With Taliban on the run, it's time to exploit momentum
WASHINGTON — Hall of Fame quarterbacks, ace fighter pilots, and great wartime commanders share an uncommon capacity to maintain a continuous mental picture of highly dynamic, complex situations and how they relate to them. These images are broad and deep. From them come extraordinary strategic abilities not only to anticipate threatening situations but also to create favorable ones and to recognize and exploit success even in its earliest stages.
The latter capability represents the difference between the insight-filled decisiveness of, say, a Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who exploited even the earliest hints of victory in his Civil War battles and the hesitation of a Gen. George McClellan or Gen. George Meade. The failures of the latter two to exploit Union victories at Antietam (McClellan) and Gettysburg (Meade) gruesomely prolonged the Civil War and thus the misery and bitterness that were its legacy.
History - from the wars of antiquity to the American Civil War and up through the great wars of the past century - demonstrates both how rare and how vital this ability is to exploit early success and, conversely, how its lack can squander opportunities that will never come again.
Perhaps the greatest shared attribute of successful statesmen and victorious commanders is this ability to detect the momentum that comes from the earliest success and to act decisively on opportunities.
As the Taliban declines from a global menace to just one of the many problems concerning American planners, our strategic vision must now project from Afghanistan onto all the other actors in the global terrorist community. The cast of recognizable characters is not large, headed by obvious villains: Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, and of course (at time of writing) Osama bin Laden - plus his Al Qaeda adherents beyond Afghanistan.
It seems reasonable to assume that Mr. bin Laden and his immediate friends and related networks will, in due course, receive their just deserts. However, as we "close the ring" on bin Laden & Co., it is now high time to start exploiting our success and broadening our war against terrorism. The first steps should be to begin tying the next slip knots around both President Hussein and Colonel Qaddafi.
Since Sept. 11, President Bush has repeatedly defined the world as divided into two camps: those who oppose terrorism and those who do not, those on our side and those against us. To be sure, there are more than a few "gray" players who perhaps defy such stark categorization (for example: Saudi Arabia, the evolving "forces of moderation" in Iran, Syria [post-Hafez al-Assad the elder], many other Arab and Muslim countries, and even major Western political entities such as the German Greens and far-left socialists). However, Mr. Hussein and Mr. Qaddafi definitely deserve our clear condemnation and pursuit as uncontrite and still very dangerous enemies.
Hussein's and Qaddafi's respective villainies over decades against their own peoples and the world over are well documented. Whether Hussein and/or Qaddafi were complicit in Sept. 11 has not been proved. But in both cases, their explicit involvement - or lack thereof - in Sept. 11 is irrelevant to our larger, historic purpose of eviscerating global terrorism of its major players. To be sure, even if neither man were involved in the attacks, it would only have been because of a lack of opportunity or eccentric exclusion by the Al Qaeda religious fanatics.
The crux of Hussein's political persona is his hatred of the United States. And he is, among his many crimes, a proven maker of biological agents. Qaddafi - his recent public antiterrorist posturings notwithstanding - is well known to harbor unquenched thirst for vengeance against the US and Britain for the 1986 air attack against him that killed his "baby." (That attack was Ronald Reagan's response to the fatal Libyan bombing of a Berlin nightclub frequented by US military personnel.)
Qaddafi is also credibly suspected of trying to arrange cooperative relationships among global terrorist organizations. He even seeks the role of banker to terrorists, through whom wealthy people and organizations who hate America and the West can direct their financial power. And he welcomes money from well-meaning Western dupes who direct money to his "charity foundation" in hopes of fostering world peace.
As long as Hussein and Qaddafi are still in power, terrorism will remain a major global threat. As in the effort against bin Laden and his gang, the means to be used against Hussein and Qaddafi will be many, ranging from the very subtle - for example, exploiting the internal suspicions and jealousies within these regimes - to possible direct military action. But the time to move against them is now, while momentum - including still-fresh American and world public outrage against the events of 9/11 - is strongly in our favor.
Is today's American leadership more inclined toward the action-focused decisionmaking style of Grant or to the timorousness of McClellan and Meade? The fates of Saddam and Qaddafi will likely answer that question.
John Rothrock is a retired US Air Force colonel and former chief of intelligence planning for the Air Force. He is now a consultant on globalization and its security and technological implications.