The world began to change on September 1, 2004, the day the Russia-held-captive ordeal began in a little school in a little southern town called Beslan. When it ended on September 4 after an agonizing three-day orgy of Islamofascist torture and slaughter, it changed Russia, much as September 11, 2001, changed America, and in the end, that will change the world.
The Beslan victims were not as numerous as ours–hundreds died, not thousands–but the national shock is comparable, because their suffering was so great and so prolonged, and because Russia’s children were not collateral damage in this attack. They were the chosen victims of the global Islamic terror network, and all Russia watched in horror, day after day, as they were shot, stabbed, raped, and blown-up, along with their helpless parents and teachers, while other little ones perished in slow agony from thirst, dehydration, and heat stroke, inside a Russian school where the water fountains ran but dying captives were not allowed to drink anything but their own urine. Something like 1,200 Russians were subjected to this ordeal; more than a third–possibly as many as half–are dead, and most of the dead are children, crammed in on top of each other in an explosive-rigged basketball court in a stifling, sealed-up gymnasium in a school where the toilets worked too, but the victims were not allowed to use them. And while it is not yet clear exactly who all the 20-30 Islamist terrorists who tortured and killed these children were, it is as clear here as it was, early on, in Spain that local, homegrown terrorists are not the only ones involved in this carefully planned and viciously executed assault on all that civilized people hold dear. International Islamofascist barbarians with imperial designs masterminded the attack on the children of Beslan, and that has changed everything.
Before Beslan, it was easy for the civilized world’s Isamofascist enemies to play and win the old divide, conquer, and sell-out game, easy for Russians to believe that only local, Chechen terrorists were attacking them, easy to believe that America’s war on the global Islamic terror network was a separate, unrelated thing, a war that Russia might exploit but had no reason to join, a war that had no connection to the one that Israel is fighting or the one that Spanish voters, like French, German, Belgian, and Canadian voters declined to fight. Before Beslan, it was easy for Russia to join France, old Europe, and the U.N. in a policy of temporarily profitable appeasement, propping up the Iraqi terror master, Saddam Hussein, by exploiting the oil-for-food scam, easy for Russia to make a quick bundle by helping Iranian terror masters develop the nuclear weapons they crave, easy for Russia to join the French-led Euro-Arab axis and its corrupt international court in embracing Palestinian terror masters and condemning their victims.
After Beslan, some Russians will argue that continued appeasement of the global Islamist terror network is the best policy still. After all, some Americans still think so too, but there, as here, it won’t be easy to sell that policy anymore. There, as here, some Russians will swallow their grief and vent all their rage against their own government, insisting that official incompetence caused all these deaths. There, as here, some will cling to all the other self-defeating old lies, insisting that local Islamofascist groups have no connection to the international terror network, that anyway, “there is no military solution,” and/or that the growing terrorist mayhem is all the fault of greedy Russian capitalists, crude, reckless American “cowboys” or scheming, manipulative Jewish war mongers, and that deals with the Islamist devil are still possible and desirable.
But in the end, these voices of blind bigotry and defeatism won’t prevail, because millions of Russians have learned the same hard lessons most of us learned on September 11: That we are at war with a vicious global enemy, an Islamist enemy that hates Christians, Hindus, and progressive Muslims as much as it hates Jews, an enemy that cannot be appeased, bought off, or safely sicced on others; an enemy we must unite to cut down wherever it rears its ugly head, or have our own heads and those of our children cut off by it. This Russian transformation won’t happen quickly or all at once, but in the end, it will happen, and it will make Russia a powerful ally again, as it was in World War II, after the Hitler-Stalin Peace pact, like the Munich Peace Pact, proved that pursuing paper-peace agreements and short term advantages by appeasing evil is a roadmap to death and defeat. In the end, Russia will fight with us again, and with our most steadfast allies, England and Australia, as it did in the 1940s. This time, a free Poland, a democratic Italy, and a host of smaller, recently liberated states in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia will not only join with us but will retain their God-given liberties, after our victory.
Already, Putin is getting the message. In an unprecedented burst of candor, he told the Russian people, “We were weak, and weak people are beaten.” Already, he is reaching out a tentative hand, looking for help from us and from the Israelis. Israel will respond, generously, as long as the much-maligned Israeli Right retains its shaky hold on power, and we will too, as long as George W. Bush continues to lead us. And if you think Russia is too weak, corrupt, and divided to repay our generosity, think again. She looked that way in the early Forties too, but in the end, she fought fiercely, and made an essential contribution to our victory in World War II. World War III, the Cold War, is over. We won, and with Russia on our side, we will win what Norman Podhoretz rightly calls World War IV much more quickly than we would without her.
–Barbara Lerner is a frequent NRO contributor.