War or No War

War or No War


The op-ed by Todd Beamer’s father, based on the Flight 93 movie, is behind the subscription firewall at the WSJ. Cardinalpark, however, has a key excerpt up over at Tigerhawk:

This film further reminds us of the nature of the enemy we face. An enemy who will stop at nothing to achieve world domination and force a life devoid of freedom upon all. Their methods are inhumane and their targets are the innocent and unsuspecting. We call this conflict the “War on Terror.” This film is a wake-up call. And although we abhor terrorism as a tactic, we are at war with a real enemy and it is personal.

There are those who would hope to escape the pain of war. Can’t we just live and let live and pretend every thing is OK? Let’s discuss, negotiate, reason together. The film accurately shows an enemy who will stop at nothing in a quest for control. This enemy does not seek our resources, our land or our materials, but rather to alter our very way of life.

I encourage my fellow Americans and free people everywhere to see “United 93.”

Be reminded of our very real enemy. Be inspired by a true story of heroic actions taken by ordinary people with victorious consequences. Be thankful for each precious day of life with a loved one and make the most of it. Resolve to take the right action in the situations of life, whatever they may be. Resolve to give thanks and support to those men, women, leaders and commanders who to this day (1,687 days since Sept. 11, 2001) continue the counterattacks on our enemy and in so doing keep us safe and our freedoms intact.

May the taste of freedom for people of the Middle East hasten victory. The enemy we face does not have the word “surrender” in their dictionary. We must not have the word “retreat” in ours. We surely want our troops home as soon as possible. That said, they cannot come home in retreat. They must come home victoriously. Pray for them.

Right. The definition of “those who would hope to escape the pain of war” includes much of the American left (Sheehan/Moore, etc.) and much of the European elite. But there is a subtler division among the remainder.

We all do see the enemy for who he is and we read his own words and take them at their face value. Some of us recognize this as a Long War for Civilization, and think the obvious disparity in firepower and national economies masks a vulnerability in the West. The people we are fighting say certain things very clearly: we are infidels who have offended their religion, they are at war with us, and they want us to die. They may not have an air force, but they have other weapons, more intangible, perhaps more powerful. And we have weak spots. We could be brought down hard by a combination of lack of will and a few hard, well-timed terrorist strikes with the right volume.

To some of us, on the other hand, the Islamists are simply not a long-term threat worth the name of “enemy” or worth a serious reordering of American rights and priorities. They talk nasty and hurt when they can, but they should be taken no more seriously than a 5-year-old in a temper tantrum. 9/11 was something of a one-off, a combination of a few extraordinary individuals and good luck based on our lack of vigilance. A little more vigilance on our part will be sufficient to prevent a repeat performance. To involve American resources and lives in a major Middle Eastern “war” against this, with the inevitable bungles and unforeseen consequences, is doing more harm than good.

I am not trying to parody that view, but I perhaps don’t capture it very well. I’m leaving out the figure of Bush, on both sides, because ultimately he doesn’t matter. People who put him at the center of everything lose sight of the long-term picture.

The main difference among Americans today is that some of us believe the United States is at war, a dangerous war against a desperate enemy. And other people don’t believe that’s true at all. To the non-believers, the people who are waging war look insanely violent, paranoid, and unstable, and to the people at war it takes great mental effort to look at those who don’t believe it and not see appeasers and useful idiots, if not outright traitors.

  • http://storming-jericho.blogspot.com/ Joshua

    You nailed it, Calli. Even better than I did awhile back. I struck many of the same notes then, but here you’ve really hammered them home.

  • http://www.mightymiddle.com/ Michael Reynolds

    I seem to be in a third category. I think the Islamists are an enemy, but they’re closer to being Japan in WW2 than Germany. They can inflict pain, but they won’t be marching down Pennsylvania Avenue anytime soon.

    We should absolutely shoot them in the head, but we should keep some perspective, too. Maybe a little more sang froid — if I my be permitted a French expression without inviting attack — and a little less hysteria. Cut to the underlying power balance and there’s this fact: the President can wake up in a bad mood some Monday and the entire Islamic world can be dust heading toward the ionosphere by Tuesday. They’re only dangerous if we choose to fight with one hand tied behind our back. The outcome is not in doubt. They had their Pearl Harbor. If they become sufficiently troublesome we have about 10,000 Hiroshimas loaded up.

