This commentary appeared in San Diego Union Tribune on December 25, 2003.
Bing Crosby first sang the Irving Berlin song "White Christmas"
on the radio on Dec. 25, 1941, just 18 days after America was attacked
at Pearl Harbor and plunged into war. Now, December 2003 brings us an
orange Christmas, a little more than two years after the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks plunged us into a new and very different kind of war.
"White Christmas" reflected our country's deep yearning in
the early days of World War II for more peaceful times "just like
the ones we used to know." The orange terror alert of this Christmas
season reflects a desire to protect ourselves from another foreign enemy,
as we yearn for the return of safer times.
Christmas 2003 finds us facing new warnings of terror strikes at home,
with our troops remaining under fire in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the
United States embarked on a global war on terrorism that will be long,
arduous, dangerous and costly.
America has won military and diplomatic victories in 2003. U.S. armed
forces have taken Baghdad and captured Saddam Hussein. We have persuaded
Iran to agree to rigorous international inspections to assure the world
that it is not building nuclear weapons. We have convinced Libyan leader
Moammar Gadhafi to dismantle his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
Yet al-Qaeda views the American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq not
as a U.S. victory, but as a gift to jihadists that angers the Arab street,
facilitates terrorist recruiting, and exposes American forces to precisely
the kind of war terrorists can wage.
While we view war as a finite undertaking, the jihadists see war as a
perpetual condition, which they can impose upon us with attacks and threats.
Their operational code calls for them to lie in wait, beleaguer us, attack
us when we are inattentive and make our lives untenable. They cannot defeat
us militarily, and they know it. They can, in their view, defeat us psychologically.
Even though the United States has damaged al-Qaeda, disrupted many of
its operations and made it harder for the terrorist group to carry out
attacks, al-Qaeda may not consider itself to be doing too badly. It has
survived two years of an intensive global offensive against it with better
than half of its top leadership still at large. It continues to communicate
and make headlines with tape recordings as well as terrorism, inspiring
followers, attracting new fighters and raising money.
The al-Qaeda terrorists are moving full speed ahead with their global
campaign. They have increased the tempo of their operations since Sept.
11, 2001, carrying out major attacks in Morocco, Tunisia, Kuwait, Saudi
Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia and most recently Turkey.
Like all religious fanatics, the jihadists see themselves as morally
superior, armed with the sword of God, commanded to wage a holy war. They
see Americans as soulless, spineless, materialistic beings, unwilling
to make sacrifices and desperate for peace — people whose measure
of well-being is the Dow Jones average, retail sales and their own prosperity.
While al-Qaeda can't kill millions of Americans in a single attack, it
can terrorize millions with reports of attacks in the works. The terrorists
challenge our courage and the stoicism that comes with it. They seek to
undermine our continued commitment to the values for which America stands.
We must respond with security precautions, of course, but also by seeking
victory against the terrorist fanatics waging war against those who do
not share their views. Not a victory of one religion over another, or
of any religion over those who do not believe, but victory over an ideology
that distorts religion into a mandate for death and destruction.
Al-Qaeda is a cult of violence that must be destroyed. That will take
years. In the meantime, we will have to learn to live with the threats
and the alerts, while maintaining a realistic appraisal of the risks we
actually face, not the terror our foes hope to create.
In the dark days of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
said in his 1933 inaugural address: "Let me assert my firm belief
that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning,
unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into
Roosevelt was talking about the Great Depression, of course, not the
terror spread by al-Qaeda. But as we dream of the peaceful "White
Christmas" Irving Berlin wrote of 62 years ago, we should remember
we can come through this orange Christmas if we achieve the freedom from
fear Roosevelt called for 70 years ago.
Jenkins is a terrorism expert
at RAND, a nonprofit policy research organization.
Explore All Topics »