October 26, 2001
We Are All Alone
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
So let me see if I've got this all straight now: Pakistan will allow us to use its bases Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — provided we bomb only Taliban whose names begin with Omar and who don't have cousins in the Pakistani secret service. India is with us on Tuesdays and Fridays, provided it can shell Pakistani forces around Kashmir all other days. Egypt is with us on Sundays, provided we don't tell anyone and provided we never mention that we give the Egyptians $2 billion a year in aid. Yasir Arafat is with us only after 10 p.m. on weekdays, when Palestinians who have been dancing in the streets over the World Trade Center attack have gone to bed. The Northern Alliance is with us, provided we buy all its troops new sandals and give U.S. passports to the first 1,000 to reach Kabul.
Israel is with us provided we never question the lunacy of 7,000 Israeli colonial settlers living in the middle of a million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Kuwait would like to be with us, it really would, since we saved Kuwait from Iraq, but two Islamists in the Kuwaiti Parliament spoke out against the war, so the emir just doesn't want to take any chances. You understand. The Saudis, of course, want to be with us, but Saudis are not into war-fighting. That's for the household help. Don't worry. Prince Alwaleed has promised to rent us some Bangladeshi soldiers through a Saudi temp agency — at only a small markup.
The Saudi ruling family would love to cooperate by handing over its police files on the 15 Saudis involved in the hijackings, but that would be a violation of its sovereignty, and, well, you know how much the Saudis respect sovereignty — like when the Saudi Embassy in Washington rushed all of Osama bin Laden's relatives out of America after Sept. 11 on a private Saudi jet, before they could be properly questioned by the F.B.I.
And then there's my personal favorite: All our Arab-Muslim allies would love us to get bin Laden quickly, but the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is coming soon and the Muslim "street" will not tolerate fighting during Ramadan. Say, do you remember the 1973 Middle East war, launched by Egypt and Syria against Israel? Remember what that war was called in the Arab world? "The Ramadan war" — because that's when it was started. Oh, well. I guess the Arab world can launch wars on Ramadan, but not receive them.
My fellow Americans, I hate to say this, but except for the good old Brits, we're all alone. And at the end of the day, it's U.S. and British troops who will have to go in, on the ground, and eliminate bin Laden.
Ah, you ask, but why did we have so many allies in the gulf war against Iraq? Because the Saudis and Kuwaitis bought that alliance. They bought the Syrian Army with billions of dollars for Damascus. They bought us and the Europeans with promises of huge reconstruction contracts and by covering all our costs. Indeed, with the money Japan paid, we actually made a profit on the gulf war; Coalitions "R" Us.
This time we'll have to pay our own way, and for others. Unfortunately, killing 5,000 innocent Americans in New York just doesn't get the rest of the world that exercised. In part we're to blame. The unilateralist message the Bush team sent from its first day in office — get rid of the Kyoto climate treaty, forget the biological treaty, forget arms control, and if the world doesn't like it that's tough — has now come back to haunt us.
And who can blame other countries for wanting to shake down U.S. taxpayers when Dick Armey and his greedy band of House Republicans are doing the same thing — pushing a stimulus bill with more tax breaks for the rich, lobbyists and corporations, and virtually nothing for the working Americans who will fight this war?
My advice: Try not to focus on any of this. Focus instead on the firemen who rushed into the trade center towers without asking, "How much?" Focus on the thousands of U.S. reservists who have left their jobs and families to go fight in Afghanistan without asking, "What's in it for me?" Unlike the free-riders in our coalition, these young Americans know that Sept. 11 is our holy day — the first day in a just war to preserve our free, multi-religious, democratic society. And I don't really care if that war coincides with Ramadan, Christmas, Hanukkah or the Buddha's birthday — the most respectful and spiritual thing we can do now is fight it until justice is done.Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company