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Jewish World Review
Sept. 19, 2006
/ 26 Elul 5766
How to play hardball
You would think that the sheer malevolence of the 9/11 attacks, bringing sudden death out of a flawless blue sky, would be seen now for the outrage it is. Nothing less than a global challenge-a war-as Britain's Tony Blair first put it, not so much between civilizations as for civilization. After all, since 9/11, we have seen the nihilistic murder of many thousands of innocents in Spain, Britain, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, India, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Morocco, Kenya, and Tunisia. Modern technology, invented by the West the jihadists love to hate, has empowered this small number of extremists and inculcated in us a darker, more foreboding sense of our future than almost anyone could have predicted at the start of the new century. George Bush sees this more clearly than anyone among the Democratic Party leadership, and Tony Blair more clearly than any in his own blinkered Labor Party.
There is obviously much to criticize in the Bush administration's management of the war on terrorism, but no settlement of any kind is conceivable with radicals who seek an Islamic caliphate that will expel the West from within the Muslim world and erase from it the last shred of human dignity by establishing a theocratic dictatorship that will impose a medieval interpretation of Islamic law's most barbarous tenets. Al Qaeda makes no bones about its goal. Its chief in Iraq, Abu Musab Zarqawi, spoke clearly and chillingly for the movement: "Killing the infidels is our religion, slaughtering them is our religion, until they convert to Islam or pay us tribute."
Outrages. This is an existential struggle against an enemy that can and must be defeated. Al Qaeda's leadership may have been stripped of its ability to execute another 9/11-it has not, after all, managed a single attack on America since then-but it remains capable of inspiring outrages by small groups of extremists.
The most insidious threat, of course, is that of Muslims living in the West who decide to put religious fanaticism ahead of loyalty to their host country. None of us can assume we are not at risk from some alienated American-born Muslim male inflamed by the Internet or brainwashed in prison or by a radical mosque.
We are forced, as a result, to weigh the imperatives of security against our democratic practices. The issue before the Congress today is the White House effort to clarify Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. There are those who argue that the White House is trying to reinterpret Article 3. Not so. The White House is dealing with the issue that Article 3 was drafted intentionally to be general and vague. For example, it excludes "outrages upon personal dignity" and "humiliating and degrading treatment." But earlier the Senate understood that terms like "outrages" and "degrading" were so vague that using them in a criminal statute would violate our standards of due process. The Senate, therefore, has twice provided a definition for these terms, first as a condition of ratifying the Geneva Conventions and later using that very same definition for the "Detainee Treatment Act" of 2005, passed under the leadership of Sen. John McCain. Yet now Congress is refusing to repeat this clarification so that the Department of Justice can judge the appropriateness of any procedure the administration or the CIA would propose to use.
Opponents argue that this would jeopardize the protection awarded Americans captured by radicals overseas, fanatics who have, on occasion, broadcast the beheadings of captured Americans on TV. So much for protection. As Abraham Lincoln said, "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present."
Surely it must be possible to work out a formula that does not weaken Article 3 while enabling our government to protect us against a "ticking bomb" terrorist who has information that could save many innocents from imminent danger but who refuses to divulge it. Compelling him to talk does not undermine our values; it undermines the jihadists. In the future, if it was discovered that such an attack could have been avoided by use of such extraordinary measures, and that they were not employed, there would very likely be a huge public outcry forcing the government to take steps that would dramatically undermine our civil liberties. We must remember that the terrorist's advantage is that he may fail time and again, but to succeed, he need prevail only once.
This is not a time for fantasy. There will be no James Bond figure acting as an undercover agent who, with the help of beautiful women, will defeat cunning terrorists seeking world domination. Our enemy is more subtle than any Dr. No-and far too dangerous for us to simply trust in fate that we will somehow obtain the intelligence we need to prevent future attacks. We must do what is required to ensure that we have that intelligence. Indulging in the bitter politics that have marked our political dialogue on this issue is contrary to our national interest.
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© 2005, Mortimer Zuckerman