Monday, August 07, 2006

Victor Davis Hanson, National Review On Line, August 4, 2006

[This is long, but astute and alarming. The more I read by Hanson, the more impressed I am. He is a classicist and military historian.]

The Brink of Madness
A familiar place.

By Victor Davis Hanson

When I used to read about the 1930s — the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, the rise of fascism in Italy, Spain, and Germany, the appeasement in France and Britain, the murderous duplicity of the Soviet Union, and the racist Japanese murdering in China — I never could quite figure out why, during those bleak years, Western Europeans and those in the United States did not speak out and condemn the growing madness, if only to defend the millennia-long promise of Western liberalism.

Of course, the trauma of the Great War was all too fresh, and the utopian hopes for the League of Nations were not yet dashed. The Great Depression made the thought of rearmament seem absurd. The connivances of Stalin with Hitler — both satanic, yet sometimes in alliance, sometimes not — could confuse political judgments.

But nevertheless it is still surreal to reread the fantasies of Chamberlain, Daladier, and Pope Pius, or the stump speeches by Charles Lindbergh (“Their [the Jews’] greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government”) or Father Coughlin (“Many people are beginning to wonder whom they should fear most — the Roosevelt-Churchill combination or the Hitler-Mussolini combination.”) — and baffling to consider that such men ever had any influence.

Not any longer.

Our present generation too is on the brink of moral insanity. That has never been more evident than in the last three weeks, as the West has proven utterly unable to distinguish between an attacked democracy that seeks to strike back at terrorist combatants, and terrorist aggressors who seek to kill civilians.

It is now nearly five years since jihadists from the Arab world left a crater in Manhattan and ignited the Pentagon. Apart from the frontline in Iraq, the United States and NATO have troops battling the Islamic fascists in Afghanistan. European police scramble daily to avoid another London or Madrid train bombing. The French, Dutch, and Danish governments are worried that a sizable number of Muslim immigrants inside their countries are not assimilating, and, more worrisome, are starting to demand that their hosts alter their liberal values to accommodate radical Islam. It is apparently not safe for Australians in Bali, and a Jew alone in any Arab nation would have to be discreet — and perhaps now in France or Sweden as well. Canadians’ past opposition to the Iraq war, and their empathy for the Palestinians, earned no reprieve, if we can believe that Islamists were caught plotting to behead their prime minister. Russians have been blown up by Muslim Chechnyans from Moscow to Beslan. India is routinely attacked by Islamic terrorists. An elected Lebanese minister must keep in mind that a Hezbollah or Syrian terrorist — not an Israeli bomb — might kill him if he utters a wrong word. The only mystery here in the United States is which target the jihadists want to destroy first: the Holland Tunnel in New York or the Sears Tower in Chicago.

In nearly all these cases there is a certain sameness: The Koran is quoted as the moral authority of the perpetrators; terrorism is the preferred method of violence; Jews are usually blamed; dozens of rambling complaints are aired, and killers are often considered stateless, at least in the sense that the countries in which they seek shelter or conduct business or find support do not accept culpability for their actions.

Yet the present Western apology to all this is often to deal piecemeal with these perceived Muslim grievances: India, after all, is in Kashmir; Russia is in Chechnya; America is in Iraq, Canada is in Afghanistan; Spain was in Iraq (or rather, still is in Al Andalus); or Israel was in Gaza and Lebanon. Therefore we are to believe that “freedom fighters” commit terror for political purposes of “liberation.” At the most extreme, some think there is absolutely no pattern to global terrorism, and the mere suggestion that there is constitutes “Islamaphobia.”

Here at home, yet another Islamic fanatic conducts an act of al Qaedism in Seattle, and the police worry immediately about the safety of the mosques from which such hatred has in the past often emanated — as if the problem of a Jew being murdered at the Los Angeles airport or a Seattle civic center arises from not protecting mosques, rather than protecting us from what sometimes goes on in mosques.

