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The Paranoid Style
Iraq: Where socialists and anarchists join in with racialists and paleocons.


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Victor Davis Hanson

It is becoming nearly impossible to sort the extreme rhetoric of the antiwar Left from that of the fringe paleo-Right. Both see the Iraqi war through the same lenses: the American effort is bound to fail and is a deep reflection of American pathology.

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An anguished Cindy Sheehan calls Bush “the world’s biggest terrorist.” And she goes on to blame Israel for the death of her son (“Yes, he was killed for lies and for a PNAC Neo-Con agenda to benefit Israel. My son joined the Army to protect America, not Israel”).

Her antiwar venom could easily come right out of the mouth of a more calculating David Duke. Perhaps that’s why he lauded her anti-Semitism: “Courageously she has gone to Texas near the ranch of President Bush and braved the elements and a hostile Jewish supremacist media.”

This odd symbiosis began right after 9/11. Then the lunatic Left mused about the “pure chaos” of the falling “two huge buck teeth” twin towers, lamented that they were more full of Democrats than Republicans, and saw the strike as righteous payback from third-world victims.

The mirror-imaging fundamentalists and censors in turn saw the attack as an angry God’s retribution either for an array of our mortal sins or America’s tilting toward Israel.

In Iraq, the Left thinks we are unfairly destroying others; the ultra-Right that we are being destroyed ourselves. The former alleges that we are bullying in our global influence, the latter that we are collapsing from our decadence.

But both, in their exasperation at George Bush’s insistence on seeing Iraq emerge from the Hussein nightmare years with some sort of constitutional government, have embraced the paranoid style of personal invective.

They employ half-truths and spin conspiracy theories to argue that the war was unjust, impossible to win, and hatched through the result of a brainwashing of a devious few neocons.

I’ll consider four diverse attacks (by a socialist, anarchist, racialist, and paleocon) on my support for the removal of Saddam Hussein, and the effort to prompt constitutional government in his place, that are emblematic of this bizarre new Left/Right nexus, shared pessimism, and paranoid methods.

I. The Cabal

In the current issue of The American Prospect, Harold Meyerson–hitherto known as the polemicist who compared President Bush to the secessionist, pro-slavery Jefferson Davis (e.g., “The American president–though not of the United States–whom George W. Bush most nearly resembles is the Confederacy’s Jefferson Davis”), Sen. Zell Miller to Joseph McCarthy, and the voting of the California white middle class to a “riot”–charges that a number of pundits are responsible for what he sees as a catastrophe in Iraq, specifically Tom Friedman, Christopher Hitchens, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, and myself. (

The chief complaint of Meyerson’s is his belief that Iraq has ruined almost everything:

“As anti-war sentiment began to mount, Hanson dismissed it. ‘We are told,’ he wrote contemptuously in February 2002, ‘an attack against Iraq will supposedly inflame the Muslim world. Toppling Saddam Hussein will cause irreparable rifts with Europeans and our moderate allies, and turn world opinion against America.’ What to Hanson was nonsense looks like pretty fair prophecy today.”

Hardly. After a surge of anti-Americanism, continental Europeans, from the Dutch to the French, are now certainly more involved in the war against terror than they were in February 2002, as are the British.

Anti-Americanism in the Arab world was at an all time high well before Iraq. In early 2002, 72 percent of the Kuwaitis, whom we saved in 1991, expressed a dislike for the United States. Two thirds in the Arab world insisted that Osama bin Laden had nothing to do with September 11.

I thought that the radical Islamic world was “inflamed” on September 11, when Palestinians danced in the streets on the news, Saddam Hussein praised the murderers, and mothers starting naming their children “Osama.”

Yet Osama bin Laden’s popularity is less now than it was then as well; there is no more Hussein dynasty; and Mr. Abbas is asking for American help. We have never been as close to moderate allies as we are now–whether we define such friends as India (where over 70 percent express admiration for America) or Japan. Elections in France, Holland, and soon in Germany do not bode well for anti-American, EU leftists.

Yes, the long corrupt and murderous Middle East is aflame. But that is precisely because after Iraq, the Syrians have left Lebanon, the Egyptians are convulsed over novel elections, democratic Iraqis and Afghans are killing terrorists, a no longer secure al Qaeda is fragmented after losing Afghanistan, we are pressuring Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Libya to reform, and after 25 years of somnolence the United States is finally fighting back against Islamic fascism. By Meyerson’s logic, 1942 was far more disastrous than 1939, when the sway of prewar autocracies was unquestioned and we were at peace.

