Tags: Analysis: | Bush | Takes | Aim

Analysis: Bush Takes Aim

Friday, 21 September 2001 12:00 AM

Friday, when the Taliban asked for evidence before they would deliver Osama bin Laden, Bush's spokesman said the time for negotiation had passed, telling reporters, "The president feels this is the time for action."

Like his father did in rallying the nation to resist Saddam Hussein a decade ago, Bush reached into the heart of the American psyche to call us to war. He reawakened the image of America that we carried out of World War II, the image of war to right what is wrong, the Crusade in Europe - of America as the world's policeman stopping the bad guys.

The Taliban is evil, Bush said, and "we are not deceived by their pretense of piety."

"We have seen their kind before," he declared. "They are the heirs to all the murderous ideologies of the 20th Century."

Bush carefully limited the 20th Century evils to fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism because some of his allies in this new adventure, such as the Beijing government, are likely to be communists.

Not only is the Taliban regime evil, the president told us, but illegitimate as well. It is, he said, virtually an occupying power in its own land, as illegitimate as Adolf Hitler's puppet governments in occupied Europe. So again, the U.S. military would be liberators, freeing the Afghan people from being "brutalized."

"Many are starving and many have fled," the president said. "Women are not allowed to attend school. You can be jailed for even owning a television. Religion can be practiced as their leaders dictate. A man can be jailed in Afghanistan if his beard is not long enough."

Such indignities however, are not uncommon in fundamentalist Muslim regimes, some of whom will be our allies against the Taliban.

The Bush address paints our forces as liberators, not fighting against the beleaguered Afghan people, but rather fighting Osama bin Laden as both a global terrorist and as the named partner of the Taliban dictatorship.

By "aiding and abetting" bin Laden, Bush said, the Taliban are accomplices in his crimes.

"The Taliban regime is committing murder," he declared.

On this basis, he would send our forces into battle in Afghanistan. But this would not be the United States retaliating for terrorist attacks on its people, the president said, but America leading the world's retaliation.

Reaching out in his address Thursday to England and nodding to Prime Minister Tony Blair in the gallery, Bush evoked the old alliance that defeated Nazism. He would have liked to name others, but Jacques Chirac of France quailed at the word "war" earlier this week and other potential allies are sending signals that they see this as a police action, not a war.

"The civilized world is rallying to America's side," the president told us. "They understand that if this terror goes unpunished, their own cities, their own citizens may be next."

Having selected Afghanistan, the president must now decide now whether the action will be swift or drawn out, unilateral or after forming some sort of coalition.

The objective would not be to occupy Afghanistan, but topple the Taliban, trapping them in Kabul, cutting them off from the mountains where Afghan fighters have resisted more than one invasion.

Undoubtedly, Bush's military briefers have told him that Afghanistan is perhaps the worst terrain in the world in which to fight. Windswept, arid, land-locked, mountainous and cave-ridden, the Afghans have resisted the British and the Russians, so sapping the Soviet Union that it contributed to the empire's demise.

There is a domestic political entity that Bush could back. The Northern Alliance, an Afghan separatist movement that controls a mere 5 percent of the land territory in northern Afghanistan, has offered to fight alongside us. If the U.S. arms this group and helps them push to Kabul, there would be a political regime to replace the Taliban and perhaps unite the country. With a friendly regime in place, the campaign would end Afghanistan as a terrorist base.

The U.S. military command has options for everything, and in the Persian Gulf and Yugoslavia, our best options were at work. The United States has the most technologically advanced precision bombing in the world, and in Yugoslavia those attacks won the day. In the Gulf, our heavily mechanized ground forces, backed by air superiority, swiftly defeated Saddam Hussein's army.

Afghanistan will be another story. The logistics trail to keep our forces in the field is tortuous and can only be done with the agreement of Russia and Pakistan and at least the tacit agreement of China. The Soviets came in with tanks and armored helicopters and found themselves at the mercy of armor-piercing grenades and stinger missiles supplied by the United States.

An invasion of Afghanistan by a force without a significant Muslim contingent could inflame unnecessary resistance, however a bulky multinational coalition as in the Gulf would make the fast maneuvering necessary to survive in Afghanistan virtually impossible.

There is a debate among the president's advisors. The sides are not clear, but essentially it appears to pit the Defense Department against the State Department. Whatever the sides, the question is: swift, hard military action now or slower, surer action after diplomacy is given an opportunity to resolve the issue.

There is a lot of history to consider. Early in World War II, as U.S. forces retreated across the Pacific, President Roosevelt authorized Gen. Jimmy Doolittle to carry out a daring air raid against Tokyo by a handful of land-based B-25 medium bombers launched from the deck of an aircraft carrier. The military value of the raid was negligible, but it buoyed a frightened nation and broke the notion in the minds of the Japanese people that they could act against the United States with impunity.

Bush has said that Osama bin Laden and the Taliban were responsible for the most devastating foreign attacks on the United States in its history. The losses, now estimated at more than 6,000 people, are far worse than Pearl Harbor, and the nation is, in many ways, far more wounded. The stock market is crumbling; the air travel system is reeling; unemployment is climbing and the fear of further unpleasant events is palpable.

The president is under enormous pressure to act. Low-key banking manipulations and covert operations may be the most effective way to get at terrorism, but they don't play as well as decisive high-profile action in terms of world public opinion.

On the other hand, the recent experience of punitive missions and efforts to deal with terrorism, particularly in the Middle East, are not encouraging. Jimmy Carter's presidency went down the tubes because a rescue of American hostages in Tehran was botched and abandoned. President Reagan's efforts to stabilize Beirut ended up with some 240 dead Marines and tangible evidence of the impotence of our power.

Now is the time for decision making. The answer could come as soon as next week.

But some

"And so today, in this year of war, 1945, we have learned lessons - at fearful cost - and we shall profit by them.

"We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations far away. We have learned that we must live as men, not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger.

"We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community.

"We have learned a simple truth, as Emerson said, that 'the only way to have a friend is to be one.'"

Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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Friday, when the Taliban asked for evidence before they would deliver Osama bin Laden, Bush's spokesman said the time for negotiation had passed, telling reporters, The president feels this is the time for action. Like his father did in rallying the nation to resist...
Friday, 21 September 2001 12:00 AM
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