THE UNITED STATES is leading a campaign against Middle Eastern and Central Asian terrorism, not unilaterally fighting a few terrorists. Much of the war is a battle for the allegiance of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims.
Terrorism, historically, works when it provokes responses that spread sympathy for the terrorists. Osama bin Laden always understood this. Now the Bush administration does, too.
Washington obtained a tepid victory Wednesday when the foreign ministers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, representing 56 governments, condemned the Sept. 11 terrorists, but not the U.S. response.
Their statement did worry about military action harming Afghans, and opposed targeting any Islamic state on the pretext of fighting terrorism. Of the 56 regimes, only three have denounced the air raids: Syria, Iraq and Iran.
Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain has been out front selling the cause to Islamic states. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman, among others, are providing bases for the effort. So are Tajikistan and Pakistan, with strings attached. Despite unilateralist talk, the United States could not wage this campaign without such help.
Most vital is Pakistan's air space. Restricting U.S. use of two Pakistani air bases to search and rescue matters less. Pakistan's most vital asset after air space is intelligence that might help hunt down al-Qaida. President Pervez Musharraf's reshuffling of generals makes this more likely, and a coup against himself less so.
Tough U.S. talk about targeting other states appears intended to discourage Iraq from rash adventures. Absent gross provocation, any unilateral U.S. expansion of hostilities would undermine the coalition and increase the burden on U.S. commanders who want to succeed at this one first.
It seems likely that Washington is heeding Pakistan's opposition to putting the Northern Alliance back in control of Afghanistan. Washington may hold off human rights concerns about such allies as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, then emphasize them after al-Qaida has been defeated.
An administration that previously wanted hands off the India-Pakistan and Israel-Palestinian quarrels now needs them resolved. Diplomatic intervention may well include pressure on the friendly governments of India and Israel not to take provocative actions they might find tempting.
Al-Qaida is basically a Saudi-Yemeni-Egyptian revolutionary movement subversive of most Islamic nations. Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto told The Sun's Tom Pelton that it tried to assassinate her.
The coalition's aim is not to conquer Afghans but to liberate them from this foreign tyranny that is financially and militarily intertwined with the domestic Taliban. To this end, helping the United Nations World Food Program avoid a winter starvation catastrophe should be a high-priority U.S. military objective.
As long as the priority is defeating terrorism, the need for allies in the battle is clear.