The Right Response


The decision by the United States to launch air strikes against targets inAfghanistan is the right response to the terrorist attacks that killed somany innocent civilians on September 11. It is no small matter to take theAmerican republic into war, but a failure to respond to such an outragewould have led Osama bin Laden and his followers to assume that they couldkill more innocents with impunity. A crucial responsibility of the federalgovernment under the Constitution is to defend the American people fromforeign enemies.

President Bush has indicated that the air strikes are merely the first stageof the U.S. response. It is imperative that this be so. Cruise missilelaunches and bombing raids alone will not root out Bin Laden's Al-Qaedanetwork or destabilize Afghanistan's extremist Taliban regime. Only afollow up campaign using ground forces can hope to accomplish those goals.

The Bush administration wisely seems to be resisting the pressure exerted byother members of the international coalition not to go after the Talibangovernment. 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 factionshave maintained an odious symbiotic relationship. At the very least, theTaliban 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 ofa subsequent wider war. They have reserved the right to take action againstother movements and regimes if there is evidence of their culpability in theterrorist atrocities against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Atthe same time, the administration has not adopted the advice of some hawkishpundits to attack an assortment of countries merely because they have beenhostile to the United States. Such a wider war is, at the very least,premature. It would risk transforming the conflict into a holy war betweenthe U.S.-led West and the Islamic world, and that is a risk we should notincur lightly.

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

Ted Galen Carpenter

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