Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Long War

The radical Islamists are on the offensive. Will we defeat them?
by: William Kristol
Weekly Standard
March 6, 2006

Demagogues to the right of them, appeasers to the left of them, media in front of them, volleying and thundering. Can the Bush administration continue to charge ahead? Does it have the will--and the competence--to lead the nation for the next three years toward victory in the long war against radical Islamism?

From Copenhagen to Samara, the radical Islamists are on the offensive. From Tehran to Damascus, the dictators are trying to regain the upper hand in the Middle East. From Moscow to Beijing, the enemies of liberal democracy are working to weaken the United States. Across the world, the forces of terror and tyranny are fighting back. Are we up to the challenge?

It's not clear that we are. Many liberals, here and in Europe, long ago lost the nerve to wage war--or even to defend themselves--against illiberalism. Parts of the conservative movement now seem to be losing their nerve as well. In response to an apparent clash of civilizations, they would retrench, hunker down, and let large parts of the world go to hell in a hand basket, hoping that the hand basket won't blow up in our faces.

Remember: The United States of America and its allies--regimes that seek to embody, or at least to move towards, the principles of decent, civilized, liberal democracy--did not seek this war. But we are at war, and we could lose it. Victory is not inevitable.

Does that make Bush-supporting, liberal-democracy-promoting, Iraq-war-defending neoconservative "Leninists," as Francis Fukuyama has recently charged? No. Does it mean we believe--as Fukuyama defines Leninism--that "history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will"? Does it mean that history does not automatically move in the right direction, that justice does not necessarily or easily prevail? Yes.

It would be nice to believe, as Fukuyama does, that "a long-term process of social evolution" is under way that will inevitably produce liberal democracy. It would be nice to enjoy the comfortable complacency of a historical determinism that suggests--as Fukuyama has it--that what we most need to do is to embrace a "good governance agenda" on behalf of a long-term process of "democracy promotion" that "has to await the gradual ripening of political and economic conditions to be effective."

Indeed, it would be nice if we lived in a world in which we didn't have to take the enemies of liberal democracy seriously--a world without jihadists who want to kill and clerics who want to intimidate and tyrants who want to terrorize. It would be nice to wait until we were certain conditions were ripe before we had to act, a world in which the obstacles are trivial and the enemies fold up. Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in.

To govern is to choose, and to accept responsibility for one's choices. To govern is not wishfully to await the end of history. To govern is not fatalistically to watch a clash of civilizations from the sidelines.

As Marshall Wittmann of the Democratic Leadership Council observed last week, "We are in the midst of a jihadist offensive. The bombing of [Iraq's] Askariya Shiite Shrine is another indication of the world-wide jihadist offensive against the West. From the cartoon jihad to the Hamas victory to the Iranian effort to obtain nuclear weapons to the attempt by al Qaeda to foment an Iraqi civil war--our enemy is taking the initiative. And the West is on its heels."

The Bush administration leads the West. If the West seems to be on its heels, it is because the administration seems to be on its heels. The fact that the left is utterly irresponsible, and some of the right is silly, is no excuse.

Wittmann continued, "Many mistakes have been made since 9/11. But at the end of the day, we should recognize that we are all Americans and part of the West that is under assault by a truly evil foe. Our bravest are on the front lines in this war. The least we can do at home is to demonstrate some moral seriousness that the moment demands."

Moral seriousness in this case means political seriousness. Insist on going ahead with the ports deal so that Arab governments who have stood with us in the war on terror are not told to get lost when one of their companies acquires port management contracts in the United States. Make a real effort to destabilize Ahmadinejad in Iran. Do what it takes to defeat Zarqawi and secure Iraq. Stand with Denmark, and moderate Muslims, against the radical mob. This is no time for dishonorable retreat. It is time for resolve--and competence. After all, it would be most unfortunate if the administration summoned its nerve and charged ahead--only to meet the fate of Tennyson's Light Brigade!

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