Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: No Other Choice
If I had been in President George W. Bush’s inner circle of advisors, I probably would have argued against the military action against Afghanistan Sunday, simply on the grounds that we seemed to be getting closer to getting the Taliban to release Osama bin Laden. On the other hand, it would have been a close call, as almost a month had passed since the terrorist attacks of September 11, and the President had been as patient as I’d hoped he would be in developing a strategy to punish those responsible. In my client brief of September 11, “First Thoughts,” I said I expected there would be a military response in Afghanistan, but that I hoped we would not lash out in anger. Even though I had unsuccessfully warned our government in 1998 that we had to understand the “Mind of a Terrorist” or terrorist strikes would continue, the most powerful and most important nation in the world does not turn the other cheek for any reason when it is physically attacked. Bad precedent. My advice to the Taliban a few weeks back was to join the anti-terrorist coalition and permit United Nations forces to come into Afghanistan and hunt down bin Laden & Co. At the time, remember, they said he was “missing.” Once they acknowledged they had him in hand, though, they had to hand him over. The entire international community said they should, given the universal assumption that he is the world’s Terrorist Numero Uno, and inspired the attacks even if he did not plan them or finance them.
There have been and will be more anti-war demonstrations around the country, and my sympathies will be with them, but practically speaking I have no other choice but to support the decision by President Bush to do what he has done. There are still many Americans who believe President Harry S. Truman should not have dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but I long ago decided that the decision was the right one. Not only because it ended the war in the Pacific, but because it demonstrated to the rest of humankind that the United States would not flinch at using maximum power when it had to. The fact that 56 years have now passed and no other nuclear weapons have been used, anywhere, is instructive to that point. There are also American intellectuals who continue to argue that Abraham Lincoln should not have used force to keep Dixie in the Union, but should have let them go peacefully. There may be some usefulness in plowing this ground again and again, but as someone once said, you can’t argue with history.
My greatest concern has been that we would respond to September 11 with vengeance that would cause the deaths of more civilians, which I believe is the root cause of political terrorism. There are plenty of people in the world who dislike us for one reason or another, but it takes more than dislike to produce a Timothy McVeigh or an Osama bin Laden. It has, I think, been the senseless killings of civilians. For McVeigh, it was Ruby Ridge and Waco. For the Islamic terrorists, it was the West Bank and Iraq, as bin Laden has stated on videotape. There is no justification for terrorism, though. While I do not agree with Pat Buchanan that bin Laden should be shot on sight, even if he is carrying a white flag and his hands are up, terrorists should expect to die for their cause and there is no political reason why they should not.
What President Bush has accomplished by being so measured and methodical in his reactions since September 11 has been to give everyone in the world time to think about how measured and methodical he has been. When he first announced that he wanted bin Laden “dead or alive,” less than a week into the crisis, the financial markets trembled all over the world, and so did the political markets. It was encouraging to read that at that crucial moment, his father called him and suggested he calm down. There would have to be punishment, but it would be meted out precisely and without hot-blooded anger.
I was reminded of my own father, who was the perfect parent to me and my younger brother. In the years we grew up in a small apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y., there were many times when he took out a strap and showed it to us, when he caught us misbehaving. It was enough for us just to see it and hear it snap over the palm of his hand or against his thigh. There was a time when we were so bad that showing the strap was not enough. I was maybe nine and Terry seven and a half. He had us bend over and then asked me how many whacks I thought I deserved. I reckoned quickly and said, “three.” He then asked Terry how many he thought he deserved and Terry said, “none.” Well, I got the three and Terry got five. After Sunday, I hope President Bush does not have to do more than show the strap, having been so judicious in using it against the Taliban.