When I participated in classified State Department "continuity of government" exercises during the Gulf War, I never believed the doomsday scenarios we faced would ever become reality. But that's exactly what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, when suicidal terrorists turned commercial airliners into guided missiles to bomb the World Trade Center towers in New York City and the Pentagon outside Washington.
In our exercises, we relocated the State Department and related foreign affairs agencies to a secret location in the northern Virginia countryside, and reacted to scenarios involving terrorist attacks against Washington landmarks like the Capitol and the White House. Representing the now defunct U.S. Information Agency (USIA), I acted as public affairs officer and press spokesman and after each exercise, I returned home and resumed my normal life.
Now, however, the unthinkable has occurred and the United States is facing the very real threat of international terrorism here at home.
Shortly after two hijacked airliners crashed into the World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon, President George W. Bush declared war against the terrorists and vowed to bring them to justice, or bring justice to them. Either way would be just fine with me, because these aren't the kinds of people we can deal with through diplomatic negotiations. Since the terrorists chose to live by the sword when they murdered nearly 7,000 innocent office workers, they deserve to die by the sword.
Wisely, President Bush and his top advisers; Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice; are proceeding deliberately with admirable caution because this isn't a conventional war. Rather, it's a war against an unseen enemy that lives in caves in one of the most primitive countries on the face of the earth, Afghanistan.
We can't bomb Afghanistan back to the Stone Age, as the super-hawks demand, because it's already more than halfway there. This war will require heavy doses of clandestine activity, intelligence and propaganda along with conventional and special military forces.
The prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, is also suspected of masterminding the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa three years ago and the bombing of the USS Cole in the Persian Gulf last year. In addition, he is linked to a failed attempt to destroy the World Trade Center in 1993. As Appeal Publisher Jeff Ackerman pointed out last Tuesday, a 1994 book, "Two Seconds Under the World," predicted a future, more devastating attack against the Trade Center, a visible symbol of globalization and "Yankee imperialism."
The Bush administration is proceeding correctly by assembling an international coalition similar to the one that defeated Iraq and Saddam Hussein 10 years ago. Pakistan and several other countries that border Afghanistan, which harbors bin Laden, have agreed to cooperate.
It's relatively easy to secure cooperation because so many countries have suffered the ravages of terrorism. Remember that citizens from more than 60 countries died in the rubble of the World Trade Center and that six countries each suffered more than 100 deaths: Britain, Germany, India, Israel, the Philippines and Turkey.
But most of the victims were Americans. More than 700 employees of one brokerage firm, Cantor Fitzgerald, were killed; together, they are survived by more than 1,000 orphaned children. Nevertheless, the "Blame America First" crowd is already urging us to "understand" the terrorists. While we should honor the innocent victims by lighting candles, holding hands and praying for a better world, the terrorists deserve nothing but decisive and violent retribution for their conscious and premeditated decision to commit mass murder.
Fortunately, 90 percent of the American people favor an effective military response to the New York and Washington terrorist attacks.
"Once again, we will be told to look for the root causes of the violence," wrote Paul Greenberg of the Los Angeles Times Syndicate last week, "and the usual suspects will be rounded up: international capitalism, the materialistic West, American foreign policy, Third World poverty, Wall Street, the Pentagon, the Israelis, or maybe the Jews in general ... (but) the one thing all these great explainers will not explain ... is that the world of the terrorists needs to be destroyed before it destroys ours." Amen!
Washington Post foreign affairs analyst Jim Hoagland predicts that phase one of our campaign against bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terror network will be to hunt down and capture (or kill) the Saudi dissident. We already have the go-ahead to proceed from NATO and the United Nations.
Phase two is "draining the swamp" Ñ removing bin Laden from the Middle East along with his followers and protectors, including the fundamentalist Taliban government of Afghanistan, which is becoming increasingly desperate and isolated. Phase three will be a renewal of serious U.S. involvement in the Middle East peace process.
None of this will be quick or easy. As Defense Secretary Rumsfeld told the media last Tuesday, the war against terrorism will be costly, difficult and long. "It is something that will involve a sustained effort over a good period of time," he said. "It cannot be dealt with by some sort of massive attack or invasion." In the meantime, all of us should return to our normal lives insofar as possible.
Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly had the right idea when he urged Americans to go out to their local ballparks. "Somewhere ... the phlegmwad that started all of this (bin Laden) will be turning on his little TV, wanting to see a country full of smoke and rubble and tears," Reilly wrote. "Let's give him packed stadiums full of cheers and hugs and songs. Then let's find the son of a bitch and run the Grambling (marching) band over him a few thousand times." You go, Rick! And letOs fly the flag too.
Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.