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Lady Liberty

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.


Thursday, January 13, 2005

Resolve? For 59,000,000 Americans, it's nothing more than a rug cleaner.
posted by Tom

My blogmate and the owner of this site, Bathus, has written passionately and eloquently on the subject of American resolve to defeat the insurgents in Iraq and to win the wider war against what has come to be known as Islamofascism. In his most recent essay on the subject, Psychological Warfare, he correctly points to liberal attacks against Donald Rumsfeld's alleged failure to control post-Saddam Iraq, which they couch in pieties about concern for the troops, as part of a grand strategy “to undermine the public will and confidence to pursue the war.” But Bathus is also critical of those conservatives who have jumped on the bash Rumsfeld bandwagon, believing that while theirs is not the conscious attempt to weaken the nation’s resolve it is with liberals, it can result in the same defeatism.

Criticism of Rumsfeld’s direction of the counter-insurgency in Iraq notwithstanding, I question the assumption that there is a "will and confidence to pursue the war” on the part of most Americans to undermine. This multi-front war on terror is being fought by a volunteer military, thus the American “public” is not sharing the burden equally. Americans, liberal and conservative, have so far not displayed a passion for victory so much as a fetish for the number of casualties. And we would be foolish to deny that one political party (take a guess which) is completely controlled by left-wing anti-American socialists totally committed to America’s defeat in the present conflict, has the uncritical support of most mainstream media, and has the undying loyalty of at least 59,000,000 Americans as reflected in the 2004 election tally.

Wanna find out just how many conservatives there are in America? Bring back the draft.

The liberal tendency to narrow the focus of the US war against radical Islam to the conflict in Iraq is understandable. The insurgency there, like all guerilla conflicts holding out the prospect of American defeat, is near and dear to their hearts and offers the most tenuous justification for invoking their Viet Nam fetish. That's the war they gleefully recall America “losing”. Afghanistan, where coalition forces have driven Taliban and al Quaeda refuse into caves and where elections were successfully held last year, doesn’t comport well with the Birkenstock crowd’s need to view all of history through the lens of Viet Nam, their dream war.

Conservatives honestly – and correctly – place the Iraq conflict within the wider context of the war on terror, but in doing so invoke their own Viet Nam fetish when they claim that criticism of strategy and tactics and of leaders both civilian and military should be muted lest the public’s “resolve” to win the war be destroyed as it was during the Viet Nam era. In this regard, conservatives prefer to link the present War with World War II, their own dream war, when almost to a man Americans rallied ‘round the flag, the press, Hollywood and academia were 100% behind the war effort, and the furthest thought from anyone’s mind, even after Pearl Harbor, The Phillipines, Bataan and Corregidor, after Kasserine, Dieppe and the Bulge, was that our country should withdraw from the conflict because the "price was too high."

It’s a well meaning comparison for sure, but in many ways those on the right who invoke the talisman of WWII in the present conflict are “cafeteria” conservatives (my blogmate Bathus excepted). You know, like those cafeteria Catholics who pick and choose what they like about the religion – the pomp and circumstance, particularly when it comes to big weddings and funeral sendoffs, is okay, but they’ll pass on the abortion, birth control, homosexuality and divorce restrictions. A common lament among cafeteria conservatives is the absence of WWII-era patriotic trappings in the present War. Susan Sarandon and the rest of Hollywood in 2005 aren't barnstorming the country and waving the flag like Carole Lombard and her contemporaries in 1942. Just the opposite. The majority of contemporary celebrities go out of their way in personal and television appearances to denigrate the commander in chief and demand his impeachment for waging an "illegal war", while the few who support the president and the war are for all intents and purposes blacklisted in Hollywood. There's no Ernie Pyle among contemporary journalists who wouldn't dream of filing a single battlefield report that didn't include praise for the living combat heroes (more about that shortly). With the possible exception of some Fox News Channel imbeds, again we have the complete opposite situation when it comes to mainstream media coverage of the War. A major network, CBS, under whose egis Edward R. Murrow reported on the courage of the British people as they endured the blitz in 1940 and unabashedly advocated America entering World War II, now peddles forged documents intended to portray a wartime president as a coward and draft dodger in order to sway an election in favor of a candidate committed to ending the conflict. The entire 30 minutes of ABC's Nightline is devoted to listing the names of those killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, but its host, Ted Koppel, can't spare five minutes to praise our forces' military successes in those countries. And the list goes on. The point is that many of the same conservatives who condemn these left-wing media defeatists and go so far as to say they border on the treasonous, who long for that patriotism of a bygone era, stop short of expressing the same longing for the shared sacrifices that also marked that bygone era, the greatest of which was the draft, even though they agree wholeheartedly with the Bush Administration and other conservative Republicans that this is every inch a global war as World War II.

