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It's going just fine
By Lawrence Henry
My son Bud asked me one night a few weeks back what they were saying on the news.
"Not much real information," I told him. "I just turned it on to see if there was anything worthwhile, but it's just people talking."
"Why do they do that?" Bud wanted to know. "If they don't have any real news, why don't they just put up a picture of the American flag and play music?"
Inquiring minds want to know.
Well, all the news is printed to fit, as I did my best to explain. There are a certain number of newspapers printed every day and news magazines printed every week. Television and radio news shows air for a specific number of hours, selling a specific number of minutes of advertising, and they have to keep going, or else maybe their listeners won't come back when something really happens. And if their listeners don't come back, their advertisers won't either, and then their advertising rates will drop.
Or something like that. As Bob Dylan once sang, "A lot of folks have a lot of forks and a lot of knives, and they gotta cut something."
Listen. This war on terrorism is going just fine. In fact, it's going very well indeed. Here is the real information. There's not much of it, but what there is is important. When I'm done, you can hoist the American flag and play some music. That's what I'm going to do. (I've got a tough saxophone part to master in Benny Goodman's "Let's Dance.")
The United States has deployed powerful military assets, fast, in the region of Afghanistan, and brought our might to bear on Al Qaeda and the Taliban. We have destroyed most of the Taliban's mechanized military equipment - airplanes, trucks, armored personnel carriers, and tanks, of which there were not many. We have destroyed most of their antiaircraft capability. We can go anywhere we want to go and do just about anything we want to do. Anything or anybody we can find, we can destroy. And we're getting a whole lot closer to finding Osama bin Laden and the higher-ups of the Taliban. The over-under on dead or alive for that bunch is three weeks.
Osama bin Laden cannot communicate effectively with his followers. He can't issue orders, he can't send money, he can't release materials of war to them. He can't move, and he can't use a telephone or any other electronic device. His followers were always spread extremely thin. Now they have been cut off, isolated, and scattered by a combination of American military actions in Afghanistan, the aggressive policing of suspects in Europe and the United States and by the freezing of financial assets world-wide.
Without declaring so, the United States and our European allies have suspended conventional civil rights for certain people, namely youngish, unattached Middle Eastern men. We now arrest these men on no more evidence than a policeman's hunch, which is generally pretty good. It's called preventive detention. That detention (of more than 1,100 suspects in the U.S. alone) has probably spared us another serious terrorist attack.
The best evidence for this? The puny propagation of anthrax. It is obvously the work of a very few agents, perhaps even only one, and of agents, moreover, who don't have much of the stuff - or are afraid to disseminate any more of it any more widely. The more letters, the more clues.
Attorney General John Ashcroft's vague, if emphatic, warnings of potential terrorist attacks in fact confirm how well we're doing. He can't say this, but I can; it's the best guess: We have thoroughly penetrated the communications channels of world-wide terrorist organizations. We have not decoded the content of those channels. But we can monitor the volume and direction of traffic, which offer significant clues. That signals volume is what Ashcroft means by a "credible threat."
We have no human intelligence assets in Afghanistan, but we knew that going in. The Northern Alliance is a weak, underarmed clutch of bandits, not dependable, and not especially motivated, and we can't count on them. We suspected this might be the case; now we know it. No matter. Our Special Forces' initial expeditions will be to carry laser bomb sites (they're already doing it; thus the daisy cutter), which will make our targeting of Taliban and Al Qaeda assets even more accurate. We'll do some man-to-man fighting, but only that necessary, and that will work flawlessly.
Iraq? We'll get to it. For now, the administration is soft-pedaling what they know about the anthrax situation because of a long-standing U.S. policy: that we will respond to weapons of mass destruction with a nuclear attack. James Baker told that to Iraqi foreign minister Tareq Aziz during the Gulf War. There's no need to repeat it - not just yet.
World politics (i.e., "nation-building") can come later. Right now, our business is to fight, and we're doing that quite well.
Don't believe me? Every two weeks or so, Henry Kissinger writes something extremely sensible and realistic in the Washington Post. His latest appeared November 6.
Read Henry the K. Take it easy. No enemy can stand up to the might of an aroused democracy. Take a deep breath.
I'm going to go practice the saxophone.
Lawrence Henry is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right.
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