TCS Daily

Relax, We're Winning

By Greg Buete - July 23, 2002 12:00 AM

A recent survey found only one in three Americans think the US is winning the war on terror. But what do most Americans consider a victory? Most likely, it's the confirmed death of Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden is just the head of an international terror organization, and unfortunately, there are many to replace him. Even so, there remains a kind of morale euphoria when an enemy's leader has been killed or captured. Upon news of Hitler's death on April 30, 1945, you can imagine this same kind of euphoria spread throughout Europe, across the English Channel, and over the Atlantic. Even so, the Allies knew far in advance of Hitler's death that they were winning the war. So too, at the war's beginning, and with no confirmation of bin Laden's death, are we winning the war against Al Qaeda.

To measure progress in defeating terrorism we must first realize that the system of measurement is terrorism itself. Since September 11 terrorists have not hijacked planes and flown them into our buildings, nor have they destroyed any of our embassies or military installations. For now, Al Qaeda is in hiding, on the defensive, and their only weapon is fear and rhetoric. Ever since we began our campaign against Al Qaeda in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, the leaders of these groups have issued dire warnings and grave predictions of our destruction. Last October, Al-Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith promised that our skies would be filled with "a storm of airplanes." Ever since, on a weekly basis, Al Qaeda or another extreme Islamic sympathizer has issued stale warnings and tired threats. Any bin Laden moment of late has turned out to be vintage footage of his good ole days. In fact, the last confirmed Osama sighting was in December, and even then the Al Qaeda grandmaster appeared to have a paralyzed arm and looked like walking dead. Even so, Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of al-Quds al-Arabi magazine recently claimed that bin Laden was wounded at Tora Bora, but was alive and well.

Even with all the above warnings no terrorist attack has occurred on US soil in 10 months. The possible exception is the July 4 LAX shooter Hesham Mohammed Hadayet. Hadayet may have some ties to Al Qaeda through Ayman Al-Zawahiri, but if he's the best Al Qaeda can now muster then they clearly have been severely weakened. All sympathies to the victim's families, but disgruntled office workers have produced higher body counts than Hadayet.

Therefore, the real story isn't the amount of warnings, but the lack thereof.

American authorities have tied bin Laden to the 1993 WTC bombing, the 1998 Kenyan and Tanzanian embassy bombings, the 2000 USS Cole bombing, and the 2001 WTC-Pentagon attacks. Bin Laden may also be financially involved in the 1995 and 1996 Saudi Arabian bombings. Yet in each of these attacks there was no warning given. Likewise, assuming Hadayet is Al Qaeda, he too issued no warning. In fact, never before has Al Qaeda warned us before an attack; they simply attacked us. Yet, since the Afghan campaign started they've changed their method of operation. Why? Because Al Qaeda is retreating and all they have for weapons are stale, wordy threats of grave impending disaster which have been repeated so often one would think that perhaps Al Qaeda wishes to bore us to death. If bin Laden is alive he will issue no warning of attack; he will just attack. Al Qaeda warnings just show their desperation. Therefore consider the amount of warnings as a sign the US is winning.

Our leaders could do a better job in reminding Americans exactly what we have accomplished since September 11. It wasn't easy to remove the Taliban and install a quasi-democracy in Afghanistan. In fact, new Afghan President Hamid Karzai is so pro-western he recently asked Israel for assistance in dealing with terrorism. Who could have ever imagined such a day from a predominantly Muslim country?

The US has forged cooperative relationships with both traditional allies and new allies. This cooperation has led to the detention of several mid- and high-level Al Qaeda operatives. Caught in Pakistan, Abu Zubaydah alone has been highly valuable. US authorities were also able to detain "dirtybomber" Jose Padilla based on Pakistani intelligence. Syria helps interrogate Mohammed Zammar, who introduced hijack ringleader Mohammed Atta to Khalid Mohammed. While Khalid Mohammed is still at large, intelligence services have discovered his key operational role in the WTC-Pentagon attacks, and are using that intelligence to catch more Al Qaeda operatives. Morocco detained Abu Zubair al-Haili, described as an Al Qaeda operational commander. Al-Haili ran several bin Laden training camps. The leader of the bin Laden offshoot terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, Abu Sabaya, has been reported slain and the group is in shambles. In the past few days Spain and Canada have also detained several terrorists.

And this is the short list; it is plausible that authorities have captured many more not yet made public. Conversely, Al Qaeda has yet to capture a single Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, or Condellezza Rice.

The US is also winning on the financial front. It's hard to wage war without money. To date the US and international community have frozen Al Qaeda assets worldwide and closed down money-laundering operations disguised as Islamic charities. US authorities have seized assets from the Benevolence Foundation, the Holy Land Foundation and the Global Relief Foundation. Much like a Mafia operation, these groups had legitimate fronts that hid their true terror-funding purposes. Last November, US authorities conducted Operation Green Quest, which seized $1 million from Al Qaeda front Al Barakaat. It was believed that Al Barakaat provided $25 million a year to Al Qaeda terrorism. While every Al Qaeda money-funding operation is not shut down, we are clearly causing a great deal of damage.

We are winning the war in many intangible ways, too. Certainly, Osama bin Laden's goals have not been met. He hoped to relieve the Islamic states of Western and particularly American presence, and believed the US would retreat after September 11, as he learned from our reaction in Somalia. But since the attacks the opposite has occurred. The US military presence has increased in the Gulf states, such as Qatar, and in Central Asia. Bin Laden is farther from, not closer to, a second Ottoman empire -- the Balfour Declaration is alive and well. The US has been able to sway public opinion on Middle Eastern terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbullah. European countries, which used to think of these groups as legitimate political parties, are beginning to understand that a terrorist, whether in the IRA, Al Qaeda or Islamic Jihad, is a murderer who targets civilians and hides amongst them.

Recently, a once adamant American foe, Muammar Gaddafi, told Islamic extremists in the Philippines, Chechnya, Palestine and Pakistan to stop their fighting and integrate with their neighbors. Not to foolishly ignore the history of Gaddafi, but he would not issue such public statements unless he was convinced that the sleeping giant of America was more powerful, influential and resolved than ever.

And it was even reported on June 22 that Saddam Hussein is considering relinquishing power to his son Qusay as a last ditch effort to avoid an American invasion of Iraq. While this is nothing but a clever ruse, would Saddam even consider such a move if he thought the US was losing the war on terror?

Do not misinterpret this information as overconfidence. We have a long way to go, and have much to learn and correct. It is possible that a terrorist could slip though our intelligence nets, and cause high causalities and suffering. But the initiative is ours, we are making progress, and there is no stalemate. While many victories have been subtle or quiet, they are victories nonetheless, and they combine to form a wide advantage over our enemy. Keep faith -- we are winning this war.

The author is a writer in Tampa, Florida.

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