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Jewish World Review Nov. 20, 2001 / 5 Kislev, 5762

Michael Long

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A Lot of War Left To Fight

Unless we listen to our "friends." -- As the major Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan fall, we must reconcile our lightning progress in the war with the constant admonitions -- quieter, unfortunately, just now -- from the administration that "the goal" will take years to achieve, and that we are in this for a long and bloody haul. Bin Laden is a vital target, but he is not the only one; he is merely most apparent. It is time to steel ourselves for The Rest of The War, which was conceived as a campaign not only against bin Laden but also against his ideological soulmates around the world. A quick victory in Afghanistan will create pressure to declare victory and go home; to cut and run on vital pre-emptive strikes against the rest of the killers. This pressure may prove too strong for even the most popular leader to go against.

The administration overestimated the difficulty of taking Afghanistan and underestimated our ability to win (and the Russians, who spent a decade rooting around over there, must be feeling pretty inadequate just about now). This is good news for preserving the lives of American soldiers, but it is bad news for the vital task of maintaining support back home for the larger war that is barely underway. Because of the surprising pace, the American people have not built up the emotional momentum to easily carry us into the next phase of this war. Unlike the fight in Afghanistan, the rest of the war will be purely pre-emptive in nature -- and pre-emptive actions have always been the most difficult thing to sell to the majority of the American people, whether those actions are wars, medical check-ups, or oil changes.

The pressure from a plurality of popular opinion, pending legislative fiat at home, and the usual diplomatic ingratitude abroad will be staggering and the message will be clear: Take on anything beyond bin Laden and we'll brand you a bully and turn on you. The result would be a global anti-terrorism campaign, emasculated of its military component, fading into the background of an America lulled into false security.

It is time for bravery. We are probably going to have to act alone, and take the heat for it from the usual suspects.

We live in a world where "unilateral" is a synonym for "evil." Kofi Anan and his ilk believe in coalitions and nothing else, but coalitions stay together only when there's a blazing fire under the roof of one member that is in imminent danger of jumping next door. When bin Laden disappears, the motivation of the coalition (a joke, that: we and the Brits do all the fighting while our "partners"get kudos for not complaining) will vaporize, too, and the pressure for us to quit the fight will be loud, vicious, and forceful.

And utterly irresponsible, because much will remain to do. The world is brimming with terror groups targeting not only the U.S. but also peoples around the world. Most of these groups are right now working with little or no organized opposition. The Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims -- better known as the Abu Nidal Organization -- thrives by the grace of Iraq. Egyptian Islamic Jihad operates hand in glove with al-Qaida. We can thank Iran for Hamas, also known as the Islamic Resistance Movement. Hizballah introduced itself to us in 1983 with suicide bombings, and would be pleased to pick up where bin Laden will leave off. The list goes on, and these few citations don't even touch on groups thriving in Philipines, Sierra Leone, Peru, Ireland, and dozens of other places.

Iraq is our next clear target, but without an inciting incident -- that is, until another September 11, this time with Saddam Hussein's fingerprints all over it -- America will be the target of withering and whining criticism for moving in anticipation of a terrorist strike. ("Unprovoked aggression!" a half-dozen European heads of state will say -- watch for it.)

The world will never concede that America has either the evidence or the right to take pre-emptive actions, yet if we accede to their pressures, we are setting ourselves up for another September 11, and another and another.

The first phase of this war may soon be over, but it is the first phase and no more. Do we have the resolve to fight on alone? The question is on the table.

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


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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