TCS Daily

Settle In: Operation Enduring Freedom Will Take Endurance

By James Pinkerton - October 9, 2001 12:00 AM

Second of Three Parts

"In this battle against terrorism there is no silver bullet." So said Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld on Sunday, as U.S. cruise missiles -- about the closest thing to a silver bullet anyone has ever invented -- winged their way toward Taliban targets in Afghanistan. The idea that Operation Enduring Freedom will be a long struggle rankles many. Some want the conflict to go faster, some want it go farther, and some want it go nowhere. But Rumsfeld has it right: this struggle has been a long time in the making, and it will be a long time in the solving.

On Friday, coming back from a whirlwind trip to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt and Uzbekistan, the defense secretary told reporters that multifaceted war against terrorism "will prove to be a lot more like a cold war than a hot war." The Cold War, for the most part, he observed, "did not involve major battles. It involved continuous pressure ... and when it ended it ended not with a bang, but through internal collapse." Rumsfeld surely knew, of course, that a hot attack by America was coming within hours, and yet he was right to keep both his cool and his perspective. That's because Osama Bin Laden could be caught "dead or alive" tomorrow, and yet the fight against terror would have to continue because, just as with communism a half century ago, terrorism is larger than any one individual, or nation.

This Cold War metaphor has riled some. New York Daily News columnist Zev Chafetz criticized Rumsfeld on Sunday: "The jihad is not the Cold War," he wrote, adding, "Saddam Hussein and the ayatollahs and their proxies will not sit around for the next 50 years or so mouthing ideological slogans. ... Does anyone suppose that they will wait even 50 months so strike again? Or even 50 days?"

Nobody should assume anything about the enemy, except that they will strike again. But in the meantime, preparation has to start somewhere, and it should start from the premise that Al Qaeda, the perpetrator of the World Trade Center attack, should be the first focus. As President Bush said on Sunday, echoing Rumsfeld, "We will win this conflict by the patient accumulation of successes."

But if Chafetz wants immediate action now, others want action of another kind. Some on the left want to come home and some on the right want to invade the whole neighborhood.

The anti-globalization movement had turned itself into an anti-war movement even before Americans fired a shot; protests were already rippling across college campuses. And the left-leaning media have been loud as well. Writing in the Oct. 15 issue of The Nation, Chalmers Johnson, author of Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, writes, "The suicidal assassins of Sept. 11, 2001 did not 'attack America,' as our political leaders and the news media like to maintain; they attacked American foreign policy." A better foreign policy, Johnson asserted, would be one of withdrawal and disengagement.

That isn't going to happen. Yet if the Bush Administration must contend with isolationists on the left, it must also deal with interventionists on the right. Bill Bennett, for example, appeared on CNN on Sept. 12 and demanded action against "states that sponsor or support" terror. Asked what states he had in mind, Bennett answered, "That could be a lot of people. That could be Syria, that could be Libya, that could be Lebanon, that could be Iraq and Iran. It could be China."

Presumably Bennett has cooled down a bit since then, but others make similar arguments that need to be considered. Writing in the Oct. 15 issue of The Weekly Standard, Max Boot, author of the forthcoming book, The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power, says that America should look ahead and keep its sword drawn: "Once Afghanistan has been dealt with, America should turn its attention to Iraq." Boot concedes that "it will probably not be possible to remove Saddam quickly without a U.S. invasion and occupation." But, he continues, "Once we have deposed Saddam, we can impose an American-led, international regency in Baghdad, to go along with the one in Kabul."

Perhaps Chafetz, Johnson, Bennett, and Boot can have a debate. Indeed, all Americans, having just been reminded that the world can be a dangerous place, and that such dangers can follow us home, should be part of that conversation. But in the meantime, historical perspective, and a sense of realism, is most valuable. That's why Rumsfeld's comparison about the Cold War is so apt. If Sept. 11 had been like Dec. 7, 1941 -- that is, a clear-cut case of a sneak attack by another sovereign power -- then the course of action would be obvious to all. But it wasn't. This is a war in which the enemy can lurk anywhere -- in enemy countries, in anarchic wastelands, in our flight schools and motels. So, in one sense, terrorist cells are somewhat akin to the communist spies and fifth-columnists who lurked in the interstices of the Free World during the Cold War. And it was that struggle, as Rumsfeld pointed out, that took 40 years to win. Indeed, because the Cold War was so murky -- "a long twilight struggle," as John F. Kennedy called it -- many different schools of thought emerged.

And at just about every point during those four decades, someone could be found who wanted some sort of abdication of U.S. leadership. Similarly, there were always voices who wanted to "roll back" communism, through pre-emptive strikes and other direct military action. Yet a tough-minded middle ground prevailed. America contained the communist menace until, as Rumsfeld said, it suffered "internal collapse."

I began last week's column by quoting Francis Bacon: "Knowledge is power." Bacon (1561-1626) never lived to see a Tomahawk or a JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition), but he was on to something. As Rumsfeld said on Friday, "I have a feeling that rather than a cruise missile or a bomb, it's more likely that a scrap of intelligence information will be the thing that will help roll up these terrorist networks." Indeed, in the short run, technical information is critical: if those who would kill use cell phones, cybermoney transfers and the Internet to conduct their operations, the United States and its allies need surveillance technology and techniques that are even more sophisticated. And of course, the transformation of the U.S. military, which Rumsfeld was pushing even before he rejoined the Pentagon, must continue.

But in the long run, additional kinds of information -- political, cultural, and strategic -- are just as critical. That's how the good guys won the Cold War: by systematically piling up knowledge and wisdom. And that will be topic of next week's piece.

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