HEY, GEORGE: NO MORE MR NICE GUY
America should not be trying to win friends
and influence people, says Mark Steyn.
America should be destroying her enemies
New Hampshire IT's not easy being a compassionate warmonger. This week, it came to the notice of the Bush administration that, because of poor communication at the design department, the TV dinners and cluster bombs that they're dropping on the Hindu Kush are the same colour. That meant they had to rush out a new radio ad: 'Attention, people of Afghanistan!' began the announcer in what the White House hopes is fluent Pashto. 'As you may have heard, the Partnership of Nations is dropping yellow humanitarian daily rations. The rations are square-shaped and are packaged in plastic. They are full of good nutritious, halal food.'
That's the good news. On the other hand, 'in areas far from where we are dropping food, we are dropping cluster bombs. Although it is unlikely, it is possible that not every bomb will explode on impact. These bombs are a yellow colour and are can-shaped. . . . Please, please exercise caution when approaching unidentified yellow objects in areas that have been recently bombed.'
Please, please exercise caution; it could be a Big McHalal burger, fries and a vanilla sheik; it could he a cluster bomb; or — most worrying of all — that unidentified yellow object could be Western resolve curdling under the klieg lights of Taleban media savvy. By the time you read this, the rumoured Hallowe'en atrocities may have come to pass in America, and we will have been reminded once again of why we're fighting this war. Alternatively, there will have been no nightmares on Elm Street; just more of the same of the last four weeks — air raids on selected Afghan targets; a couple more accidental hits of Red Cross warehouses, Taleban daycare facilities, the wheelchair ramp to the Kandahar lesbian outreach centre, etc., but absolutely no bombs dropped on Mullah Omar's frontline northern troops because that might help the excitable chaps in the Northern Alliance take the capital before Cohn Powell has time to put together a coalition government led by whoever the Kabul equivalent of Shirley Williams is. Meanwhile, back home on Anthrax Avenue, the spore bores at the networks will have driven even more of their audience away — CNN's ratings have apparently dropped 70 per cent in the last two weeks — and, among our allies, the clamour will have increased for a 'bombing pause', to enable the aid agencies to go in and restock their bombed warehouses so that the Taleban can steal all the supplies before the USAF blows the buildings up again.
And then there's Ramadan. As Bill Clinton remarked during one of his own desultory bombing campaigns, 'Military action during Ramadan would be profoundly offensive to the Muslim world.' Jack Straw and Geoff Hoon, speaking for the rear end of our pantomime coalition, have similar reservations. Unlike every other white-boy pundit, I'm no Islamic scholar, but given that, as I understand it, during the holy month of Ramadan Muslims are expected to live in simple fashion, it's hard to see in what way taking out the water lines, the food warehouses, the electric supply, etc., is disrespectful. Quite the contrary, one would have thought. Happy Holidays from the Great Satan!
But where are the American Civil Liberties Union lawsuits when you need them? If B52s taking Ramadan off isn't in breach of the separation of Church and State, what is? As Joshua Micah Marshall put it in a droll commentary. 'Some of my conservative friends must be wondering something like this right about now: if we wanted a war fought from the air, with strategy dictated by politics and not the military, we might as well have given Bill Clinton a third term.' With hindsight, the turning point was the first night of the bombing raids, when (according to the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh) an unmanned CIA Predator reconnaissance aircraft identified Mullah Omar's car fleeing Kabul. Lacking the authority to 'push the button', the agency relayed the news back to central command in Florida, where General Tommy R. Franks, the head man, replied, 'My JAG doesn't like this, so we're not going to fire.' A JAG is a Judge Advocate-General — i.e., a military lawyer — and the only reason I know that is because there's a show on CBS called JAG. It says something about our times that the only military adventure series on American network TV is about an army lawyer. So, rather than offing the mad mullah and worrying about ass-covering later, the asscovering took precedence and the mullah got away.
No wonder Don Rumsfeld is reported, on hearing the news, to have kicked in a couple of doors. Had Mullah Omar been killed on the first night of bombing, what a message that would have sent! Wanna play host to guys who massacre US civilians? Fine, but you're in the last month of your life, pal; don't start any long books. It would have been an important psychological victory, leading to political upheaval and defections and disintegration, in the light of which much of the indeterminate bombing of subsequent weeks would have been unnecessary.
Instead, according to which side of the fence you sit, the present campaign is either insufficiently serious or barbaric, pointless and insensitive. In the former camp are the Republican armchair generals, who want ground troops now and argue that if the Taleban survive the winter, all bets are off. In the latter camp are most of the great global 'coalition', or 'Partnership of Nations'. This could have been predicted. Even at the best of times. America is not especially liked by the world's elites, for reasons trivial and profound. Put a Republican president in the White House and you instantly double the anathema. Those of us who thought that, being Neanderthal, racist, misogynist, homophobic fundamentalists, the Taleban would get at least as bad a press as the average GOP Congressman underestimated the contempt in which the US is held by global opinion. The Guardian mocked the very idea of America fighting for civilisation: 'Which bits of the planet does Mr Bush term uncivilised?' sneered its leader writer. 'Some would say Afghanistan; others might nominate west Texas.' How true. Remember their stirring editorial from 56 years ago? 'Which bits of the planet does Mr Truman term uncivilised? Some would say Dachau; others might nominate Missouri.'
Yet, much as I hate to say it, the Guardian has a point, although not quite the point it thinks it's making. As I've said in these pages, I happen to believe that this is a war for civilisation, if only in the sense that the closer the world gets to the Osarna-Sad damite vision of how things ought to be and the further away from the Bush–Cheney vision, the worse a place it's likely to be (as politicians like to say) `for the children'. But Bush was probably unwise publicly to declare the war in those terms. The result is that we find ourselves in the not quite persuasive position of fighting a noble idealistic crusade (whoops) but in cynical realpolitik terms. We are waging war on terrorism with a coalition that supposedly includes several of the world's leading terrorist nations. From that schizophrenic straddle, all others follow. We're opposed to the Taleban, but we're willing to work with `moderate Taleban elements', but we'll still bomb the place. but we don't bomb too hard, but we do bomb hard enough to destroy aid warehouses, but we also drop food parcels, but we don't drop enough to make much difference, but we do drop enough to get us denounced as cynical by Oxfam.
And so after four weeks the US has somehow contrived to get blamed by world opinion for the 'humanitarian disaster' in Afghanistan. We need a `bombing pause' to enable the Taleban to come to their senses, even though they don't have any senses to come to and the quickest way to end the `humanitarian disaster' is to liquidate its direct cause: the vveirdbeards. But, having framed the war in idealistic terms, Bush shouldn't be surprised that a lot of the world's most tedious self-proclaimed idealists want to muscle in on it.
The problem seems to be that the US has lapsed almost reflexively into globalpoliceman mode — treating Afghanistan as Kosovo, Bosnia, Somalia, and itself as a benign sorter-outer of a troubled region. Whether or not you think America is qualified for such a role is irrelevant: this isn't that kind of war, and Bush was foolish to let it be gussied up into one. America is not engaged in what the columnist Charles Krauthammer calls a 'war of choice' — from Vietnam to Kosovo, conflicts in which America itself is not at stake — but a 'war of necessity', on which the fate of the nation rests. If that sounds overheated, why? If Osama had a nuke, he'd use it. So we have to kill him and destroy al-Qa-eda before the boys with the dreams of 72 virgins in paradise are wandering around Dallas and Atlanta with suitcase bombs. Bush made more sense when he was in cowboy mode, doing his 'Wanted Dead Or Alive' shtick. Now he's touring grade schools urging every American child to get a Muslim pen-pal. This is not the time for Islamic outreach: the US doesn't need to prove it's nicer than anybody else, just that it's tougher than anybody else.
The last 'war of necessity' was the Falklands, and even that's a bit of a stretch. Given the way the British have shrugged off Empire, they could no doubt have lived with the loss of some obscure islands. Nonetheless, it was British sovereign territory that was seized, and it was in those terms that Mrs Thatcher chose to wage war. She did not waste much time 'coalition-building': Britain had been attacked, it was Britain that would respond. The Americans were helpful militarily, less so diplomatically (Al Haig and Jeane Kirkpatrick), but they stayed in the wings. The Royal New Zealand Navy sent a destroyer to relieve a British ship on some exercise or other and free her up for the South Atlantic. which was nice of them. Our 'European partners' couldn't wait to bust sanctions and start trading with the Argies again, which wasn't so nice. But, either way, it was Britain's war.
This should be America's war. When Bush says you're either with us or against us, he overlooks the fact that most countries are opting for the 'neither of the above' box, That may be deplorable, but it makes little difference. Even the few nations that genuinely wish to join the US have hardly anything useful to contribute. And adopting the pretence that you're a 'Partnership of Nations' requires a concomitant dishonesty about war aims. Bush says that this is a 'war against terrorism' and Rumsfeld that we may never know when it's over. Neither statement is correct, though, if you believe the former, the latter goes with the territory. Mrs Thatcher parroted endlessly that 'the wishes of the Falkland Islanders are paramount', and she was right to do so. Certain things followed therefrom: the Falkland Islanders wished to remain British, therefore the islands had to be liberated. That was the explicit war aim. Anything else — such as the fall of General Galtieri — would be a bonus.
Bush needs to be equally explicit with the American people. This is a war against the forces that attacked the United States: al-Qa'eda and the regimes that support and fund them. It will be over when Osarna bin Laden and his closest colleagues are dead, al-Qa'eda is destroyed, the Taleban are removed, Saddam Hussein is overthrown, and the House of Saud has had its collective genitals squeezed and been persuaded to exile those princes who've been kissing up to terrorists. This is a fight for America, not for an abstract principle. America's immediate objective in Afghanistan is destroying the Taleban. A benign, social democratic coalition government would be a nice bonus, but to fret about it now will only get in the way of bombing Mullah Omar's donkey cart.
For a month now, the administration has gone the Colin Powell route — restrained warfare, multinational mumbo-jumbo, would-you-like-the-chicken-or-beef? — and the result has been jeers all round from Mary Robinson, the aid agencies, the European press, Tony Blair's backbenchers and at least some of his Cabinet. This is not an audience worth playing to. And the only audience that does matter — America's more equivocal 'friends' in the Arab world — respects might far more than Halal McNuggets. It's time to stop trying to be liked and to start trying to be feared.