What kind of war?

Terrorism: American people should expect long, hard slog without showy victories.

September 23, 2001

THE LAST TIME the United States fought a war for the hearts and minds of a distant people, the United States lost Vietnam.

The war that President Bush eloquently warned the American people Thursday night to anticipate is not that one. But it will not be quick or easy.

The greatest advice is coming from allied countries that have endured long struggles with terrorism. No one key turns terrorism off. No single arrest or death ends it.

But if this war is not attractive, neither is it avoidable. The terrorists decided that. Left alone, they would strike again.

So while the peace movement, which will rebound with the first bombing, is not right, it is not entirely wrong. Big bombing attacks may harm the terrorists not at all, but alienate more of the Islamic world into sympathy with them. Good police work is likely to produce more results.

None of this is a secret to the planners in the Bush administration or to Lt. Gen. Charles F. Wald, who has gone to a Saudi Arabian base to command the U.S. air campaign. Afghanistan presents few suitable targets. It has been destroyed many times over, by its rulers and their predecessors.

What more useful damage can our bombs do? Intelligence may identify some. Efforts must be made to avoid harming innocent people. Better to bomb them with wheat and flour. The people are starving, thanks to their rulers, previous rulers and drought.

The real war is for -- here comes that phrase -- the hearts and minds of Islamic peoples in Afghanistan and beyond. We have no quarrel with them. The terrorists would dictate to them in ways that would be hateful to most.

The terrorists represent a tiny strand of Islam that wants it at war with the West, with the East, with Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, secularism and even with modern Islam. U.S. actions should not recruit new adherents to that strand.

The diplomacy of this involves hard choices. To improve relations with India and Pakistan simultaneously is crucial. To warm up to Iran, with which Washington can talk through British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, is desirable.

But Iran has supported Hezbollah in Lebanon, which killed many Americans and is launching suicide bombers at Israel to prevent an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Any war against terrorism is against Hezbollah, too.

War against terrorism must be against Hamas, which flourishes among dispossessed Palestinians with whom the United States is not and should not be at war.

Such a war must stiffen American attitudes toward Sinn Fein in Ireland so long as its terrorist arm, the IRA, refuses to decommission its arms.

None of this should allow pessimism about the war that President Bush has outlined. Most terrorisms fail. Most wars against it succeed in the end. This one will.

But Americans like to see triumphant headlines the day after tomorrow. Mr. Bush said this is not going to be that kind of war. It will be long and sometimes invisible. The important thing during it is that life, with all its joys and rewards, should go on.

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