This commentary appeared in San Diego Union Tribune on September 8, 2002.
Many of us will mark the anniversary of Sept. 11 recalling those who died,
those whose courage inspired us in the face of tragedy, those who have since
given their lives in combat against the terrorist menace. We will renew our
commitment to life and liberty. For a moment, we will huddle closer in family
Some, no doubt, will stay home, fearful that terrorists may celebrate the
anniversary with another attack. Reminded of the terrible events of a year ago,
most of us understandably will experience some level of anxiety. We can expect
the inevitable bomb threats, hoax calls, and other malicious mischief. We will
breathe a little easier if the day passes without a major event.
Desperately seeking closure, anxious to return to the normality of life before
9/11, some will interpret the absence of attack, if that is to be, as proof
that the danger has passed. That would be dangerous.
Al-Qaeda remains a significant threat to American security. Since the terrorist
attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has achieved considerable success.
Removing the Taliban government in Afghanistan eliminated al-Qaeda's sanctuary
and training camps, thereby breaking an important link in the process that once
provided the terrorist enterprise with a continuing flow of recruits. Toppling
the Taliban also underscored the risk run by governments that assist terrorists.
Having achieved its initial goals in Afghanistan, the United States is now
in a second, more complex phase of the war. Efforts to destroy al-Qaeda while
at the same time combating terrorism as a mode of conflict will require the
orchestration of intelligence collection, the pursuit of traditional criminal
investigations, the imposition of financial controls and economic sanctions.
In addition, we'll need offers of material reward, the application of conventional
military power and the use of covert and special operations, plus military assistance
and psychological warfare to disrupt terrorist operations and destroy terrorist
As operations move beyond a single theater, these more complex tasks will
be dispersed among numerous departments and agencies. Greater international
coordination will be required. Without a clear strategy, the focus of the campaign
could easily be lost.
The destruction of al-Qaeda must remain the primary aim of the American campaign.
The al-Qaeda enterprise itself cannot be deterred. Drawing upon a deep reservoir
of hatred and a desire for revenge, al-Qaeda will fight on. U.S. efforts have
reduced, not eliminated, its ability to mount significant terrorist operations.
There will be no self-imposed limits to its violence. Attempts to cause massive
death and destruction using conventional or unconventional weapons are likely.
Al-Qaeda will attack U.S. targets abroad where possible and it will attempt
to mount attacks within the United States. Although some measure of success
has been achieved in thwarting terrorist plots, the ability of U.S. agencies
to detect and prevent future terrorist attacks is limited.
Al-Qaeda, however, must now operate in a less-permissive environment. The
loss of an easily accessible safe haven may not be felt immediately, as al-Qaeda
will be able to draw upon its reserves for some time while it tries to establish
new centers. But these are likely to be smaller and less accessible. Moreover,
the experience in the training camps and participation in Afghanistan's armed
conflict served an important role in attracting and indoctrinating volunteers
to the cause. Televised videotapes and virtual realms on the Internet may not
suffice to maintain a high level of devotion.
If al-Qaeda can be kept on the run, the numbers it can train will decline.
And declining numbers eventually will result in a corresponding qualitative
decline in terrorist operations.
The elements of our strategy are simple:
The pursuit of al-Qaeda must be single-minded and unrelenting. The episodic
nature of terrorism, the heavy burden of security, and the public's impatience
for closure should not lure us into dangerous complacency. The United States
cannot inflict upon this amorphous terrorist foe the immediate destruction that
would serve as a deterrent to other terrorist entities. Assured destruction,
however, can be pursued over time — years, if necessary — without
letup as an ongoing reminder to others of the consequences of provoking the
The fight in Afghanistan must be continued as long as al-Qaeda operatives
remain there. Premature withdrawal — historically, the American tendency
— would be dangerous. Only when al-Qaeda is completely destroyed or when
the new Afghan government can effectively exercise authority throughout its
territory can withdrawal be risked. Long-term operations will require carefully
controlling the application of violence in order to avoid the errors and collateral
damage that fuel Afghan hostility and increase pressure to depart.
Positive benefits of America's involvement — the reconstruction of infrastructure,
assistance for health care and education, the restoration and preservation of
Afghanistan's cultural heritage — can temper the country's natural resistance
Pakistan must be kept on the side of the allies in efforts to destroy the
remnants of al-Qaeda and dilute Islamic extremism. The loss of Pakistan's support
could reverse America's victory in Afghanistan. It could provide al-Qaeda with
a new sanctuary, leaving the United States and its allies with the dismal prospect
of large-scale military operations in Pakistan. The most likely successor to
the present government is not a more liberal, democratic, pro-Western regime.
Instead, a more radical Islamic Pakistan could emerge, one that is more sympathetic
to the extremists, and in possession of nuclear weapons.
The United States demands much of a weak government. So Washington needs to
provide political and economic support that will enable the Pakistani government
to demonstrate the positive benefits of the alliance while checking popular
bellicose sentiments in Kashmir.