Even if we grant that Iraq is not the disaster contemporary liberal mainstream media report it is because they wish it to be, this doesn’t mitigate the fact that our military is stretched thin between the two fronts of Iraq and Afghanistan and is therefore incapable of effectively confronting other serious threats posed by those allied with the Iraqi insurgents. I’m speaking of Iran and Syria, two regimes that have obviously intervened on the side of the terrorists now, but who have in fact been sponsoring and supporting terror against the US and its interests for decades. If this is indeed a global conflict requiring military action in multiple theaters, then commonsense dictates that we need a military of sufficient size to wage it. Today’s volunteer army is simply not large enough to implement the Bush Doctrine, which calls for not only hunting down terrorists, but holding accountable regimes sponsoring them and preemptive strikes against those regimes if necessary. Only the most naïve conservative will deny that Syria and Iran are directly involved in the slaughter of American troops in Iraq and therefore come under the Bush Doctrine. And only the most naïve conservative would deny that the present levels of men (and I do mean men) and materiel in the American military simply cannot confront this alliance effectively, which means that both those regimes are literally getting away with murder once again.

Where does this leave the US? We are once again reduced to asking an impotent UN hijacked by the very enemies dedicated to our destruction to bring “international pressure” to bear on these terrorist nations. A larger United States military would not require the UN’s assistance in begging Syria and Iran to stay out of Iraq (not to mention to beseech Iran to please, please, not develop a nuclear arsenal). It wouldn’t need to turn to the “international community” that with only a few notable exceptions was thrilled with the 9-11 attacks and subsequently refused to support our military response to them.

It’s obvious that we can expand the military needed to face these challenges only through conscription, a fact that itself throws a wrench in the assumption that there’s a national will to win since it’s becoming more and more obvious that recruitment centers around the country are not requesting local assistance in controlling the crowds lining up to enlist. Reinstatement of the draft will probably never happen, but the improbability in no way reflects a lack of necessity, and because the American public will never face this test, it’s difficult if not impossible to measure the will and the resolve conservatives deem so precious and are so hellbent on protecting from dissent. There will always be a doubt in the back of our minds that a majority of Americans may be social conservatives (and even that’s a debatable topic worthy of another post), but their rah-rah, Support the Troops, bumper-sticker boosterism will last only so long as the troops being supported come from other American families.

We just love dead heroes, but for heaven’s sake, don’t honor those who kill the enemy. We might offend "peaceful" Muslims.

Of course, we all remember the outpouring of sympathy from our continental European “allies” after 9/11. What we fail to acknowledge is that all of their affection was so easily offered because we were perceived as the superpower humiliated by the Muslim extremists they really love. They also believed the Bush administration was merely a continuation of Clinton’s when it came to global terror (global meaning every terrorist around the world is out to get us, not that terrorists threaten the globe), and that the second, remarkably successful attack on the World Trade Center would be treated the same as the first, less successful attack, as the proverbial law enforcement issue. Oh, perhaps a few cruise missiles would be lobbed at a few tents in Afghanistan, but the “illegitimate”, “selected not elected” Bush would never mount full-scale military operations in retaliation for 3000 deaths on American soil, especially when one considered that the United States deserved to be attacked as a result of its Middle East policy. Sure, the world was in love with us so long as we were the humiliated giant. As soon as Bush made it known he was not a spineless Clinton (or Jimmy Carter, for that matter), the kind of American President that France, Germany and the rest of the Atlantic Alliance pantywaists have always admired, that he was out for the blood of Muslim terrorists and their state sponsors, well, as our own liberal press announced, he “alienated our allies.”

