We live in an upside-down civilization of hit Michael Moore conspiracy films, of novels about how to kill a sitting President of the United States, of elite American newsmen ridiculing brave Iraq democrats, and of allied peoples abroad who tell pollsters that they prefer beheaders and fascists to win in Iraq. Perhaps we should take a hard look at this current mythic world.
The "Iraq Was a Mistake" Canard
Richard Clarke now lectures his newfound paying audiences -- including the revered nonpartisan American Library Association -- that Iraq was an enormous mistake. Was it really?
Our problems are tactical and manageable, not strategic and fatal. After 9-11, ridding the world of a mass killer who wished to recycle petrodollars to remake his arsenal to replay prior invasions was no error. Nor was it an "enormous mistake" to put democratic reformers in his place rather than a Mubarak-like "moderate" or Royal Family. Iraq now is what the Left all throughout the 1960s and 1970s said America should be doing--and nothing is more saddening than to see earnest and courageous reformers of the new Iraqi government being grilled and pilloried on TV by smug American pundits and reporters.
So what is the problem? We were initially victims of our own military success. The war lasted not the envisioned 150-250 days, but three weeks. That unparalleled victory spawned a host of postbellum misconceptions, leading to disappointments by the standard of a 21-day stunning victory. We demanded similar quick fixes, not the slow progress characteristic of a postwar Germany, Japan, and Korea.
Assuming that the enemy was defeated, terrified, and humiliated, rather than merely temporarily discredited, we let down our guard. At least five errors followed from ignoring the old laws of war that one must first defeat, before reforming, an enemy. The human lapses share one theme: the half-measure designed to placate shrill critics at home, in Europe, and in the Arab world that only emboldened the killers who knew our minds better than we theirs.
(1) We sought perfection in reconstruction planning and thus quibbled and tarried about contracts, constitutions, and political power while our enemies regrouped during the critical 3-month lull right after the victory. While we railed about Halliburton and Mr. Bush's flight-suit, the jihadists noticed you could kill an American in Tikrit or Falluja without much worry of dying--as had not been true in the three-week war.
(2) So to keep the notion of a 3-week victory intact, we did everything to keep a semblance of peace except the one thing that could really keep it: shooting looters, rounding up militia leaders, and crushing pockets of Baathist resistance like a Tikrit or Fallujah.
(3) Disbanding the Iraqi army was smart in the long-term, but near disastrous in the here and now. The break-up ensured the growth of a large pool of idle, publicly ridiculed, and angry young men--in addition to the absence of an existing police force to control such a mob.
(4) We did not get Iraqis involved fast enough. A good man like Paul Bremer and the generals were on television too much, Iraqis for a year hardly at all. We thought reason and long-term self-interest were stronger emotions than honor, status, envy, and shame--they aren't.
(5) Finally, we underestimated homegrown opposition to the war. Thus we saw little reason to confront it intellectually or morally. Assuming few here could identify with fascism, gender apartheid, terrorism, and intolerance, we forgot that forty years of postcolonial studies, multiculturalism, cultural relativism, and aristocratic pacifism in our schools and public discourse had imbued a real mistrust of the United States that was far stronger than any ideological revulsion to Islamic fascism. Shrill Deanism morphed into conspiratorial Moorism and finally ended up as the canonical outrage of the Democratic Party.
Yet because the strategy--eliminate fascism and implant democracy--was sound, the tactical lapses can be reversed and the situation remedied. Remember, as historians we must do more than cite mistakes?otherwise we would have given up after Iwo or Okinawa--but rather adjudicate to what degree they are fatal to our larger purposes. And so far none are.
So let us speed up the reconstruction money. Help more Iraqis to get back to work and especially to appear on television. With the new government, insist on zero tolerance of killers in places like Fallujah. Accept that the antiwar left has never supported free elections in a post-Cold-War Hanoi, Havana, or Ramallah, and won't in Baghdad. It will grow silent only when the violence stops, the terrorists are killed or routed, and the Iraqis are boasting about their own elections.
The Oppressed Arab Street Myth
Another crazy idea is back--food, not guns, will save us yet. Of course, millions in the Muslim world are impoverished. Of course, they live under autocratic rule. Of course, our war is not against "Islam," but rather seeks to eradicate poverty, ignorance, and injustice. But then why are so many Arab youth blowing up and beheading Westerners when others far worse off elsewhere are not? There is a dangerous canard resurfacing around Washington that somehow a Marshall Plan of cash infusions will win over the Arab Street. Purportedly since "we can't win" in Iraq, the solution is economic and not military.
