TCS Daily

Ending Terrorism By Ending the State Sponsors of Terrorism

By Nick Schulz - October 18, 2001 12:00 AM

The potency of the anthrax strains used to target the U.S. Senate Majority Leader has pushed to the forefront an uncomfortable question the administration must soon face: state-sponsored terrorism and what to do about it.

The Washington Post reports one senator describing the anthrax as "weapon-grade" and another who says it is of a "high quality." Such sophistication strongly suggests that there may be state involvement in the development of bioterror and its distribution on American soil.

Washington is now consumed by talk about what will happen after the Afghanistan phase of the war on terrorism. Defense analysts as well as Capitol Hill and administration officials are debating the scope of the effort required to weaken, diminish and, as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz put it just three days after September 11, "[end] states who sponsor terrorism."

But the political left is apoplectic over such thoughts. Frequent Israel critic and Columbia University professor Edward Said called Wolfowitz's remarks "nihilistic" and Slate magazine dismissed Wolfowitz as President Bush's "testosterone man."

Those fretting over the Deputy Secretary's hints at an expansive military conflict express concern that administration hawks fail to understand the so-called "root causes" of the hatred directed at the United States. The hatred, it is argued, is born out of everything from the legacy of colonialism to "specific American alliances and actions" such as "the ongoing American bombing of Iraq" to debilitating poverty. "Desperation breeds resentment" the revisionist historian Howard Zinn wrote recently in describing the phenomenon of Islamic rage against the West. And that resentment leads to suicide pilots and anthrax in the mail.

But it is administration hawks such as Wolfowitz who take into serious consideration the "root causes" of extremism in the Muslim world and are lobbying heavily to rectify them. Ironically enough, there is much on which some of those on the political left on the one hand and foreign policy hawks on the other may agree. But where they part ways is over what, ultimately, to do about it.

The authoritative Freedom House report "Freedom in the World: The Annual Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties" outlines the problem the United States` and its allies face. The area of the globe most hostile to human rights and political liberties encompasses most of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and much of Central Asia.

This area also has among the lowest per capita income in the world. And these are the areas that are, not coincidentally, the breeding grounds - the swamps - for terrorism with a global reach.

The University of Maryland's Shibley Telhami recently pointed out that "the absence of democracy and legitimate means for organizing political opposition" provide the "demand-side" of terrorist activity. In this he is surely correct. Repressive authoritarian regimes are responsible for the conditions that breed extremism and hatred. And in many instances, as the State Department has outlined year after year, these states go far beyond merely establishing the conditions that lead to a climate of hatred but are also actively engaged in the plotting and execution of terrorist activities.

Supporters of a sustained military response to terrorism understand that genuine security is impossible as long as these regimes continue to oppress their citizens and thrive unchecked.

The United States response to state sponsors of terrorism will vary, as it should. How the U.S. approaches Iraq, for example, should differ from how it treats Syria. But the suggestion in some quarters that the call for a military campaign fails to understand the underlying dynamics involved is nonsense. Rather, it is an acute understanding of the root causes that prompts calls for military engagement.

It remains to be seen if the administration and lawmakers on Capitol Hill possess the will to do what's necessary to address this challenge. A disturbing sign came from Senator Kent Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota, who said after anthrax was sent to his colleague, "being from a rural area, we deal with anthrax on a fairly regular basis. I think we've got to guard against overreaction here." This comment suggests there may not yet be in official Washington an appropriate level of seriousness.

Nonetheless it is imperative that the long-term strategy for the United States include sustained pressure, including significant military force where necessary, on that part of the world where political grievances are pushed underground and can only be channeled -- with sometimes violent, sadistic, and catastrophic results -- through religious expression.

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