“To Prevent and Deter”
International Terrorism: The U.S.
Response to the Kenya and
Tanzania Embassy Bombings
WILLIAM C. BANKS
On August 7, 1998 President Clinton received a pre-dawn wake-up call from National Security Adviser Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger, informing him of terrorist attacks on the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. On August 20, retaliatory strikes were launched at targets in Sudan and Afghanistan. The strikes were the product of a tightly controlled decision process, by a handful of officials. Although the United States acted quickly and firmly, questions and criticisms arose early on. What was the decision process? Was the decision to respond with military force effective? Were the strikes lawful? Will the strikes serve the purpose of deterring further acts of international terrorism?
When the United States declined to respond militarily to the 1996 terrorist murder of nineteen American soldiers at Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, it was said that our nation’s scruples—the need to find convincing proof of who committed an attack before acting against the perpetrators—only served to make us vulnerable to more terrorist attacks. “The message being sent all over the world is that we’re vulnerable, and our allies are vulnerable,” opined Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “That won’t be solved by more conferences and more gates, but serious thought about how you retaliate and punish.”’ Some suggested that America’s threats to retaliate lack credibility because American standards of evidence are too high for this kind of fight.
Still, as former director of counterterrorism William E. Odom opined, “Terrorism at home is a crime; terrorism abroad is war.” And if war is thrust upon us, he says, “why not act militarily?”2 However, what kind of war is it, where cultural or religious fury replaces political and strategic