How odd that Meyerson, a vice chairman of a national socialist organization, has become a harsh critic of American support for democratic reform in the Middle East.

But then we remember that the prime directive of the hard Left is to be against anything that Bush is for–even if it means praising the hyper-capitalist, commodities speculator George Soros, whose machinations once nearly ruined the Bank of England along with its small depositors. In Meyerson’s gushing praise: “[Soros] made his money the old-fashioned way, on Wall Street.”

I also plead guilty to Meyerson’s other two charges: Abu Ghraib really was blown way out of proportion and was not simply, as Ted Kennedy slurred, a continuation under new management of Saddam’s gulag where tens of thousands perished.

And, yes, Iraq can craft a constitutional government as it is now doing, and that will make the Middle East both a more humane place and less a risk to the security of the United States. The only flickers of hope right now in the Middle East for an end to the old autocracy and fanaticism are in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt–and all such movement is due solely to the United States’ removal of the Taliban and Saddam and pressure on Mubarak.

Aflame? Perhaps, but at least there is hope where there was none before.

II. The Anarchist Howl

But if Meyerson’s skewers facts and twists progress into abject failure, take the example of someone using the name Gary Brecher of Encore magazine. In an article called “Victor Hanson: Portrait of an American Traitor, ” Brecher became incensed about a suggestion that neither the formal education nor the autodidacticism of the Hollywood elite granted them any privileged wisdom about American foreign policy:

“That column got me so furious I daydreamed about driving down Highway 99 to Hanson’s farm and setting all his orchards and vineyards on fire. I kept thinking of what the Spartans said when one of their neighbors threatened them: “Your cicadas will chirp from the ground,” meaning, “We’ll burn your f…ing olive orchards if you mouth off again.”(*

To understand the mindset of the anarchist, consider his similar fury right after 9/11.

“The best war is when you can hate both sides, and that’s how it was with the WTC. I cheered those jets…Until those planes hit the WTC nobody dreamed you could knock down an American corporation building. Nobody ever thought one would come down. And when they did, damn! It was like the noche triste, when Aztecs made the Conquistadors bleed for the first time and said, “Hey these aren’t magic six-legged metal monsters, they’re just a bunch of victims like us.”

“Hate both sides” in fact, is not quite accurate, since in reality more often the invective is reserved only for the United States–as when he cheers for the terrorists on 9/11, not for us. But then compare the recent antiwar hysteria that equates Abu Ghraib with Saddam’s death jails, Guantanamo with the Gulag and Nazi death camps, and the terrorist killers in Iraq with Minutemen.

III. It’s About White People?

Then there is the racialist Right, whose tactic is to turn to the old neoconservative slander and prattle on about betrayal of the foundations of the white American republic at war with a darker other.

In their view, trying to foster democracy in the Islamic world, rather than dealing with the same oil Realpolik, is, well, connected with (yes, you guessed it) a general betrayal of the American race, and equivalent to some sort of love of perpetual war.

So one F. Roger Devlin writes in something called The Occidental Quarterly. In his article, “The Case of Victor Davis Hanson: Farmer, Scholar, Warmonger,” he argues that we are wasting our time trying to promote democracy in Iraq, and that, more importantly, I never understood the role of race, both ancient and modern:

“If the valleys of Dark Age Greece had been inhabited by the present citizens of Equatorial Guinea, whose average IQ is said to be 59, the result would not have been the classical city-state, self-rule under law, tragedy, philosophy, and the Parthenon. Hanson, unfortunately, has milked the “antiracial” aspect of his own thesis for a great deal more than it is worth. He never misses an opportunity to reiterate that Western Civilization is a matter of “culture, not race”–as if informed racialists were unaware of anything besides biology… And whatever Hanson may think, race is no exception to the rule that one ought to know something about a subject before endeavoring to instruct others. Sadly, Hanson knows less about racial differences than I do about raisin production.”

In Devlin’s world, race is the key to everything. Only those who don’t understand racial superiority would attempt such a fool’s errand at promoting democracy abroad.

IV. America as bin Laden?

In an online magazine called LewRockwell.com (article titles in the online magazine range from “Heil, Abe” to “I Hate Rudy Giuliani”), one Gene Callahan takes off from where Devlin ended.

Once again one is derided as a lover of war for suggesting that the United States, when it goes to war against fascists, should defeat them, insist on their unconditional surrender, and stay on to promote democratic reconstruction.

