Is it just me, or is the "War on Terrorism" stalling? Polls show most Americans put the war on terrorism pretty far down the list of vital issues. This comes less than a year after the emotionally devastating September 11 attacks.
The execution in the war has actually been quite good so far. We have suffered no additional major attacks since September 11. We have foiled a few other terrorist plots that we know of: a planned attack on naval vessels at Gibraltar; al Qaida operatives with information on how to poison water supplies were arrested in Denver. Finally, of course the operations in Afghanistan have gone much better than anyone, including myself, could have predicted last fall. But success in counterguerrilla operations in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan will not eliminate the threat from al Qaida's international operatives. And in that arena, the efforts have been stalling. Here are a some reasons why:
Way back in September, President Bush did not identify the enemy. You can't have a war on a tactic or a form of warfare. He should have named al Qaida and/or other terrorist groups specifically or generally identified the enemy as Radical Islamic Terrorist groups. The term War on Terrorism just was not enough. Radical Islam is every bit as evil and formidable in its own way as Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, the Soviet Union or Red China.
The Bush administration misinterpreted the 9-11 attacks. These were not classic terror acts such as was common in Europe and the Middle East in the 1980s. The target selection shows that these were strategic attacks meant to do harm to our nerve centers and to disable us, at least temporarily. They were much more akin to Pearl Harbor, which was designed to take out the US Pacific Fleet, than any terrorist attack in the recent past.
Because he misinterpreted the 9-11 attack, President Bush went out and told Americans to basically "go shopping" after the attacks because if we didn't, the terrorists had "won." In the old way of terrorism, this would have been correct, but it assumes that al Qaida was just trying to scare us on 9-11. That was not the case. Bush needed a much stronger message similar to FDR's message after Pearl Harbor. Instead of telling us to get on with our every day lives, he should have asked young men and women to join the military, the FBI, the CIA, the INS, the Border Patrol, US Customs or even their local police and fire departments. He should have told us to buy savings bonds to help lower the interest costs of the national debt because we were going to have to spend a lot of money in this war. He should have told us to expect tighter security and not to gripe about it. He should have asked us to support the troops by donating to the USO. He should have rallied the country to sacrifice to make people feel a part of this struggle. He should still be asking today.
Because of these mistakes at the beginning of this war, there is almost no sense of America being at war today. Enlistments are actually DOWN, but all we seem to hear about on the news is that not enough women are applying to be baggage screeners! The FBI and CIA are fighting each other and all of Washington is choosing sides in this Homeland Defense plan. Meanwhile our incredible shrinking Navy of a meager 315 ships continues to shrink. The war has been officially completely politicized now.
Is it just me, or do we seem to be just sitting around waiting for the next attack? Instead of building a huge bureaucracy with uncertain goals and methods, which will take years to form and which may or may not make us any safer from terrorism, why aren't we applying military pressure on the states that we KNOW sponsor and support Radical Islamic terrorism? The best defense is a good offense. Without rogue nations and other governments, these terrorist groups could not survive. There are subtle and not so subtle ways of applying military pressure and we need to take advantage of our military supremacy in this war. We need to make tyrannists afraid to support terrorism. With the exception of the Taliban regime, can anyone honestly claim that the nations that support radical Islamic terrorism Ñ Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Syria Ñ have suffered at all since September 11?
The Navy and Marine Corps made it possible to fight and win over the Taliban in Afghanistan. Long before we were able to get major Air Force and Army units in place to fight, the Navy and Marine Corps showed up in force. I say this not to slight these services, but merely to point out the utility of troops and aircraft based in international waters. We should be planning now to build more aircraft carriers and more amphibious ready groups. Twelve of each is not enough. These forces are "America's 911 Forces." Instead of rebuilding the Navy that was almost eliminated in 8 years under Bill Clinton, the Bush administration is allowing it to continue to shrink. Despite a large increase in defense spending, we are scheduled to only build 5 new ships this year. It would take 10 to maintain the size of our fleet at 315 and at least 13 to put us on the road to an acceptable fleet in the years ahead. Unless we want to depend on undependable Arab allies for future operations in the war against radical Islamic terrorist groups, we are going to need a larger Navy. We are going to need more carriers and more amphibious ready groups. Why doesn't the Bush Administration understand that? Why did they fail to see that in Afghanistan?
Perhaps an invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein will help us to regain the initiative in this war, but my fear is that many terrorists will have vacated the area and chosen to distance themselves Ñ literally Ñ from Saddam long before we make a move. Eliminating Saddam Hussein and Iraq's weapons of mass destruction would be a great thing for America, the Middle East and the world. But it might not impact al Qaida, Hizbullah and our other enemies in the war on terrorism. And it might just strengthen the nation who poses the REAL threat in the region: Iran. Iran's weapons of mass destruction program is now more mature than Saddam's.
Their military is more modern and Iran supports Radical Islamic terrorism more than any other nation on earth. Meanwhile, they are feverishly working harder than any nation on earth on a nuclear "power" program. You'd think a nation with as much oil and gas as Iran would have little need for nuclear "power."
Syria is right up there with Iran. Hizbullah, the terrorist group responsible for the death of more Americans than any other group other than al Qaida, and which is now in full cooperation with al Qaida, operates with impunity in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley under the protection of the Syrian army and air force. Recent reports even claim that Syria has been secretly aiding Saddam Hussein.
What price has Iran and Syria been made to pay for bankrolling and supporting radical Islamic terrorist groups? None that I can see.
The best defense is a good offense.
It is not too late to resurrect the war effort and popular support for it. But the Bush administration needs to realize that we are at war and start allowing the President to lead us.
Christopher Holton is a member of World Tribune's Board of Editors and Advisors and has been writing about geopolitical issues, economics and defense topics for more than ten years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.