We must fight them because they're evil, not weak

So it comes. A major terror attack against a key U.S. ally, accompanied by wild rhetoric. What are we going to do about it? The first suggestion of the usual suspects will be to cut and run, to draw the curtains, hide under the bed and hope the bad guys go after someone else. It is the one thing we must not do. To treat these atrocities as a fresh argument, to suggest that Britain should now change its Iraq policy, or that Canada should now bolt from Afghanistan, or even to call it vindication of an earlier argument to avoid such engagements lest it provoke such an attack, is shameful.

To criticize either venture as unjust, or imprudent, is another question. But to refuse to fight someone because they might hit back is the ignoble creed of the bully -- and bullies are cowards.

It is far from clear that the London bombings even vindicate the argument that invading Iraq would provoke terrorism, let alone that, if true, this argument ought to have frightened us off. Had the United States not toppled the Taliban after 9/11, or left Saddam Hussein in place, would the enemies of the West and of modernization have been less aggressive? What provoked 9/11? If you answer "Andalusia," you admit that nothing we can plausibly do would placate our adversaries. And Osama bin Laden did give that as part of his "explanation" for 9/11.

Osama bin Laden also famously said people naturally back a strong horse. Which in his intellectual circles is probably true. And if so, it has pretty obvious implications.

Of course we should not allow our adversaries to dictate our strategy. But in devising it, we certainly should estimate their probable responses in light of how they think. If they consider us decadent and weak, anything we do that might tend to appear soft in their eyes will almost certainly make them more aggressive. (Including the media's gleeful tally of the "mounting death toll" in Iraq as though it would not be more than a little peculiar if the total number of deaths decreased over time and as though the Allies had not had more killed on D-Day alone than the U.S. has in two years of war and insurgency in Iraq.)

If the British government were willing to leave Iraq because London was bombed this time, what demands do you expect to accompany the next bombing? And if our own government were to abandon Afghanistan because London was bombed, what will it do when Montreal is attacked?

Yes, Montreal. Those who took responsibility in London warned all crusader governments to withdraw from Afghanistan. That means us. They hate us. They want to kill us. It is no misunderstanding and it is no joke.

A story in yesterday's Citizen on the kidnapping of the Egyptian chargé in Iraq, who has since apparently been murdered, said the group claiming responsibility "condemned Egypt for allying itself with 'Jews and Christians.'" Note that they dispensed with the customary verbal legerdemain of "Zionists and Crusaders" and blurted out their hatred of who we are, not what we do. Would anyone on the left like to comment? Here is real hate loose in the world, hairy and howling. Does it seem a good time to babble about vibrancy? Blame America first? Poetically compare the U.S. to a shark and France to a seagull? There are dead bodies in the streets of London.

I won't call the London bombings a tragedy; they were an atrocity. But I was never among those who assumed that it was OK to take a strong stand against terrorists and their sponsors because they couldn't hit back. So the fact that they have struck back is not, to me, evidence that our policy is mistaken. I am against these people because they are evil, not because they are weak.

As it happens, I am not impressed by their strength. Given the power of modern technology in the hands even of an imbecile, and the porosity of open societies, I think it's remarkable how little harm we've suffered from terrorists, at least so far. But in the end, what does it matter? What if the bad guys are strong, even stronger than us? Is that a reason to give in? Shall we fight weak evil and grovel before the powerful kind? I doubt it's prudent and, even if it is, it's prudence purchased at far too high a price.

I'm not saying it would be easy to advise a statesman confronted by overwhelmingly powerful evil. But I do know what Winston Churchill decided in 1940. And I agree with Dwight Eisenhower that a soldier's pack is never as heavy as a slave's chains.

Should we not fight these people because they are strong? That is the mentality of the bully and the coward. This is a war. Whose side are you on?

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson