WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On Wednesday, June 28, the House International Relations Committee took time from dithering over who will get to sue whom in a Patients Bill of Rights and "declared war" against "an enemy threatening our shores." The focus of their ire: AIDS. As is too often the case, Congress missed the mark.
In response to pleas from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the powerful House Committee voted 34-to-4 to increase AIDS spending overseas by a whopping $800 million -- making the United States the No. 1 contributor to fighting the global pandemic.
Not that helping to defeat the deadly disease is wrong. It's just that when it comes to fighting other battles -- where the United States is "Target No. 1" -- Congress is reluctant to make the same bellicose declarations. They correctly surmised that doctors -- in laboratories and in the field -- ought to be the "front-line troops" in the fight against AIDS. Why then, do both the legislative and executive branches conclude that when combating terrorism, lawyers are the "weapon of choice"? Unfortunately, they seem to believe that it's better to treat acts of terrorism as violations of law and ignore that they are also acts of war.
On May 29, after a four-month long trial, a New York City jury convicted four members of Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda (The Base) terrorist organization on all 302 charges against them for their complicity in the August 7, 1998, bombings of our embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in which 224 were killed and nearly 5,000 wounded. The official line in Washington was that the convictions were "a great victory for counter-terrorism and bringing terrorists to justice."
On June 21, FBI Director Louis Freeh announced the indictment of 13 Saudis and one Lebanese for their involvement in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia -- an attack that killed 19 U.S. Air Force personnel. Freeh, without naming names, also pointed to the involvement of unidentified Iranian officials in the attack and expressed his "confidence that these criminals will be brought to justice." He then cleaned out his desk and retired from the beleaguered FBI.
The next day, Osama bin Laden sought to reclaim top-billing as the world's most-feared terrorist. From somewhere in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, the 44-year-old fugitive Saudi millionaire released a videotaped message promising, "It's time to penetrate America and Israel, and hit them where it hurts most." Bakri Attrani, a reporter with the Middle East Broadcasting Centre (MBC) -- an Islamabad-based satellite television station -- recorded the terrorist warlord bragging about the October 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole in the Yemen port of Aden, which killed 17 sailors, and threatening "that the next two weeks will witness a big surprise. A severe blow is expected against U.S. and Israeli interests worldwide."
The official United States response to this overt threat has been, at best, strange. The State Department issued a flurry of new travel advisories and then temporarily closed our embassies in Bahrain and Senegal. The Pentagon went even further, initially placing U.S. forces on heightened alert -- "ThreatCon Delta" -- and then ordering a massive, hurried and costly repositioning of ships, aircraft and personnel -- not so that they would be ready for a fight -- but to avoid casualties.
In the Arabian Gulf, the USS Constellation (CV 64) Carrier Battle Group, including the guided missile cruiser Chosin (CG 65), the guided missile destroyers Benfold (DDG 65) and Stout (DDG 55), the attack submarine Santa Fe (SSN 763) and their support ships, were ordered to sortie from port. A Marine Expeditionary Unit, ashore for a combined-arms training exercise in Jordan, was ordered to conduct an emergency back-load, board the vessels of their Amphibious Ready Group and stand out to sea from the port of Aqaba.
In all, according to the U.S. 5th Fleet, headquartered in Bahrain, 66 aircraft, 20 ships and 9,909 sailors and Marines have been affected. All "nonessential" military air traffic, including supply and personnel transfer flights, were halted. In the Balkans, U.S. Army units were ordered to stand ready in a "Force Protection" mode. And U.S. Air Force and Navy squadrons in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, assigned to patrol the Iraqi "no fly zones," had to disperse their aircraft.
Clearly, the man who fomented all this activity is undeterred by the threat of prosecution. It's time to stop treating Osama bin Laden like a bank robber in Peoria. He has declared war on the United States, and we should give him what he wants: war. Those who aid and abet his cause -- like the Taliban in Afghanistan, who have hidden him since 1996, and Saparmurat Niyazov in neighboring Turkmenistan -- should be put on notice that we regard them to be his allies and treat them accordingly.
We ought to overcome our reluctance to aiding resistance movements and start supporting Ahmad Shah Masud's Afghan United Front, solicit their help in pinpointing bin Laden and his fanatical followers and attack them -- not with cruise missiles and not with lawyers. Instead, we should employ our considerable U.S. military power.
If the third president of the United States and the Fifth Congress could use the puny U.S. Navy to subdue the terrorists of their day -- the Barbary Pirates -- then surely the 43rd president and the 107th Congress ought to be able to do as well today.