War, Not Lawbreaking

Last Monday, I shared more from Mark Steyn’s brilliant book America Alone, which dissects the radical Islamist problem. I didn’t know as I was writing the post on Sunday that before it appeared on Monday, we would get the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. Does that then make Steyn’s book irrelevant? Only if you believe, against all evidence, that the death of one terrorist leader will be so dispiriting to his followers that they’ll all go back to their caves to meditate for the rest of their lives.

That’s not going to happen. They are energized not by a single man, but by an ideology of hatred. What Steyn has written has continuing relevance, particularly because he clearly identifies the weaknesses of the West. Yes, we acted boldly last week and won a battle in this war on terror; but there is an underlying worldview in this current administration that threatens to turn that victory into a blip on the radar screen of the ongoing war.

Steyn, in his eighth chapter, “The Unipole Apart,” focuses on one aspect of that worldview that is ripping the heart out of the war on terror: the tendency to see this as not a war, but rather a judicial problem. We don’t treat the terrorists as terrorists, this worldview declares, but simply as lawbreakers who can be put through our judicial system.

Steyn reminds us that Zacarias Moussaoui, the man who would have been the twentieth hijacker on 9/11, and who did go through the system and got life imprisonment, famously commented after receiving his sentence: “America, you lose.” How could he say that? Steyn says it’s hard to disagree with Moussaoui’s perspective:

On the day Mr. Moussaoui was led out of court to begin his sentence, some pompous member of the ghastly 9-11 Commission turned up on one of the cable shows to declare proudly that jihadists around the world were marveling at the fairness of the U.S. justice system. The leisurely legal process Mr. Moussaoui  enjoyed had lasted longer than America’s participation in World War Two. Around the world, everybody was having a grand old laugh at the U.S. justice system.

The wheels of justice seem to turn very slowly, and there is the fear that they may not turn at all if some legal technicality can dismiss a case. When Eric Holder, our current attorney general, wanted to try Gitmo detainees—remember, these were enemy combatants captured on the battlefield—in New York City courts, he faced such a firestorm of resistance, he finally had to back down. Common sense won that round, but there’s no guarantee it will in the future.

Steyn notes further,

It’s a very worn cliché to say America is over-lawyered but the extent of that truism only becomes clear when you realize how overwhelming is our culture’s reflex to cover war as just another potential miscarriage-of-justice story. In the Moussaaoui case, the first instinct of the news shows to the verdict was to book some relative of the September 11 families and ask whether they were satisfied with the result, as if the prosecution of the war on terror is some kind of national-security Megan’s Law on which they have inviolable proprietary rights. Sorry, but that’s not what happened that Tuesday morning. The thousands who died were not targeted as individuals: they were killed because they were American, not because somebody in a cave far away decided to murder Mrs. Smith. Their families have a unique claim to our sympathy and a grief we can never truly share, but they’re not plaintiffs and war isn’t a suit. It’s not about “closure” for the victims; it’s about victory for the nation.

Unless we take seriously what Steyn says here, we will be going down a self-destructive path. War is war; it is not the equivalent either of breaking-and-entering or the revenge killing of a particular individual. Radical Islamists want to wipe out Western civilization. Let’s not help them by minimizing their actions as mere lawbreaking.