The sobering prospects of war

Outside editorials

Posted: Friday, October 26, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's Chicago Tribune:

The Bush administration made it crystal clear from the start of the U.S.-led war against terrorism that this would be a long, complex and costly effort. It surely will.

Vice President Dick Cheney, who has delivered some of the administration's more somber public pronouncements, warned last week that many security changes wrought in people's lives - to guard against terror threatened from abroad or on the homefront - are "permanent, at least in the lifetime of most of us."

This is a broad battlefront involving military, financial, diplomatic and intelligence measures across the globe. We are not fortunate enough this time to have the luxury of a neatly contained, relatively short campaign like the 1991 Persian Gulf War to oust Iraq from Kuwait.

There seems to be some impatience creeping into the public's mood over the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan to oust the Taliban and destroy the Al Qaeda network led by Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden. There is, understandably, concern about mounting civilian casualties from U.S. bombs.

So let's review the bidding. Several thousand people were murdered on U.S. soil on Sept. 11. The perpetrators have essentially claimed credit - and threatened new attacks. The United States is now defending its citizens. This will involve eradicating the Al Qaeda network and the government that harbored it - and getting bin Laden.

War doesn't take month-long vacations. The calls by many for the United States to suspend assaults during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in November will go unheeded - unless Bush determines it is in the U.S. strategic interest to do so. This nation is not concerned about offending the tender sensibilities of terrorists by postponing their elimination until after a religious holiday. The United States does, however, have a strategic interest in maintaining the support of its Arab allies and the stability of those regimes. This is of particular concern in Pakistan.

The United States should be, and we assume is, attempting to limit collateral damage to civilians. The difference is, it is U.S. policy to avoid civilians, not target them. This will not be a painless effort for anyone, including Afghans. When it is done, there will be ample time for rebuilding Afghanistan.

Just as critical as rebuilding assistance will be the establishment of a government to oversee it. There is a critical effort under way to get regional leaders and Afghans to agree on a broad-based government, representing all major tribes and ethnic groups, to be ready to step in and replace the Taliban once it falls.

But first, there is the war.

That will take ground troops, probably soon. People in this nation need to prepare themselves for the risk and realities of what comes next.

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