The Condition of Victory

September 11th is shorthand for many things. But September 12th – like the 10th – is a better day for reflection.

September 11th is shorthand for many things. But September 12th – like the 10th – is a better day for reflection.

By the 12th, it was clear that the war had begun long before. Pan Am 103, the first World Trade Center bombing, the plot against the former President Bush, Khobar Towers, the Embassies, the USS Cole were all acts of war to which the United States did not respond. In part, our hesitation was due to domestic politics, but in a very real way, we weren’t sure how to respond to an enemy with an ideology and an unknown number of troops, but without an address or much in the way of fixed assets.

It is impossible to make war on an ideology. The Nazi analogy, which is a poor one in some respects, is useful here. America didn’t go to war against National Socialism. We didn’t ask each German whether he believed in Nazism. We didn’t ask Nazis to stop believing in racial purity. We didn’t ask why they hated Jews or try to make them stop. We made war on Hitler’s ability to control territory, control lives, and threaten others. The war was over when the Allies made the rules.

By that logic, victory in the war against terrorists and their supporters will be achieved when governments from the Mediterranean to Afghanistan and from Central Asia through the Indian subcontinent find it in their interest not to provide financial, territorial or political support to violent Islamic fundamentalists. President Bush said as much, “You are with us or you are with the terrorists.”

The condition of victory does not presume what the boundaries of any country will look like in the future, or what any government will look like. The definition does not propose any necessary American control of territory, nor does it preclude Islamic governments – only those that sponsor and support organizations that conduct war against the U.S. and Western allies.

We would, of course, hope for and work for a string of pro-Western, free-market, civil libertarian, forward looking countries with representative legislatures, constitutions, free media and friendly relations with their neighbors and others. But as in the 1940s, first we simply have to ensure that people do not have the resources to threaten us. That is why the Axis of Evil matters.

It will be a long war, the President said. In the first year, we have clarified our understanding of repression and threat, and been reinforced in the knowledge that “democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.” We know better who our friends are – and who they aren’t. We took our new clarity into battle and liberated Afghanistan. We invited the Palestinians to have a democratic revolution. We have begun to plant ourselves for the rest of the war.

We see now where we need to go and we will go there.