The United States was attacked on Sept. 11 by a group of evil, vengeful and arrogant terrorists. American officials have determined that the responsibility for these attacks lies with Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, al Qaeda. The U.S. government has also concluded that the ruling Taliban government is responsible for harboring terrorist groups?especially al Qaeda?who seek to attack and destroy American values, institutions and tolerance.
Last Thursday, President George W. Bush declared that the United States would wage a war against these terrorists and the countries that support them. The war, he said, would not be as swift and conclusive as the Gulf War, nor would it rule out the possibility of ground troops. “[The war] will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated,” the president boldly stated. By targeting Afghanistan in the short term, he explained that “We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place until there is no refuge or no rest.”
Sadly, this is an empty promise that a war will not solve. The president himself admitted that al Qaeda’s network spans across 60 countries. The FBI has also detected four to five “cells” of the group operating within the United States itself. Bin Laden has financial interests supporting al Qaeda from Sudan to Germany, from Turkey to Tajikistan. He has millions of dollars in support from wealthy Islamic businessmen who see his cause as worthwhile. The president took a step in the right direction on Monday by freezing the assets of companies linked to bin Laden.
Waging a war against Afghanistan, however, will will not defeat such a wide-spanning and structured group. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence regarding Afghanistan is minimal, and there is no guarantee that the intelligence can find bin Laden there, if he is indeed still in the country. One only needs to look at our failed 1998 bombings on Afghanistan and Sudan to see this failure. The notion that the United States can cut off all funding for bin Laden and his terrorists, play mind games with them and then leave them without refuge is simply unworkable. To fight an enemy that we cannot see by only attacking one nation is both dangerous and impractical.
In an even more practical sense, we need only look to Russia’s 1979 invasion of the country to see that a war against Afghanistan is an extremely difficult venture. While not a precedent, the effort showed that a war in the traditional sense?attacking cities, bombing factories, destroying transportation infrastructure?did not affect Afghanistan as it would have a more developed country. There are few highways or railroads, and cities are not the focal point of society and government. Russia learned the same lesson we learned after Vietnam: the concept of fighting war is different.
Finally, the United States must avoid harming those who are not responsible. If the United States claims it wants “justice,” then Bush must be careful not to harm the civilian population of Afghanistan. The president said: “The terrorists’ directive commands them to … make no distinctions among military and civilians, including women and children.” Unfortunately, carpet bombing and a war against the country would make no distinctions either. The people of Afghanistan are suffering subjects of an oppressive government and cannot be linked to the terrorists and especially not to bin Laden. A war would also create thousands of refugees, all with nowhere to go. Indeed Afghanistan is surrounded by hostile borders.
The people of Afghanistan, after all, are not the enemy. Ninety percent of the country are underfed farmers, and most Afghans do not support the Taliban. The enemy are the terrorists and those that support them. Bush’s “lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen” must be different than traditional war. Intelligence efforts and perhaps smaller, covert operations are the only way to defeat our new enemy. The president met with congressional leaders on Tuesday morning and explained that this war would meet the enemy’s guerrilla warfare with guerrilla warfare. This is a truly effective way to find the hidden enemies, instead of just “smoking them out,” as Bush has previously said. A full-out war against one country will not defeat terrorism, an enemy that spans the globe. In the search for one man, more innocent people may die in the process. Based on what we know now, President Bush, do not declare war on Afghanistan.
Editorial Board Chair Brian Zuanich opposed this editorial.