Both Victor Hanson, in his latest essay
, and Lee Harris, in his latest TCS column
, make very similar points; namely that until we can define our enemy and see him for what he really is, we can not and will not win this war. Both also make the point that the reason for the savageness of the Arab world is not, in the words of Hanson, "merely the work of corrupt leaders but often the very people who put them in place and allowed them to continue their ruin." Both this, and Harris's belief that the events of Fallujah are "evidence of a profound civilizational chasm between us and them -- a chasm so wide and deep that it will inevitably swallow even the best-intentioned efforts to bridge it", are fairly depressing because the obvious questions then are what can we do, and is it even worth trying to do something.
Without a doubt both are correct that until we understand the enemy, and actually admit who the enemy is, we can not win. To define this war as a War on Terror is simply incorrect and avoids the issue of who the terrorists are. Political correctness and "sensitivity" to other cultures has made us incapable of clear and unequivocal definitions; there always has to be the caveat that "Islam is a peaceful religion". However, they answer the next question, of what can we do and is it even worth doing, completely differently.
While Hanson is optimistic, if cautiously so, Harris is anything but. For Harris, there is nothing we can do since these people are savages, so why bother. That is a highly unsatisfying answer. And it is unclear what Harris's solution to this situation is. Clearly we can not abandon Iraq and the Arab world, no matter how tempting it is at times to do just that. But by Harris's logic, why should we even try to democratize them when by their very nature they are incapable of behaving the way we think civilized people should.
Hanson's approach is entirely different. While he recognizes the Arab world for what it is, his approach is not to simply throw up his hands and say there is nothing we can do. Perhaps as an historian, Hanson is more able to see the longer term trends, and not just the immediate present. He understands that the pathologies of the Arab Middle East are deeply ingrained, and that the Arab world has no one to blame for this but themselves. Yet he also seems to think that the US (or the Western world in general, if anyone decides to help) can at least start to clean up this mess, but that in the end the only ones who will be able to solve the problems there will have to be the very people who live there. They, as well as we, need to accept that the problem is internal and endemic to that culture, that it will have to be solved from the inside, and that it will take a long time to solve.