- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 2, 2001

The war in Afghanistan goes well. The war against global terrorism is a much trickier call.
Even as the U.S.-led coalition and its Afghan allies rack up military successes and impressive territorial gains, the Bush administration and private analysts caution that the bigger campaign of ending the threat posed by global terror networks such as Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda has just gotten started.
Bin Laden and most of his top lieutenants remain at large, there's no clear consensus on where or how to fight the next battles in the war, and U.S. officials acknowledge they are just one spectacular terrorist strike away from being right back where they were the morning of September 11.
"Do I think there is a risk that we will declare victory prematurely? Absolutely," said Michele A. Flournoy, a former top Pentagon strategist and now a senior adviser to the international security program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
"You don't want to underplay the success we've had so far in Afghanistan, but that's just the down payment for a much larger effort," Miss Flournoy said. "We've set back al Qaeda's training and forced its top leaders into hiding, but this is just one head of a multiheaded hydra we're dealing with."
In the face of media coverage of the war that has ricocheted from the bleak to the euphoric, President Bush and his top aides have consistently warned against expectations of a quick or easy victory in the larger fight.
In a typical comment, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld last month cautioned that America's struggle against terrorism "is much broader than simply defeating the Taliban [regime] or al Qaeda in Afghanistan."
"It is to root out the global terrorist networks, not just in Afghanistan, but wherever they are, to ensure that they cannot threaten the American people or our way of life," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Unlike in past wars, Mr. Rumsfeld's Pentagon may ultimately prove to be just a supporting player in the cast of this fight.
The U.S. government alone has more than 40 agencies and departments enlisted in the war on terrorism. Nearly 200 countries are at least nominally associated with the anti-terror coalition, and specialists say the battles after Afghanistan will have as much to do with legal, financial, diplomatic and political maneuvers as with soldiers shooting soldiers on a battlefield.
According to Brookings Institution analysts Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Lindsay: "The administration will need to turn to a long, grinding, difficult and expensive campaign to disrupt, deter and defeat terrorist operations elsewhere in the world. While the military will continue to play some role in this effort, it will be a distinctly secondary one."
The overall war, the two Brookings analysts predict, promises to be "nasty, brutish and long."
Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and ranking member on the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on emerging threats, said that the very concept of "victory" will be hard to define in the war on terrorism.
"You're almost certainly not going have some seminal event where you can say we've won," he said.
Mr. Roberts said the creaky U.S. security bureaucracy remains unprepared on a number of fronts, citing as an example weak oversight of the nation's food supply.
The FBI says it still has no hard suspects in the anthrax attacks that killed two local postal workers and caused panic on Capitol Hill. Counterterrorism specialists say the United States remains vulnerable along its borders, at its multiple nuclear waste sites and in cyberspace.
While counseling against overconfidence, the White House has compiled an elaborate fact sheet on its own Web site, www.whitehouse.gov/response/index.html, detailing the progress made to date in the war, from the number of suspect bank accounts frozen to the number of emergency rations airdropped to starving Afghan peasants.
In a sign that the war's next phase remains an open question, the National Security Council last week began reviewing position papers from various agencies recommending new strategies to pursue the fight against terrorism at home and abroad.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John D. Negroponte said in an interview last week that there was "a great reluctance on the part of people involved" to speculate beyond Afghanistan, "for the very reason that it is our all-consuming and primary focus at the moment."
"The onward steps to some extent will depend on the outcome of Afghanistan and [the fight against] al Qaeda, and if we are to meet with some resounding success in those efforts it would help us elsewhere in the world," Mr. Negroponte said.
Attorney General John Ashcroft last week said that numerous terrorists from bin Laden's al Qaeda network have been apprehended since September 11. Security officials in Spain, Germany, Belgium and Italy are among those who say they have broken up or disrupted al Qaeda cells operating in their countries.
Counterterrorism specialists say al Qaeda's operations have clearly been dented but estimating the long-term damage is difficult.
L. Paul Bremer III was ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism in the Reagan administration and served as chairman of the bipartisan National Commission on Terrorism, whose June 2000 report criticized lax security in the United States and warned of a possible Pearl Harbor-scale terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
In an interview late last week, Mr. Bremer said he thought the campaign to overthrow the Taliban and eliminate Afghanistan as a functioning base for al Qaeda was "about 80 percent done, although the last 20 percent always takes a lot of time."
He said the next priority for the Bush administration would be to roll up al Qaeda operations in other countries and to focus heavy pressure and "robust diplomacy" on states such as Sudan and Yemen that could serve as a new host for the bin Laden operation.
"This is clearly an elusive enemy, but the first priority has to be to deny the terrorists a territory from which they can operate and recruit safely," he said.
Mr. Bremer said the United States' overwhelming military dominance demonstrated in the 1991 Persian Gulf war has had the ironic effect of making the terrorist threat more likely.
"Nobody is a match for us in conventional warfare," he noted. "That means the only way enemies can come at us is unconventionally. And terrorism is the ultimate unconventional, asymmetrical warfare."
It is also cost-efficient: At a cost of 19 men and maybe $2 million in expenses, Mr. Bremer estimates, the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks killed 4,000 and caused more than $100 billion in damage and commercial losses to the U.S. economy.
Stratfor, an Austin, Texas-based private intelligence service, also believes the next struggle in the war will consist of al Qaeda trying to find a new home and the United States trying to prevent that.
Despite its shadowy international character, the bin Laden operation clearly benefited from the geographic sanctuary provided by the Taliban regime. Individual cells such as the Hamburg, Germany, group that carried out the September 11 strikes can survive on their own for only a limited period of time.
"Al Qaeda must have a secure base of operations if it is to function long-term," said a Stratfor analysis published last week. "No matter how diffused the command-and-control structure is, it cannot survive indefinitely."
