Are We Really Prepared
For All-Out War On Terror?
By Chip Beck

Note - Chip Beck is a retired Navy commander and former CIA station chief and clandestine service officer. This appeared in The Los Angeles Times.
I question of attacks against Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, not from a "Wag the Dog" scenario, but because Americans are not prepared. Politicians need to prepare the public for the horrors these actions may unleash.
Imagine downtown Los Angeles, New York or Washington, where 100,000 inhabitants, from garbage collectors to CEOs, in kindergarten classes to nursing homes, suddenly and without warning begin drowning in their own bodily fluids or suffocating on swollen tongues as mucus pours from every orifice, even while windpipes and blood vessels constrict, stopping the flow of air and blood. People in the streets and their homes convulsing so violently that internal organs are displaced and then shut down in terrifying manifestations of agony.
Or a bomb goes off near an abortion clinic. No one is injured in the small explosion. But 30 minutes after rescue squads, police, journalists and curious spectators converge on the scene, there are thousands of bodies, killed by nerve gas dispersed by the blast.
The public knows the military has biochemical response teams. What they aren't told is that the teams cannot prevent attacks. Their job is to clean up the "debris" (euphemism for the dead) after "the event" happens.
The magnitude of biochemical warfare waiting to erupt has long been hidden. Pre-empting this onslaught will require resources, commitment and losses far above what Americans expect or may tolerate. If Washington cannot justify the harsh measures needed to prevent disaster and win, then crucial mistakes were made in striking Afghanistan and Sudan.
Did Washington embark on the warpath only after considering all the consequences? I doubt it, but even if it did, the public remains ignorant.
In my career, I had friends killed in bombings, helped evacuate or rescue Americans under fire, and thwarted one terrorist kidnapping attempt against a friend, only to have him captured later and killed. I tracked mercenaries and was targeted for assassination; I have been both hunter and hunted.
I have seen the United States, unable to eliminate world tensions, react without the will to finish what it started. Policies were feeble. Politicians miscalculated dangers. Adversaries were underestimated. Adequate goals were absent.
In Indochina, fear of regional conflict prevented America from expanding the ground war. Hanoi escalated, Washington vacillated.
America precipitously entered Angola, then abandoned victory when Washington couldn't defend its actions to Congress or the Organization of African Unity.
We called Beirut a vital national interest, but it was just a mistake.
We botched Central America until Moscow went out of business and saved us.
We stopped Desert Storm three days early and are paying for it.
I know. I was in all five conflicts.
I don't believe President Clinton without question on world or private affairs, but I'm confident that U.S. intelligence has substantive data that Bin Laden's group supported the Kenyan, Tanzanian, Saudi, and perhaps World Trade Center bombings. Without it, the president would not have a dog to wag.
But it is necessary to question the timing, long-term objectives, and expectations of the missile strikes in Afghanistan and Sudan. The public must understand the ramifications now, not later. For 18 years, Washington has shielded voters from scenarios of the mass destruction that officials know can be inflicted by terrorists using biological, chemical, and low-grade nuclear weapons. Security agencies can't thwart catastrophe much longer. The public deserves to hear the worst-case scenarios.
Horrors of biochemical warfare are hidden to maintain public morale, divert attention, and promote the impression that policy makers are in control of the collective destiny. They are not.
This administration needs to clarify what the United States will and won't do, what its tolerance levels are for reprisals or loss of life and projected expenditures of time and resources. For once, I'd like to know at what point we will cave in before the enemy knows -- or if we intend to win at all costs.
Anything less than full disclosure about the threats and U.S. willingness to confront them invites disaster.
U.S. attacks bought time but did not eliminate the danger. The missiles created propaganda that terrorists will use to recruit new volunteers.
The world is more dangerous than Americans realize. Hostile acts inside U.S. borders have intensified since the Cold War. These latest developments only upped the ante.
Bin Laden issued a "fatwa," a declaration of war, against America. If Washington is serious, Congress should declare war in return against these transnational terrorists. That formal declaration would allow more options, including targeting enemy leaders for death, something peacetime restrictions preclude.
War will be costly, but so will inaction. And whatever it will be, Americans need to think it through -- with all the information.
Source: Bergen Record (New Jersey) © 1998 Bergen Record Corp.
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