Mark Steyn

It’s been a good year

Ignore the sneering metropolitan elites, says Mark Steyn: George Bush is winning at home and abroad

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In California, Muslim community leaders have applauded the decision of the Catholic high school in San Juan Capistrano to change the name of its football team from the Crusaders to the less culturally insensitive Lions.

Meanwhile, 20 miles up the road in Irvine, the Muslim Football League’s New Year tournament will bring together some of the most exciting Muslim football teams in Orange County: the Intifada, the Mujahideen, the Saracens and the Sword of Allah.

That’s the spirit. I can’t wait for the California sporting calendar circa 2010: the San Diego Jihadi vs the Oakland Sensitives, the Malibu Hezbollah vs the Santa Monica Inoffensives, the Pasadena Sword of the Infidel Slayer vs the Bakersfield Self-Deprecators.

Like the unfortunate Mr Colin Rose, fired from his prison officer’s post at Blundeston jail for making an ‘inappropriate’ remark about Osama bin Laden that could easily have distressed large numbers of his Muslim jailbirds, we must all try harder to avoid giving offence. Especially at this time of year, when the streets are full of exclusionary imagery —snowmen, reindeer, Yuletide logs, all evoking the time when the crusading white men of northern Europe rode their reindeer into the streets of Damascus hurling blazing Yule logs at Muslims.

So I have made a New Year’s resolution — or, if you can’t say that any more, an Eid resolution — to be extra-super-sensitive as we look at the state of play at the close of 2003. First of all, I’m amazed that we can still win anything, given the palpable urge of the Western world’s elites to abase themselves in the name of multiculturalism. Their position is basically that of Bernd Brandes, the computer engineer eaten by the German cannibal: go ahead, devour me, but chop my penis off first so I can watch you sauté it. But if the deal is that for every Islamic regime we overthrow we have to rename ten California sports teams, I think I can live with it. Yay, go, Sword of Allah!

Other than that, it’s been a good year. Twelve months ago, Saddam Hussein was sitting on his solid gold toilet. He’s now on the run, moving every few hours and unlikely ever again to feel even a standard black plastic seat against his bottom. His sons are dead, so there’s no possibility of dynastic succession. There has been a noticeable decline in the number of suicide bombings against Israel, suggesting the intifada is having some problems without its sugar daddy. Conversely, there’s been an increase in pressure on the Saudi Arabian and Iranian regimes.

Not bad. Meanwhile, certain problems seem to have vanished entirely. A year ago, we were told that millions would die as Bush plunged Iraq into a humanitarian disaster, driving vast tides of refugees to destabilise neighbouring countries and leaving those who were left with a choice of starvation, cholera or dysentery: ‘The head of the World Food Programme has warned that Iraq could spiral into a massive humanitarian disaster,’ etc. For the first three months after liberation, the Big Consciences lobby attempted to argue that this humanitarian disaster was, in fact, happening: you’ll recall Will Day of Care International piling on the 500,000 tonnes of raw sewage in his column for the Daily Telegraph, ‘Things Are Getting Worse In Iraq, So Give The UN A Chance’. Mr Day demanded to know: ‘How long will it be before we see this contamination seriously affect the health of the population?’

As I responded back in June, ‘Seriously? Never.’

And so it seems to be. After some particularly vicious bombings of the UN and others, the NGOs mostly fled Iraq in late summer. ‘It would be rather sobering,’ I wrote in August, ‘were Iraq to demonstrate it can get along without them.’ And what do you know? It’s remarkable how quickly a problem goes away once the people with a vested interest in there being a problem go away.

The same thing would happen if the media fled Iraq. They have the same interest in a ‘Vietnam quagmire’ that the NGOs have in a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’, and if anything they work even more assiduously at promoting it. Claudine Vernier-Palliez and Jerome Sessini of Paris-Match spent several days holed up with ‘Iraqi guerrillas’ and were rewarded by being allowed to photograph the ‘guerrillas’ shooting down a DHL cargo plane. Fabulous pictures, darling! It would have been even better if it had been a Black Hawk, but maybe next time. It must be great fun for Paris-Match types to play society photographer to Baathist dead-enders, and no doubt it makes a nice change from snapping Princess Stephanie, but it’s hard to see what anybody else gets out of it. Since I returned from my own jaunt around Iraq, I’ve received a steady flow of emails from serving soldiers and Iraqi Internet wallahs, and I’ve made a point of seeking out dispatches from non-media visitors to the country. Almost everyone, including Democratic Congressmen, comes back reporting progress and cautious optimism.

Meanwhile, anyone who thinks it will be decades before Arabs are ready for a Western-style society should consider the case of ‘Salam Pax’, an Iraqi Internet blogger —or ‘blogger’, as we old-media types say — who made a name for himself with his on-the-spot Baghdad diary in the run-up to the war and subsequently got taken on by the Guardian and brought to London. When Bush came to town last month, Salam was one of those whom the Guardian asked to pen an open letter to the President:

‘I hate to wake you up from that dream you are having, the one in which you are a superhero bringing democracy and freedom to underdeveloped, oppressed countries. But you really need to check things out in one of the countries you have recently bombed to freedom ...Listen, habibi, it is not over yet. Let me explain this in simple terms. You have spilled a glass full of tomato juice on an already dirty carpet and now you have to clean up the whole room. Not all of the mess is your fault but you volunteered to clean it up. I bet if someone had explained it to you like that, you would have been less hasty going on our Rambo-in-Baghdad trip.’

