The war that began on Sept. 11 has entered its second phase. How long this phase will last no one can tell, but it will surely be measured in years, not days, unlike all of America’s other military campaigns since the Vietnam War.
I am encouraged by the prudence and deliberateness with which President George W. Bush ’68 and his advisors have approached this campaign, and by their understanding of how deeply entwined the military and political challenges we now face have become. I am impressed by the bravery of the men and women who have committed their lives to the protection of our security, at home and abroad. And I am confident that we shall prevail, because I know that when the American people have been roused from their diverse private preoccupations and summoned to the defense of the public values they share, they have always found in themselves a strength no illiberalism can defeat. Because, as former President Clinton said in his magnificent speech on Saturday, though terrorism is as old as war, it has never achieved its goal without the support of a state or the acquiescence of its victims –the first of which Osama bin Laden and his criminal partners can never sustain and the second of which they can never achieve.Ê
We can no longer afford the illusion, nourished by the Gulf War and the Kosovo bombings, that we can defeat our enemies with no risk to ourselves. The risks this time are real and large. American lives are likely to be lost in Afghanistan. American lives are likely to be lost in America. But it would be foolish to think we can avoid these risks by being more understanding or agreeable, by withdrawing our troops from Saudi Arabia, or lifting the sanctions on Iraq or demanding (as if that were within our power) that Israel give Palestine all it wants.
We could do these things, and the risk would remain because our enemies hate the civilization we represent and that civilization is not ours to bargain away. No compromise could have prevented the attack on Sept. 11, and none can eliminate the risks we face now. This is a sober fact, but not a new one, for every nation, every people, that has ever been forced to defend its highest values and deepest interests has faced risks of this sort. We have simply been reintroduced to the discipline of history. For the last 12 years, since the end of the Cold War, American values and interests have appeared to be unchallenged. But they are not. And now we must meet the challenge.
As we do so, though, I pray we stop to ask ourselves what these values and interests are. Listening to the television this afternoon, I was struck by reports that relief packages are being dropped along with the bombs. This makes political sense, given the tenuous grip of the Taliban government and our interest in impressing others in the region with our desire to help the Afghan people. But this oddly hybrid bombing strategy is symbolic, I hope, of a larger commitment. The war we are fighting cannot be won with soldiers and steel alone. It can be won only if we take seriously, and invite other nations to take seriously, the shared problems of the planet: the shameful maldistribution of wealth around the globe; the lack of opportunity, even in nominally democratic states, to exercise a meaningful influence over public affairs; the poisoning of the air and heating of the oceans we all share.
As we begin to defend ourselves, with as clear a moral sanction as any nation has ever possessed, let us find the courage to face the greatest risk of all: the risk that our responsibilities are larger and more costly than we had supposed, and that to meet them we must begin to think as citizens of the planet, as well as citizens of America, the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Anthony Kronman is the dean of the Yale Law School and Edward J. Phelps professor of law.