Too good at en­joy­ing free­dom to fight for it?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - MARK STEYN

Iwas on C-SPAN the other morn­ing, and a lady called in to com­plain that “you are mak­ing my blood pres­sure rise.” Usual rea­son. The host, Paul Orgel, had asked me what I thought of Pres­i­dent Bush and I replied that, what­ever my dif­fer­ences with him on this or that, I thought he was one of the most far­sighted politi­cians in Wash­ing­ton. That is to say, he is look­ing down the line to a world in which a rad­i­cal­ized Is­lam has ex­ported its patholo­gies to ev­ery cor­ner on Earth, Iran and like-minded states have ap­plied nu­clear black­mail to any par­ties within range, and a dozen or more nut­cake bas­ket-case ju­ris­dic­tions have joined Py­ongyang and Tehran as a Nukes R Us one-stop shop for all your ter­ror­ist needs. In 2020, no one will worry about which con­gres­sional page Mark Fo­ley is com­ing on to. Ex­cept Mark Fo­ley, who’ll be get­ting a bit long in the tooth by then.

But if it re­ally is, as Democrats say, “all about the fu­ture of our chil­dren,” then our chil­dren will want to know why our gen­er­a­tion saw what was hap­pen­ing and didn’t do any­thing about it. They will de­spise us as we de­spise the po­lit­i­cal class of the 1930s. And the fact that we passed a great pre­scrip­tion drug plan will be poor con­so­la­tion when the en­tire planet is one almighty headache.

My caller at C-SPAN thought this Bush far­sight­ed­ness shtick was ridicu­lous. And, though I did my best to lower her blood pres­sure, I can’t hon­estly say I suc­ceeded. But sup­pose the “ANY- ONE BUT BUSH” bumper­sticker set got their way; sup­pose he and Dick Cheney and Don­ald Rums­feld and all the mi­nor sup­port­ing war­mon­gers down to yours truly were sud­denly va­por­ized in 20 sec­onds’ time. What then?

Noth­ing, that’s what. The ji­had’s still there. Kim Jong-il’s still there. The Ira­nian nukes are still there. The slyer Is­lamist sub­ver­sion from South­east Asia to the Balkans to north­ern Eng­land goes on, day af­ter day af­ter day. And one morn­ing we’ll switch on the TV and the smoke and flames will be on this side of the At­lantic, much to Pres­i­dent Rod­ham’s sur­prise. Bush ha­tred is silly and parochial and re­duc­tive: His­tory is on the march, and the anti-Bush crowd is hold­ing the tele­scope the wrong way round.

“We’re in this grand ide­o­log­i­cal strug­gle,” said the pres­i­dent two days later. “I am in dis­be­lief that peo­ple don’t take th­ese peo­ple se­ri­ously.” He was sit­ting in the Oval Of­fice with a hand­ful of colum­nists in­clud­ing yours truly. At the risk of mak­ing that CSPAN caller’s head ex­plode, it was a great honor. I wasn’t the only for­eigner in the room: There was a bust of Win­ston Churchill, along with those of Abra­ham Lin­coln and Dwight Eisen­hower. A war pres­i­dent, a war prime min­is­ter, a war gen­eral.

Pres­i­dent Bush was force­ful and in­formed, and it seems to me he per­forms bet­ter in small groups of one-night-only White House cor­re­spon­dents than in the leaden elec­tronic vaudeville with He­len Thomas, David Gre- gory and the other reg­u­lars. (You can judge for your­self: Michael Barone posted the en­tire au­dio at U.S. News & World Re­port’s Web site.)

He dis­missed the idea that go­ing into Iraq had only served to “re­cruit” more ter­ror­ists to the cause. (Gen. Peter Pace told me two weeks ago that, if any­thing, the ev­i­dence is that Iraq has tied up a big chunk of se­nior ji­hadists who’d oth­er­wise be blow­ing up Afghanistan and else­where.) The pres­i­dent’s view is that be­fore it was Iraq it was Is­rael; with th­ese guys, it’s al­ways some­thing. Some­times it’s East Ti­mor — which used to be the leftie cause du jour. And, riff­ing on the end­less list of Is­lamist griev­ances, Pres­i­dent Bush con­cluded with an ex­as­per­ated: “If it’s not the Cru­sades, it’s the car­toons.” That would make a great slo­gan: It en­cap­su­lates si­mul­ta­ne­ously the Is­lamists’ in­abil­ity to move on mil­len­nium-in mil­len­nium-out, plus their propen­sity for in­stant new “root causes” and their ut­ter lack of pro­por­tion.

