It seemed to many observers last week that the Bush Administration was losing its moral compass in the war on terror. Of particular concern was Secretary of State Colin Powell’s dismal diplomatic foray into the Middle East, a trip predicated on the notion that -- when all is said and done -- Israel is not entitled to address murderous terrorist cells, and the infrastructure that supports them, by employing the same, lethally violent techniques that the United States is using to deal with Osama bin Laden’s.
Even on those occasions when Mr. Powell found himself compelled to acknowledge the Israelis’ right to defend themselves, he muddled the message by meeting with and thereby legitimating one of the region’s leading terrorists, Yasser Arafat. Worse yet, he committed America to underwriting the reconstruction of the very Palestinian Authority infrastructure that Israel has so recently been compelled to destroy.
Fortunately, this week brought a fresh and forceful articulation of what we in the West -- the United States, Israel and other civilized nations around the world -- are combating in this war, and that for which we are fighting. It was delivered by one of the Administration’s most thoughtful security policy-makers, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, and warrants citation here at some length.
In a speech on Sunday before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Secretary Feith said of terrorism involving “the systematic killing of ordinary people going about their lives with their children in shopping malls, on buses, at restaurants” that “it is not politics. It's not even war. It's deranged ideology in action. At stake is not just the fate of a particular country, but the fate of all open societies.”
He added that, “The suicide bombers who kill Israelis, like those who attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon last September 11th, are enemies of the idea of humanity. They may claim to represent a good people or a worthy cause, but they taint the political platforms they embrace. It's immoral to seek excuses for terrorism and harmful to reward it. So the message of responsible governments should be unwavering: terrorists do not advance their causes; rather, they lose ground.”
Mr. Feith went on to observe that: “Winning the war requires us to help change the way people think. This can be done. Worldwide moral battles can be fought and won. For example, no decent person any more -- no one who hopes to be recognized as respectable in the wider world -- supports or excuses slave-trading, piracy or genocide. No decent person should support or excuse terrorism either.
“Our ultimate goal is to change the international environment regarding terrorism -- instead of tolerance, an international norm of renunciation and repudiation of terrorism....This is not an abstract, philosophical, academic point, but a strategic purpose of great practical significance.”
Perhaps the most trenchant aspect of Secretary Feith’s analysis is his insight that “what characterizes the suicide bombers -- and especially the old men who send them off on their missions -- is rather hope than despair.” Such hopes are fed by “the recent outpouring of open support in the Arab world for homicide bombers -- from Mrs. Arafat, from a senior Arab diplomat, from clerics associated with prestigious universities -- [which] reflects excitement at the thought that bombings are producing success. It is the kind of triumphalism characteristic of a mentality that believes in ‘the worse the better.’”
Don Rumsfeld’s top policy advisor then suggested a three-part “strategic course” that would “attack the sources of these malignant hopes”:
“Regarding the religious hope: Many Islamic religious leaders seem uncomfortable with suicide bombing -- but many of them have been silenced or intimidated to voice support for the terrorists. The civilized world should exert itself to support moderate clerics, defend them and provide them with platforms to protect their religion from extremists who want to distort and hijack it.
“The civilized world should also deal with political leaders who heap honor (and money) on the suicide bombers and their families. President Bush, speaking of suicide bombers, said: "They are not martyrs. They are murderers." Other world leaders have the responsibility to reinforce this message.
“Finally, as to the suicide bombers' political hopes, we must ensure that terrorism is not seen as a winning strategy. This is today's immediate challenge: For example, we have to make it understood that the Palestinian homicide bombers are harming, not helping, their political cause.
Mr. Feith, a friend and colleague of many years, has performed a real service to President Bush and the war he is waging on terrorism. By conceptualizing the “root cause of terrorism” not as poverty but as “the incitement to hatred that creates the intellectual atmosphere in which terrorism can flourish,” he has helped to fashion a strategy for restoring coherence and success to the Administration’s global campaign.
He concluded by declaring that “Peace can be achieved when the conditions are right: and the most important condition is the state of peoples' minds....Peace diplomacy in the Middle East has been an intense activity for decades. It's now clear that we have not focused enough attention on the relationship between peace and education. We spend a great deal of attention on what diplomats say to each other. We need to pay closer attention to what teachers instill in their students. Therein lies the key to peace.”