The American Mission: to bring a measure of self government and openness to millions of Arabs condemned living under dictatorial rule.
Richard Perle, Figaro:
Most Americans can recall where they were when the terrorists struck on September 11, 2001. I was in France enjoying the last four days of a summer in Provence , talking on the phone to a colleague in Washington. We were planning a meeting of a Pentagon advisory group scheduled for the 17th. "My God," he said as the news bulletin flashed on the television, "A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center."
Within minutes the report of the second plane crashing into the second tower was broadcast. By then it was clear that an unprecedented terrorist attack was underway in New York and, as I would soon learn, in my home town, Washington. As the news spread I received one phone call after another: from friends around the country, including one colleague evacuated from the White House who went to my nearby Washington office to work on what became the President's first public statements; from my son, a law student; and from our neighbors in Provence, who could not have been more sympathetic or more willing to help.
The United States had become a victim in a campaign of terror against western civilization. The outpouring of sympathy, support and encouragement for the victims was deeply moving.
So, when did it all change? When could it no longer be said, as Le Monde said famously, that "we are all Americans now?" READ MORE
When did the idea begin to develop that American foreign policy had transformed the victim of 11/9 into a danger to global peace and security?
America's European critics—especially President Chirac and his faithful prime minister—say the turning point came with the war against Saddam Hussein. I believe it began when America decided to fight back, to end a decade of inaction in the face of repeated acts of terror against our embassies, ships, installations and citizens. It began when we became serious about our own defense, when we dispensed with empty platitudes about the ability of international law and institutions to protect us from Islamist extremists relentlessly chasing the vision of an Islamic universe for which they will kill prodigiously, and be killed. It began when Americans chose to get along without the sympathy that flows to victims.
Dominique de Villepin has said recently that "It is the duty of France and Europe to show that the clash of civilizations is not inevitable. No one retains this wisdom, inherited from our history, as we, French and Europeans, do." It is not clear what policies, French or European, will flow from this self-proclaimed wisdom. During the recent hostilities between Israel and an Iranian controlled terrorist organization, Hezbollah, the ever helpful Villepin, crowing about the virtue of "listening and dialogue," was ready to support a U.N. ceasefire by dispatching thousands of "peace keepers" to Lebanon. But when the inflated rhetoric had given way to reality, France offered not thousands, but hundreds. It's "leadership" will now be shared with Italy which has offered a more substantial force. And neither French nor other European peacekeepers will undertake to remove from Hizbollah the thousands of rockets that remain after several thousand were fired at Israeli cities.
Implicit in Mr. Villepin's assessment is the idea that we are now facing, and must act to avert, a clash of civilizations. But for there to be such a clash there must be at least two civilizations. In this fight, which President Bush has properly described as a war, there is only one. The suicide bombers of Hizbollah, Hammas, Al Qaeda and the rest are in no sense a civilization. They are fanatics, driven by the belief that they have been charged by Allah to wage holy war against the west, its institutions, its beliefs and its values. They prey on disaffected young Muslims who have been recruited into a life of jihad by fanatical mullahs, financed by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states with a stream of easy petro-dollars. "Listening" is pointless, "dialogue" a waste of time and, more importantly, a dangerous self-deception.
To be sure there are grave problems in the Muslim, and especially the Arab world. And Muslims too have sometimes been victims. In the earliest days of the genocide against the Muslims of Bosnia, I joined with colleagues, many of whom are now routinely described as unrealistic neo-conservatives, in a campaign for western intervention to stop the slaughter. It was clear that only an opposing force could stop the killing. But after declaring the Balkan wars a matter for Europe, the Europeans failed to take serious action, preferring a United Nations embargo that left the Muslims defenseless and a United Nations "force" that stood by while tens of thousands of innocent civilians were murdered. Only when the United States led an intervention was the killing stopped, an action that would be repeated later in Kosovo.
I argued then that western indifference to the slaughter of Muslims would bring us closer to the clash of civilizations of which Professor Samuel Huntington had warned. But what has arisen to wage war against the west a decade later is a radical movement that exploits, rather than reflects, Muslim apprehension and discontent.
Much—but by no means all—of the discontent reflects a sad truth: with the exception of Iraq, the world's Arabs live mostly in corrupt dictatorships offering little except to small elite. There is little industry beyond oil production, little scope for professional development, little exposure to other cultures. What news is allowed to penetrate is wildly distorted or outright propaganda: 11/9 was an Israeli plot, the United States is stealing Arab oil, Israelis deliberately kill Palestinian civilians. Arab dictators and many of the imams on their payrolls, enflame the passions of the "street" against Israel and the United States as a device to protect their regimes.
As a means of ameliorating this discontent, the Bush administration has tried to encourage democratic development in the Arab world. For this the President has been wrongly accused of wishing to promote democracy by force, of trying to remake the world in the American image. But the American ambition is far more modest: to bring a measure of self government and openness to millions of Arabs condemned living under dictatorial rule. It is an uphill task with almost no support from Europeans who, in their "wisdom," choose words over action, the status quo over democratic change.