The Unterrorist

A traditional war mentality isn't the best way to judge the airstrikes in Afghanistan. To end the threat of a global terrorist network, the US will need to be smarter than smart bombs.

Even Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld refers to "this so-called war," implying that the old ways aren't the only ways for the first American military campaign of the 21st century - one that started with more than 5,000 civilians killed on US soil.

The United States took nearly a month to gear up for the strikes that began on Sunday. During that time, it laid the groundwork to win on other "fronts," such as blocking global financing for terrorists, weaving a coalition of nations, and laying a dragnet to find backers of the attacks.

One critical front lies in Islamic nations where any US military action within a Muslim country such as Afghanistan might feed more terrorists to Osama bin Laden's cause.

The US and its allies are battling with him in the media to win over the world's 1 billion Muslims to their side. The US is trying to do it by rightly saying terrorism is not Islamic, by feeding Afghan refugees, and by being careful to avoid killing civilians.

But it runs a risk in also wooing the largely unpopular, secular leaders in many Middle Eastern nations. To Mr. bin Laden and many Islamic fundamentalists, they, too, are enemies.

President Bush's most important front will be in sustaining US resolve for a long campaign and keeping the fears of Americans in check. So far, his formal speeches have hit the right notes. Only "the patient accumulation of successes," he said, in announcing the strikes, will bring victory.

Regular reporting to the American people will be necessary for the Bush team, much as it was for Churchill in wartime Britain. He'll need to be realistic about failures, and honest about shifting tactics. Now, for instance, it's not clear whether the US plans to help remove the Taliban. Such a goal might take extra resources.

Winning on the home front first will be essential to winning eventually on the war front.

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