- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Perhaps not the first time, but surely by the third or fourth time President Bush referred to the events of a week ago as an act of war - to be answered by war. - there was no mistaking the clarity of national purpose, nor the consensus in favor of it. The World Trade Center towers were not reduced to rubble by a plane-bomb in a crime of mass murder. They were destroyed in an attack on the United States by an enemy slaughtering civilians.

Nor will the war the United States wages be metaphorical, in the fashion of the "war on poverty" or the "drug war" or for that matter, the "war against terrorism" we have hitherto said we were waging. No, based on the course of action promised by the president backed up by the entirety of our political leadership from both parties, the near-universal support of American public opinion, and the absence of consequential dissent what we are embarking on will be as clear on the meaning of war as the destruction a week ago was clear. We will identify our enemies and attack them.

Some have wondered how to wage war against something other than a state, a national government. I imagine that we will be finding out in the months and years ahead, as the United States military, which has been thinking about precisely this problem for quite some time, tests its conclusions and then refines them in light of experience. There is surely nothing theoretically impossible about such an undertaking. A nation-state is the clearest category of enemy, but not the only possible one. (Note that we often draw distinctions like this one: "Our quarrel is not with the Cuban people, but with the government of Fidel Castro.") The terror legions are another such designation not dissimilar to a guerrilla army, though with a different sort of combat experience.

Moreover, in truth, this matter is already about nation-states. The United States is now energetically in the business of making governments pick a side: either with us and against the terrorists, or against us and with them. Starting now, we have radicalized the choice: It is now much more difficult to choose not to choose, or to choose to have a foot in each camp, or to pretend to choose us while favoring them, in order to benefit from us while avoiding dealing with them or their wrath. This difficulty is likely to mount in the months ahead.

Then governments will have to live with and by their choices. Mr. Bush has said, "we will smoke them out of their holes," the most memorable bit of rhetoric of the war to date and a perfect formulation to evoke the spirit of Jacksonian America which, in a pinch, is the spirit of all America. Mr. Bush was referring to the terror legions, but he could as well have been referring to the true allegiance of any number of governments in the region (and elsewhere). Some are going to end up against us because they can't or won't make a convincing demonstration to the contrary. Then we are going to have to do for ourselves what they won't help us with, possibly against their resistance. In this way and others, we are likely to find nation-states in the category of "enemy" sooner rather than later. Already, one may ask: Can this war end in victory for us with Saddam Hussein still in power?

Against the category of enemy stands the category of "friend." Friends stand with us. Friends do whatever they can to help. Friends don't, for example, engage in commerce with enemies, otherwise they aren't friends. The choices of those who want to be our friends, too, are now radicalized.

Many governments want something from the United States. Perhaps they want better relations with us because they fear a regional power on the rise near them. Maybe their economies need development assistance. Perhaps they want to join NATO. Maybe they would like to be a part of an enlarged free trade bloc. Perhaps things are unstable on their borders, or even within them, and they could use some help. Maybe they would like us to be more forthcoming on global warming.

That's all very well, and there is no doubt there is much we can do for many. But now we are at war, and I think we will long remember who our friends were (and weren't) as we set about the grim task of finding and defeating our enemies.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide