We are all Spa­niards now

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

On the ra­dio a cou­ple of weeks ago, Hugh He­witt sug­gested to me the ter­ror­ists might try to pull a Spain on the U.S. elec­tions. You’ll re­call (though ev­i­dently many Amer­i­cans don’t) that in 2004 hun­dreds of com­muters were slaugh­tered in mul­ti­ple train bomb­ings in Madrid.

The Spa­niards re­sponded with a huge street demon­stra­tion of sup­posed sol­i­dar­ity with the dead, all teary pas­siv­ity and signs say­ing “Basta!” — by which they meant not of th­ese mur­der­ers but of the gov­ern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Jose Az­nar, and of Ge­orge Bush and Tony Blair, and troops in Iraq. A cou­ple of days later, they voted in a so­cial­ist gov­ern­ment, which im­me­di­ately with­drew Span­ish forces from the Mid­dle East. A prof­itable cou­ple of hours’ work for the ji­had.

I said to Hugh I didn’t think that would hap­pen this time round. The en­emy aren’t a bunch of sim­ple­ton Push­tun yakherds, but rel­a­tively so­phis­ti­cated at least in their un­der­stand­ing of us. We’re all in­fi­dels, but not all in­fi­dels crack the same way. If they had done a Spain — blown up a bunch of sub­way cars in New York or va­por­ized the Em­pire State Build­ing — they would have reawak­ened the pri­mal anger of Septem­ber 2001. With an­other mound of corpses piled sky-high, the elec­torate would have stam­peded into the Repub­li­can col­umn and de­manded the United States fly some­where and bomb some­one.

The ji­had crowd knows that. So in­stead they em­ployed a craftier strat­egy. Their view of Amer­ica is roughly that of the Bri­tish his­to­rian Niall Fer­gu­son — that the Great Satan is the first su­per­power with ADHD. They rea­soned that if you could sub­ject Amer­i­cans to the drip-drip-drip of re­morse­less wa­ter tor­ture in the deserts of Me­sopotamia — a cou­ple of deaths

“Enough,” “enough” “enough”

here, a mar­ket bomb­ing there, cars burn­ing, smoke over the city on the evening news, day af­ter day af­ter day, and ratch­eted up a notch or two for the weeks be­fore the elec­tion — you could grind down enough of the elec­torate and per­suade them to vote like Spa­niards, with­out even re­al­iz­ing it.

And it worked. You can ra­tio­nal­ize what hap­pened on Nov. 7 in the con­text of pre­vi­ous sixth-year elec­tions — 1986, 1958, 1938, yada yada — but that’s not how it was seen around the world, ei­ther in the chan­cel­leries of Europe, where they’re danc­ing conga lines, or in the caves of the Hindu Kush, where they would also be danc­ing conga lines if Mul­lah Omar hadn’t made it a be­head­ing of­fense. And, as if to con­firm that Tues­day wasn’t merely 1986 or 1938, the pres­i­dent re­sponded to the re­sults by fir­ing the Cabi­net of­fi­cer most closely iden­ti­fied with the pros­e­cu­tion of the war and re­plac­ing him with a man as­so­ci­ated with James Baker, Brent Scowcroft and the other “sta­bil­ity” fetishists of the un­real re­alpoli­tik crowd.

Whether or not Mr. Rums­feld should have been tossed over­board long ago, he cer­tainly shouldn’t have been tossed on Wed­nes­day morn­ing. For one thing, it’s a star­tlingly brazen con­fir­ma­tion of the politi­ciza­tion of the war, and a par­tic­u­larly un­wor­thy one: It’s dif­fi­cult to con­ceive of any more pub­lic diminu­tion of a noble cause than to make its lead­er­ship con­tin­gent on Lin­coln Chafee’s Se­nate seat. The pres­i­dent’s fir­ing of Mr. Rums­feld was small and grace­less.

Still, we are all Spa­niards now. The in­com­ing House speaker says Iraq is not a war to be won but a prob­lem to be solved. The in­com­ing de­fense sec­re­tary be­longs to a com­mis­sion charged with do­ing just that. A nos­tal­gic Boomer colum­nist in the Bos­ton Globe ar­gues that honor re- quires the United States to “ac­cept de­feat,” as it did in Viet­nam. Didn’t work out so swell for the na­tives, but to hell with them.

