The gloomy election-year refrain
is that America is mired in Iraq, took its eye off
Afghanistan, empowered Iran, and is losing the war on
terror. But how accurate is that pessimistic diagnosis?
First, the good news. For all the talk of a recent Tet-like
offensive in Basra, the Mahdi Army of
radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr suffered an
ignominious setback when his gunmen were routed
from their enclaves.
This rout helped the constitutional — and Shiite-dominated —
government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to renew
its authority, and has encouraged Sunnis to re-enter
government. Two great threats to Iraqi autonomy —
Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen and Sunni-supported
al-Qaeda terrorists — have both now been repulsed by an
elected government and its supporters.
Our armed forces are stretched, but Gen. David Petraeus, the
top U.S. commander in Iraq, and his colonels are quietly
transforming a top-heavy conventional colossus into more
mobile counterinsurgency forces.
Petraeus’ recent nomination to Centcom commander suggests
that, like the growing influence of Gens. Ulysses S. Grant
and William Tecumseh Sherman in 1863, or of George Marshall
when he reconfigured the Army in 1940, we at last are
beginning to get the right officers in the right places at
the right time.
The despairing enemy seems to sense this as well. The more
al-Qaeda mouthpiece Ayman al-Zawahiri threatens the West,
the more he sounds like Hitler’s shrill propagandist Joseph
Goebbels in his bunker as the Third Reich was crumbling.
In his latest desperate rant, a suddenly “green” Zawahiri
was reduced to appealing to environmentally conscious
Muslims to fault the United States for our supposed
culpability for global warming! No wonder polls across the
Middle East show a sharp decline in support for his boss,
Osama bin Laden.
We haven’t been attacked in over six years since 9/11, while
the FBI has arrested dozens of jihadist plotters.
Our elected officials squabble over the Patriot
Act, Guantanamo and the loss of constitutional liberties.
Yet, the odd thing is not the nature of such a necessary
debate, but the inability of critics to muster enough
support to repeal post-9/11 legislation and policies — a
tacit admission that these measures have worked and saved
thousands of American lives.
But is the war then nearly won? Hardly.
And that brings us to the bad news. We still censor
ourselves in fears of terrorist threats, mortgaging the
Enlightenment tradition of free and unfettered speech. In
Europe, cartoonists, novelists, opera producers, filmmakers,
and even the pope are choosing their words very carefully
about Islam — in fear they will become the targets of riots
and death threats.
Here at home, our State Department is advising its officials
to avoid perfectly descriptive terms for our enemies like
“jihadist” and “Islamo-fascist” in favor of vague terms like
“violent extremist” or “terrorist” — as if we could just as
easily be fighting Basque separatists.
Even more worrying, Americans cannot find a substitute for
imported oil. The result is that $120-a-barrel petroleum is
slowing our economy, weakening our international financial
clout — and sending billions in capital into the hands of
our otherwise unproductive enemies.
The way to shut down Iran’s reactor or its subsidies for
Hezbollah is not necessarily through bombing but by getting
oil back down below $50 a barrel, which would cut the value
of Iranian petroleum production by nearly $100 billion a
year and weaken an already weak economy.
Saudi Arabia largely ignores our pleas to help rebuild Iraq
and cease its money flowing into the hands of radical
Islamists. And why should they listen to us? After all, at
present astronomical prices, their oil production is worth
nearly half-a-trillion dollars a year — with Chinese,
Europeans, and Indians waiting in line to pay still more.
In all our major wars — except the present one — Americans
have won through a combination of military prowess,
correctly identifying the enemy and economic savvy. In the
Civil War, the south was blockaded and starved of its cotton
revenues, an effort that proved every bit as important as
Gettysburg and Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” Germany was
blockaded in both World Wars and cut off from precious
metals, oil, and food. The Soviet economy collapsed before
its military could. Only in this war has our own profligacy
empowered our enemies.
After years of learning how to fight an unfamiliar war in
Afghanistan and Iraq, and to protect us at home, we are
finally getting most things right. But if our soldiers and
intelligence agencies have learned how to win, our
politically-correct diplomats and the American consumer
haven’t — and are doing as much at home to empower radical
Islam as those on the front lines are to defeat it.
Victor Davis Hanson
is a senior fellow at the
and a recipient of the 2007 National
(C) 2008 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.