Sunday, November 25, 2001

Last Monday, Undersecretary of State John Bolton tabbed Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Syria, Iran and North Korea as states possessing or pursuing

bio-terror weapons.

These six dreg states have also been big league entrepots for global terror organizations, sustaining them with men, money and guns.

While Bolton’s List hammers home the persistent impotence of current bio-arms control regimens, it also doubles as a quick guide to future overt battlegrounds in America’s counterterror war, a public “hit list” for the direct application of American political, economic and military power.

With the caveat that al Qaeda’s networks extend into four dozen or so other countries (the hard corners of our “covert” war effort), let me extend America’s public hit list to include Somalia, Yemen and Algeria, with Indonesia’s Aceh Province (on Sumatra), the southern Phillippines (Moro conflict), and India and Pakistan’s fractured state of Kashmir as footnotes in bold, large-type.

Examining this list reinforces the tough fact that this “Millennial War” America must wage is global in scope, militarily intricate, politically multifaceted and of long duration.

The purveyors of Washington Beltway conventional wisdom, who two weeks ago declared Afghanistan a quagmire and now clamor for immediate action against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, clearly need a monthly reminder that the Millennial War won’t move at the pace of headline news or televised chitchat. Their post-Kabul euphoria is a form of pop triumphalism, the flip-side of mid-October’s angst-drenched pop defeatism. Suddenly, the “domestic political momentum du jour” appears to favor dramatic military escalation.

We need to chill the wags’ war fever. Expectations must be tempered by a cool understanding of the discrete challenges presented by each state and region on the hit list.

Sure, U.S. military success in Afghanistan has created a form of “battlefield momentum” that the Bush administration must translate into a sustaining domestic and international political momentum to prosecute this episodic war.

Which brings us back to the list. Concede that Libya’s Col. Moammar Gadhafi is a minor irritant, one to be dealt with down the line. Victory in Afghanistan should help calm Kashmir.

But what about Iraq? Tackling Iraq isn’t next week’s work. Barring a lucky smart bomb on Saddam’s home bunker, peeling southern Iraq requires at least an armored corps in Kuwait. In a better-case scenario, Turkey, operating under the activation of NATO’s mutual defense requirement, decides to engage Iraq on the ground and rolls south to Baghdad. But deploying the seven or eight Turk mobile divisions, that offensive entails takes deft political persuasion and extensive logistical preparation.

Iran is a diplomatic battleground, where the moderate President Mohammed Khatami is surrounded by Muslim radicals. However, Iranian youth are fed up with the failure of the Islamic revolution. The political, economic and intelligence operations to support democratic change in Iran (and thus destroy the terrorist networks) is a long-haul effort.

The same can be said of North Korea, where the Cold War remains in effect. Exorcising Algerian terrorism requires close cooperation with the Algerian government and France. Syria is a big Lebanon waiting to happen. The Assad regime is hopelessly entwined with terrorist operations and must go, but that is another long-term process.

The Phillippines’ Moro war and Indonesia’s struggle with Aceh’s Islamic rebels are conflicts with deep roots. U.S. support will give Manila and Jakarta additional firepower, but don’t look for instant good news in those jungles.

Sudan offers better prospects for successful near-term military action, but its close connection to Egypt creates extraordinary political issues. For several months, the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA, a guerrilla force largely composed of black Africans from Sudan’s south) has been conducting successful operations in Sudan’s oil provinces. U.S. air and logistic support of the SPLA could lead to the rapid fall of Khartoum’s Islamic regime. However, if this led to the partition of Sudan, Cairo would go “tilt” on the Pyramids.

That’s why some military analysts are considering strikes against terror targets in Somalia and Yemen’s southeastern provinces before any other substantial military action in the Middle East. Yemen is Saudi Arabia’s backdoor, and destroying terror facilities and cells would increase the Saudis’ comfort zone.

Somalia remains an anarchic unstate easily penetrated by terror syndicates. However, several Somali clans are ready to deal with Washington, and next door is Ethiopia, a nation fed up with Somalia’s conflicts. With proper political and intelligence preparation, a visit by the U.S. Marines could dramatically change Somalia’s political landscape and close one more terror haven.

A successful Mogadishu 2002 would also further isolate Saddam’s Baghdad.

Austin Bay is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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