As President Bush rallies a war-ready American public with talk
of winning a "crusade" against evil, quieter calculations are under
way here over the tremendous risks to US security of waging an all-
out war on terrorism.
The risks - especially of using US ground forces in the Middle
East - range from destabilizing moderate Arab regimes and turning
the region more hostile to America to inciting new terrorist
attacks, possibly with weapons of mass destruction, according to a
rising chorus of experts and former officials.
This is not to mention the grave risk for US soldiers. American
military casualties are almost certain in what US officials
acknowledge will be a long, open-ended campaign against an elusive
enemy capable of continually reinventing itself. Far from the
sanitized bombing of Kosovo in 1999 - or even the 1991 war in the
Persian Gulf - this conflict will require commandos using guerrilla-
"Antiseptic warfare," says Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld,
"will not work with this enemy."
The upshot is that, behind the rhetoric about ridding the world
of "evildoers," the Bush administration must walk a tightrope,
balancing the imperative of fighting terrorists with the risk of
unleashing new threats, these experts say. Key to staying on the
tightrope, they suggest, are a meticulous strategy, prudent
planning, and a crystal-clear mission.
"There is no margin for error," said Ken Duberstein, a former
White House chief of staff, in a television interview Sunday.
Public statements over the past week by top American officials
suggest that the Bush administration is engaged in an intense
internal debate over exactly what the right strategy should be.
The voices vying for Mr. Bush's ear
On one side are the more hawkish calls - mainly from the Pentagon
- for using military force to overturn governments and regimes that
Deputy Secretary of State Paul Wolfowitz, for instance, last week
called for "ending states who sponsor terrorism." Iraqi leader
Saddam Hussein would be a key target for officials such as Mr.
Wolfowitz, who pushed for the United States to take over Baghdad
during the Gulf War.
Critics of this approach point out that the US has not yet
determined which nations were involved in the Sept. 11 attacks or
other terrorist strikes. Without such information, military action
against other countries could constitute a dangerous effort to
"settle old scores," rather than to conduct a targeted
In an apparent effort by the Bush administration to rein in its
most hawkish members, a newspaper report Monday cited unnamed
officials as saying Mr. Wolfowitz had misspoken, and meant to say
the US should end state support for terrorism - not states. …