Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Clearing the Way? II

America is full of fear," crowed a jubilant Osama bin Laden, in his taped message anticipating the U.S. response to his massacre of the six thousand. "They cry for their children."

In a gleeful expression of pride in his guilt of mass murder, the fanatic promised that "nobody in the United States will feel safe" unless the United States withdraws from Arab lands. He then identified his terms for surrender: the removal of Jews from Palestine and the end of America's interference with Iraq.

That brings a note of clarity to the basis for Sunday's opening proceedings. No longer can any nervous Arab ruler pretend to doubt bin Laden's direct culpability for the hijack attacks. And because the interests of Middle Eastern terrorists are clearly the same, no longer can the world separate his al-Qaida cult, the terrorists of Hamas and Hezbollah and the PLO warring on Israel, and the center of world terror in Baghdad run by Saddam Hussein.

The strategy of world terrorism was to provoke the West into an outraged invasion and bombardment on Afghanistan. This would then be interpreted by radical mullahs as a new crusade against Islam by the infidels, allowing the Arab streets to become the corridors of power.

It did not fall for that. Mindful of the defeat of Soviet troops by brutalized Afghans in the '80s, the United States and Britain are making this a war of Muslim liberation. Because the Taliban regime (it cannot be called a government) has no UN legitimacy, there is global support in "Afghanizing" the war against bin Laden's harborers.

The Western Allies will go to great lengths to divide and arrange for the conquest of the fanatics. The bombs on the bad will alternate with food drops on the good. Rhetoric will be to side with the oppressed Afghan people and with mainstream Muslims everywhere. They will destroy the Taliban radio towers broadcasting hate and step up local-language broadcasts of anti-fanatic truths.

That liberation counterstrategy makes sense. "Don't get mad; get even" is not the furious Western reaction that the fanatics expected. Cool, calm killing is not our way, but adapt they must to accommodate an unnatural enemy that welcomes death.

Another part of the strategy, however, does not make sense. By failing to listen to, and to take seriously, bin Laden's open message stating his purpose, people are acting like those in the past century who failed to read or take seriously "Mein Kampf."

The stated purposes of the terror network are (1) to drive any manifestation of democracy and human rights, such as Israel, out of the Middle East and (2) to free the avatar of totalitarian savagery, Saddam Hussein, from Western sanctions. These are not mere street-acclaimed goals adopted to gain fundamentalist adherents; these are steps to gain weapons of mass destruction by which to intimidate and dominate the world. Crazy? Hitler was crazy, too, but he almost won.

The troubling part of the strategy is its blinkered tidiness: going after one terrorist group at a time. Thus, Hamas and Hezbollah, with their Syrian and Iranian sponsorship, are left off the list of groups whose assets have been frozen. Secretary of State Colin Powell dismisses this with "they're on another list," which is true but disingenuous. The new restrictions are more severe; by pointedly excluding the "charities" supporting these groups suicide-bombing Israelis, Powell hopes to build bridges to Damascus and Teheran. That isolates and undermines Israel.

Another reason for not narrowing the target was just given by bin Laden on his provocative tape: Americans will "not feel safe" while his ally, Saddam, is in power, gaining strength. As long-ravaged Afghans are liberated, let the Western Allies be equally "relentless" -- President George W. Bush's word -- in liberating oppressed Iraqis. It's the same fight against the same mortal enemy.

William Safire is on the editorial staff of The New York Times, to which he contributed this comment.