February 26, 2020

Going forward

The comments by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from Brussels last week made it clear that the United States will press ahead with the war on terrorism long after the fighting stops

in Afghanistan. But the Bush administration has yet to make a case for attacking in another country and the target most often mentioned, Iraq, has been ruled out by some of its closest allies. With or without the capture of Osama bin Laden, now is the best time for the administration to review its pursuit of terrorism and build public support for further action.

In speaking with NATO officials last Tuesday, Secretary Rumsfeld observed first that “the definition of what is in or out of area has really been changed,” and then outlined what counts as in. He didn’t name countries specifically, but said those of particular concern have “weaponized chemical or biological agents” or may be seeking “nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the means to deliver them.” These countries also support global terrorism, he said, which means NATO should “prepare now for the next war, a war which could be very different from the war on terrorism we fight today.” To emphasize this change, the secretary said the United States would cut its forces in Bosnia by one-third next year.

But before the battle shifts to Yemen or Somalia or anywhere else, the public deserves an accounting, much as Prime Minister Tony Blair provided rough evidence for the attack on al-Qaida this fall without compromising intelligence sources. As U.S.-implied commitments in both Pakistan and Afghanistan are making clear, the United States and its allies cannot expect to maintain international support on a bomb ’em and leave ’em plan – there’s a long-term marriage of political and financial support for countries that have terrorists flushed out or that cooperate in the flushing. That sort of commitment requires

public debate.

NATO’s secretary-general, Lord Robertson, last week seemed willing to shift the alliances current priority from peacekeeping, but he was far from prepared to commit it to fighting terrorism in a new spot, as Secretary Rumsfeld says must happen. This difference in thinking, too, will take discussion and debate and a much fuller explanation of how future targets are likely to be considered.

Such consideration may not precisely mesh with Secretary Rumsfeld’s vision of “a changed world, with a premium on political and military agility,” but it is essential to this nation’s ideals and its character.

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