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Last Thursday (July 20), Real Clear Politics ran a Victor Davis Hanson essay entitled, "Patience is Wearing Thin," in which VDH argued that the West was running out of civilized choices in the Middle East and hinted that we might soon resort to massive retaliation against terrorists and their benefactors.

VDH reasons that despite the "conventional wisdom" against an additional American military mission aimed at Iran or Syria, the United States (and the West) may come to realize that "diplomacy, aid, support for democracy, multiculturalism, and [partial] withdrawal" does not satisfy the troublesome Islamists. At which point, once our patience is exhausted, we will "opt for hard and quick retaliation" and eschew our historic concerns for humanity, local sensibilities and world opinion.

I could not disagree more.

An aside: This VDH essay reflects the rapidly accumulating frustration and mounting dejection even among stout-hearted, intelligent, patriotic Americans.

The ugly truth: the conventional wisdom that our hands are tied, unfortunately, is absolutely right. If you are Iran (or North Korea), there is very little peril in disdaining the United States right now. Syria is a bit more vulnerable, because of internal uncertainty and weakness, but they might ask as well: what is the United States going to do?

There is no military option.

There is one insurmountable obstacle to another military expedition in the region: American public opinion.

Presently, the American people are in no mood to support any unprovoked aggressive military action anywhere in the world. Americans are no longer convinced that our invasion of Iraq was necessary. Much worse, they are thoroughly unimpressed with our government's administration of Iraq and increasingly pessimistic about our ability to remake the Middle East.

Because the President has lost the American people, he has lost the "loyal" opposition in Congress and is beginning to lose politicians on the periphery of his own party. In addition, the President's inner circle of advisors is in the midst of extended acrimonious hostilities with large parts of the executive bureaucracy. And the media and academia, also at odds with this President from the outset, now emboldened by his weakness, bombards him with derision and destabilizing accusations continuously. The President cannot go on the offensive in the Middle East because he cannot get off the defensive at home. This president does not have the time or the standing to prepare the nation for a greater war in the Middle East. We are stuck.

In the end, I agree with VDH's concluding statement, if not with his reasoning that undergirds the sentiment:

"So in the meantime, let us hope that democracy prevails in Iraq, that our massive aid is actually appreciated by the Middle East, that diplomacy ultimately works with Iran, that Syria quits supporting terrorists, and that Hamas and Hezbollah cease their rocket attacks against Israel -- more for all their sakes than ours."

What happens when our patience wears thin? We go home. We leave rather meekly (see Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia), and we are unlikely to blow up the place on the way out.

For more on this from me, please review: "The War on Terror and the Middle East Dilemma."
The President's initiative in the Middle East has never been a sure thing. But I have argued, and still believe, that it was a calculated risk worth taking and continues to be a calculated risk worth supporting. But what if it does not work? What are our options, if for whatever reasons, the attempt to remake the Middle East fails?

Some background: why is it so important that our project for "renewal in Iraq" and beyond succeed? After 9/11, it was apparent to any observer that the status quo in the Middle East was no longer tenable for the United States. Our Cold-War era, "pragmatic" policy of accommodating and facilitating tyrannical regimes, for reasons of vital national interest, wrought a generation of jihadists intent on Islamic revolution. The Islamists hated their own exploitative and corrupt governments, they hated Israel, and they hated us for enabling the two primary objects of their enmity. 9/11 illustrated in the most horrific manner that our great island fortress could be penetrated by these jihadists, and likely would be again. America was under attack.

The project to remake the Middle East into a more just and safer place for its own people, and more friendly in general to the United States and the rest of Western civilization, was an attempt to "drain the swamp." A freer, more democratic Middle East, so the theory went, would take responsibility for itself and be consumed with self-improvement, looking inward instead of outward, which would drastically reduce the threat of terrorism. We would become brothers, bonded by our mutual love for self-determination, amelioration and peace.

Frankly, the Bush administration vastly underestimated how hard this would be. While some academics tossed around the Philippine precedent and laid out timetables of four, five, six years and beyond, I do not think that is what Washington believed. I fear that the Bush administration really thought, with a little luck, this thing might go fairly quickly and easily, and then we could move on to the next outlaw. We did not fully understand the challenge. Perhaps that was a blessing. In any event, to the surprise of some, we encountered a great battle in Iraq. But that doesn't mean that we are cooked. We need to stay tough and win. Iraq is the key. If we can stabilize Iraq, our aspiration for a safer Middle East is well on the way to success.

What happens if Iraq never gets better, and circumstances force the US to abandon the project to reform the Middle East? Are we back to square one? No. If we leave Iraq in defeat and disarray, we are actually much worse off than we were the day after 9/11. The world will no longer be a safe place for Americans to travel or do business. What will that mean? It will inaugurate a radical transformation of American life.

