First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Which Terrorists Are Our Enemies?
One of the problems with waging a war on terrorists is that a lot of people on the "good guy" side aren't quite sure that they want to make war on all terrorists.
For instance, I've heard serious, educated people say that they only want to defeat "international terror," leaving "local conflicts" alone. In other words, as long as it's only Palestinians murdering Jewish civilians, then it's none of our business; Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not our enemy, only Al Qaeda.
But this rule is so selectively applied. For instance, I have met very few people who take the "Palestinian terrorism is justified" position who also think that it was bad for President Clinton to bomb Serbia back when Serbia seemed poised to commit genocide against the Kosovars.
Naturally, we can't interfere in Russia's struggle against the Muslim terrorists who claim Chechnyan independence as their cause -- it's an entirely internal matter.
But it wasn't an internal matter when the borders of Serbia were involved, was it?
Then again, it was an internal matter, apparently, when the Rwandan Hutus were slaughtering unarmed and defenseless Tutsi men, women, and children, because that was none of our business.
For some, the rule is, "When the terrorist campaign between two groups spills over into other nations, then it's our business."
For others, the rule is even more specific: "As long as they don't kill Americans within the borders of the United States, we can live with terrorism."
Isn't that really what the whole argument over our present war is about?
President Bush's position is: Terrorism is a curse against humanity. War is bad enough, army against army; but when terrorists strike by stealth against a population merely going about its business, that destroys the fundamental condition of civilization: Trust. It makes everyone a prisoner of fear.
Therefore all terrorism is our business, and any nation fighting terrorism deserves our help, and, when possible and when requested, will have it. And any nation or group that is launching terrorist attacks or funding or sheltering those who do is a legitimate military target of the United States.
It's a huge commitment. It may be too difficult or too costly to achieve.
But when you start drawing lines around ever smaller groups of terrorists that we can wage war on, are you actually shrinking the war, or merely guaranteeing failure?
For one thing, it rests on the assumption that just because one terrorist group is not directly controlled by another, we can stamp out the one group and leave the other alone.
Obviously, this is not true. If it's too hot to stay in Al Qaeda, but it's the announced policy of the United States that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are off limits to our troops and covert actions, then isn't it obvious that those with a wish to martyr themselves in the cause of hatred will simply shift to the group that looks more effective?
And this is doubly true of terror funding -- it will flow where it will get, literally, the most bang for the buck.
It seems to me that our history of anti-terrorist action has been spotty and driven by politics. Most of today's "anti-war" activists were absolutely silent over the civilian-unfriendly bombing of Serbia, when it was entirely a struggle within a sovereign nation.
They only became "anti-war" when it was President Bush waging the war; and they immediately started spewing rhetoric about American atrocities despite the fact that the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns were far more careful to avoid civilian casualties, proportionately, than Clinton's high-altitude bombing campaign.
If we draw the circle of our target smaller, it will simply drive terrorists out of that circle.
For some Americans, that's enough. Let them blow up all the Jews they want to, as long as they stay out of the U.S., say these people (though never in so many words, lest they appear anti-Semitic).
It's instructive to look at a previous campaign to rid the earth of a great evil. When the abolitionists won the day in Great Britain, the government decided that, being possessed of the world's most powerful fleet, it was their moral obligation to stamp out the slave trade ... everywhere. Not just the Atlantic slave trade. Not just the trade from Africa to British colonies. All slave ships would be subject to seizure, and their human cargo would be freed and returned to Africa.
They knew that either you made war on slavery, or you didn't. They couldn't invade countries like the United States and force us to abolish slavery. They did what was possible. But they refused to do less than what was possible to them. And the slave trade was reduced to a trickle compared to what it had been before.
Those who oppose our campaign against all supporters of terrorism on the basis that it is overreaching or none of our business or "we can't be the world's policeman" or "terrorism can never be wiped out" are, despite their protestations, in fact pro-terrorism. They are saying that there is a place on Earth where terrorism should not be treated as a crime against humanity, or where Americans should look away and say, Oh, go ahead, kill those people, that's none of our business.
And so far, it looks like these pro-terrorist "anti-war" activists have a pretty clear idea of where terrorism is OK: As long as you're killing black people, Jews, African Christians, Kurds, or Shi'ite Iraqis, then the U.S. should stay out of it.
It's only OK to interfere when it's Europeans or Americans who are being murdered by suicide bombers or genocidistas.
Yeah, that's the world we want to live in, isn't it.
If America's wealth and power are only to be used to block those who attack us directly, and cannot be used to take weaker people under our protective wing, then we don't deserve to have that wealth and power.
President Bush's speech at the Republican Convention was not a rhetorical masterpiece, and he went through the obligatory ritual of making promises that can only be fulfilled if Congress is suddenly filled with saintly souls who don't care if they get reelected.
But on the key issue, he laid it on the line: We are making progress in this war, but if we don't finish the job with firm resolve, then we will wind up worse off than we were before.
There is only one issue in this election: Will we continue this war or not.
Oh, Kerry says he'll continue it, but that's such an obvious lie, given his track record on defense, his promises during the primaries, and the statements of the "great Americans" who support him, that only the deliberately self-deceived could possibly believe him.
But Kerry's supporters are not actually deceived. They know perfectly well that he will not keep his promise to continue the war, just as they knew that Clinton would not keep his promise to govern as a fiscal conservative. They understand that the Democratic candidate has to lie about his intentions in order to win elections.
If they thought Kerry really meant to finish the war on terrorism, they would never have nominated him in the first place.
This doesn't mean that this election is a referendum on the war. It's a referendum on America's place in the world. Are we about making sermons and making money? Or are we about promoting liberty and security throughout the world?
The Left wants to follow the example of the French and Germans, saying tut-tut about bad people in the world, and then doing business with them; as a result, they can feel morally superior without actually risking anything to help people who groan under the heel of despots or cringe at the approach of terrorists.
President Bush, on the other hand, recognizes that terrorism is not compatible with business as usual. To tolerate terrorism at any level is to abandon public trust and peace. It is turning the highway over to the highwaymen. Eventually, commerce and freedom are the victims of terrorism, for neither trade nor liberty can thrive where there is no trust in public safety.
That's what we're voting on: The nature of the world we intend to live in, and to hand over to our children someday.
The Left, their mouths filled with fanatical hatred and outrageous lies against their political enemies, claim to favor "peace," but in fact advocate a policy that will lead to more chaos, tyranny, and poverty in the world.
President Bush advocates a difficult and dangerous road which, if successfully pursued to its conclusion, will result in a world of good order with an increase of liberty, not just for us, but for everyone.
Which, if you want to reduce it to cash, means more markets for our goods and more prosperity for us.
Or, if you would rather consider it on moral grounds, it means a world in which Americans can take pride in the sacrifices we made in order to make the world a better place for our neighbors as well as ourselves.
Two roads. Clear choice.
So even if you listened to President Bush's promises and said to yourself, as I did, "Right, like your own party will ever vote for that," it hardly matters.
We can't afford to walk away from the war on terrorism, or we will have proven Osama bin Laden absolutely right: If you kill enough Americans, they'll lose heart and go away, leaving you to seize power wherever you want.
It's a lesson Osama learned from the Vietnam War.
And, if you'll recall, John Kerry was one of the "peace" activists who showed Osama and the rest of the world exactly how to drive America out of a war. Let's not give him the power to do it again.
Copyright © 2004 by Orson Scott Card.
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