America Has Waged Its Last War

Every indication is that the U.S. will never fight again. Here is why.
From the January 2007 Trumpet Print Edition

Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid were giddy as lottery winners. As November’s election night results tipped the balance of power in both chambers of the United States Congress in favor of the Democrats, these two looked to become the next speaker of the House and Senate majority leader. Supporters cheered; their faces glowed. Confetti fell; their hearts soared.

They weren’t the only ones celebrating. Halfway around the world, Iran’s leaders were also wreathed in smiles. Ayatollah Khamenei, the nation’s supreme spiritual head, called the election result “an obvious victory for the Iranian nation.” He viewed it as “the defeat of Bush’s hawkish policies in the world.” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the election showed “that the majority of American people are dissatisfied and are fed up with the policies of the American administration.”

Amazing: Not only were the Democrats and mullahs celebrating the same thing, they were celebrating for the same reasons. Expectations are high in both circles that an era of perceived American belligerence and warmongering is over.

What that means for the future, however, is where the two camps differ. Democrats believe this will open the door to a golden age of diplomacy—the mullahs believe it’s a step toward a golden age of their brand of Islam. The Dems see the election leading to peace—the mullahs see it as giving them the breathing room they need to take over the Middle East and beyond.

Which vision is correct will become clear quite soon, because the U.S. truly is entering a new, less militaristic phase. This is a milestone with massive global ramifications.

“A Whole Fresh Look”

The day after the election, President Bush announced the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld—the man, after the president himself, most closely associated with the “hawkish policies” so despised in Tehran. The White House chief of staff said the president wanted to “take a whole fresh look” at its war effort.

“Whole fresh look” is huge. “Whole fresh look” speaks volumes.

An indication of what that “fresh look” might produce came in the choice of Rumsfeld’s replacement. Robert Gates is widely believed to favor a pragmatic policy, one that would include negotiating with Iran and Syria to fix Iraq’s problems.

Such policy is actually not so fresh. It is essentially the same policy that in 1983 shuttled Donald Rumsfeld—then the Reagan government’s Middle East envoy—to Baghdad to shake hands with Saddam Hussein as part of an effort to check Iran’s growing power. Though Washington knew at the time that Saddam had used chemical weapons, the handshake represented, in the words of author Michael Rubin, “a triumph for diplomatic realism.”

That handshake didn’t play so well leading up to the Iraq war. In its Sept. 23, 2002, cover story, “How We Helped Create Saddam,” Newsweek featured the Saddam-Rumsfeld photo as a symbol of a hypocritical, opportunistic foreign policy that supported dictators as long as it was convenient.

The Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns that Rumsfeld oversaw as President Bush’s secretary of defense nearly represent the opposite policy—not winking at dictators but wiping them out. But that approach is, of course, now condemned by both Democrats who disdain the president and Iranian leaders who don’t want to be wiped out.

Thus, “Today,” Rubin commented in the Wall Street Journal, “progressives and liberals celebrate not only Mr. Rumsfeld’s departure, but the resurrection of realists like Secretary of Defense-nominee Robert Gates …. Mr. Gates was the cia’s deputy director for intelligence at the time of Mr. Rumsfeld’s infamous handshake, deputy director of Central Intelligence when Saddam gassed the Kurds, and deputy national security adviser when Saddam crushed the Shiite uprising.” In other words, he represents the old-school, once-maligned, propping-up-dictators program.

In addition to promoting Gates to defense secretary, the president is considering the recommendations of the congressionally appointed Iraq Study Group, led by James Baker (another Reagan-era “diplomatic realist”) and Lee Hamilton. This group also recommends opening up talks with Syria and Iran. Rubin aptly concluded, “In effect, Mr. Baker’s proposals are to have the White House replicate the Rumsfeld-Saddam handshake with both Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”

That’s “a whole fresh look”: accepting the election as a rebuke of the war policy and moving in a softer direction. Even the president’s British ally, Tony Blair, implied that a deal with Syria and Iran is a possibility.

