The defense of Zacarias Moussaoui, the Frenchman of Moroccan origin who allegedly was meant to be the 20th hijacker, got off to a bad start in a Virginia courtroom last week. Mr. Moussaoui assailed “pagans, Jews, Christians and hypocrites,” and said that he prayed for “the destruction of the United States” and of “the Jewish people and state.” It’s as if O.J. Simpson had taken the stand to harangue the jury about white bitches. This will be a tough hole to dig out of.
Mr. Moussaoui’s call to destroy “the Jewish people and state”-note the order: people, then state-was logically odd. First we exterminate everyone, then we dismantle their empty post offices. But we can be grateful to him for making the priorities of fanatic anti-Zionists plain. These are not people who will be satisfied with 1967 borders, or 1948 borders, or a multi-religious patchwork like the old Lebanon or the Ottoman empire. They want no Jews, in Palestine or anywhere.
For the first time, it struck me that Mr. Moussaoui might conceivably be innocent of the charges against him, for the rhetoric he employed is not a precise field marking. It is not a peculiarity only of Al Qaeda, or of other terrorists, but the common property of Middle Eastern newspapers and mobs. Their heroes may change-Osama bin Laden himself experienced at least a momentary loss of credibility when his Afghan allies went down to destruction-but the Jewish villain remains the same.
We are now one with that villain. Only a minority of paranoids can believe in an omnipotent enemy who has, in raw numbers, but a marginal existence worldwide. So the typical Jew-basher has always looked for the powerful patrons, or agents, of his foe. In the 19th century, he saw them in the world capitals of finance-London and Paris. Henry Adams, as crazy as he was brilliant, remarked as the Spanish-American War approached that it would deal a stinging blow to French Jews. (Did he tell his friend Teddy Roosevelt to look out for them on San Juan Hill?) In the 20th century, Nazis and fascists saw the Jews pulling the strings in Moscow and on Wall Street, as well as in their older haunts. Now the aegis of Jewry is the United States. You may never have had a bris but, willy-nilly, you have been circumcised.
Bards of American-Jewish friendship look for deep resemblances between the new nation and the old religion, and there are some. Jews live worldwide, and people from all over the world live here. America tolerates a variety of ideologies and creeds, and Judaism has shivered into many beliefs and unbeliefs. But it’s easy to push such abstractions too hard. The key point of our present ad hoc alliance is that the United States does not wish for the destruction of the Jews; therefore their enemies wish ours.
What is happening on the ground? Yasir Arafat, it is plain, jumped the gun, certainly as far as Baghdad is concerned. His infrastructure of terror has suffered a grievous blow, and all he has to show for it is galvanized Israeli public opinion, and dozens of murders. Mr. Arafat should have held his fire until the United States moved on Iraq. Now the only counterstroke Saddam Hussein has available is his missiles stuffed with anthrax. And yet he must know that the moment he lets those fly, the Israelis will respond, and not with germs. We can ransack the lexicon of abuse for words to describe Saddam Hussein, but unlike the deluded young terror-bombers that Arab leaders send to their deaths, he is not suicidal. Having only one alternative is, in his situation, as good as having none.
Prince Abdullah visited President Bush in Crawford, Tex., to lecture him about what America must do to avoid Arab displeasure. If Abdullah didn’t hate Jews, you might credit him with chutzpah. If my countrymen had held fund-raisers for terrorists who kill Israelis, while other countrymen had murdered thousands of Americans, I would speak softly when I went abroad. Perhaps the Crawford meeting was mostly for show. Certainly the moment of truth that shone through his bluster and President Bush’s evasions came when Mr. Bush said that he was confident the Saudis would not use the oil weapon. That is no credit to them, but to the reality of the oil market: There is more production worldwide than there was in the early 1970’s, so we have more options than we had then. The Saudis meanwhile have more expenses at home than they did then, so they have fewer options. Their population has increased, along with its expectations, and since they make nothing of value besides oil, which they simply tap, how can they keep the home folks happy if they do not sell their product?
The United States seems to be learning the silence of empires, or the gobbledygook of indecision, which is its functional equivalent. The gnomic utterances of Secretary Powell and President Bush recall the sentences and thought fragments of another opaque heartlander, Dwight Eisenhower. When President Eisenhower was about to face reporters at some especially delicate press conference, he is supposed to have told anxious aides not to worry; he would just confuse them. Are Mr. Bush and the members of his team artfully doing the same thing? The explanation certainly could fit the facts: Mr. Bush knew and Prime Minister Sharon knew, and each knew that the other knew, that Mr. Sharon would do what he had to, and that Mr. Bush was willing to let him. When it is not necessary to speak, it is necessary not to speak. Let the world say what it wants, so long as the main operations move silently forward.
Friends of the administration-which, let us not forget, is our war leadership-respectfully raise two questions. The first involves goals. Is the main operation in fact going forward? What was the meaning of the story in The New York Times that the big push against Iraq would not happen until 2003? Are we that unprepared? If we are, why have we let the world know? Are we waiting to assemble a grand anti-Iraqi coalition, as we did in 1991? If that’s the case, we will wait longer than nine months. Or are we taking the time we need to go it essentially alone?
The second involves means. An empire we may be, in the long line of Augustus and Victoria. But we are also a democratic republic. We have opinion to reckon with that is more skeptical than mullahs and mobs. The foreigners can be fed winks and nods; at some point, the taxpayers and the families of soldiers have to know what is afoot, because they must approve it.