    As for not knowing the word “surrender,” puh-leeze. The Arab world has been doing little but surrendering for the last millenium. They’ve been trying for almost 60 years now to dislodge 6 million Jews sitting on a narrow beach surrounded entirely by Arab nations. They aren’t the Germans, they aren’t the Russians, they aren’t the Japanese or the Vietnamese: they’re the Italians.

    And I’d point out, apropos of Mr. Bush, that we are not fighting the terrorists, we’re acting as bodyguards to the Iraqi government. Al Qaeda is in Pakistan. Their spiritual base is in Saudi Arabia. We don’t seem to be invading Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.

  • http://sethyblog.blogspot.com Pooh

    Let me say that you cannot leave out the figure of Bush and expect to be taken seriously, or to capture the views of the ‘some people’ accurately (can we get rid of that construction already?) because a majority of the cynicism you see is based on the perception of his unseriousness as to the endeavor.

    My rather extended take here (sorry for the whoring, but it’s really too long for a mere comment)

  • Monica

    Callimachus –

    As someone who believes we’re at war, I couldn’t agree with your assessment more.

  • Kilroy

    I agree with Michael & Pooh. Bush is inherently responsible for the military leaders who prosecute this war (if not for the prosecution itself). Unlike the last war of this magnitude that we won, there has been no culturization of this effort. Since this war has begun I have actually paid much less in taxes, My children who both entered college since the start are not under any cultural stress to ROTC, much less enlist for the duration. No sacrifice. None asked.
    Military dogma requires leading from the front. How many politico’s children are volunteering ? How many of the leadership of many different college societies (e.g. Republicans, Students for the war etc….made up students for the war but I hope you get the point.) are volunteering ? a percentage I’m sure, But, a SERIOUS percentage that reflects the magnitude of what we have at stake ?
    I believe we are in a very serious time with much to lose that requires long thought. Bush et. al. frankly bungled the job. Seriously was’nt it et & al that recieved the medal of freedom? My question is – if one does take this as a truly Country changing scenario, should we not require a serious level of success from our leaders, both civilian and through them military ?

  • http://vernondent.blogspot.com/ Callimachus

    We’d be in this war (or no-war) whether Bush was in charge or not.

    The rest is strategy. But you have to answer the big question first. You can argue about how he handles it (Kilroy raises the right points), but the thing itself would be there whether he was in the White House or not. Unless you really think it will all go away once he leaves office.

    Michael’s notion of a third way is not one I meant to exclude.

  • http://wheatthink.blogspot.com Tom Strong

    I am not trying to parody that view, but I perhaps don’t capture it very well.

    I have to say that no, you don’t capture it very well. The main problem is, even with good intentions, you conflate a lack of belief in the transformative Power of the Caliphate with a lack of seriousness and vigilance about preventing terrorism.

    Like the people in your second category, I don’t believe the proto-fascists in the Middle East have the power to transform our civilization – that is, not unless we walk over and give it to them. The problem is that we are seemingly intent on doing so – but we’re doing so by treating the whole damn thing as a war in the first place.

    By doing that, we are literally handing them exactly the kind of marketing material they want. They want a war to exist in people’s minds, because that is the only way they can have the kind of power and influence that they want. And thanks to our acquiescence in providing that “war” to them, they are busily turning thousands of disaffected young Arab men into murderous young Arab men.

    Christ, haven’t you read your Sun Tzu? Do what your enemy least wants you to do! Al Qaeda and the caliph-wannabes in Iran want us to bring our half-assed war to them – it is the perfect marketing tool for capturing the demographics they want. What they don’t want is for us to treat them like the puny, disempowered hustlers that they are.

    They are criminals, and should be treated like criminals. Not like generals of an opposing army. Because by giving them that credibility, you help them build the army they want built.

  • Monica

    Tom Strong –

    You’re not a WOT believer, so what is your strategy for preventing terrorist attacks and our Islamist problem?

  • http://wheatthink.blogspot.com Tom Strong

    One more thing…

    Arguments of this sort remind me very much of the recent media craze over whether Iraq is in a state of “civil war,” which you of course mocked recently. Just like “civil war,” the word “war” is being used by certain people in order to give a kind of Momentousness to our post-9/11, post-irony existence. It is used to move people like me, who are swayable, to support certain policies and actions that we might not otherwise.

    Both the media use of “civil war” and the (pardon) neoconservative use of “war” are blatantly manipulative. They are similar in their attempt to give some extra lift of meaning to the conflict in question. But the conflicts they describe are unique to this time in history. Our struggle with fundamentalist terrorists in the Muslim world is a real struggle, but it’s not a Crusade, and it’s not a continuation of WWII. It’s really about the ways in which an increasingly democratic and globalized world can be subverted from within.

