A friend writes:
Best piece I've read in a while.
I think so, too.
World War III
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
JERUSALEM -- As I restlessly lay awake early yesterday, with CNN on
my TV and dawn breaking over the holy places of Jerusalem, my ear
somehow latched onto a statement made by the U.S. transportation
secretary, Norman Mineta, about the new precautions that would be put
in place at U.S. airports in the wake of Tuesday's unspeakable
terrorist attacks: There will be no more curbside check-in, he said.
I suddenly imagined a group of terrorists somewhere here in the
Middle East, sipping coffee, also watching CNN and laughing
hysterically: "Hey boss, did you hear that? We just blew up Wall
Street and the Pentagon and their response is no more curbside
I don't mean to criticize Mr. Mineta. He is doing what he can. And I
have absolutely no doubt that the Bush team, when it identifies the
perpetrators, will make them pay dearly. Yet there was something so
absurdly futile and American about the curbside ban that I couldn't
help but wonder: Does my country really understand that this is World
War III? And if this attack was the Pearl Harbor of World War III, it
means there is a long, long war ahead.
And this Third World War does not pit us against another superpower.
It pits us - the world's only superpower and quintessential symbol of
liberal, free-market, Western values - against all the
super-empowered angry men and women out there. Many of these
super-empowered angry people hail from failing states in the Muslim
and third world. They do not share our values, they resent America's
influence over their lives, politics and children, not to mention our
support for Israel, and they often blame America for the failure of
their societies to master modernity.
What makes them super-empowered, though, is their genius at using the
networked world, the Internet and the very high technology they hate
to attack us. Think about it: They turned our most advanced civilian
planes into human-directed, precision-guided cruise missiles - a
diabolical melding of their fanaticism and our technology. Jihad
Online. And think of what they hit: The World Trade Center - the
beacon of American-led capitalism that both tempts and repels them,
and the Pentagon, the embodiment of American military superiority.
And think about what places in Israel the Palestinian suicide bombers
have targeted most. "They never hit synagogues or settlements or
Israeli religious zealots," said the Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit.
"They hit the Sbarro pizza parlor, the Netanya shopping mall. The
Dolphinarium disco. They hit the yuppie Israel, not the yeshiva
So what is required to fight a war against such people in such a
world? To start with, we as Americans will never be able to penetrate
such small groups, often based on family ties, who live in places
such as Afghanistan, Pakistan or Lebanon's wild Bekaa Valley. The
only people who can penetrate these shadowy and ever-mutating groups,
and deter them, are their own societies. And even they can't do it
consistently. So give the C.I.A. a break.
Israeli officials will tell you that the only time they have had real
quiet and real control over the suicide bombers and radical
Palestinian groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, is when Yasir
Arafat and his Palestinian Authority tracked them, jailed them or
So then the question becomes, What does it take for us to get the
societies that host terrorist groups to truly act against them?
First we have to prove that we are serious, and that we understand
that many of these terrorists hate our existence, not just our
policies. In June I wrote a column about the fact that a few
cell-phone threats from Osama bin Laden had prompted President Bush
to withdraw the F.B.I. from Yemen, a U.S. Marine contingent from
Jordan and the U.S. Fifth Fleet from its home base in the Persian
Gulf. This U.S. retreat was noticed all over the region, but it did
not merit a headline in any major U.S. paper. That must have
encouraged the terrorists. Forget about our civilians, we didn't even
want to risk our soldiers to face their threats.
The people who planned Tuesday's bombings combined world-class evil
with world-class genius to devastating effect. And unless we are
ready to put our best minds to work combating them - the World War
III Manhattan project - in an equally daring, unconventional and
unremitting fashion, we're in trouble. Because while this may have
been the first major battle of World War III, it may be the last one
that involves only conventional, non-nuclear weapons.
Second, we have been allowing a double game to go on with our Middle
East allies for years, and that has to stop. A country like Syria has
to decide: Does it want a Hezbollah embassy in Damascus or an
American one? If it wants a U.S. embassy, then it cannot play host to
a rogue's gallery of terrorist groups.
Does that mean the U.S. must ignore Palestinian concerns and Muslim
economic grievances? No. Many in this part of the world crave the
best of America, and we cannot forget that we are their ray of hope.
But apropos of the Palestinians, the U.S. put on the table at Camp
David a plan that would have gotten Yasir Arafat much of what he now
claims to be fighting for. That U.S. plan may not be sufficient for
Palestinians, but to say that the justifiable response to it is
suicide terrorism is utterly sick.
Third, we need to have a serious and respectful dialogue with the
Muslim world and its political leaders about why many of its people
are falling behind. The fact is, no region in the world, including
sub-Saharan Africa, has fewer freely elected governments than the
Arab-Muslim world, which has none. Why? Egypt went through a whole
period of self-criticism after the 1967 war, which produced a
stronger country. Why is such self-criticism not tolerated today by
any Arab leader?
Where are the Muslim leaders who will tell their sons to resist the
Israelis - but not to kill themselves or innocent non-combatants? No
matter how bad, your life is sacred. Surely Islam, a grand religion
that never perpetrated the sort of Holocaust against the Jews in its
midst that Europe did, is being distorted when it is treated as a
guidebook for suicide bombing. How is it that not a single Muslim
leader will say that?
These are some of the issues we will have to address as we fight
World War III. It will be a long war against a brilliant and
motivated foe. When I remarked to an Israeli military official what
an amazing technological feat it was for the terrorists to hijack the
planes and then fly them directly into the most vulnerable spot in
each building, he pooh-poohed me.
"It's not that difficult to learn how to fly a plane once it's up in
the air," he said. "And remember, they never had to learn how to
No, they didn't. They only had to destroy. We, by contrast, have to
fight in a way that is effective without destroying the very open
society we are trying to protect. We have to fight hard and land
safely. We have to fight the terrorists as if there were no rules,
and preserve our open society as if there were no terrorists. It
won't be easy. It will require our best strategists, our most
creative diplomats and our bravest soldiers. Semper Fi.
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