The Democrats are eager to gloat over what they see as a chastised Republican administration. Sen. Carl Levin, who will likely lead the Senate Armed Services Committee, came on strong in a post-election Sunday morning talk show appearance. “The people spoke dramatically, overwhelmingly, resoundingly, to change the course in Iraq,” he said. Change course how? “We have to tell Iraqis that the open-ended commitment is over,” he said, calling for troops to begin coming home within four to six months. Senator Reid agreed that withdrawal “should start within the next few months.” The president appears dead-set against such plans, but these are the kinds of ideas that play in the minds of his detractors when they see him backpedal.

If the president’s actions appear to Levin to be a signal of political weakness, they read differently in the Middle East. Ayatollah Khamenei sees a military defeat, plain and simple. That being the case, what kind of ideas are playing in his mind?

Lack of Will

Clearly the president is concerned about the election results sending a message of defeat. So he tried to replace it with another: “I have a message for [America’s] enemies,” he said. “Do not confuse the workings of American democracy with a lack of American will. Our nation is committed to bringing you to justice, and we will prevail.”

Given the election results and the effects rippling through Washington, it is easy to see how America’s enemies could confuse the workings of American democracy with a lack of American will. That’s pretty much what a massive congressional makeover, a defense secretary getting jettisoned, talk of deals with Iran and Syria, and demands from newly empowered congresspersons to pull troops out of Iraq asap look like. These signs certainly can’t be interpreted as a strengthening of American will.

The voices of the new leading party in Congress, compelled to prove they aren’t soft on defense, say they will implement a smarter, tougher military policy. But the truth is, Americans did not elect them to make the military tougher.

In the Boston Globe, columnist James Carroll urged America to win by losing. He argued that the big problem with Vietnam was the fact that the U.S. didn’t concede defeat way back in 1968. Fighting for America’s honor in Iraq today is futile, he wrote, because we lost it the day we set foot there. “For all of the anguish felt over the loss of American lives, can we acknowledge that there is something proper in the way that hubristic [arrogant] American power has been thwarted? Can we admit that the loss of honor will not come with how the war ends, because we lost our honor when we began it? This time, can we accept defeat?”

No one disputes that America is caught in a bramble bush in Iraq. But to say American defeat is proper? That the U.S. deserves to lose? Traces of such thinking clearly seeped into the congressional election results.

In commenting on the Globe article, tcsDaily’s Josh Manchester quoted German scholar Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s book The Culture of Defeat, a study on “the stages of defeat through which nations pass upon losing a large war.” Comparing examples such as France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and Germany’s defeat in World War i, Schivelbusch documented a pattern in how peoples deal with such losses: first denying it, then awakening to reality, then protesting the tactics of the victorious enemy—then “the stage of seeing the nation as being a loser in battle, but a winner in spirit.” Schivelbusch spoke of how these losers came to see “victory as a curse” and “defeat as moral purification and salvation.”

Some Americans may view “accepting defeat” as salvation, but Islamists recognize it as perdition. Even the faintest signs of American frailty are sweet, intoxicating wine for imperialist Muslims—proofs of Islam’s destined global conquest, prods to press on in the violent cause. In his book America Alone, commentator Mark Steyn quotes an Arabic proverb: “A falling camel attracts many knives.” Donald Rumsfeld once expressed the same idea: “If we know anything, it is that weakness is provocative.” America does not have the luxury of “accepting defeat” as if lying on a comfortable psychiatrist’s couch. With Islamist radicals, surrender, prostration and defeat lead not to purification, but to destruction. Any notion that there is honor in such a defeat is a delusion.

In the context of the present war, “accepting defeat” is, in effect, expressing the belief that the world would be better off ruled by Islam.

The Futility of Talk

What happens when America’s enemies don’t fear American action? The last several months already provide a clue as to the nightmarish answer: Hezbollah launches war against Israel; Hamas does everything but; North Korea freely tests long-range missiles and nuclear weapons; Iran spurns international pressure to refrain from doing the same; Iraqi and Afghan insurgents brazenly attack, emboldened by even surviving to fight another day.

