Religious, nationalist terrorism in the Middle East - which lies behind this week's bomb attacks in Kuwait - is a hard phenomenon for the United States to deal with. Suicide truck-bomb missions defy conventional precautions. Responsibility is difficult to fix. Retaliation by conventional force might momentarily assuage the anguish and frustration of the victimized super power or its client, but retaliation only feeds the fanaticism of the attackers and draws the retaliator into the eye-for-an-eye morass which originally bred the attackers' hatred and mission.
The US, despite warnings, was caught off guard when its embassy staff in Tehran was seized four years ago. The Carter administration eventually tried a rescue mission which was aborted in a desert mishap. Only when Carter's political cycle had run its course were the US personnel released, on Mr. Reagan's Inauguration Day, in a gesture intended to humiliate Carter and possibly signal an opportunity for a new relationship under Mr. Reagan.
Then came this past April's US Embassy bombing in Beirut, October's truck-bomb attack on US and French troop positions in Beirut, and now bomb attacks on US and French sites in Kuwait, including the two nations' embassies.
The pace of the attacks has picked up. Their scope has expanded from the base of the Islamic fundamentalist movement, Tehran, to embrace Lebanon, which is not of great strategic interest to the US, and Kuwait, which sits in the great Persian Gulf oil field and thus is of great strategic importance to the West. The terrorist alert reaches even to the White House, where concrete barriers are now in place and the presence of surface-to-air missiles is openly discussed.
What can the US do?
Obviously, security measures at all embassies or other potential targets must be stepped up. While quarantine behind concrete barriers goes against the ideal of open embassy access, there can be no excuse for needlessly sacrificing the lives of Americans abroad or of the nationals who work in US mission compounds.