Magazine article Newsweek International

The Real World of Foreign Policy

Magazine article Newsweek International

The Real World of Foreign Policy

Article excerpt

If you read Washington's newspapers and magazines these days, you'd think that we have just passed the D-Day of this war. Pundits, editorialists and television commentators are busy mapping out our strategy for the war on terrorism after we have defeated Al Qaeda. With that small matter taken care of, the armchair generals urge that we quickly move to overthrow the governments of Iraq, then Syria, then Iran and then perhaps Libya if we're still in the mood. It would be as if the week after Pearl Harbor, Americans sat down to plot whom to take on once America had disposed of Japan and Germany.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration is beginning the long, hard process of fighting Al Qaeda, the shadowy network that has been behind almost every attack on American citizens in the last decade. It is trying to find an effective military response to the barbarism of Sept. 11. It is constructing a coalition that will root out and destroy Al Qaeda and its many branches. And it is trying to ensure that the short-term goal of the strike does not impair the long-term war by fracturing the alliance. This is an immense challenge, and one the administration is handling superbly. But in doing so it is already being criticized for neglecting its cardinal duty to destroy Saddam Hussein. Even more offensive to its critics is the fact that it's engaging in diplomacy.

The notion that the military strikes against the Taliban will be easy is absurd. We could, of course, strike at empty camps, declare victory and go home. But this will fool no one. The kind of serious operation that has a chance of real success is likely to be risky. The record on these missions is daunting, from Nixon's Son Tay raid to Ford's Mayaguez operation to Carter's Desert One fiasco to the Bush/Clinton misadventure in Somalia. The administration is right to take its time, gather all the intelligence and strike hard and smart. Success, not speed, is what counts.

The biggest part of this war effort is diplomatic. As everyone from George W. Bush to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledges, the crucial dimensions of the struggle are covert operations, intelligence gathering and police work. All of this requires the active cooperation of many other governments. U.S. Marines cannot go into Hamburg and arrest suspects. We cannot shut down banks in the United Arab Emirates. We cannot get intelligence from Russia except if the Russians share it with us. It's all very well to target states like Syria that harbor terrorists, but Al Qaeda has been smart enough to set up most of its bases in states that harbor them involuntarily, like Germany, Britain, France and even the United States. …

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