364. "Should U.S. Forces Strike Back? Yes." USA Today (September 18, 2001) p 25A.


If we try to deal with terrorist attacks mainly by heightening our defenses, we will need to curb ever more our freedom of movement, of assembly, of commerce. Ultimately, we will turn into a garrison state and still not be safe. The British enacted all kinds of laws limiting rights to protect themselves from Irish terrorists, yet the terrorists shot a missile at their "White House" and planted a bomb next to their "CIA headquarters." And despite all of the security measures they have taken, Israelis fear going to malls, bus stops and movies.

Even if we succeed in blocking one form of attack -- by putting armed marshals on airlines, for instance -- we just shift the terrorists' efforts to other avenues. This is what happened when we made it more difficult to place car bombs; they took to the air. Osama bin Laden has so far never repeated his mode of attack. Next could be anything from chemical to cyberspace. What, then, should be done? Our long-term policy on this matter depends on how serious we consider the terrorists' danger to be. I deeply regret to say that -- based on my 21 years of life in the Middle East, including 3 years of fighting -- as horrible as Sept. 11 was, I believe it was just a beginning. The terrorists have not yet played their trump cards: weapons of mass destruction.

The only way to cut off all of the heads of this terrorism Hydra is to strike at its heart. I do not mean we should bomb some country into the Stone Age; most casualties then would be innocent people. And bin Laden and his ilk count on the fact that we cannot much hurt a country such as Afghanistan from the air; it is already in the Stone Age. What would we bomb? A few footbridges or goat passages? Retaliation would satisfy some of our sense of justice, but we must accept that it would be a part of meting our justice, not an effective deterrent of future attacks.

To effectively curtail international terrorism, we have to enter these countries, remove their tyrants and disable their facilities for making weapons of mass destruction. We would, of course, be serving not merely our safety, but also aiding the oppressed people of these countries.

A cliche that evolved during the past days is that the new enemy is invisible. This holds only if one rejects President Bush's well-put line that we will not distinguish between terrorists themselves and those who harbor them. It is argued that if we remove a Saddam or Gadhafi or the Taliban junta, then they will merely be replaced by another terrorist-harboring tyrant. This may well be true. We then would need to replace these, repeatedly perhaps, until a new group that reflects the people of these nations, and is willing to open up these countries, arises. This may take two or three rounds.

I do not mean that we should occupy these countries and hold them until they democratize, but that we ought to change our policy of not attacking their heads and their facilities. Ethically, taking out tyrants is far superior to causing "collateral damage" to their civilian populations.

What we did in the past in response to such attacks was truly batty: try to apply the standards of U.S. justice to international terrorists. We send hundreds of FBI agents to reconstruct the crime scene, try to establish which suitcase contained what bombs, who exactly placed it where, and so on and on. Ten years later, we bring this information to some international court and then win or lose by some rarified standards of international law that few other countries take seriously, including most of our allies. One may argue that this time the terrorists did not come from Iraq or Iran or Syria or Palestine, but from some other place. But it should not matter who sent the last group. We should openly announce that we shall not allow those who train, finance, facilitate and protect terrorists to survive -- and then take them out in whatever sequence suits us best.

What does it matter if bin Laden was involved this time or only in the bombing of our ship in Yemen or embassy in Kenya? If we have reliable evidence that a given party is a major source of terrorism, and we present that evidence to our courts and share it with the world, this will have to do.

We would do best if we could collaborate with other nations in imposing the condition under which democracy can flourish. Ideally, that would be the United Nations; second best, our Western allies or some ad hoc alliance including Muslim countries. But we should realize, like it or not, that we are the terrorists' No. 1 target.

The world is looking to us to lead. As undesirable as it is may be, we may have to go it largely alone.

Amitai Etzioni, a member of USA TODAY's board of contributors, was an Israeli commando from 1947 to 1949.

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