September 16, 2003

OVER CLEAR (via Paul Cella:

War in the Absence of Strategic Clarity: More than merely winning the war in Iraq, we needed to stun the Arab World. (Mark Helprin, August 26, 2003, The Claremont Institute)

America has approached the war on terrorism as if from two dreamworlds. The liberal, in which an absurd understanding of cause and effect, the habit of capitulation to foreign influence, a mild and perpetual anti-Americanism, reflex allergies to military spending, and a theological aversion to self-defense all lead to policies that are hard to differentiate from surrender. And the conservative, in which everything must be all right as long as a self-declared conservative is in the White Houseā€”no matter how badly the war is run; no matter that a Republican administration in electoral fear leans left and breaks its promise to restore the military; and no matter that because the Secretary of Defense decided that he need not be able to fight two wars at once, an adequate reserve does not exist to deal with, for example, North Korea. And in between these dreamworlds of paralysis and incompetence lies the seam, in French military terminology la soudure, through which al-Qaeda, uninterested in our parochialisms, will make its next attack.

The war is waged as if accidentally, and no wonder. For domestic political reasons and to preserve its marginal relations with the Arab World, the United States has declined to identify the enemy precisely. He is so formless, opportunistic, and shadowy that apparently we cannot conceive of him accurately enough to declare war against him, although he has declared war against us. Attribute this to Karl Rove's sensitivity to the electoral calculus in key states with heavy Arab-American voting, to a contemporary aversion to ethnic generalities, to the desire not to offend the Arab World lest it attack us even more ferociously, to the fear of speaking truth to oil, to apprehension about the taking of hostages and attacks upon embassies, and to a certain muddledness of mind that is the result both of submitting to polite and obsequious blackmail and of having been throughout the course of one's life a stranger to rigorous thought. Reluctance to identify the enemy makes it rather difficult to assess his weaknesses and strengths. Thus, for want of a minimum of political courage, our soldiers are dispatched to far-flung battlefields to fight an ad hoc, disorganized war, and, just as it did in the Vietnam War, Washington explains its lack of a lucid strategy by referring to the supposed incoherence of its opponent. From the beginning, America has been told that this is a new kind of war that cannot be waged with strategic clarity, that strategy and its attendant metaphysics no longer apply. And because we cannot sufficiently study the nature of an insufficiently defined enemy, our actions are mechanistic, ill-conceived, and a function of conflicting philosophies within our bureaucracies, which proceed as if their war plans were modeled on a to-do list magnetized to some suburban refrigerator.

The enemy must and can be defined. That he is the terrorist himself almost everyone agrees, but in the same way that the United States extended blame beyond the pilots who attacked Pearl Harbor, it must now reach far back into the structures of enablement for the sake of deciding who and what must be fought. And given the enormity of a war against civilians, and the attacks upon our warships, embassies, economy, capital, government, and most populous city, this determination must be liberal and free-flowing rather than cautious and constrained, both by necessity and by right. The enemy has embarked upon a particular form of warfare with the intent of shielding his center of mass from counterattack, but he must not be allowed such a baseless privilege. For as much as he is the terrorist who executes the strategy, he is the intelligence service in aid of it, the nation that harbors his training camps, the country that finances him, the press filled with adulation, the people who dance in the streets when there is a slaughter, and the regime that turns a blind eye.

Not surprisingly, militant Islam arises from and makes its base in the Arab Middle East. The first objective of the war, therefore, must be to offer every state in the area this choice: eradicate all support for terrorism within your borders or forfeit existence as a state. That individual terrorists will subsequently flee to the periphery is certain, but the first step must be to deny them their heartland and their citadels.

Recognizing that the enemy is militant Islam with its center the Arab Middle East, it is possible to devise a coherent strategy.

It speaks volumes about Mark Helprin's clarity of vision and his eloquence that the only time Bob Dole ever let us peer into his soul it was Mr. Helprin who provided the lens, Remarks by Senator Bob Dole: Dole Accepts Nomination (San Diego, California, August 15, 1996):
Ladies and gentlemen, delegates to the convention, and fellow citizens, I cannot say it more clearly than in plain speaking. I accept your nomination to lead our party once again to the Presidency of the United States.

