[Reader-list] Schlesinger in La Times

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at mnet.fr
Tue Sep 25 03:26:09 IST 2001

Los Angeles Times
September 23, 2001

Sand Trap

  Indiscriminate bombing of Afghanistan would play directly into Osama 
bin Laden's hands.

By ARTHUR SCHLESINGER JR., Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s most recent book
is "A Life in the 20th Century: Volume I, Innocent Beginnings."

NEW YORK -- In his powerful address before Congress last Thursday,
President Bush correctly defined the threat of terrorism. And he
correctly characterized the motivation of Osama bin Laden, the
presumed evil genius of terrorism.

President Bush correctly called for American leadership in a global
campaign against terrorism. But he laid down non-negotiable
specifications for his "war" that friendly states will consider
ill-judged and delivered in a tone they may regard as arrogant.

Our allies have had more experience with terrorism than we have had.
They know how difficult it is to eradicate terrorism, even when the
terrorists operate in their own countries. The Basque terrorists live
in a relatively confined space in northwestern Spain, but Spanish
governments have tried and failed for 25 years to stop their outrages.
The Corsican terrorists live on an island, but they continue to defy
all efforts by the French authorities to stamp them out. The British
could not stop Irish Republican Army bombings in England; nor, now
that the IRA has abandoned terrorism, can they stop bombings by the
thugs who style themselves the "Real IRA." There is no knock-out blow
against terrorism. Does our president really understand what he is
getting us into? President Bush believes he knows how to deal with
terrorists in a part of the world in which we have had meager
historical experience and small operational knowledge. He should have
asked himself what Bin Laden would wish us to do next. What American
response would best serve the villain's purposes?

The answer surely is indiscriminate American air attacks on
Afghanistan, killing large numbers of innocent people. Bombing is not
likely to eliminate Bin Laden and his crowd, who have well-prepared
hideouts. It would only demonstrate once again the impotence of the
American superpower. Civilian casualties would confirm Bin Laden's
thesis of an evil America, push even moderate Muslims toward hatred of
the United States, produce a new generation of suicidal bombers for Al
Qaeda, Bin Laden's terrorist network and incite radical Muslims to
rise against moderate regimes.

The only thing that would probably please Bin Laden more would be an
invasion by American ground forces. Afghanistan is famous for its
unconquerability. The British Empire and the Soviet Union failed in
their efforts to dominate the country, and they at least knew the
rocky terrain and had people who spoke the languages. American troops
in Afghanistan would be even more baffled and beset than they were a
third of a century ago in Vietnam.

There is, in addition, the land-mine problem. According to Robert
Fisk, Middle Eastern correspondent for The Independent in London,
Afghanistan contains one-tenth--more than 10 million--of the world's
unexploded land mines, laid by the Soviet Red Army in 27 of 29
provinces. Two dozen Afghans are blown up every day.

Moreover, by November freezing weather will arrive, and the Pentagon
has no hope of dispatching troops and winning the war in the six weeks
remaining before winter comes to Afghanistan. Nor could an invading
American army count on serious assistance from the internal
anti-Taliban resistance, their most effective leader, Ahmed Shah
Masoud, having been assassinated shortly before the assault on

But President Bush is not confining his attentions to Afghanistan. He
seems to be contemplating confronting much of the Arab world. "Either
you are with us," he said, "or you are with the terrorists. From this
day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism
will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime." That
sounds like the "ending states" and "regime change" talk of Paul D.
Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of Defense and the most high-flying of

Does this mean that, after Afghanistan, we will be taking on Iraq,
Iran, Syria, Libya? And though the president correctly distinguishes
between the moderate and the militant Muslim states, this hard line
will make life considerably more difficult for the moderates in Egypt,
Jordan and Pakistan.

Little is more vital in the months ahead than retaining the support of
moderate Muslim states. President Bush has set an admirable example by
visiting a mosque and condemning attacks on American Muslims. Islam
has historically been a tolerant faith. Mohammedans ruled Spain for
five centuries, during which Spain was culturally more advanced than
the rest of Europe. Muslims coexisted cheerfully with Christians and
Jews. Most moderate Arab states have fragile regimes threatened by
radicals within. It is essential that we take no drastic actions that
would please our own fire-eaters but would drive Arab states into the
arms of the terrorists.

The Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington wrote a
provocative article in Foreign Affairs some years ago forecasting a
"clash of civilizations" that would determine the future. The Bush
administration has no greater challenge than disproving Huntington. If
we let the international police action against terrorism degenerate
into a civilizational war of the West versus Islam, we are heading
toward catastrophe. The last thing we need is a counter-jihad to
respond to the jihad invoked against us by the pals of Bin Laden.

Bin Laden has set a trap for the United States. Let us not walk into
it. It is hard to think of a drastic action taken at once that would
not rebound against us. The quest for a knock-out blow is an illusion.
We must pray that the president's tough talk will work. But, as
President John F. Kennedy said during the Cuban Missile Crisis, it is
"one hell of a gamble."

If he wants to win the gamble, our president had better take more care
with his language. As Calvin Coolidge put it, "One of the first things
a president has to learn is that every word he says weighs a ton."
When Bush spoke of wanting to capture Bin Laden "dead or alive," he no
doubt pleased his domestic audience, but he sent a chill through the
chancelleries of our allies already fearful of "cowboy diplomacy."
When he spoke of organizing a "crusade," he angered Middle Easterners
who still harbor ancient resentments of the Crusaders. His persistent
use of the word "war" recalls Harry S. Truman's preference in the
Korean War for a more appropriate term--"police action." The
terrorists are criminals; we should not bestow on them the dignity of
a sovereign state. "Police action," not "war," is what we should be
talking about today.

President Bush is everlastingly right in seeking an international
coalition, as his father did so effectively in the Persian Gulf War a
decade ago. If the campaign against terrorism is to succeed, he must
continue along a resolutely multinational course and put together a
united international front. We need collective action for several
reasons--to confer legitimacy on our response, to divert blame from
the United States and to gain counsel from countries that have had far
more experience than we have had in dealing with the tortuous politics
of the Middle East.

In the short run, the international coalition must pool intelligence
in order to avert new terrorist attacks. Using commercial airplanes as
missiles is probably finished; biological and chemical terrorism is
very likely the next step. The coalition working through the United
Nations must also set up global financial controls to stop the covert
funding of terrorist operations and global arms controls to stop the
arming of terrorists. It is in the interest of governments everywhere
to join in the campaign against terrorism. Persons from 80 nations
died in the World Trade Center.

At home, Congress must not abdicate its constitutional role and give
the president a blank check. "In politics," as Samuel Taylor Coleridge
said, "what begins in fear usually ends in folly."

We live in an age of violence and, with all the pressures of
globalization, the United States cannot hope to remain immune. I have
no doubt that most Americans will confront terrorism with resolution
as a horrible hazard of modern life--a hazard that will take a little
time before we with our friends and allies can bring it to an end.

More information about the reader-list mailing list