I wrote this essay in the first few days after the September 11 attacks. I submitted it for publication on September 16. I decided not to rewrite this or submit it elsewhere. It remains a time capsule for my anger and determination to win in reaction to the brutal assault on our people.
September 11, 2001. America has been attacked with an onslaught that rejects our very existence as a free nation. And not just us, but the entire West was attacked by the terrorists who seized four commercial planes and succeeded in attacking two symbols of American power. Not just symbolically, but in the nationalities of the victims, the whole world was attacked.
Although America has been fighting for some time in a low-level conflict against terrorism, the damage that was inflicted upon us prior to September 11th had not roused us to more than momentary anger. In the shadows we pursued our enemies but with stringent limits on what we would do that minimized the impact of our actions. We had important defensive successes, but gaining the initiative was impossible given our self-imposed restraint. Our military reacted on occasion but these isolated strikes did little but symbolize that we would not simply take the punishment. The retaliatory strikes were never the start of a real war to defeat the enemy.
That has all changed with the shock of a devastating terrorist strike that in psychological effect was the equivalent of a weapon of mass destruction. We even call the site of the World Trade Center "ground zero." Civilization's War has begun in earnest. The war will be challenging to wage because the foe is complicated. America has many means, however, to fight the war; and we must be aware of the utility of all aspects of our power.
The war America is embarking on will be fought on several fronts. Part will be quietly carried out and some aspects will be open. All avenues must complement the others. This will be necessary because the enemy is bifurcated. One part, the main enemy, is the amorphous network of terrorists bound together by their hatred for the United States. It is incomprehensible to them that a just God would grant such material, cultural, and military power to a nation the terrorists regard as corrupt and evil. The second part is composed of the states that in one degree or another, from hosting or rhetorical support to active planning and action, support the primary enemy. Each facet of the enemy demands a different approach and the various instruments of our power must be used precisely to achieve our objectives. No mere lashing out blindly will bring us victory.
The Elements of Our War Effort
The first aspect of our fight is diplomatic. Diplomacy must shore up allied support to carry out all the operations we must organize. We need bases, information, and military and political assistance. Yes, we are powerful, but we have friends who we need to stand in the front ranks too. Our diplomacy must also tear away as many of the host states from supporting terrorists as is possible. Let us not be indiscriminate in our treatment of those states sympathetic to the terrorists or their grievances. That sympathy can never be used to justify mass murder and we should not, but their sympathy does not mean they support mass murder. Some states with minimal involvement should not be pushed by our rash attacks into full hostility. They may have been guilty in the past of heinous crimes; but if today, out of fear, a change of heart, or weariness, a government wishes to completely halt its support for terrorists, we should give that government the chance to aid us. In time, we can push for further justice from these states that "see the light" if they are sincere in siding with the West. We must avoid the mentality of forcing states to either be "for us" or "against us." This will be difficult in our just rage at the inhumanely awful crime that we endured. If we insist on this distinction, too many may conclude they must be against us if we demand unquestioning allegiance. We are the only superpower but we are not more powerful than the entire world combined. Would it really be better to push Pakistan too far and have Taliban sympathizers seize control of that nuclear-armed state? It is better to have some help freely given.
We must instead reward those who help us in proportion to their aid; and act against those who thwart us, perhaps with only economic penalties, in proportion to their opposition. We will of course remember those who help us fully; but we must accept lesser help with gratitude if it is all that can be offered. We will of course remember those who oppose us, but we must not apply overwhelming military force against any degree of resistance. Only those who brazenly and actively fight us should be taken down by our full might. This approach will add to our strength and allow us to destroy the hard core of enemies who will not bend to reason, guilt, or fear. By taking such measured actions we will isolate the battlefield and keep the war from spinning out of control.
Intelligence and covert operations are the first line of active defense and the first echelon of attack. The aerial suicide attacks on our people and the symbols of our power took enormous amounts of time to carry out. This is one weakness of our enemy. While they may carry out small attacks using small arms or small bombs at a moment's notice, truly horrific attacks require time because they must be planned in the shadows to avoid detection. We must increase our ability to detect such preparations and make sure the information is interpreted to provide timely and specific warnings. Then, the people who need this information must actually get the warning in time to take actions.
