Sleeping Tigers and Terrorism
Winston Churchill wrote a six volume history of the Second World War after the British electorate, in a fit of uncommon ingratitude, excused him from the office of prime minister in 1945. Socialism was the ascendant form of government after WWII and socialist impulses were rampant in Great Britain. Churchill, being less than enamored of collectivist states, with apparently good reason considering the causes and effects of World War II, was as outspoken on the subject of British governance as he had been vocal about the danger of the Hitler fifteen years and 40 million deaths earlier.
The voters were unmoved, and with their heads in the sand and their hands in the other guy's pocket, they proclaimed, "We've done enough." Stopping socialism was a battle they didn't want to fight. Besides, few in England seemed to think Winston could be right twice.
Having time on his hands, Churchill wrote his history of the war, and it was warmly received. It is still the definitive work on that era. Volume One, The Gathering Storm, demonstrates Churchill's understanding of the threat of Hitler and the hazard of National Socialism as embodied in the Nazi Party. He explained why Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement was no match against German methods or goals. Churchill's pleas were not just ignored during the Thirties, he was vilified by both government leaders and military commanders.
There is an echo of Churchill today, and it comes from someone who may not have any more apparent credibility than Winston did in the 1920s and 30s, but for different reasons. Churchill was denigrated because Europe still had World War I fresh in its mind. The carnage of that conflict, man to man, was staggering, and no one wanted to re-live any portion of it. Appeasement became the watchword because the guy on the other side kept promising "I just want to reunite the Fatherland."
Today's prophet is George W. Bush and for his efforts he may be dismissed by the electorate in 2004 as Churchill was in 1945. Bush wants to destroy the legacy of Saddam Hussein. Bush's credibility is questioned because people think one or all of three things: that he sent the troops into Iraq just to finish what Bush's father was not allowed to conclude by his forty-one Gulf War coalition partners in 1991. And/or that he's not seasoned enough (he's a cowboy after all) to complete the 'botched' job he's started. And/or that the potential negative consequences of continuing to try to democratize any country in the Middle East outweigh the option of ignoring not only the region but the unilateralism of the Islamic extremists so long as they are outside our borders, i.e., a reprise of post WWI isolationism. The problem is that the terrorists continue to threaten and posture, and now act even against fellow Muslims throughout the world. If they think no one will respond to these acts they will move forward with what they have on their agenda, which they've made plain is the destruction, to whatever extent possible, of the western, non-Islamic way of life, especially as it impacts their Middle Eastern homeland. What is not on their agenda is freedom.
Of course, the fact that the reasons given for going to war in Iraq in the first place may have been overstated, or even manipulated or worst of all, unsubstantiated to the beyond a reasonable doubt standard demanded by the liberal hind-sighters, doesn't help Bush's cause. But it also doesn't make the basic logic invalid. All of this is an unfortunate political quagmire but none of it changes the reality, from which the focus, for political reasons, has been separated. The larger picture is still far more important than the smaller political blunder. The sad fact is that if we do not complete what was started long before the US returned to Iraq, and this will be terrible to do in terms of lost lives, for even one lost life is awful, the war will ultimately be brought back to the United States. When it is said "if we don't fight them over there we will fight them over here" it is not voiced lightly.
In the middle of World War II, in 1944 when Admiral Chester Nimitz was directing US Naval forces across the Pacific to challenge the Japanese on their home ground, the losses inflicted on US troops by island-based suicidal Japanese Army units were staggering. Nimitz's losses, in any given single hour of battle, were more than all US casualties in both Gulf Wars combined. At the time Nimitz received hate mail from those who thought these costs too high, that Japanese resistance was being overcome at too great a price. The hate mail came from the parents who had lost sons under Nimitz's command. Nimitz understood the parent's anger and agony, but he understood the bigger picture as well and continued to do what was necessary, as he had to.
To hear that Nimitz had to face being viciously maligned in the middle of that war appears as blasphemy today. To watch the press in general, and the opposition presidential candidates in particular take similar aim at Bush for political gain and to support a naïve agenda is equally as blasphemous and more to the point, morally corrupt.
It is right to criticize policy if it is being effected to the detriment of the country, it is justified to denounce the administration if there is a better course of action, but it is irresponsible to be critical if such criticism is made purely for political profit using the emotional appeal surrounding the loss of human life while offering no viable or rational alternatives. Dealing with terrorism is not for the faint of heart. Using our military losses as a platform to decry all violence is naïve, and is done only by those suffering from political conceit and alleged moral superiority, and, worst of all, voiced for political gain, not out of a true sense of moral integrity.
The battle lines in our war against terrorism do not appear with the Churchillian clarity extant during WWII, and even with precise goals FDR and Churchill and the military leadership, up to and including Gen. Eisenhower, faced naysayers at every step. Our reality is that members of an Islamic jihad will appear on our doorstep if we do nothing to stop this madness. The danger of Muslim fanatics is not a fantasy concocted by warmongers in Washington. The Arab extremists have already played out their first cards. Bush understands this and that makes him take a stand.
The interconnectedness of the war in Iraq and that part of the Arab world with a militant Islamic mindset is patent. And the primary connection is through Israel and its US support. Bush's detractors ignore the obvious at our peril, that is, even if we withdraw from Iraq, none of this is going away. It starts with what the jihadists have in mind as their primary aim, the destruction of Israel and the murder of all Jews. These terrorists were going to force the West to move against them eventually and the acts of September 11th sealed the fate of everyone. Just like Hitler and Tojo ultimately did in Churchill's time. If the analogy seems too extreme to countenance, think about the consequences if it's apt.
