The Wrong Questions

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Luther Powell and President of the United States George Herbert Walker Bush have been severely criticized for pulling up short at the end of the Gulf War, and perhaps they deserve the criticism--when it does not come, as it often does, from people who opposed the war in the first place. I prefer to think that an old soldier and an older fighter pilot looked at the Highway of Death and had no stomach for further slaughter. Whatever they said to themselves in defense of their decision to end the war, their sense of honor would not allow them to go on.

During the Gulf War, reporters sought desperately to force the military to admit that it was concealing battlefield defeats and was in grave danger of losing the war. The Pentagon played them for the fools they are because its real worry was that we would kill so many of the enemy that the Arab world would react with horror and dismay. Indeed, many Arabs resented our immense technological superiority and felt that it was unfair of us to use it. To this day, the constant delusion of the press is that we lack the military force we are too restrained to employ and the constant anxiety of our leaders is that our armed forces are too powerful for the fighting we are actually engaged in.

Press and politicians engage in year after year of pointless debate. Can we defeat the insurgency? Are we stretched too thin? They should ask instead how many people we have to kill to win. The answer is largely up to Muslims. They can continue to permit the terrorists to provoke war with us and die by the millions or even tens of millions as a result, or they can seek better lives for themselves and limit the casualties to a few tens of thousands.

Forget the Cindy Sheehan/Michael Moore/Howard Dean/John Kerry demagoguery about a dangerous and adventurous President George Walker Bush. He has chosen a strategy designed to limit the number of Muslim casualties, especially Muslim civilian casualties. It is a brave and humane strategy. It may also be a misguided one.

It is certainly a strategy with heavy costs, first of all to the members of our armed forces who have to implement it. They sacrifice themselves daily precisely to avoid "destroying the village in order to save it"; the media, who get everything backward, take the word of terrorist sympathizers that we have killed innocent civilians when we have not.

Let us not delude ourselves. The alternative to this strategy is not withdrawal from Iraq and an end to the war, but a larger war. Something like the following would have happened if John Kerry had been elected president. It would have happened immediately, not simply as the long-term result of the Kerry strategy, whatever it would be, once he assumed office and implemented it:

Our allies in Iraq and the rest of the region would abandon us. Our enemies would be ecstatic. There would be an immediate increase in the level of violence. Iraqis hesitating fearfully between our side and the enemy's would surrender to the terrorists. Pakistan would move away from us, with potentially catastrophic results. Saudi Arabia would cooperate with us less and al Qaeda more. The Taliban would regain strength and confidence. Bin Laden would come out of hiding. Syria would remain in Lebanon. Libya would reassess its cooperation with our nonproliferation efforts. North Korea would show us even more contempt. The mullahs in Iran would sit there grinning.

Kerry would blame these and other defeats on President Bush and would either withdraw from Iraq, vastly accelerating the flow of power away from us and toward our enemies, or fight on without sufficient support from his own political party, caught in the same vise that destroyed Lyndon Johnson and with him our hopes in Vietnam.

Something terrible would happen, Kerry would respond with token force, briefly postponing the reckoning, but something else would happen and something else, and he would set in motion large-scale, spasmodic, and unstrategic violence, with deaths orders of magnitude greater than the deaths taking place in Iraq today. We would have Janet Reno generalship, the generalship of politicians suspicious of the use of military force but impelled by events to employ it, who thus employ it in desperation and panic--without thought, without strategy, haphazardly, indiscriminately, with self-righteousness, indignation, and deceit, and with contempt for those dying under their command.

So the Bush strategy is one that gives the Islamic world a chance to avoid destruction. It may not take it. The United States has by far the most powerful armed forces ever assembled and a people deeply distrustful of Islam. We know, if the press does not, the overwhelming military force that we hold in reserve, millions of times greater than the force we actually employ. We know that members of our armed forces are suffering numerous deaths and injuries because of our battlefield restraint. Perhaps most of us agree with our policy of restraint. However, our enemies are rash, and we are not always patient.

"Why do they hate us?" asked many as the 9/11 smoke cleared. To some this meant, "What did we do to provoke them?"; to others it meant, "What did we ever do to them?"

A better question would be, "Why did they attack us?" It is one thing to hate someone, another to murder him.

A still better question would be, "Why did they attack us now?" The best question would be, "Why didn't they attack us before?" They hated us before we came onto this earth. Why did they wait so long? The answer is that they were afraid.

To the two different interpretations of the why-they-hate-us question correspond two different analyses of the psychology of the "Arab street." The appeasement analysis is that Policy X provokes the Arab masses. This analysis is promoted by the Islamofascists, who always provide pretexts for their attacks. The let's-do-what-we-have-to-do analysis is that our enemies attack us when they think that they will be successful.

Notice that the appeasement analysis portrays the enemy as ruled by emotion, while the let's-roll analysis credits them with at least a degree of calculation. In general, analyses favored by the appeasers present followers of Islam as utterly alien, if not subhuman. These analyses are the product of the appeasers' pride in their own superior intelligence and sensitivity and of the antipathy to Islam that results from their identification of its excesses with their domestic opponents, who are similarly alien and subhuman to them.

The alternate analysis presents Muslims as human beings with much in common with us. To the appeaser, people in Iraq do not become angry and bitter when Saddam's sons rape their wives and daughters. Saddam can provoke two major wars, with massive loss of Iraqi life, and can brutally attack Iraqi Kurds and Shia, but the oppressed people of Iraq can forget all that as soon as they hear some Islamofascist propaganda. I don't believe it. I don't believe that Iraqis like poverty and oppression any more than we do. Saddam's brutes cannot cut out someone's tongue and then fool his wife and children with talk about the West Bank. They may hate Israel, but they do not cease to hate Saddam.

The let's-role analysis is really an American analysis. It is the President's analysis, whether he employs it consistently or not. It is American because it stems from the Declaration of Independence. All men are created equal, and they are endowed with unalienable rights. All men means Iraqis too.

The question is not how intelligent Bush is, but how intelligent the Founding Fathers were. Can we apply their grand--the appeasers say grandiose--vision to Iraq? Do we treat Iraqis, despite all the differences in culture, religion, and history, as essentially the same as Americans, or do we take the easy way out and employ the simplistic comic-book analysis of the appeasers. Do we attempt the difficult assessment of groups and individuals in Iraq as complex human groups and complex human individuals, as groups and individuals are complex worldwide? Or do we rest our brains in the unthinking analyses of the hate-Bush-hate-everybody crowd?

In the end, it all comes down to psychology, not the hard realities of military planning or the soft realities of diplomatic subtlety. What does it mean to be human? Our Founders said one thing; Hussein, Bin Laden, Zarqawi, al Jazeera, European collaborators, Cindy Sheehan, mainstream churches, The New York Times, network news, Hollywood--the entire reactionary panoply--say another. Do our enemies fight because we made them angry or because we made them think that they could defeat us? Are Iraqis first human and then Islamic, or are they thoroughly Islamic and only marginally human? May God grant that it be the former.

Jonathan David Carson, Ph.D.

This essay appeared in the October 19, 2005, edition of The American Thinker.