American journalists and politicians made a perfect spectacle of themselves in discussing the Abu Ghraib prison controversy. The president’s political foes had hoped to turn the spectacle of naked, humiliated Iraqi prisoners into an issue capable of splitting public opinion about the war in Iraq and cutting into George W. Bush’s poll ratings. They called for Donald Rumsfeld’s ouster and started pointing fingers at Pentagon lawyers. They ruminated darkly about White House complicity in the thing.
But then came the Al Qaeda video of Nick Berg’s beheading.
The Berg video — featuring anonymous terrorists bellowing “God is Great” while holding Berg’s head aloft in triumph — made clear once again the moral gulf that separates the United States and the world of radical Islam. Here in the states, we agonize over the fact that some sicko military police made Iraqi prisoners wriggle and crawl in various states of dress and undress, while Al Qaeda butchers take obvious delight in sawing the heads off innocents.
And so we return to the insights impressed upon us by the assaults of September 11, 2001. As President Bush reminded us back then, the war on terror poses a unique challenge. This is not a war over land or resources or old personal grievances. It is a battle of good and evil.
Until Tuesday afternoon, we had allowed ourselves to forget that fact. Our swift battlefield successes in Afghanistan and Iraq gave the impression that we had routed the bad guys. With that success seemingly secured, many politicians set about the business of smudging away the moral clarity that guided post-September 11th America. Senator Edward Kennedy best expressed this cavalier attitude by bellowing about “another Vietnam” and likening the abuse of prisoners by Americans at Abu Ghraib prison to the ritual slaughters committed at the same facility by Saddam Hussein.
Well, we have our moral clarity back, and that almost surely will produce two consequences. First, the United States is less likely to play the role of Mr. Nice Guy in Iraq. We recently pulled troops from the city limits of Fallujah in order to let an Iraqi force occupy the city. A lot of bad guys filtered out of the city during that transition. One of them reportedly was Abu Mussab al Zarqawi, the man credited in the video with killing Nick Berg.
Expect our forces to hit back hard — and all across Iraq. We have tried niceness. We have tried reason. And they have failed. Now, the Arab world awaits our response — and looks for signs both of weakness and strength. Weakness, of course, will encourage more attacks. Strength will send the evildoers skittering once again.
Second, the chorus of second-guessing, led by Senators Kennedy and Byrd, is likely to abate for a while. We don’t have the luxury of indulging in such idiocy, and few will have either the stomach or patience to put up with that kind of political grandstanding. The Nick Berg murder fits an old Al Qaeda pattern. During the war in Afghanistan, mujahedeen fighters were known to videotape the beheading of Soviet soldiers — and to send those tapes to the victim’s family back home. We now get that stuff courtesy of the Internet. But make no mistake: The aim is to terrorize Americans in Iraq and cripple our nation’s will to fight. As before, the Islam-sadists guessed wrong.
It is time to remember that Democrats and Republicans are not our enemies; they are our countrymen. The Islam-fascists are the enemy, and we have a grim duty to squash them. But before we get to that point, we all might want to offer up a prayer for Nick Berg and his family, who need and deserve all the love and consolation we can offer.