“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” –John F. Kennedy, inaugural address, January 20, 1961
“The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.” –George W. Bush, inaugural address, January 20, 2005
“[W]e cannot put our American troops, and ask them to do the things we are asking them to do in the middle of a civil war [in Iraq], and that’s where it’s headed.” –Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Face the Nation, August 6, 2006
“I can't in good conscience, Bob, face a family in Connecticut and say to them, ‘Send your sons and daughters [to Iraq] because they’re going to be a referee in a civil war.’” –Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), Face the Nation, August 6, 2006
What do we as Americans believe with regard to freedom and democratic government? Is it really the best hope for global peace, as President Bush says? Is it really worth bearing any burden and meeting any hardship for, as President Kennedy said? Or is it the most monstrous thing to come along in a long time, as the Ward Churchills and Noam Chomskys would have us believe? Or is it simply morally equal to other forms of government?
Let’s put it this way. How many of us would be willing to pull up and go live under one of the non-democratic regimes that populate the face of this planet? China, anyone? Or Myanmar? North Korea? Perhaps the Cuban climate is more to your liking? How about Syria or Iran?
Whatever our system’s flaws or your disagreements with the current administration, the fact is that there aren’t many of us that would care to live under a non-democratic government. Oh, people in democratic societies often admire features from other governmental forms, but they don’t want the whole thing.
We now find ourselves mired in a very difficult situation in the Middle East. Senator Dodd and Senator Hagel represent two disparate camps that agree that we should get out, or at least get out of Iraq for now. They’ll worry about running away from Afghanistan once we have successfully run away from Iraq.
Senator Dodd represents the doves—those that oppose war as a matter of principle. While his voting record and his rhetoric make him seem more like an unenthusiastic supporter of the Iraq war until it went bad, he is starkly aware of the strong anti-war sentiment in his state that resulted in the ouster of his three-term colleague, Senator Joe Lieberman in yesterday’s primary race (see here). So, Senator Dodd is necessarily taking the dovish road. Indeed, it appears that the Democratic Party apparatus believes that this stance will produce significant wins for them in the November elections.
Senator Hagel, on the other hand, is in the camp National Review Editor Rich Lowery refers to as the “To Hell With Them” Hawks. They see the Middle East as an intractable problem that we have neither the wisdom, the capability, nor the fortitude to overcome. They want to pull back to secure areas, fortify those areas, and let the Middle East fight it out among themselves. In the meantime, Senator Hagel and his compadres find themselves darlings of the national media because they are presently useful for the MSM anti-Bush agenda.
Jed Babbin, former undersecretary of defense under Bush I, is among yet another group of hawks that is supportive of the effort in Iraq, but is critical of the Bush Administration’s management of that effort. For example Babbin said yesterday (go here to listen to 8/8/06 hour 2 clip), “The President is not prosecuting this war in a manner that is calculated to win it.” Even some squarely in the President’s corner are pointing out that broad mismanagement of expenditures in Iraq is hampering our efforts there.
Indeed, given the current state of affairs it would be difficult for even the President’s most ardent supporters to put a happy face on Iraq, let alone the whole Middle East. The current war between Hezbollah and Israel that has dragged on due to terrorist support from Iran and Syria plus Israeli intelligence shortcomings (reminiscent of our own CIA’s bungling) is certainly helping to cement the concept of the Middle East as a perversely incorrigible conundrum.
Senator Hagel asks us to consider what will happen to our military in Iraq if we don’t get the heck out of there. He and Senator Dodd plead for sending former Presidents Bush I and Clinton to work the diplomatic circuit in the Middle East. But it’s not clear how it is expected that these diplomatic efforts would succeed in light of the fact that we would be demonstrating that we have no credible military threat to back it up. We would be vindicating Osama bin Laden’s assertion that we lack the fortitude to deal with difficult, drawn out conflicts.
American Enterprise Institute scholar Frederick W. Kagan explores the alternatives to decisively winning in Iraq (here), and concludes that “a failed or failing state in Iraq will demand our constant attention and intervention… Abandoning Iraq now will provide no real relief: it will only make a dangerous world even more dangerous.” While wailing about the price we will pay for staying in Iraq, the Dodd and Hagel camps fail to address what price we will pay if we leave without completing the job properly.
