What are we fighting for? Nearly two months after the brutal attacks on America, there's still some public confusion.

This confusion stems from a fundamental disagreement over two starkly different approaches to combating the threat America faces. One is surgical. The other is holistic.

The surgical approach, which has been adopted (so far, at least) by the Bush administration, is marked by:

— a focus on Usama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network; an emphasis on retaliation for the Sept. 11 terrorism;

— a reliance upon the broadest global coalition possible;  

— highlighting non-military measures, such as diplomatic discussions, U.N. and NATO resolutions, intelligence sharing, and financial asset freezing.

Brent Scowcroft, national security advisor for President George H.W. Bush during the Gulf War, articulated the surgical approach on a televised debate we had last Friday. Scowcroft declared that the "war against terrorism" isn't primarily a military war at all. Rather, it's an intelligence war, one relying on cooperation with Pakistani and other intelligence services to root out bin Laden.

The holistic approach, on the other hand, is substantially different. It is marked by:

— an initial focus on bin Laden but then extending the war far beyond his terrorist network; it advocates that U.S. forces soon attack terrorism-backing regimes in Iraq, Sudan, Lebanon, Somalia, and other nasty places;

— an emphasis not only on retaliation for past terrorist attacks, but also prevention of future terrorist attacks — particularly those using chemical, biological and nuclear weapons;

— a reliance on not one coalition but changing coalitions, which vary in membership, task and intensity as we progress; this will involve various states helping us in sundry ways at different times and with greater and lesser degrees of enthusiasm along the way;  

— highlighting military means while considering diplomatic, financial and intelligence aspects primarily for what they add to the military campaign. 

Of these two competing approaches to fighting terrorism, the holistic approach is the best way to go. Here's why: It's a winner, and the surgical remedy is destined to be a loser.

Limiting the aims of this war to nabbing bin Laden and wiping out the Al Qaeda network — indispensable goals though they are — is setting up the U.S. campaign for failure. Finding one man in rocky, desolate Afghanistan is complicated and could take a long time if it is possible at all. So, too, with eradicating his global and nebulous terrorist network completely. This is, again, important and critical work. But complete success will be difficult to verify if it is even achievable.

Odd as it may initially appear, many of the narrow goals of the surgical approach are tougher to accomplish than the grander goals of the holistic approach.

Moreover, the surgical approach is too narrow given the dangers before us. Sure, we face a threat from Al Qaeda, which desperately needs to be eradicated. But we likewise face grave threats from other terrorist networks, and states engaged in terrorism. As dedicated as bin Laden and his ilk are, they do not have the enormous manpower, tax-generated funds, nuclear research facilities, and diplomatic ties that regime rulers have.

All of this leads me to advocate the holistic approach. The United States should attack key regimes — the hosts and supporters of terrorism — rather than targeting only the terrorists themselves. While individual terrorists may be suicidal, terror-backing regimes generally aren't. Once these vile men seize power, they like to keep it.

That's why going after the Iraqi regime should be among our top priorities, a point Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman made clear in a recent Wall Street Journal article. After all, unlike bin Laden, who lives from cave to cave, Saddam Hussein lives in one of his 28 presidential palaces. He rules over a huge army, receives billions of dollars for his state treasury, runs national research labs working diligently on making chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and uses diplomatic pouches to transport nasty items.

To illustrate what's at stake, let history be a guide. In June 1981, the Israeli air force decimated a nuclear reactor Saddam Hussein had nearly completed building. And Israel did so without warning or provocation. For this, Israel was on the receiving end of widespread castigation. The world community squawked. The U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution condemning Israel's unilateral attack. Even the pro-Israeli administration of Ronald Reagan objected.

But just imagine the world since 1981 if Saddam had succeeded in using a reactor to develop and deploy nuclear weapons. He'd surely control the Kuwaiti and Saudi oilfields today. He'd be among the most powerful rulers on earth today. By now, he probably would have shared his nukes with bin Laden, and any other vile Arab despising the United States who wanted them.

Having entered a war we did not choose — unlike the Korean, Vietnam or Gulf wars — we're now in a war we must win. We cannot simply react against known terrorists. We must pro-act against states that support the international terrorist network and that develop weapons of mass destruction. America's future — and, indeed, the future of civilization itself — depends upon our doing so.

So in the war against terrorism, the Bush administration must set goals which are winnable, rather than setting us up for failure. We cannot afford to lose this war.

Kenneth Adelman is a frequent guest commentator on Fox News, was assistant to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 1975 to 1977 and, under President Ronald Reagan, U.N. ambassador and arms-control director. Mr. Adelman is now co-host of TechCentralStation.com.

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