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Jewish World Review Oct. 18, 2004/ 3 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

Mark Steyn

Mark Steyn
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Bush is accused of being '‘stubborn’but it's Kerry who refuses to change |
I love that bit in every debate where John Kerry pledges to "hunt down and kill the terrorists.'' You can see him thinking, ''Must remember to say 'kill' very loudly and in a deep voice. And sound as if I'm not gonna be some pantywaist president who uses special forces or unmanned drones. I'm gonna kill — sorry, KILL — 'em myself.'' This is to dispel suspicions that in reality he'd hunt down the terrorists and serve them with a subpoena, possibly from one of the less robust judicial systems, such as The Hague or Massachusetts, and possibly for mail fraud, if the whole mass murder thing looks like it won't stick.

But it's exhausting having to remember when to spit out the tough talk, and so your concentration wanders, and you get relaxed, and then you say things like this to the New York Times:

''We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance. As a former law enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise.''

So the senator has now made what was hitherto just a cheap crack from his opponents into formal policy: The Democrats are the Sept. 10 party.

The ''I'll hunt down and kill America's enemies'' line was written for him and planted on his lips. The ''It's just a nuisance like prostitution'' line is his, and how he really thinks of the issue. What an odd analogy. Your average jihadist won't take kindly to having his martyrdom operation compared with the decadent infidels' sex industry, but the rest of us shouldn't be that happy about it either. Kerry is correct in the sense that even if you dispatched every constable in the land to crack down on prostitution there'd still be some pox-ridden whore somewhere touting for business. But, on the other hand, applying the Kerry prostitute approach to terrorists would seem to leave rather a lot of them in place. In Boston, where he served as a ''law enforcement person,'' the Yellow Pages are full of lavish display ads for not-all-that-euphemistic ''escort services.'' In other words, while you can make an argument for a ''managerial'' approach to terrorism, the analogy with prostitution sounds more like an undeclared surrender. This is aside from the basic defect of the argument: If some gal in your building is working as a prostitute, that's a nuisance — condoms in the elevator, johns in the lobby; if Islamists seize the schoolhouse and kill your kids, even if it only happens once every couple of years, ''nuisance'' doesn't quite cover it.

And, as Kerry says, we've been here before: in the '90s. Back then, every so often al-Qaida blew up some military housing, a ship, couple of embassies, etc., and the Bill Clinton team shrugged it off as a nuisance. No matter how flamboyantly Osama bin Laden sashayed down the sidewalk in his fishnets and mini-skirt he couldn't catch the administration's eye. In 2000, after 17 sailors were killed on the U.S.S. Cole, Defense Secretary Bill Cohen said the attack ''was not sufficiently provocative'' to warrant a response.

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So Osama tried again, on Sept. 11, 2001. And this time, like the escort ads in the Boston Yellow Pages, he was very provocative. And that's the point: Even if you take the Kerry Doctrine as seriously as the New York Times does, the nuance of nuisance depends largely on the terrorists. When all they could do was kill a few dozen here, a few hundred there, they were a ''nuisance'' to Clinton, Cohen, Kerry and Co.; when they came up with a plan that killed thousands, they became something more than a nuisance. But that change in status was determined largely by them. The Kerry Doctrine leaves it in their hands. And, in this kind of conflict, if you're not on the offensive, you're losing.

That's what John Kerry means when he says ''we have to get back to the place we were'' — back to the '90s. Mem'ries light the corners of his mind, misty watercolor mem'ries of the place we were, but the reason they're misty watercolors is that we didn't see clearly what was going on. It wasn't just the nuisance of the biennial embassy bombing, it was the terrorist annexation of flop states and the thousands upon thousands of young Muslim men graduating from al-Qaida's training camps and then heading off wherever the jihad calls. The British Muslims discovered among the Beslan schoolhouse killers, for example: If you downgrade the war to a ''nuisance,'' is that the sort of cross-border trend you're likely to spot?

''It's a different kind of war,'' says Kerry. ''You have to understand it's not the sands of Iwo Jima.'' That's true. But Kerry's mistake is in assuming that, because it's not Iwo Jima, it's somehow less of a war. Until recently we thought of ''asymmetrical warfare'' as something the natives did with machetes against the colonialist occupier. But in fact the roles have been reversed. These days, your average Western power is utterly incapable of projecting conventional military might to, say, Saudi Arabia or the Pakistani tribal lands. But a dozen young Saudi or Pakistani males with a little cash, some debit cards and the right phone numbers in their address books can project themselves to Frankfurt, Ottawa or Antwerp very easily and to devastating effect. That's the lesson of 9/11.

So, for all that Bush is accused of being ''stubborn,'' it's Kerry who refuses to change. He reckons that Americans are worn out by the wild ride of the Bush years and really do long to ''get back to where they were'' — back to Sept. 10, to the summer of shark attacks and missing congressional interns. All that going back to Sept. 10 means is that you'll have to learn the lessons of the morning after all over again: I do believe that, if clueless, complacent Kerry won, more Americans — and Britons and Canadians and Australians and Europeans — will die in terrorist ''nuisances.''

But he won't win. Because enough Americans understand that going back to where we were means a return to polite fictions and dangerous illusions. That world is broken and you can't put that world back together.

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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is North American Editor of The (London) Spectator and the author, most recently, of "The Face of the Tiger," a new book on the world post-Sept. 11. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.


© 2004, Mark Steyn