How to defeat bin Laden

Readers respond to Michael Klare's suggestions about how to bring the terrorist leader to justice.


Salon Staff
September 15, 2001 12:45AM (UTC)

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The last person to say anything particularly new and insightful on the subject of winning wars was Sun Tzu, way back in 500 B.C. Here is a basic primer: "In war, it is of supreme importance to attack your opponent's Strategy. The next best thing is to attack your opponent's Alliances. Next after that is to attack your opponent's Armies. The worst thing is to attack your opponent's Cities."

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This is basic, self-explanatory stuff that the U.S. military cannot seem to figure out. Their bazillion-dollar war machine has, in recent history, reversed those priorities. The result is always the same: massive overkill, unbelievable wasted resources and zillions of dead civilians. So we end up with expensive scorched-earth pyrrhic victories at best and defeat at the hands of Third-World countries at worst. With WWII analogies flying fast and thick we would do well to remember that the bombing of civilian targets in that war did absolutely nothing to help either side to win. Strategic bombing raids were meant to demoralize the enemy and weaken their capacity to wage war, but they accomplished neither of these things. They served only to strengthen the resolve of those who were attacked. And it looks like we may be about to see it again, only this time the results will be even worse, since a new generation of fundamentalist nutcases will rise from the ashes. The U.S. will find itself the target of daily attacks, just like Israel.

So let's go back to Sun Tzu and see if we can find a way to actually win. What is the enemy's strategy? Their goal is all-out global war between Muslims and the West. They seek to accomplish this by attacking civilian targets in the West, which will provoke the West to conventional war, which will polarize moderate Muslims and (so the enemy believes) bring the Muslim world together in Holy War against the unbelievers. Secondly, where are the enemy's alliances? They are seeking alliances with all Muslims. There are 1.2 billion Muslims on this planet. That's a lot of people they're reaching out to. Thirdly, what are their armies? They are small, tightly-knit, decentralized groups all across the globe. This makes their armies largely invulnerable to conventional warfare.

Now. How do we attack these things? We are unable to attack their strategy because too many in the West already see Muslims as the enemy, and too many Muslims are terrified of Western power over life and death. We are unable to attack their alliances for the same reason. We are unable to attack their armies because our intelligence community has no Arabic-speaking agents of Arabian descent. Conventional means are useless against their armies; we must attack them with spies and counter-agents. But we're so insular that we lack the means to get inside.

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The key to victory on all these fronts lies in allying ourselves with the non-fundamentalist Muslims who are of course the vast majority. We must strengthen ties with the Islamic world and make friends with as many powerful and influential Muslims as we can. We must fight Islamophobia in our backyard. Practically all of the world's Muslims, even outside the West, see Osama bin Laden as evil, but many also see the United States as a frightening global tyrant. We must use the awesome power of our media to show them that they are right about the former and wrong about the latter. When Arabs are fully integrated into Western society, some of them will certainly wind up signing up for military duty or intelligence service duty. When we no longer fear each other, the enemy's strategy will be defeated. When Arab nations see the U.S. as an ally, the enemy will lose their potential allies. When the CIA and FBI have undercover agents of Arabian descent, we will be in a position for the first time to attack their armies and win.

If the U.S. government is serious about treating this matter as a war, they are going to have to start paying attention to real military strategy: the kind that wins wars. Not the kind that sells weapons.

-- Jonathan Moriarity

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Professor Klare is part of the problem, not part of the solution. He's one of the guitar-strumming crowd who seriously believes that the Iraqi suffering is caused by sanctions, not the policies of Saddam Hussein. He also apparently believes that we are indifferent to Palestinian suffering. He might check out the madhouse policies of the Palestinian leadership over the last 75 years.

No, Klare, it isn't all our fault. You are the same kind of apologist who apologized for Hitler because Germany was "frustrated" by the Versailles Treaty, or who apologized for Japan because the Japanese were "frustrated" by our refusal to let them take over Asia. I'm sure you also apologized for domestic criminals who were "frustrated" by their plight.

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Why can't you simply accept that these murderers represent a culture stuck in the 15th century, that rejects our basic values of freedom and openness, that treats women like property, and engages in wanton violence?

It is the right of free men and women to make cultural and values choices. Your crowd, which has poisoned the minds of a generation of students by telling them that all cultures must be "respected," has much to explain.

-- William Katz

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Professor Klare is a voice of reason. His plan is also the only one that presents any hope of preventing yet more tragedy.

