The Magazine

It's America's War

From the May 24, 2004 issue: But too many Democrats think it's Bush's war.

May 24, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 35 • By DAVID GELERNTER
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THESE ARE TIMES when President Bush and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld could probably use some encouragement. They should ponder a short note by Anthony Eden to Winston Churchill. It was May 1941 and World War II was going badly. Churchill was Britain's Bush and Rumsfeld, prime minister and minister of defense. Eden was his foreign secretary and friend. There had been disasters in Greece and Crete, a discouraging naval battle with the warship Bismarck, and hard fighting in Iraq, where the British were battling Nazi-backed Rashid Ali and Luftwaffe bombers that were helping him out. "My dear Winston," Eden wrote, "This is a bad day; but tomorrow Baghdad will be entered, Bismarck sunk. On some day the war will be won, and you will have done more than any other man in history to win it."

By "tomorrow" he meant "soon"; his predictions all came true. But for now, it is indeed a bad day.

Too many Democrats and some Republicans are acting as if Abu Ghraib means that the Bush administration is in trouble. They are wrong. It means that America is in trouble. And when America is in trouble, every public official is required to help.

The bestial murder of Nicholas Berg has nothing to do with Abu Ghraib. Absolute evil is self-seeding; nothing causes it any more than we cause rats to spawn or the black plague to blossom. But certain conditions help it thrive--such as the worldwide seething toxic stink of America Hatred, or the ongoing struggle by so many thinkers (especially Europeans) to legitimize terrorism (all those torn-to-pieces Israeli innocents dismissed with a shrug or a smirk). Perhaps the murder of Berg--9/11 compressed into one single act, a black hole of infinite wickedness--will at last bring American moral showboating to an end. We all love to tell the world how much we care. It's so easy, so cheap. Perhaps we will now get serious.

Because of Abu Ghraib, America is (temporarily!) down and out and getting kicked in the head by every two-bit moralizing moron in the universe, while her thoughtful Euro-friends twist the knife by informing us that hundreds of dead American soldiers might just as well have stayed home; America's rule is no better than Saddam's. We need to hear from America's political leaders, loud and clear: "Yes, we abominate the Abu Ghraib crimes but will not accept your forgetting what America has paid to liberate Iraq, will not allow foreign nations to slander the United States, will not permit you to forget what we and the British have accomplished: a world without Saddam Hussein; a vastly safer, profoundly better world. And no one will be allowed to dishonor American soldiers and this nation by telling us 'you're just as bad as Saddam'; that lie will never go unchallenged."

We need to hear those things especially from Democrats. For the world to know that this nation is united, Democrats have to speak. They haven't. The message has not been delivered.

Let's go back a few weeks. What were we thinking? Maybe the war in Iraq was a mistake, or maybe it was fought the wrong way (I didn't think so, but many serious and discouraged Americans did)--but we all knew this for sure: Thanks to American and British sacrifice in money and blood, Saddam was gone and Iraq was on the road to being free, and we could all be proud of that. A blood-black stain on mankind's honor had been washed away.

Then some photographs appeared, and the world saw ugly crimes--crimes of the sort Americans particularly hate, bullying crimes of the strong against the weak. Of course it was right to denounce the criminals and demand investigations and accountability. Such sentiments were easy to express (how many people are in favor of prisoner abuse?), but public officials did need to express them. So far so good.

But there was something else these officials needed to express. "We will not tolerate the world's using the crimes at Abu Ghraib to smear America, or belittle the price we have paid in Iraq." In the prevailing climate of moral showboating, those sentiments were hard to express; and almost no one bothered.