Foreign Policy & National Security

Where Do We Go From Here?

Written on September 11, 2001.  Posted on since September 13, 2001.
*Special Article*

The country is united in its determination not only to seek reprisals for the unforgivable acts of September 11, 2001, but also to take whatever actions necessary to minimize the probability of a future recurrence. President Bush himself has been purposely vague as to what form such reprisals will take, stating in his national address that we will “find those responsible and bring them to justice,” but then later calling the attacks an “act of war.” These two statements straddle the years-long debate as to whether “justice” against organized terrorists should be legal, in the context of criminal trials, or military.

Our recent tendency to consider terrorists “mere criminals” has been a grave mistake, particularly given the ideological linkage of so many acts, and also given the willingness of the perpetrators to die for the cause that they espouse. For after all, what do they care if charges are brought against them or their handlers after they have died?

A simple rule seems evident. If a person is willing and desirous of dying for the cause of his choice, you are not going to stop him. And the best way to accommodate him is to kill him quickly, on your terms, rather than allowing him the luxury of dying at the time and place of his choosing.

The enormity of these recent attacks, and the seriousness of purpose that will be required to prevent them in the future, demands that we consider ourselves to be in a state of war with those who are planning and perpetrating them. In their home communities, these terrorists proudly call themselves soldiers. We should accept their definition of this new battlefield, and meet them on it. As such, it is no longer either logical or justifiable to sit by idly while such soldiers are educated, trained, and prepared for further violence simply because their bases lie within the boundaries of nations that sponsor them while officially denying responsibility for their acts.

It should be our strongest national purpose to find these terrorist soldiers, wherever they may be, and to kill them before they can be set again into motion. We should begin doing this immediately, with all the passion and vengeance that is appropriate to the war that they have chosen to bring to our shores. And we should continue relentlessly until all of them are either dead or immobilized.

Our approach on this new battlefield should follow a few basic principles:

Implement a relentless and thorough program of home defense.

We are a people who fiercely love our independence and our liberties, and it is difficult to imagine living under long-term restrictions. But a virus has been set loose inside our borders, and we must accept that it demands a cure. Terrorist cells must be identified, penetrated, and eliminated. Further acts – some on a horrific scale – must be anticipated, and precautions taken to minimize their effect. Impositions on our usual way of travel and recreation must be accepted. Better to slow down and defeat this movement than to ignore it and die.

Define and control the battlefield.

By not directly associating itself with any one nation, the Islamic terrorist movement has consciously worked a “seam” in international policy, relying on traditional definitions of the nation-state to preclude attacks inside countries where it is conducting its training. While it may be difficult to hold any one nation accountable using the old lexicon of “state-sponsored terrorism,” it is time to set this meaningless distinction aside. The United States must announce to the world that we will cross any border, and introduce whatever force is necessary, in order to prevent such attacks in the future. We have known for a long time the different places where terrorists are being trained. With the superb technological and special operations capabilities of our military, these extremists and their handlers are reachable. They can be defeated if they are killed, again and again, before they put their plans into motion.

Cut the terrorists away from their support base by using force brutally but wisely.

We can learn a lot from the Vietnamese communists on this point. Although they themselves used terrorism as a key tool, they were very specific in their objectives. Viet Cong assassination squads were a key element from the very inception of the war. By the early 1960’s the Viet Cong were killing an average of 11 government officials a day. Their approach was brutally simple. Those who showed allegiance to the South Vietnamese government would be killed, and those who stayed away would be left alone. By contrast, the United States used firepower massively and randomly, considering it to be purely a military, rather than a political, tool. In the process, we drove a lot of people into the arms of the Viet Cong.

We should not make this mistake again. Those who are aligned with the terrorist movement, whether logistically, or in a training environment, or operationally, should be considered legitimate targets and should not be spared. But random bombings and the deliberate destruction of populated areas without such a connection should be avoided. Over the long term this approach would deny terrorist armies not only their support base, but also their present justification that the United States and its allies are conducting a broad war against the Muslim people.

Do not occupy territory.

The terrorist armies make no claim to be members of any nation-state. Similarly, it would be militarily and politically dangerous for our military to operate from permanent or semi-permanent bases, or to declare that we are defending specific pieces of terrain in the regions where the terrorist armies live and train. We already have terrain to defend – the United States and our outposts overseas – and we cannot afford to expand this territory in a manner that would simply give the enemy more targets.

Prepare for a long war.

The terrorist armies have considered themselves to be at war with us for more than twenty years, at least since the rise of the fundamentalist leadership of Iran in the late 1970s. They have no intention of stopping on their own. This war will not be over until they are thoroughly defeated, or the governments that have favored them take measures into their own hands and halt their activities, or those governments themselves have fallen from within. Only a consistency of purpose, and the willingness to bring the fight to them, will bring about any of these results.