And I am profoundly moved by your confidence and trust, and I look forward to leading America into the next century. But this is not my moment, it is yours. It is yours, Elizabeth. It is yours, Robin. It is yours, Jack and Joanne Kemp.

And do not think I have forgotten whose moment this is above all. It is for the people of America that I stand here tonight, and by their generous leave. And as my voice echoes across darkness and desert, as it is heard over car radios on coastal roads, and as it travels above farmland and suburb, deep into the heart of cities that, from space, look tonight like strings of sparkling diamonds, I can tell you that I know whose moment this is: It is yours. It is yours entirely.

And who am I that stands before you tonight?

I was born in Russell, Kansas, a small town in the middle of the prairie surrounded by wheat and oil wells. As my neighbors and friends from Russell, who tonight sit in front of this hall, know well, Russell, though not the West, looks out upon the West.

And like most small towns on the plains, it is a place where no one grows up without an intimate knowledge of distance.

And the first thing you learn on the prairie is the relative size of a man compared to the lay of the land. And under the immense sky where I was born and raised, a man is very small, and if he thinks otherwise, he is wrong.
I come from good people, very good people, and I'm proud of it. My father's name was Doran and my mother's name was Bina. I loved them and there's no moment when my memory of them and my love for them does not overshadow anything I do -- even this, even here -- and there is no height to which I have risen that is high enough to allow me to allow me to forget them -- to allow me to forget where I came from, and where I stand and how I stand -- with my feet on the ground, just a man at the mercy of God.

And this perspective has been strengthened and solidified by a certain wisdom that I owe not to any achievement of my own, but to the gracious compensations of age.

Now I know that in some quarters I may not -- may be expected to run from this, the truth of this, but I was born in 1923, and facts are better than dreams and good presidents and good candidates don't run from the truth.

I do not need the presidency to make or refresh my soul. That false hope I will gladly leave to others. For greatness lies not in what office you hold, but on how honest you are in how you face adversity and in your willingness to stand fast in hard places.

Age has its advantages.

Let me be the bridge to an America than only the unknowing call myth. Let me be the bridge to a time of tranquility, faith and confidence in action.

And to those who say it was never so, that America's not been better, I say you're wrong. And I know because I was there. And I have seen it. And I remember.

And our nation, though wounded and scathed, has outlasted revolutions, civil war, world war, racial oppression and economic catastrophe. We have fought and prevailed on almost every continent. And in almost every sea.

We have even lost. But we have lasted, and we have always come through.

And what enabled us to accomplish this has little to do with the values of the present. After decades of assault upon what made America great, upon supposedly obsolete values, what have we reaped? What have we created? What do we have?

What we have in the opinions of millions of Americans is crime and drugs, illegitimacy, abortion, the abdication of duty, and the abandonment of children.

And after the virtual devastation of the American family, the rock upon which this country was founded, we are told that it takes a village, that is collective, and thus the state, to raise a child.

The state is now more involved than it ever has been in the raising of children. And children are now more neglected, more abused and more mistreated than they have been in our time.

This is not a coincidence. This is not a coincidence. And with all due respect, I am here to tell you it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child.

If I could by magic restore to every child who lacks a father or a mother that father or that mother, I would. And though I cannot, I would never turn my back on them. And I shall as President vote measures that keep families whole.

And I'm here to tell you that permissive and destructive behavior must be opposed. That honor and liberty must be restored and that individual accountability must replace collective excuse.

And I'm here to say I am here to say to America, do not abandon the great traditions that stretch to the dawn of our history. Do not topple the pillars of those beliefs -- God, family, honor, duty, country -- that have brought us through time, and time, and time, and time again.

And to those who believe that I am too combative, I say if I am combative, it is for love of country. It is to uphold a standard that I was I was born and bread to defend. And to those who believe that I live and breathe compromise, I say that in politics honorable compromise is no sin. It is what protects us from absolutism and intolerance.

But one must never compromise in regard to God and family and honor and duty and country. And I'm here to set a marker, that all may know that it is possible to rise in politics, with these things firmly in mind, not compromised and never abandoned, never abandoned.

For the old values endure and though they may sleep and though they may falter, they endure. I know this is true. And to anyone who believes that restraint honor and trust in the people cannot be returned to government, I say follow me, follow me.

