The attacks of September 11th, 2001 have been compared to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The similarities are both plentiful and obvious. What is not obvious, however, is exactly how we should respond.
In World War II, we had a clearly defined enemy in the Empire of Japan and thus had a clear course to follow. This time, however, we're up against a shadowy army of fanatics hiding within countries all over the world. It seems at this time that the ones primarily responsible for this attack are in Afghanistan, a country with troubles of its own.
Because we're after only a few hundred to a few thousand people, we cannot fight this 'war' in anything like the way we'd fight a normal war. Opportunities for overwhelming shows of forces, and/or thundering strikes will be few and far between. The battles in this war really will be a 'police action' in that much of our effort will be spent simply finding our adversary.
Instead of looking at the start of WWII, our basic model for action should come from the end of the war - the liberation of Europe. Our basic assumption must be that we are working in an innocent, and presumably friendly, crowd with just enough enemies to make things tricky. Even if the Taliban government winds up as one of our declared opponents, we must not succumb to the temptation to treat this as a 'normal' war. History has shown that declaring war on Afghanistan is, at best, a waste of time and resources. Instead our goal should remain one of helping the many while punishing the few.
Because of the cultural differences we'll encounter, we must even take care in how we help. We cannot 'save' a people by destroying not only their homes but their way of life. We must keep firmly in mind that this is not a mission of conquest: we're not sending our young people to die in the desert so franchise coffee houses and fast-food joints can move in. We're just helping a neighbor with a nasty pest-control problem.
Pretending for a moment that we lived in a world where we could easily identify all of our legitimate targets and eliminate them with minimal impact on the rest of the populace, even then our reward would probably consist of 'Yankee Go Home!' And that's how it should be, if your really think about it. The people's of the Middle East live lives rooted in centuries of tradition, during some of which they represented the peak of civilization. Yes, times have changed and some of the old ways no longer work. For the most part it's their decision to make, even if they make what seems to us to be the wrong choice. We cannot be a society founded on freedom if we take away the freedom of others, or at least those others who can conform to the rules of civilization.
So as we move toward the inevitable conflicts, work hard to realize from the start, and remember to the end, that we're not seeking the subjugation of the multitude, just the taming of the few.