Even as the fighting raged in Afghanistan, the Bush administration has quietly begun the campaign to deny al Qaeda other potential bases.
The Philippines, where Muslim separatist groups operating in the south have long-established links to bin Laden, has received a major new U.S. military assistance package since September 11. Several African nations that have been mentioned as potential bases for al Qaeda with or without the cooperation of the government in power have been offered debt relief and other financial incentives.
Somalia, with a dysfunctional central government and a strongly anti-U.S. Muslim population, has been seen by many as perhaps the most likely new headquarters for a reconstituted al Qaeda, whether or not bin Laden manages to get out of Afghanistan alive and free.
The war's next phase, most analysts agree, will be far less telegenic and focused than the fighting in Afghanistan, involving financial pressure and bribes, small-scale special operations against individual terrorist cells, and clandestine intelligence-sharing.
"Information in this phase of the war will trickle and seep out, appearing perhaps as many unrelated incidents," the Stratfor analysis said.
While the Bush administration has won plaudits for retaining support at home and assembling a broad international coalition in the fight against terrorism, several fault lines have already emerged as the war proceeds.
One is the question of post-Taliban Afghanistan.
Some view the establishment of a representative, stable government in Afghanistan through the balancing of regional and ethnic interests a process begun with last week's U.N.-sponsored talks in Germany as critical not just to the war effort but to the broader campaign to address a virulent anti-Western strain in the Muslim world.
Others view the Bonn talks as a sideshow.
Said Mr. Bremer: "My goals for the next Kabul government would be negative ones that whoever is in power not allow al Qaeda to operate the way they have in the past.
"If they can get a democratically elected, multiparty government there, great, although I have my doubts," said Mr. Bremer, who lived in Afghanistan for two years. "If they want to be run by warlords, as long as the warlords crack down on the terrorists, that's fine, too."
But Robert I. Rotberg, president of the Cambridge, Mass.-based World Peace Foundation, said the Bush administration must now transform "the coalition against terrorism into a coalition for nation-building."
Lawless, anarchic states such as Afghanistan when the Taliban seized power in the mid-1990s virtually guarantee trouble for the United States if ignored, Mr. Rotberg argued.
"If we just walk away from Afghanistan and other failed states as we have in the past, we won't have accomplished much," he said.
The Pentagon has made clear it sees at most only a limited role for U.S. military forces in Afghanistan once the primary missions against the Taliban and al Qaeda have been accomplished. But the security situation in the country remains unsettled and several regional players, notably Pakistan, Iran and Russia, have signaled that the old great-power rivalries over Afghanistan have not been forgotten.
CSIS's Kurt Campbell, co-author with Miss Flournoy of an extensive new study on strategy for the terrorism war, said that even from a security viewpoint, the United States must take an interest in a post-Taliban Afghanistan that faces more civil strife and potentially devastating famine.
"If millions of Afghans die on our watch, we will definitely be held accountable," he said.
On the legal front, a second division has opened up over the government's push for new powers to detain and prosecute foreigners in the United States suspected of terrorist activities.
Mr. Ashcroft's detailing last week of suspected crimes by some of those detained so far in the post-September 11 sweep was widely seen in part as a move to neutralize attacks in Congress and among civil libertarian groups over the crackdown and over expanded use of military courts to try suspected foreign terrorists.
Yet another delicate question is how broadly the Bush administration will define its objectives in the war.
The State Department has identified some 28 terrorist organizations around the globe. A few, such as al Qaeda, pose a clear global threat, but others, such as the violent Basque separatist group ETA in Spain or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, pose a much more tightly focused threat to a single government or region.
Asking Spain's Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar to make hard choices to support the U.S. anti-terrorism drive while not promising something in return against the ETA, for instance, could prove politically unsustainable. But defining victory as the eradication of every terrorist group in the world virtually guarantees defeat.
In a visit to Washington last month, Colombian President Andres Pastrana lobbied Congress and the administration to open the next front against terrorism in his country, which faces challenges from armed groups on both the left and right.
Said Mr. Campbell of CSIS: "I think you have to make the argument that the global nature of the terrorist threat [from bin Laden] is qualitatively and quantitatively different from what some of our allies have faced. You don't want to blur the struggle against al Qaeda."
The biggest fault line runs through Baghdad, one that could determine the near-term course of the struggle.
The Bush administration is divided internally over whether Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq should be the next military target of the campaign, whether or not conclusive evidence emerges linking Baghdad to the September 11 attacks and to al Qaeda.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, backed by leaders across Western Europe and the Arab world, has cautioned against a strike for now, arguing it would explode the international coalition against terror and enrage popular opinion in the Arab world.
But Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, backed by a large number of conservative strategists influential in the Bush administration, has pushed for a more aggressive tack, saying Saddam's proven track record of supporting terror and seeking weapons of mass destruction makes him an inescapable target in any war against global terrorism.
Mr. Bremer said Iraq had to be dealt with eventually, but that he would prefer focusing on "peripheral" state sponsors such as Sudan and Yemen, tightening the circle in time to Libya, Syria and finally Iraq.
"We have to confront Iraq, but I wouldn't make it my next step," he said. "I think we can make more progress on other fronts."
But author and conservative strategist Walter Laqueur argues that a rational, calibrated response is not the right approach to a terrorism driven by blind, uncompromising hatred of the United States and Western democratic ideals.
"Terrorism is not based on common sense and elementary logic," he said in a recent commentary.
Conceding that many Arab allies will be upset if the United States goes after Saddam, Mr. Laqueur cited the dictum of the ancient Roman tragic poet Accius: "Oderint, dum metuant" "Let them hate, so long as they fear."
Betsy Pisik in New York contributed to this article.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide