At the beginning of this century, Americans believed in the world. Why wouldn’t we? The United States emerged from the Cold War as the planet’s sole economic and military superpower. We had shaped the globe’s institutions to our liking; they functioned under our captaincy. Then in 2001, our cities and people were attacked. The world displayed a month or two’s worth of empathy — since then, apathy. The organizations that anchor international rules have proven ineffective and corrupt. Nearly every American accepts this truism: the United Nations cannot prevent a nuclear 9/11. And that is what it’s all about, is it not?
Though 9/11 was nine years ago, the act fundamentally restructured the American conception of internationalism. Colloquially, we say the attacks changed everything; in actuality, more was clarified than changed. The collapse of the World Trade Center did not make obsolete the timeless instruments of statecraft. International harmony and multilateral accords are good insofar as those who participate in these pursuits continue to adhere to the rules in which they are grounded. As a foundation for peace and order, these concepts are merely sometimes necessary – but are always insufficient.
Just as a prudent lawmaker would consider the legislation of morality a futile effort, so too those involved in foreign affairs ought to remind themselves that the attempted adjudication of human behavior is bound to fail without the credible threat of force. The liberal democracies that comprise the free world are precariously in error to assume their adversaries are as equally devoted to the perfection of man as they. The belief that all cultures are equal — all peoples alike and with similar desires — is nothing more than collective hope-think; it is the most dangerous kind of mirror-imaging. It is a great lie.
In some quarters, the “enemy” has become an almost passé notion, where al-Qaeda killers are said to be misguided or politically immature — “a friend we haven’t done enough for yet,” in the words of philosopher Lee Harris. This therapeutic, post-modern worldview is prevalent in government and academia, and it directly undermines a society’s ability to interpret reality.
No international body has prevented Kim Jong Il from sinking South Korean vessels and kidnapping Japanese girls. Amnesty International never tamed the sadistic tendencies of Uday Hussein. The United Nations bureaucracy has shown no interest in stopping Vladimir Putin from poisoning people he dislikes. The promises of economic interdependence have yet to convince Mullah Omar or Dr. Zawahiri to take their theological inclinations a bit less seriously, and to discontinue their violence against innocents worldwide. Our enemies of the Islamist variety want atomic bombs. They want them for use. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon does not intimidate them. Dictators are unimpressed, too.
The despot is not interested in international organizations, save for his attempts to use the cult of victimization to bend these organizations to his will. Take the Islamists’ support for the Organization of the Islamic Conference to compel the UN Human Rights Council to make criticism or mockery of Islam a crime under international law. Does this support underscore the Islamists’ respect for the UN or dedication to the rule of law? No. For if these international bodies reject their demands — and subsequently, an unflattering cartoon lampooning their beliefs is drawn by someone, somewhere — then all bets are off. Fatwas are issued, embassies overrun, and unsuspecting good men and women killed. Such Islamist deviants are thus able to pursue the institutionalization of their deviancy, all the while operating outside the purview of international norms. It is not the mere hijacking of planes they seek, but of the apparatus of international order.
People of all philosophical persuasions ought to be able to acknowledge three unassailable truths: 1) there are dozens of international organizations comprised of hundreds of thousands of individuals who perceive a religious obligation to destroy American cities; 2) these individuals are the twisted-type; they’re sincere in their warped convictions and determined to accomplish their monstrous objective; they cannot be deterred, dissuaded, or bought off; 3) these individuals will one day ascertain the atomic means to achieve their calamitous ends — sooner rather than later, certainly within most of our lifetimes.
Martin Shubik, the Yale economist, liked to draw a curve of the number of civilians ten determined men could kill before they were killed themselves. Throughout history, the change in this number is sobering. As time goes on, fewer men have always been able to kill more people. Consequently, it is not fatalistic or paranoid to assume that we will likely one day witness ten men with ten vans or suitcases attempting to vaporize ten American metropolises. And if ten targets proved too ambitious — bin Laden called off the West Coast attacks on 9/11, after all — then five targets would suffice. St. Louis might make the cut, but New York City would not.