A New Strategy for the New Face of Terrorism

A New Strategy for the New Face of Terrorism

Mini Teaser: The Third World War was begun on Tuesday, September 11, on the East Coast of the United States--so began the French magazine L'Express two days later.

by Author(s): L. Paul Bremer

American actions must move beyond the episodic and limp-wristed attacks of the past decade, actions that seemed designed to "signal" our seriousness to the terrorists without inflicting any real damage on them. Naturally, their feebleness demonstrated the opposite. This time the terrorists and their supporters must be eliminated.

Our strategy should operate in three concentric circles. In the first and innermost circle, we must deal decisively with those most immediately responsible for the September attack. This means destroying all the terrorist camps, personnel and infrastructure in Afghanistan and getting rid of the Taliban regime. We must avoid thinking that the fight is only about bin Laden. It is one of the habitual failings of U.S. policy to over-emphasize one individual terrorist and ignore the broader dangers. In the late 1970s, Libya's Muammar Qaddafi was America's enemy number one. In the mid-1980s, Abu Nidal took his place. Ten years later, it was, and remains today, bin Laden.

There are two dangers with this approach. First, it tends to build up the terrorist leader, in his own eyes and in the eyes of his supporters. The concentration on one individual may thus paradoxically make it easier for him to find new recruits. Secondly, over-emphasis on one man may mislead the public into thinking that if only the “bad guy†could be eliminated, the terrorist problem would go away. I's just not so. Even if bin Laden were to die today, our problems would not end, for Afghanistan has become a cesspool of terrorism, much as Lebanon was in the 1980s. At least a half dozen other terrorist groups have training camps and facilities in the country, all welcomed by the Taliban. That is why our initial actions must go beyond destroying the terrorist camps. As long as the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the terrorists' infrastructure can be quickly reconstituted.

It would be preferable if the Afghan people, who have suffered greatly under the harsh rule of the Taliban, could throw that regime out themselves. Certainly, the West should encourage this by supporting the exiled king, Mohammed Zahir, in his call for an uprising. Still popular among the Afghan people, the King is a Pashtun and thus has a crucial role to play in the establishment of a credible alternative government (though we must respect his need to avoid being seen as an American puppet).

This political strategy must be wedded to a three-pronged military plan. Our military forces and those of our allies must first degrade the Taliban's military capabilities. This will bring about a new balance of forces on the ground. Then we must encourage the creation and arming of an effective Pashtun military force, using as its core those Taliban commanders who have already defected. Finally, we and our allies should support the Northern Alliance, which still controls 10 to 15 percent of the country and which has support among the Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara communities.

The harsh reality is that any campaign that does not result in a change of regime in Kabul will be a failure. This is the sine qua non of our entire strategy. We therefore cannot exclude the possibility that it may be necessary to introduce ground troops into this hostile topography.

America's seriousness of purpose in the new war on terrorism will be demonstrated by U.S. and allied actions in this first phase. If we are weak, hesitant or ineffective, we will pay a heavy price later.

Ending State Support for Terrorism

The second objective of our strategy must be to deny terrorists operating bases. This means rooting out terrorist camps, bases and cells wherever they are, including in the United States. It is likely that some of the Al-Qaeda terrorists will escape us in Afghanistan. They will try to relocate elsewhere, perhaps seeking out friendly governments or weak states in the Middle East, Central Asia or in Africa. We must pursue them and destroy them, with or without the help of the relevant governments.

The President made clear in his address to the American people on September 20 that any state that harbors or supports terrorist groups will be henceforth considered "a hostile regime." This statement has important implications beyond the obvious countries of Iran and Iraq. Syria, with which our European allies and we have regular diplomatic relations, still hosts over a dozen terrorist groups. So do Sudan and Lebanon.

Yet for too long American policy has contented itself with merely identifying states that support terrorism without forcing any serious consequences upon them in turn. Our European allies have been even less forceful, seeming to ignore state involvement in terrorism, often in the hopes of winning commercial advantage. For example, the European Union's long running "constructive dialogue" with Iran may have won European firms handsome contracts to develop Iranian energy resources, but it has not in any respect altered Iran's continued and open support for Middle East terrorist groups. Iran remains the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. Groups such as Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hizballah, which regularly target innocent civilians, all depend on Iranian support. In fact, as the State Department has pointed out, Iranian involvement in terror has actually increased since the election of Mohammad Khatemi as president four years ago.

Some commentators argue that the new terrorism is caused by discontent with America's role in supporting Israel. The implication is that if America would just weaken that support, the terrorism would end. This argument is wrong on two counts. First, bin Laden has made clear in his own words, for years, that he attacks America because he hates who we are, not because of whom we support. Secondly, dealing effectively with radical Islam is the prerequisite to moving toward a broader regional peace, not the other way around. It was America’s decisive (though incomplete) victory over Iraq in 1991 that was the necessary precondition for the Oslo peace process. Now as then, countries in the Middle East and Europe will pay attention to American ideas for regional security when we have shown that we are prepared to act decisively against threats to that security.

A War on Islam?

President Bush and all his senior advisors have been clear: We do not consider the American response to the September 11 attacks to be a war against Islam. He is right. Bin Laden and his allies in the Taliban are a fringe minority far removed from the teachings of mainstream Islam. But there is a real danger now that "moderate" Muslims are allowing these radicals to hijack Islam, and thus to define Islam as an enemy of the West. Until now, we have heard too few voices of restraint from the Islamic world. Quite the contrary. For example, through their controlled media, the Palestinians and even some moderate Arab governments have spewed out anti-American hatred with impunity for years. On the very day of the suicide attacks, the newspaper of the Palestinian Authority, al-Hayat al-Jadida, praised suicide bombers as noble . . . the salt of the earth, the engines of history . . . . They are the most honorable among us. Inflammatory articles like this have contributed to an environment that made possible the appalling spectacle of schoolchildren in Gaza and Ramallah cheering the news of the American tragedies.

Europeans, who provide the bulk of money to the Palestinians, should make clear that until such inflammatory rhetoric stops, there will be no more euros for Yasir Arafat. Nor should American taxpayers be expected to send another penny to the Palestinian Authority until Arafat roots out, expels or imprisons the Hamas, Hizballah and Islamic Jihad terrorists who operate from his territory.

In Pakistan, Islamic madrassas regularly indoctrinate young boys to hate America. At one school, after the September 11 attack, eight year-old boys vied with one another to be the one who would grow up to bring down the Sears Tower in Chicago. Here in America, some Islamic leaders have said that the September 11 attacks violate the Quran. But several have then made the astonishing statement that, this being the case, Israelis or Americans themselves must have conducted the attacks.

Moderate Islam is on the front line now. Its leaders have a solemn responsibility to make clear, in public, that the purposeful slaughter of innocent civilians is anathema to Islamic beliefs and that those who commit such acts are apostates who will go to hell, not to heaven. Unless they speak out now, there is a real risk that Islam will be defined by the radicals at war with the West. And then this will become a war with Islam, declared by Islam.

Delegitimizing Terror

Finally, American strategy must have as a broader objective rebuilding the international consensus against terrorism that flourished briefly during the 1980s, but then fell into neglect. If done effectively, this can delegitimize terror.

There are many areas where better cooperation will prove useful. Intelligence cooperation is the most urgent need. Clearly, no matter how good its intelligence organization, no one nation alone can hope to gather enough specific information on a worldwide terrorist network. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, it has become clear that America's intelligence failure was mirrored in many other countries: none seemed to be taking seriously enough the clear declarations of war by bin Laden, and none was sufficiently attentive to the activities of suspicious people. Sharing intelligence with friendly countries is an essential step in developing a common strategy. As noted, during the 1980s America and its European partners found ways to deepen cooperation in this vital area. This effort must now be accelerated and broadened to include cooperation with friendly Muslim states.

There must also be more vigorous and persistent efforts to track terrorist funds. Too often, terrorist groups have been able to use front organizations, non-governmental organizations and willing dupes to raise and distribute money. Out of ignorance, laziness or cowardice, most governments have looked the other way. The recent U.S. decision to seize terrorist assets is a good first step. So is the UN Security Council resolution calling on all states to take robust action against terrorist finances.

To maintain broad support for the struggle against terrorism, the United States will have to accept that the problem goes beyond those terrorist groups with a global reach. While such groups are the proper objective of our initial strategy, we will have to show that we share the concerns of our allies who are subjected to Irish and Basque terrorism, for example, if we are to get continuing support from Britain and Spain in the fight.
As to legal matters, no doubt there will be proposals for new international conventions and treaties concerning terrorism and state support for it. Each of these should be examined on its merits and pursued where useful. But we should not let the search for an illusive international legal consensus stop us from vigorous action against known terrorist groups or states.

We have seen the face of the new threat to our security in the 21st century. Under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, the United States is fully justified in taking any and all means of self-defense against that threat. The United States has made clear that it welcomes the assistance of any country in anti-terrorist military operations, and so far the American government has done a masterful job of assembling broad support for the initial phase of the campaign in Afghanistan. The challenge will be to sustain that support as the battle wears on, and especially when the campaign enters the second phase, after we have dealt with Afghanistan.
We must destroy the terrorists before they destroy us. They hate us and are so dangerous that they must be stopped before they can take the battle to a still higher plane of lethality. We must disrupt, dismantle or destroy terrorist groups wherever they are and deny them safe havens. Americans should therefore be under no illusions about the campaign we have embarked upon. There will be war with more than one country. As in all wars, there will be civilian casualties. America will win some battles but lose others. More Americans will die. But neither our allies nor our enemies should be in any doubt: We shall prevail.

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