Only right conduct, only right conduct distinguishes a great nation from one that cannot rise above itself. It has never been otherwise.

Right conduct every day, at every level, in all facets of life. The decision of a child not to use drugs; of a student not to cheat; of a young woman or a young man to serve when called; of a screenwriter to refuse to add to mountains of trash; of a businessman not to bribe; of a politician to cast a vote or take action that will put his office or his chances of victory at risk, but which is right.

And why have so many of us -- and I do not exclude myself, for I am not the model of perfection -- why have so many of us been failing these tests for so long? The answer is not a mystery. It is to the contrary quite simple and can be given quite simply.

It is because for too long we have had a leadership that has been unwilling to risk the truth, to speak without calculation, to sacrifice itself.

An administration, in its very existence, communicates this day by day until it flows down like rain and the rain becomes a river and the river becomes a flood.

Which is more important, wealth or honor?

It is not as was said by the victors four years ago, the economy stupid. It's a kind of nation we are. It's whether we still possess the wit and determination to deal with many questions including economic questions, but certainly not limited to them. All things do not flow from wealth or poverty. I know this firsthand and so do you.

All things flow from doing what is right.

The cry of this nation lies not in its material wealth but in courage, and sacrifice and honor. We tend to forget when leaders forget. And we tend to remember it when they remember it.

The high office of the presidency requires not a continuous four year campaign for re-election, but rather broad oversight and attention to three essential areas: the material, the moral and the nation's survival in that ascending order of importance.

In the last presidential election, you the people were gravely insulted. You were told that the material was not only the most important of these three, but in fact, really the only one that mattered.

I don't hold to that for a moment. No one can deny the importance of material well-being. And in this regard, it is time to recognize we have surrendered too much of our economic liberty. I do not appreciate the value of economic liberty nearly as much for what it has done in keeping us fed, as to what it's done in keeping us free.

The freedom of the marketplace is not merely the best guarantor of our prosperity. It is the chief guarantor of our rights, and a government that seizes control of the economy for the good of the people ends up seizing control of the people for the good of the economy.

And our opponents portray the right to enjoy the fruits of one's own time and labor as a kind selfishness against which they must fight for the good of the nation. But they are deeply mistaken, for when they gather to themselves the authority to take the earnings and direct the activities of the people, they are fighting not for our sake but for the power to tell us what to do.

And you now work from the first of January to May just to pay your taxes so that the party of government can satisfy its priorities with the sweat of your brow because they think that what you would do with your own money would be morally and practically less admirable than what they would do with it.

And that simply has got to stop. It's got to stop in America.

It is demeaning to the nation that within the Clinton administration, a core of the elite who never grew up, never did anything real, never sacrificed, never suffered and never learned, should have the power to fund with your earnings their dubious and self-serving schemes. [...]

[I] have learned in my own life, from my own experience that not every man, woman or child can make it on their own. And that in time of need, the bridge between failure and success can be the government itself. And given all that I have experienced, I shall always remember those in need. That is why I helped to save Social Security in 1983 and that is why I will be, I will be the president who preserves and strengthens and protects Medicare for America's senior citizens.

For I will never forget the man who rode on a train from Kansas to Michigan to see his son who was thought to be dying in an Army hospital. When he arrived, his feet were swollen and he could hardly walk because he had to make the trip from Kansas to Michigan standing up most of the way.

Who was that man? He was my father. My father was poor and I love my father. Do you imagine for one minute that as I sign the bills that will set the economy free, I will not be faithful to Americans in need? You can be certain that I will.

For to do otherwise would be to betray those whom I love and honor most. And I will betray nothing. [...]

The Republican Party is broad and inclusive. It represents -- The Republican Party is broad and inclusive. It represents many streams of opinion and many points of view.

But if there's anyone who has mistakenly attached themselves to our party in the belief that we are not open to citizens of every race and religion, then let me remind you, tonight this hall belongs to the Party of Lincoln. And the exits which are clearly marked are for you to walk out of as I stand this ground without compromise.

And though, I can only look up -- and though I can look up, and at a very steep angle, to Washington and Lincoln, let me remind you of their concern for the sometimes delicate unity of the people.

