The proper response to terrorism is a war in self-defense.
The following article was published as a full-page ad in the Washington Post on September 20, 2001.
September 19, 2001--Fifty years of increasing American appeasement in the Mideast have led to fifty years of increasing contempt in the Muslim world for the U.S. The climax was the thousands of deaths on September 11, 2001--the blackest day in our history, so far. The Palestinians, illustrating the region's hatred of what Iran calls "the Great Satan," responded to America's agony by dancing in the streets and handing out candy.
Fifty years ago, Truman and Eisenhower surrendered the West's property rights in oil, although that oil rightfully belonged to those in the West whose science, technology, and capital made its discovery and use possible. The first country to nationalize a Western oil company, in 1951, was Iran. The rest, observing our frightened silence, hurried to grab off their piece of the newly available loot.
The cause of the U.S. silence was not practical, but philosophical. The Arab dictators were denouncing wealthy egotistical capitalism. They were crying that their poor needed our sacrifice; that oil, like all property, is owned collectively, by virtue of birth; and that they knew their viewpoint was true by means of otherworldly emotion. Our Presidents had no answer. Implicitly, they were ashamed of the Declaration of Independence. They did not dare to answer aloud that Americans, properly, were motivated by the selfish desire to achieve personal happiness in a rich, secular, individualist society.
The Arabs embodied in extreme form every idea--selfless duty, anti-materialism, faith or feeling above science, the supremacy of the group--which our universities, our churches, and our own political Establishment had long been upholding as the essence of virtue. When two groups, our leadership and theirs, accept the same basic ideas, the most consistent side wins.
After property came liberty. In the first year of his theocratic revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini kidnapped 52 U.S. diplomatic personnel in Iran and held them hostage; Carter's reaction was fumbling paralysis. About a decade later, Iran topped this evil. Khomeini issued his infamous Fatwa aimed at preventing the publication, even outside his borders, of ideas uncongenial to Muslim sensibility. This was the meaning of his threat to kill the British author Rushdie and to destroy his American publisher; their crime was the exercise of their right to express an unpopular intellectual viewpoint. Here was government censorship on the widest scale. It was Iran's attempt, reaffirmed after Khomeini's death, to stifle, anywhere in the world, the very process of thought. Bush Sr. looked the other way.
After liberty came American life itself, which had been inviolate from foreign murder-networks for two centuries. The first killers were the Palestinian hijackers of the late 1960s.But the killing spree which has now shattered our soaring landmarks, our daily routine, and our souls, began in earnest only after the license granted by Carter and Bush Sr.
Many nations work to fill our body bags. But Iran, according to a State Department report of 1999, is "the most active state sponsor of terrorism," training and arming groups from all over the Mideast, including Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Nor is Iran's government now "moderating." Less than five months ago, the world's leading terrorist groups met and resolved to unite in a holy war against the U.S., which they called "a second Israel"; this meeting was held in Teheran. (Fox News, 9/16/01)
What has been the U.S. response to the above? In 1996, nineteen U.S. soldiers were killed in their barracks in Saudi Arabia. According to a front-page story in The New York Times (6/21/98): "Evidence suggesting that Iran sponsored the attack has further complicated the investigation, because the United States and Saudi Arabia have recently sought to improve relations with a new, relatively moderate Government in Teheran." In other words, Clinton evaded Iran's role because he wanted, in his words, "a genuine reconciliation." In public, of course, he continued to vow that he would find and punish the guilty. Clinton's inaction in this instance is comparable to his action after bin Laden's attack on U.S. embassies in East Africa; his action was the gingerly bombing of two meaningless targets.
Conservatives are equally responsible for today's crisis, as Reagan's record attests. Reagan not only failed to retaliate after 241 U.S. marines were slaughtered in Lebanon; he did worse. Holding that Islamic guerrillas were our ideological allies because of their fight against the atheistic Soviets, he methodically poured money and expertise into Afghanistan. This put the U.S. wholesale into the business of creating terrorists. Most of them regarded fighting the Soviets as only the beginning; our turn soon came.
For more than a decade, there was a further guarantee of American impotence: the claim that a terrorist is a man alone responsible for his actions, and that each, therefore, must be tried as an individual before a court of law. This viewpoint, thankfully, is fading; most people now understand that terrorists exist only through the sanction and support of a government.
We do not need to prove the identity of any of these creatures, because terrorism is not an issue of personalities. It cannot be stopped by destroying bin Laden and his army (although I hope they are already dead)--or even by destroying the destroyers everywhere. If that is all we do, a new army of militants will soon rise up to replace the old one.
The behavior of such militants is that of the regimes which make them possible. Their atrocities are not crimes, but acts of war. The proper response to such acts, as the public now understands, is a war in self-defense. In the excellent words of Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, we must "end states who sponsor terrorism."
Ending a state requires a war fought without self-crippling restrictions placed on our commanders in the field. It requires a real war, not the halfway fiasco or the public-relations charade of the Bush-Clinton years. These requirements rule out a coalition with the U.N., and especially with any terrorist nation(s)--which latter is the equivalent of going into partnership with the Soviet Union in order to fight Communism (under the pretext, say, of proving that we are not anti-Russian).