But first we need to ask why Bolivians and Rwandans are not murdering Americans--folk poorer than whom we see in Pakistan or Iraq. Chinese and Indians thirty years ago were as indigent as those in the contemporary Cairo Street; why are they not now flooding into Japan as terrorists?
Second, to suggest democracy and economic liberalization are the answer is to support the Iraq invasion, which was all about forcing autocrats who killed their own and threatened others out, and reformers in to allow the needed changes.
If in a year from now there is a stable consensual government in Iraq, then the US Marines will have done more to change the oppressive landscape of the Middle East than all the billions given to Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian authority over the last quarter century, all the trillions in oil profiteering from rigged OPEC prices, and all the psychic support given extremists by our own Middle East Studies departments
DC insiders' recent lectures about hearts and minds remind me of those in the West circa 1940 who once blamed Hitler on themselves--citing the Versailles treaty, failure to help stop Germany's inflation, Churchillian rigidity, and anything other than the German people's own culpability for taking the cheap way out of their own self-created dilemma and the prior allied failure to occupy Berlin after 1918. We could have apologized daily to Germany in 1939. We could have given it billions of dollars and signed, like Russia did, a treaty of friendship, and it still would have gone to war with us--drunk as it was on the misconception that the liberal democracies were weak, timid, and their era over. Read jihadist literature, the Arab News, and assorted fatwas to understand that the hatred is irrational, deep-seeded, and parasitic on Western apologists.
Thus the proper exegesis for the latter's violence must account for exactly why and how it is that Middle Eastern, mostly Arab Muslim, youths kill Westerners worldwide--and yet Africans, South Americans, and Asians impoverished usually do not. It might just be that the stew of American appeasement, past Cold War support for illicit and corrupt grandees like the Royal Family, too much oil money too fast, Soviet-style statist remnants, endemic anti-Semitism, and Islam itself have all combined to create something like a strain of Hitlerism, which at this late hour cannot be reasoned with, but rather only destroyed.
The So-Called Loyal Opposition
We are in dangerous times, because beyond the normal Democratic/Republican, Left/Right natural give-and- take, there is now a growing and very crazy New, New Left. It has transcended both the old Marxism of the 1930s and the counterculture of the 1960s, and transmogrified into a strange sort of aristocratic, boutique damnation of Main Street, USA.
These furious critics of America are heiresses, work at trendy foundations, and include movie stars, upscale academics like a Chomsky, or global currency gougers such as George Soros. Al Gore's recent bouts of insanity are a metaphor of the scary era we are in.
But who is the real new Democratic guru that best reflects the new Know-Nothingness? We should judge a Michael Moore not just by what he says, but what he does every time he freelances without his publicists and handlers. At a time of war, he scoffs at 9-11 as if the wrong Americans were dying ("If someone did this [9/11] to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who DID NOT VOTE for him!").
He praises our enemies who are beheading innocents in Iraq. ("The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not "insurgents" or "terrorists" or "The Enemy." They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win. Get it, Mr. Bush?")
He shows contempt for our dead who fought and died for the right of Iraqis to vote. (""I'm sorry, but the majority of Americans supported this war once it began and, sadly, that majority must now sacrifice their children until enough blood has been let that maybe - just maybe - God and the Iraqi people will forgive us in the end."") .
He slurs civilian workers like Nick Berg and Paul Johnson who were trying to help rebuild Iraq. ("Those are not contractors in Iraq. They are not there to fix a roof or to pour concrete in a driveway. They are MERCENARIES and SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE").
He has contempt for Americans outside his circle of sycophants: "They are possibly the dumbest people on the planet . . . "We Americans suffer from an enforced ignorance. We don't know about anything that's happening outside our country. Our stupidity is embarrassing."
The problem with this war was never the material resources of the United States, the skill and courage of our soldiers, or even the support of the majority of the American people between San Francisco and New York. Indeed, we have the will, military power, and economic resources to crush our enemies--should we choose to. Rather the rub was always the lack of communication by our leaders who have a responsibility each day to counter popular superstition, half-truths, and misconception--and to do so with unapologetic audacity.
They do try. But so far it has simply not been enough. And the result of this Dukakis-like paralysis is that a half-educated, vindictive buffoon like Michael Moore and all the ignorance that he stands for have captivated a foolish cultural elite. Let us face it: the Left in this country has gone absolutely crazy. Without worries of rebuke or censure, the dinosaurs of the 1960s really do wish us to give one final gift of their wisdom and humanity--and so does its best to bring us a repeat of American choppers fleeing the embassy roof, circa 1975, with millions left behind awaiting death, reeducation camps, and exile.
Victor Davis Hanson, July 2004