“We need to be on the of­fense all the time,” said the pres­i­dent. I pointed out that, when the mil­i­tary are ob­vi­ously on of­fense — lib­er­at­ing Afghanistan, top­pling Sad­dam — the Amer­i­can peo­ple are be­hind them. But that it’s hard to see where the of­fense is in what to most TV view­ers has dwin­dled down to a thank­less semi­colo­nial polic­ing op­er­a­tion with no end in sight. How about a bit more of­fense? Syria’s been sub­vert­ing Iraq for three years. Why not re­turn the fa­vor?

“We are on the of­fense,” he in- sisted, sound­ing some­times as frus­trated as us colum­nists that so much of the wider mo­men­tum had be­come (in Charles Krautham­mer’s words) “mired in diplo­macy.” Still, it was a dif­fer­ent con­ver­sa­tion than most Bush en­coun­ters with the me­dia-po­lit­i­cal class. I hap­pened to be plug­ging my book on a lo­cal ra­dio show last week just as a Min­nesota “con­ser­va­tive” (-ish) Demo­crat joined the herd of stam­ped­ing don­keys ex­plain­ing why they were dis­own­ing their vote in fa­vor of the Iraq war. What a sorry sight. It’s not a ques­tion of whether you’re “for” or “against” a war. Once you’re in it, the choice is to win it or lose it. And, if you’re ar­gu­ing for what will look to most of the world like the lat­ter op­tion, you bet­ter un­der­stand the con­se­quences. In this case, it would, in ef­fect, end the Amer­i­can mo­ment.

Does that bother peo­ple? Pres­i­dent Bush said some­thing, en pas­sant, that I brooded on all the way home. Asked about poll num­bers, he said 25 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion are al­ways against the war — any war.

That sounds about right. And it’s a bit dis­turb­ing. To be sure, if Cana­dian troops were swarm­ing across the 49th Par­al­lel or Ba­hamian war­ships were fir­ing off the coast of Florida, some of that 25 per­cent might change their mind, though it might be a bit late by then. But, as Amer­ica is very un­likely to face that kind of war in the fore­see­able fu­ture, that 25 per­cent’s ob­jec­tion to the only wars on of­fer is rather un­nerv­ing.

The in­valu­able Brus­sels Jour­nal re­cently trans­lated an in­ter­view with the writer Os­car van den Boogaard from the Bel­gian pa­per De Stan­daard. A Dutch gay “hu­man­ist” (which is pretty much the tri­fecta of Euro­cool), Mr. van den Boogaard was re­flect­ing on the ac­cel­er­at­ing Is­lam­i­fi­ca­tion of the Con­ti­nent and con­clud­ing the jig was up for the Europe he loved. “I am not a war­rior, but who is?” he shrugged. “I have never learned to fight for my free­dom. I was only good at en­joy­ing it.”

Too many of us are only good at en­joy­ing free­dom. That war-is­n­ever-the-an­swer 25 per­cent are in essence say­ing there’s noth­ing about Amer­ica worth fight­ing for, and that, ul­ti­mately, the con­tin­u­a­tion of their so­ci­ety is a bet on the kind­ness of strangers — on the good­na­tured­ness of Kim Jong-il and the mul­lahs and al Qaeda and what the pres­i­dent called “al Qaeda looka­likes and al Qaeda wannabes” and what­ever nu­clear com­bi­na­tion thereof comes down the pike.

Some of us don’t reckon that’s a good bet, and think Amer­ica’s arms-are-for-hug­ging crowd need to get real. Mr. van den Boogaard’s arms are likely to be do­ing rather less of their pre­ferred form of hug­ging in the Euro­pean twi­light.

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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