Mark Steyn

Terminator or girlie man?

Does the US still have the will to win? Mark Steyn on the stark choices facing Americans in November

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New Hampshire

Everyone wants to know what the key demographic will be in this election. In 1996, it was ‘soccer moms’; in 1994, ‘angry white men’. For Campaign ’04, the columnist Michelle Malkin has been touting the concept of ‘security moms’ — gun-owning women whom 9/11 shook out of their Gen-X stupor.

I’d say ‘security moms’ — or ‘bellicose women’, as Prof Glenn Reynolds, America’s Instapundit, dubbed them — were certainly a factor and maybe a decisive one in Republican gains in the 2002 elections. But I wonder if there are quite so many of them two years on. And, in the absence of any alternative suggestions, it seems to me the key group in this election may be ‘girlie men’.

The term comes from a skit on NBC’s Saturday Night Live back in the Eighties, when Hans and Franz, two Schwarzeneggeresque weightlifters, used it to mock those bodybuilders whose bodies were insufficiently built. But the real Arnold dusted it off the other day, making an appearance at a shopping mall in Ontario, California with the talk-radio maestro Hugh Hewitt (on whose rollicking show I have the honour to appear). Speaking of obstructionist Democrats at the state legislature in Sacramento, Governor Schwarzenegger said, ‘If they don’t have the guts to come up here in front of you and say, “I don’t want to represent you, I want to represent those special interests, the unions, the trial lawyers, and I want them to make the millions of dollars”, if they don’t have the guts, I call them girlie men.’ The crowd roared its approval, and Arnold added, to further cheers, ‘If these guys won’t do the job, I’m going to announce each of you a terminator.’

Up in Sacramento, they weren’t happy. The governor’s remark was ‘as misogynist as it is anti-gay,’ complained Mark Leno, a San Francisco assemblyman and chairman of the legislature’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Caucus. ‘By playing to certain voters’ discomfort with gender and sexuality, the governor has exposed himself as a divider, not a uniter.’ ‘Blatant homophobia,’ agreed state senator Sheila Kuehl, also of the LGBT Caucus. ‘It uses an image that is associated with gay men in an insulting way, and it was supposed to be an insult. That’s very troubling that he would use such a homophobic way of trying to put down legislative leadership.’

I don’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of this phrase, but it seems safe to say that one sure sign you are a girlie man is that when you’re called one, you whine humourlessly about it. By sheer coincidence, I happened to hear of the girlie-men ruckus just after reading a piece in the July issue of Foreign Policy, in which Parag Khanna of the Brookings Institution argues that Europe is ‘the world’s first metrosexual superpower’. A metrosexual, for those who don’t read the style pages, is a heterosexual man who has a gayish sensibility in his dress, cologne, moisturiser, home decor and album collection; if men are from Mars, it doesn’t mean they can’t be in touch with their Venusian side. Last year, Howard Dean — remember him? — told residents of Boulder, Colorado that he was the first metrosexual candidate. I did a little column on the theme, and a day or two later asked my neighbour Scott, who was remodelling my bathroom, if he could put up some shelves by the sink for personal items. ‘Oh, very metrosexual,’ he sneered, and called down to alert his colleague to my request, ‘Hey, Tom. He needs a shelf for his bodily fluids.’ Anyway, that’s broadly Mr Khanna’s thesis: unlike the insecure American cowboy, Europe is secure enough in its Martian hard power to know when to deploy a little sweet-smelling Venusian soft power.

This may well be the dumbest essay the usually sober Foreign Policy has ever published. I had trouble keeping my Howard Dean metrosexual riff going beyond the second paragraph, but old Khanna flogs his metaphor into the ground and then scrapes it off the floor for more:

‘The EU has become more effective — and more attractive — than the United States on the catwalk of diplomatic clout... Metrosexuals always know how to dress for the occasion (or mission). Spreading peace across Eurasia serves US interests, but it’s best done by donning Armani pinstripes rather than US army fatigues ...Even Turkey is freshening up with eau d’Europe ...Stripping off stale national sovereignty (that’s so last century), Europeans now parade their “pooled power”, the new look for this geopolitical season ...Brand Europe is taking over ...Europe’s flashy new symbol of power, the Airbus 380, will soon strut on runways all over Asia....

