Angry New Yorker

Sunday, November 09, 2003
A Strong Approach Needed
An aside from New York City comments - As a political wonk I find myself in many regular discussions about the situation in Iraq, U.S. policy and the ongoing war on terrorism. While I switched my political affiliation from being a default democrat (basically in order to vote in NYC's heavily democrat-favored primaries) to the republican party in the post 9-11 world, I consider myself more a devotee of ideas that work, rather than specific ideologies.

However, it just so happens that I think the republicans have better ideas these days, while the democrats are seriously spinning their wheels, to the point where today they are the "bumper-sticker party" according to democrat senator Zell Miller. His recent scathing indictment of the present democratic party encapsulates fairly well why I switched parties. (See Zell Miller, A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat, (Stroud & Hall Pub., November 2003)).

Since my younger sister is currently on the ground in Iraq right now, working for CARE International, (see CARE's Work in Iraq), my interest in Iraq is more than academic. And with this personal chit in the game, I as a preliminary matter fully supported the war and continue to support U.S. actions in Iraq until we've gotten the job done. Executing a "fly paper" strategy in the war againt Islamist-based terrorism was never going to be easy, but as with democracy itself, it beats all the alternatives.

Fundamentally, appeasement is not an option in this fight against terrorism. Osama and his cabal don't hold hands around the camp fire in their caves and sing "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?". Not by a long shot. While no one likes war, the calls by those in Europe and the left, essentially asking "can't we all just get along?", while admirably idealist, is hopelessly and dangerously naive. The answer is no, we can't just get along with these terrorists any more than we ultimately could with Tojo's Japan or Hilter's Germany. At some point moral relativism is not an option -- and this is one of those points in history. [Unfortunately, today's high school and college students are frequently seriously confused in understanding the difference between "tolerance" and "moral relativism." Granted we're all idiots in high school -- I know I was -- so there may yet be hope for eventual development. Still, many college students' heads have been so clogged by squishy concepts of tolerance and an instilled disdain for western thought, which previous generations studied in the classic western canon, that I do fear for the long-term of this country.]

To win this war, and it is a war, we need to dig in our heels, tighten our belts, and slug for all we're worth for as long as it takes. In the end we'll either root these groups out, and kill them and their supporters, or else one day they'll pry a nuke loose from North Korea, Pakistan, or a corrupt Russian military division. I never want to see a brighter-than-the-sun flash of a fission explosion in New York city a second before the blast and shockwave kills me and everyone I hold dear. To prevent this realty from occurring I'm willing to allow our country to do whatever it takes.

Right now what it takes is to win the peace in Iraq. So a minority of Iraqi's "resent" our being there right now, or view us as "occupiers", or think our presence is "defiling Muslim soil". Much has been made of the Muslim sense of "humiliation". Thomas Friedman's column in this Sunday's New York Times, entitled The Humiliation Factor (available here) explains Muslim humiliation very well and is worth a read.

Friedman makes interesting points, and getting the Iraqi people to dust themselves off and hold their chins up is a worthy endeavor, but he leaves out the bottomline -- that unless the middle east gets over this "humiliation" it'll never join the modern world. They have a choice -- focus on past slights, or focus on the future. They can't do both. Friedman notes "many Iraqis feel humiliated that they didn't liberate themselves, and America's presence, even its aid, reminds them of that." To which my response is "oh, grow up." Our job isn't to fashion Iraq into one big self-esteem seminar. When the United States won independence from Britain, with the crucial aid of France, we didn't feel "humiliated" because we needed French help. Granted we nearly declared war on France a few decades later, but that had nothing to do with any sense of "humiliation".

For a more comprehensive exploration of the battle against terrorism, and our current operation in Iraq, I highly recommend reading Victor Davis Hanson's various Iraq- and war against terrorism-related essays, particularly The Truth Will Set Us Free, and The Event of the Age. Hanson definitely understands the importance of our ongoing battles, but more importantly he, unlike many in the press, displays perspective in the analysis. While others in the media, particularly in Europe, have focused their hand-wringing over the past few weeks on the increased violence against U.S. troops in Iraq and the casualties we've received, he looks beyond that to the end goal. The deaths are legitimate news, but without context such reports ill-serve our country's goals.

The press of 2003 reports the numbers of killed (and every death is a sorrowful tragedy for the families and friends), but provide little to measure those numbers against, other than adding either "the attacks are increasing in sophistication", or "number of deaths has surpassed those in the initial war" or some other statement along those lines. Total U.S. casualties, while certainly mounting, are amazingly and historically low for a military operation of this scale. In fact, if the U.S. and Britain were saddled with the press of 2003 back in 1944 I can't imagine how we'd have continued to forge on and finally win WW II. Consider that as of December 21, 1944, the U.S. in WWII had suffered "135,323 killed, 362,824 wounded, 75,844 missing and 64,148 captured" with months of fighting still to go. As the U.S. in 1945 had roughly 1/2 the total population we now have, an accurate per capita comparison requires doubling those figures for a true sense of the scale.

Consider further, then, as of Nov. 8, 2003, approximately 390 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the U.S. set foot there more than six months ago -- an average of 2.1 U.S. deaths per day, or 15.2 a week. Yet, back here in the United States around 800 people die every week for nothing in car accidents. The press isn't crying out for a ban of the automobile. Why? Because on that score they realize our way of life demands the car, and rather than ban them we continuously try to make the ones we buy safer.

While every accident death on the highways is truly a tragedy, because it's meaningless, every one of those soldiers in Iraq have given their lives in the pursuit of a noble cause and in defense of the U.S. Call me hopelessly anachronistic, but I still believe in noble causes, and I am grateful for their ultimate sacrifice. If I were twenty years younger I'd be giving serious thought to enlisting myself.

America wasn't built by easily frightened people. It takes an amazing amount of character to, say, gather your family together and hit the wagon trail to head 3,000 miles by foot for just the hope of a better life. Some of us have forgotten this truism. Freedom and democracy are ideals worth fighting for, and though the U.S. certainly has its share of serious flaws, the U.S. remains the last best hope on the face of this planet. Think not? Then, ask yourself what would the world be like if Germany, or France, or North Korea, or a Taliban-led Afghanistan had the economic and military might of the U.S. I'd wager we'd be facing a very, very different, and not better, world.

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