OPINION

Commentary

Regardless of one’s perspective, this is a peculiar war. The USA’s heavy bombing campaigns – which have turned out to be less surgical than advertised – do not seem capable of achieving the objective of the operation. Afghanistan lacks essential infrastructure and the fact that its society is organized according to a 18th-century pattern, in a way, renders the ultramodern US weapons ineffective – to be more precise, less effective than in the Gulf War and the war in the former Yugoslavia. The second particularity of this war is that the subversion of the Taleban regime does not equal the disruption of the Al-Qaeda network. On the contrary, this war may well breed Islamic terrorism, in the sense that it can drive even more fanatics in that direction. In effect, even the most favorable outcome in the Afghanistan operations would not fully solve the problem. What gives this war a whole new dimension, however, is the anthrax threat. There is a widespread impression that the anthrax cases mark the beginning of a biological war, hence causing fear – and often hysteria – in the West. The crucial question is whether the anthrax cases are part of an organized terrorist plan harbored by Al-Qaeda or whether they have been engineered by ultra-rightist paranoids. The Al-Qaeda network’s activity has, so far, been imaginative and original and seems to be taking into account the significance of the communication factor in the Western world. The use of anthrax would indeed serve a psychological war – unprecedented in history – and help avoid a massive strike that would bring death upon thousands of citizens. Perhaps this is what Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden was referring to when he said that the Western world would no longer sleep peacefully and dream. The dispatch of small doses of anthrax fuels panic and psychologically paralyzes. The number of casualties is small but the economic and social cost is huge. The widespread, albeit invisible, threat renders people hostage to fear and destabilizes their everyday lives. And this is a victory for bin Laden, whether he is behind the anthrax scare or not.