This is not crime. This is war. One of the reasons
there are terrorists out there capable and audacious enough to carry out
the deadliest attack on the United States in its history is that, while
they have declared war on us, we have in the past responded (with the
exception of a few useless cruise missile attacks on empty tents in the
desert) by issuing subpoenas.
Secretary of State Colin Powell's first reaction to the day of infamy
was to pledge to "bring those responsible to justice." This is exactly
wrong. Franklin Roosevelt did not respond to Pearl Harbor by pledging
to bring the commander of Japanese naval aviation to justice. He pledged
to bring Japan to its knees.
You bring criminals to justice; you rain destruction on combatants.
This is a fundamental distinction that can no longer be avoided. The
bombings of Sept. 11, 2001, must mark a turning point. War was long ago
declared on us. Until we declare war in return, we will have thousands
of more innocent victims.
We no longer have to search for a name for the post-Cold War era. It will
henceforth be known as the age of terrorism. Organized terror has shown
what it can do: execute the single greatest massacre in American history,
shut down the greatest power on the globe and send its leaders into underground
shelters. All this, without even resorting to chemical, biological or
nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
This is a formidable enemy. To dismiss it as a bunch of cowards perpetrating
senseless acts of violence is complacent nonsense. People willing to
kill thousands of innocents while they kill themselves are not cowards.
They are deadly, vicious warriors and need to be treated as such. Nor
are their acts of violence senseless. They have a very specific aim: to
avenge alleged historical wrongs and to bring the great American satan
to its knees.
Nor is the enemy faceless or mysterious. We do not know for sure who gave
the final order but we know what movement it comes from. The enemy has
identified itself in public and openly. Our delicate sensibilities have
prevented us from pronouncing its name.
Its name is radical Islam. Not Islam as practiced peacefully by millions
of the faithful around the world. But a specific fringe political movement,
dedicated to imposing its fanatical ideology on its own societies and
destroying the society of its enemies, the greatest of which is the United
Israel, too, is an affront to radical Islam, and thus of course must be
eradicated. But it is the smallest of fish. The heart of the beast --
with its military in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey and the Persian Gulf;
with a culture that "corrupts" Islamic youth; with an economy and technology
that dominate the world -- is the United States. That is why we were struck
How do we know? Who else trains cadres of fanatical suicide murderers
who go to their deaths joyfully? And the average terrorist does not coordinate
four hijackings within one hour. Nor fly a plane into the tiny silhouette
of a single building. For that you need skilled pilots seeking martyrdom.
That is not a large pool to draw from.
These are the shock troops of the enemy. And the enemy has many branches.
Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Israel, the Osama bin
Laden organization headquartered in Afghanistan, and various Arab "liberation
fronts" based in Damascus. And then there are the governments: Iran, Iraq,
Syria and Libya among them. Which one was responsible? We will find out
But when we do, there should be no talk of bringing these people to "swift
justice," as Karen Hughes dismayingly promised mid-afternoon yesterday.
An open act of war demands a military response, not a judicial one.
Military response against whom? It is absurd to make war on the individuals
who send these people. The terrorists cannot exist in a vacuum. They need
a territorial base of sovereign protection. For 30 years we have avoided
this truth. If bin Laden was behind this, then Afghanistan is our enemy.
Any country that harbors and protects him is our enemy. We must carry
their war to them.
We should seriously consider a congressional declaration of war. That
convention seems quaint, unused since World War II. But there are two
virtues to declaring war: It announces our seriousness both to our people
and to the enemy, and it gives us certain rights as belligerents (of blockade,
The "long peace" is over. We sought this war no more than we sought war
with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan or Cold War with the Soviet Union.
But when war was pressed upon the greatest generation, it rose to the
challenge. The question is: Will we?
Wahington Post OPINION
September 12, 2001, Page A29
America is living through a tragedy of unprecedented
depth. Our might--military and economic--has been targeted, and our
vulnerability exposed. We are shocked, outraged, determined to respond.
Yet we awake to a new day sickened by the cruelty and insanity of this
political violence--and uncertain if we, too, want blood on our hands.
Will vengeance, even when guided by the best of America's surgical strike
technology, ease this tragedy and end the cycle of terror? Upon reflection
and based on past experience, we know better.
The crime was horrific. Never have so many Americans died from violence
on a single day. It felt and looked like war. Our national security came
under direct attack, and the resulting carnage was comparable to the worst
of war--Pearl Harbor, firebombing of Dresden, Cambodia, and Normandy.
President Bush and Secretary of State Powell have call the crashes "acts
of war." But having four commercial airliners commandeered by political
fanatics is not war, it is international terrorism, albeit at its worst.
