War Measured


If September 11 was this generation's Pearl Harbor, the Bush Administration's war on terrorism is still in early 1942, when the news from the front was bad, and the home front was panicky and confused. Now the instant-gratification warriors of the press are rushing in to turn things around. Columnists William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer grumble that the Administration is operating under too many constraints. Impatience with the air campaign has sparked calls by the Sunday morning punditocracy to send in substantial ground troops beyond the small contingent already there. Senator John McCain calls for B-52 carpet-bombing. Polls show a rising number of Americans doubt the war on terrorism will succeed.

Our concern is less about fine points of military strategy than about the possibility that the human and political costs of the war might outweigh any gains in national security and undermine America's moral credibility in the fight against the perpetrators of September 11. The bombing campaign may or may not be militarily effective--who knows, since our only information comes from the Pentagon and Al Jazeera--but civilian casualties are eroding support among coalition allies. TV pictures of devastated neighborhoods and wounded civilians fuel anger against America throughout the Arab and Muslim world and provide rallying cries for extremists, who could destabilize fragile governments in Pakistan, Indonesia and elsewhere. Sketchy reports from inside Afghanistan suggest that the bombing is turning people's loyalty back to the Taliban--making more difficult any covert operations aimed at capturing the "Evil One." It has sent waves of humanity to huddle on Pakistan's closed borders. As winter sets in, as many as 5 million face dire food shortages.

At home, Congress passes a counterterrorism bill "without deliberation and debate," according to Senator Russ Feingold, the lone senator who cast a historic vote against the ill-named PATRIOT Act. …

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