Wars, then and now...
When George Bush Sr. addressed an audience in Abu Dhabi, he was jeered and blamed for globalization—this from a country that can only exist with foreign expertise in a globalized world that finds, extracts, and sells its accidental petroleum fortune. What exactly have the subjects of the Gulf monarchies achieved without foreign expertise—or the armed forces of the United States that alone guarantee free and safe world commerce in and out of the Persian Gulf?
Last time a (French) journalist timidly asked Vladimir Putin about the carnage in Grozny, he was in turn invited to undergo a radical form of Russian castration, “I suggest that you have an operation so radical that nothing grows out of you again."
So don’t expect the world’s liberal conscious to weigh in much on the latest poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko—done to a UK subject in London and in such a manner to top off the earlier medieval “oranging” of Ukraine’s Viktor Yushchenko. Russia, after all, not only has and sells nukes, uses energy blackmail against eastern Europe and the millions of the former Soviet Union, but, like the Iranians and the Syrians it arms, has a propensity to murder in grotesque fashion critics of its plutocracy in their own homelands. So it is much easier for a European or Middle East journalist to concentrate on the purported misdemeanors of a Donald Rumsfeld than the known felonies of a Vladimir Putin.
Expediency is back
So what passes for international Western morality these days? Not much. Not the reported $30 million paid in blackmail by the Europeans to Iraqi terrorists that went, no doubt, to replenish their IED inventories, dangerously low after so many attacks on Americans. Most pundits and journalists are warning more about Bush hurting Iran than Iran fulfilling its promises to wipe out Israel.
And where has the realist hysteria gone of the last month? We were supposed to talk to Iran, talk to Syria, bring in the allies, bring in the UN, bring in the Big Two—China and Russia—bring in anyone other than George Bush to solve the Iranian, Iraqi, Afghan, Palestinian, and any other crisis?
The problem, of course, was the last word “crisis.” What we announce as “crises,” our newfound “friends” consider “opportunities.” The last thing Syria wants is what we envision—two democratic and peaceful states on either side of Damascus with booming economies and free opinionated peoples. And the last thing a corrupt United Nations wants is the use of its global prestige in service of the liberal Western notion of self-rule and peaceful coexistence—a virus that would quickly doom most of the autocracies that comprise its own membership. The old imperial powers of Russia and China have discovered newfound wealth and influence in the global village’s madcap desire for both oil and “things”, whether knock-off video games or cheap T-shirts. One wants oil—acquired anywhere from genocidal Sudan to the Strangelovian Iran—the other wants its fossilized nuclear and arms industry to flesh out again by resupplying most of the weapons used in the fighting in the Middle East. Both agree that it is both psychologically gratifying and practically liberating to see the hyperpower United States checked and floundering.
“Realism”, then, means nothing other than trading off our enemies’ interests in one place for our own assumed advantage elsewhere. (e.g., stop the Iranian IED supply in southern Iraq and we will lay off UN sanctions; close the Syrian border with Iraq, and Assad can creep back into Lebanon, etc.). All that is a fair, not an exaggerated, description of realism as we have known it. Syria was once invited into the first Gulf War coalition by our hands-off promises about its role in Lebanon. Kurds and Shiites were once let go in 1991 on promises to the Gulf monarchies to keep the old regional dictatorial order.
All this is hardly new to readers, but what is novel is the sudden liberal embrace of it. Why does the Democratic leadership seem to welcome in the thinking of a James Baker or Brent Scowcroft, especially since it once demonized realism, most notably the circumstances around the first Gulf War or the supposed Bush I failure to stop the genocide in the Balkans? Is it just petty spite at seeing GWB’s own turn on him?
Or is it a deeper malaise that modern liberal internationalism is neither liberal nor international. Lacking any real belief that the United States, now or in its past, has been a continual force for good, the contemporary Left hardly wants the rest of the world to suffer the American malaise of racism, sexism, homophobia, environmental degradation, and consumerism. That self-doubt is buttressed by the idea as well that confrontation is always bad, that evil does not really exist, but is a construct we create for misunderstanding, that the world’s ills are remedied by reason and dialogue.
In essence, the progressive Leftist is often affluent, insulated from the savagery about him by his material largess, and empathizes with those who are antithetical to the very forces that made him free, secure, and prosperous—as a way to assuage the guilt, at very little cost, of his own blessedness.
We see odd symptoms of this progressive disease in the most surprising ways. Note the current agitating for intervention in Dafur—but without promises to “stay the course” when it gets messy (and it will); note also sermonizing about the killing there without frequently mentioning the culprits: radical and racist Islamists (notice the odd preference for the passive voice that thousands “perish” or “die” rather than Islamic nomadic and Arab nationalists raping, butchering, and machine-gunning them).
It is hard to know whether liberals are more scared of doing nothing while 400,000 “perish” or indirectly aiding George Bush’s trumped war against terror by lending their support to stopping radical Islamic killers, many of whose enablers in the Sudanese government were the very ones who hosted Osama bin Laden.
Our First Postmodern War?
Western exhaustion, guilt, and appeasement are nothing new. Much of the British aristocracy saw not much wrong with Hitler, even after the invasion of Poland. It was Churchill alone who put an end to their peace feelers to fellow travelers in Germany, still creeping out when his new British government chopped them off after the fall of France.
