Conventional wisdom says that in fourth-dimensional, postmodern, asymmetrical warfare our overwhelming conventional power means little — not when a cheap RPG and a few illiterate teenagers can take down a $2 million chopper piloted by captains with MA degrees. The fear is that a parasitic non-West can import our weapons but not our costly military skills — and still obtain military parity of sorts, given our greater attention to human life, desire for peace, and disavowal of terrorism and other sordid tactics.
After all, we are wealthy and have much to live for; our enemies are poorer and have little to lose. Thus Israel ponders trading 300 incarcerated terrorists for the life of one Israeli businessman. The world accepts that none of the former will be abjectly murdered in custody, while the latter of course could and probably will be. American prisoners are raped and shot with impunity; their Iraqi Baathist counterparts cannot be so much as frightened.
We cannot and should not change our values; nor can we do much about the fact that we use technology and education to protect our soldiers while our enemies use fundamentalism and ignorance to expend theirs.
But cultural fault lines do not mean that we cannot at times seem a little unhinged ourselves. If the citizens of Tikrit choose to murder, or condone killing, Americans, then perhaps electrical power from their proud city can be mysteriously diverted to Kurdistan and the south. If Syria sends in assassins to kill Americans, then perhaps our pilots can become confused about where its border with Iraq actually begins and ends. If France publicly castigates the United States, then perhaps recently purchased French rockets in Baathist depots can be used as backdrops at press conferences. If munitions are found in the houses of killers, then perhaps such houses can be cordoned off and, of course with due notification, blown to smithereens. The point is not to showcase our own unpredictability but rather, quietly and with genuine nonchalance, slowly to get the message out that a very humane and civilized military is, well, sometimes quite crazy itself. In this new war, the worst sin of a Western military is quite simply to be predictable.Politics.
Military operations are not merely an extension of politics, but themselves inseparable from politics — from the moment the bombs fall to the final withdrawal of peacekeeping troops. For the foreseeable future, the narrow parameters in which the American military can operate without Pavlovian condemnation are becoming pretty clear. The cause, the conditions of battle, the nature of the enemy — all these once-critical considerations are now not quite as critical as the particular party that conducts the war. Increasingly the Democrats seem to be self-proclaimed pacifists and neo-isolationists who profess an abhorrence of war — and thus in turn are granted the legitimacy to conduct military operations (with purported reluctance).
Consider Operation Desert Fox of December 1999. While mired in an impeachment scandal, President Clinton ordered four days of bombing against supposed WMD facilities in Iraq. Few claimed that he had bombed to divert domestic attention from his own political troubles, much less that the absence of any proof of destroyed weapons facilities suggested there was none there to begin with. President Clinton was not pilloried for either preemption or unilateralism — although he did not go to the Senate for approval; did not seek U.N. discussions; and he did not make the case that Saddam had first attacked us — and of course he sought no multilateral resolution. Nor was NATO or Europe involved. General Zinni oversaw operations and in a press conference confessed that perhaps as many as 4,000 Iraqis could have been killed, including some civilians. There were no peace marches, no condemnatory European editorials, and very few Republican allegations that in a year before a national election the United States had unnecessarily and cynically aimed bombs at facilities that were neither proven to have made weapons nor later destroyed. No retired general accused General Zinni of unnecessary war making or inflicting collateral damage — or called Clinton a "chicken-hawk."
The same scenario was played out over the 1970s and 1980s. Compare the invective that Reagan earned for going into Grenada, and the senior Bush for Panama and Kuwait, with the pass given to Carter for attempting to use guns to rescue the hostages in Tehran, and with Clinton's missile strikes in Africa and the weeks-long bombing of Serbia.
In the future, the American military must accept that if it is asked to go to war under a Republican administration, its public-relations problems will pose as much a dilemma as the campaign itself — as the New York Times, National Public Radio, the campuses, the major networks, and the Europeans will almost immediately seek to oppose and caricature America's efforts. In contrast, in our contemporary therapeutic society that gives currency to lip-biting, publicly feeling pain, and professions of utopianism, Democrats can pretty much use the military as they wish — secure they will always be seen as sober and judiciously using force only as a "last resort."
Such generalizations have little to do with history: In both World War I and World War II, Democrats were seen as engaged internationalists, Republicans as shrill isolationists. Nor are these fault lines necessarily permanent trends, given that there is nothing in Democratic ideology that inherently rules out the use of force in a necessary cause.
Nevertheless, the present public perceptions and political realities will likely persist, since recent popular ideologies like multiculturalism and utopianism have become embedded in the postwar Democratic party. Both notions tend to characterize the American military not as a force for good, but as an extension of American pathology that legitimizes if not promotes an oppressive globalism, racism, sexism, colonialism, and economic oppression.
If one finds that stereotype unfair, remember the pathetic scene of a Gen. Clark during the recent Democratic debate, who castigated the president of the United States at a time of war while deferring to the wisdom of Al Sharpton. Take out a mass murderer, free 26 million, and you will earn charges of incompetence if not treason; slander a DA, fabricate a crime, and fan the flames of riot and racial hatred, and you will win respect from a Democratic frontrunner. For Republicans who must resort to war, the primary challenge will not be the fighting itself, but rather the perception that the United States was inherently wrong to have fought in the first place.
— Victor Davis Hanson, an NRO contributing editor, is a professor of classics at California State University, Fresno. He is author, most recently, of Ripples of Battle. www.nationalreview.com/hanson/hanson200311170846.asp