The notion that we are and should be one people rather than "peoples" of the United States seems so self-evident and obvious that it's hard for me to imagine that I must defend it. When I was growing up in Russell, Kansas, it was clear to me that my pride and my home were in America, not in any faction, and not in any division.

In this I was heeding, even as I do unto this day, Washington's eloquent rejection of factionalism. I was honoring, even as I do unto this day, Lincoln's word, his life and his sacrifice. The principle of unity has been with us in all our successes.

The 10th Mountain Division, in which I served in Italy, and the Black troops of the 92ndm Division who fought nearby were the proof for me once again of the truth I'm here trying to convey.

The war was fought just a generation after America's greatest and most intense period of immigration. And yet when the blood of the sons of immigrants and the grandsons of slaves fell on foreign fields, it was American blood. In it you could not read the ethnic particulars of the soldier who died next to you. He was an American.

And when I think how we learned this lesson I wonder how we could have unlearned it. Is the principle of unity, so hard-fought and at the cost of so many lives, having been contested again and again in our history, and at such a terrible price, to be casually abandoned to the urge to divide?
The answer is no.

Must we give in to the senseless drive to break apart that which is beautiful and whole and good?

And so tonight I call on every American to rise above all that may divide us, and to defend the unity of the nation for the honor of generations past, and the sake of those to come. [...]

[O]n my first day in office, I will put America on a course that will end our vulnerability to missile attack and rebuild our armed forces.

It is a course President Clinton has refused to take. And on my first day in office, I will put terrorists on notice. If you harm one American, you harm all Americans. And America will pursue you to the ends of the earth.

In short, don't mess with us if you're not prepared to suffer the consequences.

And furthermore, the lesson has always been clear, if we are prepared to defend, if we are prepared to fight many wars and greater wars than any wars that come, we will have to fight fewer wars and lesser wars and perhaps no wars at all.

It has always been so and will ever be so. And I'm not the first to say that the long gray line has never failed us, and it never has.

For those who might be sharply taken aback and thinking of Vietnam, think again. For in Vietnam the long gray line did not fail us, we failed it in Vietnam.

The American soldier -- the American soldier was not made for the casual and arrogant treatment that he suffered there, where he was committed without clear purpose or resolve, bound by rules that prevented victory, and kept waiting in the valley of the shadow of death for 10 years while the nation invaded the undebatable question of his honor.

No, the American soldier was not to be thrown into battle without a clear purpose or resolve, not made to be abandoned in the field of battle, not made to give his life for indifference or lack of respect. And I will never commit the American soldier to an ordeal without the prospect of victory.

And when I am president, and when I am president every man, and every women in our armed forces will know the president is Commander-in-Chief, not Boutros Boutros-Ghali or any other UN Secretary General.

This I owe not only to the living, but to the dead, to every patriot, to every patriot grave, to the ghosts of Valley Forge, of Flanders Field, of Bataan, the Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, and the Gulf.

This I owe to the men who died on the streets of Mogadishu not three year ago, to the shadows on the bluffs of Normandy, to the foot soldiers who never came home, to the airmen who fell to earth, and the sailors who rest perpetually at sea.

This is not an issue of politics, but far graver than that. Like the bond of trust between parent and child, it is the lifeblood of the nation. It commands not only sacrifice but a grace in leadership embodying both caution and daring at the same time. And this we owe not only to ourselves. Our Allies demand consistency and resolve, which they deserve from us as we deserve it from them. But even if they falter, we cannot, for history has made us the leader, and we are obliged by history to keep the highest standard possible.

And in this regard may I remind you of the nation's debt to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush. President Nixon engaged China and the Soviet Union with diplomatic genius. President Ford, who gave me my start in 1976, stood fast in a time of great difficulty, and with the greatest of dignity. Were it not for President Reagan, the Soviet Union would still be standing today.

He brought the Cold War to an end, not, as some demanded, through compromise and surrender -- but by winning it. That's how he brought the Cold War to an end.

And President Bush, with a mastery that words fail to convey, guided the Gulf War coalition and its military forces to victory. A war that might have lasted years and taken the lives of tens of thousands of Americans passed so swiftly and passed so smoothly that history has yet to catch its breath and give him the credit he is due.

