- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2001

After 10 years of debate over the U.S. military's role in the post-Soviet world, Sept. 11, 2001, has handed the armed forces an overriding purpose: Go to war against international terrorists.
Suddenly, a large segment of the American population is looking to the military for justice, just as the World War II generation did after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Interviews with active duty officers yesterday reveal a belief that they have been given a long-term mission comparable to fighting communism.
"Now is our time to change things in the world," said an Army officer. "We've been given a clear task."
Rep. William M. "Mac" Thornberry, Texas Republican and member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the military must transform in order to counteract several new threats, including terrorism.
"We still have to change our space assets. We still have to worry about cyber-attacks," he said.
As for fighting terrorism, the congressman said, the nation needs a lighter, more lethal Army.
During the 1990s, as the military lost its main foe in the rubble of the old Soviet empire, the all-volunteer force was tugged in many different directions. Some on Capitol Hill wanted a smaller military geared more toward peacekeeping. Others argued to keep big chunks of the heavy, Cold War force to fight potential great land battles.
The Pentagon devised a two-war requirement, but the prospects of fighting regional wars in Korea or the Persian Gulf did not capture the American public's imagination.
Today, the military has a predominate mission for which it has been searching since the fall of the Berlin Wall: international terrorism with the face of Saudi-exile Osama bin Laden and his far-flung network of terror cells.
Unlike the Persian Gulf war or air campaigns in the Balkans, American citizens were attacked on their own soil when hijacked airliners crashed into the World Trade Center's twin towers and the Pentagon. The death toll from the attacks likely will exceed 5,000. A CNN-Gallup poll found that 88 percent of Americans backed a military response.
The ramifications for the military are just starting to appear. The attacks may mean larger defense budgets, easier recruiting, and increased public and political support for the men and women in uniform.
"It's certainly going to help recruiting," said John Hillen, a defense adviser in the 2000 Bush campaign. "The combination of the lousy economy and the groundswell of patriotism is sure to fill recruiting stations, and that can't be anything but good."
The first war of the 21st century, as the Bush administration calls it, also will help Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld carry out the president's order to transform the military for tomorrow's enemies.
"It helps us take a considerable portion of the force and get them focused away from fighting the Gulf war all over again and get them focused on finally developing new strategies, new tactics, new forms of organization and new weapon systems," said Mr. Hillen, who served on the staff of a U.S. commission that studied future threats, including terrorism.
The new systems won't be tanks, but night-fighting gear, aircraft that can ferry special operations forces long distances, and portable communications.
Added Mr. Thornberry, "The secretary was getting beat up for even modest efforts at reform. My sense now is the country is ready to stand behind the president in what he thinks needs to be done, certainly with any reforms of the military. This gives us the opportunity to move faster."
Mr. Rumsfeld said yesterday that capturing bin Laden is only a first step. The military also must help take down his al-Qaeda organization and its scores of terror cells operating around the world, including in the United States.
"Bin Laden is one person who is unambiguously a terrorist," Mr. Rumsfeld told CBS. "The al-Qaeda network is a broad, multiheaded organization. If bin Laden were not there, the organization would continue doing what it's been doing. So clearly the problem is much bigger than bin Laden.
"One of the ways to deal with that network is to drain the swamp. These terrorists don't function in a vacuum. They function in a country. And countries foster and facilitate and tolerate their behavior, and that's got to stop."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide