At Pentagon: Worries Over War's Costs, Consequences

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Hyperlink: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A27875-2001Oct20.html

At Pentagon: Worries Over War's Costs, Consequences

Some Fear Regional Destabilization, Retribution Against U.S.

By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post Staff Writer

Sunday, October 21, 2001; Page A19

As the U.S. military begins combat ground operations in Afghanistan, some Pentagon officials are concerned about where the conflict ultimately will lead, and whether tactical military gains in Afghanistan could lead to bigger strategic problems for the United States and its allies. The concerns run from the possibility the military campaign could destabilize neighboring Pakistan to the prospect that it could spark a much broader war involving several nations in the region and beyond. The officials warn the war will require enormous sacrifices and could prompt additional attacks on the United States.

The Afghan war "seems to be a short-term, possibly shortsighted strategy," said one general who is not directly involved in the anti-terrorism campaign. "Our actions so far show only short-term thinking."

With a tight lid clamped down at the Pentagon on the release of information about the war, most concerns like this officer's are being expressed in private. But in the next circle of the defense establishment, among people who consult frequently with the top levels of the military, the misgivings come through loud and clear. "You can go and kill every one of their terrorists and hang [Osama] bin Laden in front of the White House and you still haven't solved the problem -- and you've probably created hundreds of new terrorists," said retired Col. Richard Dunn, a former chief of the Army's internal think tank. "So you could win tactically, and lose strategically."

The Bush administration has hinted at such apprehensions, with senior officials warning in recent weeks that the anti-terrorism war will be long and hard. But the White House has yet to spell out what some of the costs and consequences of the war might be, both overseas and at home. "I think it is up to the administration to make it clear that the costs of this war will be heavy, and the war will feel almost endless, but that not doing it means the end of the way we live," said Williamson Murray, a retired Ohio University specialist in strategy and 20th century military history.

The experts' worries begin with Pakistan, whose government has sided with the United States in the anti-terrorism war but whose predominantly Muslim population appears to be generally sympathetic to the Taliban, the Islamic extremist movement ruling most of Afghanistan. Of dozens of experts contacted for this article, each expressed concern about the stability of Pakistan. Most worried that the war could undermine the country's president, Pervez Musharraf, a general who took power in a 1999 coup. "We've asked a lot" of Pakistan, conceded one administration official. But, he added, "we are going to ask more of them." He declined to say what such additional requests would be, but military planners said Pakistan will be used as a staging ground for additional Special Operations raids like the one launched into southern Afghanistan with more than 100 U.S. Army Rangers. The U.S. government shares those concerns about Pakistan, said another administration official, and is taking steps to compensate for the destabilizing effects of the new U.S. military presence there. "If we wipe out al Qaeda in Afghanistan and turn Pakistan over to some other version of the Taliban, that's a net loss, there's no question," the official said. "But that's an argument for succeeding in Pakistan, not an argument for giving up." Specifically, he said the United States would seek to improve military-to-military relationships -- especially with younger Pakistani officers who have had little contact with the United States -- and also would seek to provide more economic aid and de-emphasize nonproliferation as an issue.

Finally, this official said, not doing anything at all to counter terrorism in the region would be the most destabilizing course the United States could take. The prospect of Pakistan being taken over by Islamic extremists is especially worrisome because it possesses nuclear weapons. The betting among military strategists is that India, another nuclear power, would not stand idly by, if it appeared that the Pakistani nuclear arsenal were about to fall into the hands of extremists. A preemptive action by India to destroy Pakistan's nuclear stockpile could provoke a new war on the subcontinent. The U.S. military has conducted more than 25 war games involving a confrontation between a nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, and each has resulted in nuclear war, said retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner, an expert on strategic games. Having both the United States and India fighting Muslims would play into the hands of bin Laden, warned Mackubin Owens, a strategist at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. "He could point out once again that this is the new crusade," Owens said.

The next step that worries experts is the regional effect of turmoil in Pakistan. If its government fell, the experts fear, other Muslim governments friendly to the United States, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, might follow suit. "The ultimate nightmare is a pan-Islamic regime that possesses both oil and nuclear weapons," said Harlan Ullman, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Ullman argued that the arrival of U.S. troops in Pakistan to fight the anti-terrorism war in Afghanistan could inadvertently help bin Laden achieve his goal of sparking an anti-American revolt in the country. Andrew Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University, said it is possible "that we are sliding toward a summer-of-1914 sequence of events" -- when a cascading series of international incidents spun out of control and led to World War I.