These are growing forces in the world that have proven time and again that they cannot be talked into giving up their destructive agendas. But the general policy in international bodies—and in American politics, with a couple of brief exceptions—is still to forego action for the sake of talk, indefinitely.

In Civilization and Its Enemies, Lee Harris exposes the fundamental cause for this approach and explains why it is doomed to fail. It is the difference between one side wanting to do anything (short of dying) in order to hold on to things as they are, and the other side willing to do anything (including dying) for the sake of the cause. One side has everything to lose; the other side has nothing to lose.

The diplomacy-at-all-costs mind does not comprehend the victory-at-all-costs mind. It is unwilling to believe any nation would be so crazy as to risk plunging the globe into large-scale war. Consider: World War i was called “the Great War” because people assumed it would end warfare forever; having witnessed the horrors of that conflict, it seemed unthinkable that anyone would ever tread that path again. Harris calls this idea “the Grand Illusion”—and Hitler exploited it masterfully. He “grasped the enormous opportunity that the aftermath of the Great War gave to any power that could plausibly threaten to bring about another great war. For as long as he could even imply such a threat, those who were not prepared to commit themselves to such a conflict … would be forced to compromise over issues that they would otherwise have been willing to fight for, if only they could have been certain that the fight would not immediately escalate into total war.”

In other words, the party willing to risk even death has an incalculable advantage over the party willing to do anything to preserve life. And the nation unwilling to wage total war will always be forced to appease the nation that has no such fears. Thus a paradox: The more the world turns to instruments of international diplomacy and justice—the more that nations invest their confidence in the ability of such organizations to prevent large-scale war—the greater the rewards become for the nation, terrorist group or religious faction that is willing to risk total war.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has stated his belief that world war must come before the Islamic messiah can return. He simply does not fear Armageddon. His willingness to risk having even nuclear bombs dropped on his country gives him a tremendous advantage: He can pursue his provocative agenda fearlessly. He will not change his course unless an outside power changes it for him, using force.

International bodies such as the United Nations simply are not capable of action on that scale. They are designed to address problems through talk alone.

America is embracing the same approach—retreating to the illusory bunker of multilateralism. The Democratic victory merely poured in concrete a reality that had already existed for perhaps two years: A shift toward subjugating national interest to the will of the UN, of “managing” dangers through diplomacy without threat of action. Look how Washington has handled the nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea: Semi-tough talk backed up by firm, muscular patience. Belligerent tolerance. Repeatedly redrawing lines in the sand. Shuffling responsibility onto the UN, or the Security Council, or the EU, or six-party talks. Anyone can see the drastic adjustment in attitude from the administration that knocked out the Taliban in seven weeks and Saddam Hussein in three. It is showing itself firmly committed to always finding another option short of war.

By subjugating itself to the international community in this way, the U.S. is giving up the use of its military as a genuine instrument of national sovereignty. Given the fact that, in recent years, it has been the only nation willing to fight—even limited, small-scale battles against petty dictators—this trend is opening up a massive opportunity for any party eager to embrace war.

And now, after an election that empowered the party that has incessantly criticized virtually every aspect of those campaigns the president did undertake, the trend will only accelerate.

Once disentangling itself from Iraq, will the U.S. recommit troops in order to solve other conflicts by military means? Not outside the confines of UN or nato action, surely.

Will it go after Iran, North Korea, or somewhere else? No, no and no.

Will it, instead, look for every possible diplomatic avenue in addressing new global problems, to the point of effectively taking robust military options off the table? It already has.

Is it possible, in fact, that the United States will never fight another war?

The Last Helicopter

To a mind saturated with hatred for the U.S., convinced that Islam will soon rise to dominate the world, the answer is obvious. The “Great Satan,” so powerful and arrogant, has been humbled. It will not rise again.

In a Chicago Sun-Times column after the election, Mark Steyn wrote, “What does it mean when the world’s hyperpower, responsible for 40 percent of the planet’s military spending, decides that it cannot withstand a guerrilla war with historically low casualties against a ragbag of local insurgents and imported terrorists? You can call it ‘redeployment’ or ‘exit strategy’ or ‘peace with honor’ but, by the time it’s announced on al-Jazeera, you can pretty much bet that whatever official euphemism was agreed on back in Washington will have been lost in translation. … [I]f the Great Satan can’t win in Vietnam or Iraq, where can it win? That’s how China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Venezuela and a whole lot of others look at it.”

