The Wages of Weakness

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Bernard Lewis, our pre-eminent scholar of the Islamic world, has a brilliant column on the view of the United States and the Soviet Union that Osama bin Laden and other terrorists formed during the Cold War, and how that conception, challenged in the aftermath of September 11, has been revived by our lack of fortitude in Iraq. An excerpt:

During the Cold War, two things came to be known and generally recognized in the Middle East concerning the two rival superpowers. If you did anything to annoy the Russians, punishment would be swift and dire. If you said or did anything against the Americans, not only would there be no punishment; there might even be some possibility of reward….
During the troubles in Lebanon in the 1970s and ’80s, there were many attacks on American installations and individuals–notably the attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, followed by a prompt withdrawal, and a whole series of kidnappings of Americans, both official and private, as well as of Europeans. There was only one attack on Soviet citizens, when one diplomat was killed and several others kidnapped. The Soviet response through their local agents was swift, and directed against the family of the leader of the kidnappers. The kidnapped Russians were promptly released, and after that there were no attacks on Soviet citizens or installations throughout the period of the Lebanese troubles.

I commented on Lewis’s column on our AOL site.


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