May 13, 2004

How Winning the Cold War Led to 9/11

Imagine a different Nov. 4, 1979, in Tehran. Shortly after Iranian terrorists storm the American Embassy and take some 90 American hostages, President Carter announces that Islamic fundamentalism is not a legitimate response to the excess of the shah but a new and dangerous fascism that threatens all that liberal society holds dear. And then he issues an ultimatum to Tehran's leaders: Release the captives or face a devastating military response

When that demand is not met, instead of freezing Iran's assets, stopping the importation of its oil, or seeking support at the U.N., Mr. Carter orders an immediate blockade of the country, followed by promises to bomb, first, all of its major military assets, and then its main government buildings and residences of its ruling mullocracy. The Ayatollah Khomeini might well have called his bluff; we may well have tragically lost the hostages (151 fewer American lives than the Iranian-backed Hezbollah would take four years later in a single day in Lebanon). And there might well have been the sort of chaos in Tehran that we now witness in Baghdad. But we would have seen it all in 1979--and not in 2001, after almost a quarter-century of continuous Middle East terrorism, culminating in the mass murder of 3,000 Americans and the leveling of the World Trade Center.

Wow. This is it, friends. I've been meaning to blog this since Monday but only today had time to read the entire thing. It was well worth it. This long but emminently well-informed essay by Victor Davis Hanson is the best I've read yet in the mainstream press discussing all aspects of the war on terrorists, and the events before and after 9/11.

It amazes me that this man is a professor at a California public university (Cal State - Fresno) and hasn't yet been lynched. He can't even be dismissed as one of those "wacko religious conservatives."

If you are really in the mood to expand your knowledge and understanding of geopolitics since WWII, you'll want to read this entire article. For the time-challenged, here are a number of excellent excerpts, with the best in boldface:

Thereafter, these historical lessons [role of appeasement in the fourth century B.C. fall of Greece] should have been clear to citizens of any liberal society: We must neither presume that comfort and security are our birthrights and are guaranteed without constant sacrifice and vigilance, nor expect that peoples outside the purview of bourgeois liberalism share our commitment to reason, tolerance and enlightened self-interest.

In the face of such visceral anti-Americanism, the problem may not be real differences over the West Bank, much less that "we are not getting the message out"; rather, in the decade since 1991 the Middle East saw us as a great power that neither could nor would use its strength to advance its ideas--that lacked even the intellectual confidence to argue for our civilization before the likes of a tenth-century monarchy. The autocratic Arab world neither respects nor fears a democratic United States, because it rightly senses that we often talk in principled terms but rarely are willing to invest the time, blood and treasure to match such rhetoric with concrete action. That's why it is crucial for us to stay in Iraq to finish the reconstruction and cement the achievement of our three-week victory over Saddam.

If Marx receded from economics departments, his spirit re-emerged among our intelligentsia in the novel guises of poststructuralism, new historicism, multiculturalism and all the other dogmas whose fundamental tenet was that white male capitalists had systematically oppressed women, minorities and Third World people in countless insidious ways. The font of that collective oppression, both at home and abroad, was the rich, corporate, Republican and white United States.

The fall of the Soviet Union enhanced these newer postcolonial and liberation fields of study by immunizing their promulgators from charges of fellow-traveling or being dupes of Russian expansionism. Communism's demise likewise freed these trendy ideologies from having to offer some wooden, unworkable Marxist alternative to the West; thus they could happily remain entirely critical, sarcastic and cynical without any obligation to suggest something better, as witness the nihilist signs at recent protest marches proclaiming: "I Love Iraq, Bomb Texas."

Of course, pampered Western intellectuals since Diderot have always dreamed up a "noble savage," who lived in harmony with nature precisely because of his distance from the corruption of Western civilization. But now this fuzzy romanticism had an updated, political edge: The bearded killer and wild-eyed savage were not merely better than we because they lived apart in a premodern landscape. No, they had a right to strike back and kill modernizing Westerners who had intruded into and disrupted their better world--whether Jews on Temple Mount, women in Westernized dress in Tehran, Christian missionaries in Kabul, capitalist profiteers in Islamabad, whiskey-drinking oilmen in Riyadh, or miniskirted tourists in Cairo.

Yet in the new world of utopian multiculturalism and knee-jerk anti-Americanism, in which a Noam Chomsky could proclaim Khomeini's gulag to be "independent nationalism," reasoned argument was futile. Indeed, how could critical debate arise for those "committed to social change," when no universal standards were to be applied to those outside the West? Thanks to the doctrine of cultural relativism, "oppressed" peoples either could not be judged by our biased and "constructed" values ("false universals," in Edward Said's infamous term) or were seen as more pristine than ourselves, uncorrupted by the evils of Western capitalism.

This nonjudgmentalism--essentially a form of nihilism--deemed everything from Sudanese female circumcision to honor killings on the West Bank merely "different" rather than odious. Anyone who has taught freshmen at a state university can sense the fuzzy thinking of our undergraduates: Most come to us prepped in high schools not to make "value judgments" about "other" peoples who are often "victims" of American "oppression." Thus, before female-hating psychopath Mohamed Atta piloted a jet into the World Trade Center, neither Western intellectuals nor their students would have taken him to task for what he said or condemned him as hypocritical for his parasitical existence on Western society. Instead, without logic but with plenty of romance, they would more likely have excused him as a victim of globalization or of the biases of American foreign policy. They would have deconstructed Atta's promotion of anti-Semitic, misogynist, Western-hating thought, as well as his conspiracies with Third World criminals, as anything but a danger and a pathology to be remedied by deportation or incarceration.

In contrast, George W. Bush, impervious to such self-deception, has, in a mere 2 1/2 years, reversed the perilous course of a quarter-century. Since Sept. 11, he has removed the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, begun to challenge the Middle East through support for consensual government, isolated Yasser Arafat, pressured the Europeans on everything from anti-Semitism to their largesse to Hamas, removed American troops from Saudi Arabia, shut down fascistic Islamic "charities," scattered al Qaeda, turned Pakistan from a de facto foe to a scrutinized neutral, rounded up terrorists in the United States, pressured Libya, Iran and Pakistan to come clean on clandestine nuclear cheating, so far avoided another Sept. 11--and promises that he is not nearly done yet.

Posted by JohnGalt at May 13, 2004 01:16 PM
Comments

Yes I read that (as usual) stirring VDH piece. I think that counter-factuals are the most powerful teachers of history -- usually to show the power of one person's brave stand, and the effect if he hadn't. In the case of our 39th President, of course, the counter-factual is what could have been if he had taken bold, decisive action.

Sad to see a submarine was just named after him, I don't know that he'll appreciate he gesture, and imagine the horror for a young Navy officer transferred there from the USS Ronald Reagan.

Posted by: jk at May 13, 2004 01:42 PM
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