My wife and I just returned from a hectic, but delightful two-week visit to London, which was the first visit to that city for both of us in over forty years, a fact which qualified us as virtual first time guests. Given that status, the usual round of sights, sounds, and tastes was mandatory, and we didn’t miss anything, prowling every nook and cranny of historical and cultural London and vicinity. My impressions were many, substantially positive, because London for me is in many ways about my heritage, a kind of “roots” pilgrimage, if you will. Foremost among these impressions was, one, that this is truly a world city. Many spots want to claim such a designation, including any number of American “wannabes”, but one has only to spend an hour or two on a Saturday morning in Trafalgar Square, eavesdrop on any number of multi-lingual conversations while wandering the aisles of the British Museum or National Gallery, or spend a Sunday afternoon in the marketplace of Covent Garden to get a sense of the extent to which this city is a unique convergence of cultures, ideas, markets, and history. The second major impression was that every block of this place simply reeks of tradition and heritage, with national heroes memorialized at every turn and the millennial commitment to “king, country, and faith” seeping through every memorial and every palace and cathedral wall. This was the most compelling impact on me, combined with the fact that, in the U. S., we mainly think in terms of two centuries of history, at most four; in Britain, it’s at least ten, and that perspective alone was awe-inspiring.Through all of these reflections, however, in light of the West’s current multicultural sensitivities, I couldn’t help wondering: who will sustain the generational commitment to this heritage?, who still venerates these cathedral walls and crypts and the columns and statues dedicated to heroes of major battles and victories for king, country, and faith?, and who are the heroes of the future who will defend and protect the ideas and the faith that spawned and have sustained this heritage? We can only be hopeful.
Time Magazine headlines it “Iraq Breaking Point”, William F. Buckley, Jr. says President Bush needs to come to terms with failure in Iraq, and even the most optimistic observer can be forgiven for seeing the beginning of devolution to civil war in the wake of the explosion of the sacred Golden Mosque in Samarra. No doubt, we are at a critical juncture in our campaign to liberate the Middle East that began with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and, as has come to be typical for post-Vietnam America, the biggest challenge for President Bush is to win the war on the home front.Buckley’s conclusion is disappointing and gives less credence to the hope for success based on our progress to date than I would expect from him. We can engage in all of the “could haves, should haves, would haves” and “we told you sos” that journalistic license will allow, but the reality is that we are where we are, and defeat is not an option we can tolerate. I believe that the American people, at some level, understand this.
Politically, from this point forward, Iraq will be what the Iraqi people make of it. Are there any Jeffersons, Madisons, Washingtons, Adamses, or Franklins in the room? Who knows?; probably not, at least as we know them, but that doesn’t mean that their own heroes won’t rise to the occasion. Will the ultimate outcome be civil war? Possibly. After all, at the time of our founding we had all of those people plus a 150-year history of self-governance in the colonies in the context of the British heritage of the rule of law and still couldn’t avoid a civil war with over 600,000 casualties and a re-founding just over eighty years after our original founding.
I have said all along that this war would be a massively (and messy) transforming event and, sure enough, it’s working out just that way. To say that we should have anticipated all that has gone wrong is to be ignorant of all the history of major transformational world events, particularly those involving warfare. Think of Antietam, think of Kasserine Pass and Utah Beach—the list goes on and on. Eliot Cohen asks, will we persevere?, and answers by suggesting that success will require the rarest of American qualities: patience. But a larger issue is the one so perceptively noted by Victor Davis Hanson, which is that Iraq is no longer a war whose prognosis is to be judged empirically. He believes, and I agree, that it has become a powerful symbol that must serve deeply held, but preconceived, beliefs—Bush’s deceptions, the neoconservative cabal, blood for oil, etc. It is the insidious growth of this phenomenon that must be extracted and defeated, for the war in Iraq is but a piece, albeit a significant one, in the larger war against Islamofascism that must be prosecuted over the coming decades and that will require much more patience and sustained commitment than has been asked or in evidence so far. In the immediate aftermath of the recent violent Islamic reaction to the Danish cartoon satire of Mohammed, Chris Matthews asked the rhetorical question: “we have a long century ahead of us; is this the beginning?” The answer is yes. Is there a Churchill in the room?
On the long flights to and from London, I was able to catch up with David McCullough’s 1776, a great book I strongly recommend to anyone who wants a vivid picture of our struggle for independence from Britain and the very real heroes who made it happen. The major impact of this work is to appreciate the fact that, at any number of points along the way, the final outcome could, and probably by all odds should have been much different. The circumstances at several critical junctures and the challenges facing General Washington and his command staff make our problems in Iraq seem almost trivial by comparison and the boldness and perseverance of the very ordinary and very young men of no apparent prior qualifications for leadership who rose to the occasion border on the providential, if not the miraculous. I am reminded of Churchill’s remark during another crisis—“Never was so much owed by so many to so few”.
Again the left showed no limits to its indulgence of the race and victimization hustlers and its hatred for the President in the shameful theatrics at the funeral of Coretta Scott King. Here were many of the usual suspects, including former Presidents Carter and Clinton, using a service of celebration and reverence as a political stage and exploiting the legacy of the Kings to attempt to embarrass President Bush and his father in their presence. They touched all the bases and hot buttons—government wiretapping, analogies to the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, the plight of the Katrina victims, and the clearly political overtones of praise for Sen. Hillary Clinton. The left has no shame, it has abandoned all sense of civility and, no matter the cries of equivalency, there is nothing comparable to this pattern of behavior on the right. Can anyone really imagine Bush 41 participating in such a stunt while Clinton was President, or Ford during the failed Carter administration, in any venue, much less a funeral service? The King children should have been embarrassed; I’m confident their father would have been.
In a recent article, George Will says that “Michigan Has a Problem”, which is that its prosperity is withering as America’s automobile industry withers. When examined more closely, the state’s economy is really a microcosm of the larger problem embodied in the debate over protectionism vs. the opportunity society in coping with a globalized workplace. And, in the political response to this problem, bereft of better ideas, Democrats in Michigan and elsewhere are slowly but surely positioning themselves as the party of protectionism and the enemy of free trade, in the mistaken belief that free trade policies are responsible for the devastation of the old industrial base, reversing the generally bipartisan free trade consensus that has sustained our post-World War II prosperity.To compound the problem, Michigan’s corporate income tax burden ranks the second heaviest in the nation, and CEO Magazine’s annual survey, which considers factors such as taxes, workforce quality, regulatory burden, and labor costs, ranks Michigan 48th on the list of the best places to do business, ahead of only Massachusetts, New York, and California. The top five in this survey were Texas, Nevada, North Carolina, Florida, and Georgia. It doesn’t require much insight to determine that the states that are more attractive to business and job creation in the survey are those whose public policies favor lower taxes, less onerous regulatory burdens, and are regarded as having higher quality workers. And guess what? These states that are buying into the opportunity society are predominantly those that landed in the “red” column in the last presidential election. No surprises here.