President Bush declared Thursday that the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington have forced America into the first war of the 21st century, and normal citizens-turned-war-hawks rallied around the message.
As the largest investigation in U.S. history focused on exiled Saudi Arabian Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, America’s highest officials promised to win the war against terrorism. Sifting through the rhetoric of the day, Yale foreign policy experts paused to consider what this unprecedented war might require.
History professor Donald Kagan, who recently co-authored “While America Sleeps: Self-Delusion, Military Weakness and the Threat to Peace Today,” said the nation must permanently destroy the international network of terrorism.
“We might have to go into every country,” Kagan said. “I’m in favor of using every device available. Regimes that sponsor these activities must be eliminated.”
Acknowledging that such a massive operation could incite undesirable effects, Kagan likened the situation to the era before World War II where the world powers failed to take action against aggression because they feared escalation.
“The greatest danger now is not taking these folks out,” Kagan said.
Assuming bin Laden is responsible for the attacks and remains in Afghanistan, military experts agree that conventional warfare would accomplish little against the Taliban regime, which holds little power among a population which already essentially exists in the Stone Age. All officials agree, however, that the first goal of any operation must be to apprehend the guilty parties.
“I cannot imagine any orthodox military force being of any use in Afghanistan. I can’t see an American army invading the place,” Kagan said. “Special forces will be necessary to apprehend bin Laden.”
Charles Hill, a visiting professor and accomplished statesman, said he predicted America would bomb bin Laden’s camps in the hills of Afghanistan while ignoring traditional targets such as government centers.
“We’ll go and just have to take out [his] camp,” Hill said. “Basically, we’re going to have to hit him from a distance. We have to make it so he has no place to lay his head.”
Hill said America must ready itself for a new type of war much as it did at the onset of the Cold War. He forecasted a war with periods of sudden escalation followed by periods of inaction.
“We’re fighting a war against an enemy who is trying to be invisible,” Hill said. “The American public will have to educate themselves about what this war means. My expectation is that it will be a punctuated war when nothing happens for long periods of time.”
Hill said he saw good signs for the future in Pakistan’s pledge of support for the United States.
“It could mean that [the Pakistani head of state] will say, ‘What are your complaints about Pakistan?’ And we’ll say, ‘We have overhead pictures that show parts of your country that are out of your control that are supporting the Taliban or Osama bin Laden. Do you want to take them out or should we?'” Hill said. “We’re going to get the job done.”
History professor John Gaddis said alliance building will be perhaps the most important part of the United States’ success, and it also gives the nation the opportunity to forge stronger ties with unlikely allies.
“It’s as much a threat to the Russians as it is to the Chinese,” Gaddis said. “It has the potential to draw almost all the states together. They could see how easily it could happen to them.”
Although Hill expressed confidence in the military’s preparation, Kagan said he had concerns.
“It will be very hard in effect for the United States to have to do what has to be done,” Kagan said. “I’m not sure we have forces adequately trained to carry out the missions. It’s the legacy of a decade of neglect.”
Both Hill and Kagan, however, warned that the nation must not take symbolic measures that lack practical value and repeat what they said were mistakes of the Clinton administration. Hill felt comforted that a Republican occupies the White House.
“This is what Republican presidents were put on earth to do,” Hill said. “They aren’t any good at talking about budget surpluses, but when it comes to enemies of the United States, they are pretty damn good.”