History is like that. History is like that. Whenever we forget its singular presence, it gives us a lesson in grace and awe.

And when I look back on my life, I see less and less of myself and more and more a history of this civilization that we have made that is called America.

And I am content and always will be content to see my own story subsumed in great events, the greatest of which is the simple onward procession of the American people. What a high privilege it is to be at the center in these times -- and this I owe to you, the American people.

I owe everything to you. And to make things right, and to close the circle, I will return to you as much as I possibly can. It is incumbent upon me to do so. It is my duty and my deepest desire. And so tonight, I respectfully -- I respectfully ask for your blessing and your support. [...]

My friends, a presidential campaign is more than a contest of candidates, more than a clash of opposing philosophies.

It is a mirror held up to America. It is a measurement of who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. For as much inspiration as we may draw from a glorious past, we recognize American preeminently as a country of tomorrow. For we were placed here for a purpose, by a higher power. There's no doubt about it.

Every soldier in uniform, every school child who recites the Pledge of Allegiance, every citizen who places her hand on her heart when the flag goes by, recognizes and responds to our American destiny.

Optimism is in our blood. I know this as few others can. There once was a time when I doubted the future. But I have learned as many of you have learned that obstacles can be overcome.

And I have unlimited confidence in the wisdom of our people and the future of our country.

Tonight, I stand before you tested by adversity, made sensitive by hardship, a fighter by principle, and the most optimistic man in America.

Not only did this present us a Bob Dole who was, maybe for the first time in his public career, a sympathetic and comprehensible character, but it provided a profound metaphor for conservatism: a bridge that can connect us to the best of our past. This provoked Bill Clinton into adopting a profoundly appropriate, because inane, metaphor for liberalism: a bridge to the 21st Century, leaving the past behind, trying to skip over the present on an artificial construction, and barging blindly ahead into who knows what as a result.

But it also speaks volumes about Mr. Helprin's aptitude for politics that he was so upset by the addition of the usual boilerplate to the speech he'd penned that he stopped working with the Dole campaign. Sure, it would have been a better speech without, but political speeches aren't just supposed to be lovely--they serve multiple purposes. What was remarkable was that they kept so much of what he wrote, not that they draped it in dreck.

In the essay above we see Mr. Helprin's strengths and weaknesses on display. It's no surprise that someone who served in the Israeli defense forces should seize on 9-11 as an opportunity to go to war with the entire Arab Middle East, but that was neither politically tenable nor justified even by so horrific an event as the 9-11 attacks. These after all were not the actions of Arabs generally, but of men disaffected from even Arab society. You can't punish a group for the crimes of its most dysfunctional members, only for the crimes of which the society generally approves, especially through its government.

Now, it may well be that the War on Terror will eventually descend into a ferocious free-for-all between America/Israel/Britain on one side and the Arab Middle East on the other, but it's incumbent on us as a great nation to see if the pathologies plaguing Islam can't be healed more peacefully first. To try and do so does not represent moral opacity, but reasonable compromise between the extremes of appeasement and exterminationist war. It is well to have men whose moral clarity requires them always to push the extreme, but dangerous for a nation to succumb to such extremism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 16, 2003 11:48 AM

I think you've misread Helprin. He's not calling for total war on the Middle East but for a greater appreciation for those deeper currents in human life which in part animate our struggles.

Helprin implicitly rebukes the neoconservative ideology, with its modernist abstractions about democracy and secularism, and asks us to reflect seriously on what it is that gives life to a civilization. This is the clarity he speaks of, because if we can discern the febrile lifeforce underlying militant Islam, we can act to defeat it.

Posted by: Paul Cella at September 16, 2003 12:11 PM

What you and Helprin want to call "militant Islam" is simply Islam tout court.

It is not our choice whether it is an exterminationist war; if it is war at all it has to be exterminationist.

Didn't we learn anything about ideological war from the victories and defeats of the 20th century? The 18th century ended over 200 years ago.

I don't know about neocons or if that thinking or Rove is what keeps Bush from drawing correct strategic solutions.

Strategic thinking is very rare; only 2 American presidents in the last 100 years were capable of it, and Bush is not one of them.