But then the world is awash with a vicious hatred that we have not seen in our generation: the most lavish film in Turkish history, “Valley of the Wolves,” depicts a Jewish-American harvesting organs at Abu Ghraib in order to sell them; the Palestinian state press regularly denigrates the race and appearance of the American Secretary of State; the U.N. secretary general calls a mistaken Israeli strike on a U.N. post “deliberate,” without a word that his own Blue Helmets have for years watched Hezbollah arm rockets in violation of U.N. resolutions, and Hezbollah’s terrorists routinely hide behind U.N. peacekeepers to ensure impunity while launching missiles.

If you think I exaggerate the bankruptcy of the West or only refer to the serial ravings on the Middle East of Pat Buchanan or Jimmy Carter, consider some of the most recent comments from Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah about Israel: “When the people of this temporary country lose their confidence in their legendary army, the end of this entity will begin [emphasis added].” Then compare Nasrallah’s remarks about the U.S: “To President Bush, Prime Minister Olmert and every other tyrannical aggressor. I want to invite you to do what you want, practice your hostilities. By God, you will not succeed in erasing our memory, our presence or eradicating our strong belief. Your masses will soon waste away, and your days are numbered [emphasis added].”

And finally examine here at home reaction to Hezbollah — which has butchered Americans in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia — from a prominent Democratic Congressman, John Dingell: “I don’t take sides for or against Hezbollah.” And isn’t that the point, after all: the amoral Westerner cannot exercise moral judgment because he no longer has any?

An Arab rights group, between denunciations of Israel and America, is suing its alma mater the United States for not evacuating Arab-Americans quickly enough from Lebanon, despite government warnings of the dangers of going there, and the explicit tactics of Hezbollah, in the manner of Saddam Hussein, of using civilians as human shields in the war it started against Israel.

Demonstrators on behalf of Hezbollah inside the United States — does anyone remember our 241 Marines slaughtered by these cowardly terrorists? — routinely carry placards with the Star of David juxtaposed with Swastikas, as voices praise terrorist killers. Few Arab-American groups these past few days have publicly explained that the sort of violence, tyranny, and lawlessness of the Middle East that drove them to the shores of a compassionate and successful America is best epitomized by the primordial creed of Hezbollah.

There is no need to mention Europe, an entire continent now returning to the cowardice of the 1930s. Its cartoonists are terrified of offending Muslim sensibilities, so they now portray the Jews as Nazis, secure that no offended Israeli terrorist might chop off their heads. The French foreign minister meets with the Iranians to show solidarity with the terrorists who promise to wipe Israel off the map (“In the region there is of course a country such as Iran — a great country, a great people and a great civilization which is respected and which plays a stabilizing role in the region”) — and manages to outdo Chamberlain at Munich. One wonders only whether the prime catalyst for such French debasement is worry over oil, terrorists, nukes, unassimilated Arab minorities at home, or the old Gallic Jew-hatred.

It is now a cliché to rant about the spread of postmodernism, cultural relativism, utopian pacifism, and moral equivalence among the affluent and leisured societies of the West. But we are seeing the insidious wages of such pernicious theories as they filter down from our media, universities, and government — and never more so than in the general public’s nonchalance since Hezbollah attacked Israel.

These past few days the inability of millions of Westerners, both here and in Europe, to condemn fascist terrorists who start wars, spread racial hatred, and despise Western democracies is the real story, not the “quarter-ton” Israeli bombs that inadvertently hit civilians in Lebanon who live among rocket launchers that send missiles into Israeli cities and suburbs.

Yes, perhaps Israel should have hit more quickly, harder, and on the ground; yes, it has run an inept public relations campaign; yes, to these criticisms and more. But what is lost sight of is the central moral issue of our times: a humane democracy mired in an asymmetrical war is trying to protect itself against terrorists from the 7th century, while under the scrutiny of a corrupt world that needs oil, is largely anti-Semitic and deathly afraid of Islamic terrorists, and finds psychic enjoyment in seeing successful Western societies under duress.

In short, if we wish to learn what was going on in Europe in 1938, just look around.

— 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.


Ed Darrell said...

