WASHINGTON "Every nation in every region now has a decision to make," President Bush said in his widely praised speech to a joint session of Congress last month.
"Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists."
And I thought: Are those really the only possibilities? Can't there be some nation, in some region, that dislikes both terrorism and America or that is indifferent both to the United States and to those behind the September 11 massacre?
If it were only a rhetorical flourish, I wouldn't be pursuing the matter. But I seem to be hearing a long list of similarly constricted options now that our war on terrorism has begun in earnest. Two on that list are particularly troubling:
If you wonder about the wisdom military or moral of the massive assault on Afghanistan's Taliban, then you support Osama bin Laden.
And, if you think much of the Arab resentment of America's foreign policy is justified, then you condone terrorism.
The constricted-options approach didn't begin with the president's speech, of course. It was a staple of civil rights militants of the '60s, who used to inform us that we were either a part of the solution (theirs) or a part of the problem. Politicians and activists of all stripes have made similar distinctions and so have street gangs. Maybe they all borrowed from Jesus of Nazareth, who said: "He that is not with me is against me."
I'll leave the meaning of that one to the theologians. In secular usage, though, the point seems to be that thought breeds irresolution. Don't tell me you are serious about fighting crime if you're not willing to suspend just for a while the Bill of Rights. Don't pretend you really oppose terrorism if you're entertaining second thoughts about the carpet-bombing calculated to render the Taliban vulnerable to its Afghan enemies.
Maybe that's why some of us find it attractive to think of the present campaign against terrorism as war. War allows the suspension of certain bothersome restrictions. No need to prove that any particular Taliban soldier supports terrorism or knows where bin Laden is hiding.
But we won't follow the war idea all the way, either perhaps because we haven't thought through how to wage real war that doesn't involve territory and where the enemy is scattered over scores of sovereign countries, including some of our valued allies.
And so we publish a list of most-wanted terrorists, and announce to the world they have all been indicted and that we intend to bring them to justice. Indicted? That's what we do with criminals, not military foes.
As Columbia University's George P. Fletcher noted in a brilliant op-ed piece earlier this month, we indict Timothy McVeigh but have no interest in the personal culpability of the Japanese pilots who bombed Pearl Harbor. Oklahoma City was a crime; Pearl Harbor was war.
And the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? We haven't quite decided.
It's a crime when we undertake to kill or capture (and "bring to justice") individual leaders of the terrorist network. It's a war when we need to suspend rules that make it difficult to go after those leaders.
But if our official policy seems to be of two minds, there are those who won't allow the same option for rank and file Americans. If you wonder if war is the right answer to international terrorism, if you suggest that it may be time to rethink elements of our foreign policy, if you question whether America has always been above reproach in its international dealings, wanting nothing for itself, you'll be told to get with the program. Sometimes with an implied "or else."
The people who insist on a suspension of thought aren't necessarily bad people. Their nightmare is of the growing influence of "peace" advocates appeasers, in their lexicon who are capable of understanding why terrorism thrives. My nightmare is of American action so brutal and arrogant and indiscriminate that it creates their nightmare.
Copyright 2001 The Daily Camera