WASHINGTON, Sept. 16 (JTA) Once again, a President Bush is assembling an international coalition to wage a major war in the Middle East.
But unlike the Persian Gulf War his father led against Iraq a decade ago, President George W. Bush’s proposed “war on terrorism” would take on a group without a clear leadership structure, with cells in numerous countries and without a capital to be subdued.
While military action is likely, such a war also would require a multifaceted attack on terror groups’ leadership and financial infrastructure, the destruction of their training facilities and the deterrence of young people from joining the ranks, terrorism and military experts say.
Experts warn that the process could take years, if not decades, to complete and may require the participation of some of the United States’ current enemies along with all of its allies.
“I think this is going to be a struggle that the United States is going to be involved in for the foreseeable future,” Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It’s going to require constant vigilance on our part to avoid problems in the future, but it’s also going to require a major effort and, obviously, quite possibly the use of military force.”
Shoshana Bryen, a longtime analyst of U.S. strategic and military affairs for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, said she believes this war will be fought in a new way.
“An assassination policy won’t do it for you,” Bryen said. “If you cut off the head of the snake, you haven’t killed the snake.”
In the Persian Gulf War, a concerted air attack on Iraq and 100 hours of ground attacks led Saddam Hussein to retreat.
But with terrorist forces it is nearly impossible to determine when the opponent has surrendered, or who will rise to replace fallen “martyrs.”
The Bush administration has identified Osama bin Laden as the key suspect in last week’s attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington. The Saudi-born billionaire, who also has been linked to the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan.
Bin Laden’s network may be the first target of the anti-terror coalition, but it is just one of many networks operating in the world. Bush administration officials spoke this weekend of a complex web of terrorist organizations that work together and feed off each other.
James Lindsay, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that while defeating a country is like healing a broken bone, defeating terrorism is more like treating a chronic illness. The battle is long and involved and must focus on minimizing danger and any immediate threat, rather than eradicating them fully.
“You have this problem, and your job is to as best as you can fight this invader, which is clever and will adapt and probe your weakest parts,” Lindsay said.
Congress has given Bush the authority to take actions against any person or organization responsible for the Sept. 11 attack. Those actions, experts say, will take a long time.
“Once we announce that we are having a war, and we implement certain steps,” the terrorists “are going to take steps to thwart us,” Bryen said. “They will take steps, and they are very well-organized, and they have a strategic goal.”
One step the United States is likely to take will be freezing the financial assets of terrorist groups. Many terror cells have supporters in major democracies who send funds. Shutting off that cash flow, experts say, will be important in eliminating the terror threat.
Bryen said she believes great pressure will be required to convince countries to get their banking systems to freeze terrorists’ assets.
It also will be a top priority to stop the terrorist organizations’ recruitment and training efforts.
Jerrold Post, a professor of psychiatry and international affairs at George Washington University, said psychological tactics will also be pivotal.
A chief objective will be to prevent young people from entering terrorism cells, creating tensions within the group and offering amnesty for members who want to leave but who fear criminal prosecution.
“This is a war for minds, that’s what terrorism is,” Post said. “The way to counter psychological warfare is not with delta forces, it is with psychological forces.”
The war against terrorism will require the cooperation or at least lack of opposition from some countries the United States is not used to courting. That includes Pakistan, which has agreed to help on condition that Israel and India not be part of the multinational effort.
It also may include Iran and Syria, two countries on the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization List.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said he understood the “mixed relationship” the United States has had with these countries, but a department spokesman said Powell sees an opportunity for them to abandon their support for terrorism.
“It’s a basis for turning the page,” the spokesman said. “If we can get them to buy into this simple proposition, the whole world has gained something.”
Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat also has pledged support for the anti-terror coalition. While the United States appreciates the gesture, it angers Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Speaking in a conference call Friday to American Jewish leaders, he said that the American-led coalition against terror also should target the “terror organization which is led by Yasser Arafat.”
“I fear there is an attempt to draw distinctions between terror against Israel and terror against the rest of the world,” said Sharon, who holds Arafat accountable for the numerous Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israel in the past year. “There is no good terror and bad terror.”