Excerpts from The Third Bubble
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Like the stock market and corporate bubbles, the terrorism bubble was the product of a kind of temporary insanity, in which basic norms were ignored and excessive behavior was justified by new theories. In the case of the terrorism bubble, we were told that suicide bombing was the work of desperate people who had no other way to get America’s or Israel’s attention.
People across Europe and the Arab-Muslim world bought such theories. Some Muslim religious leaders even came up with rulings justifying the suicide bombing of civilians in pizza parlors. Arab media called the terrorists “martyrs.” It was moral creative accounting: if you are weak, there is no limit on what you can do, and if you are strong ? like America and Israel ? you have no moral right to defend yourself. Worse, after 9/11, some in the Arab-Muslim world actually believed they had found a new balance of power with America ? through the suicide bomber.
And we in America believed them, so we blew up the bubble more. We contorted our whole open society, and imprisoned ourselves. My daughter’s high school symphony orchestra trip to New Orleans was canceled because of the recent terrorism alerts. Insane.
Yes, this Iraq war was about Saddam. For George Bush and Tony Blair, though, I think it was about something larger, but unstated. They were implicitly saying: “This terrorism bubble has come to threaten open societies and all they value. So, we’re going to use Iraq ? because we can ? to demonstrate to you that we’ll come right into the heart of your world to burst this bubble. Take note.”
We and the Arab-Muslim world must now draw the right conclusions. One hopes Americans will now stop overreacting to 9/11. Al Qaeda is not the Soviet Union. Saddam was not Stalin. And terrorism is not communism. America sliced right through Iraq. It did so because we are a free-market democracy that is capable of amassing huge amounts of technical power. And it did so because our soldiers so cherish what they have that they were ready to fight house to house from Basra to Baghdad. That was the real shock and awe for Iraqis ? because the terrorism bubble said Nasdaq-obsessed Americans were so caught up with the frivolity of modern life, they had lost the will to fight. Wrong.
We are strong because of who we are. Iraq was weak because of what it was. So, yes, let’s add a metal detector or two at the airports, but let’s stop thinking we have to remake our whole society, constrict all civil liberties, ban all Arab students and throw out all our foreign policy doctrines that have served us so well ? from deterrence to collective security to the usefulness of the U.N. ? to meet this new terrorism threat. We do not, and we must not.
The New York Times 4/20/2003