- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 24, 2003

Among the more comical moments of a grim week was the sight of the president of the Security Council expressing his condemnation of the terrorist attack on the United Nations. He was the representative of Syria. Syria is a terrorist state. Syrians have flooded across the border into Iraq to take up arms with their beleaguered Ba’athist brethren. It would not be surprising to discover a Syrian connection to one or both of Tuesday’s terrorist strikes in Baghdad and Jerusalem.

Syria, however, happens to hold the presidency of the Security Council, so a fellow who is usually the bespoke apologist for terrorists gets to go on TV to represent the international community’s determination to stand up to terrorism.

Well, that’s the luck of the draw at the United Nations, where so far this year Libya, Iraq and Syria have found themselves heading up the Human Rights Commission, the Disarmament Committee and the Security Council.

The U.N. subscription to this charade may be necessary in New York, but what is tragic is that they seem to have conducted their affairs in Baghdad much the same way. Offers of increased U.S. military protection were turned down. Their old Iraqi security guards, all agents of Saddam Hussein’s secret service there to spy on the United Nations, were allowed by the organization to carry on working at the compound.

And sitting in the middle of an unprotected complex staffed by ex-Saddam spies was Sergio Viera de Mello, the individual most directly credited with midwifing East Timor into an independent democratic state. Osama bin Laden (or rather whoever makes his audio cassettes) and the Bali bombers have both cited East Timor as high up on their long list of grievances: the carving out, as they see it, of part of the territory of the world’s largest Islamic nation to create a mainly Christian state. Now they’ve managed to kill the fellow responsible. Any way you look at it, that’s quite a feather in their turbans.

But it doesn’t really matter who’s actually to blame — Ba’athist Iraqis or al Qaeda Saudis. As far as the world’s press is concerned, the folks who are really to blame are the Americans. It’s the Americans’ fault because:

A. They made Iraq so insecure their own troops are getting picked off every day.

B. OK, less are being picked off than a few weeks back, but that’s only because the Americans have made their own bases so secure that only soft targets like the United Nations are left.

C. OK, the United Nations is only a soft target because they turned down U.S. protection, but the Americans should have had enough sense just to go ahead and install the concrete barriers and perimeter trenches anyway;

D. OK, if they had done that, the beloved United Nations would have been further compromised by unduly close association with the hated Americans, which is probably what got them killed in the first place.

In other words, whatever happens, it’s always evidence of American failure. That’s the only “root cause” most of the West is interested in. Anyone who thinks Tuesday’s events might strengthen the international community’s resolve to resist terrorism is overlooking the fact that among the Europeans, the Canadians and New Zealanders, the British and Australian press, CNN and the New York Times and a large majority of the Democratic Party the urge to surrender is palpable.

At the moment, there’s only one hyperpower (the United States), one great power (the United Kingdom) and one regional power (Australia) that are serious about the threat of Islamist terrorism. There’s also Israel, of course, but Israel’s disinclination to have its bus passengers blown to smithereens is seen (even by the three staunch musketeers of the Anglosphere) as evidence of its “obstinacy” and unwillingness to get the “peace process” back “on track.” What a difference it would make if one or two other G7 nations were to get serious about the battle and be a reliable vote in international councils. But who? France? It’s all business to them, unless al Qaeda are careless enough to blow up the Eiffel Tower. Canada? Canadians get blown up in Bali, murdered in Iran, tortured in Saudi Arabia, die in the rubble of the U.N. building in Baghdad, and their government shrugs. Belgium? It would rather issue a warrant for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld than “Chemical Ali.”

And so on Tuesday, up against an enemy unable to do anything more than self-detonate outside an unprotected facility and take a few Brazilian civil servants and Canadian aid workers with him, the global community sent out a Syrian ambassador to read out some boilerplate and then retreated into passivity and introspection and finger-pointing at Washington.

This is the weirdly uneven playing field on which the great game is now fought. Islamic terrorism is militarily weak but ideologically confident. The West is militarily strong but ideologically insecure. We don’t really believe we can win, not in the long run. The suicide bomber is a symbol of weakness, of a culture so comprehensively failed that what ought to be its greatest resource — its people — is instead as disposable as a firecracker.

But in our self-doubt the enemy’s weakness becomes his strength. We simply can’t comprehend a man like Raed Abdel Mask, pictured in the press last week with a big smile, a check shirt and two cute little moppets, a boy and a girl, in his arms. His wife is five months pregnant with their third child. On Tuesday night, big smiling Raed strapped an 11-pound bomb packed with nails and shrapnel to his chest and boarded the No. 2 bus in Jerusalem.

The terrorists watch CNN and the BBC and, understandably, they figure that in Iraq the United States, Britain, the United Nations and all the rest will do what most people do when they run up against someone deranged: Back out of the room slowly. They’re wrong. There’s no choice. You kill it here, or the next generation of suicide bombers will be on buses in Rotterdam, Manchester, Lyons, and blowing up the U.N. Building in Manhattan. This is the battlefield.

Mark Steyn is a senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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