So often, I've written to you about the unforeseen. By definition, we never know what that's going to be.

But when you lay plans for the future, you need an asterisk somewhere for the sudden, unexpected turns of life and death.

Death in the Pentagon or World Trade Center by the hand of a suicide pilot is the most appalling example I've heard of the unforeseen.

But more obvious things (obvious in hindsight) lie unattended, right under our noses.

The bursting of the stock-market bubble was unforeseen. Even though everyone "knew" it eventually had to happen, they left their money in the market and got caught.

In the days after the attack, we "knew" that America will strike against those responsible for the terrorist attacks. We're starting with Osama bin Laden, the exiled Saudi Muslim extremist who wants the United States out of the entire Middle East.

He's being protected by Afghanistan's governing party, the Taliban. On the bloodiest-minded talk-radio shows, callers are demanding that President Bush fire nuclear missiles into Afghanistan, that suffering land, until bin Laden comes out with his hands up.

"Everybody wants to go shoot somebody," says Lt. Gen. William Odom, former director of the National Security Agency and now at the Hudson Institute in Washington. "But if the president does that, he'll be ineffective. We first have to know a lot more about who's responsible."

We'll strike back, of course, because we must. Washington's problem is how to ride out America's demand for revenge while forming an assault plan that won't make a horrible situation even worse.

What Americans failed to foresee was that the great Middle Eastern War the war that has festered for decades between and among Muslims, Christians and Jews, Arabs and Persians, Sunnis and Shiites, Palestinians and Israelis (with U.S. support) would eventually be fought on U.S. soil, too.

Financing the bloodshed

Turning bin Laden into a casualty of war would be entirely satisfactory. But it's not just the man who is our enemy, it's the money that supports him and not just his own.

Vast sums are available for a war of fear against the United States today. Obvious donors include our open enemies, such as Iraq, Iran, Libya and Sudan.

But the work is also financed by semi-friends such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who buy their own peace by funding Muslim radicals on the side.

Bin Laden also gets money indirectly from us.

This is oil money, after all. The United States currently imports 60 percent of what it consumes, according to the American Petroleum Institute in Washington. The Persian Gulf countries supply 23 percent.

So whom are we going to bomb once we've fired at the Taliban? Where do Iraq and Yemen fit in (remember the bombing of the USS Cole)? Can we extract co-conspirators from Egypt or Saudi Arabia without endangering those moderate regimes? If Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf gives the U.S. military help, would he be assassinated by radicals there? Above all, how do we interdict the money the terrorists command?

Prepare for long haul

But if we're building toward physical or economic war with extremists in the Middle East, don't be seduced by memories of the quick victory in Kuwait.

This isn't a one-country job. It's a process of bullying, dealing, shooting and still not being sure that some fanatic won't release an unspeakable weapon on the Washington Mall.

We all try to prepare, in some way, for the unforeseen.

If money were the only issue, past experience says, relax. The very worst, economically, would be a slightly longer business slowdown than was previously expected.

The liquidity being poured into the markets by the world's central banks should eventually raise stock prices, even if the stock market drops off for a few days or weeks.

But war in the epicenter of the oil world puts my risk meter up. I'll buy some stock-index mutual funds. But it's a good time for owning bonds and cash, and staying out of debt.

Syndicated columnist Jane Bryant Quinn can be reached in care of the Washington Post Writers Group, 1150 15th St., Washington D.C. 20071-9200.

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