Fighting words

10 things about the war you shouldn't forget

Watch the news networks these days, and you'll come away with plenty of facts and opinions about the upcoming war against terror. But a lot isn't being said and some things aren't being said enough. Here are 10 things you should be hearing more about:

1. Pakistan has the bomb: Think that's scary already? The country also has 150 million people and a military ruler. Imagine surging resentment. Imagine Musharraf overthrown. Imagine a fundamentalist government with its hand on the button. And imagine how nasty the ongoing border war between Pakistan and India will get then.

2. Osama bin Laden is a creature of the CIA: Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan thought they were really smart to aid Afghan "freedom fighters" in their guerilla war against the Soviet Union. But we also helped the rebels build impenetrable tunnels and fed them fancy weapons. Osama bin Laden certainly wouldn't be as knowledgeable, well-equipped or well-protected. The lesson — that the CIA can create as many problems as it solves — isn't being heeded as Congress and President Bush prepare to bolster our spy agencies and loosen their restrictions.

3. Zell Miller is a big ol' dummy when it comes to foreign policy: The Georgia Democrat's comments — "Bomb the hell out of them. If there's collateral damage, so be it." — were precisely the wrong thing for a senator to say. They're also a prescription for harming America. "Collateral damage" means killing people every bit as innocent as those who died Sept. 11. If our military isn't thoughtful and precise, we'll lose allies and make more enemies.

4. Missile defense is a boondoggle: The Sept. 11 attacks demonstrated what "Star Wars" foes and terrorism experts were saying all along. The greater risk comes from threats the Bush administration pooh-poohed back in January. We can't afford to fritter away $8 billion this year on an imagined solution to a less urgent problem.

5. The feds are back in town: On Sept. 13, Congress agreed to spend a $40 billion "down payment" on defense and disaster aid. Last week, it threw in a $15 billion airline bailout, and Bush announced creation of a new Cabinet-level agency. Now, there's talk of federalized airport security, along with more domestic surveillance, border patrols and arrest powers. The annual bill is likely to top $100 billion. There's hardly any talk of one thing we certainly should spend more money on: foreign aid (the United States gives less per capita than most other wealthy nations).

6. Ariel Sharon is trying to use this crisis to prevent a restart of the peace process: Having done his part to pull Israelis and Palestinians away from the peace table, the Israeli prime minister should face U.S. pressure to abandon the West Bank settlements — or at least to find some way to offer hope to the Palestinians. Instead, he suspended a new round of negotiations Sunday, claiming he needed total peace for 48 hours as a condition for resuming talks.

7. This fight is about despotic regimes in the Middle East: Not a single Arab state has held a credible election or tolerates real freedom of expression. Some of our closest allies, notably Saudi Arabia, are as brutal as our enemies. The result? Dissent has been pushed to the edges and contorted into radical violence. Yes, Israel's settlements and America's cultural exports, from McDonald's to "Knots Landing," spur resentment. But the unstated question is, why haven't we learned anything about "blowback" from our experience with the Shah in Iran?

8. This fight is about oil: Why did we shove Iraq out of Kuwait? Why are we willing to keep bases in Saudi Arabia, even though we know it pisses off radical Arabs? To keep the oil flowing! Oilmen Bush and Cheney will use this situation as an argument for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But we'd be in worse shape when that oil ran out in a decade. Fill up a little less often, and maybe we can get a foreign policy that advocates our interests rather than those of Exxon/Mobil.

9. This is what the 21st century could look like: The gap between wealthy countries and poor countries has gotten so great the West's main challenge seems how to keep developing nations at bay long enough to extract the resources we need from them. Unless we find ways to use resources more efficiently and to share our responsibility for global environmental problems, it'll become more and more difficult for us to do business in the Third World.

10. This tragedy should make our nation stronger: A renewed sense of purpose could motivate us to revive the values that make the United States a beacon of hope for most of humanity. If politicians misguide our unity toward easy answers, we'll find ourselves in a dirty war of ever-escalating reprisals and ever-diminishing freedom. But if the anguish and energy that have accompanied this tragedy revive our patience, our communal purpose and our willingness to sacrifice, we'll achieve what previous generations did in their best moments: We'll extend our commitment to justice across an ever-widening circle.??