By Frederick Krantz
September 17, 2001
As the Jewish New Year approaches, and the ruins of the Twin Towers in New York and of the Pentagon in Washington still smolder, the world faces a new and terrifying reality. We stand on the verge of what is being called, rightly, World War III and, again rightly, we fear the abyss, Armageddon.
America has suffered the single greatest number of casualties of any terrorist action in history, a catastrophe dwarfing the attack at Pearl Harbor which drew the U.S. into World War II. Islamic fundamentalist murderers, filled with hate for Jews, Americans and Western modernity, chose their targets carefully: the center of the American-dominated world economy at the Trade Center, the nerve-center of American military might at the Pentagon, and—a target, thankfully, missed—the White House or Congress in Washington, the center of American democracy.
President George W. Bush, sorely tested, is proving a determined and moving leader. A consensus is emerging, finally: terrorism is terrorism, murder is murder; no justification, political or moral, can be given, no “root causes” explanation can explain, and explain away, sheer evil. There is no difference between Palestinian terrorist murder of Jews in Israel, Catholic or Protestant terror in Ireland, Basque killings of Spaniards in Spain, or fundamentalist Muslim murder of Americans in New York and Washington.
The murder of innocent people, men, women and children, of one person or of 5,000, is evil. It is past time for careful, concerted, decisive and sustained action, on a global basis: we will either confront terrorism now and defeat it, or it will defeat us.
There is only one power, America, with the resources, moral and material, to do so--and that is why America has been, and will be, targeted. Now let us pray that she will have the determination to lead such sustained global action, for “sustained” means not days and months, but years; and “global” means action capable of reaching, and rooting out, terror and its supporters on a world-wide basis.
“World War III” is no mere metaphor. This is a new world war and before it is won it will make unheard-of demands on all of us. The world, our world, indeed changed, and changed radically, on that fateful Tuesday morning of September 11, 2001.
We are now, understandably, focused on the likely nerve-center of the American mass-murder, Osama Bin-Laden and his “Al-Quaida” (“The Base”) network. But make no mistake, he alone could not have brought this off (just as he has not been not alone in his other anti-American killings, from the early 1990s on).
We have long known that the Bin-Laden and other Islamic terrorist networks either exist in or receive support from states like Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, and from the Palestinian territory. And we know that states like Cuba and North Korea have directly, and France, China and Russia indirectly, helped make terrorism and murder possible.
Terrorism did not begin with Bin Laden, nor will it end should he be eliminated or captured (a fact he has anticipated, having made plans for his own immediate elimination should he face attack and capture). There are, literally, scores of Islamic terrorist and Muslim state-supported networks, a mutually-reinforcing Terrorist International the dismantling and destruction of which must be the overriding aim of the emerging American-led coalition.
The key issue here, one which President Bush and the Americans are now facing, is the need to crush terrorism by destroying its support structures. This is far more important than catching, or punishing, one man, Bin-Laden. As former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu put it recently, “America didn’t simply attack the Japanese kamikazi pilots at the Battle of Midway, she sank their aircraft carriers”. Without their “carriers”, the Islamic states and support groups, terrorism cannot be sustained.
The key technical term here—and we shall hear more of it as events unfold--is “regime-change”. America and her allies (assuming she can quickly forge a meaningful anti-terrorist coalition, including, this time around, Israel) must either use diplomacy and the threat of force to push current rulers of Muslim states into active anti-terrorist measures, or use actual force to change those regimes should they refuse to cooperate.
Recalcitrant “crazy regimes” like Iraq or Libya must be made, by force, including engagement of powerful land armies if need be, to change their leadership. George W. will, no doubt, not repeat his father’s, and current Vice-President’s and Secretary of State’s, mistake concerning Saddam Hussein.
Syria too must toe the line, ceasing support not only for Bin-Laden and others, but for the homegrown Hezbollah terrorists attacking the United States’ ally, Israel. Arafat must face displacement if he continues to support Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and his own Tanzim and Force 17, terrorists.
Iran is a special case, given its size, geographical position, and power, but it too must not be immune to pressure and, if necessary, punishment. This can involve a range of means--from real economic-technical isolation (including sanctions against powers like France, Russia, and China if they frustrate such measures), to support for the “reformer” Khatami if he will move against the fundamentalist Ayatollahs, to overthrowing the mullahs by backing the anti-fundamentalist mujaheddin resistance.
