Students and defense experts are split over what actions the United States should take in response to Tuesday’s terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
With up to 5,000 people missing from the leveling of the twin towers and up to 300 people dead from the attack on the Pentagon, U.S. citizens are expressing shock over the terrorist hijacking and crashing of four planes. President George W. Bush and U.S. Defense officials now suspect those terrorists to be a part of cells overseen by suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden.
While some students are calling for the U.S. government to avenge the deaths of the victims with an all-out offensive on bin Laden and his host country, Afghanistan, other students are calling for an in-depth investigation and a policy based on diplomacy.
“It is time to recognize that instability anywhere in the world is a threat to our country,” senior Joe Ura said. “We should create and force a peace around the world.”
Senior Howard Sherman agreed the United States should be aggressive when it comes to terrorism.
“We should get the bastards who did this,” he said. “This is a great opportunity of the U.S. to go after terrorists all over the world.”
Professors of national security and intelligence advise a more measured response.
“Using your diplomatic capability and economic capability in synergy . you can talk, persuade and force,” said Gordon Adams, director of security policy at the Elliot School of International Affairs. “And you can do that at the same time you are preparing a coalition for a serious military action.”
Adams said a “serious military action” is not the same as launching World War III against bin Laden and host countries.
He said the U.S. government should continue to speak to Pakistan and use that route to talk to the Taliban government of Afghanistan, which harbors bin Laden. Only three countries around the world recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s official government.
Some students said they hope for a complete investigation and use of other diplomatic means to limit innocent civilian casualties.
“(The United States) should be entirely sure who the perpetrators are before we take action,” freshman Helly Schtevie said. “We should not just go killing randomly in other countries, because two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Sophomore Baylene Wacks agreed
“I do not think we should go attack someone right now,” Wacks said. “Measures need to be taken and people need to be punished (in response to the attack), but that does not necessarily include going and attacking someone.”
ESIA professor and member of the International Intelligence Council George Fidas said the U.S. cannot expect to prevent every attack.
“The batting average overall of the intelligence community is very good, for example the prevention of the millennial bombing,” Fidas said. “It’s difficult to defend against people who are willing to give up their lives.”
Fidas said terrorism has become more difficult to fight as it evolves, including anonymous attacks in which no groups take credit.
“Groups like the PLO with Abu Nidal were more secular in (the ’60s and ’70s),” he said referring to the Palestinian Liberation Organization. “Terrorism is now aimed at mass destruction and it has become based on fanaticism and religious fervor.”
Adams said he did not agree with the military policies Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz expressed at a recent Pentagon briefing.
“(Wolfowitz) said the elements you use to go against terrorism are strictly military, but I disagree,” Adams said. “You need to use the (Immigration and Naturalization Service), the FBI, the State Department, diplomatic means and economic means in addition to the Pentagon. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
University of Oklahoma Professor Steve Sloan, an expert on the Oklahoma City bombing, said the United States should not expect to get a quick, decisive victory over terrorism.
“This is a war that must be fought on many fronts and in many ways, not just military organization – that will take time,” Sloan said.
Adams and Fidas agreed the United States cannot fight terrorism alone and that the problem of terror is not going be eliminated with one strike.
“There needs to be a sustained effort to build an international coalition,” Adams said. “It could take five years or more to solve the problem. It’s hard to predict. A lot of terrorism is motivated by fervor . not by self-interest.”
-Patrick Higgins and Josh Riezman contributed to this report