Since President Bush declared war on terrorism, a number of governments have said they would join one of our coalitions of support-but only if we could prove to them that Osama bin Laden was responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11.
To accommodate that request would be to rescind our war on terrorism.Let's assume we get rid of Bin Laden and his entire terrorist Al Qaeda network-and then we find out that Al Qaeda was not responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Not likely, but let's assume that happens.
If we are at war against terrorism, all terrorists should be on notice that they are the enemies of the United States and of all civilized societies. If terrorists are worried that they may be attacked for particular crimes they did not commit, then they should get out of the terrorism business. If a government that harbors terrorists says it had nothing to do with a particular act, that government's only recourse to avoid risk would be to disallow such terrorist facilities within its borders.When a hand grenade lands in a foxhole in battle, there is no attempt to find who threw it because the grenade-thrower is incidental to the larger enemy. When President Roosevelt requested a declaration of war against Japan, he did not say: "Yesterday we were attacked at Pearl Harbor, and we are going to do everything possible to find out who those individual pilots, navigators and bombardiers were and bring them to justice." That would have been a guarantee of losing the war. Those individuals were nothing more than tools of a larger enemy.
Today, we are no longer simply searching for individual terrorists when we can find them. We are at war against terrorism, and we have found it. Terrorism has declared war against the U.S. with tremendous loss of American lives. The war has begun.On April 14, 1986, under the directive of President Reagan, the U.S. bombed Moammar Kadafi's terrorist headquarters in Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya, in retaliation for the bombing of a West Berlin discotheque in which an American serviceman and a Turkish woman were killed and many others were wounded. Months after the U.S. retaliation, there was evidence that Syria, rather than Libya, was to blame for that attack in Berlin. Yet lives were saved by our attack on Kadafi, stopping Kadafi's terrorism for 2½ years.
In our new war against terrorism, the individual responsible for an attack should certainly be pursued and destroyed, but that individual must be secondary to winning the war.
On Nov. 13, 1995, when a terrorist attack killed five Americans and injured 60 others in Saudi Arabia, President Clinton said that he would "make sure that those responsible for this hideous act are brought to justice."
The following June, there was a conference in Tehran of what is called the International Hizb-Allah. The conference reviewed suggested U.S. targets from various participating terrorist organizations and ultimately agreed to escalate and expand terrorist attacks against U.S. interests on a global basis.
Two days after the conference ended, a terrorist attack killed 19 Americans and injured 150 more near Dhahran in Saudi Arabia. Clinton said: "The cowards who committed this murderous act must not go unpunished." A group called the Legion of the Martyr Abdullah al Huzaifi claimed responsibility, saying there would be further attacks unless foreign troops were withdrawn from "the holy Saudi land."
In July 1996, at another conference of the International Hizb-Allah, the Movement for Islamic Change was singled out for its recent "achievements." Clinton's warnings presented little threat to the future of terrorism.
On July 17, 1996, a TWA flight bound for Paris exploded off Long Island, N.Y., killing 230 people. Investigations concluded that what happened to Flight 800 was not a terrorist attack. Nonetheless, one day after that crash, the Movement for Islamic Change claimed responsibility, telling the world: "We carried out our promise with the plane attack of yesterday."
In retaliation for such a claim-just the claim-we should have taken that organization's headquarters and training centers off the map. Nothing lost except bases of terrorism.
That would have been given terrorists something to consider, and such action would have helped all U.S. citizens to be more secure overseas and at home.
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Bruce Herschensohn is a fellow at the Claremont Institute.