Tuesday's front-page New York Times headline on Hezbollah/Israeli fighting -- "International Force Is Favored, But No Nation Commits Troops" -- was widely received with giggling "Well, duh's!" In a way, it was funny. While the Europeans agreed that international troops should be sent in to stop the fighting, the article ended with a quote that "The Germans recommended the French, the French recommended the Egyptians, and so on."
But if one scratches just beneath the surface of the headlines, the great strategic failure of America since Sept. 11, 2001 can be detected in the fourth paragraph of the N.Y. Times article:
"There has been strong verbal support for such a force in public, but also private concerns that soldiers would be seen as allied to Israel and would have to fight Hezbollah guerrillas who do not want foreigners, let alone the Lebanese Army, coming between them and the Israelis." Well, of course they don't.
From my extensive conversations with Europeans, high and low, I don't doubt the accuracy of that statement. Most Europeans and far too many Americans still see Hezbollah terrorism as just part of that "Arab Israeli mess" in the Middle East. (And, of course, Hezbollah doesn't want foreigners to stop them from killing). But more importantly, most of the peoples of the world -- including the United States -- still don't believe that radical Islamist terrorism is a grave, worldwide challenge to civilization.
And therein lies our great strategic failure to date. So long as most people -- certainly most Europeans, perhaps most Americans -- see Islamist terrorism as merely the more or less disconnected actions of a relatively small number of fanatics, then Europeans will never send their sons to fight and die to defeat it. And, of course, they particularly won't send their sons to risk death for the "Jewish state" of Israel or the "imperialist" United States. And who can ask any parents to risk sacrificing their sons for some foreigners -- whether despised or not?
President Bush has failed in five years to successfully make the case either to America or to the Western world that we are, in fact, in a mortal, worldwide struggle, what my old boss Newt Gingrich recently called World War III; what I called "The West's Last Chance" in my book last year; and what I and many others have called the clash of civilizations.
Only when that case has been made persuasively will the real struggle for victory begin. Only then will Europe raise armies to fight -- not for Israel or the United States -- but for their own survival.
And we are not without resources. Europe -- from Poland to the Atlantic, from Sweden to Greece -- is over 700 million strong. Hindu India is over a billion. North America is over 400 million. It is absurd to think that such a mass of civilization cannot send sufficient troops to smash -- door to door and hand to hand if necessary, and it probably will be necessary -- a few thousand Hezbollah fighters. For that matter, a force could be raised to clean out the tribal lands in northern Pakistan and the Islamist/anarchic Horn of Africa and wherever radical Islamists have cover and succor. (Currently, in Lebanon and throughout the world, peaceable Muslims understandably can't resist the violent threat of their radical co-religionists. We must give them a chance to be partisans for civilization.)
But such martial force can only be raised and sustained on the foundation of broad and deep public support.
Now, with the whole world watching the unfolding chaos, would be an excellent time to start that public education process. The president should give a series of major speeches on the nature of the worldwide threat. He must rise above his previous efforts with more blunt, honest and detailed analysis -- not merely well-worn phrases.
But much more is needed. The Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees should hold extensive, high-octane, public, joint, select hearings in the next two months on the nature of the threat. Let the best advocates for each perception testify. Former presidents, princes, generals and specialists should all come and testify. Congress can and must give both depth of analysis and sustained public attention to such a presidential initiative.
The media should give major front-page and top-of-the-news attention to such a great debate. It is not enough for Fox, the Washington Times, The Wall St. Journal editorial page, talk radio, selected authors and the blogs to carry on the debate. The mainstream media should join in giving prolonged prominent coverage in conjunction with such hearings.
In five years we have, remarkably, never had such a sustained effort to publicly debate the nature of the danger. At the outset of the Cold War, Congress spent years holding hearings on the "red menace." Some people think they overdid it. I do not. But it required that sort of an effort to establish the public support and bipartisan judgment over 50 years that communism was, in fact, a worldwide threat to civilizations. It was such a threat; and it was defeated. But only because the public, for 50 years, understood the danger and voted for politicians who were prepared to vote trillions for defense.
Until the American and European publics have become convinced of the present danger to them, we will continue to stumble, take half measures and fail to adequately defend ourselves. Before action, must come belief; before belief must come understanding; before understanding must come education and debate. In the beginning was the word. It is time to begin.