No need to talk about French politics in the 1930s, or the conditions in Austria before the Anschluss. Reread what Joe Kennedy or Charles Lindberg said about appeasement before December 1941, and it gives a frightening glimpse into the mind of a great segment of the population that thought it could ride out the European war, deal with a Hitlerized Europe, and live with Imperial Japan.
All that said, the West is encountering something novel, as it fights its first politically-correct war, in which all the postmodern chickens of the 1980s and 1990s have come home to roost. Thus multiculturalism makes it hard to fight non-Europeans from the former third world, inasmuch as it argued there was not just little distinctively good about the West, but rather the once recognized universal sins of mankind—racism, sexism, class oppression, inequality, patriarchy—were to be seen as exclusively Western.
If you have taught youth for generations that the story of World War II is Hiroshima and the Japanese internment, not Normandy, the Bulge, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, then how can you expect a nation to fight an enemy without making a mistake? And if dropping the bomb on Japan to stop its daily murdering of thousands in its collapsing empire, and to avoid something that would have made the horrific Battle for Berlin look like a cakewalk is equated with the Holocaust, how can the United States marshal the moral authority to press ahead, secure that its killing of jihadists is a different sort from jihadists killing the innocent or each other?
Add into this dangerous modernist soup moral equivalence, or what we know as “conflict resolution theory.” It postulates that any use of force de facto is equivalent to any other. We see those ripples with this Orwellian notion of “proportionality”, that a democratic Israel must calibrate its response to missiles aimed entirely at its civilians by ensuring none of its own aimed at Hezbollah terrorists and their supporters miss.
Then there is moral relativism and utopian pacifism. The latter is the idea that we have finally reached a sort of end of history, where our maturity and education and bounty have changed the rules of the game, relegating war to the Neanderthals. Relativism is even more pernicious because it is anti-empirical and suspends all moral judgment: Islam is just one of many religions given to excess, not at the heart of the vast majority of killing and fighting now going on in the world at this very hour, from Iraq and Afghanistan to Chechnya to Darfur to the West Bank to Lebanon to the Philippines to Indonesia to India and on and on. A Timothy McVeigh is not much different from an Osama bin Laden; forget the former was solitary and exceptional, the latter with millions of sympathizers and emblematic of an entire global movement. Both by their resort to terror were, presto, relatively the same.
So it is going to be hard, but not impossible, to win this war. Why,then, as readers have complained, my dogged optimism?
For two reasons. One, all these nostrums are theoretical, and anti-empirical. Ultimately as lies, they will be disapproved by the evidence before them. A progressive can call the ACLU all day long, but after 9/11 if he stands in line at an airport gate listening to an imam chanting Allah Akbar as he and his friends board, our liberal friend will begin to worry. And second, our enemies have no intention of relenting. They smell blood and want our carcass, so eventually even the progressive mind will give up the pieties of peace and face the inevitable
A Footnote on WWII
At the recent D-Day symposium in New Orleans, on one panel some of us were asked why Hitler did something so stupid like declaring war on the United States? Indeed from hindsight it seems an odd blunder, when there were odds that America might just fight Japan alone after Pearl Harbor. Of course, Hitler was mercurial and without a cabinet to restrain him. But given what was known at the time—and those are the questions and realities that history must deal with—there was a certain brutal logic to his declaration of war.
America was unarmed, without much of an army, and with a history of appeasement that matched that of the European republics. U-boat commanders promised devastating results once they could hit convoys at their origins along the Eastern seaboard.
Germany had no navy. Once it seemed that Japan had polished off America’s, it would have an ally that could check the British navy and draw off its resources from the Atlantic, giving a vital breathing space for Hitler to finish building the Kriegsmarine.
Hitler at that point had only a one-front land war with Russia since the Balkans and North Africa were still irritants only, while the United States and Britain would have three with Japan, Germany and Italy. If Hitler were taking on the three economies of Britain, Russia,and the US, he had at his disposal everything--industry, oil, minerals-- from the English Channel to Moscow, the dream of every failed European meglomaniac.
And while stalled outside Moscow on December 8, 1941, the odds still were that the planned spring offensive would see the end of the Soviet Union, especially now that the U-boats had open season on any supplies going to Russia. Britain had been unable to do any substantial damage to Germany through the air, and it was likely that American bombers would have no more luck.
And while Japan had lost nearly 10,000 in a decisive defeat in August 1939 against the Soviet Union at Khalkhin in Mongolia, there was still the possibility that Japanese infantry forces would tie down Soviet divisions in the east. Hitler also believed, and had always planned so, that war with the United States was both inevitable and winnable with advanced technology that would soon give him super battleships, intercontinental missiles, and ocean-crossing four-engine bombers.
Finally, he had a deep loathing for a multi-racial, “mongrel” United States that he considered populated by little more than Chicago gangsters and Texan cowboys. Apparently he had no concept of the inner recesses of the minds of a Henry Ford or Henry Kaiser and what they might dream up.
So mad, of course, his declaration of war was, but, given his conventional wisdom of 1939, understandable.