Are We Too Nice To Win ?
John Podhoretz has an excellent column in today’s New York Post that consists entirely of questions. He doesn’t give any answers, but I’m not sure there are any.
WHAT if liberal democracies have now evolved to a point where they can no longer wage war effectively because they have achieved a level of humanitarian concern for others that dwarfs any really cold-eyed pursuit of their own national interests?
What if the universalist idea of liberal democracy – the idea that all people are created equal – has sunk in so deeply that we no longer assign special value to the lives and interests of our own people as opposed to those in other countries?
What if this triumph of universalism is demonstrated by the Left’s insistence that American and Israeli military actions marked by an extraordinary concern for preventing civilian casualties are in fact unacceptably brutal? And is also apparent in the Right’s claim that a war against a country has nothing to do with the people but only with that country’s leaders?
Can any war be won when this is the nature of the discussion in the countries fighting the war? Can any war be won when one of the combatants voluntarily limits itself in this manner?
And it just goes on from there.
The context, of course, is the Israeli War against Hezbollah in which, media reports to the contrary notwithstanding, Israel has been far more restrained than it is capable of being if it used all of its military might.
The question also has relevance to our own fight in the War on Terror. The response to the September 11th attack was overwhelming to be sure, but, again, far more restrained than the U.S. military could have been under the circumstances. And, arguably, far more restrained than we would have been if the same event had happened 60 years earler. Witness Pearl Harbor and the reaction that followed.
The memory of Pearl Harbor stayed alive throughout World War Two and even afterwards. By contrast, the reaction to September 11th has arguable lessened over time. Yes, we still cringe when we see the video, but even the fact that our television networks don’t play the video of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center anymore is, I think, an indication of the fact that some segment of our society has “moved beyond” the events of that day.
The problem with forgetting September 11th, though, is that it has an impact on the will to fight. American casualties in the Iraq War are historically low compared to any other major war we’ve fought, and yet the public has clearly turned against the war to the point where there is real pressure to bring the troops home. And, more importantly, an obvious reluctance on the part of the Bush Administration to commit American troops to deal with any other potential troublemakers, be it North Korea, Iran, or Hezbollah.
I’ve written before (here and here) that the Bush Administration made a big mistake in not getting the American public more directly invested in the War on Terror after September 11th. The point Podhoretz makes is broader, and more serious, because it effectively asks the question — do we have the will to fight:
Are we becoming unwitting participants in their victory and our defeat? Can it be that the moral greatness of our civilization – its astonishing focus on the value of the individual above all – is endangering the future of our civilization as well?
I don’t know the answer to the question myself, but the signs don’t look good.
Linked with today’s Beltway Traffic Jam