In the case of our own citizenry, they're quick to whip out the flags to honor our dead, but when it comes to praising those who kill the ones who killed them, that's de classe. There is no national passion for victory. For evidence of this, you need look no further than the 50-state weep fest/group hug that 9/11 has become. Each year (and probably for eternity) the date of the worst attack on America since Pearl Harbor is “commemorated” by a bunch of rejects from a Doctor Phil audience gathering together to cry over a hole in the ground - with the full attention of the media. To those conservatives who like to compare the war on terror with WWII and envision a public “will to win” in danger of being weakened, I ask that they imagine an America in 1941 similar to the national therapist’s couch we lie on post-9/11. Imagine a country of mourners back then seeking not revenge, but closure, wanting to shut down Pearl Harbor and make it a permanent memorial to the dead. Instead of a public outcry for the heads of the bastards responsible, instead of national mobilization to fulfill that end, instead of a commitment to restoring Pearl to its pre-attack efficiency and not only rebuilding the fleet and air forces destroyed there, but expanding them, it wanted only to cry over the victims every year.

Then imagine how long it would have taken the Third Reich and Japan to pretty much sew up their victory.

Our national past-time of honoring the civilian casualities of 9/11 dead has evolved into damn near an obsession with the fallen in Afghanistan and Iraq. We totally ignore those individuals who are killing the enemy out to destroy us. Instead, we're a country of silly yellow ribbons expressing "support" for the troops in the abstract, as if the war against terrorism is the same as the “war” on breast cancer and the “war” on AIDS. We focus only on those who are KIA, crying out for prayers and sympathy (well deserved, of course) for their families, but making no mention of those living soldiers adhering to Patton’s dictum that “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”

Who is the most decorated American soldier to date in the War on Terror? What unit has inflicted the most casualties on the enemy in Iraq or Afghanistan? When was the last televised ceremony on the lawn of the “conservative” Bush Administration’s White House honoring a living soldier or marine who's taken out more than a few of the enemy? This, of course, would be inexcusable. Such a ceremony might offend "peaceful" Muslims here and abroad. Because I have to do a Google search to find out who the living heroes are, I'm convinced there is no American will to win.

Last summer, I attended the second annual Sean Hannity Freedom Concert in New Jersey, co-hosted by that other unabashedly right wing supporter of the War, Oliver North. The first half of the event was devoted to Hannity’s radio show, and a fair portion of that was devoted to honoring those who lost limbs and sustained other injuries in Iraq in 2004. Of course, it's proper to express our gratitude to those who have sacrificed so much for their country, but where is our gratitude for those who are making “the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” Let’s face it, to only celebrate the wounded and the dead is indirectly praising an enemy’s success at inflicting casualities on our troops, just as the annual 9/11 commemoration is as much a celebration of a terrorist victory as it is a memorial to the dead without the counter balancing celebration of life and military success. These gratuitous weep fests, if they continue, will doom us to failure. America since September 11, 2001 is not committed to victory, but to a perpetual crying jag, and our willingness to turn the War into a protracted Oprah segment tells me there is no national desire for victory at risk because Rumsfeld gets blindsided by a planted question about vehicle armor.

59,000,000 Americans voted to end the war. That’s not a number to sneeze at.

This will be quick, because the numbers speak for themselves.

