of you who are Arab-Americans might recognize me; I spoke before
several of your groups during last year's presidential campaign,
and have occasionally sought assistance from the ever-helpful press
officers of Arab-American organizations. But I am only someone who
has, over the past years, developed growing remorse over the injustices
of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian land captured in 1967,
and for my country's inability or refusal to do anything about it.
I have written several newspaper columns about Israel and the Palestinians,
and probably lost some of my pro-Israeli friends because of them.
I have modestly assisted a Christian group working for a fair peace
in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. But I would readily admit that my
engagement on these issues has been minor.
have also begun to question, in a not very systematic way, whether
the American policies for the "containment" of Saddam
Hussein are worth the cost especially if that cost is contributing
to the health care catastrophe in Iraq and the death of thousands
of innocents who have been unable to overthrow Saddam Hussein themselves.
are still very few Americans prepared to go out of their way, through
their own political activity, to help bring about a Palestinian
state alongside Israel. But there are more than there used to be,
and many more still who, for the first time in their lives, are
curious about the subject. The same could be said about the Gulf,
with Saddam's brutal regime and its suffering subjects. You surely
know that American diplomats have been, during the past spring and
summer, casting about for a ways to change policies there without
making things worse. All things being equal, I believe that the
next year would have seen considerable evolution in the American
posture towards these two problems evolution in directions most
of you would applaud.
and this "but" is the reason I am writing to you in this
way, all things are not equal. Indeed I want to warn you about this,
because I fear that your own ambassadors may not be giving you an
accurate picture of the ways in which "9-11" has changed
the United States and where those changes could lead. There is already
a considerable record of Arab governments (Saddam's for instance,
in 1990 and 1991) woefully misreading American intentions. In this
case the consequences could be far more horrific.
especially fear that your observations of American behavior in war
and peace over the past fifty-five years during the entire post
war period may have given you a false impression of what the
United States is capable of. During that time, America has fought
more than a dozen limited wars and "police actions" including
wars (such as the one against Iraq) which it knew it had virtually
no chance of losing. While Washington used its military power widely,
its leaders always tried to keep in mind the bigger picture the
dangerous rivalry with the nuclear armed Soviet Union, the need
to keep the trade routes of the world economy open, the requirement
not to alarm excessively an American citizenry that deep down
was deeply skeptical about getting "bogged down" in
short, during the various military crises, American officials and
generals generally maintained a well-calibrated sense that they
were fighting a "limited war." In both private rumination
and government memos, they were conscious of the precepts of Christian
Just War doctrine (about proportionality of means and ends, and
the inadmissibility of targeting innocents). Certainly there have
been occasions where such precepts were breached, but seldom were
they breached in egregious fashion.
if you have concluded that the recently commenced "war against
terrorism" will be fought in the way Americans have fought
wars in the past fifty years, you could be terribly mistaken.
an inhabitant of New York City, I hope with all my heart that the
attacks we have experienced so far are the worst of it. The Al-Qaeda
organization carried out what in terrorist circles was probably
seen as an unbelievable spectacle killing five thousand people
in an instant, with the whole world watching. I pray that they achieve
no greater "success" no large scale and undetected anthrax
dissemination, no nuclear bomb in an American city, no smallpox
epidemics, nothing that involves really large-scale American civilian
hope so for your sake nearly as much as for our own, because if
the United States comes to feel it is really in a war for its survival,
it will be very different than anything we've seen in the last fifty
years. American history shows that beyond a shadow of a doubt. Our
Civil War in the last century commenced with Washington's bourgeois
families packing picnic lunches to go out the women in fine flowing
dresses to take in the spectacle on the battlefield. It ended
with American cities in the defeated South being starved and put
to the torch.
War II opened with most Americans not the least bit eager to declare
war on Germany which was the ancestral home of the largest non-English
American ethnic group. But after a few years of combat, a period
during which German arms barely scratched the American homeland,
America's air commanders eagerly went about creating firestorms
in Germany's cities, in one instance incinerating more than one
hundred thousand souls on a single night.
short, if wholesale slaughter of noncombatants begins, the American
government possesses the weapons to do a lot of it, and America's
leaders, civilian or military, whoever they are at the time, will
not hesitate to use them. If the men of Al Qaeda imagine that they
will achieve something positive for the Arab world by killing hundreds
of thousands of American civilians, and somehow manage to carry
out such a plan, they may find that the American response is to
essentially put an end to urban life in the Arab world. This kind
of "thinking about the unthinkable" is a dreadful thing
to have to do, but I hope your leaders are able to do it as they
calibrate their nations' diplomacy in the weeks and months ahead.
momentous cultural shift has taken place in the United States. It
is apparent at the baseball games, where people stand and belt out
traditional patriotic songs during the seventh inning stretch, with
no hint of skepticism or irony.
was even more visible the other night in Madison Square Garden,
where dozens of leading entertainers organized a tribute to the
police and firemen who lost their lives on September ll. The evening
was emotionally poignant, as it should have been we New Yorkers
lost a lot of real heroes that day.
there was something else in the program, which I had never seen
before, though I have lived here nearly fifty years: Hollywood was
heaping visceral scorn on an enemy of the United States. This did
not happen with Ho Chi Minh, or the Sandinistas, or Noriega, or
Saddam Hussein, or Krushchev or Brezhnev or Chairman Mao, and certainly
not with Fidel Castro. I won't go through the jokes, but they were
crude and usually sexual: about Osama bin Laden and his goats, or
the sexual repression and frustration which (many Americans imagine)
lies behind all this Muslim rage we see displayed nightly on our
Arabs in the wider world embrace Osama, as millions are apparently
doing, they will receive the same scornful treatment. Americans
are being psychologically prepared to see their enemies destroyed.
