Secretary of State Colin Powell is both the most prominent military leader in the Bush administration and its loudest voice for restraint in the new "war."
The former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs a critic of "pseudo- policy" policy created by the media or in response to oscillating public opinion. When polled, the man-on-the-street seems to favor military action against Afghanistan or other states that "sponsor" terrorism. However, Powell argues for first exhausting other means of resolution, such as exploring diplomatic options, before going ahead with military intervention. He has consistently urged the use of "overwhelming force" only after clear political objectives and an exit strategy have been established.
No one knows what will happen in the coming weeks or months in the War on Terrorism. At the moment, voices of restraint do seem to dominate the debate. But this situation may be similar to what history calls the "phony war" the period of relative military inaction in Europe that followed the declaration of World War II in September, 1939 through May, 1940. This was the calm before a five-year storm.
Today, a window of opportunity remains open for reflection and debate on the looming war.
My last FOXNews.com column which called for such discussion and questioning prompted an unprecedented flood of e-mail. The most interesting responses came from servicemen who strongly supported restraint both militarily and domestically. These servicemen were reluctant to suspend civil liberties in exchange for security policies to ensure safety.
R.J., a retired veteran who served in the Navy for 21 years, described both his horror at the events of Sept. 11 and his determination to fight against the evil of terrorism. However, he said he had "very grave reservations" about measures being taken in the name of "safety and security." He particularly objected to banning knives at airports, calling it an "overreaction" to a tragedy that was actually the fault of "poor intelligence."
He referred to the possibility of having citizens carry national ID cards a solution some have suggested as being "against everything I believed and fought for while I was in the military." He ended his e-mail by quoting Benjamin Franklin: "Those who trade essential liberties for temporary safety deserve neither safety nor liberty."
Another reader, C.K., serves in the U.S. Marine Corps reserve and lost a family member in the World Trade Center attack. "From the U.S. Civil War to World War II," he wrote, "war has destroyed civil liberties in this country with greater justifications of federal power."
He also worried about the definition of a terrorist, which politics may expand to include anyone opposed to state intrusion. Instead of suspending civil liberties, C.K. suggested "the promotion of complete property rights," including the right to gun ownership. That way, "airliners can defend their own planes, utilities can defend their own water and power supplies and parents can defend their own families."
In foreign policy, C.K. argued for free trade with all nations, including Iran, Iraq and Cuba. "Free trade and property rights are what gave this nation strength, not democracy (besides, the U.S. is a republic)." As for war, should it become necessary, he quoted Chinese military master Sun Tzu's The Art of War, which has been called the oldest military treatise in the world: "... the greatest victory is victory without bloodshed." C.K. urged proponents of peace to use the book as a manual against "the improper use of force."
M.M., a Vietnam vet who counts three other veterans of that war in his family, gave a politically sophisticated analysis of why "we need to thoroughly examine what we mean by patriotism, nationalist, sovereignty, justice, rule-of-law and transnational brand loyalty in this emerging context of global capitalism."
He expressed pointed concern that, for some people, war is purely a matter of profit. He wanted to know how the U.S. was to determine and prevent "war profiteering ... by those who trade their citizenship for serious economic advantage as cavalierly as they trade their stock portfolios, with the benefit of insider information ... naturally. This slime needs to be exposed as much as the terrorists' network."
M.M. wrote from the viewpoint of experience, having witnessed corruption.
It is not uncommon for military personnel to show more prudence regarding warfare than politicians, government officials or the general public. They understand the complexities of warfare because they have experienced it firsthand. They have been trained to stay calm under pressure and to act on the assessment of a given situation rather than on emotion.
Perhaps the focus upon assessing the situation and determining the facts of the attack is what led to the reported tension between Powell and others in the Bush administration over whether to release evidence against bin Laden to the public and to the nations whose support the U.S. has solicited. On Sept. 23, Powell told NBC's Meet the Press, "I think in the near future, we will be able to put out a paper, a document, that will describe quite clearly the evidence that we have linking him to this attack." On Sept. 24, Bush went out of his way to, according to the Associated Press, "roll back reports" that the case against bin Laden would be released. That same day, Powell referred to the evidence as being mostly "classified."
The military's emphasis on facts, consequences and the art of the possible may be largely responsible for the slowly spreading sanity of restraint.