He might be, if he had more knowledge, because he is not so dumb; but he is blinkered by his Bible Belt upbringing. There is a profound stream in the Bible Belt that admires (while sometimes simultaneously also disparaging) any seeker after God, even those who are judged not to be on the right path at the moment.

That is the only explanation for Bush inviting mullans to bread and salt at the White House.

The Professor this morning has links to a so-called "moderate" Muslim teacher. It turns out, what some of us were saying decades ago, that a moderate Muslim is a fanatic by any other standard.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 16, 2003 2:20 PM


Whereas you believe the opposite, that by their very religiosity they are irredeemable. The blind accusing the blind doesn't add insight.

Posted by: oj at September 16, 2003 2:40 PM

OJ: You said better what I'd like to say.

Harry: You might be right (in part); but OJ's correct -- if we can pacify that part of the world without wholesale bloodshed, it is incumbent upon us to do so.

Paul: I read the essay thoroughly, and he seems to call for total war, especially if the Arab states won't play nice with us.

Posted by: Chris at September 16, 2003 2:49 PM

Perhaps I have misread him. Total war is out of the question, not to mention bordering on insane.

Posted by: Paul Cella at September 16, 2003 3:33 PM

Alas, that very conclusion may be precisely the problem.

Though I suppose we can congratulate ourselves that we very much would like to believe that it is insane....

Posted by: Barry Meislin at September 16, 2003 4:24 PM


"The first objective of the war, therefore, must be to offer every state in the area this choice: eradicate all support for terrorism within your borders or forfeit existence as a state."

Admittedly, it's one sentence, and there is a sentence before and a sentence after it; but neither contradicts this. I believe it's representative, along with much of the tone of the piece.

Posted by: Chris at September 16, 2003 4:47 PM

The other side already decided its total war. We either agree or surrender.

Admiring religiosity might be OK if the world were full of Mother Theresas, or even -- more doubtfully -- Dorothy Days. But since it isn't, it is a mere matter of self-preservation to examine each preacher and find out what he's preaching.

You guys understand that well enough when the preacher is Rosenberg.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 16, 2003 6:29 PM

There are a billion Muslims--who's declared total war? We don't judge the West by its Rosenbergs nor Islam by its bin Ladens.

Posted by: oj at September 16, 2003 6:38 PM

Maybe we should judge them by what their book says.

There are parts of the Bible that are pretty awful--but outside the World Church of the Creator, most religionists seem to view them as of historical interest, no longer operational.

Muslims have yet to repudiate the loathsome portions of the Quran.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at September 16, 2003 7:59 PM

But those loathesome parts are so appealing to the immature, the angry, the fearful - it will be a long wait for any repudiation.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 16, 2003 8:24 PM


Like what?

Posted by: oj at September 16, 2003 8:42 PM

I'll answer for Jeff. Dhimmi.

There's lots more, but that's more than enough.

Orrin, for a guy who's so tough on Communist fellow travelers, it is inconsistent for you to give a pass to Muslim fellow travelers, which is all of them. I'm still waiting for the first public demonstration in a Muslim country in favor of living in harmony with infidels.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 16, 2003 9:21 PM

For the same reason we were right to persecute Communists, it seems reasonable to allow Muslims to determine the composition of their societies. The real question is whether they can adjust to other nations around them being heathen.

Posted by: oj at September 16, 2003 9:26 PM

Dhimmi schmimmi. Harry/Jeff, you can't just walk into a fourteen hundred old religious text from an unfamilar religion and see a literal battle plan. It is clear that, for centuries, Islam was a force for social cohesion, family and civil order AND went through periods of great tolerance while we were slitting one another's throats over transubstantiation. All the Jews who were forced to flee to Israel from all over the Middle East had lived and prospered for centuries.

I don't have the answer, in fact I don't even have the question down yet. But it can't be that easy. Have you checked out the social and political situation in sub-Sahara, non-Islamic Africa lately? If you guys are right, why fourteen hundred years later? And, what should they replace it with? Darwin and Britney Spears?

