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Jewish World Review Jan. 15, 2002 / 2 Shevat, 5762

Robert W. Tracinski

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Fading shock and fading resolve -- SAM SPADE, Dashiell Hammett's famous fictional detective, tells a story about one of his early cases:

An accountant, he says, was walking down the street when a steel beam fell from a construction site and smashed into the ground, narrowly missing him. After his brush with death, the accountant re-examined his life, quit his job, left his family, and embarked on a series of adventures. Years later, Spade was hired to find him. The man, he discovered, had settled down in a new city and gone back to exactly the life he had left years before: the same kind of job, the same kind of house, the same kind of family. A beam had nearly fallen on the man's head, and he adjusted to a world where death might come at any moment. Then the beams stopped falling, and he adjusted back.

I can't think of a better analogy for the change just beginning to take place in America, four months after Sept. 11. Disaster struck, and everyone moved to a war footing, preparing for a drawn-out conflict. Now, with the destruction of the Taliban and the dispersing of al-Qaeda's terrorists -- and after four months with no major terror attacks -- many people are beginning to adjust back to their normal intellectual and political routines. They are relapsing into the complacency and conventional politics that prevailed before Sept. 11.

I don't fault the American people. I think the majority of them are prepared to sustain the fight against Islamic fundamentalism -- but they are waiting for leadership from our commentators, our experts and intellectuals, and above all, from our political leaders.

So far, it is not forthcoming. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has officially given up on the war, shifting his focus back to domestic policy and mid-term electioneering. The Democrats have no choice about this policy. Facing off against a party led by a popular president, they have to find an issue to campaign on in this year's congressional elections. One way to do this would be to take the lead in shaping America's war policy, having Daschle head up, for example, a coalition urging a war against Iraq.

There's only one problem: In foreign policy, the Democrats have nothing to offer but surrender. The Democratic rank and file are the great advocates of resolving international conflicts with endless diplomatic negotiation, legalistic police investigations, and, as a last resort, pinprick cruise-missile strikes -- all of the disastrous policies of the Clinton administration. These Democrats would be very content to end the war now and relapse to diplomacy as usual.

This leaves an enormous vacuum that should be filled by the Bush administration. Now -- while he still enjoys the momentum of America's military success in Afghanistan -- is the crucial time for the president to rally the American people for the next major stage in the war. The three main targets are clear: Iraq, Iran, and the Palestinian Authority.

Iraq is busy building biological and chemical weapons and working toward nuclear weapons. Such weapons, in the hands of Saddam Hussein's ruthless regime, pose an intolerable threat. Trying to re-establish international weapons inspections would be futile; that policy was a spectacular failure. The only solution is to eliminate Hussein and his regime.

Iran's role as a terror sponsor was revealed glaringly last week when Israel captured a ship smuggling Iranian weapons to the Palestinian Authority. We should do what young Iranians have been clamoring for: use all of our resources to undermine Iran's theocratic dictators and to support advocates of liberty and secularism.

That weapons shipment also reveals Yasser Arafat's intentions. If he has managed to impose a semi-cease-fire on his terrorist militias, it is only to give them a chance to re-arm before he renews his war on Israel. We should untie Israel's hands, kill the "peace process," and urge Israel to dismantle the Palestinian Authority.

So far, however, all we have heard from the Bush administration is plans for military raids on al-Qaeda outposts in Somalia. Sure, those strikes are necessary, but they are very far from America's top priorities. It's as if the FBI were to launch an anti-Mafia campaign -- then declare that they have cleaned up Topeka and Fargo is next. We're not striking at the real centers of terrorism.

Without a change in the policies offered by our leaders, the initial shock of Sept. 11 will fade -- along with America's resolve. The Bush administration needs to display the leadership required to carry us successfully through the next stage of this war.

Comment on JWR contributor Robert W. Tracinski's column by clicking here.

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