Following the Script
September 18, 2001
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 didnt I think of that
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
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. Its 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 wont 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
its entirely beside the point. What is the use of threatening fanatics with
violence? What is it about the word suicide we dont
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. Its 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; 50 million deaths later, it ended with Poland in the firm possession of
one of the aggressors. The irony was lost on the exhausted Western
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
Of course the enemy doesnt 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.