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

Michael Kelly

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With a serious and large intent -- SUNDAY was a day of clarification on various levels. The first was the most basic. We have been under attack by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network for some years now, but we did not fully admit to that until Sept. 11. On Oct. 7 we answered Sept. 11. There was a feeling to the day of something like relief. Well, that's that; war is joined, and we must win it.

What we must win was also made clear. Incredibly, in the light of 6,000 dead, some (mostly on the left) have persisted in the delusion that we are involved here in something that can be put into some sort of context of normality -- a crisis that can be resolved through legal or diplomatic efforts, or handled with United Nations resolutions, or addressed by limited military "reprisals." We have been warned not to see this in too-large terms -- as a holy war, or a crusade or a clash of civilizations.

Osama bin Laden himself put the lie to all that with a videotaped message that apparently had been recorded after Sept. 11 but in anticipation of Oct. 7. In this statement, released to the Al-Jazeera television network, bin Laden abandoned the shred of pretense that he was not responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11. He crowed his joy: "Here is America struck by G-d Almighty in one of its vital organs, so that its greatest buildings are destroyed. Grace and gratitude to G-d. America has been filled with horror from North to South and East to West, and thanks be to G-d."

He described the conflict repeatedly in the terms of holy war. "These events have divided the world into two camps, the camp of the faithful and the camp of infidels," he said. And: "Every Muslim must rise to defend his religion." He ended with a promise: "I swear to G-d that America will not live in peace before peace reigns in Palestine, and before all the army of infidels depart the land of Mohammed, peace be upon him."

Is that clear now?

The way in which our government views this war was also made clear. In his address to the nation on Sunday, Bush dropped any suggestion that what we are about is merely a manhunt on a massive scale. He made plain that America is, in fact, at war not only with bin Laden's al Qaeda but also with the Taliban forces of Afghanistan. Bush used language -- "sustained, comprehensive and relentless operations" -- intended to signal that, while this may be an unconventional war, it will be a war in full, not a Clintonian exercise in a spot of bombing, a bit of missile-rattling. He went further even, warning in hard language that the war could spread to other nations that sponsor terror against America: "If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocents, they have become outlaws and murderers themselves. And they will take that lonely path at their own peril."

So there it is, out on the table. We are in a war, and we will be in it for some time, and this war is being undertaken toward a great and daunting end. With Sunday's speech, no one can doubt that President Bush and his advisers see the war on the same scale of magnitude as bin Laden sees it. It is us against them, and "them" has been defined broadly enough to encompass any state that harbors or sponsors anti-American terrorism. The goal here is not to knock off a few of terrorism's foot soldiers. It is to put out of business terrorism's masters, its networks and its protectors -- even if those protectors enjoy status as sovereign regimes.

That this is a goal worth fighting for may be judged by the extraordinary international support for the American effort. The world's leaders know, as Britain's Tony Blair said Sunday, that the atrocity of Sept. 11 was "an attack on us all," by fanatics who threaten "any nation throughout the world that does not share their fanatical views."

No one can know how what began on Sunday will proceed. It is certainly possible that it will proceed badly, at least at times. It may appear, at times, that it will end badly. But we start out with a serious and large intent, facing an enemy that is likewise serious and likewise ambitious. If we remember this, if we stay serious and remember that the enemy too is serious, we will win. And it should not be hard to remember this. We have 6,000 reasons to never forget.

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Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

© 2001, Washington Post Co.