Following the Script 
September 18, 2001 

by Joe Sobran

     Assuming that Osama bin Laden directed the 9/11 
attack, how does he feel today? 

     Is he sitting in a cave biting his nails and 
moaning: "Oh dear! What have I done? Now the Americans 
are really angry, and they are only too likely to strike 
back! Why didn't I think of that possibility?" 

     Or is he saying: "Just as we hoped. Bush is 
following the script we wrote. Of course we knew the 
Americans would take the bait! That was our whole design! 
Soon there will be open war between the infidels and 

     If this is war, it makes World War II look as quaint 
as an eighteenth-century pistol duel at 20 paces. Our 
enemy is not a state with a central nervous system we can 
strike at, but a vexingly decentralized organization. 
It's a perverse twist on the principles of the free 
market and federalism, and President Bush, threatening to 
"eradicate" terrorism, is rather like a socialist central 
planner threatening to eradicate a black market. 

     Meanwhile, the United States is taking frantic 
precautions, at enormous cost, to prevent the recurrence 
of a unique event. Whatever the enemy has up its sleeve, 
it won't do the same thing next time. Knowing we are now 
on guard against quadruple hijackings, it will find 
another way to surprise us. 

     We are dealing with men who are willing to die in 
order to hurt us. Tough talk may console the American 
public, but it's entirely beside the point. What is the 
use of threatening fanatics with violence? What is it 
about the word "suicide" we don't understand? 

     Moreover, the 9/11 attack may mark a dreadful 
threshold. The whole world has now seen that the sole 
remaining superpower is by no means invulnerable. This 
can only encourage other potential enemies to try their 
hand. It's rather like the four-minute mile: as soon as 
one man broke it, everyone did. It no longer seemed the 
outer limit of human achievement. From now on we must 
watch our backs everywhere on earth. 

     Since the real enemy is elusive, the natural 
response of a wounded state is to seek a tangible target 
-- another state -- to strike at. So our government is 
holding the Afghan government responsible for harboring 
bin Laden and is threatening military reprisals unless he 
is captured and given up to the United States. 

     This assumes that the rulers of Afghanistan know 
exactly where bin Laden is and can easily arrest him, if 
only they want to. Should we make war on such a dubious 
assumption? If we do, we may find ourselves fighting the 
entire Muslim world, roughly a billion people, with 
incalculable consequences, and with Osama bin Laden and 
his cohorts fading into the background of a third world 
war. Our primary mission will become subduing countless 
people who have nothing to do with him, but who will be 
united in their hatred of us. The original cause may be 
almost forgotten, as we pay a vastly greater price for 
the war than we paid last week. 

     World War II began with the invasion of Poland; 
fifty million deaths later, it ended with Poland in the 
firm possession of one of the aggressors. The irony was 
lost on the exhausted Western "victors." 

     "That men set off a course of events they can 
neither calculate nor control," wrote the great 
Shakespeare commentator A.C. Bradley, "is a tragic fact." 
Nearly every war turns out to be far more than we 
bargained for. The Gulf War seemed like an easy victory, 
at the time; we won in a few weeks, and for ten years we 
thought we were living happily ever after. Now it appears 
to have made us implacable and cunning enemies. 

     Of course the enemy doesn't know how events will 
play out either, but it is too reckless to care. It 
represents the nemesis of the modern state, too weak to 
conquer but satisfied with the stupendous disruption it 
can achieve. And because that enemy is not a state, there 
is probably no coin in which it can be repaid. 

     The enemy has done the unexpected. Our own 
government has done only the expected. There is no doubt 
who is winning, or who holds the upper hand.


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