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“Too Philosophical For Decent Company”

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When President Bush went to Congress for a resolution confirming his authority to mount this nation's worldwide war against terrorists and those who harbored them, he gave voice to the broad sentiment of Americans and significantly departed from the approach of some of his spokesmen who initially focused not on the systemic terrorist problem but on the particular acts of terror. Yet even after the President's inspiring words of resolve, it seemed that there was an unseemly period of negotiations with the Congress. Indeed, we could not understand why the resolution took even the four days it did to be forthcoming. In his inimitable fashion, Charles Krauthammer, writing in the Washington Post on the very day after the attacks, seemed to sum up the national feeling:

This is not a crime. This is war. One of the reasons there are terrorists out there capable and audacious enough to carry out the deadliest attack on the United States in its history is that, while they have declared war on us, we have in the past responded (with the exception of a few useless cruise missile attacks on empty tents in the desert) by issuing subpoenas.

Secretary of State Colin Powell's first reaction to the day of infamy was to pledge to “bring those responsible to justice.” This is exactly wrong. Franklin Roosevelt did not respond to Pearl Harbor by pledging to bring the commander of Japanese naval aviation to justice. He pledged to bring Japan to its knees.

You bring criminals to justice; you rain destruction on combatants. This is a fundamental distinction that can no longer be avoided. The bombings of September 11, 2001, must mark a turning point. War was long ago declared on us. Until we declare war in return, we will have thousands of more innocent victims.

However, a careful reading of the Joint Congressional Resolution ? driven by the Democratic-controlled Senate ? reveals what the delay was about. It provides, in pertinent part, that

“The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

It is to be noted that the universal focus of the President is somewhat dimmed. To target terrorist cells around the world, the President would have to uncover some link with the perpetrators of the Twin Towers terrorists. To be sure, it is left to his “determination.” But in legal terms, there would have to be some definite nexus shown. In short, the President cannot simply pursue a course of excising the disparate roots of the terrorist cancer.

Krauthammer addressed this phenomenon indirectly in a column this past Friday, entitled, “Voices of Moral Obtuseness”:

In the wake of a massacre that killed more than 5,000 innocent Americans in a day, one might expect moral clarity. After all, four days after Pearl Harbor, the isolationist America First Committee … formally disbanded. There had been argument and confusion about America's role in the world and the intentions of its enemies. No more.

Similarly, two days after Hitler invaded Poland, it was Neville Chamberlain himself, seduced and misled by Hitler for years, who declared war on Germany.

And yet, within days of the World Trade Center massacre, an event of blinding clarity, we are already beginning to hear voices, prominent voices, of moral obtuseness.

[Pulitzer Prize winning historian] Susan Sontag is appalled at the “self-righteous drivel” that this was an “attack on 'civilization'” rather than on America as “a consequence of specific American alliances and actions. How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq?”

What Sontag is implying, but does not quite have the courage to say, is that because of these “alliances and actions,” such as the bombing of Iraq, we had it coming….

Let us look at those policies. The bombing of Iraq? First, we are not bombing Iraqi civilians. We attack antiaircraft positions that re trying to shoot down our planes. Why are our planes there? To keep Iraq from projecting its power to re-invade and re-attack its neighbors.

Why are we keeping Saddam in his box? Because we know he is developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and we know of what he is capable: He has already gassed 5,000 Kurds, used chemical weapons against Iran, and launched missiles into Tehran, Riyadh and Tel Aviv, with the explicit aim of murdering as many people as possible.

Or maybe Sontag means American support for Israel. Perhaps she means that America should have abandoned Israel ? after it made its astonishingly generous peace offer to the Palestinians (with explicit American assurances to support Israel as it took “risks for peace”) and was rewarded with a guerrilla war employing the same terrorist savagery that we witnessed on Sept. 11.

Let us look at American policies. America conducted three wars in the 1990's. The Gulf War saved the Kuwaiti people from Saddam. American intervention in the Balkans saved Bosnia. And then we saved Kosovo from Serbia. What do these three military campaigns have in common? In every one we saved a Muslim people.

And then there was Somalia, a military operation of unadulterated altruism. Its sole purpose was to save the starving people of Somalia. Muslims all.

And Krauthammer's conclusion in his later article captures the President's conviction:

This is no time for obfuscation. Or for agonized relativism. Or, obscenely, for blaming America first. (The habit dies hard.) This is a time for clarity. At a time like this, those who search for shades of evil, for root causes, for extenuations are, to borrow from Lance Morrow, “too philosophical for decent company.”

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