The Magazine

The Gathering Storm

Oct 29, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 07 • By ROBERT KAGAN and WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Now it may be too late. Now we may get political change whether we like it or not, and it may be change for the worse. Today and in the months to come, Mubarak, the Saudi royal family, and the king of Jordan will be forced to choose between supporting the American-led war on terrorism and continuing to pamper and feed their increasingly radicalized populations, for some of whom bin Laden is a hero. They will, of course, try not to choose, but the balancing act will prove difficult, and the possibility that one or more of these regimes may collapse is not to be dismissed. The stake the United States has in preventing the rise to power of a radical Islamic regime in any of these countries--which would produce an Afghanistan with money and power--is enormous. American intervention in some form would be a near certainty.

These are just the dangers visible on the horizon today. There will also be what Secretary Rumsfeld astutely calls the "unknown unknowns," events and crises yet unimaginable. We live in times of turmoil and uncertainty. We have been surprised, horribly surprised, once. We will be surprised again. No one can imagine that the latest anthrax attack is the terrorists' last move.

All this calls for seriousness on the part of our government, all parts of our government. More seriousness than we have seen so far. Even if only part of what we have suggested in fact materializes, we will need to beef up our military capacities far beyond what is currently planned. What if we really do have to fight two good-sized wars in two separate theaters? Secretary Rumsfeld has already acknowledged that we don't have nearly what we need.

Seriousness will also require abandoning the State Department's tiptoe through the tulips approach to this war. The wider conflict ahead will have to be fought with or without the approval of every single member state of the United Nations, or every tribe and clan of every ethnically divided nation in Central Asia and the Middle East. Colin Powell's grand coalition will have to give way to a narrower coalition of the willing, the capable, and the committed--committed, that is, to the security of the West.

And at home, we will need to get serious about domestic security, and (unfortunately) about public health, in ways the government has barely begun to do. What we have seen so far on the homefront is moderately incompetent reactions to the new world we live in by public health and law enforcement agencies, unreassuring attempts at reassurance by cabinet officers, and very little recognition of the need to rethink public policies in areas like immigration and counter-terrorism. And, of course, we have the ludicrous spectacle of 435 of our elected representatives fleeing anthrax in Washington, presumably to spend their long weekend at home giving speeches to their constituents urging them to be calm and courageous. The war at home is as deserving of serious presidential attention, resolute political leadership, and rigorous executive competence as the war abroad. For in the case of both the war at home and the war abroad, the challenges have just begun. We are not even at the end of the beginning.

--Robert Kagan and William Kristol

October 29, 2001 - Volume 7, Number 7