A classic piece of appeasement appeared today under the guise of restraint and reason. My former colleague and friend Robert Wright argues in Slate against unilateral American action against the forces and states that have just declared war upon the United States. “[K]illing Islamic fundamentalist terrorists (which the perpetrators almost certainly were) can be not just ineffective, but counterproductive.” This is the familiar argument of those who believe that these acts of fanaticism cannot be avenged without spawning more fanaticism. Kill one suicide bomber and you create four more. Wright’s argument is that our new enemies are “simply not susceptible to normal deterrence.” If Wright means by this that the indoctrinated handful of young fanatics who will always remain a threat cannot be deterred, he may be right. That is why these people must be hunted down and assassinated, and why we must kill any and all who surround or abet them. But the states and regimes that survive by fostering this evil surely can be deterred – and not by polite threats or warnings. In fact, the absence of a serious deadly response will only convince them to continue to foster the evil in their midst, and it will only get worse. Wright entertains the fallacy that because we can never eliminate all threats, we cannot eliminate any. His argument is simply defeatism. In 1940, many similarly well-intentioned urged Chamberlain to sue for peace, as whole swathes of the British establishment wanted, and as narrow British self-interest might even have required. Look what the consequences of war were back in 1940: the destruction of almost every major city in Britain. But Churchill was right to fight – even though it meant the deaths of hundreds of thousands of British soldiers and civilians. And he was right to say that there would be no surrender even if the entire city of London were reduced to rubble. A shocking statement that, isn’t it? But it reflects an iron will that we must now summon for ourselves.
THIS ISN’T TERRORISM, IT’S WAR: Besides, this enemy is not simply a band of thugs, but several regimes that aid and abet these people and have celebrated this atrocity. These regimes have declared war on the United States, and it is time we repay the favor. The precedent is not the Sudan under Clinton or even Libya under Reagan. Under Clinton, these regimes were encouraged. Under Reagan, they were scared, but, under Reagan, they had not yet launched this kind of war. Now they have – even daring to target one of the citadels of our democracy: the White House. This is the most grievous declaration of war against America in history. What Wright hasn’t absorbed, I think, is that we are no longer fighting terrorism. We are at war. And we are not at war with any old regime or even a handful of terrorists. We are at war with an evil that will only grow unless it is opposed with all the might at our command. We must wage that war with a ferocity that doesn’t merely scare these monsters but terrifies them. Merely murdering bin Laden is a laughable response. If this new war can be waged with partners – specifically Russia, NATO, China – so much the better. But if not, the United States must act alone – and as soon as we can be assured of complete success. There are times when it is not inappropriate or even immoral to use overwhelming power merely to terrify and avenge. Read your Machiavelli. We must shock them more than they have shocked us. We must do so with a force not yet seen in human history. Then we can begin to build a future of greater deterrence. I repeat: we are not responding to terrorism any more. We are at war. And war requires no restraint, simply massive and unanswerable force until the enemy is not simply defeated but unconditionally destroyed. To hesitate for fear of reprisal is to have capitulated before we have even begun. I don’t believe Americans want to capitulate to anyone. The only question is whether we will get the leadership now to deal with this or whether we will have to endure even worse atrocities before a real leader emerges.