The Magazine

Weak Horses

Most liberals (and the odd conservative) don't want to fight--Bush does.

Jul 31, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 43 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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On Tuesday, July 18, in Tehran, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke to his countrymen. He reminded them of the connection between Israel and the liberal West: "The final point of liberal civilization is the false and corrupt state that has occupied Jerusalem. That is the bottom line. That is what all those who talk about liberalism and support it have in common." He went on to explain that when the Muslim world erupts, "its waves will not be limited to this region." That same day, Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, issued a warning to the Zionists who had intruded into the Muslim Middle East: "Today, the land of Palestine is painted red with your contemptible blood. . . . No place in Israel will be safe."

Meanwhile, on that same summer day, the Washington Post appeared as usual on the doorsteps of most residents of Washington, D.C., the capital of the liberal civilization Ahmadinejad so dislikes. Its editorial page featured three of its distinguished columnists.

Two were liberals. One, E.J. Dionne, was worried--very, very worried. He saw only "disaster" and "calamity" ahead in the Middle East, no silver lining to the "frightening" developments taking place. He judged that "alarmism is the highest form of realism in this case"--and called for "at least a brief cease-fire." The other, Richard Cohen, was less alarmed, more philosophical. Cohen concurred in part with Ahmadinejad, judging that "Israel itself is a mistake." He dissented in part from Ahmadinejad because Cohen allowed that Israel is, after all, "an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable." So Israel should not be destroyed. But neither should Israel, when it is attacked, go on the offensive. It should "hunker down."

The other regular columnist was a conservative, George F. Will. Will felt it important to remind his readers of the conservative truth of "the limits of power to subdue an unruly world." He mocked the possibility of military action against Syria or Iran. In passing, he cast an ironic eye--perhaps a disapproving one--on the fact that, while Israel has patiently borne the "torment" of terrorism "for decades," the United States "responded to two hours of terrorism one September morning by toppling two regimes halfway around the world with wars that show no signs of ending." (If the 9/11 attacks had lasted a little longer, would one's fine sense of proportion be less disturbed by the vigor of the American response?) In any case, Will concluded, things could get worse.

That's a lot of "weak horses," to borrow an Osama bin Laden formulation, for one op-ed page. Fortunately, there are at least a few strong horses in the nation's capital as well. One was to be found on the Post's own editorial page, right across from Dionne and Cohen and Will. The clear-eyed liberalism of the Post's own editorial, "A War With Extremists," was bracing, as the editors argued that "this Middle East conflict should end with the defeat of its instigators," Hamas and Hezbollah, and warned against accepting a premature cease-fire or any result other than a "decisive defeat" for the terrorists and their state backers in Damascus and Tehran.

And on the news pages were reports of a couple more strong horses--George W. Bush and Tony Blair. Bush and Blair were, famously, caught on an open mike at the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg. Blair demonstrated a shrewd understanding of what was at stake for Syria's dictator, Bashar Assad: "He thinks if Lebanon turns out fine, if we get a solution in Israel and Palestine, Iraq goes in the right way . . . he's done." And Bush explained, simply and correctly, that the first step was "to get Hezbollah to stop doing this s---."

Israel is fighting to stop, and defeat, Hezbollah. Bush, Blair, and the Post editors understand that the right policy is to stand behind Israel, and to support that nation in defeating terror--for its own sake, and on behalf of liberal civilization. They understand that we are at war with an axis of jihadist-terrorist organizations and the states that sponsor them. They understand that we need to win the war. With Bush's leadership, we have a good chance to do so.

--William Kristol