If America's President were to court a Mideastern coalition, it would be an admission that he needs the approval of terrorist nations in order to fight them. It would be a public declaration that the world's only superpower does not have enough self-confidence to act unilaterally in its own defense. Better to do nothing than to flaunt such moral cowardice, and thereby to invite into our cities the next wave of suicide-seekers.
If we do not wage a proper war now, then when? If our appeasement has led to an escalation of disasters in the past, can it do otherwise in the future? Do we wait until the terrorists unleash against us the nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons they are rushing to get hold of?
The future of America is at stake. The risk of a U.S. overreaction, therefore, is negligible. The only risk is underreaction.
A proper war is one fought with the most effective weapons we possess (Rumsfeld reportedly refuses, correctly, to rule out nuclear weapons). And it is one fought in the manner most beneficial to the American cause, regardless of the suffering and death this will bring to countless innocents caught in the line of fire. Only this approach ensures that the war will be won as quickly as possible, and with the fewest American casualties.
The public understandably demands immediate retaliation against Afghanistan. But in the wider context Afghanistan is insignificant. It is too physically devastated even to breed many fanatics. Since it is no more these days than a place to hide, its elimination would do little to end terrorism.
Terrorism is a specific disease, which can be treated only by a specific antidote. The nature of the disease (though not of its antidote) is suggested by Serge Schmemann in The New York Times (9/16/01). Our struggle now, he writes in part, is "not a struggle against a conventional guerrilla force, whose yearning for a national homeland or the satisfaction of some grievance could be satisfied or denied. The terrorists [on Tuesday] . . . issued no demands, no ultimatums. They did it solely out of grievance and hatred--hatred for the values cherished in the West as freedom, tolerance, prosperity, religious pluralism and universal suffrage, but abhorred by religious fundamentalists (and not only Muslim fundamentalists) as licentiousness, corruption, greed and apostasy."
Every word of this is true. The obvious implication is that the struggle against terrorism is ultimately a struggle of ideas, which can be dealt with only by intellectual and philosophical means. But this fact does not depreciate the crucial role of our armed forces. On the contrary, it increases their effectiveness, by pointing them to the right target.
Most of the Mideast is ruled by range-of-the-moment thugs who would be paralyzed by an American victory over any one of their neighbors. Iran, however, is the only major country in the region ruled by zealots dedicated not to material gain (such as more wealth or territory), but to the triumph by any means, however violent, of Islamic fundamentalism. This is why Iran manufactures the most terrorists.
If one were under a Nazi aerial bombardment, it would be senseless to restrict one's defensive efforts to Nazi satellites while ignoring Germany and the ideological plague it is working to spread. What Germany was to Nazism in the 1940s, Iran is to terrorism today. Whatever other countries it strikes, therefore, the U.S. can put an end to the Jihad-mongers only by taking out Iran.
We must not only wipe out Iran's terrorist sanctuaries, its training camps, and its military capability. We must also do the equivalent of de-Nazifying the country, by expelling every official and bringing down every branch of its government. This is a goal that cannot be achieved painlessly, by bombs and missiles alone. It requires invasion by ground troops, who will be at serious risk, and perhaps a period of occupation. But nothing less will "end the state" that most cries out to be ended.
The greatest obstacle to U.S. victory is not Iran and its allies, but our own intellectuals. Even now, they are preaching the same ideas that led to our historical paralysis. They are asking a reeling nation, in the name of "restraint," to apply only economic and diplomatic pressures, like those that have failed so spectacularly and for so long. The multiculturalist professors are pushing "understanding" in the name of avoiding "racism" (i.e., any condemnation of "another culture"). The friends of "love" are reminding us, not too loudly yet, of our duty to turn the other cheek.
The Superintendent of Schools in San Diego led a discussion of the bin Laden attack in an eleventh-grade history class. Among other things, he asked the students to empathize with the feelings that the event would engender in a Palestinian; and also "to compare the victims killed in the World Trade Center with those who died in Hiroshima." (San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/13/01)
These are the kinds of voices that will be heard increasingly in the universities, the churches, and the media as the country recovers from its first shock, and the professoriate et al. feel emboldened once again to conduct their ideological "business as usual." These voices are a siren song luring us to untroubled sleep while the fanatics proceed to gut America.
We can avert the catastrophe only if our government is courageous enough to hold out against the siren-singers. This requires, at minimum, that our bombs and troops be accompanied by our President's passionately righteous statement that we have broken with the clichés of our paper-tiger past and that the U.S. now places America first.
Mr. Bush must make it clear that we regard the war against terrorism as a sacred obligation to our Founding Fathers, to every victim of the men who hate this country, and to ourselves. He must make the world understand that hereafter, as a matter of principle, we will always and everywhere take up arms to secure an American's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness here on earth.
The choice today is mass death in the United States or mass death in the terrorist nations. Our Commander-In-Chief must decide whether it is his duty to save Americans or the governments who conspire to kill them.
Leonard Peikoff is the founder of the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, California. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.
ARI requests that any articles by Leonard Peikoff be dated, and if you are linking to any of his pieces on terrorism that a link be made to his most current piece on this issue -- "End States Who Sponsor Terrorism," 10/02/01.
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