September 21, 2001 -- A commentary from the Navigator Special: The Assault on Civilization, October, 2001
On September 11, the metaphor of the war of ideas between rational civilization and tribalist barbarism became literal description.
Make no mistake about it: The attacks in New York and Virginia were declarations of war. And the war that must follow will be real war of men and guns. American soldiers will fight and American bombs will be dropped. And when our enemies retaliate, more innocent Americans will die. That is the inevitable result of warfare, and we must gird ourselves for the coming conflict.
But the war that must follow will be more than a war of men and guns; it will also be a war over values and ideology. Our objective in this conflict is to end the threat of terrorism and promote a world order that respects individual rights and condemns the practice of terror. America should not seek conquest but should pursue justice. America should not seek to annihilate civilian populations, but should seek the dissolution of those states that support terrorism, and, to prevent their reemergence, the establishment of rights-respecting governments in their place.
Most immediately, the United States must pursue an active and aggressive military policy against terrorists. Men who fly planes into buildings are not open to reason, argumentation, or compromise, nor even to economic pressure. In the wake of this tragedy, we must restore our defenses. We must repair and retaliate. We must not retreat.
America's first response should be simple and direct: to find those responsible for the attacks of September and visit justice upon them. All of them.
However, as the president has recognized, if our response is directed simply at those who participated in the most recent attack, we will have done little to deter future attacks. Indeed, a limited response will only ensure further acts of violence. We must remember that these people who deal in terror do so at the explicit cost of their own lives. They are willing and eager to trade their lives for hundreds of American lives. So if we destroy this terrorist cell and that terrorist cell, but leave the culture and body of terrorism untouched, the cells will continue to grow like a cancer.
To stop terrorism, then, we must recognize that it depends upon the support and shelter of very large organizations. Terrorists require a secure base of operations, training facilities, propaganda mills, communications equipment, money, and secrecy. We must make sure that these are destroyed—and we must prohibit them from being rebuilt. To win the war against terrorism, we must destroy its infrastructures, and that includes governments who continue to aid and defend terrorists. They are not only terrorism's ideological friends; they are its criminal accomplices, and therefore, as President Bush has declared, "enemy nations" to the United States. America must put an end to such enemies.
Specifically, the United States should formally announce that it will no longer tolerate any individual, organization, institution, or government—anywhere in the world—that aids or abets terrorism; that any organization that continues to support terrorism will be eliminated at the time and by the means of our own choosing. In doing this, we will be seeking only a genuine and lasting security.
To be sure, while guilt extends far beyond the relatively few men who orchestrated this latest attack, it does not extend to all individuals unfortunate enough to live in those countries that support terrorism. So we must discriminate, as we must in any application of justice, between the innocent and the guilty. That discrimination will be difficult—it always is in war—but it will not be impossible. And difficult decisions, whether they come in times of peace or in times of war, should not lessen our resolve to seek justice. President Bush has echoed these sentiments, but only time will tell if either the administration, or the American people, has the necessary resolve to see this conflict through.
Some will suggest that the cost of such a war is too high; that instead of confronting international terrorism, America should renounce foreign commitments; that we should sever our military and political ties with Israel and abandon our allies around the world. Politicians and commentators, both at home and abroad, will call for a new American policy of non-interventionism. They will say that American meddling in foreign affairs has so poisoned international sentiment against us that these attacks should have been expected. Most will imply—and a handful will openly declare—that America had it coming. They will say that America has brought this atrocity upon itself, and that she can achieve security only by withdrawal. They couldn't be more wrong.
In the first place, non-intervention would be pointless. Even if the United States turned its back on its allies, individual Americans and organizations would still provide aid and assistance to international causes they support. For example, even if America stopped supporting Israel, Americans would not. And fanatics like Osama bin Laden would not bother to make fine distinctions.
But the argument against non-intervention goes deeper. A free nation has but one charge when it conducts foreign policy: To act in its own national interests. And just as it is not in an individual's interest to ignore the oppression of his friends and neighbors at the hands of governments and criminals, so it is not in a nation's best interests to ignore the suffering and oppression of freedom-seekers at the hands of tyrannies and terrorists.
In the global economy—where millions and millions of international transactions pass through the same building in a single day—the interests of the citizens in one nation have become closely tied to the interests of those in other nations. When the World Trade Center was destroyed, that act of malice affected men and women across the globe. Likewise, when a suicide bomber destroys a local marketplace in Israel, the interests of Americans are harmed. Increasingly, a man today cannot separate his own freedom from his neighbor's because the freedom of each—most especially, the freedom to communicate and trade—is inseparable from the freedom of the other. A policy of non-interventionism ignores this new condition of the world.
What should be America's policy abroad?
When confronted with those who actively threaten existing liberty—whether that threat is internal or external—our nation must respond far more vigorously than it has in the past. Exactly how to respond is a question for statesmen, but we can say philosophically that the response must be unmistakable and painful to the oppressors. Turning a blind eye to aggression is appeasement, and appeasement will lead only to further encroachments on the free world, which is our world, and thus to a further diminution of our ability to interact with other free men.
But the need for America to "meddle" abroad goes deeper still. Just as individuals can establish safety at home only by distinguishing between honest men and criminals, and eliminating the latter, so must a free nation seek safety in the world by distinguishing between free states and despotisms, and eliminating the latter. The reason is that honest men and free nations can find enduring peace only with other honest men and free nations, not with criminals and tyrannies. America's long-term foreign policy, therefore, must involve "meddling" in ways that actively and vigorously encourage other states to protect individual rights.
Adopting a principled foreign policy of this sort would doubtless lead to radical changes for America, and would certainly require a significant reassessment of its foreign commitments—but those are changes that are long past due.