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Bartender, a Silver Bullet for Iraq

CHABLIS: We should not be in Iraq. It's a mess. After 4 years we are worse off than after the first 4 weeks. We should never have started up. It was dumb, it was illegal. Let's get the hell out.

LAGER: Maybe that’s too simple.

CHABLIS: Maybe you‘ve never heard of Occam‘s razor. Iraq is snowballing into a bigger and bigger disaster. It's guaranteed to get worse the longer we stay.

LAGER: Guaranteed how?

CHABLIS: By Vietnam. That quagmire, despite all the lights in the tunnel, became steadily darker and bloodier. The longer we stayed the worse it got. We pulled out, the problem was solved. Maybe that's simple, but that's how it worked out.

LAGER: Vietnam was a different time, different circumstances.

CHABLIS: It's always a different time. But the circumstances are the same: a far away land, hot, treacherous, a people in agony, seething hate. A culture we don't understand, where we have no business and are not wanted. We should leave. We left Vietnam and that solved that mess.

LAGER: What did it solve, what was that mess?

CHABLIS: The mess was a fight started by an American president from Texas using the pretext of a non-existing Tonkin Gulf attack. He interfered in an independence struggle that had been raging since the 1930s. It cost us sixty thousand American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. That was spent on the idea that Southeast Asia was a procession of dominoes, and that LBJ's sausage was bigger than Ho Chi Min's. Now we have another "bring em on" Texan.

LAGER: Might not our national interests really be at stake this time?

CHABLIS: Oh sure, last time our future absolutely depended on beating up Asian peasants bent low in rice paddies. This time everything will go to hell unless we wallop Arabs who five times a day stick their rumps into the air.

LAGER: I don't see the parallel. The reason Vietnam was wrong does not have to apply to Iraq.

CHABLIS: Alright, why was Vietnam wrong?

LAGER: Our real enemies were Russia and China. Their thermonuclear rockets were threatening our cities. But we were fighting Vietnam which barely had mortar shells.

CHABLIS: Did LBJ care? So what if neither Hanoi or the Viet Cong threaten us! To his mind thrashing Charlie couldn't hurt.

LAGER: But it did hurt. In the mid 1960s the communist world was starting to fracture. Mao saw himself as Stalin's legitimate heir. He despised Khrushchev and believed he deserved the communist block's leadership. The Soviets, who in the previous century had wrested the Russian Far East from China, distrusted their crowded, land-hungry neighbor. They saw an ideological rival with menacing national interests and a forbidding technological and industrial potential. People’s Army and Red Army troops were already engaging in occasional firefights along the Amur. There came a point when the Soviet Union seriously consider nuking Manchuria.

CHABLIS: Yes, and just as they were getting mad at each other LBJ stuck half a million grunts under their noses. He forced them to suspend their rivalry and help Hanoi tackle us.

LAGER: That's why Vietnam was the mother of strategic blunders.

CHABLIS: We shot ourselves in the head.

LAGER: No, in the thigh, it was a flesh wound. It wasn't fatal. It could be fixed by withdrawing. Nixon managed that. Henry went to Paris and made a deal with Le Duc Tho. Before long Nixon and Kissinger were in Beijing chatting up Mao and Chou. Our interests and China's coincided. Diplomatic relations were established and soon commercial arrangements too.

CHABLIS: The upshot was that before long you couldn't buy a shirt or screwdriver or telephone that wasn't made in the People's Republic.

LAGER: The upshot was that in the 1980s, when Gorbachev looked over his shoulder, he saw the Chinese economy, financed by America's retailers, roaring up behind him.

CHABLIS: That's when he dropped his pants and decided the USSR had to be restructured. We won the Cold War because we were willing to lose in Vietnam.

LAGER: But does any of that apply to Iraq?

CHABLIS: Of course !

LAGER: No it dose not.

CHABLIS: Why not?

LAGER: Because, while Vietnam was strategically wrong, Iraq is strategically right. This time our mistakes have been tactical.

CHABLIS: Does it matter to a mother whether the mistake that killed or injured her child was strategic or tactical?

LAGER: No, but it matter to decision-makers and it should to voters.

CHABLIS: That we get our terminology right?

LAGER: No, our geopolitical stake.