Posted by: Peter B at September 16, 2003 9:34 PM

Re the reaction in Arab states (and elsewhere) to the U.S. war on terror, the Associated Press ran a story today on the impact so far:

Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - Iran's legislature mulls a plan to stop bankrolling terrorism. Syria says it has shut down the offices of Palestinian suicide bombers. Libya tries to wheedle its way into Washington's sphere of affluence with wads of cash.
The United States and its bare-knuckled diplomacy may have alienated old allies and inspired armies of vengeful extremists, but the last superpower's might and money - along with its military conquests in Iraq and Afghanistan - has commanded some measure of respect among enemies who wouldn't mind being showered with cash instead of cluster bombs.
Call it a case of Iraq-a-phobia, an affliction that analysts say will prove fleeting if Washington - or Americans in general - grow weary of U.S. troops dying while serving on missions that become lengthier and more lethal than expected.
"There's little doubt that the U.S. pre-emption policy has, for example, made perennial state sponsors of terrorism less inclined to act provocatively," said Jonathan Stevenson, senior fellow for counter-terrorism at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
A good example, he said, is Syria, which apparently heeded American demands that it not provide sanctuary to people close to the ousted Saddam. Syria also says it has shut down the offices of Islamic Jihad and Hamas, prime architects of suicide bombings against Israel, though it has yet to expel the agents of those organizations.
Other examples of speaking strongly and wielding a big, laser-guided stick:
- The United Nations last week lifted sanctions on Libya after it surrendered two Libyans indicted for the 1988 bombing of a U.S. Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, and paid compensation to families of victims. Libya is desperate for the United States to lift its own economic sanctions, which have frozen a fortune in contracts with U.S. oil companies.
- Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, titular allies despite anti-Western hatred that extends deep into their respective societies, have succumbed more swiftly to U.S. pressure to break up various terrorist cells.
- A court last month in the Sudan, once a notorious terrorist redoubt, convicted a Syrian and sentenced him to a month in prison for training Palestinians and Saudis to carry out attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq.
- Iran says it has arrested some anti-American terrorists, grudgingly agreed to follow global rules for preventing the spread of nuclear arms, and will likely join an international convention this week banning the financing of terrorism.
"Sudan and Libya showed clear signs of reform before" the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States, Stevenson said, "but muscular U.S. foreign policy has reinforced their tilt toward better international citizenship. Iran, though still a problem, appears more willing to comply with international norms as to inspection of their nuclear facilities" while keeping anti-Israeli groups it sponsors on "a relatively short leash."
Yet the downside to the American-led wars in a pair of Islamic countries has been to boost support for al-Qaida, the terror group blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks, and chill relations with traditional allies such as Germany and France, which favor a more global and diplomacy-driven approach for dealing with rogue nations,Stevenson said..
Though rogue state leaders "must be quaking to some extent," the fear probably was greatest right after the fall of Baghdad, a powerful image, yet the difficulties in stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan probably tempered some of that fear, said Richard K. Betts, director of the Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University.
"The bloody nose we've gotten in the botched occupation of Iraq may give them a breather, since it looks far less plausible that even this belligerent administration will want to take on more such problems," Betts said. "None of the rogues are doing anything blatant to appease us. I think they must clearly be worried, but I don't yet see evidence or a trend to suggest that it will push them toward pre-emptive surrender."
Despite the loss of life and harsh criticism from traditional allies, the U.S. action is having a greater global psychological impact than most people realize.
"Everybody has been more or less focused on Iraq. but it is really a tip of a very large iceberg that is taking place all over the world, " said Dr. Stanley A. Renshon, a City University of New York psychoanalyst and political scientist.
Intelligence agencies in the Philippines, Pakistan, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere are clearly working in concert with U.S. intelligence to identify and detain potential terrorist plotters, said Renshon. (...)

Posted by: John at September 16, 2003 9:43 PM

John: Good stuff, but:

"A court last month in the Sudan, once a notorious terrorist redoubt, convicted a Syrian and sentenced him to a month in prison for training Palestinians and Saudis to carry out attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq."

Hmm...wonder if he got remission for good behaviour.

Posted by: Peter B at September 16, 2003 9:49 PM


Excerpts and a link are great, but please don't run whole stories.

Posted by: oj at September 16, 2003 9:50 PM

"Whereas you believe the opposite, that by their very religiosity they are irredeemable."'s not our choice. It's their choice. And by their actions we will know them, and know their choice.

