TCS Daily


Wipe Out State Sponsors of Terrorism, Too

By Richard Perle - September 21, 2001 12:00 AM

There is an air of Vichyite defeatism about some of the commentary in Britain on the current war on terrorism. We constantly hear the reiteration of such themes as "We don't know who the enemy is", "We don't know where to strike them", "Even if we could find them, it would simply create more martyrs" and that "The Wretched of the Earth" (to use the title of Franz Fanon's famous anti-colonial tract) are so desperate that they would not fear honorable death at the hands of what they see as the "Great Satan."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and other senior administration officials are quite right to say that it is a totally new kind of war that the Free World now faces. But even though it is new, the Vichyite contingent would be quite wrong to extrapolate from that that the United States and its allies are impotent. Even if we don't yet know the whole story about last week's atrocities, we know enough to act, and to act decisively.

The truth is that the international community has not created a new world order in which sponsorship of terrorism by states is beyond the pale. Without the things that only states can provide - sanctuary, intelligence, logistics, training, communications, money - even the bin Laden network and others like it could manage only the occasional car bomb. Deprive the terrorists of the offices from which they now work, remove the vast infrastructure now supporting them and force them to sleep in a different place every night because they are hunted - and the scope of their activity will be sharply reduced.

Regimes supporting terrorism have many different motives. Some, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Syria, do so because they agree with the fanatical outlook of their protégés. Saddam Hussein, crazed by a desire for vengeance, pays the families of suicide bombers. The Saudis tolerate terrorism out of fear and weakness, hoping thereby to deflect them on to other potential victims.

We can, we must, get governments out of the terrorism business. We do enjoy economic, political and military leverage over sovereign states, whose leaders do not crave martyrdom. There are, of course, precedents for such action. The Syrians permitted Armenian terrorists to operate freely from territory they control - until intolerable pressure from the Turkish government forced the Ba'athist regime to expel their "guests". This resulted in a precipitate drop in terrorist attacks.

In recent years, there has been no penalty for tolerating or even abetting terrorism. After the bombing of the United States' al-Khobar barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996, the local authorities feared the consequences of further aggravating the perpetrators more than they feared American displeasure, and the investigation went nowhere.

As the United States builds a coalition to combat terrorism, it must remember that including states that are themselves sponsors of terrorism, or ready to tolerate it, carries a heavy price. The last time around, in building the coalition to liberate Kuwait in 1990-91, we paid a cost that we should never again bear.

For example, Syria was invited to join the Gulf war coalition. Its military contribution to the campaign was minimal, yet in exchange for getting inside the Western tent it obtained the latitude to continue the use of and the sponsorship of terrorism -- especially in Lebanon. It has continued to destabilize the region. There are those who argue that even Yasser Arafat, a terrorist himself, who has recruited suicide bombers, commemorated their murderous acts, and ordered the assassination of American diplomats, should join the campaign to combat terrorism.

Today, there is even talk about bringing Syria, Iran and Libya into a new anti-terrorism front. But if these regimes want to get into the creditors' club, as it were, then they must cease to be debtors. That means renouncing terrorism in word and apprehending terrorists in deed, now.

Depth of genuine commitment to the anti-terrorist cause must not be sacrificed for the sake of breadth. In other words, breadth and "inclusivity" must not become ends in themselves, especially if they compromise the moral basis of avenging the slaughter of innocents.

For example, Iran has its own reasons for supporting military action against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. But no one should confuse Iranian support for such action with an Iranian commitment to oppose terrorism. It is unthinkable that we could admit them into the coalition. An anti-terrorist coalition that has any reasonable prospect of success will be made up of countries that value democratic institutions, individual liberty and the sanctity of life.

It cannot include countries that repress their own people, violate fundamental human rights and scorn the fundamental values of western civilization. Momentary, fleeting collaboration for immediate tactical advantage may make sense, as Churchill understood in joining with the Soviet Union to defeat Nazism. No coalition to defeat terrorism can include countries that countenance campaigns of hate and vilification. Countries that tolerate the incitement to kill civilians - Americans, Britons, Israelis and others - have no legitimate role in the war against terrorism.

Some countries may be unwilling or unable to participate in a coalition that demands a respect for the values and norms of western civilization. The nature of their hold on power may be inconsistent with genuine opposition to terrorism. Such countries are part of the problem, not the solution, and we neither need their help nor would benefit from their professions of support.

Those countries that harbor terrorists - that provide the means with which they would destroy innocent civilians -- must themselves be destroyed. The war against terrorism is about the war against those regimes. We will not win the war against terror by chasing individual terrorists, any more than we will win the war against drugs by arresting the "mules" who pass through Heathrow. It is the networks that send young men on suicide missions and their sponsors that must be destroyed.

The author was U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense 1981-87.
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