Saturday, July 01, 2006

"Winning the Iraq Wars": Victor Hanson on the Existential Struggle

Victor Hanson has a new piece up on the American deployment in Iraq. He notes that the war is being fought on multiple fronts: In Iraq proper, where we fight to consolidate Iraq's democratic regime; in the domestic fight over public opinion, where public support has declined, and leaves Washington's committment to our forces looking firm and robust for just a couple of years (or at least until we know the results of the next general election); in the Middle East region as a whole, where the democratic experiment in Afghanistan and Iraq continues to light the flame of liberty for those seeking freedom (even in the Palestinian Authority, where democratic elections have raised questions about the voting wisdom of the Palestinians).

There is also a fourth front, according to Hanson, and this is the existential war of Western ideas versus premodern ideologies of reaction:

Finally, we are witnessing a larger existential war, in which Iraq is the central, but not the only, theater. Put simply: will the spreading affluence and liberality of Westernization undermine the 8th-century mentality of the Islamists more quickly than their terrorists, armed with Western weapons, prey on the ennui of a postmodern Europe and America — with our large gullible populations that either don’t believe we are in a real war, or think that we should not be?

Americans know exactly the creed of the Islamists and what they have in store for us nonbelievers. Yet if we are not infidels, can we at least be fideles? That is, can we any longer articulate what we believe in, and whether it is worth defending?

The problem is not that the majority of Americans have voiced doubts about the future of Iraq — arguments over self-interest and values happen in every long war when the battlefield does not daily bring back good news.

Instead, the worry is that too many have misdirected their anger at the very culture that produced and nourished them. Sen. Kennedy could have objected to Abu Ghraib — so far the subject of nine government inquiries — without comparing the incident to the mass murdering of Saddam Hussein.

Sen. Durbin might have had doubts about Guantanamo — the constant site of Red Cross and congressional visits — but there was no need to tie it to the fiendish regimes of Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot.

Cindy Sheehan could have recanted her initial favorable remarks after meeting George Bush without later labeling him the world’s greatest terrorist.

The New York Times might have editorialized about the dangers of stealthy government security measures without publishing sensitive, leaked material in a time of war. It is precisely this escalation from criticism of the war to furor at our elected government and civilian-controlled military that is so worrisome — and so welcomed by the enemy, as we see when it cleverly regurgitates our own self criticism as its own.

The military is doing its part. It defeated Saddam Hussein, and prevented a plethora of terrorists from destroying a fragile democracy abroad and the contemporary world’s oldest here at home. Despite the caricature and venom, the original belief of the 2002 Congress that there were at least 23 reasons to topple Saddam remains valid and is reaffirmed daily, especially as we learn more of the ties between al Qaeda and Iraqi Baathist intelligence and slowly trace down the footprints of a once vast WMDs arsenal. And the effort to ensure a democratic denouement to the war, both in and beyond Iraq , is the only solution to wider Middle East pathology.

No, our problem lies in two more abstract but just as important struggles over Iraq . Either we did not communicate well the noble purposes of sacrifices abroad, or, after Vietnam, an influential elite has made it impossible for any president to do so.

We can correct that first lapse, but I am not so sure about the second.

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