Monday, February 5, 2007

The Political Lower Rung

The failures of our intelligence agencies that came to light in the months following the attacks of 9/11 precipitated the largest re-organization of the federal government in fifty years with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Additionally, new laws were introduced to assist local, state and federal authorities and others to investigate and prosecute terrorists.  This rush of activity was a natural consequence of the dangers we faced and of our wholly disorganized approach to fighting the threat of terrorism, as exposed by the 9/11 Commission Report.

In analyzing those failures, one of the most instructive passages in the report appears on page 105, discussing what it terms the “non adaptation” of various legal and political institutions to fully understand the threat from radical Islamists. Turning attention to the role of Congress pre-9/11, the report states the following: “In the years before September 11, terrorism seldom registered as important.  To the extent that terrorism…did engage the attention of the Congress as a whole, it would briefly command attention after a specific incident, and then return to a lower rung on the public policy agenda.” 

In restating this passage my intention is not to single out Congress, but to highlight the “here today gone tomorrow” approach to dealing with this vital issue and to ask, what rung does the continued threat of terrorism occupy today?

For sure, there are many more law enforcement professionals dedicated to fighting terrorism, with a new sense of urgency and new powers to detect, track and identify ongoing threats to public safety.  And the FBI, CIA and U.S. Attorneys have done a spectacular job in stopping other 9/11 style attacks planned to kill Americans, both here and abroad. 

But what is the current state of terrorism related to our “public policy agenda?”  Measured by the current political discourse, which can only be described—politely—as bitterly partisan, the status of our public policy agenda appears to be slipping back to that lower rung.

Whatever one feels about the situation in Iraq, one thing is certain; failure there would mean a safe haven for terrorists to plot against America, uniting, in spirit, the Shia majorities in Iraq and Iran. No good would come of that.  President Bush’s plan to send more troops, while at the same time holding Iraq to a standard of progress, has been met with a storm of criticism, but no alternatives or constructive dialogue from those who oppose his plan.

Such dialogue by the critics of the new plan is mostly scathing denunciation of the President with nothing offered on what to do to avoid that failure or any sense of an understanding about the consequences that failure would have in the larger fight against terrorism. 

Take the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Sylvester Reyes.  Until recently, he favored sending more troops to Iraq to stabilize the country and dismantle the militias until President Bush proposed the very same plan.  Now, hewing to a strictly partisan position, he says that we don’t have the manpower to send more troops.  In other words, he was for more troops before he was against it.

Similar partisan politics accompanied the renewal of the Patriot Act and other security initiatives aimed at rooting out terrorists.  These initiatives were enacted to correct the great failure of our intelligence agencies pre-9/11, the failure to “connect the dots.” 

But sadly, many of our leaders are unwilling to have a serious discussion of the issues and instead dismiss the President’s proposals outright, either because they have a frenzied reaction to anything the President does or because it advances a political agenda meant to exploit a weakened presidency.  But there is no Republican or Democratic way to achieve victory in our war against terrorism.  There must be a consensus.

As the new Democratic Congress convened, they have taken a position that the war against terrorism warrants the full implementation of the 9/11 Commission recommendations.  But it would be a mistake to simply enact those recommendations and then leave it at that.  That would amount to nothing more than a gesture, a tip of the hat from the new Congress that they are serious about engaging the terrorists.  More than a gesture will be needed; otherwise we can be certain that our fight to live in a terror-free world will return to the lower rung of public policy. That would have dire consequences for Americans everywhere.

“If the United States does not act aggressively to define itself in the Islamic world, the extremists will gladly do the job for us.” Those are not my words; they come from the 9/11 Commission Report.  The extremists are trying to do that job right now.  If they win, our fight against terrorism will be prolonged for many years to come.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Radical Islam's War Against the West

As we enter the sixth year without a terrorist attack on United States soil, the pain and devastation of 9/11 remains unforgettable.  But despite our memory of that day, there is danger that our success in thwarting additional attacks may eventually cause us to let our guard down.  That’s just what the enemy is counting on.

Who is the enemy?  We know them by various names; al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Ansar al-Islam, Hezbollah, Hamas and many others.  Occasionally, we see pictures of these groups in the press or media, mixed in with the other news of the day. But to really know and understand them is to realize that the threat to our country remains great.

In a documentary titled, “Obsession-Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” the threat to the United States and the rest of western civilization is depicted in a jarring, disturbing reality.  And although there is a cost for the one hour documentary, the trailer on the web site ( is enough to tell a very chilling story.


The documentary shows a culture of terror that is being taught to a generation of Muslim youth.  At the heart of this culture is the proposition that America is the great Satan and must be destroyed.  It is the basis for the indoctrination of ten-year old Muslim youth to a life dedicated to terror.  And it is being taught to these children as matter-of-factly as our children learn the alphabet.

If you watch the documentary, you must ask yourself where these children will be in five, ten or fifteen years from now.  What is being done to protect our country now and in the future? It is na├»ve to believe that the threat from radical fundamentalists is going away anytime soon.  And that makes it imperative that the protections against terror implemented since 9/11 remain in the forefront of our political debates.   


