The Rising East


Sunday, September 23, 2001

With terrorists,
there’s no talk, no trust
and no compromise

Remember 9-11-01

A PLAINTIVE phone call from a friend brought up an incisive question: "What do these terrorists want? Why can't we sit down with them, find out what they want, and see if we can't come to some kind of compromise?"

It was a reasonable question and reflected the approach of good Americans, a plea being heard all over the country that could be summed up: "Come, let us reason together." But when one cuts away all the pretty words and gets down to the hard core, the inevitable answer must be that America is in no position to give the terrorists what they want. They, in turn, have asserted that their demands are not negotiable.

From their own words and deeds, it seems clear that terrorists, their masterminds, and their allies have at least four fundamental objectives:

>> They seek to overthrow governments in Muslim regions from Mindanao in the Philippines to Morocco in North Africa, especially in Saudi Arabia, the guardian of the holy city of Mecca, and to replace them with extremist regimes like the Taliban of Afghanistan. The United States cannot abandon moderates such as Jordan, Egypt, or Tunisia.

>> They seek to force the United States to withdraw its political, economic and military presence from the Islamic world. The United States cannot abandon nations that maintain good relations with us and, in particular, Saudi Arabia, nations around the Persian Gulf, or Indonesia that produce oil, the life blood of the industrial world.

>> They seek to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction with which to threaten the very existence of this nation and, it is not too much to say, Western civilization. For the United States to permit that would be to abandon fundamental common sense and to surrender any right to national survival.

>> They seek to destroy Israel and to drive the Israelis into the sea. The United States has strategic, political and moral obligations that make it impossible to abandon Israel.

President Bush had it right when he said Thursday evening: "These terrorists kill not merely to end lives but to disrupt and end a way of life. With every atrocity, they hope that America grows fearful, retreating from the world and forsaking our friends. They stand against us because we stand in their way."

Consequently, the United States has no choice but to pursue the terrorists and destroy them before they destroy us. Lance Morrow, a columnist writing in Time magazine, argued: "You find them and put them out of business, on the sound principle that that's what they are trying to do to you."

In the same vein, Ralph Peters, a retired Army officer writing in The Wall Street Journal, said: "We clutch at euphemisms that lull us into torpor. We do not need to 'neutralize' or 'punish' or even 'apprehend' terrorists. We need to kill them. These are men, and sometimes women, who will not be persuaded, who will not abide by any agreements into which we might pressure them, and for whom our own lives have no value except as symbols to be attacked."

"You cannot 'teach a lesson' to serious terrorists," Peters contended, "you must destroy them." The words "kill" and "destroy" are admittedly brutal but are morally justified when used in self-defense, not revenge.

In the last few days, there has been a nuanced shift in President Bush's strategy for responding to the devastating assault of Black Tuesday. The main target is not the purported leader of the terrorists, Osama bin Laden, but the far-flung network that he and his allies have assembled.

Take out that apparatus and it doesn't really matter whether bin Laden is captured or goes scot free as he would be unable to rebuild it and threaten America again. Conversely, if bin Laden is taken out and the terrorist web remains intact, someone else will step up and America will still be in peril.

One imperative has not changed. In going after the terrorist network or bin Laden himself, American warriors are obligated to bend every effort not to kill innocent civilians. More than good politics or even humanity, the American military ethic and the morality of a just war demands that soldiers avoid killing those who had nothing to do with the disasters in New York and Washington -- even at some risk to their own lives.

Richard Halloran is editorial director of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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