After the bombs—what?

The news Tuesday morning that a bomb had fallen on a United Nations facility in Kabul, Afghanistan, killing four sleeping guards, underscores the danger that accompanies the American bombing campaign begun Sunday—for the U.S. as well as the Afghan people.

The greatest danger is that the bombing will further inflame anti-American feeling and put pro-U.S. regimes in the area at greater risk. This is of course exactly what Osama bin Laden wants most dearly—to overthrow the remaining secular governments. That prospect, especially in regard to nuclear-weapons-holding Pakistan, is worrisome indeed.

Meanwhile, life has become even harder for the Afghan people. Those under attack are living in fear, and food is becoming scarce as the winter season looms. The U.S. is attempting to help with its airdrops of food, but the amount of aid is miniscule compared to the need. As many as a million people are in grave danger of starvation.

Because of the bombing, existing aid agencies in Afghanistan, on which hundreds of thousands of Afghans depend for food, are closing. The destruction of the UN facility, which worked to clear the millions of land mines left in the country when the Soviets pulled out 12 years ago, illustrates the danger these organizations face.

At this point, the best the U.S. can hope for is that the Taliban government topples and is replaced by the Northern Alliance. Whether that will flush bin Laden into a U.S. net or just send him scampering to Iraq or Syria remains to be seen. And the Northern Alliance is made up of battle-hardened toughs whose human-rights record is not much better than the Taliban’s.

But even if bin Laden is captured, his terrorist network will remain. And when the bombing stops, anti-American sentiment in the Islamic world is likely to be stronger than ever. If the U.S. wants to solve the problem of Islamic-fundamentalist terrorism, it’s going to have to take a long-range approach to the region.

That will involve, for one, establishing much greater contact with Muslim people. For too long our government has neglected them, preferring to do business solely with their leaders, regardless of legitimacy or popularity. We need to listen to the people’s grievances, with sincerity, and act accordingly.

Second, the U.S. should push strongly to relieve the plight of the Palestinians. President Bush’s recent acknowledgement of the need for a Palestinian state was welcome. It must be followed by action. As long as the U.S. is seen as the biggest impediment to resolution of the Palestinian issue, it will remain a target of terrorism.

Third, the U.S. should seriously consider shutting down its bases in Saudi Arabia, the holiest of Muslim lands. They are a source of great aggravation in the Muslim world, and their strategic importance may not be worth their cost.

Finally, we must reconsider our seemingly unquenchable thirst for oil. The reason we’re at war has much to do, after all, with our dependence on Mideast oil. We need to invest in fuel efficiency. Many excellent technologies are already available. And Rep. Dick Gephardt is absolutely right when he says the nation should create “a Manhattan Project for fuel cells.”

In the long run, that’s one of the best ways to protect ourselves from terrorism.