Once again, we're being sold on the devil theory of history. Not that Osama bin Laden doesn't fit the bill as the Satan of the moment, just as Saddam Hussein did in the previous Bush Administration. But it's dangerous nonsense to suggest, as President Bush does, that we're up against an evildoer the likes of whom we've never seen.
While it's certainly necessary to eliminate bin Laden's terrorist cohort, that will hardly end the prospect of mayhem in this world. We lull ourselves into a false sense of security when we insist that madness is the exclusive province of one group of extremists, or that it inevitably finds its locus in one religion or region of the world.
When it comes to genocide, bin Laden is a minor contender. We've witnessed far worse from the good Germans, mostly well-educated, law-abiding Protestants and Catholics who killed 6 million Jews in the worst example of religious hatred ever. The United States caused the death of millions in Vietnam in a more recent war that never bore any reasonable caonnection to our security, as Lyndon Johnson's recently released tapes reveal. And what about Cheshire cat Vladimir V. Putin, a top KGB apparatchik when Soviet forces killed more that a million Afghan innocents, whose Russian troops now slaughter Chechen civilians?
By personalizing evil, Bush ignores the role of our allies and ourselves in making this such a dangerous world. That's clear when one assesses the true risks of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, which Bush in his UN speech warned bin Laden would use, saying, "No hint of conscience would prevent it." What hint of conscience prevented the United States from being the only nation in history to use nuclear weapons, killing at least 115,000 civilians in an assault that makes the World Trade Center attack pale in comparison?
Clearly, it's the leading nations that have created the world's huge arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, and if there's a danger in their use now by terrorists, it's only because those nations' stocks have been pilfered or sold and their scientists bribed.
If bin Laden possesses such weapons, it's through purchases on the black market or because he had the backing of nation-states, with Pakistan at the head of the list. He couldn't have done it alone. We've had him and his operation under constant observation, following President Clinton's orders to disable him. It's inconceivable that such an operation could have been directed undetected from the caves of Afghanistan.
However, Pakistan has been hellbent on producing nuclear weapons, its program directed by scientists holding fanatical Islamist views who were forced to resign only after September 11. Also forced to resign, as an additional obvious embarrassment, was the head of Pakistan's intelligence agency, which has been intimate with the Taliban and bin Laden.
The Pakistan-India nuclear arms race is the most dangerous confrontation in the world, yet we suddenly ended sanctions against those countries and will reward Pakistan's military dictator with $1 billion in high-tech military assistance for turning against his old buddies, the Taliban.
China is another nuclear-armed state that only recently was accused by the US government of stealing our most valuable nuclear secrets. Indeed, the FBI all but ignored bin Laden as it kept 100 agents assigned to Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee, producing a case so weak that Lee was never even charged with spying. Now that Bush has embraced China as yet another ally in the war against terrorism, the alleged theft of our rocket and nuclear technology is conveniently forgotten.
We are fickle in our anger and grief; new enemies replace the old while the flag is waved and unity achieved. This is understandably therapeutic, as is the desire for revenge through bombing, even if it means killing children and starving the population. But it does not address the larger threat to the world's security.
Rest assured that bin Laden soon will be reduced to a violent footnote. But the danger to our civilization presented by the cold war residue of weapons of mass destruction, which we and other civilized nations continue to produce, will haunt us long after bin Laden is a dim if bizarre memory.