With Sunday's aerial attacks against targets in Afghanistan, the United States' military might has begun to be employed in the war on terrorism. Now is a good time to ask: To what end?
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President Bush has done an admirable job describing the character of the war and his resolve in prosecuting it in statements before Congress on Sept. 20 and then again on Oct. 7, even as the bombardment of Taliban and bin Laden assets was proceeding. He has, however, been less precise about the aims of this war. Herewith some suggestions:
- Securing the people and territory of the United States. This will require the nation to fight global terrorists and the states that sponsor them, give them safe harbor and afford them access to financial and material resources with a view, in the immediate future, to disrupting their operations. The ultimate objective, though, must be to put the terrorists and their friends out of business, once and for all. (See #3 below.)
Seeing to it that America is secure will entail not just effective offensive operations, but a rigorous and long-term investment in a real civil defense capability. The latter must include, among other things, greatly improved planning and preparations for the evacuation, collective protection and medical treatment for millions of Americans currently at risk of new and far more devastating terrorist attacks. Such a passive defense program would, of course, be a needed complement to active defensive measures such as anti-missile and anti-aircraft systems, not a rival for funding and other resources.
To the extent that American civil liberties must be temporarily constrained or sacrificed in the prosecution of this war – and they will – another aim should be to restore them to their pre-conflict, cherished status at the earliest possible moment.
- Assuring the security of America's allies. It is absolutely essential that fellow Western democracies who share our commitment to freedom not be left, on balance, at greater risk in the wake of this war and our conduct of it.
Israel, for one, faces this distinct possibility, thanks to the combined effects of U.S. efforts to curry favor with her enemies in the name of building a broad anti-terror coalition, on the one hand, and to lower the visibility of Israeli-American ties, on the other. Concerns on this score prompted Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, last Thursday to warn against subjecting his country to the same fate the West's leading nations dealt Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II.
Although Mr. Sharon subsequently expressed regret that he was "misunderstood," his analogy was actually very much on point. Like Chamberlain's Britain, the United States is: Seeking, through accommodation with our friend's foes, opportunities for cooperating with them; demanding that our ally make territorial concessions incompatible with her defensive needs; and implicitly encouraging those who would exploit the resulting vulnerabilities to believe that further aggression against our ally will result in further rewards. Victory in the war on terrorism will be a Pyrrhic one if the terrorists succeed in their assaults on Israel, or any other freedom-loving nation.
- Transforming the enemy. President Bush has properly noted that the United States has no issue with the people of Afghanistan. Like the sorely oppressed populations of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, North Korea and the Sudan, they are victims of state-sponsored terror every bit as much as we – if not more so. They are, therefore, potential allies in what will prove to be the decisive phase of the war on terrorism: the ending of regimes that enable and promote the use of this weapon at home and abroad.
As both President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have been sounding splendidly Churchillian of late, it would be well for them to consider a formula Sir Winston laid out to define "freedom" in post-war Europe – a formula the allies should be enunciating as their goal for the peoples currently enslaved by their enemies:
"There are [a few] quite simple, practical tests by which [freedom] can be known in the modern world in peace conditions, namely: Is there the right of free expression of opinion and of opposition and criticism of the government of the day? Have the people the right to turn out a government of which they disapprove and are constitutional means provided by which they can make their will apparent? Are the courts of justice free from violence by the executive and from threats of mob violence and free of all association with particular parties? Will these courts administer open and well-established laws which are associated in the human mind with the broad principles of decency and justice? Will the rights of the individual, subject to his duties to the state, be maintained and asserted and exalted?"
To be sure, setting forth the war aim of extending such freedoms to peoples long denied them – or who have, in many cases, never known them at all – is a daunting undertaking. Real politicians will declare it folly, a commitment to "nation-building" beyond our resources or will, a goal at cross-purposes with Secretary of State Colin Powell's monomaniacal focus on securing international "support" for our war effort even from terrorist-sponsoring states. Others will argue we have no right to assist people elsewhere in seeking the sorts of freedoms we consider to be our "inalienable rights."
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We should be under no illusion, however, in the absence of such arrangements within the states that currently pose such grave danger to us and our allies, there will be no real or durable victory against terrorism. What is more, with such a goal as our publicly stated aim – to be achieved with the help of the people of the states in question – we have a cause truly worthy of the sacrifice, risks and tenacity that will be required to win this war from our own people here at home.