Posted: December 5, 2002
All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd and the sheep shall be scattered abroad.
The best way to protect you is to find those killers one at a time and bring them to justice.
—George W. Bush, October 31, 2002
eginning on September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration coupled words appropriate to foreign war with actions that amounted to police work. This reflected intramural ambivalence, perhaps unresolved because of George Bush's own confusion or indecision. But by November 2002, events were forcing the Bush team to choose between making war on Arab regimes and turning American society inside out in a futile effort to protect it—between destroying the regimes that embody the causes for which terrorists fight, and bringing the terrorists "to justice" one by one.
To Be or Not to Be
Consistently, President Bush sought to avoid this choice, perhaps failing to understand the difference between war and police action, or imagining that he could reconcile two contradictory lines of policy by pursuing both. To be sure, he gave the impression that he would wage foreign war: he called for no distinction between the terrorists and those who help or harbor them, only between those who would fight alongside us and those who wouldn't. At the same time, however, Bush belied such words by an invasion of Afghanistan calculated less to cut off terrorism at the roots than not to disturb those roots—the Saudi, Syrian, and Palestinian regimes. Indeed, the Afghan invasion seemed to belie the thesis that America's objective in the current war was "regime change." In a similar twist, Bush verbally "delegitimized" Yasser Arafat's Palestinian regime, but continued to protect it and to demand that Israel make it a state.
But by mid-2002 Palestinian suicide bombers (paid by Iraq and Saudi Arabia), and the American public's increasing impatience for results in the "war on terrorism" had forced to the top of Bush's agenda whether or not to make war on the Iraqi regime. This led to a belated, half-hearted assertion of Iraq's links to terrorism, and to the new official reason for "regime change," namely that Iraq threatens the world with "weapons of mass destruction."
Had Bush finally chosen to make war? No. In fact he authorized Secretary of State Colin Powell to state that disarming Iraq would be the equivalent of "regime change," and agreed to one more round of "weapons inspections" in Iraq—guaranteed to find no weapons and put off the day of reckoning. He repeated so often and so sincerely that he had not decided on any means to achieve his ends that even the courtly George Shultz accused him of playing Hamlet.
What was he doing for real? On November 5, 2002, a U.S. remote-controlled Predator drone flying above Yemen fired a Hellfire missile into a car carrying six Arabs whom U.S. intelligence had identified as members of al-Qaeda. This was the first admitted instance in which U.S. forces had fired on anyone outside Afghanistan. This action rose to the level of Israel's strikes against persons believed to belong to terrorist organizations. Like Israel's strikes however, it underlined that the targets were individuals. Because such strikes are not aimed at regimes or causes, they are not measures of war but police actions, adjuncts to "security measures" that no one expects to have protective effect—or ever to end.
The Bush team urged Americans to be patient and vigilant...against one another in general and against no one in particular, lest Muslims in general (and Black Muslims and Arabs in particular) be offended. U.S. intelligence operations were essentially unchanged from before September 11. The Bush team forestalled independent investigation of the intelligence agencies' incompetence, and assured Americans that their government would protect them. In October 2002, however, an American who had adopted the name Muhammed crippled the Washington metropolitan area for three weeks with 13 random shootings.
Charles Colson and Daniel Pipes, among others, have written about the fact that the overwhelming majority of Islamic chaplains in America's prisons are Wahabis, trained and paid by Saudi Arabia, and that the religion they preach to imprisoned criminals (mostly blacks) amounts to blaming America for their troubles. One could hardly imagine anything more incendiary: young men, already inured to violence, already looking for reasons to feel good about themselves and for hating the people who frustrated them and now punish them, being told that, yes, they really are strangers in the enemy's midst, that out there are millions and millions of people, colored like them, who are better than Americans and are with them in thinking ill of America. It does not take many such recruits to terrorism to make big changes in American life.
In October, we saw the havoc that John Muhammed and his acolyte, John Lee Malvo, caused with the barest of resources. Had they possessed a little training in terrorist technique they would not have been caught. What could a dozen or two such teams do to America? Preparing quicker ways to seal off highways is a path not to victory but to modern Israel's agony.
By fall, the Bush Administration's (and the Republican party's) standing with the American public depended on one factor: President Bush had convinced the American people that he was preparing to make war against America's enemies, and needed support. He could not afford to be seen as reneging on his promises of action, especially out of regard for "allies" whom the American people had learned to disdain. He could stay on his perch only if he got off the edge of indecision and actually made war—successfully.
Yet at the beginning of November, the Bush team was as likely to try to "find those killers one at a time" (lots of luck!) as it was to wage war. The two enterprises, in this context, are as different as defeat and victory.