‘But don’t be deceived by the metrosexual superpower’s pleatless pants — Europe hasn’t lost touch with its hard assets ... Europe’s 60,000-troop Rapid Reaction Force will soon be ready to deploy around the world ...German and Spanish law enforcement efforts have led to the capture of numerous al-Qa’eda operatives ...After 60 years of dressing up, Europe has revealed its true 21st-century orientation. Just as metrosexuals are redefining masculinity, Europe is redefining old notions of power and influence. Expect Bend It Like Brussels to play soon in capital cities worldwide.’

This sounds like one of those pieces an editor runs when he wants to get fired and go to Tuscany to write a novel. The Airbus 380 is a classic Eurostatist money pit, German law enforcement has been a huge flop against al-Qa’eda, and as for all the other fashionable projections of soft power, where are they? Europe wanted Kyoto: it’s dead. It wanted Saddam in office: he’s in jail. Right now cowboy Bush is leaving Sudan to the metrosexuals and what have they got to show for their projection of ‘soft power’? Tens of thousands of corpses that no amount of cologne will hide the smell of.

Mr Khanna comes close to the truth when he notes that metrosexuals ‘spend a long time standing in front of the mirror’. In so far as this demographic exists at all, what defines metrosexuals isn’t that they’re gay or straight but that they’re in love with themselves: it’s a cult of narcissism. And so is geopolitical metrosexuality. You look great, you feel great, but you do nothing. You go to endless multilateral meetings with other presidents and prime ministers and you trumpet the merits of ‘soft power’, but nothing happens. It’s a way of advertising your own virtue, nothing more. At a certain level, fixing Sudan involves going in there and killing people, and if your main worry is how you look, you’re not going to be up to that.

But in an odd way this distinction does encapsulate the choice in November. If we revert to Arnie’s terms, Bush is a terminator: he terminated Saddam and he terminated the Taleban, and if he’s re-elected there’ll likely be a couple more before he’s through. John F. Kerry, on the other hand, is a girlie man. I don’t mean because his extraordinarily luxurious lifestyle is funded by the gazillions his missus inherited from her first husband, nor because of that limp-wristed ceremonial first pitch he threw out at the Red Sox-Yankees game in Boston on Sunday. No, I think Kerry is a girlie man because of his two-decade aversion to the projection of American military power, and his total lack of interest in formulating any alternative approach. On Monday night at the convention, Bill Clinton remarked that ‘strength and wisdom are not opposing values’ — i.e., Kerry can be just as macho as Bush, but hi s butchness will be informed by his tremendous Swiss-finishing-school braininess. But the reality is that Kerry shows few signs of either strength or wisdom. His foreign policy is passive and reactive, and notable for its finger-in-the-windiness. He says George Bush ‘didn’t do Iraq right’, but he never says what he’d have done differently. Those snotty intellectuals who say that Bush is ‘uncurious’ ought to display a little more curiosity about Kerry’s enervated approach to these issues.

The senator is a classic geopolitical metrosexual: what matters is how you look to the other metrosexuals. Had President Kerry been in office on 9/11, I’ve no doubt there would have been far more UN resolutions, and joint declarations, and beaming faces announcing great progress at Nato summits, and G8, and EU and Apec. But Saddam would still be in power, and so would the Taleban, and no doubt in the latter case, under an agreement brokered by Kerry special envoy Jimmy Carter, Washington would be bankrolling the regime in return for ‘pledges’ to ‘phase out’ the terrorist training camps. The senator gives no indication that he’s up to the challenges of the age.

