The recent bombings in London and Egypt have been an awful reminder that as much as we would wish terrorism away, we remain mired in this war that we must win. Tony Blair spoke this morning and said that 9/11 served as a wake-up call to the west, but that during the months and years following the attack, a great many of us have gone back to "sleep" and ignored the threat that is very real and threatens our way of life.
I'm reminded of the New York Times column penned by ex-CIA analyst Larry Johnson in July of 2001, almost exactly two months prior to the attack on New York and Washington. Good ole Larry has most recently been heard discussing the Plame affair, and while I have no idea whether his statements there are accurate, he certainly was a reflection of the misguided US foreign policy establishment in 2001 when he said:
"Judging from news reports and the portrayal of villains in our popular entertainment, Americans are bedeviled by fantasies about terrorism. They seem to believe that terrorism is the greatest threat to the United States and that it is becoming more widespread and lethal. They are likely to think that the United States is the most popular target of terrorists. And they almost certainly have the impression that extremist Islamic groups cause most terrorism. None of these beliefs are based in fact."
Frightening isn't it. Yet I wonder if we've drifted back to the same false sense of security today. The anti-Bush crowd, Larry Johnson included, seems more fixated on bringing down the Bush presidency by blowing up every non-scandal into a daily spew of ginned up outrage, than helping move the country forward. There was Koran Gate, the related Gitmo-Gate, and now Plame(Rove)-Gate. Amazingly, these have just been the outrages from the last three months!
Sadly, the proponents of the war on terror, have drifted in their commitment as well. After 9/11 we were committed to going after the terrorists wherever they were in the world. We started out quite well, toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan, and taking out Saddam Hussein's terrorist haven in Iraq.
We then lost momentum. I don't know if it is war fatigue, the constant flow of negative reporting from the mainstream media, or a general sense that we are now safe again, but I sense an all too real feeling of complacency at both the highest levels of our government and the general population.
I have always been a strong proponent of two tactical principles when executing a strategy. The first is that a good offense is a great defense. It is a simple fact that whether you're in business, sports, or war maintaining constant pressure on your opponent requires him to react to your moves, and takes away your opponent's ability to set the rules of the game, or even establish the field on which the game is played. This is why I am such a huge supporter of both the Afghan and Iraqi campaigns. We must take our fight to the terrorists and those that sponsor them. In this way we can use our superior firepower, intelligence and manpower to overwhelm the opponent on terms that we set.
The second tactical principle that is critical for us to remember is that one never stands still. It is a simple fact of life that either you're moving forward, or you're falling backwards. The world, and as a result, war is always in flux. If one rests, the environment changes and your position declines as a result. One must continually press forward to keep up with change and execute the tactics that will achieve your strategic goals.
Can anyone of us say that we are doing this as a country committed in the war on terrorism? I truly doubt it. We've gotten lazy and distracted, and this has made us more vulnerable.
Our leaders tell us that there is a reason for this. On the left we're told that we're bogged down in Iraq. On the right, we're told the terrorists are an enemy without a nationstate to attack, so there isn't much we can do. Both of these are nothing more than hollow excuses for inaction.
Iraq is key to winning the war on terror. The basic thrust has been outlined before and comes down to the fact that if we can attract terrorists to fight us there, then they won't attack us on our home front, combined with the goal of establishing a working democracy in the region that will serve as a catalyst to spur other liberal reforms. We've had surprising success with the elections in Iraq, the writing of the new constitution, the recent participation of the Sunnis in the process, the eviction of Syria from Lebanon, and the liberalization of Egyptian elections. So we must stay, and we must succeed - the left is wrong, Iraq is not a distraction it is critical to our long-term success.
The right is equally wrong as well. The idea that terrorists do not have a nation state is absurd. The terrorists are supported by several states and we know exactly who they are. While we cannot start wars with these states, we currently are not making them feel pain for their support of the terrorists, and this must change now.
Sabotage, commando raids, support of a domestic opposition, and if necessary, assassination are the tools that we need to use against our enemies. An excellent example of a target rich environment is Iran. I personally believe that bin Laden has received sanctuary there, and whether I am correct or not, the point remains that Iran is supporting terrorism around the world. Yet what have we done to make Iran pay for this support? The answer my friends is nothing.
Here is where a good offense comes into play. Sabotage of Iranian industrial targets, the covert bombing of ships in its harbors, and the direct clandestine support of opposition groups in the country should be our first priorities. Obviously, we cannot take credit for these acts, but I'm confident our Iranian enemies will know who executed these attacks, and what actions they can take to stop them. If these initial steps do not affect a change in Iranian positions, then we need to turn the heat up. Where we can identify terrorists in country, we should go in and get them. Where we can identify Iranian leaders directly supporting terrorists, we should assassinate them.
The same approach can be taken with Syria (ok, no harbors to bomb, but you get the point), most likely with greater success, as Assad has already shown weakness. In Pakistan, where Musharaff has been cooperating, we should tread more lightly, but I still would run covert operations into the remote regions to take out those leaders that are sheltering terrorists.
I'm aware that many of my readers will react negatively to what I've proposed. I understand our hesitance to take aggressive action in the world as we like to think we can bring change without talk of death and destruction, but I'd remind you that our enemy has no such qualms.
Looking back on the history of World War II, if we could have been more aggressive up front with Hitler is there anyone who would not have taken action? Is our enemy today, substantially different than Hitler in both their quest for world domination and their willingness to kill innocents? If not, then why do we hold back? Why should we continue to give up our domestic liberties when some aggressive foreign action would continue to take the battle to those that want us dead?
UPDATE: Yup, looks like I was right. We have gone soft, and we're becoming down right Jello-y.