Rest in Peace… And Then What?

Written by Christopher Caldwell on . Posted in Miscellaneous, Posts.

in Peace

Since there
are no words to match the woe, let’s leave it at that, and pray for the
dead as best we can.

Then What?

Now we have
to do what we can to render this (retrospectively) the biggest mistake the attackers
ever made, and to reduce such incidents in the future. I almost wrote "to
make sure nothing like this ever happens again"–but obviously we can’t
do that. There will never be another event like the World Trade Center attack,
which is destined to be one of the pivotal events in history. But there almost
certainly will be more terrorism.

the WTC attack runs the risk of being pivotal in the way that the assassination
of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo was in 1914. We’re going to war,
as we must. Islamic fundamentalists of the suicide-bomber variety are deeply–even
Satanically–evil people, who will bring the civilized world to its knees
in our lifetime if they’re not stood up to. This is as good a place as
any to say that "fundamentalist" is certainly the wrong word for the
people we’re facing. Those Americans who know that observant Muslims don’t
drink must have been shocked at the news reports indicating that the last thing
two of the Boston hijackers did before they left Hollywood, FL, was to go out
to a seafood bar called Shuckums and get hog-whimpering drunk. These are not
the most religious members of Islam. They’re the most psychopathically
violent members of Islam. And there are lots of them.

This will
be a long war. It’s possible it will be a successful one, bringing us closer
to peoples of many cultures and calming down the single most troubled region
of the Earth. It’s possible it will do no more than keep a vicious culture
at bay. Unfortunately for American morale, the evidence of victory will be almost
completely negative: Nothing happens. No buildings blow up.

possibility is that the war will draw us into an impossible quagmire in any
one of a half-dozen countries. Furthermore, we don’t as yet know–"we"
being the public; maybe the White House is all squared away on this–which
allies we’ll use, and which global strategy. Another possibility is that
it will turn into World War III.

The first
step in the war is the ultimatum issuedlast weekend to Afghanistan, whose
ruling Taliban have been harboring the terrorist impresario Osama bin Laden.
There’s a good case that he is responsible for these attacks, and an airtight
case that either he or one of his associates is. So we’ve given them an
option: either (a) hand over bin Laden or (b) face massive bombardment. The
key word here is "massive."

So far,
so good. This is not going to be a bloodless war, but the ultimatum certainly
opens the way to the most bloodless resolution possible of Stage 1, i.e., bin
Laden in custody and very few additional dead. According to the Russian press,
more typical of the way the world works in Central Asia would be for the Afghanis
to kill bin Laden themselves, present his body and claim–the better to
save face in the Islamic world–that his murder was the work of Western
intelligence services. Nobody in Russia expects that to happen. This is, after
all, a regime that has been content to murder all the Shiites it can lay its
hands on and subject half its countrymen to near-famine. (And perhaps real famine,
now that the Western aid agencies that provide a third of Afghanistan’s
food are leaving.)

bin Laden seems the bare minimum of what it is within U.S. rights to do. And
getting bin Laden first has implications for Stage 2 that should hearten all
borderline pacifists. If the United States were serious about maximizing destruction,
it would save bin Laden for last, leaving him around as this operation’s
Trotsky, an all-purpose villain to justify any excesses. His delivery will satisfy
many that justice has been done, and deprive the 85-to-95 percent pro-war American
consensus of the most pacifist-leaning 20 percent.

The drawback,
however, is that the ultimatum opens up the way to spectacular destruction and
killing in the short term and to weird and unreliable diplomacy from the word
go. It is absolutely necessary that the United States not shoot its mouth off,
and that it follow through on its threats at every stage of the game–otherwise
it will be reduced to Vietnam-style displays of might and "will" that
serve little military purpose. Here’s where a seeming advantage the terrorists
have over us–their unpredictability versus our predictability–can
turn into an asset for us. Having promised "massive" violence if bin
Laden is not arrested, we must deliver it. Massive violence, historic violence,
Dresden-level violence, violence that will distinguish itself from the Clinton
administration’s "strikes at strategic sites" in Iraq, violence
that makes clear, for instance, that, absent cooperation, there will be precious
few leaders of the Taliban still living two weeks from now, violence that makes
people from Ramallah to Baghdad sit up and say "Holy shit"–or
their equivalent thereof. Anything less will only make stages 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
and 7, when they inevitably come, more violent.

