seems to be concerned that cold-war type actions by the U.S.
could bring to pass something like Huntington's "Clash of
Civilizations." I never put much stock in that idea,
and I don't think responding vigorously to these attacks will
make it real. I say this for the following reasons:
A. First, "bombing the perpetrators" is not likely to be effective
in any event. If the U.S. is to act, it will have to take
measures to force the Taliban out of power and install a pro-Western
or at least non anti-Western Afghan nationalist regime. The
Taliban is, if my Afghan friends are correct, something like
the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia - a brutal, ideological absolutist
and merciless regime, hated and feared by its own people.
Just as Vietnam did not reap any horrendous pan-Indochinese
opposition for acting against the Khmer Rouge, I doubt the
U.S. or any other partners it has will suffer for acting against
B. Recall that the Taliban has already thumbed its nose at
the world on two recent and public counts -- international
aid was used to build a soccer stadium that is now used as
an execution field; and the destruction of world artistic
treasures. I believe these attacks are the last straw. It
was one thing for bin Laden and his network to attack overseas
or military outposts of the U.S., such as the African embassies
or warships. But to use civilian aircraft to attack office
towers crosses a line -- if this is allowed to stand, and
anyone connected with this to go unaffected, what are the
possibilities: A British Airways jet piloted into Big Ben?
Air France into the Eiffel Tower? Air Egypt into the Sphinx,
the Pyramids, or the Aswan Dam? In short, no country in the
world that operates commercial airlines can afford to accept
the possibility that if it antagonizes terrorists (and recall
that the government of Egypt, for one, is already fighting
against such groups), its civil aviation will be used against
it as a weapon of mass destruction.
C. There are precedents for Islamic governments acting against
Islamic terrorists who have gone so far that they threaten
the stability and aims of those governments. Twice, the PLO
was expelled by Islamic governments (from Jordan and by Syria
from Lebanon) because they were drawing too much counter-terrorist
activity into those nations. If the costs of continuing to
support the Taliban or terrorists becomes too high, then many
countries will join "our" side, or at least become neutral
or supportive of counter-Taliban measures. The Saudis have
already announced that they will stabilize oil prices as needed.
Pakistan has agreed to allow U.S. to fly over its territory
to take counter-measures. I think this momentum is not likely
(3) My own prediction. A "war on terrorism" as such is hyperbole.
Terrorism will continue, and cannot be stamped out by war.
Syria and Saudi Arabia will continue to allow funds to sponsor
incidents of terrorism that advance their interests. However,
the PARTICULAR terrorist network that has been funding operations
requiring millions of dollars, years of training and planning,
and mass coordination among dozens of individuals to attack
US targets over the past ten years, and its sponsors among
the Taliban, can be targeted, and probably eliminated. Indeed,
precisely to protect their ability to continue to sponsor
limited terrorism, countries such as Saudi Arabia and Syria
are likely to join this attack on this particular organization,
which has now become a danger to them and to all.
(4) If it is true that what bin Laden is counting on, or hoping
for, is a confrontation with the U.S. that will lead to a
war of Islamic nations vs. the West, he will find himself
sorely mistaken, and probably deserted. It is simply not in
the interest of any major Islamic or Arab country -- not Iran,
not Iraq, not Pakistan, not Syria, certainly not Egypt, Saudi
Arabia, or Indonesia -- to get drawn into a major military
confrontation with the U.S. Without any "counter" superpower
to support them, Arab countries have no ability or interest
in confronting the world's only true superpower. The lessons
of the Iraqi war, and perhaps Serbia, is that the U.S./NATO
can destroy targets at will. This may be irrelevant for Afghanistan,
where there are no targets of significance; but it is certainly
not true for any other Islamic or Arab countries. The aggression
of Iraq against Kuwait found no defenders in the Islamic or
Arab world; I don't believe this act of terrorism will either.
(5) Finally, much is bandied about regarding the difficulty
of combat in Afghanistan, and how they beat the Russians.
The Russians are a third-rate military that still cannot subdue
Chechnya, a much smaller and closer target. Moreover, the
Afghans had enormous logistical, weapons, and financial support
from the U.S. and Pakistan (we, in fact, contributed to training
and arming bin Laden's supporters). A war against the Taliban,
undertaken by a U.S./Allied coalition, with the Taliban cut
off by a mutual sealing of borders by Iran, Pakistan, and
Central Asian powers, is a far different matter.
So I have rather different predictions than Chuck. I think
these terrorist actions threatened "business as usual" for
most Arab and Islamic states as well as the West, and therefore
all these nations will find common cause in eliminating this
particular terrorist organization. If that requires pulling
down the Taliban as rulers of Afghanistan, then I believe
the coalition will find a way to do so.
All the best,
With so much debate in the media paralleling the debate started
by Chuck, I thought I'd share some views on where this debate
seems to be going. I claim no special insights, and am of
course swayed by my own biases. But I welcome any critical
THE NEW DEBATE
Two schools of thought seem to be forming in regard to our
reaction to the WTC attacks.
One school (what you hear from our President when he talks
about this) holds that there is a huge network of "evil-doers"
out there, all bent on "terrorism." This is a big and pervasive
threat, that will not end with killing bin Laden or any other
single person. Instead, what we have to do is revamp our whole
society and approach to defense to declare "war" on all terrorists.
