The Magazine

Syria Yes, Israel No!

Our anti-terror coalition doesn't distinguish friend from foe

Nov 12, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 09 • By NORMAN PODHORETZ
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Never mind that there is an irrefutable argument against this charge in the fact that we have in recent years aligned ourselves both militarily and politically with Muslims: first in the Gulf, and then in Bosnia and Kosovo (where we sided with Muslims against Christians). Scarcely mentioning this fact, we have instead bought into the notion that the price of securing even such minimal support as we receive from Saudi Arabia and Egypt is to exclude Israel, a natural ally in any war against terrorism. It is a price Colin Powell is willing to pay. As he has made abundantly clear over the past month, the only way the Israelis can help us in our war against terrorism is not (shades of Desert Storm!) by participating in it with all the expertise they have gained in this area through much bloody experience, but rather by exercising "restraint" whenever terrorist aggressions are committed against them.

Nor is this all. The administration has no compunction about pressuring Israel to try yet again for a deal with the godfather of contemporary terrorism, Yasser Arafat. This holder of the Nobel Peace Prize is even now continuing to harbor terrorist organizations (at least one of which, Hezbollah, has participated in actions against the United States) in the areas over which he rules as head of the Palestinian Authority. If the PA were a nation, this would qualify it as a target of our war against state sponsors of terrorism. Yet it is not to close that loophole that we are pressuring Israel to accede to a Palestinian state. We are doing so because we imagine that this will lessen Islamic hostility to us and undercut the popularity bin Laden enjoys among Muslims all over the world.

Assuming that Arafat would now accept what he refused when it was offered to him last year by Israel and the United States, it is yet another delusion to believe that the establishment of a Palestinian state at this, of all moments, would have the desired effects. On the contrary: it would be seen by the Islamic world, and correctly, as a capitulation to and a reward for terrorism. It would therefore add contempt to the hatred already felt for us as the embodiment of modernity and all that modernity entails.

Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, undoubtedly committed a great diplomatic blunder in warning the West against trying to do unto Israel today what England and France did unto Czechoslovakia when they surrendered it to Hitler at Munich in 1938. But Sharon's mistake lay in talking so bluntly in public to his allies and benefactors, not in the substance of his speech.

The upshot is that the coalition of Muslim states put together by Colin Powell is proving to be of no value to us. I would go further: It is causing us harm, and not alone by making us look like appeasers in our constant rebukes of Israel. We have been pulling our punches in Afghanistan, and a major cause is fear that a greater deployment of our power would put a strain on the coalition. That same fear, I suspect, is also behind the record speeds achieved by some administration spokesmen in fleeing from any suggestion that Iraq ought to be our next target.

Finally, and most damaging of all, by allying ourselves in a war against terrorism with states that harbor terrorism, we create moral and intellectual confusion, and make it even harder to define an already shadowy enemy.

I realize that a similar complaint was lodged against our alliance with Stalin in the war against Hitler. But in forging a pact with the devil, as Winston Churchill put it, we derived a great military asset. An analogous, if lesser, military consideration justifies our current alliance with Pakistan, from whose territory we have been able to stage raids into Afghanistan.

But no such military benefit has come from our courtship of Syria and Yemen and Iran, or even our "friendship" with Saudi Arabia and Egypt. And who can tell whether the "intelligence" they are all said to be sharing with us is reliable? If R.W. Apple of the New York Times is right, "the sole known commando raid into enemy territory" in Afghanistan provided "ample evidence that American intelligence about the Taliban is thin."

ON SEPTEMBER 11, we suffered the bloodiest aggression against us on our own soil in our history. War was declared on the United States, and the United States responded by going to war. But in no small measure because of the irrational compulsion to assemble a coalition that Arab and/or Islamic states would be willing to join, we have not been fighting this war with the all-out energy we summoned up after Pearl Harbor.

We, the American people, passionately want and need and demand that the enemy be defeated as decisively as Germany and Japan were by 1945. (Seventy-two percent of us are even in favor of restoring the draft!) It is not merely our physical security that has for the first time been called into question. A great blow has also been struck against our confidence in our strength and power, and we hunger for -- yes -- revenge.

Beyond revenge, we crave "a new birth" of the confidence we used to have in ourselves and in "America the Beautiful." But there is only one road to this lovely condition of the spirit, and it runs through what Roosevelt and Churchill called the "unconditional surrender" of the enemy. If we go on dithering, our lives will remain at permanent risk. So, too, will something deeper than the desire for physical security that has been stirred and agitated by the ferocious wound we received on September 11: a wound that is still suppurating and sore for lack of the healing balm that only a more coherent and wholehearted approach to the war will bring.

What I mean is that nothing less than the soul of this country is at stake, and that nothing less than an unambiguous victory will save us from yet another disappointment in ourselves and another despairing disillusion with our leaders. Only this time the disappointment and the despair might well possess enough force to topple us over just as surely as those hijacked planes did to the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

Norman Podhoretz is editor-at-large of Commentary and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. His most recent book is My Love Affair with America (Free Press).

November 12, 2001 - Volume 7, Number 9