Eliot Cohen, a professor of strategy at Johns Hopkins University, agreed. "We could find ourselves engaged in a whole range of conflicts, from events you can't anticipate now," he said. Both Bacevich and Cohen are former colleagues of the leading strategic thinker at the Pentagon, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, who previously was dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins.

Wolfowitz is said to be the leading advocate within the administration of attacking Iraq as part of an anti-terror campaign. President Bush has threatened to take the campaign to countries the United States accuses of supporting terrorism, but the administration lately has avoided discussing what targets might come after Afghanistan, and whether Iraq might be next. At the same time, the administration has made it clear it expects the war to extend well beyond Afghanistan. "We will do whatever it takes to defeat terror abroad, wherever it grows or wherever it hides," Bush said in California on Wednesday. "This nation will defeat terror wherever we find it across the globe." The Air Force already is starting to identify possible targets for air strikes after the Afghanistan campaign, said one person familiar with the thinking of that service's leadership. "We've got targets after this," he said. He hinted that Iraq is next, in light of the recent spate of anthrax attacks by mail in the United States. "Where do you think this anthrax is coming from?" U.S. law enforcement officials, however, have said they have no conclusive evidence about the source of the anthrax used in the attacks.

Talking too specifically about what comes after Afghanistan could reduce support for the U.S.-led campaign and even destabilize Pakistan, one veteran diplomat warned, noting that many Muslim countries backing Washington have said the war should be limited to the Taliban and to bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network. If the Pentagon isn't more careful, he said, "you blow Pakistan sky high, and the mullahs will take over the missiles."

Even if none of those fears about the fates of foreign countries are realized, the new war could impose a high cost on American society, some experts said. If the United States ends up fighting an entire generation of radical Islamic terrorists, predicted Richard Kohn, a military historian at the University of North Carolina, "we'll end up in a perpetual war." Americans could find themselves living like Israelis and Palestinians do, putting up with "oppressive security everywhere" and limits on personal freedoms that change the tone of everyday life, he said. Added one defense expert, "I think the chance of a biological attack against the U.S. in the next year is extremely high, and of a nuclear attack maybe 5 percent."

Not all the strategic thinkers are gloomy. How the world has changed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States presents more opportunities than challenges, one Pentagon official argued. "At the end of a twisting tunnel, there are some enormous opportunities," agreed Robin Raphel, a former State Department official for South Asian affairs. These begin with Afghanistan, she said, where there is a chance to end a decade-old civil war and raise a significant amount of international aid for reconstruction. Likewise, other experts argue that the U.S. diplomatic offensive is reaping rewards around the globe. Pakistan has an opportunity to suppress destabilizing Islamic extremists, Iran is sending friendly signals to the United States, and even Libya is reaching out, they say. U.S.-Russian relations also appear to have improved. Overall, said a former Pentagon official, the terrorist attacks have forced the administration to deal realistically with the world. "All those other problems [in Pakistan and elsewhere] were there already, but we weren't thinking about them well," he said. "I thought we were going into a tailspin of isolationism, and we've pulled out of that."

At any rate, said retired Marine Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, fretting about strategic downsides may be useless because the alternative is worse. "If you do nothing, you also destabilize," he said. And if the United States hadn't responded in a powerful and effective manner, he added, it would have had to endure terrorist attacks indefinitely. "So we're making the best of a bad situation."

Copyright, The Washington Post Company, Fair Use for Educational and Research Purposes Only

-- Robert A Riggs (rxr.999@worldnet.att.net), October 23, 2001

Answers

"I think it is up to the administration to make it clear that the costs of this war will be heavy, and the war will feel almost endless, but that not doing it means the end of the way we live," said Williamson Murray, a retired Ohio University specialist in strategy and 20th century military history. "

"If the United States ends up fighting an entire generation of radical Islamic terrorists, predicted Richard Kohn, a military historian at the University of North Carolina, "we'll end up in a perpetual war." Americans could find themselves living like Israelis and Palestinians do, putting up with "oppressive security everywhere" and limits on personal freedoms that change the tone of everyday life, he said. Added one defense expert, "I think the chance of a biological attack against the U.S. in the next year is extremely high, and of a nuclear attack maybe 5 percent."

So _not_ doing the war means the end of the way we live, and _doing_ the war means the end of the way we live. If war and no war lead to the same situation, my choice is always against war. Perhaps we should be asking more questions of more people and looking for other options.

-- neil (nmruggles@earthlink.net), October 23, 2001.


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