CHABLIS: Our steak? That geopolitical sausage is a bloodwurst. The Germans cooked it up in the last century. Now it's become a blackjack, to fuddle the fact that Iraq is another Vietnam.

LAGER: The only thing Vietnam is is a red herring. As it happens, the domino theory wasn't that wrong. Cambodia and Laos did fall along with Vietnam. Wrong was our assumption that those losses would matter. As it turned out even two million dead Cambodians and a hundred thousand Vietnamese throwing themselves into the South China Sea, had no serious consequences for us.

But this time our withdrawing will have devestating repercussions. It will subject Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Emirates to insurgencies. The fanatics fighting  in Iraq today will be inspired to go after those oil kingdom. They have long itched to settle their hash. Those fat and lazy regimes will quckly crack. Their rulers will flee. The oil will spill wildly into the sands. Those are the harsh facts.

CHABLIS: The choppers on the final day in Saigon are the harsh facts I remember. We had no trouble abandoning lots of people.

LAGER: Abandoning those sheiks to their money in Geneva and Paris isn't the problem. Abandoning 60% of the world's oil reserves is.

CHABLIS: In the 1960s we kept being slapped by that same wet diaper, our vital national interests. Everything would go to hell if we withdrew. A damn lie. Everything did not go to hell. You haven't shown me one concrete difference between then and now.

LAGER: This time we truly were attacked. The collapsing World Trade Towers were no confused blip on a radar screen. People who want America dead hit us in the gut. They meant it for real. We have to answer them for real.

CHABLIS: That's overblown. That's propaganda. Goering said: "the people can always be brought to obey their leaders. Just tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists." The reality is, the US is not in real danger. Terrorists can't defeat us.

LAGER: They can give us one hell of a hot foot. Al-Zarqawi, Al Qaeda's man in Iraq, said: Do you imagine that if we had the bomb we would hesitate for a moment to use it? You want to dismiss that?

CHABLIS: Zarqawi was crazy, but how sane are we? We were kicked in the ass by Afghanistan, so we beat the shit out of Iraq!

LAGER: We were not attacked by Afghanistan.

CHABLIS: Give me a break, 9/11 was rooted in Afghanistan. The hijackers came from Afghanistan. They conceived, planned and prepared 9/11 in Afghanistan.

LAGER: They were mostly Saudis, and their scheme could as easily have been hatched in a dozen other locals. Afghanistan focused on keeping girls veiled and out of school, on decapitating 2000 year old stone Buddhas.  Ideas about flying lessons in Florida, crashing commercial airliners into New York skyscrapers didn't grow in Afghan soil.

CHABLIS: 9/11 was rooted in hate, not soil.

LAGER: How do we reach that hate? How do we rattle the enthusiasm of those encouraged and inspired by the collapsing Twin Towers? How do we convince them that targeting the US is a mistake? How do we reach into where they are large with hope, and appall them?

CHABLIS: You want me to say, by twisting Saddam Hussein's neck. But I want to go elsewhere. If I agree that the seeds of 9/11 were not indigenous to Afghanistan, will you accept that they largely involved Israel, oil, the Crusaders?

LAGER: Sure, but not in the way you suppose.

CHABLIS: In what way?

Lager: By way of the 7th century, and the 17th century.

CHABLIS: The flight-plans for those hijacked airliners were centuries old?

LAGER: Yes, a 7th century world-view inspired them. It conceives the globe as divided between the lands of the Muslim, the Dar el Islam, and the outside world, the Dar el Harb. There in the "realm of the sword"  there is continual war.  Mohammed commanded every Muslim to go out into that battlefield and fight until all humankind has submitted to Allah. Those whom the struggle kills he promised Paradise and 72 maidens. That set the course of those Boeing 757s.

CHABLIS: Mohammed lived 1,400 years ago. A flight-plan should be a little more up-to-date.

LAGER: Was the New Testament out of date for 15th century Christians because Jesus was 1,400 years in the past? The Koran is no less authoritative for Muslims today.

CHABLIS: That's your opinion.

LAGER: It's the opinion of the Umma, the community of Islamic believers, and of every Muslim who reveres the Koran. It is the opinion of Islamists and Jihadists.

CHABLIS: There is no shortage of nutty opinions. In your opinion even the 17th century contributed to the current mess.

