Taking terrorists at their word

Posted: Jul 22, 2006 12:01 AM
Taking terrorists at their word

Sometimes one almost envies the terrorists. At least they’re allowed to say what they mean. Consider Hezbollah.

It aims to turn Lebanon into an Islamic republic in the style of Iran. It also wants to conquer Israel and end Western influence in the Middle East. And it’s willing to fight to accomplish those goals.

So is Hamas, the Palestinian terror organization that makes no bones about its desire to destroy Israel through “holy war.” Even Iran speaks clearly, when we’re willing to listen. Last year President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Israel should be “wiped off the map.” No diplomatic subtleties there.

In light of their words, recent events are no surprise.

On June 25, Hamas militants tunneled into Israel, killing two soldiers and capturing a third. On July 12, Hezbollah invaded Israel from a different direction, coming across the Lebanese border and capturing two more Israeli soldiers.

Israel responded to both attacks with military force. That only makes sense. Imagine if Canada sent soldiers into, say, Minnesota and attacked American border guards. We’d respond with overwhelming force to such an invasion -- especially if the Canadians had been telling us for decades that they planned to destroy us.

The fact is, Israel is merely the front line in this fight. Radical Islamists, who’ve made it clear that they aim to destroy our democratic way of life, are on the offensive. So what’s the West’s reaction?

“The extremists must immediately halt their attacks,” announced the official statement issued by the G-8, the club made up of the leaders of the world’s industrial powers. “It is also critical that Israel, while exercising the right to defend itself, be mindful of the strategic and humanitarian consequences of its actions. We call upon Israel to exercise utmost restraint.”

How very measured. How very diplomatic. How very useless.

Neither Hamas nor Hezbollah have any intention of halting their attacks. They exist to attack. That’s what they say, and that’s what they mean. By pretending that their deliberate attacks are in any way comparable to Israel’s well-proportioned response, the G-8 leaders are fooling themselves into believing that these are people, as Neville Chamberlain might have put it, “we can do business with.”

Unfortunately, there’s nothing unusual about our inability to speak clearly. It’s become such a habit that, on the rare occasions when somebody says what he means, he opens himself up to international ridicule.

For example, as the summit came to a close, an open microphone caught an exchange between President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

“See, the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit, and it’s over,” Bush pointed out. “I felt like telling Kofi to get on the phone with Assad and make something happen. We’re not blaming Israel. We’re not blaming the Lebanese government.” The comments drew extensive media coverage. But as is so often the case, reporters missed the story entirely.

“After days of polite diplo-speak, reading from talking points and sticking to the script, here was the unguarded Bush, the impatient Bush, the small-talking Bush,” Peter Baker of The Washington Post wrote on July 18.

But that ignores the fact that the international talking points are wrong, and the president is correct. Syria probably could rein in Hezbollah if it wanted to. And it’s sad that Bush only “felt like” telling U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to speak to Syria’s president. Bush should have insisted Annan do so. The fact that he’s constrained from doing so by diplomatic niceties is a sign of Western weakness, not Western strength.

Winston Churchill supposedly said about the Korean War, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.” Of course, the quote is also attributed to another British prime minister, Harold Macmillan. Somehow the latter seems more likely.

Churchill, after all, well knew the failure of jawing. He’d spent the 1930s trying to get British politicians to take the Nazi threat seriously.

In 1936 Hitler violated the Versailles treaty by remilitarizing the Rhineland. Instead of facing him down, which might have required fighting, the Western governments preferred to talk. Two years later Hitler wanted the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. Again, jaw-jaw failed. Hitler dismantled the relatively powerful Czech military without firing a shot. By the time Hitler launched a war, he was positioned to sweep across western Europe.

The lesson: Always take militant leaders at their word.

Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran have repeatedly made clear they favor war. We’ll never get their respect through talking -- only through the use of force. That may not be the polite thing to say, but it’s true. And the sooner we realize it, the better.