After the 9/11 Attack
September 13, 2001
How should the
United States respond to the 9/11 attack? The furious calls for war remind
me of an earlier debate over how to deal with the Soviet Union.
During the Cold War, such geopolitical
thinkers as George Kennan and James Burnham, both pro-American
anti-Communists who saw the Soviet Union as a grave threat to the West,
disagreed on grand strategy. Kennan favored a policy of containment.
He argued that the West should reconcile itself to the loss of Eastern Europe,
while preventing the Soviets from making further gains. In time, he said, the
Soviet Union would implode without the necessity of all-out war.
Burnham, on the other hand, argued that
Kennans approach had the fatal flaw of leaving the initiative to the
Soviets. He argued for taking the fight to them and actively working to liberate
their captive nations. This approach was called rollback.
But despite their differences, both
anti-Communist strategies were based on realistic assumptions about concrete
American interests and the limits of American power. Both Kennan and Burnham
knew geography and history and avoided apocalyptic recommendations. They
thought in hard specifics, with due prudence.
Contrast those men with todays hawks,
especially among pro-Israel journalists. Once again Israels amen
corner in this country, as Pat Buchanan put it a decade ago, is
beating the drums for war. Even before it transpired that the 9/11
hijackers seem to have been Arabs, this crowd intuited that the new horrors were
an import from the Middle East.
The New York Post, which
regards Ariel Sharon the way American conservatives used to regard Ronald
Reagan, says our enemy is radical Islamic fundamentalism which
threatens us with nothing less than the annihilation of Western
culture and world domination. If these terrorists
arent stopped, pronto, countless Chinese, Brazilians, and Canadians will
soon be reading the Koran in Arabic! The author of that editorial belongs in a
Charles Krauthammer, Robert Kagan, and Mark
Helprin say we are in a war and should act accordingly, with an enormous military
buildup that would dwarf our present armed forces. George Will notes that
Tuesday morning Americans were drawn into the world that Israelis live in
every day.... [Americans] are targets because of their virtues principally
democracy, and loyalty to those nations which, like Israel, are embattled salients
of our virtues in a still-dangerous world.
Never mind specific details like American
interests, the costs of war, the eventual number of casualties, and other
repercussions. This is a simple case of Good versus Evil, Democracy versus
Terrorism, Virtue itself versus distilled, ruthless Vice. In the true Manichaean
spirit, we must fight this thing anywhere and everywhere, even if the price
approaches the infinite. Its Armageddon, folks.
Even if Israels claims were beyond
dispute, its cause just, and its virtue unsullied, the question would remain: is it
really in our interest to be caught up in a bitter struggle between Muslims and
Jews on the far side of the globe? I dont know about you, but one week like
this one was more than enough for me. If our government goes to war, we can
expect more of same, but probably worse along with new curtailments of
our freedoms by our own government.
The Israelis do have legitimate interests and
grievances. So do their enemies. But so do we. And we have just learned or
should have learned that even the most powerful and expensive armed
forces in the world cant always defend us against enemies armed with
knives. The Pentagon itself has been reduced to a smoldering monument to our
What have we gained by our decades of
meddling in the Middle East (or for that matter, the rest of the world)? What do we
stand to gain by a war? Our truest interest lies in making peace. At least we
neednt actively make enemies.
So far President Bush has reacted to the 9/11
horror with reasonable restraint. He has issued a little obligatory tough talk, but
as a Texas oil man, surrounded by like-minded businessmen, he seems aware that
there are other things at stake than Virtue, Democracy, and suchlike noble
abstractions. Fortunately, perhaps, its hard to be a rich Republican and a
devout Manichaean at the same time.
A final note. Let us fall to our knees in thanks
that Al Gore wasnt our president this week.