Getting Ready for War, Locations Unknown

I don’t see him often enough to be his friend, though we are certainly friendly acquaintances. When I first met him, he was a vehement college freshman who backed up every one of his opinions 200 percent . As the years passed, he put his vehemence to good use, for now he is a captain in the Rangers.

My reason for bringing him before the public is a common-sense observation (certainly nothing top secret) that he recently made. All the American troops called up to handle the chores of homeland security are not, in fact, securing the homeland. If what they are doing has any purpose, it could be done in other ways–by cops, by the U.S. Border Patrol, etc. Rather, the aim of their deployment is mobilization: to get divisions in shape before sending them abroad. In late October, when the war in Afghanistan was going slowly, it looked as if they might be sent there come spring. Now Iraq has moved to the head of the queue.

Half of warfare is organization, readiness and supply, and these things take time. In the shadowlands of conspiracy theory, where the C.I.A. and the Mossad prowl the moors like Grendel and his mother, the microcephalic know that our leaders permitted the attack on the World Trade Center, since they could have scrambled fighters to stop it at the first sign of trouble, couldn’t they? In fact, no. Fighters did not routinely patrol American airspace. They sit in their hangars for oil changes; the pilots are having coffee; it takes time to zip down from Plattsburgh. As with rapid response, so with major operations. If France really ticked us off tomorrow, we could not launch a D-Day next week. But the war is now five-plus months old, and counting. We may now be closer to Saddam Hussein’s downfall than we are to 9/11.

Saddam’s strategy will be to agree to inspections of his military laboratories, then stall them until his scientists complete their work. More precisely, he will seem to agree to discussions on holding talks about inspections. Kofi Annan may be fooled, but I don’t think President Bush will be.

In the run-up to the Gulf War, Edward Luttwak told us the Iraqis were 10 feet tall and that we would suffer tens of thousands of casualties. That wasn’t true. Could the second Gulf War be easier? Then, we had to drive the Iraqi army from a country it had occupied. Now, we will be engaged in regime decapitation: the officer corps, the Baath Party and Saddam’s extended family, minus those he has already murdered on suspicion of disloyalty. Yet we should not indulge in pleasing scenarios. War is full of accidents, and sometimes they all break the wrong way. My acquaintance may see death on every hand. Probably no Europeans will join us, saving the British, if them. I imagine the absence of the Dutch will be supplied by the Turks.

Crowds are easier to mobilize than armies, and next-door Iran responded to its induction into the axis of evil by rousting out the mob. The New York Times solemnly treated the display as offended patriotism’s reaction to Mr. Bush’s affront. Have we learned nothing about the power of dictatorships to compel attendance at public functions? The real question is, will the Iranians who defied their rulers by protesting at soccer matches continue to do so? Fundamentalist Islam has had a decisive impact in three modern countries: Iran and Afghanistan, which it has ruled, and Algeria, where, after being cheated of an election victory, it has fought a years-long civil war. The Algerian fundamentalists-in-arms have sickened their countrymen by the hundreds of thousands of deaths they’ve inflicted in wanton massacres. When the Afghan fundamentalists fell, the Afghans partied. Who thinks the Iranian mullahs are better loved, or will be more missed?

Beyond Iran and Iraq is Saudi Arabia, not named as belonging to the axis of evil, though Mr. Bush’s State of the Union address held out the possibility of later nominations: The A. of E., he said, was composed of states “like” Iraq, Iran, etc. How is Saudi Arabia like them? Too cowardly and too incompetent to make mischief directly, it allows its bored, rich and unfree citizens to ship their surplus wealth and their surplus resentments to academies of bigotry and nurseries of terror worldwide. Remember the ads during the Super Bowl that accused crackheads of funding terrorists? Every time you drive a car, you’re funding a madrassah . Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia breeds terrorists at home. The recent stories on the man who might be taking over the operations of Al Qaeda identified him as a Palestinian; only after the jump, and in the home stretch, did you learn that he was a Palestinian who had been raised in Saudi Arabia.

Getting the Saudis to shape up will be the greatest challenge President Bush faces, diplomatically and personally. Their sponge-like evasiveness gives us no handle, while Mr. Bush’s roots in the Texas oil industry dispose him to see the Saudis as colleagues whose market power benefits drillers everywhere. But the work must be done.

We are not facing a religion, a civilization, a climate of opinion or regional poverty. All these are factors in the discontents of the world. But the world is always discontented. Identifiable countries and organizations mold this discontent, for their own purposes, and turn it into attacks against us. Punishing the patrons will not solve all problems everywhere. But it is a necessary act of vindication, self-defense and revenge.

We have made one misstep close to home in not charging John Walker Lindh with treason. According to the Constitution, a conviction for treason requires two witnesses to the same overt act of levying war against the United States, or of giving aid and comfort to its enemies. Mr. Lindh was fighting in the ranks of Al Qaeda, which was waging war against us. Surely there are more than two witnesses to his doing so. Johnny Michael Spann, the C.I.A. agent who grilled him in Afghanistan, is dead, killed by Mr. Lindh’s friends. But there was another C.I.A. agent on the spot, and there must be several members of the Northern Alliance who can vouch for Mr. Lindh’s military deportment when he was captured. Mr. Lindh should swing because of the evil and folly of his actions, and as an example to future Lindhs. If our enemies are clever, and they are, they will put the word out to native-born dim bulbs and malcontents, from Marin County to the Idaho panhandle. Anyone who hates anything, from the Zionist Occupation Government to the white man’s patriarchy, will be a potential recruit for one of Osama bin Laden’s excellent adventures–unless we raise the cost of service.