October 8, 2001 | WebMemo on National Security and Defense

America Strikes Back: Looking Ahead

The U.S. air strikes against targets inside Afghanistan are the beginning of the military phase of the campaign against global terrorism. The air strikes inside Afghanistan may continue for days, and military operations to assist rebel forces against the Taliban regime and to find and destroy Bin Laden's network will undoubtedly continue for a long time after that. While success of the military operations inside Afghanistan will be difficult-and success is by no means guaranteed-these operations will not be as arduous as what must happen next. We need to look beyond Afghanistan and to begin thinking about the next phase of the war against global terrorism. As has been said repeatedly by the President and his team, this war cannot be won by merely destroying Bin Laden or the Taliban regime.

Indeed to bring complete victory, we need to finish the job in Afghanistan as soon as possible--ensuring in the process that terrorism does not return to that country-and then move on to the next phase of going after the entire international network of global terrorism, including the states that harbor terrorists.

To achieve these goals, our next steps should be:

  • A pledge of humanitarian aid and other material and diplomatic support to any regime in Afghanistan that forswears terrorism, respects the human rights of its people, and agrees to live in peace with its neighbors.
    Efforts are already underway to rally internal Afghan support around the former Afghan King. Some Americans want the U.S. to throw its political support behind the Northern Alliance. We should be careful in both instances. The U.S. should do all it can militarily to assist any rebel group in the overthrow of the Taliban regime, but it should not throw its political or diplomatic support at this juncture behind any single rebel group, commander or political leader, including the former Afghan King. Instead, we should try to help establish a coalition government that will enjoy widespread political support. Once this government is established, we should give it all the help it needs to sustain itself. We should consider establishing some international oversight authority inside Afghanistan under the auspices of the United Nations, not only to ensure the integrity of channels for international relief efforts but also to monitor and support the new government.
  • Establish a strategy of "sequencing" the war against terrorism.
    President Bush has said many times that we will go after not only the terrorists but also those who harbor them. Clearly countries other than Afghanistan harbor terrorists. We cannot eliminate the safe havens of international terrorists in all states at the same time. Indeed we should look at the war against international terrorism as a series of phases in which we take on one big problem at a time, using as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld calls, "revolving coalitions" to meet our objectives.
  • Couple the issue of international terrorism and rogue states acquiring weapons of mass destruction.
    In deciding the sequence of action against terrorist-supporting states, we should start with those that are developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Terrorism and WMD are a very deadly combination. We should consider any terrorist-supporting country with WMD as posing an unacceptable risk for the security of the United States. At the top of this list is Iraq, which most experts believe is still trying to acquire nuclear weapons. A nuclear-armed Iraq would be a sanctuary not only for Saddam Hussein's evil deeds but any terrorist he may wish to harbor. Any WMD Saddam may develop could either be used directly by him or any terrorist he may wish to support. We should be flexible and imaginative in the means and timetable we use to remove Saddam from power, but we cannot be completely safe from terrorism so long as he controls Iraq.
  • Begin the diplomatic preparations for a campaign to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
    The President needs to make the case that the world could never be safe from international terrorism if Saddam Hussein develops weapons of mass destruction. He should begin an educational campaign showing the consequences of Saddam's acquisition of nuclear weapons for world peace and stability. At the appropriate time, he should begin consultations with key allies in Europe and the Gulf in arranging their support for a campaign to remove Saddam from power. At the same time, work should begin supporting opposition groups that could take over power after Saddam is removed from power. Our policy should be to use any means necessary to remove Saddam from power and create a new government in Baghdad that respects the human rights of its own people, and does not threaten the U.S. or the world with weapons of mass destruction.
  • Begin preparing the ground for the final phase of the campaign against global terrorism.
    The last phase in this sequence-after the Afghan/Bin Laden and Iraq operations are nearly complete--is to put other terrorist-supporting states on notice that they will not escape America's wrath if they continue to support international terrorism. Any terrorist-supporting country that takes immediate concrete and effective steps to stop aiding and abetting terrorists-empty declarations will not do--may be given some time to prove that its reformation is irreversible. But our patience will not be endless; after a reasonable period of time, if we are not convinced that the regime is serious about eliminating terrorism, we will reserve the right to take any action necessary to stop their support for terrorism.

We should be confident that decisive and successful action by the United States against Bin Laden, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein would make a very strong point about the seriousness of U.S. resolve and determination. Such action should make any further U.S. statements against other states harboring terrorists all the more credible. The goal of U.S. policy should be to show countries like Iran, Syria, Sudan and Libya that support for terrorism is not only unproductive and unprofitable, but even potentially dangerous. America need not promise to attack every country supporting terrorism to put them on notice. There are many ways other than force the U.S. can use to help isolate, pressure and even overthrow regimes that continue to support terrorism. But the use of military force should not be ruled out.

Kim Holmes, Ph.D. is Vice President of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies and Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D. Distinguished Fellow
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy