Victor Davis Hanson
The Train Is Leaving the Station
Will our “friends” jump on in time?
Wars disrupt the political landscape for generations. Changes sweep nations when their youth die in a manner impossible during peace. An isolationist United States became a world power after the defeat of Japan and Germany, buoyed by the confidence of millions of returning victorious veterans. Even today the pathologies of American society cannot be understood apart from the defeat in Vietnam, as an entire generation still views the world through the warped lenses of the 1960s. In some sense, postmodern quirky France today is explicable by the humiliation of 1940 and its colonial defeats to follow.
So, too, one of the most remarkable military campaigns in American military history will shake apart the world as few other events in the last 30 years. Depressed and discredited pundits now turn to dire predictions of years of turmoil in postbellum Iraq. A lunatic Syria promises a Lebanon to come. Meanwhile we are currently reassured that the Atlantic Alliance is unchanged. The Washington-New York corridor, in sober and judicious tones, has rightly emphasized to us all that we must work harder to renew our old ties — echoed by their like counterparts in Europe. But it is eerie how the more the experts insist on all these probable scenarios, the more they seem terrified that things are not as they were.
Something weird, something unprecedented, is unfolding, driven by American public opinion — completely ignored in Europe — and the nation’s collective anger that Americans are dying by showing restraint as they are slandered by our “friends.” Despite the protestations of a return to normalcy, this present war will ever so slowly, yet markedly nonetheless, change America’s relationships in a way unseen in the last 30 years.
With little help from Saudi Arabia or Turkey — “allies” and “hosts” to our troops — damned by many of our NATO allies, stymied in the U.N., turned on by Russia, opposed by Germany and France, the Coalition nevertheless is systematically liberating a country under the most impossible of conditions. This experience in turn will oddly — if we avoid hubris and maintain our sanity — liberate us as well.
Far from making the United States hegemonic, the success in Iraq will have a sobering effect on Americans. Contrary to pundits the hard-fought Anglo-American victory will not make us into hegemonists, but simply less naïve about tradition-bound relationships and the normal method of doing business. I would expect military spending to increase, even as reluctance grows to get involved with any of our traditional allies. Given billions of dollars in foreign aid, the past salvation of Europe from the Soviet juggernaut, and a half-century of protection under our nuclear shield, the old way was supposed to work something like the following.
At worse France and Germany would quietly call Mr. Powell. They would explain their predicaments and then abstain at the U.N., ensuring passage of a second decree. The traditionally wise and savvy German diplomats — conscious of everything from the Berlin Airlift to the American promise to pledge New York to preserve Bonn from a Soviet nuclear strike — would cherish American goodwill toward the German people, grimace somewhat, and then say something like: “We believe you are wrong; but we are not going to ruin a half-century of mutual amity over a two-bit fascist Iraq. So good luck, win, and let us pray that you, not we, are right — for both our sakes.”
A Turkish prime minister would learn from Tony Blair, and thus explain to his parliament the historic and critical relationship with the United States, while vigorously campaigning to win approval for our armored divisions to hit Iraq from the north to help shorten a controversial war.
Mexico and Canada would complain privately, but express North American solidarity. In other words, sober and sane Western statesmen would swallow their pique at a powerful United States acting unilaterally, seek to provide it diplomatic cover, and quietly accept that a removal of a mass-murdering dictator was in all liberal states’ interests.
Instead, just the opposite happened, and so we must eventually react to this radical realignment that brought it about.
We can start with those hosts of American military bases. Many Americans are now dead in part because a NATO ally Turkey not merely refused its support, but did so in such a long and drawn out fashion that it is impossible to believe that it was not preordained to hamper U.S. military operations. And, of course, Turkey’s last-minute refusals to allow transit of U.S. divisions did exactly that by delaying the critical rerouting of troops and supplies to the Gulf.
I would expect that we all will smile, still extend some minor aid, but simmer on the inside and quietly and professionally take steps to ensure that we are never put in such a position again. We should, without fanfare, bow out of Turkish-EU discussions, and let Europe and Turkey on their own decide the wisdom of allowing an Islamic country into the “liberal” European confederation. The EU can handle Cyprus. Who knows, maybe Brussels will be forced to reward Turkish recalcitrance toward America with renewed subsidies and membership — and who cares? So in the eleventh hour of this war, the democratic government of Turkey must pass some decree, if only symbolic, that they value our friendship and wish us to win in Iraq.
Ditto the erosion with the Saudi Arabian relationship even if, as I expect, we will soon hear from their sheiks with various proclamations of liberalization and greater freedom for their unfree. Bases that earn us enmity, cannot be adequately used when Americans die nearby, and are expensive political liabilities, are not military assets. And the paradox grows worse when bases exist through the pretexts that they in part help to protect the host country that does not wish to be protected.
We should smile, profess goodwill — and then withdraw all American troops from Saudi Arabia as soon as events settle down in Iraq, reassessing in a post-Cold War, post-9/11 world our entire relationship with that medieval country. After all, we buy oil from the worst of all dictatorships in Teheran and the people there like us better than do the Saudis precisely because we are not complicit in their government. The Saudis, of course, could still catch the train as it leaves the station, close the madrassas, and join the 21st century — but it is their call, not ours.
