Posted: September 11, 2004
nce the United States government had set its basic approach to Iraq—disarm and pacify, rebuild, unify, and prepare the country for democratic elections that would make it a model for the region—it was stuck between impossible ends and inadequate means. By now, armed opposition has foreclosed the option of a glorious, even a gracious, withdrawal from Iraq. The resulting stalemate stems to a large extent from the felt necessities of American domestic politics. Much as the Left yearns to disavow involvement in Iraq, it fears that it cannot advocate anything that smells like defeat. John Kerry, the Democrats' presidential nominee, pledges that he would keep U.S. forces in Iraq as long as necessary to ensure that it will not become "a failed state." He does not suggest what the troops could or should do to ensure that.
The Bush Administration, for its part, shies away from energetic policies that might actually produce victory, fearing that the public might oppose them as too harsh. And so U.S. troops will stay and die in Iraq indefinitely on behalf of a mission—pacification, democratization, and nation-building—that is the lowest common denominator among domestic American political forces, but concerning the accomplishment of which there is little knowledge and less agreement.
When in a hole, the beginning of wisdom is: stop digging. The prospect of terrorist violence that the U.S. government cannot stop haunts the 2004 elections. This lack of peace should be enough to convince anyone to look skeptically at the policies—and their premises—that have gotten us into the present hole. How have we lost sight of the path to victory, the only sure path to peace? This series has chronicled why and how the U.S. government thought of myriad things other than victory. The point, however, is that victory is not the main thing in war. Victory is the only thing that makes sense of it. Let us think through the path to victory in the current war.
Worthy as it may be, the notion that we must somehow limit the war, to reduce the number of enemies, to include as many allies as possible, to seek as much public support as possible, amounts to putting the cart before the horse. Always, allies are available in inverse proportion to the need for them. Though the notion "you can't fight the world" makes superficial sense, the fact is that whom and where we fight is not entirely up to us. Our enemies have much to say about such things. Once blood is drawn, the prospects of victory and defeat largely determine who gets allies and support from whom. Success begets support, and shrinks the ranks of one's enemies as well as the war's scope. Though in the eyes of God might does not make right, in human eyes losing is wrong and contemptible.
In Fall 2001, because so many assumed that the U.S. government would do whatever necessary to rid the world of terrorists, none dared suggest publicly that the scope of U.S. operations be limited. Expecting the worst, Arab regimes cowered, friendless—until our government let them off the hook. By contrast, in 2004, the U.S. government's demonstrated incapacity to do away with its enemies—to figure out at whom it should point its many guns—led many to oppose whatever America did to defend itself. What prejudices led the U.S. government to put the cart of favor before the horse of victory? How should these prejudices be reversed?
Hatred and Contempt
In previous essays, we have noted that the Arab world's hatred and contempt for America are recent phenomena. We have dwelt at some length on the fact that Americans alone are responsible for the contempt in which they are held, and thus that Americans can do away with contempt easily enough by targeting their enemies correctly and doing away with them in an exemplary manner.
But what about the hate? No doubt, as Bernard Lewis writes, the Arab world's hatred of America is partly a reflection of its own feelings of inferiority. These feelings are well founded—for example, the GDP of the 300 million Arabs is less than half that of the 30 million Californians. Americans can do nothing about that, nor about the Arab habit of blaming their troubles on others—except to refrain from lending legitimacy to it.
Part of the hatred is due to America's support of Israel. But the Arab world's dysfunctions do not derive in the least from the existence of Israel. No one argues that were Israel to disappear, the Arabs' work habits and educational standards would improve, their culture of hate would abate, their governments' corruption would cease, and that they would like Americans. Hence giving in to Arab demands regarding Israel only generates more demands, and turns hate into contempt. That, at least, has been the experience of U.S. administrations since Richard Nixon's. This source of hate will ebb, though not disappear, only when the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is no longer a rallying cry in the Arab world. And this cannot happen until either the Jews are pushed into the sea, or Palestinian regimes cease to live by and for that conflict. Hence, pace the counterproductive efforts of so many distinguished statesmen, the only productive way to lessen the hatred that radiates from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is to encourage, and if need be to help, Israel win it definitively.
Americans can do more to abate the hate that comes from political contact with the Arab world. Since the mid-20th century, regimes that ape Western ways and are somehow supported by Western powers, especially by the U.S., have worsened the Arabs' miseries. The rise of political Islam against these regimes has prompted Westerners, and especially Americans, to increase that support—and that misery. Good intentions don't count. Attempts to export democracy and women's rights add insult to injury. The way to reduce hate is to practice arm's length diplomacy—on condition that, on pain of war, Arab regimes not permit either by word, deed, or act of omission any harm to come from their house to ours.
Holding regimes responsible for their products, we must attack them rather than those products.
