Terrorism: The Price of Hegemony

by Patrick J. Buchanan – August 11, 1998

Those twin slaughters in Kenya and Tanzania were acts of unvarnished criminality and cruelty that call for swift retribution. Those who perpetrated these vile atrocities, and the regimes that aided them, deserve a truly ruthless retaliation.

But far from being “senseless acts of violence,” in the oft-invoked cliche, these deeds were purposeful. They were war crimes against America, declarations that the struggle to drive us out of the Islamic world is no longer confined to the Middle East. It will be waged worldwide, and any U.S. outpost, anywhere, is now fair game.

We are escalating and expanding our jihad against America! is the message of Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Does America have the stomach to fight this war as long as our enemies? Or will we soon pack up and go home, as even Ronald Reagan went home after the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, leaving Lebanon to slide into Syria’s orbit?

Most Americans remember that after the bombing of the Berlin night club frequented by U.S. soldiers, Reagan ordered air strikes on Libya that almost killed Muammar Qaddafi. For years after, Qaddafi was silent. Then, Pan Am 103 suddenly exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the atrocity was traced back — to Libya and Qaddafi. To this day, he and his agents remain unpunished for that air massacre.

Our enemies may reveal their character by terrorism in East Africa, but they are focused men, and their goal and strategy are clear. Islamic terrorists, and the states that sustain them — be they Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya or Sudan — want the removal of all American military power, of our huge diplomatic presence and of our cultural influence from the Islamic world. Because no Middle Eastern state could fight a war with the United States, their weapon of choice is untraceable terrorism — the weapon of the cowardly and the weak.

If these are the goals, strategy and tactics of our enemies, what are our goals, strategy and tactics in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East? How do we propose to win the war of terror being waged against us, other than to glare into TV cameras and declare our determination to run down and punish terrorists? Who has more staying power in the Middle East, them or us? Before there are more American victims of terror, these questions must be addressed.

Back in 1990, some of us opposed a U.S. invasion of Kuwait because we believed a U.S. triumph would leave us with permanent commitments that America would not sustain. The crushing of Iraq, we argued, would also unleash the demons of Islamic extremism and be but the first Arab American war — and eventually, the United States, as the British before us, would have to give up its hegemony in the Gulf.

We lost the argument and supported the nation and army when war came. But much of what we predicted has come to pass. We were left with a policy of “dual containment” of Iran and Iraq that Americans seem unwilling to sustain with arms. Our victory did indeed unleash the demons of fanaticism. George Bush’s Gulf War coalition is history. With the exception of the British, our NATO allies are almost worthless in the Gulf. U.S. prestige has fallen steadily in the Arab world since 1991. Saudi Arabia refuses to confirm whether Iran was behind the Khobar Towers bombing of the U.S. military domicile, for fear we will retaliate against Iran. And Bibi Netanyahu has told the United States to go fly a kite; he will take and keep the West Bank land he wants.

Almost alone, the United States soldiers on in the Middle East. But whom and what are we defending? If it’s Europe’s oil and Japan’s oil, where are the European and Japanese warships? There is an oil glut on the world market, and even if the Saudi monarchy should fall, to whom would the next rulers have to sell their oil?

Ronald Reagan’s air strikes on Libya and the Bekaa Valley proved that even resolute retaliation is no permanent cure for terrorism, for it rarely eliminates the terrorists themselves. Even when it does, there is no shortage of new volunteers. The only sure way to end terror is to go to the source and root out the state sponsors, whether in Khartoum, Teheran, Baghdad, Damascus or Tripoli.

But as Americans are not prepared for that kind of war, and our allies — Western or Arab — are not prepared to support us in any such venture, it is time to consider whether the United States might be better off leaving the Middle East to the Middle Easterners. Of what vital interest, after all, is it to us whose flag flies over what patch of desert? In 1968, populist George Wallace said of Vietnam: “Win it — or get out!” Sound advice, too, on the Middle East.