First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Killing the Common People
When the bombs went off in London, you could practically feel the relief on the part of those who hate the war in Iraq. Of course they regretted the deaths of so many innocents, and of course they were outraged at those who committed the act.
But they also felt vindicated, and some of them said so. They gloated a bit that Rumsfeld had recently said that Al Qaeda was on the ropes, so to speak. Here was proof positive, they believed, that our war in Iraq, far from limiting terrorism, had created new recruits and spread it farther.
It is proof of no such thing; but at the same time, Rumsfeld's comment was unjustified. His wishful thinking is no better than anyone else's.
As long as Al Qaeda remains unpenetrated by spies capable of learning their current plans and overhearing their current conversations, we have no idea what condition they are in. We can only guess.
Still, the ability to bring off four explosions in London within an hour or so hardly means that Al Qaeda (or any of its disciples) is thriving.
It's So Easy to Kill People
Our leaders and all experts have agreed all along that there is no way to prevent any terrorist acts from happening, if someone wants to commit them.
We can make it more difficult for them. We can intercept some, or many, or perhaps even most potential acts of terror through vigilance of many kinds.
But as long as we have enemies who are willing -- even eager -- to die in the act, so they don't require a getaway plan, it is impossible to guarantee that someone, somewhere, won't set off a bomb in a crowd.
How many malls, how many train stations and subway stops, how many buses would we have to watch? As the DC sniper showed us, if you don't care whom you kill, you can always kill somebody.
Airplanes were the easiest things to protect -- we have a limited number of airports, just a few funnels through which all passengers must pass. Making them secure is do-able.
But add all the bus and train and subway stations, all the malls and department stores, all the amusement parks and hotels and motels and convention centers in America and Britain and Australia, and you would have to have a significant percentage of your population involved in active law enforcement.
We simply couldn't pay for that many security officers; nor could we find that many people who could do the job well, and would want to do it.
So the slaughter in London was not a sign of Al Qaeda's cleverness, or of any government's laxity in protecting us. Nor was it caused by the war in Iraq -- they were murdering people this way before we lifted a finger against them.
Maybe Rumsfeld Is Right
Could this attack be a sign of their desperation?
Victoria Station is hardly the World Trade Center. It has no symbolic value. Nor was it clever that they "brought it off" while the G-8 summit was going on. The attackers always get to pick the day of their attack.
This was nothing but mass murder -- the killing of working-class people using public transportation. They targeted the poor and the middle class, people who harm no one and have no influence on great events.
Do you think that people, even in the Middle East, won't notice that in Iraq and Afghanistan, American and British soldiers try very hard not to kill innocent civilians, while the terrorists aim to kill them.
You can always murder ordinary people if you want to. All it proves is that you're a murderer. It moves Osama bin Laden into the class of men like Ted Bundy -- his body count is rising, but it means nothing except that he loves to kill and hasn't been caught yet.
And in Iraq, too, the insurgents have turned to targeting the common citizens of Iraq -- setting off bombs in public places, or murdering barbers for the "crime" of giving Muslims western-style shaves and haircuts.
Do you think they did this because they've run out of American soldiers and contractors to kill?
Or because they're desperate and realize they're losing, and are lashing out at the only targets they know they can hit -- unarmed civilians?
Are we winning the war on terror?
Of course we are. Not just by finding and killing the insurgents in their hiding places, but also through keeping our commitment to democracy. Seeing that we really meant what we said, that we aren't setting up a colonial government, the people are beginning to trust us, even as they come to hate the insurgents more and more.
Knowing that it is the insurgents trying to murder them, and the Americans and British trying to protect their fledgling democracy, they report on people who may be supporting the terrorists.
Safe havens for terrorists inside Iraq are shrinking and disappearing because the common people have learned that the insurgents are their enemy.
That's what failure looks like. It's all about hearts and minds.
However, a rationally-defined victory may still be three military campaigns away.
I would not have picked Iraq as the military target after Afghanistan, but I understand the reasons why it was chosen and I believe it's a good thing that Saddam is out of power and democracy is on the rise.
The two nations that have been most committed, all along, to harboring, funding, and training terrorists are Syria and Iran.
Syria should have been the target of the second campaign of the war, rather than Iraq. The people of Syria hate and fear their government; Syria is the primary conduit of weapons and explosives into Israel and Palestine; and Syria provides safe haven for terrorists who kill Israelis and Americans.
There is no doubt whatsoever of Syria's continuing links to terrorists -- they've even held international conferences of terrorist groups! -- and now that we have liberated Iraq, their territory is a haven and supply source for the insurgents.
After our invasion of Afghanistan, Syria knew they were the logical next target and took immediate steps to pretend to cooperate. Under pressure, they've closed the Damascus offices of some terrorist organizations; under even more pressure, they are withdrawing from Lebanon, allowing the "Switzerland of the Middle East" to try to restore democracy after decades of occupation by foreign invaders.
But it's a smokescreen. They do what it takes to keep the U.S. from uniting other nations into a coalition against them.
It won't help, unless they actually stop supporting terrorists. They pretend that they can't control what insurgents do in the vast empty desert lands near the Iraqi border, but we all know that if those insurgents were targeting Syria itself, their military would know how to get rid of them.
Besides, the insurgents aren't being supplied from empty desert -- they're being supplied from the populated areas of Syria that are completely under government control.
