Mon, 17 Sep 2001

America's war

Shock turned to grief. Grief turned to rage. And rage turned to sorrow. On the official day of mourning on Friday, Americans momentarily found solace and consolation in their prayers. Now, six days after last week's devastating attacks in New York and Washington, America is ready to avenge.

But as America beats the drums of war, it is worth reminding that any retaliatory attack, against whatever targets, should be driven more by common sense and less by the anger that still prevails, in spite of all those prayers, particularly among those who are crafting America's war strategy. Any U.S. response, in short, should be measured and thoroughly calculated.

The U.S administration may have secured widespread support, both domestically and internationally, in its plan to lead the war against international terrorist organizations. But it still has to act in accordance with international laws governing war. And ultimately, it still has to account for all its actions.

At home, the American public is clearly behind the government's campaign to act decisively against international terrorism. Congress has not only given President George W. Bush a free hand to wage this war, but it has also provided US$40 billion in funding for the campaign. The U.S. military has also called up all reserves to prepare for a massive and possibly long campaign.

Abroad, most countries in the world were so appalled by last week's heinous crimes that it took little time for Washington to secure their support for its campaign. Many countries, including Indonesia, have even offered to cooperate in this endeavor.

But what precisely is the nature of this war against terrorist organizations? Even U.S. officials have admitted that this is going to be a very different kind of war.

Terrorist organizations know no state boundaries. They are almost, but not totally, invincible. They could be anywhere, and as investigations have found, some of the perpetrators of the attacks were long-time residents of the United States and Germany.

The question goes back to what kind of military offensive does the United States have in mind as it reviews its options in launching the campaign. A more important question to answer is how far is the United States prepared to go in this campaign?

President Bush has made it clear that the target for America's reprisals will not only be the terrorist organizations, but also governments, or countries, which have hosted their activities and headquarters. With all the investigations of last week's attacks pointing the finger at Saudi-born Osama bin Laden and his terrorist organization, Afghanistan becomes the foremost target for any first U.S. offensive.

U.S. government officials have made it clear that this is going to be a long, drawn-out war. Their target is not only to sweep away terrorist organizations, but also to bring down governments that have helped, or harbored, their activities. This suggests that there are other countries besides Afghanistan that will feel the brunt of America's anger.

Afghanistan, as one of the world's poorest countries, is not likely to put up any significant resistance to any massive U.S. bombing campaign. Other countries that may be on the U.S. list of targets will find it equally hard to fight against the U.S military might.

Would bombing Afghanistan or other countries really bring the terrorist organizations to their knees? We just have to wait and see. A bombing campaign would probably cripple countries and even bring down governments, but it would almost definitely mean casualties among innocent civilians. This is one aspect that has rarely been raised as U.S. officials argue their way to win international approval for their war.

All told, ultimately, any war against terrorism must be carefully planned and fully calculated. International support for the U.S.-led campaign did not come without a caveat: that casualties among civilians, which are probably inevitable, must be kept to the minimum.

Following the revulsion that came with watching the horrific scenes of last week's attacks in New York and Washington, the world is not quite ready to witness another round of grisly killing of innocent civilians, anywhere in the world. If that should happen, then this becomes solely America's war, and the rest of the world will have no part in it.