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September 13, 2001

U.S. has 'blank check' to retaliate, GSPIA prof says

Tuesday's attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, along with the crash of a hijacked airliner in Somerset County, have given President Bush "a blank check" to order U.S. strikes against terrorists worldwide, says Donald Goldstein.

Goldstein, a military historian and professor in Pitt's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, told the University Times: "As long as Bush acts fast while he has the whole country behind him — and that's what I expect he'll do — he has a window of opportunity to go after guys like Osama bin Laden," leader of the Islamic terrorist organization suspected of carrying out this week's attacks.

"We don't know for sure yet who's responsible, but we've got a pretty good idea. There aren't many people capable of carrying out well-coordinated, well-financed attacks like this. If it wasn't bin Laden, it was somebody like him," Goldstein said.

"We know who the bad guys are. Even if they weren't responsible for this attack, we know they were responsible for terrorism in the past. This is our chance to take them all out.

"At the very least, we're probably going to say to Afghanistan, 'Look, you guys, turn the bastard [bin Laden] over or we're going to come get him.'"

Afghans defend their country tenaciously, as the British and Russians found in the last two centuries, but Goldstein noted: "This is different. We wouldn't be looking to conquer Afghanistan. We would just be trying to make things so tough that no country is going to want to harbor terrorists anymore."

But is victory possible against terrorists?

"Well," the Virginia-born Goldstein drawled, "do you remember how dangerous [Libyan leader Muammar] Qaddafi used to be? We went after him back in the 1980s. We didn't kill him, but we haven't heard much from him since then.

"The thing Americans have to realize," Goldstein cautioned, "is that whatever we do in retaliation, innocent people are going to die. But what about our people who died in the World Trade Center? At least at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese were killing our soldiers and sailors. Here [at the World Trade Center], people were killed just for showing up for work in the morning."

Goldstein has co-authored several books about Japan's surprise attack on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, including the best-selling "At Dawn We Slept." He sees strong similarities between the events of Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 11, 2001.

"In both cases, there was a breakdown in our intelligence operation. There probably were clues that attacks were coming. But the question is, how do you know which clues to follow?

"Before Pearl Harbor, we knew Hitler and the Japanese were bad but we didn't want to get involved. Before this week, we realized there were big problems in the Middle East but it wasn't our war. That's changed now. We're at war, whether we like it or not.

"We've had other terrorist bombings in this country, but has the president ever been flown away to Nebraska before? Did Congress ever run and hide before? This is a different game now. At Pearl Harbor, the Japanese killed 2,407 Americans. The body count from this week could be in the tens of thousands."

If the body count exceeds 23,800, Tuesday's attacks will eclipse the Civil War's Battle of Antietam as the single bloodiest one-day event in American history, Goldstein pointed out.

Like Pearl Harbor, this week's attacks will change America's world view forever, according to Goldstein.

"For one thing, the military will be thinking more about small-scale conflicts. Our weapons systems will change. At least, I hope they will." For the foreseeable future, President Bush's space-based missile defense project is dead, Goldstein opined. "Congress will give Bush more money for defense, but it will be for fighting terrorism. The guys with bombs in their suitcases are the ones we need to worry about, not nuclear missiles from China."

Goldstein also predicted that airports will raise pay and hiring standards for security personnel.

"We've been paying those people $6 or $7 an hour. Let's say I'm a security attendant. It's a normal Tuesday — Sept. 11, not a famous day in history or anything — and I have to scan luggage for 12 hours a day. What a boring job! So, I'm going to miss things. Why? Because I'm thinking, 'Oh, nothing's going to happen.' "Plus, there are ways to disguise guns. These terrorists have money and technology. There's stealth stuff they can use. They can break guns down into separate parts."

In the wake of Pearl Harbor, government and military officials fought over who was to blame for U.S. security lapses, and many Americans turned against fellow citizens of Japanese descent. Goldstein said he fears that the same kind of finger-pointing and scapegoating will follow this week's attacks.

Islamic fanatics, not average Muslims, likely were behind the attacks, Goldstein said. "As for finger-pointing, we shouldn't waste energy on investigations and saying things like, 'It was the CIA's and the FBI's fault.' We already know it was their fault!" he said, with a laugh. "What we need is human intelligence, not technological stuff. You have to infiltrate these terrorist outfits, and you don't do that with computers."

The United States should drop its prohibitions against employing agents with terrorist pasts, and try bribing assassins with big money, Goldstein suggested. "If we really wanted to get Saddam Hussein, for example, all we would need to do is find the right guy and say: 'Look, you're going to die killing Saddam, but we guarantee that your family is going to get $1 million.' You could find somebody who would take that deal."

Goldstein's books irritated some readers by praising the effectiveness and efficiency of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. He likewise gave high marks to Tuesday's terrorist operation.

"You hear our politicians refer to 'cowards' and 'cowardly acts,' and it's true, by our standards these guys were cowards because they didn't fight fair and they killed innocent civilians. Hey, in the American Revolution we shot at the British from behind trees. We didn't fight fair by European standards. Just like in Vietnam, the Viet Cong didn't fight fair by our standards. You usually don't win wars by fighting fair."

Too often, Americans don't understand their enemies, Goldstein believes. "For us, individual human lives are sacred. To [terrorists], it's not the individual who counts, it's the cause. When our soldiers die, we mourn them. When these Islamic terrorists die in suicide bombings, they're martyrs."

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 34 Issue 2

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