Syria's military is not as demoralized as Iraq's army was prior to our attack, but Syria is a land where our military's strengths will be fully usable. The people are not likely to rebel against their Nazi-style totalitarian government, but they are also not likely to lift a finger to support it.
Syria thinks that if they keep us busy fighting insurgents, we will have no power to attack them. But they're wrong.
Once the Syrian government has fallen, both the insurgency in Iraq and the activity of terrorists operating out of Palestine will be sharply curtailed. It will be far easier for President Bush's "Roadmap" to work in settling the war between Palestine and Israel. It will be far easier for the Iraqi government to bring the Sunni triangle into the civilized nation they are trying to build.
Iran poses a problem far more complicated than Syria. The terrain is not as well-adapted to the kind of campaign we waged in Iraq; it would be far more like the Afghanistan campaign, but without large contingents of private armies to enlist as allies.
Ideally, there will never be an invasion of Iran. Once Syria has fallen, America's will and ability to take the war into the nations that harbor our enemies will not be in doubt.
The Iranian government will have to contemplate several key facts.
First, significant numbers of their own people are sick of their theocratic government and long for a change.
Second, many of their people remember the Americans as the bringers of the benefits of western culture.
Third, even if they develop a nuclear weapon, if they ever use it openly, they will be obliterated.
Fourth, if they turn a nuke over to a terrorist group like Al Qaeda, they will have no control over when and where it is used. It could even be used against them -- after all, Al Qaeda is a Sunni group, and the hatred between Shi'a and Sunni has led to bloody horror for many centuries.
Fifth, and perhaps most important, the widespread false belief that George W. Bush is a war-loving madman actually works to our advantage. If they really believe that he is itching for a chance to go after them, they may well take the steps that are necessary to avoid invasion.
Iran has enough control over its own territory (unlike the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan) to expel terrorists and keep them out.
That is why the Bush administration is biding its time and working with international groups to negotiate with Iran. We are offering them a face-saving way to save themselves from war.
If they don't avail themselves of these opportunities, however, a war might not be as difficult for us as they suppose.
While the bulk of Iran's territory is mountainous and difficult for campaigning, that portion of their territory is also militarily unimportant. Iran is governed from an urbanized center which is highly vulnerable to our weaponry and battlefield tactics.
If the Iranian government can't count on the support of its own people (and they know, or fear, that they can't), then it would not require a long campaign to drive the theocrats out of the population centers and into the hills.
Once they're in the hills, our primary objective in the overall war on terror will have been achieved. The current government will no longer be able to shelter and sponsor terrorists, they will have become wild-country insurgents themselves, with no more resources than Al Qaeda or Hamas or Hizbollah would have without the support of governments.
For Iran and Syria have value to the terrorists precisely because they exploit the tools of legitimate government -- including sovereign borders, diplomatic immunity, the power of taxation, nationwide police power, international recognition.
If those things are lost, then these governments have nothing more to offer terrorists.
There would be no safe haven then.
So, for the moment, Iran and Syria sponsor the insurgency in Iraq and shelter and aid Al Qaeda despite their distrust of Sunnis. They do this to try to distract and discourage the west from taking action, and because they hope that God will step in and help them.
But in their moments of rationality, they know that they could lose everything if America actually moves against them. Once Syria falls, we have a decent chance of ending Iran's support of terrorism without having to fire a shot.
Inside Osama's Mind
So they had the video camera all set up to tape one of Osama's messages to the outside world. They hadn't begun yet, and there were things to do, so nobody realized that the camera had not been switched off after testing.
Osama was alone in the room with Ayman al-Zawahri. They weren't actually in front of the camera, but their conversation was picked up on the mike. A lot of it was unintelligible, and a lot of it was about nothing interesting. But there was this brief passage:
Z: They [the Iranians] think they control what we're doing.
O: Be patient. God opens the way for us.
Z: Arrogant Shi'ites.
O: One day the true servants of God will drive the dogs out of the house. But right now, we need them to bark for us. Watchdogs.
And a second brief passage:
Z: The quality of men we have in [Western countries] is not good. They are stupid and careless.
O: God works his will through foolish men.
Z: They're good for nothing but killing.
O: And dying. That is enough for them to fulfil God's purpose.
Z: What if the next round of sacrifices unites the west against us?
O: They will never unite. The enemies of God have no unity. But we will have unity. All of Islam united in holiness and sacrifice. Then it won't matter what the west does.
Z: Or how many people we kill now.
O: We're not killing people, my friend. They are nothing.
The film editor discovered this on the tape long after the fact. We know what he thought of it, because it was found on a computer hard disk that had been completely zeroed out before it was discarded -- except that this file was put back on the hard drive afterward.
The film editor meant it to be discovered. He wanted Muslims and westerners to have proof of the kind of men they're dealing with.
Except, of course, that none of this happened. And even if it had, how could I possibly have gotten hold of it? I have no security clearance. I don't know anybody who could possibly have slipped such a transcript to me. And I'm a fiction writer. I must have made it all up.
All I know is the dead bodies, the crippled and maimed, the wreckage and horror and grief in London. And somewhere in the world, there were people who call themselves humans, but they rejoiced at those murders and plotted the next round of mass killings.
The spirit of Adolf Hitler lives on. And there are many who consider him their hero.
In a world that includes such men as these, there is no peace until their power to murder is taken from them. Those who think we can end this war by any action other than winning it have not studied history well enough.
But that's all right. Osama and his ilk will send them all through a bloody school until the lesson is learned.
Copyright © 2005 by Orson Scott Card.
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