  • Jimmy the Dhimmi

    Tom Strong: I don’t believe the proto-fascists in the Middle East have the power to transform our civilization – that is, not unless we walk over and give it to them.

    Once terrorists acquire nuclear weapons, do you think they would have the power then? If so, how can we prevent this without treating the whole geopolitical situation as a war? Plus there is European demographics to consider, but that is a whole other thread.

    What they don’t want is for us to treat them like the puny, disempowered hustlers that they are.

    Beirut, Moghadishu, the Khobar towers, Kenya and Tanzania embasies, USS cole, 9/11, Madrid, not to mention the other 4800+ attacks with over 30,000 civilians killed worldwide since 9/11. bunch of puny hustlers, those guys.

    Because by giving them that credibility, you help them build the army they want built.

    Are you suggesting that the terrorists would have less confidence if we fielded a team that was less capeable of crushing them with overwhelming force? and therefore we would have a better chance of defeating terrorism? Why, because it would insult their sense of self-worth and hurt their self-esteem? N*gg* Please.

    In a globalized, technocratic world of the 21st century, the assymetry that we currently see in the first decade is bound not to last. You have a very Clintonian, 20th century view of things Tom. If there is one good thing about Bush, its that he wants to crush this problem now, before it metastisizes into something not even remotely resembling a criminal enterprise, when we lose our military and technological hegemony. If we divest in the military approach we will only expedite the inevitable equalization (see nuclear weapons). That means apocalyptic war – definitely a war.

  • Jimmy the Dhimmi

    my blockquotes f’d up, you get the picture.

  • http://vernondent.blogspot.com/ Callimachus

    Tom, why invoke “Art of War” if you’re arguing we’re not in one?

  • http://sethyblog.blogspot.com Pooh

    Yes, Sun Tzu is generlizable to a degree, no?

  • http://vernondent.blogspot.com/ Callimachus

    Not generalizable to the degree that you can say, “if your enemy goes to war with you, don’t fight back, because he won’t expect that!”

    Some people can conceive wars only as activities between nation-states. Once that paradigm is broken they throw up their hands and say it can’t be a war because there’s no nation on the other side.

  • http://mooreisfatduhimstoopidilikeanncoulterandchickenfries.ytmnd.com/ Jimmy the Dhimmi

    We ARE fighting a nation. A clandestine diaspora nation, with millions of citizens spread ubiquitously from Morrocco to Thailand. They may not have a country that you can see as a particular colour on map, nor a single identifiable flag, but they have political parties, political leadership, a military branch and a constitution.

    Political parties like Hamas, Al Queda, Al Aqsa, Jamat al Islamya, CAIR, the Basiji, ect… they dont always share the same vision, often times they fight amongst eachother but so do Democrats and Republicans. They are lead by guys like Osama, Arafat, Khomeini, Hooper, Zarquawi, ect… and they also have a constitution: The Koran.

    They leader of Hamas once said that if they had tanks and planes, they would use them against Israel, but instead they can only resort to terrorism because that is the only thing available. I don’t doubt him for one second.

  • http://wheatthink.blogspot.com Tom Strong


    Here’s what my strategy would be in brief:

    1) Adopt a firm, tit-for-tat policy regarding any acts of terrorist aggression. That means we never strike first (I am willing to consider otherwise in the possibility of a nuclear attack, but no other situation warrants it, including the development of nukes). But any force used against us will be reciprocated in full, and then some.

    2) At the same time, offer generous friendship to states that are willing to play ball. States that encourage terrorism will receive stiff sanctions and even blockades if necessary. States that turn over criminals will receive aid and trade.

    3) Encourage democracy movements, but either covertly or through cooperation and trade.

    4) Drop the high-winded rhetoric of America’s place on the world stage. Continually express our respect for Islam, but continually insist that we intend to live with it, not convert or bend over for it. Emphasize that we see Islam as a sister religion to our native faiths, not as a superior one.

    Obviously, I’m no expert. But who here is? At this point, the real experts are probably working for Nike.

  • http://wheatthink.blogspot.com Tom Strong


    I recognize how deeply it must pain you, trotting out Democratic talking points in order to try and refute my argument.

    You have a very Clintonian, 20th century view of things Tom.

    Ah yes. Because Bill Clinton’s win-win, third-way brand of politics was so influential during the bloody history of the 20th century.

