Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Thursday, April 11, 2002
Jonah Goldberg has a smart bit in NRO about how we should stop calling this a war on terrorism. On the one hand, he's wrong. As I've pointed out before (check the archive), Arafat and Osama bin Laden alike are giving terrorism a bad name, because they've blurred all distinctions. While terrorism has always violated the laws of war, it did have an ethics of its own, and that ethics revolved around the question of "legitimate targets." What was legitimate varied. To some terrorists (E.L.F., for example), property is a legitimate target, but not people. To other terrorists (the French Resistance, the Stern Gang), military personnel or civilian administrators of the occupying power were legitimate targets, but not the civilian population generally. The line that Arafat and bin Laden have crossed is that for them EVERYONE is a legitimate target - moreover, ALL of everyone is a legitimate target. It is abundantly clear that to either of these guys, wiping out a city would be just fine with them, a regular hoot and a holler. Making sure people like this do not live to see the sunrise is a good policy regardless of why they do what they do. Their ideology is secondary; what is primary is their destructiveness. It's no crazier to say that we fought in Afghanistan as part of a war against terrorism than to say we're about to go to war with Iraq because of a war on weapons of mass destruction. Of course we're not going to war with France (unfortunately), which also possesses weapons of mass destruction, so in that sense it's not a war on the weapons as such. But the weapons are the reason for the war. Iraq is a horrible regime that intends us harm whether they have the bomb or not. But with the bomb they would be way too dangerous, and if they seem like they plan to get it (and they do), we have to take them out first. Similarly, terrorism of the 9-11 variety - or the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades variety - is just too dangerous to be allowed. Anyone who might use such a weapon against us - meaning any state involved in sponsoring such activity - must be taken out before they do.

But on the other hand, of course, he's right. The nature of this war, as of the last two global conflicts, is ideological. And an ideological war requires ideological weapons. Our enemies blew up the World Trade Center because they wanted to unite the Muslim world in holy war against the West. It's as if, rather than burning down the Reichstag, the Nazi Party had blown up the Eiffel Tower to precipitate a war between France and Germany in order to launch themselves to power. That's precisely why our response has not been to say, we're at war with the Arab world, or the Muslim world: because it is our enemy's primary war aim to get us into exactly that war. Rather, our task is to win a civil war within the Muslim world, one launched by our enemies with an attack on us. And victory will be achieved when the centers of power in the Muslim world consider themselves to be part of Western civilization rather than a competitor thereto. This is not impossible; it is roughly what has been achieved or is in the process of being achieved in Japan, Turkey, Russia and Mexico, all of which have, at one point or another, defined themselves precisely by their opposition to Western civilization but who do so no longer. There is no inherent reason why Iran, Iraq, Pakistan or Egypt - all of which were, at one time, part of Alexander's empire - could not similarly consider themselves part of a global civilization anchored in Western values and institutions. When they do, we can go home.