A Hang-Tough Nation
In recent months, public support for America's intervention in Iraq and for the broader war on terrorism has fallen significantly at home. This is a grievous misapprehension of where we are--and where we recognized we were after 9/11, when there was broad consensus that the nation was in danger from a new kind of terrorism. The consensus that sustained us then may have proved evanescent, but the fact is there are radicals out there who want to kill us all--any American, men, women, and children. Why? Because in their delusional thinking, they believe Islam provides the justification for it. As one Egyptian commentator put it: "Allah conceived Islam as a religion. Men have transformed it into politics."
The reason this is so difficult for us to understand is that this culture of death is the polar opposite of our culture of life. And it was not created by intervention in Iraq. Iraq may have sharpened the resentments of some radical Islamists and given them a new excuse, but there was no Iraq war in 1993, when they first tried to blow up the World Trade Center, nor before 9/11, when they did blow it up. The attack on the USS Cole took place after U.S. forces contributed to the NATO-led operation in Kosovo that saved the lives of many, many Muslims.
The turmoil now roiling the Islamic world is described vividly in an important new book by Tony Blankley, The West's Last Chance. The exploding torrent of Muslim energy, something not seen in 500 years, is being fueled by billions of petrodollars coming out of Saudi Arabia in support of an aggressive antiwestern religious teaching called Wahhabism. And it's spreading not just to other Muslim countries but also to the disaffected among the Muslim communities in Europe who can be trained on the Internet in almost every aspect of terrorism.
Nearly 9 in 10 Americans worry, rightly, about the vulnerability of our mass transit systems, our cargo imports at ports and airports, our water supply--indeed, our traditionally free and open society. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee suggests that there is a very high probability (70 percent) of a successful terrorist attack within the next 10 years with weapons of mass destruction, and the very sober former secretary of defense, William Perry, puts the odds of a nuclear attack in the next five years at 50 percent.
The president spoke none too soon in his recent speech emphasizing that Iraq has now become the central front in the war on terrorism and restating our larger purposes there. His assertion that we cannot afford to falter, as we have faltered in previous conflicts when the going got tough, is dead-on. Pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq too soon would be the equivalent of rocket fuel for the Islamofascists. Iraq would become the new Afghanistan, a safe base from which to launch attacks on us and wage a war against nonradical Muslim governments. And speaking of which, isn't it long past time for Iraq's neighbors to begin condemning the murders of thousands of Muslims in the name of Islam by the Iraqi insurgents?
No escape. Our resolve to fight those responsible for terrorism must be no less than the resolve that we have shown during previous conflicts, and we must make the same kind of accommodations in our way of life that we have made in times past. In short, the American people and its leaders must prepare themselves mentally and emotionally for what is certain to be a long struggle. It is not as if we are without wayposts of success. Afghanistan, Kuwait, and now Lebanon are all the beneficiaries of American resolve.
President Bush has a proper grasp of the nature of the challenge we face. "There's always a temptation in the middle of a long struggle to seek the quiet life," he said recently, "to escape the duties and problems of the world, and to hope the enemy grows weary of fanaticism and tired of murder. . . . But it's not the world we live in."
The president did well to speak forcefully, but his administration has hardly excelled in presenting a steady, coherent case for staying the course in Iraq. For instance, the demoralizing impression has been allowed to ferment that there is only one combat-ready unit of Iraqi troops. In fact, according to Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, an outstanding commander who has been in charge of training Iraqi troops, Iraq now has 80 battalions capable of fighting alongside our forces and another 35 that fight with American soldiers embedded in their units. The Iraqi troops showed what they could do at Tal Afar, where a Sunni Arab defense minister, Saadoun Dulaimi, challenged the insurgents. Given that there was virtually a nonexistent Iraqi military force 18 months ago, having 115 units engaged in the battle is a measure of real progress. So is the evolution of Iraqi democracy--witness the recent negotiations among the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds that led to last week's elections.
One definition of American genius is lasting five minutes longer than the other side. This is no time to abandon that time-tested virtue.
This story appears in the October 24, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.