least of all U.S. officials -- thinks that one round of cruise missiles fired at facilities in Afghanistan and Sudan will make terrorists suddenly change their ways.
But that recognition is one of the factors that give the U.S. attack added weight. It sends the signal that Washington fully realizes the difficulties of combating fanatics, but is nevertheless willing to act unilaterally and with deadly effect in a long-term battle.
The threat of reprisals against Americans here and abroad as a result of that commitment is obvious. So is the fact that, even if Thursday's strikes succeeded in demolishing terrorist training camps while killing at least 21, surviving masterminds will re-establish those camps in new locales.
But since part of the reason for the U.S. strikes was intelligence showing that more bombings were being planned, it follows that the Pentagon is prepared to follow up with strikes against those new locales, as well, when intelligence dictates -- and without waiting for Americans to be killed.
That should send a strong message to would-be plotters.
So should the fact that American planners seemed to have a good idea this time of who was responsible for the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania two weeks ago and how that plot was carried out. And they seemed to know when those masterminds -- including Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden -- would be gathering to plot the next wave of attacks.
That information marks a reassuring success for a U.S. intelligence community that has been more known for failures in recent years. Moreover, the fact that America's spies seem to have a good handle on this network should give pause to the terrorists who survived this round of cruise missiles.
Close-mouthed U.S. officials, their satellites stymied by cloud cover, don't expect a full damage assessment immediately. Their initial assessment was that "moderate to heavy" damage was inflicted. But anyone who remembers the Gulf War knows that early Pentagon assessments can sometimes be overly optimistic. It may turn out that more than the reported 75 to 80 missiles should have been fired.
But whether it means hitting these sites again, or attacking wherever bin Laden or others establish their next training camp, Washington has demonstrated that it has the will and ability to make both retaliatory and pre-emptive strikes. And in attacking when bin Laden was thought to be present, it has demonstrated that prohibitions on assassination don't necessarily protect masterminds of murder.
Those were appropriate messages to send to both these terrorists and the regimes that shelter them, as well as to other problem characters such as Saddam Hussein.
The problem is that it's a message that will probably have to be repeated. Americans should be prepared for that.