LAGER: It did. That was when the scientific revolution took hold and modern societies began to evolve and diverge from traditional societies. Europe and America began scrutinizing taboos and shibboleths. Religion began to evolve into a private matter. A new mind-set became the fashion. It would dramatically raise the quality and amplitude of life.

CHABLIS: That needed a hell of a lot of raising since the West waddled well behind the Muslim world far into the 17th century.

LAGER: But thereafter the scientific revolution galloped forward while mullah-ridden societies stagnated.

CHABLIS: Stagnated, or chose to remain loyal to their faith.

LAGER: Chose? Endlessly circling a mosque is a fate and a habit, not a choice. It's a carousel ride to nowhere. Tribal law straps everyone to a saddle, a slave runs the gears and the ruler pockets the cash. No one can get off.

CHABLIS: As if the West hasn't had autocrats, oligarchs, dictators.

LAGER: Sure, but those were challenged and defied until replaced by parliamentary systems. Oriental despotism has gone unchallenged since the time of the Prophet. It has smeared its filthy spoor actross endless centuries. It continues today as bloody and blatant as ever.

CHABLIS: An American army of occupation is an improvement?

LAGER: Good, we are back to why we are in Iraq.

CHABLIS: Because of the 17th century, according to you.

LAGER: That's right. Beginning in the 17th century the Islamic world, clutching its faith, began to fall behind, while Christendom strode beyond its faith. It pushed on to the Enlightenment which led to the American and French revolutions, which redefined the individual's place in society and actualized ideas about human equality, human rights and democratic governance. That was when the West become a success story.

CHABLIS: Does that explain the "success" of the American army in Iraq?

LAGER: It explains the success of western technology and of western political ideals and legal norms.

CHABLIS: Does it explain why we are now Islam's public enemy #1 ?

LAGER: It does. Islam had been the world's superpower. It had been steadily working toward the Prophet's vision of bringing all humankind to Allah. It was storming the walls of Vienna as late as 1683. But then it was stopped. Islam had been overtaken.  Christian nations became the world's leaders. For Muslims that reversal was a violation of Mohammed's order of things. Marginalization was the fate the Koran assigned to dhimmis. Its application to Muslims was blasphemous and perverse. It could not be God's work.

The Muslim had remained loyal to Allah. They had not budged in their piety, modesty, temperance. Whereas the Christians had become worldly. They had abandoned themselves to impiety, frivolity, the flesh. The very term, Christendom had been discarded. Yet it was the Muslim who had been sidelined. Their norms and standards are today judged inferior to the West's. Their garments mark them for caution if not for mockery. It is they who must stand aside as the West strides past. God's words, as handed down by the holy Koran, have been reversed. How, why?

For Islamists the explanation is Satan. He has entered the picture. He has taken the field against Allah's people. God's great enemy has sought to humiliate the Muslim through the West's champion, America. She has become Satan's instrument. Thus has the world been turned inside-out. Thus does the Koran seem to be contradicted. For it all to be made right, America/Satan must be defeated.

CHABLIS: You think it's as simple as that?

LAGER: You no longer like simple answers?

CHABLIS: I don't if they omit Israel, the oil fields, the Crusaders.

LAGER: You are right, those are part of the story, not least the Crusaders. Those lads came out of Europe galloping on barbered steeds, clad in steel, swinging bloody axes. They stormed the Holy Land in the 11th century the way the armies of Mohammed had swept in from Arabia in the 7th. Omar had seized Jerusalem for Islam in 638. By the end of that century, Edward Said tells us, a population that had been predominantly Byzantine and Christian had become mainly Arab and Muslim.

The Crusaders in their turn butchered, raped and converted more than a little themselves, but not enough to restore the old demography. That lack of thoroughness cost them. Plenty of Muslims remained to form the armies that would expel the invaders.

CHABLIS: That's ancient history.

LAGER: Nowadays the Crusaders are supposedly back.  Islamists mean the western invasion, its rapid technological, political, and cultural onrush. Its success has been spectacular in recent decades. It has cracked open eastern Europe, Russia, China. It has been irrigating and turning the soil of ever vaster regions. Only in the Middle East is it viewed as a menace to be resisted.

In 2002 the Arab Human Development Report found that all the Arab countries combined, 300 million strong, despite residuals from the majority of the world's oil wells, had a smaller GDP than Spain with a population of 30 million. The Arabs were 40% illiterate. The World Bank found the average output of an Arab worker just 2% that of a worker in an industrialized country. His freedom quotient is the lowest in the world. Why? Because the Middle East is locked down and turned inward. It feels besieged by the West.

