And I mean that, sincerely. Farmer, classicist, military historian and the best of the first class of American public intellectuals. The most important writer in America.
Here’s a long excerpt from his latest at NRO:
The war in Iraq â€” as all wars â€” is fraught with savage ironies.
In the build-up to the invasion, anti-Americanism in Europe reached a near frenzy. It was whipped up by French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard SchrÃ¶der, and evoked warnings of an eternal split in the Atlantic Alliance. If Iraq had proved a catalyst for this expression of near hatred â€” fueled by long-standing angers and envies â€” it soon, however, proved to be a catharsis as well.
Both leaders overplayed their hands when the U.S. had already begun downsizing its NATO deployments in Germany. Elsewhere, Europeans started to have second thoughts about alienating America at a time of rising Russian belligerency, and suffered from increased worry over radical Islamic terrorists, at home and abroad.
The result is that their successors, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, are staunchly pro-American in ways their previous governments were not, even well before the Iraq War. And given the increased jihadist threats to Europe, worries about Iran, and the consistency of the U.S. effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, these governments may well have learned â€” in a way they did not anticipate in 2003 â€” that there really is no other ally like a steadfast United States, in these unstable times.
European youth can print all the anti-war leaflets they wish with splashy photos from Abu Ghraib â€” but their leaders quietly understand not only that the United States did not quit Iraq in defeat, but that it also may be winning an unforeseen victory there. Moreover, they see that this victory has repercussions for the security of their own countries â€” and this will require readjustments to the easy anti-Americanism of the past.
The post-war occupation was supposed to be difficult, but few envisioned a bloody four-year struggle. Instead, after the fall of Saddam, al Qaeda chose to escalate its war against the West by sending thousands of jihadists into the new battleground of Iraq â€” in part, to aid the Sunni and ex-Baathist insurgencies in their wars against the U.S., and the Shiites. The violence that ensued left tens of thousands dead, and resulted in nearly 4,000 American battle fatalities. We spent nearly a trillion dollars, as public support dropped from a 70-percent approval of the war to less than 40-percent.
Yet it was not the American military that was ruined fighting an unpopular war in the heart of the ancient caliphate, but most likely al Qaeda who has lost thousands, (and, far more importantly, completely destroyed its Pan-Arabic mystique of religious purity).
The more the jihadists fought, the more they were killed by the U.S. military â€” while kidnapping, murdering, stealing, mutilating, raping, and outraging Iraqi civilians. Nothing is worse in the Arab world than to be seen as weak and cruel, and al Qaeda proved, eventually, to be both on Al-Jazeera.
After Iraq, the al Qaedistsâ€™ reputation has become more akin to the Costra Nostra, than to romantic Holy Warriors. It was not our intention in going to Iraq to cripple and discredit al Qaeda per se, in some third-party theater; but once the jihadists upped the ante, they also raised the stakes of being defeated with global implications to follow. Polls in the Arab world show a decline in support for suicide bombing, and a radical change of heart about bin Laden.
Hanson says something more delicately here that I’ve been pointing to for a long time. Iraq lured a considerable number of jihadis within range of concentrated American lethality. That turned Iraq into a convenient killing field for the most aggressive and murderous Islamist demographic, and while I’m sure that it didn’t supplant American efforts to hunt down terror networks luking in shadows around the world, it did offer an opportunity to get them in one general location and under the American gun in a reasonably short period of time.
And as Hanson ably points out, it showed the Islamic world how desperately evil al Qaedists are with their willingness to wantonly kill Muslims when American troops were out of their reach.
With so many American pundits lost in contextless anger about “Bush,” Hanson has always been a steady source of context, a perspective with deep roots in real history and a stark understanding of war.
I raise my glass to him this Thanksgiving because he has stood the barricade since 9/11, and as we all thank our magnificent troops who stand for us in harm’s way, I want to make sure that everyone understands how important Hanson has been in maintaining the meaning of their effort. That has been a battle too, and a real one.