- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2001

For the last decade it has seemed easy being the world's sole superpower. No longer. The United States has just paid a frightening price for its position in the world.

It is hard for most Americans, steeped in the humane, liberal values of Western civilization, to understand the massacre of innocents. To hijack planes and destroy office buildings. To murder to make a political point.

It has happened in the past, but even the Oklahoma City bombing was small-scale compared to this: a coordinated assault on the symbols of American economic, military, and political power, killing thousands of people, average people just going about their lives.

If this murderous attack was conducted or aided by a nation, it was a traditional act of war, warranting warlike retaliation.

If conducted by a group, then it was a lawless act of murder, warranting whatever form of justice can be best meted out wherever they may be.

The most obvious question is who? President George W. Bush promised to "hunt down the folks who committed this act," and hunt them down we should. Along with any individual, group, or country that gives them sanctuary.

Although the U.S. must strike hard, it must strike accurately. No erroneous hits on innocent pharmaceutical plants. We must get the actual killers.

Moreover, any response — one large and tough enough to appropriately retaliate for the murder of so many Americans — should be treated as an act of war in which the president and Congress share responsibility. President Bush should request congressional authorization for the necessary military measures. Let America's political leadership stand and act together.

But to retaliate is not enough. America must also rethink. Until now Washington has acted as if there was little price to be paid for intervening around the globe. Two years ago the U.S. bombed another nation for 78 days without losing a single serviceman. War seemed, to Americans at least, like a video game.

No longer.

The United States can defeat any other country. And any but the most desperate nation is likely to be deterred from striking America for years to come.

Even after countries like China and India grow more powerful, the U.S. is likely to possess sufficient power to deter any aggressor. Washington may no longer be able to impose its will on other nations, but they will certainly not be able to do so on America.

But the U.S. will still not be safe. America is vulnerable: The seemingly powerless have power.

Terrorism that once killed a dozen, a few score, or even a couple hundred has been turned loose on thousands. Particularly frightening is the organization and scope of the attack.

Moreover, imagine the result had weapons of mass destruction been involved, if there had been biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons on one of the planes.

Terrorism is evil. But it is the chief weapon of weak movements and states that have no other way to strike a superpower.

They attack in response to American involvement in their lands and struggles. Whoever brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center did not do so because of irritation with American culture. They did so because of opposition to Washington's intervention in what they saw as their affairs. They are wrong to kill innocent Americans. And they should be punished. But that's not enough.

We must refashion our military and foreign policy to reflect the vulnerability created by technological advances the world over. The world's most powerful military could make war on behalf of a people a continent away, but could not protect American citizens in the heart of its own nation. There are threats other than a Red Army invasion in Europe against which to guard.

We must also ask whether the stakes are high enough to warrant the risk. In the past, the price seemed small. Now it turns out to be costly indeed.

Getting in the middle of ancient and angry conflicts abroad guarantees America will be a target. The Mideast most obviously, but Colombia and the Balkans as well, offer endless sources, old and new, of hostility.

The potential for terrorism doesn't mean it is never in America's interest to act. But it does mean Washington must carefully calculate the risks before acting,especially in a world where weapons of mass destruction are likely to spread. It is numbing to think that people care so little for life that they are willing to kill thousands for their own ends. We must defend against a whole new set of security threats. We must also think twice before getting involved in conflicts that are likely to create more terrorists.

And we must hunt down those who harm us, as the president promised. Justice must be done.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and an adjunct scholar at the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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