- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

The attack in Pakistan that bathed a Christian church in blood is a grim reminder that we remain locked in a deadly twilight struggle against terrorists sworn to kill as many Americans as they can.

The explosions in the Protestant International Church that killed five people, including a U.S. Embassy worker and her daughter, and wounded 40 others, took place in a heavily guarded diplomatic district in Islamabad. It sent a chilling message to America that "you can bomb us, kill us, capture us, but there are more of us than you know." These terrorists are in this holy war for a lifetime, as are those who will come after them.

The attack came at a time when some in Congress and even among the U.S.-led anti-terrorism coalition seem to be letting down their guard, questioning the war and even asking how much longer it was going to continue.

The grenades that tore into the parishioners came not long after Sen. Robert Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, criticized the administration's war policies, wondering what our "exit strategies" were. He began questioning why we need to spend so much for homeland defense and for the war itself.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, also made some remarks that seemed to at least imply that new standards had to be applied to any assessment of whether the war was succeeding in its mission. If terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden was not captured or killed, the United States will have failed to achieve its objective, he suggested.

President Bush utterly rejected that standard. This was not a war against one or two al Qaeda leaders, but against a large, elusive enemy operating in dozens of countries, well armed, and bent on a wave of suicide attacks against Americans and their allies. It is only a matter of time before they will strike at us again. This week's attack in Islamabad only served to underscore the validity of Mr. Bush's earlier warning.

Mr. Daschle was forced to backtrack from his earlier criticism and quickly cosponsored a resolution in support of our troops. It came on the eve of the firefight that saw the heaviest U.S. casualties of the war.

Mr. Daschle, Mr. Byrd and others said they had a responsibility and a duty to ask questions as appropriators. They were not going to be rubber stamps for Mr. Bush's war budget. They were not being given enough information, they said.

In fact, Congress has been given plenty of information about the budget requests. Further information was and will be available from dozens of department and agency chiefs about the administration's war and homeland defense plans.

This week's attack also suggested the United States still has a long way to go in crushing terrorist cells before it can begin to think about toppling Saddam Hussein.

Vice President Richard Cheney's multination Middle East trip elicited little support from Arab leaders about going into Iraq. Saudi rulers are far more worried about the destabilizing presence of Islamic extremists in their own kingdom than they are about any attack by Saddam.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair won little support this week from European Union leaders. Some expressed "deep worry about a possible attack on Iraq, because of the potential expansion of the conflict," said Roman Prodi, president of the European Commission.

There have been four terrorist alerts since September 11 and U.S. intelligence officials have testified that further attacks on the U.S. are not only possible, but also likely. The chief goal in "Phase 2" of the war is to cast a wider coalition net to capture and eliminate terrorists before they can strike again.

Mr. Bush's big worry right now is that Congress no longer treats the terrorist threat as a crisis demanding emergency action. House Republicans are moving quickly to approve the military and homeland defense funds he wants. But Daschle, Byrd and Co. have sent signals that they have lots of questions and are in no hurry to pass the president's terrorism budget. Critical military appropriations probably won't come until much later this year.

Meanwhile, the terrorists are not going to wait for the appropriations process to run its course.

Certainly America is far better prepared than it was before September 11, but we are not doing nearly enough to protect our borders or to step up wider pre-emptive attacks on a hidden, resourceful and patient enemy preparing to wreak revenge for what Mr. Bush did to them in Afghanistan.


Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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