December 22, 2004 | Scripps Howard News Service

A Battle Between Democracy and Terror

We Have Met the Enemy and He Isn't Us

When the Army of Ansar al Sunna – a group tied to al Qaeda – attacks an American base near Mosul it should be apparent that Iraq is the front line in the War on Terrorism.

When Christian churches are bombed – as they were on the same day and in the same part of Iraq – and Shia mosques in Karbala and Najaf are targeted as well, it should be clear that the bombers are waging a most unholy war.

When Iraqi election workers are shot dead in the streets, as they were last weekend, the murderers' hatred for democracy ought to be obvious. 

Yet somehow the debate goes on about whether those fighting us are really enemies of freedom, about whether or not it is imperative they be defeated.

The charge that Americans came to Iraq to steal oil is not much heard these days. Instead, the suicide bombers and throat slitters are romanticized as “militants” — or even “nationalists” and “patriots” — who are “resisting American occupation.” 

When those “militants” do something particularly barbaric – summarily executing civilians, blowing up police stations, beheading aid workers – the conversation never dwells long on their crimes. Instead, controversy swirls around America's failure to control “the security situation.” 

Then, too, there are those who do not defend the killers but argue that the continuing carnage proves the United States can't overcome this foe.  If that's true, we might as well convert the Pentagon into condominiums. 

What need is there for a multi-billion dollar defense establishment designed to roll back an attack by the Soviet Union? What's the point of a military machine that can topple Saddam Hussein in a few weeks but has to give Iraq back to his cronies a few years later?

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, much criticized of late, appears to understand this. A few days ago, he frankly acknowledged the urgent need to “develop a military designed to meet the challenges of this era.” 

The military we have now, he explained, “is, in many ways, still organized, trained and best equipped for the more conventional challenges of the past century, when wars were conducted largely between large navies, armies and air forces.”

Our current enemies, by contrast, are fighting an “unconventional” war.  The combatants who attacked the Forward Operating Base Marez outside Mosul were not attempting to win a battle in the conventional sense; they did not hope to seize the camp any more than the suicide-terrorists who attacked on 9/11 planned to station tanks in New York and Washington.

Instead, the goal of terrorists is simply to slaughter and, of course, terrorize. By so doing, they mean to destroy our will to fight. Lose the will to fight and, by definition, you have been defeated – no matter how high-tech your weaponry, no matter how many troops you have riding in armored Humvees.

On a visit to Iraq this week, British Prime Minister Blair succinctly characterized the state of this conflict. “There surely is only one side to be on in what is now very clearly a battle between democracy and terror,” he said. 

“On the one side you have people who desperately want to make the democratic process work, and want to have the same type of democratic freedoms other parts of the world enjoy. And on the other side, people who are killing and intimidating and trying to destroy a better future for Iraq… Our response should be to stand alongside the democrats — the people who've got the courage to see this thing through — and help them see it through. I've got no doubt at all that that is the right thing for us to do.”

The enemy in Iraq is brutal, ruthless and, yes, evil. There's no other word for people who murder civilians organizing elections, bomb churches and mosques, and saw the heads off innocents while screaming slogans and making home videos.

But they are not stupid. They know that every time they stage a massacre, millions of people get angry – not at them, but at Don Rumsfeld and President Bush and Prime Minister Blair and the “neo-cons.” 

“We have seen …the weakness of the American soldier who is … unprepared to fight long wars,” Osama bin Laden said in 1998, as he began contemplating his next attacks. “This was proven in Beirut when the Marines fled after two explosions. It also proves they can run in less than 24 hours, and this was also repeated in Somalia. We are ready for all occasions.”

Only when the kind of butchery we witnessed this week strengthens, rather than weakens our resolve, will the barbarians see that the road they have chosen is a dead end – figuratively and literally as well.

– Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies a policy institute focusing on terrorism.



Al Qaeda