U.S. expects its friends to back efforts to launch war on terrorism
By JOHN IBBITSON
Thursday, September 13, 2001
WASHINGTON -- U.S. President George W. Bush's declaration that the United States is at war has placed Canada on the front lines of a conflict without borders.
The Americans are showing unprecedented solidarity and making unprecedented demands of their friends as they prepare to avenge the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The U.S. Senate voted 100 to 0 yesterday in declaring its unqualified support for Mr. Bush as he plans a response to the attacks. The House of Representatives was equally supportive. There were even discussions as to whether Congress should formally declare that the nation is at war.
"We will rid this world of the stench of your existence," Democrat Representative Shelley Berkley of Nevada warned the terrorists.
Last night, they also held a prayer vigil on Capitol Hill.
Yesterday, Mr. Bush acted every bit the war leader touring the battlefield. He viewed the damage at the Pentagon, the hub of the U.S. military, struck Tuesday by a hijacked airliner, vowing that the United States would not be cowed.
"Coming here makes me sad on the one hand, but it also makes me angry," Mr. Bush said. "Our country will, however, not be cowed by terrorists."
The sombre-faced President visited the fire-devastated site just outside Washington with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who led him through crowds of soldiers, firefighters and rescue teams struggling to recover victims of Tuesday's attack.
Firefighters and soldiers on the roof of the Pentagon unfurled a giant American flag, prompting cheers and applause from the crowd below. In the crowd, people began singing, God Bless America.
Mr. Bush, with his hands in his pockets, stopped before the caved-in portion of the building as Mr. Rumsfeld explained what happened when it was struck by an American Airlines Boeing 757.
The President said he was overwhelmed by the sight.
"Secretary Rumsfeld told me when I talked to him that he felt the blast shake the Pentagon. Although he was on the other side of the Pentagon, the building rocked," he said. "Now I know why."
Congressional leaders rejected a White House request for unlimited funds to respond to the attack, but agreed to a $20-billion emergency relief package to meet short-term needs for federal, state and local preparedness, investigating the situation, security, rescue and recovery at the sites and overall national security.
Members also said they would approve any specific request sent to them from the President.
And the American government also asked for, and received, the invocation of Article Five of the North Atlantic Charter, which commits Canada and all NATO members to declaring that an attack on the United States is an attack on them.
This does not mean that Canadian troops will parachute into Kabul, as part of an American punitive raid on the Taliban regime.
It does mean that Canada and other NATO member states will be expected to share intelligence information, to permit American use of military installations and air space, to participate in any economic boycotts and, most important, to stand, without question, in support of an enraged superpower as it wreaks vengeance upon those it judges responsible for this attack.
We can only guess what the U.S. response might be. The assassination or forcible extraction of the Islamic fundamentalist leader Osama bin Laden, perhaps. Air attacks against the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which harbours him. Economic sanctions against Pakistan, which supports the Taliban. Military strikes and covert operations.
If these reprisals simply provoke a fresh round of reprisals, terrorist counterstrikes could be aimed at those who have declared their support for American action.
Canadians and Europeans are one level removed from this tragedy. But both are locked in now. Thanks to Article Five, the commitment is now complete and irrevocable. Canadians may not soon be at war in the way the Americans think of themselves of it, but we are beside them in this war, for as long as it lasts and as bad as it gets.