It's difficult, and sad, to remember that within the memory of most people, we were within days of a settlement of the Palestinian question, within weeks of rapprochement with Iran, within months of shutting down the North Korean nuclear weapons production system.

Then the U.S. changed policy, to "play tough" and refuse to talk.

Sometimes diplomacy works best in the Teddy Roosevelt style; sometimes it works best in the style of Sec. of State George C. Marshall. The trick is in knowing when to use which tactic -- one size never did fit all.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

Diplomacy with tyrants typically does little good. Diplomacy with jihadists, such as the Palestinians, Iranians, etc., does no good in the long run. They have a long history of making accords strategically when they are weak. When they think they are stronger, they break them. This goes way back to Muhammad.

Tom said...

There is, however, a significant disanalogy between Europe in the 30's and Arab (and some Persian) countries in the early 21st century: I rather suspect that dealing severely with facists then would not have likely resulted in net increase in facists. But if we decide that the way to combat militant Muslims is simply to eliminate them, I believe we run a significant risk of creating a net gain in jihadists. We must think very carefully about both what morality requires of us and also what is the prudent way to respond to those who would do us harm. While there is no doubt that Hanson has a point in his claim that we should not pacify and negotiate with those who would do us harm, I can't help but think that reacting with all our military might is a fool's gambit.

Jeremy said...


I have to wonder if, when you say , "[w]e were within days of a settlement of the Palestinian question," if you are remembering when Israeli PM Barak offered Arafat everything he wanted except the right of return? If this is so, then it has nothing to do with US foreign policy. the right of return would have given the Palesinians a majority; that majority would then vote itself into power; then that majority would have wiped out the Jews. There was simply no way that Barak could have given in to Arafat on this.

On the other hand, if you are speaking of Bush's peace plan that has been set asisde because of the free election of Hamas to run the Palestinian government, I don't really see how a foreign policy shift after the matter is a problem. The US was responding to a group of terrorists (actually a wing of Iran) whose purpose was to destroy Israel--there was no two-state option running through their minds, and there still isn't. The US isn't "playing tough," but rather responding appropriately to an enemy of one of our closest allies.

I have to be quite honest; I don't exactly know what you're talking about when you say, "[w]ithin weeks of rapprochement with Iran." It doesn't seem like there has been a time since the Ayatollahs' take over that the US or Iran has been serious about restoring diplomatic relations.

As for North Korea, it semms a little naiive to think that Kim Jong Il is just going to shut down his nuclear program. We know that he is a liar. This is easily proven by the fact that he and his nation were developing nukes despite the fact that they had promised to forego any type of nuclear development program. In fact, all of the talking during the 90's allowed the North Koreans to assume a diplomatic position while duplicitously building nukes the whole time.

I mention these points only because I would like to understand your take on history. As far as I can tell, you're simply mistaken. However, I could be wrong (it's been known to happen on several occassions).

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

I agree with all that Jeremy said. Good job.

Ed Darrell said...

1. No, Barak couldn't accept what Arafat said he had to have at that time. If one reads the contemporary accounts, however, one realizes that everyone involved had thought more discussions would move things along -- and such discussions were very close. The break off occurred solely to switch administrations in the U.S. -- both the Palestinians and the Israelis had hoped the U.S. would sponsor talks beginning perhaps in February 2001. Such talks never occurred, the situation deteriorated, and now we have a war there.

At no time since 1948 has war resolved anything in Palestine. The only times of peace have been achieved with diplomacy.

Did Bush ever really have a peace plan? It was years late, too late as we see now. And it was set aside? Surprise. As Henry Kissinger noted last week, what is required is that the United States get involved and clearly show that we will broker peace and keep it. When asked if the U.S. will do that, he smiled wanly and said he hopes so. Refusing to deal with the chief parties in the conflict surely isn't working. It's time to try real diplomacy.

Diplomacy with tyrants has worked better over the last 50 years than warfare, or blockades. Castro is still in power after more than 40 years of refusing to talk -- some policy success there. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union is no more, Poland is a member of the European Union, South Africa has its second black president after apartheidt was abandoned . . . real, lasting change requires that we deal with people, and trade with them. The only question we need to ask is, are we happy with the situation in Palestine? If not, we need to get in and talk. Now.

