It is difficult to see how a clear victory can be declared in this situation
Financial markets are on tenterhooks wondering what will be the broad implications of America's war on terrorism.
The unusual circumstances surrounding the conflict all but confound prediction. Who is the enemy? Certainly, terrorist organisations qualify. And implied in the rhetoric from Washington and London, the Taliban regime, ruler of most of Afghanistan, is also the foe.
At the time of writing, no government has declared war directly on the Taliban. That cannot be said of the news media. Television news declared war on the Taliban almost immediately after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
At least one lengthy documentary sprung virtually out of nowhere to report on the atrocities of the Taliban. It is well worth seeing, by the way, and it is supported by a great deal of file footage attesting to the horrors the Taliban has inflicted on its own people.
The unspoken verdict is that the Taliban is to Afghanistan what the Khmer Rouge was to Cambodia, the former having made a new killing field right at home in the Hindu Kush. Practically the only good thing about a war being declared is the sudden abundance of some pretty good public speaking. The prospect of mortal combat somehow stirs the rhetorical juices in politicians.
Since the attack on America on 11 September, US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair at turns have delivered some real beauties, never failing to dazzle audiences.
One such occasion was the prayer service on 14 September when Bush intoned, 'This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others. It will end in a way, and at an hour, of our choosing.'
Let's hope he is right, because that means we get to decide when enough is enough. But what is enough? What does it take for America and its allies to win the war?
Certainly no victory would be complete without the apprehension or elimination of some trophy terrorist. To be sure, we can't stop until Osama bin Laden is in custody or verifiably dead. And that goes for his immediate followers too.
Moreover, it is hard to see how the coalition partners could declare victory without ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban. My readers in the insurance industry ought to think twice about writing life policies on Mullah Omar.
So maybe that is a first-stage win: Ice Bin Laden and his lieutenants, oust the Taliban, and support a stable, non-terrorist government in Afghanistan.
From a market strategy standpoint, that could come about faster than one might think. There is a scenario in which the Taliban regime crumbles rather quickly. The new government, with the King and the Northern Alliance actively involved, might be pleased to join in the hunt for Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda regulars.
And who better to help find them than the Afghans themselves?
This represents the most optimistic case, barring the Taliban reversing gears to hand over all of the terrorists. This case calls for sharp upward moves in Western financial markets and in the US dollar as well.
History attests to the impossibility of knowing in advance how many things can go wrong when a nation goes to war. Anything and everything awful are possible. Well not exactly anything, for I am supremely confident that the Taliban cannot defeat our coalition.
Yet it could get very messy before it is over, depending on how far we wish to push this war. The questions too get more and more difficult. What to do about Syria? Why isn't Egypt more demonstrative of support for America's cause? Do we risk destabilising Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and maybe even Indonesia?
The biggest wild card is whether America decides to go after Iraq, for the president said that those harboring terrorists will share their fate.
If the evidence proves that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's government had a hand in the 11 September attacks, then the definition of what constitutes a victory widens. And after seeing what happened to his father's credibility, George W. Bush must target Saddam Hussein. Anything less would be failure.
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