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Jewish World Review March 14, 2002 / Rosh Chodesh Nisan, 5762

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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A man on a mission | Nothing less than the most pristine moral clarity will serve to honor the American soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan. But that is precisely the quality our commander in chief has brought to the global war on terrorism. We salute that vision even as we grieve for those who have given their lives, as more may be fated to do. Our brave dead would be betrayed by anything less. So would our civilization.

We are fortunate to have in George W. Bush a president who recognizes the forces of darkness for what they are. For him, the war on terrorism is an intrinsically moral cause. As he put it, "Evil is real, and it must be opposed." This is the only tolerable response in a world where the enemy is not merely unrestrained by civilized values but glories in their debasement.

Another kind of American leader might have yielded to the temptation to temporize in the face of such an enemy. He might have settled for the acclaim of a quick success in Afghanistan, a war a chorus of quaking Jeremiahs called unwinnable. It would have been easy to pretend that the job had been done with the installation of the new interim government in Kabul, just as it was easy to claim victory when Kuwait was liberated a decade ago.

But from the very beginning President Bush has denied himself a cheap victory by defining America's war aims much more broadly. The first priority has been to get the murderers of 9/11, but the president has held fast to two critical doctrines in their pursuit. First, there must be no distinction between the terrorists who commit atrocities and those who harbor them. Second, the world's most dangerous regimes will not be permitted the option of menacing us with weapons of mass destruction. Bush has hammered home his message by naming names: North Korea, Iran, Iraq. All three not only support terrorism but also threaten world peace. The best defense, Bush knows, is a good offense. In other words, we must get them before they get us.

Resolve. Americans have responded to this leadership dramatically. If Bush was barely elected back in November 2000, he has been massively re-elected by the American public since 9/11. He surprised the world with his swift military response and has emerged from the first phase of the war more convinced than ever that America alone has the power to complete the task-with a coalition if possible but alone if need be. "We can't stop short," Bush warned. "If we stop now . . . our sense of security would be false and temporary."

We are, it is clear, in a war of historic proportions. Many do not appreciate the newfound resolve of President Bush and his team, much less that they mean what they say in viewing this war as a defining moment in our history. The British are resolute, but the Europeans as a whole are nervous. Their preference is to confront problems through "constructive engagement," to jaw-jaw as a way of dealing with disputes, especially through international institutions. They fear a president who, in defense of American life and liberty, might act pre-emptively in anticipation of threats. They know, too, that military might permits America to make decisions in matters of war and peace that could change their lives, though they have little control over those decisions.

The media will, of course, attack this or that part of the Bush administration's action, without fully embedding it in a context in which all choices are between bad and worse and all options fraught with risk. The danger here is that the media can influence policy without having to bear responsibility for its results. But this administration understands only too well that America is the principal target of terrorist networks and regimes that, if married to weapons of mass destruction, could make 9/11 a pale shadow of future carnage. The next attack could bring casualties in the hundreds of thousands. Bush has rightly concluded that such risks are too great to be put to a vote or a veto by others.

The first target in the war's next phase, clearly, will be Iraq. The West's lackluster efforts at nonproliferation have done little more than delay the inevitable-a Baghdad with nuclear weapons. So Bush and his team are determined to rid the world of Saddam Hussein. This, after all, is a man who uses poison gas on his own people, invades his neighbors, and dabbles with weapons of mass destruction. He is as close to a psychopath as we have ruling any country in the world today. The late Hafez Assad of Syria, no slouch of a dictator himself, once compared the tyrant of Baghdad to a chain smoker: "He cannot help lighting another one before he has finished the first. Only with Saddam, it is wars, not cigarettes."

The United States is prepared to take the risks, and is right to do so, in forcing a change in Iraq. Delay will only increase the risks. Not even the attempts of Palestinians to escalate the violence in the Middle East should cloud or confuse this message from Vice President Dick Cheney, as he tours the region this week. "I will not wait on events," Bush stated recently, "while dangers gather."


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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10/05/99: India at center stage
09/21/99: Along with good cops, we need a better probation system
09/08/99: Though plundered and confused, Russia can solve its problems
08/31/99: The military should spend more on forces and less on facilities
08/05/99: Squandering the surplus
07/06/99: More than ever, America's unique promise is a reality
06/24/99: The time has come to hit the brakes on affirmative action
06/15/99: America should take pride in honoring its responsibilities
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04/30/99: On Kosovo, Russia talked loudly and carried a small stick
04/21/99: No time to go wobbly
04/13/99: The Evil of two lessers

© 2001, Mortimer Zuckerman