It’s safe to say the Democratic Party is totally and irredeemably controlled by its radical left wing, that the left wing wants the War on Terror (not just in Iraq) to end immediately, and that it would prefer that the war ends in an American defeat a la Viet Nam. After all, nothing short of that will prevent us from ever again using our military against politically incorrect enemies – i.e., non-white, non-Christian, non-European – who seek what the left sees as our well deserved demise. The desire for a relapse to our post-Viet Nam Syndrome is almost palpable among liberal Democrats, and 59,000,000 morons in this country stand right behind them. If there existed a national commitment to victory in this war, the November 2nd election would have found the defeatist Democratic Party with only its cemetery, illegal alien, and felon votes to count. Oh, and of course, 90% of the African-American vote.

Given the number of Americans who voted for failure in November of ’04, criticizing Rumsfeld will no more break America's will to win than criticizing Casey Stengel in 1962 broke the Mets’ will to win. They're all losers to begin with.



COMMENT BY BATHUS

Forgive me, Tom, for the presumption of appending my comment directly to your post. I did not wish to push your very fine post down the page by making a new one of my own, but at the same time I felt that your words, which give us all much to think about, needed an immediate response more prominent than one hidden in this blog's comments section, and that, inasmuch as you introduced your post by citing something I'd written, you might not object if I presumed to continue the discussion in this same space.

Tom, much of what you say is exactly right, especially about our nation's too-delicate disinclination to celebrate as heroes those who are exceptionally good at killing our enemies. That our nation seems to prefer to honor passive victims than active victors does not bode well for our long-term survival.

Yet much of what you say, even if true, is perhaps better left unsaid, insofar as it serves more to further dispirit the populace than to rouse it from its complaceny. And if I understand the implications of the baseball metaphor in your last paragraph correctly, those you call "losers" include not only the 59 million "Americans who voted for failure last November," but also the whole of the American people, who are represented in your metaphor by the hapless '62 Mets. (I detect the same, shall we say, defeatism in your logic that it is improbable that we will reinstitute a military draft, but that without the draft we are incapable "of effectively confronting other serious threats posed by those allied with the Iraqi insurgents.")

Tom, you are perhaps half correct when you gently ridicule "the will and the resolve conservatives [myself included] deem so precious and are so hellbent on protecting from dissent." Yes, I have written more than once in this space that the will to win is precious, and we can lose this war only if we lose the will to win it. As to being "hellbent" on protecting that will to win from dissent, if you mean by "dissent," a rational dissent registered with the degree of discretion which indicates the dissenter actually wishes to improve the prospects of victory, then you are wrong not to count me among the dissenters. But if you mean a kind of dissent that aims or serves to inspirit the enemy and dispirit the citizenry, then you are correct to count me among the "hellbent."

At times like these, when our survival is at stake in a fight against enemies who are so vastly our moral inferiors, expressions of self-loathing can become a dangerously irrational and downright immoral self-indulgence serving no useful end. If you honestly believe we lack, and cannot revive, the will to win, then you would do better to save your mental exertions for Koranic studies.

Though I would express myself differently than you do, I do share much of your concern, as should be clear from my earlier post responding to an article by Victor Davis Hanson. Back then, I wrote:
Hanson is accurate when he points to the current of self-loathing among the comfortable Western elite that enervates the West's capacity to respond to the Islamofascist challenge. At its core, our battle with Islamofacism is a battle of the principles of Western liberal democracy against the principles of religious fascism. We have the physical means to win--the technology, the armaments, the manpower. But do we have the will to win? Do we think we deserve to win? The "current of self-loathing" inspires within Western societies doubts about ourselves. As to whether we are more deserving of victory than our enemies, the cultural relativists answer openly, "No, we cannot be better or more deserving than our enemies because no culture can be said to be superior to any other." Then, paradoxically, the relativists go on to proclaim that not only are we no better than the Islamofascists, we are actually worse than them because we are powerful. In the relativists’ cosmos (which is not a "cosmos," but a "chaos" in which nothing can be judged as morally different from anything else), where no one can be judged as better than anyone else, one exception is made in the case of "the powerful," who are always, unquestionably, and oppressively evil. That is the core of their logic: We are powerful; therefore, so we are evil. But at their emotional core is the paradox of a complacent self-loathing.

