The Blog

The War Begins

On October 7, 2001, America launched its counterattack. Here are three things to keep in mind as events unfold.

12:01 AM, Oct 8, 2001 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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AS I WRITE LATE SUNDAY AFTERNOON, brevity seems, even more than usual, the soul of wit. It would be foolish to try to say much about the current situation, early as it is in its development, and clouded as it is by the fog of war. Here are three brief observations.

(1) I'm as much of a Europe-basher (well, almost as much) as most of my fellow conservatives, but the Europeans really have been quite good since September 11. The peoples of Britain, Germany, and even France seem pretty thoroughly pro-American. The elites haven't been nearly as bad as one might have expected. The governments have been just fine--and Tony Blair has been terrific. NATO has been excellent. So let's be nicer to our European friends for a while. (They'll undoubtedly give us reasons to stop being nice pretty soon.)

(2) Conservatives might also stop mocking "nation-building." Contempt for nation-building has become such a mindless Republican trope that the president even repeated it a couple weeks ago--though doing so tended to undercut his professed (and correct) attempt to distinguish the Taliban regime from the Afghan people and to rally the Afghan people against the Taliban. In fact, as Max Boot points out in the cover piece in this week's Weekly Standard, we should engage in more, not less, state-and nation-building. It's not undoable; and one reason we're in the fix we're in is that our pseudo-realpolitik contempt for nation-building led us to abandon Afghanistan in 1989 and to stop short of replacing Saddam in 1991. The fact is we're going to be engaged in nation-building in Afghanistan--and one hopes in Iraq. Conservatives should stop complaining about it, move beyond indulging in cheap worldly cynicism, and help make it happen according to sound conservative principles.

(3) Wars are unpredictable. This is a cliche, but a true one. We need to expect the unexpected over the next weeks and months, remembering both that things happen that are beyond our foretelling and control, but also that we have lots of adversaries around the world who try to make things happen in ways adverse to us. Lincoln wrote to A. G. Hodges on April 4, 1864, "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me." In fact, very few statesmen have had as much ability as Lincoln to foresee and shape events--but his statement is an expression of a deep truth about human affairs: The way one "controls" events is by understanding the limits of human control. Wars bring home those limits.

William Kristol is editor of The Weekly Standard.