In Hungary in 1956, Radio Free Europe assured Hungarians that if they demonstrated their resolve to defeat the Russians, America would be right behind them. We were there when Russian tanks rolled into Budapest, mowing down everything and everyone in their path. The Americans didn't come. Thank God. My mother told me yesterday that she would have been happy, then, to hear that the Americans had dropped a bomb on the Kremlin. She is ashamed of those feelings now. Thousands of innocent Russians would have been killed instantly, and it would almost certainly have triggered a third world war.

I understand and share America's outrage about Tuesday's tragedy. But Professor Klare is right. Americans must think strategy, not revenge. The satisfaction of revenge would be fleeting, and the consequences could be catastrophic.

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"Know your enemy" is still sound military advice. Why is almost no one talking about the conditions that could make people wretched and hopeless enough to be willing to die to kill others? Until those conditions change, desperate terrorists will emerge to cause destruction, no matter how many missiles find their targets. We can turn Afghanistan, and the entire Middle East, into a lifeless wasteland, but someone, somewhere, would be left standing to exact terrible revenge on the world.

It is difficult to feel anything but loathing for people who are capable of such evil. The people who planned and aided the attack must be brought to justice. But that will only be accomplished if cooler heads prevail over the understandable, yet futile, demand for vengeance.

-- Agnes Vanya

Gee, sounds nice, but the past several years demonstrate this won't work. How cooperative was Libya after the Lockerbie incident? Does Afghanistan have enough of a legal infrastructure to maintain any semblance of justice for their own people? Hardly! No, sadly -- this is war. It is not against Islam, the Palestinians or the Afghani people any more than World War II was against the German people. Terrorism is a vicious, aggressive and dangerous ideology that will not politely turn itself and ask for clemency. "Nuking them A-rabs" is no answer, but let's not deceive ourselves about what this enemy -- anarchy and terrorism -- is willing to do. It will take a strong response in the only language they understand. Sadly, Professor Klare seeks "peace in our time" with the monster of our moment.

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-- Bill Lindner

Klare's piece amplifies thoughts I've been having the past day. War won't accomplish a thing -- whom do we attack, and what do we destroy? Still, I'm not sure Klare's prescription for making this a criminal matter is quite right. Imagine doing the same after the Pearl Harbor attack. But surely his remarks about the need for increased engagement with the Muslim world is exactly right. That does not mean we should roll over on issues such as Israel and the Palestinians. It means we seek to understand them and talk with them. What that also means is that the Muslim community in the United States must help take the lead on this. Surely there are other bin Ladens who in time will turn on them as well, unless they work as well to prove that Islam is a religion of peace, not terror.

-- Douglas Gatenbein

Mr. Klare calls for nothing less than the continuation of President Clinton's failed policies and the surrender of the U.S. to terrorism.

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The problem is that Bin Laden's form of Islam is acceptable Islam to most of the Shiite Islamic world which believes in martyrdom. You will recall that the suicide bombers first appeared after the fall of Iran to Shiite fundamentalists. Therefore you will not find any Shiite clerics who will condemn bin Laden in any effective way. They hate the U.S. and secretly rejoice in this attack.

Lastly, for the past 30 years we have sought to mollify the Arabs and Palestinians (last year they were offered half of Jerusalem and 97-99 percent of the West Bank. Their response was to send this terror train to its logical conclusion.

No one wants war. But it is being waged on us now. We have no choice but to fight. Issuing subpoenas will not stop our enemies.

-- Steven Stern

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I am in full agreement with the views expressed in this article. The crimes of terrorists are crimes against humanity, and must be treated as such. We are not alone in our suffering, and in this time we must recognize all others that live in the face of terror, wherever they may dwell, whatever their nationality might be.

In this light, justice must be done, and military might is not the answer. We must try terrorists as criminals, perpetrators of mass murder, genocide and hate crimes. We must use our strength with care, and express compassion and concern for those innocents that could be affected by our actions. We must be aware of the effect our nation has on the world.

Our efforts must be powered by a desire to end the hatred and misunderstanding that has caused this evil to exist, to remove the scourge of terror from the earth by demonstrating that we can rise above it. Our efforts must be accompanied by cultural, religious and moral outreach, and we must stand together with all peaceful people and recognize the strength that comes from this common bond. We must recognize our partners in this mission, whoever they may be. We must have the courage to see that our Arab brothers and sisters are suffering too, and we must stand with them in peace to end an evil that has affected us all, an evil that can only be ended through justice and partnership.

-- Daniela Maestro

What is wrong with Michael T. Klare? Bin Laden is already under indictment for the WTC bombing in 1993. He is already a criminal fugitive. This is the kind of fuzzy thinking that has gotten us where we are today. Had we taken meaningful military responses against Afghanistan instead of lobbing a few cruise missiles his way after the embassy bombings, we might have done some good and destroyed his ability to operate there.

