Thursday, June 12, 2008

Enemy Within, and of the Future

More than a year ago, I became aware of two young Pakistani American boys that were being held against their will in Karachi, Pakistan, at the Jamia Binoria Institute, a school or “madrassa”. Both the U.S. and Pakistani governments have recognized this school as one of the most radical in Pakistan.

Madrassas have come under intense international scrutiny for their anti-western sentiment and links to terrorism since 9/11, and since the London subway bombings three years ago. Three of the four suicide bombers who carried out the London plot were British nationals of Pakistani descent; two attended madrassas in Pakistan. The Binoria Madrassa is known to recruit Americans most aggressively. It prominently displays a banner supporting the Taliban. And it is documented that Osama bin Laden spoke to students at Binoria before the 9/11 attacks.

American born children are being sent to Pakistan and schooled or are well into their high school years and yet have been denied a formal education. Foreign born Muslims, nationalized here, are also traveling to these Madrasses for schooling as well.

It is estimated that these two boys are among 80 Americans enrolled in this madrassa. It is believed that there are 600 American boys being educated in 22 madrassas throughout Pakistan. According to researchers, the sole curriculum in these institutions is to memorize the Koran and indoctrinate their students into Islamic extremism. They are known to mass-produce extremists with a political agenda, including a narrow view of society and no tolerance of western culture. 

They radicalize Muslims and are seminaries for jihad. While I would encourage religious education to any child of any faith; Christians, Muslims and Jews alike, these particular political madrassas spread their message of hatred toward our country and others that live in freedom, including those in the Arab region and throughout the Far East. 

These institutions are creating a new breed of terrorist that has the ability to infiltrate our society as American citizens, come and go as they please, live as our neighbors and teach our children, all of which will be completely undetected. 

They can be potential time bombs planted in our communities waiting to explode just as they have in the United Kingdom and other places around the world.  

They are the enemy within and of the future, and until we realize that, our chances of success in the war on terror will be pretty slim.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

A Congressional Wakeup Call

Recently, the State Department issued a report that incidents of international terrorism have increased by more than 25 per cent over the last year, indicating that the most substantial increases in terrorism were in Iraq, Within days after that report, the government of Saudi Arabia, announced the arrests of 172 Islamic radical fundamentalists who plotted to use air attacks to bomb Saudi Arabia's oil fields and storm their prisons to free inmates.

One week later, 222 members of the United States Congress passed legislation requiring a timetable on troop withdrawal from Iraq with restrictions on war funding.  Such legislation will severely impact General David Petraeus' ability to carry out his mandate, a mandate that Congress themselves approved.

What does Saudi Arabia have to do with Iraq?  What does one have to do with the other?  In my opinion,  it is a chilling demonstration that, nearly six years after 9/11, there are members of Congress that still do not understand what this war is about and who the enemy truly is. In an extreme turnaround, perhaps Congress should now watch and listen to the Saudis, who, in the past, we were fast to criticize, but who have come to the realization that this is just as much their war as it is ours, just as it is any country’s war that wants to live in a terror free world.

According to the Saudi Interior Ministry, the attacks in Saudi Arabia were to be carried out against government buildings, public figures, oil facilities and military targets, including some outside of the Kingdom. The extremists had the personnel, the money and the weaponry with some of the assaults planned by way of suicide missions. Does this sound familiar?   These are the exact same targets that are the focus of extremists today in Iraq and Afghanistan. Oddly enough, they could fit the description of the actual targets in the United States, carried out by 19 members of Al-Qaeda, in a plan designed by Osama Bin Laden, on the morning of September 11, 2001.

It was Al-Qaeda on 9/11, and it is Al-Qaeda on Afghanistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia today. To validate that it is, in fact, the same enemy and the same fight, all we need to do is review the most recent tape released by Al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden’s chief deputy, wherein he speaks about Al-Qaeda’s fight against the west, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Algeria, Somalia and, yes, Saudi Arabia.

He then goes on to mock the recent Congressional bill setting forth a withdrawal timetable for U.S. troops, and, in doing so, sends a message to his followers worldwide that the United States has neither the patience nor the courage to fight this enemy. In his words, Al Qaeda fighters in Iraq were "nearing closer to victory over their enemy, despite this sectarian fighting" that has convulsed the country.

With grave concern, I must ask... What is it going to take for our congressional leaders to face the fact that we must remain in this war through fruition, if we are going to win it.  At this particular juncture, it would behoove Congress to spend less time opposing and criticizing President Bush, Vice President Cheney and this administration, and come to the realization as a nation, it would be detrimental  to lose this battle in Iraq.

It is imperative to understand that Iraq or Afghanistan are merely battlegrounds in a war with this new found enemy. Congress should reflect on 9/11 and Ground Zero, the first battleground in the war, and admit that our inactions and failures in the past to pursue this enemy led to our vulnerabilities on that day.

They should look at those responsible then and those leading Al-Qaeda’s fight against the west today.  Furthermore, they should  put all their political agendas aside, have the courage to admit the truth, and conclude that the war against terrorism will not end by withdrawing from Iraq. The most integral key to this conclusion,  is to remember that we are engaged in a war, not a police action, not an isolated battle or a diplomatic challenge.  The goal of this or any war is to win.  If we fail in this war, thousands of Americans, perhaps millions, could one day be victims of an attack that could tragically surpass the attacks of 9/11.

The time is ripe for Congress to wake up!

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.