WASHINGTON, D.C. -- "May your enemies live in interesting times," runs the old Chinese saying. Our times become more interesting by the day.
On the South Capitol Street Bridge here sits an Avenger anti-aircraft missile battery prepared to shoot down any private plane or commercial airliner that appears about to crash into the Capitol.
Area residents are being urged to buy three days of dry food and bottled water, and duct tape to seal off one room, to survive a chemical, biological or radiological ("dirty bomb") attack on D.C.
The terror color code has been raised to orange, representing a heightened threat of attack. There is only one higher level, red.
As the CIA director testifies to Congress that we could face a terror attack by this weekend, Osama bin Laden has released an audiotape urging Muslims to launch suicide attacks on Americans and pro-American regimes in Morocco, Jordan, Yemen, Pakistan, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. Expressing his contempt for the "socialist" and infidel regime of Saddam Hussein, Osama nevertheless calls on all Muslims to fight America in the coming Iraqi war.
A question arises: If Osama believes, as he apparently does from this tape, that a U.S. invasion of Iraq is a glorious opportunity to rally Muslims from Morocco to Malaysia to start a jihad against "crusaders" and "Jews," can such a war also be in the interests of the United States?
The other day, I interviewed a terrorism expert. How long, I asked, will we have to live with these terror alerts, and will the coming war on Iraq make us more or less secure from terrorism?
His answer? In the short run, the war will make us less secure. In the long run, disarming Iraq will deny terrorists access to at least some weapons of mass destruction. But we must expect to live with terror alerts for the rest of our lives, he said, as this war will last as long as the Cold War itself.
It is remarkable how complacent Americans seem to be, as our freedoms are gradually restricted, and more and more power and wealth flow to Big Government to protect us from terrorists.
Rarely is the most fundamental question asked that we ask about all of America's wars: What was the cause of the war?
In the splendid new film "Gods and Generals," Robert E. Lee and "Stonewall" Jackson are portrayed as Virginia patriots who fought to defend their state from an invading army and to be free of a Union that would make war on their kinfolk, just as their forefathers had fought the British Army to be free of England. Union patriot Joshua Chamberlain tells his brother they are fighting in Virginia for the idea that men shall no longer be enslaved in these United States.
But in this war on terror, what are we fighting for?
The simple answer is that we are fighting to be free of terror. President Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban that had given sanctuary to Osama and his Al Qaeda network that had planned Sept. 11, and to kill them or scatter them to the four corners of the earth.
And what are they, the terrorists, fighting for?
Here the answers becomes murky. We say the terrorists hate us because we are free, democratic, prosperous and good -- i.e, they hate us for our virtues. But what reasons do the terrorists give for hating and attacking us?
Osama says we are "crusaders" who have vassalized Arab countries and corrupted Islamic peoples with our decadent culture, that our soldiers defile their holiest lands, that we persecute the Iraqis with savage sanctions, and help the Israelis rob Palestinians of their land and freedom. And they are willing to die to drive us out of their countries, their region, and their world, as they died to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan.
Now, for his crimes, Osama deserves death. But is he telling the truth about why he and his followers hate, attack and kill us?
What makes these question relevant is that we are facing a second Cold War, which is going to cost us heavily in our freedoms. And great majorities of Arab and Islamic peoples seem to share bin Laden's detestation of our policies and our presence in their world.
If 9/11 was the opening shot in America's Fifty Years War on Terror, what will history say was the cause? That America was attacked because we were free, or that Islamic jihadists attacked us to drive us out of their world? Have we no choice but to drink from this bitter cup for the next half century, or can this be war on terror be averted, consistent with America's honor, freedom and security?
Is it too late to avert this 50-year war?