I have never accepted the President's explanation that the Islamists hate us because of our liberty (at least not in the commonly accepted sense of that word). That is, I don't believe that the jihadists' detestation for our freedom impels them to go out of their way to kill us. Osama doesn't hate us because we are free; he hates us because we are powerful and play a dominant role in his world.

Undoubtedly, Osama et al view American culture as corrupt and corrosive, and they are right (see Part I). If the President means liberty in the libertine sense, then maybe he touches on part of what Osama and his ilk have against us. But that in itself does not explain the existence of al Qaeda.

The complicated terror network organized to humble the United States exists to break the American hegemony on their side of the world so that the jihadists can foment a revolution over there unhindered. In that way too, 9/11 is similar to Pearl Harbor: Japan attempted to obliterate the US naval presence in the Pacific not to conquer the United States, but to give Japan free reign to conquer the Pacific. Like our presence in the Pacific during the 1930s and 40s, we have myriad self-interested reasons to be in the Middle East, but we also play a stabilizing role in the region.

To an extent, and there is deep irony here for the neo-traditionalists, this project is a war to make the world safe for economic globalization. Some of the least imaginative of the anti-war protesters have called Iraq a "war for oil." Three-dollar per gallon gas takes a bit of the wind out of that conspiracy slogan, but it survives nevertheless. But in truth, our mission to remake the Middle East is consistent with American policy since the dawning of American imperialism: we strive for influence and power in the world in order to protect American business interests.

Can we do something that will make the Islamists leave us alone? Yes. We can pack up and go home. We can fold our tent and leave the Middle East to the Arabs. In the early moments of the national crisis following 9/11, I believed that the safest course would be complete retreat, a return to isolationism. President Bush offered a different course, which was bold and risky, but, if successful, preserves our way of life. I credit him for his strength and courage in that moment, and I have supported him completely.

However, if Bushism does not work, returning to the pre-9/11 realities is not an option. The remaining option is Buchanism: neo-isolationism. We will leave our friends in the Middle East to fend for themselves, and pull-up stakes as the key player in, and international protector of, the global economy. Failure will force us into an involuntary retreat.

Therefore, if we fail in Iraq, we leave American business interests in the Middle East unprotected and irresistible targets for Islamist revolutionaries. If our ability to protect our interests abroad collapses, then our economic empire necessarily disintegrates as well.

What then?

We turn the clock back one hundred years and return to the insular republic of the nineteenth century. It will mean that our culture will need fewer academics, poets, entertainers and service providers. More of us will need to work for a living, making things and growing things. Our lives will change dramatically.
Category: US in Iraq.archive
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The "War on Terror" is winnable.

I am currently watching Eric Alterman on C-SPAN this morning. If you don't know him, Alterman makes the case that the mainstream media is not "liberal." His assertion: rightwing propagandists manufactured the "liberal media" myth to give the conservative media (which does exist) a raison d'etre. He also makes the point (not original to him), among myriad others--coming, seemingly, at the speed of light, that a "war on terror" is impossible. That is, the word "terror" describes a phenomenon, which makes prosecuting a war on terror unlike fighting a war with England, Mexico, Spain, Germany or Japan--all nations with seats of government and conventional armies.

Actually, Alterman's point is not completely incompatible with the conservative complaint that "terrorism" is an unhelpful euphemism for "Islamofascism." Okie Gardener has argued that this "sloppy terminology relates to sloppy thinking: and we must be clear-headed" in this all-important appointment with destiny.

However, I am not nearly as disturbed by the imprecise terminology. As long as we know what we mean, we are fine. (Of course, whether we know what we mean is an entirely different question.) Notwithstanding, I have written privately, even if we don't call an Islamofascist an Islamofascist, their rotting corpses will smell just as putrid by any other name. But that assumes that we can kill all the terrorists, which is impractical (and not in keeping with the American personality). We are an evangelical and evangelistic people. We prefer to convert rather than eliminate. We generally have the stomach to strike out in anger against an offensive dictator or an "axis of evil," but, once our blood cools, we prefer to make peace with our enemies and convert them to our point of view. As a people, we have never demonstrated stamina for war or an ability to maintain a protracted vendetta against a malefactor.

How will we win the war on terror? By that I mean, how will we put out the fire in the Middle East that threatens American lives and interests? Perhaps the cruelest component of the President's War on Terror is that, ultimately, we must infect the world with the disease that is killing us, consumerism and indulgence and self absorption. Once the potential Islamofascists get a "whiff of the free markets" (a phrase our President was fond of using during the campaign of 2000), the erstwhile Islamic fundamentalists will be too busy paying off credit cards and watching MTV to kill us.

I still believe we can win the war on terror. It will be a long journey. As I have argued recently, Iraq must be pacified quickly (the clock on Iraq is running out). But the greater Middle East project is attainable in the same way that the Cold War was achievable, with a bipartisan concerted effort over a series of presidential administrations.

However, the President's initiative in the Middle East has always been a gamble. What if this does not work? What are our options?

Part II & III.