One widespread and pernicious illusion died a fiery death on
September 11: The notion that America -- the "world's only superpower" --
was invulnerable and its people secure within their own borders against
foreign attack was vaporized along with the World Trade Center towers,
portions of the Pentagon and the hijacked jet aimed at the Capitol.
It appears that two other dangerous illusions linger on, however.
One involves the belief clung to by die-hard opponents of President Bush's
efforts to develop and deploy effective missile defenses that we can safely
perpetuate our complete vulnerability to another, far more deadly attack
from ballistic missiles. The second is, if anything, even more
preposterous: The belief that there are some "good" terrorists with whom we
can prudently make common cause, at least temporarily, in waging war against
the "bad" terrorists responsible for the events of 9/11.
In coming days, Democratic members of Congress led by Rep. John
Spratt of South Carolina and Senator Carl Levin of Michigan are expected to
sunder the new-found bipartisan unity that has broken out in Washington
since last week's attacks. They seek to make dramatic reductions in the
levels of funding for the President's missile defense program and, in Sen.
Levin's case, to impose in addition new legislative restrictions that would
grievously hinder the use of any funds that may ultimately be approved for
The proponents of such legislation evidently have a fairly low
regard for the intelligence of their colleagues and the public. They
apparently hope to sell the argument that, since ballistic missile defenses
would not have stopped the passenger aircraft used by the terrorists this
time, we should not be defended against what may be their weapon of choice
the next time.
Of course, this illusion flies in the face of common sense, to say
nothing of the constitutional duty to provide for the common defense. Those
who perpetrated these heinous crimes went to great lengths and considerable
expense to inflict grave, but still relatively limited, damage on the nation
they hate. They succeeded because the United States was unready to use
defenses it does currently have to shoot down domestic commercial planes.
Does anyone think for a moment, that if those waging holy war on
this country, people fully prepared to die in the process of doing so, had
access to weapons capable of inflicting infinitely greater death and
destruction on us -- and against which we had no defense -- they would
refrain from using them?
Even more of an illusion, no a delusion, is the failure to
appreciate a related point: The sponsors of terrorism, with whom President
Bush has properly declared a state of war to exist, are working feverishly
to acquire long-range ballistic missiles precisely so they can deter the
sort of attack against their countries he has promised to launch. Would the
United States really contemplate retaliation against Afghanistan if it could
realistically threaten within 30 minutes to lay waste to the rest of New
York City via missile-delivered weapons of mass destruction -- and our
President could do nothing to prevent such a disaster?
No less invidious than the illusory belief that the United States
should be defended against some terrifying threats but not all of them is
the sentiment now in evidence in Colin Powell's State Department. Officials
in Foggy Bottom seem to feel that some sponsors of international terrorism
can be recruited to wage Mr. Bush's war against other terrorist
organizations and their hosts. Specifically, Yasser Arafat's Palestinian
Authority, Bashar Assad's Syria and Ayatolloah Khameini's Iran are evidently
being touted by some in the Administration as candidates for the new
This is one of the most impractical, not to say bizarre, ideas to
come along in some time. For one thing, if President Bush's oft-repeated
commitment to rid the world of terrorists and those who harbor them is to
have any meaning -- to say nothing of any chance of producing the desired
result -- he cannot be put in the position of turning a blind eye to some of
the world's most notorious sponsors of terrorism. For another, American
officials cannot really believe that the United States would be able to
mount effective strikes on Osama bin Laden's organization, Al Qaeda, and
some of his friends while sharing intelligence and operational details with
coalition members who are also his friends, or who have, at least, made
common cause with his terrorist campaigns against America, her interests and
The folly of this strategy, if it could be called such, would be
greatly compounded by its corollary: In order to induce America's Arab
enemies to participate in the new coalition, Israel will have to be
excluded. Such a step would simultaneously deny the United States what may
be its single best, and certainly most reliable, source of urgently needed
intelligence and anti-terrorist skills. It would also be widely seen as
implicit affirmation of the virulent attacks on Israel that the Bush
Administration recently and wisely declined to dignify at the UN conference
on racism in Durban, South Africa. After all, if Israel is deliberately
excluded from the posse, there must be something to the charges that it is
itself guilty of crimes against humanity.
Those murdered in cold blood on September 11 will not have died in
vain if we as a nation are spared the potentially far greater costs
associated with these lingering illusions. It behooves President Bush and
the Congress to work together to ensure that effective missile defenses are
built and deployed at the earliest possible time and that any new alliance
is made with fellow democracies who are victims of terrorism, not with
terrorists who have violently assaulted them and us.