- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 22, 2000

The revelation that Imad Mughniyeh, an obscure Lebanese terrorist, is the suspected executioner in the 1989 murder of Marine Col. Rich Higgins will require a hard policy decision on the part of the next administration. The issue is simple. Will we now pursue Mughniyeh to the far corners of the earth to bring him to justice for his crime, or will we ignore him in the interest of expediting the Middle East peace process?

This is not an unemotional subject for me. Rich Higgins was a close friend. He replaced me as the senior Marine Corps observer in Lebanon and, more importantly, as the senior U.S. military official in the United Nations peacekeeping force in the Middle East. His kidnapping and death as an unarmed U.N. observer is a war crime by anyone's calculation. But the issue here is not revenge. It is the credibility of the national security apparatus of the United States. Higgins was not targeted because he was a U.N. official; he was killed because he was an American.

The way we Americans respond to attacks on our citizens at home and abroad in the next few years will dictate how potential adversaries view us in the future. Due to our overwhelming military strength, our would-be adversaries probably wouldn't confront the United States directly. Our enemies, be they state-sponsored organizations or nongovernmental groups, would come at us "asymmetrically." The attack on Higgins was a crude manifestation of such operations. Instead of an assault on an unarmed U.N. observer, future attacks of this nature could include biological strikes at U.S. cities or catastrophic computer virus assaults aimed at crippling our economy.

The manner in which we respond to such attacks will be critical in determining how adequately we can deter them in the future. There are times when the past can hold significant lessons, and this may be one of them.

The Roman Empire had a very successful policy of dealing with perceived wrongdoing on the part of its enemies no matter how long the process might take. When a trusted German leader turned against the Romans in the first century and destroyed three Roman legions, he also captured their legionary eagle standards as prizes. Rome undertook to regain those eagles with fanatical tenacity. It took years, but the eagles were recovered and the leaders of the offending Germans were killed and crucified in the process.

Likewise, the Romans made an epic of capturing the impregnable rebel Jewish fortress of Masada to show that Rome could not be challenged. Having visited the site, I am still moved by the valor of the Jewish defenders, but my primary impression is that it was a truly bad idea to upset the Roman Empire; it literally moved mountains to capture the place. The twin lessons of the eagles and Masada were well learned. Serious challenges to Roman authority ceased for generations. Roman cruelty is not the point here; Roman tenacity is the real lesson. Josephus, a Jewish witness to the suppression of the Jewish revolt, was led to write that the Romans made all manner of mistakes, but they never made the same one twice.

I don't advocate executing terrorists such as Mughniyeh although I personally would not be crushed if he were to be killed while resisting arrest. Frankly, I'd rather see him in an orange jumpsuit breaking rocks in Texas or New Mexico. He doesn't deserve to be a martyr. In any case, the objective of tracking him down and apprehending him wherever he is hiding should be a stated policy of the next administration. The message should be clear: Attacks on America or Americans will not be tolerated and will be answered and punished no matter how long it takes.

What the Americans can learn from the Romans is not cruelty but patience. The real genius of Roman deterrence was not the threat of terror. It was the assurance of reaction to a threat. We have become a people that demand immediate gratification in our endeavors. In some ways, the Romans were similar to us in that respect. However, we should avoid the clamor for immediate results in matters of national security. We showed appropriate patience in winning the Cold War. The same forbearance will be required in the future. Revenge and justice are similar in one respect; they are best served cold.

Two administrations have failed to bring Higgins' killer to justice because we could not put a face to the culprit. There is no longer an excuse. Now that we have a suspect, no stone should be left unturned in bringing his killer to justice. It is not important whether bringing people like Mughniyeh to justice becomes known as the Bush or Gore doctrine; the principle of recovering the eagles should be a pivot point of American foreign and domestic policy in the 21st century.

Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps officer. He is writing a book on civil-military relations.

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