- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2009

AMERICAN GRIT: WHAT IT WILL TAKE TO SURVIVE IN THE 21ST CENTURY
By Tony Blankley
Regnery, $27.95, 215 pages
REVIEWED BY JOHN R. COYNE JR.

The focus just now is almost entirely on our economic malaise — a huge, great spreading blob of interlocking problems that no superhero seems able to stop. So far the approach is “ready, fire, aim,” and our best economic thinkers are as clueless as the rest of us. In time, of course, we’ll either make a coherent start on solving these problems or they’ll solve themselves. In the meantime, as we run in circles, scream and shout, the economic crisis is dwarfing other concerns, perhaps chief among them national security.

The intelligence community, in tune with the new administration, now tells us that the economic threat to our national security is greater than terrorism or the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Perhaps. But whatever the new intelligence line, our pre-economic-crisis situation in the world is not improving. The war in Afghanistan, creeping ever closer to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, morphs into President Obama’s war, with no end in sight; Russia re-establishes hegemony throughout much of its old empire; our influence in Asia wanes; and we continue to lose our grip in Latin America and in the Middle East.

It’s Tony Blankley’s contention that in these and other areas, the new administration’s approach is badly flawed: “Whether dealing with the economy, national security, or national unity, Obama’s agenda takes human emotions — sensitivity, empathy, and self-satisfaction — and elevates them into national policy.”

Overseas, Mr. Blankley writes, our new president and his liberal constituents “assume that the magnetic force of his personality will suffice to solve our biggest foreign policy challenges and to bring international miscreants to heel.” Mr. Blankley points to Iran, “one of the chief international sponsors of Islamic terrorism” which is being run by “an Islamist of dubious sanity who denies the Holocaust, threatens to obliterate Israel, and is racing to develop nuclear weapons.” This is the sort of leader Mr. Obama seems to believe we can talk to, with a “child-like faith in the power of dialogue.”

Mr. Blankley writes with conviction in strong, confident prose. His purpose is to propose a patriotic program, clearly stated, of the sort that would have served Republicans well in last year’s elections. “Patriotism is a love for one’s country; nationalism is a call to action, a commitment to make the difficult decisions on behalf of what will make America strong … even at the expense of what might make us momentarily more comfortable. A nationalist recognizes that each citizen owes the country something. … A nationalist program, such as I propose, seeks to restore America’s prosperity, military strength, and sense of patriotism.”

Central to Mr. Blankley’s program is the restoration of a national sense of duty, one key element of which is to bring back the draft. “National service,” he writes, “is a call to renew the self-sacrifice, patriotism, and stoicism that once animated our country….”

Moreover, we need it. “The bottom line is that despite all our technological advantages, troop strength matters … the lack of available ground troops has led some officials and analysts to conclude that if the United States found another unavoidable military conflict, we would have to rely on air power and even, if it was serious enough nuclear weapons.”

Difficult, to say the least. The draft was abolished for political reasons that didn’t work, but the political opposition has become entrenched. Mr. Blankley thinks former President George W. Bush could have successfully restored it immediately after September 11, 2001. However, had he done so and then taken us to Iraq, the political outcry would have been deafening.

Nevertheless, those of us who have served share a common experience that we found invaluable, and we like to think it made us better and more purposeful Americans. Nor do we believe it right to deprive succeeding generations — or our country — of that experience.

Mr. Blankley cites William F. Buckley Jr.’s book “Gratitude,” in which Mr. Buckley laid out a plan for national service: We live, Mr. Buckley wrote, in “a society that seems not to be effectively transmitting, to our successor citizens, those ideas we cling to as indispensable to the characterization of a proud society.”

In the end, writes Mr. Blankley, whose son serves in the military, “the question is this: is enlarging America’s military to defend our vital national interests and renew our sense of national unity worth the price of a national service program? I think the answer is undeniably yes. More than that, I believe it’s inevitable, if we are to survive and prosper as a free and independent nation.”

Among Mr. Blankley’s other proposals: Return ROTC and military recruiters to all campuses accepting federal funds; articulate a national energy policy that eschews neo-romantic environmental pipe dreams and concentrates on developing real energy supplies; demand a stronger sense of responsibility among the national media and develop a national communications strategy that showcases our achievements.

Mr. Blankley, born in England, concludes on a strong and personal note: “What I do believe — with all the fervor of the immigrant and naturalized American citizen who I am — is this: when America is strong, the hope for individual freedom and human dignity yet lives in the breast of humanity.”

John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author with Linda Bridges of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement,” published by Wiley.

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