[Mb-civic] Wall Stree Journal : Three Years On

RJ Mac nycrjmac at yahoo.com
Sat Sep 11 11:10:15 PDT 2004

Three Years On
We still haven't learned the lessons of 9/11.

Friday, September 10, 2004 12:01 a.m.

Three years after September 11, where do we stand?Out
of fear and confusion we have hesitated to name the
enemy. We proceed as if we are fighting disparate
criminals united by coincidence, rather than the
vanguard of militant Islam, united by ideology,
sentiment, doctrine, and practice, its partisans drawn
from Morocco to the Philippines, Chechnya to the
Sudan, a vast swath of the earth that, in regard to
the elemental beliefs that fuel jihad, is as
homogeneous as Denmark.Too timid to admit to a clash
of civilizations even as it occurs, we failed to
declare the war, thus forfeiting clarity of intent and
the unambiguous consent of the American people. This
was a sure way, as in the Vietnam era, to divide the
country and prolong the battle.We failed not only to
prepare for war but to provision for it after it had
begun, disallowing a military buildup, much less the
wartime transformation of the economy. In the First
World War our elected representatives decisively
resolved that "to bring the conflict to a successful
termination all the resources of the country are
hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States."
In the Revolutionary War we as a people pledged our
lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. What is
different now of course is that we are combating
neither the British Empire nor Imperial Germany, but
an opponent who is fundamentally weak militarily,
economically, and, in the long run, ideologically.
Still, he has by his near mastery of terrorism and
asymmetrical warfare necessitated that we mobilize as
if we were in fact fighting a great empire. And yet we
have not done so, expending not even the average of
5.7% of GDP we devoted to defense in the peacetime
years of the period 1940-2000, but, currently, only
3.6%--as if we were not at war, as if the military
technological "revolution" could overcome insurgencies
or occupy populous countries, as if China's armed
forces were not ascending, as if our territory were
invulnerable, and as if terrorism, as some used to
think and some still do, can simply be managed.We have
followed a confusion of war aims that seem to report
after the fact what we have done rather than to direct
what we do. We could, by threatening the existence of
Middle Eastern regimes, which live to hold power,
enforce our insistence that the Arab world eradicate
the terrorists within its midst. Instead, we have
embarked upon the messianic transformation of an
entire region, indeed an entire civilization, in
response to our inability to pacify even a single one
of its countries. As long as our war aims stray from
the disciplined, justifiable, and attainable objective
of self-defense, we will be courting failure.

