The war will go on

No triumph: Eradicating terrorism requires a long time, many means and never knowing when it's done.

November 30, 2001

REGARDLESS of whether Kandahar falls soon by negotiation or later after fearful street-fighting, some objectives of the war in Afghanistan are coming into view.

The Taliban is removed as the governing authority.

Al-Qaida is on the run.

Osama bin Laden may be found soon, or never.

But the notion of a quick triumph is illusory.

Fortified villages like Spin Boldak and such cave warren fortresses as Tora Bora may hold out for a long time.

Neither will social peace come soon. The dominant position of the Northern Alliance on the ground bodes ill for sharing power gracefully with fragmented rivals.

President Bush's prognosis for a long war should be remembered. The military side is a small part. There may or may not be more of that, elsewhere.

Bombing is getting smarter, but there cannot be wars without casualties. Popular satisfaction with this one will diminish as they pile up. That the first American life lost in Afghanistan combat was a CIA officer is testimony to what kind of war this is.

The nonmilitary war is somewhat observable, in Germany's arrest of an alleged al-Qaida money handler, in Spain's arrest of suspects, in Pakistan's interrogation of nuclear scientists who visited bin Laden, in the indictment by an Arizona grand jury of an Algerian held in London.

Al-Qaida's cells and tentacles are still out there. The most controversial features of the administration's war policy, military tribunals and massive detentions, are meant to roll them up. The U.S. citizen has no way to know if these measures are working, held in abeyance or being abused.

The greatest success would be to turn off state support of international terrorism by diplomatic means -- with economic and military intimidation implied -- which might never be visible. It calls for governments to reverse policies they never admitted pursuing.

This is partly achieved in the cooperation given by Pakistan, which had created terrorist training sites in Afghanistan, and by Saudi Arabia, which allowed funds to reach dangerous malcontents if they stayed far away.

Sudan may have switched sides early this year when its military strongman jailed his theological adviser-terrorism strategist. Syria, with a change in generational leadership, is still suspect.

Washington has old scores to settle with Iraq and North Korea, but these stem from ongoing relationships, not the president's description of the newly identified enemy.

The trickiest quarry is Iran, which experts identify as the foremost state sponsor of terrorism. Iran is playing a good-cop, bad-cop game with the West. (President Mohammad Khatami plays the former and spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei the latter.) What's needed is not a visible diplomatic rapprochement, but an end to aid that Ayatollah Khamenei angrily denies providing.

Such would be the principal victories in this war.

Alienating more of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims into the arms of the extremist fringe would be the defeats.

Bombing cave mouths with precision is the easy part.

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