We are told that an Israeli-Palestinian solution will restore our good name in the Middle East. Maybe. But like the past spectacle of Palestinians cheering news of the 3,000 American dead, the recent West Bank volunteers who wish to go to Baghdad to blow up more Americans and protect another Arab fascist don’t play well in the United States — and make us wonder what our hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for the Palestinian Authority are for.
We must maintain cordial relations with Russia — but Russia has never had an accounting with tens of thousands of Communist apparatchiks who here and there inhabit the present government. This was a country, after all, which to the silence of the Arab and European worlds killed thousands of Muslims in Chechnya, rooted for the mass murderer Milosevic, allowed weapons to be sold to Saddam Hussein that would be used to kill Americans, and thwarted all our efforts in the U.N. Surely it is time for sobriety and circumspection in everything we do with them.
If we thought Turkey’s recent turnabout was depressing, imagine a South Korea when that crisis heats up, as thousands in Seoul take to the street to protest our presence as they are hours away from being annihilated by North Korean artillery. As soon as possible we should begin discussions about carefully drawing down troops and relocating them far to the south to compose a “strategic reserve” as tens of thousands of wealthy brave South Korean teenagers assume their exclusive place on the front-line to protect their own motherland from Korean Stalinists. And if we cannot convince China that it is time to rein in Pyongyang’s nukes, then we should throw up our hands and let Tokyo, Seoul — even Taiwan — do what is necessary to provide for their own strategic deterrence.
In the neighborhood of the battlefield, Iran is in a unique position. The illegitimate government will have to tell its own restless population why the liberation of Iraq next door is a bad thing. The unfortunate Iranians, scarred by a dirty war with Saddam Hussein, weary of mullocracy that they brought in themselves, will not be unhappy that the soldiers a decade ago who slaughtered them are losing, and the changes that are coming across the border are what they themselves want.
Syria, the embryo of most terrorist groups and the occupier of Lebanon, still issues empty threats. For all the scary rhetoric and promises of worldwide jihad, an impotent Syria must be terrified of the consequences should it send direct aid to Saddam Hussein. It is a historical rarity that 300,000 United States troops are at last fighting an Arab dictator with 70 percent of the American people’s support — and losing far fewer dead than those slaughtered in one day in their sleep in a barracks in Lebanon.
And then there is the madness of Europe. It is time to speak far more softly and carry a far larger stick. France may be right that we all have really come to the end of history — and so we should give them an opportunity to prove it, to match deed with word by being delighted as we withdraw troops from Germany. Germany may or may not be embracing the frightening old nationalist rhetoric — but again that will be France’s problem, not ours. Let us hope that the more sober in Germany can still grasp at what Mr. Schroeder has nearly thrown away, and see that few superpowers have given it so much and asked for so little in return — and genuinely wish it to do well.
But again it is their call, not ours. We do not have to withdraw from a dead NATO, but we should simply grin and spend as much on it as Europe does — and so let it die on the vine. How could we be allies with such countries as France and Germany when sizable minorities there want a fascistic Saddam Hussein to defeat us?
There is not much need to speak of the governments of Canada and Mexico. More liberal trade agreements and concessions with Mr. Chretien are about as dead as open borders are with Mr. Fox. It is the singular achievement of the present Canadian government to turn a country — whose armed forces once stormed an entire beach at Normandy and fielded one of the most heroic armies in wars for freedom — into a bastion of anti-Americanism without a military. Both countries are de facto socialist states, and the Anglo-French pique we see in Europe is right across our northern borders in miniature. Anyone who looked at the papers in Mexico City could rightly assume our neighbors’ elite preferred an Iraqi victory.
And so where does all that leave us? Unlike the conventional rhetoric of pessimists (e.g., “the world hates us”), we may well be in a stronger position than ever before. Russian arms, German bunkers, and French contracts will become known in Iraq and will be weighed against America’s use of overwhelming force for a moral cause in a legal and human fashion against a barbaric regime. The Middle Eastern claim that we won’t or can’t fight on the ground is a myth. And America, not the Orwellian Arab Street, is the catalyst for democratic reform. Looming on the horizon are Iraqi archives, the evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and a happy liberated populace that Europe would have otherwise left well enough alone to profit from its overseers.
The United Nations has lost its soft spot in the hearts of Americans, and is more likely to appease dictators than aid consensual governments. The general-secretary should be scrambling madly before the armistice to win our good graces — never has American support for the U.N. been lower, even as a U.N. resolution has never been better enforced at almost no cost to its general membership. The debate has now spun out of control and questions not merely our own membership but also the very propriety of the residence of the General Assembly headquarters in New York.
And as for Britain, Australia, Spain, Denmark, Italy, and a host of Eastern European countries who are rolling down the tracks with us, waving to the exasperating at the station, we have to show them as much appreciation for their stalwart courage as we do abject disdain for the duplicity of their peers behind.
The world is upside down and we should expect some strange scenes of scrambling in the weeks ahead as side-glancing diplomats and nail-biting envoys flock to meet Mr. Powell in Washington, who — far from fearing those recent idiotic calls for his resignation — will in fact emerge as one of the most effective and powerful secretaries in recent history. Such are the ironies of war.
It will all be an interesting show.
Withdrawing from Germany and Saudia Arabia, as well as letting the Asians deal with North Korea sounds good to me.