Our strategy has been deeply inadequate especially in
light of the fact that we have refused to build up our
forces even as our aims have expanded to the point of
absurdity. We might have based in northern Saudi
Arabia within easy range of the key regimes that
succor terrorism, free to coerce their cooperation by
putting their survival in question. Our remounted
infantry would have been refreshed, reinforced,
properly supported, unaffected by insurgency, and
ready to strike. The paradigm would have shifted from
conquer, occupy, fail, and withdraw--to strike,
return, and re-energize. At the same time, we would
not have solicited challenges, as we do now, from
anyone who sees that although we may be occupying
Iraq, Iraq is also occupying us.We have abstained from
mounting an effective civil defense. Only a fraction
of a fraction of our wealth would be required to
control the borders of and entry to our sovereign
territory, and not that much more to discover,
produce, and stockpile effective immunizations,
antidotes, and treatments in regard to biological and
chemical warfare. Thirty years ago the entire country
had been immunized against smallpox. Now, no one is,
and the attempt to cover a minuscule part of the
population failed miserably and was abandoned. Not
only does this state of affairs leave us vulnerable to
a smallpox epidemic, it stimulates the terrorists to
bring one about. So with civil aviation, which,
despite the wreckage and tragedy of September 11, is
protected in an inefficient, irresponsible, and
desultory fashion. We have watched the division of the
country into two ineffective camps, something that is
especially apparent in an electoral season. On the one
hand is John Kerry, a humorless Boston scold, in
appearance the love child of Abraham Lincoln and Bette
Midler, who recites slogans that he understands but
does not believe. And on the other is the president,
proud of his aversion to making an argument for his
own case, in appearance a denizen of the Pleistocene,
who recites slogans that he believes but does not
understand. At this point the American people, who
most of the time are wiser than the experts or
politicians who briefly take the helm, may already
have decided to reinstall the president despite his
shortcomings. If this is so, it is because Sen.
Kerry's main motive power has come from those who are
foolish enough to exult in the crude and baseless
propaganda of a freakish Leni Riefenstahl wannabe (too
heavy), and because, in what may have been his
campaign's defining moment, Sen. Kerry stated that he
learned a long time ago that when under attack you
turn your boat toward the enemy. And yet it is clear
from his record, his character, and his present policy
that this is precisely what he would not do. Nor,
though it is exactly what the country should do, is it
at all what his most enthusiastic partisans or the
base of the Democratic Party would want him to do. He
and they have adopted simultaneously two opposing
propositions and embraced two opposing tendencies,
which they then present to the electorate as if there
is no contradiction. They do not feel acutely, as
others do, the dissonance of their positions, because
they truly believe in only the less martial of the
two. Although they cannot state why the American,
British, Spanish, and Australian invasion of Iraq was
any more or less unilateral or multilateral than
France, Germany, and Belgium working to derail that
invasion, or deny that they admire Britain for
standing alone, unilaterally, in 1940, or that the
multilateral Axis invasion of Greece was wrong, or
that they themselves urge unilateral American action
to stop genocide in Africa, they use these words
fervently and without logic. They may believe that
this is their subtlety, but it is nothing more than
confusion and a stylish capitulation to the French,
who unfortunately are perfectly willing to capitulate
to Islamic terrorism as long as France has purchased
its own safety, as of old.Given the lack of movement
in the war and poverty of choice in leadership,
Americans looked to a commission. Like the senescent
Ottomans we waited and waited as the seasons passed,
and were presented neither with swelling armies, well
defended borders, nor a string of victories. Although
the bravest commissioners of said commission fought to
tell us that we are indeed in a clash of
civilizations, even they, appointed by their
respective parties, did not state the simple
unvarnished truth that for 20 years administrations
both Republican and Democratic have ignored or misread
the evidence concerning terrorism and must be judged
negligent and culpable. The president could have said
this, and in doing so clarified the course ahead and
won the trust of the people. The commission could have
said it simply and directly, but did not. Instead, it
offered the labored and nearly impertinent conclusion
that the way to prevail in this war is to rearrange
the organizational table of the intelligence agencies.
Many of its reforms are questionable on their face,
most would have merely a neutral effect on the
substance of intelligence, and the emphasis is
mistaken. Like those who want to fight the war by
funding fire departments--knife attacks are not
defeated by bandages, and the Battle of Britain was
not won by the London Fire Brigades--the commission
looked upon one aspect as if it were the essential
element, which it is not. 

The more good intelligence the better, but because the
enemy moves in small groupings he will on occasion, as
intelligence is not perfect, elude it. That is why
difficult, expensive, inefficient, and general
defensive screens are necessary, and why we cannot
rely only on pinpoint intelligence even if it is both
fashionable and economical. In stressing intelligence,
the commission slights elements of equal or greater
importance that led to September 11 in the first
place. Had the airport screeners been competent, had
cockpit doors been reinforced, had the borders been
properly controlled, the thousands who were lost that
day, and who are loved, would still be alive.Neither
the commission, the president, nor the Democratic
nominee has a clear vision of how to fight and defend
in this war. Partly this is because so many Americans
do not yet feel, as some day they may, the gravity of
what we are facing.Three years on, that is where we
stand: our strategy shiftless, reactive, irrelevantly
grandiose; our war aims undefined; our preparations
insufficient; our civil defense neglected; our polity
divided into support for either a hapless and
incompetent administration that in a parliamentary
system would have been turned out long ago, or an
opposition so used to appeasement of America's rivals,
critics, and enemies that they cannot even do a
credible job of pretending to be resolute.
Mr. Helprin is a novelist, a contributing editor of
The Wall Street Journal and a senior fellow at the
Claremont Institute.

Copyright © 2004 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights

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