Intelligent Retribution

September 12, 2001

Trevor Matich


It would be a terrible mistake to bomb Afghanistan back into the stone age. 

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, America is impassioned not only for justice, but for retribution.  But the form that our response takes is critical to its success.  And while it must be executed with passion, it must be considered and planned in the cold light of day. 

First, we must define exactly what victory will be at the end.  If that victory is the punishment of the perpetrators and the diminishment of the terrorist threat against the American homeland, then a mass bombing campaign is not the answer; it would merely create new enemies, while strengthening our existing adversaries.

Here is why.  If we assume for this discussion that Afghanistan is complicit in the attacks, and bomb them into oblivion (it's a short trip from where they are to the stone age anyway), it is far from certain that we would be successful in hitting the leaders of the Taliban, any more than we were in hitting Saddam Hussein in Iraq during the Gulf War.

And by destroying power plants and bridges, we would not punish the government leaders we seek to affect; rather, we would confirm to the Islamic masses the notion that America wants more than anything else to kill their babies. 

This does not mean we let the terrorists and those who support them go.  We must be true to the Bush doctrine that there will be no distinction between the terrorists directly involved and those who harbor them.  But we must be very specific in whom we attack and how.

A review of history is in order at this point.  Take, for example, Barbarossa.

Over the course of Hitler's invasion of Russia (Operation Barbarossa), he made a number of critical mistakes.  And thank God he did. 

One of the most decisive mistakes had nothing to do with the clash of armies.  Hitler directed the SS and the Army to commit barbarous abuses against the Russian people.  Civilians were brutally beaten, burned out of their homes, and left to die without shelter or food as winter descended.   

The Stalinist regime was highly unpopular in many parts of the Soviet Union.  But those who would otherwise rise up in rebellion to the Communists, instead were forced to unite behind Stalin to defend their homeland from an even greater terror-the atrocities that would come with a Nazi occupation, as previewed by the actions of the invaders. 

How ironic that the Germans squandered what could have been a potent weapon in their war against Stalin-the desire of Soviet peoples themselves to be free from Stalinism.

What does this mean for us today?  Most of the Islamic world wants only to live and worship in peace.  A small minority uses terrorism to further their own fanatical aims.  We will never defeat that minority if we drive those who desire peace with the West into their arms.  

Destroying bridges, power plants, and dams in Afghanistan will squander any hope that we may have to strengthen pro-West movements that would be helpful in identifying terrorists and in pre-empting future assaults. 

We won the Cold War in large measure by exporting capitalism and democracy.  When people have food for their families, good schools for their children, and hope for the brighter future that economic freedom promises, they are rather less likely to grab an AK-47 and join a communist revolution. 

While acknowledging that there are differences between the Cold War and Islamic extremism, the long-term answer to this problem lies partially in that same vision.  We must increase freedom, not limit it.  We must help to enrich the masses of the Third World, not bomb them into oblivion in hopes they blame their own leaders.  History tells us the usual result of both courses of action. 

At the same time, we must visit vengeance-not justice, but raw, naked, brutal vengeance-upon those who are directly and indirectly responsible for the atrocities committed against the American people.  We must make it so catastrophic for a government to abet those who would attack Americans, that no future government would even consider it.

But we must target the members of those governments, not the masses.  Within most Islamic countries there are factions that want better relations with the West.  Our actions must not drive those factions into the arms of the extremists.  If we are to combat terrorism, we need those factions, for they are the people upon whom we rely to build a peaceful coexistence with America in the future.  

Do not carpet bomb Afghanistan.  Take a lesson from history.





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