TCS Daily

The Middle Erodes

By Ryan H. Sager - July 11, 2005 12:00 AM

Last Thursday, the latest wave of terror washed over the Western world. It wasn't the biggest. After New York and Madrid, it was actually the smallest. But the mere thought that 50-plus dead in London was almost a relief -- that it could have been so much worse, that we expected it to be so much worse -- was enough to make the heart sink.

There's come to be an awful rhythm to life in the world after September 11, 2001. It's a rhythm of shock, followed by grief, followed by anger, followed by nervousness, followed by recriminations, followed by complacency, followed by alarm at our complacency, followed (of course) by more complacency, followed by -- inevitably -- another shock.

And thus it goes. We were at peace -- or so we thought. Then we were at war. And then we felt that we were at peace again, that the threat had receded with time. And then, last Thursday, we awoke to images of our closest allies blackened and bloodied by nameless, faceless, but savage enemies.

To stick with the image of waves of terror crashing over the landscape of the Western world, it's clear that these waves will -- and are intended to -- cause a certain amount of erosion. We know that our enemies hope to erode our sense of safety, our sense of well-being and our support for our government.

But something else is eroding as well: A middle-ground in the War on Terror.

Certainly, there were those -- particularly in Britain -- whose minds seem to shift in counterintuitive directions after the London bombing. In its immediate aftermath, London's Communist mayor, Ken Livingstone (not noted for his support for the War on Terror), made his much remarked statement, aimed at the terrorists, that "whatever you do, how many you kill, you will fail."

But far more common was the response on both sides of the ideological divide to man the battle stations, fitting the London bombing into one of two pre-determined narratives.

One: These bombings are the West's just-deserts for fighting unjust wars, and they show the need to appease.

Two: These bombings show the determination and ruthlessness of the enemy, and thus they show the need to stand strong -- or even the need to attack more aggressively.

These two narratives leave precious little room for what Tony Blair, in a different context, might call a Third Way.

Either America followed the right course after 9/11, swiftly deposing the Taliban and then setting its sights on the next convenient terror-tied Arab dictatorship. Or, America should have immediately withdrawn its presence from the Middle East entirely.

If it becomes clearer every day that there can be virtually no argument that it was prudent to invade Afghanistan, but reckless to invade Iraq, the London bombers have made it clear that their attack was retribution against Britain for its involvement in Iraq *and* Afghanistan.

While the merits of each engagement in terms of disrupting the al Qaeda network have to be judged on the specific facts -- Afghanistan seems to have been largely a success, and Iraq may well be if we ever find a way to stem the flow of foreign fighters -- it's clear that abstaining from one, and not the other, wouldn't have bought any mercy from the enemy.

And, thus, the two camps, appeasement and attack, drift further and further apart.

To attack looks more and more grueling. Will it mean simply redoubling our efforts in Iraq? Or will it mean broadening the war to include Syria or Saudi Arabia, if these countries can't curb the flow of fighters from within their borders?

Democracy could spread like a fire in the Middle East, licking at the feet of the corrupt old tyrants, as is the Bush administration's fondest hope. Or that spark could fail to catch.

Appeasement, on the other hand, looks more and more bleak. None but the most ardent leftist or Buchananite could truly hope for the United States to retreat wholesale from the Middle East and abandon its longstanding support for Israel -- the only measures that could even begin to sate our enemies' hunger for Western concession and humiliation.

So, again, we will spend weeks on end, first nervous, then complacent, then guilty about our complacence, and then ... complacent again.

But we will be a little more aware that this is a war, that life will never be the same again and that -- should we not be content to live under this constant threat in perpetuity -- our choices grow ever more stark.

Ryan Sager is a member of the editorial board of The New York Post. He also edits the blog Miscellaneous Objections and can be reached at



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