A Brief Moment of Jubilation
Last Friday night on Fox News there was an interview with an Arab reporter from a TV station in Abu Dhabi. What did this well-educated, well-dressed, well-spoken (in upper-class British English) Arab professional want us to hear? "Yes, we know it's over. You will win. But we want to see you bloodied. We want to see the body bags. We hope the Iraqis will make a brave last stand. This is what all Arabs want to see. Our rulers, too — all the Arab rulers. If the American casualties taking Baghdad are high, then America will think twice before doing this again. That's what we want at this point."
Mean, but rational. Subtext: "We know we can't stand up to you in battle, but we believe that if we can kill a few hundred of you, your people will be so dismayed they will leave us alone in future. Then you will not come again to establish bases on our sacred Arab land. You will not nag us about democracy and law in that tiresome way you have. You will let our despots play with their poisons, germs and isotopes in their secret laboratories out of sight, to their hearts' content. You will allow our holy warriors to plot acts of terrorism against you and your friends without interference. Perhaps you will even let us pursue our dearest dream — to drive the Jews from our precious soil once and for all. These are the things we desire from you."
Well, tough kazoolies, Mohammed. You've lost the war, and we're not in much of a mood to accommodate your delusional fantasies. You — the Arabs. "This is what all Arabs want to see." That's the shape of it in your mind, isn't it? You were at one with Saddam Hussein, weren't you? — poison gas, secret police, torture chambers, rapist sons, wars of invasion (Iran, Kuwait), and all. He was a son of a bitch, but he was your son of a bitch, wasn't he? It was the Arabs versus the Crusaders and the Jews, wasn't it? But look: as always in every modern engagement, the Arabs have lost. Lost big: we don't know the body count yet, but it's at least 100 to 1, and quite possibly 1,000 to 1. The wisdom of the late Moshe Dayan has been borne out yet again. Asked to reveal his recipe for winning wars, Dayan replied with a soldier's crisp brevity: "Fight Arabs."
Am I gloating? Is this cruel of me? Have I succumbed to hubris? Have I misplaced my Kipling? — What happened to "An humble and acontrite heart"? Well: yes, yes, not entirely, no, and the Collected Verse is right here within reach where it always is. I have some points to make, though, and I thought a little triumphalism wouldn't hurt to begin with. A natural contrarian, when I see grave figures on the TV, senior mucky-mucks from the D.o.D. and the Pentagon, telling me with slow-shaking head and furrowed brow that "there are tough battles still ahead … it's too soon to say … substantial resistance remains …" I naturally jump up out of my chair and whoop: "We licked the buggers! Yeee- hah!"
This may, of course, be premature. I am writing this on Monday afternoon. It is wellnigh certain that brave young troopers from the Coalition forces — aye, and brave young Iraqis, and poor helpless non-combatants too — will be maimed and killed before the business is wrapped up and done. It is possible something large and ghastly will happen. I hope you will forgive me for setting these things aside and saying: even so, we have won. There is nothing so large and ghastly it could change that. The Saddam Hussein regime is done for. Its military assets are smoldering heaps of scrap. Its palaces are rubble. Its leaders are cowering in holes under the ground. The Ba'athists are finished. The D.o.D. and Pentagon types say so, for all their furrowed brows. So does the fellow from Abu Dhabi TV. Everyone knows it. We've won. On VE day in 1945, Winston Churchill, knowing that his country had been smashed up and bankrupted by the conflict just finished, and that colossal problems lay ahead, none the less told his compatriots that they could permit themselves "a brief moment of jubilation." Well, that's the mood I'm in. If my jubilation is premature, I don't care.
Like Churchill, though, and like, surely, our own leaders, I am already worrying about what comes after. Now, what you think will come after depends on your opinion about what kind of war this was. "A neocon war," sneer my paleo friends. "A Jewish war," snarl the Arabs (which I think means the same thing). "A war of aggression," huff the French and the Russians. "A war for oil," howl the Lefties. "An imperialist war," honk the ChiComs.
Well, here's my answer: it has been a Vic Davis Hanson war. If you haven't read VDH's book Carnage and Culture, I urge you to do so. Though written two years ago, it describes Gulf War II very well: the creative, efficient, rational, disciplined and well-motived soldiery of a free civilization versus the ignorant driven levies of a despotism — a shambolic rabble motivated only by fear of their own leaders, or by a crazed desire for martyrdom, or by the certain knowledge that if they do not die at our hands, they will be torn to pieces by the enraged citizens they have tyrannized over for so many years. The fact of this having been a VDH war is what explains the body counts. As Hanson points out, free peoples go to war reluctantly, but when at last they go, they go with a cold determination to annihilate the enemy's forces, and supported by the spirit, skill, will and technology that enables them to do so. The lop-sided body counts follow as a natural consequence. Sic semper tyrannis.
What we should now begin to think about are the after-effects of this encounter — on them, and on us.
- On them: For the Arabs this has been yet one more unbearable yet must-be-borne, undeniable yet must-be-denied demonstration of the appalling backwardness of their civilization, of the uselessness of every form of government they have yet been able to come up with in the modern age, of their utter collective incompetence, of their fast-dwindling ability to provide for themselves with one-product (or zero-product) economies, of the hopelessness of their attempting to compete with the West in any sphere — especially the military! — until their societies have undergone major systemic reform. The danger is that such reform will be rendered impossible by their blind seething fury at the hated Crusaders and Jews, that their defeat will drive them deeper into madness and despotism instead of pointing them the way out of those things.
- On us: Our own perils are indeed the ones Kipling warned of — arrogant civilizational triumphalism; careless indifference to the psychic toll defeat takes on the defeated; a slipping into the easy fallacy that their collective hopelessness means that they are inferior as persons; naive belief that we can pick them up as easily as we knocked them down. Also blindness to those aspects of our victory that are not strictly Hansonian — for example, to the fact that our army is not a citizens' army at all, but a professional force whose members are separated from their fellow-countrymen by considerable mistrust and misunderstanding, and from the upper elites of their society by, quite often, mutual contempt, with both kinds of separation probably increased by victories like this. Our danger is complacency, easy victory pushing us further in the direction of believing that all our problems with other nations can be solved by the application of military force, a thing which is not, never has been, and never will be the case.
Both these sets of after-effects will be conspicuous following the war. Both are visible now, in fact. Both will need some attention. I must say, though — having started on a triumphalist note, I may as well end on one — I am very, very glad to have our problems rather than theirs!