More importantly, we must exploit the fact that these attacks take time to organize. Intelligence must track the enemy terror cells in order to strike the enemy and disrupt them by keeping them on the move and by killing or arresting their operatives. We must sow confusion and paranoia in their ranks to slow them down and get them to fight each other. Our ability to use so many weapons is one advantage of being a powerful state. We may be a large target but we are not a helpless giant. America can direct precise or massive force quickly and globally as needed. Keeping the initiative is crucial. This will compel our enemies to start their preparation from scratch again and again. Giving the enemy time to prepare only guarantees that eventually they will be ready and will strike.
Our intelligence services must also preserve allies against anti-American coups and look for opportunities to help domestic enemies of hostile regimes to overthrow those governments. This serves to isolate the terrorists and prevent surprises that will harm our war effort.
Rule of Law
The criminal justice system has a role in this war as well. Although we now wage war, the military and militarized components are not the only means of fighting. If we can arrest and try anyone involved, especially those found on our shores, we demonstrate we are a nation of laws even in dire times. We will stand proudly showing our enemies that they cannot turn our society into a mirror image of their hate-inspired world. Although arresting terrorists should not be the priority, for this is a war; when we do catch them we should not treat them as warriors or prisoners of war, but deal with them as mere criminals. Arresting, trying, and imprisoning the terrorists like common criminals will be demoralizing to many zealots who imagine themselves going down in glory battling the "forces of evil" embodied by the United States. There is little glamour in being represented by a court-appointed attorney in a prosecution for criminal acts, and this humiliating end will dishearten all but the most committed suicide bomber.
Civil defense must guard against those enemies that breach our defenses. Part must be visible in order to reassure Americans that the war that will often be quietly carried out is ongoing. The visible measures will also deter the less committed bin Laden sympathizer and will guard against opportunists who may choose to strike for reasons unrelated to the war. These domestic terrorists may have personal vendettas or political objectives they believe can be advanced in the confusion of war. Much security will be behind the scenes and invisible. Heightened domestic security must be vigilant but also consistent with our liberties and freedom. We will face tradeoffs between security and liberties and any sacrifice of our liberties must only be taken after sober reflection and debate and only for temporary periods of time. As horrible as our losses were on September 11th, far more Americans, going back to Bunker Hill, sacrificed their lives to create and then defend these freedoms and values. Selective enhanced security measures localized by geography and time to respond to reasonable suspicions or actual threats may be more appropriate than a constant uniformly maintained bunker mentality that cannot in any case be maintained indefinitely. We do not expect our entire military to maintain Threat Condition Delta indefinitely and still remain effective, and civilian society cannot do that either and still function. Hostage rescue teams and special weapons and tactics teams from civilian police forces will be needed more than ever as will good local police work bolstered by the FBI and alerted by national intelligence agencies. Rapid and effective reaction by federal, state, and local health and disaster relief services must be enhanced to minimize the effects of strikes that do get through.
Above all, vigilance must not degenerate into paranoia. We must trust that our Moslem and Arab neighbors share our values. They or their parents or grandparents immigrated to America because they too cherish our freedoms and way of life. Like most Americans, they are here because someone in their family fled poverty, oppression, or both, to build a better life for their children. They are horrified and angry like all Americans. "They" are our friends and neighbors and are part of "us." Some, whether citizens or residents, will be guilty of cooperating with the enemy or even actively fighting us. This is not new. Fascism and communism had their admirers here even in our darkest hours during those fights. Those betrayers were guilty as individuals and not as members of any religion or ethnic group. Let us not descend into the logic of our enemies that the perceived or actual guilt of one condemns all similar innocents. Our enemies will have won the war in a fundamental and lasting way if we become like the terrorists even as we physically destroy our terrorist enemy.
Our Terrible Swift Sword
Units of the United States Special Operations Command, fighting unconventionally as they are trained, will stand at the sharp end and bear the brunt of our sustained offensive against the terrorists. Composed of our own fiercest warriors in the various branches of the Armed Forces, these units can seek out our enemies on the ground in other countries with or without the cooperation of those states. Our vast array of special operations units can come from the sea, air, or ground to stealthily strike in raids or identify targets for other elements of the Armed Forces. Fighting on the ground in small numbers backed by special operations aircraft, helicopters, and gunships, they can wreak havoc and inspire fear. At the high end of the special operations spectrum, we could drop an entire Ranger regiment if we discover a location of a group that has holed up somewhere and has resolved to die in place fighting. Such an airborne attack could also be used to secure sites that might have weapons of mass destruction or the means to produce or assemble them. Special operations forces will also be needed to free hostages or defend embassies or Americans overseas under attack in this ongoing war. Just because we have resolved to go on the offensive does not mean our enemies will sit passively awaiting inevitable defeat. They believe they will win this war and will continue to try and strike us. They will hurt us again.