So far, frankly, they are acting like a rattlesnake. You can reason with a rattlesnake all you like, you can be as friendly as you want to him, you can love him and pet him and treasure him as one of God's creatures and a beatiful part of nature. But in the end, he will bite you and kill you. If you let him.

This was was not started by us, but by them. If they keep it up, however, it will be ended by us.

What will the American people's reaction be if San Francisco Bay becomes a fireball from a crude A-bomb housed in a tramp steamer? Ask the Apache's or the Commanche's. Oh wait, you can't.

Posted by: ray at September 16, 2003 9:51 PM

Peter B:

Yes, Darwin and Britney Spears. They are dues-paying members of the current, reigning champion society, whereas most Islamic societies would be utterly irrelevant, if they weren't sitting on most of the oil in the world.

As it's inevitable that oil won't be extremely valuable forever, probably losing 90% of its value by 2065, and given that it takes a LONG TIME to change a society, I'd suggest that the Arabs and others get cracking.


I agree. If another extremely devastating terrorist attack hits the US, (and a nuke, although it'd capture our attention, is not the worst possibility), THEN the all-out war that Helprin calls for will become reality.

I've spoken to a number of people about the possibility of all-out war, and none seem to grasp how powerful the US could be. Certainly the terrorists, and the states that shelter them, don't.
Some point to the current difficulties in Iraq, others to Vietnam. However, the right parallel is WWII, and given a war-time economy and mindset, US conventional forces would be ONE THOUSAND TIMES as lethal as those of WWII.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at September 17, 2003 6:59 AM


I was referring to suras (I think that is the Quranic term for verses)that direct the killing of apostates--remember Salmon Rushdie?--and unbelievers. There are others that state the destiny of the entire world is to come under Islamic rule.

Until Islam institutionally rejects--which is going to be tough because there is no institutional Islam--them, those apparently divine diktats will continue to drive terrorism. Some people are bound to take literally everything in sacred texts. Slaughter the unbelievers passages can't be helpful.

My knowledge on the subject was never particularly strong, and my memory is weak, but Deuteronomy seems to have some pretty revolting parts in it. Institutional Christianity seems to view them as of historical, not divine, interest.

Thank goodness for that.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at September 17, 2003 8:16 AM

There's nothing the Koran that ordered Rushdie killed--that was a cleric's fatwa. I'm ambivalent about that one, but do admire them for taking blasphemy seriously.

The world will either come under Muslim rule or it won't, that's not the issue. The question is how far you go to realize that vision. They can use demographic trends to take over most of it and return to a more peaceful and productive way of life.

Posted by: oj at September 17, 2003 8:39 AM

Jeff and others:

There was a very strong effort in the early Christian Church to expunge most of the ancient Hebraic texts. One heresiarch, Marcion, aimed at removing basically everything but St. Mark's Gospel and St. Paul's letters, which would have made for an abstract and emphatically Pauline faith. From our perspective today, even as a matter of secular history, the inclusion of the Old Testament was crucial for the vitality and preservation of Christianity: for it infused the Faith with that narrative, historical rootedness which proved essential to its power.


I still think you make too much of demographics. A projection is not a prediction, as the statisticians often neglect to remind us.


I say total war is bordering on insane because the damage done to our society will likely dwarf what is accomplished to protect us.

Posted by: Paul Cella at September 17, 2003 9:23 AM

Between the 7th and 17th centuries, when Islam was organizationally and materially superior to its neighbors, it made incessant war on them, converting and murdering in the name of religion.

Other religions, even Buddhism, did the same sporadically but never so consistently.

it was not the shedding of an obsolete doctrine that changed things 300 years ago but firepower.

It is almost uncanny how regularly, every hundred years, the Muslims have tried to restore the status quo ante 1709 -- the Delta in 1798, Omdurman in 1898, Tehran in 1979.

The religion's teachings require permanent warfare and its believers have taken it seriously without a break and there is no evidence whatever of any faction within it canceling or revising that view.

So. war of extermination. QED

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 17, 2003 3:11 PM


One of the suras directs killing apostates, blasphemous or not.

Until Islamists take on board the concept that those who chose to believe do, those who don't, don't, and Allah will sort them out in the afterlife, there will be no peace.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at September 17, 2003 3:24 PM