CHABLIS: It is paranoid.

LAGER: The danger it fears is real. The West's seductive images, alluring gadgets, corrosive ideas are no hallucination. Even if they are not directly aimed at the Faith, they threatens its habitat. They constitute an invasion and siege and justify worry. Islamists know their society can't survive gender equality, religious toleration, the church/state divide. Free speech will bite their taboos and mores to pieces. How will the Faith, deprived of its habitat live on?

CHABLIS: They had no problem overcoming the first Crusaders.

LAGER: This assault is more dangerous. It is more like the Prophet's own 7th century onslaught. It storms the heart, it overwhelms the imagination. Which is why the faithful fear for their faith, the powerful for their power.

Both Osama and Saddam evoked Saladin. Both saw themselves destined to fight a mother of battles. Osama addressed the passion of the Believers, Saddam of the nationalists. Both were waging a war of resistance. For both the US was the decisive foe, and the oil was at the heart of the matter.

CHABLIS: I go along with that. If the region had no oil it would have been left in peace.

LAGER: But it still would not have known peace. Even without a drop of oil the West's allurements would have tempted and tormented the Arabs just as much. Their pious men would have been just as offended. The threat to their traditional society would have been the same. The  oil has merely allowed the Arabs to put up a fight.

It has empowered them. It has returned them to the center. It has once again made Islam a force in the world. It has eviscerated Europe and frightened America.

Without the oil money Saudis would not have been learning to fly airliners in Florida; Arab militancy would have remained on the level of dragoman intimidating tourists. The oil has changed everything. The Dar el-Islam has been transformed. Muslims have been inspired to do their duty in the realm of the sword.

CHABLIS: Crude oil has religious significance, eh? The oil money is a heavenly gift? Aramco awoke ancestral voices prophesying war? You're on drugs.

LAGER: The Arabs, under the Ottomans, lay supine for 400 years. In 1919, as colonies of Europe, they fell even lower. But then a miracle.

The West discovering vast amounts of oil in the Middle East, became addicted to oil, even as its ethic forbade confiscation. The Arabs were saved. Heaven had turned the West into a creature dependent on them. Its jugular had been placed between their fingers. That was God's work. It was a miracle, and also a summons.

A jihadist like Osama bin Laden  responded by using Saudi money to build bases and train saboteurs. He felt destined to pursue the United States, to shatter her facade and to break her nerve. He had been singled out for that task, as God had earlier chosen him to demolish the Soviet Union.

Saddam Hussein was different, he was not devout. Which is not to say that he was ever not a Muslim. He recited the Shahaadah when the noose was around his neck. The oil inspired him to aspire to control the region's oil wealth and through it realize the ambition and destiny of the Arabs.

In 1980 he attacked Iran over the disputed Shatt al Arab, but ultimately for the oil fields west of the Zagros mountains. Ten years later he reached for Iraq's "19th province" Kuwait, but again it was for the oil. At that point he was positioned to seize the Saudi fields as well.

CHABLIS: You think Saddam and Osama were in cahoots?

LAGER: They didn't act in concert, having different outlooks and taking different paths, but yes, they were on the same side and had the same goal: breaking the US.

CHABLIS: Then why not finish Osama off before tackling Saddam?

LAGER: And lock the US military into years of a fruitless huffing and puffing over hill and dale in pursuit of an elusive Osama? It would have made Uncle Sam ridiculous and Osama an epic hero or martyr. Nor would Osama's end have forestalled a Taliban resurgence, or have kept Al Qaeda from continuing under other leaders like Zarqawi.

CHABLIS: Don't tell me catching Osama would not have been a coup, and that it wasn't preposterous to turn on Saddam who was not involved in 9/11 and had no WMD.

LAGER: Nabbing Osama would have been wildly celebrated for a while, but ultimately an empty victory.

Saddam in contrast was unique and irreplaceable. He was the kingpin of a large if informal coalition. It included Third World regimes itching for WMD and hoping 9/11 had collapsed America's spine. The radical right and radical left were members, and so too the Soviet bloc's detritus, - Libya, Syria, Arafat’s Palestinians, Cuba, North Korea. Little bound them,  except a fierce hatred of America, of capitalism and of the West.

