War on terrorism will fail to achieve goals

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush and other government and defense leaders have warned the U.S. public the war against terrorism would not be a weekend-long, flash-in-the-pan retaliation. It would be a long and drawn-out effort to, as Bush has eloquently phrased it, “smoke (the terrorists) out of their holes.”

But I don’t know if we can win this war. I’ve had doubts since the first aerial attacks, and I have generally kept my mouth shut, while waiting to see what happened. However, some of my fears have been confirmed during the past week.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told reporters the United States might never catch Osama bin Laden. U.S. allies are concerned the efforts in Afghanistan will become a “quagmire,” a word often used to refer to American involvement in Vietnam. On Sunday, NBC reported the bombing campaign, entering its fourth week, has failed to break the Taliban’s hold on Afghanistan, and Taliban forces appeared to be “digging in for a long fight.”

The U.S. government isn’t supposed to lose wars – and, as a result of the Vietnam War, it knows how the world and American public react when it does. The reason we get caught in quagmires is because our leaders refuse to withdraw until we’ve won. But leaders also know how the public will react if our country gets pulled into another war it cannot win. They know from history how problematic it is to have an American public that does not support the government’s military efforts in a foreign country.

This war is not yet to that point. There is no draft and has been little talk of implementing one. The number of military personnel fighting is small. The Vietnam War, in contrast, drafted veteran soldiers, young fathers and college-aged sons into a war where hundreds of thousands of soldiers were already fighting and dying. During the war in Vietnam, everyone either knew someone in the war or someone who had a family member in the war. We’re not even in the ballpark of Vietnam yet.

I’m against this war on terrorism, though I think it’s a good idea in theory. We cannot let bin Laden, the Taliban or anyone else, kill and maim as many as 6,000 of our innocent civilians and not retaliate (just the same as you cannot let a bully terrorize you in school before you finally stand up to him). But I don’t know if we’re going to reach the solution we’re striving for.

The more Afghani citizens and soldiers we bomb and kill, the more young Afghanis will grow up hating the United States. There is already a generation of high school and college-aged people who dislike our country for our politics and involvement in promoting democracy in the Islamic world – the same reason bin Laden wants to kill all Americans. Now they’ll have more personal reasons to cultivate violence against the United States.

Even if we “smoke out” the current terrorists, there will still be more extremists signing up to be trained. They will be the terrorists our children will fear. Unless we wage war until the end of our country’s existence, how can we ever truly win this war?

Most of the American public would be satisfied with the death of bin Laden and the destruction of his al-Qaida network. He bombed us and killed our loved ones. Now we kill him and his family. That’s the way war works, for good or bad. But, as I’ve mentioned, Rumsfeld recently stated he’s not sure we can catch bin Laden, who hides in caves and is protected by a ring of supporters the United States has yet to infiltrate.

In addition, according to media reports from The Associated Press, NBC, and The New York Times, we’re not even really winning this new war. Although we far outmatch Afghanistan in military power, the growing number of their civilian casualties is causing U.S. allies to question the bombing campaign, which has failed to break the Taliban’s hold on the country. And now government sources are saying Taliban forces are settling in for the long haul.

At home, the threat of anthrax continues to terrorize postal workers, government officials and media employees; authorities admit their poor handling of the anthrax threat when it first came to light. New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote Sunday, “The Bush team did not fully recognize that a second attack on America had begun until more than a week after the first casualty. The most highly trumpeted breakthrough in the hunt for anthrax terrorists – (Homeland Defense Director) Tom Ridge’s announcement that ‘the site where the letters were mailed’ had been found in New Jersey – proved a dead end. And now the president is back to posing with elementary-school children again.”

In addition, Rich reported of the more than 900 suspects arrested since the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, not a single one has been criminally charged in the attacks.

Despite this, American support and trust in the U.S. government are at a high point. Brought together by fear and anger over the Sept. 11 attacks, Americans have given Bush more than a 90 percent approval rating. While the U.S. public will allow the government’s floundering for awhile, eventually, even those Americans supportive of military strikes will tire from the lack of military successes, and realize the futile nature of a campaign that will never achieve the goal of eradicating terrorism.


Erin Ghere’s column appears alternate Mondays. She welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]