Experts Urge Bush to Expand Anti-Terror Campaign
Despite broad-based efforts by the United States to undermine terrorist organizations worldwide, the best that this nation can hope for is a slowdown in their activities, but not their complete elimination, experts said. The Bush administration, additionally, needs to expand its anti-terrorism strategy beyond the campaign in Afghanistan, these experts asserted.
"We will always have terrorism," said Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism. He was formerly the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for counter terrorism during the Reagan administration. "We can reduce terrorists’ ability to operate on the scale we have seen," he said. A realistic goal for the Bush administration would be to create an environment where terrorism becomes more of a criminal problem that could be tackled by routine intelligence and law enforcement operations. Success for the administration, said Bremer, would be to reach a point in time when terrorism "does not dominate American foreign policy."
Bremer spoke at a national security conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis.
He had some words of caution for President Bush. According to Bremer, the administration’s strategy to fight global terrorism is "wrong for two reasons." For one thing, he said, the anti-terrorism campaign is not far-reaching enough, because it focuses on the al-Qaeda organization, but does not target those who have killed more Americans than any other terrorist group in the world. That group—Hizbollah—"has to be on the list of terrorist groups we go after," said Bremer.
The administration also must figure out what to do about Saddam Hussein, regardless of whether the Iraqi dictator had any involvement in the September 11 attacks. "We are going to have to finish the job we left unfinished in 1991, because Saddam Hussein considers himself to still be at war with us," Bremer said.
It has been more than three years since Iraq was subjected to any United Nations inspections for weapons of mass destruction. "It is safe to assume he has reconstituted his chemical and biological programs, at a minimum, and perhaps his nuclear program," said Bremer. Saddam Hussein, he added, will be a "major threat to regional stability after the United States deals with radical Islam in Afghanistan."
Bremer charged that U.S. policies against Iraq have been ineffective at best. The United States imposed economic sanctions that did not hurt the Iraqi government, but gravely harmed the country’s population, which has suffered from lack of food and medicine. "It would be hard actually to conceive of a worse policy, except one which started an inspection regime and then stopped it, which is also what we did," he said. "It is a mark of fecklessness of American foreign policy towards Iraq over the last decade, and we still have to talk about it."
Bremer’s views are shared by some officials within the Bush administration. Among them is Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board, an advisory panel to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
"I think Iraq should be the principal next target, because it poses the greatest threat to the United States," Perle told the Defense Writers Group, in Washington, D.C. "That is not because of anything that Saddam Hussein might have done in connection with September 11 or in connection with al-Qaeda, although, as I think everyone now knows, there is evidence linking Saddam to al-Qaeda."
Additionally, he said, there are other reasons to take action against Saddam. "He possesses weapons of mass destruction, including anthrax, nerve agents of various kinds, other biological weapons, and he is working hard to acquire nuclear weapons. No one can say when he will succeed."
Bombing alone won’t work against Saddam, said Perle. "The only way to deal with [him] is to destroy his regime, which was the only way to deal with the Taliban. I believe we can do that in much the way that we’ve gone after the Taliban—that is, not by ourselves, but working together with others who have as much reason to want to see Saddam removed as we do."
According to Bremer, U.S. foreign policy is now at a crossroads, as it was at the end of World War II. In the late 1940s, the nation’s leaders came up with a policy of countering Soviet Communism, which was pursued over the next 50 years "with great patience, resilience, relentlessness and skill—and that’s the kind of strategy that we need now," Bremer said. "We have to defend across the entire range of our vulnerabilities."
U.S. policymakers, he said, should view the current terrorist threat under an entirely different light than the threats of past decades. The terrorism in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, Bremer said, was motivated largely by narrow political objectives. In Europe, particularly, Marxist Leninist groups, for example, wanted to chase the United States out of military bases in Germany.
"Most of these groups, including many of the Middle East groups which were active in those years, used terrorism to get the press to pay attention to their cause, because they believed they had a broad cause that had public support," said Bremer. "These old-style terrorists had a self-imposed limit on the number of casualties that they would kill."
In the early 1980s, President Reagan’s strategy to fight terrorism was shaped around the notion that terrorists were criminals and had to be brought to justice.
By the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the face of terrorism had changed, Bremer said. "The new terrorists are not motivated by narrow political goals," he said. Their driving forces are "sometimes hatred, sometimes revenge and often ideological or religious extremism." These groups, he added, "are not self-restrained in the number of casualties that they inflict, and in fact, they may want to inflict more casualties."
Statistics show that in the 1990s, the number of international terrorism incidents went down, while the number of casualties rose. Also, fewer incidents were claimed by a particular group and a growing percent of the incidents involved suicides, Bremer noted. From 1968 to 1998, less than 2 percent of the terrorist attacks involved suicides. "The old-style terrorists did not want to be caught. They did not want to die," said Bremer. "I would argue that this new style of terrorism has rendered irrelevant two-thirds of the old strategy we had."
The way to beat terrorists is to conduct a global campaign "at the wholesale level," said Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy. "There are simply too many terrorist organizations and cells for us to be chasing after each individually," he said at the IFPA conference.
A wholesale approach means that the United States must ensure that states are not harboring terrorist groups within their borders, he said. "We have to see to it that other governments deny terrorists the territory from which to operate." Some states, he said, "may have to be compelled; some may have to be persuaded."
Michelle Van Cleave, president of National Security Concepts Inc., said that "the terrorists rely upon as their strength, their amorphous nature, their diverse cell populations, their reliance on Internet communications for continuity and connectivity, their lack of fixed location, their mobility across borders."
Regardless of which strategy it pursues, the United States must stick to a basic set of principles, said Feith. "There is a temptation often to sacrifice principle to short-term diplomatic convenience, cutting deals with terrorists to try to solve a particular problem." That is a bad policy, he said, because it creates a "significant incentive for people to engage in terrorism."
Sometimes, however, there is no choice but to cut deals, said Avis Bolen, assistant secretary of state in the bureau of arms control. A case in point is the recent negotiations with Pakistan, which became a valuable U.S. ally in the war against the Taliban. "Some of the problems that we are facing today lie in a decade of neglect of Afghanistan and Pakistan after we thought they were no longer as important," she said. Bolen added that the United States has to "think in terms of the countries that are going to be important to our effort, and this needs to be a long-term effort. It cannot be just an ad-hoc alliance."
For the anti-terrorist campaign to be successful, it is also important that the political objectives be stated very clearly, said retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, former commander of U.S. Central Command. "If you want to build a coalition of the willing, the military should be at the core," he said. But when political objectives are expressed in "soft terms," he added, the translation to military objectives becomes "very hard to do."
Former director of the White House drug-war office and retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey cautioned about the need to set reasonable goals in military and diplomatic efforts. "I think one of the worst things we ever came up with was the notion of exit strategies," McCaffrey said. "Sometimes, the words ‘end game’ are inappropriate when we talk about U.S. military strategy."