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A Declaration of War

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_____Post Opinions_____
Hoagland: A Shadow War
Kagan: A Declaration of War
Will: The Paradox of Terrorism
Fisher: Coddled No More

By Robert Kagan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 11, 2001; 5:10 p.m.

September 11, 2001 -- the date that will live in infamy, the day the post-Cold War era ended, the day the world for Americans changed utterly. In the coming days, as rescuers pick through the rubble in New York, in Washington, in Pittsburgh and who knows where else across the besieged United States, as the bodies of thousands of dead Americans are uncovered and as the rest of us weep over the destruction of innocent human life, our friends and loved ones, we may begin to hear analyses as to why this "tragedy" has befallen us. There will no doubt be questions raised, sins of omission and commission in the Middle East alluded to. Even today, the BBC opined that the attacks came because the United States had failed to get a "grip" on the Middle East. Nothing strange or odd in that. After Pearl Harbor, almost exactly 60 years ago, there were those who argued, with perhaps even more persuasiveness, that then, too, the United States had somehow invited the Japanese attack. After all, had we not embargoed Japan's vital oil supply?

One can only hope that America can respond to today's monstrous attack on American soil -- an attack far more awful than Pearl Harbor -- with the same moral clarity and courage as our grandfathers did. Not by asking what we have done to bring on the wrath of inhuman murderers. Not by figuring out ways to reason with, or try to appease those who have spilled our blood. Not by engaging in an extended legal effort to find the killers and bring them to justice. But by doing the only thing we now can do: go to war. Over the past few years there has been a nostalgic celebration of "The Greatest Generation" -- the generation that fought for America and for humanity in the Second World War. There's no need for nostalgia now. That challenge is before us again. The question today is whether this generation of Americans is made of the same stuff.

Please let us make no mistake this time: We are at war now. We have suffered the first, devastating strike. Certainly, it is not the last. The only question is whether we will now take this war seriously, as seriously as any war we have ever fought. Let's not be daunted by the mysterious and partially hidden identity of our attackers. It will soon become obvious that there are only a few terrorist organizations capable of carrying out such a massive and coordinated strike. We should pour the resources necessary into a global effort to hunt them down and capture or kill them. It will become apparent that those organizations could not have operated without the assistance of some governments, governments with a long record of hostility to the United States and an equally long record of support for terrorism. We should now immediately begin building up our conventional military forces to prepare for what will inevitably and rapidly escalate into confrontation and quite possibly war with one or more of those powers. Congress, in fact, should immediately declare war. It does not have to name a country. It can declare war against those who have carried out today's attack and against any nations that may have lent their support. A declaration of war would not be pure symbolism. It would be a sign of will and determination to see this conflict through to a satisfactory conclusion no matter how long it takes or how difficult the challenge.

Fortunately, with the Cold War over, there are no immediate threats around the world to prevent us from concentrating our energies and resources on fighting this war on international terrorism as we have never fought it before.

The writer, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes a monthly column for The Post.

2001 The Washington Post Company


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