As the leaders of the Arab countries watch the PLO and Yasser Arafat self-destruct, and as Israel gets more punishing in its responses, the kings and princes of the Middle East become increasingly incensed but appear ever more impotent. The quiescent cycle of Arab inaction while puny Israel continues to prosper, protected by US paternalism, will last only so long.
After September 11th the terrorists claimed the US vulnerable. Any open society is vulnerable, that is old news. What the martyrs have forgotten is Pearl Harbor, and Japanese Admiral Yamamoto's response to the attack's success: "I fear we have done nothing but awaken a sleeping tiger." Ultimately Yamamoto's lament should be echoed by the terrorists. Our goal is to create an opportunity for the real parties in interest, the millions in the Middle East who feel powerless in the face of the jihadists on one side and the rulers on the other, to act on their own behalf. The Arab people must be allowed to actualize that they are the real sleeping tiger. These things are what George W. Bush is about.
While Saddam Hussein was still in power neighboring Arab leaders were cowed into looking the other way out of fear on the one hand, and in the naïve hope on the other that Saddam or maybe even Osama bin Laden, could do for them what they have been unable to do for themselves. Insofar as almost all the Arab leaders are concerned, if Israel is attacked with nuclear or biological or chemical weapons, the other nations can hold up their hands and say "We didn't do anything" (and we in the US will echo, "You're damn right you didn't!"). And if the terrorists try and fail at mass murder, these same Arab leaders will attempt to isolate the extremists and contend they are madmen and they had no control over them or their actions. That too is a lie.
When the US was attacked in 2001 the status quo was altered. Now the Middle East faces yet another new landscape as the terrorists attack Muslims as well as Westerners. The Kamikaze copy-cats are not yet effective in nation swaying, but they are causing their fellow Arabs to action to combat the internecine mayhem. How this will all play out in the bigger scheme is the real question of the day.
Most difficult of all for the Arab potentates is the underlying fear growing in many of their palaces, a damned if you do, damned if you don't dilemma. If a semblance of peace and control can be brought to Iraq by the United States and Britain, what is happening in Afghanistan will also happen in Baghdad, not just the demonstration that mad terrorists and despotic overlords can be confronted and defeated, but the setting up of a government that has as its goal democracy and self-determination. After all, since there is no heritage of royalty in Iraq, a democracy is quite conceivable. That scares the hell out of the ruling class in Saudia Arabia and the lesser Arab states. Unrest and resentment among the populations of almost all the Arab nations against their flauntingly wealthy hereditary rulers is no secret. To control their subjects the Arab kings propagate the idea that monarchial (read: autocratic, dictatorial) rulers are the norm. A fresh democracy in their midst isn't just frightening, it's deadly.
The equally fearsome specter for the kings is the opposite of democracy, Islamic fundamentalism brought about by terrorism and controlled by clerical rule. If the terrorists can destabilize the governments and frighten the ruling families, through acts of murder against the already suspect upper crust, the fundamentalists might cause either a bloody civil war, or a fearful flight of the ruling class, or an officially sanctioned retaliation against the terrorists which nets the innocent as well as the guilty. Any one of these events could cause the population to side and identify with the need for change from the dictatorial plutocracy. In each case the kings and princes lose everything, or at least what they haven't stashed in Swiss banks.
Many Americans and, despite the ongoing white flag waiving in the heart of the Democratic Party presidential sweepstakes, most in Congress wanted a year ago and still today, the US to finish what smoldered in the Middle East during the 1990s, then burst into flame on September 11th and now is reflected in the US presence in Iraq. The region and its problems are tied together, that is, the solution in Israel is tied to the threat in Iraq, the threat in Iraq is linked to the fundamentalism in Iran, the danger of Iranian autocracy is linked to the struggle between the kings and the mullahs across the region, on and on, ad nauseum.
Aside from the clear understanding of Tony Blair, whose country acts from experience not theory, we are almost assuredly on our own in these efforts. And we will be, so long as we are the only superpower. That is the key for us, we actually are different from everyone else. We were a target first, and now we can continue to respond, or not. Will we follow the seemingly inevitable course? If we don't, if we withdraw and cocoon, and if the Middle East deteriorates further from what has barely begun, and which degeneration would have been worse if Saddam had remained uncontained, will everyone look back and recognize our institutionalized timidity as the cause? Will a Democrat elected president on a platform of withdrawal from the world stage become the 21st century's Prince of Appeasement as Neville Chamberlain was at the start of the Second World War? And, with the same ultimate results?
Many have voiced concern about so many potential bad things happening in the Middle East: a billion angry Muslims, loss of a substantial amount of the world's oil supply thus destabilization of the world's economy, another war over Israel's right to exist or a series of civil wars or revolutions among the Arab leaders and their subjects. But, in spite of these possibilities, it must be remembered as a first factor that Muslims are real people. Thanks to the media we just don't get to see that very much. These mothers and fathers want peace and prosperity as does anyone with a home and a family and a future. Scare tactics claiming an angry Muslim monolith, or regional anarchy, or any other hegemonous fear have no place in this discussion. Ultimately what is happening in the Middle East is about people, moreso than about oil or Islam or democracy or even terrorism. These things may complicate matters, but they don't trump the reality.
Before the American public is further polarized into immutable positions we need to listen to the facts, and think not just about today, but what the human condition caused in the last century. War is hell, no doubt about it, but maybe a little hell is better than a whole lot of eternal damnation. Look back at Churchill and Hitler and see if the similarities tell us to think not only what the consequences are as we act, but as well what they might be if we do not.
This article first appeared in Columbus Alive. It later appeared in Conservative Battleline.