Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.

Freedom's Fidelity

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Know Your Enemy, and Don't Forget Him:
(Why I'm voting for Bush)

It is an ironic paradox of election 2004. The more successful President Bush is with national security, the more it moves to the back of our minds and becomes relatively less of an issue. The inability for Al Qaeda to follow up 9/11, it turns out, may have helped their long-run cause. Steven Den Beste explains, as only he could, using the "half-cure" of tuberculosis treatment as an allegory to today's war on terror:
Disease treatment is not the only area where half-a-cure is worse than no cure at all. The stupidest thing any nation can do is to fight half a war, to wound an enemy but leave him standing. We made that mistake in Iraq in 1991, And that's the risk this nation faces now, against a far bigger and more serious threat.
30 months ago, our enemies launched a devastating attack against us. It was bold and creative and targeted a major security blind-spot, and the resulting damage made a major psychological impact on the people of this nation. In response we went to war.
But the cultural disease which ultimately spawned that attack grew slowly, and the process of eliminating it will also be slow. And we are at risk of deciding that we feel better and ceasing to work on it before it has actually been eliminated.
al Qaeda has been crippled and is on the run. The Taliban are living in caves. Saddam is spending a lot of quality time with American interrogators, and Qaddafi has thrown in the towel and changed sides.
But Syria is as yet largely unaffected. The Mullahs in Iran are demonstrating their ruthlessness in continuing to hold power despite widespread opposition from the people of Iran. There is a huge and largely unheralded power struggle now in Saudi Arabia between those who would like to reform and the hard core. Saudi Arabia is still the wallet of our enemies. Pakistan remains a loose cannon.
If we stop too soon, leaving enemies wounded but still alive, they will learn from the experience. They will heal, grow, and some will come to oppose us once again - but next time they'll be more difficult to fight, since they'll have had plenty of time to analyze what we did and to figure out how to reduce their vulnerability to us.
I've wondered more than a few times over the past year or so what the effect of another attack on U.S. would have. Would everyone blame Bush, or rally around him as in the aftermath of 9/11? I don't know if the terrorist leadership has a thorough understanding of American politics or the American mind. I tend to think not. But still, the Islamo-fascists must consider that another attack, before the election, has a real chance of cementing a second term for, what may be, a vulnerable George Bush. Would they risk it? I tend to think not. A successful domestic attack may hurt Bush, maybe even badly. But it just as easily could spur the country to rally around him as they did in 2001. Attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan do more political harm to the president, and all withouth the risk of causing the U.S. to rally around their leader. For now, Islamic fundamentalists will continue their bloody destabilization efforts overseas.

This is not to say that Bush would not come under great pressure if an attack were to succeed here and the rhetoric would be predictable, "Bush's policies of unilateralism only increased world wide resentment and IRE towards America!!" But, the rhetoric could go the other way just as easily. Correlation is not causation and where correlation is found, there are always at least four possible explanations. (A causes B; B causes A; C causes B and A; or randomness) Den Beste notes:
....even if there had been a continuing stream of attacks against us, rhetoric could have gone both ways anyhow. Supporters of the war could use those attacks as evidence that we have to fight back against a very real peril, while opponents of the war could argue that the continuing string of attacks represented proof that the strategy behind the prosecution of the war was a failure.
Den Beste is worried that we may be forgetting. It is a natural thing, and there are some days that even I ask myself, did 9/11 really happen? Of course I know it did, but it really is hard to remember the personal feelings. I know I cried, at least a little bit, every day for more than a month or two as I read the personal stories of those killed. I cried as I stayed up all night staring at the news, unsure of the manner, but positive that we suffer another attack. My eyes welled up as I watched the victim's relatives hoping and holding pictures of their missing loved one's even as they, quite literally, breathed in their remains. I remember all of the fear we felt when the holiday season, and New Year's Eve of 2001-02 was upon us. Everything was unsure save for the inevitability of another attack. The holidays came and went without incident here, as did the next 24 months. I remember all of it but I no longer really feel it. It's taken on that faded quality of a dream.

There is nothing necessarily wrong about that, resilience is quite human. I am proud of the way that, as a country, we have gotten over 9/11, dusted ourselves off and (mostly) continued on with life as usual. But forgetting (suppressing?) those awful feelings is quite different than forgetting the event and its implications. The latter I have not, and will not ever do. Some want to deny that we have a real enemy, deny that we are in a real war, and presume 9/11 to be nothing more than an anomaly that won't be repeated. The thought is as comforting as it is wrong. In his new book Civilization and its Enemies Lee Harris (who in the first sentence of the preface, writes "This book is about forgetfulness.") explains the nature of the conflict:
It is the enemy who defines us as his enemy, and in making this definition he changes us, and changes us whether we like it or not. We cannot be the same after we have been defined as an enemy as we were before.
That is why those who uphold the values of the Enlightenment so often refuse to recognize that those who are trying to kill them are their enemy. They hope that by pretending that the enemy is simply misguided, or misunderstood, or politically immature, he will cease to be an enemy. This is an illusion. To see the enemy as someone who is merely an awkward negotiator or sadly lacking in savior faire and diplomatic aplomb is perverse. It shows content for the depth and sincerity of his convictions, a terrible mistake to make when you are dealing with someone who wants you dead.
We are the enemy of those who murdered us on 9/11. And if you are the enemy then you have an enemy. When you recognize it, this fact must change everything about the way you see the world.
President Bush understands this, John Kerry does not.


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