There can come a point in a game, a fight or even a war when everyone understands what is going on. All the players are on the same wavelength, even though they envision different outcomes. After President Bush’s speech Sunday night, we may be at such a point concerning Iraq.
Mr. Bush came back from his vacation, which has been no vacation for American soldiers, or for many Iraqis, in a mood that was blunt and comprehensive. He identified Iraq as a “central front” in the Terror War which the terrorists ratcheted up, after several early strikes, on 9/11. We broke the Taliban and Saddam, but fighting continues in Iraq. “There is more at work,” he said, in the attacks on Shiites, U.N. diplomats and American soldiers, “than blind rage. The terrorists have a strategic goal. They want us to leave Iraq before our work is done.”
What is that work? “The triumph of democracy and tolerance in Iraq, in Afghanistan and beyond, would be a grave setback for international terrorism …. Our enemies understand this.”
Who should agree but one of our enemies-poetically enough, from beyond the grave? Yussuf Al-Ayyeri, an Al Qaeda bigwig killed in a gun battle in Saudi Arabia last June, wrote, before he died, a polemic called “The Future of Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula After the Fall of Baghdad.” Don’t look for it at Barnes and Noble. But the jihadists have disseminated it for their own consumption, and the journalist Amir Taheri gave a précis of it in the New York Post . Al-Ayyeri called the roll of recent threats to Islam as he conceives it-modernism, nationalism, socialism. Worse than all of these, and worse even than the American war machine, is democracy. “What threatens the future of Islam, in fact its very survival, is American democracy.” Democracy-by which he means the free secular state-would make Muslims “love the world” and “reluctant to die in martyrdom.” Martyrs should therefore make Iraq so hot that we will leave it. That is the way the world should end, with a bang, not a vote.
Al-Ayyeri calls to mind Paul Berman’s recent book Terror and Liberalism , which argued that all the monsters of the last century-Communists, Nazis, jihadists-have been fueled by the love of death. They first loved the death of their enemies, by the million if necessary. But they also saw death as a flail for their own ranks, or even the crown of their efforts. The hecatombs of Communist cadres that marked Stalin’s rule, the perverse worship of Wagner that marked Hitler’s rule and the pyre that ended it, and the next-worldly brothel of the Islamists all bear out Mr. Berman’s argument.
If death is the goal of Al Qaeda and its friends, then by all means let us oblige them. How best?
President Bush said on Sunday that the price for the next year’s operations in Afghanistan and Iraq would be $66 billion. To which I would say, I see him and double, if that’s what it takes. One goes into debt for big purchases-houses and college educations for individuals; freedom and security for countries. John McCain recently called on Mr. Bush to step up to the plate and ask yet more of us. Our future (to say nothing of Mr. Bush’s) depends on his correct assessment.
Mr. Bush also said he would be asking the Security Council for a new resolution authorizing members of the United Nations to send troops to Iraq. The Security Council, stymied by Russia and France, and cheered on by the latter’s toady, Germany, was the last best hope of Saddam’s regime all through the winter and early spring. Mr. Bush has not trusted it since, and his going back to it now has the color of inconsistency. When John Maynard Keynes was accused of changing his mind, he replied that he did so when his ideas proved wrong; what did his accuser do? If we get a U.N. say-so that would bring in foreign troops, that would be fine, though they would have to be under American command. Our no-longer-so-good friend Turkey would be happy to send in soldiers to pry off the northern third of Iraq and smite the Kurds. Indian troops could be trusted, for India confronts Islamist terrorists, operating out of (if not supported by) Pakistan, inside its own borders. Why India has hesitated to help police Iraq is a mystery.
The main point Mr. Bush made is that the war in Iraq is not the second of two short discreet wars, but a phase of the Terror War, and that the Terror War will take a long time. When the attacks on American troops first became a clear pattern, some in the administration compared them to the activities of the “Werewolves”-diehard Nazi guerrillas who had been put in place in the last days before the Gotterdammerung , and who managed to kill soldiers of the Allied occupation until 1947. A better comparison might be to the dark and bloody postlude of our own Civil War. Abraham Lincoln was murdered shortly after Appomattox by a conspiracy which may well have been a left-over Confederate intelligence operation; the conspirators nearly succeeded in killing Secretary of State William Seward as well. A recent book argued that Jesse James saw his banditry as a continuation of the irregular warfare that had raged in Missouri and Kansas since the late 1850’s. There can be no argument that the first Ku Klux Klan, and similar groups, did their best to frustrate Reconstruction by intimidating and murdering black would-be voters, until the Republican Party, wearied by the effort and the expense, and eager to win the deadlocked election of 1876, called off Reconstruction. Many Southern blacks did not win the right to vote until our lifetime, and that struggle too was conducted in the face of violence.
Now as then, most of the defeated are not terrorists. Now more than then, most of them want a new life. Our security lies in giving it to them.