By Richard Matthew, October 4, 2001
One of the fellows who edit copy on the opinion pages here proposed the other
day that we ban a phrase that has quickly become overused since September
11: “If we (insert action here), then the terrorists have won.”
He may be right, after a fashion. It is certainly true that terrorists, who can’t
possibly defeat the United States militarily, hope mostly to force changes in the
American way of life, and if we do take drastic steps — particularly those that
undermine our fundamental values — then they have achieved some part of their
But to say that repeatedly, about every minor alteration in laws or
practices, depreciates the concept, making it a cliche instead of a cogent
The other day, however, word leaked out about a government plan that, if it is
fully carried out, could be characterized with no other words.
The Bush administration is apparently ready to alter its approaches in the
Israel-Palestinian conflict in an effort to entice cooperation by Arab states in the
fight against terrorism. Since one of the avowed aims of Osama bin Laden and
most other Arab and Islamic terrorists is to weaken U.S. support for Israel, any
significant change in policy would be, in the most literal, direct and inescapable
way, a “victory for terrorism.”
It is disturbing enough that the administration decided to exempt from its
ostensible battle against all terrorists the people who blow up discos and
shopping malls and buses in Israel, intentionally targeting and killing scores of
civilians. It’s worse that it ignores ongoing attacks by those same people so as
not to upset the Arab nations that it seeks to make into our allies.
But the most staggering surrender of all is the apparent decision to reward
those who launched the horrendous attacks on American soil by stating, more
clearly than ever, U.S. support for creation of a Palestinian state — coupled with
a new push to get Israel to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, even
while they continue to launch smaller-scale terrorist assaults against its people.
The New York Times reports administration officials as saying the decision to
make this new push was actually made before the attacks on the World Trade
Center and the Pentagon.
Even if that’s true, and not just a convenient story, it is an abomination
and a betrayal — not only of a staunch friend but of deep principles — to go
ahead with it now, especially in a way that amounts to a political bribe paid to
countries that have long been part of the curse of terrorism.
Of course, Washington must do what it can to dissuade Arab states from
obstructing the effort to strike back at bin Laden’s group and others who
threaten the civilized world.
But it’s dumb at best, criminal at worst, to imagine that we can do
anything that would make them actually help — by fighting the terrorists who
operate within their borders, or, in some cases, within their employ.
At the United Nations on Tuesday, Arab ambassadors one by one stood to
pledge their support and cooperation in the battle against terrorism — and by
their words made it clear that they were offering little more than lip service
while requiring that the United States turn against Israel in return.
Creation of a Palestinian state, said the Palestinian envoy, “is not going
to conclude the battle against international terrorism, but it is a necessary
And so the Bush administration rushes to accommodate the demand. America
has but one ally in the Middle East, and now we betray it to curry favor with
nations that will never be even neutral toward us, much less our friends. Sorry
to say it again, but it looks as if the terrorists have won.