The crucial second phase of the war on terrorism cannot be accomplished unilaterally
— international cooperation is a prerequisite for success. The continued
identification and pursuit of al-Qaeda's remaining cells and the successful
prosecution of those arrested will require an unprecedented level of multinational
coordination. The United States must understand the legal and political concerns
of each of its allies and adapt its strategy accordingly. Not every suspected
terrorist need be in U.S. custody, nor can information flow only in the direction
New networks must be created to exploit intelligence across frontiers. Full
cooperation will be limited to a few governments. The British, with whom mechanisms
for close intelligence cooperation are already in place, will continue to be
America's closest allies. Other traditional allies also are cooperating. France
has global intelligence resources, vast area knowledge, and valuable historical
Although Russian leadership tends to see terrorism exclusively through the
lens of its conflict in Chechnya, Russia nonetheless has valuable knowledge
and experience in Central and South Asia and can be a major contributor to ongoing
international efforts to combat terrorism. Historically, intelligence cooperation
between the United States and Israel has been close and will continue to be
so, even as the two countries occasionally differ on how to address the Palestinian
Moderate Arab regimes also will contribute to the intelligence pool. Diplomacy
can create new coalitions that exploit opportunities for cooperation even among
governments the United States previously has penalized for their support of
We should make a distinction between the war on al-Qaeda and combating terrorism.
The president has said that we are at war, a status officially endorsed by Congress.
This more formal expression of belligerency against terrorists and those who
assist them enables the United States to more easily keep the initiative. It
facilitates covert operations; it also creates a requirement for a specific
plan of action.
The use of the term war does not end American efforts to bring terrorists
to justice through the legal system, either the American system or that of other
countries with capable authorities who are willing to enforce the law. In countries
without such authorities, the United States will take appropriate measures to
The United States is not going to pursue every terrorist in the world, but
as a matter of self-defense, it will wage war against terrorists capable of
causing casualties on the scale of Sept. 11. The target is specific.
But America is not "at war" with terrorism. Terrorism is a phenomenon,
not a foe. We have been combating terrorism for 30 years. Some success has been
achieved. It is an enduring task. To make terrorism an unattractive mode of
conflict, the United States will seek to expand international conventions and
cooperation. It will assist in resolving conflicts that may produce terrorism
and it will address the causes of the deep hatred that terrorists are able to
America is not at war with everyone's terrorists, and not all nations need
be front-line participants in the war against al-Qaeda. But all nations should
cooperate in combating terrorism, an obligation that since 9/11 has been formally
recognized in the United Nations.
Political warfare should not be neglected. It is not sufficient to merely
outgun the terrorists. The enemy here is more than a group, it is an ideology,
a set of attitudes, a belief system organized into a recruiting network that
will replace terrorist losses unless ultimately defeated politically. At a strategic
level, political warfare should be aimed at reducing the appeal of extremists,
encouraging alternative views that are currently silenced by fear and hostile
policy, and discouraging terrorists' use of weapons of mass destruction.
The very nature of the terrorist enterprise makes the traditional strategy
of deterrence difficult to apply. But the notion of deterrence should not be
too hastily abandoned. Deterrence might be employed in targeting terrorists'
support systems. Economic sanctions, although blunt and sometimes cruel instruments,
have had some effect in modifying state behavior. The fate of the Taliban serves
as further warning. Financial contributors to terrorist fronts may be deterred
by threats of negative publicity, blocked investments, asset seizures, or increased
scrutiny of their financial activities.
As terrorists escalate their violence, it is necessary to create a firebreak
that signals a different set of responses if terrorists attempt to use weapons
of mass destruction. It should be a well-understood article of American policy
that to prevent terrorist acquisition or use of weapons of mass destruction,
the United States will take whatever measures it deems appropriate, including
unilateral pre-emptive military action.
The United States may reassure its allies that pre-emptive action is unlikely
in circumstances where local authorities have the capability of taking action
themselves and can be depended upon to do so. If pre-emptive military action
is required, the government should be prepared to make a compelling public case
after the event that such action was justified.
Finally, the war against the terrorists must be conducted in a way that is
consistent with American values. America cannot expect the world's applause
for every action it takes in pursuit of terrorists abroad, but it is important
not to lose the moral high ground or international support upon which the United
States unavoidably will depend if it is to win the war. Some collateral damage
may be unavoidable in any war, but our violence must never be wanton. The United
States can be ruthless if necessary, but it must never appear careless.
Increased security at home does not require us to surrender our freedoms.
There is no currency exchange here. Without security, there is no freedom. People
without freedom have no security. Every liberal democracy confronting terrorism
has been obliged to modify rules governing intelligence collection, police powers,
preventive detention, access to lawyers, or trial procedures.
Captured terrorists may be tried in civilian courts or before military tribunals,
but in either case, rules of evidence and the right to representation should
apply. It is appropriate that any modification of the rules be clearly set forth,
widely discussed, and endorsed by legislation with renewal requirements to ensure
that it does not become a permanent feature of the landscape.
We can and will protect our society and our values.
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