Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Going to War is Stupid

By David G. Young

Arlington, Virginia, September 18, 2001 --  

The chorus of unity that emerged in America after the terrorist attacks last week is as disturbing as it is impressive. A nation unified toward reasoned ends is a fantastically powerful and productive force. A mob of the righteously indignant, however, is easily whipped into a nationalistic rage to seek empty vengeance with greatly destructive consequences. I fear that the latter is happening, and I am terrified to hear nobody speaking against it. In the rush to unity, the invaluable job of loyal opposition has been abandoned. I pray that someone far more influential than me will pick that it up.

Even before the identity of the individual perpetrators could be established, President Bush, congressional leaders, and the press had declared that this is war. A week later, talk of waging was has solidified. The only trouble is, nobody knows against whom to wage it. This is madness. Commentators repeatedly compare last week's attack to the attack on Pearl Harbor, vowing to avenge September 11 as was done for December 7. This can never, ever be done. There is no nation to attack, because the attacks were not perpetrated by a nation. Going to war against a nation serves only to satisfy a blood lust for revenge despite the destructive consequences to America. Going to war is stupid.

When mentioning possible adversaries, U.S. officials have largely confined speculation to Afghanistan and Iraq. Afghanistan, because it shelters terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, and Iraq because Saddam Hussein has long been a thorn in America's side. While Iraq would be a convenient target, one vulnerable to U.S. attack, it would be a tough sell for vengeance without someone finding or engineering some shred of evidence of culpability. Afghanistan, on the other hand, is virtually invulnerable to U.S. military might. It is so poor and primitive that there is hardly a target in the country worth the cost of a single U.S. cruise missile. The U.S. Air Force could bomb Afghanistan with the same vigor as Iraq in 1991, only to leave it in the same shape afterward as it was before the bombing -- Afghanistan is already reduced to rubble.

Realizing this, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney has refused to rule out the use of ground troops. Even suggesting a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan is ludicrous. To what end? It is not realistic to expect capturing elusive terrorist leaders in an isolated mountainous country with porous borders. Are America's soldiers going to transform the country to a model nation through occupational force, despite the fact that most people are illiterate peasants, and religious extremism and anti-Americanism run rampant? The Soviet Invaders of Afghanistan suffered terrible losses over a decade trying to control the country, but never managed to succeed. There is no reason to expect the same wouldn't happen to American forces.

Unlike the war that followed Pearl Harbor, it is wrong to assume that force can break the will of the enemy. The dispersed Muslim extremists around the world who hate America do so because they are outraged by the defeats they have already suffered. The global power of Islam, despite recent flare-ups, has been on the wane for 500 years. Global culture powered by capitalism, western technology, and liberal ideas has proven a powerful force in the world, and it has long been eroding traditional life in the Muslim world despite the fierce resistance of Arab and South Asian national leaders.

Religious extremists resort to terrorism because they know their way of life is losing sway. America, as the perceived leader of globalization, is the most visible target. To wage war against marginally culpable Muslim countries to no constructive end would be disastrous. It would only exacerbate the feelings of victimization that lead to terrorist acts in the first place.

The constructive path would be to treat the events of last Tuesday like enormous criminal acts. Those who led the conspiracy would be diligently hunted and captured using extraordinary means from covert forces to enlisting the assistance of foreign troops.

Meanwhile, life in America must not be corrupted. America must not allow its security apparatus to transform the country into a besieged compound. The outrageous movement to close Washington's Reagan National Airport -- a move that has already influenced U.S. Airways to lay off 10,000 people -- must be stopped. President Bush should defiantly go on national television to announce the reopening of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. It is only be embracing the openness and civil liberties that make America special that the country can keep terrorism from tarnishing its soul.

America does not need a war to achieve victory over Islamic extremism. America, in the course of its regular business, has long proven itself victorious.