Yet the deeper paradox is that Hanson himself, and those who think as he does, are now part of the paradox in that they, too, participate in Western self-loathing. When, for example, Hanson writes that the West long-ignored the terrorist threat so that "we could go from Dallas to Extreme Makeover and Madonna to Britney without too much distraction or inconvenience," the loathing that he expresses for Western moral laxity differs little from that expressed by a bin Laden. Indeed, moral laxity is somehow the cause of self-loathing among those on both the right and the left. The shapers of opinion on the left embrace the contemporary moral laxity, which allows them openly and freely to pursue and enjoy the personal and financial fruits of debauchery while ridiculing their critics as "judgmental moralistic bigots." Yet at some deep level they feel ashamed of themselves and this shame manifests itself in self-loathing. Those on the left, lacking steadfastness of moral principles of their own, find something attractive in the steadfastness of the moral clarity the Islamofascists claim for themselves. Thus, twenty-five years ago the political and intellectual leaders of the Western left made their pilgrimages to Paris to sit cross-legged at the feet of Ayatollah Khomeni. In domestic economic matters, this phenomenon of leftist self-loathing has long been correctly identified as "limousine liberalism." They sense that, morally speaking, we are all going to hell in handcarts. But the ride is too pleasant to resist, so they assuage their guilt by fretting over whether the upholstery of some handcarts is too plush compared to some others.

On the right, the self-loathing is perhaps not so personally self-directed, but aims more at the whole of Western culture, as when a Victor Davis Hanson complains about what the "postmodern West" has become. Hanson ostensibly targets his critique only at "the comfortable Western elite," but when he uses bin Laden's voice to mock the "channel surfers who eat, screw, and talk too much amid worthless gadgetry," we know it is really Hanson himself talking about the lot of us. When we conservatives in the West ridicule the flacid Europeans, we are somehow ridiculing ourselves because we are children of the same father. Yet such criticism of the West's moral decline feeds the enervating doubts no less than the leftist's self-loathing, and perhaps more so because the criticism is all too valid. Hanson’s criticism, true enough as to the West’s present condition, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of the West’s future prospects. It seems that Hanson-like railing cannot succeed and, therefore, seems only to contribute to the West’s internal doubts and divisions.

And there's the dilemma: To sustain ourselves for what will be a very long fight against the Islamofascists, we in the West must first reform ourselves morally, but it seems that the precondition of that reform is a Hanson-like self-criticism which only increases our self-loathing and undermines our will to maintain the struggle.

What is the way out of the dilemma of the post-modern paradox? I do not know. I do know that for a few brief moments after 9/11, the more immediate concern for survival made most of us, even many of those on the left, give up the indulgence of self-loathing. That makes me fear that the threat to survival would have to be much worse--much more obviously, intensely, and prolongedly worse--before we could summon and sustain the will necessary to overcome our enemies. But, as Hanson points out, our enemies are too clever to make us to live with the sense that our culture is being pushed to the brink of extinction; theirs is a strategy of "threaten, hit, pause, wait; threaten, hit, pause, wait." When they hit us hard, we all want to fight back at first, but then we settle into our old habits. Then they hit us again. At the end of each cycle, we find ourselves moved closer to the abyss, we become more confused and disgusted with ourselves, and the abyss becomes alluring.

What's needed now is a Reagan-like figure to save us from the abyss of self-negation, someone who can lead us toward what we can become without making us feel quite so dispirited about what we are.

posted by Tom | 1/13/2005 08:33:00 AM
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very fine essays, and I enjoyed both Tom's essay and Bathus' response enormously. I felt compelled to comment by Bathus' closing remarks:

"What's needed now is a Reagan-like figure to save us from the abyss of self-negation, someone who can lead us toward what we can become without making us feel quite so dispirited about what we are."

