Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Why We Fight

December 7, 1941

September 11, 2001

I was far too young on December 7, 1941, to understand what had happened on that awful day in American history. I remember September 11, 2001, all too well.

I am not by nature an empathic person. But on the morning of September 11, 2001, I immediately empathized with those Americans who -- 60 years earlier -- must have felt the kind of shock, fear, and rage that I felt when I saw and learned what 19 vicious fanatics had unleashed in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Now we are engaged in a war -- at home and abroad -- against the comrades and supporters of those 19 vicious fanatics.

Some Americans support that war but question the way our government is pursuing it. Other Americans wonder why we are engaged in that war or whether it is worth the cost. I will not try to persuade either of those groups, nor will I call them names. My thoughts, today, are aimed at those who have supported the war and the way the government is pursuing it, but who may be beginning to waver in the face of what the press portrays as adversity.

Don't lose heart. Don't fall victim to the post-Vietnam syndrome of American defeatism. I will explain.

Vietnam was the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. But once we had committed our forces there, we should have fought to win, regardless of the amount of force required for victory. Why? Because our ignominious withdrawal from Vietnam changed the national psyche -- especially coming as it did within a generation of the stalemate in Korea. As a result of Vietnam, we went from believing that we could win any war we set our minds to win to believing that there wasn't a war worth fighting.

Our (incomplete) victory in the Gulf War of 1991 came so quickly and at so little cost that it didn't really reinvigorate America's military self-confidence. Our 1999 bombing campaign in Kosovo succeeded only in showing our willingness to win a quick victory (if it was that) in a situation that posed little or no threat to American forces.

On the other hand, the new, defeatist American psyche -- which most of the mainstream press has been striving for 30 years to perpetuate -- manifested itself in our abrupt withdrawals from Lebanon (1983) and Somalia (1993) after the public saw "too many" body bags. Then there was our legalistic response to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and our tepid military response to the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The sum total of American actions in 1983, 1993, and 1998 -- coupled with the obvious ascendancy of American defeatism -- surely led Osama bin Laden to believe that he could accomplish his aims through a few spectacular terrorist attacks within the U.S., and the threat of more such attacks.

Thus, although we may be having a hard time in Iraq -- and the hard time may continue for a while -- we cannot back down. We must redouble our efforts to quell the insurgency and to build a stable Iraq. To do otherwise would be to admit that the American psyche remains defeatist. It would invite our enemies and potential enemies to take bold actions -- if not directly against us, then against our interests around the world. We would find it harder and harder to fight back, diplomatically and militarily, against increasingly emboldened enemies and rivals -- even if we had the will to fight back. Vital resources would become exorbitantly expensive to us, if we did not lose access to them altogether. America's economic and military might would descend together, in a death spiral, and with them -- very likely -- the remnants of domestic civility.

And that is how bin Laden will destroy America, if he can. And that is why we must persevere in Iraq.

Some argue that such scenarios are so unrealistic as to be unthinkable. Well, that's what English pacifists were saying about Hitler until 1939.

Then, there are those who profess to believe that America would be better off shorn of its economic and military might. They should reflect on the 1930s, when we were mired in the Great Depression and surrounded by a rising tide of totalitarianism.

Others, mimicking the one-worlders who dominated the conventional wisdom about foreign policy after the two world wars, suggest that our hubris foments hatred, hostility, and rivalry toward America . Their naïve notion -- based on hope rather than reality -- is that we would court less trouble and find more support by suppressing our sovereign pride and adapting our values, interests, and policies to those of "the international community." Those who think that should consider this:
The sovereignty of the United States is inseparable from the benefits afforded Americans by the U.S. Constitution, most notably the enjoyment of civil liberties, the blessings of more-or-less free markets and free trade, and the protections of a common defense. To cede sovereignty is to risk the loss of those benefits....
Given the low estate of civil liberties and free markets in Europe -- and most of the world -- it is worth almost any price to preserve America's sovereign independence, which is the bodyguard of America's values and interests. The immediate price we must pay is the price of perseverance in Iraq.