Pakistan, which has allowed fundamentalist elements to back the Taleban and Bin-Laden, is the only Muslim regime with a nuclear capacity. This makes Pakistan another special case, but one which must not be immune from careful yet heavy and unremitting pressures (from the carrot of badly-needed economic support to the stick of a tilt in U.S. support to Pakistan’s rival, India, if necessary).
This regime-change framework is clearly a major policy-shift, and no without its dangers. We should remember, however, that the United States, with its allies, led the World War which defeated both Hitler’s Germany and fascist Japan (modern militarized states radically different from the Middle East regimes) and their allies, and this in just four years. And America today is an incomparably stronger state, economically and militarily, than it was in 1941.
Should President Bush and the Americans prove unequal to the task, should inevitable initial setbacks and opposition cause them to shirk from the awesome responsibility before them, the consequences will be immense. They must remember the reverses Lincoln and Roosevelt initially faced, and not sink back into a Clintonesque masquerade of action (throwing a few guided missiles at the Taleban, bombing an irrelevant building here and there). If they do, the Terrorist International will have won.
We have had this week a taste of the consequences of such a victory. They are unimaginable, and not only for the U.S. We face enemies no less dangerous and barbaric than the German Nazis in World War II, whose vile propaganda they reproduce in their schools, media, mosques and public pronouncements. Were they to divide and discourage the West, were they to increase and expand their power, a Holocaust on a world scale could well ensue. This time around, over 5,000 innocent people were murdered, and this on the streets of New York and Washington, not of Jerusalem or Belfast. The horror has, finally, come home to us, here, now.
This is not a call for reckless nationalist jingoism, or for the imposition of a new American imperialism. Each step in the coming war must be thought through carefully, and actions must be governed by the principles of necessity, proportionality, and—among the allies—consultation. The UN (although after the Durban fiasco its role as international arbiter has been severely impaired), international groups like the G-7, and alliances like NATO and ASEAN, must be consulted. But time is short, and only American leadership, and American power, can ensure success.
This attack occurred in the American heartland, not in some remote Asian or Middle Eastern region. There is every evidence that terrorist groups remain in place, and can, and will be, augmented. Terrorists have already struck in Europe, in Paris, London, and Rome, in Germany, over Lockerbie, Scotland, and in Argentina; terrorist networks have been uncovered in Canada, Germany, Belgium, and Italy. No place is safe, in what is, and will be, a global struggle.
Nor is there any warrant to prepare a defense on the expectation that the next attacks will again use commandeered airplanes. Just as no one expected airplanes this time around, there are myriad other ways and means, and places, through and in which to murder large numbers of innocent civilians. Our determined enemies will not rest content with box-cutters and airplanes (or, for that matter, mortars, rockets, and car-bombs).
Our terrorist experts have been predicting the coming use of biological and chemical weapons for some time. And Iran, and Iraq, thanks to Soviet, Chinese, and Pakistani technical aid, and French and British sanctions-busting support), are once again close to having an atomic bomb. Other terrorists may yet steal or buy a nuclear weapon or fissile material from one or another indigent “world power”.
Note that this terror makes no demands, and cannot be assuaged, save by the capitulation and destruction of the hated American “Great Satan”. It is therefore absolutely fundamental that we have no illusions, that we understand that, as dark as the current moment is, “the terror next time” may make the Twin Towers tragedy look like child’s play. This means, again, that to avoid Armeggedon, we must act (with all deliberate speed) now.
Is it an accident that we face this decision now, at the beginning of the Jewish New Year? Jews, seen in the prophetic books as a Vanguard People acting for all mankind, petition God to inscribe us in the Book of Life, that we and ours may live to see another year. Let us pray this year that all men and women of good will, may be so inscribed, that we may have the courage and strength and endurance to overcome the terrible evil with which we are faced.
In the Hebrew Bible we are offered “the choice of life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, and then you and your descendants will live…[Deut.30:19-29]”. Let us support the young American President in the dangerous and daunting task that lies before him and before all of us. May we have the courage to face down the faceless killers and their supporters--and let all of us, this fateful New Year, choose life.(Frederick Krantz, Editor of ISRAFAX, is Director of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, and a professor of history at Concordia University in Montreal)
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