Sunday, October 26, 2003


Pre-emptive wars - Deterrence is no longer a solution

By Frederick Forsyth

Until the mid-1990s, terrorists always wanted something. The IRA wanted a
united Ireland, the ETA wanted a separate Basque state, the PFLP wanted a
Palestinian state and the extirpation of Israel, the Tamil Tigers wanted a
Tamil state in part of Sri Lanka...and so on.

Some wanted separation, some unification, some (like the Kurds) a state of
their own, others (like the Red Brigades) a fully communist state. Precisely
because of that, they wanted to stay alive and see their vision come true,
and therefore the Establishment could, if it wished, negotiate.

Then a small group arose who said this: "We do not want anything of you but
your deaths. In thousands, in hundreds of thousands and eventually in

"We say this because we hate you. We hate you with an all-consuming
passion, not just for what you have done (though that is bad enough) but for
what you are.

"There is no point in negotiating, for there is nothing to negotiate. We
are going to kill you whenever, wherever and in as great a number as we can.

"We do this because the Almighty has commanded it. We have His texts to
prove it. We do not fear death, we welcome it, for we are guaranteed eternal
bliss if we die while killing you."

It was a weird message. It did not come in the mail, nor was it enunciated
on Al-Jazeera television. It came from a thousand imams in a thousand
mosques. It was directed at the United States in particular and the West in
general. Its source can best be described as Islamist fundamentalism, a tiny
but virulent incubus within the body of that great, billion-devotee
religion, Islam. Not unnaturally, no one took it particularly seriously - at

In 1993 a group of Islamists in New York tried to demolish the World Trade
Center by driving two vans packed with explosives into the underground
parking garages. The towers were too strong. A few were killed, many more
injured. The United States began, slowly, to wake up to a new and bizarre

For eight years, under Bill Clinton, a fairly lethargic hunt was mounted
for a shadowy body of religious "ultras" behind the new message. Two
embassies in Africa were blown up, then a destroyer in Aden Harbor. Then
came Sept. 11, 2001.

The rest of the world has, despite the ritual condolences at that time, not
even begun to understand the transformational trauma that has gripped the
United States since 9/11. That is why so much of what has been written is
exasperated anti-Americanism.

Sept. 11 happened to coincide with a new, tough, no-nonsense and hugely
underestimated (by Europe's intellectual snobs) president. Under Bush the
United States thought things over and came back with a reply.

Broadly, it is this: "What the devil are we supposed to do? We have no
choice. You leave us no choice. For 50 years of Cold War we practiced
deterrence and kept the Soviet threat at bay. Even in their most paranoid
moments, the Politburo did not want to die. But you do not fear death; you
welcome it. So be it.

"We Americans can either sit and wait for the next bomb, the next carnage,
the next wipeout of our citizens and then try to track down the
perpetrators. Or we can identify you and use our considerable resources to
hunt you down and take you 'out of the frame' before you strike, not after.

"That is called pre-emption, and that is what we choose to do." Ever since
9/11 that is what has been happening. But the so-called war on terror goes
further than the occasional eruption of secret agents into an apartment in
Pakistan to arrest or kill another fanatic. The American message is more
ample than that.

It continues: "Terrorists cannot eat and drink fresh air. They need a place
to live, camps in which to train, money to spend, equipment to turn into
bombs, officers to recruit. These have to be situated on someone's land, in
someone's country.

"So to all those who think it might be fun to arm, train, shelter, feed,
finance, hide, furnish diplomatic facilities or false papers prepared in
government laboratories - or even to touch with a 10-foot pole - those sworn
to kill our fellow Americans, we say this: The party is over. Desist now, or
be lumped with the terrorists and die with them. That includes the tyrant
states and the failed states. Expel them or be classed with them."

Far enough? The American message to the tyrant states includes one extra
proviso. It is: "There are some weapons so foul yet so simple that they may
be developed in basic government programs and yet can wipe out cities. There
are agents based on the filthiest and fastest-moving diseases known to man.
Medieval plagues, incurable scourges. There are gases and nerve agents so
strong that a vacuum flask released in a crowded place can destroy

"None of you need research, develop, produce and store these weapons for
self-defense. They simply cannot be used for self-defense. But they can, if
suicidal fanatics are used as the delivery system, be brought to our cities
and detonated. This we will not permit. Therefore, stop manufacturing these
hideous weapons, destroy what you have, and do it now."

Saddam Hussein fit both categories. He manufactured some of the grisliest
killer toxins known to man: He sponsored, paid for and sheltered terror. He
was warned repeatedly. From 1991 he ducked and weaved, defying a flaccid,
timid U.N. Security Council through 16 resolutions. But after 9/11 he was
just a fool. He should have known. The United States was not joking. Not

The real outrage of the European left and the Third World is that they are
horrified; apparently when the White House says "Enough is enough," it means
it. Clinton was never like that.

So the horrified may shout, like the Scottish congregation, "We didna
ken"("We didn't understand").

But the message from Washington is "Well, ye ken the noo" ("Well, you
understand now").

Forsyth's new novel "Avenger," a best seller in Italy, goes on sale in
English in September. This essay is reprinted from Foreign Affairs Magazine.
September 7, 2003

Copyright 2003 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.

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