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

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  • IndianCowboy

    this is why Krishna wrote the Bagavad Gita. All these pacifist hippies are influenced by Hinduism but forget about our greatest work. A tale of why a peace-loving man must sometimes take up arms

  • VRB

    YES! The lesson should have been Afghanistan. Left a sink hole, but more civilians would have been killed.

  • John Newman

    Has anyone read George Washington’s Farewell Address? Maybe it’s time to reread that instructive piece on how to run a country.

  • Doug Mataconis

    We’re not talking about “entaggeling alliances”, we’re talking about survivial. If President Washington had lived to see a crowning achievement of American engineering destroyed in the space of two hours, I doubt he would have favored pacifism.

  • John Newman

    Doug, I believe a solid and factual case could be made that ‘entangling alliances’ were the ‘root cause’ of 9/11. But, that aside, it seems you are confusing non-aggression principles with pacifism.
    Personally, I don’t know one person that would not willingly give their life to defend this country against an invasion by a foreign force. However, I have no desire or see a need to have US troops invading and occupying 98 lb weakling countries.

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  • Doug Mataconis


    We obviously disagree.

    I would rather see radical Islam defeated on a battleground in Arabia than having to worry about fighting on a battleground in Europe.

    And I don’t see this as a matter of alliances that entangle us, I see it as a matter of national interest and security.

  • IndianCowboy

    where does this idea of 98lb weakling countries come from? There is one single nation of Islam. Iran, the PLO and others have made that quite clear. Israel isn’t fighting Hezbollah, they’re fighting every Islamic Nation.

    And if you want to keep your head in the sand about ‘most Muslims’ please be my guest. But it’s funny what surveys actually show. And what some time in immigrant communities such as Dearborn or various parts of London would reveal

  • John Newman

    Doug, if there is going to be a battleground that American troops are going to be fighting on, I believe that battleground should be on our soil. The moment we send troops to foreign lands we are engaged in entangling alliances.

  • John Newman

    Indiancowboy said:
    There is one single nation of Islam.

    I really can’t agree with that. Why are the different factions of Islam killing each other in Iraq? Christianity is no different. For how many years did Catholics and Protestants kill each other in Ireland?

  • IndianCowboy

    John, sure they fight amongst themselves. Your point? In the end they all want to institute Sharia. In the end far too many of them view the west as their enemy. In the end, a sizeable proportion of the ‘peaceful majority’ of Muslims, while not participating directly in terror, either condone or excuse it.

    I draw my conclusions not from innate hick prejudice but from having the good fortune to live in a few different countries, in a few different muslim neighborhoods.

    Every muslim immigrant population in every part of the world has advocated, condoned or actively participated in terror against non-muslims.

    It isn’t Islam against the West. They’ve killed over 2000 women, children, and monks for the audacity to practice Hinduism and Buddhism in traditionally hindu/buddhist parts of the world. They’ve sown the seeds of terror in Africa, in Europe, in Asia, and in North America.

    How long will it be until people recognize this?

  • John Newman

    Perhaps muslims do wear a black hat, but christians haven’t had a history of being the good guys. How many innocent people has the Catholic church killed, christian missionaries in foreign lands? How many witches roasted on a stake, how many black churchs, synagogues, mosques have been destroyed by christians? Wasn’t it Bush’s God who told him to attack Iraq, a country that had done us no harm? Sorry, I feel no more threatened by muslims than I do by a cabbage.

  • Eric

    Must be some deadly cabbage in your neck of the woods.

  • IndianCowboy

    Head in the sand, John, head in the sand.

    The difference between muslims and christians is that Jesus himself wasn’t a terrorist. Whereas Mohammed was.

    The bible cautions one to be wary of false prophets. Being an agnostic hindu, the bible isn’t the basis of my ideology, but also as an agnostic hindu I was taught to seek knowledge wherever it springs from. And mohammed is the very definition of a false prophet. Begin a camel-herder, die the founder of an empire with many female sex slaves.

    There are two mohammeds. there was the idealistic mohammed who initially preached a faith that is quite beautiful. He was turned away from the christians and jews who he saw as his abrahamic brothers. He grew bitter and took up arms against them. And he sullied the otherwise beautiful philosophy of Islam with politically-corrupted filth.

    Until Islam is able to separate the two Mohammeds–and the two Qurans–Islam will continue to be a threat.

  • IndianCowboy

    Eric, cabbage killed quite a few members of American bombing crews in WW2. The gas in their intestines would expand when they reached altitude and pop goes their innards.

  • Eric

    Interesting piece of trivia Indian Cowboy. Aside from that, clearly cabbage don’t get in airplanes, hijack them and fly them into buildings. Or strap explosives to themself and commit murderous suicide. Or take an AK-47 and kill people for being the wrong ethnic group and religion. So, while I find the risk that I will personally be injured or killed by an Islamic terrorist to be fairly low, it is not so low that I consider it to be equivalent to the risk posed to me by a cabbage.

    Of course, risk management and risk assessment is my business as a Security & Privacy Officer and I suspect this gives me a better grasp of the likelihood of occurrence and level of impact of an attack by someone who is Muslim that involves me vs. the likelihood of occurrence of death or injury by cabbage.

    By the way, I had family within just a few blocks of the World Trade Center on 9/11 and didn’t know for more than 12 hours if she was alive or dead. I’ve already been impacted by Islamic terrorism on that day. I also had two friends die in Oklahoma City, one in Khobar Towers and an acquaintance injured in the Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983. And I was injured during the first Gulf War. And my father happened to not be on an airplane that was hijacked by the PLO in 1971 by sheer fluke. Since he was an Army officer travelling on military orders in civilian clothing, the PLO would almost certainly have decided he was CIA and killed him. In fact, two other officers on that flight were killed by the PLO.

    While statistically unlikely, I have been directly impacted by Islam and Islamic terrorism on 6 different occasions. That doesn’t count another friend who was injured during the rescue attempt during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Islamic terrorists have been attacking, terrorizing and murdering Americans and Jews and anyone else they perceive as their enemy for decades with relative impunity. They have been at war with us for more than 30 years.

    Even a hard core capital L libertarian should be able to see that it’s time, and more than time, to take action to prevent further attacks on our life, liberty and property. Of course, they will likely defend the behavior of the terrorists by blaming it on something or other, while continuing to blame anyone but the Islamic “holy warriors” who are so industriously trying to destroy Israel, wipe out the Jewish people and kill as many infidel Americans as they possibly can.

  • John Newman

    IC & Eric, maybe you kids should read Numbers 31 in your holy bible. Or read about the love the Christians spread around during the St Batholomew Massacre. And certainly the christian soldiers sent by God via Bush to Iraq are showing those people christian love and mercy. Give me an effing break about Muslims.