Terrorism in America -- retracing our steps

Posted: Sep 13, 2001 12:00 AM
No more Mr. Nice Guy. This reflects, quite properly, the sentiment of most Americans in the wake of the horrific terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, with the White House and Air Force One themselves as apparent targets. Americans, quite appropriately, expect swift and sure retaliation. Still, one can quite reasonably ask, did it have to come to this? "This is what happens when the United States picks sides," said an American irate over the four hijacked U.S. planes, three of which crashed into their targets. "What if we had never picked sides with Israel?" he asked. "This never would have happened." Interesting analysis, but wrong starting point. There's an old story. For want of a nail, a horseshoe was lost. For want of a horseshoe, a horse was lost. For want of a horse, a rider was lost. For want of a rider, the battle was lost. For want of a battle, the war was lost. This story demonstrates the interconnected nature of events, and how something seemingly inconsequential can later prove monumental. In her Pulitzer Prize-winning World War I book, "The Guns of August," author Barbara Tuchman talks about the interlocking treaties between European nations, a chain of dominos that ultimately produced The Great War: "Europe was a heap of swords piled as delicately as jackstraws; one could not be pulled out without moving the others. Under the terms of the Austro-German alliance, Germany was obliged to support Austria in any conflict with Russia. Under the terms of the alliance between France and Russia, both parties were obliged to move against Germany if either became involved in a 'defensive war' with Germany ... What part England would play was uncertain; she might remain neutral; she might, if given cause, come in against Germany." What a mess. But for America's entry into that war, wouldn't the exhausted combatants ultimately have entered into a negotiated settlement? The terms of such a settlement would likely have placed the parties upon fairly equal footing. But after America's entry, the balance of power tipped strongly in favor of the allies, forcing the ultimate surrender of Germany, under conditions its citizens considered humiliating and unnecessarily punitive. Suppose, instead, the U.S. had sat out the first World War. No WWI, no harsh surrender conditions imposed on Germany, no German economic catastrophe and anger that gave rise to a genocidal demagogue like Adolph Hitler. Without World War II, the U.S. and Russia never become Allies, depriving Russia of the ability to obtain military and atomic secrets that helped fuel her rise as a military power with control over much of Eastern Europe. No powerful Soviet Union, no Cold War. What if no Cold War? After all, the Cold War induced us to assist Afghanistan in their war against the Soviet Union -- the enemy of my enemy is my friend. During the Cold War, the major nuclear powers -- the U.S. and the Soviet Union -- engaged in a deadly battle over influence and strategic geographic and military advantage. America's involvement in the Afghan-Soviet war provided terrorist Osama bin Laden with valuable assistance. "The Afghan jihad was backed with American dollars," the BBC News said, "and had the blessings of the governments of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. (Osama bin Laden) received security training from the CIA itself ... After the Soviet withdrawal, the 'Arab Afghans,' as Mr. bin Laden's faction came to be called, turned their fire against the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East." No WWI, no angry, powerful and militaristic Germany, no Holocaust, no moral imperative for the international involvement in the creation of the State of Israel. No ridiculous argument equating Zionism with racism. Since the advent of the State of Israel, America properly remains steadfast in its support. After the establishment of Israel in 1948, her enemies collectively waged war, with the country enduring, more or less, under the constant hostility of its surrounding neighbors. America backed Israel for moral, and to a lesser extent, national security reasons. America ought not reassess its relationship with Israel because of terrorist attacks against the U.S. But that does not mean we should close our eyes to the suggestion that we retrace our steps. Fanciful? I had the honor of introducing former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for the "Distinguished Speaker Series" held in Los Angeles. As M.C. of the event, I had the privilege to speak privately with him. "Mr. Kissinger," I said, "some argue that but for America's entry into the first World War, there likely would have been some negotiated settlement. Germany would never have been forced to accept conditions it considered punitive, and then no World War II. What do you think?" Mr. Kissinger paused, reflected for a moment, and said, "There is great merit in that position." Fanciful?