Causes and Regimes
Regimes cause terror by embodying causes. We have noted that people make war to advance causes, and that the most effective way to stop them is to kill not thousands of individuals, but the few causes they serve. Of course killing causes usually involves killing those who embody them. (The Communist cause was an exception because its leaders killed it themselves.)
The tools for killing causes are well known: sword, sermon, and example. Nothing quite so deflates a cause as the sight of its promoters humiliated and killed along with anyone who stood with them, their crimes exposed, their hopes in vain. Explanation is the intellectual counterpart of physical destruction. Nazism became a dirty word for most Germans after 1945 because it had brought dire consequences on all Germans, but also because the Allies rubbed the Germans' noses in the Nazis' misdeeds. Preaching about the Nazis' evils was effective for the Western Allies also because they behaved as practical examples of the opposite. By contrast, in the East, the Soviets' Nazi-like behavior negated their preaching.
How then to kill the causes for which terrorists fight? We have already alluded to the need to put an end to the hopes of many that Israel's Jews will be driven into the sea—hopes that feed anti-Americanism far beyond "the river and the sea." This can be accomplished only by the physical, political, and moral destruction of the murderous kleptocracy that has ruled the Palestinian people. As in all cases in which killing a regime is essential to killing what it represents, the most effective way to do it is to empower the regime's local enemies—provided that they meet the minimum conditions of neither doing nor permitting harm to ourselves, and that they proceed to expose fully our common enemies' faults. Our enemies' demise is always the prerequisite for having our words listened to, and our example heeded.
War on Words
The causes for which terrorists fight exist substantially in thin air—literally in the media of Arab regimes. Causes, after all, consist of perceptions and interpretations. The Arab world's habit of blaming foreigners' conspiracies for its ills extends even to terrorism. Saudi regent Abdullah, for example, told his TV audience that his intelligence service was confident that terrorism is the work of Zionist agents. The al-Jazeera television network tells the Arab world that the U.S. government itself masterminded September 11 to give it a pretext for attacking the Arab world. Even in the staid world of a quarter-century ago, the most moderate of Saudi newspapers—the English version, yet—featured cartoons that made the worst Nazi propaganda look mild. In short, the fact that millions of Arabs cheer when American blood is drawn, and that drawing it has become a pastime for thousands, is conceivable only because of the cheerleaders. Their causes live and die by words. Logically, these words, these manufactured images, perceptions, interpretations, are the ultimate causes of terrorism.
In a vain attempt to dispel them in the Arab media, the U.S. government has done everything from buying advertisements to tempering high policy. The U.S. media is generally silent about how their Arab counterparts go out of their way to disparage America. This disparity feeds the Arabs' contempt, and ensures the continued recruitment of terrorists.
A serious war on terror would ensure that nothing broadcast or printed in the Arab world incited to terrorism. The Arab media simply reflect the will of the regimes in which they operate. The U.S. government classifies Saudi Arabia and Qatar (home to al-Jazeera) as friendly. Yet to sponsor deadly incitement is the greatest enmity. Regardless of what else the U.S. government does, so long as the Arab media remain as they have been since the 1970s, the supply of recruits for terror will continue. Every terrorist act will be celebrated, every terrorist killed will be a martyr to inspire others.
Making war to shut TV stations and newspapers may sound extraordinary. But what is proper in war depends on what the problem is that the war addresses. To pretend either that incitement is not key to terrorism, or that the police regimes from which it emanates are not responsible for their media, is self-deception that invites defeat. International law and common sense justify war to enforce the cessation of incitement. Any regime is capable of deciding whether or not to encourage its media to encourage killing us. We have to decide whether to suffer the consequences of incitement, or to kill those who encourage killing us.
War on Chiefs
The role of regimes in terrorism is nowhere more evident than in the relationship between terrorism's most fearsome instruments, the suicide bombers, and the inciters. Note well that no "radical" cleric, nor any member of his family, neither any "radical" politician nor any member of his family, has been known to sacrifice his life in an act of terror. The same goes for any and every family that is part of an Arab regime. No Arab journalist who celebrates suicide bombing has taken his own advice and done it. Yet those clerics, politicians, and regime stalwarts are the sine qua non of suicide bombings, the ones who pay for, glorify, and arrange the sacrifices. Typically, these "effective causes" of terrorism enjoy their lives and protect their enjoyment. It follows that suicide bombings and similar acts will continue so long as their effective causes are alive, and act without fear for their lives. Factor them out, and few if any terrorist acts would happen.
Such prominent persons do not wear uniforms, or confront us with arms in hand. Their weapon of mass destruction is political. Their strength and safety lies in blending and confusing themselves with ordinary civilians. Their success in doing so depends in no small part on the (thus far accurate) perception on the part of ordinary civilians that being close to these chiefs brings benefits and not dangers.
