Amer­i­can re­solve? It’s back to Sept. 10, 2001 lev­els

The Washington Times Weekly - - COMMENTARY - MARK STEYN

One way to mea­sure how the world has changed in the last five years is to con­sider the ex­tra­or­di­nary ad­dress to his na­tion by Pak­istani Pres­i­dent Pervez Mushar­raf on Sept. 19, 2001. Pak­istan was one of just three coun­tries (along with “our friends the Saudis” and the United Arab Emi­rates) to rec­og­nize theTal­iban — and, given that the Pak­ista­nis had helped cre­ate and main­tain them, they were pretty easy to rec­og­nize.

Pres­i­dent Bush, you’ll re­call, had de­clared you’re ei­ther with us or with the ter­ror­ists — which posed a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem for Gen. Mushar­raf: He was with us; but ev­ery­one else in his coun­try was with the ter­ror­ists, in­clud­ing his armed forces, his intelligence ser­vices, the me­dia, and a gazil­lion and one crazy imams.

None­the­less, with U.S. ac­tion against Afghanistan on the hori­zon, he went on TV that night and told the Pak­istani peo­ple this was the gravest threat to the coun­try’s ex­is­tence in more than 30 years. He added he was do­ing ev­ery­thing to en­sure his brothers in the Tal­iban didn’t “suf­fer,” and that he had asked Wash­ing­ton to pro­vide some ev­i­dence this bin Laden chap had any­thing to do with the at­tacks but so far they had de­clined to show him any.

Then he cited the Char­ter of Me­d­ina (which the Prophet Muham­mad signed af­ter an ear­lier spot of bother) as an at­tempt to jus­tify as­sist­ing the in­fi­del and said he had no choice but to of­fer the Amer­i­cans use of Pak­istan’s airspace, intelligence net­works and other lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port. He paused for ap­plause and af­ter the world’s all­time record vol­ume of crick­ets chirp­ing and said thank you and good­night.

That must have been quite the phone call he got from Wash­ing­ton a day or two ear­lier. And all within a week of Septem­ber 11. You may re­mem­ber dur­ing the 2000 cam­paign an en­ter­pris­ing jour­nal­ist sprung on then Texas Gov. Ge­orge W. Bush a sud­den pop quiz of world lead­ers. Mr. Bush, in­vited to name the leader of Pak­istan, was un­able to. But so what? In the third week of Septem­ber 2001, the cor­rect an­swer to “Who’s Gen. Mushar­raf?” was “Whoever I want him to be.” And, if Gen. Mushar­raf didn’twant to play ball, he would wind up as the an­swer to “Who was leader of Pak­istan un­til last week?”

Do you get the feel­ing Wash­ing­ton’s not mak­ing phone calls like that any­more? If you go back to Septem­ber 2001, it’s amaz­ing how much the ad­min­is­tra­tion made hap­pen in just a short time. For ex­am­ple, within days it had se­cured agree­ment with the Rus­sians on us­ing mil­i­tary bases in for­mer Soviet Cen­tral Asia for in­ter­ven­tion in Afghanistan. That, too, must have been quite a phone call. Moscow surely knew that any suc­cess­ful Afghan ex­pe­di­tion would only cast their own fail­ures there in an even worse light — es­pe­cially if the Amer­i­cans did it out of the Rus­sians’ old bases. And yet it hap­pened.

Five years later, the U.S. seems to be back in the quag­mire of per­pet­ual in­ter­minable U.N.-bro­kered EUled mul­ti­lat­eral dither­ing, on Iran and much else. The ad­min­is­tra­tion that turned around Gen. Mushar­raf in noth­ing flat now of­fers carrots to Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad. Af­ter the Tal­iban fell, the re­gion’s au­to­crats and dic­ta­tors won­dered: Who’s next? Now they fig­ure it’s a pretty safe bet no­body is.

What’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween Septem­ber 2001 and now? It’s not that any­one “liked” Amer­ica or that, as the Democrats like to sug­gest, the coun­try had the world’s “sym­pa­thy.” Pak­istani gen­er­als and the Krem­lin don’t cave to your de­mands be­cause they “sym­pa­thize.” They go along be­cause you’ve im­pressed upon them that they’ve no choice. Gen. Mushar­raf and com­pany weren’t scared by Amer­ica’s power but by the fact that Amer­ica, in the rub­ble of Septem­ber 11, had be­lat­edly found the will to use that power. It is no­tion­ally at least as pow­er­ful to­day but in terms of will we’re back to Sept. 10: No­body thinks Amer­ica is pre­pared to use its power. And so Sheik Has­san Nas­ral­lah and Mr. Ah­madine­jad and wannabe “strong horses” like Baby As­sad thumb their noses with im­punity.

I hap­pened to be in the Aus­tralian Par­lia­ment for Ques­tion Time two weeks ago. The mat­ter of Iraq came up, and For­eign Min­is­ter Alexan­der Downer thwacked the sub­ject across the floor and over the op­po­si­tion benches in a mag­nif­i­cent bravura dis­play of po­lit­i­cal con­fi­dence cul­mi­nat­ing with the glee­fully low jibe that, “The Leader of the Op­po­si­tion’s con­stant com­pan­ion is the white flag.”

The Iraq war is un­pop­u­lar in Aus­tralia, as it is in Amer­ica and in Bri­tain. But the Aussie gov­ern­ment is happy for the op­po­si­tion to bring up the sub­ject as of­ten as it wishes to be­cause Mr. Downer and his prime min­is­ter un­der­stand very clearly that want­ing to “cut and run” is even more un­pop­u­lar. So in the broader nar­ra­tive it’s a po­lit­i­cal plus for them: un­like Mr. Bush and Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair, they’ve made the is­sue not whether the na­tion should have gone to war but whether the na­tion should lose the war. That’s not just good pol­i­tics, but it’s ac­tu­ally the heart of the ques­tion.

Of course, if Mr. Bush sneered that John Kerry and Ted Kennedy and Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi’s con­stant com­pan­ion is the white flag, they would huff how dare he ques­tion their pa­tri­o­tism. But, if you can’t ques­tion their pa­tri­o­tism when they want to lose a war, when can you?

At one level, the is­sue is the same as it was on Septem­ber 11, 2001: Amer­i­can will and na­tional pur­pose. But the re­al­ity is worse — for (as Is­rael is also learn­ing) to be­gin some­thing and be un­able to stick with it to the fin­ish is far more dam­ag­ing to your rep­u­ta­tion than if you had never be­gun it in the first place.

Nitwit Democrats think any­thing that can be passed off as a fail­ure in Iraq will some­how di­min­ish only Mr. Bush and the neo­con­ser­va­tives. In re­al­ity — a con­cept with which Democrats seem only dimly ac­quainted — it would di­min­ish the na­tion, and all but cer­tainly end the Amer­i­can mo­ment.

In late Septem­ber 2001, the ad­min­is­tra­tion taught a crit­i­cal les­son to tough hom­bres like Gen. Mushar­raf and Rus­sia’s Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin: In a scary­world, Amer­ica can be scarier. But it’s all a long time ago now.

Mark Steyn is the se­nior con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor for Hollinger Inc. Publi­ca­tions, se­nior North Amer­i­can colum­nist for Bri­tain’s Tele­graph Group, North Amer­i­can ed­i­tor for the Spec­ta­tor, and a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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