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Terrorism:  "Good" vs. "Evil"

Another response to Terrorism:  "Good" vs. "Evil". From the LA Times, 9/17/01:

Ronald Brownstein
Washington Outlook

War on Terror Will Test U.S. in Terrible Ways

Surely no one who was in lower Manhattan last Tuesday will ever forget the sounds: the crash of one jetliner, then incredibly two, into the World Trade Center; the explosion as the planes ignited into consuming balls of flame; the crumbling of metal and concrete as the buildings collapsed; the shrieks of terror, disbelief and pain.

But for most Americans, the most frightening sound of last week's terrorist attacks may have been the silence. The fanatics who commandeered four jetliners on a single morning made no demands. They issued no political communique. They championed no cause. No one, in fact, even claimed responsibility for the attack.

It was as if the destruction of U.S. lives, and U.S. interests, was its own statement, the only statement necessary. Such intensity of hatred carried Tuesday's attacks beyond the clash of interests—the conventional political disputes—that inspire most terrorism and even most wars. The unspeakable hostility that shouted through the silence Tuesday was so vast that it suggested the United States was facing what historian Samuel Huntington has labeled a "clash of civilizations"—an enmity so fundamental that neither threat nor negotiation, nor any of the tools of modern statecraft, can tame it. Which means that our capacity to eliminate this threat is probably far more limited than we'd like to admit today.

Is there a change in U.S. policy that could cause the terrorists to sheathe their weapons? Probably not. The Islamic radicals believed to have organized this attack—and a series of assaults on U.S. interests during the past decade—may indeed rage over American support for Israel. But there is no plausible position America could take in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute that would satisfy them.

Former President Clinton was heavily engaged in trying to broker a Mideast peace, and the terrorists attacked American targets. President Bush has been disengaged, and the terrorists attacked American targets. To the terrorists, America's real offense may not be what it does but what it is: a symbol of Western freedom, consumerism, willfulness and modernity. More support for a Palestinian state wouldn't change that equation much.

What about force? On both moral and military grounds, an attack of this magnitude demands retaliation. But it's probably best not to be overly optimistic about its effect. Israel has been retaliating, efficiently and effectively, against terrorists for decades. Yet Palestinian extremists still find no shortage of young men willing to perforate themselves with nails for the glory of killing innocent Israelis in suicide bombings.

America can expect the same. No one should doubt that even the most successful retaliatory strike may have the inescapable collateral effect of creating another battalion of orphans willing to martyr themselves to strike back at America. That's not reason enough to ground the bombers; but it is reason to be cautious about whether even emphatic military successes alone can win what Bush last week called this "new kind of war."

For all these reasons, the most common initial response to the attack presents a misleading comparison. In the first shock, the metaphor of choice was Pearl Harbor. But that attack began a conventional military battle against a clearly identified adversary who could be met on the open sea and island jungles and destroyed by laying waste its homeland. That's hardly the case today: There is no bunker, no base camp, nor even any city that America could destroy and truly feel it had eradicated this threat.

This struggle against fanatical terrorism may be more like the Cold War—an amorphous, ambiguous, often frustrating conflict fought in many different ways on many fronts for many years. (In that sense, last Tuesday may be the successor to the day the Soviets first tested an atomic weapon—the moment when Americans no longer could feel themselves completely invulnerable.) Success in this conflict will require the same virtues as were needed during the Cold War: patience, proportion and resolve. There was no single route to victory in the Cold War; no single battle that turned its tide. It was as much a test of endurance as a test of strength.

The same is likely to be true here. "It is a transformational event," noted Bill McInturff, a Republican political consultant. "This country will be marked from before and after [Tuesday]. We will respond; they'll respond; we are going to be living in a different era."

In this new test, the hard part will be learning the lessons of the last challenge. America's worst moments in the Cold War came when its fear of the enemy caused it to forget its own strengths. It's legitimate to target those in America who may support foreign enemies; after last week, law enforcement may inevitably receive new authority to investigate, infiltrate and wiretap. But maintaining a sense of proportion will be critical.

Just as America stained itself by abusing civil liberties in a feverish hunt for domestic Reds during the Cold War, so too will there be a temptation today to sacrifice too many freedoms in the hunt for terrorists. Dismissing schoolteachers as dangerous subversives in the 1950s because they joined anti-fascist groups during the Depression didn't win the Cold War; blanket suspicion of Arab Americans or Muslims won't strengthen America today.

Just as difficult will be to maintain our own moral compass in the fog of such an ambiguous conflict. As several analysts have suggested, it's more valuable to think of the challenge ahead as a war against an array of targets than as a criminal investigation aimed at a single perpetrator. Wars cannot be fought with surgical precision. But a retaliation that kills a large number of innocent civilians in Afghanistan or Iran or Iraq offers no monument to our own innocent dead.

