The Bush administration has given Afghanistan's Taliban rulers an ultimatum with regard to the world's leading mastermind of terrorism, Osama bin Laden: Hand over bin Laden or else. Indeed, when a high-ranking delegation from Pakistan visited Afghanistan on Monday for meetings with Taliban leaders, they reportedly warned that the United States had set a 72-hour deadline.
If that deadline passes without bin Laden being brought to justice to answer for the Sept. 11 deadly terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center twin towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, the U.S. would have no choice but to launch a military strike of some kind.
Such a strike, even if it is confined to aerial bombings of the mountain range that has served as bin Laden's hideout, would demonstrate to America's enemies that our saber rattling is not to be taken lightly.
On the other hand, failure to act quickly after the expiration of the 72-hour deadline would be seen by terrorist networks around the world as a sign of weakness. We would once again be belittled as the "mouse that roared." Such inaction could prompt future cowardly attacks against the U.S.
President George W. Bush has characterized the death and destruction in New York and Washington as a declaration of war by the enemy called terrorism and he has won congressional support to take whatever measures he deems necessary to not only retaliate, but to destroy that enemy.
Allies: And while Bush is right in building support for military action among our allies -- he has even received words of encouragement from countries that have traditionally been at odds with the U.S. over its Middle East policy -- the fact remains that the world's lone superpower must lead the charge.
Immediate air strikes would give credence to the president's warning that "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbored them" and would demonstrate this nation's resolve to go after these murderous individuals wherever they may be.
There is no doubt that such a campaign will last a long time, given that terrorist cells are located in at least 50 countries and have the protection of many national leaders, including Saddam Hussein of Iraq. And it is also to be expected that this nation will sustain casualties. But our resolve must be strong if we are to win the war against terrorism.
America's credibility is at stake. The president said this week he wants bin Laden "dead or alive," evoking images of the gunslinger in the old West. Such tough talk has left Bush with little wiggle room. The longer he puts off any kind of military assault, the harder it will become for the United States to keep the international alliance against terrorism intact.
An immediate surgical strike in Afghanistan would certainly win the approval of the American people who want to see the blood of terrorists spilled.