October 29, 2006
I was on C-SPAN the other morning, and a lady called in to complain that ''you are making my blood pressure rise.'' Usual reason. The host, Paul Orgel, had asked me what I thought of President Bush and I replied that, whatever my differences with him on this or that, I thought he was one of the most farsighted politicians in Washington. That's to say, he's looking down the line to a world in which a radicalized Islam has exported its pathologies to every corner on Earth, Iran and like-minded states have applied nuclear blackmail to any parties within range, and a dozen or more nutcake basket-case jurisdictions have joined Pyongyang and Tehran as a Nukes R Us one-stop shop for all your terrorist needs.
In 2020, no one's going to be worrying about which Congressional page Mark Foley is coming on to. Except Mark Foley, who'll be getting a bit long in the tooth by then. But if it really is, as Democrats say, ''all about the future of our children,'' then our children will want to know why our generation saw what was happening and didn't do anything about it. They will despise us as we despise the political class of the 1930s. And the fact that we passed a great prescription drug plan will be poor consolation when the entire planet is one almighty headache.
My caller at C-SPAN thought this Bush farsightedness shtick was ridiculous. And, though I did my best to lower her blood pressure, I can't honestly say I succeeded. But suppose the ''Anyone But Bush'' bumper-sticker set got their way; suppose he and Cheney and Rummy and all the minor supporting warmongers down to yours truly were suddenly vaporized in 20 seconds' time. What then?
Nothing, that's what. The jihad's still there. Kim Jong Il's still there. The Iranian nukes are still there. The slyer Islamist subversion from south-east Asia to the Balkans to northern England goes on, day after day after day. And one morning we'll switch on the TV and the smoke and flames will be on this side of the Atlantic, much to President Rodham's surprise. Bush hatred is silly and parochial and reductive: History is on the march and the anti-Bush crowd is holding the telescope the wrong way round.
"We're in this grand ideological struggle," said the president two days later. "I am in disbelief that people don't take these people seriously." He was sitting in the Oval Office with a handful of columnists including yours truly. At the risk of making that C-SPAN caller's head explode, it was a great honor. I wasn't the only foreigner in the room: There was a bust of Winston Churchill, along with those of Lincoln and Eisenhower. A war president, a war prime minister, a war general.
Bush was forceful and informed, and it seems to me he performs better in small groups of one-night-only White House correspondents than in the leaden electronic vaudeville with Helen Thomas, David Gregory and the other regulars. (You can judge for yourself: Michael Barone has posted the entire audio at U.S. News & World Report's Web site.) He dismissed the idea that going into Iraq had only served to "recruit" more terrorists to the cause. (General Pace told me last week that, if anything, the evidence is that Iraq has tied up a big chunk of senior jihadists who'd otherwise be blowing up Afghanistan and elsewhere.) The president's view is that before it was Iraq it was Israel; with these guys, it's always something. Sometimes it's East Timor -- which used to be the leftie cause du jour. And, riffing on the endless list of Islamist grievances, Bush concluded with an exasperated: "If it's not the Crusades, it's the cartoons." That'd make a great slogan: it encapsulates simultaneously the Islamists' inability to move on millennium-in millennium-out, plus their propensity for instant new "root causes," and their utter lack of proportion.
"We need to be on the offense all the time," said the president. I pointed out that, when the military are obviously on offense -- liberating Afghanistan, toppling Saddam -- the American people are behind them. But that it's hard to see where the offense is in what to most TV viewers has dwindled down to a thankless semi-colonial policing operation with no end in sight. How about a bit more offense? Syria's been subverting Iraq for three years. Why not return the favor?
"We are on the offense," he insisted, sounding sometimes as frustrated as us columnists that so much of the wider momentum had become (in Charles Krauthammer's words) "mired in diplomacy." Still, it was a different conversation than most Bush encounters with the media-political class. I happened to be plugging my book on a local radio show this week just as a Minnesota "conservative" (ish) Democrat joined the herd of stampeding donkeys explaining why they were now disowning their vote in favor of the Iraq war. What a sorry sight. It's not a question of whether you're "for" or "against" a war. Once you're in it, the choice is to win it or lose it. And, if you're arguing for what will look to most of the world like the latter option, you better understand what the consequences are. In this case, it would, in effect, end the American moment.
Does that bother people? Bush said something, en passant, that I brooded on all the way home. Asked about poll numbers, he said that 25 percent of the population are always against the war -- any war.
That sounds about right. And it's a bit disturbing. To be sure, if Canadian storm troopers were swarming across the 49th Parallel or Bahamian warships were firing off the coast of Florida, some of that 25 percent might change their mind, though it might be a bit late by then. But, as America's highly unlikely to be facing that kind of war in the foreseeable future, that 25 percent's objection to the only wars on offer is rather unnerving.
The invaluable Brussels Journal recently translated an interview with the writer Oscar van den Boogaard from the Belgian paper De Standaard. A Dutch gay "humanist" (which is pretty much the trifecta of Eurocool), van den Boogaard was reflecting on the accelerating Islamification of the Continent and concluding that the jig was up for the Europe he loved. "I am not a warrior, but who is?" he shrugged. "I have never learned to fight for my freedom. I was only good at enjoying it."
Too many of us are only good at enjoying freedom. That war-is-never-the-answer 25 percent are in essence saying that there's nothing about America worth fighting for, and that, ultimately, the continuation of their society is a bet on the kindness of strangers -- on the goodnaturedness of Kim Jong Il and the mullahs and al-Qaida and what the president called "al-Qaida lookalikes and al-Qaida wannabes" and whatever nuclear combination thereof comes down the pike. Some of us don't reckon that's a good bet, and think America's arms-are-for-hugging crowd need to get real. Van den Boogaard's arms are likely to be doing rather less of their preferred form of hugging in the European twilight.
©Mark Steyn 2006