Is Terrorism a Mortal Threat?

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It may have been politically incorrect to publish the thoughts on the sixth anniversary of 9-11, but what Colin Powell had to say to GQ magazine needs to be heard.

Terrorism, said Powell, is not a mortal threat to America.

“What is the greatest threat facing us now?” Powell asked. “People will say it’s terrorism. But are there any terrorists in the world who can change the American way of life or our political system? No. Can they knock down a building? Yes. Can they kill somebody? Yes. But can they change us? No. Only we can change ourselves. So what is the great threat we are facing?”

History and common sense teach that Powell speaks truth.

Since 9-11, 100,000 Americans have been murdered — as many as we lost in Vietnam, Korea and Iraq combined. Yet, not one of these murders was the work of an Islamic terrorist, and all of them, terrible as they are, did not imperil the survival of our republic.

Terrorists can blow up our buildings, assassinate our leaders, and bomb our malls and stadiums. They cannot destroy us. Assume the worst. Terrorists smuggle an atom bomb into New York harbor or into Washington, D.C., and detonate it.

Horrible and horrifying as that would be — perhaps 100,000 dead and wounded — it would not mean the end of the United States. It would more likely mean the end of Iran, or whatever nation at which the United States chose to direct its rage and retribution.

Consider. Between 1942 and 1945, Germany and Japan, nations not one-tenth the size of the United States, saw their cities firebombed, and their soldiers and civilians slaughtered in the millions. Japan lost an empire. Germany lost a third of its territory. Both were put under military occupation. Yet, 15 years later, Germany and Japan were the second and third most prosperous nations on Earth, the dynamos of their respective continents, Europe and Asia.

Powell’s point is not that terrorism is not a threat. It is that the terror threat must be seen in perspective, that we ought not frighten ourselves to death with our own propaganda, that we cannot allow fear of terror to monopolize our every waking hour or cause us to give up our freedom.

For all the blather of a restored caliphate, the “Islamofascists,” as the neocons call them, cannot create or run a modern state, or pose a mortal threat to America. The GNP of the entire Arab world is not equal to Spain’s. Oil aside, its exports are equal to Finland’s.

Afghanistan and Sudan, under Islamist regimes, were basket cases. Despite the comparisons with Nazi Germany, Iran is unable to build modern fighters or warships and has an economy one-twentieth that of the United States, at best. While we lack the troops to invade Iran, three times the size of Iraq, the U.S. Air Force and Navy could, in weeks, smash Iran’s capacity to make war, blockade it and reduce its population to destitution. Should Iran develop a nuclear weapon and use it on us or on Israel, it would invite annihilation.

As a threat, Iran is not remotely in the same league with the Soviet Union of Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, or Mao’s China, or Nazi Germany, or Imperial Japan, or even Mussolini’s Italy.

And why would Tehran, which has not launched a war since the revolution in 1979, start a war with an America with 10,000 nuclear weapons? If the Iranians are so suicidal, why have they not committed suicide in 30 years by attacking us or Israel?

What makes war with Iran folly is that an all-out war could lead to a break-up of that country, with Persians, Azeris, Kurds, Arabs and Baluchis going their separate ways, creating fertile enclaves for al-Qaida recruitment and training.

Yet, while talking common sense, Gen. Powell himself reverted to clich. “America could not survive without immigration.”

But this is nonsense. From 1789 to 1845, we had almost no immigration, before the Irish came. Did we not survive? From 1925 to 1965, we had almost no immigration. Yet, we conquered the Great Depression, won World World II, became the greatest power on earth and ended those four decades with an Era of Good Feeling under Ike and JFK unlike any we had known before.

Was the America of the 1940s and 1950s in which Colin Powell grew up in danger of not surviving for lack of immigration?

In our time, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Czechoslovakia have split apart. The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia have broken up into two dozen nations. Terrorism had nothing to do with it. Tribalism had everything to do with it.

Race, ethnicity and religion are the fault lines along which nations like Iraq are coming apart. If America ends, it will not be the work of an Osama bin Laden. As Abraham Lincoln said, it will be by our own hand, it will be by suicide.

Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail] is co-founder and editor of The American Conservative. He is also the author of seven books, including Where the Right Went Wrong, and A Republic Not An Empire.

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