These are
the heavy, heavy, either-or decisions in which one hates both of the two choices:
either let evil take over the world or take extreme measures to stop it. What
an overload of meaning, particularly in a culture like this. One of the
morally appealing sides to the ultimatum is that, while the Taliban obviously
promoted/sought/countenanced this attack on the United States, it is within
their power to spare all of their own people. The point of using the
Pakistanis to deliver the message is to ensure that the Taliban understand the
United States is in earnest. If we conduct the war the right way, we will no
longer need to have people vouch for our earnestness.

Our need
for Pakistani help is, of course, a major problem. Pakistan, ruled by recent
coup victor Pervez Musharraf (I’ll tell you, the next few years are going
to be just hell on my spellcheck) and deeply divided between fire-breathing
fundamentalists and Westernizing, secularizing Tariq Ali types, has agreed in
public to assist the U.S. in "smoking out" bin Laden. The Times
of India
claimed over the weekend that the first U.S. troops had already
arrived there.

War War

those planes hit the Trade Towers evoked the (for me) new thought that human
nature is a pretty awful match for the technology it has created. Throughout
the week, there’s been a lot of talk about "what we’ve lost."
We’ve lost people and a sense of security, and, if Monday’s stock
market opening is any indication, we seem set to lose (more of) our 1990s prosperity.
But what’s most discomfiting is the way recent events seem to make nonsense
of the things we’ve worried about for the last 10 years or more. Have we
really had so much time on our hands that for two years we brought the government’s
business to a halt to reassess the time-honored institution of the secretarial
blowjob? Don’t we wish we’d freed up a bit more of the president’s
time to look into things like…oh, I don’t know…say, international

Not that
President Clinton would likely have made much use of it. Look at his preposterous
adventure in Kosovo. It would be out of place to carp too much on the past,
but let’s be clear about what that frivolous war was about. Milosevic faced
an Islamic-terrorist uprising in Serbia’s southern possessions–backed
by some of the same international sponsors we’re now at war with–complete
with murders of children, kidnappings and bombings of police stations and public
buildings. He responded by beefing up Serbia’s armed presence there. And
when one of his units massacred 43 people (many of them guerrillas, it must
be added), we let loose the dogs of war–or at least let loose Gen. Wesley
Clark, to pose and preen like some sort of armed-to-the-teeth Albert Schweitzer.

It has hurt
us gravely. Intellectually, it deprived us of the goodwill of the European center-right,
who would be inclined to support us in a war against murderous Muslims. Politically,
along with the West Bank "peace process," it led that part of the
Muslim world that Understands Nothing But Force (and that’s exactly the
part of the Muslim world that hijacked our planes) to think we were scared of
Islam. And logistically, it deprived us of a great deal of Serbian terrorist
expertise and most of our cruise missiles. It sure would be nice to have them
back now, but we had to fire them at the bourgeoisie of Belgrade. We are short
on rockets to fire at the people who hate us because we fired them all at people
who, until the moment we did, loved us.

Now that
we’re about to do much the same thing as Milosevic, except on a global
scale, can we settle the point of the deep wrongness of the Kosovo operation,
the embarrassing self-indulgence of the crocodile tears we shed over "human
rights" there? Countries at war don’t say they’re sorry (it’s
almost quaint to remember Clinton traveling around Africa, apologizing to a
different country every day), but I hope that, not too many years down the line,
we’ll give Serbia the apology it is owed. The Kosovo campaign was to military
affairs what the Lewinsky scandal was to politics.

our prior life looks so retrospectively out of joint that all last week politicians
and commentators had to explain to us what the word "war" meant. When
President Bush explained to the nation that it was at war, his aides felt constrained
to add that he meant "a war war," and not just something like
the "war on drugs."

So much
has happened in the past week that I felt the need to go back and look over
the e-mails I wrote on the night of Monday the 10th, 12 hours before the entire
world turned on its tv sets. "Horrible, horrible trial with this overdue
piece I’m writing," I e-mailed a friend. "May even have to skip
an opera for which we have tickets Wednesday night." It seems like a million
years ago, and I don’t recognize myself in that person for whom a blown
deadline and a missed opera qualified as a "horrible, horrible trial."
It’s no consolation at all to consider that, that same Monday night, similar
things were probably being tapped out by some of the 5000 who would die in the
towers the next morning.