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January 30, 2007
Thanks to Rush Limbaugh for once again pointing out the obvious to the oblivious. Rush recently brought attention to the Los Angeles Times op-ed piece by Professor David Bell in which he raises the question, was 9/11 really that bad? Besides Mr. Bell's demonstrated flare for asking the question that doesn't really need to be asked, the weakness of his argument is the resounding display of ignorance concerning the enemy's objectives. His main point is that the United States has overreacted against terrorists because of 9/11. He separates capability from intent. Let's take a look at what he said and how that compares to what history tells us.
Bell starts off with a flagrant abuse of the respectable technique of historical comparison. While comparing what has gone on in the past to today's events may help us to evaluate pressing issues, it is incumbent on the writer to draw a legitimate comparison based on context and not just fling out a number. Bell compares the approximately three thousand Americans who died on 9/11 to the twenty million dead in the former Soviet Union lost to Nazi forces in World War II. He leaves it at that; one day of fatalities versus four years, not so bad in his view. What he does not address is that the former Soviet Union did not ask ‘was the invasion by the German army really that bad?' No, the Soviets declared war the day after the German army invaded undercutting Bell's argument about American overreaction.
As well, during the run-up to the war on the Eastern front, Hitler began to test the Soviet Union with aggressive and provocative actions over the border from Poland. Perhaps this is the part of the historical comparison that Bell should have focused his efforts toward. Stalin hoped to forestall war by appeasement not strength. Stalin told his Soviet forces "do not answer to any provocations". Hitler took their lack of response as a sign of weakness and invaded believing the Soviet Union would quickly fall. Hitler's perception of Stalin as weak is what incited Hitler to invade and kill twenty million Soviet citizens. Perhaps, under-reaction is more costly than overreaction, even if we were to accept Prof. Bell's thesis.
So Bell's historical comparison falls apart on the most meager scrutiny, fine; but what about the rest of his argument that the US has overreacted? He notes that the terrorist enemy, Islamic fanatics want to destroy the US but lack the capacity. I wonder how many people said before 9/11 that the terrorists lack the capacity to kill thousands of our people, destroy two of our greatest buildings, blow up our military headquarters, and impact our economy to the tune of 1.2 trillion dollars lost in stock value, bankrupt our airlines...I think the point is made.
But the really disturbing part of his discussion is the simplistic view Prof. Bell seems to have of the objectives of Islamic extremism. In his consideration, it is as if 9/11 happened in a vacuum.
The attacks of 9/11 were not meant to destroy the US. Those attacks were meant to drive the US away from the Middle East. Usama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri hate the United States, but our destruction is not their immediate goal. Both men want to topple the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt respectively so that their Islamic terrorist groups can take control and establish Islamic states. That is a demonstrably achievable goal as the Mullahs did it in Iran. The United States provides military and economic assistance to both of those nations, thereby frustrating the efforts of al Qaeda to topple those governments. Therefore, in their logic, the US must be driven out of the region. This is also a demonstrably achievable goal. Usama bin Laden did exactly that (with the help of Saddam Hussein) when he drove US forces from Somalia under the Clinton Administration. It is a simple strategy of ‘divide and conquer'.
If al Qaeda manages to run the US out of the Middle East, it stands a chance of toppling the Saudi and Egyptian governments and thus could establish a Caliphate in Northern Africa and the Arabia peninsula. This is not speculation, they have told us this is what they want. From there, al Qaeda would set its sites on neighboring Islamic countries and South East Asia, chiefly Pakistan, to roll them up one by one into the Caliphate. Pakistan has a large Islamic extremist population that would enjoy nothing more than taking over the Pakistani government (which they came close to doing democratically just recently) and thus Pakistan's nukes. If the Islamists take over in Pakistan, as they did in neighboring Afghanistan, the Caliphate would have nuclear weapons.
It is here that capability meets intent. We should be keen to the fact that these relatively unsophisticated religious extremists did such monstrous damage to us on 9/11 without the intent of destroying us immediately. How much more damage could they do if they decided to kill us all today (instead of convert us tomorrow) and they had nukes?
But, the destruction of the US and the west is not the goal of the Islamic fanatics today, it is their long term goal; although ‘destruction' may be too imprecise. They do not seek to kill every American, they seek to convert every American to Islam and destroy those who won't convert. They seek to turn the entire world into an Islamic Caliphate. They have told us this.
But they can not do this simply by owning nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are great for influencing people, securing alliances and gaining economic advantages but are only one part of the strategy. The nonviolent portion of Islamic society will play its part as well. They will establish the Caliphate in the US through demographics and intimidation. This intimidation will range from the threat of violence (terrorism) to labeling westerners as oppressors and racists to make political gains. Secularist progressives will feel guilty and give in inch-by-inch until the Muslims are a protected class with the ridiculous ability to openly encourage destruction of the American way of life inside our own country. This is already happening now throughout Europe. And there is no reason to believe they won't succeed here as well. History records the seesawing battle between Islam and Christianity that has witnessed the rise of Caliphates to domination of Christian regions in the west. It is a very short sighted view of history if a person believes it can not happen again because of western superiority
Prof. Bell defines the war on terror not as existential but a consistent reflexive action on the part of America to make any war or attack seem worse than it is in reality. Well, he may be correct strictly speaking, because if we all convert to Islam, al Qaeda will not end our existence; they often "ask us" to convert in their taped messages. So if we are willing to throw away every ounce of progressive and democratic thought and structure we enjoy now (not to mention Jesus Christ for some of us), we will be just fine. So technically, the threat may not be the same as say, a huge asteroid hitting the earth; we will continue to exist under the Caliphate. So what? It is a worthless point for Bell to make unless you have no concern for the condition of that existence. The principles of freedom, embodied by our constitution for Christians, secularists and all others be damned in Bell's argument. Freedom doesn't matter one wit in his analysis.
Prof. Bell has defined Casus Belli as only that which threatens our existence. This nation has come far from the days of our founding fathers who took up arms over such meager issues as ‘taxation without representation', rejection of a royalist government for republicanism, and revulsion at state proscribed worship. Now our history professors teach us that nothing less than a threat to our very lives justifies military force and is otherwise just overreaction.
He tries to set a more reasonable standard for action by lobbing in the number twenty million. One has to wonder by extension, would nineteen million dead lead to overreaction? How about a million? It is impossible to know exactly how many deaths it would take for the professor to consider the act more than just a terse warning. The fact is it doesn't matter. The Professor's argument is nothing more than the warming over of the ‘we created the threat by labeling it as such' argument that so many on the left became fond of after 9/11. It was nonsense then and is nonsense now, nice try professor.
Bell is correct in that 9/11 gave us a bloody nose, but was not a knock out punch. Bell's argument falls apart completely by failing to recognize that we are in a fight for our ‘way of life' as well as our lives. It is shameful that a history professor has failed to provide any context for either the attacks themselves or the objectives of the men who launched them. Isn't that the exact thing history professors are supposed to teach us, the context and reasons behind history?
The context of the attacks of 9/11 is more than just the number of deaths. To disregard the ability of a few men to alter history by simply stating they are not capable of more is an affront to a basic tenant of military science. ‘Know your enemy' would have been good advice for Stalin as it is for Prof. Bell today.