Eventually, the United States prevailed in its long watch against Soviet expansionism. But only after many reversals, great sacrifice and painful mistakes. It would be naive to expect anything less now. Like the "new generation" John F. Kennedy asked to "pay any price and bear any burden" in the Cold War, Americans today have been presented with our own "long twilight struggle"—a conflict that is likely to test and tear at us in ways we cannot yet imagine.

Ronald Brownstein's column appears every Monday. See current and past Brownstein columns on The Times' Web site at: www.latimes.com/brownstein.

And from the LA Times, 9/18/01:

Destined to Shadowbox With the Devil

When is someone going to admit that the terrorists have already won, immobilizing the world's greatest democracy and that much of what we are doing as a nation is simply stomping our feet in frustration? Instead, we need to learn to deal rationally with the mayhem that much of the world has long endured—some of it even inflicted by us.

Sorry to break the news to the flag-waving kids on the overpasses and to the media and politicians leading them on, but terrorism is here to stay. It can be contained, and much more should have been done over the past years to bring Osama bin Laden and his ilk to account with appropriate pressure on the Taliban and Pakistan. But the measures required to totally eliminate terrorism would turn the world into a police state.

Terrorism is a state of mind so reckless that no normal rules or restraints apply. It seeks not to realign power relations but rather to permanently disorient them.

This has long been known, but as long as terror occurred elsewhere, it was accommodated here as a particularly dark soap opera to be viewed on the evening news. Not so when it occurs in our backyard and on this horrific a scale.

The crude but effective Oklahoma City bombing could be dismissed as an aberration, the work of lunatic losers. A pizza parlor bombing in Israel could be written off as some zealot who provided meaning to an otherwise empty life by taking his own and that of others; for him, the promise made by extremist clerics of rewards in an afterlife might have an appeal.

But the World Trade Center and Pentagon assaults, quite apart from the larger death toll, were more disturbing because they represented a rejection of modern values by people we would have expected, by virtue of their education, wealth and success, to be kindred souls.

What was involved here was something fundamentally different: skilled, highly trained warriors, well-traveled and sophisticated in the ways of the modern world, who were willing to sacrifice easy access to an affluent lifestyle in service to their twisted notion of God.

What is unfathomable to us is the depth of the terrorists' hate. From what has been revealed of their lives, these are the very people who should have been won over to modernity. They came from the oil-rich nations of the Mideast that the U.S. protected during the Cold War and they were welcomed—nay, courted—by our finest schools and business institutions.

Yet how easily their wrath against the old Soviet Union after its invasion of Afghanistan was turned to even fiercer anti-Americanism. More intense even than their hostility toward Israel.

From what we can tell about Bin Laden's followers, these are not people who would settle for the redrawing of national boundaries, even generously, so as to create a Palestinian state, or to expel the Russians from Chechnya.

No, unfortunately they are driven by what to them appears clearly a higher purpose, to overturn the international modernization of the 20th century. In the name of God no less.

In that respect, even Saddam Hussein is their enemy, someone they have called a "bad Muslim" because he has essentially presided over a secular state.

The same was true of the last shah of Iran, derided by the religious fanatics who overthrew him as anti-religious because he was attempting to build a modern cosmopolitan society.

That was why Najibullah, the last secular ruler of Afghanistan, whom we attacked as merely a Soviet puppet, incurred the wrath of the freedom fighters who are now our enemy. The U.S. spent several billion dollars training those fanatics, and there are 500 stinger rockets that we gave them—rockets that are capable of shooting down planes—that are still unaccounted for.

Surely, we should have heeded those who anticipated that we would be next.

After all, the Soviets only committed the crime of denying God's existence, while we are accused by the Taliban of proselytizing for the Great Satan.

Unfortunately, the video clips of the World Trade Center collapsing—telegenic images that rival the most expensive of disaster movies-—will raise the expectations of a whole new generation of terrorists.

We are destined to shadowbox with the devil, and no easy victory is in sight.

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times

Rob's comment
Some excellent analyses of the challenges facing us.

I agree it may be impossible to satisfy terrorists, to entreat them with rational negotiations and compromises. But we can change our isolationist approach, adopt a more humane foreign policy, and earn the backing of the world's moderate states. If we become a true partner of the countries that distrust us now, support for extremist ideologues will vanish like the Wicked Witch of the West.

That should be our long-term aim, not rooting out terrorists while continuing to spite everyone else. Our spite helps to turn moderates into radicals who retaliate with terrorism.

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