TCS Daily

'We Are Safer Today. But We Are Not Safe'

By Charles Matthew Rousseaux - July 27, 2004 12:00 AM

Everyone who came of age in the Cold World knew that War III wasn't supposed to start the way it did on September 11, 2001. It was supposed to begin with something as tremendous as it was terrible -- thousands of communist tanks charging into Germany or hundreds of ICBMs igniting the world. A few more forward-looking individuals suggested that the war would begin with millions of Chinese infantry marching somewhere.

Instead, the war came in a form exactly the opposite of what was envisioned. Less than a brigade of men aboard four commercial airliners came from out of a clear blue-sky to deliver a devastating blow. The rot that caused that catastrophe had grown for decades, and is likely to require decades to be rooted out. Having revealed the roots of September 11 in unprecedented detail, the signatories to the 9/11 commission report have begun an aggressive lobbying campaign urging the nation to reorient itself to meet the threat of Islamist terror. Policy-makers should give the report appropriate attention since its observations are perspicacious and its recommendations are persuasive.

In an interview, commissioner John Lehman, Navy secretary under Ronald Reagan, described the new fight and the new forms he believes are essential to winning it. According to the report the principal threat is, "Islamist terrorism -- especially the al Qaeda network, its affiliates, and its ideology" (italics in original). It adds, "Our enemy is twofold: al Qaeda . . . and a radical ideological movement in the Islamic world." Commissioners believe that the war strategy must be matched to those two threats, "Dismantling the al Qaeda network and prevailing in the longer term over the ideology that gives rise to Islamist terrorism."

Mr. Lehman argued that the nation's first priority must be to kill the terrorists and deprive them of sanctuary before they can kill us. There's little point in negotiation. As the commission wrote, "Bin Laden and Islamist terrorists mean exactly what they say: to them, America is the font of all evil, the 'head of the snake,' and it must be converted or destroyed. It is not a position with which Americans can bargain or negotiate. With it there is no common ground -- not even respect for life -- on which to begin a dialogue. It can only be destroyed or utterly isolated."

Isolating terrorism requires projecting power into the remote and unstable places where terrorists find sanctuary and recruits. It's a strategy completely counter to that of the Cold War. As the commission said, "In the twentieth century, strategists focused on the world's great industrial heartlands. In the twenty-first, the focus is in the opposite direction, toward remote regions and failing states."

Three critical fulcrums of the fight are Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mr. Lehman said that the United States must not walk away from Afghanistan again, as it did after the Soviet Union was expelled. And if Islamist extremists were to take over Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, Mr. Lehman said it could, "fundamentally change the balance of security in the world." He added, "In the case of Saudi Arabia, it could well lead to a total cutoff of oil," and, "In Pakistan, they have hundreds of nuclear weapons."

Mr. Lehman believes that the softer powers of persuasion should also be applied to those places. He said he is appalled at how little America spends on broadcasting its message to individuals in the Arab world in their native languages.

To better fight terrorism at home, the commission made many recommendations for reforming homeland security and the intelligence community. Mr. Lehman said that the reforms are a system, not individual menu items, and so must be enacted together.

"This is an issue that the president gets," according to Mr. Lehman, and Congress is expected to act on the recommendations in the fall. Yet as a self-identified card-carrying conservative, Mr. Lehman acknowledged that some of the factions under that big tent are likely to have trouble with some of the recommendations. Fiscal conservatives are not likely to applaud the commission's call for increased foreign outreach, including increased spending on radio and television broadcasts across the Arab world. Libertarians are not likely to be happy with the commission's leanings towards a national identification card.

Nor is it certain that the nation's sole focus should be on fighting terror. Even though those nations in competition with the United States are likely to find convergent interests with Islamist terrorists, some parts of the old forms and institutions will still be needed to deal with continued ambitions of other nation states.

Still, many of the recommendations appear worthwhile. In the report's executive summary, commissioners declared, "Because of offensive actions against al Qaeda since 9/11 and defensive actions to improve homeland security, we believe we are safer today. But we are not safe." Making the nation even safer will require a continuing shift of the national focus from the war that was anticipated to the war that instead came out of the clear blue sky on September 11.

Charles Rousseaux is an editorial writer for The Washington Times and a frequent contributor to Tech Central Station. E-mail:


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