EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the November 8, 2004, issue of National Review.
Had Lincoln lost the 1864 vote, a victorious General McClellan would have settled for an American continent divided, with slavery intact. Without Woodrow Wilson’s reelection in 1916 — opposed by the isolationists — Western Europe would have lost millions only to be trampled by Prussian militarism. Franklin Roosevelt’s interventionism saved liberal democracy. And without the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan and his unpopular agenda for remaking the military, the Soviet Union might still be subsidizing global murder.
This election marks a similar crossroads in our history. We are presented with two radically different candidates with profound disagreements about how to conduct a historic worldwide war. We should remember that all our victorious past presidents were, at the moments of their crises, deeply unpopular precisely because they chose the difficult, long-term sacrifice for victory over the expedient and convenient pleas for accommodation (if not outright capitulation). We are faced with just such an option today: a choice between a president whose call for patience and sacrifice promises victory, and a pessimist stirring the people with the assurances that we should not have fought, and now cannot win, the present war in Iraq.
Our terrorist enemy has no uniforms or aircraft, but nevertheless struck at the very heart of our financial and political capitals in a fashion unimaginable by Nazi Germany, Tojo’s Japan, or the Soviet Union. The Islamic fascists’ creed is Hitlerian, their methodology primeval. Their aim is not mere territory: They want nothing less than the destruction of Western freedom, through the takeover of the Middle East and the use of its petroleum wealth to craft a nuclear, global caliphate, Dark Aged in its values, 21st-century in its lethality.
This war against Islamic fascism is now a quarter-century old, and began with the Iranian seizure of the American embassy in 1979; the apex of this escalating assault — owing to past American neglect and appeasement — was September 11. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and John Kerry — so unlike their Democratic predecessors FDR, Harry Truman, and John Kennedy — have seen the struggle not as one for national survival, but at best as the lamentable dividend of inequality or poverty, and at worst as the felonious behavior of a few miscreants who seem to eat, sleep, and bank in the upper air rather than in the houses and streets of real countries. Thus arose John Kerry’s revealing use of “sensitive” and “nuisance” to suggest that we need to return either to writs and indictments or the occasional cruise missile — i.e., the status quo before the world changed on 9/11.
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