Ever since September 11, there has been an alternative narrative about this war embraced by the Left. In this mythology, the attack on September 11 had in some vague way something to do with American culpability.
Either we were unfairly tilting toward Israel, or had been unkind to Muslims. Perhaps, as Sen. Patty Murray intoned, we needed to match the good works of bin Laden to capture the hearts and minds of Muslim peoples.
The fable continues that the United States itself was united after the attack even during its preparations to retaliate in Afghanistan. But then George Bush took his eye off the ball. He let bin Laden escape, and worst of all, unilaterally and preemptively, went into secular Iraq–an unnecessary war for oil, hegemony, Israel, or Halliburton, something in Ted Kennedy’s words “cooked up in Texas.”
In any case, there was no connection between al Qaeda and Saddam, and thus terrorists only arrived in Iraq after
That tale goes on. The Iraqi fiasco is now a hopeless quagmire. The terrorists are paying us back for it in places like London and Madrid.
Still worse, here at home we have lost many of our civil liberties to the Patriot Act and forsaken our values at Guantanamo Bay under the pretext of war. Nancy Pelosi could not understand the continued detentions in Guantanamo since the war in Afghanistan is in her eyes completely finished.
In this fable, we are not safer as a nation. George Bush’s policies have increased the terror threat as we saw recently in the London bombing. We have now been at war longer than World War II. We still have no plan to defeat our enemies, and thus must set a timetable to withdraw from Iraq.
Islamic terrorism cannot be defeated militarily nor can democracy be “implanted by force.” So it is time to return to seeing the terrorist killing as a criminal justice matter–a tolerable nuisance addressed by writs and indictments, while we give more money to the Middle East and begin paying attention to the “root causes” of terror.
That is the dominant narrative of the Western Left and at times it finds its way into mainstream Democratic-party thinking. Yet every element of it is false.
Prior to 9/11, the United States had given an aggregate of over $50 billion to Egypt, and had allotted about the same amount of aid to Israel as to its frontline enemies. We had helped to save Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Kuwait, and Afghanistan, and received little if any thanks for bombing Christian Europeans to finish in a matter of weeks what all the crack-pot jihadists had not done by flocking to the Balkans in a decade.
Long before Afghanistan and Iraq, bin Laden declared war on America in 1998, citing the U.N. embargo of Iraq and troops in Saudi Arabia; when those were no longer issues, he did not cease, but continued his murdering. He harbored a deep-seated contempt for Western values, even though he was eaten within by uncontrolled envy and felt empowered by years of appeasement after a series of attacks on our embassies, bases, ships, and buildings, both here and abroad.
Iraqi intelligence was involved with the first World Trade Center bombing, and its operatives met on occasion with those who were involved in al Qaeda operations. Every terrorist from Abu Abbas and Abu Nidal to Abdul Yasin and Abu al-Zarqawi found Baghdad the most hospitable place in the Middle East, which explains why a plan to assassinate George Bush Sr. was hatched from such a miasma.
Neither bin Laden nor his lieutenants are poor, but like the Hamas suicide bombers, Mohammed Atta, or the murderer of Daniel Pearl they are usually middle class and educated–and are more likely to hate the West, it seems, the more they wanted to be part of it. The profile of the London bombers, when known, will prove the same.
The poor in South America or Africa are not murdering civilians in North America or Europe. The jihadists are not bombing Chinese for either their godless secularism or suppression of Muslim minorities. Indeed, bin Laden harbored more hatred for an America that stopped the Balkan holocaust of Muslims than for Slobodan Milosevic who started it.
There was only unity in this country between September 11 and October 6, when a large minority of Americans felt our victim status gave us for a golden moment the high ground. We forget now the furor over hitting back in Afghanistan–a quagmire in the words of New York Times columnists R. W. Apple and Maureen Dowd; a “terrorist campaign” against Muslims according to Representative Cynthia McKinney; “a silent genocide” in Noam Chomsky’s ranting.
Two thirds of al Qaeda’s command is now captured or dead; bases in Afghanistan are lost. Saddam’s intelligence will not be lending expertise to anyone and the Baghdad government won’t welcome in terrorist masterminds.
In fact, thousands of brave Iraqi Muslims are now in a shooting war with wahhabi jihadists who, despite their carnage, are dying in droves as they flock to Iraq.
