FACING THE ENEMY
in High Stakes Geopolitical Poker
Tuesday, September 25, 2001
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
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Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history... No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation... We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last, best hope of earth... The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just- a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud and God must forever bless- ABRAHAM LINCOLN, at the close of his Second Annual [State of the Union] Message to Congress, 1 December 1862.
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While we don't yet know what course the military aspect of this new war on terrorism will actually take, its opening phase- at least as of this writing- appears as if it will be primarily concerned with those places within which Osama bin Laden and his network of terrorists would be hiding out and those governments that support them (most notably Afghanistan and its de facto Taliban government). However, there has been a lot of loose talk among some pundits and politicians about, perhaps, going after Saddam Hussein during this first phase of the new war on terrorism.
IF (and only if) two conditions, not mutually exclusive, are met: a.) that there is unambiguous, irrefutable evidence that Iraq- as a government- was directly involved in the planning and carrying out of the atrocities of 11 September and b.) at least a significant chunk of said evidence can be made public without compromising our intelligence-gathering capabilities, then- by all means- take Saddam out (you'll get no argument from me!); however, if BOTH of these conditions are not met- that is, if either we have no such evidence of Iraq's direct participation or we have such evidence but can't let the world see it without damaging our own intelligence conduits re: that country- then we cannot, and should not, include Iraq as a potential target, at least for the time being. The mere factoid that an operative within the Iraqi intelligence services met with Mohammad Attah, the alleged mastermind of the 11 September plot who- apparently- also flew one of the planes into the WTC Twin Towers, in the recent past is not enough to make the necessary connections needed to justify an early attack on Saddam Hussein.
The reason for this is relatively simple: this new war is not just a struggle against international terrorism, it is a continuing battle for the hearts and minds of the intelligentsia and professionals in the Muslim World. Among the purposes of the terrorist groups that perpetrated and supported, aided and abetted, the actions of 11 September was one of weakening our (I speak here primarily of my America- but it could apply equally to all the Democracies of the Western World: to Canada; to Europe; to Latin America; to Australia, New Zealand, the new South Africa, etc.- indeed, anywhere where a Constitution- written or unwritten- and elected governments thereunder are a bulwark of Liberty) dedication to those principles that make America in particular, and the Western Democracies in general, "the last, best hope of earth".
The educated and professional classes of the Islamic World may disdain American foreign policy (with our support of Israel being a varying part of that particular equation, depending) but they, generally, admire American political/legal/constitutional ideals- Liberty, Equality and Pluralism: all that is anathema to those extremist Islamic fundamentalist groups who wish to impose a harshly restrictive version of Shari'a (Islamic Law- derived from Koranic exegesis [interpretation of the text of the Qur'an]) on the entire Islamic World, if not the Globe at large. The millions of Muslims among the citizenry of America puts pay to the notion that, somehow, mainstream Islam is incompatable with a multi-religious society (Islam, as a religion itself, is already multi-ethnic): the educated and professional classes in the Middle East see this and, while it makes them question our foreign policy in their region of the World (in which we are generally allied with Nation-States who fear Democracy as a threat to their own ruling institutions), they generally see this as a good thing.
Those who support, aid and abet such extremist Islamic fundamentalist terror-mongers as Osama bin Laden, on the other hand, cannot well stomach that prevailing attitude among those who they hope to eventually bring over to the cause of their own vision of resurgent Islam (after all, the lawyers, bankers, accountants, etc. of the Muslim World will be necessary to any system of governance- even one set up by Islamic fundamentalist extremists). The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington was an attempt to, among other things, darken that beacon of Liberty that we ourselves represent, however imperfectly; the extremists who support this crime against Humanity were hoping we would become so frightened for our personal safety and security that we would, in reaction, abandon our commitment to Civil Liberties, so that they could then turn to the professional and educated people in the Muslim World and say, in effect: "See what America is now doing to its own citizens; what do you make of their Liberty and Equality now ?" .
We cannot allow this to happen, for this new war is a long-term struggle to make sure that we well maintain that beacon of Liberty; as a result, we cannot repeat the experience of European Powers of generations long gone and swagger into the Middle East like some aging Colonial Imperium. While many among the intelligentsia and professionals in the Muslim World personally find Saddam Hussein- along with all that his political apparatus in Iraq stands for- repulsive, many within these classes would also find an American attack on Iraq without proof of direct complicity nearly as repulsive. Thus, we cannot attack Iraq without first building a case against Saddam re: the incidents of 11 September; some of this, of course, is inherent to our efforts at coalition-building, but- in my opinion- we couldn't allow ourselves to be "suckered into" an early attack on Iraq even if we were responding unilaterally to the events of 11 September.
Likewise, we must be very careful in how we non-Muslim Americans deal with our fellow citizens and guests who practice Islam; we must not- out of fear- abandon the principles of fairness that are part and parcel of the American political and social culture. Those within our borders bent on destroying our way of life are a very tiny fraction of the population of Muslims in the United States: the vast majority of Muslims in this country are here precisely because they well see- or, at least, have come to learn- that Islam can work within a pluralistic society (the precise opposite vision of those who were behind the horrific events of 11 September). I hear a lot of loose talk- again, among some politicians and pundits (all over the political spectrum)- about how we may have to now accept the fact that Racial Profiling (a recent issue of controversy when it primarily involved the relationship of law enforcement to African-Americans) might hereafter be legitimate as it relates to Arab-Americans (or, for that matter, anyone who even looks like an Arab-American); this is 14-carat wrong and, to my mind, also plays right into the hands of the Islamic fundamentalist extremists who support the atrocities committed against us in their attempt to win over the hearts and minds of more moderate Muslims throughout the Middle East.
Above all, we must do our utmosts (I here address my fellow Americans) to not allow fear to so govern our own lives. I, for one, am not going to allow these thugs who committed this unspeakable act two weeks ago and those who support them to take away my City (for New York City is the core of the Metropolitan New York area in which I live and have lived: I was a New York City resident twice, for a grand total of nearly 18 of my 45 years, and have resided in the Tri-State Region which surrounds it for nearly all the other years of my life [excepting the 8 months or so per year in each of the 4 years during which I attended college in Boston]): I will continue to walk its streets, ride its subways and enjoy the good times with my friends in our favorites among its restaurants and bars; this, in my own small- even insignificant- way, is my message to the terrorists that they have not won... that they, indeed, cannot win! There can be no fear of, even while there can also be no favor to, those who were- and remain- behind this despicable event!!
The American system is admired (while the actions of those who have, in recent years and decades, operated that system might be disdained) throughout much of the Middle East because it promotes- to quote what is engraved into the pediment of the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C.- "Equal Justice Under Law"; the United States of America, therefore, must do its utmost to continue to promote the concept of Justice, even in wartime. President Bush has consistently talked about bringing the terrorists to Justice, or Justice to them; thus, we must ourselves be just in our application of that Justice. We must continue to hold ourselves to a higher standard- both abroad, as well as here at home- precisely because we have the capability to well hold ourselves to that higher standard; it will- and, indeed, must- be the foundation underlying any of our successes in this new war against terrorism.