Letting Bush be Bush

Posted: Sep 29, 2001 12:00 AM
In my last column, I outlined reasons for our optimism about the United States' response to the terrorist challenge. To justify our optimism, however, we must be prepared to confront the many obstacles ahead. The enemies are terrorism, its perpetrators and sponsors. But in the shadowy world of terrorism, these enemies are not easily identified. Strategies to defeat them are not effortlessly devised or smoothly implemented. Everywhere there are phantoms – smoke and mirrors – the color gray at a time when we desperately need black and white clarity. The attack did not come from clearly marked Japanese Zeros or Russian MiGs. Nor has any terrorist leader or organization proudly claimed credit. Our intelligence tells us that Osama bin Laden was the brains behind the attack but, even there, we seem unsure as to whether the true mastermind is yet another colleague in terror. And what about the Taliban? One day its leaders dissociate themselves from bin Laden, the next they defiantly proclaim their solidarity with him. Yasser Arafat donates blood to the victims while many of his followers are dancing in the streets. Saddam Hussein alternatively condemns and approves the assaults. We also have problems on the coalition front. The administration has warned that its composition may change from time to time. Greater minds than mine have noted that the more we expand the coalition, the more fragile it becomes. Everyone has been saying that the terrorists threaten not just Israel and the United States, but the entire world. Perhaps in one sense, but our potential coalition partners surely don't see it so simply. The terrorists do not represent the same threat to Muslim nations as they do to Israel and the West. While Arab nations may find themselves the occasional targets of their terrorism, they are not their cultural and religious adversaries. How do we know this? Simply by listening to the grievances of Osama bin Laden himself. Based on several reports, it is obvious that bin Laden's major complaints with America can be boiled down to one thing: He sees us as anathema to Islam. Bin Laden objects to us not because of what we do, but because of who we are. He is not outraged about our failure to join the Kyoto Treaty. He isn't exercised about our missile defense plans. He isn't mortified by our civil rights policies. He probably isn't even that incensed about our capitalism and materialism – he is among the richest men in the world, and his followers are hardly poster boys for poverty. What does this mean as a practical matter? It means that there is absolutely nothing we can do to appease this man, or any of his lieutenants or sympathizers. Their lust for destruction and conquest cannot be satisfied through diplomacy or even major concessions (assuming we were of a mind to make them). They have made it clear that, unlike other relatively civilized enemies we've faced in the past, they cannot abide a peaceful coexistence with us. Since they have defined the parameters of this conflict, they have made the nature of our response mandatory. It's not just that they drew first blood, it's that they have pledged to draw blood in perpetuity until the "evil Satan" is defeated. Sadly, some don't quite grasp this reality – and it's doubtful they ever will. If 7,000 unprovoked murders don't convince them that a forcible response is required, then nothing will. Our task is clear. We must systematically destroy the worldwide terrorist infrastructure. Since we have the power to do so, the only question is whether we have the will. No terrorist or foreign enemy can defeat us – only we can defeat ourselves. Voices of dissent inside and outside the administration are growing in number and volume. The best way to counter the dissent is through the focused leadership George Bush is distinctly qualified to provide. He sees this problem with the black and white clarity it needs. He understands his mission and is not paralyzed with indecision. He must not allow others to chip away at his resolve. He must not allow mixed messages to be sent from the White House, which can only weaken the national will at this critical time. Above all, President Bush must follow his instincts, his inner voice. That voice is telling him what he told us in his unambiguous speech. The enemy must be defeated by whatever means necessary, no matter how long it takes, or how difficult it is, and no matter who our coalition partners are.