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America, elections and al-Qaida

By Bruce Walker
web posted March 22, 2004

The terrorist attack on Madrid, the defeat of the Spanish government, and the claim by al-Qaida of responsibility summarize a vital question: are democracies stronger or weaker than totalitarians? The Twentieth Century has had two long wars against totalitarianism. In both campaigns democracy was on trial, and both times the democracies have won, but just barely.

Democracy, at first, did not resist Nazi aggression. Hitler carefully played upon the genuine injustice of the Treaty of Versailles to the German people and the fear of voters in the victorious democracies to win concessions that were not inherently harmful to peace.

The Saar plebecite, occupation of the Rhineland, Anschluss and the occupation of the Sudentenland did not threaten anyone as long as the government of Germany was friendly to democratic ideals. Indeed, the last peaceful acquisition of the Nazis, the annexation of Memel, and the last diplomatic German demand of the Nazis, access across the Polish Corridor, were wrong because these gave power to Nazis, not because these gave power to Germany.

These years of appeasement were horrible because the appeasement appeased not the German people but the Nazi Party within Germany. While surrendering Austria and Czechoslovakia without a fight gave Germany a decided advantage in the Second World War, the greatest harm was that it gave a decided political advantage within Germany to Hitler and the Nazis.

Hitler also understood that the key to the success of totalitarianism was to demonize its opponents within the democracies. So Hitler long made Churchill, not Britain, the villain in the Second World War. Was this a good strategy (a good, evil strategy?) It almost worked.

When France fell, the British debated whether or not to keep the brand new Prime Minister Winston Churchill in office. Neville Chamberlain, to his great credit, realized that appeasement of Hitler had been a ghastly failure, and so as he was dying Chamberlain threw his weight behind Churchill in the War Cabinet. The consequences for humanity were almost incalculable.

If Britain had made peace with Hitler in 1940, then it is almost inconceivable that Germany could have been militarily defeated in the Second World War. The nations of Europe that stayed neutral (Spain, Sweden, Turkey) or ended up fighting the Axis (Greece, Yugoslavia) would have become compliant satellites of Berlin. Germany would have had free access to oil, rubber, uranium and other strategic resources.

The second global war against totalitarianism was fought by America against the Soviet Empire. The territories that the Soviets acquired at the end of the Second World War created a permanent threat to the safety of the democracies of Europe. This produced combinations of appeasement and ambivalence in Europe.

One quarter of the French people routinely voted for the hard-line Stalinist Communist Party of France. The Italian Communist Party had serious electoral success and won many local elections. Appeasement reached America as well. The bleak 1970s looked bleaker for the democracies in 1980. Americans were held hostage in Iran. Soviet forces were overrunning Afghanistan. The Soviet Union was on the verge of controlling the oilfields of the Middle East.

Had it done so, the Soviets could have gained much hard currency and propped up their economy and would have sent the economies of the democracies spiraling into recession or even depression. The American military buildup would have been impossible. Economic despair would have made Communism or appeasement of Communism much more popular in Europe.

But Ronald Reagan won in 1980, not Jimmy Carter. Reagan gave stinger missiles to the Afghans, struck our enemies - like Ghadifi - hard, denounced evil Communism as evil, built a huge navy and planned a nuclear missile defense system. By the time the Gipper left office, the seemingly unconquerable Soviet empire had utterly imploded.

The Soviets, however, understood their real enemy. It was not the democracies so much as it was those stout hearted men and women within the democracies who would resist evil. Defeating them was as good as defeating the nations and armies they led.

Al-Qaida and Islamic totalitarians understand this as well. If they can intimidate the Spanish people or the Italian people or the British people, it is as if they have beaten the Spanish, Italian or British military forces in battle. If they can intimidate the American people, it is as if they have won the war - as if Hitler has persuaded.

These enemies of liberty and decency have made a deliberate attempt to have their candidates and their parties win elections in democracies. Now, it is time to ask the voters directly who does bin Laden and al-Qaida want to be the next president of the United States.

Democrats have had many options thus far to avoid the indelicate question. They could have said, "The real enemy is not George Bush but Osama bin Laden." They could have said, "We today join with President Bush in proclaiming the national security policy of this nation, which will remain the policy until we have defeated the enemy." They could have said, "Health care and jobs are important, but nothing is more important that winning the war on terrorism."

They could have said these things, but they have not. The deafening silence is heard very far - in Damascus and in Islamabad and in Teheran - it is time that the silence is heard in America as well. The people of Spain have let al-Qaida dictate their government; will the people of America do the same? It is no longer an impolite question to ask: who do you hate more, John Kerry, al-Qaida or Republicans?

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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