For some time, a large number of Americans have lived in an alternate universe where everything is supposedly going to hell. If you get up in the morning to read the New York Times or Washington Post, watch John Murtha or Howard Dean on the morning talk shows, listen to National Public Radio at noon, and go to bed reading Newsweek it surely seems that the administration is incommunicado (cf. "the bubble"), the war is lost ("unwinnable"), the Great Depression is back ("jobless recovery"), and America about as popular as Nazi Germany abroad ("alone and isolated").
But in the real adult world, the economy is red-hot, not mired in joblessness or relegating millions to poverty. Unemployment is low, so are interest rates. Growth is high, as is consumer spending and confidence. Our Katrina was hardly as lethal as the Tsunami or Pakistani earthquake. Thousands of Arabs are not rioting in Dearborn. American elderly don't roast and die in the thousands in their apartments as was true in France. Nor do American cities, like some in China, lose their entire water supply to a toxic spill. Americans did not just vote to reject their own Constitution as in some European countries.
The military isn't broken. Unlike after Vietnam when the Russians, Iranians, Cambodians, and Nicaraguans all soon tried to press their luck at our expense, most of our adversaries don't believe the U.S. military is losing in Iraq, much less that it is wise now to take it on. Instead, the general impression is that our veteran and battle-hardened forces are even more lethal than was true of the 1990s — and engaging successfully in an almost impossible war.
Nor are we creating new hordes of terrorists in Iraq — as if a young male Middle Eastern fundamentalist first hates the United States only on news that it is in Iraq crafting a new Marshall Plan of $87 billion and offering a long-oppressed people democracy after taking out Saddam Hussein. Even al Jazeera cannot turn truth into untruth forever.
Instead, the apprentice jihadist is trying to win his certification as master terrorist by trying his luck against the U.S. Marines abroad rather than on another World Trade Center at home — and failing quite unlike September 11.
Like it or not, wars are usually won or lost when one side feels its losses are too high to continue. We have suffered terribly in losing 2,100 dead in Iraq; a vastly smaller enemy in contrast may have experienced tens of thousands of terrorists killed, and is finding its safe havens and money drying up. Panic about Iraq abounds in both the American media and the periodic fatwas of Dr. Zawahiri — but not in the U. S. government or armed forces.
The world does not hate the United States. Of course, it envies us. Precisely because it is privately impressed by our unparalleled success, it judges America by a utopian measure in which anything less than perfection is written off as failure. We risk everything, our critics abroad almost nothing. So the hope for our failures naturally gives reinforcement to the bleak reality of their inaction.
The Europeans expect our protection. The Mexicans risk their lives to get here. Indians and Japanese want closer relations. The old commonwealth appreciates our strength in defense of the West. Even the hostile Iranians, North Koreans, Cubans, Venezuelans, Chinese, and radical Islamists — despite the saber-rattling rhetoric — wonder whether we are naïve and idealistic rather than cruel and calculating. All this we rarely consider when we read of anti-Americanism in our major newspapers or hear another angry (and usually well-off) professor or journalist recite our sins.
Al-Zarqawi is in a classical paradox: He can't defeat the American or Iraqi security forces or stop the elections. So he must dream up ever more macabre violence to gain notoriety — from beheading Americans on the television to mass murdering Shiites to blowing up third-party Jordanians. But such lashing out only further weakens his cause and makes the efforts of his enemies on the battlefield easier, as his Sunni base starts to see that this psychopath really can take his supporters all down with him.