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James Baker III is a former secretary of State and close associate of U.S. President George W. Bush. He spoke with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels Sept. 12. This piece is accompanied by a sidebar by L. Paul Bremer, who was ambassador-at-large for counter-terrorism during the Reagan administration.

How should the U.S. respond to this terrorist act some are calling a "21st-century Pearl Harbor"?

The president was very explicit in his statement: "We will hunt down and punish" those responsible. He added that we will make no distinction between them and those states that harbor and abet them.

I would certainly expect that we will not limit our response to the specific group found responsible. Once we determine who they are, we would go after the infrastructure and assets of any country that harbors them, on whose soil they conduct their training. They have to be on somebody's soil, somewhere.

The U.S. maintains a list of states that host or sponsor terrorism, such as Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria. Most of these states have already condemned what has happened.

We know that Afghanistan has been harboring Osama bin Laden. An awful lot of people think he is the extraordinarily logical suspect for this type of sophisticated operation.

In the lead-up to the Gulf War we told Saddam Hussein he had a fixed amount of time to get of Kuwait, and if he didn't, we would throw him out. I think we ought to take the same approach with Afghanistan. We should tell the Taliban leadership that they have only a certain amount of time to deliver Osama bin Laden, and if they don't we will determine that are continuing to harbor him and must suffer the consequences.

Beyond this kind of action, the choices of what to do are not all that easy in terms of targeting. It doesn't do much good to drop Tomahawk missiles out in the desert somewhere.

When the U.S. had hostages taken in Lebanon, the question was not whether to retaliate but how to do so effectively. The question is the same today.

GV: What about the prospects of building a coalition like you did in the run-up to the Gulf War?

I think you will see a lot of support for whatever stance the U.S. takes. The civilized world needs to understand what is going on here. All countries that enjoy civil liberties and an open and free society are at risk. This is more than what we've been used to as run-of-the-mill terrorism. This is a new era. This was a spectacular attack in the heart of American power conducted with a degree of sophistication and capacity that has surprised all of us. From the terrorist point of view, this was almost a 100 percent success.

Will the moderate Arab states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia join such a coalition against terrorism?

There is an excellent chance that you can mobilize these countries, certainly politically. Any time there is violence like this, the rejectionists and hard-liners are strengthened and the moderates are weakened. So the imperative for the moderates is to rally together.

Whether they would come on board militarily -- we had Arab troops fighting in the Gulf War against Saddam -- may be more difficult.

Yet, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia has just completed a tour of the Arab world to rally them against Israel and in favor of the Palestinian intifada when the U.N. General Assembly meets later this month.

Yes, the breakdown in the peace process does complicate involving moderate Arab states in a U.S.-led coalition against terror just now because it polarizes the region. But it is far too simplistic to suggest that this attack in New York and Washington happened because of the breakdown of the peace process.

When you look at what has been done to U.S. interests over the past few years -- the bombings of the embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, the suicide bombing against the U.S.S. Cole -- these took place when the peace process was flowering.

Finally, some have suggested that the fact these terrorists could fly advanced aircraft means the terrorism must have been state-sponsored. Pilots don't come out of refugee camps in the mountains.

Certainly, these weren't the same kids who strap a stick of dynamite to their leg and walk into a pizza parlor in Jerusalem. Someone with Osama bin Laden's money could hire pilots to train people to fly an airplane. That money does not have to come from a government.

Once again, the point the president made is key: Any country that permits this kind of thing -- the training of pilots for such an attack -- on their soil is culpable.

(c) 2001, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 9/12/01)