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Jewish World Review Nov. 2, 2001 /16 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Michael Long

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Rules for Wartime

Rule Number One: Remember what's true. -- FIFTY-THREE DAYS after September 11, and four weeks into the bombing campaign, wisps of doubt and frustration felt by even the most committed Americans are finally seeing the light of day. Should things be moving faster? (That would be nice, but no.) Is al Qaeda on the run? (No, but we're working on it. For world-class terrorists, they do seem to have run through their playbook pretty fast.) Is our government doing enough to protect us? (The anthrax response doesn't inspire confidence, but there haven't been any more "spree" killings, either.) Questions of status are not wrinkles in resolve, and asking them is not only fair but also smart. Still, we are not likely to get too many concrete answers in a war, so we have to find them in what we already know. Here, then, are a few truths about the current situation:

People in our government are doing their best. Our leaders have a lot more inside information than we do. Sometimes they tell us less than they know, but that's the price we have to pay to protect our intelligence interests and to keep soldiers out of harm's way. I am the last person to recommend trusting the government, but today they have just as much at stake as we do. If there were ever a time to trust our leaders, it's now.

Mercy isn't always what it seems. A pause in the campaign for Ramadan is fast slipping in rank down our list of options. Good. Give our enemies a breather and they will only regroup, and the power they would pick up during that break would far outweigh the diplomatic advantage we might gain. 1) We will not solve this war with diplomacy, so who cares? 2) People who blow up civilians in office buildings without a word of warning are unlikely to send us thank-you notes for respecting their holidays. 3) We are damned if we do and damned if we don't with our Middle Eastern enemies (and with many of our Middle Eastern "allies," too), so let's stop trying to please people who can't be pleased and give the edge to ourselves for a change.

Politics, especially on the world stage, is about making the best of a bad situation. We are going to end up in bed with a devil or two in this, but that's the way it goes. We can't start demanding that everyone who offers to help us be a virgin in the morals department. We aren't perfect, and neither is any other country, but there is a world of difference between U.S. foreign policy over the past fifty years and flying planes full of civilians into office towers, killing 5000 innocent people, and celebrating it with a dance in the streets.

You can't negotiate with terrorists. They don't want to negotiate, anyway. They want to change the way we live; in particular, they want a stroll down the streets of New York to be as uncertain as a walk in Beirut. But play out the results of "negotiation" in your mind, just for fun. For us to reach agreement with bin Laden means that after it's over, George Bush has to shake hands over a "peace accord" with him, and accept him into our country as the leader of a civilized and civil faction. Most important, such acceptance must also legitimize the unspeakable means he chose to gain a forum.

War entails the occasional vile act. Get used to it.

Afghan civilians are going to die. That's a sad thing, and part of the awful nature of war. But what's worse is to live in a world where purposefully targeted innocents are killed without consequence. In that world, no one is safe anywhere, anytime.

If you get downhearted, look at the unity around you . On September 11, Americans learned that we have more in common with each other than we remembered. Even if you're a gun-owning, free-market conservative, you and Ted Kennedy are still on the same side of this fight. And even if you're a handicapped gay atheist liberal of color, you and Jesse Helms could now have dinner and find a few points of agreement. We're all on the same team, friends. We differ on social security, the wisdom of Alan Greenspan, and whether or not that show "Friends" is rotting our national morality, but we agree on one thing: we live in a country worth fighting for.

Some of your fellow Americans are going to loathe patriotism and despise whatever this country does, whether it's bombing Taliban armaments into scrap or administering vaccines to third-world infants. I used to think you could reason with everybody.

Then I got a column.

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


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