You seem to think that we can win Islamics to our side by following your suggested course of action. That is utter nonsense. You do not understand that we are already hated. The only course, at least for the time being, is to make the Islamic world or others who would conduct warfare against us understand that massive and disproportionate retaliation will occur. Yes, many innocents may die. That occurred in Japan and in Germany as a result of their warfare against the U.S. and Britain. But it was the consequence of their acts, not ours.

-- Brent Moody

I understand that it is important that alternative viewpoints be heard in this time of crisis, but Mr. Klare's holds no water at its foundation. Treating this as a criminal investigation is lunacy. We have been doing this for years now and each new attack on us builds upon the last. The Taliban will not give bin Laden up. This is evidenced today by reports that the Taliban has said that if the U.S. comes in to get bin Laden they will seek revenge on us. They also called today for all Muslims around the world to unite against the U.S.

I understand and believe that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are caring, sane, reasonable and generous people, but there is a fraction of them that are extremely dangerous. Laws will not stop them, only their death will. That sounds extreme, but it is true. We can make a decision to let them die their way, by killing more Americans with perhaps nuclear devices next time, or we can at least attempt to stop them by killing them before they have that opportunity.

Yes, there will likely be further attacks on Americans here on our sovereign land and abroad during this campaign, but we cannot sit here and expect that governments like Afghanistan's will turn over these animals to us for criminal prosecution because it is extremely unlikely that they will do so. They have made comments to this effect already. If the Taliban will not cooperate with us and continues to defend and support terrorism we must make a clear and unmistakable example of them. We must also give other governments every opportunity to cooperate with us and offer support to them while doing so, but if they refuse to cooperate as well and are harboring known terrorists they must know that they will suffer as Afghanistan likely will in the coming days. I only hope the American people have the intestinal fortitude and resolve to stick with this until we have done every last thing we can to eradicate this scourge from the face of the planet. It will not be easy.

-- Kenneth Lind

I agree with Michael T. Klare regarding "How to Defeat Bin Laden." The whole theory of turning the Muslim people against bin Laden would cause quite a stir, the entire idea that Mr. Klare has is without a question is the best idea I have heard yet. The whole objective of "winning the crowd" would spare our people in any further U.S. casualties. I understand though revenge is on the American people's mind, but two wrongs don't make a right. Our government needs to consider all means of bringing down bin Laden including this resolution. By acting upon the country that harbors him and killing the innocent society around him we are no better as people than he is. My heart goes out for the families that had loved ones on the airplanes that went down as well as the victims of the World Trade Center tragedy. God Bless America.

-- Andrew Fincher

It is clear that the author does not understand the magnitude of the terrorist problem. Terrorists have evolved to their personal spiritual peak (a sorry one at that) and for anyone who has grown so solid in their convictions no further growth or understanding is possible. Those nations who harbor these individual share a similar state of mind, however there is some hope that they may be reasoned with. In that hope we should demand the authorities, secular or spiritual, to turn these criminals over to us. If they don't, then they should be warned that they will share the fate of the terrorists they harbor.

If the leaders of all the Islamic faiths do not renounce these acts, renounce their "Holy Wars," and renounce their belief in and perpetuation of martyrdom then perhaps too Islam should share the burden of punishment. Especially those who call what happened to the U.S. "God's will." If they believe that, then total war is the only thing that will make them think twice about what they do and what they condone. I'm sure our forces can show them what "God's wrath" can do.

Personally, I think that religion is at the heart of all this. Any religion that would allow terrorism to flourish in its society is worthless to humanity. Any country (including the so-called innocent civilians, who do not stand against terrorists) that harbors terrorists and allows its citizens to celebrate these unspeakable actions deserves whatever our military can dish out. We shouldn't stop until the words jihad and terrorism are forever forgotten.

-- Rick Jones

I applaud Michael Klare's position, as it is both a brave and compassionate one. Klare calls for justice in the true manner of justice, and not revenge cloaked in the mantle of justice. In our search for justice, we are falling prey to anger, instead. And in giving voice to anger, in feeding her torturous leech on the human soul, we are only feeding the very same anger that lashed out upon us this week. We must promote good if we are to expect the future to be filled with Good.

Now is the time to unite and speak our truth. Live our life as bravely as we have always wished it to be. Life is so much a precious gift, so often ignored, until pain is felt. Let us honor this pain with wisdom and not more terror.

-- Deana Morgan


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