Politics & Policy

How We Could Lose

Our folly.

September 11th wasn’t terrible enough for most Western leaders to recognize the gravity of the threat and the urgency of victory. The two leaders who were catalyzed by the terror attack (President Bush and British Prime Minister Blair) have been boxed in by a combination of so-called friends and allies and by their own advisers who counsel excessive prudence. This antiwar coalition prevented the rapid and decisive action Mr. Bush seemed instinctively inclined to unleash.

— First, the uniformed military insisted we were not “ready” to take on Iraq until we had totally replenished our supplies and massed a quarter of a million fighters for the Battle of Baghdad, even though there is abundant information suggesting that the Iraqi people are counting the minutes until we give them the chance of liberation from Saddam’s terrible dictatorship, and will do much of the job themselves.

— Then came the sly Abdullah plan, a scheme put forward by the Saudis to deflect our attention from the real terror masters, and focus it instead on the “Palestinian question,” even though — or more likely because — that problem cannot be solved until the terror masters have been defeated.

— All along, the really big prize — Iran — was there for the asking, and at a bargain price. Not a single bullet needed to be fired, not a single bomb dropped. The president had only to instruct his people to support the openly rebellious Iranians with money, vigorous radio and television broadcasting, and some communications equipment. But he contented himself with a few speeches — quickly gainsayed by Foggy Bottom’s “quiet diplomacy” — and nothing substantial was done.

— Finally, the same crowd that produced the end-of-the-Gulf-War debacle, with Scowcroft, Baker, and Powell in the lead, and Carter, Daschle, and Leahy alongside, convinced the president to be “reasonable” and “multilateral” by proposing a renewal of the failed U.N. inspections in Iraq. Once Saddam accepted this gambit, President Bush was trapped in a device of our own construction, designed by our own diplomats and their foreign friends. For the moment, at least, the antiwar crowd has the upper hand.

The current debacle resembles the final phase of the Gulf War in more ways than the presence of the same failed personalities. In 1991 the Middle East seemed on the verge of an American-led democratic revolution that would have been catalyzed by the liberation of Iraq from Saddam. When Bush the Elder, Scowcroft, and Powell walked away and left Saddam in his many palaces, those who opposed democratic change took heart, concluded the United States really was a paper tiger, and constructed a new terror network to replace the one that had previously depended upon the Soviet Union for support.

This pattern was repeated after September 11th. Our attack on the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan raised hopes for a democratic transformation of the Middle East, but the long delay once again seemed to confirm the impression that the United States lacks the resolve to accomplish a real victory, and enabled our enemies to prepare for the next battle. The terror network that had been housed in Afghanistan was rebuilt in the valleys of Lebanon and the forests of Iran and Iraq, and new money poured in from Saudi Arabia.

All the while, North Korea provided nuclear and missile technology to Iran, Iraq, and Syria, who prepared for war while their diplomats maneuvered to buy time. The Axis of Evil turned out to be real, not just a deft turn of phrase in a presidential address.

Unlike the West, the terror masters are thoroughly convinced of the rightness of their cause and have no desire to reach any accommodation with the infidels. Unlike the West, our enemies understand that one can win or lose this war, but cannot opt out of it. They are preparing to win, while we are still chasing the illusion of a negotiated settlement.

Look at the events of the past few months: An American diplomat was murdered in Amman, where nothing of the sort had happened in human memory. Two assassins roamed greater Washington, terrorizing the area for weeks, and demonstrating a striking lack of preparedness on our part. A nightclub was bombed in Bali, hitherto exempt from such acts. A series of bombs took innocent victims in the Philippines. A bomb went off in a U.S. special-forces encampment in Afghanistan. A French oil tanker was bombed in the Gulf. A hostage crisis erupted in downtown Moscow. Still more suicide attacks took still more innocent lives in Israel.

The terrorists all were, or were at least presumed to be, Muslim jihadists, and the targets were all infidels, a.k.a. the civilized world. And how did the civilized world respond? By squabbling with each other over the wording of a U.N. resolution that sent a team of hapless inspectors into Iraq, thereby further delaying the next battle in the war against terrorism.

The same dismal pattern holds for the other two charter members of the Axis of Evil. European countries vie for favors from the mullahs in Tehran, dropping trade sanctions in order to sign lucrative contracts with the country’s torturers. The North Koreans’ confirmation of their clandestine nuclear weapons program was treated as just another bump on the road to “managing the problem”, and the president of South Korea — whose security depends on American might — warned President Bush not to cut off oil shipments to the North.

The terror masters treat the West as a single target, but the West refuses to acknowledge the clear pattern. The spectacle of Western diplomats quibbling over language at the U.N. while innocent Western civilians were being murdered from Amman, Jordan to Gaithersburg, Maryland, brings to mind Winston Churchill’s acid reply to those who lectured him on minding his legalistic p’s and q’s while fighting the Nazis. It is folly, he said, to hold ourselves to the strictest interpretation of the letter of the law while fighting enemies who will destroy the very concept of civil society if they defeat us. But that is precisely what is happening. Like the celebrated Byzantine rulers under barbarian siege, Western statesmen debate the fine points of crisis resolution while the enemies of the Western enterprise pour through the gates.

This is the classic pattern of appeasement. The appeasers, from the European foreign ministries to some within our own diplomatic and intellectual establishments, condemn any effective American response as an outrageous provocation. Each time Hitler gobbled up another European country the appeasers warned against any strong response. Each time the Soviet Union deployed a new weapon the appeasers warned against our efforts to respond in kind. And now, as the terror network intensifies its lethal activity, the appeasers demand that firm action be taken against the United States lest it strike against any of the terror masters.

The appeasement campaign has taken its toll against President Bush, its prime target. A year ago he vowed to wage war against countries that support terror, or harbor terrorists, but that language has long since disappeared into the mush of a constantly redefined and ever vaguer “regime change,” recently equated with the inspection tour of Hans Blix, and a vision of a subsequent “disarmament.”

If we were serious about waging this war, we would, at an absolute minimum, support the Iranian people’s brave campaign against their tyrants, declare Saddam Hussein guilty of crimes against humanity and recognize an Iraqi government in exile in the “no fly” zones we control, shut down the network of fanatical schools and mosques run by the Saudis all over the world, and plan seriously for action against North Korea. If we don’t, we may well find ourselves facing a far bigger problem than Saddam alone. Iran, Iraq, and Syria are busy arming Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas for action against our troops, and the leaders of the Hermit Kingdom in North Korea may well try to divide our strength by attacking the South — or issuing a nuclear ultimatum — as soon as we start our Iraqi campaign. All this would likely be combined with further attacks on American soil.

That’s the sort of thing that happens to countries who don’t take war with the seriousness it deserves, and give their enemies a second opportunity to strike us at their convenience.

— Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. Ledeen, Resident Scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, can be reached through Benador Associates.

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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