That menagerie was buttressed by state players like Russia, China and France, each nursing ambitions and grievances against America.

They all looked to Saddam. He was that motley crowd's star, consistently its loudest, most defiant voice. He led the pack of human rights violators, would be WMD proliferators, and left-fascists. He had brazenly fudged his UN promises, played footsies with its inspectors, massacred Kurds and Shia inside his borders, cheated sanctions outside, and made a monkey of the US across 12 years. Saddam was the great hope of all those who opposed America. Which was why it was right to single him out.

Furthermore, he was more than an inspiration to a bad crowd; he was a real threat. He had  an army among the Middle East's oil fields, where America could most easily be hurt.

Most of the UN had already been demanding his release. Before long the shackles would have had to come off, Iraq would again have been rampant and Saddam back in pursuit of his goals. Even though weakened, his army remained the most powerful Arab military. He already had valid bomb and centrifuge designs. With enough money and time, by hook or by crook, he would have acquired the U-235 or plutonium he needed.

And one morning the world would have awoken to the news that an Iraqi army had again lunged and was again amidst Kuwaiti and Saudi oil fields. But this time Saddam would have been brandishing a nuclear weapon while denouncing the dissolute princes squandering the Arab's patrimony. No American army could have been sent against him. He would have claimed all the Gulf's reserves in the name of Islam's dispossessed masses.

The result: a tumultuous Arab street, an enraptured Third World. The UN would have debated, Europe would have groveled, America's day as an independent actor, let alone a superpower, would have been over.

No American president could risk that scenario.

CHABLIS: You have just admitted that the government lied. Bush claimed his beef was with Saddam's WMD when his real motivation was the threat to the oil.

LAGER: Yes, the administration, long vilified as the handmaiden of the oil industry, preferred to keep oil away from the glowing embers of that memory. But in stressing the WMD danger it sincerely believed that Iraq had WMD. It had solid reasons.

CHABLIS: The intelligence community had solid doubts.

LAGER: Not solid. Most US analysts believed the WMD threat was real. All of NATO's spy agencies agreed, including France's. Israel and Russia concurred. Hans Blix too no less.

In the face of a possible catastrophe, the leader of a nation must address the worst case, not the best case scenario. When FDR learned that the Nazis might be building an atomic bomb he agreed to the Manhattan project, and funded it illegally. He wasn't sure the danger was real or that a bomb was even possible, but he dared not chance that it was. Could Bush risk agreeing with the few who had doubts and dismiss the consensus that the threat was real? The Israelis, on the eve of the invasion, activated the expensive chemical pouches on their gas masks. They wasted $100 million because they could not ignore the possibility that a chem/bio attack was due their way.

CHABLIS: Now, finally, you've mentioned Israel, though as a mere aside. But earlier you agreed that she is at the center of this story.

LAGER: The center of the story is Islam's incompatibility with the modern world, for now at any rate. Israel is at the edge of that frustration, albeit its cutting edge. She is the crest of the western wave lapping that misty eastern cave.

CHABLIS: Islam is no more incompatible with modernity than any other religion.

LAGER: Islam alone must thread the modern world through the eye of a 7th century needle. Its view of modern Jews is an example.

Mohammed himself defeated the Jews of Arabia. He condescended to spare them, and Christians too, from the conversion or death ultimatum to which infidels are subject, on one condition. That they were restriction to a humiliating niche for corrupted monotheist (dhimmis). That Koranic prescription nowadays prevents the pious from accepting Jews as equals, not to mention accepting a sovereign Jewish state in Islam's heartland. That is ultimately why Israel has been rejected by her neighbors. She contradicts the Koran. 

Israel also highlights the obsolescence of Muslim society. In venues from science to sports, from the arts to horticulture, from warfare to welfare, she invariably trumps the Arab world. Why? Six million do not pack more talent, courage or imagination than 300 million. Jews are not smarter than Arabs.

The reason is, Israel is a western society. Though a a country of refugees, half from Europe, half from Muslim lands, constantly menaced, she nevertheless, in a few decades, achieve a richer, more comfortable and freer existence than her massive, secure and oil rich neighbors. Because Israel is not captive, as a society, to every letter of a millennia old scripture. Her Bible has not reduced her people to flies on flypaper.

