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What Would Lincoln Do?

By Frank Gruber

At some point last week, after the initial terror and horror, the revulsion and the anger, the trying to "put things in perspective," I got scared.

After people destroy the World Trade Center and a large chunk of the Pentagon, the opportunities to do something bigger are limited.

"Top that," I can imagine the planner of last week's attacks saying to the planner of next year's.

Anyone capable of trying to kill 50,000 at the World Trade Center with intricately choreographed hijacked airplanes is capable -- morally and technically -- of trying to kill one million with an atomic, chemical or biological weapon.

It is also too late to speculate whether terrorists could develop such weapons. If Pakistan can make a bomb, then Iran, Iraq, or Syria could. It is conceivable that Islamic radicals could take over in Pakistan or Syria, and radicals could still reverse the popular moderating trend in Iran. The secular equivalent of an Islamic radical, in the form of a brutal, megalomaniac Arab nationalist, already rules Iraq.

Scared, anxious, distraught, I opened my Abraham Lincoln reader. In his second annual message to Congress, December 1, 1862, he said:

"If there ever could be a proper time for mere catch arguments, that time surely is not now. In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity."

Good advice.

Notwithstanding the headlines, the talking heads, the e-mails, what is at stake is not capturing Osama bin Laden, deposing Saddam Hussein, nor solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At stake is not retaliation, revenge, avenging our honor, nor whether pacifism is morally superior to fighting fire with fire.

At stake is not whether the ACLU and gays are to blame for September 11, as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson would have you believe, or whether the CIA and decades of American foreign policy are to blame, as various commentators on the left would have you believe.

No. At stake is the physical defense of America. At stake is peace in the 21st century.

It is important to separate means from ends. Anyone who does not address his or her ideas to the end of how to prevent further calamity, is wasting our time, and any posturing from politicians or pundits to justify their prior posturing is useless.

It is time to get smarter. I suggest, as an exercise in critical thinking, that everyone try to answer the question of what to do from the opposite perspective one usually takes.

I'll start. I'm a rabid civil libertarian, but I'll say that it's time for a strong law enforcement presence at airports, for security checkers with the authority of a badge and with the power and discretion to ask tough questions and investigate anyone who wants to fly.

I am about as skeptical of oil companies as one can be, but Dick Cheney and his petroleum pals have spent more time with Arabs and other Muslims than anyone I know, and I will listen to what they have to say (and not dismiss it out of hand).

I am a Democrat so close-minded that I know I will not vote for George W. Bush in 2004, but I not only wish him all the best, but also commend him for the balanced approach he so far appears to want to take. He is our President for more than the next three years, and presented with this crisis, he needs to succeed.

As a Jewish-American who wants Israel to make a deal with Yasir Arafat and recognize a Palestinian state, I must acknowledge that any settlement Israel and Arafat have considered would be anathema to Islamic radicals.

As I try to think outside my boxes, I hope others are thinking outside theirs.

I hope the military and the military-minded remember that crimes are best solved with evidence, and that the presumption of innocence is as sacred to us as Mecca is to Osama bin Laden.

I hope that pacifists and the pacifistic-minded will consider that violence has not always bred more violence.

I hope that those who want to strike at Afghanistan and Iraq will consider that there are as many terrorists hiding in friendly countries, like Egypt, as there are in "rogue states."

I hope that President Bush will not make his work encouraging cooperation from the mass of peaceful Muslims more difficult by again using the word "crusade" to describe the coalition he wants to create, and that he will not undercut our justice system, and the presumption of innocence, by proclaiming again that any suspect is wanted "dead or alive."

I hope that left-wing critics of American foreign policy will consider that the Muslim world cannot blame its problems -- certainly not all of them -- on outside forces. Since achieving their political independence, the Muslim states have had plenty of time and, if we consider how the rich ones might have invested their oil money, plenty of money, to establish just and stable civil societies.

I hope that right-wing critics of the Clinton-era American foreign policy stop using political grand-standing to excuse not only institutional security failures, but also the long-term failings of a foreign policy that was obsessed with Communism.

I hope that everyone realizes that as much as we cannot understand them, as much as many may revile them, the key to our future peace is securing the future of the great mass of Islamic people who want peace and control over their destiny the same as the great mass of people everywhere want peace and control over their destiny.

But my head is spinning.

Lincoln also said, in a letter to Horace Greeley, "I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views."

Let's keep thinking. Let's keep our minds open. Let's take action when we must. Let's "highly resolve" that the dead of September 11 shall not have died in vain.

The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Lookout.
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