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Jewish World Review Oct. 5, 2001/ 18 Tishrei, 5762

Norah Vincent

Norah Vincent
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The war on terrorism resembles war on drugs?


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- Both in intent and outcome, the war on terrorism upon which the United States is so gallantly poised to embark has a great deal in common with the war on drugs.

In intent, because the search-and-destroy tactics we are planning to use against terrorism look and sound a lot like the tactics we used against drugs.

In outcome, because our jingoistic confidence in our ability to win a war on terrorism using such tactics is as laughable and misguided as our once similarly robust confidence in our ability to win the war on drugs. We can't, and we won't. Ever since the war on drugs was declared, the U.S. has been focusing the bulk of its efforts on the supply side: routinely dusting coca crops with herbicide and firebombing cocaine production outposts in Colombia, impounding smuggled shipments at the border, overcrowding our prisons by giving hefty sentences to petty drug offenders.

None of this has done the job because, as one former kingpin said on the PBS program "Frontline," you can intercept 90% of a coke cartel's product and they'll still make a profit.

As the abysmal failure of this typically Reaganite supply-side drug war has become apparent, its opponents have been making a case for fighting a demand-side war instead.

Their rationale: As long as there is a demand, the suppliers will continue to find sneaky and creative ways to satisfy it, so focus on remedying the human need for drugs through education and treatment.

The same is true for terrorism. We've made a great show in these past weeks of making it sound as if this war on terrorism can and will be won. Never mind that Britain and Israel, just for starters, have been losing the war on terrorism for decades.

We figure it'll be different for Uncle Sam. But it won't.

Of course, it may take a decade or three for us to realize the idiocy of our current bravado. We figure we'll just kill off all the terrorists and punish the countries that fund them, and there will be no more terrorism. Poof. All better. Skies safe. Pizzerias impregnable. Towers redoubtable.

This isn't going to happen.

It will be impossible to keep every Islamic militant from entering the country or operating within it, since so many of them already are here.

It will be impossible to guard our population against the kinds of random car bombings that the Israelis, even with their much-declaimed assassination tactics, have been unable to prevent.

It will be every bit as impossible as it has been to prevent every ounce of cocaine from crossing our borders.

Sure, we'll catch some of them. We'll thwart some attacks. But not all.

This is not to say that we should give up on supply-side anti-terrorism.

It does mean, however, that we should not entertain the false hope that it will bring us lasting peace.

In addition, we should be making diplomatic and missionary efforts to bring this perversion of Islam back to true Islam.

We need to be waging a war of anti-terrorist propaganda here and abroad, in countries where children are being inculcated in the ways of religiously justified hate.

In the end, there may be no satisfactory answer. Terrorism may be something with which we, like much of the rest of the world, will have to learn to live.


JWR contributor Norah Vincent is a New York writer and co-author of The Instant Intellectual: The Quick & Easy Guide to Sounding Smart & Cultured. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2001, Norah Vincent