But with the passage of time, the lack of a 9/11 repeat, a new Congress and a new presidential debate heating up, I am afraid that our attention is easily turning to other matters.  No one should be lulled into thinking that the terrorists have given up on their intention to strike America again.  We learned from 9/11 that the fanatical jihadists are not disillusioned by failure and can take years to plan what Usama bin Laden would call a “spectacular event”. In fact, the 9/11 Commission Report points out that plans to attack the World Trade Center a second time began as early as 1995.  
And for every successful strike, such as the bombings in London, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Madrid, or for every failed plot, such as the plans to flood lower Manhattan by bombing the Holland tunnel, planning begins anew.  We all remember the bombing of the USS Cole in October, 2000, but few remember that this bombing was preceded by a failed attempt ten months earlier against the destroyer, USS The Sullivans in the same Yemen port where the Cole docked later that year.  The January attempt failed when the terrorist’s bomb-laden craft sunk before reaching its target.   But after the Cole attack, the ranks of al Qaeda swelled as fanatical Muslims flocked to bin Laden and his cause and today nearly seven years later, those like him are still out there, still recruiting, and still plotting. So, whether you watch the Obsession documentary, follow daily news reports or study our history, you must realize that the threat against the west by radical Islamic fundamentalists is today more aggressive as ever. And unlike World War I or II, Korea or Viet Nam… this is an unconventional enemy that you can’t see or touch, that wants to die for their cause and prays everyday that they get to do so. It is an enemy with a hatred for America and the west that we have yet to understand. Most importantly, let us not forget that they are not only at war with America, but also with western culture and civilization. They are also at war with their own… other Muslims with which they differ in belief.

That is the enemy… that is the threat. As they continue to plan and plot against us, I have to wonder… do we have the courage, the patience or the resolve to fight the fight that must be fought in the years to come.

Beware the Bully, Iran

You don’t stop a schoolyard bully by giving him your lunch money.  And you don’t stop a bully on the world stage by inviting him to that stage.  But with the conflict in Iraq still raging, it seems that pressure is building to reach out to terrorist sponsoring Iran to—let me understand this—stop the terrorism in Iraq? 

Is President Ahmandinejad of Iran, who recently said he could let loose 40,000 suicide bombers in the region, the person who can stop the car bombings and suicide squads in Iraq?   

I don’t think so.
For sure the situation in Iraq cannot continue on its current path.  But Iraq’s future must depend on Iraq, not Iran.  Last year, 12 million Iraqi citizens braved threats of violence to vote in free elections.  As President Bush said at the time You’ve stood firm in the face of horrendous acts of terror and sectarian violence – and we will not abandon you in your struggle to build a free nation.” 
That struggle for a free nation continues.  And a free nation is not what the leaders of Iran envision, for it would undoubtedly weaken their hold on power within their own country and the region as a whole.  For those reasons, it is incomprehensible that Iran would share a goal of stopping the violence in Iraq.  More likely, they have the power to stop the violence temporarily as a means of showing the world their “good intentions,” while in reality, they would consolidate control over the terrorists groups for their own purposes.

Iran is seeking to become a nuclear power.  President Ahmandinejad has said that the holocaust was a myth and that Israel should be “wiped off the face of the map.” It is pretty clear who we are dealing with here, is it not? Even Adolf Hitler was not so forthright about his intentions.  He played the “diplomatic” game to hide those intentions, and unfortunately, he played it well.

As Europe tensed prior to the outbreak of war, all diplomatic efforts were employed to avoid conflict.  Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, in a policy called appeasement, said “We should seek by all means in our power to avoid war, by analyzing possible causes, by trying to remove them, by discussion in a spirit of collaboration and good will. I cannot believe that such a program would be rejected by the people of this country, even if it does mean the establishment of personal contact with the dictators.”

His approach was weak and the policy of appeasement was wrong… dead wrong; and more than 60 million people perished as a result.

But one does not need to go back to World War II for examples of failed collaboration through personal contact with dictators.  In 1994 after then Secretary of State Madeline Albright visited with North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-il, the Clinton administration signed the so-called Agreed Framework whereby North Korea agreed to stop its program to build nuclear weapons. 
Five years later when a Congressional study determined that the dictator was violating the agreement, Secretary Albright insisted that the agreement was working and simply dismissed the report.  Today, we all know better and even the Secretary has admitted that the North Koreans were indeed cheating.  But her admission was not a result of diplomatic investigation or tough inspections; it was a self-evident admission only because the facts compelled it.  So 1994 was just a diplomatic photo-op that solved nothing.  
If this sounds familiar, it should.  It is exactly what is happening in our country today with respect to solving the problems in Iraq; the calls for “diplomacy” to deal with killers and tyrants.  It didn’t work in North Korea, or countless other hot spots around the world.  How many people have died in Darfur as diplomats and politicians continue to debate a course of action? 
And more recently, the United Nations brokered a ceasefire to end the Israeli–Lebanon conflict.  The resolution, among other things, called for the disarming of Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Does anybody believe that Hezbollah is disarming?  And what provision is there to ensure that this happens. None! More empty words, similar to previous UN resolutions calling on Lebanon to take control of its southern territory to prevent terrorists from launching attacks against Israel.   Instead, where once the PLO controlled Southern Lebanon, now Hezbollah— funded by Iran—controls it, and the attacks continue. 

And where are Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, the two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah inside Israel that sparked this recent conflict?  They are still captives of Hezbollah with no agreement for their safe return in sight. 
So the record of accord with the bullies of the world does not inspire an expectation that Iran will change course and assist Iraq to prosper as a freely elected democracy. That does not mean that we should not, to borrow Chamberlain’s words, establish “personal contact with the dictators.” 

Only that we should not be fooled into thinking that our goals for Iraq, the Middle East and the right to live in a terror free world, are the same as theirs.