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America's Response: Initial Retaliation on American Terms

Aired October 7, 2001 - 23:11   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: When we were talking with former General Wes Clark earlier in the program, we were talking about the fact that today was the day that was fought, essentially, on American terms -- American choice of weapons, American targets. It's not always going to be that easy, he said. And our colleague, Jeff Greenfield, in New York tonight, is not about to disagree with the General.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Nor -- no, nor, indeed, will it be easy for us. Because it is, of course, the story that pulls us to our television sets.

You put your country into harm's way, and you engage the country's hearts and minds. The Greeks knew it. Shakespeare knew it.

We've known in the United States from the days of Matthew Brady's Civil War photos, to Edward R. Murrow reporting from the London rooftops in World War II, to the Fieldman (ph) photos from Vietnam, to CNN in the Gulf War, to today's videophones and night scopes.

And so the airwaves and papers have been and will be filled with numbers and images. How many targets hit? How many sorties flown? How many planes carrying how many weapons? How many U.S. planes were hit, or lost?

We'll hear accounts of fliers under fire, and perhaps see graphic accounts caught on video tape.

And in the sheer onslaught of words and images, it is going to be very hard to remember one key fact: the real story of what is happening, and its greater meaning, may well not be known for weeks or months or longer.

First, initial reports in combat are often incomplete or simply wrong.

The first stories out of Vietnam were filled with accounts of steady progress that were flat wrong- the product of wishful thinking, or worse.

The first reports from the Gulf War of our high tech weapons vastly exaggerated their performance, it turned out.

But more fundamentally, the combat reports will not and cannot tell us what we have really accomplished.

If we destroy terrorist base camps, does that really lessen the danger of terrorism? Or have their operations simply moved elsewhere?

If the Taliban were to fall, has the U.S. already persuaded Muslim nations, elsewhere, to argue that the Taliban were extremists who defiled true Islam?

Or, will the West's adversaries paint such a fall as another struggle between Muslim and non-Muslim, fueling more rage, even suicidal, murderous rage, among other zealots?

And one more question for us. Are we, in the media, prepared to explain why and how all of these dramatic and compelling images may, in fact, be only a very preliminary, sketchy first chapter in a story whose major players and themes we still may not even know.

We use all this, the maps and the charts and the graphics and the voices, to try to make what happened today clearer.

But all of these tools, impressive as they are, cannot convey the harder and more significant story that literally has only begun -- Aaron.

BROWN: Jeff and Judy, jump in if you wish. It does seem to me that, at least looking at what we do for a living, we like stories that have clean beginnings, clean middles and clean ends, and I'm not sure this one's going to have a very clean middle. And I have no clue what the end is like.

GREENFIELD: We also like stories where we can- not just we, but I think it's human nature. We want to know who the bad guys are.

And so, Osama bin Laden is, you know, on everybody's mind. He's in all of the papers, he's in all of the video.

And we really aren't- we cannot say, at this moment, whether or not, if Osama bin Laden were to be, as the phrase goes, "taken out" or "rounded up" or disposed of, you know, we want to be very careful not to portray that as, OK, game over. United States won. Everybody relax.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: And Jeff, on the other hand, you can also argue that the media finally has some visuals to put with the story to help explain what it's all about, and particularly that compelling video today of Osama bin Laden, himself.

GREENFIELD: No, I think that, in fact, is a very useful instructive for people who aren't quite sure what he's about.

But, you know, those same images, the same compelling images, particularly the ones about the wonderful, effective computer simulations of planes and where they are striking- that is a tremendously important and effective and compelling image.

It may not be the most, by far, the most important part of the story. And I think that's what all of us just have to be careful of, as we go down this road.

BROWN: One of the nice things, Jeff, about the way we're set up tonight, is lots of people can come in and join. Jamie McIntyre, our military affairs correspondent, has been listening in and chomping at the bit, a bit -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, I just wanted to add that, I don't think that this point that Jeff makes is, has, is lost on the Pentagon.

We were talking to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld on the trip, his whirlwind trip, and he said that he wanted people to understand that this war against terrorism, he thought it was more like the Cold War than a hot war.

He pointed out that the Cold War took 50 years to win, and it wasn't marked by any spectacular battlefield victories, but instead was the result of constant pressure from a host of nations. And then, when it finally collapsed onto itself, it did so with more of a whimper than a bang.

And he wants people to stop thinking about this like the Persian Gulf War or the war against Kosovo, or Vietnam, and more like a very long campaign.

This strike tonight was not the beginning of the end, or even the end of the beginning. It's just the beginning of the beginning of a very long struggle.

And the Pentagon has been trying to drive home this point that, it's not even primarily going to be a military campaign, and they want people to stop thinking about it the way we think about a traditional, conventional war.

BROWN: And, Jamie ...

GREENFIELD: But, Jamie, the one ...

BROWN: Go ahead, Jeff.

GREENFIELD: The one thing that- that's the one thing that I think is really interesting about that comparison, which has already drawn some critique from historians is, the one thing about the Cold War was, you knew who was on the other side.

With -- it was a nation-state with hegemonistic impulses. It was the Soviet Union and its, you know, and its allies.

I'm not even sure we know who is on the other side, to that extent, on this one. And so, I -- all I'm saying is, those pictures are dramatic, and I take your point, Jamie. But I think it may even be more complicated than just that.

BROWN: Jamie, Jeff, I'm going to stop you both here. We'll take a break and whip around the world, and look at the events in Afghanistan as they unfold this morning and elsewhere, in just a moment.




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