The people who plan wars in Washington have never had Hollywood
on their side, or at least have not since World War II. They do
new situation may prove unfairly difficult for those Arab regimes
that have not sheltered or funded bin Laden and his associates,
nor engaged in any anti-American terrorism. Egypt's Hosni Mubarak,
for instance, has been targeted for assassination by fundamentalist
terror groups far more than any Western leader. Now his government
is receiving hostile American scrutiny for its lack of full cooperation
with the U.S. war effort. The Palestinian Authority faces new Israeli
attacks because of the killing of an Israeli cabinet minister, a
man who in his rhetoric and openly-proclaimed ethnic cleansing
goals makes David Duke seem temperate by comparison. Ariel Sharon
has launched an obscene moral equivalence gambit, pretending that
that assassination of one racist Israeli minister is the same kind
of "terrorism" as the murder of 5000 American civilians,
justifying a similar reaction. This comes from a government that
has made assassination a regular feature of its foreign policy.
But while Americans may not care much for Sharon, they like Yasser
Arafat no better. More importantly, for the overwhelming majority
of Americans, whatever Israel does on the West Bank is a tiny sideshow
compared to the effort to track down bin Laden and the people waging
war against the United States. Americans may be mistaken to feel
this way, but that sentiment is a reality that should not be ignored.
these circumstances, what is the best course of action? What route
holds the best chance to improve the situation for Americans (who
now live in fear of more terror), for Palestinians (who have lived
under brutal military occupation for a very long time), and for
the overwhelming majority of other Arabs? I hope you would agree
that bin Laden and all the terrorist networks associated with him
must be destroyed or neutralized as quickly as possible. Even if
one were to postulate (as I would not) that Al-Qaeda's goals are
limited to kicking the United States out of the Persian Gulf and
the Israelis out of the occupied territories, there is no way that
they are going to be allowed to accomplish them.
a few Americans might consider such goals, taken by themselves,
worthy of discussion. Few people still think that the government
of Saudi Arabia (whose financial sponsorship of rabidly anti-American
fundamentalism has been widely reported in the past weeks) is worth
two cents as an "ally". There is growing understanding
that there has to be a secure Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Many are willing to concede that Washington's anti-Saddam policy
is an utter failure.
the United States will not address any of these issues until bin
Laden's network has been destroyed. At present, there are no American
voices that count saying, "Let's change our policies right
now," by seeking greater accommodation with the Arabs or adopting
a lower profile throughout the Middle East. Right now, the United
States is a country primed for war, as it has not really been since
1945. When Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers said last week he
considered the Osama threat the greatest danger the United States
had faced since World War II, his assessment may or may not have
been accurate, but it was not empty rhetoric. He was giving voice
to what most Americans now feel.
recommendation is that every Arab government (and every Arab-American
organization) so inclined cooperate as fully as humanly possible
to help the United States win its war against terrorism as quickly
as it can. It now seems unlikely that the "go-to-war-against-all-the-Arabs"
faction in Washington will prevail in the absence of credible evidence
that Iraq has sponsored anti-American terror. The Washington wider-war
people still pine for a grandiose "Phase Two," an offensive
against Iraq, Iran, Syria and whoever else is on the Israeli Defense
Ministry's target list. But Great Britain has already expressed
a firm negative reaction to this scheme, and London's voice is heeded.
Absent renewed and extensive terror attacks, there is no American
groundswell for a wider war.
the United States is committed without reservation to a war against
bin Laden and Al Qaeda, and will win that war one way or another.
It is in your interest as well as ours that that war is won as rapidly
as possible, long before the United States slides into any temptation
to resort to total war.
that victory, things may improve. As I have mentioned above, there
is a great deal more conversation among Americans than used to be
about foreign affairs in general and about wrongs committed against
the Arabs in particular. You have seen some evidence of this in
President Bush's own words about Palestine. American elite opinion
is now fluid and quite receptive to arguments that a substantial
rethinking of American policies in the Mid East is long overdue.
You can help in that reshaping; indeed you must. But to squeeze
any durable gain from the present situation, you must help us eliminate
Al Qaeda, as quickly as possible.
printable version of this article
As a committed
cold warrior during the 1980ís, Scott McConnell wrote extensively
for Commentary and other neoconservative publications. Throughout
much of the 1990ís he worked as a columnist, chief editorial writer,
and finally editorial page editor at the New York Post. Most
recently, he served as senior policy advisor to Pat Buchananís 2000
campaign , and writes regularly for NY Press/Taki's Top Drawer.
columns on Antiwar.com
Push for A Wider War
Bushes and the Palestinians: Act 2
Struggle Over War Aims
They Hate Us
Many Arabs Hate America
is Still Right
Real Plan for the Mideast
Just Mideast Peace
Liberalism on the March