Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Future historians will doubtless dissect with care the mindset of the current generation of American policymakers and legislators, and the public whose fate they help determine. Votes in coming days in the Senate will be among the evidence examined in the hopes of answering a question that will, with hindsight, be asked by many: What on earth were they thinking?

That question, of course, is often posed on what the West’s leaders and their peoples could possibly have had in mind as first they ignored, then tried to appease, the rising power and growing malevolence of Adolf Hitler and his fellow totalitarians. Couldn’t they see what is so clear to us now: Such behavior on the part of freedom-loving nations would only put them at greater risk?

The answer, of course, is that the broad nature of the peril, if not all its particulars, could be foreseen — and was, at the time, by some like Winston Churchill. But the vast majority of his countrymen and others who would soon find themselves at war, enslaved or dead, preferred to listen to those who promised conflict could be avoided: negotiated agreements with the totalitarians would assure “peace in our time”; the latters’ demands could be accommodated at someone else’s expense. The problem was, in any event, a distant one.

History does not do us the favor of repeating itself precisely. If anything, the danger we face today from a new totalitarian ideology, Islamofascism, is even more grave than that posed by the ideologies that brought an earlier generation World War II. After all, the Islamists have spent decades cultivating adherents and developing infrastructure not just elsewhere (in this case, the strategic Middle East), but throughout the Free World.

This reality will cause our children and grandchildren to be all the more incredulous about our failure to understand the threat thus posed to our societies, freedoms and even our very existence. They will surely be reduced to asking specifically what on earth were we thinking as the following sort of behavior shaped the escalating, global conflict:

{bullet} Congressional debates about various proposals to force the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, in which the majority appears indifferent to the possibility such a U.S. defeat will inflame the ambitions of our Islamofascist enemies. The attitude seems reminiscent of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s famous comment as he wrote off Czechoslovakia, calling it a “faraway country of which we know nothing.” Today’s Chamberlains are convinced that what they call the “war in Iraq” — a country even farther away, of which we know even less — can simply be ended by our fiat, without consequences for us. How could we be so naive, so irresponsible?

{bullet} Those who call themselves “realists” implicitly accept that there may be adverse effects from abandoning Iraq. They insist such risks can be mitigated, however, by negotiating with the very parties that have done the most to exacerbate the Iraqis’ difficulties — Iran and Syria. How can we possibly be so deluded as to think such negotiations this time will not produce results akin to those of previous efforts to parlay with other totalitarians: confirming their contempt for Western interlocutors, reinforcing the despots’ sense of inevitable victory and encouraging more aggressive behavior by the latter to achieve that outcome on an accelerated basis?

{bullet} With or without the political cover of the sort of negotiations proposed by former Secretary of State James Baker’s Iraq Study Group (the ridiculousness of which is brilliantly captured by a popular video by Hollywood director David Zucker posted on YouTube. Proponents of precipitous withdrawals of U.S. forces from Iraq are evidently untroubled by a key fact: Such an extrication will almost certainly be conducted under fire, via a kind of “Dunkirk in the Desert” — a pell-mell rush for the exits that would make the allied forces’ retreat from France in 1940 look like, well, a day at the beach. How, future generations will wonder, could anyone believe that will be good for America and its vital interests?

{bullet} Even President Bush, who understands that we are confronting a new and toxic ideology that extends far beyond Iraq, nonetheless systematically fails to practice the first principle of counter-ideological struggles: delegitimate your enemies. Instead, the president and his minions persist in holding meetings with, hiring, being influenced by and otherwise embracing Islamists in America. The effect is palpable. Those aligned with, if not actually working for, our foes are empowered at the expense of anti-Islamist Muslims, advancing the formers’ bid to dominate their community — a crucial first step toward their stated goal of world domination. Our successors will find such wholly counterproductive behavior to be inexplicable, as indeed it is.

There is one small consolation for those whose conduct will be seen by coming generations to have contributed in these ways to the mortal imperiling of the Free World: History is written by the victors. Unless we awaken to the true nature and magnitude of our peril, stop pandering to a democratic people’s reflexive desire to recoil from deadly conflict if at all possible and adopt the sort of comprehensive war footing that has long been in order, the victors may be appreciative of those who played a part — however small or unintended — in enabling totalitarianism at last to vanquish freedom.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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