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Jewish World Review Sept. 26, 2001 / 9 Tishrei, 5762

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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Our mission, our moment -- CAN good ever come out of evil? To paraphrase FDR, the thing we had to fear was lack of fear itself. We felt so secure, so self-confident behind our oceans and our armaments that when terrorism hit Americans abroad our government promised retaliation, then drew back, reducing the cost of violence. Now the assault on our heartland has punctured the illusion that we are invulnerable-a message magnified by the TV pictures of the most famous skyline in the world, once and forever shattered. The image shows better than a thousand speeches just how dangerous terrorism has become.

This recognition is a good thing, for it may spare those of us in the civilized world even greater catastrophes. Today, the jetliner as bomb. Tomorrow, the viruses, the nuclear explosion? We were warned once before, with the first World Trade Center bombing, but we relapsed into business as usual. After that, in 1998, Osama bin Laden proclaimed it a religious duty "to kill the Americans and their allies, civilian and military, in any country in which it is possible to do it." The message could not have been clearer. Yet now, in a single morning, we have lost more people than we did at Pearl Harbor.

A hard thing. But, forewarned, what can we do? This is not a police state. Because we remain dedicated to our freedoms, to the profusion of international trade and travel, to the complexities of urban life, we will always be vulnerable to some degree. But we can change the odds. Doing so will mean some adjustment of the balance between liberty and order. Airline security has been glaringly permissive. Sure, bring your knife on our plane-it's only 4 inches! Sure, you can buy a ticket in Boston, never mind that your name is on an FBI watch list and you intend to fly the jet into a building full of innocents. How did you spell that name again? The computer should have flashed it immediately to the FBI.

But those are just some chinks in our armor. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants to transform Cold War military systems into agile, inventive groups. He should be supported. Take funds from obsolete bases and wasteful defense contracts. We must seek international controls over financial havens to preclude having oil revenues funneled to criminals like bin Laden, who may, it seems, have reaped millions of dollars by shorting airline stocks before September 11. And we applaud Bush's decision to coordinate our response by setting up a national homeland security agency on the lines recommended by a national commission.

After years of thinking of defense in terms of protecting territory from occupation, it is a hard thing to realize that what is critically threatened now is our way of life, a life of freedom and security enjoyed without fear. The extreme fundamentalists who carried out these attacks don't speak for most Muslims; they are trapped in a medieval mind-set, before the industrial revolution, never mind the information age. These fanatics resent our cornucopia. They resent our moral values. They see our entertainment as corrupting their children. Our ideal of equality for all? This they see as undermining their family structures and the dominance of the male. These hatreds have a geopolitical outlet, too. They want to drive America out of the Persian Gulf, and especially out of Saudi Arabia, so they can take over and control the region's oil and energy. There is no deal we can ever make with such people. None.

Rather, we must cultivate our alliances. Terrorism is a global disease that no single country can eradicate on its own. We need bases, overflight permission, and intelligence sharing if we are effectively to punish or even overthrow the regimes that give succor to the terrorists. The international response so far has been encouraging, but we have to make it clear, even to our friends, that we are in earnest in our will to attack the terrorist bases. No great nation can allow the killing of thousands of its people without response.

Terrorism is a fact of American life that can no longer be finessed. We will be the prime target. The next terrorist attack will be against us, not Europe. So we must be prepared to assert our leadership in this new war.

There will be no early satisfaction. If we rest, after some kind of carefully targeted strike, it will be another mistake. After bin Laden, we will have to deal with Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Algeria's armed Islamic groups, the Uzbekistan terror groups. These terrorist networks must constantly be put on the run. We must eliminate their sanctuaries, destroy their support systems, nail the commanders and field officers who train and brainwash. And then impose a regime of diplomatic and economic sanctions against all offending states.

Henceforth, as President Bush said in his remarkable speech to the Congress, "either you are with us or you are with the terrorists." If Americans rise to this new challenge, as the president said, we will have found "our mission and our moment."

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