A British View of the US Post - September 11
Andrew Sullivan in the London Times
No eloquence can match the impact of their evil.
Americans' critical weakness in the past two
decades has been their reluctance to shed blood
for their goals. They believed they could
construct a huge military and never have it fight
real wars and suffer real casualties. They thought
they could alter history and advance their
interests from the air alone. With the exception
of the Gulf War, which they hesitated to finish,
they have shrunk from the fight.
When the current enemy struck again and again
throughout the 1990s, Bill Clinton responded
without real credibility, struck back without real
endurance, enraged the terrorists without truly
hurting them. We are now living with the
consequences of his appeasement, and of his
refusal to challenge Americans beyond what the
polls said they already wanted to do.
Whoever launched this war on Americans has now
accomplished the task Clinton didn't dare embark
America has been bloodied as it has never been
I would be a fool to predict what happens next.
But it is clear that Bush will not do a Clinton.
This will not be a surgical strike. It will not be
a gesture. It may not even begin in earnest soon.
But it will be deadly serious. It is clear that
there is no way that the United States can achieve
its goals without the cooperation of many other
states - an alliance as deep and as broad as that
which won the Gulf War. It is also clear that this
cannot be done by airpower alone. As in 1941, the
neglect of the military under Bill Clinton and the
parsimony of its financing even under Bush must
now not merely be ended but reversed. We may see
the biggest defense build-up since the early1980s
- and not just in weaponry but in manpower.
It is also quite clear that the U.S. military
presence in the Middle East must be ramped up
exponentially, its intelligence overhauled, its
vigilance heightened exponentially. In some ways,
Bush has already assembled the ideal team for such
a task: Powell for the diplomatic dance, Rumsfeld
for the deep reforms he will now have the
opportunity to enact, Cheney as his most trusted
aide in what has become to all intents and
purposes a war cabinet.
The terrorists have done the rest.
The middle part of the country - the great red
zone that voted for Bush - is clearly ready for
war. The decadent Left in its enclaves on the
coasts is not dead - and may well mount what
amounts to a fifth column. But by striking at the
heart of New York City, the terrorists ensured
that at least one deep segment of the country
ill-disposed toward a new president is now the
most passionate in his defense. Anyone who has
ever tried to get one over on a New Yorker knows
what I mean.
The demons who started this have no idea about the
kind of people they have taken on.
But what the terrorists are also counting on is
that Americans will not have the stomach for the
long haul. They clearly know that the coming
retaliation will not be the end but the beginning.
And when the terrorists strike back again, they
have let us know that the results could make the
assault on the World Trade Center look puny. They
are banking that Americans will then cave.
They have seen a great country quarrel to the edge
of constitutional crisis over a razor-close
presidential election. They have seen it respond
to real threats in the last few years with
squeamish restraint or surgical strikes.
They have seen that, as Israel has been pounded by
the same murderous thugs, the United States has
responded with equanimity. They have seen a great
nation at the height of its power obsess for a
whole summer over a missing intern and a randy
Congressman. They have good reason to believe that
this country is soft, that it has no appetite for
the war that has now begun. They have gambled that
in response to unprecedented terror, the Americans
will abandon Israel to the barbarians who would
annihilate every Jew on the planet, and trade away
their freedom for a respite from terror in their
We cannot foresee the future. But we know the
past. And that past tells us that these people who
destroyed the heart of New York City have made a
terrible mistake. This country is at its heart a
peaceful one. It has done more to help the world
than any other actor in world history. It saved
the world from the two greatest evils of the last
century in Nazism and Soviet Communism. It
responded to its victories in the last war by
pouring aid into Europe and Japan. In the Middle
East, America alone has ensured that the last hope
of the Jewish people is not extinguished and has
given more aid to Egypt than to any other country.
It risked its own people to save the Middle East
from the pseudo-Hitler in Baghdad. America need
not have done any of this. Its world hegemony has
been less violent and less imperial than any other
comparable power in history.
In the depths of its soul, it wants its dream to
itself, to be left alone, to prosper among others,
and to welcome them to the freedom America has
But whenever Americans have been challenged, they
have risen to the task.
In some awful way, these evil thugs may have done
us a favor. America may have woken up for ever.
The rage that will follow from this grief and
shock may be deeper and greater than anyone now
can imagine. Think of what the United States
ultimately did to the enemy that bombed Pearl
Harbor. Now recall that American power in the
world is all but unchallenged by any other
state. Recall that America has never been
wealthier, and is at the end of one of the biggest
booms in its history. And now consider the extent
of this wound - the greatest civilian casualties
since the Civil War, an assault not just on
Americans but on the meaning of America itself.
When you take a step back, it is hard not to
believe that we are now in the quiet moment before
Americans will recover their dead, and they will
mourn them, and then they will get down to
business. Their sadness will be mingled with an
anger that will make the hatred of these evil
fanatics seem mild. I am reminded of a great
American poem written by Herman Melville after the
death of Abraham Lincoln, the second founder of
the country: "There is sobbing of the strong, And
a pall upon the land; But the People in their
weeping Bare the iron hand; Beware the People
weeping When they bare the iron hand."