A constitution is in place in Iraq; reform is spreading to Lebanon, the Gulf, and Egypt; and autocracies in Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Pakistan are apprehensive over a strange new American democratic zeal. Petroleum was returned to control of the Iraqi people, and the price has skyrocketed to the chagrin of American corporations.
There has been no repeat of September 11 so far. Killing jihadists abroad while arresting their sympathizers here at home has made it hard to replicate another 9/11-like attack.
The Patriot Act was far less intrusive than what Abraham Lincoln (suspension of habeas corpus), Woodrow Wilson (cf. the Espionage and Sedition Acts), or Franklin Roosevelt (forced internment) resorted to during past wars. So far America has suffered in Iraq .006 percent of the combat dead it lost in World War II, while not facing a conventional enemy against which it might turn its traditional technological and logistical advantages.
Unlike Gulf War I and the decade-long Iraqi cold war of embargos, stand-off bombing, and no-fly-zones, the United States has a comprehensive strategy both in the war against terror and to end a decade and a half of Iraqi strife: Kill terrorists abroad, depose theocratic and autocratic regimes that have either warred with the United States or harbored terrorists, and promote democracy to take away grievances that can be manipulated and turned against us.
Why does this false narrative, then, persist–other than that it had a certain political utility in the 2002 and 2004 elections?
In a word, this version of events brings spiritual calm for millions of troubled though affluent and blessed Westerners. There are three sacraments to their postmodern thinking, besides the primordial fear that so often leads to appeasement.
Our first hindrance is moral equivalence. For the hard Left there is no absolute right and wrong since amorality is defined arbitrarily and only by those in power.
Taking back Fallujah from beheaders and terrorists is no different from bombing the London subway since civilians may die in either case. The deliberate rather than accidental targeting of noncombatants makes little difference, especially since the underdog in Fallujah is not to be judged by the same standard as the overdogs in London and New York. A half-dozen roughed up prisoners in Guantanamo are the same as the Nazi death camps or the Gulag.
Our second shackle is utopian pacifism–’war never solved anything’ and ‘violence only begets violence.’ Thus it makes no sense to resort to violence, since reason and conflict resolution can convince even a bin Laden to come to the table. That most evil has ended tragically and most good has resumed through armed struggle–whether in Germany, Japan, and Italy or Panama, Belgrade, and Kabul–is irrelevant. Apparently on some past day, sophisticated Westerners, in their infinite wisdom and morality, transcended age-old human nature, and as a reward were given a pass from the smelly, dirty old world of the past six millennia.
The third restraint is multiculturalism, or the idea that all social practices are of equal merit. Who are we to generalize that the regimes and fundamentalist sects of the Middle East result in economic backwardness, intolerance of religious and ethnic minorities, gender apartheid, racism, homophobia, and patriarchy? Being different from the West is never being worse.
These tenets in various forms are not merely found in the womb of the universities, but filter down into our popular culture, grade schools, and national political discourse–and make it hard to fight a war against stealthy enemies who proclaim constant and shifting grievances. If at times these doctrines are proven bankrupt by the evidence it matters little, because such beliefs are near religious in nature–a secular creed that will brook no empirical challenge.
These articles of faith apparently fill a deep psychological need for millions of Westerners, guilty over their privilege, free to do anything without constraints or repercussions, and convinced that their own culture has made them spectacularly rich and leisured only at the expense of others.
So it is not true to say that Western civilization is at war against Dark Age Islamism. Properly speaking, only about half of the West is involved, the shrinking segment that still sees human nature as unchanging and history as therefore replete with a rich heritage of tragic lessons.
This is nothing new.
The spectacular inroads of the Ottomans in the16th century to the gates of Vienna and the shores of the Adriatic were not explainable according to Istanbul’s vibrant economy, impressive universities, or widespread scientific dynamism and literacy, or even a technologically superior and richly equipped military. Instead, a beleaguered Europe was trisected by squabbling Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians–as a wealthy northwest, with Atlantic seaports, ignored the besieged Mediterranean and Balkans and turned its attention to getting rich in the New World.
So too we are divided over two antithetical views of the evolving West–Europe at odds with America, red and blue states in intellectual and spiritual divergence, the tragic view resisting the creeping therapeutic mindset.
These interior splits largely explain why creepy killers from the Dark Ages, parasitic on the West from their weapons to communications, are still plaguing us four years after their initial surprise attack.
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
–Victor Davis Hanson is a military historian and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His website is victorhanson.com.