  • http://wheatthink.blogspot.com Tom Strong


    First of all, if MBA students can apply the Art of War to such momentous conflicts as Coke vs. Pepsi, I can apply it to world events that do not necessarily qualify as War.

    Maybe we should try a bit of a distinction here. A commenter over at your website noted that we’ve pretty much been in a state of war with Iran since 1979. I find that view reasonable. Because it encourages an attitude which I find virtuous – that of not getting too bent out of shape over war.

    Lower-case “war” is a fact of life – our world is full of conflict, and we are going to enter into conflicts with other peoples and cultures. Sometimes those wars are going to come to violence; a lot of time they will be long, arid stalemates. In my opinion, the conflict with Islamic fundamentalists is this kind of war. It is a problem, it will cause us pain time and time again, and we will sometimes have to cause them more pain in response. I don’t like this, but I can accept it. Hopefully, if we are resilient, the problem can be diminished and defeated over time. This attitude captures, I believe, the Israeli and British approaches towards terrorism. Neither of those nations have “defeated” terrorism, but they have learned to fight it and live with it without sacrificing their cultures or democracies.

    But there’s war, and then there’s War. What you and other hawkish wordsmiths around the blogosphere are doing is trying to sell the American people on War, a transformational, massive conflict for our very civilization, along the lines of WWII and the Civil War, both of which you and other hawks invoke regularly. You continually suggest that if we don’t get serious, and right quick, all will be lost. And it’s hard not to read into your “get serious” a suggestion that we either need to either re-colonize the Middle East, or kill millions of people.

    Your rhetoric in this way parallels that of every End Times theology, and that’s where I take real exception to your approach. Your words are not that of a religious man, but your tone is. It does not seem to be enough for you to fight terrorism and protect the weaknesses – you have to also urge that we seek a full War with our jihad-seeking opponents.

    I feel that promoting an all-out War with the jihadists feeds their own propaganda – it is, to invoke our president’s speechwriter, “giving aid and comfort to the enemy.” You’ve said before that we don’t have to seek jihad, that jihad will come looking for us. But in this case – and very much unlike the cases of WWII and the Civil War – the jihad that may come looking for us is weak. We have to feed it in order to have a worthy opponent at all, because as Michael points out, we still hold all the keys. It relies utterly on having a steady stream of disenchanted young Muslim men from aching countries who believe the secular world has no meaning or place for them.

    The problem is that we have been feeding it – and much of its current appetite comes from our willingness to flaunt our own weaknesses in the past few years.

    It goes without saying that by calling this a Long War, or whatever the current phraseology is, you also invoke the War on Drugs, and the War on Fat, and the Culture Wars, and every other trumped-up domestic conflict that inerrantly turns into bad policy decisions. The Long War is headed in the same direction – becoming a parody of itself, but a dangerous parody, one which could chip away at the very foundations of our democratic system for years to come. And as it is your stated goal to defend our civilization – of which democracy and human rights is an essential part – I find it breathtaking that you are willing to suggest we all gird up for an everlasting War against an ill-defined enemy with no clearly stated endpoint.

    Mark Danner’s excellent article in the New York Times last year is still available online here. His reading is still the most compelling of the total situation that I have yet seen. Why, he asks, do we continue to fight the kind of war our terrorist foes want us to fight?

    For all I’ve read, I still haven’t seen an adequate answer to that question.

    “If the enemy thinks of the mountains, attack like the sea; and if he thinks of the sea, attack like the mountains.” – Miyamoto Musashi

  • http://sethyblog.blogspot.com Pooh

    Tom is much smarter than me and I will allow him to do all my posting on the subject for the time being. What he said.

  • Chris

    I think your recounting of the “other side’s” beliefs is exceptionally simplistic. I am acutely aware of the threat posed by terrorists. However, I don’t think the proper response to the threat is to leave our borders and ports unguarded, underfund our first responders and take attention away from our efforts to take down the leader of al Qaeda, in order to pursue a futile and treasury-draining war in Iraq.

    I also think that knowing your enemy’s mentality is useful, and doesn’t mean you sympathize with their cause. Ever since the Republicans made “nuance” a bad word in the 2004 elections, the notion that we should thoughtfully explore the thoughts and attitudes of our enemy has been protrayed as a sign of weakness. It appears that there are literally millions of muslims who consider the U.S. to be an enemy of Islam. We dismiss all of those people as mentally unstable, hate-filled extremists at our peril.

