- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Perhaps unrealistically, the taste of fear in people's mouths has dissipated in the six months since September 11. But what has grown is a deeper understanding that the world is more dangerous than we thought.

Americans had become used to the idea they were living in the post-Cold War era, a "normal" time when chaos in the world was expected to remain far away.

On a philosophical level, Johns Hopkins University Professor Francis Fukuyama wrote a famous essay titled "The End of History," in which he argued that the centuries-long struggle over what system of government was best for mankind had now been settled in favor of capitalist democracy.

The implication was that there would never again be grand struggles of the kind that first pitted aristocracy against democracy, and later, fascism and communism.

Once again, it's not so clear. An opposing view put forward by Harvard Professor Sam Huntington was that a "clash of civilizations" was brewing in the wake of the Cold War, pitting (among others) the Islamic world against the West.

It became clear on September 11 that at least a powerful strain of militant Islam conceives itself as at war with the West and that it would also like to dominate Islam itself.

While antediluvian in political outlook, militant Islam is technically proficient enough to do terrible damage to countries like the United States. And it is ambitious enough to do cataclysmic damage if it can acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Militant, reactionary Islam might have become ascendant among Muslim populations immediately had not the United States resolved to resist it with massive power after September 11.

As columnist Charles Krauthammer has observed, anti-American demonstrations erupted all over the Islamic world but quickly disappeared when the United States began demolishing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and putting the al Qaeda terrorist network on the run.

Moreover, fence-sitting or pro-Taliban governments in the Islamic world tilted toward the United States when it became clear this country meant to win the war against terrorism.

The United States is not popular in the Islamic world, as a recent poll of nine countries by the Gallup Organization made clear.

But Americans have learned since September 11 that this unpopularity is as much the product of negative propaganda dispensed by dysfunctional and corrupt governments as it is the result of any wrongdoing by the United States.

The United States was fortunate to have an administration in power on September 11 that was self-confident, not defensive, about America's moral position relative to the Islamic world and willing to use power to prevail against the militants.

The September 11 attacks turned President Bush around on foreign policy. He had campaigned urging a "modest" policy and disparaged overuse of the American military.

Since then, he has championed an increasingly assertive and expansive view of the U.S. role in the world that of a leader in a long struggle not only against one terrorist network or international terrorism in general, but also against regimes that might use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against us or our allies.

Polls released last week to mark the passage of six months since September 11 show Mr. Bush has the U.S. population overwhelmingly with him.

According to a poll by The Washington Post-ABC News, more than 70 percent of American adults would support a U.S. military effort to oust Iraq's Saddam Hussein even if allied countries opposed it.

Mr. Bush suggested in his White House speech last Monday that he wants the international coalition to back the campaign against Saddam. He sent Vice President Cheney on an 11-nation tour to muster support.

My suspicion is that Mr. Cheney was also sent because, as Seymour Hersh has written convincingly in the New Yorker, the Pentagon and the State Department are deeply at odds over how and when to launch the anti-Saddam effort.

Civilians in the Pentagon believe the Iraqi leader can be toppled largely through sustained precision bombing and with only limited ground forces.

The Army and Marine Corps are said to think that several hundred thousand ground troops will be needed. The State Department, with retired Gen. Colin Powell in charge, is said to hold a similar view and to oppose an early war.

Although Mr. Bush has waged the war against terrorism wisely and well so far, it is up to members of Congress to ask hard questions about where he's going next and how he proposes to get there.

It's not that they ought to oppose eliminating the threat of nuclear and biological weapons in hostile hands, but they have a responsibility to make sure the administration is going about it in the most efficient way.

And they should push the administration to justify the effort not as a means of stopping it, but as a means of ensuring that Bush continues to have the American public and other countries behind him.

Attacked on its home soil for the first time in 60 years, the U.S. public seems determined to see this war through, much as it did World War II. But that shouldn't stop Congress from playing its part to ensure the war is won.


Morton Kondracke is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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