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What Lessons Have Been Learned from Terrorist Attack? - 2001-09-13

As the United States pursues those responsible for the terrorist attack, analysts suggest some of the lessons that have been learned about terrorism, and are still to be learned.

Ralph Peters is a former U.S. Army officer specializing in unconventional warfare who now writes novels, some dealing with terrorism. He says he does not have to worry about writing an end to this real-life terrorist attack on the United States. "We will be very serious in pursuing the perpetrators of this deed," he said. "It may take a while to identify them, but I truly believe in this case there will be no safe haven for them."

Obviously, the United States was caught by surprise, says Mr. Peters. There are lessons to be learned. "This is a good time for America to rethink its foreign policy very thoroughly. But more practically, we need to stop our over-reliance on technical means of intelligence and get back in the human business. And we also need to break the cycle of just buying more high performance aircraft and design a military that is more apropos for today's threats."

Most important, says Mr. Peters, is a show of resolve since terrorism is not easily combated. The battle against it may take years. He continued, "The problem in the past with the United States' responding to terrorist events - the earlier attack on the world trade center, the attack on the [USS] Cole and the embassies in Africa is that we tend to bluster, and our retaliation is just feel good stuff, and it is often imprecise. When we do retaliate, you have to make sure you hit the right people or you simply create more sympathy for the terrorists."

As an example of imprecision, Mr. Peters cites the U.S. raids on Khartoum and Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa. He says a mistake of this kind turns moderates into radicals.

Joseph Nye, dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, shares that concern. Dean Nye said, When you attack for the sake of attacking, you probably recruit supporters to your opponents. I think we suffered, for example, after the cruise missile attack on the factory in Sudan. I think we lost a lot of support. Right now, Americans do have a lot of sympathy. It is very important that we know what we are doing if we have a counter-attack."

Mr. Nye says it is crucial for the United States to be seen as scrupulous as well as resolute in responding to the terrorist attack.