Common sense and humanity do not always serve political advantage. They will this year for Washington Republicans, if they choose to follow them as beacons. Representative Cathy McMorris faces her first reelection from an as-yet unknown opponent. Retiring Safeco CEO Mike McGavick considers himself a competitive challenger to Sen. Maria Cantwell. Other races are taking shape.
Two years ago, when the Iraq war claimed majority national support, Senate candidate George Nethercutt took a hit for too enthusiastically touting the pro-war line in Washington. Remember, "What's a few casualties..." National polls (Rasmussen 12/16/05) now give 40 percent approval to President Bush's handling of Iraq, up from 33 percent in November. Another third say the war is unwinnable and the President should be impeached.
Bush's mistake was rejecting the global collective security policy charted by his father after the fall of communism and during the first Iraq war. As the world's preeminent military power, America has more, not less, reason to accept the constraints of international law and collective security institutions like the UN and NATO. Where we go, other nations (and non-national political entities) will follow.
They will also follow us into unilateral militarism. If might makes right for the mighty, so also, it must, for the weak. Covert violence (what we now call terrorism) has long been the refuge of those who seek power but recognize their impotence on the open battlefield. Nuclear weapons are a more recent refuge. Saddam Hussein didn't have them. He sits in jail. North Korea's Kim Jong Il does. He holds power. Connect the dots.
Would there be international terrorism under a global collective security regime? Of course, just as cities with the best criminal justice systems still have crime. Life is a terminal condition. Ancient diseases, starvation and ethnic massacre take fewer of us with each passing decade; AIDS, bird flu and diseases of indolence and extreme old age take more. Like it or not, so will international terrorism.
Proportions and probabilities make a difference when putting terrorism in perspective. The 9/11 bombings killed about 3,000 Americans. Daily, three times that many die from all causes. Annually, as many die from ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). There has been conflict between Western and Islamic cultures since they made violent contact a thousand years ago. America joined that conflict when it supported the establishment of Israel after World War II and otherwise began intervening in Middle Eastern affairs. Yet the 9/11 bombings remain the only significant, Islamic-originated act of terrorism to occur on U.S. soil. I consider the next most lethal, the 1993 Trade Center bombing that killed six, to be tragic, but not globally significant.
After 9/11, none of the world's major politicians told the truth -- that no government of any party can eliminate terrorism. We ordinary citizens of America and other Western nations too willingly let ourselves be deceived. We must now accept reality and work, not to eliminate terrorism, but to reduce its likelihood and consequences with policies that are firm, but also moderate and collaborative.
The price of the post-9/11 terrorism hysteria confronts us daily from our newspapers and TV screens. For the families of about 20 young servicemen or women each week, that price comes as a ringing doorbell and the dreaded government letter. Soon, more Americans will have died fighting terrorism than were killed by terrorists on 9/11.
I leave military criticism to the qualified. Interested readers might consult Anthony Zinni, retired Marine Corps General, former Commander of American Middle East forces (Norman Schwarzkopf's successor) and co-author with Tom Clancy of Battle Ready. However, a layman can see the gaping hole in the President's "Stay the course" rhetoric. Our continued presence in Iraq gives Islamic terrorists two powerful weapons they cannot fashion themselves. One is a live fire combat training ground. The other is the image of Westerners brandishing weapons over humbled Muslims. What more potent propaganda could there be among the world's 1.7 billion Muslims, many of whom already fear Western domination of their culture?
George W. Bush didn't create the Iraq mess by himself. But it happened on his watch, and he was not ashamed to harvest its political benefits. For the unfolding tragedy, he now bears a full measure of blame, sufficient blame to absolve Republicans of their otherwise compelling duty to support the person and policies of the party's incumbent President.
Robert Stokes is a retired college professor living in Spokane. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.