The Weapon of Last Resort
Conventional military power, although not the main weapon in this war, is the hammer that backs up everything else. First and foremost it will deter active state opposition by those who would prefer to help our enemies. If we cannot gain their active cooperation we can at least make them fear fighting us. Deterrence will also keep enemies from taking advantage of our fight against terrorism by striking conventionally against our allies. North Korea and Iraq must be made very aware that most of our conventional power remains uncommitted and ready to defend our interests the old-fashioned way on the battlefield. We do not want our war to spiral out of control and keeping existing state enemies quiet will advance this goal.
Second, conventional forces can strike fixed targets to destroy terrorist infrastructure and punish supporters of our terrorist enemies. Our superb air power excels at precision strike anywhere in the world and this capability will be used repeatedly although not constantly. Such conventional aerial campaigns could also serve to pin a hostile state's military in place and allow our special operations forces to move and strike freely against the terrorists seeking refuge in that state's territory. Conventional forces will also be able to conduct rescue operations to extract special forces or intelligence assets if overwhelming enemy conventional forces attacks them. Army airborne or Marine forces backed by Air Force, Navy, and Marine air power can establish temporary airheads or beachheads to rescue our people and assets. The Marines will also be called upon to defend isolated American embassies abroad against attack and hold until help arrives.
Ultimately, American conventional military power can be used to defeat and occupy a state that decides to wholeheartedly fight us in defense of the terrorists. Rapidly and decisively winning such campaigns so that our forces can withdraw and regroup to continue their deterrent role and prepare for future conventional battles will be necessary. We will need allies to police these conquered states to hold the gains. The war against terrorism has not made conventional forces obsolete.
Even nuclear weapons may have a place in this war. The strike against the World Trade Center killed as many as we might have expected a weapon of mass destruction to inflict. If bin Laden and his cohorts retreat into a mountain redoubt in a corner of Afghanistan, we must seriously consider the option of bringing down the mountain on top of him. Will we risk untold casualties to go in and dig him out with infantry? Will precision conventional weapons suffice? Will we allow him to live and escape retribution, even cut off in the depths of the Earth? Some type of nuclear device, in an area desolate enough to preclude civilian deaths, may be the only way to end his career. It is common already to call September 11, 2001, this generation's Pearl Harbor. After the actual Pearl Harbor, America eventually used nuclear weapons to end the war and preclude a devastating and bloody ground invasion. While I hope we will never need to resort to such horrible weapons, once again a terrible war has been thrust upon us and we must not lose. Our enemies must fear what we will do to them more than we fear what they can do to us.
We cannot reason with our terrorist enemy and should seek to destroy them all. Although America must be ruthless in pursuing the terrorists and killing them we cannot smash about blindly in our rage, killing innocents and neutrals in the process. Indiscriminate carnage will recruit more terrorist enemies. We should be ruthless across the entire conflict spectrum as appropriate, from covert operations, to special operations missions, to large-scale conventional operations. As the saying goes, not every problem is a nail so not every tool is a hammer. America has many tools to fight terrorism and each has its place and time.
Fighting the states that have supported terrorism is another matter. They must not be treated the same as the terrorists. The goal with these states is not to destroy them but to prevent them from supporting the terrorists. Destroying such states should only be an option when we cannot persuade them by other means to end their support for terrorism. Just as ruthlessness is the proper mindset for going after the terrorists, cool reasoning is the proper state of mind for dealing with the supporting states. Making these states neutral or friendly will help dry up the terrorist recruiting pool and cripple the infrastructure that supports them. Terrorism is the main enemy and an emphasis on fighting the supporting states is a potential distraction.
Americans have proven already in the skies over Pennsylvania that we have the spirit to fight back. Now, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, wielding the best weapons American industry can produce, will follow them with the full backing of the American people. Our terrorist enemy is not the first to believe Americans lack the will to do what it takes to win. Bin Laden and his cohorts and allies are lucky that their souls are in the hands of a merciful God, for their lives are in the hands of a people who will not rest until they are smashed. We must be smart, patient, and tough to win this war.
And we will win. Operation Noble Eagle is just the beginning.