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Jewish World Review Feb. 22, 2002 / 10 Adar, 5762

Michael Long

Mike Long
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And Then What?

Fear and Loathing Around the Corner -- IN less than six months, the war against terrorism has descended the list of public concerns to somewhere below the (recovering) economy but still just above how this season's "Friends" is going to wrap up. The President is fortunately and famously dedicated to heading off more attacks, but even this makes a poor rallying point because his success is measured in how long we go before something else bad happens-and successful campaigns are never built around a void, even a welcome one.

Yet the danger is as great as ever, and the potential for being unable to mount a clearly defined counterattack is even greater. We were lucky that Al Qaeda was attached to the Taliban and Afghanistan, because it gave us a place not only to find our enemy but also to focus our fury. Now that bin Laden's terror network is fractured and far-flung, identifying a physical target isolated to some particular geography may very well be impossible-and in that case, the frustration we felt just after September 11 will be nothing compared to what could come next.

This is hardly news to some observers. Two and a half years ago, in the August 1999 issue of Chronicles magazine, writer Gregory D. Palmer reviewed the creepily prescient book "Triumph of Disorder" by Morgan Norval: "In retrospect, the Persian Gulf War may have been the swan song of an international system characterized by confrontations between industrial states fielding massed armies on a defined front. The warfare of the future will increasingly be the province of non-state actors…. [T]he forces of resurgent Islam will play a major-perhaps decisive-role in the unfolding era of turmoil. … In the minds of the radical fundamentalist, if one isn't enlightened enough to see the righteousness of Islam, that person is a subhuman being. The infidel is pictured as evil and loathsome, deserving to be killed as an enemy of G-d."

This is as plain and stark as it gets: wars in this century will be fought guerilla-style-hit and run-and will be directed by shadowy villains who, under the guise of a moral or religious crusade, kill women and children even as they hide among them.

The Taliban worked hand in glove with Osama bin Laden, and that gave us a target. Yet we also know that much of the planning and execution of September 11 took place within the borders of friendly European nations, and the flight training itself took place right here. September 11 could have been pulled off without the Afghanistan base. If it had been, whom would we have bombed? Where would we have sent our troops? Whose army would we have engaged? We would have been swinging at shadows.

Now Afghanistan has been addressed, and Iran and Iraq are on notice. Our terrorist enemies will not make the same mistake twice-they will give us no clear target.

Compared to what is possible, the carnage of September 11 may turn out to be one of the less deadly days of this new age. A nuclear weapon exploded within a few miles of Washington, DC-a notion everyone inside the Beltway thinks of and no one mentions out loud-would kill perhaps millions. With unemployed, disenfranchised nuclear scientists from the old Soviet Union out and about-not to mention the unaccounted-for nuclear material from that fallen country-how hard would it be to assemble such a sick plan given a thick enough roll of cash?

Radiation, explosion, insidious infection-the world's masters of chaos have a menu of weapons and methods of disbursement from which to choose beyond any in the history of the world. And all it takes is one lucky break. As our government does its best to head off new attacks, it can still do little more than spread a heavy net and hope that nothing gets through. This is our best bet, and perhaps our only bet. The nature of the fight is already beginning to preclude anyone's ability to exact punishment and mete out justice in any swift, certain, and broad way.

We may suffer more destruction at home, and if we do we should anticipate the bitter reality of having no clear target to hit back. All the more reason to support the President's assertion that we are at war with those who oppose civilization itself; all the more reason to end semantic games and accept the fact that a new level of evil is loosed and hungry.

JWR contributor Michael Long is a a director of the White House Writers Group. Comment by clicking here.


02/15/02: Al Gore and the real root cause of terrorism
02/08/02: A few thoughts on the news
02/01/02: Ready, Aim, Cloud The Issue: An irresponsible report on "terrorism" from the Brady Center
01/28/02: Discretion and Art, Part 2
01/16/02: Discretion and Art
01/08/02: Desperate Dems
12/18/01: Politics and Holidays
12/07/01: A war bigger than we know: Changing the future, slowly and surely
11/28/01: A Mid-Winter Night's Dream: A play in one fun act
11/20/01: A Lot of War Left To Fight
11/13/01: Guess who Clinton's apologizing for now: I'll bet you guessed right
11/02/01: Rules for Wartime: Rule Number One: Remember what's true
10/26/01: The Moral Case For Torture: Dirty hands don't always mean dirty souls
10/19/01: Questions for the Anti-War Crowd, Part II: What if someone took them seriously?
10/16/01: Questions for the anti-war crowd: If they question you, ask these back
10/12/01: The Jason Problem: Sometimes they only look dead
10/08/01: A little hindsight: A letter for readers in the future
09/28/01: Calling Bono: A plea to the pop culture elite to speak out
09/20/01: Encouragement from the Heartland, by mail
09/13/01: Bleeding time
09/07/01: The trailer-park taste of the public radio catalog
09/04/01: BRAVE NEW FREUD: Internet-based psychiatry may mean relief for those who have shunned treatment
08/17/01: First Amendment: Chickens home to roost
07/27/01: Dispatch From The Front: The Gun Control War
07/20/01: Summer song
07/03/01: It's a Wonderful Recount

© 2001, Michael Long