Ariel Sharon's Lessons

Tom Sgouros, Jr.

March, 2002

Submitted, but never appeared in the Providence Journal.

Is Ariel Sharon advising the Bush White House? Over the past year and a half, Mr. Sharon has shown us all too clearly the folly of relying on force alone to subdue a persistent foe. He apparently does not understand that in order to stop terrorism, one must not only subdue the terrorists, but avoid increasing their number. His constant resort to violence and repression has yielded a bumper crop of those willing to die to resist. Could any mullah recruit potential martyrs as effectively as Israeli bulldozers leveling an olive orchard? It is cold comfort to find a lesson in the cascade of tragic news pouring out of Israel, but if nothing else, Sharon has demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that though one can fight a war like theirs with force alone, one cannot hope to win it.

With an example as clear as this one to caution him, what on earth are we to make of George W. Bush and his policies of war alone? Where is the butter to temper the guns? Last fall, we heard muttering about a new world, and about how the US needed to be more engaged in helping developing countries. There was talk of a "new Marshall plan." But today all I see is $4 million cadged from schoolchildren like mine to send to Afghan children. Can Bush possibly think that adequate?

As broadcasts from Al Jazeera and reports from one country after another have made clear, the terrorists we fight swim in an ocean of resentment against the United States. There are powerful reasons for this attitude, including our support of Israel's occupation, our forces in Saudi Arabia, our frequent support for corrupt and undemocratic regimes, and our clumsy actions, such as abandoning the Kurds or bombing Sudanese pharmaceutical factories. I am not sympathetic with every one of these causes for complaint, but only an idiot would turn away from the reality of the bitterness just because he disagrees with its grounds. Am I supposed to trust the safety of my family to someone like that?

The question of the hour ought to be how to mollify the resentment, to drain that ocean so that the fish we seek lie flopping on the dry ground: easy pickings. If the comparatively vast wealth of the United States were the source of potable water supplies and needed medicines throughout the developing world, would it be as easy for Al-Qaeda operatives to find cover in a fight against the Great Satan? If the US were a consistent force for peace in the region, instead of letting our need for oil rule our decisions over where to cast our lot, would it be so easy to recruit new martyrs to fight us?

Some of the best news from the developing world we've had in years arrived this past week. The population growth of the third world appears to be slowing. The biggest cause? Increasing literacy and economic opportunities for women. In a million small-scale decisions to have fewer children, an earth-shaking change has been registered. Were we to become global leaders in providing education to villagers around the world, the fundamentalist zealots would rage, but they'd also be rendered impotent as their funds and --- more importantly --- their volunteers dried up.

Victory in the war we are now prosecuting will not be measured by the number of culprits brought to justice, or by the territory wrested from tyrannical regimes. It will be measured by the degree of peace we achieve. Can we consider a fragile peace, maintained by constant show of arms, and a permanent war economy in a country so tense we give up the freedoms we hold dear, to be a victory? If we want to see the results of pursuing nothing but retributive justice, we need look no farther than the front pages of the newspaper, decorated each day with more news from Israel.

In the past few months, George W. Bush has --- on all our behalf --- repudiated the ABM treaty, let it be known that we are considering military action against countries not obviously linked to the events at hand, thrown our uncritical support behind Ariel Sharon, and embraced the possibility of first use of nuclear weapons. Within Afghanistan, our government has denied responsibility for civilian deaths by our bombs, tried to repudiate the Geneva conventions, impeded the delivery of food aid, and --- incredibly --- claimed that bombing friendly Afghan soldiers was not a mistake. What I think about these actions is irrelevant compared to how they are judged by other countries. Which of these actions will likely ease the resentment of the US in the Arab world? Which of them will make us safer? If none of them will, where is the counterbalance? Airdrops of pop-tarts?

The events of September 11 justified an armed response. I am glad we have an army with which to defend ourselves against people who write that infidels should be killed like sheep. But as Ariel Sharon has apparently not learned, the enemy we face cannot be subdued by force alone. If we cannot show that we have learned that lesson, then we will waste the efforts --- and sacrifices --- of our soldiers, and that will be infinitely more tragic than the sacrifices themselves.