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Jewish World Review Sept. 13, 2002 / 7 Tishrei, 5762

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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Why America must act | At heart, Americans are an isolationist people. We have always believed that we could have a wonderful life if only the world would let us alone. Historically, we have been blessed with a weak and friendly country to the north, a weak and mostly friendly country to the south, fish to the east, and fish to the west. But being isolated was not to be our destiny, not in the 20th century and surely not in this. Any idea that the end of the Cold War would enable us to retreat once again was shattered on a singular late-summer morning one year ago.

Such terrible moments have long played a role in our history. A year ago, our vulnerability was dramatically exposed because we observed the rules of civilized conduct that others did not, either in 1941 or 60 years later. Pearl Harbor was an appalling shock, but it came on the heels of the unspeakable atrocities in Europe. The September 11 attacks came at a moment of peace, searing into our minds with greater intensity the images of men and women jumping to their deaths from a hundred stories up. As my colleague Roger Simon wrote, "Ground zero refers not just to 16 acres in Manhattan but to the entire country."

September 11 was a day when one man made a powerful difference. George W. Bush saw keenly the nature of the evil that confronted us and responded with a moral clarity that reflects his powerful sense of right and wrong. That begat strategic clarity and diplomatic clarity. The result was a new American assertiveness, redefining our relationship with the world. From that point on, the war on terrorism has been the organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy and the standard on which we will measure our alliances. As the president put it, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." There was to be no neutral ground.

Behind the shadow. As the country that was attacked, we suffered in a way no other nation has suffered. In our defense, the Bush administration has indicated that it will not be constrained by the views of other countries when our national security is at issue. Much of this war will be fought in the shadows against enemies who will disappear, as Osama bin Laden and his gang of hate-filled fanatics have, only to re-emerge when it suits their purposes. How can America protect itself when this shadowy evil gains access to weapons Hitler and Stalin only dreamed of? Clearly, by striking at their patrons. In its defense, America will be forced to resort to pre-emptive action. As President Bush said: "If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long."

We have many new questions to address. A year ago, Americans experienced a surge in patriotism and a recognition of the dangers we face. Can these be sustained to inspire the kind of patience that will be required by this long and difficult war? Will we able to maintain public support for the increased spending on defense, intelligence, and homeland security that such a war will demand? Will the president's fall in popularity, due entirely to the economy, affect his freedom of movement? Will we have the moral clarity and strength this struggle will demand? Can we formulate a policy that takes sufficient account of the needs and desires of our allies while at the same time retaining our ability to pursue our national interests? How will we deal with allies who disagree over what constitutes a threat? For example, Europeans, with the exception of Britain's Tony Blair, believe that the threat posed by Saddam Hussein is more tolerable than the risk of removing him, a grave misjudgment, in my view, of the balance of risks. Beyond that, how do we deal with those so-called allies, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, who in suppressing their own religious fanatics forced many of them out of their own countries into globe-spanning terrorist networks, carrying their unbridled hatred to the American street?

Fortunately, we have the military and technical capacity to meet our security threats, but we cannot rely exclusively on defense. We have not had another wave of terrorist attacks since 9/11, but we have hardly ended the threat we face. We have not captured bin Laden. We have not destroyed all of his al Qaeda leadership. We have not, in short, rendered ourselves invulnerable to future threats.

There are many angry and disoriented people in the world-especially young people-married to an ethic of violence and a blinkered view of Islam that can only be called fanaticism. Their anger and hatred are directed against the United States at a time when newly available technology, especially weapons of mass destruction, makes it possible for them to cause catastrophic damage. And they are not chess players, these fanatics; they are gamblers willing to bet everything on their depraved messianic mission.

America has long sought to avoid foreign entanglements. But that won't work now. Today, and for many days to come, we must be like Gary Cooper's sheriff in High Noon, defending the townspeople, whether they like it or not.

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JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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© 2001, Mortimer Zuckerman