But according to Andrew Sullivan, embracing Kerry in the Sunday Times, that’s precisely the appeal of Senator Nuance: ‘His basic message to Americans is: let’s return to normalcy. The radicalism of the past four years needs tempering. We need to consolidate the nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan, before any new adventures against, say, Iran....’

You could make that argument in any war: we need to consolidate nation-building in the Solomon Islands before any new adventures on, say, the beaches of Normandy. But, honestly, the idea that you can take a four-year intermission from the jihad because everyone’s feeling a bit stressed out is delusional. Do Sullivan and the other moulting hawks believe Iran is going to be sporting enough to go along with it? ‘Right-ho, old chap, we’ll see you back here in 2008 for full-scale Armageddon. Enjoy the break.’

A less crude version of this argument was made by the 9/11 commissioners in their final report. They noted that the enemy isn’t like any other enemies, with bombers and battalions, but instead is a powerful, widely dispersed ideology. David Brooks, the house conservative at the New York Times, loved it: ‘We’ve had an investigation into our intelligence failures; we now need a commission to analyse our intellectual failures,’ he wrote. ‘We also need to mount our own ideological counteroffensive.’ The commissioners, he notes approvingly, ‘suggest we set up a fund to build secondary schools across Muslim states, and admit many more students into our own.’ He left out the library programmes. As the 9/11 report puts it, ‘The United States should rebuild the scholarship, exchange, and library programmes that reach out to young people and offer them knowledge.’

I’m sure the commissioners and Brooks mean well, but this too is girlie-man stuff. It’s fine to build a library or two after you’ve bombed a country and toppled the regime, but you know that in the end this approach would be heavier on the scholarship programmes, light on the daisy-cutters. It’s a way of nominally continuing the war without being warlike.

I think it’s a lot of hooey. Most of our enemies are ideological — Nazis, fascists, communists — and, as a general rule of thumb, once you destroy the main promoters of those ideologies, their intellectual appeal diminishes considerably. And Brooks and the commissioners are, in fact, wrong. From Osama bin Laden to Mohammed Atta, from the great British shoebomber to the LSE graduate believed to have beheaded Daniel Pearl, to the Montrealer arrested en route to blow up Los Angeles airport, the most murderous Islamists seem to be those who’ve enjoyed the alleged blessings of a Westernised education. Indeed, the ideology is not purely Islamic but a potent fusion of Islam and totalitarian techniques imported from the West. It’s unclear whether a library programme would help.

And whether you go for Sullivan’s four-year intermission or Brooks’s decades-long high-school construction project, the point is this: time is on the enemy’s side, not ours. With every month, nuclear knowhow gets dissipated a little further into the murkier corners of the world. With every year, the demographic changes in Europe render America’s old alliances more and more obsolescent. Even if Kerry’s in the White House, French troops aren’t going to be fighting shoulder to shoulder with the Yanks in any major Muslim country: Kerry wouldn’t either, if he had Chirac’s Muslim population.

Sloth favours the Islamists. Readers may recall that I wanted Bush to invade Iraq before the first anniversary of 9/11. If he had done, he’d have saved himself a whole lot of trouble, and we might even be rid of the mullahs or Boy Assad by now. The President has to be a terminator: he has to terminate regimes and structures that support Islamist terrorism. And, if every bigshot associated with the cause winds up like Uday and Qusay, the ideology will become a lot less fashionable. All these girlie-man options sound so reasonable, but they’re a fool’s evasion, an excuse to put off indefinitely the fights that have to be fought — in Iran, North Korea and elsewhere.

Girlie men are ‘men without chests’ — in the C.S. Lewis sense, rather than the Schwarzenegger one. I didn’t come up with this choice, nor did Arnold. The enemy did. As I wrote back in 2001, the Islamists have made a bet — that we’re too soft and decadent to see this through to the finish. This November, one way or another, they’ll get their answer.