In the past, Callahan (who predicted that after our October strike against the Taliban in Afghanistan there would be “thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of deaths this winter due to massive famine”) has questioned the need for fighting both the Confederacy and Hitler, and now turns his anger in “Hanson Agonistes” to my conclusion that dropping the bomb on Hiroshima probably saved millions of lives.

“Among pundits currently urging Americans to embrace an eternal state of war, I find Victor Davis Hanson one of the most disturbing. .. His recent column defending the atomic bombing of Hiroshima reveals the Mr. Hyde lurking within our Dr. Jekyll. “

Callahan ignores the fact that the bomb ended, not perpetuated “eternal” war, abruptly saving millions of casualties on both sides. Only unconditional surrender discredited the militarists and thus allowed democracy to emerge–and with it more than a half century of Japanese prosperity, security, and liberal government. And in the security of the present he forgets that the allies much earlier had tried a negotiated, rather than unconditional surrender and subsequent occupation of the enemy homeland in 1918–and got Hitler and another war later as thanks.

“Hanson would claim that the US had to demand unconditional surrender in order to prevent the possibility that a revived Japan might undertake aggression again in the future. (One wonders how near he believes that future must be–can one wipe every member of an enemy nation to ensure safety from it forever?) But realistic worries on that front can be worked out in peace negotiations.”

He slurs the United States military of WWII by suggesting the logic of forcing Japan to surrender leads to “wipe (sic) every member of an enemy nation”. In this world of moral equivalence, rightwing dictatorships are usually always bereaved victims of leftwing American imperialism. So Callahan continues on his screed that we should have negotiated with the militarists of imperial Japan:

“That does not mean both sides in the discussion have the same voice. Japan was willing to discuss its terms of surrender, and was not demanding that of the US.”

Tell all that to the Chinese in Nanking or those who fought on Okinawa. In such a world of relativism it makes no difference who starts wars, much less whether they are fought by fascists or democracies. Indeed, to Callahan, the United States in World War II operated on the same premises that bin Laden does now:

“Note that this sort of thinking is exactly how Osama bin Laden justifies striking civilian targets in the US, Britain, or Spain. We must grant that the conduct of modern warfare blurs the line between combatants and non-combatants–on which side of it are the workers in a bomb factory? But as blurry as we might make it, an infant in Hiroshima or a new immigrant delivering a sandwich to the World Trade Center are obviously non-combatants.”

Ponder that: Dropping a bomb on the headquarters of the Japanese 2nd Army to force a military cabal to surrender during a war they started that was taking 250,000 Asian lives a month is the same as blowing up an office building full of civilians at a time of peace.

Such a strange, strange world we live in now of David Duke praising Cindy Sheehan’s scapegoating Israel.

George Bush who risked his presidency to free millions of Iraqis is to be the moral equivalent of Jefferson Davis–but perhaps is just as hated by the unhinged Right because he is not enough like their beloved Jefferson Davis.

Forcing imperial Japan to surrender is the same as terrorists blowing up the World Trade Center.

And stopping the genocide of Saddam and promoting constitutional government are warmongering.

And all this nonsense transpires in the midst of a war in which the only way we can lose is to turn on each other and give up.

*****
*I should preface my remarks that every fact that Meyerson adduces is incorrect. Take the following:

“Soon after 9-11, the San Joaquin Valley classics professor began writing regularly for The National Review, demanding we go into Iraq, imparting martial lessons from Greece and Rome to an America abruptly at war. In short order, Hanson became a fellow at Palo Alto’s Hoover Institute (sic), a dinner companion of Bush and Dick Cheney, and the most unswerving defender of administration policies.”

I wrote regularly for the National Review Online, not National Review. I never “demanded” that we go into Iraq, but urged that we do so after considering both the pros and cons of that difficult choice. The Hoover Institution is not “Palo Alto’s” but affiliated with Stanford University, whose administration must approve senior fellow appointments in a lengthy process that is not done “in short order.” I have never on any occasion been “a dinner companion of Bush.” Nor have I been an “unswerving defender of administration policies” but criticized many of its stances from immigration and farm subsidies to deficit spending and current policy toward Saudi Arabia.

** How strange that about the time that Mr. Brecher’s article appeared, someone in fact did try to torch our vineyard, but managed only to scorch about 20 vines near the road before the nearby Mid-Valley Fire Department arrived to put out the fire.

Victor Davis Hanson is a military historian and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His website is victorhanson.com.



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