Right War for the Right Reasons
September 9, 2004
odor of death
Offends the September night
-W.H. Auden, "September 1, 1939"
And so it does, once again. Three years ago, the terrorists attacked symbols
of U.S. strength. Last week, they struck at the children of School No.
1 in Beslan. In between, the forces of barbarism, holding high the banner
of jihad, have murdered innocents from Bali to Istanbul, from Jerusalem
to Madrid, Falluja and beyond. Will the forces of civilization be found
wanting in the struggle against terror?
Perhaps. They were, after all, often found wanting in the last century.
The 20th century spawned the twin evils of totalitarianism and genocide,
and the civilized world was slow to respond. We confronted Hitler too
late, and Stalin not at all. After 1945, we said "ever again."
But then we watched mass murder happen again, in Cambodia, in Rwanda,
and now, in the 21st century, in Darfur.
Now we face a new challenge: jihadist terror. Leaders around the world
claim to be united in vowing to deny the terrorists victories. And yet.
In the immediate wake of the Beslan slaughter, one might have expected
editorials in top U.S. papers simply to express grief, anger, and solidarity,
and a commitment to winning the war on terror. Instead, they tended briefly
to denounce the terrorists and then focus on the incompetence of the Russian
security forces, and on rehashing the dismal history of Russian-Chechen
The New York Times, for example, concluded its editorial by urging a "bold
Russian reach for compromise" with, needless to say, "diplomatic
nuance." It took Ralph Peters, a military analyst writing in the
New York Post, to state the simple and unfashionable truth: "he attack
in Beslan wasn't about Russia's brutal incompetence in Chechnya--as counter-productive
as Moscow's heavy-handedness may have been. It was about religious bigotry
so profound that the believer can hold a gun to a child's head, pull the
trigger and term the act 'divine justice'."
But this is too simple for American liberals, or for the government of
France. Two French journalists were kidnapped in Iraq over a week ago
by the Islamic Army of Iraq. The French foreign minister hurried to the
Middle East to ask that French citizens in effect be treated differently
from citizens of countries in the U.S.-led coalition. Le Figaro commented
that "in the light of its position on the Iraq war, France could
have hoped to be sheltered" from such attacks. In efforts to find
that shelter, the French diplomatic effort has been, in its way, "impressive,"
Guillaume Parmentier, a French political analyst, told the Washington
Post before hastily adding that "it is scandalous to suggest that
the French attitude is based on appeasement of terrorists."
Scandalous--and true. Doesn't France's rhetoric imply that the Italian
journalist, Enzo Baldoni, previously executed by the same terrorist group,
was somehow less deserving of not being killed in cold blood? And what
of civilians from Spain, South Korea, Nepal, and other countries, murdered
in Iraq by terrorists? Do they somehow not really count, coming as they
do from nations that helped liberate Iraq? And what of the thousands of
Iraqi civilians slaughtered by terrorists? One doesn't hear much French
concern about their suffering.
Meanwhile, it took the bloodbath in Beslan to crack the deafening silence
in the Arab world. Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, former editor of the London
daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, wrote a column in that newspaper headlined, "The
Painful Truth is that All of the Terrorists are Muslims." Acknowledging
this truth is the beginning of the Arab world's setting itself free--but
only the beginning. It is true that the U.S. could do a better job of
persuading more Arabs, Muslims, and Europeans to join in the war on terror.
It is true that the U.S. could do a better job of supporting those who
have. But this war cannot wait on better diplomacy. The terrorists do
On Saturday, we will commemorate the third anniversary of the September
11 terrorist attacks on America. It is natural that we Americans will
think first of our countrymen who died that day, and of those who have
died since then prosecuting the war on terror. But we will also pause
to think of victims of terror elsewhere, and of those who fight with us
in common cause. Four decades ago, in the struggle against totalitarian
dictatorship, we were all Berliners. In the war against jihadist terror,
we are all Beslaners now.
William Kristol is editor of the Weekly Standard and chairman of the
Project for the New American Century.