stations broadcast live feed from Iraqi parliament debates when before such film usually captured “delegates” being called out by Saddam to be summarily executed outside the auditorium door. The most primordial tribal society in the Middle East in Afghanistan is now trying to stabilize a democracy. And while the same old/same old killing continues in Lebanon, there is a democratically elected government that includes both Muslims and Christians. And who would have thought the children of Moammar Khadafi would be discussing the pros and cons of democracy coming to Libya with Western journalists?
A Little Something
Expect more violence, more denunciations of the Bush doctrine of encouraging democracy in the Middle East, from Western elite leftists, hard-core realists, the unhinged Lew Rockwell/American Conservative isolationists, and hothouse Arab intellectuals. But if just a few states could break through this second-stage chaos and establish a democratic government, the entire region would have a ray of hope that never shone amid the millions of corpses in the past.
So besides seeing faction kill faction, or dictatorship murder rival dictators, what we are witnessing in post-Saddam Iraq, post-Taliban Afghanistan, post-Arafat Palestine, or post-Syrian Lebanon, is also a different kind of violence where for the first time in recent memory elections and the notion of democracy are part of the landscape.
And in the bleak world of the Middle East, that little counts for a little something.