CHABLIS: Israel taints us. Our association aggravates our troubles. Iraq would be more manageable if we were seen as more evenhanded.

LAGER: By evenhanded you really mean, more supportive of the Palestinians.

CHABLIS: I mean, we have been supportive of the Jews for too long. We have been unfair to the Arabs.

LAGER: That's not true. We've been more than fair. In 1948 we embargoed the region, which mainly hurt the Jews, since the Arabs already had fully equipped armies. In 1956 we forced Israel to give up her gains. In 1967 the Israelis fought the Six Day War with French Mirage jets and British Centurion tanks because the US refused to sell them heavy weapon. Until the Camp David peace treaty our foreign aid to Israel was in line with what other countries her size received. That changed in 1979 when she was compensated for the military burden the loss of the Sinai entailed. All the while the Soviet Union's best weapons had been going to the Arabs. The US started selling arms to Israel precisely, to even things up. Since the fall of the USSR the US has delivered more tanks and aircraft to the Arabs than to the Jews. Egypt alone has received around 1000 Abrams M1 battle tanks, and a factory to assemble more. Israel has been sold no modern armor.

CHABLIS: What about the Palestinians? Have we backed them, or the Jews?

LAGER: When one side vows the liquidation of the other, you don't back it out of a sense of fairness.

CHABLIS: I am not talking fairness but national interest.

LAGER: When it comes to Israel you talk national interest. When it comes to Iraq and Palestine you talk fairness.

CHABLIS: Be honest, would it not serve us to step away from Israel?

LAGER: You tell me. Suppose we started supporting every pro-Palestine UN resolution. Suppose we forced the Israelis to leave the West Bank and the Golan Heights pell mell. Suppose we broke diplomatic relations with Israel. Would that make the Baath and Islamist insurgents friendlier? Would the sectarian violence lessen? Would the US stop being the Great Satan? Would Islamists start supporting human rights? Would the fundamentals of the struggle change? You know the answer. The Arabs would not see a friend offering a hand but an enemy buckling at the knees. They would not decide to ease up but pile it on.

CHABLIS: Cut it out. The region's  hatred of Israel aggravates the situation. She's a liability and you know it.

LAGER: She adds heat to the flames, but she is not the reason there is a fire. As to that hate, it could be turned into an asset.

CHABLIS: An asset! George Marshall early on warned that Israel will be a liability. He was right. She has always been a burden. She has from the set-go drained us of money and blood.

LAGER: She has always done her own fighting. She has never cost American blood. If anything, she has fought for us. During the Cold War, though the oil fields were a vital US interest, we never had troops in the Middle East. Why? Because we had the IDF. It prevented the Soviets from using her Arab proxies to cut the West off from the oil. President Nasser of Egypt, a socialist ally of the USSR, declared, the road to Riyadh goes through Tel Aviv. He knew, to seize the Saudi oil he would first have to defeat Israel.

As to money, yes, US taxpayers have been generous. Israel continues to receive an annual $2 billion subsidy which, incidentally, should be ended. But she has been of great service to America. A commander of US Air Force intelligence assured a congressional committee that for every dollar spent on Israel the US received back $10 in value. Many weapons and much equipment in the US arsenal have an Israeli provenance. The Python air-to-air missile for example. Israel pioneered military drones. In defeating Serbian and Iraqi air defenses the US used technology and tactics Israel developed in its air war against Syria. Which other friend has served the US so well?

CHABLIS: What has Israel done for us lately?

LAGER: What do you want her to do?

CHABLIS: Get us out of Iraq.

LAGER: Would you really want her assistance?

CHABLIS: Try me.

LAGER: Alright. What is our problem in Iraq? The horrendous killing. We came to help a young democracy to its feet, instead we find ourselves stirring a bloodbath. It's that slaughter that has us licked. We have no response to the sectarian killing, to the suicide bombers, to gunmen shooting from within civilian crowds, to householders burying IEDs in our path to earn $50. We have enormous fire-power, but it can't deal with any of that. We need a new kind of weapon.

CHABLIS: Great, our success depends on acquiring a magical weapon!

LAGER: Don't assume it fantasy and doesn't exists. It does. What's more, it's Israeli.

CHABLIS: You are about to start waving the Bible at me, and the gospel of love, aren't you?

LAGER: The opposite. I want to brandish hate and the Koran.

