By Charles Krauthammer, October 5, 2001
There is a serious debate raging in Washington about war aims. And then there
is the caricature debate in which, on the one hand, you have the reasoned,
moderate, restrained doves who want very limited war aims. And on the other
hand, you have the unreconstructed hawks — those daring to suggest that the
war on terrorism does not stop with Afghanistan — aching for blood and
continents to conquer.
Let’s begin at the beginning. No one, hawk or dove, sought this war. This war
was declared on us. The only question is how to prosecute it. The question is
whether after Pearl Harbor our strategic objective should have been
(a) destroying the Japanese First Air Fleet that did the deed, or
(b) destroying the regime in Tokyo to put Japanese imperialism
permanently out of business.
The previous generation had no difficulty making that choice. Nor did the
president of this generation in his national address on September 20.
“Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that
supports them,” he said. “And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe
haven to terrorism.”
Government. Nations. Not just going cave-to-cave in Afghanistan looking
Of course everyone would prefer narrow war aims. They carry less immediate
risk and better prospects for success. But that “success” is illusory. It would
leave us mortally at risk.
Start with the narrowest objective: finding those responsible for September 11
and “bringing them to justice.”
Imagine if Osama were delivered to us alive. His trial would become a
media circus that would make Camp OJ look like local TV coverage of a bingo
fraud. It would become the greatest platform for the dissemination of a
murderous ideology since Hitler’s beer hall putsch trial in 1924.
The trial would be surreal, probably presided over by more Scottish judges in
full wig at The Hague, like those who found one Libyan sub-peon responsible
for Pan Am 103. Osama, of course, would not get the death penalty. Which
would mean that every week there would be a school bus hijacked and
children’s throats slit to win his release. He would be out in weeks.
Nor would killing Osama solve the problem. Kill him and another will arise. In
fact, we already know who the successor is: Osama’s second in command,
Moreover, even if the al Qaeda network is taken down, other networks will
form — as long as there are states in the region ready to nurture, protect and
use terrorists in their war against America and the West. Which is why the war
on terrorism cannot be just about individuals. It must be about governments.
Why, even the State Department, after wobbling, has come around to the idea
that getting Osama is not enough. The Taliban regime must fall too.
What happens then? That will depend on whether we succeed against the
Taliban. If we do not, then we have lost the war and we will live the rest of our
lives in the gas-mask-buying dread we feel today.
But what if we do topple the Taliban? Do we stop there?
We cannot. We have entered a new era with a new threat. They’re called
weapons of mass destruction, but that is a euphemism. These are weapons of
genocide. What is at stake is not a repetition of the World Trade Center but a
massacre unseen in human history, possibly millions of Americans dead from
biological or chemical warfare.
You do not make weaponized anthrax in Afghan caves. For that you need
serious scientists and serious laboratories, like the ones in Baghdad. Richard
Butler, the former chief arms inspector in Iraq, tells us that Iraq has weaponized
anthrax and VX gas. Syria has chemical weapons. Iran is developing nukes.
They all sponsor terrorists.
The threat is unique, but so is the moment. The provocation is clear. The
American people are committed. The entire West and even India and Russia are
behind us. Now is the time to go after state-sponsored terrorism. This does not
mean invading every country. It means getting some regimes to change policies
and others to fall — whether by economic and diplomatic pressure, internal
revolt or, as a last resort, military action.
At a time like this, the imprudent ones are those who simply want to lop off
one tentacle of the terrorist threat, the one that perpetrated Sept. 11. Doing
that will give us satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment, and an entirely false
sense of security.
The next attack, catastrophic beyond our imagination, is waiting to happen. If
we do not have the will to go after that threat now, these sophisticated
weapons will fall into the hands of al Qaeda’s comrades and successors. We
will be living the 13 days of the Cuban missile crisis — our last encounter with
the real possibility of genocidal attack on America — for the rest of our lives.