War, as opposed to police action, has a rough Roman justice about it: those who stand with the enemy will suffer with him. Hence a serious war on terror that aimed to kill these "effective causes" would demand that the societies ruled by these chiefs sort themselves out. Perhaps the major reason why Iraq's Sunni population caused the U.S. so much trouble after April 2003 is that the U.S. government's admirable commitment to spare innocent civilians inadvertently created a safety zone for would-be enemies. The point here, quite simply, is that war against a regime must be fearsomely indiscriminate enough to cause even its committed members, never mind hangers-on, to run away from it.
War on Money
Does anyone contend that the onset of Arab terrorism and the increase of disposable cash in the hands of Arab regimes circa 1970 are coincidental? Can anyone imagine terrorism, were Arab regimes not awash in oil money? Conversely, can anyone imagine that Arab terrorism will cease so long as they are? The U.S. government's approach to the fact that terrorism runs in part on money from Arab regimes is akin to American police work: Assume that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Hence the U.S. government's war on terrorist financing has investigated suspect Arab "charities," and has stopped the flow of a few million dollars from a dozen sources. It has not confronted the fact that the regimes themselves—entities far more vast than governments—support terrorism financially in uncountable ways. More important, the U.S. government and American elites have not begun to face the hard fact that they themselves have made it possible for Arab regimes to dispose of unearned billions.
A serious commitment against terrorism would reverse not only the direct financing that the U.S. government and the European Union provide to the Palestinian Authority, but also the indirect financing that they give to Arab (and Iranian) regimes by granting them property rights in the oil beneath the countries they rule. This reversal would require rethinking many shibboleths of 20th-century thought. But the alternative is to suffer no end of well-financed terror.
The Price of Victory
Were the U.S. government to wage war as suggested above, it would produce a world as different from today's as the turn of the 21st century was from that of the 20th. Since the roots of terrorism are inherent in the international system of the last century, tearing up those roots necessarily shatters that system. Managing the consequences would be the price of our victory.
Prior to World War I, British and American progressives conceived a world in which every people would have its own state, and each state would deal with others in sovereign equality through international law. War would be passé, as would any people's rule over another. Already, the Best and Brightest had turned their backs on colonialism. Already, they had the embryonic notion of what was to become the League of Nations and later the United Nations. Of course, these hopes depended on the twin suppositions that all the world's peoples shared the same hopes, dreams, and values, and that the extent to which values and habits differed did not matter anyway. The expectation was that the science of peace, of international relations, would overcome the jumble of the world's unscientific values, equally true and equally false because of their inherent subjectivity.
After World War II, American statesmen spurred their European counterparts to turn their colonies over to a hundred sovereign governments headed by native progressives—the "Third World." Some fulfilled their sponsors' hopes. Many others became what historian Paul Johnson calls "Caliban's kingdoms," sewers of man-made misery, corruption, and oppression. Values, it turned out, were unequal, and the differences mattered a lot. But while Third World regimes in Africa troubled the world mainly with pitiable images, Third World regimes in the Middle East began to choke the world by restricting the flow of petroleum, and to terrorize it by exporting their quarrels.
The slaughters of September 11, 2001, in America; of March 11, 2004, in Spain; the everyday carnage in Israel and elsewhere; the growing boldness of terrorist movements; their role as the double-edged swords of regimes; the increasing inability of Arab regimes to play any constructive role in the world—all lead Americans and the rest of the civilized world to the brink of thinking what they would rather not think: How can we ensure our safety and the supply of oil despite Arab regimes in particular, and Third World regimes in general?
Were Americans (and sooner or later Europeans) really to enforce their undoubted right under international law to eliminate incitement to violence against themselves from Arab regimes, were they to make war against the "efficient causes" of terrorism and anyone who stands with them, were they to revoke their grant of property rights over oil to regimes that misuse them, they would have to make war on many states that are fellow members of the United Nations, decapitate them and enforce standards of international behavior for successor regimes. Were Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to descend to the chaos and insecurity characteristic of Iraq today, how could the civilized world ensure its supply of oil? It would have to isolate the oil fields from the chaos as much as possible, perhaps doing so under some sort of international mandate.
To do any of this, Americans would have to abjure a century's conventional wisdom. Understandably, the U.S. government—a fortiori European ones—would prefer not to. Today, rhetoric aside, Americans as well as Europeans have resigned themselves to tolerating the current level of terror. Neither the U.S. nor anyone else has done anything serious to stop the incitement to terror, to cut off the money that fuels it, or to eliminate its organizers. But the hope that we may limit the enemy's war by limiting our own is unreasonable. Hence, Arab terrorists, not Americans, are setting the level of terror. Because terror is proving more effective than ever, no one should be surprised if more Arabs find fulfillment in it, and the level of terror rises. At some level, that increase will compel Americans to face Archidamus' question: "What will be our war?"
