Commentary Magazine


Public Diplomacy

To the Editor:

Joshua Muravchik recommends a variety of methods for teaching the Islamic world to behave itself [“Hearts, Minds, and the War Against Terror,” May]. These include winning the war on terrorism by whatever means necessary and lecturing the Islamic masses through electronic media (as if the cold war were won with Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America). He also seems wistful about the Pentagon’s decision to scrap the Office of Strategic Influence, claiming that it was never meant to produce propaganda.

But missing from Mr. Muravchik’s essay is any call to pay attention to the terrorists’ complaints. A policy of “all talk and no listen”—in politics as in a family—is almost always a recipe for disaster. In 1998, when Jesse Helms chaired the Senate foreign relations committee, I twice issued public pleas asking him to hold hearings to discuss what the Muslims who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 sought to accomplish. What had so deranged their minds that they would do something so uncivilized? I told the Senator that if we failed to address this underlying problem, there would be others who would come back to finish the job at the World Trade Center. There were no hearings.

Listening to petitions from those with a grievance does not mean you must give in to them. But a child who knows that his parents have listened carefully to a request and turned it down with a reasoned response will be less likely to burn down the barn than if the parents simply say, “Shut up and go to your room.”

The reason there were no hearings, I surmise, is that the Jewish community was afraid its “parents” in Washington would ask it to share with its Muslim siblings. A clear majority of Jews in Israel and in America support the idea of a Palestinian state living peacefully next to a Jewish state. But Jewish and Palestinian extremists are like two spoiled brats who want it all for themselves.

Jude Wanniski
Morristown, New Jersey

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To the Editor:

In his article on the war against terror, Joshua Muravchik writes: “Just as we succeeded in imbuing Japan and Germany with liberalism and democracy after we had defeated them . . . so the defeat of terrorism . . . may open the way to new thinking in the Middle East.”

I would extend his argument and suggest that the present reign of Arab terror against Israel can be traced to the ill-advised pressures brought to bear on the Jewish state by the U.S. during the Middle East wars of 1956, 1967, and 1973. Such pressures deprived Israel of the political fruits of its victories. Saved from crushing defeats like those suffered by Germany and Japan in 1945, the Arabs have not been motivated to achieve a bona-fide peace. If Israel successfully extirpates the terrorist networks from the West Bank and Gaza, its Arab enemies may well be induced at last to accept the Jewish state as a permanent part of the region.

Benjamin D. Sherman
Saddle Brook, New Jersey

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To the Editor:

Joshua Muravchik is correct to observe that, though we cannot kill the ideas propounded by Islamism, we can hinder the movement by killing the terrorists who further its goals. Islamic fundamentalism arose because of the failure of Arab nationalists to deliver their societies from the ills that plague them. If fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden can be shown to be losers in the same mold as Arab nationalists such as Saddam Hussein and the late Egyptian president Gamal Nasser, the Arab masses may begin to look away from radical Islam and toward more constructive ideologies.

John C. Zimmerman
University of Nevada
Las Vegas, Nevada

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Joshua Muravchik writes:

I thank Benjamin D. Sherman and John C. Zimmerman for their letters. I do share Mr. Zimmerman’s hope that the defeat of yet another destructive ideology (radical Islam) embraced as a panacea by many Arabs will allow healthier ideas to take root. But whether or not the United States should have stayed Israel’s hand in the wars of 1956, 1967, and 1973, I do not agree that this is at the root of our current predicament. As far as I know, the government of Israel never contemplated occupying and remaking its vanquished Arab foes the way the United States did the Axis countries at the conclusion of World War II.

As for Jude Wanniski, ordinarily I would discourage COMMENTARY from publishing letters by writers who have clearly gone off the deep end. In this case, however, it may be useful to allow Mr. Wanniski to expose himself, since it is likely that most readers will recall him only as a once influential advocate of “supply-side” economics and may be unaware of the subjects to which he has addressed himself obsessively in recent times.

His letter is emblematic. He claims that “the Jewish community” prevented Senator Helms from heeding his sage counsel to hold hearings in order to give the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 the opportunity to explain what was on their minds. Even if their demands were not all met, this, he seems to reason, would have made the bombers feel better and led somehow to the emergence of a peace-loving Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel. Such a happy outcome would have pleased the “clear majority” of Jews and displeased only Jewish extremists—which does make it hard to understand why “the Jewish community” blocked it.

The logic of this argument is, in short, not linear. But it is of a piece with much else that Mr. Wanniski has to offer these days. He has made himself the principal champion of Saddam Hussein and Louis Farrakhan. The former, he says, is concealing no weapons, did not use poison gas against Iraqi Kurds, and was not behind the assassination attempt on George H. W. Bush in Kuwait in 1993. Nor was Saddam attempting to acquire nuclear weapons until Israel drove him to do it in 1981 by bombing the Iraqi nuclear plant at Osirak, which “was being used for peaceful purposes.” True, it was bad of the Iraqi ruler to invade Kuwait in 1990, but, since he acted with the approval of the U.S. government, who are we to judge?

Then there is Farrakhan, who, says Mr. Wanniski, is “emerging as the spiritual leader of the entire Islamic world.” In 1999, Farrakhan gave a speech explaining that Jews had falsely branded him anti-Semitic because, “when God sends a prophet into the world to point out where we went wrong, we don’t ordinarily say, ‘you’re right, thank you.’ ” (In other words, Farrakhan was sent by God to chasten the Jews.) This was hailed by Mr. Wanniski as “by far the best speech I’ve heard from anyone in this last decade,” and was posted on Mr. Wanniski’s website although, as he gushed in a letter to Farrakhan, readers “really should get the audiotape to appreciate what you can do in a 90-minute address.”

A third self-defined prophet whom Mr. Wanniski has courted is Lyndon LaRouche, the anti-Semitic conspiracist and migrant from extreme Left to extreme Right. Presumably what attracted Mr. Wanniski was not LaRouche’s conviction for credit-card fraud but his relentless exposé of the Henry Kissinger-Queen of England-Zionist plot to control the world. The LaRouche-Wanniski partnership faltered, however, or so Mr. Wanniski told the New Republic‘s Jonathan Chait, because of LaRouche’s refusal to embrace supply-side theory. (Apparently Mr. Wanniski believes that Farrakhan has embraced it, and perhaps Saddam, too.)

Mr. Wanniski has a conspiracy theory of his own, claiming that the U.S. government is secretly controlled by Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. The latter in particular evokes the full measure of Mr. Wanniski’s mania. “Richard Perle,” he writes, “is a madman, totally out of control. Possessed by the forces of Darkness . . . the most evil man on the face of the earth. Hannibal Lecter [in the movie Silence of the Lambs] only ate his victims one at a time. Perle likes to eat them en masse.” If Perle is not stopped, he warns, “another six million Jews [will] perish in a second Holocaust.”

Is he himself an anti-Semite? Mr. Wanniski waxes indignant at the suggestion. “I know anti-Semitism when I see it,” he says, “and can assure you neither [Farrakhan] nor I have a speck of anti-Semitism in our hearts or souls.” That’s a relief.

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