Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
July 22, 2003
WAR: Connecting the Dots
Kevin Drum was at it again on Saturday, knocking Lileks for writing, about Tony Blair, that "[w]e can argue about the shape and direction of Western Civ after we’ve made sure that such a thing will endure." Drum's response:
I take terrorism seriously, and I also take seriously the threat of terrorists and unstable states getting hold of weapons of mass destruction. But what can you say about this kind of talk? Do Lileks and the rest of the prowar crowd seriously think that Osama and his ilk have made it doubtful whether western civilization will endure?
To me that just sounds crazy, and I guess maybe that's at the core of the schism in America today. Lileks and his compatriots think the terrorists have the power to bring western civilization to its knees, whereas I think of them as simply a threat that we will rather quickly and efficiently dispatch. They may be scary, but in terms of actual power they are the merest flea on the back of the United States and the rest of the western democracies.
I wonder what it is that causes such vast gulfs in instinctive reaction between people who probably more or less agree on the actual nature of the threat itself?
Naturally, Drum's comment boards lit up with various personal attacks on Lileks specifically and conservatives in general. To some extent, of course, Lileks is exaggerating: Western Civilization as a whole is a very good bet to squash its enemies. Me, I'm plenty enough worried about whether my corner of that civilization (New York City) will survive, and from reading Lileks I know that's his sort of worry as well: not the total destruction of our way of life but a catastrophic attack, or series of attacks, that blow big holes in the nation's fabric and change forever the way we live.
But the really big gulf right now -- and one that's getting wider -- is between those of us, mostly on the Right, who see the states and organizations that declare themselves to be the enemies of our civilization and start with the assumption that they are all part of the same basic problem (particularly when their rhetoric partakes of the same cocktail of pan-Arabism, pan-Islamism, anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, and old Soviet rhetorical tropes) until proven otherwise, and those (almost exclusively on the Left) who insist on a very high burden of proof before they will see, say, the mullahs in Iran or the regime of Saddam Hussein as being part of the same threat as Al Qaeda.
In the end, that's what this whole Niger thing is about. In the war on terror, it's not hard to know who our enemies are: most of them are quite plain in meaning us ill. The hawks in this war have taken a clear position: Never Again will we underestimate our enemies as we did before September 11, and if the cost of that is that we sometimes act too soon, well, that's the price we pay for the world we live in; if that attitude drives up the cost of being an enemy of the United States, so be it. The goal, after all, is not just to intercede to stop attacks on us the day before they happen, but to stop threats in the bud, before they go too far. While we could use to have better intelligence, we must accept that we will always have to make some decisions about those enemies based on a patchwork of glimpses into their shadowy world.
To the pro-war camp, Saddam's regime was bad and dangerous in many ways, and in that light, the fact that some intelligence reports indicated that he was looking to buy uranium in one of several African states was not a straight up-or-down item of "evidence" but yet another cause for potential concern. The fact that this particular rumor couldn't be verified (it still hasn't been disproved, so much as its bases have been called into question) was no reason to bury our heads in the sand and ignore it; indeed, the very fact that it was possible that Saddam could do such a thing without us being able to conclusively prove it was done is alarming in itself.
We're not talking about moving against innocent lambs here; if we act on imperfect intelligence, our targets will still be those who hate us and yearn for ways to destroy us. They'd kill me if they could, and you too, and they'll likely kill more of us before this is all done. The magnitude of the potential threat is just too great to sit around finding excuses to discredit this or that dot, and ignore the looming outline.