If I were an anti-war leftie, I'd be very depressed by the Iraq anniversary protests. A few hundred people show up hither and yon to see Cindy Sheehan get arrested for the 15th time that week, or Charlie Sheen unveil his critically acclaimed the-World-Trade-Center -was-a-controlled-explosion conspiracy theory. The "Hot Shots! Part Deux" star is apparently an expert in that field, and he'd never seen commercial property break up that quickly since Heidi Fleiss' hooker ring. Anyway, Susan Sarandon's going to play Cindy in the movie, or maybe she's playing Charlie, or both either way, they might as well give her the Oscar during the opening titles.
But, while Charlie Sheen is undoubtedly a valiant leader, you couldn't help noticing it was followers the anti-war crowd seemed to be short of on the third anniversary. The next weekend half a million illegal immigrants whoops, sorry, half a million fine upstanding members of the Undocumented-American community took to the streets, and you suddenly realized what a big-time demonstration is supposed to look like. These guys aren't even meant to be in the country and they can organize a better public protest movement than an anti-war crowd that's promoted 24/7 by the media and Hollywood.
Well, OK, half the anti-war crowd aren't meant to be in the country either, if they'd kept their promise to move to Canada after the last election. But my point is there's no mass anti-war movement. Some commentators claimed to be puzzled by the low turnout at a time when the polls show Iraq increasingly unpopular. But there are two kinds of persons objecting to the war: There's a shriveled Sheehan-Sheen left that's in effect urging on American failure in Iraq, and there's a potentially far larger group to their right that's increasingly wary of the official conception of the war. The latter don't want America to lose, they want to win decisively. And on the day's headlines on everything from the Danish cartoon jihad to the Afghan facing death for apostasy the fainthearted response of "public diplomacy" is in danger of sounding only marginally less nutty than Charlie Sheen.
The line here is "respect." Everybody's busy professing their "respect": We all "respect" Islam; presidents and prime ministers and foreign ministers, lapsing so routinely into the deep-respect-for-the-religion-of-peace routine they forget that cumulatively it begins to sound less like "Let's roll!" and too often like "Let's roll over!"
Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, gave a typical Western government official's speech the other day explaining that "a large number of Muslims in this country were understandably upset by those cartoons being reprinted across Europe and at their deeply held beliefs being insulted. They expressed their hurt and outrage but did so in a way which epitomized the learned, peaceful religion of Islam."
"The learned, peaceful religion of Islam"? And that would be the guys marching through London with placards reading "BEHEAD THE ENEMIES OF ISLAM" and "FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IS WESTERN TERRORISM" and promising to rain down a new Holocaust on Europe? This is geopolitics as the Aretha Franklin Doctrine: The more the world professes its R-E-S-P-E-C-T, the more the Islamists sock it to us.
At a basic level the foreign secretary's rhetoric does not match reality. Government leaders are essentially telling their citizens: Who ya gonna believe my platitudinous speechwriters or your lyin' eyes?
To win a war, you don't spin a war. Millions of ordinary citizens are not going to stick with a "long war" (as the administration now calls it) if they feel they're being dissembled to about its nature. One reason we regard Churchill as a great man is that his speeches about the nature of the enemy don't require unspinning or detriangulating.
If I had to propose a model for Western rhetoric, it would be the Australians. In the days after Sept. 11, the French got all the attention for that Le Monde headline "Nous sommes tous Americains" "We are all Americans," though they didn't mean it, even then. But John Howard, the Aussie prime minister, put it better and kept his word: "This is no time to be an 80 percent ally."
Marvelous. More recently, the prime minister offered some thoughts on the difference between Muslims and other immigrant groups. "You can't find any equivalent in Italian or Greek or Lebanese or Chinese or Baltic immigration to Australia. There is no equivalent of raving on about jihad," he said, stating the obvious in a way most political leaders can't quite bring themselves to do. "There is really not much point in pretending it doesn't exist."
Unfortunately, too many of his counterparts insist on pretending (at least to their citizenry) that it doesn't exist. What proportion of Western Muslims is hot for jihad? Five percent? Ten, 12 percent? Given that understanding this Pan-Islamist identity is critical to defeating it, why can't we acknowledge it honestly? "Raving on about jihad" is a line that meets what the law used to regard as the reasonable-man test: If you're watching news footage of a Muslim march promising to bring on the new Holocaust, John Howard's line fits.
Is it something in the water down there? Listen to Howard's Cabinet colleagues. Here's the Australian treasurer, Peter Costello, with advice for Western Muslims who want to live under Islamic law: "There are countries that apply religious or sharia law Saudi Arabia and Iran come to mind. If a person wants to live under sharia law these are countries where they might feel at ease. But not Australia."
You don't say. Which is the point: Most Western government leaders don't say, and their silence is correctly read by a resurgent Islam as timidity. I also appreciated this pithy summation by my favorite foreigner minister, Alexander Downer: "Multilateralism is a synonym for an ineffective and unfocused policy involving internationalism of the lowest common denominator." See Sudanese slaughter, Iranian nukes, the U.N.'s flop response to the tsunami, etc. It's a good thing being an Aussie Cabinet minister doesn't require confirmation by John Kerry and Joe Biden.
My worry is that the official platitudes in this new war are the equivalent of the Cold War chit-chat in its 1970s detente phase when Willy Brandt and Pierre Trudeau and Jimmy Carter pretended the enemy was not what it was. Then came Ronald Reagan: It wasn't just the evil-empire stuff, his jokes were on the money, too. In their own depraved way, the Islamists are a lot goofier than the commies and a few gags wouldn't come amiss. If this is a "long war," it needs a rhetoric that can go the distance. And the present line fails that test.