Maybe there is another watchword for the present moment besides “Let’s roll,” and that is “Watch out.”
After so much stink and destruction, there are just certain things, as Winston Churchill said, up with which we will not put. In days of yore they got the furrowed brow, the hectoring op-ed piece, the solemn palaver. Those days are done. Now, as if acting upon universal consent or with pre-established harmony, we say, “Watch out.”
The first victims of “Watch out” were the Reverends Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. These men have had their day in the sun. They gave voice to a constituency, and though the polite world despised them, it was forced to analyze (even as it deplored) their appeal. I agreed with much of what they said and did; still do. But when the reverend gentlemen speculated, on national television, that the sins of feminists, gays, witches and whatnot had removed the divine protection that would otherwise have stopped the attack, the nation–including religious conservatives–plowed over them like a destroyer moving at 30 knots. Abraham Lincoln played the tricky game of theodicy in his Second Inaugural, but at least he said the Civil War was payback for everyone’s sins. Mr. Falwell actually did retreat along those lines after he was crushed. When he completes his refresher course in theology, he should let us know, if anyone still cares.
Those two other political preachers, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, were too cunning to say much in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. When real people had suffered real damage and real heroes had shown real valor, two carnival charlatans who had made their careers out of hyped pain and faked heroics knew better than to stick their heads out. They stayed in the mud, like turtles in hibernation. The Rev. Al crept out first, to torment Mark Green. Only in the freak show of a New York City Democratic Mayoral primary would his presence have been tolerated–and even there Mr. Green could have swatted him down, if he had had any gumption. Now Mr. Jackson is taking his ministry to Enron executives. This is the man whose slogan, well-attested in the black press before his Presidential ambitions canonized him, was, “If you want to play, you’ve got to pay.” Someone should check his books for further Enron contributions (PUSH has already admitted one)–if he keeps any books.
Closer to home, Fire Department bigwigs who, after years of climbing the greasy pole, had internalized the mores of Mr. Sharpton, Mr. Jackson and others, approved a statue based on the by-now-world-famous photograph of the three firefighters raising the Stars and Stripes at Ground Hell. Except that they decided the firefighters in their statue, unlike the firefighters at the actual event, should be white, black and Hispanic, the flavors of the P.C. Sundae. (What–no Asian firefighters?) If the FDNY wanted to start from scratch with a monument to honor all who served and died, then it should reflect the tapestry of New York. But twisting an event to fit a template recalled the archivists of Soviet Russia airbrushing first Trotsky, then Bukharin, then whoever else fell from favor, from the photographed reviewing stands. FDNY brass had not calculated, however, on the new “Watch out” mood. The ensuing uproar stopped the statue cold.
Closer in time, the city that has been through so much was forced to endure barricades, cops in near-armor and the hornet-buzzing of helicopters. Why? Because a gang of snot-nosed anarchists decided to inconvenience George Soros, Heidi Klum, Elton John and the other billionaires and their jongleurs caucusing in midtown. Poor anarchists! They once shot William McKinley and were written up by Joseph Conrad and G.K. Chesterton. After the fall of Communism, they looked to rise again as the world’s premier mischief-makers. To bring on the revolution, they smashed the windows of franchisers who sold cheap jeans and expensive coffee. But first radical Islam displaced them as the kooks who really know how to kill; then they took their act to New York, and New York, which has had it to here, shut them down.
But this is all chaff and child’s play. The big “Watch out,” the geopolitical “Back off,” was delivered in the State of the Union address, when the Commander in Chief told the country and the world that the war on terror would not end with the pacification of Afghanistan or even the death of the nimble Osama bin Laden, should he ever slow down long enough to be captured, or the scoundrels and hit men enjoying their Caribbean vacation at Guantánamo. He told the rulers of North Korea, Iran and Iraq that either they change their ways or they become former rulers. What a gang: North Korea, a posse of wretched Stalinists, drugged on leader-worship and starving its own people so as to develop atom bombs and missiles; Iran, a coven of mullahs marginally more competent than the Taliban, divided, after two decades, between hard-liners and Gorbachevs, and despised by their long-suffering country; Saddam Hussein, who survived two wars (one against Iran, one against us) and gassed enough Kurds and Shiites to survive the wrath of his subjects, and now, as in some nightmare, confronted with another, tougher President named Bush.
George W. Bush is not a reckless man. He is surrounded by seasoned advisers who cover a range of instincts and temperaments, from Colin Powell, the cautious military man, to Paul Wolfowitz, the bellicose intellectual. They know the risks of any major movement, particularly in the Middle East. Iran and Iraq, traditional enemies, will draw together. France and Russia, anxious not to lose loyal customers, will fish in troubled waters. The Saudis will hem and haw, and may even (in the worst case) jump ship. Moles in the Pakistani army could provoke a war with India. All that could be in play.
But the alternative is worse. If Iraq and Iran are allowed to go along unmolested, they will–in a year, in 18 months–have atomic weapons and pandemic germs, and Osama’s beauties and their successors will be able to smuggle them here. Meanwhile, we will still have all the potential problems listed above, only worse.
The United Nations can’t deal with these feral regimes. Neither can NATO or the European Union. That leaves us–which is convenient, since we are also the hated target. Will we? It looks like the answer is yes.