The previous “Idea of the Day” suggested that al-Qaida may be planning to capture Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal—and perhaps use these weapons not to destroy American cities but to seize Saudi Arabia and its oil fields. If Osama Bin Laden has a greater enemy than the United States, it is the Saudi royal family. And one sure way to cripple the West, without requiring an army, would be to cut off its oil supply.
Foiling such a plan and capturing al-Qaida’s leaders will, however, be successful only by making a lot of new friends in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and throughout the Islamic world. Al-Qaida draws its support from what it perceives as anti-American sentiment. Defeating terrorism can only be done by convincing Muslims that America won’t tilt one way and then tilt another, as it has done in the past. Indeed, the United States will lose this war if it demonstrates that al-Qaida might be right. So far, the president has acted with admirable caution, but was he correct to say that he saw no opportunity to assist the people of Afghanistan in resurrecting their country once the Taliban have been overthrown? He has said he has no interest in state-building. Perhaps the president is obliged to impress his most immediate obstacles to capturing al-Qaida’s leaders, the Taliban’s friends (especially sympathetic Pakistani army officers) in northern Pakistan, which is where I suspect Osama Bin Laden has established himself. Yet what better way to encourage the defeat of the Taliban, and to impress the Islamic world of America’s best intentions, than to offer Afghan refugees the assurance that America can assist an Islamic people to overcome years of war—and not merely for strategic reasons? (Already, there’s talk in some circles of a Marshall Plan for the poorest Islamic nations.) How else can the United States persuade people suspicious of American intentions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere that for their good and for ours Osama Bin Laden must be caught by any possible means? Moreover, without a government that governs, what would prevent Afghanistan’s mountain ranges from becoming a haven for an al-Qaida successor in years to come?