Leading Article: A just cause, a bad action

Share
Related Topics
THE RIGHT, indeed duty, of the United States to strike back at the perpetrators of the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam is not in doubt. No nation, let alone the superpower upon which the stability of the world to a large extent depends, could accept with equanimity the declaration of an open hunting season on its citizens and public servants by a group of backward-looking fanatics. In such circumstances, retaliation is a regrettable necessity.

But whether any particular act of retaliation is a wise one is another question entirely. Is the blow well-aimed? Will it produce the desired result? Are its costs unacceptably high? The US cannot afford to act as if it were a bad-tempered participant in a game of blind man's buff.

In the present political circumstances, the question inevitably arises as to whether President Clinton's decision to permit the bombing of a chemical factory in the Sudan and of two camps in Afghanistan was swayed by his domestic difficulties. If the need to distract the American public from his sexual activities was uppermost in his mind, the episode might yet go down in history as the War of Clinton's Penis. It is not necessary, however, to believe in a conspiracy to understand the value to Mr Clinton of an excellent pretext for a foreign adventure. His military and intelligence chiefs must have been pressing him for action from the start: only the timing of the act, not the act itself, is suspiciously convenient.

There is still room for doubt as to the wisdom of these bombings, however. The idea behind them seems to have been that the perpetrators could be cleanly - surgically - eliminated by means of a little hi-tech wizardry, and thus the problem would have been painlessly solved, once and for all. Alas, the problem of terrorism is not to be solved in this fashion. For not only are innocent bystanders killed in such hi-tech strikes, thus giving the impression of callousness, but also the targets are not reached, thus giving the impression of incompetence into the bargain.

All free societies have difficulties in dealing with terrorism. Not only are their governments expected to operate within certain rules, but also their actions are open to constant scrutiny in the press and on television.

The public is likely to blow hot and cold, to demand a hard line on one occasion, and to demand conciliation the next, when it becomes clear that a hard line itself provokes retaliation by the terrorists. A few terrorist incidents in the US will thus result in simultaneous demands that the perpetrators be punished and that the US withdraw from its futile role of policing the world.

Withdrawal from the fray is not, however, an option for the United States. The embassy bombers did not act because they hate the US for what it does, but for what it is; that is to say, modern, secular, freewheeling, decadent and, above all, attractive to the great mass of humanity.

American cultural imperialism is, after all, the first imperialism in which the colonised long for their own subjugation. What the Islamic fundamentalists hate about the US is the mirror it holds up to human nature.

The US cannot, therefore, ingratiate itself with its terrorist enemies, but it can inflame and encourage them. Sudden blind rages followed by long periods of craven indifference or propitiation, such as characterise US policy towards terrorism, are sure to both encourage and inflame.

What is needed above all is consistency, a policy rather than an occasional reaction to outrages which is designed to rescue the President's standing in the polls as much as it is to punish the wrongdoers.

Whether the US has the stomach for a prolonged and possibly unending fight is yet another unanswered question. A society that is so bombarded with information about today that it is inclined to forget what happened yesterday ("Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone," as the refrain in Mr Clinton's inaugural theme song put it), and in which every innocent casualty is regarded as a tragedy of unprecedented proportions, is not one that can easily follow a consistent policy such as Israel's. The population of Israel is only too aware of what will happen if its government displays weakness in dealing with terrorists, and is prepared to accept sacrifices accordingly; the population of the US, by contrast, regards even a minor threat to its safety as intolerable.

The latest American bombings will probably have stoked the extremists' desire for revenge without having in any way reduced their capacity to carry it out. This is a consequence of dealing with the long-term problem of terrorism on a news bulletin by news bulletin basis. To stir hatred without instilling fear is the worst possible policy for the US.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Personal Finance Editor: Cutting out the middle man could spell disaster for employees and consumers alike

Simon Read
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch  

Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes tell you what to think. Don't let them

Memphis Barker
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week