A SUCCESSFUL terrorist does not need to win. He has to survive, or pass on the torch. His aim is to provoke actions that alienate others into his camp. He recruits more terrorists by provoking his enemies into doing that.
Most attempts at reigns of terror fail, but not in a dramatic trail of smoke. They are squeezed, and peter out. But some grow, and some prevail. It is easier to notice what governments did wrong than what they did right in fighting these movements.
Russia was going to root out terrorism with big actions in Chechnya. They backfired. Britain used great skill against the IRA, but wound up recruiting two IRA volunteers for every one put away. Israel's responses to terror, to reassure Israelis, provoke more Palestinians into despair and terror.
For the United States to defeat the amorphous, hidden enemy that struck at American society requires resolution, tenacity, perseverance and, above all, a great deal of scrutiny. It requires understanding these particular terrorists' motives, methods and habits.
Effective eradicators put themselves in terrorists' shoes and try to think as their adversaries do, to anticipate and get there first. A big bang is usually beside the point.
That is why Lord Robertson, the British secretary-general of NATO, said: "The mad creatures who committed these terrible crimes this week may have hoped to provoke us into mindless revenge in order to create even more devastation. They are wrong."
And why French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said, "We are not at war against Islam or the Arab-Muslim world."
There is no "clash of civilization" here. There is a clash within Islamic civilization. Osama bin Laden's chief agenda is revolution in Saudi Arabia. He wants to eliminate American influence and purify the society to his notions. For Islamic Jihad, roughly the same applies about Egypt. Algeria's Armed Islamic Group fights a secular regime and population. The Taliban's agenda is Afghan.
All of them adopt the extremist Hamas-Hezbollah ideology against Israel's existence and use that to whip up common cause within the Arab-Islamic world. Some wreakers of Tuesday's devastation may have been motivated chiefly by U.S. support for Israel.
The Bush administration's rhetoric, call-ups and actions put pressure on regimes harboring extremist movements to stop looking the other way. That could make them clamp down and cough up fugitives. The goal is not just to catch bin Laden but to dismantle his al Qaeda network.
The aim should be to drive wedges between terrorists and the mainstream of Islamic societies, and to avoid driving more people into the extremists' arms.
This requires cleverness, not just power, and a good knowledge of the Islamic nations. It calls for dedication, patience, determination and a long attention span.
With that, the Bush administration's resolution can make this a safer and better world.