Commentary

The Right Response

The decision by the United States to launch air strikes against targets in Afghanistan is the right response to the terrorist attacks that killed so many innocent civilians on September 11. It is no small matter to take the American republic into war, but a failure to respond to such an outrage would have led Osama bin Laden and his followers to assume that they could kill more innocents with impunity. A crucial responsibility of the federal government under the Constitution is to defend the American people from foreign enemies.

President Bush has indicated that the air strikes are merely the first stage of the U.S. response. It is imperative that this be so. Cruise missile launches and bombing raids alone will not root out Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network or destabilize Afghanistan’s extremist Taliban regime. Only a follow up campaign using ground forces can hope to accomplish those goals.

The Bush administration wisely seems to be resisting the pressure exerted by other members of the international coalition not to go after the Taliban government. It should be a goal of U.S. policy to bring down that regime. The Taliban has given Bin Laden sanctuary for years, and the two factions have maintained an odious symbiotic relationship. At the very least, the Taliban was a passive accomplice in the September 11 attacks and, therefore, deserves to meet the same fate as Al-Qaeda.

Administration leaders have also struck the correct balance on the issue of a subsequent wider war. They have reserved the right to take action against other movements and regimes if there is evidence of their culpability in the terrorist atrocities against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. At the same time, the administration has not adopted the advice of some hawkish pundits to attack an assortment of countries merely because they have been hostile to the United States. Such a wider war is, at the very least, premature. It would risk transforming the conflict into a holy war between the U.S.-led West and the Islamic world, and that is a risk we should not incur lightly.

Thus far, the administration has handled an extremely difficult challenge well. The war effort in Afghanistan deserves the full support of the American people.

Ted Galen Carpenter is Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute.