The words in the headline above come from a poster recruiting British volunteers to fight the fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War and were superimposed over a photograph of a dead little girl killed by German bombs in Guernica. They could just as easily be superimposed over photos of the collapsing World Trade Center towers on so many recent magazine covers. Within one hour, murderers killed what amounted to over 10% of the number of Americans lost in Vietnam in the span of ten years. Citizens of eighty nations died. Men, women, and children of every conceivable race and religious belief perished.
Many friends have asked me questions about the root causes of the attacks and possible courses of action, and to address some of these issues. I’ll do my best. It would be folly for me to suggest I could do this topic much justice in such a limited forum and at this early stage, but perhaps I can dispel some misconceptions and lay a framework from which people can begin to seek more of the answers themselves. Rather than focus on the root causes right now, let’s approach this cold call as though the professor asked us specifically about the future-“What should we do?”
Define Our Objectives
Our primary objective is to prevent future attacks. Additional objectives-all very important and some indispensable to achieving the first-will be geopolitical stability, with particular focus on South Asia and the Middle East; continued access to natural resources vital to a modern economy; and the advancement of human rights and democracy. Given the number and heterogeneity of the actors involved, this one of the most difficult security and diplomatic challenges America has ever faced.
Prevent Future Attacks
Our adversaries-varied and dispersed but fairly united in their goals-have made clear what we must do to prevent them from attacking. Barring an unimaginable change of composition and objectives of terrorist organizations-a change that would render negotiations practical and fruitful-we are left with two general courses of action.
We could satisfy their demands. That would require the US to withdraw all military forces from the Middle East and cease all military and economic assistance to all monarchies and secular governments in the region, including Israel. This would likely result in civil wars and revolutions in several countries in the region, an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, possibly pre- or post-revolutionary Saudi Arabia, as well as a war that would bring about the end of Israel, including an Israeli use of nuclear weapons in her defense. Millions would die and far less friendly governments would control resources vital to the world economy. Achieving the primary objective in this manner would fail every other objective and must be considered unviable.
We are therefore forced to pursue the other course. An enemy that will not negotiate and whose terms we cannot accept must be eliminated as a credible threat. This will be difficult and will take a long time and unencumbered success is not possible. Given the alternative however, we must not shy away from this challenge. Our way of life and the lives of many innocent people hang in the balance.
Who is the Enemy?
Who is this enemy? It is of vital importance that we be clear who it is not. It is NOT a religion. It is NOT an ethnic group. It is NOT a culture. Our government is very well aware of this and the first steps taken prove it. Far from being some mystical, unidentifiable force, the enemy is a group of thousands of terrorists and their direct supporters-NOT distant sympathizers and NOT citizens of countries in which they reside. Some dwell in the mountains of Afghanistan. Some work in banks in developed countries. They span the globe and deal in or profit from terror and death. But they are people, they have names, and they can be found.
Thus this is a war unlike any other. The most important battles are being waged as we speak-those of diplomatic maneuvering that will shape the “battlefield” upon which this conflict will play out. Evidence of their success can be seen every day, in the Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire, in governments distancing themselves from the Taliban, in debt forgiveness for Pakistan and the dropping of sanctions against Pakistan and India.
The objectives of these diplomatic efforts fall into several broad categories. First, we must encourage and help other countries to become inhospitable to terrorists. Second, where governments are willingly providing terrorists sanctuary, we must gather international support to use whatever means necessary to eliminate them. Third, we must convince the international community and the Muslim world in particular that a fight against Islamic terrorists is no more a war against Islam than the fight against Timothy McVeigh and right-wing militia groups was a war against white, Christian Americans.
Finally, we must rally support for the fight against terrorism across the globe. If we are to deny mass murderers a safe haven and choke off their financial lifelines, we will need the help of banks, police forces, and government agencies throughout the world. Some circumstances will require military action to take on powerful concentrations of terrorists. But long-term success will only come through international cooperation at all levels, with most victories achieved by small groups and individuals constantly vigilant to this threat.
This struggle will not be simple, quick, nor without costs. The risks are tremendous but the cost of inaction is greater still. It was evident horribly and clearly the morning of September 11, 2001. We will discuss the complex challenges ahead in this and subsequent articles:
Military options: The potential use of military force is a source of great anxiety and misunderstanding. No one in the Pentagon has or will suggest bombing anyone “into the stone age”-this is merely the domain of talk show hosts. There are many possible courses of action, but rest assured that air strikes do not equal carpet-bombing, nor does use of ground troops mean a full-scale invasion. We are likely to see the use of military force, but it will be focused on achieving our long-term goals and not blind vengeance. In the next issue we’ll take a look at what possible forms military action might take, addressing the concerns many have about use of force and asking what it can and cannot accomplish.
The war for hearts and minds: Seldom has this clich‚ been more appropriate than in the current and future efforts to convince our adversaries of our will while convincing others of the justice of our cause. The domestic and diplomatic dynamics within the Middle East and South Asia are as complex as one can imagine. The risks and potential opportunities presented by this crisis constitute the most complex diplomatic challenge any U.S. administration has ever faced.
Eternal vigilance: The shattering of the larger, better-organized terrorist organizations will be just the beginning. The “long war” of which our leaders speak will be fought largely in the shadows in engagements we will seldom hear about. Increasingly deadly weapons enable determined individuals to do harm on a scale previously unimaginable. Finding them and stopping them before they kill will challenge our resources and our values. We will look at the challenge ahead and ask how we can deprive the future bin Ladens of willing recruits.
This complex situation cannot be explained in a university newspaper. Indeed, volumes will be written on this in the coming years and even with hindsight there will still be massive disagreements. Right now, our biggest victory may come in trying to understand the events around us by asking the right questions-hard questions-and being willing to hear the hard answers, no matter how painful.