Although I do not count myself among the kneejerk Bush-worshippers for whom the nextgen Reagan can do no wrong, I have to admit that he -- the supposed retard cowboy from Texas -- may be on to something with his whole "Freedom is on the march" meme.

Bathus strikes a real chord when he writes of ingrained self-loathing among both the morally bankrupt Left and the forever-looking-to-some-mythical-wholesome-past Right in America. I suspect that all the handwringing over the grotesqueries of pop culture today -- the oversexualizing of teenagers, the bling-bling hedonistic rap/pop, the vacuous reality TV shows and movies, etc. -- is nearly identical to all the handwringing that went on over that young man with the gyrating hips from Graceland and his devil music. Nonetheless, we as Americans have tended to internalize self-loathing, in large part because we have become far more tolerant as a people. (And to give credit where credit is due, increased tolerance is a contribution of the Left to American society.)

But that does leave a vaccuum. Islamofascists may believe in One God, Allah, and His Prophet, and evangelical Christians may be as fervent in their beliefs in Jesus Christ the Savior, but as Americans, religion and faith simply cannot form the center of our collective self-identity (try as some might). Different sects of Christianity believe too differently to be reconciled in the long run (United Church of Christ and the Mormons shall never see eye to eye on the issue of Joseph Smith, I'm afraid), not to mention the non-Christians, and the devout atheists among us. Capitalism and Sports may be our secular religion, but even there, we have too much disagreement.

The one principle, however, the one article of faith which has been consistent for all Americans throughout history and across political, religious, social, economic boundaries, is the idea(l) of Freedom.

Indeed, American history could be interpreted as a continual evolution towards greater and greater freedom. Slavery was accepted at the founding of the Union; it was disavowed through a bloody civil war. Freedom of speech, of religion, of political affiliation -- all of these freedoms have been extended continuously through our history (through great struggles, and often with setbacks, but nonetheless advanced). And even the Socialist Americans among us at least claim to stand for Freedom; they have a different view of how to promote it, but at least they try to promote it.

When GW Bush articulated Freedom, and its spread, as the central guiding principle of his foreign policy, it was, I believe, a monumental shift in American thinking. When he then extended the idea to domestic affairs, it signals yet another seismic change.

And at the end of the day, what sets us Americans apart from all other ideologues is our belief in and promotion of that ideal of Freedom. Islamofascists may have the hard-core faith in Allah and Jihad and whatnot; Marxists worldwide may believe deeply in the proletarian revolution and the evils of Capitalism; but they do not believe in Freedom. We Americans might disagree on religion, politics, choice of music, TV shows, what constitutes culture, what is patriotism, and so on and so forth -- but we all generally agree that Freedom is a Good Thing and should be promoted.

I agree that we as a nation and as a people must change in face of the challenges to our survival. But I do not agree that we need some public test of our 'will and resolve' to win, or that we need some moral reform (for who is to be the arbiter of morality). What we need, I think, is to rally around the ideal of Freedom. Yeah, we may be immoral, drunk, gun-toting, Britney-Spears-and-Paris-Hilton-loving, porno-pirates obsessed with reality TV, but we are free to be that. Shockingly, people around the world want that same freedom -- to be immoral, to be drunk, drugged out, fornicators who watch terrible, terrible TV shows and movies. After all, they (and we) are also free to be as moral as we wish, to abstain from drink, to abandon the meaninglessness of casual sex, to form strong families, and so on.

So I would argue that in fact, we do have a Reaganesque figure in GW Bush right now -- with all of his faults and warts. He understands that our greatest attribute, our greatest gift, and our greatest challenge is Freedom. It is a positive, rather than a self-negating, vision. And whether our short-term challenges in Iraq or elsewhere are successes or failures, that Bush has elevated Freedom to be the highest principle of the American people will bear fruits over the long haul. It may take a generation or longer, but it will happen.

-The Sophist

1:39 PM, January 14, 2005  

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