Politics & Policy

It’s the War, Stupid

Someone remind Colin Powell.

The president ought to remind his secretary of state that we are at war, because Secretary Powell has had a very dangerous senior moment these past few weeks. He has forgotten the mission laid down so elegantly by W. last September, and again in the State of the Union: We will wage war against terrorists and those who harbor them until we have defeated them. The mission of this administration is to win that war.

In one of those confusions typical of people our age, Powell has instead noticed that other people are at war, and his real mission is to get them to stop. He may think it’s an admirable mission, but it isn’t the one he’s supposed to be carrying out. Thus, the all-too-obvious confusion throughout the administration. And from confusion, as any good strategist will tell you, comes defeat.

Powell has fallen prey to several masters of confusion, those in many Middle East capitals, and those in his own building, to whom he has entrusted his policies and thus his reputation. Both are determined to slow and perhaps even stop America’s war against terrorism, since neither has any idea how to wage and win it. So the secretary of state has sloshed back into the endless swamp of “peace process” and “shuttle diplomacy,” and he is doomed to fail, as all his predecessors since Henry Kissinger failed. They all failed — and he will fail — because they thought they could “solve” the Israel/Arab “problem” by just talking it out and finding some clever scheme that would split all differences and find a way to make everyone happy.

It can’t be done. All the skilled diplomats and all the deep thinkers have, from the very beginning, insisted on looking at the wrong problem. The Arab/Israeli matter is a small piece — say it again, a small piece — of a much broader conflict, in which we are directly involved.

That broader conflict is the latest battle between freedom and tyranny, and we only have two choices: We can win or lose. We cannot opt out, we cannot find clever solutions, we cannot invent brilliant schemes. It is simply win it or lose it. It’s the war, stupid.

Arafat is but one of many petty tyrants who wish to extinguish freedom in the Middle East. He is but one element in the terror network against which we declared war following their attack against us on September 11. That network, once proclaimed to be so shadowy that it would require an entirely new kind of war to thwart its evil designs, is now crystal clear. Its fighting men and women are enlisted in the PLO, Fatah, Hizbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, al Qaeda and their lesser formations. Its commanders are the terror masters in Baghdad, Damascus and Tehran. Their ideologues and financiers range from Riyadh to the Gulf States. They all saw what happened in Afghanistan, and trembled.

Unable to mount an effective counteroffensive, they stalled for time, tempting us with a variety of “peace” plans and processes, lecturing us that we could not possibly continue the war until we had dealt with the Israelis and the Palestinians, hoping we would fall for it.

We did fall for it, and in falling for it lost our focus. The question is whether the president will reassert the mission and refocus his war cabinet.

It should not be hard, if he has the will. There will be innumerable excuses to call off the Powell exercise and bring home the secretary. It does not much matter, frankly, if this is blamed on Arafat or Sharon, the important thing is to get our bearings firmly fixed. To all those who demand that we get involved in the Israel/Arab morass, the president should simply say, “we’re going to win the war first, and then look at it again.”

That is the bottom line, from which there is no successful escape. For if we destroy the tyrannies in Iran, Iraq, and Syria, and compel the Saudis to stop funding the global network of murderous Wahhabi schools and mosques that is the assembly line of terrorism, then the Israel/Arab question will look entirely different, both to us and to the combatants.

Deprived of weapons, ammunition, intelligence, and guidance from the terror masters, the Palestinians will suddenly find themselves able to choose their own destiny. And then we can ask them a simple question: What do you really want? They cannot answer it truthfully today, because they are likely to be killed if their tyrannical masters were to hear them say, “I want to be a free person in a normal state.” They can only answer it truthfully if freedom is a real option.

And freedom is what America is supposed to be all about. Tell the secretary of state: We are fighting a war for freedom. Stop playing into the hands of the tyrants. It’s unworthy of a great democratic power.

Michael LedeenMichael Ledeen is an American historian, philosopher, foreign-policy analyst, and writer. He is a former consultant to the National Security Council, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense. ...


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