What does it mean when the world’s hy­per­power, re­spon­si­ble for 40 per­cent of the planet’s mil­i­tary spend­ing, de­cides it can­not with­stand a guer­rilla war with his­tor­i­cally low ca­su­al­ties against a rag­bag of lo­cal in­sur­gents and im­ported ter­ror­ists? You can call it “re­de­ploy­ment” or “exit strat­egy” or “peace with honor” but, by the time it’s an­nounced on al-Jazeera, you can pretty much bet that what­ever of­fi­cial eu­phemism was agreed on back in Wash­ing­ton will have been lost in trans­la­tion. Like­wise, when it’s an­nounced on “Good Morn­ing Py­ongyang” and the Khartoum Net­work, and come to that the BBC.

For the rest of the world, the Iraq war isn’t about Iraq; it’s about Amer­ica, and Amer­i­can will. I’m told that deep in the bow­els of the Pen­tagon there are strate­gists wargam­ing for the big show­down with China circa 2030/2040. Well, it’s steady work, I guess. But, as things stand, by the time China is pow­er­ful enough to chal­lenge the United States it won’t need to. Mean­while, the guys who are chal­leng­ing us right now — in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea and else­where — are re­garded by the Amer­i­can elec­torate like a re­al­ity show we’re bored with. Sorry, we don’t want to stick around to see if we win; we’d rather vote our­selves off the is­land.

Two weeks ago, you may re­mem­ber, I re­ported on a meet­ing with the pres­i­dent, in which I had asked him the fol­low­ing: “You say you need to be on the of­fense all the time and stay on the of­fense. Isn’t the prob­lem that the Amer­i­can peo­ple were solidly be­hind this when you went in and you top­pled the Tal­iban, when you go in and you top­ple Sad­dam. But when it just seems to be a kind of thank­less semi-colo­nial polic­ing de­fen­sive op­er­a­tion with no end [. . .] I mean, where is the of­fense in this?”

On Nov. 7, the na­tional se­cu­rity vote evap­o­rated. And, with­out it, what’s left for the GOP? Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans wound up run­ning on the worst of all worlds — big bloated porked-up en­ti­tle­mentsa-go-go gov­ern­ment at home and a faint­hearted ten­ta­tive polic­ing op- er­a­tion abroad. As it hap­pens, my new book ar­gues for the op­po­site: small lean ef­fi­cient gov­ern­ment at home and mus­cu­lar as­sertive­ness abroad. It does a su­perb job, if I do say so my­self, of con­nect­ing war and for­eign pol­icy with the do­mes­tic is­sues. Of course, it doesn’t have to be su­perb if the GOP’s in­co­her­ent in­ver­sion is the only al­ter­na­tive on of­fer.

As it is, we’re in a very dark place right now. It has been a long time since Amer­ica un­am­bigu­ously won a war, and to choose to lose Iraq would be an act of such parochial self-in­dul­gence that the Amer­i­can mo­ment would not en­dure, and would not de­serve to. Europe is be­com­ing semi-Mus­lim. Third World bas­ket-case states are go­ing nu­clear. And for all that 40 per­cent of plan­e­tary mil­i­tary spend­ing, Amer­ica can’t muster the will to take on pip­squeak en­e­mies. We think we can just call off the game early, and go back home and watch TV.

It doesn’t work like that. What­ever it started out as, Iraq is a test of Amer­i­can se­ri­ous­ness. And, if the Great Satan can’t win in Viet­nam or Iraq, where can it win? That’s how China, Rus­sia, Iran, North Korea, Su­dan, Venezuela and a whole lot of oth­ers look at it.

“Th­ese Col­ors Don’t Run” is a fine T-shirt slo­gan, but in re­al­ity th­ese col­ors have spent 40 years run­ning from the jun­gles of South­east Asia, the he­li­copters in the Per­sian desert, the streets of Mo­gadishu. [. . .] To add the sands of Me­sopotamia to the list will be an act of weak­ness from which Amer­ica will never re­cover.


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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