George Bush’s vigorous defense of our national security and vocal pride in our values and goodness went a long way to getting rid of the “kick me” sign liberal America has hung on our collective back. You know, that reflex of guilt and shame about our society and history, that eager rush to apologize for our presumed sins, that willingness to blame ourselves for the world’s ills and take seriously the self-interested slanders of states whose record of dysfunction and crime outstrips ours by miles. But now here comes Barack Obama, who for all his obligatory praise of America––most of it predicated on the fact that he was elected––so far seems eager to don once again the hair shirt of American sin.
Take one of the reasons for closing down Guantanamo: that it will enhance our reputation in the world, sullied by George Bush and his regime of secret prisons, torture, and violation of international norms. The Muslim Middle East, so the argument goes, has been enraged by these practices, and this anger creates support for the jihadists. So according to this view, we’re supposed to take seriously the criticisms of peoples whose own governments regularly torture and abuse dissidents, provide money for terrorist murderers, and don’t even acknowledge such things as human rights? Or we’re supposed to credit the opinion of those Muslims––and there are millions of them, from Spain to Indonesia–– who regularly celebrate the murder of Jews and Americans and Indians, who danced in the streets after 9/11, and who name their sons Osama and pray for the destruction of the “Great Satan”?
Only a toxic self-loathing could put the views of such people ahead of our own security and belief in the justice of our cause. This same pathology explains why we take seriously charges of imperialistic aggression coming from practitioners of a faith that ignited one of the most aggressive and destructive imperial expansions in history. It explains the suicidal double-standard whereby Muslim attacks on Jews and Christians, or Muslim desecration of Jewish and Christian holy places, are ignored in the West, at the same time we wring our hands and apologize over innocuous cartoons whose publication expresses our cherished right to free speech. Behind this lunacy lies the notion that we have it coming, that we are guilty, that our motives are impure, that we are the arch-demons behind all global misery––when by any objective reading of history America has been, and still is, the greatest force for good in history.
We often hear from apologists that the jihadists hate our policies, not our values––another example of how we are to blame for jihadist violence rather than the warped beliefs of the enemy. The war in Iraq, our support for Israel, our propping up of autocratic regimes to ensure the oil supply, our mistreatment of Muslims all over the world––stop all these abuses, and terrorism will disappear. Yet history doesn’t support this view. Historically the greatest slaughterer of Muslims has been Russia, most recently in Chechnya, where by some estimates a 100,000 people were killed, torture and collective punishment freely employed, and the capital Grozny shelled into rubble. That’s how Russia solved its jihad problem. But that hasn’t kept Iran’s lunatic president Ahmadinejad from cheerily posing for the cameras alongside Vladimir Putin. But more important, you never hear criticism of Russia from most Muslim countries, for the simple reason that Russia doesn’t care what anyone thinks about its pursuit of its interests. Only we Westerners, so sensitive and guilty, are vulnerable to that sort of emotional blackmail.
This idea that criticizing your own culture and values is a sign of intellectual sophistication has many roots. The Enlightenment abandonment of faith and the rise of rationalism as the only road to truth unleashed a corrosive criticism that destroys everything but builds nothing. Communist dogma, of course, exploited this cultural tic in order to gain traction in the West and undermine the liberal democracy and free-market capitalism that stood in the way of the communist utopia. Though the Sixties popularized more widely these bad intellectual habits, they have been going on for over a century, and influenced the policies of appeasement in the Thirties that emboldened Hitler. Churchill noted the connection in a speech from 1933: “Our difficulties come from the mood of unwarrantable self-abasement into which we have been cast by a powerful section of our own intellectuals. They come from the acceptance of defeatist doctrines by a large proportion of our politicians. But what have they to offer by a vague internationalism, a squalid materialism, and the promise of impossible utopias?”
How much worse is our condition today, when this “self-abasement” has now hardened into banal clichés repeated in popular culture, school curricula, and the received wisdom of badly educated pundits. And we see its effects in the promises of the new Democratic regime that is eager, under the cover of “vigorous diplomacy,” to subject American interests to the strictures of a “vague internationalism,” which in reality is merely the camouflage other nations use to pursue their interests at the expense of our own. Yet this approach, whose failure is institutionalized in the U.N., will not deliver the promised boons. On the contrary, to the jihadists fired with faith in the righteousness of their own cause and beliefs, this eagerness to shoulder the blame for their dysfunctions, this desire to exchange flabby words for vigorous deeds will simply convince them that for all our wealth and power, we don’t really believe in our professed values and so are ripe for destruction.