No nation or peoples have declared war on the United States. In terms
of intent and character, the political violence yesterday in Washington
and New York bears more similarity to the terrorist bombing of the federal
bombing in Oklahoma City than to Pearl Harbor. Yesterday
certainly was a day of infamy, but it was not--and should not be--the
beginning of war.
America and all nations concerned about peace, justice, and dignity will
need to respond. But the response should be deliberate, just, and humane.
In the past, the U.S. has responded to terrorist attacks with military
strikes that were misdirected, mistakenly targeted, and counterproductive.
The 1986 bombing raids on two Libyan cities, the bombing of a Baghdad
neighborhood in 1993 in response to rumors of a planned assassination
attempt on former President Bush, and most recently the air strike on
a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant mistakenly believed to be chemical weapons
factory associated with Osama bin Laden are three cases that should remind
us of the folly--and terrorism--of vengeful retaliatory strikes.
Talk by our leaders of war and retribution, while possibly boosting our
patriotic spirit, is dangerous and irresponsible. The politics of vengeance
will do little to protect us, and will only fuel more terrorism. But neither
can we passively accept our helplessness and vulnerability.
We need to mourn, bury our dead, and move on--but not to business and
foreign policy as usual. What's needed now is a new U.S. resolve to address--and
not simply react to--the causes of political violence in the post-cold
war world. Our president's father promised at the onset of the Persian
Gulf War to establish a "new world order" but it's a promise that has
gone unfulfilled. Instead, over the past decade we have seen rising global
disorder and conflict. Rather than gathering the world's nations together
to address the scourges of international terrorism, ethnic and religious
conflicts, and the polarization of poor and wealthy nations, the U.S.
has relinquished its leadership role. Arrogance, unilateralism, isolationism,
and imperialism are the terms now commonly used by the international press
and scholars to describe the U.S. role in global affairs.
The attack on America's centers of power was an extremist
reaction to what is perceived as a new world order where only the U.S.
calls the shots. But it was, first and foremost, a crime against all
humanity. If there is to be justice in this incident and if there is to
be the rule of law in international affairs, the U.S. should seek the
solace and support of the international community. Despite differences
with U.S. foreign policy, especially in the conflicted Middle East, nations
around the world have been quick to express their own outrage and willingness
to join with America to fight and reduce the causes of international terrorism.
As Americans deliberate an effective response to this tragedy and crime,
we must first reject the call for war. The gauntlet goading us to militaristic
responses that treat human life as callously as the terrorists treated
ours must be categorically rejected. As with any other crime, the perpetrators
and their accomplices must be brought to justice--in the courts of law,
not according to the fundamentalist "eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth"
precepts. In recent years, we have made encouraging progress in establishing
and enforcing international norms for human rights and crimes against
humanity. This is an opportunity to forge a broader international coalition--bringing
disparate nations together in a common determination to fight against
such crimes against humanity.
A first principle, then, must be that we treat this as an international
crime, not an act of war, and that the rules of law should guide international
A second principle that should guide U.S. policy is that our investigation,
pursuit, and prosecution should as much as possible count on consultation
with and the cooperation of the world community of nations. Any government
suspected of harboring or otherwise aiding these international terrorists
should answer to concerted international pressure, not just American outrage.
If indeed, military action is deemed necessary, it should carry the approval
of the UN Security Council--otherwise the U.S. too will be violating the
basic principles of international law.
While charting the appropriate response, the U.S. government must also
begin the long-overdue task of formulating a security policy that truly
protects Americans from new global threats. As critics have insisted,
the Bush administration's promise that a national missile defense system
would protect us looks increasingly hollow. If terrorists want to attack
us, they can do so from our own soil and with our own aircraft. Our politicians
would dishonor the dead, however, if they focused the new security debate
solely on issues of intelligence reform and defense technology.
More fundamentally, the U.S. needs to take a hard look at the policies
and political structures that fan the flames of terrorism--to understand
why such anger in the Middle East and elsewhere is directed at America.
The task of forging a security policy not just on our response capability
but also on addressing the new causal factors for war and terrorism is
surely America's greatest challenge--and our success will be the true
measure of our character.
Terrorism is mainly the weapon of the politically weak, frustrated
ideologues, and religious fanatics. The U.S. should not retaliate
in kind--not allowing any compulsion for revenge or the affirmation of
U.S. military might to divert America from its moral principles and global
Tom Barry of the Interhemispheric Resource Center and Martha Honey
of the Institute for Policy Studies are codirectors of Foreign Policy
In Focus (www.fpif.org.)