The New World Disorder

New York, the stricken city. This city, the most cosmopolitan in the world, the urban dream, also a beacon of hope for all the refugees and all the victims of the world for centuries, today hosts in its buildings and on its streets many foreigners. It is a part of this population that has been massacred by terrorist “bombings.” New York is not the first city to be stricken. Never, however, had a huge modern metropolis, with its networks, its transportation system, its skyscrapers, and its broad avenues, experienced such deadly fierceness, caught off guard, without any declaration of war.

The strategists of this offensive of death unleashed their fury on Lower Manhattan, on the world’s financial center, in the same way they attacked the most secure building in the world, by definition the best guarded military fortress, the Pentagon. The entire planet was partly paralyzed by a chain reaction; its air transportation was immobilized, its communications were disrupted, and the major stock exchanges were destabilized, subjecting the world economy to more uncertainty. Writers and film producers of the apocalypse, from New York 1999 to Mars Attacks, had imagined scenarios in which New York and Washington were subjected to such assaults. But all of them remained mythic accounts, fears acted out and projected in order to better ward them off. When these threats actually materialize, when the attacks and the victims are real, when they go beyond anything imaginable up to that point, worry and fear obviously become contagious.

Such an operation seemed impossible. First, no terrorist power, whether state or private, was thought to have logistics on this scale, a capability of clandestinely planting so many activists in the United States and coordinating so many operations. Second, it was impossible because of the extensive espionage, surveillance, and security system in the West (particularly that in the United States). This double-bolt lock popped open, and the protections did not hold, because the whole chain of security failed. Technically the terrorists had managed to slip through all the filters. They were helped in this by the absolute coldness of their objective: the massacre of tens of thousands of American civilians. Hundreds of militants and terrorists, both the kamikazes and the survivors, shared this fanatic objective.

Up to now, only economic interests, American military personnel, and several diplomats had been targeted—not civilians. A psychological barrier has been crossed: The hate is total, absolute. So, what difference is there between suicide aircraft and homemade atom bombs, biological weapons, or chemical bombs? None, when the objective is the massacre of civilians. In the worldwide state of shock caused by these attacks, all the citizens of major cities, not only in the West, now know that what once seemed mere fiction has become possible, something that looms on our horizon. Since terrorism always needs to raise the stakes in its targets in order to create a “media spectacle,” it relentlessly seeks every means to stun world opinion. A terrorist “Hiroshima” is now possible. This is the message of Sept. 11, 2001: America is vulnerable, and no holds are barred. The worst has not happened; it is yet to come.

This terrorist offensive, with its “technical” success, its deadly impact, and its effect on the media and the whole world, is a major event, a fundamental strategic shift. It sanctions the plunge into a world dominated by the new world disorder, an ironic paraphrase of the catch phrase that had hailed the collapse of the Communist system: “The New World Order.” The terrorists have won a horrible victory and have inflicted on the United States a nightmarish defeat, one that it will overcome, just as it has overcome all the other great defeats in its history, but no one knows what state the country will be in when it emerges.

Certainly, the United States is impatient to retaliate. But again, it will be limited by the dangerous liaisons that have linked it to Islamic movements since the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the use of religious fanaticism to destabilize all the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union. It seems unlikely that the United States will turn its fury against its ally, Saudi Arabia, although it has sheltered all kinds of radical Islamic movements. Strategically, it would likewise be difficult to unleash a total war in Afghanistan or in Iraq. Not only will it be necessary to first marshal the evidence pointing to the involvement of these regimes, but, militarily, these wars would be impossible to wage. It is hard to imagine American infantrymen taking Kabul or, even more far-fetched, picking up the war in Iraq where George Bush Sr. and Colin Powell left off. The logical consequence would be total war. And the United States will not wage such a war, faced with an enemy that eludes it, at least in part. Iraq has hundreds, if not thousands, of suicide warriors ready to die to destroy America and Israel.

The equation is all the more complex because the United States of George W. Bush was the very embodiment of the temptation of isolationism. America dreamed of being able to escape the world disorder by leaving the rest of the world to fend for itself. This isolationism is the first political casualty of this terrorist offensive. The United States will have to be involved in the world, with its injustices and its horrors. And the strong-arm approach and the policy of cruise missiles will not suffice. There will have to be a policy that disavows the weapons [used by] Islamism and fully engages in the defusing of the numerous conflicts that are time bombs, starting with the Middle East. The best defense against terrorism is not war; it is justice.