This is almost certain to be a historic year -- whether because we begin to break the back of international terrorism, beginning with Iraq, or because international terrorism begins scoring major victories, beginning with North Korea's brazen nuclear challenge.
What the future holds can be of monumental proportions, either way. While we cannot know the future, we can -- and must -- take a long, hard look at the present, from which that future will emerge. There are some scary signs on both the left and the right.
Senator Patty Murray's recent silly statement, that Osama bin Laden's popularity in parts of the Third World is due to his charitable activities there being more than ours, would be a comic caricature of the politically correct left, if it were not such an irresponsibly tragic misunderstanding of the world.
Bill Gates' donations to the Third World have not made him a hero there or anywhere, nor have American worldwide contributions to others -- in both blood and treasure -- for more than half a century made us popular. Osama bin Laden's popularity is based on his attacks on America and American achievements, as an assertion of significance from people who would otherwise be painfully insignificant on the world stage.
Contrary to what has been said by others on the left, including Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, it is not what we have done wrong, either at home or abroad, that creates such anti-American hostility. It is what we have done right -- things that have made the United States pre-eminent among nations -- that have provoked resentments and bitterness among those who have fallen so humiliatingly short of producing anything comparable.
Gross misreadings of events grow out of the left's preoccupation with being morally one-up on their fellow Americans. Many similarly silly ideas flourished in the Western democracies in the years leading up to World War II. But, when the bombs began falling on London, the Britons woke up. And when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Americans woke up -- and grew up.
The September 11th terrorist attacks have had a similar effect on the American public at large, but not on the American left in politics, the media, and academe. Among the intelligentsia, the same self-congratulatory pacifist pieties that reigned in the 1930s are being repeated today, often in the very same words, in blissful ignorance of how those notions led to a dangerous vulnerability that brought on World War II.
The magic word "negotiations" -- leading to "agreements" that "defuse tensions" -- is being loudly touted as a substitute for military force, as if there were no history to test this fashionable belief. After the First World War, the ink was barely dry on the Treaty of Versailles before a series of negotiations began, leading to numerous international agreements in the 1920s and 1930s, climaxed by the Munich agreement of 1938, which was said to create "peace in our time."
Our time proved to be very short, as the most catastrophic war in history began less than a year later.
Negotiations that end in agreements are always a political success, if judged by the euphoria produced. Yet they also produce something else -- utter contempt for the weakness and gullibility of those who sign treaties that offer no realistic prospects of restraining the aggressors. That contempt emboldened others to attack in World War II, as it has emboldened North Korea today.
If there was one decisive moment that marked the turning point in the Cold War, it was when Ronald Reagan refused to play this game and rejected an agreement in a meeting in Iceland with Mikhail Gorbachev. At one point, President Reagan told Chairman Gorbachev that what the Soviet Union was proposing was just not serious -- and he got up from the table and walked out.
That is exactly the wrong thing to do, according to the political left. But why did Reagan so often get the right results using methods that the deep thinkers were convinced were wrong, while the deep thinkers so often get the wrong results from methods that they were convinced were right?
People less consumed by their own sense of wonderful specialness might even try to learn from their many failures. But that is not the political left today or at any time in the past.