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Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 2001 /24 Tishrei, 5762

Diana West

Diana West
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Post-stress disorder -- SOMETHING is different. You can feel the adrenaline of fear and fury subsiding as a sense of resignation prevails, cooling heads and quieting the bang of runaway pulses.

The question is, are we resigned to our cause, or resigned to our fate? I sometimes wonder if, in the end, we will just get used to a more perilous world. Let's hope not. Let's hope that it's just the jitters of a limbo period before America's course of action becomes clear.

Still, there is something disquieting about certain developments large and small. Maybe it's in the sudden emphasis on "evidence" of Osama bin Laden's role in the attack of Sept. 11, as though we were preparing to bring someone to book, not to battle. Maybe it's in the necessarily dispassionate, and consequently numbing, process of assessing the damage to, say, lower-Manhattan subway lines. Or maybe it's in the jarring, fleeting note of celebration orchestrated to accompany a security decision to station National Guard troops at the nation's airports. Life does go on. But is there some vital edge lost in the "return to normalcy"?

It's not just at home where the first surge of outrage is abating. Already, air strikes on Afghanistan have been "pushed back" as key regional "allies" succumb to mass vapors -- brought on by nerves, not nerve gas. This necessitated the immediate dispatch of top American officials, no doubt specially outfitted with fans and glasses of water, to the government buildings of Saudi Arabia, Oman and Uzbekistan to coax these not-quite-stalwarts into granting us permission to fly out of such bases as Prince Sultan air base, a state-of-the-art command center the United States finished building for Saudi Arabia earlier this year.

And we're only talking permission to strike at Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. For all the rhetorical bell-tones sounding from the peaks of power about the crusade -- sorry, campaign -- against global terrorism, the scope of our target on the ground has seemed to narrow before our eyes. It seems to have swung its sights away from the terror networks and the nation-states that sponsor them to zoom in on Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda -- with even the Taliban, perhaps, now out of the picture. This is cold comfort to those who believe that the forces making war on our way of life are not confined to a single man and his gang.

Then again, we could be entering Phase I of a methodical, long-term plan to eliminate anti-Western terrorism "root and branch," as the saying goes. Maybe there is a Phase II that will finally, belatedly neutralize Iraq, a bona fide root and branch of global terror if ever there was one. After all, the White House quickly contradicted reports that Jordan's King Abdullah said that George W. Bush personally assured him the United States wouldn't strike Iraq. Even so, a disappointing air of plausibility to this notion lingers.

Certainly nothing Secretary of State Colin Powell has said lately dispels it. When asked by The New York Times for a "definition of victory," Powell replied, "I see the success of this campaign measured in the restoration of a degree of security in society where people are not as frightened as they are now, or were, as a result of what happened on the 11th of September." Victory as "a degree of security ... where people are not as frightened"? Such a less-than-sweeping vision is unlikely to, say, boost the consumer comfort index, let along set hearts a-beating. Although not known for inspiring rhetoric, Powell doesn't sound as if he believes rush hour will never again be a killing field. Then again, he did warm to his subject, adding, more encouragingly, "I see success in this campaign when there is less terrorism, far less -- preferably zero terrorism -- with a global reach."

But what is "terrorism"? This may sound like a preposterous question, but there are sanity-defying discussions underway -- so far largely confined to the Arab world -- in search of a new meaning.

Abdelouhed Belkaziz, head of the world's largest Muslim organization, the Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Conference, has offered to devise a working definition of terrorism that includes suicide attacks on the United States, but excludes suicide attacks on Israel -- which, he says, constitute "national resistance." At an Arab-Muslim conference in Beirut this week, "activists" and clerics, among them the leaders of Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, went further still, defining the United States itself as a "sponsor of terrorism" for its support of Israel.

It's hard to say what success so obscene a movement to corrupt thought and language might actually enjoy. It shows, however, particularly as those first stabbing pains from the attack begin to dull, that there is an urgent need to keep our resolve firm and sharp, honed by both a strategic and moral clarity.

JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Diana West