Is that fair? In one sense, the question is moot. These nations are already basing their foreign-policy decisions on America’s diminished stature.

Last March, an article appeared on OpinionJournal.com by Iranian journalist Amir Taheri, explaining how the Middle East is anticipating the day that President Bush leaves office. Called “The Last Helicopter,” it described a powerful image burning in the minds of many Muslim leaders: that of a helicopter whisking the last of the “fleeing Americans” out of a hot war zone—an image that has played out repeatedly in history: “It was that image in Saigon that concluded the Vietnam War under Gerald Ford. Jimmy Carter had five helicopters fleeing from the Iranian desert, leaving behind the charred corpses of eight American soldiers. Under Ronald Reagan the helicopters carried the corpses of 241 Marines murdered in their sleep in a Hezbollah suicide attack. Under the first President Bush, the helicopter flew from Safwan, in southern Iraq, with Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf aboard, leaving behind Saddam Hussein’s generals, who could not believe why they had been allowed to live to fight their domestic foes, and America, another day. Bill Clinton’s helicopter was a Black Hawk, downed in Mogadishu and delivering 16 American soldiers into the hands of a murderous crowd.

“According to this theory,” Taheri wrote, “President George W. Bush is an ‘aberration,’ a leader out of sync with his nation’s character and no more than a brief nightmare for those who oppose the creation of an ‘American Middle East.’ … Ahmadinejad [and others] have concluded that there will be no helicopter as long as George W. Bush is in the White House. But they believe that whoever succeeds him, Democrat or Republican, will revive the helicopter image to extricate the U.S. from a complex situation that few Americans appear to understand.

“Mr. Ahmadinejad’s defiant rhetoric is based on a strategy known in Middle Eastern capitals as ‘waiting Bush out.’ … Mr. Bush might have led the U.S. into ‘a brief moment of triumph.’ But the U.S. is a ‘sunset’ (ofuli) power while Iran is a sunrise (tolu’ee) one and, once Mr. Bush is gone, a future president would admit defeat and order a retreat as all of Mr. Bush’s predecessors have done since Jimmy Carter.”

Considering the present political scene in Washington, perhaps Iran’s mullahs don’t have that long to wait.

The loss to the world of an America willing to undertake the difficult business of preventing violent, imperialist Muslims from pursuing their vision of a worldwide Islamic empire would truly be a profound one.

With renewed fervor and increasingly lethal weaponry, Iran and its proxies are destined to push and to keep pushing their program. They will score success after success as long as the Western world continues to negotiate, equivocate, second-guess and surrender, meekly accepting defeat as some feeble type of moral purification and salvation.

Is the seriousness of this historic moment real to you?

The Days of Vengeance

Remember the difference between the Democrats’ and the Iranians’ visions of where the world is headed following America’s recent congressional elections.

The fact is, neither vision is right. On one hand, anticipation of a new golden age of diplomacy reflects a spectacular misunderstanding of the mullahs’ aims and underestimation of the mullahs’ will.

But on the other, the “golden age” of Islam will be checked before it arrives.

The Bible foretells a crisis point, a watershed, when Iran will push too hard, too far, and a power—not America but a European power—will lash back with unprecedented ferocity. That Islamists can be stopped only by force will ring powerfully true. You can read about this in our January 2006 article, “The Ostrich, the Warriors and the Whirlwind.”

It will be at that point—the biblically prophesied “great tribulation”—that the enormous tragedy of America’s departure from the scene will truly become apparent. “For these be the days of vengeance,” Jesus Christ prophesied of this time of unendurable savagery, “that all things which are written may be fulfilled” (Luke 21:22).

But the wonderful and imminent end of this nightmare Christ spoke of immediately after, in verses 27-28: “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.”

For more information on America’s future, order a free copy of our book The United States and Britain in Prophecy.