After the 9/11 Attack
September 13, 2001

by Joe Sobran

     How should the United States respond to the 9/11 
attack? The furious calls for war remind me of an earlier 
debate over how to deal with the Soviet Union.

     During the Cold War, such geopolitical thinkers as 
George Kennan and James Burnham, both pro-American anti-
Communists who saw the Soviet Union as a grave threat to 
the West, disagreed on grand strategy. Kennan favored a 
policy of "containment." He argued that the West should 
reconcile itself to the loss of Eastern Europe, while 
preventing the Soviets from making further gains. In 
time, he said, the Soviet Union would implode without the 
necessity of all-out war.

     Burnham, on the other hand, argued that Kennan's 
approach had the fatal flaw of leaving the initiative to 
the Soviets. He argued for taking the fight to them and 
actively working to liberate their captive nations. This 
approach was called "rollback."

     But despite their differences, both anti-Communist 
strategies were based on realistic assumptions about 
concrete American interests and the limits of American 
power. Both Kennan and Burnham knew geography and history 
and avoided apocalyptic recommendations. They thought in 
hard specifics, with due prudence.

     Contrast those men with today's hawks, especially 
among pro-Israel journalists. Once again "Israel's amen 
corner in this country," as Pat Buchanan put it a decade 
ago, is "beating the drums for war." Even before it 
transpired that the 9/11 hijackers seem to have been 
Arabs, this crowd intuited that the new horrors were an 
import from the Middle East.

     The NEW YORK POST, which regards Ariel Sharon the 
way American conservatives used to regard Ronald Reagan, 
says our enemy is "radical Islamic fundamentalism" which 
threatens us with nothing less than "the annihilation of 
Western culture" and "world domination." If these 
terrorists aren't stopped, pronto, countless Chinese, 
Brazilians, and Canadians will soon be reading the Koran 
in Arabic! The author of that editorial belongs in a 
padded cell.

     Charles Krauthammer, Robert Kagan, and Mark Helprin 
say we are in a war and should act accordingly, with an 
enormous military buildup that would dwarf our present 
armed forces. George Will notes that "Tuesday morning 
Americans were drawn into the world that Israelis live in 
every day.... [Americans] are targets because of their 
virtues -- principally democracy, and loyalty to those 
nations which, like Israel, are embattled salients of our 
virtues in a still-dangerous world."

     Never mind specific details like American interests, 
the costs of war, the eventual number of casualties, and 
other repercussions. This is a simple case of Good versus 
Evil, Democracy versus Terrorism, Virtue itself versus 
distilled, ruthless Vice. In the true Manichaean spirit, 
we must fight this thing anywhere and everywhere, even if 
the price approaches the infinite. It's Armageddon, 

     Even if Israel's claims were beyond dispute, its 
cause just, and its virtue unsullied, the question would 
remain: is it really in our interest to be caught up in a 
bitter struggle between Muslims and Jews on the far side 
of the globe? I don't know about you, but one week like 
this one was more than enough for me. If our government 
goes to war, we can expect more of same, but probably 
worse -- along with new curtailments of our freedoms by 
our own government.

     The Israelis do have legitimate interests and 
grievances. So do their enemies. But so do we. And we 
have just learned -- or should have learned -- that even 
the most powerful and expensive armed forces in the world 
can't always defend us against enemies armed with knives. 
The Pentagon itself has been reduced to a smoldering 
monument to our folly.

     What have we gained by our decades of meddling in 
the Middle East (or for that matter, the rest of the 
world)? What do we stand to gain by a war? Our truest 
interest lies in making peace. At least we needn't 
actively make enemies.

     So far President Bush has reacted to the 9/11 horror 
with reasonable restraint. He has issued a little 
obligatory tough talk, but as a Texas oil man, surrounded 
by like-minded businessmen, he seems aware that there are 
other things at stake than Virtue, Democracy, and 
suchlike noble abstractions. Fortunately, perhaps, it's 
hard to be a rich Republican and a devout Manichaean at 
the same time.

     A final note. Let us fall to our knees in thanks 
that Al Gore wasn't our president this week.


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