In 2001 things looked good between the U.S. and Iran. If you recall (and you may not) Iran formally issued a note of sympathy and empathy after the attack on the World Trade Center, and there were demonstrations in Tehran against terrorism. Bush chose not to take advantage of those demonstrations of desire for change, and Iran has retrenched. It's not surprising that others missed it, when Bush obviously did.

With regard to North Korea, the facts speak more loudly that paranoia about Kim Jong Il. Clinton had negotiated to have UN observers in North Korea to monitor the shutdown of their nuclear weapons program. Television cameras were in place for 24-hour monitoring, with the transmissions being available to nuclear monitoring agencies around the world -- the Pentagon had a view, too. The contract we had with them said the U.S. would supply funds and assistance to build a power generating station that could not produce weapons grade fuel, to ease the power crises in North Korea. Ground was broken on the construction.

Now, North Korea had not fully lived up to its end. They were behind in shutting things down -- but there was every indication that they were merely behind, and still wary that the U.S. would renege on the agreement.

Sure enough, Bush reneged. To the world (including the South Koreans who protested to the U.S., and to our everlasting shame Bush refused to meet with the President of South Korea to hear the protest), it is the U.S. who broke the agreement. Were the violations of the agreement enough to warrant our abrupt action? There was no fuel enrichment going on. There was no activity to build or design bombs. There was no activity to test missiles, and development had been stopped. International observers confirmed that the North Koreans were well on the way to disarming. You should revisit the newspapers of the time and see what was really going on.

Ignoring the facts of this situation do not make Kim Jong Il a liar -- it makes him, as a well-known liar, look better in comparison.

I am not mistaken. The reality is that this administration has wasted opportunities for peace. Bush was elected on a policy of "no nation building" and "talk tough." Though Colin Powell had some success in moderating those positions, even in moderation they damaged our position and left us vulnerable.

As to diplomacy in the long run with jihadists, one needs to remember that we abandoned Afghanistan when the Russians pulled out. At the same time, we slashed aid to Pakistan which had gone to building schools there to teach kids -- male and female -- to read, and to prepare them for university. Yes, it's difficult to negotiate with graduates of madrassas. It will take years of work to recover our position in those nations.

It's already late. We shouldn't wait any longer. Every day we delay strengthens the jihadists and pushes farther into the future any possibility of lasting peace.

Hanson's piece is thought provoking. It really is curious that more people didn't speak out against the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, and the Rape of Nanking. It's peculiar to listen to the broadcasts of Edward R. Murrow from London during the air raids -- and realize that the Battle of Britain was four months in 1940, more than a year before the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor -- how could anyone listen to that and remain "neutral?" And yet, U.S. opinion at that time was still split over whether we should support Germany or Britain if we got involved at all.

Hanson's right. Why didn't the U.S. act to procure peace in Palestine in 2001? Why didn't the U.S. act to keep North Korea on the disarmament path as the U.S. had agreed? Why didn't the U.S. at least open talks with Iran when Iran promised to help the U.S. fight terrorism? It's insanity, indeed.

Israel has a right to defend itself against Hezbollah. But the time to stop Hezbollah was in 2001. Israel's best defense would be to have a thriving Lebanon on the North, and a peace agreement with the Palestinians. We were close in December 2000. Bush is five years late -- where was Victor Hanson in 2001?

Weekend Fisher said...

You cannot appease a bully; they always take appeasement as victory and encouragement.

The only political solution to global islamofascism is both too ugly to name and too ugly to desire.

I've heard talk about waiting for a reform in the Muslim world. But the reform most needed is Christ in them, the hope of glory.

The spiritual solution is sharing Christ with the Muslim world, starting with those Muslims in our own cities. Vast numbers of Muslims recognize in Jesus' words something better than they find in Mohammed's words, if only we get Jesus' words to them. Where are we?