September 26, 2001
Whose war is this?
By Patrick J. Buchanan
In his resolve to hunt down and kill the Osama bin Laden terrorists he says committed the Sept. 11 massacres, President Bush has behind him a nation more unified than it has been since Pearl Harbor. But now Bush has been put on notice that this war cannot end with the head of bin Laden and the overthrow of the Taliban.
The shot across Bush's bow came in an "Open Letter" co-signed by 41 foreign-policy scholars, including William Bennett, Jeane Kirkpatrick, the publisher of The Weekly Standard and the editor in chief of The New Republic — essentially, the entire neoconservative establishment.
What must Bush do to retain their support? Target Hezbollah for destruction and retaliate against Syria and Iran if they refuse to cut all ties to Hezbollah and move militarily to overthrow Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Failure to attack Iraq, the neocons warn Bush, "will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism."
"Our purpose in writing is to assure you of our support as you do what must be done to lead the nation to victory in this fight," the letter ends.
Implied is a threat to end support if Bush does not widen the war to include all of Israel's enemies, or if he pursues the U.S.-Arab-Muslim coalition of Secretary of State Colin Powell. Among the signers is Richard Perle, chairman of Bush's own Defense Policy Board, a key advisory group.
This letter represents one side of a brutal policy battle that has erupted in the capital: Is it to be Powell's war or Perle's war?
A critical decision
The final decision Bush makes will be as historically crucial as Truman's decision to let MacArthur advance to the Yalu, and FDR's decision to hold up Eisenhower's armies and let Stalin take Berlin.
How the president will come down is unknown.
In his address to Congress a week ago, Bush declared: "From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime." The president seemed to be offering amnesty, or conditional absolution, to rogue states if they enlist in America's war, now, and expel all terrorist cells.
Even Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is signaling that what matters is not where nations stood, but where they stand. On Sunday, he said on CBS: "What we are looking at today is how are these states going to behave going forward."
And Powell's coalition is coming together. Whether out of fear or opportunism, Libya, Syria, Iran and the Palestinian Authority have all denounced the atrocities of Sept. 11. Pakistan has joined the coalition. Sudan is cooperating.
But calls for a wider war dominate the neoconservative media. The Weekly Standard's opinion editor, David Tell, wants war not only on past sponsors of terror, but also on "any group or government inclined to support or sustain others like them in the future."
Bennett wants Congress to declare war on "militant Islam" and "overwhelming force" used on state sponsors of terror such as Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran and even China. The Wall Street Journal wants strikes "aimed at terrorist camps in Syria, Sudan, Libya and Algeria, and perhaps even in parts of Egypt."
On their lists
Terrorism expert Steve Emerson puts Lebanon's Bekaa Valley at the top of his list. Benjamin Netanyahu includes in the "Empire of Terror" to be obliterated: Hamas, Hezbollah, "the Palestinian enclave," as well as Iran, Iraq and Taliban Afghanistan. Tom Donnelly and Gary Schmitt of the Project for the New American Century want Iraq invaded now: "Nor need the attack await the deployment of half a million troops. ... The larger challenge will be occupying Iraq after the fighting is over."
As of now, Bush is laser-focused on bin Laden and the Taliban. But when that war is over, the great policy battle will be decided: Do we then dynamite Powell's U.S.-Arab-Muslim coalition by using U.S. power to invade Iraq? Do we then reverse alliances and make Israel's war America's war?
Allies would be at risk
If the United States invades Iraq, bombs Hezbollah and conducts strikes on Syria and Iran, this war will metastasize into a two-continent war from Algeria to Afghanistan, with the United States and Israel alone against a half-dozen Arab and Muslim states. The first casualties would be the moderate Arabs — Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states — who were our Cold War and Gulf War allies.
The war Netanyahu and the neocons want, with the United States and Israel fighting all of the radical Islamic states, is the war bin Laden wants, the war his murderers hoped to ignite when they sent those airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
If America wishes truly to be isolated, it will follow the neoconservative line. Conservatives should stand squarely with President Bush — and Gen. Powell.
Patrick J. Buchanan is a conservative commentator and chairman of The American Cause, an educational foundation.