"Beware the Ides of March," the ancient soothsayer warned-but Julius Caesar, the political colossus bestriding the Roman world, went unwarily to his death. Some pundits and clerics today suggest that President Bush show a "Christian" spirit by withdrawing America's colossal forces from the borders of Iraq, less war provide more incentive for terrorists to strike.
Would a recall of American troops reduce terrorism? A sermon Osama bin Laden apparently gave last month-Al-Jazeera broadcast it, and several Muslim websites published it-showed how such a retreat would be seen. Here are some of his comments, as translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute:
"Do not fear America and its army. By Allah, we have struck them time and time again, and they have been defeated time after time. In combat they are the most cowardly of people. [Their army depends] upon intensive bombing from the air, which is designed to conceal its most obvious weakness: cowardice and the American soldier's lack of fighting spirit.
"I should also like to remind you of the defeat of the American forces in , when the Israelis invaded Lebanon. The Lebanese resistance sent a truck full of explosives to the American Marines' center in Beirut and killed over 240 of them, may they go to hell and to a bitter end."
"Later, Somalis ... dragged America's pride through the mud. They killed them, they destroyed their tanks and brought down their planes. America and her allies fled under cover of night, each avoiding looking at the others. Praise and thanks be to Allah! At the same time young Mujahideen prepared explosive charges [for use] against the Americans in Aden. When they went off, the cowards had no choice but to flee within 24 hours....
"On that blessed Tuesday ... September 11th, 2001, [young men used] enemy planes in a courageous and splendid operation the like of which mankind had never before witnessed.... They struck the very heart of the American economy, rubbed America's nose in the dirt and dragged its pride through the mud. The towers of New York collapsed, and their collapse precipitated an even greater debacle: the collapse of the myth of America the great power."
What to make of this? Pacifism can be practical when those it seeks to impress prefer peace to war. But evil men who yearn for blood are satisfied with nothing less. They see reluctance to fight as cowardice. Gandhi's nonviolence worked against the British. It would not have worked against Hitler.
A war with Iraq may indeed lead to a new terrorist attack on America. But an American retreat from the brink would be seen as one more example of American cowardice-and that would encourage many more attacks. When President Bush is lambasted by a political opponent, he may very well choose to turn the other cheek: It's his cheek. But he has the obligation to protect American citizens, and that means fighting terrorists and their protectors.