First, before 9/11 the Western hard right-wing allowed radical Islam a pass — and then afterwards the Left did worse. That fact helps to explain the strange exemption given radical Islam in the West even today.
In the 1980s some conservatives saw the jihadists in Afghanistan or the Wahhabis in the Gulf as valuable bulwarks against global Communism. On the Western domestic front, even extremist Muslims — in their embrace of family values and resentment against modernism — were considered bedrock conservatives. Supposedly, they shared the same understandable concern about Western “decadence,” such as promiscuity, homosexuality, crass popular culture, and family dissolution.
So, despite clear evidence that many conservative mosques in the West were promulgators of a sick backward extremism, many social reactionaries hardly wished to upset their fellow travelers. Add in common distrust of Israel, and no surprise that the pages of The American Conservative will still sometimes resemble those of the Nation.
But with the fall of Communism, and the subsequent revelation that Islamists did not worry about the unfortunate direction of contemporary Western culture so much as they wished to destroy it, culpability then mostly fell to the Left.
Multiculturalism (no culture is worse than the West’s) and its twin of cultural relativism (those with power have no right or ability to judge others) gave a wide pass to radical Islam and its 7th-century primitivism. Apparently most Leftists thought the dearth of women in the clubhouse at the Masters Tournament at Augusta National was far worse than the Arab world’s honor killings, burqas, and coerced female circumcision.
Indeed, a radical Leftist always faces a dilemma when a fellow anti-American sounds fascistic. The usual course, as we have seen since September 11, is either to keep silent about such embarrassing kindred spirits, or to weasel out by suggesting our own hegemonic tendencies pushed a once reasonable “Other” in lamentable directions.
The result? Killers and terrorists have been able to operate openly in European capitals. Here in North America, in the 58 months after the Twin Towers fell, numerous cadres of terrorists still continue to be rounded up — without a peep of condemnation from mainstream Muslim groups, who have instead crafted an ingenious cult of victimization, predicated on sympathy from the Left. Ask yourself: In the fifth year since September 11, is it more likely that Islamic associations in Canada or the United States will condemn global Islamic extremism or complain about purported Islamophobia and the sins of “Zionism”?
Another undercurrent to this war is the abject failure to do anything about imported petroleum — the hundreds of billions that accrued to the Middle East and Gulf when petroleum skyrocketed from $30 to $70 a barrel. Without such excesses of free-floating and impossible-to-trace petrodollars, bin Laden, Zawahiri, and Al-Zarqawi would have remained clownish portraits on the pathetic street posters of a Jericho or Zarqa. Instead, we are indirectly paying for their IEDs.
The truth is that as long as American petroleum demand, coupled with restrictions on our own energy development, helps drive the world oil price up, we are simply funding psychopaths who otherwise would have no viable economic means of support. Without Saudi petrol money, Wahhabism, the godhead of Islamic fascism, devolves into just another localized lunatic sect. So we talk seriously about new alternative energy, and seriously do nothing — in the vain hope that the price soon collapses or, barring that, we can stop the guy on a motorbike in Damascus or Ramadi from delivering millions in cash satchels from Saudi financiers to al Qaeda killers.
Yet, when the fifth anniversary of this war approaches this September, we are no closer to energy independence than we were in 2001. There is no better proof of this than our continual appeasement of rich sheiks who have ensured that the venom of their own incoherent imams reaches billions.
Finally, there are a number of influential Americans — let us be frank — who want us to forfeit this effort in Iraq. For some prominent Democrats, like a Sen. Kennedy or Sen. Durbin, who compares our wartime military on occasion to Saddam’s Baathists or Nazis, it is an issue of simple partisanship. If Iraq blows up in the face of the United States, and we can still avoid another September 11, then they wager that Bush and his cohorts, in the manner of a wrecked Johnson or Nixon administration, might alone suffer the political consequences. For them, collateral damage to America is worth the risk incurred by their own sleazy rhetoric.
Others of the Michael Moore / Cindy Sheehan brand are far more unbalanced, of course. They have either praised the enemy outright (jihadists as “Minutemen”) or slurred the present administration (Bush as “world’s greatest terrorist”) as consistently as any al Qaedist mouthpiece. Still, we can’t call these folk exactly fringe-types — not when the Democratic elite queue up for Moore’s premiers or praise Sheehan’s madness. Just as mainstream Muslim organizations don’t rush to condemn Islamic radicalism, so too liberal Democrats rarely denounce the rhetoric of their own fanatical Left.
True, during the 1998 Balkans campaign, there were right-wing Lindbergians who wanted Clinton to fail and the United States to get stung in the Balkans and return to its 1930s isolationism. But these critics were small in numbers, isolated from the mainstream political opposition, and quickly silenced by the brevity and economy of warfare waged solely from 30,000 feet.
There is a final unspoken truth as well. Al Qaeda might not go away soon. The Europeans, as in the Clinton years, will always triangulate. North Korea and Iran, both of whom started nuclear programs in the 1990s, will still issue unhinged threats. Barring its discovery of some clandestine government effort to monitor radical Christian fundamentalists better left secret, the New York Times will keep leaking confidential national-security measures. But the time will come when there is once again a Democratic administration.
In that climate, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Ted Kennedy, and Howard Dean, or their epigones, will still have to persuade the American people that radical Islam means to destroy us. They can’t say their war is cooked up in Texas, but will instead have to deal with the Sheehanites and the loose-cannon bloggers they either appeased or encouraged.
Who knows — perhaps President Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Wesley Clark, and Attorney General John Edwards may soon appear on television extending support for democrats in Baghdad or deploring unlawful disclosures that emboldened terrorists plotting to blow up Washington.
Because this generation of the opposition, in a foolish and short-sighted manner, has turned an American struggle into George Bush’s futile war, it will either have to abandon the democracy in Iraq or recant and assure the rest of us that its past hateful and extremist rhetoric was just politics, and they are now going to unite us and lead us on to victory over the primevalists after all.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the author, most recently, of A War Like No Other. How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.