These people argue that the WTC attack was just the first
of what will be more events, some with biological or stolen
nuclear weapons; and that we may have to reduce our civil
liberties, give the government sweeping powers to investigate
and detain U.S. citizens, and so on to deal with this threat.
The other school (what you hear from Colin Powell) holds that
there are terrorists, and then there is the gang who went
too far by using civilian aircraft as weapons against civilian
targets. In this view, the people who strap bombs on themselves
and walk into crowded markets in Israel --however much they
share in viewpoint or aims with the bin Laden gang -- are
of a different order of magnitude from the kind of well-financed,
highly-organized, long-planned terrorism that we see in the
bin Laden group. Bin Laden and his group has pursued a series
of intricate, sophisticated, attacks on the U.S. -- the 1993
WTC attempt; the attack on U.S. embassies in Africa; the attack
on the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen; and now this -- that have
been steadily expanding in magnitude and complexity, and which
have no parallel in other acts of terrorists or terrorist
groups. These people have systematically invested millions
of dollars in training, planning, and pursuing coordinated
attacks on U.S. targets for years. In this school's view,
it is this particular organization, plus the Taliban who has
sheltered it, that is responsible for all the really significant
attacks on U.S. targets in the last decade, and if they can
be eliminated, those attacks will stop.
This school has no illusions that we can stop "terrorism"
per se; madmen with bombs will continue to be local threats.
However, this school believes that we can stop the kind of
activity that involves dozens of men, years of planning, and
millions of dollars of support to carry out.
My belief is pretty strong that the second school has it right.
I say this from the historical pattern: the bin Laden group
has always developed a meticulous plan of action, chosen a
major target, carried out its attacks with fair success (excepting
only the 1993 WTC car bomb attempt, which was a VERY near
miss), and then retreated to plan its next major mission.
This was the pattern with the Embassy bombings, the Cole attack,
and now this. So just as those prior events were discretely
planned and executed, rather than part of a wave of terrorism,
I don't think there will be more attacks planned by this group.
That's not to say that copycats may not want to show how big
and important they are by trying to emulate them; so all the
security we're doing now seems both justified and able to
stop exactly the kind of poorly-prepared nut who would try
to copy what bin Laden's trained experts pulled off. I agree
that the current security measures would probably not stop
another such expertly planned and executed attack; but I don't
anticipate more of them right away. If past practices hold,
the bin Laden gang will change their target and approach to
catch us off guard, rather than repeat the same pattern.
So I think the most reasonable and effective strategy will
be to try to isolate and eliminate the bin Laden gang, and
those governments that provide it the most effective sanctuary.
I don't doubt that other groups will try to move into bin
Laden's place, or that Iraq or other renegade states will
still funnel money to anti-US terrorists. But the degree of
skill, coordination, and audacity shown in these attacks over
the last decade strikes me as exceptional, and not easy to
I do not believe that bombing Afghanistan is therefore an
answer to anything; that will likely only incur anger among
Muslim states and not disable the terrorists. What is needed
is for an allied force to target, isolate, and capture or
destroy as much of bin Laden's network as possible, including
ideally getting the leader himself (although making it impossible
for him to access funds or move freely would be almost as
good). Freezing all of the Taliban's assets abroad until such
time as bin Laden is turned over is thus fairly potent. If
the Taliban wants a war, then it will take ground troops as
well as air to destroy their hold on Afghanistan. Although
that, to my mind, is a worthwhile humanitarian goal in its
own right, similar to getting the Khmer Rouge out of power
in Cambodia, or kicking Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.
I think that Colin Powell has this all down, and I hope his
views will prevail. If so, I'm confident we'll make progress
and I hope, within a matter of months, eliminate the worst
threats to the US.
In general, from my study of contentious politics, I'm persuaded
that violence -- whether by states or opponents -- is only
effective if it is NOT perceived as arbitrary or excessive.
If it is so perceived, it backfires by delegitimizing the
perpetrator and increasing opposition. So in judging the consequences
of actions by terrorists or opponents, I would try to stick
with this rule.
FOR THE TERRORISTS:
Attacks on embassies, navy ships, and other exposed clearly
government or military targets are neither arbitrary nor excessive.
However, the WTC attack was both. It killed Pakistani, Dutch,
British, and many other citizens, including many Muslims;
and it put in peril all civilian aviation everywhere in the
world. If major US airlines start to go bust due to fear of
flying, what about French or British, or even Pakistani or
Saudi flights into New York or Washington DC? I think this
attack went way too far, and will delegimate the terrorists
behind it even in the eyes of many who previously sympathized
or at least tolerated their attacks.
FOR THE ALLIES:
Attacks that clearly target the terrorists or their supporters
are likely to be seen as justified and reasonable; that is
conflict and war. HOWEVER, attacks that mainly kill Afghan
or other civilians, or that collectively punish Muslim or
Arab governments or populations, are likely to be seen as
arbitrary and excessive and thus be counterproductive.
Perhaps too optimistically, I believe that this terrorist
attack, and a measured and careful response, will give the
Allies the upper hand. However, this could be lost if the
Allies embark on excessive and loosely targeted attacks, and
the Taliban/terrorists respond with attacks focused on military
targets. This would turn things around again.
As Chuck wisely says, we can't predict the future; we only
guess at the future, and hope to learn from it.
All the best,