It is not easy opposing the war on terror. Sept. 11 seems to have been a fairly definitive declaration of war on America, leaving us little choice but to fight. Nonetheless, we are blessed with a cadre of thinkers for whom refusal to oppose war _ any war _ is a kind of self-betrayal. Whether out of distrust of American power or reflexive sympathy with whoever is today carrying the banner of anti-Americanism (yesterday, communists; today, Islamists), they have sallied forth carrying the flag of protest.
It began rather awkwardly with Susan Sontag's immediate judgment, published in the New Yorker, that America had it coming. With thousands dead in Washington and New York, this moral idiocy found few takers (outside the usual Middle Eastern and European precincts, of course).
The next try at opposition did not imprudently blame the war on us. It merely attacked our conduct of it: the war at home, for supposedly trampling civil liberties (Bill Maher's free speech, the right of Middle Eastern students to be free of FBI questioning); the war abroad, for laying waste to Afghan civilians and bringing starvation as the Afghan winter approached.
Just five days into the war, for example, Mary Robinson, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, demanded that U.S. bombing stop so she and her indispensable cohort could feed the hungry. Had we listened to them, tens of thousands of Afghans would have died. As it was, the bombing defeated the Taliban _ whose cruel and catastrophic misrule was the source of the famine _ and thus saved the Afghans from starvation.
By year's end, with Afghanistan liberated and the Bill of Rights still intact, the opposition moved on. To military tribunals.
Alas, no luck. And no legs. Americans have not much appetite for giving al-Qaida the run of a massive judicial apparatus designed for those who live by the American Constitution. They sensibly want to keep the number of years-long, jury-endangering, media-circus civilian trials for terrorists down to the bare minimum. Already three _ John Walker Lindh, American Taliban; Zacarias Moussaoui, "20th hijacker"; and Richard Reid, shoe bomber _ will enjoy O.J. levels of media coverage.
Next? Torture at Gitmo! This story is the purest example of microhysteria _ a sudden burst of intense herd sentiment that then disappears without a trace _ since the death of Princess Di. The Guantanamo storm was based on a single misinterpreted photograph of bound al-Qaida captives. "TORTURED," screamed the British tabloid, the Mail on Sunday. It took but a few days of fulmination about American brutality before people actually visited Guantanamo and found well-fed prisoners in a Club Med climate with a Koran in every cell and rather fine medical attention. End of story.
By then almost six months had passed and still no handle for the opposition. Then the politicians bravely tried their hand. Led by the intemperate Robert Byrd and the soothing Tom Daschle, Democrats played with the charge that the Bush administration was getting us into a quagmire with no "exit strategy."
This, too, lasted but a few days. For a simple reason _ a reason that 88 percent of Americans understand, but these leading Democrats do not: "Exit strategy" applies only to wars of choice. You can choose to quit Vietnam or Somalia or Kosovo. The war on radical Islam is a war of necessity. Wars of necessity have no exit. They must be won.
What possible exit strategy can you have against an enemy whose ordinary soldier signs up with the following oath (found among the documents captured from al-Qaida in Afghanistan): "I state in the presence of God that I will slaughter infidels for my entire life"? There is only one exit strategy in fighting such a man. He dies or you die. No other exit.
So where is the left left? Sputtering, as with this from Robert Kuttner, editor of the American Prospect, writing in the Boston Globe: "Whether it is an ill-specified axis of evil, or a decision to make tactical nuclear war thinkable, or a domestic "shadow government,' or deliberately leaked plans to attack Iraq, George W. Bush in his own way is as frightening as al-Qaida. . . . Terrorism, unfortunately, is all too real. But so is one's terror of the Bush presidency."
Calling for protest to "reclaim our own democracy," the left waits, forlorn and flailing, for the American "street" to rise. Meanwhile, the street, sporting American flags on its SUVs, carries on, inexplicably less frightened by George W. Bush than Osama bin Laden.
Charles Krauthammer is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
Washington Post Writers Group