NEW YORK--Whether by military occupation or political co-option, powerful nations create buffer zones to protect their core homelands. In 1823, the Monroe Doctrine declared the Western Hemisphere, including all of Latin America, off-limits to interference by other nations--a policy enforced, for example, during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Pointing to the carnage they suffered during World War II, leaders of the Soviet Union said they required a "sphere of influence" in Eastern Europe in order to protect themselves from another German attack.
Currently, Israel, a regional mini-superpower with nukes, is fighting to reoccupy its 15-mile-wide "security zone" in southern Lebanon to shield its population from Hezbollah rocket attacks. "We have no other option," said Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz.
Can invading or exerting political influence over another country ever be morally justifiable? If it can, how big a buffer zone is reasonable? The Bush administration answered the latter question during an August 3 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee: 3,000 miles.
If the United States of America fails to control every square millimeter of land and water within a 3,000-mile-wide perimeter beyond its international borders, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testified under oath, it will be absolutely, definitely, inevitably overrun by Islamic insurgents.
"If we left Iraq prematurely, as the terrorists demand," Rumsfeld told senators, "the enemy would tell us to leave Afghanistan and then withdraw from the Middle East. And if we left the Middle East, they'd order us and all those who don't share their militant ideology to leave what they call the occupied Muslim lands from Spain to the Philippines."
First the fall of Madrid. Nuclear France would roll over. The UK, Iceland and Greenland would fight, yet succumb. Nuuk, we hardly knew ye!
True, it's hard to imagine how bin Laden-inspired nutjobs could capture and rule a Taliban-style caliphate from Europe to the Pacific. Islam, like Christianity, is anything but monolithic. Most Muslims live largely secular lives; Sunnis and Shias wouldn't succumb to each other's rule. Even if you buy Rumsfeld's nightmare scenario of a new Muslim empire, however, geography seems to argue against the likelihood of its prevailing against us.
After all, the distance between the Philippines and Hawaii is substantial. It takes 12 grueling hours, requiring as many as four in-flight movies, to fly the 5,000-plus miles from Manila to Honolulu. It's more than 7,000 miles to the American mainland.
The shortest invasion route for Islamists determined to overthrow American democracy, therefore, would be to sail the approximately 3,000 miles from the Spanish port of La Coruña to the closest point from the American stronghold of Machias on the soft northeastern undercorner of Maine.
The choice we are faced with is a stark one, according to Rumsfeld: "We can persevere in Iraq or we can withdraw prematurely until they force us to make a stand nearer home."
How do the wild-eye Sunni madmen get here, to Our Precious Home, from the PACD? Not by air: the TSA's rigorous terrorist-screening procedures, which involve the removal and inspection of millions of shoes, has seen to that. Not by ground: Mexican illegals refuse to share their inside dish on dodging the border patrol with Arab riff-raff who aren't even Catholic. Will the Islamofascists invade with their mighty Jihadist Navy? On flying carpets? We'll get back to you on that.
This much is clear: If America's myriad enemies succeed in penetrating so much as 2,978 miles into our Absolutely Essential Security Zone (AESZ), we're done. Over. Kaput. Burqas, stonings, exploding Buddha statues, bans on kites and "Girls Gone Wild"--you name the Sharia stricture, we'll have it from the Portland in Maine to the one in Oregon.
It's enough to make one pine for the more innocent era of the Cold War, when the "Evil Empire" Soviets made do with a buffer zone less than 1,000 miles wide. Such is our increased post-9/11 vulnerability that the fall of the Azores (2,200 miles) or Greenland (also 2,200 ... coincidence?) would mean certain death, enslavement, and/or worse: the end of the American Way of Life (AWL).
They're coming! They're coming! Run!
No, wait--this is neither the time nor the place for panic. This is the penultimate paragraph of an opinion column, which is the place where one attempts to posit the appropriate response to the question: What should we do? Once again, Donald Rumsfeld offers solace: "Americans," he says, "didn't cross oceans and settle a wilderness and build history's greatest democracy only to run away from a bunch of murderers and extremists who try to kill everyone that they cannot convert and to tear down what they could never build."
Wait a minute: We crossed oceans. We traveled thousands of miles. We conquered and enslaved the Indians and destroyed their AWL. And that was 500 years ago, before there was an Islamic Jihadist Navy! But worry not: unlike America's pre-Columbians, we have a Donald Rumsfeld to plan our defense. If the Indians had had a Rummy to think up a 3,000-mile buffer zone, my fellow Americans, you'd be reading this in England.