I fear two things, mainly. One is that we will lose our nerve politically, and that this war, which we should win handily, will instead become the protracted existential struggle that some of us now say it is when we are feeling pessimistic. The leaders of the Democratic Party, in tacit collaboration with much of the media, seem to be oblivious to this possibility, or indeed even to favor it if it would bring about George Bush’s political downfall. They are helping our enemies to demoralize us into giving up. For all that people like John Kerry talk about Vietnam, it is they who have most conspicuously failed to understand what happened there, and it is they who now allow themselves to be manipulated by our Islamist enemies (that is the kindest interpretation of some Democrats’ behavior). These Democrats, by encouraging defeatism among Americans, risk reenacting past U.S. blunders. The Islamists, unlike the Democratic leadership, have learned the lessons of Vietnam, and are trying to replicate North Vietnam’s success in turning American public opinion. Our enemies would have a much harder go of it if more of our public figures showed some backbone and a better sense of history. Yet as things stand it is we who are having a harder go of it than is necessary.
My other fear is that one of our cities will be hit by a nuclear attack. I don’t think it’s likely, but it’s possible and it only has to happen once. I think we’re most likely to be attacked in this way if we lose our nerve, if we look like we’re on the run, or even if we waver in our commitment to stay involved in Iraq for as long as is necessary. Look at what happened to Spain. Part of my fear comes from my sense (I don’t claim that this is an original idea) that such a catastrophe would have, in addition to its unimaginable human cost, a strong chance of changing the U.S. into a different and worse type of country than the one we know.
I don’t listen to NPR or know who Ben Walker is. Compared to many Americans, I lead, as Andy aptly put it, a “detached, insulated, safe existence.” Yet I have great respect, as I think most of us do, for our people who are on the sharp end of this war. They are the best of our society. I also have generally high regard for Bush’s war leadership. He may have done a lot of things wrong in his domestic policies, he’s too often politically calculating at the expense of principle, and he shares much of his father’s ineptness at making a case to the public. But he understands the big picture, in a context where a lot of public officials and intellectuals don’t, and that’s the most important thing. God only knows how bad things would have been if Bush, instead of understanding immediately that 9/11 meant war, had acted conventionally and appointed study commissions and sent the FBI to Riyadh to interview suspects.
We can no longer withdraw across the ocean, pull up the bridge and hope to be safe. If we did try to withdraw, the radical Islamists would eventually attack us at home, and eventually they would get nuclear bombs, and they would use them. We have to stop them overseas while we can. Mass-destruction terrorism was predictable before 9/11. I predicted it, Lex predicted it, lots of people predicted it. Lex and I used to discuss it as a probability. We didn’t know how it would happen, but it seemed like it was bound to happen eventually, and it did. I spoke with Lex on 9/11 and neither of us was surprised by the attack.
The point of mentioning all this isn’t to say that we’re clever, it’s to point out that the possibility of a 9/11-type attack was always obvious. Anybody who wanted to could have seen something like it coming, but most people weren’t paying attention. You can’t blame them. Most of us focus on our own lives and few of us enjoy thinking about horrific hypotheticals. And these points apply equally to the risk of nuclear attack by terrorists or rogue states: it hasn’t happened but it can easily happen, and it will probably happen eventually if we don’t do our best to prevent it.
That is why what the media and Democratic Party leadership are doing is so dangerous. By sowing doubt about the war effort (mainly, it appears, for narrow domestic political purposes), they make it more likely that we will give up and retreat, as we did from Vietnam, and eventually be attacked again at home. Or that we will slow our efforts, become a little bit less creative, more cautious, more multilateral, less preemptive against the likes of Syria and Iran, and that a fight that we can win in a few years by showing resolve and consistency will instead drag on. And the longer it drags, the greater becomes the likelihood that the other side will gain the resources and get lucky and blow up one of our cities, or do something equally terrible. If that happened, not only would the human cost be enormous, but we might lose many of our freedoms. And of course at some point we would probably retaliate in a much less discriminating way than we do now. (It is, after all, only our sensibilities that currently keep us from giving the entire Arab world the Hama treatment, which would end the war in a few days.)
None of us wants to get to that point, but the Democrats and media are playing with fire in their blind partisan recklessness. It’s too bad that we can’t just send the lot of them to a reeducation camp where they would be forced to spend a few months doing nothing but reading Churchill’s speeches. But of course we can’t do that, so we shall have to hope that we can defeat our enemies before any real deterioration in national pro-war sentiment sets in.