Politics & Policy

When Success Is the Orphan

Some insist on turning a blind eye to the benefits of our efforts in the Mid-East.

Recent studies showing a decline in global incidents of Islamic terror have been interpreted as solely a Middle-East intramural affair. Sometimes the good news is said to be a naturally occurring phenomenon. We are supposed to believe that American policies of counter-terrorism at home have been of little value, if not McCarthyesque. Beefed-up security, the fight against the terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the cultural creation of a repugnance — and penalty — for jihadism (as in contrast to the 1990s), have likewise supposedly played no role.

But surely the catalyst for the decline in terrorist incidents worldwide was the radically different response of the U.S. to terrorism and 9/11 that finally brought jihadism into an open-shooting war against the West (e.g., cf. the Left’s “creating terrorists”), in which the terrorists are losing the battle-space, along with the hearts and minds of those in the Middle East — as their own websites and cries of anguish attest.

The successful toppling of Saddam was followed in short order by the shutdown of Dr. Khan’s atomic shop, the surrender of WMDs by the Libyans, and the supposed sidetracking of the Iranian nuclear bomb program (at least according to the National Intelligence Estimate) — and yet no one thought the timing of all these events was odd (even when Ghaddafi himself reportedly connected his decision to abandon a weapons of mass destruction program to Saddam’s fate).

By the same token, the rise of governments that are sympathetic to the U.S. in France, Germany, and elsewhere in Europe is never associated with a shared and growing worry over Islamic radicalism — or a grudging, often private acknowledgment of the U.S. role abroad in beating back jihadism. How surreal to see a constitutional government in Iraq, with broad popular support, fighting and defeating terrorists and insurgents of both the Wahhabi and Iranian brand — at a time when the consensus is that Iraq only made terrorism much worse. As we’ve seen from recent events, there are many governments abroad that deserve criticism, whether in China, the Sudan, or Burma, but Iraq is not one of them.

So these are upside-down times when facts and events on the ground simply do not support the general pessimism of the Western media, the serial publication of gloomy he-did-it,-not-me memoirs about the post-9/11 supposed failures, and the shrill rhetoric of the Democratic primaries.

In general, the hard efforts of the last six years against radical Islam — that bore fruit by the radically changed atmosphere in Iraq, the decline in terrorism worldwide, the lack of a follow-up to 9/11, and polls that showed a marked fall in approval for al-Qaeda, Bin Laden, and the tactic of suicide bombing — are explained away in various ways. The common theme, however, is that one never mentions the efforts of the bogeyman George Bush.

The orphaned presidency of Harry Truman during the 1952 election year was likewise damned for stirring up Soviet and Chinese communism — tarred by the isolationist Right for getting us bogged down in hopeless quagmires, and by the Left for creating a climate of paranoia at home and abroad — until decades later appreciated for establishing the general framework and mind-set of an eventually successful containment.

We have not won the war on terror, but we are starting to see how the combination of domestic security, international cooperation, military action, cultural ostracism of those who condone terrorism, and promotion of constitutional government in the Middle East can, and will, marginalize and eventually defeat the jihadists. We know this not just by the anguished complaints of the Islamists themselves, and real progress on the ground — but also by the mantra of increasingly ossified critics who still insist that things are either worse, or were never that bad, or abruptly got better on their own.

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson senior fellow in classics and military history at the Hoover Institution.


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