The Election and the War
By general agreement, the war is the chief issue in the forthcoming election. But so uncomfortable are both political parties (each for its own reasons) with the meaning of victory, the kind of peace to be sought, and how to bring it about, that the only meaningful question in any war, "What is to be our war?" is hardly part of the political debate.
Nevertheless, underneath the Democrats' charges that George W. Bush had read too much into the intelligence linking Iraq with terrorism, and the Republicans' charges that the Democrats would wait too long to act against a looming threat, were differences that touched the essence of the American regime.
In my primer on war (War: Ends and Means , cowritten with Paul Seabury), I wrote:
War is always both the violent negation of the enemy and the violent affirmation of what one's own side is all about.... So, from society's humblest soldier to its biggest pillar, war forces men to choose the causes to which they will or will not lend themselves.... One does not have to resort to treason if one does not fully espouse the aims of one's own side or dislikes its leaders. Apathy is usually quite enough to ensure that the other side will prevail. Domestic factions are usually ready to exploit the discontents that always accompany wars. Furthermore, regimes are seldom as open to change, for better or worse, as they are during life-and-death struggles.... [B]ecause wars require the active, enthusiastic participation of large numbers of people to resolve the most important issues with which men deal, they are the ultimate form of election. And wars offer unusually effective ways of registering one's vote.
Every war, then, is an election settled less by the kinds of ballots that Americans typically cast in November than by the loves and hates, the support, the alienation, and the sabotage, that war brings forth from people. It shows what peoples are all about.
The Democrats charge President Bush with invading Iraq on the basis of CIA intelligence affirming that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction. The president should have known better than to start a military campaign on such thin and ultimately wrong information, they argue. He should be defeated for agreeing with the CIA. On the other hand, Bush should be defeated for acting contrary to the CIA's judgment that all the evidence of relationships between Iraq and the terrorists of 9/11 does not amount to "conclusive evidence" of a "collaborative relationship." Though the CIA's intelligence on terrorism was grossly inadequate, the president should have abided by its judgments. Democrats also charge that the president should have gone to war against al-Qaeda well before 9/11, despite the lack of actionable intelligence. Clearly, the Democrats value the CIA's conclusions and advice only insofar as these support their condemnation of Bush's decision to include Iraq as a target of the war.
The Democrats claim that operations in Iraq distract us from our operations against al-Qaeda. This complaint—despite the fact that today al-Qaeda no longer has a base, its contingent of soldiers has been captured, killed, or scattered to the winds, and its principal figures are out of action, while at the same time terrorism has increased—suggests that the Democrats are less interested in fighting terrorism than in fighting against the invasion of Iraq.
Finally, Senator Kerry and his party contend that going into Iraq has weakened America by alienating it from the "the international community." Yet they know that while some governments opposed invading Iraq, others supported doing so. They do not explain why Americans should care more for the former than for the latter. Again, the Democrats' accusation means to deflect the audience from the real question: why are they so adamant against fighting Iraq?
The party's vehemence shows that it was not merely taking sides in the details of disputes within the U.S. intelligence community. Was the fact that Ramzi Yousef's back-up identity papers as Abdul Basit Karim were doctored, complete with switched fingerprint cards, during Iraq's 1990 occupation of Kuwait sufficient or not to show that Yousef was an Iraqi agent? What is the meaning of the fact that substantially the same non-Islamist terrorists ran the 1993 and 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, and managed to put an Islamist label on both operations? The party's base does not know and its leaders do not care about the answers to such questions or about the quality of the intelligence that supports arguments over them. Nor is this a dispute, really, over policy. "Wonkmanship" is not the name of this game. Rather, I am forced to conclude that the party's animus against the Iraq War reflects its tendency, much increased since the 1960s, to identify with any and all things anti-American.
In this respect, the most revealing phemonenon is the millions of Americans who have paid to see Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," a filmed cartoon ridiculing President Bush and suggesting his criminality. By no stretch of the imagination could the film be called an argument. Persuading one another through bona fide arguments is as much at the heart of the American regime as is love of country. Hence the important question is to what extent the American people will be persuaded to accept anti-American caricatures in lieu of arguments about facts and policies. To the extent they do, the American regime will become something else.
Yet the success of Michael Moore's cartoon and of the Democrats' self-contradictory arguments concerning intelligence is possible only because America is losing the war. Had we been winning, the Democrats' charges would be implausible on their face, and self-defeating.
Victory itself is the most powerful argument that any regime can make for its own survival. By eschewing victory the Bush team showed a misunderstanding of war that made possible, indeed invited, caricatures of America. In this war, as all others, the regime itself is at stake. The American people, like all other peoples, instinctively shy away from losers. Showing seriousness, deadly seriousness, about winning the war on terror would be the most effective argument that the Bush team could make for the American regime, as well as for themselves.