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What's Next in the War on Terrorism?

William Kristol's prepared testimony for the February 7, 2002 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

11:01 PM, Feb 6, 2002 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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THANK YOU, Chairman Biden, Senator Helms, and members of the committee, for inviting me to testify before you today. You have asked me to address the question, "What's next in the war on terrorism?"

The short answer is that Iraq is next. I am not simply saying that Iraq should be next--although I think it should be. I am rather drawing a straightforward conclusion from President Bush's State of the Union speech, and from the logic of the war itself. The president sees this war differently from our European allies and differently, I think, from the way his predecessor or even his father might have seen it. The president has chosen to build a new world, not to rebuild the old one that existed before September 11, 2001. And after uprooting al Qaeda from Afghanistan, removing Saddam Hussein from power is the key step to building a freer, safer, more peaceful future.

To explain my answer, let me address the basic questions about the nature of the war. Have the events of September 11 fundamentally changed the world? Is our aim to restore the status quo through limited actions or is it a broader attempt to reshape the Middle East and the other breeding grounds of terror? And how and when should we deal with our enemies who possess or will soon possess weapons of mass destruction?

Reviving the status quo would mean that we would be satisfied at having deposed the Taliban, and at having dealt with Osama bin Laden--presuming we eventually find him--and having crippled his al Qaeda network. We would not overly concern ourselves with who's in power in Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or in Central and South Asia. We would continue to try to keep Saddam Hussein "in his box" and similarly to contain Iran. We would return to the old Israeli-Palestinian "peace process." We would regard North Korea not as a Stalinist state organized for war but as an arms control problem amenable to an "agreed framework."

This has been the "post-Cold War status quo." It has been a period of unprecedented great-power peace. The great international questions of the 19th and 20th centuries, of Napoleonic France, imperial Britain and Japan, the Kaiser and Hitler's Germany, of Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union, have all been largely settled. Indeed, the only real unresolved great-power issue is that of China.

Yet this has also been a violent time, especially in the region from the Balkans through the Middle East to Southwest and Central Asia. Even before the final collapse of the Soviet Union, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Though his army was defeated and driven back to Baghdad, the failure to remove the Iraqi tyrant left a problematic legacy. Since then, the pace of major terrorist attacks--now directly aimed at America--has increased, as Norman Podhoretz has chronicled in the most recent issue of Commentary magazine. The initial attempt to bring down the World Trade Center was in February 1993; two months later, Saddam tried to assassinate President Bush when he visited Kuwait. In June 1996, nineteen U.S. airmen were killed and 240 wounded in the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia. On August 7, 1998, the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were simultaneously attacked, killing 12 Americans and more than 200 Africans. On October 12, 2000, the USS Cole was struck while docked for refueling in Yemen, killing 17 sailors and wounding 39. And during the past decade, there have been dozens, if not hundreds, of smaller attacks--as well as untold numbers of foiled, failed or postponed assaults.

Despite these escalating costs, American policy has implicitly considered the costs of significant U.S. action against terrorists as higher still. As Podhoretz points out, this is a tradition that began during the Cold War. But it has persisted through the Soviet Union's final days and through the Clinton Administration. Even as terrorists and rogue regimes lost their superpower sponsor, they learned there would be few consequences from attacking America. President Clinton's policy was, as his first CIA director James Woolsey has said, "Do something to show you're concerned. Launch a few missiles into the desert, bop them on the head, arrest a few people. But just keep kicking the ball down the field." Maintain the status quo.

Is that the goal of this war?

No. Since September 11, President Bush has been clear--and increasingly detailed and articulate--that there has been a fundamental shift in U.S. policy and strategy. On the evening of the attacks, he vowed to bring to justice "those who are behind these evil acts." Yet by September 20, when he addressed a joint session of Congress, he had determined that we were at war not only with a group of terrorists directly responsible for the attacks but with "every terrorist group of global reach" and with the "nations that provide safe haven to terrorism," as well.