Friday, September 12, 2003

Why It's War: I agree with you, Flyer, that the metaphoric "war" is overused. And I agree with you, Razor, that September 11 was not an attack like Pearl Harbor, not the official act of a foreign nation resigned to the clash of armies and the invasion of countries. But the "crime" rubric is painfully inadequate. The first WTC bombing was treated as a crime, and plotters (and conspirators, like Ramzi Yusuf) were or would have been handled like traditional perps. That did us no good, as we know now. At the very least, the 1993 terrorists should have been treated like members of the mafia -- bit players in huge, loosely knit enterprise. But even the mafia comparison falls short.

What we need to accept is that this war, like the Cold War, will redefine the term. Again, we face an ideology, a mindset, more than we face an actual country. (Though if there were a Soviet Union in this war, it would be Saudi Arabia.) The fight against that ideology will be played out by proxy throughout the world, mostly in smaller non-democratic countries, like Syria, and in nominally democratic states weakened by geography, like Indonesia. This is not to say that we will invade them all, but we will prop up their leaders like we did throughout the world during the Cold War. (For what is Pervez Musharraf -- with his cheap electoral veneer and his promises of liberalization, when security permits -- if not a textbook banana republic dictator, angling for U.S. backing by promising not to go commie?) Well, our bastard is better than theirs, as we used to say.

It is in this way that Iraq might prove to be this generation's Vietnam, a place where we face the opposing ideology with a show of force that, though obviously not a death blow, is meant to indicate our willingness to fight. After all, why are we fighting in Iraq? Because we can. Why did we go to the Security Council? Because the history of Iraq's defiance of U.N. resolutions was good cover, nothing more. We're in Iraq because it was a convenient first step, a way to put our foot firmly into the Arab world with a modicum of legitimacy -- a legitimacy we would have sacrificed by aiming directly at the corrupt, Wahabbist-appeasing House of Saud, or at Hamas financier Iran. (Note that we're now on a clear path to build a legitimizing case against Iran on WMD grounds. Deja vu?) One of the reasons ol' Muammar down in Libya is so bent on clearing his debts with the U.S. and U.N. is that he knows that being a misbehaving Muslim country right now is slowly turning into a big game of Whack-a-Mole.

This is war, with all its attendant dirtiness, duplicity, and compromise -- and I'd argue it needs to be. The other option, treating terrorism as isolated criminal acts, is an aspirin for a headache caused by a malignant tumor. Nineteen dead hijackers and 3000 dead civilians later, who do you prosecute? Who's the criminal? (The Taliban, baby, in my book. Now presiding, Judge JDAM. God save this honorable court.)

No comments: