- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2005

Not long ago Lt. Col. Erik Kurilla, an authentic American hero, was shot three times and wounded in Mosul, Iraq, as he led his men into a terrorist enclave.

The jihadist who shot him survived and was given first-rate American medical care for his wounds. It turns out the terrorist was captured earlier in December 2004, on suspicion of being involved in a deadly suicide attack on an American base. Then he was turned over to the Iraqis, sent to the notorious Abu Ghraib jail and released. Once free, he returned to killing Americans and his rendezvous with Col. Kurilla.

For bickering Americans back home, Abu Ghraib is a “Stalag,” but for the terrorists it’s apparently a rest stop before resuming their hunt for Americans.

This recent incident once more reflects how confused we are in the West over the proper way to obtain the needed ends. While we worry we have gone too far in our harshness, our enemies are convinced our softness has us too far gone to win this war.

This fight is quite different from past conflicts. The jihadists have no uniforms. Their first, not last, resort is terrorism. They know they cannot win unless they murder and demoralize civilians, preferably in the U.S., as we saw September 11, 2001.

But there is another difference that involves us and not just the enemy. In the past, a poorer and less sophisticated United States largely embraced a tragic vision of dealing with the world as it was rather than what we hoped it might be.

Our forbears believed they did not have to be perfect to be good. To them, war, like poverty and depression, was another of the tragedies of the human experience where there were no good choices — the least ghastly being victory at all costs.

So this war against Islamic fascism is a perfect storm of sorts, involving an enemy that uses stealth and counts on Western society’s own liberty and magnanimity to destroy itself at the pinnacle of its affluence and sensitivity.

Take another recent example. Last week, a Palestinian suicide bomber, after crossing into Beersheba to blow himself up at an Israeli bus station, wounded 50 civilians. He apparently walked in from Hebron on the West Bank. The border was not yet fenced off by the advancing Israeli “wall.” We in the West have often harangued the Israelis for building an “apartheid”-like barrier to separate themselves from aggrieved Palestinians.

Some hoped after Israel left Gaza the Palestinians would begin crafting a new autonomous society rather than sending suicide murderers back into Israel proper as thanks.

But an older logic of our dark past seems at play: The suicide bomber crossed because he could. And he apparently saw recent Israeli magnanimity as a new sign of weakness.

The same disconnect is true of Guantanamo Bay, our Cuban prison holding wartime terrorists caught out of uniform and not subject to the Geneva Convention. Korans and prayer services are provided; meals feature Middle Eastern dishes with ingredients sensitive to Islamic law.

Though no one has died at Guantanamo, Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat, recently compared Guantanamo to something out of the Third Reich or the Soviet gulag. But those who must guard violent terrorists there have different worries — like the several released jihadists who returned to Afghanistan to aid Taliban remnants in attacking American soldiers.

We also lament the Patriot Act, supposed Islamophobia and new restrictive immigration guidelines. Meanwhile in July, five men were arrested with thousands of dollars in cash, videos of landmarks and maps of the New York subway system — four of them in violation of immigration laws and all from Egypt.

A little earlier in sleepy Lodi, Calif., two Pakistani radicals — who entered the United States on religious visas — were accused of involvement in jihadist activity and were in violation of their immigration status.

“End of history” post-Cold War Westerners have convinced themselves their primordial past is long gone, just when bin Laden et al. came from it to assure them it decidedly is not.

Of course, we have had this debate over competing therapeutic and tragic visions of human nature here at home since the 1960s. We still argue over carrot-and-stick dilemmas, such as incarceration versus rehabilitation or workfare versus welfare.

But now the debate is not about public policy, but rather our very survival — as we struggle to find the proper way to defeat a vicious enemy without losing our liberal soul.

In Britain, a liberal Tony Blair has already chosen to get tougher after the London bombings: “Let no one be in any doubt: The rules of the game are changing.”

Indeed, they must and are.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, and is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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