Family and culture researcher Stanley Kurtz calls himself a gloomy hawk. He believes that due to the nature of the mess that is the Middle East, “we’re facing years — maybe decades — of inconclusive, on/off (mostly on) hot war, unless and until a nuclear terror strike, a major case of nuclear blackmail, or a nuclear clash among Middle Eastern states ushers in a radical new phase.” Let’s be clear that Kurtz is not focusing on Iraq, but on the deep seated ideology that is pervasive throughout the Middle East and that Westerners don’t even begin to comprehend.
David Warren writing in the Ottawa Citizen notes that Americans and Westerners are systematically protected from the intense hatred on display among radical Islamists and everyday Muslims because journalists believe “that the material is too "inflammatory", and might prejudice people against Palestinian or other Muslims.” He wonders why these journalists can’t seem to understand that this type of reporting is “outrageously misleading.” It’s no wonder Westerners don’t understand the Middle East, given that we are fed a constant diet of watered down drivel.
While Kurtz believes in democratization, he pines, “Even a long-term military occupation cannot promote democratization in the absence of social peace.” And social disruption is what the insurgents in Iraq have succeeded in creating, thereby, effectively squelching our democratization efforts. But Peter Wehner, who heads the White House’s Office of Strategic Initiatives, sees a silver lining in this opposition (here). He contends that “the best proof of how dangerous democracy is to Islamic fascists is the energy with which they are trying to defeat it.”
Kurtz is disgusted with the deep seated and broadly accepted negative ideologies in the Muslim world, saying that “the entire Western world now stands in a position roughly analogous to that of Israel: locked in an essentially permanent struggle with a foe it is impossible either to placate, or to entirely destroy — a foe who demands our own destruction, and whose problems are so deep they would not be solved even by victory.” He says, “Withdraw or attack, the results are the same: more hatred, more terror, more war. Compromise and settlement have been ruled out from the start by a pervasive ideology, an ideology that is a product of the underlying inability to reconcile Islam with modernity.”
Wehner, on the other hand, is more optimistic. Of course, that’s his job. He takes on critics of elections in the Middle East and handles each objection individually, including the Hamas victory in Palestine. He says, “Elections are not the problem; rather, they reveal what problems exist and remind us what tyranny in the Middle East has wrought. Liberty is the antidote to the virus, not the virus itself.”
Wehner understands the complaints of those that criticize the President’s push for elections in Iraq ahead of the formation of liberal institutions upon which democratic societies depend. But he argues that there was little chance of encouraging the development of such institutions without pursuing free elections. He argues, “Perfection cannot be the price of support for democracy …”
Wehner admits that the road to democratic societies in the Middle East is a long one that is fraught with many obstacles, including an age old ideology. But he argues that the track record for democracy in the Middle East is actually quite remarkable when you consider the starting point. “No serious alternative strategy to the Freedom Agenda has been proposed,” he contends.
And that is the challenge that awaits an answer from the get-out-now contingencies. One can easily argue that the war effort and our entire Middle East policy might be handled better, but yet to be explained is how running away when the going gets tough is going to improve our position in the Middle East and is going to improve our national security. Years of hiding from and/or ignoring the problem brought us 9/11.
How is fulfilling bin Laden’s prophecy about us being weak going to prevent another terrorist attack on our home soil? Given that Iran is the bully on the block—the one calling the shots in the Middle East, how is departing from our military bases on its border going to help our strategy or improve our bargaining position with Iran?
Both Kagan and Kurtz make a strong point that if we do leave Iraq, we will eventually be back there, or somewhere close by. Only the cost will be far greater in both resources and lives at that point. The President’s team argues that democratization is the only path to real security. While many do not like the turn this path has taken, few offer cogent ideas about alternative paths that have any hope of achieving this goal. Those that love liberty ought to wish it for everyone else.
Like it or not, this generation has had the incredibly difficult problem thrust upon us of Islam’s juxtaposition with modernity. We can try to ignore it/run away from it/hide from it, but didn’t we learn our lesson about that course in WWII? Face it, we will. But if we choose to face it later rather than sooner, the interest rate we will pay for a brief interlude of faux peace will be high indeed.