  • Jeff B.

    I think that too many people on the pro-war side blindly think that war is the answer just because it is the most forceful response. However, it doesn’t work. Terrorist attacks worldwide have been hitting record numbers since Iraq:


    Of course, we also have thousands of U.S. troops killed.

    All the evidence suggests that our current strategy increases terrorism.

    There’s no easy solution, but merely getting rid of a policy that increases recruitment of terrorists, increases their motivation to attack, and kills hundreds of U.S. citizens each year would be a huge, huge improvement.

  • http://sethyblog.blogspot.com Pooh

    Jeff though I’m sypmathetic to your viewpoint, remember that correlation does not imply causation. Post hoc ergo propter hoc and all that. I meanm, Cal could just as easily take the same data and say “see, this is a long war, and they’re just getting started.”

    The basic problem is the lack of any control group. Yes our policies coincide with an uptick in terrorism, but would terrorism be less absent those policies (not to mention that a simple count or measurement of terror incidents is far from the only metric. The cartoon intifada (or whatever you want to call it) is not a terror attack, but it hardly speaks well for the forces of liberalization.)

  • http://vernondent.blogspot.com/ Callimachus

    Tom: Here’s a very over-simplified version of how I see the “big picture.”

    1. The sudden collapse of British colonial power in the Middle East (and French in North Africa).

    2. Rise of Arab nationalism at a time when Islam was a weak force in national life. This was deformed by the global Cold War conflict, which allowed nationalist and pan-Arabist leaders to rule as dictators allied with one side or the other.

    3. Focus of Arab/Islamic resentment against Israel (originally a Soviet client, soon a U.S. one) as a pressure-release valve for disgruntled populations. Dictators either corrupt or prevent the emergence of key systems of a healthy nation: independent judiciary, uncorrupted public servants, strong middle class.

    4. sudden collapse of the Cold War world leaves the U.S. running the board, but without a clear will or agenda or even sufficient capacity to do it. What do we do now? Keep propping up the bad guys we never liked in the first place? Or leave them to their fates?

    That fate, in the immediate future, will be the rise of Islamist parties to national control from Morocco to Mindanao. Having gutted every other power base, and strangled every secular political party, the Arab Muslim dictators let the people keep their religious opium. So into the vacuum rush angry religious power-seekers.

    “Containment” worked pretty well over the long haul against the Soviet Union. You could try to contain the Islamic world while it goes through this natural period of reactionary foolishness. In a century or so, perhaps, the people would get tired of it and grow out of it. Perhaps.

    We don’t have that luxury. We really didn’t even before 9/11, as long as the entire industrial world (including China and India and Europe) remains addicted to oil.

    9/11 made it clear the Islamists were pursuing an active war of aggression, not just a passive war that waited for us to sail into “their” waters or wade onto “their” shores. It put some muscle behind their bluster.

    The attempt to push democracy in Iraq was a risk. It could fail in any number of ways. But there were good reasons to think it might work if the will and commitment were there on our side. It was one viable alternative to “empowering more secularist dictators” or “lobbing a few missiles and then going back to sleep” — both of which, I submit to you were “what the Islamists expected us to do.”

    We already defied their expectations.

    Chris wants to go back to whack-a-mole. Sort of a reverse containment, where instead of drawing a circle around “them,” we draw one around “us,” at our borders. Is that a better solution?

    If we’ve been at war with Iran since 1979, we don’t have a whole lot to show for it. Shouldn’t that involve some sort of long-term strategy? Isn’t it rather “accepting a permanent state of war” to say “we’re at war with you” and then do nothing to change the situation to a one where we can say “we are no loger at war”?

    I don’t want it to be a long war. I’d like to end it — not by killing millions, as people seem to think I desire, but by giving millions — those “disenchanted young Muslim men from aching countries” — a better life and something to live for besides hating America and the Jews. That won’t happen overnight. That’s what I want us to “get serious” about.

    I’m still waiting for a more humanitarian option. Got one?

    When the South broke away from the Union in 1860 and ’61, it didn’t want to turn around and conquer the North. It wanted to be left alone. But its mere existence as an independent nation was intollerable to Lincoln and considered, perhaps correctly, a mortal threat to the existence of democracy in the United States.

    By making war on the Confederates, by invading Virginia, Lincoln made their cause far stronger and his own far weaker. I hear voices here today that would have told him, “why go to war? Leave them alone. Understand their legitimate grievances. Their leaders WANT you to attack them, so the people will rally to them.”