CHABLIS: You're looking for a religious war?

LAGER: No! But I don't think we should face up to what looms largest in this conflict: Islam. It is the region's mightiest force. Nothing is bigger, nothing can buck it. But in that case, why ignoring this religious element, why not use it? We should try to hitch its energy to our wagon and make it work for us. I think that is possible.

The Faith makes its power accessible to us is in its enormous hostility to Israel. We can use that to defeat terror.

CHABLIS: Hate is negative energy. You can't harness a cobra to a plow.

LAGER: Poisonous venom has been turned into life saving serum before. Jujitsu can have various forms. The Middle East's hate can be milked and leveraged against the insurgency.

Consider an NGO operating a $10 billion + Anti-Terror Fund. It would accept contributions from any individual, business, philanthropy or government. All pledges would be confidential. The Fund's modus operandi would be straight forward: awards of up ten million dollars  per victim of a suicide bombing, and similar amounts for those killed in other ways. The dough would go to Israel. The higher the daily slaughter the bigger the Jew's daily take. The nightly news from CNN and Al Jazeera would show the jubilation in Israel as kibbutzim, West Bank settlements, entire neighborhoods celebrate that day's killing from the killings.

The message to suicide bombers, snipers, IED preparers, to beheaders, torturers and sectarian killers would be: you are benefiting the Jews. You are Israeli collaborators. You are enemies of Islam.

Aspiring shahids will have to wonder whether Paradise will welcome someone whose efforts serve Israelis.  Their religious feelings will check-mate them.

CHABLIS: That's a neat twist, but it's not for real, its not practicable.

LAGER: You mean its out-of-the-box and seems strange. At this point, nothing that works will be conventional and obvious. It has got to seem half crazy and impossible - at first sight. We often waste years and billions on bum weapons. This stratagem could be introduced and tested immediately. We would know soon enough if it worked or not. Imagine a bomber or warship that costs absolutely nothing to develop, build and maintain, that keeps the peace cost free, that is only an expense when firing its guns.

CHABLIS: Rewarding Israel for the suffering of others would be nasty and cruel. It would be manipulating religious feelings, a kind of torture, very shabby. The Muslim world would resent it bitterly. It would highlight America's partiality.

LAGER: How about some partiality for winning! Do you have your heart set on losing? Is a Bush's success in Iraq more of a worry to you than an American defeat? Stopping a killer with the barbs of his own hate is not unfair or shabby, it's classy.

In any case, an NGO would be running this scheme, out of say, Austria, not the US government. Once the insurgents see that the Fund is as relentless as they, and has more money than they have suicide bombers, and once the nightly broadcasts of happy Israelis make the Arab world sufficiently unhappy, then the killings will drop off. The situation will come under control. The money gusher will trickle shut.

CHABLIS: They will censor the news. El Jazeera won't carry it.

LAGER: The news will flood the region, they won't be able to  bar it. There are too many news sources, too many satellite dishes, cell phones, the broadcasts on CNN alone will do the trick. The Arabs are hooked on TV.

For an even bigger wallop the Fund could combine its resources with US, EU and Japanese funding of Gaza. A single monthly allotment to the Palestinians, of say $200 million, would serve a dual purpose. It would sustain the people of Gaza but also curb terror. Because slices of that $200 million carrot would be cut off and redirected to Israel for every killing in Iraq, or any terror action anywhere. The killers would not just be helping the Jews, they would be hurting fellow Arabs.

CHABLIS: You seriously can't see that that scheme is a none starter?

LAGER: I used to be convinced that it was impossible. When the idea first occurred to me, during the Achille Lauro hijacking, I immediately dismissed it as fantastic. It couldn't possibly work. I didn't take it seriously for a long time. But over the years, as terror has grown headlong and unchecked I've  begun to wonder, why couldn't it work?

Look at us. We are far stronger than our enemy. Why are we losing? Because, unlike Zarqawi, we do hesitate. We hesitate to inflict the collateral damage it takes to win an urban battle. The media, our values, our self-image dampen our powder.

The insurgents have us by the nap of our morals. They know it and know exactly how to play our decency against us.

But by a great irony, they can be put in the same fix. Their moral universe is as exacting as ours. We can use their virtue to immobilize them.

Only a failure of imagination is stopping us.

I've left my tip. I'm out of here.

nacl@mail.com