Where Are We in the War on Terror?

Last week brought sobering news in America’s six-year war against terrorism. First, Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff said in an interview that he had a “gut feeling” that America was about to be attacked, offering no further details. Then came a report from the National Counterterrorism Center, a U.S. government entity composed of elite analysts, that was titled “Al Qaeda Better Positioned to Strike the West.” The report noted that al Qaeda is strengthening and reconstituting itself in the nether regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan beyond the reach of Pakistani and U.S. forces. Naturally, the question arises: Are we losing the war on terror? 

The answer is definitely NO. We have made much progress since that horrible day of Sept. 11, 2001. Let’s review the strategic underpinnings of U.S. strategy since 9/11 and ask ourselves how much progress we have made on each. These policy initiatives are products of the Bush administration in conjunction with a majority of Democrats in Congress, in most cases.

1.  Get serious about defending the homeland. We have belatedly recognized that the two great oceans are no longer sufficient to protect us against foreign enemies. To that end, we have established a Department of Homeland Security whose mission it is to protect the United States of America. We also have new weapons in this fight, such as the Patriot Act, the Terrorism Surveillance Program, and enhanced sharing of information among U.S. government agencies, to help us locate and destroy terrorist cells.

2.  Fight the enemy abroad before they come here. The Afghan operation has returned an anti-Taliban government to that country. We have worked hard to shut down terrorist cells abroad by drying up their funds and disrupting their plans. We have successfully engaged governments such as Libya to turn away from terrorism. At this stage, the success of our effort in Iraq hangs in the balance. Failure there for the U.S. would be catastrophic for these efforts worldwide.

3.  Seek international cooperation in bringing terrorists to justice. Iraq aside, America has cooperated with our NATO and Arab allies to smash numerous terrorist cells and arrest terrorists before they could strike. This cooperation is strong and continuing and has resulted in terror arrests in Britain, Germany, France, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Singapore.

4.  Revitalize the CIA to enhance our ability to interdict terrorists abroad. See No. 3. Working in cooperation with the Department of Justice and sympathetic foreign governments, we have made progress in penetrating and breaking up terrorist cells.  The quality of our intelligence still must be dramatically improved, however.

5.  Engage the Islamic world to reject the jihadists. Our outreach to moderate Islamic leaders has been welcome but tentative and, frankly, limited, so long as the Iraq war continues. In the long run, this effort can pay the most dividends. Communism was defeated when we engaged them ideologically and noted the failures of their system. We need to do more to undermine the ideological appeal of Islamic extremists.

We should be clear. The fight against radical Islam will not end soon. It will go beyond the Bush presidency and probably the term of the next president. It is a long twilight struggle that can only be won with vigilance and a realistic attitude as to what we face.

That’s why it is silly to attribute all of our setbacks to President Bush. But, to the extent that the 2008 presidential campaign focuses on debate over these core anti-terrorist assumptions, our country’s security can only be enhanced.

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