The Magazine

The Detour

Apr 8, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 29 • By ROBERT KAGAN and WILLIAM KRISTOL
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But if we didn't buy anything, we paid quite a bit. Not since September 11 has the Bush administration so enveloped itself in a fog of moral confusion. Whatever happened to the president's clear formulation that anyone who harbors a terrorist or helps a terrorist will be treated as a terrorist? That is one of the core principles of the Bush Doctrine. Yet on one day Secretary of State Colin Powell was officially designating one of Yasser Arafat's organizations a terrorist entity, and the next day the administration was trying to help Arafat get on a plane to Beirut. It's time for plain speaking and plain thinking.

We're heartened that Powell, at his Friday press conference, seemed to reject the idea that Israel and the Palestinians are somehow equally to blame for the violence. The secretary of state may now recognize that the detour towards appeasing Arab intransigence was a mistake. Arafat, after all, is a sponsor of terrorism. He harbors terrorists in territories he controls. He oversees the payment and supply of terrorists. Does the Bush Doctrine apply to Yasser Arafat or not?

And what of the president's powerful declaration, in his "Axis of Evil" speech, that he intended to help those in the Muslim world struggling for freedom against tyranny? The last two weeks have been a love-fest between administration officials and Middle Eastern tyrants. We understand that the State Department believes we need to win over the Saudis in order to be able to carry out a military mission in Iraq. But at the end of the day, the Saudis will support the United States in Iraq not because they like us, and not because we promise them a Palestinian state, but only because we leave them no choice. Only because we make it clear, as Bush has done in his simple but profound way, that in the war on terrorism they can either be with us or against us.

We trust the damage done in the past two weeks can be repaired and that the administration can find its way back to the straight route President Bush had charted. As this magazine went to press, it appeared that the Bush team was correcting course. Powell's statement Friday, after weeks of morally neutral denunciations of the "cycle of violence," came down firmly and unequivocally on the side of Israel, as Israeli forces began a campaign to break the Arafat-sponsored terror network. We hope Israel succeeds. And we hope the Bush administration provides full support for Israel's war on terrorism. Whether we like it or not, their war is now indisputably our war.

Meanwhile, we are more convinced than ever that the success of the war on terrorism rests entirely in the president's hands. President Lincoln once remarked, in the midst of the Civil War, that he had "never professed to be a military man or to know how campaigns should be conducted," but that circumstances had forced him to play an active role in the prosecution of the Civil War nevertheless--at least until he found a general who could win the war for him. In truth, no one in America understood the meaning of the Civil War, and what would be necessary to win it, better than Lincoln. Today, we strongly suspect that no one understands the war on terrorism, and how to win it, better than George W. Bush. Let's hope that from now on, he trusts his own understanding.

--Robert Kagan and William Kristol