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Historically Speaking November 2001 David Kaiser No Clear Lessons from the Past On December 8, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt labeled the attack on Pearl Harbor a "day that will live in infamy," and Congress declared war on Japan. Three days later the United States was at war with Germany. Three years and nine months later, with about 300,000 young Americans dead, our enemies were entirely defeated, and the creation of a new world began. The destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon may have had a similar emotional impact upon the American people, but the task of eliminating the threats posed by terrorism makes the Second World War seem almost simple by comparison. It is most unlikely that we will suffer 300,000 people killed over the next four years, but it is equally unlikely that we will have eliminated terrorism by then either. Although the United States seemed woefully unprepared when the Second World War broke out—all the more so since the Pacific fleet had been crippled— both the problem we faced and the eventual solution were already quite clear. As Churchill put it in his memoirs, the new coalition of the Soviet Union, Britain and the United States had many times the combined resources of Germany, Italy, and Japan, and the eventual destruction of the Axis was only a matter of production, mobilization, and deployment—that is, of time. We understood both the threat—the Axis military forces—and the appropriate response—the eventual conquest of two medium-sized countries, Germany and Japan. Despite many further reverses during 1942, the allies rapidly achieved superiority and reached their objectives. Comparisons between September 11 and Pearl Harbor—focusing on America's unpreparedness and the emotional shock felt by the nation—have already become commonplace. Beyond that, however, this historical analogy offers little guidance. The threat is not a purely military one, nor can it be easily dealt widi by military means. Apparently, the threat is a large, welltrained organization—allied to other similar organizations—based in a remote and unfriendly country, but living everywhere and nowhere. Osama bin Laden has made clear that he wants to eliminate American influence, and the regimes that depend on it, from the Middle East. His weapon is not traditional war, but terror. Ideally, terrorists represent a problem for law enforcement rather than the military, but law enforcement agencies in various Middle Eastern countries allow them to operate— some from ideological sympathy and some out of fear. In theory, that deprives these governments of all legitimacy and makes them enemies of the United States. In practice, it may make the problem we face insoluble for many years to come. World reaction suggests that the United States can now build a broad coalition designed to make it impossible for organized terrorism to operate anywhere— a coalition including not only Western Europe and our Asian allies, but also Russia and other former Soviet States, which have already been victims of terrorism themselves . Arab states such as Egypt and Algeria, well accustomed to terrorist threats, also seem willing to participate. But even if we set aside Iraq, the full cooperation of the predominantly Muslim nations is highly unlikely. Although we now have a right and a duty to strike at any perpetrators we can identify, it seems to me far from certain that the kind of precision strikes in which the American military now specializes will be able to destroy Osama bin Laden, much less his organization, within Afghanistan. That country is very large—approximately 1000 by 400 miles of mostly mountainous terrain—and has a population ofmore than twenty million people. The Soviet Union had no success operating there; can our army expect much more? Can we really commit the resources necessary to establish law and order in a hostile country in which Muslim fundamentalists are the strongest political force? Can we conquer Iraq, which the Bush administration clearly suspects of complicity, at the same time? Is the western world prepared to re-occupy large portions of the Middle East for decades to come? And there are further concerns. Bin Laden and his associates could flee to a neighboring country...