On September 11, President George W. Bush explained to us on national television that "America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world." Two days later, he spoke of terrorists who "hate our values" and "hate what America stands for." The next day, at the National Cathedral, he said, "They have attacked America, because we are freedom's home and defender." If that were indeed what motivated the men who flew airplanes into the Pentagon and World Trade Center, there would be reason for the huge military operation President Bush now tells us we need in order to "whip terrorism."
But what the president said about the attacks is not just nonsense; it is dangerous nonsense. If our country believes him, and we go to war against Islamic fundamentalism, we will succeed only in adding millions more to the millions who already hate us, and some of them will launch yet more attacks on us, perhaps even worse than the ones we have just suffered.
Does President Bush really imagine Osama bin Laden saying to his men: "Those Americans are just too damn free; they've got too much opportunity. Let's kill as many as we can"? The idea is absurd. Islamic militants have a grudge against us because of our attacks on Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, and the Sudan. But the main reason they hate us and want to kill us is that we support Israel. Can anyone deny that if we were not Israel's enthusiastic backer those thousands of Americans would still be alive? It is no coincidence that the two nations against which suicide attacks are now launched are the two nations out of 160 that walked out together from the Durban racism conference in defense of Israel. To Muslim fundamentalists we and Israel are one and the same, and we have given them ample reason to think so.
Fundamentalists dislike us for what we "are," but they hate us and kill us for what we "do." They despise our loose sexual standards, and many of them have not forgotten the Crusades, but that does not make them mad enough to kill us. They kill us because we support and finance a country they see as having been illegitimately carved out of the very flesh of their Islamic kinsmen. With so much at stake, it is vital that we not be confused about what motivates the terror we plan to combat.
If there really were something about the essential nature of the United States that made people try to kill us, the president's plans would be justified. Congress would be right to appropriate an emergency $20 billion for a war against Islamic terrorism. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz would be right to promise, as he did on September 13, a "sustained and broad" campaign on the scale of the Gulf War. The Senate would be right to authorize the president, as it did on September 14, to use "necessary and appropriate force" to retaliate.
But that analysis is wrong, and acting on it will bring calamity. The real question is: Why have we so obviously chosen sides in a bitter, decades-long fight in the Middle East? Is Israel so clearly in the right that we should risk the hatred of half the world in order to support it? With the risks so great, we should understand what we are doing with perfect clarity. If we go to war, it will not be because we are the land of freedom and opportunity, but because we are the best friend and benefactor of Israel. Should we go to war for Israel? Should we spend $20 billion to kill Muslims, and thereby expose our cities to inevitable reprisal for the sake of Israel? There had better be convincing answers to those questions, but no one is even asking them.
Americans are prepared to kill and die for America; they will think twice about killing and dying for Israel. Surely, it is because he dares not say thousands of Americans have just died because of Israel that President Bush invents preposterous motives for the men who killed them.
But even if Americans were prepared to fight for Israel, a war to "whip terrorism" will only "whip up" terrorism. Israel has responded with great force to terror attacks, and the fury this provokes among Palestinians leads only to more terror. What we are planning will have the same effect, except that the terror will be directed at us.
Of course, there is a way Israel could end all Palestinian terror attacks. It need only act on the principle President Bush announced on September 11: to make "no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them." By that terrible logic, Israel should exterminate every Palestinian -- it has the means to do that. By that logic we should exterminate every Iraqi, Afghani, Yemeni, and Iranian -- we have the means to do that, too. Of course, we would then have to exterminate "all" Muslims, since by then all would be potential terrorists.
If we fight Israel's enemies, the United States will become like Israel: a garrison state and battleground. Our leaders are already warning us that our safety will henceforth require more inspections, restrictions, and intrusions. There will be worse. The latest series of revenge killings in the Middle East has finally driven some of Israel's own Arab citizens to violence. Is it out of the question to suspect that if we launch our own jihad against terrorism, we may eventually drive some of our 7 million Muslim citizens to violence against us?
By all means, let us find and even kill the people who helped carry out these terrible acts of terror against us. But it is madness to invent false motives for them, to pretend we have done nothing to provoke them, and to launch a war for Israel that will only give yet more millions reasons to hate us. If that is our response to terror we will only ensure for ourselves yet more terror, yet more smoldering ruins and shattered lives.