The couterwar redirected

Posted: Nov 07, 2001 12:00 AM
We are at Stage Two of what we call variously "Fighting Back" or "A Nation Challenged" -- whatever. The enthusiasm generated in our allies two months ago has minced its way toward grudging approbation, and even that is shaded with contingencies. There are those among them who say OK, Uncle Sam, but be sure that you observe Ramadan. And we learn (perhaps correctly) that bombing day after day appears to do less damage to the Taliban than to Western sensibilities.

Indeed, Donald Rumsfeld has had to reassure Americans that there is a strategic design behind what he is doing, that all those spurts of black smoke that we see here and there in the mountainous landscape are actually designed to do intolerable damage to the enemy, not just give our Navy and Air Force something to do outside of Vieques.

There are two modes in which to accost this problem of the dissipation of allied (and U.S.) resolve. One is what one might, for illustration, call the Hiroshima mode. Drop a couple of A-bombs on the buggers.

There are two reasons against this. The first is that we don't know where we would drop them, unless there is a particular mountain among some 1,000 mountains in Afghanistan that especially vexes us. The second is that to break the taboo against the use of nuclear weapons is not absolutely to guarantee success against Osama bin Laden, but is absolutely to guarantee the alienation of the entire anti-nuclear culture, which includes 90 percent of every moralist under 70. If we can forswear the use of poison gas, which we have done since World War I, we cannot glibly swing into nuclear bombs unless needed to protect Detroit or Phoenix.

A second mode is to direct our efforts toward the conscription of Islamic sentiment. The reasoning is straightforward: We are aiming to extirpate people who cloak themselves in the guise of Islam-on-the-march. The heretics have lashed out at the United States, to be sure, and we are certainly willing and eager to bankroll Islamic counteraction with arms and money. But the primary responsibility is theirs, even as the primary responsibility would be ours if a coterie branding itself an arm of Christian militancy and hiding out in the crevices of America or any of its possessions were to conspire to bomb or terrorize Muslim holy sites or holy men.

The conscription/mobilization of reluctant cultures takes time and persistence. To get the leaders of Egypt and Pakistan and Syria and Saudi Arabia to accept the subjugation of Afghanistan as their responsibility isn't done by one presidential speech, even if written by Peggy Noonan. But the elements of a cultural reorientation are there: You people, since we are talking about Islamic reprobates, are responsible. We'll supply not only soldiers to help out, but airplanes and tanks and artillery and a whole lot of cash. But we want a war council made up of Muslim leaders, and beginning tomorrow -- say on the first day of Ramadan -- we want a signed declaration from your leaders excommunicating al-Qaida and all its misbegotten votaries.

What if they don't go along?

The United States' most neglected arsenal is that which houses its displeasure. We don't like to talk about these things because they are ... delicate. But close your eyes and ask yourself: What measures could we bring to apply pressure on Egypt? Right. Exactly. And Iraq? Ask Iran for a little help on that front. Pakistan? Consult with India. Saudi Arabia? Don't even say it out loud, what the Saudis have in the United States that they do not want to jeopardize, among other things the disposition of the United States to tell Iraq to leave Saudi Arabia alone.

This doesn't mean that we stop what we are doing in Afghanistan. But it does mean that the emphasis of American power is redirected in ways that impatient moralists can accept without cavil and that make our military activity in Afghanistan evolve in the direction of aid to an Islamic fraternity engaged in fighting a terrible disease within its own house. We are then acting in the capacity not only of avenging Sept. 11, but as allies of Islam, concerned to cooperate in a hygienic religious enterprise.