Incredible. At the beginning of this year Salam Pax was just another typical oppressed Baghdadi, four of whose relatives had ‘gone missing’ (according to his Guardian biog.). But a couple of weeks in the company of Guardian editors and he’s been transformed into a note-perfect, sneering, metropolitan poseur, right down to the two-decade-old Rambo putdown. He sounds like a Channel 4 commissioning editor. Now you might think this is a tad ungrateful of Salam: some of that tomato juice on the rug is from his four missing relatives and, given that the Americans have seen to it that his own juice is no longer in danger of hitting the shagpile, it might be nice if he understood that, in the end, it’s in his interest to clean up the room more than Rambo’s. But personally I find it heartening: if the Americans can’t transform Iraq into New Hampshire, this snotty little twerp is living proof that you can at least turn it into Islington.

As for the naysayers who’ve been neighing a lot longer than Salam, if I were one of their cult followers, I’d be getting a little tired of the worst-case scenarios. Bush lied!!!! Blair lied!!!!!! But Noam Chomsky is admirably candid. He gave an interview to readers of the Independent the other day, and, in the midst of the general fawning, Mike Dudley of Ipswich asked a sharp little question: ‘Where is the “silent genocide” you predicted would happen in Afghanistan if the US intervened there in 2001?’

‘That is an interesting fabrication, which gives a good deal of insight into the prevailing moral and intellectual culture,’ replied Noam. ‘I predicted nothing. Rather, I reported the grim warnings from virtually every knowledgeable source that the attack might lead to an awesome humanitarian catastrophe ...The warnings remain accurate as well, a truism that should be unnecessary to explain. Unfortunately, it is apparently necessary to add a moral truism: actions are evaluated in terms of the range of anticipated consequences.’

In fairness, Noam is speaking the truth — or, as he’d say, the truism. What he said on 18 October 2001 is: ‘Looks like what’s happening is some sort of silent genocide.’ In other words, it wasn’t a prediction. It was already taking place. The only predictive element was when he estimated the final death toll of slaughtered Afghans at ‘Three to four million people or something like that’.

Whenever I write that the anti-war side is now living in its own self-created alternative reality, they write back to point out that I’m the one in the alternative universe. ‘Yes, we Bush-haters live in our “own little world”, but that rapidly shrinking world’s name is Reality,’ writes Rosamond Fogg. ‘So dream on, Mark, stay in your contrived, photo-op dream and pray you don’t wake up.’

A reasonable point. Who am I to say which of us is in the matrix and which has taken the reality pill? But a good indicator is a consistent narrative. And I have to say, if I were in Rosamond’s shoes, the number of storylines my guys abandon or dismiss as a dream sequence (‘an interesting fabrication’) would be beginning to rattle me. Hey, what about those three to four million dead? Don’t worry, it’s like when Bobby Ewing got killed off in Dallas and then they brought him back (special 1980s cultural reference in honour of Salam Pax): Victoria Principal steps into the shower and finds four million Afghans in there, and ol’ Noam says pay no attention to the lurch in continuity. He’ll be having to do that a lot more in the year ahead.

The extreme Left has made a terrible strategic mistake shacking up with the Islamists. In one sense, they’re not as incompatible as they might appear: Islamism may be religious in origin but in its political form it is simply this decade’s brand of oppressive statism, as communism was before it. But the only question now is how deeply this strategic error infects the less insane Left. On National Public Radio the other day, Howard Dean advanced the theory that the Saudis had tipped off Bush about 9/11 in advance. When the Democratic presidential front-runner is cheerfully wearing his tinfoil hat in public, it’s no wonder the other fellows are scrambling to sound just as loopy.

You may recall that when General Wesley Clark jumped into the race, I pledged to chuck in the Speccie if he won. As Stephen Masty subsequently remarked on our letters page, ‘Am I alone among Spectator readers in sending a small donation to General Clark’s campaign?’ I hope so, Stephen. It’s against the law for non-US citizens to contribute to a presidential campaign, and the General’s already had a few problems with legally dubious monies. But that’s the least of his worries. The whole rationale of a military man stepping into the race is that he isn’t a politician: sometimes a general has a bluff, hearty persona like Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf, sometimes he has a quiet dignity like Colin Powell. But within 48 hours General Clark had shrivelled away into just another hack politician, not the dashing prince, just the ninth dwarf. Mr Masty can sell his house and give it all to the General but it won’t make any difference.

The electoral vote adjustments arising from the 2000 census mean that, even if Bush held only the same states as he did three years ago, he’d win by a much bigger margin. But it won’t stop there. Right now, the competitive states — the battleground — are the Democratic turf. Add to that the number of big-time Congressional Democrats who’ve decided to throw in the towel and you’re looking at a solid Bush victory with some key Republican gains in the Senate. The only question is how badly the Democrats do, and that depends on whether they allow themselves to be led toward the wilder Chomskyan shores or can content themselves with the artful straddle adopted by Hillary Clinton. But the notion that this is a president in trouble at home or abroad is ridiculous. 2004 will be a Republican year. That’s a better bet than the Sword of Allah in the California Muslim Football League.