Victory Means Killing Causes
Where did all the Nazis go? Where are all those Communists who so recently made up a movement with roots and branches in every corner of the world? Recall for a moment the Communist movement's breadth and depth. The Communist Party was just the tip of the iceberg. Every political party, every labor union, every newspaper, every school, every profession, every social organization had sympathizers with Communism who played a significant role in its life. What made Communism so strong? What made democratic politicians (Reagan excepted) afraid to say that it was evil? No one argued that the Soviet Union recruited every Communist, pulled every string on Communism's behalf throughout the world. It did not have to, any more than the sun has to reach down and turn every sunflower to make it follow its path. Where now are all those people, young and old, who would argue and demonstrate, and scheme and spy and kill and betray for the grand cause of Communism?
They were no more when the Soviet Union was no more, just as sunflowers would cease to exist were there no sun. As for those ferocious Nazis whom the New York Times (all by itself, without orders from Berlin) once thought were the wave of the future, only the name remains, as a hackneyed insult. Human causes are embodied by human institutions. With them they flourish, with them they die. Communists and Nazis everywhere ceased to be a problem when the regimes that inspired them died.
Terrorist acts against america are a subset of Arab anti-Americanism, which itself is a subset of the hatred and contempt for America that exists in various forms around the world, prominently within U.S. borders as well. To be rid of those who would commit terrorist acts against America, we must deal with the fact that anti-Americanism—both its hatred and contempt for us—has become institutionalized in regimes whose very existence inspires such acts.
Why do people hate? Sometimes, because they have suffered what they consider to be wrongs. America's founders counseled us to have as little political intercourse as possible with foreign peoples, not to interfere in their affairs, precisely because we have little control over what others will consider offenses. Mostly however, people hate not because of anything others do, or even because of who others are, but because they tend to blame others for their own unhappiness. Hence, it is not in the power of America or of any other country to reduce others' hate for it. Even as American troops were liberating France from the Nazis, French intellectuals were telling each other that America was a dastardly enemy. The point is that such attitudes are the problems of the people who have them. We can't change them. The essence of the volumes being written (the best by Bernard Lewis) on "the roots of Muslim rage" is that this rage comes from resentment of their own failures, and is very much their problem.
Our problem is that many of today's Arabs, like yesterday's Germans, like the (unlamented) Soviets, and unlike today's Frenchmen or Germans, have set up regimes that are living, breathing, spawning expressions of hate against us. True, we had something to do with establishing those very regimes. To that extent, Arabs have a legitimate beef against us. But we cannot do anything that would force them to hate us less. Even if, God forbid, we were to fulfill their most strident demand—turn ourselves into raging Jew-haters, and destroy Israel for them—we would earn not less hate but even more contempt.
Contempt is the active ingredient of anti-Americanism. And others' contempt for us is entirely our fault. People have contempt for those they consider impotent. The deadliest contempt is reserved for those who have, or seem to have, great power but somehow cannot use it. Contempt is the bite that the jackal inflicts on the stricken or befuddled lion. It is a cheap substitute for courage. Contempt for America makes vile European intellectuals feel like men. Flouting America with impunity, declaring moral superiority over it, bribing its businessmen and politicians, allows Arab dictators—whether they call themselves kings or presidents—to pretend that they are world statesmen instead of bandits of the desert. And it is our fault, because we let them get away with it.
Terrorism is not a militarily serious matter. All the world's terrorists combined cannot do as much damage as one modern infantry battalion, one Navy ship or fighter squadron. Nor is terrorism such a bedeviling challenge to intelligence. It is potent only insofar as terrorism's targets decide to deny the obvious and pretend that the terrorists are acting on their own and not on behalf of causes embodied by regimes. Terrorism is potent only against governments that deserve contempt. The U.S. government earned the Arabs' contempt the hard way, by decades of responses to terrorism that combined impotent threats, solicitude for the terrorists' causes, outright payments to Egypt and the PLO, courting Syria, a "special relationship" with Saudi Arabia, and a pretense that Islam was as compatible with American life as Episcopalianism. Killing individuals who do not count engenders hatred, while sparing those who do count guarantees contempt.
Victory against terrorists requires precisely the opposite approach: expend little or no energy chasing the trigger pullers and bombers. Rather, make sure that any life devoted to terror will be a wasted life. This means leaving no hope whatever for any of the causes from which the Arab tyrannies draw such legitimacy as they have: people who give their lives for lost causes exist more in novels than in reality. It means discrediting and insofar as possible impoverishing (rather than paying for) Arab regimes that foster opposition to America. It means using military force to kill the regimes—the ruling classes—of countries that are in any way associated with terrorism.
Such regimes cannot be other than matrices of terrorism; they are riding tigers. Should the people who run them try to change, they would perish at the hands of internal enemies. America cannot possibly reform them. The choice is to suffer them, their causes, and their terrorist methods—or to kill them.