The administrations of George W. Bush have virtually assured such a displacement by catastrophically throwing the country off balance, both politically and financially, while breaking the nation's sword in an inconclusive seven-year struggle against a ragtag enemy in two small bankrupt states. Their one great accomplishment -- no subsequent attacks on American soil thus far -- has been offset by the stunningly incompetent prosecution of the war. It could be no other way, with war aims that inexplicably danced up and down the scale, from "ending tyranny in the world," to reforging in a matter of months (with 130,000 troops) the political culture of the Arabs, to establishing a democracy in Iraq, to only reducing violence, to merely holding on in our cantonments until we withdraw.
But if you are inclined to nod your head gravely in agreement, the rest of his op-ed will persaude you that Helprin doesn't quite see things in the same light as you or I do:
...had we taken strong and effective measures for our domestic protection while striving to stay within constitutional limits and eloquently explaining the necessity -- as has always been the case in war -- for sometimes exceeding them. Today's progressives apologize to the world for America's treatment of terrorists (not a single one of whom has been executed). Franklin Roosevelt, when faced with German saboteurs (who had caused not a single casualty), had them electrocuted and buried in numbered graves next to a sewage plant.
The counterpart to Republican incompetence has been a Democratic opposition warped by sentiment. The deaths of thousands of Americans in attacks upon our embassies, warships, military barracks, civil aviation, capital, and largest city were not a criminal matter but an act of war made possible by governments and legions of enablers in the Arab world. Nothing short of war -- although not the war we have waged -- could have been sufficient in response. The opposition is embarrassed by patriotism and American self-interest, but above all it is blind to the gravity of the matter.
His comment about execution is nonsensical; though we have not tried and sentenced any detainees to death, many have died in our custody. And he makes it sound as if FDR, in the manner of a tyrant, personally ordered the German saboteurs shot, when in fact they were tried and sentenced to death by a lawful military commission.
And whereas Bush was incompetent, the left is unserious. Never mind that the left, and most Americans in general, supported the invasion of Afghanistan that aimed to unseat the Taliban, destroy Al Qaeda and capture of kill Osama bin Laden. Because the left opposed the war in Iraq in general, unlike Helprin who (as near as I can tell) opposed only the extent and the means of prosecution of the war and not the fact of it, the left is unserious and Helprin is a cold-eyed realist. This despite the fact that earlier in the op-ed he suggests that we should have invaded Iraq then quickly retreated to Saudi Arabia where are forces would be free to camp at indefinite length (without or without Saudi permission I presume) while they watched Iraq tear itself apart.
Helprin, like many hawks of the non-neoconservative persuasion, is also fascinated by the possibility of a big power confrontation with either China or Russia:
But the costs of not reacting to China's military expansion, which could lead to its hegemony in the Pacific; or of ignoring a Russian resurgence, which could result in a new Cold War and Russian domination of Europe; or of suffering a nuclear detonation in New York, Washington, or any other major American city, would be so great as to be, apparently, unimaginable to us now. Which is why, perhaps, we have not even begun to think about marshaling the resources, concentration, deliberation, risk, sacrifice, and compromise necessary to avert them. This is the great decision to which the West is completely blind, and for neglect of which it will in the future grieve exceedingly.
Now first of all, anyone who mentions the "hegemony" of China without discussing that country's economic might, does not really understand the nature of China's power. Second, anyone who thinks that China will at anytime be permitted to exercise military hegemony in the Pacific, even if it could, doesn't really understand what countries like Japan or Australia or even us might have to say about that, or how many decades China is away from having naval technology that begins to rival ours. As for Russia...please. Russia has re-gained enough economic might to bluster at us, bully their neighbors, and make things uncomfortable for the European Union, but not so much as to present the credible danger of a new cold war. Our relationship now is less like two bullies facing off, and more like two people who sometimes bicker as they pass each other in the hall.
But remember; because Helprin can write books and has access to the op-ed pages of the WSJ, and because he talks a lot about serious things like "threats", and "dangers", and cold wars, and nuclear bombs going off in American cities, he is "serious" and should be taken as such. Whereas I, who thinks that our power as a nation is actually degraded as a result of our constant desire to find enemies to confront and who fears for the fate of our nation (despite my lack of patriotism) am just a liberal softy.