It didn't take long for raw politics to enter this country's war on terrorism. Following the deadly Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., the majority of Americans were strong in their support of President Bush's call for a war on terrorism.
This commitment crossed political party lines, and the public seemed pleased to see U.S. House and Senate members united in their reaction to the terrorist acts. The large majority of Americans voiced their approval of the president's strong, positive plans to seek out and destroy the worldwide terrorist network.
However Â and it was inevitable Â as vivid memories of the New York and Washington attacks faded, and as the initial military strikes in Afghanistan became old news, the public lost some sense of immediacy and shifted their attention to other matters. Time and time again, Bush told Americans, as well as this country's allies, the war on terrorism would be long and costly and would require much patience. Americans said "yes," but one has to wonder about their definition of "patience."
By most standards, allied military actions in Afghanistan have been successful. However, there is no proof of where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden may be or whether he is dead or alive. It also is reported that terrorist cells exist in at least 60 countries, including the United States.
Now, less than six months after the Sept. 11 attacks, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has said the United States must find bin Laden and his al-Qaida partner Mullah Omar dead or alive, "or we (the United States) will have failed" in the war on terrorism. He said the war's continued success is "somewhat in doubt" if the top al-Qaida leaders are not captured or killed.
Daschle said the fight has been successful to date but that it is critical to keep the pressure on the terrorists. "We do the job that this country is committed to doing. But we're not safe until we have broken the back of al-Qaida, and we haven't done that yet," the South Dakota Democrat said.
These remarks triggered a response from many top-level Republicans. They said Daschle's comments reflect the growing concern among many Democrats that Bush has used Afghanistan, bin Laden and the terrorist threat to grab and sustain high popularity numbers. GOP spokesmen claim the Senate majority leader is trying to raise questions in the minds of Americans about the success of the battle and, in so doing, stunt Bush's popularity. Democrats don't want the backing Bush gained after the September attacks to carry over into the upcoming House and Senate elections.
On the other hand, with the senator saying it is critical to keep the pressure on the terrorists, this would suggest Daschle is in favor of expanding the war, if necessary, to other countries harboring or supporting terrorists. This certainly would keep this nation's military forces in action and would seem to play into the hands of Republicans as they approach the November elections.
Daschle's remarks probably are just the beginning of increased comments by Democrats and Bush critics as they try to raise questions and generate second-guessing among the public about the war on terrorism. They claim to support the president, but, at the same time, suggest Uncle Sam (in this case, known as George Bush) is failing in the war if bin Laden or Mullah Omar are not found or killed.
Killing bin Laden or Mullah Omar is not going to end the war on terrorism. Surely it would be a blow to the terrorist effort, but there are others prepared to carry on the cause. In fact, as Bush said, this war is likely to take years.
The question is: Will the American public give up or lose interest in such a sustained battle? Suppose bin Laden is dead or is killed in the near future. Does that mean the United States and other allies can let down their guard on terrorism and go back to our former, carefree way of life? Do we call off any plans to take action or train and support actions by others in their wars against terrorism in Iraq, Iran, Sudan, the Philippines and other nations?
A recent Lawrence visitor noted Americans are used to and want quick actions, answers and solutions to problems. He pointed out, however, there is a major difference between a "problem" and a "situation."
In most cases, a problem can be solved in a relatively short time, whereas a situation usually takes far longer. The United States is involved in a situation in its war against terrorism because much of the anger and hate expressed by terrorists is based on religious beliefs and serious conflicting moral standards and lifestyles between people in the Middle East and those in the western world, particularly the United States.
This situation did not develop overnight; it is terribly complicated. There are no easy answers. Any solutions or resolutions of the differences between people of different parts of the world will take time, a long time. The United States has done a poor job in telling its story to the rest of the world. This country has many faults or weaknesses that need to be corrected, but even so, a good part of the world has a distorted view of the United States and the freedoms and values this country and its people support and cherish.
The terrorist situation has been building for years and didn't surface in a public manner until the Sept. 11 attacks. Until that time, most Americans did not understand the depth of the hatred of the United States and our way of life that existed in the minds of so many in the Middle East.
Daschle, and all Americans, want a quick win in the war against terrorism, but it is wrong to suggest this will be achieved merely by killing or capturing bin Laden.
As Bush has said, the battle is likely to take years, and the question is, how long will the American public support the war effort. If they don't, are they prepared to live under the constant fear of growing and sustained terrorist actions?