- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2001

Ideas really do mean something. Nineteenth-century Americans believed they could link the East and West coasts; they did it. We believed we could go to the Moon; and we did it. Ideas also matter in what we don't believe. We didn't believe that Pearl Harbor could be attacked, so we failed to take seriously the many warning signs in advance of Dec. 7, 1941. We have not been convinced over the past year that Israel is at war. So we continued to warn the Israelis as they responded to PLO-sanctioned violence with military force in the effort to protect themselves. We did not believe that terrorism really and truly endangered the United States. So we continued to treat attacks against the United States, like the one that took place nearly a year ago against the USS Cole, as though it was a crime and as though the correctly exacting procedure of criminal law should govern our response.
Tuesday's attack represented a watershed event, not only because of its magnitude, but because our leaders started to call what happened an attack against the United States rather than a crime. The good news here is that this attack could have been much larger and more deadly, for example, if the attackers had been able to detonate even small chemical or biological devices as the hijacked aircraft hit their targets in New York and Washington. The bad news is that if our deeds do not match our rhetoric, the chances of a much larger and more deadly - including nuclear - attack increase dramatically. The failure to punish those who played significant parts in the attacks of this week constitutes an invitation to use larger and deadlier attacks the American people.
In an elegant speech on Tuesday evening, President Bush said, "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them." It is extremely hard to imagine that the intelligence, communications and training that preceded the attacks against New York and Washington were the product of a single man and his assistants. Terrorist operations on this scale require extraordinary effort and coordination. We should act with this fact clearly in mind. If Osama Bin Laden directed the operations of Sept. 11 from his safe haven in Afghanistan, the government there should bear the consequences. It is now time to change the executive order that prevents the American president from targeting an individual enemy. If Saddam is as implicated in the attacks of Sept. 11 as he was in the first attack against the World Trade Center, the basis of his rule, his military, should be razed.
It would be a relief to see that the language adopted by many political leaders on Tuesday is an accurate indication of the military force that the United States must now use. But there were too many false scents. Talking head after talking head told television audiences that intelligence failed, that we need to beef up the intelligence budget and increase the nation's ability to gather intelligence using human rather than electronic sources. This is necessary. It is not sufficient.
We will now and surely increase our intelligence capabilities, including that which is gained from human sources. Congress will pass Mr. Bush's budget and may even multiply the modest request for increases in the Defense Department's budget. And American political leaders will probably stop calling catastrophic events like Tuesday's crimes, thus denigrating responses to them to the exacting legal standards that effectively proscribe forceful response. But the most important issue is whether we will use force to punish those who attack and those who harbor, train and supply the terrorists. Our efforts must be directed against terrorism, not merely terrorists.
We have been for some time, but are now palpably, under a siege similar to the one that Israel has been trying to defend itself against for a year. In an ironic way, warfare has come full circle since medieval times when moving armies faced sitting targets cities. The defenders had little choice but to stand in place and absorb what siege engine, trebuchet, and hunger could mete out.
Today, the attackers can inflict losses much greater proportionately than in the 14th century, and much larger in absolute terms than the, as yet, untold loss of life suffered by the civilian population on Tuesday. But, as defenders, we have the largest, strongest and most mobile force in the world. We are not prevented from using it to defend ourselves except by the idea in our own minds that this is anything less than war.

Seth Cropsey is a government affairs director at Greenberg Traurig in Washington. He served in the Reagan and first Bush administrations.


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