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Mr. Feith's Surprising Proposal

Monday, August 16, 2004; Page A16

Regarding the Aug. 7 op-ed column "A War Plan That Cast a Wide Net":

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith seems to be an adherent of Hall of Fame baseball player "Wee Willie" Keeler's batting strategy: "Hit 'em where they ain't."

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In the post-Sept. 11 world, according to Mr. Feith, we knew al Qaeda was in Afghanistan, and therefore we should have attacked some other country first -- Iraq, perhaps, or some place in South America -- to surprise and shock the terrorists and show our resolve.

Now there's a military strategy for the ages: Don't retaliate against the guys who attack you; slam somebody else.

LARRY THOMPSON

Greensboro, N.C.

Defense Undersecretary Douglas J. Feith defended his Sept. 20, 2001, draft memo proposing surprise anti-terrorist strikes in South America or Southeast Asia by harkening back to the period immediately after Sept. 11, when it was not so clear that the World Trade Center-Pentagon culprits were al Qaeda. The enemy at that time, he said, "was understood to comprise all those who contributed to the terrorist threat to the United States, of which Sept. 11 was just the most serious instance to date." Mr. Feith explained that one reason for his proposal was to "shock the enemy network, perhaps by hitting it where a U.S. response was not expected."

While this may be sound military doctrine, it does not take into account the fact that the regions he proposed to attack -- the tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, and Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore), where Islamic extremists reside and work against U.S. interests -- consist of friendly countries that have cooperated with the United States on terrorism before and after the Sept. 11 attacks. By his logic, the United States should have attacked Hamburg, London and Madrid -- all cities with active al Qaeda cells.

The war on terrorism is not an "either-or" proposition -- either law enforcement or military action. It is a combination of the two. In unfriendly countries -- Afghanistan under the Taliban -- we rightly used military force. With cooperative countries -- Paraguay, Thailand, Germany -- we must work with host country police and intelligence agencies to disrupt local terrorist networks. Bombing Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, or southern Thailand was hardly a viable option.

RANDOLPH MARCUS

Rockville


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