The war on terror is most properly thought of as a race against terrorists determined to find and deploy weapons of terrible destruction against civilisation.
“We live in a world of three billion men and hundreds of thousands of nuclear bombs, missiles, warheads; it’s a world of extraordinary germs that can be harnessed and used to kill whole populations, a world of extraordinary chemicals that can be harnessed and used to do the same.” Three billion men, and it takes only half a dozen bright and evil ones to harness and deploy. What are the odds it will happen? Put it another way: what are the odds it will not? Low. Non-existent, I think.
When you consider who is gifted and crazed with rage... when you think of the terrorist places and the terrorist countries... who do they hate most? The Great Satan, the United States. What is its most important place? Some would say Washington. I would say the great city of the United States is the great city of the world, the dense, ten-mile-long island called Manhattan, where the economic and media power of the nation resides, the city that is the psychological centre of our modernity, our hedonism, our creativity, our hardshouldered hipness, our unthinking arrogance.”
Peggy Noonan’s piece was a wise, early warning of ‘the gathering storm’. She rightly predicted that whilst the world had always been populated by evil men – in our age they had access to weapons with the potential to cause unthinkable harm.
On 11th September 2001 Osama bin Laden’s terrorists provided a wake-up call to the whole world. Some people and nations - 9/11 people and nations - woke up. Others – particularly Old Europe - are still asleep. What 9/11 people woke up to was the reality of terrorists who would stop at nothing to destroy western civilisation.
The 3,000 innocent dead of 9/11 was shocking enough. But Chechen terrorists, bin Laden, al-Zarqawi and other terrorist fanatics aspire to much worse. If any terrorist was to get hold of a dirty nuclear bomb – or other terrifying weapons – 9/11 would, almost unbelievably, seem a let-off.
The race against terror
The war on terror could more helpfully have been described as the race against terror. The terrorists are racing to get hold of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction and civilisation is racing to stop them forming a deadly alliance with rogue nations and useful idiots.
The pre-emptive war against Saddam’s Iraq has been much more bloody and much more difficult than its proponents had expected. It is possible that it will be a war that isn’t won for many years. It is also possible that it won’t stop some terrorists winning the race to get hold of devastating WMDs from another source. The only certainty in the race against terror is that the terrorists will win if no-one takes them on.