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Jewish World Review Sept. 20, 2001 / 2 Tishrei, 5762

George Will

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War without catharsis -- Section 546 of this year's defense authorization bill contains this, written long before Sept. 11: "Posthumous advancement on retired list of Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and Major General Walter C. Short, senior officers in command in Hawaii on December 7, 1941." It states that those two officers, who were made scapegoats -- declared guilty of "dereliction of duty," just six weeks after Pearl Harbor -- "were not provided necessary and critical intelligence that was available . . . and would have alerted them to prepare for the attack."

The lesson is not to rush to judgments about either American failures -- remember, many counterterrorism successes must remain secret -- or the full provenance of the Sept. 11 attacks. Or to rush to actions that, like many in the past decade, embolden America's enemies.

Perhaps this is not, as President Bush says, the first war of the 21st century but the continuation of America's last war of the 20th century, the Gulf War. The ample evidence pointing toward Islamic extremists could be part of the plot, pointing investigators away from Iraq's involvement.

Fanatics intoxicated by religion are indeed central to this. And the Middle East is one coup by Islamic extremists -- in Egypt, or even Jordan -- from radical transformation. Many regimes in that region are threatened by the forces that have attacked America, which underscores the truth that the enemy is not "the Arab world."

That is a geographical, not a political expression. And although Yasser Arafat reportedly told President Clinton at the Camp David fiasco of July 2000 that he, Arafat, speaks for 1 billion Muslims, the enemy is not Islam. It is no more characterized today by terrorists than 19th-century American religiosity was characterized by the violently crazed John Brown. Much the largest Islamic nation, Indonesia, is far from the Middle East.

Many U.S. actions in the 1990s may have convinced watching enemies that this nation is pathologically unrealistic, and risk-averse to the point of paralysis. A secretary of state, Warren Christopher, visited Syria, a terrorists' haven, 24 times in four years. (He visited China only twice in four years.) This diplomatic groveling was done in the bizarre hope that Syria, a sponsor of terrorism, would be cooperative regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Arafat, the terrorist whose bloody trail runs back to the murder of U.S. diplomats in Sudan in 1973, was the most frequent foreign visitor to the Clinton White House. Three weeks ago he was in South Africa with his boon companion, Jesse Jackson, at the United Nations' anti-Israel festival in Durban.

During the conflict over -- note the preposition "over" -- Kosovo, the decision to keep aircraft at 15,000 feet expressed the primary military objective of not losing pilots, even though this vitiated the stated political goal of protecting Kosovo from Serbia's marauding ethnic cleansers. Army reluctance translated into 30 days consumed in moving 28 Apache helicopters to the Balkans from southern Germany.

In his book "Waging Modern War," Gen. Wesley Clark, now retired but then commander of NATO forces, reports that when the Army briefed senior defense officials on the possibility of using the helicopters, it listed, "in a column that went on for two or three pages, all the weapons that were capable of perforating the skin of an Apache." Clark says the list shouted, "Don't do the mission." When the Apaches were sent to Albania, the Army insisted they be protected by 6,200 soldiers, and 14 70-ton M-1 Abrams tanks. The Apaches were never used.

Bill Clinton is sticking to his story that the cruise missiles -- the weapon preferred by risk-averse leaders -- he launched against one of Osama bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan came within an hour or so of killing him. But million-dollar weapons were used to destroy $15 tents, and an empty pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. It was the most feckless use of military power since President Carter invaded Iran with eight helicopters.

Purely cathartic uses of military force today would be worse than inaction. And what can be done to Afghanistan that Afghanistan has not done to itself by war and civil war during the past 20 years? The Doolittle raid on Tokyo four months after Pearl Harbor was justified by its morale-building effect. But in today's war, what is the equivalent of Tokyo?

Although President Bush vows that the war "will end in a way and at an hour of our choosing," there will be no equivalent of the surrender ceremony on the deck of the battleship Missouri. This strange war will be won, but part of its strangeness is that we will not know when that has happened.

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